GENESIS – Introduction

The Four Sources of the Pentateuch

The German scholar; Julius Wellhausen was the first to propose a theory of possible sources for the Pentateuch; the first five books of the Old Testament also forming what we call Torah.   These books are:

Genesis (Brʾeišyt), Exodus (Šemot), Leviticus (Wayiqra), Numbers (Bəmidbar) and finally Deuteronomy (Devarim).

1-The Elohist source: Since the 1970s, this source is now widely regarded as no more than a variation on the Yahwist source.

2-The Priestly source: is also increasingly regarded as being originally the book of Yahwist, after being submitted to many revisions and expansions.

3-The Deuteronomist source: It does not appear in Genesis

4- The Yahwist source: The only non-controversial, recognised origin for the Pentateuch.

To answer the fundamental question: “in which Historical Period the Yahwist was Written?” we need to present the answer from two points of view.

I- The ‘Scientific’, Sceptical Evaluation

1-Classic Intake

Scholars in the first half of the XXth c. concluded that the Yahwist was produced during the Xth c. B.C (more common era), in the monarchic period, at the court of Solomon, and the Priestly work in the middle of the Vth c. B.C (the author of the Priestly work was identified as Ezra).

More recently, however, thinkers began to establish that the Yahwist might have been written either just before or during the Babylonian exile in the VIth c. B.C. The Priestly final edition is thought to be made in the late Exilic period or soon after. [Ref: Davies (1998), p. 37]

2- Modern Intake

Although Julius Wellhausen’s hypothesis was widely accepted until late  XXth c.  this consensus has now collapsed. [Carr (2014, p. 434)]

Two mainstream hypotheses took over the four-source theory, and they both work in combination with each other and with a documentary model:

1- Fragmentary hypotheses see the Torah as a collection of small fragments.

2-Supplementary hypotheses perceive it to be a single-core document, supplemented (or enriched) by fragments taken from many other sources.

Due to the strong interactions between these two theories, it is extremely hard to identify them separately from each other.

John Van Seters, in his book (The Pentateuch: A Social-Science Commentary. 2015, p. 12.) states that “there has been a revival of interest in fragmentary and supplementary approaches … making it hard to classify contemporary theories as strictly one or another”.

Modern scholars, like Franz V.  Greifenhagen in his book:  Egypt on the Pentateuch’s Ideological Map (2003, p. 206-207, 224 fn.49)  increasingly perceive the Pentateuch as a historical product of the Achaemenid period (roughly between 600–200 BCE). Other scholars see it as a product of the Hellenistic period about (400–100 BCE) or the Hasmonean dynasty around (200–37 BCE).

The five books of the Torah are seen to be separate in their authorship as well as in the time frame of their birth. James M. Bos in his book Reconsidering the Date and Provenance of the Book of Hosea (2013) believes that Deuteronomy, for example, could be written between the VIIth and the Vth centuries.

Furthermore, Jason M.H. Gaines in [The Poetic Priestly Source; 2015] notes that  Deuteronomy continues to be seen as having had a history separate from the first four books, and there is a growing recognition that Genesis developed apart from the Exodus stories until joined to it by the Priestly writer.

Are there Worldly Motives behind the Writing of the Yahwist Book, according to the Sceptics?

A controversial theory has gained considerable interest, at least in amphitheatres and general academic settings believes that there’s a political and military reason for composing this source which is the “Persian imperial authorisation”.

This theory proposes that after their conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. the Persians of the Achaemenid Empire agreed to grant Jerusalem a considerable amount of local autonomy within the empire but not without conditions. The local authorities in Jerusalem were required to produce a  law code (or what we call nowadays: constitutional law). The two powerful groups that make up this nation were:

1- the priestly families who controlled the Temple and who traced their origin to Moses and the wilderness wanderings,

2- and the major landowning families who made up the “elders” and who traced their own origins to Abraham, who had “given” them the land.

