Genesis 14:14 describes Abram’s rescue of Lot as follows: “When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.”
Dan was the name given to a city in the northern-most territory in Canaan, occupied by the descendents of Dan, the son of Jakob. Given the fact that the descendents of Dan did not occupy this area until after the Conquest of Canaan, this could be pointed to as evidence that Genesis (or at least this periscope within Genesis) was not written until some time after the conquest of Canaan. Seeing that Moses died before the Israelites entered Canaan, he could not have written this account.
There are at least two possible rebuttals. One would be to suggest that the identification of this area as “Dan” was due to a later updating of the text. On this view, Moses wrote this periscope and used the name of the city/region as it was called in his day. Later scribes, however, updated the text to reflect the modern names of the cities and regions Moses spoke of since modern readers would not be familiar with the ancient names.
The problem with this proposal is that there are several instances within this periscope in which both the ancient and modern name is provided:
- In verses two and eight we read of a “king of Bela,” and then a parenthetical note is included which reads “that is, Zoar.” In Abraham’s day the territory was known as Bela, but by the time Genesis was written, the name had changed to Zoar.
- In verse three the Valley of Siddim is identified as the SaltSea.
- In verse seven En-mishpat is identified as Kadesh
- In verse 17 the Valley of Shaveh is identified as the King’s Valley
Why would a later editor retain the archaic name in five other places in this periscope (choosing to add the then-modern name as a parenthetical statement), but in this one instance replace the archaic name with the then-modern name? Given the editor’s proclivity for using parenthetical statements to include the then-modern name, it is unlikely that a later editor simply replaced Moses’ use of an ancient name with the then-modern one.
Another possibility is that “Dan” refers to an ancient city that bore this name prior to the birth of Jakob’s son Dan, and prior to the Conquest. This is logically possible. After all, I know people who are named after cities such as “London,” and “Jerusalem.” Obviously these cities existed for centuries before my friends came along. The same could be true of Dan. Perhaps Jakob’s son Dan was named after an ancient city.
The problem with this proposal is two-fold. First, there is no other mention of a city named Dan prior to the city of Dan established in the Conquest, and thus we have no independent grounds for thinking a city named “Dan” existed prior to the establishment of Dan in the Conquest.
Secondly, Judges 18:27-29 makes it clear that prior to the Conquest, the city was called Laish (Joshua 19:47 identifies its prior name as Leshem). There is no reason to believe, then, that Moses was referring to a different city that also happened to be called Dan.
If neither rebuttal is successful, it seems to follow that Moses did not write the account in Genesis 14. This is not to say Moses is not the principal author of the book, but it is to acknowledge that the book in its present form was not entirely the work of Moses. Someone living after Moses may have used his source material to compose the work, or perhaps Moses composed the work, but a later editor added additional content, including this periscope in Genesis 14.
See also “Did Moses Write Deuteronomy?”