The Nuzi tablets
Genesis records some practices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that
seem odd to modern sensibilities. Dr Schrader’s doctorate addressed
some supposed contributions from archaeology contained in the
Nuzi texts: Nuzi Customs and the Patriarchal Narratives. ‘Nuzi’ refers
to the Nuzu or Nuzi Tablets, found at Nuzi (near Kirkuk) on the Tigris
river in 1925, and dating from the 15th century BC.
They have been used by some to confirm the historicity of
many of the patriarchal customs prior to the Egyptian sojourn.1 But
Dr Schrader cautions concerning the implementation of several
supposed parallels of Nuzi with OT texts.
Dr Schrader’s work refined the supposed comparisons into two
groups: ‘Invalid Parallels’ and ‘Nuzi Customs Attested Elsewhere’.
Among the former are the supposed parallels for Abraham calling
his wife his ‘sister’ (Genesis 12: 10–20; 20:2ff.; cf. Isaac, 26: 6–11). The
Nuzi tablets are not clear on relationships, and in any case, Abraham
and Isaac said their wives were their sisters because they (probably
justifiably) feared that the rulers might kill them and take their wives.
In the second category, an example is slave girls bearing children
for a wife, as per Hagar and Abraham (Genesis 16), and Bilhah and
Zilpah with Jacob (Genesis 30). There are clear parallels for this in the
even earlier Law Code of Hammurabi (ʻAmmurāpi).
However, skeptical archaeologists have gone too far in claiming
that many of the accounts of Genesis were borrowed from the
Nuzi customs. Abraham lived at least 500 years earlier, Dr Schrader
reminds us, and the patriarchal customs can be found well before,
and independently of, Nuzi.
References and notes
1. Archer, G. L., Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 176, Revised Paperback Edn,
Moody Press, Chicago, 1985.
I met Dr Schrader when he honoured me by attending one
of my church talks. He has been defending biblical (‘young
earth’) creation in print for at least 30 years. I asked how he
became a Christian; he explained that like many in America
(in his case, Evansville, Indiana), he went to church from an
early age, but never heard the Gospel. Fortunately, a close
friend confronted him with Scripture—the hope one can have
in Jesus Christ, and the stern choice of 1 John 5:12: “Whoever
has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God
does not have life.” Thus Stephen says that in 1960:
I confessed my sin and unbelief and the need for Jesus
Christ to be my Saviour from sin. The ‘lights came on’
instantly and I have had a strong desire to live for Him and
know His word ever since being saved. It has been a real
blessing to study and meditate upon God’s word each day as
Psalm 1: 2 conveys: “but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.” Also the words
of Jesus in Matthew 4:4: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by
bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth
Old Testament study
When Dr Schrader wanted to study the original languages
of the Bible, his pastor encouraged him to attend Grace
Theological Seminary. There, he studied under Dr John C.
Whitcomb, Jr., co-author of the famous The Genesis Flood
(1961)—the book which kicked off the modern biblical
creation movement. Dr Whitcomb thoroughly taught recent
Creation, the Fall, and the global Flood.
This seminary specializes in archaeology and languages
of the Ancient Near East, and in particular, the study of words
that only occur once in the text (hapax legomena). Dr Schrader
points out, “The 39 books of the Old Testament are important
to master, because they provide the foundation for accurately
interpreting the New Testament text.”
What does the Hebrew teach about Genesis 1– 11?
Since Dr Schrader is a Hebrew scholar, I asked him for his
thoughts on the genre of Genesis. He responded:
I am convinced the creation account is a genuine historical
narrative and not an artistic account. A poetic account would
show parallelism, while Genesis is full of a certain verb type
called the waw consecutive that makes it clear that it was
written as a historical account. It is interesting that the waw
consecutive appears 55 times in just 34 verses in Genesis 1:
1–2: 3. The use of this verbal form in the prologue to the
historical narrative of Genesis, Genesis 1:1–2: 3, is therefore
significant and consistent with the narrative material found in
the rest of the book of Genesis.
Also, many think the meaning of ‘day’ is hard to understand. But Dr Schrader first compares Scripture with Scripture:
The pattern is set by God’s testimony in Exodus 20:11: “For
in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all
that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.”
He further points out that Genesis 1 is clear enough even
Yôm (day) is modified in Genesis 1:1–2: 3 by a numerical
qualifier, so each day must be a literal day. Note Moses’ use
as “day one” (v. 5), “second day” (v. 8) and so on. When yôm
appears with a numerical qualifier in the Old Testament, it is
never used in a figurative sense.
And I love how the phrase “evening and morning” ends
days 1– 6 and ties each successive day together, but is not
repeated at the end of the 7th day as God had finished his
work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day to
set a pattern for mankind.
But what about Genesis 2: 4, “in the day that the Lord God
made the earth and the heavens”? Dr Schrader points out that
this is a different syntactical construct (beyôm or “in the day”)
best translated ‘when’, indicating the whole week of creation