Does Genesis hold up under critic’s scrutiny?
23 September 2005
This is a request for a reader, “AM”, to answer a criticism from an antibiblical product of liberal theology, “G”. The Religious Studies departments of secular universities almost always work hard to undermine biblical authority. For example, we have encountered an atheist called Professor Almond, who is head of the Religion Department at the University of Queensland (a bit like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank!).
The methodology of liberals is to proclaim premises as conclusions. That is, they claim that their scholarly research has shown that the miraculous events of the Bible did not occur. In reality, their research began with the assumption that miracles do not occur, so it would have been a miracle if they had concluded otherwise.
This time we have a guest response from James Patrick Holding of Tekton Apologetics Ministries.
I have been having an email debate with well read pluralist for a few months now and I asked him to critique Russell Grigg’s article Did Moses really write Genesis and his reply was well beyond my ability to respond (I am only a recent convert). Is it possible for someone (maybe even Russell Grigg) to help me answer his critique? I have added it below: Hi [AM], I am replying without the history as it becomes too lengthy. First I will reply re the [CMI] article. I found it a bizzare [sic] article, but not surprised.
This “bizarre” article has received warm praise from Orthodox Jewish scholars, but would appear bizarre to those indoctrinated by liberal theology.
1— A very odd statement by the writer of the [CMI] article. Phonological Writing was known to the Sumerians ca. 3000 BC. Some scholars even date Egyptian phonological writing at ca. 4000 BCE. I certainly don’t differ.
It is hard to say what the liberal critic finds “odd” about point 1. He is apparently unaware that claiming writing was unknown at Moses’ time was an early staple of Wellhausen’s JEDP hypothesis. It no longer is, but the theory itself relied at one time heavily on this premise, and is therefore seriously tainted. (CMI would dispute the dates, but not the fact that writing long predates Moses, contrary to Wellhausen’s belief).
2— Geography: Fine, but what about Baalzephon? Did the [CMI] writer forget that here is the name of a Canaanite town within the boundaries of Egypt?? Does that make anachronistic sense? Refer to any concordance, Psalm 48 and Exodus 14:2. Also, Myths in the Old Testament p.72, f/n 24, p.130. (Baal, Baal - Zephon, Mountain [north]). Flora & Fauna: Acacia wood is found near the Dead Sea, the writer even mentions this. Also, you can refer to “The Israelites” by Baruch Levine for acacia wood in Israel.
It is uncertain what point is being attempted concerning Baalzephon. It is not clearly within the boundaries of Egypt. It apparently also does not occur to the liberal that the use of the acacia makes far better sense coming from a place where it was common. And at best, he would be trying to find the odd exceptions to the overwhelming rule that Grigg adduced—the geographical references make sense if the author had just come out of Egypt, rather than having many centuries in Palestine followed by a Babylonian exile.
Customs: Does he also realise that placing blood on the doorposts is a Baylonian [sic] practice? Refer to Peake’s commentary (Passover). Also, the use in Canaan of the inscription on the doorposts, as told in Deut 6:9. It’s called the Arslan Tash document (AT1), Ras Shamra. The festivals in Leviticus 23 are Canaanite, the early and latter rains, no rain in Egypt (Deut 11:11). Refer to the feast of Booths in Leviticus 23. (Direct application of the Babylonian New Year Festival, Myths in OT p.77, adapted by the Canaanites).
This is like claiming there is some connection between the October 31 practice of “trick or treating” and the door-to-door visitations of Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. The placing of blood or inscriptions on doorposts merely represents a common cultural signal of the ancient world: the door into the home is the entry for all from outside into the family’s “private space.”
To claim some direct ideological connection between Passover and Canaanite inscriptions, based merely on the use of doorposts, is simply ridiculous. So likewise it is simply gratuitous to make connections between Canaanite and Hebrew festivals—as if, for example, YHWH would be thinking, “Well, I can’t have a festival for my people to celebrate a good harvest; the Canaanites already have one!”
If anything, we would expect YHWH to institute His own festivals at the same dates as pagan festivals, for two reasons: 1) Dates for things like the harvest tend to be the same regardless of what deity one worships! 2) It will keep the people occupied celebrating to YHWH and not tempted to celebrate with the pagans. It would be like a store holding a sale at the same time as its main competitor to draw away customers. But the liberal critic may as well think it somehow significant that all retail stores have sales for Christmas. And that they do proves that they are all actually the same store!
