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Book of Genesis

(jen' - i - sis)

General Information

Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament in the Bible, is so named because it opens with an account of the creation of the world. The first 11 chapters, which are heavily indebted to Mesopotamian tradition, trace the gradual expansion of humankind and the development of human culture. But they show the ambiguity of this development by incorporating stories about the sin of Adam and Eve and about the Deluge, both of which illustrate humankind's growing alienation from God and one another.

Following the call of Abraham in chapter 12, this universal outlook appears to be lost; the focus narrows to one man and his family. Yet the traditions about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob's 12 sons are linked to the earlier chapters by God's promise to bless the whole world through Abraham's descendants. Furthermore, the Covenant established with Israel through the promise made to Abraham (22:15 - 18) is fundamentally the same as the covenant established with all of humankind through Noah (9:1 - 17).

Although Moses has traditionally been considered the author of Genesis, modern scholars generally agree that the book is a composite of at least three different literary strands: J (10th century BC), E (9th century), and P (5th century). The interpretation of the book has led to many controversies. One of the most difficult problems has been distinguishing historical fact from symbolic narration intended to convey a religious message.

J J M Roberts

H Bloom, Book of J (1990); G von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (1972); E A Speiser, ed., Genesis (1964); R Youngblood, ed., The Genesis Debate (1986).

Book of Genesis

Brief Outline

  1. The beginning of physical life (1-2)
  2. The growth of civilization to the Flood (3-8)
  3. The descendants of Noah to Abraham (9-11:26)
  4. The history of Abraham and Lot; Ishmael and Isaac; Jacob and Esau; and Joseph and his brethren in Egypt (11:27-50:26)


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