Q&A: Oral Sources to the Pentateuch

Oral Sources to the Pentateuch

What kinds of oral traditions did Moses have available to him when he wrote the book of Genesis?

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Answer

It's reasonable to assume that Moses would have had significance oral tradition available to him when he wrote the book of Genesis. Obviously, he wasn't there to observe all that's related. We know he has written sources that he often polemicizes against to give God's version of history but over against other written histories. But think of how important, for instance, the covenant promises were to Abraham and the emphasis on multiple generations of blessings, the covenant sign of circumcision to pass down the faith from generation to generation, which would be primarily a household responsibility. So, we knew there are specific reasons why the oral history would have been important. We also know in the ancient world in general, oral history was very important, if not primary, at least equal to documentary histories. And so, there's nothing problematic about believing that Moses relied substantially on oral history as long as we incorporate the consideration of inspiration, that God superintended his writing of it. And this relieves us from some king of a mechanical dictation view of inspiration as if God simply dictated to Moses what to write because we see the personality and the authorial influence, the literary style of Moses, manifesting itself in the book of Genesis.

Answer by Rev. Michael J. Glodo

Rev. Michael J. Glodo is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.