Except the book of Genesis, I believe that it is possible to make some plausible possibilities on how the books of the Bible were written. Moses wrote about himself, Joshua recorded his conquest of Canaan, some priests or prophets recorded the stories of Gideon, Samson and Ruth. Samuel recorded the events in his lifetime, historians recorded the chronicles of the kings of Israel, prophets wrote down their visions and messages from God, the apostles recorded the life of Jesus, apostles wrote letters and John wrote down his visions.

Now, I can't make any hypothesis how Moses could write down the stories which were around 2000 years before him. The Creation story where no one was there to witness is the most astounding account. Genesis contains many complicated contents such as the years of the first men, thousands of names, complicated family trees, detail stories of people and such.

How have historians and theologians explained how Moses wrote the Book of Genesis?


8 Answers 8


Pretty clearly, there has to be a mixture of revelation and tradition in Genesis. There are several time periods written about in Genesis, and these should be examined individually:

  1. Creation

    Clearly the only observer to the Creation was the Creator. (Or no-one if you are disinclined to believe in a Creator, but from a Christian perspective, no one other than the Creator is even claimed to be present.) That said, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Creator spoke to Adam about his Creation process, and that an oral tradition would have developed around it.

    Seeing as we exist, and most people are going to ask 'How we came to be' at some point, it is very easy to assume that a narrative tradition would have been passed down at some point. Indeed, pretty much every culture has a narrative myth of some kind - the Egyptians, for example, thought the world was masturbated into existence - passed down from generation to generation.

    Thus the fact that there is a Creation story is not unique. That the world is created ex nihilo is, however, usually attributed uniquely to the Jews. That alone is a sufficiently startling claim to either be passed down or be something revealed. The startling dissimilarity to other local myths leads many scholars to assume something difference happened to the Jews - regardless of the scholar's status of belief. This culture either composed something unique or was given a special revelation. Which it is a clearly a matter of faith in either direction.

  2. Antedeluvian Period of Cain & Abel, Enoch, the Flood, and Babel

    One could ask how we "know" that William Wallace tried to liberate Scotland against the rule of Edward Longshanks. The paper records are scant, but the story is strong and compelling - much like the tales of Genesis 1 - 12. Indeed, many scholars see this as a special case within Bible, and so if any part of Scripture is going to be questioned for its historical value, it is this one.

    That said, it is not an impossibility that this faithfully records the witness of the period. Indeed, the "list of kings" in Genesis 5 bears a striking resemblence to the historical record of the Sumerian kings of antiquity, lending credence to the idea of traditional narrative being passed down. Christians obviously disagree over how to read Scripture as a whole but there is no compelling archeological or extrabiblical evidence in either direction.

    Indeed even "dialog" from these Pilgrim and Settler experiences is "documented", in much the same fashion as appears in these stories, showing that tradition can be documented in an "historical" fashion, even if not with the same precision as modern historians can do with modern history.

  3. The Abrahamic Narrative (Genesis 13 - 50)

    By the time of Abraham in Genesis, a qualitative difference appears in Genesis. While 2000 years of history is glossed over in scant detail in the first 12 chapters, the remainder of the book concentrates on just 4 generations of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The events here probably may take place around 1800 - 1700 BC, and begin to take a much more detailed perspective. Here, for example, we know the names of all the children and the wives. We learn about their rivalries and their rise to power.

    The situation, from Moses' perspective, would be much more akin to that of a modern American to say, the Pilgrims and Myles Standish, or the founding of Jamestown and Pocohantas. As part of the founding mythos of Moshe's culture, it is not all surprising that these events would be part of family history, passed down from generation to generation. And, if Moses lead his people out of Egypt in 1440BC, it would be surprising the history - especially in an oral culture - had not been passed down. Here, no revelation would have been necessary, as it would have been as common knowledge as say, George Washington "chopping down a cherry tree".

Thus, in sum, Moshe probably would have relied on a combination of passed on historical narrative and special revelation in order to write about the things that happened before him. But we do the same things today, so it isn't surprising in the least.


One hypothesis is that God instructed Moshe, not only what to write on the stone tablets, but also what to write on the scrolls, while Moshe communed with God during the 40 days on Mount Sinai.

  • That means, Moshe came down from mount Sinai with a scroll and two stone tablets?
    – Mawia
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 12:24
  • You're right. I don't recall that happening. Alternatively, he came down with the tablets and later wrote the scroll as time went by (whenever God instructed him to write words "in a book").
    – user900
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 16:21

How have historians and theologians explained how Moses wrote the Book of Genesis?

Historians do not explain how Moses wrote the Book of Genesis, simply because the consensus of historians is both that Genesis is not historically accurate and that Moses did not write this Book. Although theologians are not in total agreement as to how Moses wrote the Book of Genesis, they nevertheless agree that he did, with the most common explanations involving revelation.

