Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

General Editor for the Old Testament:—





In the Revised Version

With Introduction and Notes



Dean of Westminster,

Sometime Bishop of Exeter, and of Winchester;

Fellow of the British Academy.


at the University Press


First Edition 1914




The present General Editor for the Old Testament in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges desires to say that, in accordance with the policy of his predecessor the Bishop of Worcester, he does not hold himself responsible for the particular interpretations adopted or for the opinions expressed by the editors of the several Books, nor has he endeavoured to bring them into agreement with one another. It is inevitable that there should be differences of opinion in regard to many questions of criticism and interpretation, and it seems best that these differences should find free expression in different volumes. He has endeavoured to secure, as far as possible, that the general scope and character of the series should be observed, and that views which have a reasonable claim to consideration should not be ignored, but he has felt it best that the final responsibility should, in general, rest with the individual contributors.



AN apology is due for the long delay in the appearance of this volume. It is ten years since it was begun. But, as Bishop of Winchester from 1903 to 1911, I had little leisure except during the annual summer holiday for consecutive literary work. The shortcomings of the present book, of which I am only too conscious, are partly attributable to this cause.

I acknowledge with gratitude my obligations to the larger Commentaries of Dillmann, Driver, Gunkel, and Skinner, and to the smaller books of Spurrell and of Bennett. I should like especially to refer to the encouragement I received from my friend Dr Driver, whose loss all English-speaking Bible Students are deploring, and whose work on the Old Testament generally, and on Genesis and Exodus in particular, has so greatly promoted the cause of Sacred Study on lines of reverent criticism and simple faith. My old friend, the Dean of Ely, as General Editor of this Series, has helped me with many useful suggestions. It only remains for me to record my indebtedness to one who, when I was recovering from illness, added to other kindnesses that of copying out at dictation a very large portion of this little Commentary.


The Deanery, Westminster,

Easter Eve, 1914.




§  1.  Name

§  2.  Contents

§  3.  Composition

§  4.  The Documents (J, E, P)

§  5.  Literary Materials

§  6.  Historical Value

§  7.  Religious Teaching

§  8.  Moral Difficulties

§  9.  The Names of God in the Book of Genesis

§  10.  Bibliography


Chronological Note


Special Notes:

On the plural form of the word Elohim

On the Jewish Interpretation of Genesis 1:26On the Sabbath

On the Cosmogonies of Genesis

On the Rivers of Paradise

On the Fall

On the Antediluvian Patriarchs

On the Flood Narratives

On Genesis 9:25-27On the Genealogy of Shem

On Chapter 14

On Melchizedek

On the Sacrifice of Isaac

On the Name “Jacob”


A. Babylonian Myths of Creation

B. A Legend of Lamech

C. The Duplicate Account of the Flood

D. The Tel el-Amarna Tablets

E. The Isrelites in Egypt




Western Asia


diagram representing the Semitic conception of the Universe

Assyrian Winged Bull

Fragment of Cuneiform Tablet, belonging to the Deluge Series

Khammurabi (? Amraphel), King of Babylon, receiving laws from Shamash, the Sun-god

Egyptians measuring the wheat and depositing it in the granaries

Marduk and Tiâmat

List of principal abbreviations employed, and of authorities mentioned sometimes without further specification

Abu’l-Walid  Jewish Grammarian and Lexicographer, c. a.d. 985–1040.

AJSL.  American Journal of Semitic Languages.

al.  alii (others), or aliter (elsewhere).

ATLAO.  Alfred Jeremias, Das AT. im Lichte des alten Orients, 1904, ed. 2 (much enlarged), 1906.

Auth. & Arch.  Authority and Archaeology, edited by D. G. Hogarth, 1899 (pp.1–152, on archaeological illustrations of the Old Testament, by S. R. Driver).

Bä.  B. Bäntsch, Exodus-Leviticus-Numeri übersetzt und erklärt (1903). In Nowack’s Handkommentar zum AT.

Benz. Arch. (or Benz.)  I. Benzinger, Hebr. Archäologie, 1894, ed. 2 (enlarged), 1907.

Breasted  J. H. Breasted (American Egyptologist). Name often cited alone as authority for dates; see his History of Ancient Egypt (1906), pp. 21 ff., 597 ff., or his smaller History of the Ancient Egyptians (1908), pp. 23ff., 419 ff.

C.-H.  J. E. Carpenter and G. Harford-Battersby, The Hexateuch, 1900, vol. I (reprinted as a separate vol. under the title The Composition of the Hexateuch, 1902) describing the grounds of the analysis, and characteristics of the different sources; vol. II containing the text in the RV., with the sources distinguished typographically, and critical notes.

CIS.  Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum (Parisiis 1881 ff.).

D  Deuteronomy, Deuteronomic: see pp. xi–xiii.

D2  Deuteronomic passages in Josh., Jud., Kings.

DB.  A Dictionary of the Bible, edited by J. Hastings, D.D. (4 vols. 1898–1902, a fifth, supplementary vol., 1904).

Delitzsch  Franz Delitzsch (d. 1890), author of Commentaries on Genesis, Job, Proverbs, &c.

Del. HWB.  Friedrich Delitzsch (son of the preceding), Assyrisches Handwörterbuch, 1896.

Di., Dillm.  Aug. Dillmann, Exodus und Leviticus erklärt, 1880. Appeared as the 2nd edition of Knobel’s Commentary (1857), many excerpts from which, distinguished by inverted commas, are incorporated in it.

Di.-Ryss.  Dillmann’s Exodus und Leviticus, edited by V. Ryssel, 1897. (Dillmann’s Commentary, revised and brought up to date. Ryssel’s additions can be distinguished only by a comparison of Dillmann’s own Commentary of 1880. In the present volume ‘Di.’ or ‘Dillm.’ always gives Dillmann’s own opinion.)

E  Hexateuchal source: see p. xi.

EB.  Encyclopaedia Biblica, ed. by Rev. T. K. Cheyne, D.D., D. Litt., and J. S. Black, LL.D. (4 vols. 1899–1903).

Ebers  G. Ebers, Durch Gosen zum Sinai, 1872, ed. 2, 1881.

EHH.  A. H. Sayce, The Early History of the Hebrews, 1897.

Erman  A Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt, 1894.

EVV.  English Versions (used in cases where AV. and RV. agree).

G.-K.  Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, as edited and enlarged by E. Kautzsch. Translated from the 28th German edition by A. E. Cowley, 1910.

Gl.  Gloss.

Griffith (F. LI.)  English Egyptologist.

H  See p. xiii.

HCM.  A. H. Sayce, The ‘Higher Criticism’ and the Verdict of the Monuments, 1894.

Holz.  H. Holzinger, Genesis erklärt, 1898. In Marti’s Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum AT.

J  Jahweh = the Lord.

  Named because of its preference for the Name familiarly known in English as Jehovah (Heb. Jahweh), translated “Lord”.

JBL.  Journal of Biblical Literature.

KAT.3  Die Keilinschriften und das A T., 1903, by H. Zimmern (pp. 345–653) and H. Winckler (pp. 1–342).

KB.  E. Schrader, Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek (transliterations and translations of Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions, by various scholars). 6 vols., 1889–1900.

Ke.  C. F. Keil, Genesis und Exodus, ed. 3, 1878.

Kimchi  David Kimchi, of Narbonne, Jewish Grammarian, Lexicographer, and Commentator, a.d. 1160–1235.

Kn., Knob.  Aug. Knobel, Exodus und Leviticus erklärt, 1857. Cited from the extracts incorporated in Dillmann’s Commentary.

L. and B.  W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book; or Biblical illustrations drawn from the manners and customs, the scenes and scenery of the Holy Land. Three large volumes, of which Southern Palestine and Jerusalem (1881) is cited as L. and B. i, Central Palestine and Phoenicia (1883) as L. and B. ii, and Lebanon, Damascus, and Beyond Jordan (1886) as L. and B. iii.

LOT.  S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the OT., 1891, ed. 8, 1909 (this work was re-set for the 6th edition, 1897; but the pagination of edd. 1–5 is indicated in the text of edd. 6–8).

Maimonides  Mosheh Maimuni, of Cordova, great Jewish Legalist, a.d. 1135–1204.

Masp. i., ii.  G. Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization, ed. 4, 1901; and The Struggle of the Nations, ed. 2, 1910.

Mass. Text  The Heb. Text of the OT., as ‘handed down’ by the ‘Massoretic’ scholars (c. 6–10 cent. a.d.).

McNeile  A. H. McNeile, The Book of Exodus, with Introduction and Notes, 1908. In the ‘Westminster Commentaries.’

NHB.  H. B. Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible, ed. 2, 1868.

NHWB.  J. Levy, Neuhebräisches und Chaldäisches Wörterbuch, 1876–89.

Nowack, Arch.  W. Nowack, Hebräische Archäologie, 1894.

Onk.  Onkelos, author (or redactor) of the principal Aramaic Targum on the Pentateuch.

O.S.  Ordnance Survey of the Peninsula of Sinai, 1869.

OTJC.2  W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, ed. 2, 1892.

P  The priestly narrative (or priestly writer) of the Hexateuch (see p. xi).

P2, P3  Secondary strata of P (see p. xii top; pp. 328f., 378).

Pesh.  Peshiṭto (the Syriac version of the Bible).

Petrie  Flinders Petrie, English Egyptologist. Name often cited alone as authority for dates: see his History of Egypt, vols. 1 (to the 16th Dyn.), 11 (17–18 Dyn.), 111 (19–30 Dyn.).

PRE.3  Realencyklopädie für Protestantische Theologie und Kirche, ed. 3, edited by A. Hauck, 1896–1909.

P.S.  Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus.

Ps.-Jon.  Targum on the Pentateuch (later than that of Onkelos), formerly attributed falsely to Jonathan, the author (or redactor) of the Targum on the prophets.

R  Redactor or compiler.

RJE, RD, RP  See pp. xi, xii.

Rashi  Rabbinical abbreviation of R(abbi) Sh(ĕlômöh) (Solomon) Y(iẓḥâḳi) (i.e. son of I(saac)), of Troyes, Jewish Commentator, a.d. 1040–1105.

Rel. Sem.2  W. R. Smith, The Religion of the Semites, ed. 2, 1894.

Riehm, HWB.  Ed. Riehm, Handwörterbuch des Biblischen Altertums, ed. 2, 1893.

Rob.  Edw. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine and the adjacent regions: a Journal of Travels in the years 1838 and 1852, in three volumes, ed. 2, 1856.

RVm.  Margin of the Revised Version.

Saadiah  Jewish philosopher, and translator of the OT. into Arabic. Born in Egypt. Died a.d. 942.

Sam.  Samaritan Text of the Pentateuch.

S. and P.  A. P. Stanley, Sinai and Palestine in connexion with their history (ed. 1864). A shilling edition appeared in 1910; but, though the text is unabridged, it does not contain the numerous footnotes, or the vocabulary of topographical words (pp. 481–534), in the larger edition.

SBAk.  Sitzungsberichte der Berliner (Königlich Preussischen) Akademie der Wissenschaften.

SBOT.  Sacred Books of the Old Testament, edited by P. Haupt.

We., Wellh.  J. Wellhausen.

Wilk.-B.  The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, by Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson. A new edition, revised and corrected by Sam. Birch. Three vols., 1878.

ZATW.  Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft.

ZDMG.  Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft.

ZDPV.  Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palaestina-Vereins.


§  1.  Name.

§  2.  Contents.

§  3.  Composition.

§  4.  The Documents (J, E, P).

§  5.  Literary Materials.

§  6.  Historical Value.

§  7.  Religious Teaching.

§  8.  Moral Difficulties.

§  9.  The Names of God.

§  10.  Bibliography.

§ 1. Name

“Genesis” is the name of the first book in the English Bible, as also in the Latin Bible (or Vulgate) and in the Greek Old Testament (or Septuagint). The name is taken from the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word for “generations” in Genesis 2:4, “This is the book of the generations (Heb. tôledôth, Gr. γενέσεως) of the heavens and the earth.” In the Codex Alexandrinus (5th cent. a.d.) of the Greek Old Testament, Genesis has the title of γενεσισ κοσμου, i.e. “The Origin of the World.” The word “genesis,” in the sense of “origins” or “beginnings,” has passed into familiar use in the English language.

In the Hebrew Bible the book is entitled Berêshîth (= “In the beginning”) from the opening word of the first verse.

The Hebrew Bible is divided into “The Law,” or Tôrah, “The Prophets,” or Nebhîîm, and “The Writings,” or Kethûbîm (Hagiographa). “The Law,” or Tôrah, contains the first five books of our English Bible, “the Pentateuch,” a title which also is of Greek origin (ἡ πεντάτευχος, sc. βίβλος) and means “the book of five volumes.” Sometimes, (a) because “the first stage in the history of God’s dealings with His chosen people ends with their settlement in the Promised Land, rather than with the death of Moses1,” and (b) because the same documents can be traced from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Joshua, the first six books are treated as one work and spoken of as “the Hexateuch.” Berêshîth is the first book of the Tôrah.

We do not know at what date the Jews divided up the Tôrah, or Pentateuch, into five books. The division is mentioned by Philo2 and Josephus3, and it may fairly be assumed to have suggested the division of the Psalter into five books. The division of “Genesis” was a very natural one. It was clearly marked off, by the nature of its contents, from the four books that follow. There is an appropriate break in the narrative at the death of Joseph, and before the birth of Moses.

[1] Chapman’s Introd. to the Pent., p. 6.

[2] De Abrahamo, § 1, ii. 1.

[3] Contr. Ap. i. 8.

§ 2. Contents

(a) Two main divisions

The Hexateuch, as has been said, “forms in itself a connected whole, and displays to us the origin, choice, and planting of the people of God, or the founding of the Israelitish theocracy4.” The Book of Genesis contains, in outline, the preliminary materials of the sacred history, previous to the call of Moses. These preliminary materials fall into two easily recognized divisions: (1) the Primaeval History of Mankind (chaps. 1–11), and (2) the History of the Hebrew Patriarchs (chaps. 12–50).

[4] Knobel, quoted in Dillmann’s Genesis, vol. 1. p. 3.

These two divisions may, for clearness’ sake, be subdivided as follows:

I.  Primaeval History. Narratives respecting

(i)  The Origin of the World and of the Human Race (chaps. 1–5).

(ii)  The Flood (chaps. 6–9).

(iii) The Primitive Races before the call of Abraham (chaps. 10, 11).

II.  Patriarchal History: Narratives respecting

(i)  The Patriarch Abraham (chaps. Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 25:18).

(ii)  The Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob (chaps. Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 36:43).

(iii) The Patriarchs Joseph and his brethren (chaps. 37–50).

(b) Arrangement of material

The arrangement of the material explains the plan which is followed throughout the book. It is not a history of the world; but it is an introduction to the History of the Chosen People. In consequence, as each stage in the Primaeval and Patriarchal History is reached, the collateral material is disposed of, before the main thread is resumed. Thus (1) the origin of the Human Race having been described, the descendants of Adam through the Cainite families are mentioned (Genesis 4:16-26), before the main narrative is resumed in the descendants of Seth (chap. 5). (2) After the story of the Flood, the descendants of Japheth and Ham are recorded (chap. 10), before the main subject of the book is approached through the family of Shem (Genesis 11:10 ff.). (3) After the death of Abraham, the story of Isaac’s sons is not commenced, until the descendants of Ishmael have been enumerated (Genesis 25:12-18). (4) The account of Joseph and his brethren is not commenced, until the genealogy of Esau (chap. 36) has disposed of the collateral branch. The plan of the book, therefore, is continually to concentrate attention upon the direct line of the ancestors of the Israelite people, tracing them back to the very beginnings of the Human Race.

It has sometimes been maintained that the best sub-division of the book is furnished by the formula “These are the generations,” which is found eleven times in reference to (1) the heavens and the earth, Genesis 2:4; (2) Adam, Genesis 5:1; (3) Noah, Genesis 6:9; (4) the sons of Noah, Genesis 10:1; (5) Shem, Genesis 11:10; (6) Terah, Genesis 11:27; (7) Ishmael, Genesis 25:12; (8) Isaac, Genesis 25:19; (9) Esau, Genesis 36:1; (10) “Esau, the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir,” Genesis 36:9; (11) Jacob, Genesis 37:2. But the repetition of this formula offers no real clue to the analysis of the whole book, though it reproduces the outline of the contents of one of its component documents (see below, p. 28).

(c) Primaeval History

Chaps. 1–11. The first main division of the Book of Genesis consists of a group of Narratives which furnishes answers to the instinctive questionings of mankind: How did the earth, the sea, the sky, and the heavenly bodies come into being? What was the origin of the vegetable world, and of the birds, fishes, reptiles and beasts? What was the origin of man? What was the beginning of sin and of death? What explanation can be given of the sufferings of child-birth and of the laboriousness of human life? How did the arts and industries take their rise? What caused the difference of languages, and the various types of races dispersed throughout the world? What, again, led to the Flood of which traditions were handed on from one generation to another?

These Narratives, though doubtless based upon the cosmogonies which had come down from remote Hebrew ancestors, are conspicuous for their beauty and simplicity. They do not affront us with the superstition, silliness, or coarseness, which are too often prominent in the literature of cosmogonies and mythologies.

The events recorded are evidently regarded as affecting the whole human race. The scenes are neither those of actual history, nor those of mere mythology. We come across a few survivals of an older mythological element, e.g. God speaks to the inhabitants of heaven (Genesis 1:26); the serpent speaks to Eve in human language (Genesis 3:1-5); there is mention of the marriage of angels with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4). But these instances are very rare. The Narratives, while they preserve the outlines of earlier legends, have been adapted to the religious thought of the later Israelites. If, as is most probable, the primitive form in which they were current was polytheistic, practically every trace of polytheism has been removed. The Narratives are presented to us in such a manner as to convey in a fully developed stage the distinctive teaching of the Israelite Prophets.

(d) Patriarchal History

Chaps. 12–50. In the second main division of the book the Narratives belong to a different class. We pass from legends respecting the Origin of the World and of the Human Race to traditions respecting the earliest ancestors of the Israelite People. The portraits of individual personages are well and skilfully drawn. The scenes are laid in Palestine and Egypt, and the incidents, for the most part, are associated with well-known places, and are recounted with remarkable vividness of description.

The impression given of the religious life of the Patriarchs is that of the simple monotheistic worship of Jehovah. The power of Jehovah is felt in Egypt (Genesis 12:17, Genesis 39:1-5), in the Cities of the Plain (chap. 19), in Gerar (chap. 26), in Syria (Genesis 31:24), no less than in Canaan. The idolatry of the heathen is scarcely referred to. The teraphim, stolen by Rachel from her father’s house, and possibly included among “the strange gods,” constitute almost the sole exception (Genesis 31:19 and Genesis 35:2-4).

The Patriarchal Narratives preserve to us traditions respecting, for the most part, domestic incidents in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Only in one passage (chap. 14), where “Amraphel” is very possibly Ḥammurabi, the famous Babylonian monarch, is any person mentioned whose name is found in the inscriptions of the contemporary ancient monuments.

In a word, the Patriarchal Narratives represent a group of Israelite traditions respecting remote ancestors, whose existence belonged to the twilight of history, anterior to the era of Moses and earlier than the beginnings of the Nation. The materials which are embodied in the Narratives are very various. But in this, as in the first division of the Book of Genesis, the contents have been brought into harmony with the religious thought of the worshipper of Jehovah.

§ 3. Composition

On the origin and composition of the Pentateuch the reader is referred to Chapman’s admirable Introduction to the Pentateuch (1911) in this series, Simpson’s Pentateuchal Criticism (1914), the articles in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, and Black’s Encyclopaedia Biblica, the Oxford Hexateuch (1900) by Estlin Carpenter and Battersby Harford, Driver’s Literature of the Old Testament (9th ed. 1913), and G. B. Gray’s Critical Introd. to the O. T. (1913).

The fact that the Pentateuch was known to the Jews as “The Law of Moses” (Luke 24:44; Acts 28:33), and was referred to as “Moses” (Acts 15:21), was once regarded as a sufficient reason for assuming that Moses himself was the author. This view, however, is no longer tenable. That Moses himself did not write the Pentateuch, as we now have it, is one of the literary conclusions of Biblical Criticism upon which scholars are unanimous.

Here it must suffice to point out three important considerations:

1. The Book of Genesis contains a number of passages which imply that at the time of its composition the Israelites were in settled possession of the land of Canaan.

(a) “The Canaanite was then in the land” (Genesis 12:6, Genesis 13:7) is an expression which compares the age of the Patriarchs when the Canaanites were in undisturbed occupation of the land, with the age of the writer, when the Israelites had become its undisputed masters.

(b) “To,” or “Unto, this day” (Genesis 22:14, Genesis 26:33, Genesis 35:20)1.

[1] Genesis 22:14, And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord, &c.

Genesis 26:33, therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day.

Genesis 35:20, the same is the Pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

In these passages, “To,” or “Unto, this day” could not have been used except by a person who was living in Palestine.

The names of places in Canaan are thus spoken of in accordance with the usage of Israelites who had long resided there; cf. Deuteronomy 2:22; Deuteronomy 3:14; Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 34:6; Joshua 4:9; Joshua 5:9; Joshua 7:26; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 9:27; Joshua 10:27; Joshua 13:13; Joshua 14:14; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10.

(c) “And pursued as far as Dan” (Genesis 14:14). The town of Laish in the extreme N. of Palestine received the name of Dan, after it had been conquered by the Danites (Jdg 18:29).

(d) “Before there reigned a king over Israel” (Genesis 36:31), an expression which implies acquaintance with the monarchy as the recognized form of government in Israel, i.e. a date later than Saul.

(e) The Philistines, who, as is most probable, are identifiable with the Purasati of the Egyptian inscriptions, established themselves in the reign of Ramses II (1300–1224 b.c.) in the S.W. of Palestine. They were regarded by the Israelites (cf. Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7) as invaders from Caphtor (=Crete). But the occurrence of their name in Genesis 10:14; Genesis 21:32; Genesis 26:1, is an indication that the traditions embodied in our book have come down to us from a time when the Philistines were accepted as the inhabitants of S.W. Palestine.

(f) “He had wrought folly in Israel” (Genesis 34:7) is an expression which implies the existence of an ordered community of Israel (cf. Joshua 7:15; Jdg 20:6). “The land of the Hebrews” (Genesis 40:15) is a phrase which would most naturally be used by a writer who regarded Canaan as the home of the Hebrew people. The fact that the “West” (e.g. in Genesis 12:8) is denoted by the Hebrew word meaning “the sea,” i.e. the Mediterranean, and “the South” by the word “Negeb” (e.g. Genesis 13:14, Genesis 28:14), i.e. the country S. of Judah, implies a writer dwelling in Palestine.

(g) Abraham is described as a prophet, nabî (Genesis 20:7). In 1 Samuel 9:9, we are told that “he that is now called a Prophet, nabî, was beforetime called a Seer, rô’eh.” The use of the word nabî is therefore more likely to be found in literature belonging to a time subsequent to, than to a time before, the age of Samuel.

2. The literary criticism of the Pentateuch shews that it is not like a modern book of history, written, from beginning to end, by a single author, but that, on the contrary, it is of composite origin, being a compilation of no less than four distinct writings.

To a modern reader such an account will sound strange and improbable. He reads the books in English as continuous historical works. And so in a true sense they are. But they are not homogeneous. Hebrew scholarship can, with a great degree of certainty, discriminate between the different materials out of which the books were composed. It is not often realized that, in the Hebrew Bible, all the narrative books have been composed in this way. The Books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah are compilations. The Pentateuch and Joshua are no exceptions to the general rule. They were built up out of previously existing materials. We must remember that there were no rights of Hebrew authorship. Writers made free use of earlier documents. They cut out and omitted: they expanded and amplified: they combined, adapted, and adjusted, according to the purpose which they had in view. See the examples of Hebrew and Semitic composite narrative given in Chapman’s Pentateuch, Appendix vii., “Characteristics of Composite Documents.”

