Book of Genesis

I thought it would be appropriate to include exerpts from the book of Genesis to help this groups understanding of the origins of the groups name.

The Book of Genesis (from the Latin Vulgate, in turn borrowed or transliterated from Greek ???es??, meaning “origin”; “In the beginning”), is the first book of the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) and the Christian Old Testament.

The book describes its own structure around ten “toledot” sections (the “these are the generations of…” phrases), but many modern commentators see it in terms of a “primeval history” (chapters 1-11) followed by the cycle of Patriarchal stories (chapters 12-50). The basic narrative expresses the central theme: God creates the world and appoints man as his regent, but man proves disobedient and God destroys his world through the Flood. The new post-Flood world is equally corrupt, but God does not destroy it, instead calling one man, Abraham, to be the seed of its salvation. At God’s command Abraham descends from his home into the land of Canaan, 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 Isaac and Jacob).

Tradition credits Moses as the author of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, but the books are in fact anonymous and look back on Moses as a figure from the distant past; some traditions contained in Genesis are as old as the United Monarchy, but modern scholars increasingly see it as a product of the 6th and 5th centuries BC.

For Jews and Christians alike, 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.

Genesis appears to be structured around the recurring phrase elleh toledot, meaning “these are the generations.” The first use of the phrase refers to the “generations of heaven and earth”, and the remainder mark individuals – Noah, the “sons of Noah”, Shem, etc., down to Jacob. It is not clear, however, just what they 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 hinged around chapter 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 patriarchs Abraham, 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 Israelites into Egypt in preparation for the next book, Exodus.

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 what we would call 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.

 

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