The Book of Genesis: Eyewitness Accounts from the Dawn of Time

UPDATE 10/1/07: Please refer to a new informal debate I am having with Dean Anderson at IIDB HERE.

UPDATE 9/1/07: Please refer also to my recent Formal Debate on the Book of Genesis. Footnote (44) refers to a fairly recent book entitled Rethinking Genesis by Duane Garrett (Do a CTRL-F search of the page), which also examines the Tablet Theory. There is beginning to be more and more scholarly interest in this theory.

The ‘Tablet Theory of Genesis’ proposes that the book of Genesis was originally written on tablets in the ancient script of the time by the patriarchs who were intimately concerned with the events related, and whose names are clearly stated. Moreover, Moses, the compiler and editor of the book, as we now have it, plainly directs attention to the source of his information.

Today I will do a book review of a book entitled “Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis.” What this book does is show clearly that Genesis is “Eyewitness History” re-establishing the pre-JEDP view of the Book of Genesis. The book was written by Air Commodore P.J. Wiseman and edited and updated by his son, Professor of Assyriology Donald J. Wiseman. This material has been referred to by some Bible commentators including Henry Morris and R.K. Harrison, but I had never personally examined the book. I found a used copy (had to pay $85!) and what a treat it has been. Absolutely fascinating book! … P.J. Wiseman was assigned to Iraq during the years 1923-25 and 1931-33. He was very interested in archaeology and took the opportunity to visit the principal excavations supervised by Sir Leonard Woolley, S.H. Langdon and others. P.J. Wiseman’s idea was a simple one. Taking his cue from the recurrent “catch-lines” or colophons (as they are now called) in Genesis of the form, “These are the generations (family histories) of …,” he examines them as clues to the literary structure of Genesis and as indicative of its origin and transmission. He takes the Genesis narratives as they stand and relates them to well-attested ancient literary methods. Mr. Wiseman always thought that such a subjective theory as that of the Wellhausen school would hardly have been conceived or copied had the many literary tests (among them thousands of cuneiform tablets which have since been discovered) been known at that time.

For those of you who do not know, the Documentary Hypothesis or Graf/Wellhausen Theory assumed erroneously that the art of writing in Israel post-dated Moses and so the theory asserts that Genesis was composed by later authors, supposedly made up of 4 documents denoted as J, E, D, and P. This hypothesis has been thoroughly discredited by 20th century archaeology, but a positive, plausible theory was wanting until this book was written.

Since P.J. Wiseman’s book was written there have been many more colophons discovered among the cuneiform texts which have been found in Babylonia. They have been published by H. Hunger, Babylonishce und Assyrische Kolophone (1968) and by E. Leichty, “The Colophon” in Studies Presented to A.L. Oppenheim (1964), pp. 147-154. These substantiate the references to this scribal device which is the “key” to the elucidation of the documents which were composed in Genesis.

Recent discoveries of Semitic literature from Syria and Mesopotamia, among them many dated texts ca. 2300 BC–notably the finds in 1975-76 from Tell Mardih (Ebla) and, from a millenium later, the Akkadian texts from Ras Shamra (Ugarit)–show the continuity in tradition both of scribal education and literary practices. In many instances tablets show them to have continued virtually unchanged for a further two milleniums. Unlike the Wellhausen theories, based on subjective assessment of the Hebrew text alone, these extra-biblical documents give us fixed and dated points along this stream of tradition.

The Preface to the book is written by R.K. Harrison whose Introduction to the Old Testament, (1969) referred to this work. He gives a good history of the Graf-Wellhausen Theory from its roots with Jean Astruc in 18th century. He notes that the majority of scholars prior to Astruc believed that Genesis was written by Moses, but that Astruc questioned this. It is interesting that Astruc was very close to the truth when he proposed that Genesis was a compilation. The problem was that he did not have the light of modern archaeology to guide his work, so he proposed the famous and now discredited JEDP documents. He basically proposed that since writing was not thought to be invented until the time of David (ca. 1000 BC), the Genesis material had to be merely oral tradition passed down by the Jews and finally taking on written form during the kingdom years of Israel. Of course, late 19th and 20th century archaeology has clearly shown that writing goes all the way back to at least 3500 BC and no doubt to the dawn of history–back to Adam himself.

The ‘Tablet Theory of Genesis’ proposes that the book of Genesis was originally written on tablets in the ancient script of the time by the patriarchs who were intimately concerned with the events related, and whose names are clearly stated. Moreover, Moses, the compiler and editor of the book, as we now have it, plainly directs attention to the source of his information.