The Associates for Biblical Research say many evangelicals solve the problem by assuming that Moses received the entire book by direct revelation. Perhaps while on Mt. Sinai, along with the law, Moses received it by something like dictation. Or, while spending 40 years in Midian, God may have had it revealed to him over some period of time. Another proposal put forward is that the material for Genesis might have come from Abraham, Jacob, Noah, and even Adam, as well as other men of God writing under the Spirit's inspiration. It can be seen that the Associates believe that the truth lies in one of these hypotheses, although they have no information to support their view.

Answers in Genesis rejects the Documentary Hypothesis as a fabrication of unbelievers, then postulates that, as a prophet of God, Moses wrote under divine inspiration, guaranteeing the complete accuracy and absolute authority of his writings.


How did Moses write the events which happened ~2000 years before him?

This is a great question, and one might have thought that we have nothing at all to go on, except guesswork. But actually we do have something to go on, and that is the existence of Hebrew words in early Genesis which are loan-words from other languages.

According to Robert D. Wilson, throughout most of the first five books of the Bible the predominant language from which words are loaned is Egyptian.

But there are no Egyptian loanwords in the chapters prior to the descent into Egypt. The loanwords in the first chapters are from Babylonian and Sumerian, suggesting that either Moses simply fully incorporated something already written into Genesis or he summarised something already written - and what he included was something which had been written by an (unknown) author who lived in southern Mesopotamia/modern southern Iraq.

Personally, I think the most likely means, even the only means, by which he could have received these writings was via the Hebrew community, and they received them via Abraham. (Even though Moses would have had access to the libraries of Egypt these would not have contained divine/prophetic literature, or even if they had contained prophetic literature it is still necessary to have a reliable witness to authenticate them. The authenticating witness to these writings in my opinion could only have been the Hebrew people. Furthermore, there must have been a godly line, akin to a prophetic line, all the way from the time the writings were first produced in Mesopotamia down to Moses. It was this godly line which passed from generation to generation the authentication needed for the inspired writings.

For more information on this look at "Foreign words in the Old Testament as an Evidence of Historicity" by Robert Dick Wilson,and scroll down to start reading from page 210.

(The English of) Hebrew words known to be of Babylonian origin are: Adam, Abel, Methusaleh, Amraphel, Chedorlaomer, Tidal, Abram, Sara, Babel, Ur, Erech, Haran, Havilah, Calah, Padan, Ninevah, Eden, Shinar, to cover with pitch, pitch, cherub, oven, to dwell, flood.

(The English of) Hebrew words known to be of Sumerian origin are: Arioch, Gihon, Pishon, Hiddekel, gopher-wood, cereal, canal.

The whole of this work by R.D. Wilson is worth studying but its not an easy read.

Foreign Words in the Old Testament as an Evidence of Historicity by Robert Dick Wilson:- https://biblicalreadercommmunications.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/foreign20words20in20the20ot20as20evidence20of20historicity20192820ptr2026-2.pdf

Another evidence of Mesopotamian Origin of early Genesis

In most countries today I guess that each 24 hour day begins and thus the date and the day-name changes at midnight (24:00 hours or 00:00 hours). The ancients obviously could not choose midnight as the time when the date changed: we would imagine the most obvious time of day for the change would be sunrise, when the first sliver of the sun disk becomes visible. And true enough, for the ancient Egyptians, before and during the time of Moses, a 24 hour day began and the day-name and date changed, at sunrise.

But in Genesis chapter 1 we find that a 24 hour day begins, not as might be expected at sunrise, but at sunset. So we read "and there was evening and morning, the first day" (Genesis 1:5, and 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31). For each 24 hour day the evening and the night came before the hours of daylight.

However, in all the cultures of Mesopotamia a 24 hour day began at sunset, just as with Genesis chapter 1.

This difference between Egypt and Mesopotamia is all based on the way they calculated the start of the lunar month. In Mesopotamia the lunar month began with the first appearance of the new crescent moon after it had disappeared for a few days at the time of New Moon. Each month, the first appearance of the new crescent moon started the first 24 hour day of each month, lunar day 1.

In all countries the world over the new crescent moon makes its first appearance in the evening. ((So in fact in ancient Mesopotamia the first day of the month the day ended and began not with sunset but with the first appearance of the new crescent moon, near to the time of sunset.)) This meant that each 24 hour day for the remainder of the month would necessarily start at sunset in the evening. I would suggest the Mesopotamian way is really an obvious way of identifying the start of a new month: but it does mean each 24 hour day would thereafter start in the evening.

The Egyptians chose a different way: I suppose you could say they chose to observe what ended the old lunar month (and thus only by extension what started the new month). They observed the disappearance the old crescent moon. Just before the time of New Moon the old crescent moon makes its last appearance of the month in the morning just before sunrise. The day after its last appearance, of course, it disappears. For the ancient Egyptians this disappearance marked the end of the old lunar month and thus the beginning of the new lunar month. And because the last crescent moon appears (everywhere in every country) in the morning sky (before/around sunrise) and the disappearance was noted in the morning sky, so the first lunar 24 hour period, lunar day 1, began in the morning (- which of course had the knock on effect that all the days of the month began in the morning).