Jean Louis Ska in “Introduzione alla lettura del Pentateuco” (2006), pp. 169, 217–18] explains that these two families who had to cohabitate for thousands of years must have been in conflict over many issues, especially that each had its own “history of origins”. However, the Persian promise provided a great incentive to the inhabitants of Jerusalem to integrate with each other, accept to form one nation and to cooperate in producing a single ‘constitutional legislation’.

Based on this Sceptical intake, we will look into the historical background and the cultural and especially linguistic elements that helped to shape the five, first books of the Bible.

 3-The Achaemenid period

A- Historical Overview

It is known in the West as the antagonist of the  Jewish exiles in Babylon.

The Achaemenid Empire (/əˈkmənɪd/; c. 550–330 BC), is called the First Persian Empire, by Sampson, Gareth C. in his book: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East.p. 33. (2008). 

The core of this empire, which was founded by King Cyrus the Great,  sprung from modern-day Iran by VIIth century B.C (Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index.) and expanded to cover all of Western Asia. In its bloom and prosperity, the borders of this empire ranged from the Balkans and Eastern Europe to the Indus Valley; an ancient civilisation located in what is called today Pakistan and northwest India, on the floodplain of the Indus River and its vicinity.

This empire has equally achieved a notable success through a centralised, bureaucratic administration, governed by satraps under the ruling of the emperor.

What is very relevant to us in this study is that according to Rüdiger Schmitt, in the “Achaemenid dynasty”. [Encyclopaedia Iranica. vol. 3.the empire used an official language across its territory.

B- Establishing the Languages of the day

a- The Elamite Language:

Archaeology Evidence:

The archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in the 1930s  conducted two legal excavations in Persepolis.

These excavations led to the discovery of two groups of clay administrative archives (these are sets of records physically stored together).

Kuhrt in his book: “The Persepolis Archives: concluding observations,” Persika 12, 2008:567. states that the finding is dating to the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

They are called the Persepolis Fortification Archive and Persepolis Treasury Archive

Muhammad Dandamayev, in his 2002  “Persepolis Elamite Tablets” (Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 1 November 2013.) indicates that the Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets reveal details of the day-to-day functioning of the empire.

Reading of  Archaeology Evidence:

The Linguist; Keith Brown states in his book “Elamite” (2005). (Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics; 2 ed.) that this is an extinct language that was spoken by the ancient Elamites. It was used in present-day southwestern Iran between 2800 and 550 BC.  The last written evidence in this language was from the period of the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great.

Due to the fact that the Elamite language has no known relative (usually considered to be a ‘language isolate’), its interpretation is found to be difficult.

During the time when the central government was based in Susa in Elam, and especially during the reign of both Cyrus and Darius, the language of the chancellory was Elamite.

However, the Elamite texts were always accompanied by Akkadian (Babylonian dialect) and Old Persian inscriptions.

For example, in the case of the grand rock-face inscriptions of the kings, although the  texts were written in Elamite, they were found to be translations of the Old Persian language,  which brought scholars to conclude that in spite of the fact that Elamite was used by the capital government in Susa, it may not be a standardised language of government everywhere in the empire. The use of Elamite should have ceased from 458 BC.

b- Old Persian language

It was found that the Achaemenid inscriptions of Western Iran were written in Old Persian, suggesting that it was the common language of that region, although this was true before the reign of Artaxerxes II.

In a paper published by James R. Ware, Roland G. Kent. in 1924 entitled. [“The Old Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III”. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 55. 55: 52–61], it was found that after this period, the grammar and orthography used in writing the inscriptions were very “far from perfect”.  This led Gershevitch, Ilya (1964). “Zoroaster’s own contribution”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 23 (1): 12–38. to conclude that the scribes; authors of the texts in question, had already largely forgotten the language.

c- Greek Language

In the book “A History of Ancient Greek, From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity” written by several contributors and edited by Anastassios-Fivos Christidis,
(Cambridge University Press, 2001), it was stated that the Achaemenid administrative correspondence was conducted in Greek when it was necessary, which led over time to making Greek a ‘widely used bureaucratic language’, although it is not clear to what extent it was wildly used neither this indicates if it was ever used as an official language, especially that the native Old Iranian sources do not provide any indication that Greek was ever used in such a way.

d-Aramaic Language

Professor Simo Parpola from the University of Helsinki wrote a paper entitled “National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times”  [Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol. 18, no. 2, 2004] explaining that the Assyrian Empire resorted to a policy of extradition of  “troublesome conquered peoples” to mainland Assyria. These conquered people would have been  “predominantly fellow Semitic Aramean tribes as well as many Jews“.  Dr Parpola notes that “By the 6th century, the indigenous and originally Akkadian speaking Semites of Assyria and Babylonia, spoke Akkadian infused dialects of Eastern Aramaic, which still survive among the Assyrian people to this day.”

Historically speaking, Assyria was defeated by the alliance between the Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians and led by the Babylonians, in 605 BC. But less than half a century later,  Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonian King Nabonidus in 539 and took Assyria to be a province of the Persian-Achaemenid Empire.

Professor Simo Parpola concludes that “Consequently, during the Persian rule of Assyria, Aramaic gradually became the main language spoken by the Assyrians.”

Also, Saul  Shaked, in his 1987 book entitled “Aramaic” (Encyclopedia Iranica. 2. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 250–261. p. 251) explains that after the conquest of Mesopotamia, Aramaic was used as a “vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages.

The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed “Official Aramaic” or “Imperial Aramaic”, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenids in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did.”

Although the contemporary Richard Nelson Frye (the American scholar of Iranian and Central Asian Studies) refuted the above theory based on lack of evidence, he, implicitly admitted that the use of Aramaic language “was more pervasive than generally thought” hence his description of the language to be a ‘lingua franca’ (or a bridge language that rendered communication possible between people from different ethnic and linguistic background.


II- The True Scientific, non-sceptic Evaluation: – Exploring Possibilities

1- The Egyptian Period

A- Historical Overview

The following text will look into the historical facts in the Hebrew Exodus. An examination of the Exodus Pharaoh’s life can determine whether Biblical history can be harmonised with mainstream Egyptological findings.
William F. Albright (1891-1971) was the dean of biblical archaeologists and the acknowledged founder of the Biblical archaeology movement. He was also a Director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem and he did an important archaeological work at sites in Israel such as Gibeah (Tell el-Fûl, 1922) and Tell Beit Mirsim (1933 – 1936).
Through this archaeological work (especially the standard pottery typology for Palestine and the Holy Land) Albright arrived at the conclusion that the biblical accounts of Israelite history were fairly accurate, contrary to most German critics of his day.

In his book Israel in Egypt, Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier says: The Archaeological data clearly demonstrates that Egypt was frequented by the peoples of the Levant [countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean], especially as a result of climatic problems that resulted in drought. Thus, for a period roughly from 1800 to 1540 B.C. Egypt was an attractive place for the Semitic-speaking people of western Asia to migrate. He speculates that the general Exodus events took place between XVth and XVIIIth century BCE.

2-Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? 

A- Various Interpretations

The exact date of the exodus must be established, first from the Bible itself. 1 Kings 6:1, notes that Solomon began constructing the Temple in the 480th year after the exodus. Rodger c. Young concludes in his book ‘When Did Solomon Die?‘ that this signifies an elapsed time of 479+ years, beginning either in 1446 or 1445 BC as the exact year of the exodus.