Instead of the composite origin of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch being a thing improbable in itself, it is, on the contrary, if analogy be appealed to, most reasonable and probable. It corresponds with what we know of the formation of other books of the Bible, and with the literary practice unquestionably followed in other Hebrew and Semitic prose writings.

3. Moreover, the discovery that the Book of Genesis is not a homogeneous work, but a compilation of different writings, has been found to explain, most simply and satisfactorily, the numerous minor difficulties and discrepancies which catch the attention of every careful reader.

For instance, why should there be two accounts of the Creation, in the one of which man and woman are created after all the animals (Genesis 1:26), while, in the other, man is created before and woman after the animals (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 2:18-19; Genesis 2:22)? How is it that there are two versions of the number of the animals that went into the ark and of the duration of the Flood upon the earth (chaps. 6, 7)? Is it not strange that the promise of a son to Sarah should be given twice over (Genesis 17:16-19 and Genesis 18:10 ff.)? that the name of Isaac should three times be accounted for by a mention of laughter (Genesis 17:17, Genesis 18:12, Genesis 21:6)? that a second blessing should be given by Isaac to Jacob in Genesis 28:1 ff. without any reference to the blessing and the deceitful manner of obtaining it, just recorded in chap. 27? How is it possible, after such passages as Genesis 17:17 and Genesis 18:11-12, to account for the statement that, after Sarah’s death, Abraham should beget a number of sons (Genesis 25:1 ff.)? Who does not realize that the passages relating to Sarah in Genesis 12:11, Genesis 20:2 ff. are out of harmony with the statement as to her age in Genesis 17:17? Does not the account of Isaac’s failing powers in Genesis 27:1-2 appear incompatible with the mention of his having lived to the age of 180 years (Genesis 35:28), i.e. for 100 years (cf. Genesis 25:26, Genesis 26:34) after the marriage of Esau? How can we explain the mention of Rachel’s death in Genesis 35:19 and of her being alive in Genesis 37:10? How is it that immediately after the account of Benjamin’s birth and Rachel’s death near Bethlehem (Genesis 35:18-19), Benjamin’s name is included among the sons of Jacob born to him in Paddan-aram (Genesis 35:25-26)? Why should Esau’s wives have different names in Genesis 26:34, Genesis 28:9 and in Genesis 36:2-3? How does it happen that we find varying explanations of the names Bethel (Genesis 28:18-19, Genesis 35:14-15), Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:31, Genesis 26:33), Israel (Genesis 32:28, Genesis 35:10)? Is the description of Benjamin as a “child of his [Jacob’s] old age, a little one” (Genesis 44:20) reconcilable with the statements as to the date of his birth (Genesis 35:18; Genesis 35:23; Genesis 35:26), according to which he would have been not less than 20 years of age when he appeared before Joseph in Egypt (cf. Genesis 37:2, Genesis 41:46, Genesis 45:6)?

These are examples of difficulties and discrepancies to be found in the story of Genesis. The list could easily be added to. They are not compatible with the theory of uniform, continuous, and homogeneous literary composition. On the hypothesis of a single author and a continuous work, they would denote an extraordinary lack of literary attention and care. But, on the supposition that in the same book there are woven together portions of different documents containing similar, but not in all respects identical, accounts of the same narratives, we have an explanation which satisfies the requirements of the problem. Ridicule used to be directed against the Bible on account of the presence of these difficulties and discrepancies. That ridicule is seen now to be misplaced. We are able to understand their nature and cause. The Book of Genesis is a compilation. The combination of different documents has led to the inclusion of divergent statements. Numerous in quantity, though trifling in importance, these inconsistencies survive as evidence of the literary process, through which the books of the Pentateuch passed before they were given their final shape.

§ 4. The Documents (J, E, P)

In 1753 Jean Astruc, a French physician, published anonymously at Brussels a book entitled Conjectures sur les mémoires originaux dont il paroit que Moyse s’est servi pour composer le Livre de la Genèse. He had been led to infer from the intermittent use of different names of God in Genesis that Moses had employed different documents in its composition. This was the beginning of systematic literary criticism upon the Pentateuch. Other scholars carried on the work. It was soon seen (1) that the use of the Divine Names was only one of many literary characteristics by which the different component documents were capable of being distinguished, (2) that the different sources of the Pentateuch, thus linguistically and stylistically determined, (a) correspond to different stages in the development of the religion of Israel, and (b) reflect the influence of different epochs in the nation’s history. As the History of Pentateuchal criticism would carry us further afield than space will here allow, the student is referred to Chapman’s Introduction to the Pentateuch, Driver’s Literature of the Old Testament, Carpenter and Harford’s Oxford Hexateuch, D. C. Simpson’s Pentateuchal Criticism (1914).

After a century and a half of minute and laborious research, scholars are now agreed that the books of the Pentateuch and of Joshua present to us a compilation of four distinct documents, to which the names have very generally been given of (1) J, because of its preference for the Name familiarly known in English as Jehovah (Heb. Jahweh), translated “Lord,” (2) E, because of its preference for the Name Elohim = “God,” (3) D, the Deuteronomist, and (4) P, the Priestly Code. Of these four documents, three, J, E, and P, may clearly be identified in the Book of Genesis. The Deuteronomist, whose style and characteristics are so unmistakable in Deuteronomy and in certain passages of the Book of Joshua, has left little, if any, trace of influence upon Genesis (? Genesis 26:5).

J, E, and P may, as a rule, be identified by the character of their contents and by distinctive features of language. But the Priestly Code (P) can be very much more easily distinguished from J and E than these can be distinguished from one another. In style and diction as well as in selection and treatment of subject-matter there is a much closer affinity between J and E, than between either of these and the Priestly Code. As compared with J and E, P is always recognizable. But it is frequently impossible to determine whether a passage has been derived from J or E.

The J Narratives

The passages in Genesis which probably have been derived from J are as follows:

Genesis 2:4 b–4:26, Genesis 6:1-4, Genesis 7:1 to Genesis 8:22 (partially), Genesis 9:18-27; Genesis 9:10 (partially), Genesis 11:1-9; Genesis 11:28-30, Genesis 12:1-4 a, 6–20, Genesis 13:1-5; Genesis 13:7-11 a, 12b–18, 15 (partially), Genesis 16:1 b, 2, 4–14, 18, 19 (exc. 29), 21 (partially), Genesis 22:20-24; Genesis 22:24, Genesis 25:1-6; Genesis 25:11 b, 18, 21–26a, 27–34, Genesis 26:1-33, Genesis 27:1-45, Genesis 28:10-22 (partially), 29–30 (partially), Genesis 31:1; Genesis 31:3; Genesis 31:36-50, Genesis 32:3 to Genesis 33:17; Genesis 34 (partially), Genesis 35:14; Genesis 16-22, 36, 37 (partially), Genesis 38, 39, 41 (partially), Genesis 42-44, Genesis 46:28 to Genesis 47:4, Genesis 47:6 b, Genesis 47:12-27 a, Genesis 47:29-31, Genesis 49:1-27, Genesis 50:1-11; Genesis 50:14.

A glance through this list will shew that J contained the greater number both of the Primaeval and of the Patriarchal Narratives. Many of them are masterpieces of Hebrew prose writing. The story is told with beauty, vividness, and brevity. The dialogue which is introduced, in e.g. chaps. 3, 4, 18, 19, 24, 43, 44, adds a touch of brightness and life which it would be difficult to find surpassed in any literature.

The Narratives are pervaded with deep religious feeling. This is noticeable (a) in the account given of the beginnings of sin and crime (chaps. 3, 4), the spread of evil (Genesis 6:1-8, Genesis 8:21), and the corruption of the people of the Plain (chap. 19); and (b) in the emphasis laid upon the Divine call which caused Abraham to migrate into Canaan (Genesis 12:1-3), and the Divine purpose of goodness and mercy expressed in the promises to the Patriarchs (Genesis 18:18, Genesis 24:7, Genesis 26:4, Genesis 27:28-29). “In order to illustrate the divine purposes of grace, as manifested in history, he introduces … prophetic glances into the future (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 5:29; Genesis 8:21; Genesis 9:25-27; Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 18:18-19; Genesis 28:14, Numbers 24:17-18), as he also loves to point to the character of the nations or tribes as foreshadowed in their beginnings (Genesis 9:22-24; Genesis 16:12; Genesis 19:31-38; Genesis 25:21-28; Genesis 34:25-31; Genesis 35:22; cf. Genesis 49:9 ff.)1.”

[1] Dillmann in Driver’s L.O.T., p. 120.

In representations of the Deity, J makes use of simple anthropomorphic expressions, e.g. Genesis 3:8 “the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” Genesis 6:6 “it repented the Lord that he had made man,” Genesis 7:16 “the Lord shut him [Noah] in,” Genesis 8:21 “the Lord smelled the sweet savour,” Genesis 11:5 “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded,” Genesis 18:1 “And the Lord appeared unto him [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day”; cf. Genesis 18:21; Genesis 18:33, Genesis 32:24-30.

Characteristic as is the use of Jehovah [Jahweh] for the name of God, Elohim (= God) is also found, e.g. in the colloquy between the serpent and the woman (Genesis 3:1; Genesis 3:3; Genesis 3:5), and in the words of Eve (Genesis 4:25) before “men began to call on Jehovah” (Genesis 4:26); when a foreigner addresses an Israelite (Genesis 43:29), or when, as in Genesis 32:28; Genesis 32:30 (Heb. 29, 31), Genesis 33:10, the use of Elohim seems intended to contrast the Divine with the human nature.

J traces back the religious institutions of Israel to the very earliest times, e.g. sacrifice (Genesis 4:3), prayer to Jehovah (Genesis 4:26), distinction of clean and unclean animals (Genesis 7:2, Genesis 8:20), altars (Genesis 8:20, Genesis 12:7-8), enquiry of Jehovah (Genesis 25:22).

There is an especial fondness in J for the etymology of proper names: (1) Of persons, e.g. “woman” (Genesis 2:23), Eve (Genesis 3:20), Cain (Genesis 4:1), Seth (Genesis 4:25), Noah (Genesis 5:29), Peleg (Genesis 10:25), Ishmael (Genesis 16:11), Moab and Ammon (Genesis 19:37-38), Jacob and Esau = Edom (Genesis 25:25-26; Genesis 25:30), the sons of Jacob (Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24), Israel (Genesis 32:28), Benjamin (Genesis 35:18), Perez (Genesis 38:29). (2) Of places, e.g. Babylon (Genesis 11:9), Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 16:14), Zoar (Genesis 19:22), Esek, Sitnah and Rehoboth (wells) (Genesis 26:20-22), Beer-sheba (Genesis 26:33), Bethel (Genesis 28:19), Galeed and Mizpah (Genesis 31:48-49), Peniel (Genesis 32:30).

The diction of J abounds in striking and happy expressions, e.g. “to find favour (or grace) in the eyes of” (Genesis 6:8, Genesis 18:3, Genesis 19:19, Genesis 30:27, Genesis 32:5), “to call by [R.V. “on,” or “upon”] the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26, Genesis 12:8, Genesis 13:4, Genesis 21:33, Genesis 26:25), and familiar phrases, e.g. “Behold now” (Genesis 12:11, Genesis 16:2, Genesis 18:27; Genesis 18:31, Genesis 19:2; Genesis 19:8; Genesis 19:19, Genesis 27:2), “forasmuch as” (Genesis 18:5, Genesis 19:8, Genesis 33:10, Genesis 38:26).

The E Narratives

The passages generally assigned to E are as follows:

Genesis 20:1-17, Genesis 21:6-32, Genesis 22:1-13; Genesis 22:19, Genesis 27:1-45 (partially), Genesis 28:10-22 (partially), Genesis 29-30 (partially), Genesis 31:1 to Genesis 32:2 (partially), Genesis 33:19-20; Genesis 34 (partially), Genesis 35:1-8; Genesis 37 (partially), Genesis 40, 41 (partially), Genesis 42 (partially), Genesis 45, Genesis 46:1-5, Genesis 48:1-2; Genesis 48:8-22, Genesis 50:15-22.

The extent of narrative covered by E is thus much more limited than that of J. Whether any portions of E (e.g. possibly in chap. 15) are to be identified before chap. 20, is doubtful. But it may be assumed that E contained some account of the call of Abraham and of his migration into Canaan.

As compared with J, the narrative in E is less prominently marked by its religious thought. But it contains some of the most striking passages in the book, e.g. the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (chap. 22), and the bulk of the story of Joseph (chaps. 37, 39–50).

Anthropomorphisms are not so prominent as in J. The revelation of the Divine Will is generally conveyed through a dream (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 20:6, Genesis 28:12, Genesis 31:10; Genesis 31:24, Genesis 37:5-11; Genesis 40, 41, Genesis 42:9, Genesis 46:2), or by an angel (Genesis 21:17, Genesis 22:11, Genesis 28:12, Genesis 31:11, Genesis 32:1). Very interesting are the traditions of worship, e.g. the altar on Moriah (Genesis 22:9), and at Bethel (Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:3; Genesis 35:7), the pillar (maṣṣêbah), the vow, and “the tenth” at Bethel (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 28:22), the teraphim of Laban stolen by Rachel (Genesis 31:19-20) and “the strange gods” (Genesis 35:2). Abraham is called a “prophet” (Genesis 20:7). Important personal details in the patriarchal story are preserved to us by E, e.g. the names of Deborah, Potiphar, Zaphenath-paneah, Asenath; also the mention of Jacob’s purchase of land at Shechem (Genesis 33:18-20), his conquest of Shechem by arms (Genesis 48:22), and many details of Egyptian life, e.g. Genesis 41:14.

Characteristic of E is the preference for the use of the Divine Names Elohim (though Jehovah occurs, e.g. in Genesis 22:11, Genesis 28:21), and Êl, used absolutely, Genesis 33:20, Genesis 35:7, Genesis 46:3.

There are also many phrases and words which are regarded by scholars as sound criteria for distinguishing the materials of E. But, as appears from the frequent occurrence of the word “partially” in the list of passages assigned above to E, it is often impossible to say for certain whether the tradition has been derived originally from J or E. For it seems to be the case both that passages derived from E were very commonly expanded by extracts from J, and that details of interest recorded in E were very commonly inserted into the Narrative of J.

The J and E Narratives

(a) Origin

Collections of popular narratives containing the early folklore of the Israelites were derived from, or based upon, oral tradition. This had been recited at festivals, treasured up in connexion with sacred spots, repeated over camp-fires, and declaimed at burial-places. Some of the narratives may soon have obtained a stereotyped form, others may long have been current in varying traditions. A certain number were early embodied in collections of songs, like the Book of the Wars of Jehovah, quoted in Numbers 21:14, and the Book of Jashar, quoted in Joshua 10:12-13 and 2 Samuel 1:18. All of them would, presumably, be circulated and known in different versions, before they were committed to writing.

The collections represented by J and E respectively had, probably, been only very gradually formed; and may each of them have been known in shorter and longer versions. It would be a mistake to regard either of them as the work of a single author, or as the composition of a single mind, or as the product of the generation in which they were committed to writing.

(b) Locality

It has, on the whole, been deemed probable that J presents us with popular traditions current in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In J, Abraham and, possibly, Jacob appear as living at Hebron: the story of Judah and Tamar seems to contain a tradition of S. Palestine tribal memories. In the Joseph narratives, Judah enjoys a position of eminence above his brethren. E, on the other hand, has been assigned to the Northern Kingdom. The sacred places of Bethel, Shechem, and Beer-sheba (a place of pilgrimage from the Northern Kingdom, Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14) are given great prominence. Abraham resides at Gerar and Beer-sheba, Jacob at Beer-sheba and Shechem. Joseph is the hero among his brethren; alone of Jacob’s sons his body is to be carried out of Egypt (Genesis 50:25). Reuben, not Judah, takes the lead as the eldest-born. In E Hebron is not mentioned; and Central Palestine is Jacob’s residence for a long time.

(c) Date

At what date they were respectively committed to writing, can only be a subject of approximate conjecture. In the case of J, it has been pointed out (1) that the curse pronounced upon Canaan (Genesis 9:25) would reflect popular feeling after, but not long after, the final reduction of the Canaanites to subjection (1 Kings 9:20): (2) that the boundaries of the Promised Land, as defined in Genesis 15:18, correspond with the boundaries of Solomon’s kingdom in 1 Kings 4:21; and (3) that the prediction of Edom’s subjugation under Israel and of his ultimate recovery of liberty (Genesis 25:23, Genesis 27:40) would hardly have been written before the time of Edom’s successful revolt (2 Kings 8:22). Obviously such a line of argument is not to be pressed.

In the case of E, it has been conjectured that the compact concluded between Jacob and Laban in the mountain of Gilead (Genesis 31:23-55) may reflect the relations between Israel and Syria in the early part of the 8th cent. b.c.; and, on the hardly less precarious ground of Genesis 37:8 (“shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?”), it has been inferred that E was committed to writing at some time subsequent to the Disruption of the Kingdom.

Allusions in the early Hebrew Prophets to events recorded in the Pentateuch are exceedingly rare; and, when they occur, it is not easy to say whether they are based upon the written Narratives embodied in the Hebrew Bible, or upon similar, but not identical, oral tradition recording the same events: cf. Hosea 9:10; Amos 2:9; Micah 6:4-5. Take, for instance, the passage in Hosea 12:3-4, “In the womb he [Jacob] took his brother by the heel … he had power over the angel and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto him: he found him at Bethel, and there he spake with us … 12, Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.” This shews close resemblances with Genesis 25:26, Genesis 27:43; Genesis 27:28, Genesis 29:20; Genesis 29:30, Genesis 31:41, Genesis 32:24-32. But there is nothing in the text of Genesis corresponding to “he wept and made supplication unto him.” The most that we are entitled to say is that the earlier prophets were acquainted with Narratives recorded by J and E, but, whether with the actual J and E documents incorporated in the Pentateuch, the evidence is insufficient to prove.

The literary style of J and E is of such perfection in its simplicity and vividness, that they clearly do not represent the beginnings, but rather the brightest and most finished specimens of Hebrew prose.

The religious thought both of J and E assumes the sole pre-eminence of the God of Israel. He is one Who reveals Himself in Haran, and Who protects the family of Abram in Egypt (Genesis 12:1; Genesis 12:17). He protects Eliezer in his journey into Mesopotamia (chap. 24): He warns Laban on “the mountain of Gilead” (Genesis 31:24): He prospers Joseph in everything in the land of Egypt (Genesis 39:3; Genesis 39:5). The intercession of Abraham on behalf of Sodom (Genesis 18:17-33) has been thought to reflect a somewhat later phase in the revision of the Patriarchal Narratives. But when Abraham appeals to Him as “judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:17), his monotheist sentiment is in full harmony with the general teaching of J and E.

There is no expression of hostility to the religion of the native Canaanite, or to the religion of Egypt and Philistia The closer relation with Shechemites is not opposed on the ground of religion (chap. 34): nor is the faith of Joseph an obstacle to his marriage with the daughter of the priest of On (Genesis 41:45). Abraham, speaking of Gerar, is made to say, “Surely the fear of God is not in this place” (Genesis 20:11). But God manifests Himself to Abimelech “in a dream of the night,” and Abimelech replies, “Lord, wilt thou slay even a righteous nation?” (Genesis 20:3-4 E).

Once more, it cannot be said that the allusions to Assyria and Babylon in Genesis 10:9-12 (J), Genesis 11:1-9 (J), Genesis 14:1 ff. imply any recognition of the menace to Israel which the great powers of the Euphrates valley subsequently became. If the rivalry of the Canaanite has disappeared, the dread of Assyria has not yet become real.

Abraham builds altars at Shechem, Bethel (Genesis 12:7-8 J), Hebron (Genesis 13:18 J and Genesis 15:9-10 J (E)), and Moriah (?) (Genesis 22:9 E). Jacob ets up a pillar at Bethel (Genesis 28:18 E) and on the mountain of Gilead (Genesis 31:45): he builds an altar at Bethel (Genesis 35:3; Genesis 35:7 E) and at Beer-sheba (Genesis 46:1 E). To the writer of the Priestly Code it seemed impossible that any sacrifices could have been offered before the Levitical Law was instituted, or were lawful except at the central sanctuary. But J and E represent the simpler traditions of the early monarchy. The erection of a pillar (maṣṣêbah), which is recorded of Jacob in Genesis 28:18, Genesis 31:13; Genesis 31:45, Genesis 35:14 (cf. 1 Samuel 7:12; 2 Samuel 18:18), is condemned as hateful to Jehovah in Deuteronomy 16:22, cf. Micah 5:13, in the later days of the monarchy.

The conclusion which has been reached by the most sober criticism of the Hexateuch is that the composition of J belongs probably to the ninth, and that of E to the early part of the eighth century b.c.

The P Narratives

The passages in Genesis generally assigned to P are as follows:

Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a, Genesis 5:1-28; Genesis 5:30-32, Genesis 6:9-22, Genesis 7:6; Genesis 7:11; Genesis 7:13-16 a, Genesis 7:18-21; Genesis 7:24, Genesis 8:1-2 a, Genesis 8:3-5; Genesis 8:13 a, Genesis 8:14-19, Genesis 9:1-17; Genesis 9:28-29, Genesis 10:1-7; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:22-23; Genesis 10:31-32, Genesis 11:10-27; Genesis 11:31-32, Genesis 12:4 b, 5, Genesis 13:6; Genesis 13:11-12 a, Genesis 16:1 a, Genesis 16:3; Genesis 15, 16, 17, Genesis 19:29, Genesis 21:1 b, Genesis 21:2-5; Gen 21:23, Genesis 25:7-17; Genesis 25:19-20; Genesis 25:26 b, Genesis 26:34-35, Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:9, Genesis 29:24; Genesis 29:29, Genesis 31:18 b, Genesis 33:18 a, 3Genesis 4 (partially), Genesis 35:9-13; Genesis 35:15; Genesis 35:22-29, Genesis 36, Genesis 37:1-2 a, Genesis 41:46, Genesis 46:6-27, Genesis 47:5-6 a,Genesis 47:7-11; Genesis 47:27 b, Genesis 47:28, Genesis 48:3-7 (?), Genesis 49:1 a, Genesis 49:28-33, Genesis 50:12-13.

These passages shew that they belong to a continuous and systematic summary of the Primaeval and Patriarchal Periods. The Narrative itself is, for the most part, slender and jejune, except in connexion with important events and institutions in the religion of Israel. In Genesis these are (1) the Creation and the Sabbath (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a), (2) the covenant of Noah (chap. 9), (3) the institution of circumcision (chap. 17), (4) the purchase of Machpelah (chap. 23).

The character of the contents and the style of the diction are so distinct that as a rule there is no difficulty in separating P from J and E throughout the Hexateuch. “Because of the precise assignment of dates and the systematic arrangement of material, this document practically forms a framework which binds together the component parts of the Hexateuch” (Chapman, p. 71). The main portion, which describes the legislation at Sinai (Exodus 25–Numbers 10), is so largely occupied with Priestly functions, that the whole document is denoted by P, or PC, the Priestly Code.

Its contents are marked by orderliness of arrangement and by careful attention to chronology. Under the head of orderliness may be noted in Genesis (1) the sequence of the creative acts in the Six Days of Creation (chap. 1); (2) the arrangement of the genealogies in chap. 5, where three verses are assigned to each name, and in Genesis 11:10-26, where two verses are assigned to each name; (3) the details of the purchase of the cave of Machpelah in chap. 23: and (4) the genealogy of the sons of Jacob (Genesis 35:23-26, Genesis 46:8-27).

