The Provenance Of The Bible’s First Book
The opening book of the Bible – the Old Testament to be exact – is Genesis. Who wrote it? It’s a question that has preoccupied religious and non-religious minds alike for centuries. According to traditional Christian and Jewish religious belief, Genesis was authored by the figure of Moses in the mid-15th century BCE. In the vast majority of Christian Bibles published before the 20th century, the exordium of these books stated explicitly as much.
To this day, many Christians, especially that of a more traditionally inclined mind, accept Moses to be the author of Genesis. It is thought that the prophet did not create the accounts of Genesis from scratch, but actually drew upon earlier oral and written traditions.
Yet not everyone is so readily able to accept Moses as the sole author of the Bible’s first book. Not least the ever increasing body of sceptics who challenge the view that the Bible was produced by a divine being, instead questioning the likelihood of its having being composed by a historical figure, or perhaps in a collective effort spanning several centuries by many writers.
Indeed, works of other ancient Near Eastern cultures, especially those of Babylon and Assyria, include incredibly similar components. Legends about the creation of the world, the Flood and usage of narration frames similar to that of Genesis can be found in those ancient works, leading many to conclude the likelihood of a 15th century BCE individual to be at the helm of this work to be questionable.
These claims were further solidified by the archaeological projects of the 20th century. Excavation of the ruins of Sinai’s Turquoise Mines relating to Exodus found no evidence whatsoever of the presence of Moses, his people or his period. Artifacts turned up that suggest occupation of this area at a much earlier time, long before the purported 15th century BCE.
Scientific Analysis Of Genesis Manuscripts
Scientific analysis of manuscripts of the Old Testament are another source of doubt when it comes to traditional views on authorship of the Bible’s first book. These have been conducted on the earliest Hebrew manuscripts, one of the most well known being the so called Masoretic Text. It is a codex of the Hebrew Bible that was discovered by a group of Jewish scribes in the late Middle Ages.
The Masoretic Text is a collection of texts looking at the grammar and orthography of the Hebrew language and includes a text for each book of the Bible. It was suggested that the Masoretic Text should replace the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Koine Greek, which had been in use since the turn of the third century BCE.
The Masoretic Text has been around for centuries and its content was used by scholars to document the scribes and their written works. However, a more scientific analysis has revealed some major discrepancies in the evolution of the text. For instance, the text points to multiple writers contributing to the evolution of the Bible during the three or four centuries, contrasting the traditional view of a single author in the figure of Moses.
Halley’s Bible Handbook is a nineteenth century publication that, among other things, thoroughly examines all the biblical manuscripts of the time. According to their analysis, the first five books of the Bible can be divided into four documents, or main sources: The Yahwist, the Elohist, the Priestly and the Deuterist source. The scholars also discovered that the contents of these sources were woven together and added to by a fifth hand, dubbed the Redactor.
Evidence For Oral Tradition Preceding The Writing Of Genesis
The discovery of the five sources behind Genesis led some academics to suggest that Moses himself was the Redactor. However, careful examination of the sources reveals that their content was composed in different literary forms, suggesting that their authors could not have had access to one another’s material.
This led some experts to posit that the Redactor was someone who was collecting and incorporating separate material into a coherent and unified work. Where did they find that material? The most likely explanation seems to be oral tradition.
Indeed, analysis of the writings of early Jews and Christians point to an expectation of individuals to tell stories from ancient times orally. Additionally, scholars point to strata of the Masoretic Text that were only readable via careful reading, suggesting the involvement of oral tradition prior to the final written version.
This notion of oral tradition at the origin of Genesis is also confirmed by careful comparison of the Bible’s first book with contemporary works from cultures of the ancient Near East. Scholars who have done so find an immense degree of overlap in themes, motifs and structure, thus reinforcing the possibility that Genesis may not have been written down by one individual at all.
Exploring The Theory Of Multiple Authors
As is the case with many ancient documents and fragments, the document shreds and adduced evidence makes providing definitive evidence of who wrote the Bible’s first book, and when, exceedingly difficult. Still, looking closely at the material available leads to an open consideration of the possibility of multiple authors having been involved in the writing of Genesis.
The first clear evidence of a multiple authorship of Genesis is the presence of the four sources quoted above. Halley’s Bible Handbook believes these are derived from ‘original documents written by independent authors living in different lands and different centuries’.
