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Genesis, Book of


GENESIS, BOOK OF , the first book of the Pentateuch. The English title refers to the opening theme of the book and is derived, via the Latin transliteration, from the tradition of the Alexandrian Jews as reflected in the Septuagint Greek: genesis, "origin"). The book describes not only the origin of what would later be called the universe, but the origins of the people Israel and some of its specific practices including the Sabbath and circumcision. Genesis includes numerous etiologies for, among others, labor pains and fruitless labor. The Joseph story, which concludes the book, provides the background for Israel's descent into Egypt, and accordingly, for the enslavement, exodus, and arrival at the border of the promised land to which the next four books of the Pentateuch are devoted. The popular Hebrew name (Heb. בְּרֵאשִׁית) is based on the initial word (cf. tj, Meg. 3:1, 74a; tj, Sot. 1:10, 17c; Gen. R. 3:5; 64:8). Some medieval Hebrew manuscripts also use the titles "First Book" (Sefer Riʾshon) and the "Book of the Creation of the World" (Sefer Beriʾat ha-Olam). Another title occasionally in use was the "Book of the Upright" (Sefer ha-Yashar), referring to the patriarchal narratives (cf. Av. Zar. 25a; tj, Sot. 1:10, 17c).

The book is traditionally divided into 12 parashiyyot, "annual pericopes," and 43 (in some Mss. 45) sedarim, "triennial pericopes." There are 43 petuḤot, "open sections," and 48 setumot, "closed sections." Printed Hebrew Bibles, based upon the Vulgate system, divide the book into 50 chapters containing 1,534 verses in all.

The Contents

Genesis is a narrative account of the span of time from the creation of the world to the death of Joseph. (See Table: Book of Genesis- Contents.) It divides naturally into two main parts, the first dealing with the universal history of early humankind (chapters 1–11), the rest being devoted to the story of the patriarchs and their families (chapters 12–50). The time span purportedly covered by the book is 2,307 (or 2,309 cf. 11:10) years according to the accepted received Hebrew text. This may be calculated by combining the sum of the ages of the fathers of mankind at the birth of their respective successors (1,946 or 1,948 years; Table 1: The time span from Adam to Abraham's birth) with the years that elapsed between the birth of Abraham and the death of Joseph (361; Table 2: The time span from Abraham's birth to the death of Joseph). Great imbalance in the presentation of the material is evident, for the first 11 chapters deal with a time span of over 2,000 years while the other 39 are devoted to only one eighth of the period treated. Moreover, the only themes elaborated in detail in the universal history are Creation, the Flood, and the ethnic division of mankind. This disproportion may be taken as indicative of the aims and purposes of Scripture. It is less interestedin recording history for its own sake than in the utilization of events as vehicles for the demonstration, objectification, and transmission of the verities of biblical faith.

Composition – The Critical View

Genesis itself contains no information about its authorship, nor can any biblical passage be cited in support of a tradition concerning it. Based on expansive readings of such passages as "Moses wrote this Torah" (Deut. 31:9) post-biblical Judaism, followed by classical Christianity, accepted the unitary origin of the entire *Pentateuch as the divinely inspired work of *Moses, so that Genesis in its present form is regarded as being a homogeneous composition, the product of Mosaic authorship. (For the traditional view see *Pentateuch; Traditional View.) Serious biblical study of the past few centuries has shown that there is no basis for the claim of Mosaic authorship. The presence of anachronisms, the use of different Hebrew names for God, diversity of style and vocabulary, and the existence of duplicate and sometimes varying and even contradictory accounts of the same event all serve as the criteria for literary analysis that leads to the conclusion that Genesis is really a composite work put together from different documents deriving from varying periods. For example, the sanctity of (Jeru) salem and its priesthood in the period of David and Solomon is justified by Abr(ah)am's actions in Gen. 14. Jacob's vow to build a temple at Beth-el (Gen. 28:22) would seem to be directed to a tenth-century audience as a justification for the construction of the Beth-el temple by Jeroboam (i Kings 12). The table of nations in Gen. 10 knows of the kingdoms of Babylonia and Assyria but not of Persia, an unlikelihood after the rise of that empire in the sixth century b.c.e. The flood story, although going back to third millennium tales, cannot have reached its present form before the early first millennium when *Ararat (Gen. 8:14) replaced the former name for what would later be called Armenia. Genesis 1, which emphasizes the goodness of the creation in direct opposition to Isa. 45: 7 (Weinfeld) is a Jewish adaptation of the Zoroastrian "good creation" by Ahuramazda (Sperling 1999).