Nevertheless, many believe that the events of Exodus took place two centuries later,  interpreting 480th in 1 Kings 6:1 as being merely a symbolical number.
The first chief factor behind the theory of a later Exodus is the silence about the Israelites habitation of Canaan before the XIIIth century BC.
The second factor behind this theory derives from the Bible itself. Exod 1:11, recounts the built of the store-city by the Israelites. This is usually identified with Pi-Rameses, which flourished from ca. 1270 to 1100 BC and was built during the reign of Rameses II (between 1290 and 1223 BC).
Exod 1: 11So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.”

The third factor is also biblical. Gen 47:11 strengthens this statement since the ‘best land’ given to the Israelites in the time of Joseph became in Moses time (the storyteller) the land of Ramses: “So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed.”

The fourth factor:  We read in Exod 2:15 that Moses fled from the Exodus Pharaoh, who was looking to execute him for killing an Egyptian, departing from Egypt when he was fulfilling 40 years of age (Acts 7:23).

After 40 years had passed, the voice of an angel speaks to him at the burning bush (Acts 7:30).  From Exod 2:23, we know that in the course of those many days, the king of Egypt died. The pharaoh who preceded the exodus-pharaoh must have ruled beyond 40 years, a criterion which is indeed met by the long reign of Ramses II, making his successor; Merneptah (born in1273 BC, ruling Egypt for almost ten years from late July or early August 1213 BC until his death on May 2, 1203) the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Alternatively, astronomical calculations of a potentially reported annular eclipse (Joshua 10:10-14) that precedes Merneptah’s Canaanite campaign against the Israelites place the beginning of his reign in 1209 or 1210 BC. according to Colin Humphrys, Graeme Eaddington (1 October 2017). “Solar eclipse of 1207 BC helps to date pharaohs”.

The fifth factor: Jacobus Van Dijk, writes in “The Amarna Period and the Later New Kingdom” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, ed. Ian Shaw, Oxford University Press (2000), p.302  that there is  an account of an event in the form of a poem from the Merneptah Stele (or the Israel Stele), which makes reference to the utter destruction of Israel in a campaign before his 5th year in Canaan: “Israel has been wiped out…its seed is no more.” This is the first recognised ancient Egyptian record of the existence of Israel–“not as a country or city, but as a tribe” or people.

K. A. Kitchen, in his book: “Reliability of the OT” suggests a method for interpreting the allegory of the 480th year. He views the number 480 as the sum of 12 eras consisting of 40-year generations: 20 years for an adult to live to a child-bearing age, then 20 years for the child to do likewise. The total sum of these 12 eras of 22-25 actual years, add up to 288-300 years, which is the number needed to support the late-exodus theory.
The second interpretation of K. A. Kitchen is called the non-oppressions aggregate theory. Kitchen perceives the 480 years as nine periods of 40 years (=360 years), the third of which is 80 years (2 x 40), plus five aggregate periods of varying lengths. The total sum of all these periods is 480 years.


B-The True Pharaohs of the Exodus

*Ramesses II (the great)
born c. 1303 BCE; died July or August 1213 BCE; reigned 1279 – 1213[7] BCE), (reigned for 66 years)
This is the pharaoh who commissioned the killing of the children of Israelites and who was looking to kill Moses for killing an Egyptian (after probably finding out the real origin of Moses).