Currently, the prevailing orthodoxy amongst scholars is that the bulk of the content of the Bible’s first book is from the 10th century BCE, but modified and edited in different ways throughout the following several centuries.
The Role Of The Priests Of Moses’ Time
The work of the Hebrews’ priests during this period could also have had an influence. It is thought that their role was of the utmost importance for the composition of the Bible’s first book. Most notably, there is evidence in the Masoretic Text that suggests the presence of an authorarial figure involved in the reworking and editing of the earliest source material available.
It is generally believed that this figure was a figure of some importance in the legal and religious observance of the Hebrews, most likely an important priest. This is further supported by the presence of Biblical motifs which appears to be taken from parallel Canaanite myths and cultic texts, as well as the presence of priestly language.
Examining The Role Of An Editor
In light of this evidence, some academics suggest further that the activity of the editor or redactor of Genesis would have taken place in the 7th to 6th century BCE. It is thought that during this period, the era of prophetic influence, the chosen scribes and editors would have been professionally and politically interested in reworking the documents to something that was closer to their faith.
This might have led some to speculate that the role of the editor stretched even into the Hellenistic period when the Greek influence on the Bible was at its highest. This would further mean a much longer period of redaction of the sources, with authors and sources coming in a changing context, thus making the Bible’s first book much more complex than initially thought.
Exploring The Relationship Between The Bible And Ancient Near East Lore And Legends
Analysing the circumstances in which Genesis was written leads to an interesting point regarding the relationship between the Bible and the ancient lore and works of the Near East. The legends and works of the period were so deeply entwined, often sharing a considerable degree of resemblance, that in many cases it is impossible to determine which was written first.
It is this intricate, possibly incomprehensible relationship between the Bible’s first book and its contemporary Near Eastern predecessors that makes it impossible to determine who wrote the Bible’s first book in absolute certain terms.
The Debate Around The Bible
The discussion, debate and school-ing of thought surrounding the Bible – and who wrote its first book in particular – is arguably evergreen. Its complexity and open interpretation of who wrote it and why has led to hundreds of theories, different disciplines overlapping and an incomparable body of scholarship developed over the centuries.
Yet, despite the sheer quantity of books, articles and essays produced on the matter, there is still no clear consensus on who in fact wrote the Bible’s first book and the circumstances in which it was inscribed. The only thing all those involved appear to agree on is that the process of authorship, work of the redactor and incorporation of oral traditions was undoubtedly very complex and done over a long span of time.
The Authorship Of The Bible’s First Book And Its Impact On Religious Beliefs
Whatever the truth may be regarding the authorship of the Bible’s first book, such an analysis has real consequences in terms of religious believer’s ability to adopt and accept Biblical teachings ‒ if in doubt as to who is behind a book, it is incredibly difficult for some to adhere to its words as a source of objective truth.
On the one hand, many tradicionalists view the Bible as being of God’s own inspiration and written entirely in one go by the hand of the prophet Moses in the 15th century BCE. On the other hand, contemporary critical scholarship would suggest the process of authorship of the Bible’s first book was much more complex, with multiple contributing authors and editions occurring over many centuries’ timespan. Neither school of thoughts can be proved right.
Regardless, it would appear both contend as to who wrote the Bible’s first book and why, highlights the Bible’s origin as a human document and forces a reevaluation of its content and purpose, and throws into sharp relief the Bible’s allegorical, figurative and mythical elements.
The Role Of Ancient Pedagogical Practices And Oral Traditions
The documents associated with the writing of the Bible’s first book also brings into the discussion the role of ancient pedagogical practices and the transmission of oral traditions. Embedded within the text are passages which appear to have been crafted according to ancient educational norms ‒ a fact that would suggest a rich experience of knowledge within the society from which the writers sprung.
As further investigation reveals, knowledge was not only contained in texts but also told in parables and stories, leading some experts to conclude that the transmission of knowledge was largely based on the sharing and recalling of these mythical and religious stories told by the ancients.
The Role Of Ancient Pagan Religions
Comparative studies of the Bible’s first book with other ancient Near Eastern works has further revealed links between the Bible and numerous ancient pagan religions, including questions around whether the binding of Isaac was a pre-existing myth or a new invention, and the degree to which Genesis is similar to Babylonian creation stories.
The answers to these questions go some way to helping answer the ultimate question of who wrote the Bible’s first book. Still, what is certain but that looking at the evidence reveals a long and complex process of authorship, with permutations of authors, circumstances and beliefs that remain open to debate.