Genesis as a Narrative Related by the Angel of the Presence

Posted by on Dec 5, 2023

How could Mosheh have known what had taken place from the Creation of the world to the end of the Book Genesis?” The creation of the heavens and the earth, the stars and everything visible and invisible in the universe, was a colossal event no man has ever witnessed. The story of Adam and Chavah who sinned by accessing the knowledge of good and evil, the Flood and all detailed description of the ark, the Tower of Bavel: all of this would have been unknown to Mosheh without revelation from heaven by someone who had recounted all these stories for Mosheh. Without this revelation from heaven, we would not have known these events either.

In the beginning

In the beginning. Could Mosheh have known what the Beginning was, if not from a direct witness of the colossal event?

The present study deals with a subject that has not been touched upon in the traditional commentaries. At the core of this study is the supposition that the events in Genesis were not known to Mosheh but were narrated to him. According to the Book of Jubilees, all history from Creation to the Exodus from Egypt was narrated by an angel to Mosheh. Keep this in mind whenever we state below that Genesis is a narrative by the angel of YHVH. By stating this we would like to posit another way to look at the narrative of Genesis, specifically in reference to its critical textual reading. Although most commentators have already treated these verses in Genesis exhaustively, there is some room left for our comments.

The angel of the Presence

Mosheh witnessed the awesome and glorious event of the giving of the Covenant and the Torah at Sinai. Here, he depicts it as a majestic descent, as the Eternal YHVH appeared to Israel from the summit of the mountain coming from heaven with myriads of angels who surround His throne in heaven.

The LORD came from Sinai and rose from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and He came from* the myriads holy, at His right hand was a fiery law unto them. (Deu 33:2 JPS)

Rashi explains that the Hebrew “from”* here means “part of”. If the word means “from”, it will mean that Elohim left the myriads of sacred angels and came by Himself, or that part of the angels came. Why is this important to know? According to the Book of Jubilees, the Eternal One said to the angel of His Presence the following,

Jubilees 1:27-28, “And He said to the angel of the presence: Write for Moses from the beginning of creation till my sanctuary has been built among them for all eternity. And the Lord will appear to the eyes of all, and all will know that I am the God of Israel and the Father of all the children of Jacob, and King on Mount Zion for all eternity. [The Book of Jubilees, translated from the Ethiopic text by R. H. Charles, D.Litt., D.D., Fellow of The British Academy, 1917]

And the angel of the Presence [of YHVH] narrated the complete history of the creation, which Mosheh duly wrote down. We read further from the Book of Jubilees,

Jubilee 2:1, And the angel of the presence spoke to Moses according to the word of the Lord, saying: Write the complete history of the creation, how in six days the Lord God finished all His works and all that He created, and kept Sabbath on the seventh day and hallowed it for all ages, and appointed it as a sign for all His works.

This angel must have come down on the mountain leading the myriads of angels, when the Presence of YHVH shone upon Sinai. The “angel of the Presence” in the Book of Jubilees is a very close expression of “the angel of His Presence” (literally, “the Messenger of His Face”) in Isa 63:9. We read this time from the Tanach thus,

In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity, He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old. (Isa 63:9 JPS)

But are there any hints in the Torah of such a narrative related by the Messenger of YHVH, which support the Book of Jubilees? The narrative by the angel began with Genesis 1:1, but the first hint to it (which perhaps is the most pronounced example) we see as early as Genesis 2 to which we now turn.

Kush and Assyria

And the name of the second river is Gichon, it is the one surrounding the entire land of Kush. And the name of the third river is Chiddekel, it is the one which goes toward the east of Ashshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Gen 2:13-14)

In the narrative of the four rivers, it is the opinion of the sages that Pishon (verse 11) is the Nile of Egypt, Gichon, Chiddekel (that is Tigris), and Euphrates. But our focus is on the names Kush and Ashshur. Kush is the name of a son of Ham, also his descendants, and of his territory he occupied, this is Ethiopia. Ashshur is the second son of Shem and also his descendants and the land occupied by them, its region and its future empire, Assyria, in northern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). If the Torah had only written “And the name of the second river is Gichon. And the name of the third river is Chiddekel”, we would not have known where these rivers were located. But in order to make this clear to the reader, the Torah provides the lands these rivers were navigating: the land of Kush, and the land east of Ashshur. Also, to the critical readers, Kush and Ashshur being the grandsons of Noach did not exist as yet. Yet, Scripture wrote their names based on the fact that they existed at the time of the narrative by the angel.

Father and mother

(Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.) (Gen 2:24)

A closer examination of the text and its context shows that the Torah is not merely being informative here, but that “his father and his mother” refers to the originator of the narrative. A child is created by three co-creators: Elohim, husband, and wife. When these co-creators are in accord, a new life comes into the world. In the child, the flesh of the father and the mother is united into one flesh. The question that is almost forced upon us is: Did the first humans know what were “father” and “mother”? Because, this verse would have made no sense to Adam and Chavah, since they did know what was to have a father and a mother. They themselves would become parents afterwards, but at the time of speaking they did not know what “father” and “mother” meant. The choice of words by the Torah teaches that this statement in our verse was not told to them but to Mosheh. The reason why this verse is necessary, although the passage would have been understood without it, is because it was narrated to Mosheh. Therefore, verse 24 is Mosheh’s parenthetical remark about the marriage of Adam and Chavah. Mosheh would have little choice of words but to write it in with the hope that the reader would understand that the story was narrated to him in a way that it would make sense to the reader. In the ancient Hebrew, however, there were no parentheses, brackets, or any punctuation marks, we know today. In the translations, this verse should appear in such parentheses, which we supplied in our rendering of the verse for clarity.

