Q&A: Sources for the Pentateuch

Sources for the Pentateuch

What oral traditions did Moses have available to him when he wrote the primeval history in Genesis?

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When Moses wrote what we call the primeval history, the very old, old, old, old stories that begin the book of Genesis, it's obvious that he had to be using some kind of resources. And so, as we think about that book and especially the structure of it, there is a certain Hebrew word that's used, it's the toledot, and it can be translated as "these are the generations of" or "this is the history of," "this is the story of" and this word is used throughout the book. And it seems to me, as we step back from this book, that we understand that these were probably individual stories or tablets that somehow Moses had access to. It doesn't explain that to us, it doesn't tell us that, but these were probably historical documents that he was using, and then, through divinely inspired word from God, he is able to pull these together and to create what is God's perspective on creation, God's perspective on the Fall, God's perspective on the flood. Against all the other ancient Near East documents that are out there, God uses these documents that were already in the possession of the people to set the record straight so that people could know this is where life came from, and this is what happened in the early beginning of time.

Answer by Dr. David Talley

Dr. Talley is Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Talbot School of Theology