The Making of the OT:

Before Moses

A brief word about the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP) is warranted at this point.
The Reader should also consult two articles written much later than this series, for additional data: (1) On the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch [qmoses1.html];  and (2) The languages of the Patriarchs/Moses [abespeak.html]

What we are looking for in this section is data concerning HOW and TO WHAT EXTENT historical information passed down to Moses, the content originator of the first five books of the Bible.
Note: The authorship of the first five books of the Bible (or at least much of the content of them) is ascribed to Moses by Jesus. This is BY FAR the most important reason to take traditional Mosaic authorship issues seriously. The antiquity and historical trustworthiness of the Pentateuch is taught very clearly by our Lord. Consider these 'controversial' events as referred to by Jesus:

And then consider these statements of His about Mosaic origination/recording of specific passages (from a concordance):

(I have dealt with the issue of was Jesus merely 'playing to the crowds' or simply mistaken, in the first Adult Education course.)
  1. Each generation seemed to have access to historical records/information.
  2. How could this be? How could that information be transmitted so reliably, especially BEFORE the establishment of an institution FOR that purpose (i.e. the Levitical Priesthood) . This data would pre-date Moses by at least 400 years.
    1. The lifespan overlap of the patriarchs. (But this is probably overstated--there are known gaps in the genealogies--see AOOT: 36-41., which would count AGAINST THIS point, but count FOR even more repetition--the stuff of stability)
    2. Family records were widespread (and essential) in those times
      1. Genealogies - (Gen 5.1; Gen 36 - Esau)--needed as Moses/Joshua established a tribal-based economy and priesthood.
      2. The "Accounts". The word translated 'account' in the below verses is the biblical word toledoth. It was used in the ANE as an 'ownership' and/or 'authorship' word, applying to clay tablets of family histories, important events, legal docs, etc. It occurred at the END of a tablet, not typically at the BEGINNING. (So, for example, Gen 11.27 is Terah's personal record of his own genealogy in 11.10-27). This word, in keeping with ANE practices, would mark the end of tablet-type narrative structures in Genesis, and reveal VERY ANCIENT sources! (See RKH, 543-551). These would have been more important in semi-nomadic life (e.g. patriarchs) than in urban centers (where the common knowledge of events and histories would have been well-known). Even 2.4 (where we normally would not consider the 'heavens and the earth' to be 'agents') can be seen in this light, with the underlying ANE worldview of nature as being a 'silent witness'--compare the 'stone' of Jos 24.27 and Gen 31.45f (cf. also the triumphal entry of Jesus in Lk 19.40).
        • Gen. 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth
        • Gen. 5:1 This is the written account of Adam's line. When (NOTICE--WRITTEN and a pointer back to the 'Image' passage in chapter 1!)
        • Gen. 6:9 This is the account of Noah.
        • Gen. 10:1 This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth,
        • Gen. 11:10 This is the account of Shem.
        • Gen. 11:27 This is the account of Terah.
        • Gen. 25:12 This is the account of Abraham's son Ishmael,
        • Gen. 25:19 This is the account of Abraham's son Isaac.
        • Gen. 36:1 This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom--the CLAN version)
        • Gen. 36:9-10 This is the account of Esau ... these are the names of his sons (the PERSON version)
        • Gen. 37:2 This is the account of Jacob.

    3. There was plenty of writing back in those days
    4. Monuments and inscriptions abound
    5. Forms were highly memorable!

    6. ...................................................

      One obvious question arises here. We know from Sumerian myths that the religion of the probable home of Terah, Nahor, and Abe (Ur of Sumer, the southern site; but there is some data that their Ur was a small northern city instead) was rather 'un-biblical' in religious beliefs, and according to Joshua 24:2,14 at least Terah worshipped false gods there. This probably reflected a mixture of true and false religion (cf. Gen 31.19, 34f).

      So how did the 'simpler and purer' tradition get into Abraham's hands, in the form of 'tablets' (see "Accounts" above)?

      Well, Terah already had as far back as Shem in HIS account (11.11-27). So the question comes down to the tablets of Gen 1-11.10. (Now, it could be that Ab did NOT have that data, and that somehow Moses got it instead, but as I noted above, it looks like Abraham was aware of the 'Noah found favor' motif and used that in his 'negotiations' with God over the destruction of Sodom, so in any event, we have to get SOME of the flood tradition to him (other than those of Sumer/Accad--having no 'sparing' passage--the sections on 'sparing' Atrahasis et. al. have very little in common with grace!).

      So where might Abraham have encountered a source of greater antiquity than his own forefathers? And early enough in his post-Ur life to shape his Gen 18 negotiation with God?

