Thursday, 4 November 2010

Genesis and the toledoth theory

The Hebrew phrase ’elle toledot occurs 10 times in the book of Genesis. It is traditionally translated, "These are the generations of". Other translations include
  • This is the account of (NIV, NET)
  • These are the records of the generations of (NASB)
  • This is the history of (NLT)
  • These are the descendants of (NRSV)
  • This is the genealogy of (NKJV)
  • These are the historical developments arising out of (Wolters)
A question has arisen as to whether this phrase is introductory or concluding; is it a title or a colophon. Other ancient Near-Eastern texts (or tablets) have concluding data. Several people have concluded that Genesis was constructed from similar tablets and these toledoth phrases were included from the tablets' colophons. Percy Wiseman advocated this theory. A argument for toledoth being a colophon not an introduction can be found here.

I have no qualms that Moses wrote Genesis based on previous written records, be that clay, skin, or scrolls. I think, however, the internal evidence of Genesis points to these being introductory phrases. Here is the list of the phrases as they appear in Genesis.
  1. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 2:4)
  2. This is the book of the generations of Adam. (Genesis 5:1)
  3. These are the generations of Noah. (Genesis 6:9)
  4. These are the generations of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 10:1)
  5. These are the generations of Shem. (Genesis 11:10)
  6. These are the generations of Terah. (Genesis 11:27)
  7. These are the generations of Ishmael. (Genesis 25:12)
  8. These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. (Genesis 25:19)
  9. These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). (Genesis 36:1)
  10. These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. (Genesis 36:9)
  11. These are the generations of Jacob. (Genesis 37:2)
There are several arguments against these being colophons.

There is no phrase at the end of Genesis for one.

Genesis follows a family line from Adam to Israel. Because of this, a phrase like, "These are the generations of Noah" could theoretically be read as the conclusion of the history up to Noah, or as the introduction to Noah and his family. Given the Semitic reasoning that a man's honour is somewhat thru his posterity, I think an introductory interpretation is preferable, though I concede the posterity argument is not definitive.

But the main reason is that all of the phrases can be read as introductions based on the subsequent material, but not all of them can be read as endings. Some of the passages can only be read as introductory because they discuss genealogies that are not in the line to Israel. If these specific uses are introductory it seems reasonable that all uses in Genesis are introductory.

Consider Ishmael. The phrase, "These are the generations of Ishmael" in Genesis 25:12 precedes a discussion of Ishmael's descendants. Now one could possibly argue that this phrase comes at the end of Abraham's life which leads into Ishmael's story (though unlikely given the focus on Isaac earlier in Genesis). But if we accept verse 12 as a colophon then we have the problem that Genesis 25:19 is a colophon, yet the phrase, "These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son" is hardly a fitting conclusion to a discussion of Ishmael's descendants.

Note also that although item 10 may be a variant on 9, that is a repeat phrase rather than a different document; the repetition of Esau's descendants may well represent different documents, and would only fit with an introductory interpretation of toledoth.

Against this it is argued that the final use in Genesis talks about Joseph not Jacob. I find this unconvincing for 2 reasons. I have already mentioned that fame is somewhat related to posterity, so a discussion solely focused on Joseph would be consistent with this. Especially given that toledot (generation) is derived from yalad (beget)*. But note also the narrative from Genesis 37 to 50 is about Jacob and his family. It is just that the beginning of the narrative starts with Joseph in the field. This is of no significance.

At least 2 conclusions follow from this:
  1. The proposal that Genesis was composed by Moses from earlier written material seems more likely than than oral transmission or revelation. Note also the use of the word book in the second occurrence in verse 5:1.
  2. Genesis 2:4 is introducing the narrative in Genesis 2, not concluding the creation account in Genesis 1.
If we suppose the repeated use of this formula is likely to be used consistently before or after a unit of narrative, then the internal evidence in Genesis is that toledoth is used cataphorically.


*This is not the genetic fallacy as the words are related in meaning in the same era.

1 comment:

  1. Then how do you think Moses got Genesis?
    And how do you explain Genesis 6-7? It seems to repeat itself, at least at the beginning. For example: "Noah did everything just as God commanded him", "And Noah did all that Yhwh commanded him","as God had commanded Noah". It seems at the beginning that there are 3 different people's accounts mixed together.
    And what do you find in Genesis 10:1? "This is the record of Shem, Ham, and Japheth". Now that seems to me like 3 people.

    ReplyDelete

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