Under the head of chronology, the system followed by P, however artificial, is methodical and continuous; we may note the mention of the day, month, and year of the Deluge (Genesis 7:6, cf. Genesis 8:4-5; Genesis 8:13-14); the ages of the descendants of Seth (chap. 5) and of Shem (Genesis 11:10-26); and the ages of the Patriarchs and their wives (Genesis 12:4 b, Genesis 16:16, Genesis 17:1; Genesis 17:24, Genesis 21:5, Genesis 23:1, Genesis 25:7; Genesis 25:17; Genesis 25:26, Genesis 26:34, Genesis 35:28, Genesis 37:2 a, Genesis 41:46, Genesis 47:9; Genesis 47:28).

The narrative, as a rule, is little more than is sufficient to trace the chronology of Israel from the earliest times. “The history,” says Driver1, “advances along a well-defined line, marked by a gradually diminishing length of human life, by the revelation of God under three distinct names, Elohim, El Shaddai, and Jehovah, by the blessing of Adam and its characteristic conditions, and by the subsequent covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Israel, each with its special ‘sign,’ the rainbow, the rite of circumcision, and the Sabbath (Genesis 9:12-13; Genesis 17:11; Exodus 31:13).”

[1] L.O.T., p. 127.

The Name of God which is regularly used by the Priestly Document until Exodus 6:2, is Elohim, not Jehovah. There are two exceptions in Genesis 17:1 and Genesis 21:1 b, where it is possible that the Names have been altered in transcription. There are four passages in which God makes Himself known to the Patriarchs, or in which they speak of Him, as Êl Shaddai (Genesis 17:1, Genesis 28:3, Genesis 35:11, Genesis 48:3). It is only after the account of the communication of the Name Jehovah to Moses and the people (Exodus 6:2 ff.) that that Name is regularly used in the Priestly Document.

P ignores the distinction between clean and unclean animals in the Story of the Flood, and does not record the offering of sacrifices before the institution of the Levitical system. In Genesis the only religious usages referred to are (1) the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-4 a), (2) the prohibition to eat blood (Genesis 9:4-5), (3) the rite of circumcision (chap. 17).

In style there is a frequent redundancy, e.g. Genesis 1:27 “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him”; Genesis 6:22 “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (cf. Exodus 40:16); Genesis 9:9 “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you …; 11 And I will establish my covenant with you …; 12 This is the token of the covenant which I make …; 13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth …; 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud …; 17 This is the token of the covenant which I have established.…”

There are also recurrent formulae which form a noticeable feature in the style, e.g. “These are the generations of, &c.” (see Genesis 2:4 a, Genesis 5:1, Genesis 6:9, &c.), “These are the sons of … after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, in their nations” (Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31), “And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael” (Genesis 25:13), “And these are the names of the children of Israel” (Genesis 46:8); cf. Genesis 25:16, Genesis 36:40.

A very large number of words and phrases peculiar to, or characteristic of P, have been collected (see the fifty “literary characteristics,” with references, in Driver’s L.O.T. (pp. 131–5)). As instances may be cited here the expressions for “to be gathered unto his people” (Genesis 25:8; Genesis 25:17, Genesis 35:29, Genesis 49:29, cf. Numbers 20:24): “make or establish a covenant” (Genesis 6:18, Genesis 9:9, Genesis 17:2, cf. Exodus 6:4): “male and female,” zâkâr uneḳêbah (Genesis 1:27, Genesis 5:2, Genesis 6:19, Genesis 7:3): “sojournings” (Genesis 17:8, Genesis 28:4, Genesis 36:7, Genesis 47:9, cf. Exodus 6:4): “possession” (Genesis 17:8, Genesis 23:4; Genesis 23:9; Genesis 23:20, Genesis 36:43, Genesis 47:11, Genesis 48:4, Genesis 49:30, Genesis 50:13): “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22; Genesis 1:28, Genesis 8:17, Genesis 9:1; Genesis 9:7, Genesis 17:20, Genesis 28:3, Genesis 35:11, Genesis 47:27, Genesis 48:4): “the selfsame day” (Genesis 7:13, Genesis 17:23; Genesis 17:26, cf. Exodus 12:17).

“Israel” is not used by P as a name for Jacob. The Hittites are the b’nê Ḥêth (“children or sons of Heth”) in P (Genesis 23:3; Genesis 23:5; Genesis 23:7; Genesis 23:10; Genesis 23:16, Genesis 25:10, Genesis 27:46), not “Ḥittîm” as in the other documents. Hebron appears as “Kiriath-Arba” (Genesis 23:2, Genesis 35:27, cf. Joshua 15:13), Haran as “Paddan-aram” (Genesis 25:20, Genesis 28:2; Genesis 28:5-7, Genesis 31:18, Genesis 33:18, Genesis 35:9; Genesis 35:26, Genesis 46:15), not Aram-naharaim (J).

The recurrence of the distinctive phraseology and style of P, together with the distinctive treatment of the subject-matter, both in the Pentateuch and in the Book of Joshua, enables the Hebrew reader without difficulty to identify the materials of this document.1

The Process of Compilation or Redaction (R)

Those who were responsible for the work of compiling the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, desired to give an account of the people of Israel from the earliest times down to the conquest of Canaan and the death of Joshua. The first portion extended from the creation of the world down to the death of Joseph in the land of Egypt. The materials employed for this part of the compilation were, in all probability, (1) the J and E collections of traditions, and (2) the Priestly Code (P).

The methods adopted in the process of compilation were very various. Six, at least, may be recognized: i.e. (1) Verbatim extracts, (2) Abridgment and omission, (3) Duplication of narratives, (4) Conflation and combination, (5) Harmonizing, (6) Glosses.

1. Sometimes long extracts were transferred almost verbatim, as in the case of the account of the Creation (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a), the Genealogy of the Sethites (chap. 5), the Covenant of Noah (Genesis 9:1-17), the Covenant of Circumcision (chap. 17), the purchase of Machpelah (chap. 23), which are taken from P; and as in the case of the story of Eden (Genesis 2:4 b–4:26), the story of Abraham at Mamre and the fate of Sodom (chaps. 18, 19, except v. 28), the story of Abraham’s servant and Rebekah (chap. 24), the story of Tamar (chap. 38), which are taken from J.

2. Sometimes the account taken from one document is abridged, because a fuller narrative is preferred from another source. Thus the Cosmogony in J (Genesis 2:4-5) is fragmentary. The opening portion of it has evidently been omitted, because the previous section from P (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a) has been given the preference. The account of Abraham’s death in J, in or after chap. Genesis 24:1 ff., seems to have been omitted, because the account in P is to be inserted later on in chap. Genesis 25:7-11. Similarly the account, in J, of Isaac’s death which is imminent in the story of Genesis 27:41, is withheld, because of the insertion, in Genesis 35:28-29, of P’s record of the event.

3. Sometimes parallel, but not necessarily identical, narratives are retained side by side. Thus J’s account of the formation of man and the animals, in chap. 2, follows immediately upon P’s story of Creation in chap. 1. In J’s account Rebekah persuades Jacob to flee to Haran in order to escape Esau’s after-wrath (chap. 27); but in P (Genesis 28:1-9), Jacob departs with Isaac’s blessing in order to seek for a wife from Rebekah’s kindred. Again, in Genesis 48:3-7 we have P’s account of Jacob’s last words to Joseph, with special reference to Ephraim and Manasseh, which are immediately followed by the parallel account from JE (Genesis 48:7-22) in which Israel (not Jacob) beholds Joseph’s sons and enquires who they are, and blesses them. The combination of duplicate narratives may be illustrated also by the twofold explanation of the names Issachar, Zebulon and Joseph (Genesis 30:16-24).

4. Sometimes, when the narratives were identical in their main outlines, but differed in small details, the Compiler combined them, selecting first from one, and then from the other, the material most suitable for his purpose, and omitting or altering material that obviously was not harmonious. This is especially noticeable in the Deluge Narratives (chaps. 7, 8), the Table of the Nations (chap. 10), the story of Jacob at Haran (chaps. 30, 31), and the story of Joseph (chaps. 39–50).

5. Sometimes, in order to remove an appearance of discrepancy, and to secure continuity between passages, editorial changes were introduced. Thus, in view of the change of the forms Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah (related by P, in chap. 17), the names Abram and Sarai are used throughout the previous J, as well as P, portions of the narrative. The use of the double Name Lord God (Jehovah Elohim), in chaps. 2 and 3, is probably thus to be explained, as an addition by the compilers, in order to combine the Elohim of chap. 1. (P) with the first mention of Jehovah in the following section. In Genesis 39:1, the name of “Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard” is inserted in order to harmonize the account in J, in which Joseph’s master is a nameless Egyptian, with that in E, in which Potiphar’s name is given (Genesis 37:36).

6. Sometimes, explanatory notes or glosses, which may have come from a later hand, have been inserted into the text, as in Genesis 14:2-3; Genesis 14:7-8, Genesis 20:18, Genesis 31:47, Genesis 35:6; Genesis 35:19.

§ 5. Literary Materials

The very various materials embodied in JE and P in connexion with the main thread of personal narratives, relating to Adam, Noah, and the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, can be classified under at least six groups: (1) primitive folk-lore: (2) local traditions: (3) tribal traditions: (4) national traditions: (5) songs: (6) genealogies.

1. Primitive folk-lore. The early stories respecting the Creation, the beginnings of the Human Race, and the Deluge, are probably ultimately to be traced back to the common stock of primitive Semitic folk-lore. Whether the people of Israel received them (a) through Canaanite channels, or (b) directly from Babylonian influence, or (c) from their own Hebrew ancestors long previous to immigration into Palestine, is a question which at present we lack the means of answering. Babylonian thought and culture pervaded W. Asia in the second millennium b.c. But the points of resemblance between the Babylonian and the Israelite cosmogonies are neither so numerous nor so close as to make it necessary to infer that the Hebrew stories were borrowed immediately from the Babylonian. The Canaanites, among whom the Israelites settled, must have had their own version of a cosmogony. That this was coloured by Babylonian influence would be a reasonable conjecture. Again, the ancestors of the Hebrew race in the valley of the Euphrates had their own primitive Semitic traditions, and these would have been influenced by contact with Assyrian and Babylonian religion.

These stories were originally myths1, that is, poetical tales in the imagery of which the primitive Semite found an explanation for the phenomena of nature, ascribing them to the action of supernatural beings. The myths were rooted in polytheism. The polytheistic element, in Genesis, has been entirely removed. The Biblical cosmogony gives us a representation of folk-lore, not in its early, crude and superstitious form, but as it was shaped and adapted to be the vehicle of religious thought, in accordance with the needs of a much later age, with the teaching of the Hebrew Prophets, and the monotheistic worship of Jehovah.

2. Local traditions. Many of the narratives in Genesis are associated with localities whose sanctity was traditionally connected by the Israelites with manifestations to the Patriarchs, e.g. Shechem (Genesis 12:7), the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 13:18), Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 16:14), Beer-sheba (Genesis 26:23-25), Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22), Mahanaim (Genesis 32:1), Penuel (Genesis 32:24-31). In some of these spots, stones, trees, and springs had been regarded from prehistoric times as tenanted by Divine beings. When the Israelites dispossessed the Canaanites, the sanctity of these places continued; and popular legend connected them with historic incidents in the lives of the Hebrew ancestors.

3. Tribal traditions. It can hardly be doubted that, under the guise of personal incidents, some of the Narratives of Genesis have preserved the recollection of events in the early history of Hebrew clans and tribes. One very possible example may be found in the story of Dinah and the treacherous revenge taken by Simeon and Levi (chap. 34). It is possible that Dinah impersonates a weak Israelite tribe or clan, which was in danger of being absorbed among the native Canaanite clans, and that this peril brought about the savage attack by the two brother tribes. It is almost certain that the story of Tamar (chap. 38) turns upon the tribal history of Judah; and that, while accounting for the disappearance of the Hebrew clans of Er and Onan, it represents, under the symbolism of marriage relations, the building up of the tribe of Judah through fusion with local Canaanite clans.

Once more, the blessing of Jacob, conferred upon Ephraim and Manasseh (chap. 48 E), is evidently intended to ratify the position of the two most prominent tribes in the Northern Kingdom; while the words of the Blessing of Jacob in chap. 49 reflect the history and geographical position of the tribes after the conquest of the land.

4. National traditions. What has been said about tribal history being impersonated in the Patriarchal Narratives, is clearly capable of extension to nations and peoples. The rivalry between Israel and Edom is prefigured in the antenatal struggle of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:23). The delimitation of the frontiers between Israel and Syria may be symbolized in the covenant between Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:44). It is, at least, a possible interpretation of the repulsive legend in chap. 19, respecting the origin of Moab and Ammon, that Israelite prejudice expressed itself in a story based upon the popular etymology of the two names. In the stories of Hagar and Ishmael, the presentation of traits of the Bedouin type is clearly not excluded: and, under the similitude of family relationship, the connexion of the Israelite people with their neighbours, Aramaean, Edomite, and Arabian, is illustrated in numerous passages, e.g. chaps. 11, Genesis 22:20-24, Genesis 25:1-6; Genesis 25:12-16; Genesis 29, 36.

5. Songs. The Book of Genesis contains several poetical pieces. It is very probable that many of the prose narratives have been derived from earlier lyrical compositions, just as the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) contained in poetry the record of a great national event which was afterwards related in prose (Judges 4). Popular song has often preceded prosaic narrative. In the other books of the Pentateuch we are familiar with the Song of Moses (Exodus 15), the Songs of the Wars of the Lord and of the Well (Numbers 21:14-15; Numbers 21:17-18), the Song of Triumph over the Defeat of Sihon (Numbers 21:27-30), Balaam’s Oracles (Numbers 23:7-10; Numbers 23:18-24; Numbers 24:3-9; Numbers 24:15-24), the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32), and the Blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33). In Genesis the following passages are genuine specimens of Hebrew poetry, and in style and language are quite distinct from the setting of prose narrative in which they are preserved:

(i)  The Song of Lamech (Genesis 4:23-24), on the invention of weapons.

(ii)  The Song of Lamech (Genesis 5:29), on the introduction of vine culture.

(iii)  Noah’s Oracle on his Sons (Genesis 9:25-27).

(iv)  The Oracle granted to Hagar (Genesis 16:11-12).

(v)  The Blessing on Rebekah, pronounced by her family (Genesis 24:60).

(vi)  The Oracle granted to Rebekah respecting her children (Genesis 25:23).

(vii)  The Blessing of Isaac upon Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29).

(viii)  The Blessing of Isaac upon Esau (Genesis 27:39-40).

(ix)  The Blessing of Jacob upon his sons (Genesis 49:2-27).

It may safely be assumed that these Songs were composed long before the time at which they were included in the J narrative of the Book of Genesis. The Blessing of Jacob seems to be a very early collection of Israelite Songs or poetical Oracles, having reference to the tribes after the settlement in Canaan (Genesis 49:13-14); and it is possible that the allusion to “the sceptre of Judah” may indicate a period at which the kingdom was established at Jerusalem (Genesis 49:10).

6. Genealogies. At least eight Genealogies occur in the Book of Genesis. They constitute a remarkable feature in its literary composition. They illustrate the diligent care with which the attempt was made to trace back not only Israel, but Israel’s neighbours, into the remotest antiquity. The majority of the Genealogies belong to the statistics preserved in P.

The Priestly Document computes that the Exodus from Egypt occurred in the year 2666, and the Flood in the year 1656, after the Creation. It is in connexion with this chronology that the age of Noah, at the time of the Flood, is given with such minuteness (Genesis 7:11); and that the ages of the Patriarchs are so carefully recorded. The narratives of J and E are not built upon this chronology, and in consequence their statements are often irreconcilable with those contained in the narrative of P.

(i) Genealogy from Adam to Noah (chap. 5 P). It has been thought possible that the original source for the contents of this list is to be sought for in a version of Babylonian Tradition. Berossus, the Babylonian Chronicler (circ. 200 b.c.) commences his Babylonian dynasties with Alôrus, Alaparus, Amçlon, Ammĕnon, Megalarus, Daônus, Evedorachus, Amempsinus, Otiartes, and Xisuthros. There are ten names, and the list closes with Xisuthros, the Babylonian Noah. The list in Genesis 5 has ten names, and closes with that of Noah.

(ii) The Genealogy of the Sons of Noah (chaps. 10, 11, P (J)).

The Genealogy of the Nations is derived from J as well as from P. The lists of names are of great interest and value. They must not be regarded as possessing any scientific value ethnographically. But they illustrate the political geography of the Hebrews, and embody a reminiscence of Israelite tradition upon the relative position of peoples known by name and repute.

(iii) The Genealogy of Terah (Genesis 11:27-32) contains fragments from J and P, and, probably, portions of J’s genealogy of Shem, resumed from Genesis 10:24-30. It has been thought to describe a tradition of early tribal relationships in the Terahite branch of the Hebrews, and to preserve the recollection of (a) the disappearance of the clan of Haran, (b) the survival of the clan of Lot, and (c) the amalgamation of the clan of Milcah with the native clans.

(iv) The Genealogy of Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24) is an ancient list preserved in J. The twelve tribes here named traced their ancestry back to Nahor. Probably the list belongs to a late revision of J. For, while, in chap. 24, Abraham’s servant finds Nahor’s grandchildren, Laban and Rebekah, fully grown, in this 22nd chapter Abraham receives the news of the birth of Nahor’s children. The Genealogy contains an ethnographical record, not a personal history: and, accordingly, while the legitimate sons of Nahor (Genesis 22:20-23) typify the true tribal stock, the sons of the concubine (Genesis 22:24) denote clans of mixed or inferior lineage.

(v) The Genealogy of Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6) contains a list of North Arabian tribes with whom the Israelites acknowledged a degree of kinship. They were, therefore, represented as the children of Abraham by a later marriage, after the death of Sarah. As in the case of the Genealogy of Nahor, the Genealogy of Keturah probably belongs to a late insertion into J. For the main narrative of J leaves no room for the mention of a second marriage of Abraham. The beginning of chap. 24 suggests that Abraham is conscious of his approaching end.

(vi) The Genealogy of Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18) contains a list, from P, of the twelve traditional ancestors of the Ishmaelite tribes whose home was in the Syro-Arabian Desert.

(vii) The Edomite Genealogies (chap. 36) consist of (1) a list of the wives and children of Esau, vv. 1–5; (2) a list of Esau’s descendants, vv. 9–14; (3) a list of Esau clans, vv. 15–19; (4) a list of Horite clans, vv. 20–30; (5) a list of Edomite kings, vv. 31–39; (6) a second list of Esau clans, vv. 40–43. This very valuable genealogy seems to contain an authentic record of Edomite tribal history, presumably derived from some Edomite source.

(viii) The Genealogy of Jacob’s descendants (Genesis 46:8-27 P) is a list which purports to contain the names of “the children of Israel, which came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons.” But as it includes the names of Er and Onan (v. 12) who died in Canaan, and also the names of Joseph and his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim (v. 20), who were already in Egypt when Jacob went down, the title of the list is evidently inexact.

§ 6. Historical Value

A. Genesis 1-11

The first portion of the Book of Genesis deals with the Origin of the Universe and the Beginnings of the Human Race. These Narratives, from a modern point of view, are unscientific. There is nothing in them of which modern astronomy, geology, or biology can take account. Physical Science and the Biblical Cosmogony, in their description of natural phenomena, belong to two wholly diverse phases of thought.

The Biblical Narrative, under the symbolism of primitive folk-lore, represents, as in a series of parables, fundamental religious ideas respecting the beginning of things. It is neither history nor science. In the attempt to answer the instinctive questionings of mankind, it lifts the mind Godward. The mysteries of the Universe and the riddles of sin, suffering, and death receive their interpretation through the medium of stories which have come down from the intellectual childhood of the Semitic peoples.

No historic records of primitive man can be looked for. Before the ages of civilization, for thousands, perhaps for hundreds of thousands, of years, man, with the spark of Divine life implanted in him, slowly fought his way out of the condition of the savage. The earliest traces of Assyrian or Egyptian civilization, between six and ten thousand years before the Christian era, belong to a comparatively recent stage in the growth and spread of the human race. Any historic reminiscence of the Beginning is inconceivable.

The Legend of the Flood finds an echo in the early traditions of peoples in all parts of the world. It is evident, however, that the Biblical Narrative of the Flood stands in close relationship to the Babylonian. The earliest Babylonian accounts are based upon ancient records written many centuries before the days of Moses. While geological science has demonstrated that a Flood has never simultaneously covered the whole surface of the globe, there is nothing improbable in the view that the Hebrew Narrative records a tradition of a vast and overwhelming Deluge in Mesopotamia, the memory of which is also contained in the inscriptions of Babylon.

The Israelite had no such conception as we possess of the physical laws of Nature. He was not interested, as we should say, in secondary causes. The science of the Israelite consisted in the recognition of the handiwork of the Creator. His knowledge of physical phenomena was knowledge of the Power and Presence of God. Accordingly, the Deluge, the earliest event of which a recollection is preserved in Babylonian and Hebrew legend, is related as a symbol of Divine judgement upon sin, and as a typical example of Divine deliverance: while the description of its physical characteristics follows the exaggerated account of popular tradition.

B. Genesis 12-50

When we turn to the Patriarchal Narratives, we pass into an entirely different atmosphere. Nevertheless, the Patriarchal Narratives are very different from those which describe the adventures of David or the rebellion of Absalom. We stand, as it were, on the threshold of the shrine of History. We have not yet passed through its doorway. A thousand years separate the age of David from that of Abraham.

It is evident that not all the contents of the Book of Genesis were intended to convey literal fact. Folk-lore is often expressed under the symbolism of personal relationship and domestic experiences. Many names, e.g. those of Midian, Aram, Amalek, are not those of individual personages, but of tribes and peoples. Stories which turn upon the popular etymology of proper names, e.g. Ishmael, Isaac, Issachar, cannot be regarded as on the same footing with the annals of history.

It is, however, otherwise with the great Patriarchs themselves. It is not too much to claim that the main personages who most vividly impressed themselves upon the popular recollection were actual historic characters. Their names, we may be sure, were not invented. That they are the names of real persons, and that round a nucleus of historic facts poetry and tradition collected and expanded popular legends, is the simplest and most probable explanation. The episodes with which these narratives are concerned are for the most part events and details of domestic life. There is a lack in them of contact with the larger history of the time. In consequence, in recent years, there has been a tendency to deny historic value to the Genesis story; and to account for the Patriarchs (a) either as impersonations of the people, (b) or as the survivals of the recollection of Canaanite deities, (c) or as astral emblems.

(a) It has been urged, for instance, that the departure of the Patriarch Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and from Haran, merely personifies a great migratory movement, and that the marriage of Jacob with Rachel and Leah symbolizes the reinforcement of the Hebrew stock from Aramaean tribes. In a certain number of instances this line of explanation will be found to throw an interesting additional light upon the narratives. But it does not admit of being generally applied. It fails to account for the main thread of personal incident. The intensely vivid portraiture of individual character looks as if it were drawn from the life, though viewed at a distance of time and through the haze of poetry and legend.

(b) The theory has been advanced that the names of the Patriarchs are the names of Canaanite deities, and that the Israelites passed from the stage of offering them worship to that of revering them as heroes and ancestors. It is quite possible that such names as Abram, or “lofty Father,” and Sarah, or “Princess,” were borne by Semitic deities. But this does not prove that the Israelites ever worshipped them, or that the names could not be borne by human beings. The fact that the names of Abiram, Abner, Samuel, and many other Israelites, were compounded with names of the Deity, and that “Isaac,” “Jacob,” “Joseph,” were very possibly shortened forms of “Isaac-el,” “Jacob-el,” “Joseph-el” (cf. Ishma-el, Jeraḥmeel, &c.), in no way precludes us from regarding them as the names of historical personages. The suggestion that the “Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42; Genesis 31:53) denotes the “fear inspired by Isaac,” i.e. the local deity of Beer-sheba, and not “the God whom Isaac the patriarch feared,” is an example of the very precarious arguments by which this view has been supported. There is practically no support from Genesis itself for regarding the Patriarchs as degenerated objects of Divine worship. When Abraham at Mamre receives the three angelic visitants (chap. 18) or when Jacob wrestles with the angel at Penuel (chap. 32), the early tradition depicts man in conscious communion with Deity. The tradition may contain more of symbolical instruction than of actual history. But it rests on the assumption that the Patriarchs were flesh and blood, and were neither Canaanite deities nor Hebrew demigods.