1:1–11:32 PART I: Universal History
1:1–6:4 Creation from Adam to Noah
1:1–2:4aThe story of Creation; the Sabbath.
2:4b–3:24Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
4:1–16Cain and Abel.
4:17–26The genealogy of Cain; the rise of civilization.
5:1–32The line of Adam to Noah.
6:1–4The "sons of God" and the daughters of men.
6:5–11:32 From Noah to Abraham
6:5–8:32The Flood.
9:1–17The blessing and the covenant with man.
9:18–29Noah's drunkenness.
10:1–32The table of nations.
11:1–9The Tower of Babel.
11:10–32The line of Shem to Abraham.
12:1–50:26 PART 2: Patriarchal History
12:1–25:18 Abraham
12:1–9The call of Abraham; the migration to Canaan.
12:10–20Abraham and Sarah in Egypt.
13:1–18Abraham and Lot.
14:1–24The battle of the kings; Abraham blessed by Melchizedek.
15:1–21The covenant with Abraham.
16:1–16Abraham, Sarah and Hagar; Divine promises regarding Ishmael.
17:1–27The covenant concerning circumcision.
18:1–33Abraham and the three messengers; the intercession for Sodom.
19:1–29The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
19:30–38Lot and his daughters; the birth of Moab and Ammon.
20:1–18Abraham and Sarah at Gerar.
21:1–8The birth of Isaac.
21:9–21The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael.
21:22–34Abraham and Abimelech at Beer Sheba.
22:1–19The binding of Isaac (Akedah).
22:20–24The line of Nahor.
23:1–20The purchase of Machpelah and the burial of Sarah.
24:1–67The marriage of Isaac to Rebekah.
25:1–6The line of Keturah.
25:7–18The death and burial of Abraham; the line of Ishmael.
25:19–36:43 Isaac and Jacob
25:19–34The birth of Jacob and Esau; the sale of the birthright.
26:1–33Isaac, Rebekah and Abimelech at Gerar.
26:34–35Esau's Hittite wives.
27:1–28:5Jacob's deception of Isaac.
28:6–9Esau's Ishmaelite wife.
28:10–22Jacob at Bethel.
29:1–30:43Jacob with Laban.
31:1–54Jacob's flight from Laban.
32:1–32Jacob at Mahanaim and Penuel; Jacob wrestles with the angel.
33:1–20Jacob meets Esau; his purchase of land at Shechem.
34:1–31The rape of Dinah.
35:1–15Jacob revisits Bethel.
35:16–29Family affairs in Canaan.
36:1–43The lines of Esau and Seir the Horite; early kings of Edom.
37:1–50:26 Joseph and his brothers
37:1–36Joseph and his brothers.
38:1–30Judah and Tamar.
39:1–23Joseph in Potiphar's house.
40:1–23Joseph in prison.
41:1–57Pharoah's dreams; Joseph's rise to power; the years of abundance and the start of the famine.
42:1–44:34Joseph encounters his brothers.
45:1–28Joseph discloses his identity.
46:1–47:10The migration of the Israelites to Egypt.
47:11–27Joseph's agrarian policy.
48:1–50:21Jacob's farewell blessings; his death and burial.
50:22–26The death of Joseph.


Abraham's native city is called "Ur of the Chaldeans" (11:28, 31; 15:7) although the people known by that name did not penetrate southern Mesopotamia before the end of the second millennium b.c.e., long after the period in which the patriarchal narratives are set. Genesis 12:6 relates that "the Canaanite was then in the land," while 13:7 states that "the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land," implying that neither people existed at the time of the writer, whereas both survived as late as Solomon's time (i Kings 9:16, 20; cf. Josh. 16:10; Judg. 1:27–33; ii Sam. 24:7). The reference to Dan (Gen. 14:14; see Kimhi a.l.) is irreconcilable with later history (Josh. 19:47; Judg. 18:29). The mention of Philistines (Gen. 21:32, 34; 26:1, 8, 14, 15, 18; cf. 10:14) presents a similar problem since that particular ethnic group did not settle on the Canaanite coast before the end of the 12th century b.c.e. The city of Beersheba (Gen. 26:33) was not settled until the 11th century. A phrase like "committing an outrage in Israel" (34:7) is difficult as a direct quotation from Jacob's time (though not in the time of Moses) but seems rather to be of a proverbial nature (cf. Judg. 20:6, 10; Jer. 29:23) deriving from a period when "Israel" was already designated as an established ethnic or cultic community. The list of eight Edomite kings (Gen. 36:31–39) would cover about 150 years of history. Since the Edomites were not settled in Transjordan before the 11th century b.c.e. (levy). This conclusion is buttressed by the phrase "before any king reigned over the Israelites" (36:31) which would set the passage in the time of the Israelite monarchy, as was seen by Yizhaki apud Ibn Ezra.


