“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). So why doesn’t the written Word appear “in the beginning”? The world is 6000 years old and the Bible records its beginning. But the written Word spans roughly 1500 years, from the Exodus (1440 B.C.) to Patmos (A.D. 95).
Still, the Exodus origin is debatable. Some commentators argue that God wouldn’t have committed his revelation to “slipshod oral transmission for hundreds of years” and 2 Peter 1:21 demands eyewitnesses (Livingston). Therefore, Genesis must have been written by Adam, Noah, and the patriarchs on cuneiform tablets (ibid.). This book is divided into eleven sections called toledots, or “these are the generations of” (Genesis 1:1, 2:5, 5:3, 6:9, 10:2, 11:10, 11:27, 25:13, 25:19, 36:2, 10). Abraham himself kept God’s “statutes” (chuqqim) and “laws” (torah) (26:5), which refer to documents “inscribed in stone” (Livingston). So Abraham passed God’s written words to Isaac (Genesis 25:5), Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to Joseph. He then told his family members to put God’s written words in his coffin before he died (50:26). When Israel left Egypt with Joseph’s bones 430 years later, Moses used these documents to compose Genesis (Exodus 12:40-41, 13:19).
This theory has some problems. First, 2 Peter 1:21 says that “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The reference is to prophecy and preaching, not writing. God said many things to many people before he told anyone to write anything down. Jesus himself preached many sermons during his ministry, yet the gospels were written after his ascension.
The first time the Bible records writing is after Israel’s battle with Amalek. God tells Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book … that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14). The first recorded instance of God’s writing is in Exodus 24:12: “I will give you tablets of stone … which I have written.” These tablets were “engraved” on both sides “with the finger of God” (31:18, 32:15-16). Clearly, the Hebrew words chuqqim and torah in Genesis 26:5 contain a Mosaic-era meaning. Did God use this dramatic writing process with Adam, Noah, or the patriarchs? No. He simply told them things and expected them to remember, obey, and tell their children.
Second, ancient Sumer created the world’s first written language – wedge-shaped characters called ‘cuneiform’ on clay tablets (Halley 45, 86; International). Sumer corresponds to post-flood Babel in Shinar, founded by Ham’s grandson Nimrod (Genesis 10:6-10, 11:2). The only archaeological evidence of pre-flood writing is pictographic pottery, seals, and tablets – not words (Halley 44-45, Woolley 32). Used to represent names and “identify ownership,” seals precede cuneiform writing by centuries (Halley 44, Woolley 39). Some found in the Iraqi city of Fara show people leading animals by twos (Halley 44). Therefore, seals are the only way that Adam and his pre-flood descendants could have preserved God’s words until the invention of writing.
So where did Enoch’s prophecy come from (Jude 14-15)? Jude quotes the apocryphal Book of Enoch (c. 300 B.C.), which was written in Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin (Wikipedia). Jude considers this book authentic and he’s in the canon. So the prophecy may have been an oral tradition or pictographic seal before Jewish scribes finally wrote it down. Islam credits Enoch with the invention of writing, but there is no evidence for this claim (Wikipedia).
Third, Sumerian cuneiform tablets were written by just one class: scribes (Nemet-Nejat 54). Most people in this ancient culture were illiterate, including “priests, kings, governors, and judges” (54). We have no evidence to suggest that anyone in Abraham’s family consisted of scribes, although they lived in Ur (Genesis 11:28, 31). Therefore, Abraham couldn’t have carried “records and genealogies” to Canaan unless they were seals or unless he used dictation (Raven). God spoke to Abraham but never gave him anything written or told him to write anything down. We don’t have any evidence that his descendants, also nomadic shepherds, were literate either. The first one exposed to writing was probably Joseph, during his sojourn in ancient Egypt. However, just like Sumer, only scribes were literate and Joseph wasn’t one (Wikipedia). He would have been more likely to dictate words on papyrus scrolls than write them himself. Still, thanks to dictation, maybe Joseph’s coffin did contain manuscripts of God’s word.
So did God dictate the book of Genesis to Moses in portions after Israel had left Egypt? Or did Moses write this book using manuscripts from Joseph’s coffin? We just don’t know.
What interests me is the simple statement “in the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). Jesus Christ co-existed with the Father before creation, but he wasn’t incarnated in human flesh and revealed as the Son of God until “the fullness of time,” which took 4000 years (Galatians 4:4). Once he arrived, Jesus wasn’t baptized and filled with the Spirit until he was 30 years old. So I think God waited until after Israel’s redemption in order to proclaim his Word. Jewish tradition says that God gave Moses the Law on the feast of Pentecost (Wikipedia). Nearly 1500 years later, Peter preached the word of God with power on the “Day of Pentecost” (Acts 2:1). God’s timing is perfect. Surely he had a reason to wait.
Sources cited and consulted
Halley’s Bible Handbook: An Abbreviated Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Shinar (Blue Letter Bible)
David Livingston, “From what did Moses compose Genesis?”
Karen Nemet-Nejat, Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998
New King James Version (NKJV)
J. H. Raven, Old Testament Introduction, New York: Revell, 1910
Wikipedia: ancient Egyptian literature, book of Enoch, Enoch, scribe, Shavuot
Leonard Woolley, Excavations at Ur, New York: Thomas Crowell, 1965