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Anachronisms in Genesis as Clues When the Book Was Written

Anachronisms in Genesis as Clues When the Book Was Written

Focusing on Genesis (rather than the Torah as a whole), we find several anachronistic elements in the book. The book’s traditional origin is that it was written in the late fifteenth century BCE, coming from the hand of Moses during Israel’s journey through the wilderness toward Canaan following the exodus from Egypt. While many of the folklore elements found in the book must predate the time of its creation, their cumulative weight points toward Genesis having been written and edited in the seventh, sixth, and possibly fifth centuries BCE.

1.1–2.3 The first creation story suggests dependence (even if indirectly) on the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Eliš, which would have been accessible to Judean scribes by the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BCE. The story partly functions as an etiology for the Sabbath, the cessation of work on the seventh day of the week. The Sabbath, šabbāṯ, probably evolved from the Assyrian and Babylonian full moon festival, Akkadian šapattu or šabattu, an ominous day when work was avoided. That the Sabbath was originally a monthly event is indicated by prophetic texts from the eighth century BCE, which pair the Sabbath with the new moon festival (Amos 8.5; Hos 2.11; Isa 1.13; cf. 2 King 4.23); its shift from a monthly observance to weekly would have happened after this time.

2.4–3.24 The second creation story borrows extensively from a centuries-old well of mythology, but this specific story’s outline—a man created/favored by God is placed in God’s garden in Eden, a land rich in gold and gemstones, in or near Assyria, but his eventual sin leads to his exile at the hand (and fire) of the cherub assigned to watch over the garden—is uniquely found elsewhere only in Ezek 28.12–19, given as an analogy to describe the hubris of the king of Tyre. The apparent independent corroboration of this story’s general outline, with key differences between them, suggests the tradition had not yet settled when Ezekiel was written in the sixth century BCE.

3.24 Aside from the Torah, cherubs are only mentioned in texts dating to the sixth century BCE and after. Their physical descriptions closely resemble the lamassu or šîdu, guardian deities found in religious iconography across Mesopotamia. Some Akkadian sources refer to these creatures as karibu (‘intercessor’), the probable root for ‘cherub’.

4.22 Tubalcain is identified as the first ironsmith. Within the narrative’s chronology, Tubalcain would have died during the flood, making his practice short-lived and unlikely to have been adopted by Noah’s family. While iron was found and used sporadically in ancient history, iron production did not become common until the twelfth century BCE, bringing the Bronze Age to a close.

10.2–5 Genesis 10 contains the ‘table of nations’. This genealogy for Noah’s three sons functions as an etiology for the various people-groups known to the authors. Japheth’s descendants are stated to be ‘the coastland peoples’ (i.e. the groups living along or near the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel and Judah). Most of them—Gomer, Magog, Ionia, Tubal, Meshech, Togarmah, Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim—are named in the Book of Ezekiel, particularly in connection with coastal trade (27.6–7, 12–13; 32.26; 38.2, 6, 13). From those not mentioned by Ezekiel, two of them—Media and Ashkenaz—are mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah (51.11, 27). Jeremiah was a prophet of the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE, and Ezekiel from the sixth century. The name ‘Magog’ comes from Akkadian Mat Gugi, ‘land of Gugu’, the ruler of Lydia in the mid-seventh century BCE. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, ‘Tarshish’ (תרשיש) is identified as a location across the sea, but under the rule of the Phoenician city Tyre, known for its precious metals (Isa 23.1; Jer 10.9; Ezek 27.12; 1 Kings 10.22). The name probably refers to a region in southern Spain, Tartessos (ταρτησσος). In the eighth century BCE, the Phoenicians built their own port in Tartessos, and shipped gold, tin, and other metals back to the Levant. (One gemstone mentioned rarely in the Hebrew Bible, tarshish (תרשיש), was likely also named for this land it was imported from; cf. it is connected to the king of Tyre in Ezek 28.13.)