We will keep on forwarding even further to the time of Avraham when he entered the land of Kana’an.

The Kana’anites

And Avram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Kana’anites were then in the land. (Gen 12:6)

Another narrative by the angel is found in Gen 12:6. YHVH told Avram to go to the land that He would show him without naming the land. Avram wandered through the land of Kana’an passing many places, but the narrator only mentions two specific locations: Shechem and Alon Moreh (Plain of Moreh), which Mosheh duly recorded. Avram had come as far as the Plain of Moreh, where Shechem was located. We are told that the Kana’anites, the descendants of Kana’an, the son Cham, the son of Noach, were then in the land, gradually conquering it from the descendants of Shem. This parenthetical remark shows that Mosheh could not have known who the inhabitants of the land were back then, unless he was told so.

Sodom and Gomorrah

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of the Yarden, that it was well watered everywhere (before Yehovah destroyed Sodom and Amorah) like the garden of Yehovah, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Tso’ar. (Gen 13:10)

When we examine the matter closely, we will find another proof text of narrative by the angel: “before YHVH destroyed Sodom and Amorah”. Lot chose the best portion of the land, the whole area of the Yarden, on both sides of the river. Before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, this whole land was well watered, it was “like the garden of Yehovah”. But later on, the cities would be destroyed with nothing left that would even resemble a garden of the Lord. This is another example of Mosheh’s parenthetical remark this time about the destruction of the sin-cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, Mosheh had no choice but to write it in as a part of the sentence, unlike us who should use parentheses designated for a message that departs from the main subject, as we did in our verse for clarity. So, is this choice of parenthetical phrase significant for how the verse is understood? The choice to use (before Yehovah destroyed Sodom and Amorah) in this verse is probably deliberate and bears some significance, namely, to tell the reader the selfish choice Lot made when he eyed the plain of the Yarden, but also to prepare him/her for what is to come in the narrative.

The Salt Sea (the Dead Sea)

All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is the Salt Sea). (Gen 14:3)

This verse describes a scene of the war initiated by King Kedorla’omer and his allies against Sodom Gomorrah, Admah, Tsevoyim, and Tso’ar. The phrase “that is the Salt Sea” (which we put in parentheses) clarifies that at the time of the narration, the Salt Sea was formerly known as the Valley of Siddim. This is a clear clue that this was a narrative by the angel of His Face. From the context of the Biblical record up to this moment in Gen 14:3 the Valley of Siddim has been described like the garden of YHVH, (see Gen 13:10 above). But here the narrator added the remark “that is the Salt Sea”. This can only mean one thing: the Salt Sea had not been in existence in the time of Avraham but came to be known as the Salt Sea sometime later after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and definitely before the setting of the borders of the land in Num 34:12.

So, when did the Dead Sea come into existence? It came into existence either after a great earthquake, such as the one at the parting of the Red Sea (Exo 15:12 and Psa 77:16-20), or with the earthquake at the time of giving the Covenant at Mount Sinai (Exo 19:18), or even after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Either way, there must have been an earthquake capable of changing the landscape of the Valley od Siddim, as a result of which Edom and Mo’av trembled, and all the inhabitants of Kana’an melted (Exo 15:15). How could they have troubled unless through earthquake they felt?

When the Amalekites and Amorites were not born yet

And they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is Kadesh) and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, who dwelt in Chatsetson Tamar. (Gen 14:7)

This verse describes another scene of the war against Sodom Gomorrah, Admah, Tsevoyim, and Tso’ar, but it also supplies more information concerning the future existence of the Amalekites and the Amorites. The allusion to the country of the Amalekites in Gen 14:7 does not imply that the Amalekites were in existence in Avraham’s time, because Amalek the grandson of Esav, son of Yitschak, had not yet been born. The same reasoning applies to the genealogy of Amalek as we will explain below. So, this could have been known only to someone who had witnessed the event and now narrated it to Mosheh.

Critical textual reading: “For he said”.

… and you shall say, “Also look, your servant Ya’akov is behind us”. For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and after that I will see his face. Perhaps, he will accept me”. (Gen 32:20)

Mosheh in writing down the Torah explained what motivated Ya’akov to send gifts to his brother Esav. Ya’akov was giving instructions to his servants how to present these gifts, because he wanted to appease Esav’s anger so that his brother would receive him in a good disposition. Why would Ya’akov think that this gift would appease his brother? If Esav’s intent were to avenge, he could have killed all of his household and have all animals. We do not know, but what we do know is that there is a hint in the verse, namely, “For he said”: Ya’akov said in his heart, “I will appease him with the present, etc.” Ya’akov thought this. He did not instruct his messengers to say this to Esav, as one might assume from the text. These are the words of Mosheh which he penned in the scroll. But who would have known what was in Ya’akov’s mind? Unless this was narrated by the angel, Mosheh himself would not have known it.

