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Isaac and Ishmael’s Genesis Toledoth, and Ishmael Among the Believers

September 27, 2013 1 comment

Reading again through Genesis in my daily readings, I’ve been more attentive to the toledoth statements (“these are the generations of”), from my recent reading through Henry Morris’ Biblical Creationism and P.J. Wiseman’s book on Genesis and Archeology.  After Genesis 11, the lengthy section on Abraham’s life ends with “the generations of Ishmael” (Genesis 25:12) followed by “these are the generations of Isaac” in verse 19.

Per the tablet understanding of the Genesis book, then, Ishmael was involved in the writing of this portion of the early history.  This chapter tells us that they were together at the time of Abraham’s death.

From Institute for Creation Research, the following “study note” on this point:

Genesis 25:12-16 seem to represent the toledoth of Ishmael, quite possibly a record kept by Ishmael which he gave to Isaac at the time of their reunion at Abraham’s funeral. At this time, Ishmael would have been ninety years old, with his twelve sons each now established in small “nations” of their own, as “princes” of those tribes. After Ishmael’s death, Isaac then added his own comments concerning them (Genesis 25:17-18), before terminating his own toledoth with his signature at Genesis 25:19. Ishmael died fifty-eight years before Isaac died; and, like Abraham, was “gathered into his people” (Genesis 25:17), indicating that he died in faith. Ishmael’s “nations,” though not all clearly identified historically, undoubtedly dwelt mainly in northern Arabia.

P.J. Wiseman’s New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis also notes the tablet authorship of this section of Genesis and how the events (Genesis 12 up to Genesis 25) matches the lifetimes of Ishmael and Isaac:

The series of Tablets 7 and 8 (11.27 to 25.19) were written by the two brothers Ishmael and Isaac.

The latest chronological statement (Gen 25.1 to 4) refers to the birth of Abraham’s great-grandsons, and of their growth into clans. Ishmael died forty-eight years and Isaac one hundred and five years after Abraham.

As Abraham would seem to have married Keturah soon after Sarah’s death—which occurred thirty-eight years before Abraham died—this period of thirty-eight years added to the remaining one hundred and five years of Isaac’s life, is a most reasonable period to assign for the birth of Abraham’s great-grandsons by Keturah.

This indicates that the history recorded in these tablets ceases just before the death of Isaac, whose name is given as the last writer, for Isaac survived Ishmael by fifty-seven years and records his death.

As I read the toledoth statements in Genesis 25 I also recalled S. Lewis Johnson’s observations during his Genesis series.  Dr. Johnson’s Pentateuch series (Genesis and From Egypt to Canaan) took the earlier view that Moses wrote all of Genesis himself (rather than compiling much of it from the previous tablet sources), and he may not have been aware of the tablet theory and the archeological and internal text evidences.  (The tablet compilation theory gives a much better explanation of the overall flow of Genesis, including especially the seeming contradiction in Exodus 6:3, for instance.) Yet in the description of Ishmael’s life, the statement that “he was gathered to his people,” SLJ considered the possibility that Ishmael was a believer – noting that we know Esau was quite another matter:

 And Isaac and Ishmael unite in the burying of Abraham.  Now Ishmael was excluded from the covenantal blessings, in the sense that he was rejected for Isaac so far as the seed was concerned; but he was given distinctive blessings.  It was said that Ishmael should have twelve princes and that he would become a great nation.  So God did bless him.  Furthermore, we shall read in a moment that Ishmael was gathered to his people as well; and it’s entirely possible in the light of the statement in verse 17,  “These are the years of the life of Ishmael 137 years and he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people,” that even though Ishmael was rejected as the one through whom the seed would come, but nevertheless he did have a definite faith in the Triune God and may well be numbered among those who are the saved.  It is different with Esau as the New Testament makes plain. …. Ishmael was something of a loner, but nevertheless his life ends with the statement “he was gathered to his people.”

Biblical Creationism: The Genesis Toledoth

July 23, 2013 3 comments

I’ve started reading Biblical Creationism (by Henry Morris), a good biblical commentary on all the scriptural references to the doctrine of creation: an extensive study going way beyond the obvious texts such as Genesis 1-2 and Psalm 104.  Read it free from the PDF online).

The very first chapter introduced an unfamiliar idea (to me), and thus prompted a little background study before continuing forward.  Having always heard that Moses authored the Pentateuch, the five books of the Bible, I never considered further details of how Genesis was written, but just assumed that the material was given directly to Moses by God.  Yet Morris refers to Adam writing a few chapters, and then Noah and so forth, with reference to the “book of the generations of Adam,” as meaning the previous chapters (not what follows immediately after Genesis 5:1).  The first endnote gives a little more explanation:

The archaeologist P.J. Wiseman was apparently the first to call attention to this “tablet theory” of the original writing of the records in Genesis that were eventually compiled and edited by Moses. A number of later Old Testament scholars (e.g., David L. Cooper, founder of the Biblical Research Society) have adopted it, and I consider it the only theory that fits all the facts. For a summary of the evidence for this theory, see my commentary, The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), p. 22–30.

This online article explained the matter: the meaning and usage of the Hebrew word translated “generations” (toledoth) and the tablet theory. (See also this article for further reference.)  These articles and Henry Morris reference the initial work done by archeologist P.J. Wiseman in the 1930s.  The Hebrew word toledoth (generations) is also considered a “colophon phrase,” something put in ancient documents AFTER the material it refers to:

Many Bible scholars have long considered the toledoth formula  “the book of the generations of” to be the introduction or heading to what followed. However, in more recent years they have come to realize that the toledoth is, in fact, a colophon phrase. That is, this phrase when used in Genesis is used “to point back to the origins of the family history.” According to Damien F. Mackey this was a common practice in Mesopotamia where “It was customary for the ancient scribes to add a colophon note at the end of the account, giving particulars of title, date, and the name of the writer or owner, together with other details relating to the contents of a tablet, manuscript or book.” …”in ancient documents the colophon with its important literary information was added in a very distinctive manner.”

Learning this, I immediately thought of another of these toledoth usages that had puzzled me, that suddenly makes a lot more sense:  the statement at the beginning of Genesis 37 (which begins the story of Joseph), verse 2: “These are the generations of Jacob” (ESV) or “These are the records of the generations of Jacob” (NASB).  Referring to the previous material, Jacob’s story, that statement makes a lot more sense than saying that Jacob is telling Joseph’s story.  The first chapter of Morris’ Biblical Creationism now makes much more sense, and I’m continuing on to further chapters in this creation commentary, already learning interesting things about biblical creation — from the human means of written records from early history.

Additional resources:

P.J. Wiseman – Free PDF book “New Discoveries In Babylonia About Genesis” (4th Edition, 1946)

Other article links:

The Tablet Theory of Genesis Authorship

Review of Wiseman’s “Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis”  (out of print; no e-book available)