*Merneptah or Merenptah was the IVth ruler of the XIXth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Gae Callender, (The Eye Of Horus: A History of Ancient Egypt) describes him as the thirteenth son of Ramesses II.
He was (very likely) born in 1273 BC, ruling Egypt at the age of 60, for almost 10 years from late July or early August 1213 BC until his death on May 2nd 1203 BC, according to  Jürgen.von Beckerath, Chronologie des Pharaonischen gypten, Mainz, (1997), pp.190
The reason why Merneptah came to power was that all his older brothers (including his full brother Khaemwaset or Khaemwase) had died. His throne name was Ba-en-re Mery-netjeru, which means “The Soul of Ra, Beloved of the Gods”.
This pharaoh must have been around the age of Moses. He became king at the age of 60 while Moses too was around this age when he was commissioned to free the nation of Israel. The two princes might have known each other in their youth, but if they did, it would have been a vague acquaintance. It is very far-fetched to think that Moses was brought up close to any royal prince since Empirical upbringing bears no resemblance to common upbringing. Merneptah was one of thirteen princes who was conceived from different mothers. The only other royal figure Merneptah would have had to know fairly closely when he was growing up, would have to be his full sibling; prince Khaemwaset, as each queen would have been settled in her own palace, often far away from the other royal members. But even if they shared the same palace, they would have lived in separate quarters, where internal conflicts would deem it hard for children from different wives to develop close relationships with each other. This was even more so for Moses who was not even a royal prince, neither was he adopted by the king himself. The sister of Ramses II would have most definitely had her own palace. Moses spent the first decade at least reared and in close contact with his Jewish family; speaking their language and absorbing their culture. If this was not the case, the Bible would have been written in hieroglyphics writing, which was not the case. The only young people who Moses could have been close to would have been his brother Aron and his sister Miriam, and perhaps other youth from their relatives and own tribe.
Although Moses had to have an Egyptian education and was taught the culture and the religion of the land, all this would have seemed like a second nature to him. Therefore, Moses relationship with Merneptah, especially after 40 years, was non-existent.

3-What was the Language Spoken by the Jews in Egypt in the XIIIth century BC?

 Waltke, Bruce K.; O’Connor, M. (1990). An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax: notes that Early Northwest Semitic (ENWS) materials are attested through the end of the Bronze Age—2350 to 1200 BC. Biblical Hebrew was not, at this early stage,  highly differentiated from other Northwest Semitic languages. The noticeable differentiation did occur during the Iron Age (1200–540 BCE) and Hebrew developed as a separate language during the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (Canaan).

Therefore, we can assume that Moses’s mother tongue would have been a language that constituted a combination of Aramaic and Egyptian dialect. But Moses would have also been taught to speak, read and write formal Egyptian as all Egyptian subjects, and especially members of the royal family often do.

When writing Genesis and Exodus, however, Moses would have spent enough time with Aaron and other fellow-Israelites to master the priestly Aramaic language enough to use it for writing his books for an Aramaic audience.



*Jean Louis Ska  “Introduzione alla lettura del Pentateuco” (2006), pp. 169, 217–18]

*[Carr (2014, p. 434)]

*John Van Seters,  (The Pentateuch: A Social-Science Commentary. 2015, p. 12.)

*Franz V.  Greifenhagen  Egypt on the Pentateuch’s Ideological Map (2003, p. 206-207, 224 fn.49)

*James M. Bos Reconsidering the Date and Provenance of the Book of Hosea (2013) 

*Jason M.H. Gaines  [The Poetic Priestly Source; 2015]

*Sampson, Gareth C.  The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East.p. 33. (2008). 

*Rüdiger Schmitt,  “Achaemenid dynasty”. [Encyclopaedia Iranica. vol. 3.

Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index 

*Kuhrt “The Persepolis Archives: concluding observations,” Persika 12, 2008:567.

*James R. Ware, Roland G. Kent. in 1924 [“The Old Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III”. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 55. 55: 52–61

*Gershevitch, Ilya (1964). “Zoroaster’s own contribution”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 23 (1): 12–38.

*A History of Ancient Greek, From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity- Edited by Anastassios-Fivos Christidis, (Cambridge University Press, 2001),


*Saul  Shaked, “Aramaic” (Encyclopedia Iranica. 2. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 250–261. p. 251)


*Professor Simo Parpola  “National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times”  [Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol. 18, no. 2, 2004]

*Rodger c. Young  “When Did Solomon Die?

  • Colin Humphrys, Graeme Eaddington

  • Jacobus Van Dijk,  “The Amarna Period and the Later New Kingdom

*K. A. Kitchen Reliability of the OT


For further reading:

Best article:

Time Line:

One thought on “GENESIS – Introduction

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.