      There is actually a rather obvious choice--Melchizedek in Gen 14. This Melki-figure is one of the strangest biblical figures we encounter. He pops out of nowhere, is greater than Abraham, receives tithes of Ab, is a pattern for the Royal Priest-King Jesus (Ps 110), is ascribed immortality (probably) in the Book of Hebrews, and lives in Jerusalem. He had NO REASON to encounter Abraham (Salem was not in the 4-against-5 kings war in the passage), but sought him out. This figure serves the God who is the 'bringer forth of the heavens and the earth' (a broader Ugaritic and Phoenician parallel word for 'bara/create'--including notions of ownership. See Ancient Israel by de Vaux, vol 2., p.310 and TWOT, vol 2, p. 804). He apparently instructs Abe on the proper response to the king of Sodom's future offering (cf. 14:22ff)--he was obviously a prophet as well!--even to the point of eliciting an oath from Abraham to his God! (14.22).

      Was this individual a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son of God? Some think so, but I personally don't believe that makes sense in light of the Hebrews passages on him. I actually find an ancient Jewish tradition to be quite intriguing--the Jerusalem Targum on Gen 14.18 identifies Melki as Shem, the eldest son of Noah. According to the strict version of the genealogies, Shem would have still been alive at this time (Shem and Abe would have overlapped by 150 years, so even with a few extra gens in there, this is still VERY, VERY possible.) This would, of course, explain a number of things, especially why Abe paid such deference to this character! This would also, provide an excellent opportunity for the godly Shem to explain the ways of the Lord to the future father of the Jewish race (as a prophet, he probably was aware of Abe's special character), and to pass down the 'accounts' he would have gotten from his fathers before him (i.e. Noah, Adam). Thus the 'pure' stream of tradition would find its way into biblical sources. The overall impression I get from Abram's response to Melki is that of CONVERSION, and I think it noteworthy that the El Elyon (God most high) of Melki, is called YHWH by Abe in this passage.

  3. The literary context in ANE
    1. Repetition with variation/detail - the Hebrew way (can also be found in other ANE religious texts--Akkadian and Ugaritic)
    2. Gen 1-11 as a 'rebuttal' of the dominant religious tradition of the ANE
    3. Flood and Creation accounts are widespread and share common points with the biblical narrative, but the 'simpler' content of the Genesis account argues for an 'earlier' (pre-elaboration!) existence of it.

    4. Consider first how much 'simpler' the Genesis account of creation is than the ANE myths:

       Non-biblical Myths;  
          Genesis Account

        The gods are identified with nature and natural forces;  
          God is NEVER identified with nature--He stands above it

        Creation was accomplished through sexual procreation;  
          Creation had nothing to do with sexual procreation

        Primeval darkness had a name, a personality, and deity;  
          Darkness was nothing more than just that.

        The sea had a name, a personality, and deity;  
          The sea was nothing more than just that. 

        The abyss had a name, a personality, and deity;   
          The abyss was nothing more than just that. 

        The sun, moon, and stars were given names and histories and powers;   
          They are simply called the greater and lesser lights, 
           and the stars are barely mentioned.
        The Shabbatuwas a day of terror;   
          The Sabbath was a day of blessing and rest. 

        Man created as slave labor to feed the gods;   
          Man created to enjoy God's blessing. 

        The serpent was huge and powerful;   
          The serpent was small and powerless (relied on wits) 

        Many, many gods in very complex and tumultuous relationships;   
          One God, balanced and stable. 

        Man is formed out of some 'part' of god (e.g. blood) mixed with clay;   
          Man is formed of dust, in the image of God.

      Now consider how the common elements BETWEEN them (esp. incidentals) seem to argue for some REAL historical events behind them both (see PCE, 137-145):

      1. The Sumerian myth has an expanse of air created between heaven and earth; life created by divine command (some versions of the myth); man has a clay component; the gods revealed the flood to a Noah-type figure (Ziusudra). There is one fragment that MIGHT be about the Tower of Babel: the God "Enki...changed the speech in their mouths" (PCE, p142).
      2. The Akkadian Creation Epic (Enuma Elish) has two expanses of water (i.e. oceans); a dragon figure is present and prominent; man is created from dust, but has something of god 'in him' (e.g. blood); there is a water of life and a food of life.
      3. The Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh (from Nineveh) has a flood; a Noah-figure--Utnapishtim; the Noah figure has great longevity (e.g. immortality); Utna is saved from the flood in a multi-story boat; the boat contains all the animals; a dove and raven are sent out to test for the existence of land after the flood; the Noah-figure offers sacrifices after the flood.
      4. The Egyptian accounts feature God 'speaking' the earth into existence, and a dragon enemy of man and god.
      5. The Sumerian king-lists show extremely high ages for their pre-flood kings (PCE, 97)

