[bible:365] intro to genesis

Welcome to the first day of readings for the bible:365 project! This is incredibly exciting as we begin this journey together!

Intro to Genesis

Genesis is the first in a collection of five books referred to as the Pentateuch (a Greek term), or the Torah in the original Hebrew.  The authorship of these five books have been traditionally been attributed to Moses in both Christianity and Judaism, a tradition attested to in multiple places in both Old and New Testaments (Lev. 1:1-2; Neh. 13:1; Matt. 8:4; Acts 26:22).  According to this tradition, Genesis and the rest of the Torah was likely written during Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, probably between 1440 – 1400 bce. This authorship would have been accomplished through a compilation of multiple sources, both written and oral.

Beginning in the 19th century ce, more recent scholarship has called this tradition into question, citing clear differences in vocabulary, perspective and literary style pointing to the Torah as a compilation of four different source materials. This theory is known as the Documentary Hypothesis (DH). These sources are referred to as J (“Yahwist”, or “Jahwist” in German), E (“Elohist”), P (“Priestly”), and D (“Deuteronomist”).  These sources were dated in the late 20th century ce, with the earliest source being written around the 10th century , ce, and the most recent around the 5th century ce. Now, however, these sources are not attributed to a single author at a single time, but rather writings from four separate groups or schools which were redacted (compiled) around the time of the Babylonian exile (586-538 bce)

The question that often comes out of this discussion is whether we should look to the individual sources for interpreting, or ought we focus on the final product, an approach known as holistic reading. For the sake of this project, I will be focusing on holistic reading, as source criticism is best left for academic endeavors.

Genesis itself can be broken into 4 general sections:

  1. Creation and the early days of humanity (Gen. 1:1-11:9)
  2. Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 11:10-25:18)
  3. Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:19-36:43)
  4. Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

The stories that make up Genesis were probably circulated among the Israelites living in Egypt, reminding them of their familial and spiritual heritage and explaining their current situation.  Genesis preserved individual stories (like those about Joseph) that could afford hope to God’s enslaved people.  Promises to Abraham about the future of his progeny (e.g., 15:1-7) also would have encouraged them.  Later, Israelites directly involved in the exodus, as well as their succeeding generations, no doubt read Genesis in order to understand this piece of the great saga of their national origin.  The fulfillment of God’s historical promises to the patriarchs served as a testimony to his continuing faithfulness.  -Archeological Study Bible, p.2

(Information from Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible DictionaryThe New Oxford Annotated Bible College Edition, and The Archeological Study Bible)

The primary genres in Genesis are narrative, and poetry, an important fact to keep in mind.  As such, please be sure to read through my Intro to Biblical Narrative for more information and tips on understanding and interpreting Hebrew narrative.


The World as Known to the Hebrews

Abraham’s Journey

Palestine at the time of the Patriarchs


3 thoughts on “[bible:365] intro to genesis

  1. Pingback: [bible:365] Day 3 – Genesis 11-15 « A Radical Journey

  2. Pingback: [bible:365] Day 2 – Genesis 6-10 « A Radical Journey

  3. Pingback: [bible:365] Day 1 – Genesis 1-5 « A Radical Journey

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