Sometimes you just do not realize how much working in the field of archaeology will influence how you interpret the Bible. Even the smallest of finds have the potential to lead you on a path of viewing and understanding anew some facet of the Bible in a way you never thought possible. Let me explain. Back in the spring of 2015, Bible and Spade published a short article I wrote on the 2014 discovery of a bronze ram’s head.1 This short article spawned a more detailed article published in the Near Eastern Archaeological Society Bulletin in December 2016.2 The findings of these two articles on the Khirbet el-Maqatir ram’s head appeared in a condensed form in a Bible and Spade article in 2017.3 While this discovery had archaeological and historical import, there is something just as exegetically important that I discovered based upon my published work on the KeM ram’s head—namely, how I have come to understand and interpret portions of Genesis 2.
Toward the end of the 19th century, a German scholar by the name of Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) proposed a source-critical theory in which he argued that the Pentateuch was developed from four sources, which he labeled JEDP. This acronym represented the four hypothetical sources: J = the Jahweh/Yahwist source written in the tenth century BC from a southern/Judah perspective; E = the Elohist source (representing the more generic Hebrew term for God, Elohim), written in the ninth century BC from a Northern Kingdom / Israel perspective; D = Deuteronomy, supposedly written by a later author and discovered in the seventh century (ca. 621 BC) during the reign of Josiah (see 2 Kgs 22–23);4 and finally P = a Priestly source written in the late sixth century BC or later.
According to this theory, the opening chapters of Genesis were written by two different authors. Genesis 1:1–2:4a was determined, for a variety of reasons, to have been written by the putative “Priestly” source. These reasons included the author’s presentation of the transcendence of God, his use of the more generic name for God (i.e., Elohim), and his theological presentation of the omnipotence of God to create by merely speaking things into existence.5 Conversely, Genesis 2:4b–25 was assigned to the so-called “J” source because of the author’s presentation of the relational/covenantal nature of God; his use of the covenantal name of God—that is, Yahweh; and the way the author presented the immanence of Yahweh-Elohim’s acts.6 For example, God fashions Adam out of the dirt, something that is unstated in Genesis 1:27.
It was the author’s unique presentation of Genesis 2 that my work on the KeM ram’s head helped me to see in a new light. While I am in no way attempting to debunk the JEDP theory of Wellhausen in this short study, I would like to challenge it on at least two levels: (1) the dating assigned to Genesis 2 (i.e., the tenth century BC), and (2) the influence behind Yahweh’s creation of Adam from the dirt of the ground.
Part of the point of interest in the two creation accounts is the author’s choice of creation language. In Genesis 1:1–2:4, bara’ (1:1, 1:21, 1:27, 2:3, 2:4) and ‘asah (1:7, 1:16, 1:25, 1:26, 1:31; 2:2, 2:3, 2:4) are the dominant terms used for creation. The first is used of God’s creation out of nothing (ex nihilo) and the latter tends to be used more generally to describe the act of fashioning something out of preexisting matter. On the other hand, while ‘asah appears once in 2:18, in Genesis 2:5–25 the term used for the creation of Adam is yatsar (to fashion as a potter). And when God creates Eve, the term used is banah (“to build”; 2:22). It is the term yatsar that is of interest here. The verbal root ytsr is also the same root used in a participial form to denote a potter (yōtsēr; cf. 1 Chr 4:23; Is 29:16, 41:25, 45:9; Jer 18:2, 18:3, 18:4, 18:6; Lam 4:2; Zec 11:13).
The question that needs to be answered is why the author of Genesis 2 chose to make the verbal change between the two creation accounts. Of course, those who embrace source-critical theory point to the change as a result of alternating sources. But is this the only possible response? Based upon my archaeological work, I feel that the change in creation language has to do with a subtle polemic against both the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian creation concepts found in Genesis 1 and 2.
Today, scholars recognize the polemical nature of Genesis 1 in relation to the cosmogonies7 of Mesopotamia. For example, Babylonian creation texts include, among others, the Enuma Elish, the Gilgamesh Epic, and the Atrahasis Epic, and Sumerian creation texts include Enki and Ninmah, Eridu Genesis, and The Song of the Hoe (just to name a few). The Enuma Elish is a particularly popular parallel to Genesis 1 due to Marduk’s splitting of Tiamat’s body for the purpose of making the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2 (along with chapters 3–11) is often paralleled with the Atrahasis Epic.8 The arguments for the parallels between these texts are thought-provoking but do not necessarily prove a one-to-one borrowing, let alone the oft-proposed Babylonian exilic setting for the authorship of Genesis. On the contrary, the differences between these texts and Genesis 1–11 are substantial. If anything, what we see in Genesis 1 is a polemic against these ancient creation concepts and parallels. Therefore, it seems just as logical to argue that the author of Genesis 1 was making these polemical statements based upon a similar ancient Near Eastern milieu. Indeed, if Moses wanted the children of Israel to be prepared apologetically to withstand the mythology of ancient Canaan and the many influences on that culture, including Mesopotamian (see Gn 11, 14; Jgs 3:8–11, etc.), then writing Genesis in a polemical nature makes perfect sense.