There are two irreconcilable accounts of Creation. In the one (1:26–28), man and woman are created simultaneously as the climax of creation after the birds and animals; in the other (2:7, 18, 19, 22), the order is man, animals, birds, then woman. The Flood story presents similar contradictions. One passage demands a single pair of each species of beast, bird, and creeping things to be taken into the ark (6:19–20), while another has orders to Noah to take aboard seven pairs of clean animals and birds and one pair of unclean (7:2–3), and still a third passage reports that Noah took two of each species irrespective of their clean or unclean status (7:8–9). One account refers to 40 days of rain and a further 14 days until the waters had finally subsided (7:4, 12, 17; 8:6–11); another speaks of a duration of 150 days (7:11; 7:24–28:1; 8:3–4) and an entire year and ten days before Noah was able to emerge from the ark (7: 11; 8:13–14). Sarah was twice taken from her husband, once by Pharaoh (12:11–20) and once by Abimelech (20:1–18). A similar story is related about Rebekah and Abimelech (26:6–11). In all three accounts the wife is passed off by the spouse as his sister for his own protection. Hagar twice leaves her mistress in flight to the wilderness (16:6–14; 21:9–19). Both narratives have in common the presence of a well, an angelic visitation, and divine assurances of greatness for Ishmael. Two accounts of the origin of the name Beer-Sheba in the days of Abimelech are given, one concerning Abraham (21:22–32) and the other concerning Isaac (26:26–33). The story of Isaac's expectation of imminent death (27:1–2) does not seem to be compatible with his still being alive at least 20 years later (35:28). The names of Esau's wives given in 26:34 and 28:9 do not correspond with those recorded in 36:2–3. There are duplicate etiologies for the names Bethel (28:17–19; 35:14–15) and Israel (32:29; 35:10). Rachel's death (35:19) seems not to be in consonance with Jacob's reaction to Joseph's dream 17 years later (37:10), and the birth of Benjamin near Bethlehem (35:16–17) makes difficult his inclusion in the list of Jacob's sons born in Paddan-Aram (35:23–26). Finally there seem to be two separate traditions about the identity of those who bought and sold Joseph; they are variously called Midianites (37:28a, 36) and Ishmaelites (37:27, 28b; 39:1).

the divine names

The foregoing material has to be supplemented by the variant use of divine names. Genesis employs yhwh about 150 times whether in direct quotation (cf. 4:1; 14:22; 15:2, 7, 8 and so about 30 times), or in the narrative (over 100 times). The patriarchs built altars to yhwh (12:7, 8; 13:18, cf. 8:20) and invoked His name (12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25; cf. 4:3; 25:21, 22). According to 4:26 this practice began as early as the days of Enosh. It is clear, however, from Exodus 3:14 and 6:2–3 that another tradition existed which ascribed the initial revelation of the name yhwh to the time of Moses. Indeed, large sections of Genesis do not use that divine appellative at all, employing Elohim or some other name instead.

On the basis of all the phenomena just described, critical scholars have attempted to reconstruct the literary history of Genesis. The classical critical position is that there once existed a Judahite history which began with the creation of the world and which preserved the tradition of the early use of the name yhwh (j source). Later on, a parallel Ephraimite history appeared which commenced with Abraham and which, preserving the tradition of a later origin of yhwh, used ʾElohim (e source) exclusively in the patriarchal narratives. A redactor (r) fused the two accounts into a single narrative (je). Still another source, this time of priestly origin (p), which had the same tradition about yhwh as did E, was interwoven with je, so that the present Genesis is a composite of jep with admixtures of R. Each source, it is claimed, betrays its own peculiarities of literary style and phraseology and displays its own distinctive religious and theological outlook.

The basic distribution of Genesis according to the classical three-source hypothesis of the Graf-Wellhausen school appears in the table: Book of Genesis – Analysis of the Book of Genesis.

It should be noted that chapter 14 cannot be fitted into any of the sources. In some instances such as chapters 31 and 45:1–28, the j and e sources have been so interwoven that disentanglement of the strands is precarious.

In the course of time the inadequacies of the original Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis have led to an expansion of the three sources through the continuous subdividing of each document and by the isolation of still other sources. Some time ago O. Eissfeldt claimed to identify an l (lay) document which, he claimed, is the oldest narrative strand. More recently, claims have also been made for a separate "Promises" writer. Recent scholarship questions the very existence of e as a separate source. Some scholars have effectively revived the fragmentary theory of the early 19th century arguing that there are no continuous sources in the Pentateuch but rather redactional notes. Others have revived the supplementary hypothesis according to which an original narrative has been supplemented by later authors (On these matters see Carr, Hendel, Houtman, Jenks in Bibliography, and *Pentateuch). Despite the diversity of contemporary critical opinion there is no returning to the pre-critical position of Mosaic authorship.

