Calvin Theological Journal 5 (1970) 184-89.

Copyright 1980 by Calvin Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

THE TOLEDOT OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS AND

THEIR REDEMPTIVE-HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

 

MARTEN H. WOUDSTRA

 

 

THE OCCURRENCE of a system of ten toledot-divisions

throughout the book of Genesis has long had the attention

of Old Testament scholars. These toledot, translated "genera-

tions" in the American Standard Version, occur in Gen. 2:4;

5:1; 6:9; 10:1, 11:10 and 27; 25:12 and 19; 36:1 (and 9);

37:2.

In recent years Professor Donald J. Wiseman, disagreeing with

both the standard documentary hypothesis and the oral tradition

approach to the Pentateuch, has developed the thesis that the

toledot in Genesis are evidence of the fact that at the time of

Moses' writing activities written texts were already available in

great abundance. Calling attention to the colophons or catch

phrases which are used as titles of ancient texts, Wiseman ex-

presses the opinion that the phrase "these are the generations

of. . ." is such a colophon, identifying texts used by Moses, the

inspired author, in setting forth the history of God's dealing with

the line of promise (cf. Bulletin of Westminster Theological

Seminary, Vol. 8, No. 4, 1969) .

The present writer's interest in the possible significance of these

toledot for the development of the line of promise was first

aroused by the lectures which the late Professor B. Holwerda

presented in 1946 at Kampen Theological Seminary in the

Netherlands. Professor Holwerda then lectured on the "gener-

ations" of Isaac (Gen. 25:19). Unfortunately, Professor Hol-

werda's views were available only to Dutch readers until a few

years ago. But in 1964 Dr. Samuel R. Kulling, professor of Old

Testament at the Prediger Seminar in Sankt Chrischona near

Basel, in a study entitled Zur Datierung Der "Genesis-P-Stucke"

(Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1964) made these views available in the

German language as well. Moreover, in a commentary on the

first few chapters of Genesis written by Professor W. H. Gispen

of the Free University of Amsterdam the views of Professor Hol-

werda have again found further endorsement (Schepping en

Paradijs [Kampen : J. H. Kok, 19661). A brief summary of

Professor Holwerda's views would seem to be called for in a

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journal in the English language, primarily because of the intrinsic

value which these views possess.

What will be presented in the following lines will be Kulling's

discussion of Professor Holwerda's views, set within the frame-

work of what other Old Testament scholars have held with re-

gard to this matter.

Julius Wellhausen, followed by Budde, believed that the occur-

rence of these toledot-formulas was added proof for his thesis

that the so-called P document was a late and schematic con-

struction imposed on the materials of the Pentateuch. But B. D.

Eerdmans observed that the schematism of the toledot was not

as great as had been supposed and that this lack of complete

uniformity argued against the Wellhausen thesis. One difficulty

from the critical point of view is the occurrence of a toledot-

formula in Gen. 2:4. The critics belonging to the Wellhausen

school hold that this toledot is really out of place. It should have

been written ahead of the materials presented in Gen. 1:1-2 :3.

Eichrodt correctly observed that no amount of exegetical art

could ever explain why a formula that should have been used as

a superscription ended up as a postscript instead. But, thus Eich-

rodt, if Gen. 2:4a stands where it stood originally, this has its

consequences for our opinions on the question of whether the

toledot are an evidence of P's supposedly very schematic proce-

dure (cf. Kulling, p. 217). Noth has sought to explain this strange

phenomenon as a literary exception, but Kulling correctly re-

marks that in the other nine instances the toledot heads the

section to which it belongs. But this the Wellhausen critics have

not been able to admit with respect to Gen. 2:4a. For they

believe that Gen. 2:4a belongs to P, but Gen. 2:4b ff. belongs

to J.

W. H. Green has called attention to other instances in which

the theory of the Wellhausen school about the toledot as evidence

for a late P construction does not apply. For in Gen. 37:2 the

toledot introduces a section composed out of J and E materials.

Also in 25:19 the toledot is followed by long sections out of J,

mixed with E materials, with only an occasional reference to P

materials. Eissfeldt believes that Gen. 36:10-39, one of the

toledot, belongs to a source called "L." Kulling therefore raises



186 CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

the question: if these toledot can stand at such places in other

parts of the book of Genesis, why not then in Gen. 2:4a? But

if, in spite of all this, we must still count this formula as be-

longing to P, this document then becomes discontinuous (lucken-

haft), and it does not possess the systematic character which the

critics say it has.

For all these reasons various solutions have been proposed

concerning the origin and significance of these particular for-

mulas. Some have held that there is no particular connection

between them and that they are of various origins. There never

was a P narrator document (Kulling, p. 219).

Another proposed solution has been the suggestion that these

toledot formulas originated with a glossator who wanted to

underscore the genealogical structure of Genesis but who pro-

ceeded without due care or consistency and who inserted the

formula at times at the wrong place. Eichrodt endorses this

position by asserting that the later redactor who inserted the

toledot was attempting to divide the historical narrative by

means of these formulas but that he was not successful in this

attempt so that at a later point he gave it up. A still later

redactor added a few more of his own. To the first editorial

sequence belong 5:1; 10:1; 11:10 and 27; 25:12; 36:1. Here

the phrase occurs in its proper sense. The second editorial se-

quence comprises the rest, namely 2:4a; 6:9; 25:19; 37:2. At

these points the phrase has assumed a more figurative meaning.

Editor number two also inserted 36:9, using the phrase again

in its proper sense. Thus far Eichrodt's opinion (Kulling, p.

220).

From these and other opinions Kulling concludes that to

assume that the toledot are not original where they now stand

is to avoid the question of their present order. Why did these

supposed editors insert the phrases where they did? Why pre-

suppose that these editors lacked the necessary insight and con-

sistency?

A third solution concerning the use of the toledot in Genesis

comes from Eissfeldt. Eissfeldt assigns these formulas to the

original P document. He observes that they occur at points in

the narrative which describe a certain narrowing down of the



SCHOLIA 187

 

scene of action. This gradual narrowing, which can be readily

seen from the study of the successive toledot passages, is illus-

trated by Eissfeldt--who, by the way, also includes Num. 3:1

in his discussion. Eissfeldt believes that Gen. 2:4a does not hail

from P, neither does Gen. 36:9 (nor 36:1) . Kulling draws

certain conclusions from this which are significant for the point

of his argument but need not be recorded at this point. Kulling

agrees with Eissfeldt that the toledot materials are the result of

a conscious literary planning. But, so Kulling, this planning

should not be restricted to a supposed P document; it should

include the entire scope of the book of Genesis.

Having come to this point, Kulling reviews the opinion of

Professor Holwerda. Admitting that the three solutions just

recorded each contain some correct elements, Kulling observes

that Holwerda has correctly understood that the toledot must be

seen as integral to the larger context. In agreement with Hol-

werda, he views these formulas as providing us with the key to

the understanding of the entire book.

The word toledot comes from the root yalad, "to bear," "to

generate." It refers to the product of bearing; hence it stands

for that which was produced, for the result. In Gen. 2:4 the

word designates the historical result. Holwerda wishes to avoid

the translation "history," which, in his opinion, does not always

fit the true meaning of the word (cf. for this Gispen, p. 109,

who, while agreeing with the thesis of Holwerda and Kulling,

nevertheless knows no better translation for the word than "his-

tory"). Holwerda therefore understands Gen. 2:4 to say: this

is what came forth from, this is what became of, heaven and

earth. Holwerda does not feel that the word "history" is an

appropriate translation here. What follows Gen. 2:4 is not really

the story of heaven and earth but the story of Adam and Eve,

the fall into sin, and the story of Cain and Abel.

In the word toledot, therefore, we find the meaning: this is

what came of it. And in the genitive ("these are the toledot

of..." we have the thought: this is where it started from. The

word toledot indicates the end of a line; the added genitive

marks a new starting point. To say what Eissfeldt did, namely,

that the toledot serve to restrict the scene of action, does not



188 CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

really do justice to the meaning of this term. It does not make

clear why, for example, there is no toledot of Abraham while

there is one of Terah, the father of Abraham. Terah's toledot

has Abraham for its center; similarly Isaac's toledot (Gen.

25:19) has Jacob for its center; and Jacob's toledot places

Joseph in the foreground.

To observe the true meaning of this phrase also helps us see

the actual purpose of the biblical narratives. These narratives

are not biographies; they are not novels concerning saints, al-

though we often make this out of them. The Bible does not

present histories of people; it contains no biographies; but it

draws lines from a starting point to an end point. If it were

otherwise, we should have had a toledot of Abraham and of

Joseph, but we look in vain for such. Another consequence of

this understanding of the toledot is that it cuts out all psycholo-

gizing about various "types of faith."

The author of Genesis, therefore, is concerned to show where

the ways begin to part: for example, with Terah, and then again

with Ishmael (25:12-18), with Isaac (25:19-35:29), with Esau

(36:1-37:1), and with Jacob (37:2-50:26).

Going back to some of the earlier toledot, we notice that

Gen. 5:1, 2 begins with the creation of man and ends with God's

repentance about ever having made man (6:6-8). The third

toledot begins with Noah (6:9), and ends with the curse upon

Ham (9:29). The fourth one begins with the survivors of the

flood (10:1) and ends with the building of the tower and the

confusion of tongues. This line is then continued via Shem

(11:10-26) to Terah.

Thus it becomes clear that the composition of Genesis con-

sists of ten toledoth-sections, each appropriately introduced

with the well-known formula: "these are the toledoth of...."

Holwerda considers this to be a fundamental argument in

criticism of the documentary hypothesis. In this he is followed

by Kulling. The author of Genesis, in other words, has himself

given us a clue as to the composition of his book, a composition

which suggests a well thought-out plan. The toledot formulas

have not been subsequently added to an already existing text,

but are the very fabric around which the whole of Genesis has



SCHOLIA 189

 

been constructed. Even those materials in Genesis which do

not belong to the alleged P document are an integral part of

the original composition of the book. Kulling concludes that

the toledoth have shown us that Genesis is "eine konstruierte

Tendenzschrift" (p. 226). But--and this is the important thing

--this construction is an original one, not a later addition; and

it runs through the entire book of Genesis, not just the supposed

P materials.

The present writer considers the approach of Holwerda-

Kulling-Gispen to be a fruitful one. Many important benefits

can be gathered from it, both for the question of the origin of

the Pentateuch and for a correct understanding of the message

of this part of Holy Scripture. For this reason this viewpoint

is offered to the readers for consideration.

In conclusion, attention should be called to Professor Gispen's

reaction to the views of Professor Wiseman reported above.

Commenting on the view that the toledot must be regarded as

colophons, written at the end of the section, not at the begin-

ning, and designating the names of the persons who were in

possession of the clay tablets used by Moses in the writing of his

book, Gispen remarks : "This hypothesis is very improbable and

does not suffice as an explanation of the toledot formulas"

(Gispen, p. 111).

 

-M. H. WOUDSTRA

 

 

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