3, 4, 5, 6 — Of course these writers/people do. That was their world view. So was Paul’s world view that the law was handed down to Moses via angels (Galatians 3:19). Now, Exodus states that the law was given direct to Moses. However, the tradition during Paul’s day was so strong that he wrote angels! That was the accepted view whether it was correct or not.
With respect to Gal. 3:19 it is true that contemporary Jewish tradition regarded angels as having a “positive role in the giving of the Law (cf. Deut. 32:2 LXX; Ps. 67:18 LXX; Jubilees 1:27-29 ...)”1 and that the rabbis also spoke of angels descending at the time the law was given (Pesiq R 21).
However, our objector needs a little more familiarity with the Jewish background material. The word for “angels” means messengers and this is in line with the NT era Jewish understanding of Wisdom as a messenger through whom the transcendent God’s commands were delivered. Jesus is identified with Wisdom in the NT and also with YHWH of the OT. Paul is reading Exodus through the lens of Christian belief but he is not altering the tradition in the way our subject suggests, nor is he contradicting Exodus.
The footnotes are also a worry:
6 — dugong or sea cow? Check the following: Strong’s Concordance — antelope
LXX — blue ram’s skins
Syriac Peshitta — rams skins dyed red
only the Masoretic Text (Jewish Philadelphia Society not Leeser’s translation, mind you) — mentions a sea animal (seal skins). But, check Leviticus 11:9-12, sea creatures with no fins or scales are an abomination. Hardly compelling.
Au contraire, a dugong is very plausible. The Hebrew word, tahash (tav-heh-shin), is used 14 times in the Old Testament, in reference to the outer covering for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:5, 26:14, 35:7, 23, 36:19, 39:34), the covering for the Ark of the Covenant (Numbers 4:6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 25) and for leather sandals (Ezekiel 16:10). Just considering all the contexts of the word readily shows that “dugong” makes good sense.
For example, these skins were used to cover the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. The skins were to cover the inner layer of ram skins (dyed red). Obviously this outer layer was intended to protect everything inside. Sheep skin is not very waterproof, as you would know if you have worn sheepskin boots outside, whereas dugong leather is.
Dugongs were common in the Gulf of Aqabah until the early 19th century and their skins were traded in ancient times throughout the Middle East. Today, dugongs are still fairly common in the Red Sea and a herd of 5,000 to 6,000 still lives in the (Persian) Gulf. The following information comes from Walker’s Mammals of the World (link no longer functioning [for online version]):
The dugong has been hunted for food throughout its range, its meat being likened to tender veal. The hide has been used to make a good grade of leather. The species also has been taken for its oil (24–56 litres for an average adult) and for its bones and teeth, which have been used to make ivory artefacts and a good grade of charcoal for sugar refining … It was known to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Phoenicians of the Mediterranean; no populations have occurred in that region for centuries, though occasional individuals may have traversed the Suez Canal.
Tristram (Natural History of the Bible, 1867) was the first one to suggest that the most likely source of the skins referred to in the Bible was the dugong. The NIV follows this. NASB says “porpoise,” which is more likely than “badger” but still unlikely, as porpoise skin is too thin to make leather (the Beluga whale is the only cetacean with thick enough skin for leather-making).
9 — This is PJ Wiseman’s theory, if I recall correctly was first published in the 1940’s. Amazing how the writer calls on this point for historical evidence yet, avoids the AT1 document (Ras Shamra was discovered in 1929).
It makes sense that Moses was the editor of Genesis from pre-existing tablets, which is shown by many editorial comments (e.g., Gen. 26:33, 32:32). Sometimes the ancient tablets were left alone, e.g., 10:19 where directions are matter-of-factly given to Sodom, a city long destroyed and under the Dead Sea by Moses’ time.
Not all creationists accept Wiseman’s idea, and nor is it necessary to preserve biblical inerrancy. Most Hebrew scholars regard the phrase elleh toledoth as a literary marker to designate the beginning rather than the end of a new narrative section of the book. It takes the results of the preceding section and propels it forward in the narrative—i.e., it means “[these are the] historical developments arising out of … . ”2
11— Uni-plurality of the Godhead?? Does the writer mean that the Israelites had an understanding of the Trinity? It is a singular meaning in Hebrew understanding yet, plural in majesty.
This is most unlikely, because the Jews never used the “royal we”—kings were never referred to in this way. Mr Grigg explained this in his later article What’s in a name?
