The BOOK OF GENESIS (from the Latin
Vulgate , in turn borrowed or
transliterated from Greek γένεσις, meaning "Coming into Being";
Hebrew : בְּרֵאשִׁית, Bərēšīṯ, "In beginning") is
the first book of the
Hebrew Bible (the
Tanakh ) and the Christian Old
The basic narrative expresses the central theme: God creates the
world (along with creating the first man and woman ) and appoints man
as his regent, but man proves disobedient and God exiles
Adam and Eve
from the garden of Eden. Then God destroys the world through the Flood
. The new post-Flood world is also corrupt. God does not destroy it,
instead calling one man,
Abraham , to be the seed of its salvation. At
Abraham descends from his home into the land of
given to him by God, where he dwells as a sojourner, as does his son
Isaac and his grandson
Jacob . Jacob's name is changed to Israel, and
through the agency of his son Joseph , the children of Israel descend
into Egypt, 70 people in all with their households, and God promises
them a future of greatness.
Genesis ends with Israel in Egypt, ready
for the coming of
Moses and the Exodus . The narrative is punctuated
by a series of covenants with God , successively narrowing in scope
from all mankind (the covenant with
Noah ) to a special relationship
with one people alone (
Abraham and his descendants through
The book's author or authors appear to have structured it around ten
"toledot " sections (the "these are the generations of..." phrases),
but modern commentators see it in terms of a "primeval history "
(chapters 1–11) followed by the cycle of Patriarchal stories
(chapters 12–50). In
Judaism , the theological importance of
Genesis centers on the covenants linking God to his chosen people and
the people to the
Promised Land .
Christianity has interpreted Genesis
as the prefiguration of certain cardinal Christian beliefs, primarily
the need for salvation (the hope or assurance of all Christians) and
the redemptive act of
Christ on the Cross as the fulfillment of
covenant promises as the
Son of God
Son of God .
Moses as the author of
Genesis , as well as Exodus
Book of Leviticus , Numbers and most of
Book of Deuteronomy , but
modern scholars increasingly see them as a product of the 6th and 5th
* 1 Structure
* 2 Summary
* 3 Composition
* 3.1 Title and textual witnesses
* 3.2 Origins
* 3.3 Genre
* 4 Themes
* 4.1 Promises to the ancestors
* 4.2 God\'s chosen people
* 5 Judaism\'s weekly
* 6 First phrase
* 7 See also
* 8 Notes
* 9 References
* 10 Bibliography
* 10.1 Commentaries on
* 10.2 General
* 11 External links
Genesis appears to be structured around the recurring phrase elleh
toledot, meaning "these are the generations," with the first use of
the phrase referring to the "generations of heaven and earth" and the
remainder marking individuals—Noah, the "sons of Noah", Shem, etc.,
down to Jacob. It is not clear, however, what this meant to the
original authors, and most modern commentators divide it into two
parts based on subject matter, a "primeval history" (chapters 1–11)
and a "patriarchal history" (chapters 12–50). While the first is
far shorter than the second, it sets out the basic themes and provides
an interpretive key for understanding the entire book. The "primeval
history" has a symmetrical structure hinging on chapters 6–9, the
flood story, with the events before the flood mirrored by the events
after. The "patriarchal history" recounts the events of the major
Isaac and Jacob, to whom God reveals himself and
to whom the promise of descendants and land is made, while the story
of Joseph serves to take the
Egypt in preparation for
the next book, Exodus .
Primeval history and
Patriarchal age The Angel
Hinders the Offering of
Rembrandt , 1635)
God creates the world in six days and consecrates the seventh as a
day of rest . God creates the first humans
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve and all the
animals in the
Garden of Eden but instructs them not to eat the fruit
of the tree of knowledge of good and evil . A talking serpent
portrayed as a deceptive creature or trickster , entices
eating it anyway, and she entices Adam, whereupon God curses them and
throws them out in the fall of man .
