This series has focused on beginnings—questions about creation and the earliest history of mankind as relayed in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. With chapter 12, the narrative changes and the focus turns to the life of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, then of his son Isaac and then of his son Jacob, giving the origins and the history of the Israelite people. Consequently, the end of chapter 11 provides us with a natural break in the Genesis account.
So with this installment we will end the series, wrapping up with some final questions about the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
1. Who wrote the book of Genesis?
The Bible itself reveals that it was Moses, in the 1400s B.C., who wrote the first five books of the Bible (except for the last chapter of Deuteronomy about Moses' death, which was probably added by Joshua, Moses' successor and author of the following book—Joshua).
Many passages in these first five books of the Bible actually mention that Moses wrote down what was thereby recorded in the Scriptures. For example, God told Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua" (Exodus 17:14 Exodus 17:14And the LORD said to Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout). Also notice Exodus 24:4 Exodus 24:4And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
American King James Version×: "And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord." There are many other passages where Moses writes down God's words (Exodus 34:27 Exodus 34:27And the LORD said to Moses, Write you these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.
American King James Version×; Numbers 33:2 Numbers 33:2And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the LORD: and these are their journeys according to their goings out.
American King James Version×; Deuteronomy 31:9 Deuteronomy 31:9And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it to the priests the sons of Levi, which bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.
American King James Version×, 22).
Furthermore, Jesus Himself testified that Moses wrote part of the Bible. He said: "Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:45-47 John 5:45-47  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuses you, even Moses, in whom you trust.
 For had you believed Moses, you would have believed me; for he wrote of me.
 But if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe my words?
American King James Version×).
Christ later explained, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me" (Luke 24:44 Luke 24:44And he said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
American King James Version×). He was referring to the three main sections of the Old Testament. The Law of Moses is the first section, the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch or Torah.
The New Bible Dictionary explains, "For centuries both Judaism and Christianity accepted without question the biblical tradition that Moses wrote the Pentateuch" (1982, p. 904). In recent centuries, however, critics have questioned Moses' authorship and developed complicated theories about the works of multiple authors being meshed together centuries later.
Yet writing existed long before Moses. Indeed, it appears likely that earlier documents or oral traditions were compiled by Moses in producing Genesis. Several sections begin with "the generations of...," each serving to advance the narrative (see Genesis 2:4 Genesis 2:4These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
American King James Version×; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2 King James Version). These may well have been ancestral records passed down, which Moses would have put together with editing under God's inspiration.
The Bible does not specifically mention individuals creating written records before Moses, though archaeological discoveries confirm that several writing systems existed in the Middle East well before Moses' time that would have made it possible. However, it is not necessary that Moses had such records at his disposal. Those who believe in God's inspiration understand that God could well have revealed everything necessary to him had He wanted to.
For more on this, refer to the introduction to the book of Genesis in The Good News Bible Commentary.
2. Many accounts in the first 11 chapters of Genesis are similar to the mythical narratives of ancient Mesopotamia, and some of these were written down well before Moses' writing of Genesis. Did the Bible borrow from these other accounts?
It's important to note that just because one account of a distant historical event was written before another, it does not necessarily follow that the second account was taken from the first. Nations had histories that were transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation until they were finally put down in writing in different periods. How accurately historical events were transmitted in different cultures is the question.
The creation and Flood stories of the Babylonians and the Assyrians, for instance, do have many similarities with the biblical account but are laced with absurd myths. The Bible, on the other hand, presents the events in a strictly historical manner, leaving out the outlandish embellishments found in the accounts of other nations.
Halley's Bible Handbook explains:"Epics of Creation, in various forms, on tablets which were in circulation before the time of Abraham, have been found in recent years in the ruins of Babylon, Nineveh, Nippur and Ashur, which are strikingly similar to the 'Creation Hymn' of Genesis...These Babylonian and Assyrian Creation stories are all grossly Polytheistic. But with so many points of similarity to the Genesis account, it would seem that they must have had a common origin. Are not these corrupted traditions a testimony to the fact of a divine original?
"The Bible represents the human race as starting with a belief in One God, and that Polytheistic Idolatry was a later development. This is directly contrary to the present day theory...[of] a gradual development upward from Animism. The Bible view has received recent confirmation from Archaeology. Dr. Stephen Langdon, of Oxford University, has found that the earliest Babylonian inscriptions suggest that man's first religion was a belief in One God, and from that there was a rapid decline into Polytheism and Idolatry" (1965, p. 62).
Experts attest that the Bible gives the most accurate and factual account, while other accounts have been distorted through legend and myth.
As the respected biblical scholar Dr. Gleason Archer notes about the Flood account: "Some comparative religionists have suggested that the Babylonian myth was earlier than the Hebrew, and that the compilers of Genesis 7 and 8 borrowed from it. But this is rendered most unlikely in view of the significant contrast between the two. Thus, the ark built by Utnapishtim [in the Babylonian account] was completely cubic, equipped with six decks for all the animals to be quartered in. A more impractical and unseaworthy craft could hardly be imagined. But Noah's ark was three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide, and thirty cubits deep—an ideal set of measurements for an ocean liner...
"Moreover, the stark contrast between the quarrelsome and greedy gods of the Babylonian pantheon and the majestic holiness of [the God of the Bible], the absolute Sovereign over the universe, furnishes the strongest basis for classifying the Gilgamesh account as a garbled, polytheistic derivative from the same original episode as that contained in Genesis 7-8. The Hebrew account is couched in terms of sober history and accurate recording that reflect a source derived from the persons who were actually involved in this adventure. The Gilgamesh Epic is far more mythical and vague" (New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, p. 84).
We see, then, that it was not the biblical writer who did the borrowing from the Babylonian or the Assyrian sources of the creation and the Flood. The biblical account faithfully recorded the events from the beginning of mankind's history, while other nations—with their different languages, cultures and corrupted religions blended their myths and legends into what had actually transpired. VT