Have you ever read Genesis 1? Probably not; have you ever seen this?


(Jon) #1

Most readers of Genesis 1 are hardly aware of its full content. Confined as many of us are by the English text, we miss a wealth of information which is embedded in Genesis 1-11, which would have been completely obvious to the original audience and which comprise an important part of its message.

This information must be addressed by any interpretation of these passages which claims to be explaining their meaning. Anyone with an interpretation of Genesis 1 must ensure that their interpretation has the necessary explanatory power to address these facts.

The vocabulary

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)”; consequently its use here indicates Genesis 11 was written no earlier than the date of that kingdom. 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).

The geography

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 citations

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

  1. Genesis 1-3. Various Sumerian and Akkadian texts describing the Mesopotamian view of the universe. Like Genesis 1, the Mesopotamian texts refer to waters above and below the firmament, an initial darkness and chaos, and various creative acts such as arranging the sun and moon, the days and months, and humans being created from clay; Enki and the Ordering of the World (c. 2000 BCE), Enki and Ninhursag (c. 1800-1600 BCE), the Enuma Elish (c. 1700-1500 BC, the Eridu Genesis (c. 1600 BCE), and a creation story on a tablet written in Sumerian and Akkadian (c. 1600 BCE).

  2. Genesis 4. Mesopotamian “profession lists”, similar to those in Genesis 4:20-22. Cuneiform text ED Lu A (c. 2900-2350 BCE); there are many similar ‘profession lists’, which were used well into the Babylonian era.

  3. Genesis 5. Sumerian genealogies with very long life spans. The Sumerian King List (dating to at least 2,000 BCE), and the Rulers of Lagaš (c. 2000 BCE); it has been suggested that Genesis 5 (with its heavy emphasis on mortality), is a deliberate parody of the Sumerian King List.

  4. Genesis 6-8. Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian stories of a massive flood sent by the gods. The Atrahasis Epic (c. 1700 BCE), the Eridu Genesis (c. 1600 BCE), and the eighth century Assyrian revision of the Epic of Gilgamesh (originally written c. 1700 BCE).

  5. Genesis 11. A Sumerian text referring to a time when humans spoke in one language, which was later confused by a god. Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (c. 2000 BCE); the Borsippa Inscription written by Nebuchadnezzar (c. 604 BCE), records his restoration of the great tower ‎Etemenanki, which is likely to be the original tower of Babel since it is referred to in the Akkadian creation text Enuma Elish.

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.

The break

When we look closely at Scripture we find the people and events of Genesis 1-11 are cited rarely in the Old Testament, and virtually only by books dating to the Babylonian exile or later. Nowhere in the entire Law of Moses are Adam and Eve or the events of Eden ever referred to, despite the significant emphasis on sin, death, and sacrifice. Since the Law deals in considerable detail with the consequences of sin, the complete absence from Exodus to Deuteronomy of any reference to these people and events is extraordinary. Although genealogies in Genesis 4-5 start with Adam, all the genealogies from Genesis 12 through to the end of 2 Kings only extend as far back as Abraham.

Outside Genesis 1-11, Adam is first referred to in 1 Chronicles 1:1. The genealogy of 1 Chronicles 1 (written after the Babylonian exile), is the first genealogy after Genesis 5 to refer to Adam. In the Chronicles genealogy Adam is introduced without explanation, and the reader is expected to be familiar with him and his immediate descendants, suggesting they had already read a document introducing and explaining Adam and his family.

After Genesis 6-8, the flood is not referred to again until Isaiah 54:9. The first use of the word Eden outside Genesis 1-11 is in Isaiah 51:3. The next is in an exilic document (Ezekiel 28:12-19), taking the audience’s familiarity with Eden for granted; the reference to Eden in Joel 2:3 dates either to the exile or shortly after. This chapter also contains attacks on Babylonian theology, and explicit use of the Genesis cosmogony and the fall. The term ‘garden of the Lord’ is only used in two passages in the Old Testament; Genesis 13:10 and Isaiah 51:3, supporting the idea that the garden of the Lord was only known as ‘Eden’ during or after the exile.

The break between Genesis 11 and 12 is extreme. In Genesis 11:31 we are told Terah set out with his family (including Abram and Sarai), to travel from Ur to Canaan, but we are given no explanation for this whatsoever. In contrast, Genesis 12:1 opens with the divine call issued to Abram, providing details of the promises and the trip to Canaan; Genesis 11:31 presupposes the reader’s knowledge of why Abram is travelling to Canaan, indicating it was written after Genesis 12. Joshua is aware of the Mesopotamian origin of Abraham, but it is just as clear he knew of nothing earlier.

If these chapters did exist as early as Abraham (or at least Moses), then we must explain why they are ignored by most of the books of the Bible, and only suddenly referred to by the post-exilic books. From Genesis 12 to the end of 2 Kings, book after book after book shows no awareness of these chapters at all.