The scholar N.T. Wright points out,
In this context it is vital for our purposes that we stress one fact. Within the most fiercely monotheistic of Jewish circles throughout our period—from the Maccabaean revolt to Bar-Kochba—there is no suggestion that “monotheism” or praying the Shema, had anything to with the numerical analysis of the inner being of Israel’s god himself. It had everything to do with the two-pronged fight against paganism and dualism. Indeed, we find strong evidence during this period of Jewish groups and individuals, who, speculating on the meaning of some difficult passages of scripture (Daniel 7, for example, or Genesis 1), suggested that the divine being might encompass a plurality. Philo could speculate about the Logos as, effectively, a second divine being; the Similitudes of Enoch might portray the Son of Man/Messiah as an eternal divine being; but none of these show any awareness that they are transgressing normal Jewish monotheism. Nor are they. The oneness of Israel’s God, the creator, was never an analysis of this god’s inner existence, but always a polemic against paganism and dualism.3
So one cannot exclude from Jewish thinking the concept of a plurality within the one God. In fact, the Jewish Wisdom tradition mentioned above also answers the critic’s question, “Does the writer mean that the Israelites had an understanding of the Trinity?” Indeed it is clear that some Israelites had an understanding of the critical concept behind the Trinity; the hypostatic Wisdom of Prov. 8, with which Christ was later identified in the NT, is just one example of hypostases known from the Ancient Near East [ANE]. See my article Jesus: God’s Wisdom.Also on the topic of Old Testament teachings of a plurality within the Godhead, see Mr Grigg’s subsequent article “Who really is the God of Genesis?” Creation 27(3):37–39, 2005 and Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s book Messianic Christology.
The article starts with alot [sic] of emotion. Particularly when using words like “deadly hypothesis” and “spurious scholarship”.
Is this critic now denying that it was spurious to assert that there was no writing at the traditional date of Moses? And of course, from a Christian perspective, a hypothesis that contradicts Christ is indeed deadly.
The article portrays cognitive dissonance, especially the “literary fraud”. The Documentary Hypothesis is currently the main model for OT redaction.
This hypothesis was derived from faulty Eurocentric views of composition that showed no understanding for the literary style of the ANE. After all, as stated above, the proponents held to the ludicrous idea that there wasn’t writing at all in Moses’ day. Later on they ignored literary features that counted against their dogma. There are several artifical literary structures that are much too complex for a later redactor to have haphazardly rearranged as previously thought.
Deuteronomy is written in the form of a suzerainty treaty fashionable around 1400 BC but long since obsolete even a few centuries later, and certainly by the 6th century (see Dealing with Deuteronomy).4
There are also many chiastic patterns which point to a single author.5 A chiasmus is defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms as, “a figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second.” One such chiasmus is the Flood account (Gen 6:9–9:19):
A — Noah and his family: the only righteous people on earth (6:9–10)B — God promises to destroy the earth and its inhabitants by a global Flood (6:11–22)A' — Noah and his family: the only people on earth (9:18–19)6C — God instructs Noah, his family and the animals to enter the Ark (7:1–10)B' — God promises to never again destroy the earth and its inhabitants by a global flood (9:8–17)D — The floodwaters come upon the earth (7:11–16)C' — God instructs Noah, his family and the animals to leave the Ark and fill the earth (8:15–9:7)E — The floodwaters rise and cover the earth (7:17–24)D' — The floodwaters disappear and the earth is dry (8:6–14)F — God remembers Noah (8:1a)E' — The floodwaters recede from the earth (8:1b–5)
But the Documentary proponents were so ignorant of this large-scale structure that they asserted that they split different elements into different sources.
Surely you can see this in the 2 books of the Chronicles? (a redaction of 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings, and yet there is a comment, “the documentary hypothesis would be laughed out of court if applied to any other ancient book.”)
That’s another comment that would be laughed out of court. For one thing, we have the extant sources in this case, and the books acknowledge reliance on source. Conversely, there is not the slightest independent trace of the hypothetical documents J, E, D, P or any explicit record of them.
Also, the theory goes way before Wellhausen and the list of scholars is far greater than mentioned in the article: de Spinoza 1670, Simon 1678, Witter 1711, Austruc 1753 and Eichorn late 1700’s who developed categories of J, E, D & P.
Yes, yes, we know about these earlier theorists, who were even more ignorant than Wellhausen of ancient literary techniques. But Wellhausen is the main eponym for the Documentary Hypothesis, as well as Graf.
