To determine the original meaning of Genesis, Enns first asks when Genesis was written. His basic conclusion is that "the Old Testament as a whole is fundamentally a postexilic document" (32). In this age when Israel had been shaken to the core by the destruction of Jerusalem, "The Old Testament is not a treatise on Israel's history for the sake of history, but a document of self-definition and spiritual encouragement." Or as he says elsewhere, "The creation of the Hebrew Bible... is an exercise in national self-definition in response to the Babylonian exile" (28).
In terms of scholarship, these are not controversial claims. Of course Enns is probably wishful when he uses phrases like, "virtually unanimous" and "virtual scholarly consensus." In many circles, especially popular circles, the conclusions seem very controversial. It gets to the question of "What is a scholar?" Is it a person with a PhD? Is it knowing and understanding the arguments on all sides of an issue? Are there certain issues where an evidentiarily based conclusion is so inevitable that to hold a different position automatically disqualifies you from being considered a scholar--or at least an evidence based scholar?
So Enns presents the inductive evidence pointing away from Moses as the author:
- Genesis never mentions Moses or says he is its author.
- Moses is always referred to in the third person throughout the Pentateuch: "he did this," "he said that," "Moses wrote down this law" (Deut. 31:9), and of course Moses went up into the mountain and no one knows where he's buried till this day (which sounds like it's being written a bit later).
- More references that sound like the events of these books took place in the very distant past--the bed of Og can still be seen in Rabbah (Deut. 3:11); at that time the Canaanites were still in the land (Gen. 12:6), a situation that continued until the time of David.
Enns does not in any way deny that much of the material within the Pentateuch might go back to Moses. He also does not deal much with the main reason why this is an issue, namely, NT instances where Moses is implied to be the author, including instances where Jesus seems to imply that Moses is the author (e.g., John 5:46-47). Interestingly, there are only a few times where the NT implies that the author of the Pentateuch is Moses. Most of the attributions to Moses are attributions to the material in the Pentateuch, not to Moses as author of the whole sha-bang.
Enns doesn't spend much time on this issue. He pretty much only addresses it in a footnote: "Jesus here reflects the tradition that he himself inherited as a first-century Jew and that his hearers assumed to be the case" (153 n.19). So our question is whether Jesus taught in the categories of his day or in these sorts of references intended to give answers to these sorts of questions.
While this debate is very old, there were some things in the chapter that I learned. Enns presented some of the ways in which Chronicles differs from Samuel. He does this to argue for how the exile affected the self-understanding of Israel--and thus setting up his argument for the overall purpose of the Pentateuch. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God tells David that he will set up his, David's, kingdom forever. In 1 Chronicles 17:14, the same passage, God tells him he will set up my, God's, kingdom in my, God's house, the temple. So this is arguably a reorientation away from David's dynasty (since it would not be in place at the time of Chronicles) to the temple and God's kingdom.
We are of course free to disagree with Enns. I do think, however, that there is not much to object to here in terms of inductive scholarship. Smith is perhaps right that there is a more fundamental question we will have to address if we are ever going to move past these sorts of debates. Are these things a matter of gathering evidence, forming hypotheses, testing the hypotheses, and reaching evidentiary consensus? If so, then there won't be much debate about Enns conclusion. The scholarly consensus will be "virtually unanimous."
But there is another approach, one that comes to the Pentateuch with its conclusion in hand. It assumes it must take the references of the NT as bindingly literal attributions of authorship. So it applies its intellect to finding ways to argue around what it considers to be the apparent evidence. So Moses' death was added later or God told him ahead of time and he wrote it down as prophecy. So the references that sound later are updates to the original Mosaic text. Or perhaps differing strands of source material were combined by none other than Moses himself.
There can be no rapprochement of these two approaches. They involve decisions one intentionally or unintentionally makes prior to interpretation. I fear, however, that to insist that only the second approach is valid will lead many of our children, especially those that look into these issues in detail, to lose their faith.
I recommend we not focus on these sorts of things and go spread the good news instead.