Out of the Past

WHILE the angry passions of men and nations continue to keep the world in a condition of confusion and anxiety, we are among those who cling to the lingering hope that something of what we call civilization will be saved by the overruling providences of the Lord. We believe that it will afford a rest of mind to leave the matter in his hands, at least for the moment, and consider the mass of evidence now available through the tireless efforts of archeologists, proving that civilizations existed from three to five thousand years ago. The discovery of thousands of clay tablets and other relics from the distant past, now make it possible not only to know man that far back enjoyed the benefits of civilization, but also to visualize to some extent the business methods, literary practices and social customs of that ancient time. Such knowledge is bound to be not only interesting and exciting, but even more important is the fact that all the information coming to light in the field of archeology tends to confirm the Biblical records concerning creation and the Flood, as well as the authorship of the first five books of the Bible. This should be of vital concern to all professed Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

Before archeologists made the discoveries that now mean so much in connection with the early books of the Bible, higher criticism claimed that Moses could not have written the Book of Genesis, nor the other four books accredited to him, because, as was alleged, the art of writing was not known in Moses’ day. Now we know that this conclusion was wrong. While the work of archeologists has been hampered from time to time by wars, and political circumstances, they have for many years been tracing the various strata of civilization backward into the very early twilight of history. Instead of finding, as higher critics and evolutionists had taught, that the aboriginal man was but little removed from the monkey, these excavators discovered an increasingly high level of civilization the farther back that they were able to pursue their investigation.

They found, for example, that five thousand years ago, even in the pre-Flood days, the people were highly cultured, and understood the art of writing. Therefore, in the light of knowledge now available, it is plain that the conclusions of the higher critics have been merely conjectures, which would probably not have been considered worth publishing had the facts now known been available.

Contributing immeasurably to the ability of archeologists to decipher the meaning of ancient hieroglyphic writing appearing on the numerous tablets which have been unearthed in the Mesopotamian regions, was the finding of the Rosetta Stone. This was a piece of black basalt found in the year 1799 near the Rosetta mouth of the Nile River. On this stone was inscribed an account in Greek, and in two styles of ancient hieroglyphic writing. As the translators knew the meaning of the Greek, the stone thus furnished a key to unlock the previously hidden significance of ancient Egyptian and Assyrian hieroglyphics, or picture writing. By careful comparisons, students of these and other dead languages have since been able to decipher the meaning of even the most ancient tablets that have yet been brought to light, thus acquiring a fairly comprehensive understanding of the times during which they were written.

From the standpoint of the Bible, one of the most significant possibilities brought to light by the discoveries proving the knowledge of writing in the pre-Flood days, is that the early chapters of Genesis could have been, and some archeologists claim were, actually recorded on clay tablets, and used by Moses in recording antediluvian as well as post-Flood history in the form that we now have it. This would mean that these records were written by those personally acquainted with the details.

This view does not do away with the necessity of divine guidance with respect to those records, but places them in a similar position with the four Gospels of the New Testament. The Gospels, though being the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry as observed by the different writers of these books, nevertheless come to us under guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that we unhesitatingly accept them as part of the divine Word.

As yet, no tablets have been found containing any portions of the Book of Genesis. The conclusion that it was written on tablets is based on information gleaned from the study of hundreds of other tablets which have been found and which reveal the literary practices of those early times. By comparing this information with certain evidences readily discernible in the Book of Genesis, the conclusion has been reached that these accounts were written contemporaneously. One literary practice was for the author of historical records to close his story with a special form of signature comparable to the expression found in the Book of Genesis several times, namely, “This is the book of the generations of …”

It has generally been supposed that these expressions were intended to be introductions to a genealogical list or other data which follows, but its first use—“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth”—seems to definitely show otherwise, for it is an unmistakable reference to that which preceded. (Gen. 2:4) The Hebrew word for generations in this expression, is toledah, and not the ordinary Hebrew word dor, which is translated ‘generation’ and ‘generations’ one hundred and twenty-three times. Concerning the word toledah, the Hebrew critical scholar, Gesenius, says that it denotes ‘history, especially family history’.