(c) Another line of interpretation, which looks for “astral motifs” in the Patriarchal Narratives, may be illustrated from the writings of the distinguished Assyriologist, Jeremias (Old Test. in the Light of the Ancient East, ii. pp. 19, 20, Eng. Tr.): “The number 318 in Genesis 14:14 … is the number of days in the lunar year when the moon is visible.” … “ ‘Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled’ (Genesis 14:4). This is distinctly a lunar number.” … “The moon is ‘the Wanderer.’ … Abraham moved from East to West like the moon.” … “Our Biblical story also recognizes the Tammuz-Ishtar motif. The journey of Abraham with his sister and wife (!) Sarah to Egypt is presented there as a journey into, and a rescue from the Underworld. As south, Egypt is the Underworld.… When Ishtar, the primeval Mother, descends into the Underworld all fertility ceases.… The chronicler hints this, Genesis 12:7 : the house of Pharaoh was ‘plagued’ because of Sarah … sterility had come upon the women.” Speculations, upon lines like these, will be more likely to excite our surprise at the ingenuity of their originators, than to impress us with confidence in their judgement.

While upholding the historical character of the Patriarchs, we must not be too sanguine in the expectation that the historical elements in early legend can easily be demonstrated. This is far from being the case. Fact, poetry, and symbolism are often inextricably intertwined. Let us recognize the fact that it is not possible to claim a high standard of historical accuracy for a narrative, the date of whose composition is separated by many centuries from the events which it records, and whose statements have not as yet been verified by contemporary evidence. Even the written traditions of Israel were liable to be modified, in a strange degree, by subsequent generations, as is evident by a comparison of the Books of Chronicles with the Books of Kings, or, still more, of the Book of Jubilees with the Book of Genesis. Oral tradition, however high the standard of its accuracy in the Semitic world, was not likely to be less susceptible to the influences affecting the transmission of narrative than was tradition embodied in writing. But while we are prepared to hear it alleged that “the basis of our belief in the historical character, e.g. of Abraham, is somewhat sentimental1,” statements to the effect that Abraham “seems to have been created to connect together the peoples kindred to Israel in a genealogical system of relationship” must be described as purely speculative. The framework of literary style and of religious thought, in which the portraits of the Patriarchs are presented to us, is derived from the prophetic period. But there is no evidence to shew that the prophets or their contemporaries either created the names of the patriarchs, or invented the traditions respecting them. That which they inherited from their forefathers they reproduced, stripped of crudity and archaism, and arrayed in the perfect style of their prose narrative. This they presented to their countrymen, glowing with the life of that Revelation which raised the teaching of the Hebrew Prophets immeasurably above the level of contemporary Semitic thought.

During the past forty years light has been shed by archaeological research upon the history of the world in the Patriarchal Period (2100–1400 b.c.). It has been shewn that the influence of Babylonian arms, culture, and worship had made itself felt throughout Western Asia as far as to the shores of the Mediterranean. It has been shewn that Egyptian kings exercised suzerainty over the provinces and cities of Canaan in the 15th century. It has been shewn that in the 15th and 14th centuries the peoples of Canaan, nominally subject to Egypt, were being hard pressed by the Hittites in the North and the Ḥabiri in the East. It has been shewn that the names of Jacob-el and Joseph-el occur among the names of places in Canaan conquered by Thothmes III, and recorded in his inscriptions on the Great Temple of Karnak; and that, in the time of Seti I, Aser appears as the name of a region subsequently occupied by the tribe of Asher. Whether the Ḥabiri, of the Tel el-Amarna Tablets, and the ‘Apuriu of the Egyptian inscriptions of Ramses II and his successors, should be identified with the Hebrews, is still much disputed1.

[1] See Driver’s Schweich Lectures (1909); Hogarth’s Authority and Archaeology (1899); P. S. P. Handcock’s Latest Light on Bible Lands (S.P.C.K., 1913). See Appendix D.

It is not easy, in our present incipient stage of knowledge, to see precisely in what way some of these new historical data are reconcilable with the Biblical account. We may look forward with confidence to receiving further light from the monuments. In the meantime it is advisable to abstain from hasty judgements.

The only incident in the Patriarchal Narratives, which puts us into touch with the history of the surrounding nations, is the rebellion of the Cities of the Plain and the punitive invasion by the allied armies under Chedorlaomer (chap. 14). It is quite possible that in Amraphel king of Shinar we may recognize Ḥammurabi, the historic founder of the Babylonian Empire. On this assumption the period of Abraham is roughly that of the century 2200–2100 b.c. Abraham has not yet been identified in the Babylonian inscriptions. It has, indeed, been claimed by Egyptologists that in the list of places, which Shishak (circ. 930 b.c.) records he has conquered in Palestine, there is one (No. 71–72) which has the Semitic title ḥaḳal Abram, “field of Abram.” If this is substantiated, it may represent the earliest occurrence of the Patriarch’s name in writing, i.e. about twelve hundred years after his death (Breasted’s Hist. of Anc. Eg., p. 363).

Even Joseph’s name has not yet been found in the Egyptian monuments. There is no means of ascertaining, with any degree of confidence, under which king of Egypt Joseph rose to power. See Appendix E.

Accordingly, while future archaeological research may have many surprises in store for us, truth compels us to admit that up to the present no event recorded in the Patriarchal Narratives of Genesis has been found related in contemporary Monuments. Nor do the Patriarchal Narratives by themselves enable us to form any adequate impression of the political and social condition of Canaan and of its inhabitants during that period. Babylonian culture was predominant: Babylon and Egypt seem alternately to have ruled over Canaan: in the 16th and 15th centuries b.c. the chief towns of Canaan were held by Egyptian officials, and were paying tribute to the Egyptian kings. These are the historical features which archaeology has unexpectedly revealed, but of which, before recent archaeological discovery, no Biblical student could have had any conception from reading the Book of Genesis.

The fact seems to be that the historic traditions respecting the Hebrew Patriarchs, both as to language, social conditions, and religious thought, have come down to us in the garb, not of the period from which they first emanated, but of the period in which they were committed to writing. “The writers necessarily threw back their own modes of thought upon the earlier times of which they wrote1.” It is this explanation, also, which fully accounts for the occurrence of such apparent anachronisms as the mention of “Philistines” and of “Dan” (= Laish), and the use of such phrases as “folly in Israel,” and “the land of the Hebrews” in the Patriarchal period (see above, p. xv).

[1] Davidson, O.T. Prophecy, 314.

Social customs in the East are little altered by the lapse of centuries. The scenes of Patriarchal life in Palestine and Syria may be witnessed every day by travellers of the 20th century a.d.

At the same time the student will do well very carefully to note the allusions to the semi-nomadic life of the Patriarchs. They were dwellers in tents, and their encampments were very often in the vicinity of wells and springs (Genesis 12:8, Genesis 13:3; Genesis 13:18, Genesis 18:1-2; Genesis 18:6; Genesis 18:9-10, Genesis 24:67, Genesis 25:27, Genesis 26:25, Genesis 31:25; Genesis 31:33, Genesis 33:19). Abram and Lot possess cattle and sheep in great abundance (Genesis 12:16, Genesis 13:2; Genesis 13:5). Isaac has great possessions “of flocks and herds” (Genesis 26:14). Jacob is a skilled shepherd (chap. 30). He leaves Haran with flocks, herds, and camels (Genesis 32:7). Jacob’s sons are shepherds (Genesis 37:2; Genesis 37:12-16), and the pasture-lands of Goshen are assigned to them as such (Genesis 46:34, Genesis 47:3). The regular Bedouin, roving on the frontiers of the desert, the warrior Ishmaels and Esaus, though of kindred origin, are different in character and pursuits (Genesis 21:20, Genesis 33:12-16).

On the other hand, Isaac grows corn in the land of the “Philistines” (Genesis 26:12-14); Jacob receives from his father the blessing of a fruitful soil, with plenty of corn and wine (Genesis 27:28); he has corn-fields in Haran (Genesis 30:14); and Joseph’s dreams suggest a bringing-up in corn-growing land (Genesis 37:5-6). In the Blessing of Judah the luxuriant growth of the vine is the pride of the tribe (Genesis 49:11). The mention of “houses” in connexion with the Patriarchs indicates how easily the narrative passes into the use of the terms belonging to a more settled condition of life (Genesis 15:3, Genesis 24:23, Genesis 27:15, Genesis 28:21, Genesis 33:17, Genesis 38:11).

§ 7. Religious Teaching

The Book of Genesis, like the rest of the Pentateuch to which it forms the Introduction, is primarily a book of religious instruction (Tôrah). It traces back, to the earliest imaginable time, the relations of the People of Israel to their God. For this purpose the Narratives were collected, and to this purpose they were adapted. The main religious idea is this; that the God who made the Universe, created mankind, brought the Flood upon the world, and appointed the distribution of the Human Races, was the God of Israel, who in the remote ages called, chose, protected, and guided the ancestors of the Hebrew People.

“Creation” and “Election” are the aspects under which, in the Book of Genesis, the devout Israelite was taught the two primary lessons of his relation to God. In answer to the question “What am I?” he learned (1) that he was a member of the Human Race Created by the One God, and (2) that he was a member of the Family of Abraham Chosen by the One God.

The Narratives are recorded in language which never deviates from the pure monotheism of the Israelite prophets, (a) They have no taint of the idolatry of Canaan or of Egypt, (b) They carry with them no trace of the struggle with Baal worship. (c) They suggest no claim on the part of any God except Jehovah to be supreme in the world. The people of the land as impersonated in Melchizedek (chap. 14), Abimelech (chap. 20), Pharaoh and Joseph’s steward (chaps. Genesis 41:38-39, Genesis 43:23), are not wanting in the fear of the true God.

The supreme value of the Book of Genesis has always consisted in its religious message. Its influence has not resulted from perfection of scientific or historical accuracy, but from its power of presenting, through the medium of the people’s traditions and folk-lore, the essential truths of the Revelation of the God of Israel. Like every other human medium, it was adapted to the age of its production. It was neither infallible nor perfect. But it was part of that inspired witness by which throughout the ages the Spirit of God has spoken to the spiritual nature of man with a voice adapted to his understanding. In every phase of Christian experience the Book of Genesis has been recognized as having borne a prominent part in the “Praeparatio Evangelica.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the One Supreme Divine Person, omnipotent in power, perfect in righteousness, infinite in wisdom. Whether in Canaan, in Egypt, or in Haran, His Will is sovereign and absolute. To the Canaanite King, Melchizedek, He is the Most High God (Êl Elyon): to the Hebrew Patriarchs, He is God Almighty (Êl Shaddai).

God, who “hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son,” “of old time spoke unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners (πολυμέρως καὶ πολυτρόπως)” (Hebrews 1:1). The Book of Genesis is one of those “divers manners.” They were truly “prophets” to whom we owe it. They were inspired men, moved by the Holy Ghost (a) to collect, purge, and edit the primitive traditions of the race and the early legends of the people, and (b) thereby to interpret to their countrymen and to the world “divers” fragments and “portions” of the message of Divine Redemption. Human judgement stumbles at the thought that the first of the sacred writings of Israel to be set apart as “the oracles of God” should contain the initial stages of a national literature, i.e. legends and folk-lore. Our preconceptions make us slow to realize the meaning of the progressive character of Divine Revelation. Where law and prophecy, poetry and narrative have their share, legend and tradition are not wanting to complete the human element in the preparation for the coming of the Christ.

(1) God. In some of the Narratives preserved by the earlier traditions there are traces of the earlier and more anthropomorphic conception of the Almighty. Jehovah speaks as if Apprehensive of the human race becoming too powerful (Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:6); as if regretting the act of creation (Genesis 6:6-7); as if needing to be convinced of human wickedness (Genesis 11:7), or of the corruptions of Sodom (Genesis 18:20-21). But these survivals of a more naїve treatment of the Divine Nature are only evidence of the fact that there has been growth and development in the religious thought of Israel.

The mention of the teraphim of Laban (Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:30-35) and of “the strange gods” in Jacob’s household (Genesis 35:1-4) acknowledges rather than condemns the usage of other peoples.

The God of Israel is the beneficent Creator of the Universe: His Word and Will are the only means by which created things are brought into existence (chaps. 1, 2). Their creation is in accordance with His moral purpose of goodness (Genesis 1:31). Mattes is neither self-existent, nor inherently evil; what God creates, is “very good.” From the first He maintains communion and intercourse with mankind. At every stage He communicates His Will to man, to Adam and Eve, to Cain, to Noah, to the Patriarchs, to Hagar, to Rebekah, to Pharaoh, &c. He hears their prayer (Genesis 4:15, Genesis 15:1-6, Genesis 25:22-23, Genesis 32:29, Genesis 46:1-4). He makes covenants with them (Genesis 9:1-17, Genesis 15:18, Genesis 17:2 ff.) He overrules the wrong-doings and troubles of life to be the means of blessing (Genesis 3:16-17, Genesis 45:5, Genesis 50:20).

(2) Man. Man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). His nature is twofold, partly material, partly spiritual (Genesis 2:7). His life is designed for activity; he is the crowning point of creation he is intended to exercise authority and to maintain order and control upon earth (Genesis 1:28-29, Genesis 2:15; Genesis 2:20). From the first he approaches God with sacrifice (Genesis 4:3-5) and prayer (Genesis 4:26).

(3) Sin. The Nature, not the Origin, of Sin is depicted in chap. 3. Temptation to sin comes from an external source (Genesis 3:1-5). It is not in man, nor from God. It exalts personal desire against the knowledge of the Divine Will: it shews itself in distrust and self-will. Conscience is active in the wake of sin (chaps. 3, 4, 42).

There is no direct assertion of the hereditary transmission of sin. Perhaps it is implied in the fact that the story of the murder of Abel follows at once upon that of the expulsion from the Garden. The rapid spread of moral corruption occasions the Divine judgement of the Deluge (chaps. 6–9), and in the overthrow of the Cities of the Plain (chap. 19). There is no such thing as human immunity from sin. Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, is guilty of turpitude and cowardice (Genesis 12:11-13, Genesis 20:12). The character of Jacob is a medley of warm feeling, persevering energy, deceitfulness, and self-interestedness. Even in Joseph, before the discipline of suffering, there is a strain of vain-glory (Genesis 37:5-12).

(4) Election. The Call of Abraham is represented as the free expression of Divine Favour and Grace. It is not the reward of merit, nor the recognition of service. The human aspect is ignored. God’s Voice is the test of obedience and of faith. Abraham’s belief in Jehovah (Genesis 15:6) precedes the covenant. He represents the ideal of righteousness, i.e. right relations with God (cf. Romans 4:9; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). The command comes from God to Abraham to leave his home; and the promise is added of a blessing in the distant future. The promise has reference (1) to numberless descendants, (2) to the possession of Canaan, (3) to a source of benediction for all the dwellers on the earth (Genesis 12:2-3, Genesis 17:6-8, Genesis 18:18, Genesis 28:13-14, Genesis 35:9-12). As interpreted in the Book of Genesis, Election implies no selfish enjoyment of prerogative, but a vocation to discipline, patience, and service. Its origin is God’s call; its sphere is the service of man; its ratification is the covenant relation; the rite of circumcision is its sacrament; its reward is the revelation of the Divine Will. The Election of the individual leads up to the Election of the Nation, out of whose ranks and from whose country shall come the ultimate Blessing for all the families of the earth. The material blessings of long life, numerous descendants, and a fertile land, are the appointed symbols and pledges of the spiritual fulfilment of the Divine promise, to which our Lord refers in the words, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). the Hebrew mind may have been deficient in speculative and philosophical ability. But it was intensely sensitive of religious impressions; and, while rejecting all external representations of the Deity, could rest with quiet confidence in the absolute Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of His Personality (cf. Genesis 15:6, Genesis 18:25, Genesis 35:3, Genesis 48:15).

(5) The Messianic Hope. The Divine Promises, in the Book of Genesis, cannot be said to indicate a belief in the coming of a personal Messiah. In Genesis 3:15, the enmity between the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman symbolizes the antagonism between the human race and the forces of Evil. The passage predicts, that victory over the source of transgression will rest with man. It contains in germ the Gospel of Redemption for humanity. It is universal, not national, in its range of application. But it contains no announcement of a personal Redeemer.

The much controverted words, “Until Shiloh come” (Genesis 49:10), have very frequently been understood to predict the advent of a personal Messiah. But it is very improbable that “Shilol” can bear the meaning of a proper name. Probably nothing more definitely Messianic is indicated than that the most sacred hopes of Israel were bound up with the future of the royal tribe of Judah. The promises made to Abraham and to Jacob included the kingship of their descendants (Genesis 17:5-6, Genesis 35:11); and the poetical prediction concerning “the sceptre of Judah” points forward, with the indefiniteness of an ancient oracle, to the expectation of an ideal, a Messianic, kingdom.

(6) Love. But, although the Book of Genesis contains but little that belongs to definitely Messianic predictions, its whole idea of the Divine Nature and of its relation towards mankind, whether expressed in Creation, or in Election, or in Discipline, is the same. It is that of love. Love first originates the object of benevolence; and then, by gradual and progressive revelation, seeks to raise, educate, and enlighten it, until the full communion between God and man can be established.

The assurance of the Divine Presence (“I am with thee,” Genesis 26:24, Genesis 28:15, Genesis 31:3; cf. Genesis 5:24, Genesis 6:9, Genesis 39:2; Genesis 39:21, Genesis 48:15 is at every epoch conveyed to the servants of Jehovah.

“In the early stages of Bible history there was not a direct, immediate and adequate revelation of the true God, but an indirect and educational revelation of God, which was to the knowledge of God Himself as the shadow of blessings to come … is to the glorious light of Christ1.”

[1] Westphal, The Law and the Prophets (p. 18).

No account of the Book of Genesis would be adequate which omitted to notice the religious and moral teaching of its narratives. The great succession of scenes which pass before the reader’s eyes is unrivalled in any literature for simplicity, vividness, moral force, and adaptability for purposes of instruction. Except the Parables of the Gospels, probably no stories have been so universally used as material for sacred lessons. When the Apostle speaks of the Scriptures being “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), his words are in a peculiar degree applicable to Genesis. Unless it be the Psalter, there is no book of the O.T. which has so deeply influenced the Christian consciousness as the Book of Genesis. It deals with the simplest and the profoundest thoughts in terms of everyday life. A child can grasp the outline of the story: the profoundest theologian is continually finding in it fresh depths of unexpected meaning.

It has ceased to be regarded, as once was the case, in the light of a text-book of secular science. It is more and more regarded as a treasury of religious truth. The stories of Adam and Eve, of Cain and Abel, of the Flood, of Abraham, of Sodom and Gomorrah, of Lot’s Wife, of Jacob, were used by our Lord as parables, already known to His hearers, for the purpose of enforcing His instruction (Matthew 19:4-5; Matthew 23:35; Matthew 24:37; Luke 17:29; Luke 17:32; John 1:51; John 8:56). St Paul continually employs the Genesis narratives as illustrations in theological argument. Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac, are to him impersonations of religious ideas (cf. Romans 4:3-18; Romans 9:7-13; Galatians 4:22-30).

The Story of Paradise and the Story of Cain and Abel are passages in which nearly every verse is full of religious significance. The Flood Narrative which emphasizes the Divine hatred of sin and the purpose of salvation, prepares the way for the call of Man and the Chosen Family; while the Genealogy of the Races reminds us that the unknown peoples and dark ages of the world are included within the range of the Divine plan of Redemption1.

[1] See the writer’s Early Narratives of Genesis (Macmillan).

In the Narratives of the Patriarchs the delineation of character is extraordinarily varied and lifelike. We are conscious that the view, e.g. of Ewald who regarded the Patriarchs as emblems or impersonations of the people, utterly fails to satisfy. Though they may not as yet be identified in the Monuments of antiquity, we feel that they have stepped straight out of the heart of the religious experience of the people.

We see in Abraham the type of unquestioning trust and obedience. He leaves all at the Divine call. His strong faith is put to the test by long waiting for the fulfilment of the Promise; and it is put to a yet more supreme test by a command which seems to revoke the Promises previously given (chap. 22). His character is depicted as magnanimous (chaps. 13, 14), hospitable (Genesis 18:1-8), courteous (chap. 23). He is the wise and thoughtful head of a great household (Genesis 18:19). He is not free from human weakness, he yields to ignoble cowardice (Genesis 12:14-20, Genesis 20:1-18); and yet he is admitted into terms of closest communion with Jehovah (Genesis 18:23-33). Isaac, the man of meek and yielding temperament, of obscure, retiring, perhaps self-indulgent habits, is none the less included in the privileges of personal relation with the God who reveals His will. Jacob, warm-hearted, calculating, self-seeking, persevering, is the type of character in which good and evil are strangely blended. In the turning-points of his life, he realizes (1) that there is communion between earth and heaven, (2) that, in spite of what he is, Jehovah has even sought him out and is ready to grant the Divine blessing on one who perseveres to sue for it. Joseph, high-minded, capable, faithful to his God in the hour of temptation, strong in family affection, ready to forgive, presents a noble type of virtue in high position. How lifelike also are the touches in the representation of the secondary characters! the jealousy of Sarah; the selfishness of Lot; the meanness of Laban; the generous, but shallow, impulsiveness of Esau. We see Rebekah as she hastens to give drink to the camels of Abraham’s servant, and hurriedly plots to secure the blessing for her favourite son. We see Joseph’s brethren now scheming for his death in the field of Dothan, and now conscience-stricken and bewildered in the house of the Egyptian lord.

§ 8. Moral Difficulties

The Moral Difficulties which have been felt by readers of the Book of Genesis may be grouped under three heads.

(i) A rudimentary moral standard of life is presented in the Patriarchal Narratives. For instance, the substitution of Hagar for Sarah (chap. 16), the expulsion of Hagar (chap. 21), and the marriage of Jacob with two sisters (chap. 29), are incidents which, though they shock and offend our notions of morality, were in harmony with the ethical standard of early Israelite society. It is terrible to our ideas that Abraham should be ready to sacrifice his son (chap. 22), and that Reuben should offer his two sons as hostages to be slain (Genesis 42:37). But, according to the usages of ancient Semitic life, individual rights were entirely subordinated to those of “corporate responsibility1.” Scripture enables us to recognize the law of growth in moral life. If so, we must be prepared to meet with its earlier as well as with its later stages. We must not expect from the picture which is given us of the Hebrew Patriarchs in Canaan the standard of morality represented in the Sermon upon the Mount.

[1] Robinson Wheeler’s Christian Doctrine of Man, pp. 27–30.

(ii) The moral failures of the Patriarchs are recorded without any expression of censure. The repudiation of Sarah by Abraham at the courts of Pharaoh and of Abimelech (chaps. 12, 20), and of Rebekah by Isaac at the court of Abimelech (chap. 26); the drunkenness and incest of Lot (chap. Genesis 19:30-38); the acts of deception practised by Jacob in order to obtain his father’s blessing (chap. 27), are episodes in which it is impossible to palliate or excuse the behaviour of the Patriarchs. And yet, it is objected, there is no word of disapproval on the part of the narrator. Is it, however, necessary that the moral should always be told at full length? The incidents tell their own story. Their narration is their condemnation. They illustrate the moral failures of the representative historic personages of primitive Israel. There is no claim of moral perfection made for them; there is nothing of the hero or demigod in their conduct. Abraham and Isaac are rebuked by heathen princes (Genesis 20:9, Genesis 26:10). Racial antipathy may be reflected in the story of the shameful origin of Moab and Ammon, but Jacob’s deception is punished by twenty years’ exile from his home, by the wiles of Laban, and by the treacherous conduct of his own children. In the millennium before Christ, deception and craftiness may conceivably have seemed to Orientals more humorous and less repellent than they do to us. But conscience always and unhesitatingly condemns such forms of evil. There is no room for the sophistry that, because the Patriarchs were the chosen servants of God, their bad actions have been condoned. Holy Scripture records without comment the sins of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of King David, and of St Peter. The mere statement of moral lapse is enough: censure may be less eloquent than silence.

