Introduction to the Book of Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible and the first book of the Pentateuch, a Greek word for "five" and "books". The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are also called the Torah by the Jews, a Hebrew term that connotes "law" and "teaching."

The name Genesis itself is an ancient Greek term for "birth" or "origin". In ancient Hebrew that is Bereshit, or "In the beginning" which is how the Book of Genesis begins.

Facts About the Book of Genesis

  • Genesis is the first book the Bible, the Torah and, the Pentateuch
  • Genesis has 50 Chapters & 1,533 Verses
  • Chapter & verse divisions are of Christian origin
  • Stories cover about 2,000 years of history
  • Two parts: primeval history (1-11) and patriarchal history (12-50)

Important Characters in Genesis

  • Adam & Eve: The first humans and the source of Original Sin
  • Noah: Had enough faith to be spared by God from a world-wide flood
  • Abraham: Chosen by God to be the "father" of Israel, God's "chosen people"
  • Isaac: Abraham's son, inherited God's blessing
  • Jacob: Abraham's grandson whose name God changed to "Israel"
  • Joseph: Son of Jacob, sold into slavery in Egypt

Author Of the Book of Genesis

The traditional view was that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis between 1446 and 1406 BCE. The Documentary Hypothesis developed by modern scholarship indicates that several different authors contributed to the text and at least one edited multiple sources together to create the final Genesis text that we have today. Exactly how many different sources were used and how many authors or editors were involved is a matter of debate.

Early critical scholarship argued that various traditions about the origins of the Israelites were collected and written down during the reign of Solomon (c. 961–931 BCE). Archaeological evidence casts doubt on whether there was much of an Israelite state at this time, though, let alone an empire of the sort described in the Old Testament.

Textual research on the documents suggests that some of the earliest portions of Genesis can only be dated to the 6th century, well after Solomon. Current scholarship seems to favor the idea that the narratives in Genesis and other early Old Testament texts were at least collected, if not written down, during the reign of Hezekiah (c. 727–698 BCE).

When the Book of Genesis Was Written

The oldest manuscripts we have of Genesis date to some point between 150 BCE and 70 CE. Literary research on the Old Testament suggests that the oldest parts of the Book of Genesis may have first been written during the 8th century BCE. The latest parts and final editing were probably done during the 5th century BCE. The Pentateuch probably existed in something like its current form by the 4th century BCE

Book of Genesis Summary

  • Genesis 1-11: The beginning of Genesis is the beginning of the universe and of all existence: God creates the universe, the planet earth, and everything else. God creates humanity and a paradise for them to live in, but they are kicked out after disobeying. Corruption in humanity later causes God to destroy everything and everyone save one man, Noah, and his family on an ark. From this one family come all the nations of the world, leading eventually to a man named Abraham
  • Genesis 12-25: Abraham is singled out by God and he makes a covenant with God. His son, Isaac, inherits this covenant as well as the blessings that go with it. God gives Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan, though others already live there.
  • Genesis 25-36: Jacob is given a new name, Israel, and he continues the line which inherits God's covenant and blessings.
  • Genesis 37-50: Joseph, Jacob's son, is sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt where he acquires a great deal of power. His family comes to live with him and thus the entire line of Abraham settles in Egypt where they will eventually grow to great numbers.

Book of Genesis Themes

  • Covenants: Recurring throughout the Bible is the idea of covenants and this is already important early in the Book of Genesis. A covenant is a contract or treaty between God and humans, either with all humans or with one specific group like God's "Chosen People." Early on God is depicted as making promises to Adam, Eve, Cain, and others about their own personal futures. Later God is depicted as making promises to Abraham about the future of all his descendants. There is debate among scholars about whether the recurring stories of covenants is one deliberate, grand, overarching theme of the Bible as a whole or whether they are just individual themes that ended up being linked together when the biblical texts were collected and edited together.
  • Sovereignty of God: Genesis starts out with God creating everything, including existence itself, and throughout Genesis God asserts his authority over creation by destroying whatever fails to live up to his expectations. God has no particular obligations to anything created except that which he decides to offer; put another way, there are no inherent rights possessed by any people or any other part of creation except that which God decides to grant.
  • Flawed Humanity: The imperfection of humanity is a theme which starts in Genesis and continues throughout the Bible. The imperfection starts with and is exacerbated by the disobedience in the Garden of Eden. After that, humans consistently fail to do what is right and what God expects. Fortunately, the existence of a few people here and there who do live up to some of God's expectations has prevented the extermination of our species.