What is the tablet theory of Genesis authorship, and is it biblical?Question: "What is the tablet theory of Genesis authorship, and is it biblical?"
Answer: The “tablet theory” of Genesis authorship is also known as the “Wiseman hypothesis,” after the theory’s originator, British scholar Percy Wiseman, who published the idea in his 1936 book New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis. The tablet theory claims that various sections of Genesis, though compiled by Moses, were originally written on clay tablets by the patriarchs of Genesis such as Adam, Noah, Shem, Isaac, and Jacob. There is also speculation that these ancient tablets were passed down through the generations before the flood, protected on the ark by Noah, and eventually came into the hands of Moses.
The tablet theory is considered a conservative alternative to the JEDP theory. According to the JEDP theory, there are four different authors of the Pentateuch, countering the New Testament’s insistence that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (Mark 12:26; John 5:45–47; Romans 10:5). The tablet theory retains the Mosaic authorship of Genesis, although the tablet theory also sees Moses as a compiler of certain documents that he used as reference material.
According to the tablet theory, the various tablets used by Moses are identified within Genesis by the words these are the generations of. Using this criterion, the following sections of Genesis become apparent:
1) The generations of heaven and earth (Genesis 2:4).
2) The generations of Adam (Genesis 5:1).
3) The generations of Noah (Genesis 6:9).
4) The generations of Noah’s sons (Genesis 10:1).
5) The generations of Shem (Genesis 11:10).
6) The generations of Terah (Genesis 11:27).
7) The generations of Ishmael (Genesis 25:12).
8) The generations of Isaac (Genesis 25:19).
9) The generations of Esau (Genesis 36:1, 9).
10) The generations of Jacob (Genesis 37:2).
According to the tablet theory, Adam recorded the second tablet (and possibly the first), Isaac recorded the eighth tablet (and possibly the seventh), etc. These tablets were then preserved through the centuries and eventually used by Moses as historical, eyewitness documents that he incorporated into the book of Genesis. There was no need to rely on “oral tradition.”
One problem with the tablet theory is an argument from silence. The Bible does not claim such tablets existed, nor has any archaeological evidence been found to support this view. Another problem is simply that the tablet theory is not necessary. The Holy Spirit, guiding Moses’ writing, could just as easily have used oral teaching traditions as clay tablets handed down from the patriarchs.
The words of 2 Peter 1:21 stand as a testament to the fact that all Scripture was written by humans under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Whether Moses used ancient clay tablets as a resource, or whether God revealed the material directly to Moses, God’s Word was accurately recorded and preserved. The inspiration of Scripture explains the enduring nature and life-changing power of the Bible.
Recommended Resources: Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by Benjamin Warfield
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What is the tablet theory of Genesis authorship, and is it biblical?