(iii) The representation of the Divine attributes sometimes tallies rather with the crude conceptions of paganism than with enlightened ideas of the God of Holiness. Allowance must be made for the progressive character of the Revelation granted to Israel. (a) The destruction of the world’s inhabitants by the Deluge is described as a moral judgement for sin and wickedness. The emphasis rests upon the sternness of the visitation. But the picture which it gives of the extermination of the human race rests on a primitive idea of the Deity, without mercy for the ignorant and without consideration for the innocent and the weak. (b) The Narratives of the Deluge and of the Tower of Babel preserve some features of the fierceness and wrath, which in the Old Testament belong to the earlier conceptions of the God of Israel. Similarly, God is represented as threatening Abimelech and all his people with death, because in ignorance and entire innocency of intention he has taken Abraham’s wife (Genesis 20:7). The purpose of the story is to emphasize the Divine favour which protected the Chosen Family from peril. But the words which threaten Abimelech reflect a “particularism” against which conscience protests. (c) When, however, in chap. Genesis 22:2, God is said to command Abraham to offer Isaac for a burnt offering, the difficulty is not simply to be met by admitting, that in early days the Israelites could think of their God as one who impersonated their own fierceness. The story presupposes a recognition of the practice of human sacrifice. The utterance of God symbolizes the impulse of conscience, stirring the religious feelings in Abraham. Could he make the same supreme sacrifice which the Canaanite peoples were willing to make to their gods? Could he trust a God who seemed to repudiate His own promise? This was the final test of the Patriarch’s faith. The word of God, conveying so terrible a command, reflects indeed the moral standard of a time at which such sacrifices were thought compatible with true devotion. But the God of the Hebrews, who “proved” Abraham by the voice of conscience, no less definitively forbade the inhumanity of such offerings. He who was continually raising His people to a higher moral level, taught them “little by little” that God is love.

§ 9. The Names of God in the Book of Genesis

The subject of the Divine Names as used in the Old Testament has been discussed in recent years by some of our ablest scholars. Students should consult Dr Driver’s Excursus I (pp. 402–409) in his Commentary on The Book of Genesis, and his valuable note on Exodus 3:14 (p. 40, Cambridge Bible for Schools); Prof. A. B. Davidson’s Theology of the O.T. (1904), pp. 46, 54–58; Principal Skinner’s discussion of the subject in “Genesis” (Internat. Crit. Comm.), pp. xxxv–xxxviii, and in his remarkable series of articles in the Expositor, April–Sept. 1913. There are also important articles in the chief Dictionaries, e.g. by Kautzsch, Encycl. Bibl., s.v. “Names” (§§ 109–113), Kittel in the Realencyklopädie3, s.v. “Elohim” and “Jahve,” Davidson in D.B. ii. 199.

(i) Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) is the ordinary and regular Hebrew name for “God.” Its origin and etymology are obscure. In its form it is a plural word, and yet, with only a few exceptions, it is used with verbs and adjectives in the singular. This usage is to be explained not as a relic of polytheism, but as an instance of the “plural of excellence” or “majesty” (Gesenius, Heb. Gram. § 124, g, E.T.), as in the case of adonim in Genesis 42:30, “the lord of the land.” It must not be supposed that Elohim is always used of the God of Israel. It is used generically for “God”; and, moreover, is often found in the plural to denote the “gods” of the heathen. It may be assumed to be akin to Êl, another Hebrew word for “God”; and is evidently closely related the Canaanitish El, the Assyrian Ilu, and the Arabian Ilâh. The conjecture that it denotes “strength” and “protecting power” is very probable, but cannot be regarded as certain.

In the Book of Genesis Elohim is used by itself for “God” 177 times. With a few exceptions, it is used by both E and P throughout Genesis and in the Exodus Narrative up to the passage in which the distinctive name “Jahweh” is revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:13 ff. E: Exodus 6:2 ff. J).

(ii) Jahweh (or Yahveh), “the Lord,” is the distinctive name of the God of the Israelites. It is quite possible that its original pronunciation and etymology have been lost. While some have suggested that it is the causative form of the verb meaning “to fall,” and thus denotes “the feller” or “destroyer,” others regard it as the causative of the verb meaning “to become,” and hence understand it to mean “the creator.” But we know that Hebrew proper names may originally have had a different pronunciation from that which popular etymology has made familiar. The origin of the name may, therefore, be irrecoverable. We have, however, the popular explanation which is preserved to us in the Book of Exodus, where God, revealing Himself to Moses, says in the first person “I will be that I will be” (’Ehyeh ’ǎsher ehyeh). The meaning of the Name, expressed, as proper names so frequently were, by the 3rd pers. sing, of the Imperfect tense (Heb.) of a verb (e.g. Isaac, Ishmael, Jerahmeel), would be “He will be.” The rendering of the Eng. vers. “I am that I am,” fails to give the full sense of the verb, and suggests an idea of abstract metaphysical existence which is foreign to Hebrew thought. “He will be” expresses the promise of a permanent relation with the Israelite people: it implies the presence and protection, the loving care and Divine guidance, which they will receive from Him who made Himself known to them.

The pronunciation “Jehovah” is unquestionably wrong. It is attributed to Petrus Galatinus, confessor of Leo X, in 1518. It unites the vowels of the word meaning “Lord,” adonai (אֲדֹנָי), with the consonants of the Sacred Name, the Tetragrammaton JHVH (יהוה). And although, in consequence of four centuries of Christian use, the name “Jehovah” enjoys a peculiar sanctity, it is etymologically a “mongrel word.” There is no doubt, of course, that the Jews, owing to a superstitious dread of pronouncing the Sacred Name, had given to it the vowels of “Adonai” at the time when the vowel points were introduced into the Hebrew MSS. (7th–9th cent. a.d.). Accordingly, in public reading, “Yahveh,” as we may pronounce it, was pronounced “Adonai,” and translated by the LXX as κύριος. But traces of the original pronunciation survive in proper names, and in Greek it is found transliterated as ἰαβέ and ἰαῶ.

According to P and E, the Name was not known until it was revealed to Moses. But in J it is used in Genesis from the very first. In the Paradise section (Genesis 2:4 b–3:24) we find Jahweh Elohim, an unusual combination due probably to the editorial insertion of Elohim, in order to preserve the continuity with the previous section (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a) in which “Elohim” alone is used. But after chap. 3 “Jahweh” is regularly used by J: and in Genesis 4:26 it is expressly said, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord (Jahweh).” Evidently in the J Narratives, it was assumed that “Jahweh” was from the first the Proper Name of God.

It is, however, important to realize that Jahweh and Elohim are not synonymous. “Jahweh is Elohim in relation to Israel.” Just as Chemosh was God in Ammon, so Jahweh was God in Israel: and it is probable that a long interval elapsed, before the Israelites realized the truth that not only was Jahweh the God of Israel, but that the God of Israel alone was the God, ha-Elohim. The Monotheism of the Jew represents the growth of centuries. It was preceded by the period of monolatry, when the Israelite recognized the existence of many “gods” (elohim), but worshipped only One, the Elohim of Israel, whose appellation was Jahweh.

In recent years it has been contended that Jahweh was the name of a deity which is to be found in certain Babylonian compound proper names, e.g. Ja-a-ve-ilu. It is possible that Jahu may have been the name of a West Semitic deity. But in the O.T. its earliest occurrence is in the proper names Jochebed, the mother of Moses (Exodus 6:20), and Joshua, his successor.

(iii) Êl (אֵל) is another generic name for “God” in Hebrew. It appears in most of the other Semitic languages, e.g. Babylonian, Phoenician, Aramaic and Arabic. Its origin and etymology are lost in obscurity. How it is connected with Elohim (sing. Eloah) is a doubtful point. Some scholars have derived it from roots denoting “strength” or “leadership”: but all such derivations are conjectural. It is found in the Book of Genesis on a few occasions by itself, e.g. Genesis 16:13, Genesis 28:3, Genesis 31:13, Genesis 33:20, Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:3; Genesis 35:7, Genesis 49:25. But it is also frequently found in conjunction with some descriptive epithet or substantive. (1) Êl Elyon, “the most high God,” may have been an ancient Canaanite name for the Deity (Genesis 14:18). The Phoenicians had a god Ἐλιοῦν καλούμενος Ὕψιστος (Euseb. Praep. Ev. i. 10, 11, 12), cf. Psalm 78:35 (2) Êl Shaddai (see below). (3) Êl ‘Olam, “the God of everlasting” (21:43). (4) Êl R°i, “the God of seeing” (Genesis 16:13). (5) Êl Beth-el, “the God of Bethel” (Genesis 31:13, Genesis 35:7).

(iv) Shaddai (שַׁדַּי). This name for “God” is generally found combined with Êl; but in poetry it is found alone. It occurs in Genesis 17:1 (“I am Êl Shaddai” addressed to Abraham), Genesis 35:11 (“I am Êl Shaddai,” addressed to Jacob), Genesis 28:3 and Genesis 48:3 (Êl Shaddai, spoken of by Isaac and Jacob): see also Genesis 49:25. According to P, while Elohim was the name of God regularly employed, Êl Shaddai was the Name revealed to the Patriarchs and used by them (see Exodus 6:2).

The name is obscure in origin and meaning. It is rendered “Almighty”; and the conjectural derivations, from words denoting “wasting” and “mountain,” are most precarious. In the LXX it is rendered θεός, κύριος, and παντοκράτωρ. It appears in compound names in Numbers 1:6; Numbers 1:12 “Zuri-shaddai” = “Shaddai is my rock,” and “Ammi-shaddai” = “Shaddai is my kinsman.” It is probable that Shaddai is an ancient Divine appellative meaning “omnipotence,” which was traditionally associated with the early revelation granted to the Hebrew ancestors. It is very noticeable that in the poetical book of Job the name “Shaddai” occurs no less than 41 times. See also Numbers 24:4; Numbers 24:16; Ruth 1:20-21; Psalm 68:14; Psalm 91:1; Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 1:24; Joel 1:15.

On other titles (“the Fear of Isaac,” “the Mighty One of Jacob,” and “the Stone of Israel”), see notes on Genesis 31:42; Genesis 31:53; Genesis 49:24.


E   Elohim = God.

J   Jahweh = the Lord.

E   Elohim = God.

J(E)   Jahweh Elohim = the Lord God.

JE  Genesis 1:1-12; Genesis 1:14; Genesis 1:16-18; Genesis 1:20-22; Genesis 1:24-29; Genesis 1:31E  Genesis 2:2-3J (E)  Genesis 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22

E  Genesis 3:1; Genesis 3:3; Genesis 3:5J (E)  Genesis 18, 9, 13, 14, 21, 22, 23

E  Genesis 4:25; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 5:22; Genesis 5:24J  Gen 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 15, 16 26 29

E  Genesis 6:2; Genesis 6:4; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 6:11-13; Genesis 6:22; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 6:16; Genesis 8:1; Genesis 8:15J  Genesis 3, 5, 6, 7, 8; Genesis 7:1; Genesis 16, 20, 21

E  Genesis 9:1; Genesis 9:6; Genesis 9:8; Genesis 9:12; Genesis 9:16-17; Genesis 9:27J  Genesis 26; Genesis 10:9; Genesis 11:5-6; Genesis 11:8-9; Genesis 12:1; Genesis 12:4; Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 12:17E  Genesis 13

J  Gen 4, 10, 13, 14, 18, 22, 15:1, 2 (’Adônai J.), Genesis 15:4; Genesis 15:6-8 (Adônai J.), Genesis 15:18Êl Elyon  Genesis 14:18-20; Genesis 14:22E  Genesis 16; Genesis 3, 7, 8, 9, 15, 18, 19, 22, 23

J  Gen 2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 17:1; 18:1, 13, 14, 17, 19

Êl  Genesis 13

Êl Sh.  Genesis 1

E  Genesis 18 (cont.) Gen 29, 20:3, 6, 11, 13, 17

J  Gen 20, 22, 26, 33, 19:13, 14, 16, 24, 27, 18

E  Gen 21:2, 4, 6, 12, 17, 19, 20, 22, 23; 22:1, 3, 8, 9 12; 23:6

J  Gen 1:33, 11:14, 15, 16

Êl ‘Olam  Genesis 33

E  Genesis 11

J  Genesis 24:1; Genesis 24:3; Genesis 24:7; Genesis 24:12; Genesis 24:21; Genesis 24:26-27; Genesis 24:31; Genesis 24:35; Genesis 24:40; Genesis 24:42; Genesis 24:44; Genesis 24:48; Genesis 24:50-52; Genesis 24:56; Genesis 25:21-23E  Genesis 28 (ha-E), Genesis 28:4; Genesis 28:12; Genesis 28:17; Genesis 28:20; Genesis 28:22J  Genesis 26:2; Genesis 26:12; Genesis 26:22; Genesis 26:24-25; Genesis 26:28-29; Genesis 27:7; Genesis 27:20; Genesis 27:27; Genesis 27:13; Genesis 27:16; Genesis 27:21Êl  Genesis 19

Êl Sh.  Genesis 3

E  Genesis 30:2; Genesis 30:6; Genesis 30:8; Genesis 30:17-18; Genesis 30:20; Genesis 30:22-23J  Genesis 29:31-33; Genesis 29:35; Genesis 29:24; Genesis 29:27; Genesis 29:30E  Genesis 31:7; Genesis 31:9; Genesis 31:11 (ha-E), Genesis 31:16; Genesis 31:24; Genesis 31:42; Genesis 31:50; Genesis 32:1-2; Genesis 32:28; Genesis 32:30J  Genesis 3, 49, 9

Êl  Genesis 13

E  Genesis 33:5; Genesis 33:10-11; Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:5; Genesis 35:7; Genesis 35:7 (ha-E), Genesis 35:9-11; Genesis 35:13; Genesis 35:15J  Genesis 38:7; Genesis 38:10Êl  Genesis 20:1; Genesis 20:3; Genesis 20:7Êl Sh.  Genesis 11

E  Genesis 9; Genesis 40:8; Genesis 41:16; Genesis 41:25 (ha-E), 28 (ha-E), Genesis 41:32 (ha-E), Genesis 41:38-39; Genesis 41:51-52J  Genesis 39:2-3; Genesis 39:5; Genesis 39:21; Genesis 39:23JE  Genesis 42:18 (ha-E), Genesis 28:1-22; Genesis 43:29; Genesis 44:16 (ha-E), Genesis 45:5; Genesis 45:7-8 (ha-E), Genesis 45:9Êl Sh.  Genesis 14

E  Genesis 46:2-3; Genesis 48:9; Genesis 48:11; Genesis 48:15 (ha-E), Genesis 48:20-21J  Genesis 49:18Êl Sh.  Gen 3:25

Êl  Genesis 25

JE  Genesis 50:19-20; Genesis 50:24-25In this Table, E = Elohim = God, J (E) = Jahweh Elohim = the Lord God, J = Jahweh = the Lord, Êl Sh. = Êl Shaddai = God Almighty. Elohim is only recorded in cases where it is used absolutely, i.e. as a Proper Name. In cases where it is used generically, or in the construct state, e.g. “my God,” or “the God of Abraham,” i.e. not as a Proper Name, Elohim is not recorded in the above Table. The references are to the English Bible (not the Hebrew).

(In Genesis 6:5, “God” in the A.V. is a mistake for “Lord” (Jahweh); in Genesis 20:4, “Lord” in some reprints of the A.V. is a mistake for “Lord” (Adônai); in Genesis 18:27; Genesis 18:30-32, “Lord” is ’Adônai; in Genesis 30:8, “mighty wrestlings” is in Heb. “wrestlings of God”; in Genesis 44:7; Genesis 44:17, where the English rendering is “God forbid,” there is no Name of God in the Hebrew.)

The renderings of the Hebrew by the LXX shew as we might have expected, that in a translation the tendency to substitute one Sacred Name for another is very strong, and that a Greek scribe prefers the usual Greek word for “God,” ὁ θεός, to the Hebraic title κύριος. The suggestion that the Hebrew text is so corrupt that no reliance can be placed upon its use of the Divine Names, and that, therefore, the Documentary analysis of the Pentateuch falls to the ground, can only be ascribed to an entire misapprehension of Pentateuchal Criticism. It is a mistake to suppose that “the employment of various designations for God” is regarded by critics as “sufficient evidence for the assumption that different documents were employed in the compilation of the Pentateuch.” Pentateuchal Criticism is based, not on a single point of evidence, but on a wide range of inductive reasoning, dealing with (1) the evidence of words and phrases, (2) the literary evidence of style, selection, and treatment of material, (3) the historical evidence supplied by the allusions to different stages in the growth of Israelite religion and worship. The distinctness of origin of (a) JE, (b) D, and (c) P may be treated as having been finally established as the result, not of a single brilliant guess, but of a long, minute, and scientific process of literary criticism. It is true that the first clue to the Documentary analysis of the Pentateuch was supplied by the observation of the manner in which the Hebrew Names of God were distributed throughout Genesis. But it was soon realized that there were numerous other characteristic differences between the component Documents. “If P had used Yahweh in Genesis, as he does after Exodus 6:2, the grounds for the separation of P from JE would have been substantially not less strong than they are now.… In view of the smaller number of criteria distinguishing J and E the varying use of the Divine names is of relatively greater importance for the analysis of JE than it is for the separation of JE from P; but there are many cases in which it is not the only criterion on which critics rely for the purpose” (Driver, Genesis, Addenda ii., p. xliv).

With regard to the Hebrew text, the general agreement of the Samaritan Version in the use of the Divine Names shews that in Palestine there was no serious change, and certainly no arbitrary change, in their transcription, from a time not improbably previous to the LXX translation. The LXX MSS. are full of variations. In the rendering of the Sacred Names, the Greek translator would not attach the significance to the difference between θεός and κύριος (ΘΣ,ΚΣ) which the Hebrew discerned between Elohim and Jahweh. The Greek copyist would prefer the use of ὁ θεός. Habit, as well as feelings of reverence, would lead to the substitution of ὁ θεός or κύριος ὁ θεός for the Hebraic ὁ κύριος. The tendency, therefore, both in the translation and in the transcription of the Greek Version, would not be on the side of scrupulous avoidance of alteration.

The substitution of one Divine Name for another in a translation, e.g. in the A.V.’s mistake of “God” for “Lord” (Genesis 6:5), will, generally, be a matter of small moment. But in the transmission of the original Hebrew text, certainly from the 2nd cent a.d., a painful care, almost amounting to superstition, has been shewn by Hebrew copyists. The LXX contains valuable material for the textual criticism of the O.T. But in the Hebrew of Genesis the number of doubtful readings is very small, and the superiority of the Greek translation (if the original Greek text is obtainable) over the Hebrew text, in such a matter as the readings for the Divine Names, could not, with any regard for accuracy of statement, be asserted as a general principle. Nor, indeed, except at the most in one or two instances, could it reasonably be claimed in connexion with the reading of the Sacred Names. The mere occurrence of variants in the LXX, or other versions, is no evidence that they represent a more original reading than that of the Massoretic, or official Hebrew text. And where the Sacred Names occur, the presumption is in favour of the greater scrupulousness, care, and avoidance of variation, on the part of the Hebrew copyist than of the Greek transcriber or translator.

The LXX variations, as Dr Skinner1[1] has pointed out, would, at the most, only throw doubt upon “three-sixteenths of the whole number” of the occurrences of the Divine Names in Genesis. And, even in this small proportion of cases, there are very few, if any instances, where the Greek variation from the Heb. text of the Divine Name is not to be ascribed rather to loose inaccurate renderings than to any superiority of reading.

[1] Expositor, Sept. 1912, p. 272.

For a full and exhaustive enquiry into the whole subject, which is too technical to be pursued here, see Dr Skinner’s valuable articles in the Expositor, April–September, 1913, entitled “The Divine Names in Genesis”; Driver’s Genesis, Addenda ii. (1910); L. O. T. Addenda, pp. xxvi–xxxiii (1913); D. C. Simpson’s Pentateuchal Criticism (1914), which in an Appendix discusses B. D. A. Troelstra’s The Name of God in the Pentateuch; and, on the other side, Wiener’s Essays on Pentateuchal Criticism (1909), and Dahse’s Text-Kritische Materialien zur Hexateuchfrage (1912).

§ 10. Bibliography

(a) Commentaries:

The Book of Genesis, by S. R. Driver, D.D. (Westminster Commentaries), 8th ed., 1911 (London).

A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, by John Skinner, D.D. (International Critical Commentary), 1910 (Edinburgh).

Genesis Critically and Exegetically Expounded, by Dr A. Dillmann (Eng. Trans.), 1897.

Genesis übersetzt u. erklärt, von D. Hermann Gunkel, 3te Aufl., 1910 (Göttingen)

Genesis (The Century Bible), by W. H. Bennett, D.D. (Edinburgh).

The Book of Genesis (The Expositor’s Bible), by Marcus Dods, D.D., 1890 (Edinburgh).

The Book of Genesis, by G. Woosung Wade, D.D., 1896.

The Early Traditions of Genesis, by A. R. Gordon, D.Litt., 1907 (Edinburgh).

The Early Narratives of Genesis, by Herbert E. Ryle, D.D., 3rd ed., 1904 (London).

Genesis, erklärt von D. Holzinger (Kurzer Hand-Commentar A.T.), 1898 (Freiburg).

Die Genesis übersetzt u. erklärt, von D. Otto Pröcksch, 1913 (Leipzig).

A New Commentary on Genesis, by Franz Delitzsch, D.D. (Eng. Trans.), 1888.

Notes on the Text of the Book of Genesis, by G. J. Spurrell, M.A., 1896 (Oxford).

The Speaker’s Commentary, vol. i., pt i (1876)

(b) Introductions

Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, 9th ed. (1913).

Driver, Exodus (1911).

Chapman, Introduction to the Pentateuch (1911).

Carpenter and Harford, The Composition of the Hexateuch (1902).

G. Buchanan Gray, A Critical Introduction to the O.T. (1913).

D. G. Simpson, Pentateuchal Criticism (1914).

W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 2nd ed. (1892).

(c) Archaeology

J. H. Breasted, History of the Ancient Egyptians (1908).

Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt, vols. i. and ii.

D. G. Hogarth, Authority and Archaeology (1899).

Driver, Schweich Lectures (1908), on “Modern Research as illustrating the Bible” (1909).

P. S. P. Handcock’s Latest Light on Bible Lands (S.P.C.K.), 1913.

C. I. Ball, Light from the East (1899).

Alfred Jeremias, Old Testament in the Light of the East, 2 vols. (Eng. Trans.) (1911).

A. H. Sayce, TheHigher Criticismand the Verdict of the Monuments (1894).

A. H. Sayce, The Early History of the Hebrews (1897).

L. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation (1902).

Morris Jastrow, Jr, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898).

Hugo Gressmann, Altorientalische Texte u. Bilder z. A. T., 2 Bde (1909).

(d) Dictionaries:

Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vols. (1898–1904).

Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, 1 vol. (1909).

Cheyne and Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica, 4 vols. (1903).

