Friday, October 25, 2013


I read How Moses Compiled Genesis by J. Stafford Wright on Friday, 10/4, but have had no opportunity to post my impressions of it till now. That Friday, I did what I did the week previously; I stayed home and did laundry while reading. However in this case, I thought it appropriate to listen to the soundtrack to The Ten Commandments as I read.

Writing in 1946, Wright states that in the war over the Pentateuch, the followers of Wellhausen were winning. But he asserted that conservative scholars need not lose the war. What was needed, in his estimation, was a positive offense from the conservative camp. To argue against a late date for the writing of the Pentateuch was a good defense. But an effort had to be made to demonstrate that Moses indeed did write it. Wright's article, which was from a paper he read at a theological students' conference at Cambridge, was his suggestion for the beginning of such a positive offense, focusing on Genesis. Why did he focus on Genesis? First, because Jewish tradition is unanimous in in attributing it's authorship to Moses. Second, it is obvious that Genesis is closely linked to the rest of the Pentateuch. Even Wellhausen never separated Genesis from from Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The same hand that wrote those books wrote Genesis. And there are portions of the Law which identify Moses as the author. So, if one can make the case for an early date for the writing of Genesis, the same can be done for the rest of the Pentateuch.

Exodus tells us that Moses grew up in Pharaoh's household (Ex. 1:10). Wright states this to be a little before 1500 B.C. (I don't use B.C.E. on this blog. If this were a scholarly paper, perhaps I might force myself to do so.) Here, all the royal princes, as well as the sons of chiefs from across the Empire, were educated. Moses received this very same education (Acts 7: 22). Here Moses would learn to read government documents and histories not only from Egypt, but also from Assyria and Babylon. Through such reading, Moses would become a master in many languages. He would not only have learned the Egyptian and Babylonian languages, he would have learned the Hebrew language as well. The Patriarchs probably abandoned the Sumerian language of Ur and adopted their own dialectical version of the language of Canaan. As Moses came into contact with the Princes from Canaan, he could join in on their conversations. Moses also would have picked up Hebrew from contact with his natural family.

Moses would have learned about the history of his own people from these documents. The Pharaoh's left voluminous records praising their reigns. In these documents, Moses would have come across accounts in the Egyptian language of Joseph, who had ruled Egypt under Pharaoh 350 years before. Most of this history would have been written by Joseph himself. This history would have been nearly lost to the Israelites toiling for their masters. Jacob and Abraham also probably left accounts of their lives which made it into Egyptian archives. Moses would also have discovered genealogies, going all the way back to Adam. He also would have learned of God's dealings with his people,including the promises given to Abraham and his descendants. Moses would concentrate on this theme as he worked to synthesize all this material into one historical account. Moses would be interested in showing that the God revealed in the historical documents was the same God that delivered them from Egypt and gave them the Law. Previously, God had been known by the name El Shaddai. When God revealed himself to Moses, God revealed his name as Yahweh (Ex. 6:3). Yet the name Yahweh appears in various places in Genesis. In this way, Moses was showing his people that their God was the same God that appears in Genesis.

This is only a short summary of only half of Wrights article. Much detail has been left out. The whole article is only 10 pages and is a quick read. I saw it originally on Rob Bradshaw's Biblical StudiesUK website, but it cannot be found there now. It can be found at the link above. The next post in this series will be a review of an article by Edward J. Young on the canon of the Old Testament.        

1 comment:

Mr. Guthrie said...

This is my 400th post.