Why isn’t “The Tales of the Patriarchs” included in the Bible?


I recently learned about "The Tales of the Patriarchs," a scroll found among the Dead Sea scrolls. If other books of the Bible were found among the Dead Sea scrolls, why isn't this book included in the Bible?


It should be noted that the Dead Sea scrolls contained the writings of a Jewish monastic group. The finds include copies of almost all the books of the Old Testament, but these weren't the only writings preserved. There were accounts of life in the monastery, rules of order, and literature that the people living there enjoyed reading.

The books we have in the Old Testament are not there because they were found among the Dead Sea scrolls. The scrolls were not found until the late 1940s. What made the Dead Sea scrolls interesting was that prior to the find, the oldest copies of the Old Testament books dated to about 900 AD. The Dead Sea scrolls date around 200 BC. Thus, they are valuable to see how accurately the Jewish copiest were in preserving the Old Testament.

"The Tales of the Patriarchs" is also called "Genesis Apocryphon" and is sometimes referred to by a numbering system for the scrolls, which its scroll is 1Q20. We don't have a complete copy of the document. The scroll was found in fragments and large sections are missing.

The fact that we only have one copy and that fragmentary of this particular book is also significant. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Bible where we literally have thousands of ancient copies. (See "Can We Trust the Text of the Bible?" for details). God promised that we have "been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (I Peter 1:23). For a supposedly inspired book to disappear for centuries, only to reappear in fragmentary form, would cause doubt that God really inspired the book.

Hebrew, like other languages, slowly evolve over the years. You can see this in English if you read something written in the 1600s or even the 1800s and compare it to modern writtings. The differences can be very noticeable. Scholars use these shifts to estimate the era in which a document is written. "Based on a reappraisal of its language and comparison to Jubilees, the Apocryphon is dated to the early-mid second century B.C.E." ["The Genesis Apocryphon (1Q20): A Reevaluation of Its Text, Interpretive Character, and Relationship to the Book of Jubilees," Daniel A. Machiela]. The date is significant because around 500 B.C. God had said there would be no prophets until the Messiah came. "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). Another well-known book of this era, the book of Maccabees notes that there were no prophets in the land at the time. Therefore, books written in this period would not be considered inspired by God.

Another related point is that this approximately 150 B.C. book deals with topics that predate it by about 3,500 years. The rest of the books of the Bible were written in the era in which the events take place. If this was inspired by God, what essential information about the ancient past was being recorded for the Jews just before the Old Testament was brought to an end by Jesus? "He takes away the first that He may establish the second" (Hebrews 10:9).

Being written so far past the actual events causes problems for the author in introducing anachronism; that is, putting in things from another era into the text. One of these is in the 19th column, "I read to them from the Book of the words of Enoch." ["Tales of the Patriarchs"]. The Book of Enoch did not exist in Abraham's day. It was written in the same era as "Tales of the Patriarchs"] and is dated to be written between 300 B.C. and 100 B.C.

Another anachronism, which is more subtle, is that the book is written in Aramaic. There are portions of the Old Testament which are written in this language, but they all come from the period of time of the Babylonian captivity when Aramaic became the prominent language in Israel. If "Tales of the Patriarches" truly dated from the time of Genesis, then it should have been written in Hebrew.

A third example is that the wrong name for Abraham is used. At the time Abraham went into Egypt (Genesis 12), his name was still Abram. It doesn't get changed to Abraham until Genesis 17. But "Tales of the Patriarches," though written in the first person, has Abraham calling himself by the name "Abraham" years before his name was changed.

The information found in the "Tales of the Patriarches" uses parts of Genesis as its basis, but heavily expands on the stories, filling in gaps. This was a popular literary form in the centuries before Jesus. What is to be noted is that the expanded material is not original. "Tales of the Patriarches" shares information with other known false writings, such as the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees. This means the authors of these works knew about the other writings and borrowed bits and pieces from each other.

There are differences from the biblical text. Most scholars believe that the writer of "Tales of the Patriarchs" was trying to fix what he perceived to be difficulties in Genesis. For example, Noah's drunkenness in Genesis 9 was changed from sin to an opportunity to receive divine revelation while intoxicated. Another example is that instead of Abram telling Sarai to say she was his sister because of his fear (Genesis 12:11-13) changes the story to say that it was Sarai's idea and due to her fear. It also states that the idea to lie came five years after being in Egypt though Genesis states that the idea was proposed as they were entering Egypt. These types of alterations cause the text to fail a long-standing biblical test for prophecy. Moses explains in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 if a prophet is speaking from God he will never contradict earlier revelations. This is because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).

All of these clues point to the plain fact that the "Tales of the Patriarchs" is not an inspired book from God. It never was considered to be one and will remain that way.

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