Additional note on the date of P (page xxix)

The date of P is probably best assigned to the 6th or 5th century b.c. It embraces materials derived from an earlier period. Doubtless, also, it contains additions which were made to it subsequently. The authorship of it should not be ascribed to any individual; but rather to a school of priestly writers. Their literary activity belongs to the interval of time between the Captivity and the Age of Nehemiah. Some have conjectured that Ezra, the priest, himself was largely responsible for its final acceptance by the people and its incorporation with JE and D.1[2]

[2] See Chapman’s Introduction to the Pentateuch, pp. 184 f.


The letters on the margin (J, E, P, R) indicate the sources of which the text appears to be composed.

In citations, the letters a and b denote the first and second parts of the verse cited.

In the transliteration of Hebrew words, it has been usual to adopt the following equivalents:

’= א, ‘= ע, = ח, = ק, = צ;

but this has not been done in the case of familiar names.


Babylonian and Egyptian civilization before 5000 b.c.:

Ḥammurabi, 6th king of First Dynasty of Babylon  2130–2088 b.c. (Ungnad)

1958–1916 b.c. (Meyer)

Expulsion of Hyksos from Egypt  1587 b.c. (Petrie)

1580 b.c. (Breasted)

Tel el-Amarna Correspondence:  

Burnaburiash, king of Babylon  1399–1365 b.c. (Ungnad)

1382–1358 b.c. (Meyer)

Amenophis IV (Khu-n’aten)  1383–1365 b.c. (Petrie)

1375–1358 b.c. (Breasted)

Ramses II, probably Pharaoh of Oppression  1300–1234 b.c. (Petrie)

1292–1225 b.c. (Breasted)

Merenptah, probably Pharaoh of Exodus  1234–1214 b.c. (Petrie)

1225–1215 b.c. (Breasted)



Babylonian Myths of Creation

(from Gordon’s Early Traditions of Genesis, pp. 325 ff.)

1. The Version of Damascius (De primis Principiis, ed. Kopp, cap. 125).

“Of the barbarians, the Babylonians have chosen to disregard the idea of one principial origin of all things, and assume two, Tauthe and Apason, representing Apason as the husband of Tauthe, and calling her ‘the mother of the gods.’ Of these two, they relate, was born an only son, Moysis, whom I conceive to be the intelligible universe, which is composed of two principal elements. Of the same parents arose another generation, Lache and Lachos; then of the same a third generation, Kissare and Asoros, of whom were born three sons, Anos, Illinos, and Aos. The son of Aos and Dauke was Belos, who, they say, was the creator of the world.”

2. The Version of Berosus (Müller, Frag. Hist. Græc. ii. 497).

“There was a time, he says, when all was darkness and water, in which existed living creatures of monstrous kinds and wondrous shapes: for men were brought to birth with two wings, and some even with four wings and two faces, some also with one body but two heads, a man’s and a woman’s, and double secret parts, male and female. There were other men with goats’ legs and horns, others with horses’ feet, and others with the hinder parts of a horse, but the fore parts those of a man, like centaurs. Bulls also were generated with the heads of men, and dogs with four bodies ending in fishes’ tails, and horses and men with dogs’ heads; other living creatures with horses’ heads and bodies but fishes’ tails, and others with the shapes of all sorts of animals. Besides these were fishes and creeping things, and snakes and other wonderful creatures with strangely intermingled shapes, representations of which are found in the temple of Bel. And over all these reigned a woman named Omorka, i.e. in Chaldean Thamte1[26], which translated into Greek is θάλασσα (the sea), in numerical value equivalent to σελήνη.

[26] Read Θαμτε for Θαλατθ (Robertson Smith).

“When all things were in this condition, Bel came and split the woman through the middle, and of the one half made earth and of the other heaven, and destroyed the creatures that were within her.

“And this, he says, is an allegorical account of the processes of Nature. For when all was a watery mass, and living creatures of shapes like these were brought to life in it, Bel, as they call Zeus, split the darkness in two, and thus divided earth and heaven from one another, and put the Cosmos in order. The living creatures, being unable to endure the power of the light, were destroyed.

“Then Bel, seeing the ground waste, though capable of bearing fruit1[27], bade one of the gods cut off his head2[28], and then mix earth with the flowing blood, and so fashion men and animals that should be able to endure the air3[29]. Bel also made the stars, and the sun and moon, and the five planets.

[27] But Gunkel proposes ἀκαρποφόρον, i.e. “seeing the ground waste and barren,” which yields a better sense.

[28] i.e. Bel’s own head (cf. Seven Tables, vi. 5).

[29] We have omitted from the body of the text the sentence which has long been recognized as an intrusion, and was originally a marginal gloss or variant, viz. “This god cut off his head, and the other gods mixed the flowing blood with earth, and fashioned men. Therefore men are possessed of wisdom and Divine understanding.”

“This is the account which, according to Alexander Polyhistor, Berosus gives in his first book.”

3. The Seven Tables of Creation (KB. vi. 3 ff.; King, Seven Tables, &c.).

i. 1. When above the heaven had not received its name4[30],

[30] i.e. “was not yet in existence.”

2.  And the solid earth below was not yet called by name4[31],

[31] i.e. “was not yet in existence.”

3.  While Apsu, the primordial, that begat them,

4.  And Chaos5[32] Tiamat, that bare them all,

[32] The meaning of Mummu here is much disputed. Usually it is understood as “Chaos.” Jeremias, however, omits the word, as falsely inserted from ll. 30 ff. (Das A.T. &c. p. 52, n. 3).

5.  Had their waters mingled together,

6.  When as yet no field was formed, nor marsh was to be seen6[33],

[33] Others, however, render “reed” and “thicket of reeds.”

7.  When none of the gods had yet come into being,

8.  And none bare a name4[34], and no destinies (were fixed),

[34] i.e. “was not yet in existence.”

9.  Then were created the first gods in the midst (of heaven):

10.  Lachmu and Lachamu came into being …

11.  Ages increased …

12.  Then Anshar and Kishar were created …

13.  Long days passed, then came forth …

14.  Anu their son …7[35].

[35] The Version of Damascius helps to supply the missing links: Bel and Ea.

Lines 22 ff. describe the hatred of Apsu and Mummu, his son, against the “new gods,” and their plot to destroy them; the fragmentary ll. 60 ff. seem to shew how the plot was circumvented by the cunning god Ea, who laid waste Apsu and took Mummu captive (97 ff.). Tiamat resolves on vengeance.

Lines 109 ff. describe the battle-array of monstrous beings that followed her to the fight, the deadly serpents, vipers and dragons, “the hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men, and mighty tempests, and fish-men and rams,” spawned and armed by Ummu-Chubur1[36], “who formed all things,” with Kiagu as leader. Tablet ii. relates how Ea learned of their array and reported to Anshar, his father, who sent first Anu and then Ea to appease Tiamat’s wrath. They are afraid, and return to Anshar. Then Marduk volunteers to go and subdue the enemy. Tablet iii. describes the gathering of the great gods in council. The first part of Tablet iv. describes the elevation of Marduk to supremacy over the gods, his army for the battle, his going forth to meet Tiamat, and the fight, ending in Marduk’s complete victory.

[36] Ummu-Chabur (perhaps the Omorka of Berosus): another title for Tiamat.

Marduk and Tiâmat

From Mr P. S. Handcock’s Latest Light on Bible Lands, by kind permission of the S.P.C.K.

95.  The lord spread out his net, and enclosed her,

96.  And the tempest that was behind him he let loose;

97.  As Tiamat opened her mouth to its full extent,

98.  He drove in the tempest, ere she could close her lips.

99.  With terrible winds he filled her belly.

100.  Her courage was taken from her, and her mouth she opened wide.

101.  He seized the spear, and burst her belly,

102.  Severed her inward parts, and pierced her heart.

103.  He overpowered her, and cut off her life,

104.  Threw down her corpse, and stood upon it.

The next lines describe the conquest of Tiamat’s army. This accomplished,

128.  He returned to Tiamat, whom he had conquered.

129.  The lord stood upon Tiamat’s body,

130.  And with his merciless club he crushed her skull.

131.  He cut through the channels of her blood,

132.  And he made the north wind to bear it away to secret places.

133.  And his fathers saw it, they rejoiced and were glad;

134.  Gifts and presents they brought him.

135.  Then the lord rested, and eagerly examined her corpse.

136.  Then with cunning art he divided her trunk (?).

137.  He split her like a flat (?) fish into two halves.

138.  One half of her he set up, and made a covering for the heavens;

139.  He drove in a bolt, and stationed a watch,

140.  And bade them not allow her waters to issue forth.

141.  Then he established the heavens as counterpart to the world below,

142.  And set it over against the Ocean, the dwelling of Nudimmud.

143.  Then the lord measured the shape of the Ocean2[37],

[37] i.e. “of the palace of the Deep,” the dwelling of Nudimmud (Ea).

144.  And as a palace after its model he built Esharra,

145.  The great palace Esharra, which he built as a dome of heaven,

146.  And made Anu, Bel, and Ea take up their several abodes1[38].

[38] We have here followed Jeremias’ rendering (Das A.T. &c. p. 55), which preserves the usual significance of Esharra (the palace of heaven), while securing a satisfactory relation of the three spheres.

v. 1.  He prepared also the stations for the great gods;

2.  The Stars, their images, he set up as signs.

3.  He arranged the year, and divided off its quarters.

4.  For the twelve months he assigned each three stars.

5.  After he had (distinguished) the days of the year by their images,

6.  He founded the station of Nibir (Jupiter) to determine their bounds,

7.  That none might fail, or go astray.

11.  In the midst he fixed the zenith of heaven.

12.  He made the moon-god to shine forth, setting the night under him.

13.  He marked him out as a body of light, to determine the days.

14.  Every month, perpetually, he crowned him with a royal crown, and said:

15.  “At the beginninng of the month, when thou shinest on the land,

16.  Shine out with thy horns, determining six days;

17.  And on the seventh day halve the crown.”

18.  On the fourteenth day …

(The broken lines evidently explain the connexion of the moon-god with Shamash, the sun-god.)

vi. 1.  When Marduk heard the speech of the gods,

2.  His heart moved him, and he devised a cunning plan.

3.  He opened his mouth, and spake to Ea,

4.  Even that which he had devised in his heart, he imparted to him:

5.  My blood will I take, and bone will I (fashion),

6.  I will make man, that …

7.  I will create man, who shall inhabit the earth,

8.  That the service of the gods may be established, and their shrines (be built).

9.  But I will alter the ways of the gods, and I will change the paths.

10.  Together shall they be oppressed, and unto evil shall they.…

Another Myth of Creation (KB, vi. 39 ff.).

1.  A holy house, a house of the gods, on holy ground had not yet been made;

2.  No reed had yet sprung up, nor tree been fashioned;

3.  No brick had been laid, nor brick foundation built;

4.  No house erected, nor city built;

5.  No city had been made, nor population placed therein;

6.  Nippur not made, nor Ekur (the sanctuary of Bel) built,

7.  Uruk not made, nor Eana (the sanctuary of Anu) built;

8.  The deep (Apsu) not made, nor Eridu (the sanctuary of Ea) built.

9.  For a holy house, the house of the gods, the site had not been made.

10.  The lands were altogether sea,

11.  The soil of the islands was overflowing waters.

12.  Then was Eridu made, and Esagila built,

13.  Esagila, where in mid-deep the god Lugal-dul-azaga (Marduk) dwelleth,

[14.  Babel was made, and Esagil was finished.]

15.  And the gods, the Anunnaki, were created all together.

16.  The holy city, the dwelling that delights their heart, they proclaimed on high.

17.  Then Marduk laid a tress-work of reeds on the surface of the waters,

18.  He made a heap of earth, and poured it out beside the reeds.

19.  In order that the gods might dwell with pleasure in their house,

20.  He built man:

21.  With him the goddess Aruru built mankind.

22.  The beasts of the field also, and the living creatures in the field he built.

23.  The Tigris and the Euphrates he built, and set them in their place.

24.  Their names he named in goodly style.

25.  The grass, the rush of the marsh, the reed and the shrubs he built,

26.  The green herb of the field he built,

27.  The lands, the marshes, and the swamps,

28.  The wild cow and her young, the wild calf, the ewe and her young, the lamb of the fold,

29.  Plantations and forests;

30.  The he-goat and the mountain-goat …

31.  Marduk, the lord, filled up a dam on the margin of the sea,

32.  He … a swamp, and made a bed of marsh.

33.  He made … to come.

34.  He built (reeds and) trees,

35.  He built … on the place.

36.  (He laid brick), and built a structure of brick;

37.  (Houses he made), cities he built.

38.  (Cities he made), a population he placed in them.

39.  (Nippur he made), Ekur he built.

40.  (Uruk he made), Eana he built.


A Legend of Lamech

A good illustration of Jewish Haggadah, i.e. Tradition which employs legend or story to interpret or supplement passages of Scripture, is furnished by the narrative explanatory of Genesis 4:23.

“I have slain a man to my wounding, a young man to my hurt.”

“Nothing is said in explanation of this; we are not told whom Lamech had killed. So a story was made up [by Jewish Tradition]—no-one knows when—which gives this explanation; Lamech was blind, and he used to amuse himself by shooting birds and beasts with a bow and arrow. When he went out shooting, he used to take with him his young nephew Tubal; and Tubal used to spy the game for him and guide his hands that he might aim his arrow right. One day, when they were out together, Tubal saw, as he thought, a beast moving in the thicket, and he told Lamech, and made aim at it, and Lamech’s arrow smote the beast and killed it. But when Tubal ran to see what kind of beast it was, he found that it was not a wild beast at all. It was his ancestor Cain. For after Cain had killed Abel, and God had pronounced the curse upon him, he wandered about the earth, never able to remain in one place; and a great horn grew out of his head, and his body was covered with hair; so that Tubal seeing him in the distance among the branches of the trees and the brushwood, was deceived, and mistook him for a beast of chase. But when Tubal saw what had happened, he was terrified, and ran back to Lamech, crying out, ‘You have slain our forefather Cain!’ And Lamech also was struck with horror, and raised his hands and smote them together with a mighty blow. And in so doing he struck the head of Tubal with his full strength, and Tubal fell down dead. Then Lamech returned to his house, and spoke to his wives the words that are written in the Book of Genesis. This story, a very ancient one, as I said, was invented by the Jews to explain the difficult passage in Genesis; and the early Christian writers learnt it from the Jews, and it passed into many commentaries which were written in later time: so that you may still see representations of it carved in stone in churches both in England and elsewhere. In England it may be seen on the inside of the stone roof of Norwich Cathedral, and on the west front of Wells Cathedral; but you have to look carefully before you can find it.”

(Old Testament Legends (1913), pp. xii–xiv.

By M. R. James, Litt. D.)


The Duplicate Account of the Flood

(From Chapman’s Introduction to the Pentateuch, pp. 74–81)

Genesis 6:5 to Genesis 9:17Comparing Genesis 6:5-13, it will be noticed that the same facts are recorded in both passages. There is a favourable notice about Noah, a statement that God saw the wickedness that was in the earth, and announced His determination to destroy all that was therein. This repetition of facts is made in very different language. Though in the English versions the word destroy occurs in both passages two different Hebrew words are used. The one in Genesis 6:7, Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:23 may be rendered literally as in R.V. marg. blot out. The other in Genesis 6:13; Genesis 6:17, Genesis 9:11; Genesis 9:15 is a common word for destroy.

In vv. 5–8 it is twice stated that the Lord repented that He had made man; but in vv. 9–13 this is not recorded.

In vv. 5–8 Jehovah, in vv. 9–13 Elohim is the name employed to denote the Divine Being. Verse 9 commences with the words “These are the generations of Noah” … this is one of P’s phrases, as also are “perfect,” “Noah walked with God” (cf. Genesis 5:24; and Genesis 17:1, “walk before me and be thou perfect”). The same phenomena which have been observed in the accounts of Creation again present themselves in these verses which serve as an introduction to the story of the Flood. Two versions of the same facts follow one after the other; the first, by using Jehovah1[39], and representing the Lord as “repenting,” recalls the characteristics of Genesis 2:4-25; the second uses God, and expressions found in ch. 5 and ch. 17 (parts of the document which has been denoted by the symbol P). The first has blot out, the second destroy. The words “from the face of the ground,” following “blot out” in Genesis 6:7, Genesis 7:4 R.V., are like Genesis 2:5-7; Genesis 2:9; Genesis 2:19 (J). P uses generally “earth.” These two versions are clearly from different sources.

[39] Note that “God” in Genesis 6:5 (A.V.) should be “the Lord” (Jehovah) as in R.V.

Do these two sources furnish material for the rest of the narrative? Further examination will shew that they do, and will also supply additional tests for distinguishing between the two sources. It will assist the reader if the results are given in a tabular form.

In the central column C a summary of the narrative is given; those facts and statements which are repeated are in ordinary type, those which are recorded only once are in italics. The columns on either side contain the Scripture references; the outer columns to the right and left contain selections from the passages—words and expressions which serve to distinguish between the sources. The portions in italics are placed on that side of C which is nearer to the column to which they are assigned. Italics in the outer columns indicate words and expressions characteristic of J and P respectively.

J  C  P

Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  Genesis 6:8  Noah approved by God.  Genesis 6:9  These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man and perfect in his generations: Noah walked with God.

  Genesis 6:5  God saw the wickedness of man,  Genesis 6:11-12  

  Genesis 6:6  and repented that he had made man,    

And the Lord said, I will blot out man … from off the face of the ground.  Genesis 6:7  and said, I will destroy all flesh.  Genesis 6:13  And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; … I will destroy them …

[command to make an ark.]    Noah is commanded to make an ark,  Genesis 6:14-16  

For yet seven days and I will cause it to rain … will I blot out from off the face of the ground.  Genesis 7:4  for a flood will come and destroy everything,  Genesis 6:17  I bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh … and everything that is in the earth shall expire.

Come thou and all thy house. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven … and of beasts that are not clean two … each and his mate.  Genesis 7:1-3  but Noah and his family must come into the ark with pairs of all living creatures.  Genesis 6:18-21  I will establish my covenant with thee, thou and thy sons …: of every living thing two of every sort … they shall be male and female.

And Noah did according to all that the Lord commanded him.  Genesis 7:5  Noah was obedient.  Genesis 6:22  Thus did Noah, according to all that God commanded him, so did he.

    Noah’s age at the flood.  Genesis 7:6  600 years.

After the seven days … the waters of the flood were upon the earth.  Genesis 7:10  The flood came.  Genesis 7:11  In the 600th yr. 2nd mo. 17th d., on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up and the windows of heaven were opened.

Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean …  (Genesis 7:7-9)  Noah went into the ark with his family, and all living creatures.  Genesis 7:13-16  In the selfsame day entered Noah … two and two of all flesh as God had commanded him.

… and the Lord shut him in.  Genesis 7:16    

And the waters increased, and bare up the ark …  Genesis 7:17  The waters increase and bear up the ark.  Genesis 7:18-20  And the waters prevailed and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail,

All … that in the dry land died, and every living thing was blotted out which was upon the face of the ground … and they were blotted out …  Genesis 7:22-23  And all flesh died.  Genesis 7:21  and all flesh expired.

And the rain was upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights.  Genesis 7:12  Duration of the flood.  Genesis 7:24  And the waters prevailed upon the earth 150 days.

And the flood was 40 days upon the earth.  Genesis 7:17      

The rain from heaven was restrained.  Genesis 8:2  The flood abated.  Genesis 8:1-3  And God remembered Noah … the fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped … and after the end of 150 days the waters decreased.

      Genesis 8:4  7th m. 17th day, the ark rested.

At the end of 40 days Noah opened the window … yet other seven days and again he sent forth the dove … and he stayed yet other seven days …  Genesis 8:6-12  Noah sends out the raven and the dove.  Genesis 8:5  10th m. 1st day, tops of the mountains were seen.

And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry.

[departure from the ark.]  Genesis 8:13  The waters were dried up.

At God’s command Noah went forth from the ark.  Genesis 8:13Genesis 8:14Genesis 8:15-19  601st yr. 1st m. 1st day, the waters were dried up,

and in 2nd m. 27th day was the earth dry.

  Genesis 8:20  Noah builds an altar and offers sacrifice.    

    God blesses Noah  Genesis 9:1-7  

I will not curse the ground … neither will I again smite.  Genesis 8:21-22  and promises not to destroy all living things again.  Genesis 9:8-17  Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, as Genesis 1:28. I establish my covenant … neither shall all flesh be cut off … a flood to destroy the earth … the token of the covenant.

A glance at column C of the table is sufficient to shew the great preponderance of matter in ordinary type, i.e. of incidents which are repeated in these chapters. Nearly the whole of the narrative is duplicated. If the passages contained in each of the columns P and J be read consecutively, it will be seen that each of them furnishes an almost complete story. Where repetition is the rule and single record the exception (as column C shews), it will be necessary to examine the latter more closely, to see whether a reason can be given why only one account has been preserved.

Two Hebrew words occur in the narrative, which are both translated “die.” In Genesis 7:22 (J) the ordinary Heb. word is used; in Genesis 6:17, Genesis 7:21 a less common word (like “expire” in English), which outside the Hexateuch is found only in poetry, and in the Hexateuch is found only in P.

According to one account the flood is the result of prolonged rain (Genesis 7:4; where note “blot out from off the face of the ground,” R.V. [marg.]; Genesis 7:12. Cf. “the rain from heaven was restrained,” Genesis 8:2). According to the other account waters from beneath, “the fountains of the great deep” (“deep” as in Genesis 1:2), join with those from above to produce the catastrophe (Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2).

A distinction is made between clean and unclean animals in Genesis 7:2; Genesis 7:8. Seven pairs of the former but only one pair of the latter are to be taken. No such distinction is made in Genesis 6:19-20, Genesis 7:15.

Two expressions are used to denote male and female: (1) zâkhâr ûneḳçbhâh, Genesis 6:19, Genesis 7:16, as in Genesis 1:27 (P). (2) îsh veishtô (lit. “a man and his wife1[40],” here it might be rendered, “each and his mate”), Genesis 7:2 (twice) (J).

[40] In Hebrew, “man” and “woman” are used in the sense of “each”; of animals, and even of inanimate objects: see Genesis 15:10; Zechariah 11:9.

From Genesis 7:7 compared with Genesis 7:10 it seems that Noah and his family came into the ark before the flood; in Genesis 7:13 they entered “on the selfsame day.” … Noah’s family are described as “all thy house” in Genesis 7:1 : but in Genesis 6:18, Genesis 7:7; Genesis 7:13, Genesis 8:15; Genesis 8:18 a more detailed description, “thou and thy sons and thy wife and thy sons’ wives with thee,” is given after the manner of P.

The indications of time are different in the two narratives. Seven days and 40 days are mentioned in Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:10; Genesis 7:12; Genesis 7:17, Genesis 8:6; Genesis 8:10; Genesis 8:12.

A complete chronology is supplied as follows:

  Year  Month  Day

Genesis 7:6  600th of Noah    

Genesis 11    2  17

Genesis 8:4    7  17

Genesis 5    10  1

Genesis 13  601st of Noah  1  1

Genesis 14    2  27

According to this the complete duration was a lunar year and 10 days, i.e. a solar year, and the period of the waters prevailing was 5 months, i.e. the 150 days of Genesis 7:24 and Genesis 8:3. This dating by the year, month and day is a characteristic of P (cf. Exodus 40:17; Numbers 1:1; Numbers 9:1; Numbers 10:11; Numbers 33:3; Numbers 33:38). Other indications of his style are “in the selfsame day,” Genesis 7:13; “I will establish my covenant,” Genesis 6:18, Genesis 9:9; Genesis 9:11; “the token of the covenant,” Genesis 9:12; Genesis 9:17.

The words and expressions which have been noted in the preceding paragraphs appear in the outer columns of the table in italics. The table may serve to remind the reader of the arguments, and help him to estimate their force.… An account which is in form single indicates diversity of source in the same manner as the separate accounts of the Creation in the first two chapters of Genesis.

