Was the book of Genesis compiled from oral traditions or previously written sources, or from both, by many writers, or was it written by Moses? Were the Near-Eastern mythologies sources of biblical accounts or did the latter influence the former? Is it possible that the first 11 chapters of Genesis were written by Adam, and transmitted in writing through generations? I will not enter into all details of this debate, but I am inserting a few observations into it.
A reference to the activity of writing is found in Genesis 5:1 which says: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” This proposition is considered by some commentators to be an expression suggesting that the art of writing was known within the lifetime of Adam and this could make writing as old as the human race. It should be noticed that the cuneiform writing became the system used by all civilized countries east of the Mediterranean. Cuneiform writing consists of wedge-shaped impressions made in plastic clay. The Hebrew word for “write” means “cut in” or “dig.” The contention is that Adam would have used this system of writing which he knew from his Creator.
There are some problems with this interpretation and one of them is that Adam was only a literary figure and not a historical one, therefore he didn’t live on Earth at all. Even if Adam had been a real personage and not a fictitious one, he couldn’t have been a conscious witness to his own birth. As a matter of fact, the expression “this is the book of the generations of Adam” is not an argument for the existence of writings from Adam’s times as long as we don’t know when that book was written. It could have been a text talking about an alleged past written late in time and not during Adam’s life. Being a book about Adam isn’t the same as being a book written by Adam.
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Another objection is that Adam couldn’t have authored the book of Genesis because he couldn’t have witnessed the things before his creation. The following quotation explains it:
“Apparently God wrote the first chapter. There is no way anyone else would have known those things. But for chapter 2 Adam was there and was an eyewitness to what was happening. Adam wrote chapters 2, 3, and 4.”
What language would God have used if He had written the book of Genesis? As the original of this writing is nowhere to be found one must deduce that the oldest written language known by humankind would have also been God’s language. The oldest written language of human civilization, discovered by man, is the cuneiform writing and, being its age, the deduction which is apparently logic, is that it must be the writing used by God and transferred to Adam. At the same time, cuneiform is a difficult language to be used and it is hazardous to affirm that God would have used such a cumbersome form of communication.
Cuneiform writing today is seen as pretty obsolete and for this reason human civilization discarded it long ago. Cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. In the third millennium, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use grew smaller. The system consists of a combination of logo-phonetic, consonantal alphabetic and syllabic signs. Between half a million and two million cuneiform tablets are estimated to have been excavated in modern times. At the same time, no texts about the creation of Earth and man were found in cuneiform until now, hence there is no writing in cuneiform about creation from Adam.
The only known cuneiform texts, related to Genesis, refer to the Flood. This has come to light since the recent deciphering of a clay cuneiform tablet first shown to curators at the British Museum in 1985, but not surrendered by its owner for translation until 2009. The conclusions of this finding were analysed by Irving Finkel in his book “The Ark Before Noah:
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Decoding the Story of the Flood”. Irving Finkel was very interested in the writings, and precisely in their cuneiform style. He said about that:
“The world’s oldest and hardest writing, older by far than any alphabet, written by long-dead Sumerians and Babylonians over more than 3,000 years, and as extinct by the time of the Romans as any dinosaur. What a challenge! What an adventure!”
Is it possible that God would have utilised and thought of a language which in time would become extinct, risking in this way the loss of much important information? It is very hard to accept that God wrote the first chapter of the book of Genesis or so in cuneiform, taught Adam the cuneiform writing, and that Adam wrote the remaining few chapters of Genesis in cuneiform also. Why was all written in cuneiform if God’s intention was to transmit the message over the millennia? At the same time, no other tablets have been found, except what I mentioned, and the core of the message about creation eventually has been lost.
To me, accepting Adam as an historical personage and not only a legendary one, is unreasonable and, in any case, it is very improbable that God would have taught Adam to write in the cuneiform system, as this type of writing is based on pictograms and difficult to use. Ideographic scripts (in which graphemes are ideograms representing concepts or ideas, rather than a specific word in a language), and pictographic scripts (in which the graphemes are iconic pictures) are not thought to be able to express all that can be communicated by language, as argued by the linguists John DeFrancis and J. Marshall Unger. Essentially, they postulate that no full writing system can be completely pictographic or ideographic; it must be able to refer directly to a language in order to have the full expressive capacity of a language.
The writing systems have been developed in time, therefore they are evolving phenomena; they haven’t been given by God once and for all.
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If indeed the language had come directly from God one would expect Him to teach man the most evolved system of writing and not the most incipient and primitive one. God could have taught Adam the use of the phonetic alphabet, which is more flexible and evolved, in which case the first man would have been a developed and sophisticated being, as he should. In point of fact, written language has been invented by man and this is the reason one can see an evolution of written languages along the millennia, from more complicated and tortuous ones to more efficient ones.