The Distinctiveness of Genesis within the Pentateuch

Despite the contradictions and duplications, and what seems sometimes like a collection of collages, the book has a character all its own, distinguished by numerous features not shared by the other four. It is almost entirely narrative, and in the number and variety of its stories it is unparalleled. Because of its setting in the pre-Israelite period, Genesis, unlike the rest of the Torah, contains the biographies of individuals, not an account of the fortunes of the nation.

The patriarchal sagas have preserved certain social institutions that are unknown elsewhere in the Bible, although they are now documented in extra-biblical sources of the second and first pre-Christian millennia. Among these are brother-sister marriage (Gen. 20:12); concubinage and surrogate motherhood as a remedy for childlessness (16:2; 30:2–3), (perhaps) the role of the household gods in inheritance (Gen. 31:19) and the transference of the birthright (see below).

The book is peculiar, too, in its onomasticon (namestock). Of the 38 personal names connected with the patriarchal family, 27 never recur in the Bible. Nowhere else is there mention of the place-name Paddan-Aram used here so frequently (25:20; 28:2, 5, 6, 7), or is Hebron referred to as Mamre (13:18; 14:13, 18:1; 23:17, 19; 25:9; 35:27; 49:30; 50:13).

Genesis is further differentiated by some stylistic characteristics. It employs the phrase "These are the generations of" (ו) אֵלֶּה תּ(וֹ)לְד(וֹ)ת)) ten times (2:4; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2; cf. 5:1; 10:32; 25:13), which occurs only once in the

rest of the Torah (Num. 3:1; cf. Ruth 4:18). It has God speaking in the first person plural (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; otherwise only Isa. 6:8) which is unusual, and combines the divine names yhwh-ʾElohim, "Lord God," nearly 22 times in two chapters (2–3), such a conjunction appearing otherwise only once in the Pentateuch (Ex. 9:30).

The patriarchal narratives contain much material at variance with the legislation of the Torah. Deuteronomy 21:15–17 explicitly interdicts the transference of the birthright in contrast to what takes place in the case of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:23, 30–34; 27:1–33), Reuben (49:3–4; cf. i Chron. 5:1–2) and Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:13–20). Abraham entered into marriage with his paternal half-sister (20:12), something repeatedly forbidden in the Torah code (Lev. 18:9, 11; 20:17; Deut. 27:22). Jacob was simultaneously married to two sisters (Gen. 29:23, 28, 30), a state of affairs to which Leviticus 18:18 is opposed. Judah had a relationship with his daughter-in-law (and the offspring was not thereby delegitimated; Gen. 38:16; cf. Ruth 4:18). This contrasts strongly with pentateuchal law (Lev. 18:15).

Turning to the area of the cult, the same anomalous situation is apparent. Abraham planted a sacred tree in connection with worship (Gen. 21:33; cf. 12:6–7; 13:18 and see Josh. 24:26), a practice abhorred in the legislation (Deut. 16:21; cf. Ex. 34:13; Deut. 12:3). Jacob set up sacred stone pillars at Bethel (Gen. 28:18, 22; 31:13; 35:14) and Gilead (31:44–53), cultic paraphernalia otherwise outlawed by the Torah (Deut. 16:22; cf. Ex. 23:24; 34:13; Lev. 26:1; Deut. 7:5; 12:3).

The religious situation is further distinguished by other extraordinary features. The war on idolatry is unknown and there is no religious tension between the patriarchs and their neighbors. The appellation "the God of my (your/his) father" (Gen. 26:24; 28:13; et al.) is peculiarly characteristic of the book as is also the employment of numerous Divine Names, several of them unique: ʾEl ʿElyon (14:18, 22), ʾEl Ro ʾi (16:13), ʾEl ʿOlam (21:33), ʾEl Bet-ʾEl (31:13; 35:7), ʾEl ʾElohe Yisrael (33:20), ʾEl Shaddai (17:1; 28:3; et al.), Paḥad Yiẓḥaq (31:42), ʾAbbir Yaʿaqov (49:24). Another peculiarity, though not unique to Genesis, is the frequent appearance of angels, which are encountered by Hagar (16:7ff.; 21:17), Abraham (18:1ff.; cf. 22:11,15; 24:7, 40), Lot (19:1, 15), and Jacob (28:12; 31:11; 32:2; cf. 48:16).

