07 December, 2018

13. Genesis is Toledoth Colophons

13. Genesis is Toledoth Colophons

This is the account
of the creation of the heavens and the earth. 
—Genesis 2:4a 

Aha! We are finally in Genesis. But wait, we’re starting with Genesis 2:4, not Genesis 1:1??? And Tole-colo what???

First, let's start with the ASA's officially sanctioned method of studying the Bible. Called Biblical Criticism, this method avoids “dogma and bias by applying a non-sectarian, reason-based judgment, and the reconstruction of history according to contemporary understanding.” In other words, , this method avoids religious bias by requiring a non-religious bias.

Did you get that?

According to the ASA, the only intelligent method of studying the Bible is one that dismisses out of hand any and all belief in miracles and the supernatural, which of course, includes God.

The History channel and most “Biblical” documentaries hold to the ASA’s method of Bible study. So you’ve likely heard that Moses, the “author” of Genesis, borrowed from Sumerian and Babylonian creation and flood myths when writing Genesis. You’ve also probably heard that science and/or archaeology has proven Genesis to be false time and time again.

In the last post, we talked about myth versus history. And we ended with questioning how one would go about determining the original account. That’s where the Toledoth comes in.

In Hebrew, Genesis 2:4a reads “This is the toledoth of the creation of the Heavens and the Earth.” Toledoth can be translated generations, book, record, or account.

Genesis is a collection of these Toledoths…the toledoth of Adam (Gen 5:1a), the toledoth of Noah (Gen 6:9a), the toledoth of Shem, Ham, and Japheth(Gen 10:1a), the toledoth of the Clans of Noah’s Sons (Gen 10:32), the toledoth of Shem (Gen 11:10a), the toledoth of Terah (Gen 11:27a), the toledoth of Isaac* (Gen 25:19), and the toledoth of Jacob* (Gen 37:2a).

As cuneiform (wedge-shaped symbols) is one of the earliest systems of writing, it was likely the writing system employed by Noah and his sons, as well as their ancestors (Adam, Seth, Enoch). Thus their toledoths would have been recorded in this style—cuneiform written with a stylus on clay tablets which were then baked.

If this is the case, if Adam wrote Genesis 2 and Noah and/or Shem wrote Genesis 6-9 and so forth in cuneiform on clay tablets, then these passages should bear similarities to Sumerian cuneiform tablets. Right?

That’s where the colophons come in.

Colophons are devices located at the end of a manuscript, containing information about the manuscript, including the composition’s title, the scribe’s the date and location,etc., such as "this has been the history/book/genealogy of..." The Epic of Gilgamesh has a colophon. So does the Epic of Paradise. And many other Sumerian texts.**

A British Air Commodore P. J. Wiseman, who visited many active archaeological sites during his career in the Middle East, recognized that the Genesis phrases share the same Sumerian colophons format.

If Moses was writing Genesis without any outside sources, there would be no reason to keep interrupting the narrative flow of the text to insert “this is the book/record of so-and-so.” The colophons are historical evidence that Moses compiled Genesis by copying the detailed and accurate recorded history that his eye witness+ ancestors had kept (ancient records were HIGHLY prized in those days, like a driver’s license or passport today).

But how could Moses have read paleo-Sumerian cuneiform?

According to the Bible, "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and in deeds" (Acts 7:22). Plus, archeological discoveries on ancient Egyptian education "indicates that as Moses grew in the royal court, he would have received much formal training in reading and writing the hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts, in copying texts, and in writing letters and other formal documents" (John J. Davis, former president and professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Grace Theological Seminary, 1975, 26).

But for the sake of argument, let’s say Moses was not familiar with paleo-Sumerian cuneiform. The brevity of the first few Toledoths (Gen 1:11) compared to the lengthy accounts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12-36) imply the writing style had evolved to writing on parchment by Abraham’s day. (By Moses day, writing was done on papyrus/paper, and that’s when Bible passages get REALLY lengthy). Anyway, it is quite possible that Abraham had already translated the cuneiform tablets passed down to him onto parchment into Hebrew (or a paleo-Hebrew).

Next week we look in-depth at Creation Week as recorded on the first toledoth. I hope to see you there!

Swordcraft Tip:

In whatever color you've designated for archaeology (or just a general color if you don't have a particular color for archaeology), highlight the Genesis toledoths: Gen 2:4a, Gen 5:1a, Gen 6:9a, Gen 10:1a, Gen 10:32, Gen 11:10a, Gen 11:27a, Gen 25:19, and Gen 37:2a. (Be sure not to highlight Gen 2:4b as we will be discussing that portion of the verse in another post.)

Further Reading:

*The toledoth of Isaac and the toledoth of Jacob include embedded toledoths of their brothers, Ishmael and Esau, respectively (they likely exchanged copies of each other’s toledoths when they met for their father’s funeral, see Gen 25:9 and Gen 35:28-29) 

**For a compilation of Sumerian texts and their colophons, see The Ancient Near East by James B. Pritchard. 

 +Many Christian scholars belief the first toledoth (Gen 2:4a) to be written by God himself, much like the Ten Commandments.

Photo Credit: history clock / skull hourglass  / cuneiform tablet and tablets (public domain) / clocks / parchment (public domain)