Eve bears two sons, Cain and Abel
. Cain kills Abel after God accepts Abel's offering but not Cain's.
God then curses Cain .
Eve bears another son,
Seth , to take Abel's
After many generations of
Adam have passed from the lines of Cain and
Seth, the world becomes corrupted by the sin of man and
Nephilim , and
God determines to wipe out mankind. First, he instructs the righteous
Noah and his family to build a huge boat and put examples of all the
animals on it. Then God sends a great flood to wipe out the rest of
the world. When the waters recede, God promises that he will not
destroy the world a second time with water with the rainbow as the
symbol of his promise . But upon seeing mankind cooperating to build a
great tower city, the
Tower of Babel , God divides humanity with many
languages and sets them apart with confusion.
God instructs Abram to travel from his home in
Mesopotamia to the
Canaan . There, God makes a covenant with Abram, promising
that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars, but that
people will suffer oppression in a foreign land for four hundred
years, after which they will inherit the land "from the river of Egypt
to the great river, the river
Euphrates ". Abram's name is changed to
Abraham and that of his wife Sarai to
Sarah , and circumcision of all
males is instituted as the sign of the covenant. Because
Sarah is old,
Abraham to take her Egyptian handmaiden,
Hagar , as a second
wife. Through Hagar,
God resolves to destroy the cities of
Sodom and Gomorrah for the sins
of their people.
Abraham protests and gets God to agree not to destroy
the cities if 10 righteous men can be found. Angels save Abraham's
nephew Lot and his family, but his wife looks back on the destruction
against their command and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lot's
daughters, concerned that they are fugitives who will never find
husbands, get him drunk to become pregnant by him, and give birth to
the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites .
Sarah go to the foreign land of Gerar, pretending to be
brother and sister (they are half-siblings). The King of Gerar takes
Sarah for his wife, but God warns him to return her, and he obeys. God
Sarah a son to be named
Isaac , through whom the covenant will
be established. At Sarah's insistence,
Ishmael and his mother Hagar
are driven out into the wilderness, but God saves them and promises to
Ishmael a great nation.
Abraham by demanding that he sacrifice
Isaac . As Abraham
is about to lay the knife upon his son, God restrains him, promising
him numberless descendants. On the death of Sarah,
Machpelah (believed to be modern
Hebron ) for a family tomb and sends
his servant to
Mesopotamia to find among his relations a wife for
Rebekah is chosen. Other children are born to
Keturah , among whose descendants are the Midianites ,
and he dies in a prosperous old age and is buried in his tomb at
Rebecca gives birth to the twins
Esau , father of the
Edomites , and
Jacob . Through deception,
Jacob becomes the heir
Esau and gains his father's blessing. He flees to his uncle
where he prospers and earns his two wives,
Leah . Jacob's
name is changed to Israel, and by his wives and their handmaidens he
has twelve sons, the ancestors of the twelve tribes of the Children of
Israel, and a daughter,
Joseph , Jacob's favorite son, is sold into slavery in
Egypt by his
jealous brothers. But Joseph prospers, after hardship, with God's
guidance of interpreting Pharaoh\'s dream of upcoming famine. He is
then reunited with his father and brothers, who don't recognize him
but who plead for food. After much manipulation, he reveals himself
and lets them and their households into Egypt, where
to them the land of Goshen .
Jacob calls his sons to his bedside and
reveals their future before he dies. Joseph lives to an old age and
exhorts his brethren, if God should lead them out of the country, to
take his bones with them.
Abram's Journey from Ur to
Canaan (József Molnár , 1850)
TITLE AND TEXTUAL WITNESSES
Genesis takes its Hebrew title from the first word of the first
sentence, Bereshit, meaning "In the beginning"; in the Greek
Septuagint it was called Genesis, from the phrase "the generations of
heaven and earth". There are four major textual witnesses to the
Masoretic Text , the Samaritan
Pentateuch , the
and fragments of
Genesis found at
Qumran . The
Qumran group provides
the oldest manuscripts but covers only a small proportion of the book;
in general, the
Masoretic Text is well preserved and reliable, but
there are many individual instances where the other versions preserve
a superior reading.
