Akkadian Source

It is necessary to interpose an Akkadian Source into our formal consideration of the sources for the Pentateuch. Indeed, there is sufficient contextually appropriate detail in the Genesis account that one can only account for this detail being carried through to later generations by assuming that it was written down close to the time in which the events took place.

Akkadian – the international language

The record of the events of the lives of Jacob, his parents, his grandparents, and children and grandchildren could not have been written down by Jacob’s near descendants in Hebrew script – it was not yet invented. Therefore, it is necessary to assume that, since we can be confident that these things were actually written down (and thus able to be preserved free from anachronisms), that was done in another language. This language can be assumed to be Akkadian, the international language of those days. Following this line of argument, at some point the text was translated into a form of the Hebrew text very much like the text we have available today. This has been confusing for scholars, since the version of the Akkadian Source that appears to be closest to the original is that found in the P Source, which was the last source to be written in Hebrew.

P Source is not all “late”

In Wellhausen’s system, the book of Genesis can be divided between three primary sources, identified with the letters J (Jahveh), E (Elohim) and P (priestly).
Both E and P have drawn on the Akkadian Source, with P being most important in this context. The priestly source can be fairly easily identified on literary, linguistic and stylistic grounds. The Hebrew text of P is considered to be quite late. This has led scholars to incorrectly assume that the underlying text of P in Genesis is also late, and was invented 600 years after the events depicted. This is a BIG mistake, and fails to take into account the contextually appropriate information that can be found in the Genesis story of Abraham and his descendants, which can be said to be unambiguously attributed to P. This is an impossible result unless one assumes it was directly dictated by God, which is a tendentious proposition in itself.


The P text dealing with Abraham, Isaac (and Ishmael), and Jacob makes reference to Sarah’s death and burial in a Hittite field. If this is historical, there is only one period in which this could have been the case. It relates to a likely, but poorly understood, excursion of the Hittites into Canaan after ca. 1595 BC . Here it appears that they set up an outpost based in Hazor (“that great city”), an outpost that only came to an end with its destruction by Joshua in around 1200 BC.

Commentators ignore at their peril the difference in the spelling of “Hittite” in different parts of the Old Testament. The form found in P is Heth (a transliteration of the Akkadian form of Hittite); this can be compared with Hatti (the direct Hebrew form of Hittite). While some might want to introduce fanciful theories about an attempt by a very late writer to introduce an archaism into the text, this line of thinking does not need to detain us for long, since it is much more likely that the archaic form actually reflects the underlying text. The natural (or first fall-back) conclusion would be that, embedded in the P text, is a translation of an ancient text, originally written in Akkadian, and carried first from Egypt to Canaan during the exodus (and with some parts being written during the wilderness wanderings), and then carried from Jerusalem to Babylon, during the exile.


All commentators who accept the Documentary Hypothesis consider that the description in the P Source of centralized tabernacle worship, as found in Exodus and Leviticus, is anachronistic. Yet few have given attention to the lack of anachronisms in other parts of the P Source material.

The writer of the J Source, the first source written in Hebrew, and one that shows no signs of having used the Akkadian Source, considered that Abimelek was a Philistine, but the writer of the E Source did not fall into this anachronism. Avoiding this mistake is easily explained if the writer of the E Source had an external control over his historical references, namely having access to Akkadian Source material.

Even more compelling is that fact that the writer of the P Source had a name for God that is not found anywhere else, El Shaddai, probably best translated as “God of the Mountains”. This was a quite different name for God, and one not used at all in Israel as far as we know. It would have been a rather strange thing for a self-appointed guardian of orthodoxy to have introduced this name, if he had not found it in an earlier source.

The group identifier “Hebrew,” first used once the Israelites entered Egypt, shows a knowledge of those times that is unlikely to have been otherwise carried down to 1000 BC. We know about the Haribu from the Armana letters. The Hebrews of the Pentateuch are a sub-group of the Haribu. The Haribu (stateless people) caused difficulties for the Hurrian kings of Canaan. Given the political conditions of the time, it would not have been surprising if the Egyptians considered the Israelites to be Haribu. This is what emerges in the text, with Joseph being described as a Hebrew (= Haribu) in Genesis 41:12; in a later story, Pharaoh commanded the midwives to kill the Hebrew boys (Exodus 1:15), and so on.

Finally, the writer of the P Source was quite confused about Abraham’s origins. He knew he had settled in the Aramean territory around Haran, since Abraham and Isaac both sought wives for their sons in that region, but somehow he also thought that Abraham was originally from “Ur of the Chaldeans.” If there were no difficulties in his sources (at least as he understood them), there would not be this surviving difficulty in the final P Source narrative, but it remains.

By way of background, one can say that Ur was formerly a Sumerian city, south of Babylon, but many centuries later it was occupied by Amorite adventurers, the Chaldeans. They had left northern Syria (of which Haran was a part) and taken possession of the territory occupied by Sumerians over a thousand years earlier. Also contributing to the author’s confusion (but our illumination), Haran was a centre of moon worship in northern Syria, just as Ur had been a Sumerian centre of moon worship.

While the naming of Abraham’s city of origin appears to have defeated the P Source writer, it is likely that it was actually Haran in northern Syria, not the old Sumerian city. Yet even this confusion points to a source used by the P Source writer that predated his own times by many generations, which itself reflected the conditions and naming conventions used at the time of Abraham. (Was it Ur of the Arameans, or something similar, to distinguish it from its “sister city” in southern Mesopotamia?)


For serious scholars, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the accounts written by the E Source and P Source writers were influenced by an Akkadian Source. The only difficulty arises in establishing just how much of each of these two sources can be attributed to that ancient “document.”