Chapter 1 is entitled “Introduction.” Wiseman says “Such a statement needs adequate confirmation by the writer, and on the part of the reader a patient study of all the evidence on which it is based. When this evidence has been scrutinized, the author would claim that it is attested by facts so numerous and verified by undesigned coincidences so overwhelming, that almost every critical difficulty regarding Genesis disappears.”

Chapter 2 is entitled “Discoveries in Babylonia” and is a fascinating review of a truly incredible enterprise. One stands in awe of the perseverance and fortitude of those tough archaeologists spending year after year of their lives digging up priceless treasures. Wiseman does a good job summarizing the finds beginning with Claude James Rich in Babylon to Paul Emil Botta and his finds at Nineveh (one of the tells was interestingly called Nebi Yunus–i.e. Prophet Jonah). Botta, of course, discovered the palace of Sargon mentioned in the Biblical book of Isaiah. The British really got interested in 1839 when Austen Henry Layard visited the Near East. In 1845, he went to a mound called Nimrud–the Calah of Genesis 10 and discovered an Assyrian palace and numerous cuneiform tablets. Many more wonderful finds were unearthed including the great human-headed, winged lions now in the British Museum and the now famous obelisk of Shalmaneser III–inscribed on which are the words, “I received the tribute of Jehu Son of Omri silver and gold, etc.” confirming again the historicity of the Bible. Layard’s assistant later found the great library of Ashurbanipal. It was among these tablets that George Smith found the king’s copies of the Babylonian Creation and Flood tablets 20 years later and immediately became famous by translating them. In 1888, the Americans joined the archaeological effort in Babylonia and thousands of tablets were discovered at Nippur. At the dawn of the 20th century, the discovery of the Code of Hammurabi placed us in possession of the laws prevalent in the days of Abraham. Wiseman continues to describe the activities of Woolley and his excavations at Ur. From the very beginning of the work, this expert archaeologist demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt the high state of civilization existing in early times. In 1924, Wiseman was shown a tablet which had just been found at Al Ubaid, some four miles from Ur. It belonged to the period of 5000 years ago and was one of the most ancient specimens of writing then known. C.J. Gadd, of the British Museum, who that season was at Ur, had found on it the names of two Sumerian rulers, one of whom was known but the other up to the moment of discovery had been regarded even by archaeologists to be quite legendary. Wooley’s excavations show that writing and a high degree of advanced civilization existed as far back as 2650 BC. At Nippur was found a large number of inscriptions dating before the time of Abraham which mention the “ten rulers who reigned before the Flood.” Of course the Weld Prism give the complete list of these “pre-Flood kings” the length of lives of which is now in line with the Biblical lengths due to better translation. Wiseman also notes that Dr. H.H. Frankfort reported in his Third Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tell Asmat (Eshunna) that, “… we discover that the representation on cylinder seals, which are usually connected with various gods, can all be fitted in to form a consistent picture in which a single god worshipped in this temple forms the central figure. It seems, therefore, that at this early period his various aspects were not considered separate deities in the Sumero-Akkadian pantheon.” This shows that polytheism developed after monotheism, not the other way around as is often imagined.

Chapter 3 is entitled “Evidence for Advanced Civilizations” and Wiseman points out that “No more surprising fact has been discovered by recent excavation than the suddenness with which civilization appeared in the world. This discovery is the very opposite to that anticipated. It was expected that the more ancient the period, the more primitive would excavators find it to be, until traces of civilization ceased altogether and aboriginal man appeared. Neither in Babylonia nor Egypt, the lands of the oldest known habitations of man, has this been the case.” All the real evidence we have, that of Genesis, archaeology, and the traditions of men, points to the Mesopotamian plain as the oldest home of man. Far Eastern civilization, whether Chinese or Indian, cannot compete in antiquity. Writing about the era of 3500 BC, Sir Leonard Woolley says in The Sumerians: “It is astonishing to find that at this early period the Sumerians were acquainted with and commonly employed not only the column, but the arch, the vault and the dome, architectural forms which were not to find their way into the western world for thousands of years. That the general level of civilization accorded with the high development of architecture is shown by the richness of the graves. Objects of gold and silver are abundant, not only personal ornaments but with vessels, weapons and even tools being made of the precious metals …” Frankfort cites the use of glass and true bronze at 2600-2700 BC and “a most unexpected discovery made during the last season, that iron was used for tools before 2700 BC–more than fifteen hundred years before the day when the first iron dagger known was sent, presumably by a Hittite king, as a present to the youthful Tutenkhamen of Egypt.” Wiseman concludes this chapter with the statement that “Neither the Bible nor Babylonian excavation know anything of uncivilized man.” I have already given the Biblical account of ancient civilization, but I will give again … 16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.
17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son-Enoch.
18 To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech.
19 Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah.
20 And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.
21 His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute.
22 And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron.