For much of the 20th century most scholars agreed that the five books
Pentateuch —Genesis, Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and
Deuteronomy —came from four sources, the
Yahwist , the
Elohist , the
Deuteronomist and the
Priestly source , each telling the same basic
story, and joined together by various editors. Since the 1970s there
has been a revolution in scholarship: the
Elohist source is now widely
regarded as no more than a variation on the Yahwist, while the
Priestly source is increasingly seen not as a document but as a body
of revisions and expansions to the
Yahwist (or "non-Priestly")
material. (The Deuteronomistic source does not appear in Genesis).
Examples of repeated and duplicate stories are used to identify the
separate sources. In
Genesis these include three different accounts of
Patriarch claiming that his wife was his sister, the two creation
stories, and the two versions of
Hagar and Ishmael
into the desert.
This leaves the question of when these works were created. Scholars
in the first half of the 20th century came to the conclusion that the
Yahwist was produced in the monarchic period, specifically at the
Solomon , 10th century BC, and the Priestly work in the
middle of the 5th century BC (the author was even identified as Ezra
), but more recent thinking is that the
Yahwist was written either
just before or during the
Babylonian exile of the 6th century BC, and
the Priestly final edition was made late in the Exilic period or soon
As for why the book was created, a theory which has gained
considerable interest, although still controversial is "Persian
imperial authorisation". This proposes that the Persians of the
Achaemenid Empire , after their conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, agreed
to grant Jerusalem a large measure of local autonomy within the
empire, but required the local authorities to produce a single law
code accepted by the entire community. The two powerful groups making
up the community—the priestly families who controlled the Temple and
who traced their origin to
Moses and the wilderness wanderings, and
the major landowning families who made up the "elders" and who traced
their own origins to Abraham, who had "given" them the land—were in
conflict over many issues, and each had its own "history of origins",
but the Persian promise of greatly increased local autonomy for all
provided a powerful incentive to cooperate in producing a single text.
Genesis is perhaps best seen as an example of "antiquarian history",
a type of literature telling of the first appearance of humans, the
stories of ancestors and heroes, and the origins of culture, cities
and so forth. The most notable examples are found in the work of
Greek historians of the 6th century BC: their intention was to connect
notable families of their own day to a distant and heroic past, and in
doing so they did not distinguish between myth , legend , and facts.
Professor Jean-Louis Ska of the
Pontifical Biblical Institute calls
the basic rule of the antiquarian historian the "law of conservation":
everything old is valuable, nothing is eliminated. Ska also points
out the purpose behind such antiquarian histories: antiquity is needed
to prove the worth of Israel's traditions to the nations (the
neighbours of the Jews in early Persian Palestine), and to reconcile
and unite the various factions within Israel itself.
Joseph recognized by his brothers (Léon Pierre Urban Bourgeois,
PROMISES TO THE ANCESTORS
David Clines published his influential The Theme of the
Pentateuch – influential because he was one of the first to take up
the question of the theme of the entire five books. Clines' conclusion
was that the overall theme is "the partial fulfillment – which
implies also the partial nonfulfillment – of the promise to or
blessing of the Patriarchs". (By calling the fulfillment "partial"
Clines was drawing attention to the fact that at the end of
Deuteronomy the people are still outside Canaan).
The patriarchs , or ancestors, are Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, with
their wives (Joseph is normally excluded). Since the name YHWH had
not been revealed to them, they worshipped El in his various
manifestations. (It is, however, worth noting that in the Jahwist
source the patriarchs refer to deity by the name YHWH, for example in
Genesis 15.) Through the patriarchs God announces the election of
Israel, meaning that he has chosen Israel to be his special people and
committed himself to their future. God tells the patriarchs that he
will be faithful to their descendants (i.e. to Israel), and Israel is
expected to have faith in God and his promise. ("Faith" in the context
Genesis and the Hebrew bible means agreement to the promissory
relationship, not a body of belief).