The Age of the Material

The Wellhausen School had maintained that Genesis contained no creditable records dating to the second pre-Christian millennium, and that therefore, we can only extract reliable information about the time in which individual narratives were composed. Thus, an eighth-century narrative about Abraham, for example, could be employed only to illuminate the circumstances of the eighth-century writer and his audience. Crucial to Wellhausen's conclusions was his assumption that writing was unknown in Syria-Palestine of the second millennium, rendering impossible the preservation of accurate ancient traditions. In a similar vein, Wellhausen asserted that the proper names of Israel's ancestors were simply retrojections of tribal names of the first millennium. Beginning in the 1920s, continuing archaeological discoveries in the Middle East brought the second millennium into the light of history. It became clear that Wellhausen's assertionsabout writing were unfounded and that such ancestral names as Benjamin, Israel, Ishmael, and Jacob were genuine second millennium names. Legal procedures and documents from the second millennium provided "parallels" that seemed to demonstrate that the traditions behind Genesis were ultimately of great antiquity. The "biblical archaeology" movement, particularly associated with the name of W.F. *Albright, which employed archaeological evidence to demonstrate the "general accuracy" of Genesis' portrayal of the patriarchal period, was especially influential among Christian and Jewish religious moderates in the United States and Israel for several decades. But the pendulum has swung back. Thanks to the refinement of archaeological technique, the critical re-evaluation of reading the Bible archaeologically, especially by Thompson, and van Seters (1975), and the opening of "biblical Israel" and the Sinai to Israeli excavation following the 1967 war, opinion began to shift in the mid-1970s, i.e., shortly after the present Encyclopaedia Judaica entry appeared in its original form. For example, a celebrated claim had been made by E.A. Speiser that the thrice-told wife-sister story (Gen. 12, 20, 26) was an attempt by Hebrew writers to account for an ancient form of marriage known in second millennium Mesopotamia but forgotten in the course of time. Ingeniously, Speiser argued that the multiple accounts demonstrated that the writers of Genesis preserved truly ancient traditions even when they no longer understood them. Subsequent studies showed that Speiser had completely misunderstood the Nuzi documents and, indeed, misrepresented them. In other cases, true parallels, such as surrogacy as a solution for childlessness, were shown not to be confined to the second millennium and therefore irrelevant for dating the narratives of Genesis. Equally irrelevant to dating is the argument from patriarchal deviance from laws from (allegedly) later legislation. The fact that the patriarchs entered into marriages prohibited elsewhere in the Torah (see above) does not demonstrate that the patriarchal traditions are old. Rather, the prohibitions demonstrate that such marriages were common enough to elicit prohibition. The same can be said for the prohibition against alienating a birthright. Rachel's theft of the household gods has been adduced as a distant mirror of the practice known from Nuzi (in eastern Iraq) of the second millennium in which a female heir might serve the household gods. On that basis Rachel would have stolen the gods to ensure her rights to Laban's property. But the service of the gods by Nuzi women does not itself mean that the gods are the property of the women. Nor is there evidence that receipt of the gods conveyed property rights (Paradise.) Similarly inconclusive is the evidence of female cultic service from Syrian Emar (Huehnergard). Strong evidence for a first millennium background, or at the earliest, a late second millennium background, is the Aramean connection of the patriarchs. Abraham (then Abram) left Aramean Haran, his homeland (Gen. 12:1; 24:7, 10) for Canaan (The tradition of migration from Ur of the Chaldees (11:28; 15:7) originated later among Babylonian Jews.) Abraham's slave came to Haran to find a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:4ff.); Jacob fled to Haran from the wrath of Esau (Gen. 28:2, 10) and spent a good deal of his life there. All the tribes, with the exception of Benjamin, originated in this area. Jacob's uncle Laban utters the only Aramaic phrase in the Torah (Gen. 31:47). All of this is consistent with the stories in i and ii Kings of the ninth-century Hebrew prophets Elijah and Elisha healing Arameans and prophesying to them; with the "wandering/fugitive Aramaean" ancestry attributed to Israelites in Deuteronomy 26:5; with the Jacob traditions known to Hosea (Hos. 12:5) in the eighth century; and if it is not anachronistic, with the David-Absalom connection to Aramaean Geshur (ii Sam. 15:8). This conclusion receives independent support from the fact that the personal names of the patriarchal ancestry are often identical with place-names in the vicinity of Haran. This is true of Terah, Abraham's father (11:24–32), of Nahor, the name of his grandfather (11:22–25) and of his brother (11:26–27, 29), of Serug, Terah's grandfather (11:20–23) and of Peleg, the grandfather of Serug (10:25; 11:16–19). In addition to allusions to the period of David and Solomon and Jeroboam noted above, the absence of any reference to Baal would point to the composition of narratives in a period between that god's fall from grace in the pre-monarchic period (Judg. 6) and his restoration under Ahab in the ninth century. Some preservation of ancient memory is indicated by the contrast between the known historic realities of the post-settlement period and the traditions about Jacob's sons. Thus, Reuben is depicted as Jacob's firstborn son (29:32; 49:3), and his name always takes pride of place in the tribal lists (35:23; 46:8) even though he lost the birthright (49:3–4; cf. i Chron. 5:1–2). Nevertheless, Reuben enjoyed no tribal supremacy in the recorded post-patriarchal history of Israel (cf. Deut. 33:6; Judg. 5:15–16). The identical situation exists in respect of Manasseh, firstborn of Joseph (Gen. 41:51; 48:14, 18–19) who likewise lost the birthright (48:1–20). The tribe was wholly eclipsed by Ephraim in later times. The image of Levi in Genesis is of a warlike and ruthless adversary (34:1–31; 49:5–7). This is at variance with the priestly and cultic functions of the tribe which played no role in the wars of conquest. Simeon is depicted as the partner of Levi in its act of violence (34:1–31), but in Joshua's campaigns Simeon was allied with Judah (Josh. 19:9; Judg. 1:3). The organ ization of the tribes according to matriarchs does not correspond to the post-conquest reality. Maternally related tribes did not enjoy any special political associations and their tribal territories were not always contiguous. All this makes it likely that some Genesis narratives have preserved some authentic reminiscences of early tribal history.

Abraham and Isaac enter into pacts with various peoples (14:13; 21:22–32; 26:28–31); Jacob's sons Judah and Simeon intermarry with Canaanites (38:2; 46:10); the Arameans and the Patriarchs are portrayed as being consanguineous (22:21; 24:24, 38; 25:20).

The Major Themes and Teachings

The distinctive nature of Genesis within the pentateuchal complex does not mean that it can be understood apart from the other books. On the contrary, it is the indispensable prologue to the drama that unfolds in Exodus. It provides the ideological and historical background for the relationship between God and Israel as it found expression in the events connected with the national servitude and the liberation. Its unique concept of God, of humanity, of the nature of the world, and of their interrelationships is essential to the understanding of those events.

the god of creation

The external points of contact between the Genesis creation account and the ancient Near Eastern cosmologies are sufficiently numerous and detailed as to leave no doubt about the influence of the latter on the former. The Genesis creation narrative, like the Egyptian Memphite Theology (cos i:21–3), presupposes a single creator god Ptah, but in contrast to Elohim, Ptah himself creates other gods, who themselves are objects of worship. The Genesis creation stories contrast with other ancient Near Eastern myths that regularly depict creation as the aftermath of the creator god's victory over the forces of chaos, a motif found in poetic biblical texts as well (e.g. Isa. 27:1; Ps. 89:10–11; 93; Job 26:11–13). Creation by divine fiat (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24) emphasizes the concept of the omnipotent, transcendent God whose will is unchallengeable. In this connection, the external literary form in which the account of cosmogony has been cast is highly instructive (See Table 3: The process of Creation (Gen. 1:1–2:3).) The creative process is divided into two groups of three days each, the first of which represents the stage of preparation or creation of the elements, the second the stage of completion or creation of those who are to make use of them. Each three-day group embraces the same number of creative acts, and in each case the first day witnesses a single deed, the second a bipartite act, and the third two distinct creations. The products of the middle days in the two groups are chiastically arranged. The seventh day is climactic and pertains to God alone. (The human institution of the Sabbath is not mentioned.) This symmetrically arranged literary pattern serves to underscore the fundamental idea that the world came into being as the free, deliberate, and meaningful expression of divine will.


Another basic teaching is that the creation of humans is the culmination of the cosmogonic process. (This situation contrasts strongly with the Babylonian myth of Atar-Hasis, which like Genesis moves from creation to the great flood (cos i:450–53]), in which humans are created to do all the work that the minor deities rebelled against doing.) Only here is the divine act preceded by an annunciation of intention (1:26). Only humans are created "in the image of God" (1:26, 27), and to them alone is the custody and exploitation of nature's resources entrusted (1:26, 28, 29). In the second account of the creation of humans, their unique position is emphasized by the fact that their appearance constitutes the sole exception to creation by divine fiat and requires, as it were, a special and personal effort by God, from whom they directly receive the breath of life (2:7). At the same time, the exceptional mention of the material out of which the human was formed (2:7) is suggestive of the limitation of humanity's God-like qualities.


The sevenfold affirmation of the goodness of God's creative acts (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) is singular in the Bible and indicates the influence of Zoroastrian theology whereby the creator-god effected a good creation. The Jewish writers of Genesis 1 who lived in the post-exilic period adapted the Persian notion to the needs of Jewish monotheism.

the moral law

The divine punishment of Cain for fratricide (4:3–16) and the visitations upon the generation of the Flood for its corruption (6:9–8:22) and upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness (chapters 18–19) all presuppose the existence of a divinely ordained order of universal application, for the infraction of which humans are ultimately and inevitably brought to account.

the unity of humankind

The idea of the derivation of all mankind from one common stock is manifested through the divine creation of a single pair of humans as ancestors to all humanity. It is reinforced by the genealogical lists that illustrate the process of development from generation to generation. This concept of the family of humanity and its essential unity receives its consummate expression in the "Table of Nations" (chapter 10), in which the totality of ethnic entities is schematized in the form of a family genealogical tree deriving from the three sons of Noah and their wives, the only human survivors of the Flood.

divine election

The universal focus in Genesis is gradually narrowed through a process of divine selectivity. Noah is singled out for salvation from the rest of humankind (6:8). Of his sons, Shem is especially blessed (9:26), and his line receives outstanding attention (10:21–31; 11:10–32). His genealogy is continued to the birth of Abraham (11:26) who becomes the elect of God and founder of a new nation (cf. 18:19). Again, of Abraham's two sons, Ishmael is rejected and Isaac chosen (17:7–8, 19, 21; 21:14; 25:6; 26:3–4), and the selective process is repeated in respect of his offspring (35:9–12). The divine blessing of Jacob is the final stage, since at this point the patriarchal period ends and the national era begins. Nevertheless, the universal interest is not neglected entirely for the divine promises involve Israel in the international community (12:1–3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:14; 28:14).

the covenant and the promises

One of the most extraordinary features of Genesis is its conception of the relationship between God and humankind in terms of a covenant by which, as an act of grace, God commits Himself unconditionally to the welfare of humankind. This is first explicated in the case of Noah (6:18; 9:8–17; cf. 1:28–29). With the advent of Abraham, the covenant becomes the dominant theme of the entire book, to which all else is preparatory and which itself becomes prologue to the rest of the Bible. The oft-repeated promises to the Patriarchs consist basically of two parts – a future national existence and the possession of national territory. Abraham is to father a great people destined to inherit the land of Canaan (12:2–3; 13:14–17; 15:4–5, 18–21; 17:2, 4–8; 22:17–18). The same is reaffirmed to Isaac (26:3–4) and Jacob (28:13–14; 35:10–12; cf. 46:2–4; 48:3–4). In fact, most subsequent scriptural references to the three Patriarchs are in connection with these promises, and the measure of their paramount importance may be gauged both by the frequency of their repetition and by the fact that the book closes on this very theme (50:24).

The promissory covenant in Genesis lacks mutuality. It is a unilateral obligation freely assumed by God. The solemnity and immutable nature of the act of divine will is conveyed through a dramatic covenant ceremonial (chapter 15). Abraham's worthiness is indeed stressed (18:19; 22:12, 16; 26:5), and his offspring to come, throughout the ages, are to observe the rite of circumcision as the symbol of the covenant (17:9–14). It should be noted, though, that the idea of a national covenant on Sinai with all its implications for the religion of Israel is beyond the horizon of Genesis, which sees in the promises to the Patriarchs the guarantee of God's eternal grace to Israel and the assurance of eventual deliverance from Egypt (cf. 15:14; 50:24; Ex. 6:4–5).

god and history

The concepts of God and the covenant in Genesis inevitably mean that the presence of God is to be felt on the human scene. History is thus endowed with meaning. A literary characteristic of the Genesis narratives is the employment of schematized chronology, the featuring of neatly balanced periods of time and the use of symbolic numbers to give prominence to this idea.

The ten generations from Adam to Noah are paralleled by a like number separating Noah from Abraham. The birth of each personality represents, from the biblical point of view, the arrival of an epochal stage in history. It is not accidental that the arts of civilization appear precisely in the seventh generation after Adam (Gen. 4:20–22), through the sons of Lamech who himself lived 777 years (5:31). See Table 1.

Turning to the period of the Patriarchs, it is significant that Abraham lived 75 years in the home of his father and the same number of years in the lifetime of his son Isaac, that he was 100 years of age when Isaac was born, and sojourned 100 years in Canaan (12:4; 21:5; 25:7). Jacob lived 17 years with Joseph in Canaan and 17 years with him in Egypt (37:2; 47:9, 28). See Table 2.

