Where did Moses get His Information? Part 2

This is part two of a series, Where did Moses get His Information?. In part one, I briefly discussed how Moses could have written Exodus 1 (ESV) since it took place before he was born. I also mentioned Deuteronomy 34 (ESV), which was written after he died. The likely answers are pretty simple, so it was a short article.

Now I want to discuss how Moses received the information he wrote in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Genesis starts around 2,500 years before Moses was born, and it’s harder to explain than the few years leading up to his birth and what happened at his death.

There are a few theories on how the book of Genesis came to exist. No where in the Bible is Genesis explicitly attributed to Moses, but Jewish tradition attributes Genesis to Moses. When Jesus said “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46 ESV), the people he was speaking to would have understood that to include Genesis (although many of them would have disagreed with the statement).

On the other hand, some sceptics claim the Torah was written by different authors years after Moses died, parts of it up to 800-900 years later. Then around 1,000 years after Moses (supposedly) lived, editors collected the different parts and combined them into the Torah. This is called the Documentary Hypothesis, and it contradicts over 3,000 years of tradition. There are some other theories which are equally unconvincing.

Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses1, and we know “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” (Acts 7:22 NIV). Because of the training he had received, he was likely as well educated as anyone in Egypt. Since he was born a Hebrew, he was probably also familiar with the Hebrew history.

There are two main opinions on how Moses received the early information. First, God could have supernaturally revealed Genesis to Moses, but I think it’s unwise to appeal to supernatural intervention when a natural explanation is adequate. There are places were God speaks directly to a person, and tells the person to write down God’s laws, so we can’t exclude supernatural revelation of Genesis to Moses.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14 ESV)

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” (Malachi 4:4 ESV)

The second option seems more probable to me: the history God wanted Moses to write was passed through 2,500 years from Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and others to Moses. Certainly God would have had to reveal the creation in Genesis to someone, since Adam hasn’t been created yet, but the other people could have passed down their own parts of the story. Moses may have  collected oral histories and writings and combined them like a general editor into Genesis. Moses’ ancestors possibly knew how to write, so Moses could have had many documents to work from.2

Many people object to the idea Adam (or even Moses) could have known how to read and write. Genesis 5:1 (NIV) says “This is the written account of Adam’s family line. When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.” Who wrote the account? Perhaps Moses used a book written by Adam. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil3, so they probably acquired some good knowledge in addition to the evil knowledge. Could they have acquired the skills needed to learn to read and write? Reading and writing has been an essential method of communication for millennia, and perhaps it goes back father than scholars generally believe. Adam lived 930 years4, which seems like enough time to learn how to read and write. Each generation may have written down their experiences, and finally Moses summarized them in Genesis.

Abraham had written laws of Jehovah which he kept: Genesis 26:55 says he kept, among other things, Jehovah’s statutes ([Hebrew] “chuqqim“) and laws ([Hebrew] “torah“). A “chuqqim” is a written commandment, usually inscribed in stone (BDB, 1962: 350:d)6. The word “chuqqim” comes from a root meaning to engrave7, and hence denotes permanent and prescribed rules of conduct.8

Even if the assumption Moses’ ancestors couldn’t write are correct, almost anyone can participate in singing a story. Albert Lord wrote Singer of Tales, a study of folk singers who knew stories up to 100,000 word long. The singers were able to memorize plots, characters, events and details in the songs, while still having variations of 10%-40% in the wording. Albert Lord categorized the types of changes as9

  1. Saying the same thing with more or less words.
  2. Adding details to descriptions.
  3. Changing the order of events.
  4. Adding lines from other singers.
  5. Removing material.
  6. Changing one theme for another, while keeping the core points of the story.

In spite of the changes in the wording, the audiences frequently knew the stories and were able to immediately correct the singer if an error was made. This is called “Social Memory”, where it would be difficult for a person, or small group of people, to change the collective memories of a group of people. A large group of people will quickly transmit the message, making the larger group harder to deceive.10

Even if Moses had ancient (to him) documents to work from, it’s still reasonable to consider Moses the author of Genesis. If a modern historian uses quotes from eyewitnesses to an event, the historian is considered the author of the final work, not the eyewitnesses. There are places in Genesis where the writing style changes, and this can be easily explained by Moses using a source he had, then writing a bridge to the next section.

…as a prophet of God he [Moses] was the appropriate recipient of the written records or oral traditions from the patriarchs from Adam to his own day, which the Holy Spirit could use to guide Moses to write the inerrant text of Genesis. There is no other ancient Hebrew who was more qualified than Moses to write the Pentateuch.11

Resources

  • Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007) (Amazon)
  • Ham, Ken (General Editor) and Bodies Hodge (General Editor). How do We Know the Bible is True? Volume 1. (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2012) Chapter 8, Did Moses Write Genesis?. (Amazon, Answers in Genesis)
  • Livingston, David. From What Did Moses Compose Genesis? (Associates for Biblical Research, Dec 26, 2005; Blog) Accessed 24-May-2019.
  • Sewell, Curt. The Tablet Theory of Genesis Authorship. (The True Origin Archive; Blog) Accessed 02-Oct-2018.

 

Footnotes

  1. Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1-10 ESV)
  2. Sewell, Curt. The Tablet Theory of Genesis Authorship. (The True Origin Archive) accessed 02-Oct-2018.
  3. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9 NIV)
  4. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. (Genesis 5:5 NIV)
  5. The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,  because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” (Genesis 26:3-5 NIV)
  6. Brown–Driver–Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon
  7. Hebrew chaqaq. Strong’s H2710.
  8. Livingston, David. From What Did Moses Compose Genesis? (Associates for Biblical Research, Dec 26, 2005; Blog) Accessed 24-May-2019.
  9. Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Second Edition. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 58.
  10. Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Second Edition. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 58.
  11. Ham, Ken (General Editor) and Bodies Hodge (General Editor). How do We Know the Bible is True? Volume 1. (Green Forest, AR. Master Books: 2012) 94. (Amazon)

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