Re: Genesis in cuneiform on tablets

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Tue Oct 08 2002 - 00:37:39 EDT

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    Paul wrote:
    > Peter wrote,
    > << Wiseman suggests that Genesis was transmitted on clay tablets before
    > Jacob moved to Egypt (cf. his Colophon in Gen.37:1-2a), and that from
    > then on, presumably Egyptian writing customs obtained, i.e. papyrus. In
    > striking contrast to Gen.1-36, there is no indication of systematic
    > tablet characteristics (colophon etc.) in any other OT text. It may very
    > well be that Moses, or even Joseph already, copied Jacob's tablet
    > collection to papyrus (Wiseman didn't speculate on that). But archeology
    > apparently confirms that clay tablets, not papyrus, were the ordinary
    > writing substrate all over the Near East - apart from Egypt - until long
    > after Moses' time. >>
    > In the ancient Near East in the time of the patriarchs, only about 5% of the
    > population could write. One had to hire a scribe (a lawyer) even to send a
    > letter to someone, and at the other end, one had to hire a scribe to read the
    > letter to you.

    It probably wouldn't be easy to document such a figure of 5%, even its
    order of magnitude. I consider it a plain speculation.

    > Consequently, the vast majority of tablets are
    > commercial/legal tablets. The non-commercial tablets were largely religious
    > myths, hymns, spells or epics about kings or demi-gods like Gilgamesh.
    > Genealogies, "generations of, " are rare, and only about kings, and not very
    > long. In addition, these tablets all show up in royal libraries or temples.

    This is where where most digs would have been attempted. A camp
    consisting mainly of tents is not likely to leave a mound inviting
    modern archeologists. So it's rather unlikely that any of Abraham's or
    Jacob's discarded tablets (after making a new copy) will be found.

    > I have never heard of a semi-nomadic tribe carrying around cuneiform tablets.

    You have if you read P.J. Wiseman.

    > Gen 5 or 11 could have existed, but Gen 12 - 36 is about a private family of
    > semi-nomads with lots of details about their history. There is nothing
    > really comparable to that in the thousands of tablets thus far discovered and
    > translated. I could accept that maybe the genealogies per se were written
    > down, though they are kept orally in most tribes, but the idea that Gen 12 -
    > 36 was all inscribed on tablets before the author of Genesis got it is
    > historically improbable.

    Wiseman estimated that (by 1936) 250,000 clay tablets had been found. He
    mentions some examples of very ordinary, every-day letters. Abraham's
    family history contained some very important divine promises for future
    generations. There is nothing really comparable to that in the rest of
    ancient history. I think the supposition that Abraham's family wouldn't
    have inscribed these things on tablets is historically improbable.
    Wiseman calls the supposition of a merely oral tradition of the Genesis
    material a fiction spun out of thin air.

    > As for Gen 1-11, if one accepts the biblical account as literal history, the
    > tablets up through Noah (1-9) if they existed prior to the Tower of Babel
    > would have been written in a language that no one after the Tower of Babel
    > could have understood (Gen 11:9). So, how could Joseph or Moses have read
    > them?

    Genesis gives a (more or less?) continuous line of descent from Adam
    through Noah and Abraham to Moses. It is clear that during this time,
    languages changed, but I am persuaded that a suggestion that children
    would no longer understand their parents' language would be far-fetched
    and ridiculous. The corollary of this is, as Wiseman suggests, that
    occasionally, copying of the family's clay tablets would entail
    translation into (then) modern diction (or even a different language)
    and script. That's what we do with our Bible. Whatever the language
    confusion after the Tower of Babel means, it certainly cannot imply a
    break of communication within Shem's family or descendents. That would
    be preposterous!

    > Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 (Eerdmans, 1990) 8-10
    > gives other reasons for doubting Wiseman's theory.
    > Paul

    I'll try to find that in a library.


    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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