Wellhausen was in 1878. They were hardly moved by Darwin’s Origin of Species published 1850’s?
Actually, our liberal critic is ignorant of the history of evolutionary ideas. Mr. Grigg has also written articles showing that evolutionary ideas go back at least as far as the Epicureans, and that Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin wrote a book advocating evolution. And Darwin and co. were products of the Endarkenment.
Also, Origin of Species was translated into German in 1860, and his ideas were soon avidly promulgated by Ernst Haeckel, as Mr. Grigg pointed out. Indeed, Haeckel promoted his evolution-based, mechanistic monism in books written before Wellhausen’s: Generelle Morphologie der Organismen (General Morphology of the Organisms, 1866), Natürliche Schöpfungs-geschichte (The Natural History of Creation, 1868; tr. 1876 as The History of Creation) and Anthropogenie (The Evolution of Man, 1874) as well as his article “Monographie der Moneren,” Jenaische Zeitschrift für Medizin und Naturwissenschaft, Leipzig 4:64, 1868. Haeckel was immensely influential and also inspired many of the eugenics policies of the Nazis.
Welhausen had ideas of evolution of religion—from animism to polytheism to monotheism. Thus he dismissed any monotheistic teachings as “late.” Actually, there is archaeological evidence consistent with the biblical teaching that mankind was originally monotheistic, and only later degenerated into idolatrous pantheism.7
If Moses was the author......prove it. There is no historical record of Moses. So, from a historical point of view, it cannot be verified. It remains tradition.
“There is no historical record of Moses” is merely circular reasoning; the Pentateuch is such a record. It is also the burden of the critic to “prove it” concerning non-authorship. This is standard for historical scholarship; one does not demand that another “prove” Tacitus wrote the Annals, one explains rather as a dissenter from the evidence why Tacitus did not write them. The profile of the author (or authority behind) the Pentateuch best suits Moses: see Evidence for Mosaic Authorship.
And of course, for a Christian, it should be enough that Jesus affirmed Mosaic authorship (as Mr. Grigg cited), and He was validated by rising from the dead, the only thing that can explain the growth of such an “Impossible Faith.”
If Moses was the author, can you answer these questions:
— In Genesis 28:19, Jacob calls Luz, Bethel. In Gen 35:15, the place is now called Bethel. Why is the story repeated after some time has passed between the two events? Henry Morris calls it a 30 yr after event, but Jacob calls the place Bethel. The Genesis Record p.521.
Long ago, this charge was answered by H.C. Leupold, professor of Old Testament theology at Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, in his major commentary on Genesis:
Gen. 28:10—Beth-’el means “house of God”. The substance of the thought of v. 17 is incorporated in this name. Jacob may have meant the name for this particular spot only. The city that already may have stood there then, or perhaps was first built there or near there later, presently came to bear that name. Originally it was called Luz, remarks the well-informed author, who had used the name Bethel already in 12:8 by anticipation. Jos 16:2 does not conflict with our passage, for there, according to v. 1, “Bethel” must mean “mountains of Bethel”.8
— In Genesis 14:14, we have the mention of Dan. In Judges 18:29, why is this named Dan “after the name of their father”? Dan was not even born yet, Gen 30:6. Morris is silent, p.317, he calls it, “north of Damascus.” How convenient.
Leupold again explains:
Genesis 14:13–14—Almost without exception commentators locate “Dan” at the site of Dan Laish, about ten miles almost due north of Lake Merom, that is the town frequently referred to in the expression “from Dan even unto Beersheba.” This town, as all know, first received the name Dan in the days of the Judges; see Judges 18:7, 29.
The use of the term at this point would then clearly be post-Mosaic and evidence of authorship of the book later than the time of the Judges. Critics are so ready to accept this view that by almost universal consent they ignore the other possible location of Dan so entirely as though it were not even worthy of consideration.
For another Dan in Gilead (see De 34:1), mentioned apparently in 2 Sa 24:6 as “Dan Jaan”, excellently meets the needs of the case, for that matter even better than does Dan Laish. For Dan Jaan must lie, according to De 34:1, on the northern edge of Gilead and therefore about east, perhaps fifteen or twenty miles from the southern end of the Dead Sea, and therefore along the route that an army retreating to Babylon and Elam would be most likely to take in approaching Damascus.