In addition to Genesis 2:4, where we read, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth,” the expression ‘these are the generations of’ occurs in the succeeding chapters as follows:

“This is the book of the generations of Adam.”—Gen. 5:1

“These are the generations of Noah.”—Gen. 6:9

“These are the generations of Shem.”—Gen. 11:10

“These are the generations of Terah.”—Gen. 11:27

“These are the generations of Ishmael.”—Gen. 25:12

“These are the generations of Isaac.”—Gen. 25:19

“These are the generations of Esau.”—Gen. 36:1

“These are the generations of Jacob.”—Gen. 37:2

A careful study of the quotations cited above reveals that when we read, for example, “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” the material that follows says practically nothing about Adam except his age at death. Similarly, with the expression, “These are the generations of Isaac,” the following account is not so much a history of Isaac, as it is of Jacob and Esau. Following this phrase to which the name Jacob is attached, we read mainly about Joseph. This peculiarity has puzzled most commentators, and the suggestion based on knowledge now available that these expressions, together with the name in each instance, constitute the signature of the writers, or at least the owners of the tablets containing the preceding narratives, is most interesting.

The word book in the statement of Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” is a translation of the Hebrew word cepher, which is translated ‘finished writing’ by the Hebrew scholar, Delitsch. The Septuagint Version adds the word book in Genesis 2:4, and translates it, “This is the book of the origins of the heavens and the earth.”

The books of that ancient time were in reality tablets. The earliest records of Genesis, therefore, are claimed, even by the book itself, to have been written down rather than passed on to Moses by word of mouth. A critical study of the various sections of Genesis followed by the signature of the writers—if this, indeed, is the method by which the first book of the Bible has reached us—shows that in no instance is an event recorded which the person or persons named could not have written from their own intimate, personal knowledge, or have obtained absolutely reliable information. It is also significant, we think, that the history recorded in each of the sections ceases before the death of the person named. In most cases, however, it is continued to within a short time before the date of death, or the date on which it is stated that the tables were written.

Another interesting observation lending color to the suggestion that the various sections of Genesis were written originally by those acquainted with the events described, is the variation of the style of language. The geographical location of these events was Babylonia, later known as Mesopotamia, and now as Iraq. The first eleven chapters of Genesis reveal Babylonian words. It is said by critics that the whole environment of these chapters is early Babylonian, as they apparently claim to have been written down by persons then living in that country. Is not this what we should expect?

The last fourteen chapters of Genesis, on the other hand, reveal an Egyptian setting. From the time Joseph arrives in Egypt, the whole environment changes, and such Egyptian names as Potiphar, Zaphnath-paaneah and Asenath appear.

Genesis 10:19 reads, “The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah.” This sentence is significant, giving evidence of having been written before the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, which took place in Abraham’s day. These two cities were so completely blotted out that all traces of them were lost. Were this the original phraseography of Moses, it is difficult to understand why he would define the boundaries of a land by naming cities, the whereabouts of which were unknown. On the other hand, if this account were written by Shem, as Genesis 11:10 may indicate, it would be logical for him to name those cities as landmarks, because they still stood in his day.

A further interesting observation is the use of names and places given in Genesis, which in Moses’ day were unknown to the rank and file of the Israelites. Moses, learned in all the arts of the Egyptians, and doubtless otherwise well educated, was able to add parenthetical identifications when compiling the original records. Thus we have:

“Bela, which is Zoar”—Gen. 14:2,8

“Vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea”—Gen. 14:3

“En-mispat, which is Kadesh”—Gen. 14:7

“Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus”—Gen. 14:15

“Valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale”—Gen. 14:17

A study of the hundreds of clay tablets unearthed in Mesopotamia indicates that in the ancient days in which they were written, the size of the tablet was governed by the amount of the material to be written. When the amount of the subject matter to be recorded would call for too large a tablet, more than one was used. When this was necessary, the custom was to assign a title to each series of tablets, and use catch lines to aid the reader to follow the proper sequence. In addition, many tablets were concluded with what is called the colophon, which is the equivalent of our modern title page. However, on ancient tablets it was placed at the end of the written matter, instead of at the beginning, much in the same style as the Hebrew writing now is presented. The colophon frequently included, among other things, the name of the scribe who wrote the tablet, as well as the date of the writing.

