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

Moses is certainly mentioned in four of the first five books in the Old Testament i.e. Exodus Leviticus Numbers and Deuteronomy. Since his death and burial are recorded in Deuteronomy 34:5, he obviously cannot have written the last 8 verses of that book. Nevertheless, it is true that throughout the rest of the Old and New Testaments, Moses is regarded as the author of the first five books beginning with Genesis.

Are there any clues in Genesis to back up such a claim? How do we do even begin?

One way is to search for words that hint at who the author was or wasn’t e.g. if you were reading a book with the words Boggabilla, cunjevoi and Gympie Gympie in, it is highly likely the author is Australian as these terms are virtually unknown outside of Australia. And within Australia two of these words are really only known in the state of Queensland. So, let’s look for some words that tell us about the book’s author and see where they lead.

Genesis divides fairly easily into creation, fall, flood, Babel and the founding of separate nations including Israel to which Moses belonged. So let’s start with the division of Noah’s descendants at Babel (Genesis chapters 10 and 11). In these accounts we find distinguishing words such as ‘gentile’ (10:5), and Shinar (11:2), along with comparative phrases such ‘they used brick instead of stone and slime for mortar’ (11:3). But how does this help us?

Even if Genesis does not mention Moses by name, history as well as the rest of scripture inform us that the first five books were written for readership firstly by the people of Israel, and it contains some key words such as ‘gentile,’ which history records began as an exclusively Israelite word – a ‘them and us’ distinction. The word is pronounced ‘Goy’ in Hebrew, which became ‘gentile’ in the Latin Vulgate from the Latin gens meaning “a group or kind”, and its use in Genesis 10:5 tells us the author was one of the ‘us’ group and not one of ‘them’. The author was an Israelite!

Likewise, when the author describes the construction of the tower of Babel in chapter 11, it was recorded that it was built with “brick instead of stone”. This type of comment is made only when an author finds such an oddity worth noting, or if those who are meant to read it need some explanation. So, what is odd or noteworthy about “brick instead of stone”?

When we search the book of Exodus as well as the New Testament, we discover that Moses was bought up in Egypt of ‘hidden’ Israelite background, but raised in a royal palace and trained in all the ways of the Egyptians for leadership under Pharaoh (Acts 7:22). As such he would have been familiar with how their large buildings were constructed. We also learn the reason for his mission is that the people of Israel were slaves who were used in the building industry and were well familiar with making sun-baked straw-filled mud/clay bricks which were used for ‘common’ buildings (Exodus 1:14, 5:7). But both Moses and the people knew that important buildings such as pyramids and temples were constructed of large blocks of limestone and sandstone, many of which still stand in today’s Egypt. Now back to Genesis 11:3 where we note that the bricks in the Babel account were to be ‘thoroughly baked’ and not just filled with straw and left to harden in the sun. This is a process the Israelite slaves were not familiar with, so making an important Tower out of cooked brick was worthy of comment.

A little additional search of archaeological records also tells us that in ancient Egypt, the mortar they used to ‘glue’ bricks or stones together was usually a mixture of mud/clay and also cooked Gypsum. At 100°C (the temperature of boiling water) the semi hard rock called Gypsum (calcium sulphate) loses water and becomes a white powder which when remixed with water, sets semi-hard again. Today we know this powder as plaster of Paris. It was not until many centuries after Moses times the Romans perfected what we call cement mortar, made by cooking limestone (calcium carbonate) to around 800°C. Whilst Egyptians were familiar with bitumen, and are on record as later using it in mummification, (the word ‘mummy’ is from the Arab word mum meaning ‘bitumen’), yet nobody in Egypt is recorded as using bitumen to glue building blocks togethers. Hence the use of bitumen is also an oddity worth recording for readers unused to such a practice, and can explain the need to include the phrase ‘they used slime (bitumen/asphalt)’ for mortar. Even today ‘slime pits’ are common in the region of Ancient Babylon, and you can still extract ‘bitumen’ from them.

So, now we know that whoever wrote Genesis could both read and write, was familiar with Egyptian building technology and the limitations of Israelite knowledge, and had access to ancient records of a time and location that existed before the founding of Egypt. This author was well educated, pro-Israelite, and an Israelite themselves.

So, is there any evidence that person was ‘trained’ in Egypt as both the Old and New Testaments record of Moses? For more information see Part 2:  Is it in the name Shinar? here.
Also see Part 3: Is it in Psalm 90?  Here.

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

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About The Contributor

John Mackay