What is the Tablet Theory of Genesis?

Question
What is the tablet theory of Genesis? Who is Percy Wiseman?
Answer

The tablet theory of Genesis is also known as the Wiseman hypothesis, named after its originator Percy J. Wiseman (1888-1948). Wiseman was a British scholar who wrote New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis [London: Marsh, Morgan and Scott, 1936]) concerning the authorship of the first book of the Bible. It is an "argument from silence," which is an unproven, unwarranted, logical fallacy. He asserted that, although complied by Moses, particular sections of Genesis were originally written upon clay tablets by the likes of Adam, Noah, Shem, Isaac and Jacob, and were preserved by Noah in the Flood and were later passed on to Moses. This is allegedly part and parcel of how Moses recorded the history of the past.

According to this kind of argument that treats the absence of evidence (silence) as evidence itself, the tablet theory asserts that the various tablets used by Moses are identified within the book of Genesis by the "these-are-the-generations-of" phrases (Hebrew, elleh tolədot):

(1) These are the generations of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4)
(2) This is the book of the generations of Adam (Gen. 5:1)
(3) These are the generations of Noah (Gen. 6:9)
(4) These are the generations of the sons of Noah (Gen. 10:1)
(5) These are the generations of Shem (Gen. 11:10)
(6) Now these are the generations of Terah (Gen. 11:27)
(7) These are the generations of Ishmael (Gen. 25:12)
(8) These are the generations of Isaac (Gen. 25:19)
(9) These are the generations of Esau (Gen. 36:1, 9)
(10) These are the generations of Jacob (Gen. 37:2)

The Tablet Theory is considered an alternative to the JEDP Theory (see, "What is JEDP?" below). But the tablet theory has numerous problems and unanswered questions: How was Moses able to read and interpret such early language written upon clay tablets? Are we to believe that Ishmael was responsible for preserving the history of Abraham for Isaac? And given the manifest rivalry and jealousy and lack of contact between Esau and Jacob, are we to assume they memorialized each other's generations in clay tablets? (1 Tim. 1:4).

The tablet theory is at best simply just that - a theory, a hypothesis, or a guess. At worst it is an ungodly myth (1 Tim. 4:1, 7; 2 Tim. 2:23; 4:3-4; Tit. 1:14; 3:9; 2 Pet. 1:16). It is nowhere confirmed in Scripture that such a group of clay tablets ever existed. There is no archaeological evidence that these tablets were ever created. And more importantly, it denies what Peter wrote: "[K]nowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:20-21). All Scripture is from God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The autographs [1] are inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative and clear in what they teach. We don't need cleverly disguised myths, theories, or hypothesis's. We simply need the proper interpretation and faith in God's holy text.

Reference

[1] The truths of the original Greek and Hebrew texts (autographs) of the Bible have remained the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). Why? Because it is God's Word. It is true and accurate and will withstand the test of time.

Related Topics

What is JEDP?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).