Mystery of Moses – Did He Write Genesis?

Moses is very high on my list of biblical characters. I think you will probably remember at least some of his key events. He sailed down the Nile in a little reed boat and was picked up by either the queen or princess to the pharaoh. He was raised as an Egyptian prince (hence the title Prince of Egypt in the animated movie). He wiped out a guard who was beating up on a slave and fled to a deserted land. He then got married had kids and settled down until he heard the voice of God in a burning bush. He went back to Egypt to rescue the slaves thereafter ten mighty plagues fell upon Egypt and so forth.

This article is about whether or not Moses wrote the book of Genesis. Tradition would say that he did write the book. The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch but they are also known as the first five books of Moses. However, Moses lived around 1400 BC (or BCE) and so he could not have personally known his Egyptian predecessor Joseph (of the coat of many colors) or his predecessor Abraham. Also, we know that Genesis records Moses’ death and burial. He couldn’t have written those sections either (unless he returned from the dead, see Matthew 17 for that story).

What was inside the Ark of the Covenant can help us understand what might have happened. The Ark was a rectangular box inlaid with gold. It had to be carried on poles such that no one would touch it (the ark was holy, it was made unique). The Ark was built during the time of Moses and when it was finished certain objects were placed inside. Inside the Ark were the two stone tablets that listed the ten commandments. Moses wrote the commandments on the tablets. One was probably a copy of the other as that was the traditional form of a treaty in Egyptian custom.

Stone tablets were used in ancient times to preserve ancient histories and stories. The Epic of Gilgamesh dates to the time of Genesis. Another interesting aspect of this epic is how its stories relate to the ones in Genesis. Some of the stories with parallel plot lines or themes include: the stories of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and Noah and the Great Flood. You can read more in the Wikipedia article sourced below. The Epic of Gilgamesh is recorded on twelve stone tablets dated to around 1300 to 1000 BC. While an older version of the Gilgamesh tale is dated to around 1800 BC.

Some modern scholars have come up with a different idea about the dating of Genesis. They believe the book was written in the time of the Persian empire which was well after the time of the Patriarchs like Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. If Genesis was written on stone tablets originally and then copied during the Persian empire time then both theories could have merit. 

As with all ancient writings, it is difficult to know their true age and even who wrote the books. So now am going to speculate and say that for myself I believe Moses was given the early Genesis stories on stone tablets that were stored by his predecessors. He then became the editor of the stories and pieced it all together while adding his accounts. Finally, those that knew Moses and lived after him finished the story to include the account of his death and burial. If there is one thing I think we might agree on is that the life of Moses is well remembered even in our day.

Here is the story of how the two stone tablets were made (Deuteronomy 10)

10 At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also, make a wooden ark. 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.”

3 So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. 4 The Lord wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. 5 Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now.


Scripture is taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. 
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) - Own work
Terracotta wall panel depicting Enkidu, Gilgamesh's friend. He wears a horned helmet and his lower body is bull-like (not shown here). From Ur, Iraq. 2027-1763 BCE. On display at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Iraq. Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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