Chapter 4 is entitled “Methods of the Scribes in 3000 BC” and begins by pointing out that “One of the most remarkable facts which has emerged from archaeological research, is that the art of writing began in the earliest historical times known to man.” Written records have now been found as far back as 3500 BC, but it is probable that writing is as old as man himself–ca. 4000 BC. Wiseman discusses the development of writing from the earliest pictographic forms to cuneiform, then begins a description of ancient scribal practices. He covers clay tablets, papyrus and the history of the deciphering. He points out that it was not desirable to make clay tablets too large for obvious reasons and that when the lengthy nature of writing required more than one tablet, it was necessary to adopt a means to preserve their proper sequence. This was achieved by the use of titles, catch-lines, and numbering. The title was taken from the first words of the first tablet, followed by the serial number of that tablet, just as a title is often repeated at the head of each page of a book and each page is numbered. As an additional safeguard it was also the practice to use “catch-lines” in which the present usage is to repeat the first two or three words of a subsequent page at the end of the preceding page as shown in Babylonian tablets.

In Chapter 5, “The Key to the Structure of Genesis,” Wiseman demonstrates that the master key to the method of compilation that underlies the structure of the book of Genesis is to be found in an understanding of the phrase “These are the generations of …” These are found at 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, and 37:2. It is important to note that the word “Genesis” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word translated “generations” (toledoth) and what we have is indeed a book of family histories. The book of Genesis therefore contains 11 tablets as follows:

Tablet # Division Contents
1 1:1-2:4 Origins of the heavens and the earth
2 2:5-5:2 Origins of Adam
3 5:3-6:9a Origins of Noah
4 6:9b-10:1 Origins of the Sons of Noah
5 10:2-11:10a Origins of Shem
6 11:10b-11:27a Origins of Terah
7-8 11:27b-25:19a Origins of Ishmael and Isaac
9-11 25:19b-37:2a Origins of Esau and Jacob

In this way, Moses clearly indicates the source of the information available to him and names the persons who originally possessed the tablets from which he gained his knowledge. These are not arbitrarily invented divisions; they are stated by the author to be the framework of the book.

The scholars who divided the Bible into chapters and verses obviously did not understand this and this has been a source of confusion. How clear it would have been had the Book of Genesis been divided into 11 chapters, each chapter corresponding to a toledoth, or a Family History with the “signature line” of “These are the generations of …” !!
Wiseman points out that the phrase “these are the generations of …” is not an introduction or a preface to the history of a person, as is so often imagined and he goes into detail with proof as to why this is not the case. He goes on to show with much documentation that the phrase is meant to be the concluding sentence of the record already written and not an introduction to the subsequent record. Wiseman give much support for this position for which I shall name two items. In support of these 11 divisions each with their concluding “toledoth” phrase, consider that …

1) In no instance is an event recorded which the person or persons named could not have written from his own intimate knowledge, or have obtained absolutely reliable information.
2) It is most significant that the history recorded in the sections outlined above, ceases in all instances before the death of the person named, yet in most cases it is continued almost up to the date of death or the date on which it is stated that the tablets were written.

In confirmation of the first point, it will be seen in a later chapter that these narratives bear all the marks of having been written by those who were personally acquainted with the events recorded … such as the simplicity of the account of the sun and moon. They are given no names … simply referred to as the greater light and the lesser light. If the account had been later, no doubt names would have been assigned such as ‘samas’ for the sun god. The first chapter is so ancient that it contains no mythical or legendary matter. These myths and legends had not yet had time to grow. There is no trace of nationalistic or philosophic systems. Neither Babylonian, Egyptian or Jewish modes of thought find a place in it. Genesis 1:1-2:5 is pure. It is surely the threshold of written history. The truth is that the Babylonian accounts of Creation and the Flood are grotesque distortions of the original account.

In confirmation of the second point, it is significant to note that in almost every instance where it is applicable, the history contained in the section indicated ends just before the death of the person whose name is given at the conclusion of the tablet. Tablet 1 bears no name, it simply reads, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth.” No one could have “signed” this tablet but the Creator himself.