If Moses had written Genesis 1:5 based on his own experience of the Egyptian culture in which he grew up he would have written "And there was morning and evening the first day".

Genesis 1:5, 8 etc are a further indication that early Genesis had its origin not from Moses' own experience of ancient Egyptian culture but from Mesopotamia.


Since we can only guess anyway, I will add another possibility.

Everything, or at least some things, after the tower of Babel could have already been recorded. Also, these recordings could have included pre-flood information.

Today writers often create a work of their own which is based on the work of many others, including those who came before them. I have seen no reason to believe that the writing of Genesis as we have it could have not been the same.

Moses could even have had the post-tower information as it was written by eye-witnesses. Perhaps Abraham wrote about the travels of his father and himself. Abraham and his descendents had lots of people with them; perhaps any one of them recorded the events.

Since languages were confused after the tower of Babel, it seems unlikely that anyone could read any writings that were left from pre-tower times. However, such writings very well could have also existed, and the linguistically-confused people after that event could have retained much of the knowledge and re-written it.

As for pre-flood information, it is possible that Noah could have preserved some writings which could have been included in the pre-tower collections, but because our knowledge of the events from Adam to Lamech is so limited, that could just as easily have been passed down orally as has already been mentioned by Affable Geek.

Another thing worth noting is that, if you take the bible literally, including creation and flood, the farther back you go in history the less degraded the human genome would be and the better off people would have been physically, and even if not physically superior they at least lived longer and therefore had an easier time accumulating knowledge and information. This could have made it easy to keep things recorded mentally and passed on orally.

This answer has been a bit of a speculation, but I don't think the question can be answered otherwise, as can be seen by the other two answers. Unfortunately, we can only guess.


Exodus 33:17-23

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.
22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

Moses had a face-to-face experience with the Lord, meaning he would get "caught up" or "raptured" into the throne room and get a vision of the past all the way back to creation (this is what it means when the Lord said "you will see my back" in verse 23). He was one with the Lord in a cleft in the rock (verse 22) meaning he took on the mindset or divine nature of Christ. Every high priest that entered into the Holy of Holies or most sacred place would be translated into an angel and get caught up into the throne room. He was not allowed to have ANY thoughts on his mind other than the Lord. He then would see a vision of past events and get a revelation that he would bring back to the people for the restoration of all things. When he came out, he was considered "Emmanuel" or "God with Us". This is how Moses was able to write all accounts of creation up until his time.

Reference: www.forerunnertv.com / Forerunner Ministries International


From the creation to Job, you have these overlapping lives:

Adam to Methuselah to Shem to Abraham to Isaac to Job. My best estimate for when the events in Job occurred is 1750 BC.

Job was regarded as possessing accurate knowledge of God. In Job 3 is a Decreation myth that shows detailed familiarity with the seven days of creation. Other literary references point to the flood. Ancient tradition is that Moses wrote down the book of Job, with possible assistance from Joshua, since some phrases in Job occur in Joshua and nowhere else.

Job’s friends speak of the wisdom they received from people much older than Job’s father (Job 15:10). That may mean the few remaining very old people like Shem with knowledge of the most ancient times.

Job either knew how to write or knew that writing was possible.

Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! (Job 19:23-24)

Thus since the minimum chain of people from the Creation to Job was six people, it is plausible that an accurate oral tradition could pass knowledge to Job going back to Adam.

If Job knew of writing, a written record may go back further, perhaps to Abraham, who also spent time in Egypt.


After studying The Book of Jasher, it is obvious to me, that Moses obtained his information from this book. The Book of Jasher is nearly an exact account of what Moses wrote in Genesis, except with more details. The author of the book of Jasher and the time period of which it was originally written is a mystery, but it is validated as authoritative in several references in the Bible: II Samuel 1:18, Joshua 9, and Joshua 10:13.

However, however, Moses' version leaves out important details that helps us understand certain passages that have been confusing for a long time. Check out: http://triumphpro.com/jasher.pdf

  • 3
    The "Book of Jasher" you read is not the same one referenced in the OT and is only a few centuries old at most.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 14:28
  • I agree that there have been many fraudelent versions. My understanding is that the 'Book of Jasher' you are referring to, that was translated from the Septuagint into English, IS only a few centuries old, and the original is still considered a missing ancient text. However, there are many Bible scholars/teachers who also believe book this book (in Hebrews means "Book of the Just Man"), which could be Enoch, and that it was part of the original Scriptures taught by the Hebrews since before the flood, which is where Moses learned this. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 21:03
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 23:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .