Genesis 1

The original question was: Why do people say Moses is the author of Genesis when the book doesn’t even mention his name?

Answer by John Mackay and John Osgood

In Genesis 11:1-2 we read; ‘And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.’  The next portion of this chapter informs us Shinar is the region where the Tower of Babel was built. (Genesis 11:1-5)

Today’s archaeologists and ancient historians would regard the whole region as ancient Sumer which is known to many Bible readers as Babylonia.

The scriptures itself makes this link when the prophet Daniel identifies Shinar as Babylon (Daniel 1:1-2.)

Why the different names for the same location? And what does it have to do with Moses as the author of Genesis?

The answer surprisingly provides a key evidence in support of Old and New Testament claims that Moses compiled Genesis, and had been bought up and well educated in Egypt.

The origin of some of these place names is helpful. Mesopotamian scholar Arno Poebel1 suggested many years ago that the name Sumer is derived came from the name of Noah’s son SHEM. Noah would have been alive when Babel was built and Shem also.  Poebel’s suggestion found later support from the greatest Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer2. Yet both met only stony silence from academic peers to their claim.  More recently David Rohl3 (Egyptologist) has added his voice in favour of this same thought.

The argument is to do with what happens to sounds when you transfer names from one language to another. Easy to follow in the present with Hebrew names like Yohann becoming Yan (Dutch), becoming Ian (Gaelic), as it crossed language barriers. But not so easy to follow name changes thousands of years ago. Linguists tell us that in Ancient Sumerian, the Semitics often changed the ‘u/e’ sound. Thus, Shem would have been pronounced Shum.

In addition, many present day languages with words that end with an M sound, come via lips that can rarely manage to stay shut after the M sound is finished, so a small A sound and often an even smaller r sound escapes (try it – mum moves to mum-Ar). If you like technicalities, such an Ma sound is called an amissable consonant. The end result was that Shem became ShemAr until the e vowel sound slides towards u, and the word morphs again to Shumer whence like the proverbial English who drop their ‘aitches’, Shumer finally becomes Sumer – still meaning the land of Shem.

To show that such name changes are more norm than exception consider the UK capital London, which started as best we can find as the very BC Gaelic town Caer Ludein (after king Lud who was allegedly buried at Ludgate), then via the Roman’s Londinium, (40BC) thence to Anglo Saxon Ludenwic, then a rebuilt defensive wall made it Lundenburh and finally to the more modern present day name of London by the time the Normans invaded -1066 and all that.

We now have a fairly good idea as to how Shem also became Shinar thanks to people such as Howard Carter (who discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb), and points out in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (JEA vol 1X p1- 4 1923), that the ancient  Egyptian pronunciation of Sumer was ‘Sinear’.  In addition we should note that the Septuagint Bible, (a Greek Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) done in Alexandria Egypt in the third century BC, makes the Shinar of Genesis 11 into the Greek word ‘Senaar’.  And what happened next is still with us in the way many languages deal with S, pronouncing it as ‘Sh’ e.g. the English sounding of Moses vs the Hebrew pronunciation Moshe, or in Czech where Milos is pronounced Milosh.  It was then an obvious and easy step the to read Shinar from Senaar when the Bible text was translated into English.

By now it should also be obvious, the writer of Genesis actually recorded the then current Egyptian geographic name ‘Sinear’ (Shinar) for the area we now call Babylonia aka Sumer. This makes him a man familiar with the educated Egyptian language prior to 300BC. And in the days before the Internet or freely available translations of Egyptian Hieroglyphics, the simple uneducated Jew in the wilds of Palestine, who was not involved in the international politics would have had had no access to such educated Egyptian terminology from a country to the southwest of him, about an unknown region way to the east of him.  So, as the New Testament writer and Greek physician Luke accurately records, “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” (See Stephen’s speech, Acts 7:22)

So not only does this word Shinar point to Moses, when we tie it to the use of excluding words such as ‘gentile’, and phrases such as ‘brick instead of stone and slime for mortar’ we have virtually eliminated anybody else as the source of the written version of Genesis.


  1. Arno Poebel (American Journal of Semitic Languages-vol 58[1941], pp20-26)
  2. Samuel Noah Kramer (‘The Sumerians’-1963-Chicago-p298)
  3. David Rohl (‘Legend’-Century Publications-1998-pp 134-135)

Additional Scripture references to Shinar:
Gen 10:10 Shinar equated to the kingdom of Nimrod
Genesis 14:1 In Abraham’s time, ‘And it came about in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar’.

For more information on how we can know Moses wrote Genesis see the answers to Part 2: Is it in the name Shinar? here, and Part 3: Is it in Psalm 90? here.

A PDF article of all three parts can be downloaded here.

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