Wiseman concludes this chapter with summaries of each tablet showing the reasonableness of the case for the tablet theory.

One criticism raised against Genesis is the order of creation. In Genesis 1, the animals are stated to have been created before man. In Genesis 2, the order is reversed. This difficulty disappears when the tablet nature of the book of Genesis is understood. It is quite conceivable that the first tablet was intended to give a time sequence account of creation. The second tablet was written by Adam and is written with a focus on mankind and his activities of which the taxonomy of the animal kingdom was a part. There is no good reason to suppose that Adam is contradicting the order of creation in the first tablet. He is simply emphasizing the pinnacle of God’s creation–man–then filling in the details of what he considers to be man’s most important activities–taxonomy of the animal kingdom and the creation of his wife.

Chapter 6 is entitled “The Great Age of the Book” and Wiseman lists evidence that Genesis was compiled in the present form (excluding chapter and verse divisions) by Moses and that the documents from which he compiled it were written much earlier. The various lines of evidence may be summarized as follows:

1) The presence of Babylonian words in the first 11 chapters. Wiseman notes that the early chapters of Genesis contain Babylonian words. He says that it is impossible to suggest that these words found their way into these particular chapters after the Hebrews’ second contact with Babylon in the days of Daniel or Ezra. For even the most critical scholars admit that these accounts had been written before then.
2) The presence of Egyptian words in the last 14 chapters. Wiseman points out the detailed knowledge of the author with Egyptian life … such as “because the Egyptians might not eat bread with Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.” He gives other examples also. Wiseman submits that such a statement would never have been written at a time later than Moses.
3) Reference to towns which had either ceased to exist, or whose original names were already so ancient in the time of Moses, that as compiler of the book, he had to insert the new names, so that they could be identified by the Hebrews living in his day. Wiseman gives examples from Genesis 14 … Bela (which is Zoar) in verses 2 and 8, Vale of Siddim (which is the Salt Sea) verse 3, En-mishpat (which is Kadesh) verse 7, Hobah (which is Damascus) verse 15, and the Valley of Shaveh (which is the King’s Dale) verse 17.
4) The narratives reveal such familiarity with the circumstances and details of the events recorded, as to indicate that they were written by persons concerned with those events. Wiseman gives an example of the action of Sarah with her maid Hagar in relation to the birth of Ishmael. The procedure followed both by Abraham and Sarah was precisely that laid down in the law then in existence by laws 144-46 of the Code of Hammurabi. In Mosaic times quite another law was ordained in Deuteronomy.
5) Evidences that the narratives were originally written on tablets and in an ancient script.

The remaining chapters of the book are entitled …

Chapter 7 – “Who Wrote the Original Tablets?”
Chapter 8 – “Was Moses the Compiler?”
Chapter 9 – “Theories Now Obsolete”
Chapter 10 – “Genesis Defends Itself”
Chapter 11 – “The Titles for God”, and
Chapter 12 – “Jesus and the New Testament Authors”

Chapter 13 is entitled “Conclusion” and makes a Summary List of 24 evidences for the original thesis of the book, again , that the book of Genesis was originally written on tablets in the ancient script of the time by the patriarchs who were intimately concerned with the events related, and whose names are clearly stated. Moreover, Moses, the compiler and editor of the book, as we now have it, plainly directs attention to the source of his information.

