Where Did Moses Get His Information?
THE testimony of none other than the Son of God, Jesus Christ, points to Moses as the writer of the first book of the Bible, Genesis. (Luke 24:27, 44) Since the events related in that book occurred before Moses’ birth, the question arises, Where did he get his information?
As far back as the eighteenth century the Dutch scholar Vitringa pondered this question. Based on the use of the expression “this is the history,” Vitringa concluded that each occurrence of this expression in the book of Genesis identified an already-existing document. In more recent years others have reached a similar conclusion. For example, archaeologist P. J. Wiseman, commenting on the expression “this is the history” (or, “these are the origins”), writes: “It is the concluding sentence of each section, and therefore points backward to a narrative already recorded. . . . It normally refers to the writer of the history, or the owner of the tablet containing it.”—New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis, p. 53.
An examination of the contents of these histories, however, casts considerable doubt on the correctness of this view. For example, according to this view, the section beginning with Genesis chapter 36, verse 10, would conclude with the words of Genesis 37:2, “This is the history of Jacob.” But nearly the entire record pertains to Esau’s offspring and makes only incidental reference to Jacob and his family. Moreover, if the theory were correct, this would mean that Ishmael and Esau were the writers or possessors of the most extensive documents about God’s dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This does not appear to be reasonable, for it would make those who had no share in the Abrahamic covenant the ones who had the greatest interest in that covenant. It would be hard to conceive that Ishmael had such concern about events associated with Abraham’s household that he put forth efforts to get a detailed record thereof, a record that spanned many years after his being dismissed along with his mother Hagar.—Gen. 11:27b–25:12.
Similarly, there would have been no reason for Esau, who had no appreciation for sacred things, to have written or been the possessor of an account dealing extensively with events in Jacob’s life, events to which Esau was not an eyewitness. (Gen. 25:19–36:1; Heb. 12:16) Also, it does not seem logical to conclude that Isaac and Jacob would have largely ignored God’s dealings with them, being content to have only brief records about someone else’s genealogies.—Gen. 25:13-19a; 36:10–37:2a.
While the expression “this is the history” cannot in each case be reasonably linked with the writer or owner of such a history, this would not necessarily rule out Moses’ getting some of his information from earlier written records, including accounts committed to writing before the flood of Noah’s day. Though the Bible contains no definite references to pre-Flood writing, it should be noted that the building of cities, the development of musical instruments and the forging of iron and copper tools had their start long before the Flood. (Gen. 4:17, 21, 22) Reasonably, therefore, men would have had little difficulty in also developing a method of writing. And archaeological evidence indicates that writing existed for a considerable period before the time of Moses. It must be acknowledged, however, that direct testimony concerning the existence of pre-Flood writing is lacking.
It is true that Assyrian King Ashurbanipal spoke of reading “inscriptions on stone from the time before the flood.” But these inscriptions may have simply preceded a local flood of considerable proportions or could have been accounts that purported to relate events prior to the Flood. For example, what is known as “The Sumerian King List,” after mentioning that eight kings ruled for 241,000 years, states: “(Then) the Flood swept over (the earth).” Such record, clearly, is not authentic.
According to Bible chronology, the global flood of Noah’s day occurred in 2370 B.C.E. Archaeologists have assigned dates earlier than this to numerous clay tablets they have excavated. But these clay tablets are not dated documents. Hence the dates that have been assigned to them are merely conjectural and provide no solid basis for establishing a relationship in time to the Biblical flood. None of the artifacts that have been excavated are definitely known to date from pre-Flood times. Archaeologists who have assigned items to the pre-Flood period have done so on the basis of findings that, at best, can only be interpreted to give evidence of a great local flood.
So there is no way to establish definitely that Moses got some of his information from pre-Flood and post-Flood records. Neither is there any basis for disproving that he did so, for writing has long been used for transmitting information. Nevertheless, the source for Moses’ information did not have to be earlier written records. It is obvious that someone had to receive information relating to the events prior to man’s creation by divine revelation. Thus Moses could have gotten this as well as the rest of his material by direct revelation from God. But, if revealed to someone other than Moses, this information and the basis for the remainder of the contents of the book of Genesis could have been transmitted to Moses by means of oral tradition. Due to the long life-span of men of that period, the information could have been passed from the first man Adam to Moses through just five human links, namely, Methuselah, Shem, Isaac, Levi and Amram. This would, of course, have required the last traditional link, Amram, to have the whole book of Genesis in his head.
At the present time, no definite conclusion can be reached as to the immediate source from which Moses obtained the information that he recorded. He could have received it through direct revelation, oral tradition or written records. Perhaps all three sources were involved. It should be remembered, however, that the important thing is, not the immediate source, but the fact that Jehovah God, by means of his spirit, guided the prophet Moses to write the reliable account preserved in the Genesis record.