Genesis 1-11 was written during the Babylonian exile

There is strong evidence that Genesis 1-11 was written during the Babylonian exile. This is important, since understanding the date of its composition helps us identify the socio-historical context in which it was written, and aids our interpretation of the text.

Certain vocabulary in Genesis 1-3 is used elsewhere only in books written during the monarchy or later, such as ʾēd (source of water, Genesis 2:6), neḥmād (pleasant, Genesis 2:9; 3:6), tāpar (sew, Genesis 3:7), ʾēbāh (enmity, Genesis 3:15), šûp (bruise/wound, Genesis 3:15) ʿeṣeb (labor, Genesis 3:16), tĕšûqāh (longing, Genesis 3:16). The word Shinar (Genesis 10:10; 11:2), was used by nations outside Mesopotamia “to designate the Kassite kingdom of Babylon (ca. 1595-1160 B.C.E)”;(1) consequently its use here indicates Genesis 11 was written no earlier than the date of that kingdom.

(1) “Shinar The land of Babylonia, embracing Sumer and Akkad and bounded on the north by Assyria, modern southern Iraq.7 This name was not used in Mesopotamia itself but is frequently found in one form or another in Egyptian, Hittite, Mitannian, and Amarna texts to designate the Kassite kingdom of Babylon (ca. 1595–1160 B.C.E.).”, Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 74.

The Hebrew phrase for “breath of life” used in Genesis 2:7; 6:17; 7:15, 22, is not found anywhere else in Scripture. However, it is found in the Eridu Genesis, a Sumerian text which was copied and read by the Babylonians.

Certain names appear only in Genesis 1-11 and books written during or after the Babylonian exile; typically they appear later in 1 Chronicles 5 or later books as personal names, and in Isaiah and Ezekiel as place names. Some names appear as personal names before the exile, but as place names only during or after the exile. A few names appear only in Genesis 10.

  1. Gomer (Genesis 10:2-3, 1 Chronicles 1:5-6, Ezekiel 38:6, Hosea 1:3).
  2. Magog (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 38:2; 39:6).
  3. Madai (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5).
  4. Javan (Genesis 10:2, 4, 1 Chronicles 1:5, 7, Isaiah 66:19, Ezekiel 27:13).
  5. Tubal (Genesis 4;22; 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Isaiah 66:19, Ezekiel 27:13; 32:26; 38:2-3; 39:1).
  6. Meshech (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Psalm 120:5, Ezekiel 27:13; 32:26; 38:2-3; 39:1).
  7. Tiras (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5).
  8. Togarmah (Genesis 10:3, 1 Chronicles 1:6, Ezekiel 27:14; 38:6).
  9. Dodanim (Genesis 10:4).
  10. Dedan (Genesis 10:7; 25:3, 1 Chronicles 1:9, 32, Jeremiah 25:23; 49:8, Ezekiel 25:13; 27:20; 38:13).
  11. Akkad (Genesis 10:10).
  12. Erech (Genesis 10:10).
  13. Calah (Genesis 10:11-12).
  14. Resen Genesis 10:12).

Some verses in Genesis 1-11 use place names which help date the text. In particular, several verses in Genesis 10 indicate the chapter could not have been written until after the reign of Solomon.

  1. Genesis 2:14; 10:11. These verses refers to Assyria, which did not exist until the reign of Assuruballit I (1363-1328 BCE). The city of Assur was built earlier (around 2,500 BCE), but was ruled over by Akkadians, Amorites, and Babylonians in succession. Assyria did not become an independent state with Assur as its capital reign of Assuruballit I.

  2. Genesis 10:11. This verse refers to Nineveh as part of Assyria, but it was not until the reign of Assuruballit I (1363-1328 BCE), that Nineveh became part of Assyrian territory. Note that Nineveh is mentioned in Genesis 10:11-12, but not mentioned again until 2 Kings, written during the exile; this supports the conclusion that Genesis 11 was not written before the exile.

  3. Genesis 10:11-12. This refers to the city of Calah as “that great city”. Calah did not exist until 1750 BCE, and was a mere village until the ninth century BCE, when it became “that great city” during the reign of Assurnasirpal II, who made it the capital of Assyria. It could not have been called “that great city” until after the reign of Solomon.

  4. Genesis 10:19. The boundaries of Canaan described here did not exist until 1280 BCE by a peace treaty between Ramses II and Hattusilis III in 1280 BCE; it is therefore unsurprising that the borders of Canaan described here do not match the description of Canaan in Genesis 15:18 or Numbers 34:2-12, or any text of Moses’ time. This verse could not have been written earlier than 1280 BCE.

  5. Genesis 10:19. This verse refers to Gaza, but this location was first called “Gaza” during the reign of Thutmose III (1481-1425 BCE); it was not called “Gaza” before this time. It would have been known as “Gaza” by the time of Moses, but not in the time of Abraham.