One more point remains to be considered: Does the narrative in its present form afford any evidence of the manner in which it has been put together?

The table shews that the portions which are found in J only are:

(1) The Lord repented that He had made man.

(2) The distinction between clean and unclean.

(3) The story of the raven and the dove.

(4) Noah’s sacrifice.

The omission of (2) and (4) by P is in accord with his treatment of the whole patriarchal history. He abstains from recording any act of sacrifice or ceremonial distinction between clean and unclean before the establishment of a priesthood in the time of Moses.

The representation of God in P is less anthropomorphic … than those in other writers. This explains why the expression “the Lord repented that He had made man” finds no place in his narrative. It appears then that P omits designedly; and this accounts for his omission of (1), (2), and (4). As regards (3), P may have mentioned the sending forth of the raven and the dove; a compiler would not relate an incident like this in duplicate. The account of P supplies the framework of the whole narrative, and has been preserved almost, if not altogether, entire.

The portions found in P only are:

(1) The command to build the ark.

(2) The exact dates—year, month and day.

(3) The departure from the ark.

(4) The blessing of Noah.

Now (2) is quite in P’s style; he alone gives the exact dates which are found in the Pentateuch. Also (4) is very similar to Genesis 1:28.… These are probably given by P only, but J’s account is sufficiently complete and independent to justify the conjecture that some notices corresponding to (1) and (3) were originally contained in it. The probable position of these presumed original contents of J are indicated in the table in brackets.

Some parts of J have been expanded by a redactor (or editor) who incorporated phrases from P. The evidence in favour of this statement is most clearly furnished by Genesis 7:7-9. Here we should expect to find J’s version of the entry into the ark, parallel to P’s account in Genesis 7:13-16. The distinction between clean and unclean points to J, but there is much in these verses that resembles P, e.g. “his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him,” Genesis 7:7 (cf. Genesis 6:18 and Genesis 7:13), P’s expression for “male and female” (cf. p. 78), “two and two” of all sorts, and “God” (Genesis 7:9).

Other probable additions to the J narrative are “whom I have created” (Genesis 6:7), “male and female,” as in P (Genesis 7:3). The preceding remarks render the following statement probable:

The material in J has been expanded by a redactor who has combined the sources. He shews affinity with P, and not with J.


(I) The Tel el-Amarna Tablets

In the year 1887, several hundred clay tablets, covered with cuneiform inscriptions, were discovered during excavations near the modern Tel el-Amarna, a place about 170 miles south of Cairo. It was the site of the new capital selected by Amenophis IV, when he abandoned Thebes and set up the worship of the Sun-god.

These tablets proved to consist of a mass of official correspondence received at the Egyptian court during the reigns of Amenophis III and his son Amenophis IV. The majority belong to the latter reign, and consist of letters addressed to the Egyptian king by foreign kings, vassal princes, and provincial governors. The importance of this correspondence can hardly be exaggerated. It throws unexpected light upon the condition of Western Asia during the two reigns of Amenophis III (1411–1375 b.c.) and Amenophis IV (1375–1358 b.c.)1[41]. It includes interesting letters addressed by Burnaburiash, king of Babylonia, and by the king of Alashia (Cyprus) to Amenhotep IV. But, unquestionably, the most valuable part of the whole collection is represented by the letters and despatches sent by the vassal princes and the Egyptian provincial governors in Phoenicia and Palestine. Thus there are letters from Yapakhi, governor of Gezer; Widya, governor of Askelon; Abdi-Ḥiba, king of Jerusalem; Rib-Adda, governor of Byblos; and Abi-Milki, governor of Tyre. From Rib-Adda, who seems to have been a faithful official, no less than sixty-two letters are preserved. There are six from the king of Jerusalem.

[41] So Breasted: Petrie’s dates are for Amenophis III, 1414–1383, and for Amenophis IV, 1383–1365. N.B. Amenophis is often transliterated as Amenhotep.

The general tenour of these letters from governors in Palestine is the same. The Egyptian king is losing his control over Palestine and Phoenicia. His rule, for some reason, is no longer forcible and efficient. He is either indifferent, or he is not able to part with troops out of Egypt for the purpose of assisting the provinces. The Hittites are pressing from the North. A people, called by the king of Jerusalem the Ḥabiri and by others “robbers,” are a formidable menace. The governors themselves are untrustworthy and are intriguing against one another. What with foreign foes and disloyal princes and a disaffected population, the prospect is evidently as unsatisfactory as possible. We are not surprised to learn that the Egyptian government not long afterwards lost the whole of its Phoenician and Palestinian provinces.

Abdi-Ḥiba, king of Jerusalem, seems to have maintained his loyalty as long as it was possible. The following passages illustrate his appeals for assistance, his protestations of fidelity, and the growing power of the enemy:

(a) “To the king, my lord, say also thus: It is Abdi-Ḥiba, thy servant. At the feet of my lord, the king, twice seven times, and thrice seven times I fall. What have I done against the king, my lord? They backbite—they slander me before the king, my lord, saying: Abdi-Ḥiba has fallen away from the king his lord.”

(b) “Let the king take counsel with regard to his land—the land of the king, all of it, has revolted; it has set itself against me. Behold, (as for) the lands of Shêri (Seir), as far as Guti-Kirmil (Gath-Carmel), the governors have allied themselves, and there is hostility against me. Even though one be a seer, one wishes not to see the tears of the king, my lord; open enmity exists against me. As long as ships were in the midst of the sea, the power of the mighty took Nakhrina (Naharaim) and the land of Kashsi, but now the Ḥabiri have taken the cities of the king. There is not one governor for the king, my lord—all have rebelled.”

(c) “The men of the city of Gazri, the men of the city of Gimti, and the men of the city of Kîlti have been captured. The land of the city of Rubute has revolted. The land of the king (belongs to) the Ḥabiri, and now, moreover, a city of the land of Jerusalem, the city Beth-Ninip—(this is) its name—has revolted to the people of Kîlti. Let the king … send hired soldiers.… And if there be no hired soldiers, the land of the king will go over to the men, the Ḥabiri. This deed (is the deed of) Suardatum (and) Milki-îli.”

(d) “The Ḥabiri are capturing the fortresses of the king. Not a single governor remains among them to the king, my lord: all have perished. May the king, my lord, send help to his country. If no droops come this year, all the countries of the king, my lord, will be utterly destroyed.”

Besides other political information which the Tel el-Amarna correspondence furnishes, we learn from it what from other sources could not have been expected:

(1) that Palestine, between 1420 and 1360 b.c., was an Egyptian province;

(2) that not only the kings of Babylonia, but the Egyptian governors in Palestine, corresponded with the court of Egypt, using the Babylonian language and cuneiform writing;

(3) that the scribes, in order to avoid misunderstanding, often inserted Canaanite words to explain or interpret the Babylonian; and, that, as these Canaanite words are generally indistinguishable from later Hebrew words, we may infer that the Canaanite language, before the Exodus, was practically identical with the Hebrew;

(4) that Jerusalem (Urusalim) was the original name of that city, which was already an important place in the 14th century b.c. (The name “Jebus” was probably erroneously ascribed to it on account of its being occupied by the Jebusite tribe at the time of the Israelite invasion, cf. Joshua 15:8; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 18:28; Jdg 19:10; 1 Chronicles 11:4.)

On the Tel el-Amarna Tablets, see Driver’s Schweich Lectures, Chap. 2; Professor Flinders Petrie’s Syria and Egypt from the Tell el-Amarna Letters (1898); Pinches’ Old Testament, pp. 249–300; Handcock’s Latest Light on Bible Lands (1913); Jeremias’ O.T. in the light of the Ancient East, i. pp. 335 ff.

(II) The Ḥabiri

“There may be some connexion,” says Driver, “between the ‘Ḥabiri’ and the ‘Hebrews’: the two cannot be identical, but the Hebrews may, for instance, have been a branch of them” (Schweich Lectures, p. 34, n. 2). “The names are certainly identical,” says Jeremias. “It is, however, quite another question what relation the Ḥabiri of the Amarna letters bear to the Biblical ‘Hebrews’ ” (O.T. in the light of the Ancient East, i. p. 341).

The student may be pardoned, if he finds himself somewhat at a loss, when he reads these apparently conflicting statements by eminent authorities.

There are in reality two questions; and it is important they should be kept distinct. (a) The one is philological: are the words “Hebrew” and “Ḥabiri” identical? (b) The other is historical: are the Ḥabiri, mentioned in the Tel el-Amarna Tablets, to be identified with the Israelites who conquered Canaan?

(a) Philological. This side of the problem has been carefully discussed by scholars who arrive at very different conclusions. Thus we find Ed. Meyer asserting: “the name ‘ibrim cannot be reproduced in cuneiform in any other way” (der Name ‘ibrim kann in Keilschrift gar nicht anders wiedergegeben werden), Die Israeliten u. ihre N. p. 225. Skinner, referring to “the still disputed, but now widely accepted, theory that Ḥabiri in the T.A. letters is the cuneiform equivalent of the O.T. עִבְרִים [‘ibrim],” contends that “The equation presents no philological difficulty: Ass. often represents a foreign ע; and Ḥa-za-ḳi-ya-u = חִזקיהו shows that Ass. a may become O.T. i” (p. 218).

The opposite view is very carefully stated by Handcock in a passage which, for its clear and simple explanation, may here be quoted in extenso: “The crucial point is whether the initial guttural in the Hebrew word for ‘Hebrew’ can be equated with the ‘Kh’ in the Assyrian ‘Khabiri.’ Ayin, the guttural with which the word ‘Hebrew’ commences, has two distinct sounds, differentiated in Arabic writing, but not in Hebrew writing. Fortunately, the Septuagint, or Greek Version of the Old Testament, made by order of Ptolemy II, Philadelphus, king of Egypt from 287 b.c. or 286 to 246 b.c., generally preserves this distinction. Now the ayin in ‘Hebrew’ is represented in the Septuagint by a smooth breathing, which indicates that in this word it had a soft sound. It is perfectly true that the Hebrew ayin sometimes corresponds to the Assyrian kh, but in the cases cited by Schrader (The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the O.T. i. p. 179, 2nd ed.) and Professor Clay (Light on the O.T. from Babel, pp. 265 ff.) the ayin (from a comparison with the Septuagint) probably had a hard, and not a soft, sound, as in the word ‘Hebrew1[42].’

[42] The two cases cited are Gaza and Omri; in the former the initial Hebrew ayin is represented by “G” in the Greek, while the initial guttural of “Omri” is represented by a “Z” [= Ζαμβρεί], which implies that the ayin had a hard sound.

“Probably the best example that can be cited in support of the theory that the Assyrian kh can correspond with a soft Hebrew ayin is afforded by the proper name Canaan, which, in Assyrian, is Kinnakhkhi. The ayin in the Hebrew word for Canaan would appear to be soft, as it is not represented in the Septuagint at all, only the vowel which accompanied it being represented in the Greek. The possibility of such an interchange may therefore be fairly argued, but not its probability, especially at the beginning of a word.

“But admitting the possibility of such an interchange, there is another consideration which renders it highly improbable in the present instance. As stated above, Sayce associates the Khabiri-ki of the Tell el-Amarna Letters with the Biblical Hebron. Unlike the word ‘Hebrew,’ the initial guttural of the Biblical word ‘Hebron’ is a heth, or hard ‘h,’ and the Assyrian equivalent for the Hebrew heth is ‘kh.’ It is therefore probable that the Biblical ‘Hebron’ and the Assyrian ‘Khabiri’ are philologically related. But the words ‘Hebron’ and ‘Hebrew’ are entirely distinct, and can under no conceivable circumstances be brought into relationship. It therefore follows that if we identify the ‘Khabiri’ with the ‘Hebrews,’ we must ipso facto entirely dissociate ‘Khabiri’ from ‘Hebron.’ In short, such an identification involves the rejection of a proposition which strictly conforms to the ordinary rules of philological transmutation in favour of one which is totally at variance with those rules, but at the same time it should be noted that though the words ‘Khabiri’ and ‘Hebron’ are radically connected, the identification of the place ‘Khabiri-ki’ with ‘Hebron’ is entirely hypothetical.” (The Latest Light on Bible Lands, pp. 79–81.)

(b) Historical. “The historical objections vanish,” says Skinner, “if the Ḥabiri be identified, not with the Israelitish invaders after the Exodus, but with an earlier immigration of Semitic nomads into Palestine, among whom the ancestors of Israel were included. The chief uncertainty arises from the fact that the phonetic writing Ḥa-bi-ri occurs only in a limited group of letters, those of ‘Abd-hiba of Jerusalem.… The ideogram sa-gas (‘robbers’) in other letters is conjectured to have the same value, but this is not absolutely demonstrated. Assuming that Winckler and others are right in equating the two, the Ḥabiri are in evidence over the whole country, occasionally as auxiliaries of the Egyptian government, but chiefly as its foes. The inference is very plausible that they were the roving Bedouin element of the population, as opposed to the settled inhabitants,—presumably a branch of the great Aramaean invasion which was then overflowing Mesopotamia and Syria. There is thus a strong probability that עברים [‘ibrim] was originally the name of a group of tribes which invaded Palestine in the 15th century b.c., and that it was afterwards applied to the Israelites as the sole historic survivors of the immigrants. Etymologically, the word has usually been interpreted as meaning ‘those from beyond’ the river (cf. Joshua 24:2 f., 14f.); and, on that assumption, the river is certainly not the Tigris, and almost certainly not the Jordan, but the נהר [nahar] of the O.T., the Euphrates, ‘beyond’ which lay Ḥarran whence Abraham set out” (p. 218).

The foregoing explanation is far more probable than that which supposes the Ḥabiri, mentioned in the letters of ‘Abdi-Ḥiba, king of Jerusalem, to have been the invading Israelites led by Joshua. But there seems to be no sufficient reason to call in question the statement of Exodus 1:11 that the store cities of Pithom and Raamses were built by the Hebrews, or the conclusion drawn from Naville’s excavations that these cities were built in the reign of Ramses II (1292–1225 b.c.). For the present, we may conclude that the Exodus occurred during the reign of Merenptah (1225–1215 b.c.), and that the Ḥabiri who were attacking the towns of Palestine in the reign of Amenophis IV (1375–1358) may racially have been members of the same Semitic wave of invasion, Hebrew forerunners of the Israelite movement led a century and a half later by Moses and Joshua.

(III) The Apuriu

The French Egyptologist, M. Chabas, maintained half a century ago, that a foreign people, denoted Apuriu, or Aperu, or Apriu and mentioned in the Inscriptions of Thothmes III (1501–1447 b.c.) Ramses II (1292–1225 b.c.), and Ramses IV (1167–1161)1[43], could be no other than the Israelites in Egypt. This view, which was at first discredited, has recently been revived. And there is to be said in favour of it (1) that, philologically, the Egyptian ‘Apuriu and the Hebrew ‘Ibrim (“Hebrews”) may reasonably be held to be identical names: and (2) that the Apuriu are spoken of as engaged in forced labour in the quarries, &c. Those mentioned in the reign of Ramses IV must then be regarded as the descendants of those Israelites, who for one reason or another had been unable to make their escape from Egypt with the main body (see Driver’s Exodus, pp. xli f.).

[43] So Breasted: Petrie’s dates are Thothmes III, 1503–1449; Ramses II, 1300–1234; Merenptah, 1234–1214; Seti II, 1214–1209; Ramses III, 1202–1171; Ramses IV, 1171–1165. See Breasted’s Hist. of Ancient Egyptians (1908), and Petrie’s Hist. of Eg. vol. iii.


Israelites in Egypt



The Book of Genesis makes no mention of person, place, or event which enables us to say for certain under what king, or in what dynasty, Joseph was carried into Egypt, and after his elevation to be Vizier of the country was joined by his father and his brethren.

Two questions of chronology are raised: (1) what was the date of the descent into Egypt? (2) what was the date of the Exodus from Egypt?

A. Archaeological data.

In order to answer these questions, we are compelled, in the absence of any more direct evidence, to employ conjectures based upon archaeological data.

(a) It is a quite probable conjecture that the Amraphel of Genesis 14:1 is to be identified with Ḥammurabi, king of Babylon (circ. 2100 b.c.). Assuming the historicity of Genesis 14, the period of Abraham, subsequent to his call, thus synchronizes with the reign of Ḥammurabi.

(b) M. Naville’s excavations at Tel el-Maskhuta have shewn that a town of Pithom (P’etom) was founded by Ramses II (1300–1234 b.c., Petrie; 1292–1225 b.c., Breasted). It is a reasonable conjecture that this was one of the two towns Pithom and Raamses which the Israelites “built for Pharaoh” as store cities (Exodus 1:11); that Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Oppression; and that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was his son and successor (cf. Exodus 2:23), Merenptah, or Merneptah (1234–1214 b.c., Petrie; 1225–1215 b.c., Breasted).

(c) As the Tel el-Amarna letters shew that in the 15th cent. b.c. Canaan was subject to Egyptian rule, it is a reasonable conjecture that he invasion of the land by the Israelites under Joshua did not take place before 1400 b.c.; in other words, that the Exodus was later than that date.

According to these conjectures, based upon archaeological data, the conclusions are

(1) that the whole period from the call of Abraham to the Exodus extends from circ. 2100 b.c. to circ. 1230 b.c.;

(2) that the Exodus took place in the reign of Merenptah, or Merneptah, about 1230–1220 b.c.

Moreover, there is fair ground for assuming that the elevation of a young Hebrew to be Vizier of Egypt and the donation of the pasturelands of Goshen to Hebrew clans would be less likely to have occurred under a native dynasty than under the Semitic Hyksos kings; and that “the new king over Egypt which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) may possibly represent the change from the Hyksos to the XVIIIth dynasty. Accordingly, as the expulsion of the Hyksos occurred in 1587 b.c., it has been conjectured

(3) that the elevation of Joseph and the descent of the Israelites into Egypt took place before circ. 1600 b.c.

The approximate dates, according to these conjectures, are as follows:

(1) The Call of Abraham,  2100 b.c.

(2) The Descent into Egypt,  1600 b.c.

(3) The Exodus,  1230 b.c.

B. Biblical dates.

In juxtaposition with these dates it will be convenient to put the traditional Biblical dates:

  Heb.  Sam. and LXX

(1) The Call of Abraham  2136 b.c.  1921 b.c.

(2) The Descent into Egypt  1921 b.c.  1706 b.c.

(3) The Exodus  1491 b.c.  1491 b.c.

(4) The Foundation of the Temple (4th year of Solomon)  1011 b.c.  1011 b.c.

(4) There are 480 years from the Exodus to the Foundation of the Temple; cf. 1 Kings 6:1.

(3) There are 430 years’ sojourn in Egypt; cf. Exodus 12:40[44] (Sam. and LXX by adding “and in the land of Canaan” halve this period; cf. Galatians 3:17; Jos. Ant. ii. 15. 2).

[44] The sojourn in Egypt appears as 400 years in Genesis 15:13 (J), cf. Acts 7:6; “four generations” in Genesis 15:16 (J), cf. Exodus 2:13 (E), Genesis 6:16; Genesis 6:18; Genesis 6:20 (P).

(1), (2) There are 215 years of the Patriarchs’ sojourn in Canaan:

From the Call of Abraham (Genesis 12:4) to the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:5),  25  years

From the birth of Isaac to the birth of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:26),  60  years

From the birth of Jacob to his descent into Egypt (Genesis 47:9),  130  years

  215  years

It will be seen that the traditional Biblical dates are not in agreement with those which are derived from Archaeology. The discrepancy is in respect of (a) the interval between the Call of Abraham and the Exodus; (b) the interval between the Exodus and the age of Solomon.

  (A) Archaeological  (B) Biblical

(1) The Call of Abraham  circ.  2100 b.c.  2136 b.c.

(2) The Descent into Egypt  circ.  1600 b.c.  1921 b.c.

(3) The Exodus  circ.  1230 b.c.  1491 b.c.

(4) The 4th year of Solomon  circ.  965 b.c.  1011 b.c.

According to A, the Exodus took place 870 years after the Call of Abraham, and 265 years before the founding of Solomon’s Temple.

According to B, it took place 645 years after the Call of Abraham, and 480 years before the founding of Solomon’s Temple.

According to A there are 500, according to B 215, years between the Call of Abraham and the Descent into Egypt.

At present, there seems to be no prospect of harmonizing the two groups of figures.

There is little reason to doubt that the P chronology, as incorporated in the books of Genesis and Exodus, and represented in 1 Kings 6:1, is at the best an artificial system; and one to which too much importance ought not to be attached. For instance, it is probable that the 480 years between the Exodus and the building of the Temple represent a conventional period, symbolized by 12 generations of 40 years each.

On the other hand, it may well be considered doubtful whether the interval between Abraham and the Exodus extended over so long a period as 870 years (from 2100 b.c. to 1230 b.c.). (See Driver’s Genesis, pp. xxvi–xxx; Exodus, pp. xxx f., xlv f.; Skinner’s Genesis, pp. xiv–xvii; cf. article on “Chronology” in Hastings’ D.B.)

Note. The P chronology, which reckoned the period from the Creation to the Exodus as 2666 years, was probably based on the tradition that 4000 years were to elapse between the Creation and the coming of the Messiah, and two-thirds of this period, i.e. 2666 years, were completed at the Exodus.

  Heb. text  Sam.  LXX

(1) From the Creation to the Flood (Genesis 5, Genesis 7:11)  1656    1307    2262

(2) From the Flood to the Call of Abraham (Genesis 11:10-26; Genesis 12:4)  365    1015    1145

(3) From the Call of Abraham to the Exodus (as above)  645    430    430

  2666    2752    3837


Chronology of principal Egyptian Kings from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth Dynasty (With the dates given by Petrie and Breasted)

Egyptian Kings  Petrie  Breasted  Summary of events based on Breasted’s Tables

Thirteenth to Seventeenth Dynasty  2565–1587  1788–1580  

Hyksos kings  2098–1587  1680–1580  Conquest and domination of Egypt by Semitic invaders

Eighteenth Dynasty  1587–1328  1580–1350  Expulsion of Hyksos: restoration of native Monarchy

Thothmes I  1541–1516  1547?–1501  Conquest of Cush, and of all Syria and Canaan

Thothmes III  1503–1449  1501–1447  Frequent Asiatic campaigns. Egyptian Empire extends to Euphrates

Amenophis III  1414–1383  1411–1375  Alliance with kings of Mitanni and Babylon: gigantic commercial connexions. Commencement of Semitic migration into Syria

Amenophis IV

(Ikhnaton, or Khu-n-aten)  1383–1365  1375–1358  Religious reform or revolution: Thebes forsaken; new capital: Amarna correspondence: Canaan threatened by Habiri hordes on E. and by Hittites on N. Asiatic vassal princes, some conquered by Hittites, others regain independence

Nineteenth Dynasty  1328–1202  1350–1205  

Seti I  1326–1300  1313–1292  Canaan recovered by Egypt: great war with Hittites.

Ramses II  1300–1234  1292–1225  Great Egyptian prosperity. War in Asia. Oppression of Hebrews


(or Merneptah)  1234–1214  1225–1215  Repulse of Libyans. Probable period of Exodus. First mention of Israel on monuments


The Hyksos

Assuming that the Pharaoh in the days of Joseph was one of the Hyksos, we have next to enquire what is known about these foreign conquerors of Egypt.

The Twelfth Dynasty had closed with a period of weakness and confusion. There swept into the Delta a horde of Asiatic invaders, apparently of Semitic origin, who overcame all resistance and took possession of the entire country of Egypt. Their capital was a strong-hold in the Delta named Avaris, the site of which has not yet been discovered.