Here are his 24 summarized points …

1) Archaeological research (which commenced after “higher criticism” had produced its theories) has, in recent years, given us the ancient and contemporary background of Genesis, which agrees with its contents (Chapter 2).
2) The Genesis narratives imply that rapid development took place in early history. Archaeologists have dug down into virgin soil and found that a high state of culture existed in times previously called “prehistoric.” They even assert that long before the time of Abraham, Sumerian civilization had reached its zenith (Chapter 3).
3) As far back as archaeology has been able to go, and in the earliest times, examples of writing have been found. During the period covered by the greater part of Genesis, writing has been discovered to be in common use even for ordinary commercial transactions (Chapter 4).
4) The contents of the earlier chapters of Genesis claim to have been written (Chapter 5).
5) Both Scripture and archaeology give evidence that the narratives and genealogies of Genesis were originally written on stone or clay tablets, and in the ancient script of the time (Chapters 4 & 5).
6) We now know something of the literary methods used by the ancients. Prominent among these was the colophon of the tablet. In our examination of Genesis we find a similar literary method, for the formula, “These are the origins (generations) of …,” was the ancient conclusion which Moses inserted indicating the source from which he obtained the narratives and genealogies (Chapters 5 and 6).
7) Other literary methods were the use of “titles” and “catchlines” in order to bring the tablets together in proper sequence. Although Genesis (as we know it) is a book compiled by Moses, there are still traces of the use of these literary means of preserving sequence (Chapter 6).
8) In some instances indications are provided giving the date when the tablet was written. This is given in a most archaic way and very similar to the method prevailing in very ancient times (Chapter 6).
9) In confirmation of (4) to (8) above, we have shown that in no instance is an event recorded that the person (or persons) named in chapter 5 could not have written from personal knowledge, or have obtained absolutely unmistakable contemporary information. In Chapter 7, the positive evidence is reviewed showing that they were so written. The familiarity with which all the circumstances and details are described is noted.
10) Additional corroboration is found in the significant fact that the history recorded in the sections written over the names of the patriarchs ceases in all instances on the date on which the tablet is stated to have been written or, where no date is given, before the death of that person. In most cases it is continued almost up to the date of the patriarch’s death (Chapter 5).
11) The presence of “Babylonian” words in the first eleven chapters is further evidence that the contents of the earliest narratives and genealogies were written during the lifetime of the earliest patriarchs of Genesis, for they used that language.
12) The presence of Egyptian words and Egyptian environment in the last fourteen chapters of Genesis adds its irresistible testimony that those chapters were written in Egypt (Chapter 6).
13) The first tablet, that of the Creation, seems to have been written at the very dawn of history. This is evidenced by its archaic expressions, for it was put into writing before names had been given to the sun and moon and before polytheism had arisen or clans developed (Chapter 7).
14) There is no statement in Scripture to support the supposition that all the narratives and genealogies were handed down verbally; on the contrary, they claim to have been written down (Chapters 5, 7 and 8).
15) Many references are made to towns which had either ceased to exist or whose names are so ancient that the compiler had to insert the names by which they were known in his day. These new names and explanations fit exactly with the circumstances of a people then on the edge of the land of Canaan, and about to enter it; thus indicating that Moses used earlier records and that he was the compiler of the book (Chapters 6 and 8).
16) That Genesis should still contain archaic expressions and show traces of the literary aids associated with the use of clay tablets is a witness to the fidelity with which the text has been handed down to us (Chapter 6 and 8).
17) It is clear that the ordinary Babylonian tablets of the Creation and the Flood are a corrupted form of the Genesis record. The narratives of Genesis are not merely a purified form of the Babylonian accounts (Chapter 2).
18) Archaeology has completely undermined the “myth and legend” theory of Genesis. Evidences of persons once thought by critics to be mythical have been discovered by archaeologists (Chapter 9).
19) The difficulties alleged against Genesis by “higher critics” vanish quite naturally when it is understood that the narratives and genealogies were first written on tablets in an ancient script, by the persons whose names they bear, and that the book was compiled by Moses. Any differences in phraseology and style are just what we would expect in these circumstances (Chapter 10)
20) The “repetition of the same event,” of which modern scholars speak, is shown to harmonize exactly with the arrangement of the tablets from which the book was composed and to conform to ancient Sumerian usage (Chapter 10).
21) The outstanding examples brought forward by critics to suggest a late date for Genesis are shown to prove the reverse (Chapter 10).
22) The documentary theory was originated in order to account for the use of the name Jehovah in Genesis and the exclusive use in certain sections (which we claim to have been tablets) of one particular name or title for God. On the basis of the documentary theory the unwieldy structure of “higher criticism” has been reared. It can, however, be shown that there are other possible explanations for the varying use of the divine names. This is especially the case when it is seen that in the book of Genesis we have contemporary and translated records (Chapter 11).
23) The writers of the New Testament base important arguments and illustrations on the narratives of Genesis. These arguments and illustrations would be worse than useless–they would be misleading–unless these narratives rest on historical facts (Chapter 12).
24) The testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to the narratives contained in Genesis is of greater value than all the preceding evidence and constitutes the pinnacle of these evidential verifications of its history. To the Christian mind, the testimony of Christ must be decisive (Chapter 12).

These twenty-four strands woven together make a cumulative muster of evidences, so exceptional both in character and importance, that they establish the antiquity of Genesis as a contemporary record of events upon a sure foundation. This foundation is the internal testimony of the book itself, supported by the external corroboration of archaeology.

Curt Sewell has also done an excellent review of this book at …

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