Nevertheless, despite the obvious polemical nature of Genesis 1, Genesis 2 seems to be polemical against a different worldview than that of Mesopotamia, or should I say, only Mesopotamia. This is where my archaeological work comes to the forefront of my biblical interpretation. In my earlier articles I argued for connections between the KeM ram’s head and the Egyptian ram god Khnum, a deity that shared characteristics with the god Amun, the central deity of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt (ca. 1550–1295 BC).
From as early as the Third Dynasty, Khnum was worshipped as the keeper of the Nile and as a creator deity. In the Fourth Dynasty, the builder of the great pyramid, Khufu, took on the name Khnum-Khufu (ca. 2650–2600 BC).9 While Khnum’s influence boasts a long history in Egypt, it was during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom that Khnum took on a key role as creator deity and as a god directly connected to the creation of the pharaoh. For example, at the mortuary temple for Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahari, Khnum is shown in a number of carved scenes actually molding Hatshepsut on his potter’s wheel.10 A similar depiction of Khnum appears at Karnak and Medinet Habu and on a relief at Luxor dating to the reign of Amenhotep III.11
The fashioning of the pharaoh, the son of Re, on a potter’s wheel has a striking parallel to God forming Adam, the “son of God,” from the dust of the ground with an act described in potter language. Both Adam and the pharaoh had the mandate to rule over God’s/Re’s creation and were understood to be eternal. Adam was supposed to live forever by eating of the Tree of Life (Gn 3:22), and the pharaoh lived on after death in the realm of the gods. Now, I am not trying to equate God with Re, but I do find the parallel telling for the author’s rhetorical intentions in how Genesis 2 is written.
Beyond the basic creative/fashioning role of Khnum as the divine potter, a number of texts also inform us about the other creative acts of Khnum. For example, in the Great Hymn to Khnum it is the god Khnum-Re “Who joins in secret, Who builds soundly”12 (italics mine). The fact that Khnum is said to “build soundly” provides a striking parallel to Yahweh’s building of Eve from the rib of Adam. What is more, Khnum is also said to give his creation (birds, etc.) breath in their mouth, another parallel to Yahweh, who gives the breath of life to Adam (Gn 2:7). Even though the Great Hymn to Khnum is from the Greco-Roman period, found at the temple of Esna, the concepts of Khnum as fashioner and builder of humans predates this text by millennia.
The centrality of Khnum to the Egyptian concept of creation, especially the creation of the pharaoh, is important to our understanding of the date and context behind Genesis 2 for a number of reasons. First, as noted above, Khnum was a central deity of the 18th Dynasty and even was subsumed in many ways under the god Amun.13 Of course, Amun was the deity that a number of the 18th-Dynasty pharaohs actually adopted as part of their names (i.e., Amenhotep I–IV). Second, based upon an early date, if Amenhotep II (ca. 1455–1418 BC) is in fact the pharaoh of the Exodus,14 then depictions and cultic concepts associated with this pharaoh and his family would have been particularly repugnant to Moses and the Israelites, something that would have fostered a polemic. Third, the depiction of Hatshepsut being created by Khnum on his potter’s wheel is of special interest especially if Hatshepsut is the adoptive mother of Moses. Eugene Merrill has presented solid evidence that this is in fact the case.15
As the daughter of Thutmosis I, Hatshepsut exhibited strong leadership tendencies that came to fruition when she served as coregent with her young stepson Thutmosis III. Even though the temple of Hatshepsut was a mortuary temple, there can be little doubt that Moses grew up seeing the depiction of Khnum creating on his potter’s wheel. After all, most mortuary temples dedicated to a pharaoh were completed long before the leader died. This would have been a powerful image for Moses, who, I am sure, was struggling with his identity as a Hebrew in an Egyptian context (Ex 2:11–15). In light of the strong connections of Khnum to the 18th Dynasty, it seems fitting that Moses could have written his detailed creation account of Adam, the “king” of Eden, in Genesis 2 as a polemic against Khnum and Egyptian creation ideology.16
The central implication of these parallels is that they force one to situate the historical setting for the Exodus in the 18th Dynasty as opposed to the 19th Dynasty during the reign of Ramses II. Now, to be sure, one could argue that Khnum’s long-lived portrayal as a creator deity would make either historical setting an option for the use of such a polemic as what is seen in Genesis 2. While this is indeed true—to a degree—what pushes one in the direction of an early Exodus, apart from the clear textual evidence (see Ex 12:40–41; Jgs 11:26; 1 Kgs 6:1), is in fact the personal connections that Moses would have had with the temples and historical milieu of Hatshepsut’s era and immediately afterward. Personally, I find these connections one more reason to take the biblical text seriously and to continue working in the field of archaeology despite the often harsh reactions of the critics.
