Genesis [Hebrew: בראשית] (Greek: "birth", "origin"), is the 'book of beginnings', and the first book of both the Jewish Torah and the Bible, recounts the beginning of the universe, living things including mankind, and mankind's social and cultural formations. It stands as the introduction of the entire body of the Bible, of the creation of the original nation of Israel, and of the earliest promises of the coming Redeemer.
The Hebrew word for God is plural, and the creation of man was by a plural form of God (Genesis 1:26: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness"). The meaning of the plural form was not fully understood until the emergence of Christianity and the acceptance of the Holy Trinity.
The Hebrews had called the first book of Moses by the name of bereisheet, meaning "in the beginning", based on the three words which start Genesis. The Septuagint, the ancient Greek-language translation of the Old Testament, rendered this title under the name he biblos geneseos, from which came the current title of Genesis, meaning "origin".
The fifty chapters of the book of Genesis can be divided into two parts: the early, primeval history of man from the Creation to the fall of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 1-11), and the Patriarchal History of Israel from Abraham and his son Isaac, grandson Jacob, and Jacob's sons, primarily Joseph (Genesis 12-50), although there is a continuous genealogy connecting both parts.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth. This is one of the most famous statements in the Bible, and it starts the account of God's creation. Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 involved the first seven days in history:
- The first day, the creation of the heavens and the Earth, and light (Genesis 1:1-5 ).
- The second day, the creation of a "firmament" or expanse, separating the waters (Genesis 1:6-8 ).
- The third day, the creation of dry earth and plant life (Genesis 1:9-13 ).
- The fourth day, the creation of the Sun, the moon, and the stars, to mark the seasons (Genesis 1:14-19 ).
- The fifth day, the creation of the creatures of the sea and the fowl of the air (Genesis 1:20-23 ).
- The sixth day, the creation of the animals of the land, and the creation of Man (Genesis 1:24-31 ).
- The seventh day, on which God rested from his task of creating (Genesis 2:1-3 ).
The fall of mankind into sin began when the serpent questioned one of God's commands, namely not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and convinced Eve to eat the fruit, followed by Adam. The result of disobeying this command resulted in the driving away of Adam and Eve from the Garden to live a life of subsistence farming, and eventually dying. Eve was additionally cursed with painful childbearing, and to be subservient to Adam. All of these curses were also applied to Adam and Eve's descendants. Genesis 3:15 is cited as being the first reference to the coming Messiah.
Chapters 6 to 9 tell the story of the great flood.
The wickedness of mankind becomes so great that God 'repents' of His creation and decides to destroy it all through a flood. Only Noah is righteous before God, and He instruct Noah to build an ark to carry himself, his family, and pairs of every creature on earth and in the air. God then destroys the earth with water, the ark riding the waves until the waters abate and it comes to rest at the mountains of Ararat. God makes a promise never to destroy the earth by flood again, and shows Noah the sign of that covenant, a rainbow.
Noah is also the first planter of a vineyard, and during a drunken sleep one of his sons (Ham) sees him naked. Noah awakes with the knowledge as to what he had done, and places a curse upon Ham's son Canaan, declaring that Canaan and his descendants would be slaves to the his brothers Shem and Japheth. All three sons would have their names and their descendants listed on the Table of Nations, which is contained in chapter 10.
Chapters 11 to 23 and the start of chapter 25 tells the story of Abram
Abram leaves the city of Ur with his wife, Sarai, on a journey towards Canaan, where God has shown him what He was going to do: I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.
Sarai, being unable to have children, tells Abram to take Hagar, his Egyptian maid, as his wife. Hagar becomes pregnant with Ishmael, and God makes a promise that the child will be "a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him," with descendants beyond number.
God also makes a covenant with Abram: Abram will have many descendants as well as possession of the land of Canaan. Abram's name is changed to "Abraham”, and Sarai becomes "Sarah." A sign of the new covenant is the circumcision of all males. Abraham is also told that Sarah will bear a son who will be named Isaac, and it is through Isaac and his descendants that the covenant will be established; although Ishmael is to be a great nation, he is left out of God’s covenant.
Two angels appeared to Abraham and told him that Sarah, barren for years, will bear a son. They also tell him that the wickedness of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is very great, and God will shortly punish them. Abraham asks if the cities can be spared if so much as ten righteous men are found inside.
The two angels are received by Abraham's nephew Lot, much to the consternation of the townspeople who surround the house and demand sexual acts with the strangers. The townspeople are blinded, and the angels warn Lot and his family to flee immediately for the mountains and never look back. Both Sodom and Gomorrah are consumed by fire and brimstone. Lot’s wife turns back to look and is turned to a pillar of salt.
Sarah gives birth to Isaac, and at her insistence demands that Hagar and Ishmael are driven into the wilderness. While Ishmael is near dying, an angel speaks to Hagar and promises that God will not forget them, and will make the descendants of Ishmael a great nation.