These literary practices are clearly indicated in Genesis, where evidences of these practices are still imbedded in the text as compiled by Moses. These evidences indicate that the book was compiled at an early date, certainly not later than the age of Moses. In addition, it shows that Moses, the compiler, used ancient tablets in presenting the whole account. It is a remarkable testimony to the purity with which the text has been transmitted to us that these literary aids in some instances still appear. As indicating the use of catch lines, note the following repetition of words and phrases which significantly are connected with the beginning or ending of each of the series of tablets now incorporated in Genesis:

“God created the heaven and the earth”—Gen. 1:1

Lord God made the earth and the heavens”—Gen. 2:4

“When they were created”—Gen. 2:4

“When they were created”—Gen. 5:2

“Shem, Ham, and Japheth”—Gen. 6:10

“Shem, Ham, and Japheth”—Gen. 10:1

“After the Flood”—Gen. 10:1

“After the Flood”—Gen. 11:10

“Abram, Nahor, and Haran”—Gen. 11:26

“Abram, Nahor, and Haran”—Gen. 11:27

“Abraham’s son”—Gen. 25:12

“Abraham’s son”—Gen. 25:19

“Esau, is Edom”—Gen. 36:8

“Esau, who is Edom”—Gen. 36:9

“father of the Edomites” (lit. Father Edom)—Gen. 36:9

“father of the Edomites” (lit. Father Edom)—Gen. 36:43

Going back to the very first section of the book followed by the signature, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth,” some interesting observations seem appropriate. As this account predates the creation of man, necessarily it reveals divine inspiration for the facts recorded. The wording is simple, yet the truth conveyed is profound. It is not hard to visualize in the language of the account, God teaching Adam in the cool of the evening in a simple, yet faultless way. He tells how the earth and the things he could see around it had been created. It is written just as though Adam is recording the words of God, “and God said,” “and God called.”

As evidence that the account was written at a very early date, note the fact that the sun and the moon are not given names, but described as the greater light and the lesser light. Facts now available from ancient tablets show that even before the Flood men worshiped the sun and the moon, and had given them names. Had this first chapter of Genesis been written even as late as Abraham’s day, instead of the expression ‘greater light’, we might have had the Babylonian word for the sun, shamesh.

The method employed in the New Testament when referring to the books of Moses is also worthy of note. Christ and the apostles quoted many times from Genesis, yet they never said that Moses wrote the statement quoted. Significantly, though, in the references quoted from the beginning of Exodus and on to Deuteronomy, the New Testament frequently reads, “Moses said.”

However, that Moses is responsible for the Book of Genesis in its present, complete, and connected form, there is no question. All of the archeological discoveries mentioned previously, and there are many others, substantiate this fact. We have no definite information as to the exact manner in which the series of tablets beginning with Adam’s, came into the possession of Moses, but it is reasonable to suppose that these treasured possessions would be passed on from one generation to another, and that Moses would have access to them.

The evidence available may indicate that the only way that God instructed Moses, until he appeared to him at the burning bush, was by means of these tablets. Then, when God said to him, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” this great leader of Israel would instantly know from whom the message was coming. (Exod. 3:6) How well, indeed, in the divine providence, was Moses equipped as the Lawgiver of Israel to present the connected account of creation and the experiences of God’s people as they related to his dealings with them down to the Exodus.

Regardless of what rigid tests may be applied, or how minute the examination of its contents in general may be, the more Genesis is read in the light of available facts of archeology, the more apparent it becomes that it is a part of the divine revelation, and is available to God’s people today as the result of the untiring efforts of Moses. This noble servant of God and of Israel, unquestionably compiled the book, regardless of the exact manner in which the necessary information reached him. Seemingly, though, he had access to records written by the ancients, based upon their own personal knowledge of the events described.

Many who in the past have had little or no faith in the divine inspiration of the Bible have been convinced of its truth, inspiration, and authorship as a result of the archeological discoveries. We rejoice in this, but from the standpoint of the divine plan for human salvation, we know that the unbelief of the world in general is to be turned aside, not by the digging up of ancient clay tablets—even though such tablets bearing actual Biblical records should yet be found—but by the resurrection of these very ancients themselves.

Everyone will believe the story of the Flood when Noah is brought back to tell us about it. Those who have questioned the miracles performed by the Lord on behalf of Israel will surely believe when those involved come back to give a firsthand account. But for the moment, archeological discoveries which confirm God’s Word, serve indeed to strengthen the faith of those who believe in the promise of God, and enable us to visualize more vividly the fulfillment of those promises. We are glad for this; but how wonderful it will be for all mankind when in the times of restitution the complete details of ancient history will become an open book to the restored people of the world.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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