10.8–10 Babylon was built by the third millennium BCE, Uruk and possibly Akkad were built in the fifth or fourth millennium, and Nineveh may be as old as the sixth millennium. Rehoboth-Ir is taken by some as an epithet for Nineveh (meaning ‘a vast city’), but, based on similar examples, it may be an appellation for Assur, also built by the third millennium BCE. However, Kalḫu was built by Shalmaneser I in the mid thirteenth century BCE, long after the time period depicted. Resen, called ‘the great city’ (10.12), may be an epithet or corruption of Dur-Sharrukin, the Assyrian capital built in the late eighth century BCE. The identification of these cities as forming a kingdom in ‘Shinar’ (a region in Mesopotamia mostly corresponding to Babylonian territory) and Assyria reflects the political stage of the Neo-Assyrian period (911–609 BCE).

10.14 Several passages (21.32, 34; 26.1, 8; etc) show the Philistines as contemporaries of Abraham, indicating their presence in the region by the twenty-second century BCE. Archaeological evidence and Egyptian records indicate the Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples. These were European groups, primarily of Hellenistic origin (and hence should have been descended from Japheth, perhaps through Ionia, rather than from Ham via Egypt), which settled along the eastern Mediterranean coastlands in the wake of the Bronze Age Collapse, around the middle of the twelfth century BCE, a full millennium after Abraham. The Philistines had a continued presence in the area until the fifth century BCE.

11.1–9 The ‘tower of Babel’ refers to a ziggurat of Babylon, almost certainly Etemenanki. This ziggurat was built probably in the second half of the second millennium BCE, or the very early first millennium BCE, but eventually fell into disrepair. Reconstruction took place across the period of 680–562 BCE. The ziggurat’s foundation cylinders from Nabopolassar (ruled 626–605 BCE) contain all the elements found in 11.3–4: ‘At that time my lord Marduk told me in regard to Etemenanki … to make its top vie with the heavens. I had them shape mud bricks without number and mould-baked bricks like countless raindrops. I had the River Arahtu bear asphalt and bitumen like a mighty flood.’

11.28 Abraham is born in Ur, a city in the land of the ‘Chaldeans’ (Greek χαλδαια, Hebrew kasdím, כשדים, each from Akkadian kaldu and ⁠kašdu). This people-group were latecomers to Mesopotamia, first settling in the region in the range of the eleventh to ninth centuries BCE, more than a millennium after Abraham is supposed to have lived. The vast majority of references to ‘Chaldeans’ in the Hebrew Bible are clear references to people of the Neo-Babylonian kingdom (626–538 BCE). The text states that Abraham’s family relocated from Ur to the city Harran, in a land called Paddan Aram (‘Field of Aram’, also called Aram Naharaim, ‘Aram Between Rivers’, i.e. the Tigris and Euphrates), referring to northern Mesopotamia (cf. Isa 7.20; Josh 24.2–3; 2 Sam 10.16; 1 Kings 14.15; 1 Chr 19.6). However, other passages consistently place Abraham’s ancestry and extended family in this Aramean vicinity instead of Ur (e.g., 24.4, 10; 25.20; 27.43; 28.5; cf. Deut 26.5). Abraham’s great-grandfather Serug, grandfather Nahor, father Terah, and brothers Nahor and Harran share names with Aramean cities, such as Sarūgi, Til-Naḫiri, Til-Turaḫi (cf. 11.31; 24.10), all in close proximity. It is likely that early folktales had Abraham born in Paddan Aram, but his birthplace was deliberately changed to ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ so that Abraham’s long journey from Babylon to Canaan would foreshadow the return of the Judean exiles from Babylon in the late sixth century BCE.

12.6 The narrator’s phrasing suggests that, during his time, the Canaanites were considered essentially extinct or absent from the lands of Israel and Judah. According to the biblical narrative, the Canaanite tribes had not been fully extinguished or displaced during the time of the Israelite and Judean monarchies, ranging from the late eleventh through the early sixth centuries BCE.