The promise itself has three parts: offspring, blessings, and land.
The fulfilment of the promise to each patriarch depends on having a
male heir, and the story is constantly complicated by the fact that
each prospective mother –
Rachel – is barren.
The ancestors, however, retain their faith in God and God in each case
gives a son – in Jacob's case, twelve sons, the foundation of the
Israelites . All three promises are more richly fulfilled in
each succeeding generation, until through Joseph "all the world" is
saved from famine, and by bringing the children of Israel down to
Egypt he becomes the means through which the promise can be fulfilled.
GOD\'S CHOSEN PEOPLE
Scholars generally agree that the theme of divine promise unites the
patriarchal cycles, but many would dispute the efficacy of trying to
examine Genesis' theology by pursuing a single overarching theme,
instead citing as more productive the analysis of the
Jacob cycle, and the Joseph cycle, and the
Yahwist and Priestly
sources . The problem lies in finding a way to unite the patriarchal
theme of divine promise to the stories of
Genesis 1–11 (the primeval
history ) with their theme of God's forgiveness in the face of man's
evil nature. One solution is to see the patriarchal stories as
resulting from God's decision not to remain alienated from mankind:
God creates the world and mankind, mankind rebels, and God "elects"
To this basic plot (which comes from the
Yahwist ) the Priestly
source has added a series of covenants dividing history into stages,
each with its own distinctive "sign". The first covenant is between
God and all living creatures, and is marked by the sign of the
rainbow; the second is with the descendants of
and others as well as Israelites), and its sign is circumcision ; and
the last, which doesn't appear until the book of Exodus , is with
Israel alone, and its sign is Sabbath . Each covenant is mediated by a
great leader (
Noah , Abraham,
Moses ), and at each stage God
progressively reveals himself by his name (
Elohim with Noah, El
Shaddai with Abraham,
Yahweh with Moses).
JUDAISM\'S WEEKLY TORAH PORTIONS
Main article: Weekly
Torah portion First Day of Creation (from
Nuremberg Chronicle )
* Bereshit , on
Genesis 1–6: Creation, Eden,
Adam and Eve, Cain
and Abel, Lamech, wickedness
* Noach , on
Genesis 6–11: Noah's Ark, the Flood, Noah's
drunkenness, the Tower of Babel
* Lech-Lecha , on
Genesis 12–17: Abraham, Sarah, Lot, covenant,
Hagar and Ishmael, circumcision
* Vayeira , on
Genesis 18–22: Abraham's visitors, Sodomites, Lot's
visitors and flight,
Hagar expelled, binding of Isaac
Sarah , on
Rebekah for Isaac
Toledot , on
Esau and Jacob, Esau's birthright,
* Vayetze , on
Jacob flees, Rachel, Leah, Laban,
Jacob's children and departure
* Vayishlach , on
Genesis 32–36: Jacob's reunion with Esau, the
rape of Dinah
* Vayeshev , on
Genesis 37–40: Joseph's dreams, coat, and slavery,
Judah with Tamar, Joseph and Potiphar
* Miketz , on
Genesis 41–44: Pharaoh's dream, Joseph's in
government, Joseph's brothers visit Egypt
* Vayigash , on
Genesis 44–47: Joseph reveals himself,
Vaychi , on
Genesis 47–50: Jacob's blessings, death of
Genesis 1:1 "In principio creavit deus..." First
Genesis in a Latin bible dated 1481 (Bodleian Library)
Perhaps the most well-known passage of the
Hebrew Bible , the first
Genesis has long been translated as "In the beginning God
created..." However, the idea that God created the world out of
nothing (creatio ex nihilo ) is central today to Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam, but it is not directly stated anywhere in the
entire Hebrew Bible.
Dating the Bible
Genesis creation narrative
Genesis creation narrative
Historicity of the Bible
Wife–sister narratives in the Book of Genesis
Wife–sister narratives in the Book of Genesis
* ^ Other scholars prefer a four-part division: 1:1 to 11:25 is the
primeval story, 11:26 to 25:18 the story of Abraham, 25:19 to 36:43
Jacob cycle, and 37:1 to 50:26 the Joseph story.
* ^ The Weekly
Torah portion ,
Parashah , divide the book into 12
* ^ Hamilton (1990), p. 1
* ^ A B C Bandstra (2004), pp. 28–29
* ^ Kessler, Deurloo (2004), pp. 3–7
* ^ Van Seters (1998), p. 5
* ^ A B Davies (1998), p. 37
* ^ Hamilton (1990), p. 2
* ^ Whybray (1998), p. 41
Jon D. Levenson (2014) "Genesis" in Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi
Brettler (eds.) The Jewish Study
Bible (second edition). New York:
Oxford University Press.
* ^ McKeown (2008), p. 2
* ^ Walsh (2001), p. 112
* ^ Carr 2000 , p. 491.
* ^ Hendel, R. S. (1992). Genesis,
Book of. In D. N. Freedman
(Ed.), The Anchor Yale
Bible Dictionary (Vol. 2, p. 933). New York:
* ^ Gooder (2000), pp. 12–14
* ^ Van Seters (2004), pp. 30–86
* ^ Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction By Lawrence Boadt,
Richard J. Clifford, Daniel J. Harrington Paulist Press 2012
* ^ Ska (2006), pp. 169, 217–18
* ^ Van Seters (2004) pp. 113–14
* ^ Whybray (2001), p. 39
* ^ A B Ska (2006), p. 169
* ^ Clines (1997), p. 30
* ^ A B Hamilton (1990), p. 50
* ^ John J Collins (2007), A short introduction to the Hebrew
Bible, Fortress Press, p. 47
* ^ Brueggemann (2002), p. 61
* ^ Brueggemann (2002), p. 78
* ^ McKeown (2008), p. 4
* ^ Wenham (2003), p. 34
* ^ Hamilton (1990), pp. 38–39
* ^ Hendel, R. S. (1992). Genesis,
Book of. In D. N. Freedman
(Ed.), The Anchor Yale
Bible Dictionary (Vol. 2, p. 935). New York:
* ^ A B Kugler, Hartin (2009), p.9
* ^ Nebe, Gottfried (2002), Creation in Paul\'s Theology. In
Hoffman, Yair; Reventlow, Henning Graf. "Creation in Jewish and
Christian tradition", A Myers, Allen C. Eerdmans Dictionary of the
Bible. Amsterdam University Press. ISBN 9780567372871 .
* Armstrong, Karen . In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of
Genesis. New York: Knopf, 1996. ISBN 0-679-45089-0 .
* Blenkinsopp, Joseph (2011). Creation, Un-creation, Re-creation: A
discursive commentary on
Genesis 1–11. Continuum International
Publishing Group. ISBN 9780567372871 .
* Brueggemann, Walter . Genesis: Interpretation: A
for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986. ISBN
* Cotter, David W (2003). Genesis.
Liturgical Press . ISBN
* De La Torre, Miguel A . Genesis: Belief, A Theological Commentary
on the Bible, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.
* Fretheim, Terence E. “The
Book of Genesis.” In The New
Interpreter's Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, vol. 1, pp. 319–674.
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994. ISBN 0-687-27814-7 .
* Hamilton, Victor P (1990). The book of Genesis: chapters 1–17.
Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802825216 .
* Hamilton, Victor P (1995). The book of Genesis: chapters 18–50.
Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802823090 .
* Hirsch, Samson Raphael . The Pentateuch: Genesis. Translated by
Isaac Levy. Judaica Press, 2nd edition 1999. ISBN 0-910818-12-6 .
Originally published as Der
Pentateuch uebersetzt und erklaert
* Kass, Leon R. The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. New York:
Free Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7432-4299-8 .
* Kessler, Martin; Deurloo, Karel Adriaan (2004). A commentary on
Genesis: the book of beginnings. Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809142057 .
* McKeown, James (2008). Genesis. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802827050 .
* Plaut, Gunther . The Torah: A Modern Commentary (1981), ISBN
* Rogerson, John William (1991).
Genesis 1–11. T&T Clark. ISBN
* Sacks, Robert D (1990). A Commentary on the
Book of Genesis. Edwin
* Sarna, Nahum M. The JPS
Torah Commentary: Genesis: The Traditional
Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation. Philadelphia: Jewish
Publication Society, 1989. ISBN 0-8276-0326-6 .
* Speiser, E.A. Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. New
Bible , 1964. ISBN 0-385-00854-6 .
* Towner, Wayne Sibley (2001). Genesis. Westminster John Knox Press.
ISBN 9780664252564 .
* Turner, Laurence (2009). Genesis, Second Edition. Sheffield
Phoenix Press. ISBN 9781906055653 .
* Von Rad, Gerhard (1972). Genesis: A Commentary. Westminster John
Knox Press. ISBN 9780664227456 .
* Wenham, Gordon (2003). "Genesis". In James D. G. Dunn, John
William Rogerson. Eerdmans
Bible Commentary. Eerdmans. ISBN
* Whybray, R.N (2001). "Genesis". In John Barton. Oxford Bible
Commentary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198755005 .
* Bandstra, Barry L (2004). Reading the Old Testament: an
introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Wadsworth. ISBN 9780495391050 .
* Blenkinsopp, Joseph (2004). Treasures old and new: essays in the
theology of the Pentateuch. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802826794 .
* Brueggemann, Walter (2002). Reverberations of faith: a theological
Old Testament themes. Westminster John Knox. ISBN
* Campbell, Antony F; O'Brien, Mark A (1993). Sources of the
Pentateuch: texts, introductions, annotations. Fortress Press. ISBN
* Carr, David M (1996). Reading the fractures of Genesis.
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* Clines, David A (1997). The theme of the Pentateuch. Sheffield
Academic Press. ISBN 9780567431967 .
* Davies, G.I (1998). "Introduction to the Pentateuch". In John
Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press. ISBN
* Gooder, Paula (2000). The Pentateuch: a story of beginnings. T&T
Clark. ISBN 9780567084187 .
* Hendel, Ronald (2012). The
Book of "Genesis": A Biography (Lives
of Great Religious Books).
Princeton University Press . ISBN
* Kugler, Robert; Hartin, Patrick (2009). The
Old Testament between
theology and history: a critical survey. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802846365
* Levin, Christoph L (2005). The Old testament: a brief
introduction. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691113944 .
* Longman, Tremper (2005). How to read Genesis. InterVarsity Press.
ISBN 9780830875603 .
* McEntire, Mark (2008). Struggling with God: An Introduction to the
Pentateuch. Mercer University Press. ISBN 9780881461015 .
* Newman, Murray L. (1999).
Genesis (PDF). Forward Movement
Publications, Cincinnati, OH.
* Ska, Jean-Louis (2006). Introduction to reading the Pentateuch.
Eisenbrauns. ISBN 9781575061221 .
* Van Seters, John (1992). Prologue to History: The
Historian in Genesis. Westminster John Knox Press.
* Van Seters, John (1998). "The Pentateuch". In Steven L. McKenzie,
Matt Patrick Graham. The
Hebrew Bible today: an introduction to
critical issues. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664256524 .
* Van Seters, John (2004). The Pentateuch: a social-science
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* Walsh, Jerome T (2001). Style and structure in Biblical Hebrew
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