The Study Of Genesis 1-11 -- By: T. C. Mitchell

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 03:1 (Summer 1957)
Article: The Study Of Genesis 1-11
Author: T. C. Mitchell


The Study Of Genesis 1-11

T. C. Mitchell

The first eleven chapters of Genesis, down to the first part of verse 27 in chapter xi, form the section which can be conveniently distinguished from what follows. In chapter xi verse 26 Abram is introduced, and here begins the story of the patriarchs.

The excavation, between the wars, of such sites as Mari (1933-39), Alalakh (1936-39), and Nuzi (1925-31), has thrown considerable light on the time of Abraham and the patriarchs, and the post-war excavations are constantly adding to the picture. Cuneiform tablets from Mari and Alalakh, dating from the eighteenth century B.C., give a picture of the situation in the area stretching from Mesopotamia to the Syrian coast which agrees well with the patriarchal narratives, and tablets of the fifteenth century from Nuzi illuminate many of the local customs of the period. The time of Abraham is therefore now seen to fall within the first half of the second millennium B.C., though opinions vary as to any more precise dating. (This material is well surveyed in R. de Vaux, Revue Biblique, liii (1946) 321-48, lv (1948) 321-47, lvi (1949) 5-36; and H. H. Rowley, Bulletin of the Johln Rylands Library, xxxii (l949) 44-79. De Vaux would place Abraham provisionally in the nineteenth century, but Rowley favours the sixteenth.)

For the first eleven chapters a different picture prevails. The people and events seem more remote, and archaeology has in the nature of the case yielded less which can have a definite bearing.

The main features of these early chapters have been the subject of much speculation. The Garden of Eden is placed in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, and Adam, if he is not a mythical character, is associated with the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia. The flood of Noah is taken as the folk memory of a serious inundation in Mesopotamia. The Tower of Babel is equated with E-TEMEN-AN-KI, the ziqqurat, or temple tower of Babylon. These are some of the most commonly held views, but many others have been put forward from time to time, and the majority centre on the area of Mesopotamia.

Great progress has been made in the field of prehistoric and early-historic archaeology in the last fifty years, and it is now a matter of common acceptance among prehistorians that the flint tools, found in large numbers from Pleistocene deposits, are the work of ‘man’. If the great antiquity of ‘man’ implicit in this view is accepted, it is clearly in conflict with one which would place the first man of the Bible account in Mesopotamia at the beginnin...

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