GENESIS, BOOK OF
[Gr., origin; generation; coming into existence].
The first book of the Pentateuch (Greek for “five rolls” or “fivefold volume”). “Genesis” is the name given to the first of these books by the Septuagint translation, whereas its Hebrew title Bereʹshithʹ (“In the beginning”) is taken from the first word in its opening sentence.
WHEN AND WHERE WRITTEN
Since the book of Genesis was evidently part of the one original writing (the Torah), 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, the creation of marine creatures, land animals and birds (see CREATION [Length of Creative Days]; DAY), and thereafter covers the period from man’s creation (either 4027 or 4026 B.C.E., according to the method of calculation employed) on down to the year 1657 B.C.E., when Joseph died.—See ABRAHAM (Sojourn in Canaan); Chronology (Counting from the Time of Human Creation to the Present).
The objection once raised by some skeptics that writing was not known in Moses’ day is today generally discounted. P. J. Wiseman, in his book New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis, 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 a thousand years or more 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 very soundly that writing was in common use in Moses’ day. It was no doubt an ability Adam possessed, God having given him, as a perfect man, a language, with the ability to handle it perfectly, even to composing poetry.—Gen. 2:19, 23.
SOURCE OF MATERIAL
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. (Gen. 1:1-27; 2:7, 8) This information and the remaining information, however, could have been transmitted to Moses by means of oral tradition. Due to 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 eighteenth century the Dutch Dr. Campegius Vitringa held this view, basing his conclusion upon the frequent occurrence in Genesis (ten times) of the expression (in AV) “these are the generations of,” and once “this is the book of the generations of.” (Gen. 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. (Gen. 2:4) In harmony with this the Catholic Confraternity version, 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 which 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” may be 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.—Matt. 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 tradition, some by written records. The important point is that Jehovah God guided the prophet Moses so that he wrote by divine inspiration.—2 Pet. 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 (Deut. 31:10-12; 2 Ki. 23:2, 3; Neh. 8:2, 3, 18) and Israel’s kings were to take instructions from it.—Deut. 17:18, 19.
THE “DOCUMENTARY THEORY” OF CRITICS
A theory has been invented by some Bible critics that Genesis is not the work of one writer or compiler, namely, Moses, but, rather, 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 fourteen 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 that the use of different titles for God indicated different writers. The unreasonableness of such 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, Genesis 14:18); “Producer of heaven and earth” (14:19); “Lord” (ʼAdho·nayʹ, 15:2); “God of sight” (16:13); “God Almighty” (ʼEl Shad·dayʹ, 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 and his various works and 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 Genesis 12:5; 13:12a; 16:3 and 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 should 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 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.” (Douglas, The New Bible Dictionary, 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 providing 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 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, by Pritchard, pp. 67, 68) Egyptian creation myths likewise involve the activities of several gods, and 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.
None of the 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 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.” He goes on to point out that the prophets accepted the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as correct (Isa. 1:9; Amos 4:11), accepted Abraham as a real person (Isa. 29:22; Mic. 7:20) and also Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Not only this, but in the Christian Greek Scriptures Abraham is mentioned in many places, even by Jesus Christ in connection with the argument about the resurrection, at Matthew 22:32. If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had not really lived, Jesus, powerful teacher that he was, would have used another illustration.—Matt. 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 shows the work of creation and 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; thereby enabling 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 he 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 he must worship Him with spirit and truth. (John 4:24) The Genesis account sets forth the truth of man’s beginnings and of God’s dealings with him. Everything recorded in Genesis being 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 with the flaming sword at its gate. Whether the cherubs were visibly manifested is not stated. (Gen. 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 most of the things that are found in the Law. As M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia (Vol. III, p. 782), under “Genesis,” 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 honest-hearted 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 sanctification of Jehovah’s name through his kingdom. 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.—See the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” pp. 13-19, 337-349.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Creation of heavens, earth, life on earth (1:1–2:4)
A. Law of God governs fixity of kinds
B. Procreation mandate given to human male and female
C. God begins rest day
II. More detailed account of man and woman’s creation; sin enters the world and death through sin (2:5–4:26)
A. Creation of man, woman; geography of garden; law to man; marriage (chap. 2)
B. Man and woman transgress; serpent, woman, Adam sentenced; Adam and wife Eve driven from garden (chap. 3)
C. Cain murders Abel; Cain’s descendants; Seth born (chap. 4)
III. Genealogy, Adam through Seth to Noah’s sons; angels marry women; mankind given 120 years (5:1–6:8)
IV. The global flood (6:9–9:29)
A. Noah commissioned to build ark, preserve human and animal life through flood (chap. 6)
B. Flood destroys all flesh outside ark (chap. 7)
C. Noah leaves ark, in Noah’s 601st year, second month; makes sacrifices (chap. 8)
D. Laws given: man may eat flesh, no blood; capital punishment for murder; man to be fruitful, fill earth; rainbow covenant promises no future global flood; Canaan cursed (chap. 9)
V. Mankind divided (10:1–11:9)
A. Seventy families from which the nations spread about in the earth (chap. 10)
B. Tower of Babel; language confused (11:1-9)
VI. Genealogy, Shem to Abram (11:10-26)
VII. God’s dealings with Abraham (11:27–25:11)
A. Abram leaves Ur, goes to Haran, then enters Canaan; Abrahamic covenant; Sarai protected in Egypt (11:27–12:20)
B. Abram lets Lot choose Jordan district; God promises land to Abram and seed (chap. 13)
C. Abram defeats four kings, including king of Shinar; he gives a tenth to Melchizedek, is blessed (chap. 14)
D. Heir promised to Abram; covenant confirmed; prophecy of deliverance after 400-year affliction (chap. 15)
E. Sarai gives Abram Hagar as concubine; Hagar runs away, returns; Ishmael born (chap. 16)
F. Abram’s name changed to Abraham by Jehovah; covenant of circumcision made; Sarai’s name changed to Sarah by Jehovah; son promised, to be named Isaac (chap. 17)
G. Angel promises Abraham son by Sarah within year by Jehovah’s power; Abraham intercedes for Sodom’s preservation; Lot delivered by angels; cities of the District destroyed; Lot’s daughters have sons Moab and Ben-ammi by their father (chaps. 18, 19)
H. Sarah protected from Abimelech by Jehovah’s intervention (chap. 20)
I. Isaac born; Ishmael pokes fun and foretold affliction begins; Hagar and Ishmael dismissed (chap. 21)
J. Abraham attempts to offer up Isaac; Jehovah adds oath to promise; seed to be multiplied like stars and grains of sand (chap. 22)
K. Abraham mourns Sarah’s death, buries her in field purchased from sons of Heth (chap. 23)
L. Abraham’s steward sent to Mesopotamia; Rebekah, Abraham’s relative, taken as bride for Isaac (chap. 24)
M. Abraham has other sons by Keturah; dies (25:1-11)
VIII. Ishmael’s twelve sons; his death (25:12-18)
IX. The twelve foundations of Israel brought forth (25:19–35:29)
A. Esau and Jacob born to Isaac and Rebekah; Esau sells birthright to Jacob (25:19-34)
B. Isaac and Rebekah gain protection from Abimelech; Isaac persecuted by Philistines; covenant made with Abimelech; Esau marries (chap. 26)
C. Esau prepares to get blessing of birthright he sold; Jacob, advised by Rebekah, resorts to maneuvers and is blessed by Isaac; Esau plans to kill Jacob (chap. 27)
D. Isaac knowingly blesses Jacob, sends him to Paddan-aram; Jacob has vision of ladder reaching to heaven; Jehovah confirms Abrahamic covenant promise to him; Jacob names place Bethel (chap. 28)
E. Jacob serves Laban seven years; Leah given him by Laban; then Rachel; Jacob has four sons by Leah (chap. 29)
F. Jacob has six more sons and a daughter by Leah and concubines of Leah and Rachel; Joseph borne by Rachel; Jacob grows in wealth (chap. 30)
G. God responsible for Jacob’s growing rich; after twenty years’ service Jacob leaves for home; Laban pursues, quarrels with Jacob; covenant made between them at Galeed (chap. 31)
H. Jacob sends gift to Esau; grapples with angel; name changed to Israel (chap. 32)
I. Jacob and Esau meet peaceably; Jacob arrives at Shechem (chap. 33)
J. Dinah violated by Shechem; Simeon and Levi slaughter men of Shechem, carry off women, children and plunder (chap. 34)
K. Jacob cleanses household of foreign gods; Rebekah dies giving birth to Benjamin; Isaac dies (chap. 35)
X. Esau moves to Seir; his descendants (36:1-43)
XI. Jacob and his twelve sons in Canaan (37:1–38:30)
A. Joseph favored; has dreams; sold by half brothers to Midianite merchants, Ishmaelites; make it appear that Joseph killed by beast; Jacob declares Joseph dead (chap. 37)
B. When brother-in-law marriage not carried out with Tamar, she deceives Judah into making her pregnant; Perez and Zerah born (chap. 38)
XII. Israel in Egypt (39:1–50:26)
A. Joseph slave to Potiphar, falsely accused, imprisoned; blessed by Jehovah (chap. 39)
B. Joseph interprets dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker; they are fulfilled (chap. 40)
C. Two years later Joseph called to interpret dreams of Pharaoh; Joseph named prime minister, marries, stores up grain during seven years of plenty; Manasseh and Ephraim born; seven-year famine begins (chap. 41)
D. Jacob sends ten sons to Egypt for grain; Joseph recognizes them, demands youngest brother be brought; Simeon held hostage; return from Egypt; Reuben offers two sons as surety for Benjamin; Jacob refuses to send Benjamin (chap. 42)
E. Famine continues; Judah becomes surety for Benjamin; half brothers return with Benjamin; feasted by Joseph (chap. 43)
F. Brothers overtaken on return journey, accused; Judah pleads to be slave to Joseph in place of Benjamin (chap. 44)
G. Joseph reveals his identity; Jacob’s household invited to Egypt; Jacob realizes Joseph is alive (chap. 45)
H. Jacob moves to Egypt with his household (chap. 46)
I. Jacob meets Pharaoh; settles in Goshen; Joseph buys all livestock and finally Egypt’s land with its people for Pharaoh; one-fifth of produce of land to go to Pharaoh (chap. 47)
J. Jacob on deathbed, blesses Joseph’s sons, putting Ephraim above Manasseh the firstborn (chap. 48)
K. Jacob blesses his twelve sons; Judah given blessing of commander’s position and promise of coming Shiloh; Jacob dies (chap. 49)
L. Jacob buried in Canaan in cave purchased by Abraham; Joseph commands sons of Israel to take his bones out of Egypt, expresses confidence that Jehovah will deliver nation; Joseph dies (chap. 50)