In the 19th Century many academics were eagerly embracing the theory of evolution and applying it to all sorts of situations; from human origins, to eugenics, to social structures, and to sadly, to legalise racism. They also applied this presupposition to Judaeo-Christian theology in order to destroy it. All Biblical narrative was suspect and subject to review from academics who had finally unlocked the key to a true understanding of how religions began. German higher critics proposed very successfully that religion evolved from simple to complex structures as society evolved.
The champion of these scholars was Julius Wellhousen. Using what he called the Documentary Hypothesis, he persuasively argued in his Prolegomena to the History of Israel that Genesis was written in the middle of the millennium just before Christ, not a full millennium before that, as stated in the Old Testament. He theorised that there were four authors who wrote the Old Testament from 850BC through to 450BC as a way of justifying social structures. Wellhousen’s theories dominated Biblical studies for a hundred years and still influence critics today.
But is this theory true in the light of discoveries made since he propagated his theories?
First of all we must be very suspicious of any theory that relies on evolutionary presuppositions for its foundation. A multitude of genetic discoveries (links here, here, here, here, here and here) in the last two decades are rapidly undermining the entire superstructure of evolutionary theory and providing startling evidence that our genome is not evolving upward at all but rather heading quite rapidly toward genetic entropy, or in layman’s terms, extinction!
But more importantly there is an abundance of evidence from within the Old Testament itself, and particularly Genesis, that the origin of these writings lies in deep history. Here are some of those evidences for an origin for Genesis somewhere in the early second Millennium BC:
Genesis describes a war in the Middle East between international foes. Many of the names mentioned in Genesis 14:1-9 appear only in the period 2,000-1,500 BC and no later. In addition, only in this era were armies able to move across this area with ease.
Some customs that appear in Genesis do continue into later periods, but their concentration in Genesis is unique. These include the custom of taking a surrogate if ones wife was barren for seven years (Genesis 16:1-4) and a betrothal gift that allows the bridegroom to marry (Genesis 34:12).
The city of Harran appears again and again, in Genesis 11:31-32, 12:4, 27:43, 28:10 and 29:4. Archaeology confirms that this city was occupied and thriving in the early second Millennium BC occupied by coalitions of Amorites.
Grazing in great distances (100km) from one’s home only occurs in Genesis, but not later in the Old Testament. For example, Joseph’s brothers graze their flocks some 100km north of Hebron, in the high country now occupied by Jerusalem. Only in this era and no later do we find confirming evidence from non-Biblical accounts of similar activity by other groups such as the Amorites in Northern Syria.
Benjamin is the only son named by his father after the family migrates south to the area of Bethlehem, just outside Jerusalem. His name is identical to an 18th Century BC tribal confederation that lived in Syria known as the Binu-Yamina, meaning south. The names for his two brothers Asher and Zebulon also only occur in this era in all extra-Biblical records.
Joseph’s brothers sell him for 20 shekels of silver. This was the price of a young male slave only in the second Millennium BC.
The closest parallel to Genesis 1-11 comes not from the 7th Century BC Babylonian Enuma Elish, but from the 18th Century BC Atrahasis Epic.
The global flood mentioned in Genesis 6-9 is confirmed by the Gilgamesh Epic on display at the British Museum and the Atrahasis Epic mentioned above. It is also confirmed by over two hundred indigenous flood legends from around the world.
Some of the names that occur in Genesis 1-11 only occur in extra-Biblical sources from the first half of the 2nd Millennium BC. These include Methuselah, Methushael, Tubal-Cain and Jabal.
As can clearly be seen, the traditional understanding of the timeframe of Genesis is on safe ground. You can read it with confidence in the events spoken of. It is important to note that none of the evidences listed above delve into the extensive scientific evidences for the accuracy of Genesis. They will be tackled in another blog.