The Single Authorship of Genesis

by Stephen Caesar

The Single Authorship of Genesis

A major challenge to the Book of Genesis is the Documentary Hypothesis, which postulates that the first two chapters of Genesis are contradictory creation accounts written by two different authors, stitched together by a later editor. The theory centers on the use of the terms Elohim in Gen. 1 and YHWH (Jehovah) in Gen. 2 to refer to the Creator. Critics claim that one author, the "Elohist," used Elohim, while another author, the "Yahwist," used YHWH.

However, as Cyrus Gordon of Brandeis University pointed out in his comparison of Canaanite literature and the Bible, dual names for the same deity do not indicate dual authorship. For example, the Canaanite king of the gods, El, is frequenty referred to as Thor-El (Gordon 1966: 42). The god Shnm appears in ritual texts fused with Tkmn in the combination-name Tkmn-w-Shnm (Gordon 1966: 42). Other Canaanite deities exhibit this sort of combination-name, such as Kothar-and-Hasis, Baal-Hadad, and Aliyan-Baal. Prof. Gordon commented:

"Double names of deities are exceedingly common in the ancient Near East, e.g., Yahweh-Elohim in the Bible [Gen. 2:4], and Amon-Re in Egypt. The notion that Yahweh-Elohim results from fusing two documents (a ‘J' document with Jehovah/Yahweh, and an ‘E' document with Elohim) completely misses the mark" (1966: 58, n. 23).

Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool observed a parallel situation in an Egyptian hymn, in which Osiris is named explicitly but is also referred to by the simple term "god." For Prof. Kitchen, the generic Egyptian word nuter ("god") is directly analagous to the term Elohim in the Bible, whereas Osiris - the personal name of that deity - is the equivalent of YHWH (1966: 121). (Throughout the Bible, the term "Elohim" or "elohim" is the generic term for "God" or "a god," while YHWH/Jehovah is, of course, God's personal name.)

Mesopotamian texts refer to single gods by multiple names as well. Enlil is also called Nunamnir in the prologue to the Lipit-Ishtar Law Code, while Inanna is also named Ishtar and Telitum in the prologue to the Code of Hammurabi (Kitchen 1966: 121). In the Babylonian creation epic, Tiamat is also called Mother Khubur and Marduk is also named Bel (Kitchen 1966: 122, n. 31). In the Akkadian flood story, the mother-goddess is referred to as both Nintu and Mami, but she is only one entity, while in the Akkadian creation epic the creator-god Ea is also named Nudimmud (Kikawada & Quinn 1985: 91).

Single deities with combination-names are often listed in ancient Near Eastern texts with the two components of their name on two separate lines of poetry, as in the following verses from Canaanite mythology:

"He spies the going of Kothar

He spies the course of Hasis….

For the soul of Kothar-and-Hasis

For the appetite of the Skilled of Handicraft!" (Gordon 1966: 125)

A study of Near Eastern literature that is contemporary with the Old Testament, then, shows that the foundational assumption of the Documentary Hypothesis is not valid. Excessively speculative theories have had to give way to hard facts that can be verified by archaeology. Our increased knowledge of ancient religious literature shows that two names for a deity do not indicate two authors.

Stephen Caesar has just completed his master's thesis in anthropology/archaeology at Harvard. He is the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science, available at


Gordon, C. H. (1966). Ugarit and Minoan Crete. New York: W. W. Norton.

Kikawada, I. M., and A. Quinn. (1985). Before Abraham Was. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Kitchen, K. A. (1966). Ancient Orient and Old Testament. London: The Tyndale Press.