John Van Seters, «Dating the Yahwist’s History: Principles and Perspectives.», Vol. 96 (2015) 1-25
In order to date the Yahwist, understood as the history of Israelite origins in Genesis to Numbers, comparison is made between J and the treatment of the patriarchs and the exodus-wilderness traditions in the pre-exilic prophets and Ezekiel, all of which prove to be earlier than J. By contrast, Second Isaiah reveals a close verbal association with J’s treatments of creation, the Abraham story and the exodus from Egypt. This suggests that they were contemporaries in Babylon in the late exilic period, which is confirmed by clear allusions in both authors to Babylonian sources dealing with the time of Nabonidus.
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DATING THE YAHWIST’S HISTORY: PRINCIPLES AND PERSPECTIVES 15
gamesh Epic that would be familiar to the Babylonians in the 6th
century. Now it seems clear that J has combined this flood story
with a quite different western tradition about the creation of the
world and the earliest human ancestors. This is quite similar to the
way in which a late version of the Gilgamesh Epic has incorporated
the flood story into the larger narrative. It was the skilful writing
of the author of the late version of the Gilgamesh Epic who was
able to combine quite diverse literary traditions to enhance his own
version of the story 21. Likewise, the originally independent Meso-
potamian flood story was also combined with the chronological
history of kingship such that there was a line of kings from before
the flood, and the restoration of kingship and its succession after
the flood 22.
2. The Genealogies and the Tower of Babel
The Yahwist, as an ancient author of Israelite antiquity, fre-
quently did the same thing. Thus, in his genealogy of the ancestral
Table of Nations, he digresses from his genealogical succession to
include an account of the building of the Tower of Babel as an ex-
planation for how it was that all of these descendants of the ances-
tors were dispersed into different regions and peoples with so many
different languages. The story of the building of the tower is obvi-
ously intended as a parody on the construction of the great ziggurat
of Babylon whose temple at the pinnacle was intended as the meet-
ing place of heaven and earth 23. This massive structure, begun by
Esarhaddon and finally completed by Nebuchadnezzar, was built
with a large body of foreign corvée labour, speaking many different
languages, including no doubt the Jews of the exilic community.
The Tower of Babel story concludes with the dispersion of many
peoples to different regions, which anticipates the movement of the
Aramean family of Abraham from Babylonia westward. This fits
remarkably well J’s Babylonian context and literary style of com-
See J.H. TIGAY, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic (Philadelphia, PA
W.G. LAMBERT – A.R. MILLARD, Atra-Ḫasis. The Babylonian Story of
the Flood (Oxford 1969) 15-21.
See my earlier treatment of this story in J. VAN SETERS, Prologue to
History. The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis (Louisville, KY 1992) 179-185.