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Asbury Bible Commentary – II. Authorship
II. Authorship

II. Authorship

Genesis has been considered from time immemorial to be an integral part of the first five books of the OT, commonly referred to as the Pentateuch. Traditionally, both Jews and Christians have ascribed authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses. He is the central figure in the books. Unlike his contemporaries, Moses was well educated, having been reared as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. Several references in the Pentateuch itself indicate that Moses was responsible for certain writings (Ex 17:14; 24:4-8; 34:27; Nu 33:1-2; Dt 31:9, 22, 24) not to mention the various allusions to Mosaic authorship throughout the remaining Scripture in both the OT and NT. However, specific biblical evidence for the pen of Moses is lacking in Genesis. Events related in the book occurred, of course, prior to the life of Moses and undoubtedly existed in some written or oral form prior to the events of the Exodus. Whether or not Moses utilized these ancient sources must remain inconclusive and beyond the scope of this commentary.

With the rise of higher criticism in the late eighteenth century, doubt was raised on Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and, in particular, of Genesis. The theorists postulate the existence of various sources within the text “distinguished from one another by their use of divine names, by peculiarities of style, and by perceptible differences of representation” (Skinner, xliv). Two of the major sources, the Yahwistic (J) and Elohistic (E) “documents” were combined into a composite narrative and later joined to the Priestly source by a postexilic editor to form the book in its present state.

While much of the linguistic criteria used by literacy critics must be considered suspect in determining the extent and nature of ancient sources, there does appear to be strong evidence in the narrative of the existence of composite material. A feature known as “doublets,” in which two stories resemble one another, may, on occasion, reflect one particular event from two sources and with disparate perceptions. The most familiar instances cited as doublets are the encounters of Abraham and Isaac with Abimelech at Gerar (Ge 20, 26; cf. also 12:10ff.). Arguments regarding the authorship of Genesis may always remain speculative. Kidner (Genesis, 16ff.) has taken the source critics to task, while others within the literacy criticism camp have challenged the established consensus (e.g., John Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition, 1975; and Rolf Rendtorff, “Die Überlieferungs-geschichtliche Problem des Pentateuch,” 1977). The way beyond the dilemma may consist in a recognition of the essential unity of the book and its message, within its canonical context. (For summary and possibilities see Eugene Carpenter, “The Pentateuch.” ISBE, vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.) That Genesis exhibits an easily recognizable unity is beyond dispute despite the nature of its composition (cf. Skinner, lxv). That unity is enhanced, as we have previously noted, by the use of the toledoth formula by a redactor to provide the final canonical shape of the book.