12.16 There are several references to domesticated camels in Canaan during the time of Abraham. Existing linguistic evidence suggests the Hebrew word gamál (גמל) referred specifically to dromedary, ‘one-hump’ camels (and not Bactrian, ‘two-hump’ camels). Archaeological evidence suggests dromedary camels were not introduced to the region until the late tenth century BCE, more than one millennium after Abraham, and cognates of gamál in nearby languages are not found until the eighth century BCE.

14.14 Several regions in the book are identified by names given to them in much later time periods (comparable to the garden being located relative to Eden, Assyria, Havilah, etc). ‘Dan’ refers to either the territory or the city named for the tribe of Dan, which was named for Abraham’s great-grandson (Gen 30.6). This tribe, depending on the textual tradition, did not receive its territory in Canaan until when Israel invaded Canaan after the death of Moses (Josh 19.40–48) or a few centuries after that (Judges 18).

14.18 Melchizedek, a contemporary of Abraham, is identified as both the king of the city Salem and as a priest of El, the Most High. ‘Salem’ was a late nickname for Jerusalem (Psa 76.2), making this etiology for the city contradict the later biblical identification of Jerusalem as the Canaanite city Jebus, resettled and renamed by Israelites under David in the late eleventh century BCE (cf. Josh 15.8; 18.28; 2 Sam 5.6–7; 1 Chr 11.4). El was the chief god and father of the Canaanite pantheon, while Yhwh was probably a storm/warrior god whose worship originated in the region of Midian or Edom. After Yhwh-worship migrated to Canaan, probably in the late second millennium BCE (coinciding with the Bronze Age Collapse), he was identified as one of El’s son, each of which was granted a nation to rule (cf. Deut 32.8–9). El is identified in the text (14.22) as another name for Yhwh; conflation of the two gods did not happen until sometime in the tenth to eighth centuries BCE.

25.12–18 Ishmael’s twelve sons are named: Nebayot, Qedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Yetur, Naphish, Qedemah. The Hebrew Bible shows how the man Jacob received the name ‘Israel’, how his twelve sons were given their names, and how their descendants settled in different towns and regions of Canaan. The purpose was to provide an elaborate etiology for place-names across the lands of Israel and Judah as known by the author(s) contemporaries. This paragraph fulfills the same purpose for locations in the Arabian peninsula, albeit much more condensed. Assyrian texts identify a people-group living in Arabia called the Shumuʾilu (cognate of Ishmael). Some of these areas are mentioned in biblical texts from the eighth century BCE onward (e.g. Nebayot: Isa 60.7; Qedar: Isa 21.16; Jer 2.10; Ezek 27.21; Dumah: Isa 21.11). Several of them—Nebayot, Qedar, Adbeel, Dumah, Massa, Tema—are mentioned in Assyrian sources from the same period.

31.47 The text identifies a location as known by two people: to Laban it is ‘Jegar-sahaduth’, while to Jacob it is ‘Galeed’, meaning ‘heap of witness’ in Aramaic and Hebrew respectively. The Aramean people-group did not settle in the region until the time of the Bronze Age Collapse. The earliest form of Aramaic (the Aramean language) is not attested until the tenth century BCE, more than one thousand years after the time of Jacob. It spread throughout Assyria, Egypt, and the Levant by the end of the eighth century BCE. It later became the official language of the Persian kingdom (550–330 BCE), and was adopted by Judeans as a consequence of Persian rule.

36.31 The phrasing indicates multiple kings have already ruled the Israelites. The earliest external reference to an Israelite or Judean king comes from the eighth century BCE, but within the biblical chronology David’s dynasty began in the late eleventh century BCE, requiring the narrator had lived in the mid tenth century at the earliest.

37.28 Joseph is sold as a slave. At this time, the early twentieth century BCE, the weight of a precious metal comprised monetary payment. Scales were used to ensure the appropriate weight was paid, and rigged scales could be used to cheat the other party (cf. Mic 6.11; Isa 46.6; Jer 32.10; Prov 16.11). Joseph is instead sold for a cost of twenty coins of silver. The ancient Near East did not adopt coinage until the seventh century BCE, after their use became widespread in Anatolia, particularly the electrum coins minted in Lydia.

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