At the same time, it is well documented that there is more than one human author of the book of Genesis; consequently Moses couldn’t be the only author of it. I will not enter into detail, at this point, about the obvious differences between the two versions of the creation stories, found in chapter 1 and in chapter 2 of the book. In any case, if only one author had written the book, these differences wouldn’t have been possible. The same stands true if God had inspired the whole book of Genesis to one or many human writers. Contradictions are explained by the multitude of the authorship, and the plurality of sources.
The idea that God has written the beginning of the book of Genesis can be negated also from the way in which the Bible speaks about God’s revelation. God has inspired messages to human writers through the Holy Spirit, in almost all cases. He didn’t write the message Himself, except the situation presented in Exodus 31: 18. The only time when the Bible says that God has written Himself a text was clearly emphasised as such. None can legitimately infer that God had written other texts, as far as such a thing is not expressly notified by the texts themselves. He could, of course, theoretically, inspire the book of Genesis, to a human mind or to more than one, but so many contradictions contained by the book of Genesis discourage such a conclusion. At the same time, the book itself doesn’t say that is written, totally or partially by God.
I am convinced that it wasn’t Moses alone who had written the book of Genesis, but that there is a multiple authorship of the texts and the final editing has been done after Moses’ death. Is Moses the author of some of the texts from the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis? It isn’t sure what Moses would have written but if he really was one of the authors of the texts, he was contradicted by the other authors writing other parts of the stories.
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Was only Moses inspired by God and all the other authors have written from their imagination or under the influence of other mythologies? Both stories of creation are contradictory and absurd hence neither of them were inspired by God. They aren’t a factual account of the creation of the universe. Firstly, they are contradictory internally, and absurd, and secondly they diverge greatly from the laws of nature established by God.
We can notice that almost all the stories from the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis present a reverse order starting with the creation of daylight before the sun and continuing with others. How do we know what are the laws of nature set in place by God? We can know the origins of the universe and its laws through the revelation in nature. In the matter of origins, revelation through nature is much stronger and precise than the old texts of Genesis. Neither version of the creation, chapter 1 of the book of Genesis, or chapter 2, are consistent with their own assertions and none of them could be considered a credible record of how the universe came to be in place.
Regardless of who wrote the book of Genesis, the existing contradictions still remain and they are degrading the stories to be no more than unbelievable tales. The Almighty God wouldn’t inspire absurd things to human beings only to confuse their beliefs. According to the Bible, He had confused the human language, but this is pure fantasy. If someone believes that God would have inspired deliberately false and contradictory stories to humankind, that would open another way of understanding the Christian religion. Such a proposition is contradicted by many texts of the Bible in which He is portrayed as a loving God.
It wouldn’t be right to say that Moses didn’t write any book from Pentateuch, because such closure would contradict many biblical texts in which God has asked him to write different things:
“14 Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’ (Exodus 17; 14 NRSV)
“4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Exodus 24; 4 NRSV)
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“27 The LORD said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Exodus 34; 27 NRSV)
“2 Moses wrote down their starting points, stage by stage, by command of the LORD; and these are their stages according to their starting places.” (Numbers 33; 2 NRSV)
These texts and others which speak about Moses writing messages given by God don’t refer to the creation of the universe or of humankind. If they are all the messages written by Moses, none of them have any direct connection with the creation. Many people who believe that Moses was an historical personage would probably accept that he has written some parts of the Pentateuch but many texts have been probably altered by later editing. Nowhere in the Bible is there proof that he has written texts within the first 11 chapters of Genesis. When God asked Moses to write something, that occasion is mentioned by the O.T. and if He had demanded Moses to write a history of the creation of the universe that situation would also have been recorded by the Bible, but it isn’t, most probably because such request never happened.
If we start to believe some messages only because they are said to be inspired by God regardless of how absurd they are, we have a problem, and we put our rationality aside. The other way around is the valid path. A message could possibly be inspired by God only if it is coherent in any way, and if it transmits important information to humankind. The starting point is the spiritual value of the message and not the religious claim that a certain text is the result of God’s inspiration. If a series of texts don’t contradict each other, and they form a unitary and consistent story with a profound spiritual message, that is the starting point for the admission that the story could have a divine source.
On the other side, many religious texts from different religions claim that they are inspired by divinity, but they contradict each other in the interior of the same religion or between religions when they refer to the same theme, and this is a strong proof that, in fact, they aren’t the result of such an inspiration. If two contradictory things are said to come from the same source their origin cannot be a divine one. If two different religious texts both claim to be inspired but they don’t agree among themselves in important points, either one is inspired and the other one isn’t or both texts aren’t inspired but they are a mere human effort. The difficulty is to know which text is inspired and which isn’t. If the texts not only contradict each other but also are inconsistent with their own claims, such texts aren’t inspired by God.
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