God puts Abraham to the test by demanding the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham sets out to obey God by carrying out is request. But just as he is about to thrust the knife into Isaac, God restrains him, and promises descendants beyond numbering. Abraham dies later, "full of years", and is laid to rest in the Tomb of Machpelah in Hebron, which he had purchased shortly before as a place of rest for Sarah.
Isaac and Jacob
Isaac had prayed to God that He would give his wife Rebekah a child, even though Rebekah was unable to get pregnant. God grants Isaac's request, and Rebekah gives birth to the twins Esau and Jacob However, prior to the birth God predicted division between the two, with the elder serving the younger. Esau, the elder, despised his own birthright and sold it to Jacob for a bowl of red porridge, allowing Jacob to enter his father’s tent and deceitfully take the blessing intended for Esau. He flees to Haran, the home of his uncle Laban. Along the way he has a dream of a ladder to Heaven, where God tells him of prosperity for himself and his descendants. Jacob names the spot Bethel in commemoration.
- From Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun.
- From Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin.
- From Zilpah: Gad, Asher.
- From Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali.
Joseph was Jacob's favorite son and was given a special colorful coat, which provoked jealousy in his brothers, who were also angered by Joseph's dreams indicating his brothers would bow down before him. So his brothers took the opportunity one day to sell him into slavery and claim to a distraught Jacob that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.
His ability to explain dreams while a slave in Egypt came to the attention of Pharaoh, who was troubled by a dream of seven skinny cows and withered stalks of corn which ate seven fat cows and healthy stalks of corn. Joseph interpreted the dream as that of Egypt going through seven years of plentiful harvests, followed by seven years of severe famine, and followed it up by recommending that Pharaoh appoint a wise man over Egypt to ensure enough is collected and stored during the plentiful years to act as a hedge against the years of famine. Pharaoh responds by appointing Joseph himself to this position. During the famine "all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth."
Jacob, not knowing Joseph was still alive, sent his sons to buy grain in Egypt. The brothers appeared before Joseph, but did not recognize him. Joseph however, recognized them, and after a series of tests which convinced Joseph their characters had changed, revealed himself to them, convinces them that what happened in the past was God’s plan, and told them to bring Jacob and their families to live in Egypt.
Genesis ends with the blessing of Jacob’s children, his death, and the death of Joseph, who exhorts his brothers to carry his bones to the Promised Land when they eventually reach there.
Biblical tradition within and without the Old Testament, Jesus in the New Testament, as well as extra-Biblical writers such as Josephus, Origen, the early church fathers and many others, have claimed Moses as the author of Genesis, written during the time of the Hebrew wanderings in the Wilderness, between 1440-1400 B.C. Certainly, Moses was well able to have written Genesis in Hebrew, Akkadian, or Egyptian. He was well educated and trained in the Egyptian court. Archaeology demonstrates that such a man would have the education necessary to accomplish this during that time in history.
The higher critical view is that Moses did not write Genesis. Some biblical scholars identified five separate authors of the five 'books of Moses'. This idea is called the Documentary Hypothesis. Although unidentified, each of these authors has been given the name of a letter:
- J who calls God YHWH (the Jehovist account), and who possibly wrote in the south of Judah, written c. 850 B.C.
- E who uses Elohim ('the gods', 'the spirits') as God's name, and possibly wrote in Ephraim, written c. 750 B.C.
- D who wrote the book of Deuteronomy, about 650 B.C.
- P who wrote an alternate history in what was called the Priestly Code, about 550 B.C.
- R who joined the writings of J, E, D and P to form a single work.
- (Though recent Scholarship has moved toward a four source hypothesis, with the Priestly writer functioning as final contributor and editor.)
Under this hypothesis, looking at the Creation story
- Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 were written by P.
- Genesis 2:4 was written by R
- Genesis 2:5 through 4:26 were written by J.
This idea has gained in popularity among critics since it was first proposed in the late 19th century. However, it is inevitably a product of modern rationalistic research and the application of literary criteria. Opponents of this research point to the fact that it is difficult to reconcile with the historical, miraculous, and prophetic elements which they claim to be basic to the first five books of the Bible.
- Sistine Chapel
- Dead Sea Scrolls
- Midrash for the treatment in Jewish literature of the offering by Abraham of his son Isaac.
- For the rock band Genesis, please see Genesis (band)
- Genesis (Translated)
- Unger, 1966, p.396
- Not all Christians accept that the days were literal days. See also Creation Week, Gap theory, and Old Earth Creationism.
- Unger, pp. 35-35
- Who Wrote The Pentateuch, The Five Books of Moses?
- Introduction to Genesis & the Pentateuch
- Unger, p. 397; Young, pp. 183-276
- Holy Bible, King James Version (Thompson Chain Reference), B.B. Kirkbride Bible Co. Indianapolis, IN 1982.
- Unger, Merril F. Unger's Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, Chicago, IL 1966.
- Unger, Merril F. Unger's Bible Handbook, Moody Press, Chicago, IL 1967.
- Young, Edward J. Introduction to the Old Testament, W.B. Eardmans Pub. Co. Grand Rapids, MI 1949.