Dan Laish lies too far north and presents difficulties for men in flight, who would hardly turn toward Damascus in flight because of intervening rivers. Consequently, we have here no post-Mosaic terms and everything conforms excellently with the idea of Mosaic authorship.9
In any case, these accusations of geographic anachronisms are merely the standard canards. Even if he were right about these examples, inerrantist scholars have no problem with intentional anachronisms or a later scribal updating. Our liberal is obviously unaware that these sorts of anachronisms are found in numerous ancient documents, and of how they are regarded—see Inerrant Scripture and Intentional Anachronisms.
— In Exodus 6;3, it claims that the name Yahweh is first used and not known among the patriarchs. But, in Gen 13:4 Yahweh is also used among a patriarch. Morris is silent p.305–306. Also Eve uses it in way back in Genesis 4:1. Why? Again, Morris is silent concerning the name p. 134.
It is folly to argue from the silence of one man. Our objector simply accepts uncritically the pedantic understanding of “name” as nothing more than the word “YHWH.” To explain:
The Hebrew grammar of Ex. 6:3 is better read, “Did I not make myself known to them?” as Phelan points out.10 This reading by itself thoroughly renders dozens of books by JEDP theorists completely obsolete.
As Christian Thinktank says in
When was the name “YAHWEH” revealed?:
The Hebrew actually has a preposition (beth) in front of the phrase El Shaddai and Yahweh … it is technically called the beth essentiae, with the force of focus on the character of the name … see Zond Pict. Ency. Bible, “Name”: “In both instances it is the character or capacity of that name that is in view, not the bare knowledge of the name as the label for this person. Likewise, the “name” also stood for his reputation, character, and accomplishments in doctrine and deeds.” (notice how this last sentence becomes the major focus of the exodus event—“God makes a Name for Himself” as the redeemer and creator of the nation of Israel.
— In Exodus ch.25–31 we have the instructions for the Tabernacle. In Ex. 35 onwards, the construction. In between, Ch.33, we have the Tabernacle of the congreagation [sic] raised. Why? And yet, it is also referred to in Numbers 10:16 & 12:4. (… please note that this is major issue when debating the authority of Moses as author).
This liberal’s objection concerning the Tabernacle is unclear, but it appears that he is confusing the construction of the formal Tabernacle in Ex. 35 with Moses’ use of a temporary tabernacle in Ex. 33. The mistake here is like the person who would think that if I say, “I’m going to church” and I, one week, go to a Baptist church and the next week to a Presbyterian church, the two churches must be the same. A tabernacle was simply standard for a deity—it is hardly as though Israel would do without one of some sort.
— In Numbers 13:21, spies were sent to Rehob (way up north). In Num 13:22, they were sent to Hebron (south). Why the discrepancy?
This is the most senseless of all the liberal’s biblical citations. What “discrepancy” is there in sending spies in more than one direction? Does this mean if America sent spies to the Soviet Union, they cannot have also sent them to China? This is the kind of foolishness that drives the JEDP paradigm—especially since it argues that such a blatant error (in consecutive lines!) went unnoticed.
— In Deut 16:15, the feast of Tabernacles lasts 7 days. Why does it last for 8 days in Lev 23:36?Both citations refer to 7 days of feasting; only Leviticus refers to an eighth day, with a solemn assembly that day. The reason for the difference is that Leviticus is a manual for priests, and thus is simply more specific; it is certainly more sensible to note this than to imply that behind this lies some absurd dual tradition in which rival priests argued whether the celebration ought to be 7 or 8 days.
James Patrick Holding
- Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Galatians, Eerdmans, p. 257, 1998. Return to text.
- A.M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basis for Reformational Worldview, Paternoster Press, Carlisle, UK, p. 37, 1996. Return to text.
- N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, SPCK, London/Fortress Press, Minneapolis, p. 259, 1992. Return to text.
- See also M.W.J. Phelan, The Inspiration of the Pentateuch, Twoedged Sword Publications, Waterlooville, UK, pp. 163 ff., 2005; see my review in Journal of Creation 19(3):37–40, 2005. Return to text.
- Phelan, The Inspiration of the Pentateuch, pp. 105–135. Return to text.
- After Andrew Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation, Master’s Thesis, Louisiana Baptist University, 2004. Return to text.
- Wilhelm Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion, Cooper Square, New York, 1971. Return to text.
- H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis 2:779, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1942; available on Online Bible. Return to text.
- Leupold, Exposition of Genesis 1:459. Return to text.
- Phelan, The Inspiration of the Pentateuch, p. 191–196. Return to text.