    5. Some of this Data is QUITE ANCIENT, and much of it probably would not have been available in Egypt during the lifetime of Moses (i.e. he MUST have had access to transmitted data). [Curiously, most of this outside-Egypt data has been confirmed/illuminated by archeology]:
      2. "Other texts from these towns (Mari and Chagar-Bazar) and from Alalah, Ur, Ras Shamra, and Nuzi in Assyria throw considerable light on the patriarchal social customs. It can be seen that it was usual for a childless couple to adopt an heir and then displace him in the event of the birth of a real son (Gen 15:4). According to her marriage contract, a barren woman was to provide her husband with a slave-girl to bear a son. Marriages were arranged for public purposes by the rulers of Ugarit and Qatna, as well as by Egyptian kings, and this may be reflected in the adventures of Sarah (Gen 20) and Rebekah (Gen 26). The special position of the firstborn son (cf. Gen 21:10ff; 48:14ff), the bridegroom 'asking' for a daughter as bride, the use of betrothal and bride-gifts (Gen 34:12), and the stipulation of marriage-contracts that a man might take a third wife only if the first two were barren or take a second wife only if the first failed to give birth within seven years explain incidents in Genesis (e.g., 29:18, 27 : Jacob's possible need to wait seven years for Rachel). Nuzi texts refer to a man's transferring his inheritance for three sheep and uphold the validity of an oral blessing as a deathbed will. The type of sale contract involved in the purchase of the cave of Machpelah (Gen 23) is similar to both Old Babylonian and Hittite legal texts of this period." (D. J. Wiseman, "Archeology and the Old Testament" in EBC , vol 1., p. 316)
      3. The average price of a slave at the time of the story of Joseph was 20 shekels of silver; by the time of Moses it had risen to 40-50. (AOOT, 52f)
      4. The Nuzi law recognized household gods as evidences of the inheritance of a family. Whoever had the gods, had primary claim on that inheritance. Laban's being upset about the 'teraphim' of Genesis 31.19 makes sense in this case. (PCE, p152)
      5. The Edomite lists in Gen 36:1-43 would have to have been gathered BEFORE the entry into Egypt under Joseph--there was no interchanges between Egypt/Israel and Edom (that would have required/facilitated transmission of this data) until David conquered them a millennium later .
      6. Likewise, the power alliances of Gen 14--4 kings against 5--were a common feature of the Patriarchal age, but NOT in Moses' time!
      7. "the system of power alliances (four kings against five) is typical in Mesopotamian politics within the period c.2000-1750, but not before or after this general period when different political patterns prevailed. (AOOT, p45, 47)--he had to have access to historical records.
      8. "As is well known, Genesis is replete with evidence indicating the antiquity of the book. In the area of tribal associations, we may note that Reuben's position as first-born, Levi's role as a warrior, and Simeon's geographic tie to Shechem, do not accord with later history and must therefore be ancient traditions." (Rendsburg, The Redaction of Genesis, p. 114).
      9. The absence of Yahwistic names (i.e. names that include YHWH as part of the root) in Genesis reflects very old traditions. We first get Yahwist names in Ex 6.20 (Jochebed) and Num 13.16 (Joshua), and then occasionally up to David's time, when they proliferate. [However, we should note that YHWH does occur in a few Amorite names, and may be reflected in the Ugaritic lit (GANE, p. 38)]
      10. The texts from MARI (South bank of the Euphrates) bears names of Abram, Jacob, Benjamin, Serug, Terah, Nahor (PCE, p.23)
      11. Abram encountered a sparsely settled Palestine (RKH, 170)
      12. The Hittite legal documents demonstrate a levirate marriage custom. (PCE, 25)
      13. "There can be no real question as to the immense antiquity of the source material that is to be found in Genesis. Evidence for this includes the large number of Babylonian words that occur in the earlier part of the book, the topographical references, such as those relating to Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 10:19), and the number of glosses required to bring ancient names up to date (e.g. Gen 14:2, 3, 7, 8, 15, 17; 16:14; 23.2; 35.19). Primitive geographical expressions such as the 'south country' (Gen 20.1; 24.62) and the 'east country' (Gen 25.6), which were used in the days of Abraham, never recurred in the Old Testament narratives as a description of the countries adjoining the south and east of Palestine, since these regions subsequently acquired familiar and well-defined designations." (RKH, 552f)
      14. Also important here are the patriarchal customs reflected in Genesis that are CONTRARY to later Mosaic laws! (Had Moses been making this stuff up, he probably would have 'made' the patriarchs 'better behaved'!). This is strong evidence that not only was the data received by Moses, but also that it was widespread enough so that he COULD NOT change it--EVEN to make his 'program' go more smoothly.
        • Abraham married his half-sister (20.12) vs. the prohibition in Lev 18.9; 20.17; Dt 27.22
        • Jacob married his sister-in-law (28.28) vs. Lev 18.18
        • Jacob set up a 'stone' (masseba) in 28.18, condemned in Ex 34.13; Lev 26.1; Dt 12.3; 16.21-22).
        • The rights of the firstborn were important and protected in Dt 21.15-17, but these were overridden often in Genesis--17, 25, 27, 38, 48, 49).

Summary: The data indicates a reliable stream of information, from earliest times down to at least the time of Moses. The historical particulars reflect a pre-mosaic time and indicate a fixity and reliability of transmission.


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