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(Phil) #2

Thank you for putting this together. Lots of info here, and fertile ground for discussion.


(Jon) #3

@Mike_Gantt I would be interested to know how your interpretation of Genesis addresses this textual evidence which is in the Bible itself.


What biblical reasons are there to accept the scientific view of the earth as billions of years old?
(Mike Gantt) #4

It will take me some time to review all this, but in the meantime just let me say that if I were ever tried for a crime I would want you on my defense team. I say this because you have demonstrated the ability to mount an impressive case on any subject you choose - especially if the only requirement is establish doubt in the jury’s mind rather than to prove to them exactly what took place.


(George Brooks) #5

@Mike_Gantt,

I have silently come to the same conclusion that you have regarding our dear mutual friend, @Jonathan_Burke !


(Jon) #6

That isn’t a fair characterization since I have made great efforts to demonstrate exactly what took place (as I understand it), rather than cast doubt on what others believe.


(Mike Gantt) #7

I wasn’t commenting on your efforts - just your results.


(Jon) #8

Well you spoke of my ability, not my results. And I don’t believe it’s a fair characterization of my results to say that they are an example of establishing doubt rather than proving exactly what took place.


(Mike Gantt) #9

Taking pride in one’s work is a good thing. And you are a prodigious worker. There is a lot about you I can admire. But I stand by my comments.

If you really want to impress me, show me that Jesus shared your view of Torah authorship. Then you’ll have my ear in the way you want to have it.


(George Brooks) #10

@Mike_Gantt

According to the Myers-Briggs for Canines … he’s a Labrador!!!

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For the link below, use 50% Zoom - it’s a huge (very tall!) page!


(Jon) #11

You are reversing the burden of evidence. You have never proved that he shared your view of Torah authorship. I have already provided the positive evidence for Jesus’ view on Torah authorship; he speaks about Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch the way I do, not the way you do.


(Mike Gantt) #12

I did not come to BioLogos to convince anyone of anything. I do not carry the burden of proof here.

Neither do I place a burden of proof on you…unless you want me to believe you.


(Phil) #13

Thanks George. I am an Australian Sheppard, which oddly (or maybe not so oddly) was my favorite dog having had two through the years, and my granddog is an Aussie.


#14

Stop being so dogmatic, George.


(Jon) #15

Whenever you make a claim, you carry the burden of proof regardless of whether or not you want to convince anyone.

You have repeatedly placed a burden of proof on me, and others here. You have repeatedly requested evidence for our claims. We have repeatedly given it. Yet when we ask for evidence for yours, you beg shy.


(Mike Gantt) #16

Nice try, but no cigar. I was not “making a claim.” I was explaining to you why the solution you were proposing to me was deficient. If you want to wash your hands of me, fine; but if you want to keep pressing your solution you need to remedy the deficiency.

Did I start the BioLogos Forum? Did I invite you to it? I thought you folks wanted folks like me to come to your forum and hear your views. I didn’t know I was placing a burden on anyone when I asked them to explain their views. Is someone making you read my posts and answer them against your will?

I haven’t been shy at all about explaining my views. Where I stop short is when it’s likely to become a quarrel rather than an exchange of views, or when, as in this case, you are demanding work from me for which I can see no redemptive purpose.


(Benjamin Kirk) #17

This is a really nasty thing to write, Mike.

I haven’t seen the slightest evidence that Jonathan is out to establish any doubt in anyone’s mind about anything.


(Benjamin Kirk) #19

Please explain your views on science. Why do you always portray science as only hearsay or post hoc inference, but never as prospective hypothesis testing?


(Jon) #20

Yes, when you say that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (as you’ve done), you’re making a claim. When you say that Jesus confirmed Moses wrote the Pentaeuch, you’re making a claim. You’ve made many claims on this forum, and when challenged you typically do not provide evidence for them.

You’re committing the fallacy of equivocation. The sense of “burden” in the term “burden of evidence”, is that the other person has the responsibility of substantiating their claim with evidence.

You’re changing the subject. I said that when asked for evidence for your views, you beg shy. You have certainly explained your views, but when pressed for evidence for your claims, you typically change the subject (as you are doing now), or resort to another round of questions, including repeating questions which people have answered many times before. Many of us have seen this same tactic of YEC run-around before, and we know that when it happens the YEC concerned has reached the end of their bag of tricks and is simply ducking and dodging.

You see no redemptive purpose in simply providing the evidence for your claims?


(Mike Gantt) #21

I wasn’t commenting on his intent, I was commenting on his effect. His approach is very effective if the goal is to win a debate; it’s not as effective if the goal is to teach. I didn’t come to BioLogos to debate. I might do that some other time down the road. This time, however, I came to learn.


Can We Not Agree That Someone Is Being Foolish?