The Patriarchs resided a total of 250 years in Canaan (21:5; 25:26; 47:9), which is exactly half the duration of their descendants' stay in Egypt (Ex. 12:40; according to the Greek and Samaritan versions the correspondence is exact). The important events in their lives are recorded in terms of a combination of the decimal and sexagenary systems with the occasional addition of seven (See Table 4: Important events in the lives of the Patriarchs). The idea is clearly projected that what is happening is the stage by stage unfolding of the divine plan of history.

Genesis Personality Age at birth of first-born
1 or 1948 according to Gen. 11:10
Genesis Personality Age
21:5Abraham at the birth of Isaac100
25:26Isaac at the birth of Jacob60
47:28Life span of Jacob147
45:6From the death of Jacob54
47:28to the death of Joseph
Group I Group ii
Day Element User Day
1Light (1:3–5)Luminaries (1:14–19)4
2SkyMarine life (fish)5
Terrestial Waters (1:6–8)Sky life (fowl) (1:20–23)
3Dry landLand animals6
Vegetation (1:9–13)Man (1:24–31)
(Lowest form of organic life)(Highest form of organic life)
7Divine cessation from creativity (2: 1–3)
Personality Event Age Source
AbrahamMigrated from Haran7512:4
Married Hagar8516:3
At birth of Isaac10021:5
At death17525:7
SarahAt birth of Isaac9017:17
At death127=2x60+723:1
IsaacMarried Rebekah4025:20
At birth of twins6025:26
At Esau's Marriage10026:34
At death180=3x6035:28
JacobAt migration to Egypt13047:9
At death147=2x70+747:28
JosephAt sale to Egypt17=10+737:2
At rise to power3041:46
At death11050:26


commentaries: H.E. Ryle (Eng., 1921); B. Jacob (Ger., 1934); J. Skinner (Eng., 19302); S.R. Driver (Eng., 194815); C.A. Simpson and W.R. Bowie (Eng., 1952); U. Cassuto (Eng., 2 vols. 1961–64); G. Von Rad (Eng., 1961). general studies: A.T. Chapman, An Introduction to the Pentateuch (1911); Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 1 (1960), 207–11; idem, in: Molad, 17 (1959), 331–8; M.H. Segal, in: jqr, 46 (1955/56), 89–115; 52 (1961/62), 41–68; 53 (1962/63), 226–56; B. Gemser, in: ots, 12 (1958), 1–21; J. Finegan, In the Beginning (1962); U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis (19654); O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament … (1965), 194–9; N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966); B. Mazar, in: jnes, 28 (1969), 73–83. on chapters 1–11: W.F. Albright and S. Mowinckel, in: jbl, 58 (1939), 87–103; U. Cassuto, in: Knesseth, 8 (1943), 121–42; S.N. Kramer, in: jaos, 63 (1943), 191–4; 64 (1944), 7–23, 83; idem, in: Studia Biblica et Orientalia, 3 (1959), 185–204; R.A.F. Mackenzie, in: cbq, 15 (1953), 131–40; K. Cramer, Genesis 1–11 (1959); B.S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament (1960); A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (1963); idem, The Gilgamesh Epic (1963); G.C. Westerman, The Genesis Accounts of Creation (1964). On patriarchal period see bibliographies to *Abraham, *Isaac, *Jacob, *Joseph, *Patriarchs. add. bibliography: E.A. Speiser, in: J. Finkelstein and M. Greenberg (eds.), Oriental and Biblical Studies…Writings of Speiser (1967), 62–82; M. Weinfeld, in: Tarbiz, 37 (1968), 105–32; T. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1974); J. van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (1975); idem, idb Sup, 645–48; idem, The Pentateuch: A Social Science Commentary (1999); J. Huehnergard, in: cbq, 47 (1985), 428–34; J. Paradise, in: D. Owen and M. Morrison (eds.), Nuzi and the Hurrians, vol. 2 (1987), 203–13; C. Westermann, Genesis, 3 vols., tr. J. Scullion (1985–87); N. Sarna, jps Torah Commentary Genesis (1989); G. Plaut, in: dbi, 1:436–42; C. Houtman, in: dbi, 2:257–62; A. Jenks, in: abd, 2:478–82; R. Hendel, ibid., 933–41 (extensive bibliography); D. Carr, Reading the Fractures of Genesis (1996); S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998), 75–102; idem, in: R. Chazan et al., Ki Baruch Hu…Studies…Levine (1999), 373–85; T. Levy et al., in: Antiquity, 78, no. 302 (2004), 865–79.

[Nahum M. Sarna /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

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