Justification of the Lord’s actions

That is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat the sinew of the hip, which is on the socket of the thigh, because He touched the socket of the thigh of Ya’akov, in the sinew of the hip. (Gen 32:32)

On his journey back to home, Ya’akov had to encounter his brother Esav who came with four hundred men to meet him. He was greatly afraid and distressed, so he divided his people into two groups; if Esav attacks one, the other may escape and survive. That night an angel of YHVH came to Ya’akov and they were arguing until dawn. Before the angel left, he hurt Ya’akov dislocating his “socket”. According to the rabbinic interpretation, which is not well established however, the angel dislocated the socket of Ya’akov’s thigh. However, in the article Jacob Wrestled with an Angel. The Consequence of Struggling with YHVH we argued that what was dislocated was something else. We make this statement in accordance with what we have written in it. (Refer to the source for a complete explanation). Our verse begins with: “This is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat, etc.” The Torah does not generally consider it necessary to justify the Lord’s actions with a reason, for we do not find such a justification in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, where the laws are given. Yet, the reason is recorded underlined with the phrase “to this day”. To which day? To the present day of the narrative by the angel to Mosheh.

Rachel’s burial place

So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Beyth Lechem). And Ya’akov set up a pillar on her grave, which is the monument of Rachel’s grave to this day. (Gen 35:19)

The patriarch Ya’akov was returning home with all his family after twenty years. His wife Rachel, who was pregnant during the journey, gave birth to Binyamin, the youngest son of Ya’akov, and died on the road to Ephrath. What was Ya’akov’s reason for burying Rachel at the roadside and not in the family tomb in Chevron? Perhaps, Ya’akov was pressed for time to bury his wife on the same day, if the sunset was approaching. As the city of Ephrath was not known as “Beyth Lechem” until much later, these two phrases “that is Beyth Lechem” and “to this day” were obviously narrative by the angel.

Amalek the archenemy of Israel

And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esav’s son; and she bore to Eliphaz Amalek. These are the sons of Adah Esav’s wife. (Gen 36:12)

After the reconciliation between Esav and Ya’akov, the Torah saw fit to give the reader the generations of Esav, the brother of Ya’akov. Among the sons of Eliphaz, son of Esav, we find Amalek, whose mother was Timna, the concubine of Eliphaz. He was the ancestor of the Amalekites, who attacked the Israelites in Rephidim as they were coming out of Egypt under Mosheh (Exo 17:8). As we said in our comments on Gen 14:7 above, the allusion to the country of the Amalekites does not imply that the Amalekites were in existence in Ya’akov’s time either, but the Torah simply says that the first heathen tribe which attacked Israel was the tribe of Amalek. Therefore, Mosheh’s record of the genealogy of Esav is a narrative by the angel which must have taken place after this attack. Mosheh being raised in Pharaoh’s palace and thus detached from the historical lineage of his people could not have known the details of the generations that had sprung from Esav, the brother of Ya’akov.

The kings of Edom

And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel. (Gen 36:31)

The Torah here prophetically alludes to the fact that as soon as the Israelites would establish their own kingdom, there would be no more Edomite kings. In fact, the first king of Israel, Shaul, conquered Edom, and the Edomites continued to exist in a vassalage state during the reign of eight Israelite kings. Later on in history, the Edomites won their independence and appointed kings over themselves, as verse 31 has recorded. During the lifetime of Mosheh, no king resided over Israel. The narrative by the angel is about the kings of Israel from the viewpoint as if they are facts of history. This record does not refer to the time when the monarchy was introduced into Israel under King Shaul but was written in mind that kings should come out of the loins of Ya’akov, according to the promise to Avraham (see Gen 35:11 and Gen 17:4), and merely expresses the thought, that Edom became a kingdom at an earlier period than Israel.

“To this day” in the narrative by the angel

And Yoseph made it a law concerning the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have the one-fifth; only the land of the priests alone became not Pharaoh’s. (Gen 47:26)

Yoseph, son of Ya’akov, became a ruler of Egypt only second to Pharaoh. He set a law that every Egyptian should pay twenty percent tax to Pharaoh. This became a law, in existence “to this day” (in the time of the narrative) that the fifth of the produce of the land should be paid to Pharaoh. “To this day” pinpoints the day of the narrative by the angel to Mosheh. A similar construct we find in: “So he called it Shivah. Therefore, the name of the city is Be’ersheva to this day” (Gen 26:33). The construct “to this day” appears in other places in Genesis, but here in verse 26 it lets the reader know that at the time of the narrative by the angel, this law in Egypt was still in effect long after Yoseph.

By laying out these factors of textual criticism, we hope the reader has learned how to approach a Torah text and will become more careful when reading. What we have composed above is merely a ladder to help the reader ascend to the matter of critical reading of the Biblical text, where he can see and examine our arguments.

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