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#79 - Was Moses or J the author of Genesis 1?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
Moses mentions the creation of the earth in Exodus 20:11. Does it mean that at the time of Moses, Chapter 1 of Genesis was already written? Or since the 5 books of Moses are dedicated to him, is he the author of all 5 books even though Gen. 1 comes from J documents?
Actually it most likely is not one or the other. There almost certainly was a prominent "creation" story that was orally told among the Jews at the time of Moses. That and other stories continued to evolve. In summary, what we now know as Genesis was written many centuries after Moses, but at least some of the varied traditions from other cultures that are reflected in the Genesis creation stories predate Moses. There is no biblical basis for attributing the creation stories to Moses' authorship.
You can find some further explanation in the BibleTexts.com's glossary page on "Genesis" found at http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/gen.htm.
A more complete answer to your question can be found in The Oxford Companion to the Bible (edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993, page 579-582), which states:
Although the Pentateuch [the first five books of the Bible] has in most centuries been known as "the five books of Moses," perhaps because he is the major human figure in the narrative, it has long been recognized that he cannot have been the author, and that the Pentateuch is in fact anonymous. The Jewish tradition of referring to everything in the Pentateuch as the work of Moses, which is reflected in the New Testament (Matt. 8.4; Luke 20.37; Acts 3.22), proves nothing about its authorship, since it had obviously become customary to refer to these books as "Moses" (Luke 24.27; 2 Cor. 3:15). Within the Pentateuch itself, Moses is indeed credited with the authorship of a relatively small portion of its content: Exodus 21-23, the laws known as the "book of the Covenant" (Exod. 24:4-8); Numbers 33, the itinerary of Israel in the wilderness (see Num. 33.2); Deuteronomy 5.6-21, the Ten Commandments (see Deut. 31.24). These sections are, as it happens, among the elements generally considered most ancient by historical scholars. Whether or not Moses can be called the author in a literal sense of anything in the Pentateuch, it is reasonable to hold that his work and teaching were the initial stimulus for the creation of the Pentateuch.
This article goes on to say:
According to the classical Documentary Theory of the Pentateuch, formulated by Julius Wellhausen and others in the nineteenth century.., the oldest written source of the Pentateuch was the document J (so-called from its author, the Jahwist or Yahwist, who used the name Yahweh for God) from the ninth century BCE. The E document (from the Elohist, who employed the Hebrew term 'elohim' for God) came from the eighth century, and the J and E sources were combined by an editor in the mid-seventh century. The book of Deuteronomy, a separate source dating from 621 BCE, was added to the JE material in the mid-sixth century. The final major source, the Priestly Work (P), was combined with the earlier sources about 400 BCE. The Pentateuch as we know it thus came into existence no earlier than the end of the fifth century BCE.
No item in the foregoing reconstruction remains unchallenged, and indeed the theory as a whole can no longer be called the consensus view; nevertheless, no other theory has gained any wide support, this one remains the point of departure for all study of the date and origins of the Pentateuch.
Another excellent resource is the article on "sources of the Pentateuch" in the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, pages 1055-1059. It concludes:
Although the Pentateuch may allude to prior sources in certain passages, for the most part the final text does not call attention to its diverse sources. Had some of the sources circulated independently, the Pentateuch may at one time have been recognized as a composite. It does seem, however, that the process that constituted the Pentateuch, in each of its stages, tended to blend and integrate its material into a new entity, a text to be read as a continuous whole.
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer