GENESIS, BOOK OF
The first book of the Pentateuch (Greek for “five rolls” or “fivefold volume”). “Genesis” (meaning “Origin; Birth”) is the name given to the first of these books by the Greek Septuagint, whereas its Hebrew title Bereʼ·shithʹ (In the Beginning) is taken from the first word in its opening sentence.
When and Where Written. The book of Genesis was evidently part of the one original writing (the Torah), and it was possibly completed by Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the year 1513 B.C.E. After Genesis 1:1, 2 (relating to the creation of the heavens and the earth), the book evidently covers a span of thousands of years involved in the preparation of the earth for human habitation (see CREATION; DAY), and thereafter it covers the period from man’s creation on down to the year 1657 B.C.E., when Joseph died.—See CHRONOLOGY (From Human Creation to the Present).
Writership. The objection once raised by some skeptics that writing was not known in Moses’ day is today generally discounted. In his book New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis (1949, p. 35), P. J. Wiseman points out that archaeological research gives ample proof that “the art of writing began in the earliest historical times known to man.” Virtually all modern scholars acknowledge the existence of writing long before the time of Moses (in the second millennium B.C.E.). Expressions such as that found in Exodus 17:14, “Write this as a memorial in the book,” substantiate the fact that writing was in common use in Moses’ day. Adam must have had the ability to devise a form of writing, God having given him, as a perfect man, a language, with the ability to handle it perfectly, even to the extent of composing poetry.—Ge 2:19, 23.
From where did Moses get the information he included in Genesis?
All the information contained in the book of Genesis relates to events that took place prior to Moses’ birth. It could have been received directly by divine revelation. It is obvious that someone had to receive the information relating to the events prior to man’s creation in that way, whether Moses or someone prior to him. (Ge 1:1-27; 2:7, 8) This information and the remaining details, however, could have been transmitted to Moses by means of oral tradition. Because of the long life span of men of that period, the information could have been passed from Adam to Moses through just five human links, namely, Methuselah, Shem, Isaac, Levi, and Amram. A third possibility is that Moses obtained much of the information for Genesis from already existing writings or documents. As far back as the 18th century, the Dutch scholar Campegius Vitringa held this view, basing his conclusion upon the frequent occurrence in Genesis (ten times) of the expression (in KJ) “these are the generations of,” and once “this is the book of the generations of.” (Ge 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2) In this expression the Hebrew word for “generations” is toh·le·dhohthʹ, and it is better rendered “histories” or “origins.” For example, “generations of the heavens and of the earth” would hardly be fitting, whereas “history of the heavens and the earth” is meaningful. (Ge 2:4) In harmony with this, the German Elberfelder, the French Crampon, and the Spanish Bover-Cantera all use the term “history,” as does the New World Translation. There is no doubt that even as men today are interested in an accurate historical record, so they have been from the start.
For these reasons, Vitringa and others since have understood each use of toh·le·dhohthʹ in Genesis to refer to an already existing written historical document that Moses had in his possession and that he relied upon for the majority of the information recorded in Genesis. They believe that the persons named in direct connection with such ‘histories’ (Adam, Noah, Noah’s sons, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob) were either the writers or original possessors of those written documents. This, of course, would still leave unexplained how all such documents came to be in the possession of Moses. It also leaves unexplained why documents obtained from men who were not distinguished as faithful worshipers of Jehovah (such as Ishmael and Esau) should be the source of much of the information used. It is entirely possible that the expression “This is the history of” is simply an introductory phrase serving conveniently to divide off the various sections of the long overall history. Compare Matthew’s use of a similar expression to introduce his Gospel account.—Mt 1:1; see WRITING.
No definite conclusion can be arrived at, therefore, as to the immediate source from which Moses obtained the information he recorded. Rather than just by one of the methods discussed, the information may have been received by all three, some through direct revelation, some through oral transmission, some by written records. The important point is that Jehovah God guided the prophet Moses so that he wrote by divine inspiration.—2Pe 1:21.
The material was to serve as an inspired guide to future generations. It was to be read to the people on frequent occasions (De 31:10-12; 2Ki 23:2, 3; Ne 8:2, 3, 18), and Israel’s kings were to take instructions from it.—De 17:18, 19.
The “Documentary Theory” of Critics. A theory has been set forth by some Bible critics that Genesis is not the work of one writer or compiler, namely, Moses, but rather that it represents the work of several writers, some of these living long after Moses’ time. On the basis of supposed differences of style and word usage, they have advanced the so-called documentary theory. According to this theory, there were three sources, which they call “J” (Jahwist), “E” (Elohist), and “P” (Priest Codex). Because of a double mention of a certain event or because of similarity of accounts in different parts of Genesis, some would add still further sources to the list, going so far in dissecting the book of Genesis as to claim that there were up to 14 independent sources. They contend that these various sources or writers held different views and theologies yet that, nevertheless, Genesis as an amalgamated product of these sources somehow forms a connected whole. There are many absurdities to which they go to support their theories, a few of which may be mentioned.
The original basis for the documentary theory was the use of different titles for God; the critics claim that this indicates different writers. The unreasonableness of such a view, however, can be seen in that in just one small portion of Genesis we find the following titles: “the Most High God” (ʼEl ʽEl·yohnʹ, Ge 14:18); “Producer of heaven and earth” (14:19); “Sovereign Lord” (ʼAdho·naiʹ, 15:2); “God of sight” (16:13); “God Almighty” (ʼEl Shad·daiʹ, 17:1); “God” (ʼElo·himʹ, 17:3); “the true God” (ha·ʼElo·himʹ, 17:18); “the Judge of all the earth” (18:25). Trying to use this as a basis for attributing each of these sections to a different writer produces insurmountable difficulties and becomes absurd. Rather, the truth is that the different titles applied to God in Genesis are used because of their meaning, revealing Jehovah in his different attributes, in his various works, and in his dealings with his people.
Other examples are: Because of the use of the word ba·raʼʹ, “created,” Genesis 1:1 is said to be written by the source called “P.” Yet we find the same word at Genesis 6:7 in the source supposed to be “J.” The expression “land of Canaan” appearing in several texts (among which are Ge 12:5; 13:12a; 16:3; 17:8) is said to be a peculiarity of the writer known as “P,” and therefore these critics hold that “P” wrote these passages. But in chapters 42, 44, 47, and 50, we find the same expression in the writings attributed by the same critics to “J” and “E.” Thus, while the critics claim that their theories are needed to account for supposed inconsistencies in Genesis, examination shows that the theories themselves are riddled with inconsistencies.
If the material attributed to each theoretical source is extricated portion by portion, and sentence by sentence, from the Genesis account and then reassembled, the result is a number of accounts each one of which by itself is illogical and incoherent. If we were to believe that these various sources were used and put together by a later compiler, we would be forced to believe that these incoherent accounts, before being amalgamated, were accepted as historical and were used for centuries by the nation of Israel. But what writer, especially a historian, would even construct such disconnected narratives, and if he did, what nation would accept them as a history of its people?
Illustrating the unreasonableness of the advocates of the “documentary theory” is this statement by Egyptologist K. A. Kitchen: “In Pentateuchal criticism it has long been customary to divide the whole into separate documents or ‘hands’. . . . But the practice of Old Testament criticism in attributing these characteristics to different ‘hands’ or documents becomes a manifest absurdity when applied to other ancient Oriental writings that display precisely similar phenomena.” He then cites an example from an Egyptian biography that might, using the theoretical methods employed by the critics of Genesis, be attributed to different “hands” but which work the evidence shows “was conceived, composed, written, and carved within months, weeks, or even less. There can be no ‘hands’ behind its style, which merely varies with the subjects in view and the question of fitting treatment.” (The New Bible Dictionary, edited by J. Douglas, 1980, p. 349) The weakness of the critics’ theories actually gives added strength to the evidence that only one man, Moses, recorded the connected, coherent account found in Genesis as inspired by God.
The Historical Character of Genesis. Genesis is the only source known to humans that provides a logical, coherent history of things back to the beginning. Without its factual history of the first man and woman, we would be left with the fanciful stories or allegorical explanations of man’s beginning that are found in the creation accounts of pagan nations. A comparison of the book of Genesis with the pagan creation accounts clearly demonstrates the superiority of the Bible account.
Thus, the principal Babylonian myth says that the god Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, killed the goddess Tiamat, then took her corpse and “split her like a shellfish into two parts: Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky.” So the earth and its sky came into existence. As to the creation of human life, this myth states that the gods caught the god Kingu and they “imposed on him his guilt and severed his blood (vessels). Out of his blood they fashioned mankind.” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James Pritchard, 1974, pp. 67, 68) Egyptian creation myths likewise involve the activities of several gods, but they disagree as to which city’s god (that of Memphis or that of Thebes) was the one who conceived the creation. One Egyptian myth relates that the sun-god Ra created mankind from his tears. Greek myths parallel those of the Babylonians. Ancient Chinese records are mostly calendars and chronological calculations or records of merely local or temporary interest.
Not one of such ancient sources furnishes us with the history, genealogy, and chronology that the book of Genesis provides. The writings of the ancient nations in general show uncertainty and confusion as to who their national founders were. The definiteness and detail with which Israel’s early history is presented is strikingly different. In reality we should not expect it to be otherwise, in view of God’s purpose toward his people. The Bible tells us that the nation of Israel was directly governed by God and that he dealt with their forefathers, especially Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then he used Moses in a very special way, through him giving Israel the Law that established them as a nation. Israel’s history is in recorded form not only for Israel’s benefit but also for the benefit of all who will learn of the ways and dealings of the true God and serve him.
In answering those who would reject many portions of Genesis as fables or folklore, Wilhelm Möller says: “I do not think that it can be made plausible, that in any race fables and myths came in the course of time more and more to be accepted as actual facts, so that perchance we should now be willing to accept as historical truths the stories of the Nibelungenlied or Red Riding Hood. But this, according to the critics, must have been the case in Israel.” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, edited by J. Orr, 1960, Vol. II, p. 1209) He goes on to point out that the prophets accepted the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as correct (Isa 1:9; Am 4:11) and that they accepted Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as real persons. (Isa 29:22; Mic 7:20) Not only this, but in the Christian Greek Scriptures, Abraham is mentioned in many places, even by Jesus Christ at Matthew 22:32, in connection with the argument about the resurrection. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not really lived, Jesus would have used another illustration.—Mt 22:31-33.
Value of the Book. Genesis tells us how the universe came into being. In a matter-of-fact way it describes the wonders of creation, without making these overshadow the main purpose of the book. It is thus unlike the pagan creation stories that make these marvels the main thing and go to absurdities and obvious untruths to stress them. Genesis tells about the work of creation, and it shows God’s purpose in creating man, the relationship of man to God, and the relationship of man to the animals. It gives us the reason for death and trouble experienced by mankind and the hope of deliverance. It points out that all humans descended from the one man Adam, who sinned and lost life for his posterity; it thereby enables us to understand how the ransom sacrifice of one man, Jesus Christ, could atone for the sins of mankind. Genesis enables us to see how the issue of the rightfulness of God’s sovereignty was raised by the symbolic serpent, Satan the Devil. It gives the sure hope of destruction of Satan and of relief for mankind. It recounts the origin of Babylon and thus of all false religion in the post-Flood earth, thereby aiding in the identification of Babylon the Great in the book of Revelation.—See BABYLON THE GREAT.
Jesus said that if anyone serves God, that one must worship Him with spirit and truth. (Joh 4:24) The Genesis account sets forth the truth of man’s beginnings and of God’s dealings with him. Since everything recorded in Genesis is true and not mythical, we are able to know the truth about man’s history. We can see that up to the time of the Flood men certainly knew the truth of the Biblical account about Eden, for the garden was there and cherubs were there with the flaming sword at its gate. (Ge 3:24) But those who wanted to go the way of their own desires ignored the facts that were before them. Noah, however, served God according to the way that man was originally created to serve him, according to true history. Although, following the Flood, Nimrod set up rebellion against God at the Tower of Babel, the patriarchs through the line of Shem continued to hold to the true way of life. When it was God’s time to organize Israel into a nation and give them the Law, it did not come to them like something completely unknown, a revolutionary change in their way of life. No, for in the patriarchal society they had done many of the things that are found in the Law. As M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia (1881, Vol. III, p. 782), declares: “This theocracy cannot have entered into history without preparatory events. The facts which led to the introduction of the theocracy are contained in the accounts of Genesis.”
This, in turn, prepared the way for the Messiah and the introduction of Christianity. When Jesus Christ arrived, those who had been living according to the Law to the best of their ability were soon able to identify him. He did not appear suddenly and announce himself to be a great savior and leader without any background or historical credentials. The background that had been furnished right from Genesis on down enabled the honesthearted ones to recognize and follow him. Therefore a strong organization of Jewish Christians could be established as a nucleus, prepared to bring a convincing gospel message to the nations. The forefathers of the pagan nations had led them away from the truth. They were “alienated from the state of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, and . . . had no hope and were without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12) Therefore, they had to learn the principles of God from the beginning before they could become Christians.
Genesis, then, provides a valuable basis for understanding all the other books of the Bible and is essential to Christianity. It sets the theme for the Bible, namely, the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty and the ultimate fulfillment of his purpose for the earth, by means of his Kingdom under the promised Seed. In addition to the very first and basic prophecy at Genesis 3:15, Genesis has within it numerous other prophecies, a great many of which have been fulfilled since its composition.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF GENESIS
A record of God’s creating and preparing the earth for human habitation, of mankind’s role in God’s purpose, and of God’s dealings with men of faith during some 2,300 years of early human history
Covers the period from the beginning of the physical creation down to the death of Joseph in Egypt (1657 B.C.E.)
Creation of physical heavens and earth, and the preparation of the earth for human habitation (1:1–2:25)
Sin and death enter world; “seed” foretold as deliverer (3:1–5:5)
Serpent deceives woman; she and Adam partake of forbidden fruit
Serpent, woman, and Adam sentenced; woman’s seed to crush serpent
Cain, firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murders his brother Abel
In fulfillment of God’s judgment, Adam dies at 930 years of age
Wicked angels and men ruin earth; God brings global Flood (5:6–11:9)
Noah is born in line of Adam’s son Seth; in his day disobedient angels marry women and father the Nephilim, who indulge in violence
Jehovah decrees destruction by a deluge but instructs Noah to build an ark for the preservation of his family and basic animal kinds
Floodwaters overwhelm the whole earth; all humans, flying creatures, and land animals outside ark perish
After the Flood, Jehovah prohibits eating blood, authorizes death penalty for murder, and establishes rainbow covenant, promising never to bring another deluge
During the second generation born after the Flood, people begin to build a tower, defying God’s purpose for them to spread abroad; Jehovah confuses their language, scattering them
Jehovah’s dealings with Abraham (11:10–25:26)
Shem’s descendant Abram leaves Ur in obedience to God’s call
In Canaan, Abram is promised that his seed will receive the land
Lot separates from his uncle Abram, settles near Sodom, is taken captive, and afterward is freed by Abram; Melchizedek blesses Abram
Abram takes Hagar as concubine, and she gives birth to Ishmael
Jehovah changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah; covenant of circumcision is established
Jehovah’s angel informs Abraham that Sarah will bear a son—Isaac
Told of judgment upon Sodom, Abraham pleads for the righteous
Angels urge Lot and his family to leave Sodom; Lot’s wife perishes for disobedience
Isaac is born; Ishmael’s taunts at Isaac’s weaning lead to dismissal
In obedience to Jehovah, Abraham attempts to sacrifice Isaac, and he receives assurance respecting the covenant promises
After Sarah’s death, Abraham arranges to get a wife for Isaac
Isaac’s wife Rebekah gives birth to Esau and Jacob
Jacob (Israel) and his 12 sons; to Egypt for the preservation of life (25:27–50:26)
After Jacob had bought the birthright from Esau for a meal and later, at Rebekah’s urging, procured the blessing Isaac intended for Esau, Jacob departs for Paddan-aram, seeking a wife
Rebekah’s brother Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah; then Jacob marries Rachel; by Leah and Rachel and their two maidservants, Jacob has 11 sons and a daughter Dinah before leaving Paddan-aram with his family
Jacob wrestles with an angel, and his thigh joint is put out of place; he desperately clings to the angel in order to receive a blessing, and his name is changed to Israel
After a peaceful meeting with Esau, Jacob resides at Succoth and then at Shechem, where Dinah is violated
Rachel dies when giving birth to Jacob’s 12th son, Benjamin
Out of hatred for Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn, his half brothers sell him; he becomes a slave to Potiphar in Egypt
Imprisoned on false charges, Joseph comes into circumstances that bring his ability to interpret dreams to Pharaoh’s attention
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams regarding a famine and is made second ruler in Egypt
Famine in Canaan forces Jacob’s sons to go to Egypt for food; in time Joseph reveals himself to his half brothers
Jacob and his household move to Egypt; Joseph cares for them
Jacob dies in Egypt after pronouncing prophetic blessings on Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and on his own 12 sons