  6. Genesis 11:28, 31. These verses refers to “Ur of the Chaldeans”. The Chaldeans did not occupy Ur until around the tenth century (1000 BCE). The only pre-exilic use of the phrase “Ur of the Chaldeans” in the Old Testament is in Genesis 15:7, which was clearly written at least as early as the eleventh century (possibly by Samuel), by which time the term “Ur of the Chaldeans” was already the common term for the area. The only other use of “Ur of the Chaldeans” is in Nehemiah 9:7, a post-exilic book.

The text of Genesis 1-11 has a number of strong parallels with various Mesopotamian texts which were written very early, long before the birth of Moses.

The density of such references in Genesis 1-11 indicates these chapters were written for an audience familiar with these Mesopotamian texts. Hebrews living in Egypt (including Moses himself), would not have been familiar with these texts, which would have had little to no relevance to them. However, the Israelites taken captive by Babylon would have been exposed to the stories in these texts, to a greater or lesser extent; in fact the Israelites referred to in Daniel 1:3-4 who were taught “the language and literature of the Babylonians”, would have been taught to read and write these texts as part of their scribal training and cultural indoctrination. This is further evidence that Genesis 1-11 were written during the Babylonian exile at earliest.

The Mesopotamian textual parallels with Genesis 1-11 are not merely general, nor are they sporadic. They are typically very specific, involving not only identical concepts but even the same phrasing or words, as well as events in the same order. The level of detail in these parallels indicates strongly that they were not simply the result of a Hebrew writer demonstrating oral knowledge of stories he had heard; they indicate the writer of Genesis 1-11 had actually read these Mesopotamian texts, and was not only consciously aware of them but was writing in direct response to them.

However, Genesis 1-11 not only contains strong literary parallels with Mesopotamian texts, it also contains very strong anti-Mesopotamian polemic. That is, the text of Genesis 1-11 deliberately targets Mesopotamian religious beliefs and subjects them to contradiction, criticism, and even ridicule. This feature of the text is typically unnoticed by modern readers, since we do not share the same background knowledge as the original Hebrew audience, but for anyone familiar with the socio-historical background of the Genesis text, the meaning would have been very clear.

This infographic shows that none of Genesis is actually attributed to Moses, by the Bible itself.


In fact, I think there is good evidence that it was written during the PERSIAN hegemony over the Jews!!!

I think Genesis… or at least parts of Genesis … are one of the MOST recent books … written to provide a patriarchal backstory (12 sons) to the Exodus story of 12 tribes!

When do you think it was composed though?

Taking into consideration orality and oral text transmission, there was an entirely different concept of “authorship” and “composition” in the ancient world, as well as an entirely different societal function for written texts. All that needs to be taken into consideration in these kind of discussions.


[quote=“gbrooks9, post:2, topic:4423”]
In fact, I think there is good evidence that it was written during the PERSIAN hegemony over the Jews!!! I think Genesis… or at least parts of Genesis … are one of the MOST recent books … written to provide a patriarchal backstory (12 sons) to the Exodus story of 12 tribes![/quote]

You need some evidence for that. The complete lack of Persian loan words in Genesis 1-11 isn’t a good start for this theory.

The Lingua Franca of the Persian Empire was Aramaic … not Farsi. And we see plenty of those influences in the Old Testament.

If you want a Persian word… just look to the New Testament… Pharisee, promoted as “separated” by the Rabbi’s…is really a reference to the “Persians” of the Jews (much like “Southerner” in America doesn’t mean South American).

Interestingly, the “Persians” (aka Zoroastrians) of India are called “Parsee”.

But Persian era Aramaic had plenty of Persian loan words.

But where are all the Persian loan words?

Too late, that’s not the Old Testament.

Jonathan, probably the most convincing evidence of Persian culture on the Old Testament is in the peculiar institution of the so-called Angels.

If you were to look to the Old Testament for EVIDENCE of any real afterlife in Heaven, you would find virtually nothing other than 3 verses - - scattered amongst dozens of books.

The Persian influence is found more in the post-Testament books … ranging from Essene purity rules to the whole institution of the Levites being an ETHNIC monopoly - - much like the Magi tribe having its own ethnic priestly monopoly.

Just curious what you mean by this. I was reading an article not too long ago about how the idea of angels as heavenly beings instead of just generic messengers from God (the meaning of the Hebrew and the Greek words) came into play when the church fathers (post NT) stopped referring to Greek manuscripts and writing in Greek and read and wrote in Latin.

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I’m not sure how THAT particular theory emerged. The Latin and Greek words for “messenger” and “angel” are virtually parallel to the Hebrew word “MLK”, which means Angel and Messenger also.

Right. The argument was that the semantic domains were not quite the same though.

I have a theory that many of the “mlk” references in the Old Testament may actually be a reference to a specific deity, frequently associated with Melqart of the Phoenicians, and associated with area deities like Milcom …

This would explain why Ezekiel and Jeremiah actually talk about the still-common practices of child sacrifice (at the beginning of and during the Jewish Exile). Ezekiel even suggests that this practices were intentionally encouraged by Yahweh!

Actually I don’t believe you will find any evidence for a real afterlife in heaven in the Old Testament. This is not what we would expect if the Pentateuch dated to the Persian era.


I think you’ve jumped the shark on this one.

If that were true, you would have a pretty difficult time explaining why Nehemiah 7:61-65 even exists. Why should lineage matter? Why are there 12 (+1) tribes and where did they come from?


The Persian influence on Judaism was not instantanteous.

  1. First there was the influence against images and idols.

  2. Then there was the influence on PURITY; Persian notions of purity, while not identical to Hebrew rules, are quite vivid - - and it is easy to see how these rules were to some extent emulated and promulgated in Exodus/Leviticus.

  3. Angels come in somewhere in here … the Zoroastrian priests made all sorts of minor deities into “angels” in order to satisfy the monotheism of Zoroaster. This process repeats itself in Judaism.

  4. The Persian concept of a priestly monopoly OWNING the cult also becomes quite clear in Judaism. While all the ancient religions were prone to pass priestly office down to the children … it was the Persian FIXATION on inheritance which kept the monopoly in their hands. To this day, there are Zoroastrian communities that insist you must be BORN a Zoroastrian … there is no way to MARRY INTO Zoroastrianism.

  5. Jewish priestly apparel includes a “trouser” like shorts (under shorts) - - which is an emulation of the Magi who wore full-length trousers.

  6. The use of ashes to SPIRITUALLY PURIFY is a Persian practice; Rabbi’s and bible scholars are constantly ducking and weaving to avoid having to find the root of this practice in only one culture - - the Persians (< coming in from Indian practices).

  7. As evidence of how influences can become staggered … the practice of drying out a corpse body in a sepulcher, and then gathering the bones together … this is clearly a Persian practice. This practice is seen in the Holy Land for just 150 to 250 years … long after Alexander had taken over the Persian Empire. I do not know what triggered its sudden popularity in Palestine.

  8. And then we have the Essenes! The Essene practice of covering up their bathroom rituals … from the sacred view of the Sun - - EXTREMELY PERSIAN practice. Essenes are essentially JEWISH practitioners of the most extreme of the Persian purity rules.

Agreed. This is not good evidence for a Persian era composition of Genesis 1-11.

It was also repeatedly breached in Judaism.

Levites wore shorts because the Persian Magi wore trousers. Seriously?

I need evidence for this.

This is not evidence for the Persian era composition of the Pentateuch.

Far too late. The Pentateuch was not composed in the era of the Essenes.

Now, how is it that we are certain that the Hebrews ripped off the Persians and not vice versa?

Name ANY other PRE-Persian contact culture that had trousers?

Name ANY other PRE-Persian contact that put the priesthood into an ETHNIC MONOPOLY?

I’ve been working on digging up the Persian background on the use of ashes as a “spiritual detergent” !

There is no basis for discounting the Persian influence on burial practices just because the influence was not instantaneous. I bring up the influence of treatment of corpses and bones as evidence that the Persian influence WAS real - - even when we wouldn’t have expected it to have any force at all (long after Alexander’s arrival).

I forgot to mention that while the ancient religions of the region all had a role for Snakes … and even ELEVATING snakes into exemplars of FERTILITY, WISDOM and IMMORTALITY (!!!) - - ONLY the Persians and the Jews made KILLING snakes into a tradition of Nobility. The Magi priests taught that killing snakes was a “good deed”.

In fact, I am remiss in pointing out the most important commonality between Persian metaphysics and Hebrew: both religions adopted the Cosmic view of an eternal struggle between the powers of Evil and the Powers of Good. It is this EXTREME DUALISM that took the rather mellow metaphysics of the Egyptians (which appears to be the source of Gnostic views about emanations and powers) – and turned it into a zealous combat against EVIL and the DARK POWERS (which reflects the mentality of the Christian Gnostic sects that eventually emerged).

The Cosmos filled with ANGELS and the POWERS OF SATAN vs. THE GODHEAD is not an Egyptian worldview - - - it is a Persian one.

And why is it that the Egyptians have influence and the Persians have influence but these poor Hebrews are a cultural tabula rasa upon which other cultures write but that have no ability to influence any other culture? Why are the biblical documents always the result of other documents and never the source material?

I’m just wondering what specific criteria are used to determine these starting points?


These discussions may not acknowledge an important historical fact, which is the Hebrews practiced the faith of Abraham for many centuries before the captivity, and had records as well as practices. It makes sense to me, that when such a crisis as mass displacement took place, the leaders of Israel would take steps that would protect and continue the faith that was central to the national identify of Israel, and also to ensure they did not repeat their mistakes regarding faith in God. This is important background to appreciating the effort undertaken to write and record the events and lessons we find in the OT.

The Elephantine papyri are very useful in this regard.