Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses?

Apologetics Press cuts the gordian knot of contradictory creation accounts:
In Matthew 19:4-5, the Lord Jesus combined quotations from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. He declared: “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female [1:26], and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh [2:24].” If the liberal viewpoint is true, how very strange that Christ should have given not the slightest hint that the two accounts involved a multiple authorship and contradictory material! Obviously, the Son of God did not endorse the modern Documentary Hypothesis.
As one who believes* that there are two separate creation accounts, I would assert that there is simply no biblical necessity for Genesis to have a single author, much less that it be Moses. Jesus' quotation (and combination) of multiple sections says nothing about their authorship, only their authority. He could quote them that way because they were the word of God, not because the words of Moses carried any special authority**.

In fact, I think one can make a very good argument from the structure of Genesis itself (e.g. toledoth theory) that Genesis 2:4 ("These are the generations of the Heavens and the Earth when they were created") clearly marks the separation of the first of nearly a dozen works that eventually became Genesis from the next one, which itself ends with a similar statement in Genesis 5:1 ("This is the book of the generations of Adam"). If one wants to get technical, there is a third creation account immediately following that, but this is exactly what ought to be expected if Moses compiled Genesis from existing works rather than writing it from dictation or cultural remembrance. Each tablet, picking up the story in a new "book," would summarize what came before, if only to ensure that the stories were kept in the correct order. Modern authors of multi-volume works do the same thing.

But the toledoth theory makes one assertion that I have difficulty with, not in theory but in practice.

It was the habit of the ancient Babylonians to place a toledoth at the end of a tablet to mark both the author or owner and the time and place of its writing, and that practice is reflected in Genesis, where the person named is usually the subject of the prior passage. We see that most obviously in Genesis 37:2 ("These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock...") where Jacob is the subject of the prior passage and gets barely a mention going forward - Joseph is the main character through the rest of Genesis. Toledoth theory states (here's the theory part) that is possible, even likely, that Jacob is the author of all the material that ends with 'his' toledoth, Noah is the author of all the material that ends with his toledoth, and the same is true for Adam. The toledoth theory defenders rightly point out that there is nothing in the passages preceeding the toledoth that the alleged author could not have known***, and that, toledoth (the word itself is plural, so it's not 'toledoths') being what they are in the ancient world, Genesis itself is telling us that we are dealing with multiple authors writing over a long period of time.

It's a good argument in theory, but as I mentioned, I have difficulty with it in practice. Walk through this with me for a minute, if you will. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Genesis 10-11:10 for example makes up a single document and one that is complete in isolation from the rest of Genesis. It begins after the toledoth of the sons of Noah and ends with the Toledoth of Shem, making this "Shem's document."

So here's the problem: where is the rest of Shem's writing? I can see how one could make an argument that those writings from before the flood might be destroyed, but Shem is writing not only after it, but after Babel and the Dispersion as well - almost in "history" as we know it. And one could probably make the argument that the writings from after the entry into Egypt are no longer extant, as papyrus is not very durable****. But during this in-between period we should expect that at least one copy of Shem's (and Terah's, and Ishmael's, and one or two more) tablets to show up somewhere in the archaeological record.

"But why," a clever critic might ask, "would it be necessary for Shem to have written anything else?" Because in order to have writing in a culture you need several things, most notably people who can read and write, and something written. You cannot expect that Shem learned to write without having plenty to read, nor that he would maintain the ability without practice (i.e. without continuously writing), nor that he would bother to write anything at all unless he had an audience that had both of the above. In order for it to be a meaningful family history as toledoth theory proposes, you must have both a prolific author and a writing community. And that means you must have other correspondence left over.

Now, I suppose that it is possible that Shem maintained his skills by writing this same thing over and over, but if so, where are the copies? It's more probable that he wrote many things to many of his descendents (which is how he knows so much about them) but if so, where are the copies? One reason we know what we do (and are learning more every day) about the workings of places like Babylon and Elba is that not only did they write prolificly, their medium (baked clay) is a durable one. But the toledoth theorists, when they make statements like this, "the 'Tablet Theory' suggests that portions of Genesis were originally written on clay tablets by men who personally experienced the events described. The tablets were later compiled by Moses," seem to presume that there is but one copy of each tablet. Humans, I think, do not work that way.

Instead, even if Shem spent his last century on earth writing nothing but copies of this tablet - he had to be writing *something* - his descendants should have filed them away in the archives we find all over the Middle East now that we are looking, and which contain multiple copies of works like Gilgamesh. The El Borak theory of writing therefore asserts that if Shem could and did write, the Israelites should not be the only of his descendents who present us with his words.

Yes, it's an argument from silence, the weakest type. Yes, it could be (and I expect that it will be in time) shot down by someone finding a single copy of Gen 10-11:10 in an archive somewhere under Saddam's old stomping grounds. But when we do not find what a theory expects that we should find, people being people, I think that points out a weakness in the theory.

So in short*****, Apologetics Press needen't worry that there are those who propose multiple authors for Genesis, nor that such an idea undercuts Jesus' authority or the authority of scripture. There is a perfectly reasonable theory that accounts for multiple authorship while still maintaining that authority. On the other hand, that theory itself is not without problems, probably one of the reasons I think the issue will not be settled in my lifetime, though it may eventually be settled.

* but not one of those dreaded creatures, liberals.

** If Moses one cold desert night had lamented the lack of goose liver pâté among the Hebrews, that would not make his complaint scripture, just unwelcome.

*** Genesis is fairly free of this sort of anachronism with the occasional exception like Gen 14:8, "...the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) " which probably represents editorial updating for Moses' audience as Bela likely didn't exist as such when he presented Genesis to the Israelites.

**** It also explains why there is no toledoth at the end of Genesis. The Egyptians didn't use them, so Joseph, being in Egypt for many years before he wrote, would have followed their practice.

****** Ha!

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