A Source-Critical Point of View of Genesis 6

Genesis 6, or the introduction to the flood story, is clearly a composition of at least two sources. This is obvious when one analyzes not only the names used for God, but also the presence of repetition, modification, and contradiction throughout the chapter. In this article, I will highlight some of these indicators of source, using examples from the text, and I will demonstrate why scholars often attribute Genesis 6 as a combination of the J (Jahwist) and P (Priestly) sources. To my knowledge, there are no significant suggestions in the text of other sources, but as is common in source-criticism, this is open for debate, especially when one considers the first four verses of the chapter (Gen 6:1-4).

The most obvious indications that this chapter combines the J source and the P source are the names the authors use for God. The passage uses both “LORD,”YHWH in Hebrew, as well as “God.” When an author uses “LORD” it indicates it is a J source, and when an author uses “God” it indicates it is a P source (Van Seters, 41). The chapter shifts back and forth from one name to the other, and this acts as an identification device for determining to which source the phrase belongs. For example, verse 8 states: “But Noah found favour in the sight of the LORD” (Gen 6:8). This is immediately followed by: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God”(Gen 6:9). While verses 5-8 are often attributed to P, verses 9-22 are often attributed to J (Van Seters, 25). It is clear the shift in God’s name is a key element in determining where to separate the passage.

John Van Seters summarizes some instances of modification, repetition, and contradiction that occur in Genesis 6. The passage mentioned above also indicates P’s modification of the account. Noah is introduced in two different ways. J’s Genesis 6:8 offers a very simple introduction. The next two verses, on the other hand, give a more detailed and “P-like” account, by listing Noah’s sons. P tends to list the genealogy in order to “periodize” the account (Van Seters, 41). Furthermore, According to Van Seters, the causes of the flood are mentioned by both J and P in their accounts (Gen 6:5-7 and 6:11-12, respectively). Repetition indicates at least two sources were used because generally, if specific information is already given, a single author would not decide to draw attention to it again.

When one continues their reading into chapter 7, the differences are even more striking, due to the presence of contradiction. The most well-known example of contradiction, perhaps in the entire Hebrew Bible, is the fact that Genesis 6:20-21 (P-source) indicates Noah was to bring one pair of each animal onto the ark, while Genesis 7:1-5 (J-source) indicates Noah was to bring seven pairs of the “clean” animals and one pair of the “unclean.” It leads one to question why P does not mention any concept of cleanliness in his account. Perhaps by the time he wrote it, this practice had already become outdated.

As previously mentioned, the first four verses of Genesis 6 are problematic in analyzing the chapter as composed of solely Jahwist or Priestly content. Anthony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien address this in their book, Sources of the Pentateuch: texts, introductions, annotation. Genesis 6:1-4, they say, “could be a part of J, a supplement to J, or an addition to the completed Pentateuch” (Campbell, 195). The passage is one of the only, if not the only, indications of sexual relationships between divine beings and humanity in the entire Bible, and for this reason, it appears to be out of place given the context of Genesis 5-6.

In conclusion, it is clear that Genesis 6 is a compilation of multiple sources, namely the Jahwist and Priestly sources. The different names that are used for God are a key indication that this passage is composed of multiple sources. Other indications include instances of repetition, modification, and contradiction. Although scholars often attribute the bulk of the text to J and P, it is possible redactors also played a part in the composition of Genesis 6. The chapter is important in the study of the Hebrew Bible, particularly from a source-critical perspective, due in large part to its frequent transitions from author to author.


Attridge, Harold W. (ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated. New Revised Standard Version. Genesis – Deuteronomy. pp. 3-309.

Campbell, Anthony F. and Mark A. O’Brien. Sources of the Pentateuch: texts, introductions, annotation. Augsburg Fortress, 2004.

Van Seters, John. “The Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).”Found in The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues. Edited by Steven L. McKenzie and Patrick Graham. Westminster John Knox Press. Kentucky: 1998.

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