A Fragment of the History of Manetho, quoted by Josephus in his Contra Apionem (i. 14) has preserved the tradition of later times. “Its statements may be summarized as follows: In the reign of a king named Timaios the gods were angry with Egypt, and there came up from the East a race of ignoble men who conquered the country without a battle. They treated the native population with great cruelty, burned the cities, and demolished the temples. Thereafter they made one Salatis their king, and he established a great fortified camp at a place called Avaris (Ḥçt-uârt) on an arm of the Nile near Bubastis. Here he kept a garrison of 240,000 men. The Hyksos domination lasted for 511 years. Six kings are named—Salatis, 19 years; Beon, 44; Apakhnas, 36; Apophis, 61; Iannas, 50; Assis, 49. Eventually the kings of the Thebaid made insurrection against the oppressors, and under a king named Misfragmouthosis drove them into Avaris, and blockaded them there. Finally an arrangement was reached whereby the Hyksos were allowed to depart from Egypt into Syria, where they built the fortress called Jerusalem. They were called Hyksos, or ‘Shepherd kings,’ because Hyk in the sacred language of Egypt signifies a ‘king,’ and sos in the vulgar dialect a ‘shepherd.’ Some say that they were Arabians.…

“An Inscription of Queen Hatshepsut, dating from only two generations after the expulsion of the invaders, says:

‘I have restored that which was in ruins,

I have raised up that which was unfinished,

Since the Asiatics were in the midst of Avaris of the North land,

And the barbarians were in the midst of them,

Overthrowing that which had been made,

While they ruled in ignorance of Râ.’

“As to the duration of the period of oppression there is no certainty. Manetho’s six named kings account for 260 years, and he states that these were the first kings, leaving others unnamed to fill up the 511 years. Petrie accepts the estimate of Manetho, allowing a century for the period of invasion and gradual conquest–260 years of more or less stable rule under the named kings, and the remaining century and a half for the struggle ending in the expulsion of the invaders. Breasted, on the other hand, who, following Meyer, allows only 208 years for the dynasties from the xiith to the xviiith, maintains that 100 years is ample for the Hyksos period.… Material relics of the Hyksos kings are scanty.… Two Apepas can be identified.… One or other of these Apepas may be the ‘Apophis’ of the Manethonian fragment.… More important are the relics of Khyan who may, perhaps, be identified with the ‘Iannas’ of the fragment. Traces of his rule have been found in both Upper and Lower Egypt, while a granite lion bearing his cartouche was found at Baghdad, and an alabastron with his name was discovered by Evans at Knossos. One of the titles used by Khyan upon his scarabs and cylinders is anq adebu, ‘embracer of the lands.’ These facts have inspired Breasted’s imagination to the reconstruction of a vanished Hyksos empire, embracing all the territory from the Euphrates to the first cataract of the Nile, and governed during part of its history by a ruler of the Jacob tribes of Israel in the person of that Pharaoh whose scarabs give his name as Jacob-her or Jacob-el.…

“As to the name of the invaders, the first syllable is obviously the Egyptian Ḥeq, ‘ruler,’ the second may conceivably be Shasu, which was the generic Egyptian title for the pastoral races of the Eastern deserts. Khyan names himself Ḥeq Setu, ‘chief of the deserts,’ and perhaps the derivation may lie here … there is no reason to doubt the tradition that they were of Arabian, or at least of Semitic, origin. Their existing relics suggest that, while the beginning of their rule may have been marked by harshness and oppression, the tradition of their unbounded cruelty and destructiveness is exaggerated. As in so many other cases, the land conquered its conquerors, and the Apepas and Khyans became in all essentials Egyptian Pharaohs. Their influence upon the native Egyptian race was probably beneficial, and its results may be traced in the wider outlook and renewed vigour of the nation under the xviiith dynasty. In all probability the introduction of the horse and chariot as instruments of warfare was due to them, and may have been the chief cause of their easy conquest of the land.”

James Baikie in Hastings’ Encycl. Religion and Ethics, vol. vi. (1913). s.v. Hyksos.

See also Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt, i. 233 ff., ii. 1–24; Breasted’s History of the Ancient Egyptians (1908), chap. xii.


Illustrations of Narratives in Genesis from Egyptian Antiquities

(a) The Patriarchs’ entrance into Egypt; cf. Genesis 13, 42, 47.

In the Tombs at Beni-Hassan in Upper Egypt, about midway between Memphis and Thebes, there is preserved a vivid representation of a family of the Aamu going down into Egypt. The monument on which this scene is depicted belongs to the reign of Usertesen II of the xiith dynasty, circ. 2684–2660 b.c. (Petrie). Aamu is probably a general word for nomad Asiatics. The type of face is Semitic. The family consists of thirty-seven persons. Their possessions are fastened upon the backs of asses. The leader of the party is ḥeq setu Absha (or Absha, prince of the deserts), and he is bringing a present to the king of Egypt. The scene illustrates the reception of Asiatics, and affords a representation of the influx into Egypt which had already begun in the 3rd millennium b.c. (Petrie, Hist. Eg. i. 172).

(b) Seven years’ famine in Egypt; cf. Genesis 41.

On a rock upon an island in the Nile, between Elephantiné and the first Cataract, there is a hieroglyphic inscription dating from the reign of Ptolemy Soter II which relates how certain lands in the neighbourhood had been given as an offering to Chnum the god of Elephantiné by the king Zoser (circ. 2800 b.c.) because of a seven years’ famine: “my heart is in sore grief because of misfortune; seeing that, in my time, for the space of seven years the Nile has failed to come (i.e. there has been no proper Nile flood). The fruits of the field are lacking: there is a scarcity of herbage; there is nothing to eat; the children are crying, the young people can only just creep about.”

Hugo Gressmann, Altorientalische Texte u. Bilder, Bd i. p. 233.

(c) The king’s Vizier interrogates a messenger; cf. Genesis 42:9.

Assuming that Joseph was raised to be Vizier under one of the Hyksos kings, there is especial interest in the following extract from the Sallier II papyrus describing the relations between Apepa (Apophis) and the vassal king of Thebes, Seqenen-Ra: “Egypt was in the hands of enemies, and nobody was lord in that day. There was indeed a king, Seqenen-Ra; but he was a chief in the City of the South (Thebes), while enemies abode in the Town of the Aamu, and Apepa was king in Avaris.… The messenger of king Apepa betook him to the governor of the city of the South, and was brought before the governor of the city of the South country. He spoke thus, when he spoke to the messenger of king Apepa: ‘Who hath sent thee hither to the city of the South? art thou come in order to spy out?’ ” (See Ball, Light from the East, p. 81; and Petrie, Hist. Eg. ii. pp. 19–21.)

The eminent Orientalist, C. J. Ball, is strongly of opinion that the Hyksos king, Apepa I, is to be identified with the Pharaoh of the Book of Genesis. Cf. Genesis 42:23; Genesis 43:32; Genesis 44:5. “The Sallier papyrus also records that the court of Apepa was famous for its magicians.… The tradition preserved by the Byzantine writer George Syncellus or Chancellor (fl. a.d. 800), that the Pharaoh of Joseph’s days was named Aphophis, is one which is now found to agree exactly with the testimony of the monuments. There were two Hyksos kings named Apepa or Aphophis; but it was probably during the reign of Apepa I of the 15th dynasty that Joseph rose to power. During this period the court of Lower Egypt was at Zoan, in the field of Zoan.” See Psalm 78:12; Psalm 78:43.

(d) The Tale of the Two Brothers, in the d’Orbiney papyrus, which was written for Seti II, of the xixth dynasty (circ. 1214–1209 b.c., Petrie), illustrates Genesis 39. The following is a brief epitome from Petrie’s Egyptian Tales (ii. 36 ff.).

There were two brothers, Anpu and Bata, living together in one house. The elder one, Anpu, one day sends Bata back from the field, in which they are working, to fetch some seed from the house. In the house Anpu’s wife makes an immoral proposal to Bata, which Bata rejects. In the evening, on Anpu’s return to the house, his wife accuses Bata on the false charge of wrongful advances. Anpu in rage seeks out his brother to slay him. But the story ends with Anpu’s being persuaded of his brother’s innocency: and he puts his wife to death for her wickedness.


The Egyptian Grand-Vizier

(From Breasted’s History of the Ancient Egyptians, chap. xiii.)

“§ 184. The supreme position occupied by the Pharaoh meant a very active participation in the affairs of government. He was accustomed every morning to meet the vizier … to consult with him on all the interests of the country, and all the current business which necessarily came under his eye.… Early in the Eighteenth Dynasty … the business of government and the duties of the Pharaoh had so increased that he appointed a second vizier. One resided at Thebes, for the administration of the South, from the cataract as far as the nome of Siut; while the other, who had charge of all the region north of the latter point, lived at Heliopolis. For administrative purposes the country was divided into irregular districts, of which there were at least twenty-seven between Siut and the cataract, and the country as a whole must have been divided into over twice that number. The head of the government in the old towns still bore the feudal title ‘count,’ but it now indicated solely administrative duties and might better be translated ‘mayor’ or ‘governor.’ Each of the smaller towns had a ‘town-ruler,’ but in the other districts there were only recorders and scribes, with one of their number at their head.

“§ 185. …For purposes of taxation all lands and other property of the crown, except that held by the temples, were recorded in the tax-registers of the White House, as the treasury was still called.… On the basis of these, taxes were assessed. They were still collected in naturalia: cattle, grain, wine, oil, honey, textiles and the like. Besides the cattle-yards, the ‘granary’ was the chief sub-department of the White House, and there were innumerable other magazines for the storage of its receipts. If we may accept Hebrew tradition as transmitted in the story of Joseph, such taxes comprised one-fifth of the produce of the land (Genesis 47:23-27). The chief treasurer, through the local officials above noticed, collected all such taxes; he was, however, under the authority of the vizier, to whom he made a report every morning, after which he received permission to open the offices and magazines for the day’s business.…

“§ 186. In the administration of justice the southern vizier played even a greater rôle than in the treasury. Here he was supreme.… Every morning the people crowded into the ‘hall of the vizier,’ where the ushers and bailiffs jostled them into line that they might ‘be heard,’ in order of arrival, one after another. All crimes in the capital city were denounced and tried before him, and he maintained a criminal docket of prisoners awaiting trial or punishment, which strikingly suggests modern documents of the same sort.…

“§ 188. The southern vizier was the motive power behind the organization and operation of this ancient state. We recall that he went in every morning and took counsel with the Pharaoh on the affairs of the country; and the only other check upon his untrammelled control of the state was a law constraining him to report the condition of his office to the chief treasurer. His office was the Pharaoh’s means of communication with the local authorities, who reported to him in writing on the first day of each season, that is, three times a year. It is in his office that we discern with unmistakable clearness the complete centralization of all local government in all its functions. He was minister of war for both army and navy, and in the Eighteenth Dynasty at least, ‘when the king was with the army,’ he conducted the administration at home. He had legal control of the temples throughout the country, or, as the Egyptian put it, ‘he established laws in the temples of the gods of the South and the North,’ so that he was minister of ecclesiastical affairs. He exercised advisory functions in all the offices of the state; so long as his office was undivided with a vizier of the North he was grand steward of all Egypt, and there was no prime function of the state which did not operate immediately or secondarily through his office. He was a veritable Joseph and it must have been this office which the Hebrew narrator had in mind as that to which Joseph was appointed. He was regarded by the people as their great protector, and no higher praise could be proffered to Amon when addressed by a worshipper than to call him ‘the poor man’s vizier who does not accept the bribe of the guilty.’ … Several of [the viziers of the Eighteenth Dynasty] have left a record of their installation, with a long list of the duties of the office, engraved and painted upon the walls of their Theban tombs, and it is from these that we have drawn our account of the vizier.”


Special Note on the Egyptians in the Time of Joseph The Hyksos: Joseph as Grand Vizier, etc.

I. We have no certain means of deciding the period of Egyptian History to which is to be assigned the Episode of Joseph and of the descent of Jacob into Egypt.

In all probability, it belongs to the time at which Egypt was overrun and subjugated by Asiatic invaders who are known by the name of the Hyksos.

According to Flinders Petrie, “the whole duration of the foreign dominion of this people and their descendants was 511 years” (Hist. of Eg. i. p. 236, 1895), from the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Dynasty, about 2098–1587 b.c. Unfortunately there is great uncertainty concerning the length of this period. The available materials relating to it are scanty in the extreme. More recently, Professor J. H. Breasted has given reasons for assigning a much shorter duration to the domination of the Asiatics. His Chronological Summary is as follows: “Thirteenth to Seventeenth Dynasties, 208 years (1788–1580). Great confusion, usurpation, civil war. Hyksos rule about 100 years (1675–1575 b.c.?)” (A Hist. of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 425, 1908).

Unquestionably, it is natural to assume that the time of an Asiatic domination over Egypt would have been most favourable (1) to the advancement of a Semite, like Joseph, to the position of Vizier; and (2) to the generous reception of nomad Asiatics, like Jacob and his sons, by the Pharaoh. It is also natural to assume, that the accession of an Egyptian king “which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) denoted the expulsion of the Hyksos, and the renewal of a native Egyptian monarchy. (See Driver’s Exodus.)

II. The data which have been employed for calculating this period are as follows:

1. The identification of Amraphel in Genesis 14:1 with Hammurabi, King of Babylon. If this be correct, it determines the date of Abraham as about 2100 b.c.

2. The store-cities Pithom and Raamses were built in the reign of the Pharaoh of the Oppression (Exodus 1:11). The builder of Pithom was Ramses II, as has been shewn by the excavations of Pithom (Tell el Mashkuta) by M. Naville. The reign of Ramses II lasted either from 1300 to 1234 (Petrie), or from 1292 to 1225 (Breasted).

3. The successor of Ramses II was Merenptah (or Mernephtah), to whose reign the Exodus has generally been assigned; and in whose Inscriptions occurs the first mention of Israel in the Ancient Monuments: “Ysirraal is desolated, its seed (or fruit) is not.”

4. According to the tradition preserved in Exodus 12:40-41 (Heb. text), the Israelites were 430 years in Egypt; compare the mention of 400 years in Genesis 15:13.

5. Assuming that the Exodus occurred about 1230 b.c., the Israelites arrival in Egypt, 430 years previously, would have been about 1660 b.c., which synchronizes with the period of the dominion of the Hyksos.

6. In general agreement with this conclusion would be the evidence furnished by the Tel el-Amarna Letters, according to which at the time of Amenhotep III (1414–1383) and Amenhotep IV of Egypt (1383–1365), Canaan was a province, held by vassal-kings under the rule of the Egyptian king. The Exodus could not well have taken place previous to that date.

These data are not in agreement with the Chronology of the Hebrew tradition, acccording to which the Exodus occurred in 1491 (1 Kings 6:1), the descent of Jacob into Egypt 1921, and the call of Abraham 2136.

The Hebrew tradition (P), however, in assigning only 215 years to the lives of the Patriarchs in Canaan, is following a highly artificial system of chronology.

From the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:4) to the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:5)  =  25  years

From the birth of Isaac to the birth of Jacob (Genesis 25:26)  =  60  years

From the birth of Jacob to Jacob’s descent into Egypt (Genesis 47:9; Genesis 47:28)  =  130  years

  =  215  years

III. The Hyksos. Professor Breasted gives the following summary of the history of the Hyksos:

“About 1657 b.c., before the close of the Thirteenth Dynasty, there now poured into the Delta from Asia a possibly Semitic invasion such as that which in prehistoric times had stamped the language with its unmistakable form; and again in our own era, under the influence of Mohammed’s teaching, had overwhelmed the land.… These invaders, now generally called the Hyksos, after the designation applied to them by Josephus (quoting Manetho), themselves left so few monuments in Egypt that even their nationality is still the subject of much difference of opinion; while the exact length and character of their supremacy, for the same reason, are equally obscure matters.… The late tradition regarding the Hyksos, recorded by Manetho and preserved to us in the essay of Josephus against Apion, is but the substance of a folk-tale.…” (Breasted, A Hist. of the Anc. Egyptians, pp. 174 f.).

“Two generations after the Hyksos had been expelled from the country, the great queen Hatshepsut, narrating her restoration of the temples they had desecrated, calls them ‘Asiatics’ and ‘barbarians’ dwelling in Avaris and ruling ‘in ignorance of Re.’

“The still earlier evidence of a soldier in the Egyptian army that expelled the Hyksos shows that a siege of Avaris was necessary to drive them from the country; and, further, that the pursuit of them was continued into southern Palestine, and ultimately into Phoenicia or Coelesyria.… From these earlier documents it is evident that the Hyksos were an Asiatic people who ruled Egypt from their strong-hold of Avaris in the Delta. The exact site is still undetermined.… The later tradition as quoted from Manetho by Josephus is as follows:

“ ‘There was a king of ours whose name was Timaios, in whose reign it came to pass, I know not why, that God was displeased with us, and there came unexpectedly men of ignoble birth out of the eastern parts, who had boldness enough to make an expedition into our country, and easily subdued it by force without a battle. And when they had got our rulers under their power, they afterwards savagely burnt down our cities and demolished the temples of the gods, and used all the inhabitants in a most hostile manner, for they slew some and led the children and wives of others into slavery. At length they made one of themselves king, whose name was Salatis, and he lived at Memphis and made both Upper and Lower Egypt pay tribute, and left garrisons in places that were most suitable for them. And he made the eastern part especially strong, as he foresaw that the Assyrians who had then the greatest power, would covet their kingdom and invade them. And as he found in the Saite [read Sethroite] nome a city very fit for his purpose—which lay east of the arm of the Nile near Bubastis, and with regard to a certain theological notion was called Avaris—he rebuilt it and made it very strong by the walls he built around it and by a numerous garrison of two hundred and forty thousand armed men, whom he put into it to keep it’ (Contr. Apion. i. 14).

“If we eliminate the absurd reference to the Assyrians and the preposterous number of the garrison at Avaris, the tale may be credited as in general a probable narrative.… Still quoting from Manetho, Josephus says: ‘All this nation was styled Hyksos, that is, Shepherd Kings: for the first syllable “hyk” in the sacred dialect denotes a king, and “sos” signifies a shepherd, but this is only according to the vulgar tongue: and of these was compounded the term Hyksos. Some say, they were Arabians.’ According to his epitomizers, Manetho also called them Phoenicians.

“Turning to the designations of Asiatic rulers as preserved on the Middle Kingdom and Hyksos monuments, there is no such term to be found as ‘ruler of shepherds,’ and Manetho wisely adds that the word ‘sos’ only means shepherd in the late vulgar dialect. There is no such word known in the older language of the monuments. ‘Hyk’ (EgyptianḤḳ’), however, is a common word for ruler, as Manetho says, and Khian, one of the Hyksos kings, often gives himself this title upon his monuments, followed by a word for ‘countries’ which by slight and very common phonetic changes might become ‘sos’; so that ‘Hyksos’ is a not improbable Greek spelling for the Egyptian title ‘Ruler of Countries’ ” (Breasted, pp. 176–178).

… “The influence upon Egypt of such a foreign dominion, including both Syria-Palestine and the lower Nile valley, was epoch-making.… It brought the horse into the Nile valley and taught the Egyptians warfare on a large scale. Whatever they may have suffered, the Egyptians owed an incalculable debt to their conquerors” (ibid. p. 184).

“After the expulsion of the Hyksos from the Delta frontier, the victorious Egyptian king Ahmose reigned supreme. The old landed nobility had almost become extinct. ‘All Egypt was now the personal estate of the Pharaoh just as it was after the destruction of the Mamlukes by Mohammed Ali early in the nineteenth century. It is this state of affairs which in Hebrew tradition was represented as the direct result of Joseph’s sagacity’ (Genesis 47:19-20)” (ibid. p. 189).

“The supreme position occupied by the Pharaoh meant a very active participation in the affairs of government. He was accustomed every morning to meet the vizier, still the mainspring of the administration.… Early in the Eighteenth Dynasty … the business of government and the duties of the Pharaoh had so increased that he appointed a second vizier. One resided at Thebes, for the administration of the South, from the cataract as far as the nome of Siut; while the other, who had charge of all the region north of the latter point, lived at Heliopolis.… For purposes of taxation all lands and other property of the Crown, except that held by the temples, were recorded in the tax-registers of the White House, as the treasury was still called.… On the basis of these taxes were assesed. They were still collected in naturalia: cattle, grain, wine, oil, honey, textiles, and the like. Besides the cattle-yards, the ‘granary’ was the chief sub-department of the White House, and there were innumerable other magazines for the storage of its receipts. If we may accept Hebrew tradition as transmitted in the story of Joseph, such taxes comprised one-fifth of the produce of the land (Genesis 47:23-27)” (ibid. pp. 196, 197).

V. The position of Joseph as Vizier. “The southern vizier was the motive power behind the organization and operation of this ancient state. We recall that he went in every morning and took council with the Pharaoh on the affairs of the country; and the only other check upon his untrammelled control of the state was a law constraining him to report the condition of his office to the chief treasurer. His office was the Pharaoh’s means of communication with the local authorities, who reported to him in writing on the first day of each season, that is, three times a year. It is in his office that we discern with unmistakeable clearness the complete centralization of all local government in all its functions. He was minister of war for both army and navy, and in the Eighteenth Dynasty at least, ‘when the King was with the army,’ he conducted the administration at home. He had legal control of the temples throughout the country, or, as the Egyptian put it ‘he established laws in the temples of the gods of the South and the North,’ so that he was minister of ecclesiastical affairs. He exercised advisory functions in all the offices of the state; so long as his office was undivided with a vizier of the North he was grand steward of all Egypt, and there was no prime function of the state which did not operate immediately or secondarily through his office. He was a veritable Joseph, and it must have been this office which the Hebrew narrator had in mind as that to which Joseph was appointed. He was regarded by the people as their great protector, and no higher praise could be proffered to Amon when addressed by a worshipper than to call him ‘the poor man’s vizier who does not accept the bribe of the guilty’ ” (Breasted, pp. 200 f.).

VI. Summary of Egyptian History from Thirteenth to Nineteenth Dynasty (1788–1215 c.)

(Based on Breasted, History of Anc. Egypt, pp. 425–430.)

Thirteenth to Seventeenth Dynasties Great confusion, usurpation, civil war.

Hyksos rule about 100 years  1788–1580  Hyksos consolidate Syrian power, probably at Kadesh, and absorb Egypt.

Empire, First Period  1580–1350  Assyrian and Babylonian power in decline.

Eighteenth Dynasty Thebes    

1  Ahmose I  1580–1557  Expulsion of Hyksos: Syria-Palestine tributary to Egypt.

2  Amenhotep I

3  Thutmose I  1557–1501

4  Thutmose II    All states of Syria-Palestine Egyptian vassals.

5  Hatshepsut  1501–1447  Power of Kadesh, leading Syrian state, centre of Hyksos power, now broken.

6  Thutmose III    

7  Amenhotep II  1448–1420  

8  Thutmose IV  1420–1411  

9  Amenhotep III  1411–1375  Greatest splendour of Empire.… Kheta (Hittites) begin absorption of Syria, Amarna letters.

10  Ikhnaton (Amenhotep IV)  1375–1358  Khabiri Semites begin migration into Syria and Palestine

    Monotheist: religious revolution. Thebes forsaken.

    Amarna Letters. Hittites seize Syria to Amor: Khabiri Semites invade Palestine, Hebrews with them.

11–13  1358–1350  Complete dissolution of Egypttian Empire in Asia.

Empire Second Period  13501–150  Former Asiatic vassal-kingdoms of Egypt gain independence, or are absorbed by Hittites.

Nineteenth Dynasty  1350–1205  

1  Harmhab  1350–1315  Reorganization: Thebes restored.

2  Ramses I  1315–1314  

3  Seti I  1313–1292  Palestine recovered: first conflict with Hittites.

4  Ramses II  1292–1225  War with Hittites, 16 years: treaty with Hittites 1271. Oppression of Hebrews (?)

5  Merenptah  1225–1215  Asiatic campaign; “Israel” among defeated. “Israel” first mentioned on the monuments “Exodus” of Israelites (?)

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