For me, I find research and work in the field of archaeology not only fascinating, but also liberating. I now can teach and write with an understanding that is rooted in solid archaeological facts, which I have in some cases personally been involved in finding and publishing. Indeed, archaeology has opened a whole new world of research and has informed my teaching in ways I never thought possible. Now, when I teach the Pentateuch to my undergraduates, I have insight into the authorship of and influence on Genesis that has only been made possible by my fieldwork in archaeology. It is these types of insights that keep me engaged with the archaeological team of ABR.
1 Brian Neil Peterson, “Destroy All Their Idols: A Ram’s Head from Joshua’s Ai,” Bible and Spade 28, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 51–53.
2 See Brian Neil Peterson, “The Khirbet El-Maqatir Ram’s Head: Evidence of the Israelite Destruction of Ai?,” Near Eastern Archaeological Society Bulletin 61 (2016): 39–53.
3 Brian Neil Peterson, “The Ram’s Head,” Bible and Spade 30, no. 4 (Fall 2017): 109–112.
4 For a refutation of this, see Eugene Merrill, “Deuteronomy and de Wette: A Fresh Look at a Fallacious Premise,” Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 1, no. 1 (2012): 25–42, or Brian Neil Peterson, The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History: Locating a Tradition in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 61–74.
5 See Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel, repr. (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004).
6 For a more detailed and technical discussion on the differences between Genesis 1 and 2, see Brian Neil Peterson, “Egyptian Influence on the Creation Language in Genesis 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 174, no. 695 (July–September 2017): 283–301.
7 A cosmogony is a perspective on the origins of the universe.
8 See, for example, the work of Isaac M. Kikawada and Arthur Quinn, Before Abraham Was (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985).
9 See James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, third edition with supplement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 227.
10 Siegfried Morenz, Egyptian Religion, trans. Ann E. Keep, from German (Stuttgart: Kolhammer, 1960; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 184. Citations refer to the Cornell edition. See also Robert A. Armour, Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1989), 142.
11 Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, trans. Timothy J. Hallett, from German (Zürich: Benziger; Neukirchen: Neukirchener, 1972; New York: Seabury, 1978), 247–56. Citations refer to the Seabury edition.
12 Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature 3: The Late Period (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 112.
13 Lichtheim, 3:109; Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (Spain: Abrams, 1995), 31; Gary J. Shaw, The Egyptian Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends (London: Thames & Hudson, 2014), 22; W. M. Müller, Egyptian Mythology (London: Harrap, 1910), 164; Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 154.
14 Douglas Petrovich, “Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh,” Master’s Seminary Journal 17, no. 1 (2006): 81–110.
15 Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 76–77.
16 On the kingship of Adam, see the work of Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Oakland Park, KS: Two Age, 2000), 42–45.
Armour, Robert A. 1989. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
Keel, Othmar. 1978. The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms. Trans. Timothy J. Hallett, from German. New York: Seabury. First published 1972 by Benziger (Zürich); Neukirchener (Neukirchen).
Kikawada, Isaac M., and Quinn, Arthur. 1985. Before Abraham Was. Nashville: Abingdon.
Kline, Meredith G. 2000. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Oakland Park, KS: Two Age.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 2006. Ancient Egyptian Literature 3: The Late Period. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Merrill, Eugene. 2008. Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker.
———. 2012. Deuteronomy and de Wette: A Fresh Look at a Fallacious Premise. Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 1, no. 1: 25–42.
Morenz, Siegfried. 1992. Egyptian Religion. Trans. Ann E. Keep, from German. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. First published 1960 by Kohlhammer (Stuttgart).
Müller, W. M. 1910. Egyptian Mythology. London: Harrap.
Peterson, Brian Neil. 2015a. The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History: Locating a Tradition in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis: Fortress.
———. 2015b. Destroy All Their Idols: A Ram’s Head from Joshua’s Ai. Bible and Spade 28, no. 2 (Spring): 51–53.
———. 2016. The Khirbet El-Maqatir Ram’s Head: Evidence of the Israelite Destruction of Ai? Near Eastern Archaeological Society Bulletin 61: 39–53.
———. 2017a. Egyptian Influence on the Creation Language in Genesis 2. Bibliotheca Sacra 174, no. 695 (July–September): 283–301.
———. 2017b. The Ram’s Head. Bible and Spade 30, no. 4 (Fall): 109–112.
Petrovich, Douglas. 2006. Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh. Master’s Seminary Journal 17, no. 1: 81–110.
Pinch, Geraldine. 2002. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pritchard, James B., ed. 1969. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third edition with supplement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Shaw, Gary J. 2014. The Egyptian Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends. London: Thames & Hudson.
Shaw, Ian, and Nicholson, Paul. 1995. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. Spain: Abrams.
Wellhausen, Julius. 2004. Prolegomena to the History of Israel. Reprint. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing.