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Introduction to Genesis

I. NAME OF THE BOOK

A. In Hebrew (i.e. the Masoretic Text) it is the first word of the book, bereshith, "in the beginning" or "by way of beginning."

B. From the Greek Bible (i.e. Septuagint translation), it is Genesis, which means "beginning" or "origin," which was taken from Gen. 2:4a. This may be the author's key "outline-phrase" or colophon to link the different theological biographies together as the Babylonian cuneiform writers did. This key outline phrase functions as a summation, not an introduction.

 

II. CANONIZATION

A. This is the first book of the first section of the Hebrew canon called "The Torah" or "teachings" or "Law."

B. This section in the Septuagint is known as the Pentateuch (i.e. five scrolls).

C. It is sometimes called "The Five Books of Moses" in English.

D. Genesis-Deuteronomy is a continuous account by (or edited by) Moses concerning creation through Moses' lifetime.

 

III. GENRE - The book of Genesis is primarily theological, historical narrative but it also includes other types of literary genre:

A. Historical drama - examples: 1:1- 2:3

B. Poetry - examples: 2:23; 4:2; 8:22

C. Prophecy - examples: 3:15; 49:1ff (also poetic)

 

IV. AUTHORSHIP

A. The Bible itself does not name the author (as is true of many OT books). Genesis has no "I" sections like Ezra, Nehemiah, or "we" sections like Acts. Ultimately the author is God!

B. Jewish tradition:

1. Ancient Jewish writers say Moses wrote it:

a. Ben Sirah's Ecclesiasticus, 24:23, written about 185 b.c.

b. The Baba Bathra 14b, a part of the Talmud

c. Philo of Alexandria, Egypt, a Jewish philosopher, living about 20 b.c. to a.d. 42

d. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, living about a.d. 37-100

2. This was a revelation to Moses

a. Moses is said to have written for the people:

(1) Exodus 17:14

(2) Exodus 24:4, 7

(3) Exodus 34:27, 28

(4) Numbers 33:2

(5) Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24-26

b. God is said to have spoken through Moses to the people:

(1) Deuteronomy 5:4-5, 22

(2) Deuteronomy 6:1

(3) Deuteronomy 10:1

c. Moses is said to have spoken the words of the Torah to the people:

(1) Deuteronomy 1:1, 3

(2) Deuteronomy 5:1

(3) Deuteronomy 27:1

(4) Deuteronomy 29:2

(5) Deuteronomy 31:1, 30

(6) Deuteronomy 32:44

(7) Deuteronomy 33:1

3. OT authors attribute it to Moses:

a. Joshua 8:31

b. II Kings 14:6

c. Ezra 6:18

d. Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1-2

e. II Chronicles 25:4; 34:12; 35:12

f. Daniel 9:11

g. Malachi 4:4

C. Christian tradition

1. Jesus attributes quotes from the Torah to Moses:

a. Matthew 8:4; 19:8

b. Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:5; 12:26

c. Luke 5:14; 16:31; 20:37; 24:27, 44

d. John 5:46-47; 7:19, 23

2. Other N.T. authors attribute quotes from the Torah to Moses:

a. Luke 2:22

b. Acts 3:22; 13:39; 15:1, 15-21; 26:22; 28:23

c. Romans 10:5, 19

d. I Corinthians 9:9

e. II Corinthians 3:15

f. Hebrews 10:28

g. Revelation 15:3

3. Most early Church Fathers accepted Mosaic authorship. However, Ireneaus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tertullian all had questions about Moses' relationship to the current canonical form of Genesis (cf. D. 2. on page 5). 

D. Modern Scholarship

1. There have obviously been some editorial additions to the Torah (seemingly, to make the ancient work more understandable to contemporary readers, which was a characteristic of Egyptian scribes):

a. Genesis 12:6; 13:7; 14:14; 21:34; 32:32; 36:31; 47:11

b. Exodus 11:3; 16:36

c. Numbers 12:3; 13:22; 15:22-23; 21:14-15; 32:33ff

d. Deuteronomy 3:14; 34:6

e. Ancient scribes were highly trained and educated. Their techniques, however, differed from country to country:

(1) In Mesopotamia, they were careful not to change anything, and even checked their works for accuracy. Here is an ancient Sumerian scribal footnote: "the work is complete from beginning to end, has been copied, revised, compared, and verified sign by sign" from about 1400 B b.c.

(2) In Egypt they freely revised ancient texts to update them for contemporary readers. The scribes at Qumran (i.e. Dead Sea Scrolls) followed this approach.

2. Scholars of the 19th century theorized that the Torah is a composite document from many sources over an extended period of time (Graff-Wellhausen). This theory was based on:

a. the different names for God

b. apparent doublets in the text

c. the literary form of the accounts

d. the theology of the accounts

3. Supposed sources and dates:

a. J source (use of YHWH from southern Israel) - 950 b.c.

b. E source (use of Elohim from northern Israel) - 850 b.c.

c. JE combined - 750 b.c.

d. D source ("The Book of the Law," II Kgs. 22:8, discovered during Josiah's reform while remodeling the Temple was supposedly the book of Deuteronomy, written by an unknown priest of Josiah's time to support his reform.) - 621 b.c.

e. P source (priestly rewrite of OT, especially ritual and procedure) - 400 b.c.

f. There have obviously been editorial additions to the Torah. The Jews assert that it was

(1) The High Priest (or another of his family) at the time of the writing

(2) Jeremiah the Prophet

(3) Ezra the Scribe - IV Esdras says he rewrote it because the originals were destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c.

g. However, the J. E. D. P. theory says more about our modern literary theories and categories than evidence from the Torah (cf. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 495-541 and Tyndale's Commentaries, "Leviticus" pp. 15-25).

h. Characteristics of Hebrew Literature

(1) Doublets, like Gen. 1 & 2, are common in Hebrew. Usually a general description is given, followed by a specific account (i.e. the Ten Commandments and the Holiness Code). This may have been a way to accent truths or help oral memory.

(2) The ancient rabbis said the two most common names for God have theological significance:

(a) YHWH - the Covenant name for deity as He relates to Israel as Savior and Redeemer (cf. Ps. 19:7-14; 103).

(b) Elohim - deity as Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all life on earth (cf. Ps. 19:1-6; 104).

(c) Other ancient Near Eastern texts use several names to describe their high god (cf. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason L. Archer, p. 68).

(3) It is common in non-biblical near eastern literature for a variety of styles and vocabulary to occur in unified literary works (cf. Introduction to the Old Testament, R. K. Harrison, pp. 522-526).

E. The evidence from ancient near eastern literature implies that Moses used written cuneiform documents or Mesopotamian style (patriarchal) oral traditions to write Genesis. This in no way means to imply a lessening of inspiration but is an attempt to explain the literary phenomenon of the book of Genesis (cf. P. J. Wiseman's New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis). Beginning in Gen. 37, a marked Egyptian influence of style, form and vocabulary seems to indicate Moses used either literary productions or oral traditions from the Israelites' days in both Egypt and Mesopotamia. Moses' formal education was entirely Egyptian! The exact literary formation of the Pentateuch is uncertain. I believe that Moses is the compiler and author of the vast majority of the Pentateuch, though he may have used scribes and/or written and oral (patriarchal) traditions. His writings have been updated by later scribes. The historicity and trustworthiness of these first few books of the OT have been illustrated by modern archaeology.

F. There is an emerging theory that there were scribes (in different parts of Israel) working on different parts of the Pentateuch at the same time under the direction of Samuel (cf. I Sam. 10:25). This theory was first proposed by E. Robertson's The Old Testament Problem.

 

V. DATE

A. Genesis covers the period from the creation of the cosmos to Abraham's family. It is possible to date Abraham's life from secular literature of the period. The approximate date would be 2000 b.c., the second millennium b.c. The basis for this is

1. father acted as priest to family (like Job)

2. life was nomadic following herds and flocks

3. migration of Semitic peoples during this period

B. The early events of Genesis 1-11 are true historical events (possibly historical drama) but undatable by current available knowledge.

1. I personally have come to accept the earth's age as several billion years (i.e. 14.6 billion for the universe and 4.6 billion for the earth, cf. Hugh Ross' The Genesis Question andCreation and Time).

2. However, I also believe in the special creation of Adam and Eve at a much later period. It seems to me that Genesis is presented in some type of "historical" framework, but the historical aspect is fuzzy at the beginning (i.e. Gen. 1-3). Adam and Eve's children begin the civilizations of Mesopotamia (i.e. chapter 4). If this framework is to be maintained then Adam is a modern (Homo sapien) and not a more primitive Homo erectus. If this is true then there must be an evolutionary development in hominids (cf. Tyndale O T Commentaries, "Genesis" by Kidner and Who Was Adam? by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross) as well as a special creation by God at a much later point in time. I am not completely comfortable with this, but it is the best I can do with my current understanding of the Bible and science.

C. It must be remembered when studying Genesis that the historical events are recorded by Moses who led the people of God out of Egypt in either (1) 1445 b.c., based on I Kings 6:1; or (2) 1290 b.c., based on evidence from modern archaeology. Therefore, either by oral tradition, unknown written sources, or direct divine revelation, Moses records "how it all began" focusing on "who" and "why," not "how" and "when"!

D. This commentary (Genesis 1-11) was originally written in 2001. I struggled greatly with the relationship between Gen. 1 and my own modern western culture. A new book by John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, IVP (2009) has helped me see just how influenced I was by my own existential setting. I believe that proper hermeneutics begin with the original author's intent but it is obvious to me that my hermeneutical theory was better than my practice. This book by Walton is a paradigm shift in thinking about Genesis 1 as relating to the origins of function, not the material origins of the universe. It is truly an eye-opener. It has convinced me of a new way to view this crucial text that bypasses the debate over science vs. faith, old earth vs. young earth, evolution vs. creation of species. I highly recommend the book to you!

 

VI. SOURCES FOR CORROBORATING THE HISTORICAL SETTING

A. Other Biblical books

1. Creation - Psalms 8; 19; 33; 50; 104; 148 and the NT (cf. John 1:3; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)

2. Abraham's time - Job

B. Archaeological sources

1. Earliest known literary parallel of the cultural setting of Genesis 1-11 is the Ebla cuneiform tablets from northern Syria dating about 2500 b.c., written in Akkadian.

2. Creation

a. The closest Mesopotamian account dealing with creation, Enuma Elish, dating from (1) NIV Study Bible, about 1900-1700 b.c. or (2) John H. Walton's Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context, p. 21, about 1000 b.c. It was found in Ashurbanipal's library at Nineveh and other copies were found at several other places. There are seven cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian that describe creation by Marduk.

(1) The gods, Apsu (fresh water-male) and Tiamat (salt water-female) had unruly, noisy children. These two gods tried to silence the younger gods.

(2) One of Ea and Damkina's children, Marduk (the chief god of the emerging city of Babylon), defeats Tiamat. He formed the earth and sky from her body.

(3) Ea formed humanity from another defeated god, Kingu, who was the male consort of Tiamat after the death of Apsu. Humanity came from Kingu's blood.

(4) Marduk was made chief of the Babylonian pantheon.

b. "The creation seal" is a cuneiform tablet which is a picture of a naked man and woman beside a fruit tree with a snake wrapped around the tree's trunk and positioned over the woman's shoulder as if talking to her.

The conservative Professor of Archaeology at Wheaton College, Alfred J. Hoerth, says that the seal is now interpreted as referring to prostitution. This is a good example of how artifacts from the past are interpreted differently by individuals and through time. This particular piece of evidence must be re-evaluated.

3. Creation and Flood - The Atrahasis Epic records the rebellion of the lesser gods because of overwork and the creation of seven human couples (from clay, blood, and saliva) to perform the duties of these lesser gods. Humans were destroyed because of: (1) over population and (2) noise. Human beings were reduced in number by a plague, two famines and finally a flood, planned by Enlil. Atrahasis builds a boat and brings animals on board in order to save them from the waters. These major events are seen in the same order in Genesis 1-8. This cuneiform composition dates from about the same time as  Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic, about 1900-1700 b.c. All are in Akkadian.

4. Noah's flood

a. A Sumerian tablet from Nippur, called Eridu Genesis, dating from about 1600 b.c., tells about Ziusudra and a coming flood.

(1) Enka, the water god, warns Ziusudra of a coming flood. 

(2) Ziusudra, a king-priest, believes this revelation and builds a huge square boat and stocks it with all kinds of seeds.

(3) The flood lasted seven days.

(4) Ziusudra opened a window on the boat and released several birds to see if dry land had appeared.

(5) He also offered a sacrifice of an ox and sheep when he left the boat.

b. A composite Babylonian flood account from four Sumerian tablets, known as the Gilgamesh Epic originally dating from about 2500-2400 b.c., although the written composite form in cuneiform Akkadian, is much later (ca. 1900-1700 b.c.). It tells about a flood survivor, Utnapishtim, who tells Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, how he survived the great flood and was granted eternal life.

(1) Ea, the water god, warns of a coming flood and tells Utnapishtim (Babylonian form of Ziusudra) to build a boat.

(2) Utnapishtim and his family, along with selected healing plants, survived the flood.

(3) The flood lasted seven days.

(4) The boat came to rest in northern Persia, on Mt. Nisir.

(5) He sent out 3 different birds to see if dry land had yet appeared.

5. The Mesopotamian literature which describes an ancient flood are all drawing from the same source. The names often vary, but the plot is the same. An example is that Zivusudra, Atrahasis and Utnapishtim all represent the same human king.

6. The historical parallels to the early events of Genesis can be explained in light of mankind's pre-dispersion (Genesis 1-11) knowledge and experience of God. These true historical core memories have been elaborated and mythologicalized into the current flood accounts common throughout the world. The same can also be said not only of creation (Gen.1,2) and the Flood (Gen. 6-9) but also of human and angelic unions (Genesis 6).

7. Patriarch's Day (Middle Bronze)

a. Mari tablets - cuneiform legal (Ammonite culture) and personal texts in Akkadian from about 1700 b.c.

b. Nuzi tablets - cuneiform archives of certain families (Horite or Hurrian culture) written in Akkadian from about 100 miles SE of Nineveh about 1500-1300 b.c. They record family and business procedures. For further specific examples, see John H. Walton's Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, pp. 52-58

c. Alalak tablets - cuneiform texts from Northern Syria from about 2000 b.c.

d. Some of the names found in Genesis are recorded as place names in the Mari Tablets: Serug, Peleg, Terah, and Nahor. Other biblical names were also common: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Laban, and Joseph. This shows that biblical names fit this time and place.

8. "Comparative historiographic studies have shown that, along with the Hittites, the ancient Hebrews were the most accurate, objective and responsible recorders of near eastern history." R. K Harrison, Biblical Criticism, p 5.

9. Archaeology has proven to be so helpful in establishing the historicity of the Bible. However, a word of caution is necessary. Archaeology is not an absolutely trustworthy guide because of

a. poor techniques in early excavations

b. various, very subjective interpretations of the artifacts that have been discovered

c. no agreed-upon chronology of the ancient Near East (although one is being developed from tree rings and pottery).

C. Egyptian creation accounts can be found in John H. Walton's, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990) pp. 23-24, 32-34.

1. In Egyptian literature, creation began with an unstructured, chaotic, primeval water. Creation was seen as a developing structure (hill) out of watery chaos.

2. In Egyptian literature from Memphis, creation occurred by the spoken word of Ptah.

3. Each of the major cities of Egypt had separate traditions emphasizing their patron deities.

D. A new book by John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, IVP, 2009, shows the relationship between the ANE beliefs about the divine and the cosmos in a new light. He asserts (and I agree) that it is not so much who copied who but the general cultural consensus of the whole ANE about the unity of the "natural" and "supernatural." All cultures shared this general perspective. Israel's was uniquely monotheistic but also shared the cultural perspectives.

 

VII. LITERARY UNITS (CONTEXT)

A. Outline based on Moses' use of the phrase "the generations of" (toledoth):

1. origins of heaven and earth, 1:1-2:3

2. origins of humanity, 2:4-4:26

3. generations of Adam, 5:1-6:8

4. generations of Noah, 6:9-9:17

5. generations of the sons of Noah, 10:1-11:9

6. generations of Shem, 11:10-26

7. generations of Terah (Abraham), 11:27-25:11

8. generations of Ishmael, 25:12-18

9. generations of Isaac, 25:19-35:29

10. generations of Esau, 36:1-8

11. generations of the sons of Esau, 36:9-43

12. generations of Jacob, 37:1-50:26 (#1-11 have a Mesopotamian literary background but #12 has an Egyptian literary flavor.)

B. Theological outline:

1. creation for humanity and of humanity, 1-2

2. mankind and creation fall, 3

3. results of the Fall, 4-11

a. evil affects Cain and his family

b. evil affects Seth and his family

c. evil affects everyone

d. great flood

e. evil still present in Noah's family

f. mankind still in rebellion; the tower of Babel

g. God's dispersion

4. One man for all humanity (3:15), 12-50 (Rom. 5:12-21)

a. Abraham (12:1-3), 11:27-23:20

b. Isaac, 24:1-26:35

c. Jacob, 27:1-36:4

(1) Judah (the line of the Messiah)

(2) Joseph (double land inheritance), 37:1-50:26

 

VIII. MAIN TRUTHS

A. How did it all begin?

1. It began with God (Genesis 1-2). The Bible's world-view is not polytheism but monotheism. It does not focus on the "how" of creation but on the "who." It is short, but so powerful in its presentation. The Bible's theology was totally unique in its day though some of the words, patterns of activities, and topics are found in other Mesopotamian literature.

2. God wanted fellowship. The creation is only a stage for God to fellowship with man. This is a "touched planet" (cf. C. S. Lewis).

3. There is no possibility of understanding the rest of the Bible without Genesis 1, 2-4 and 11-12.

4. Humans must respond by faith to what they understand of God's will (Gen. 15:6 and Rom. 4).

B. Why is the world so evil and unfair? It was "very good" (1:31), but Adam and Eve sinned (cf. Gen. 3; Rom. 3:9-18, 23; 5:17-21). The terrible results are obvious:

1. Cain kills Abel (chap. 4)

2. revenge of Lamech (4:23-24)

3. unlawful unions (6:1-4)

4. wickedness of man (6:5,11-12; 8:21)

5. the drunkenness of Noah (9)

6. the Tower of Babel (11)

7. the polytheism of Ur (11)

C. How is God going to fix it?

1. Messiah will come for all humans (3:15)

2. God calls one to call all (Gen. 12:1-3 and Exod. 19:5-6, cf. Rom. 5:12-21)

3. God is willing to work with fallen mankind (Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, the Jews and Gentiles) and by His grace provides

a. promises

b. covenants (unconditional and conditional)

c. sacrifice

d. worship

 

READING CYCLE ONE

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

 

READING CYCLE TWO

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines