Introducing Genesis

Introducing Genesis

The first chapter of Genesis (in the Israel Museum) photo adapted from Wikimedia

As the first book in the Bible Genesis has a special importance for readers. This very brief introduction to some of the literary and theological issues of the book is really just the very beginning of studying Genesis!

I’ve been working on a Bible Dictionary article on “Genesis” , so it seemed like a good time to fill in a gap in my Genesis page. I am a bit “bunged up” today, so forgive the nasal quality to the voice please.

I’ve tried both to introduce very briefly some of the scholarly issues as well as the theological importance of this magnificent book, let me know where you think I succeed or fail! Your criticisms could be really helpful 🙂

8 Comments

  1. I think you’ve done well. I wish that the person who taught me about Genesis had begun with something like this! He started by justifying his refusal to use inclusive language and then plunged into creation myths and flood stories in the Ancient Near East. It was BibStuds 101, so he had no reason to assume that the class had any significant background. I copied the notes down obediently without having the faintest of clues about why he was telling us about it.

    1. Author

      Creation myths and flood stories from the ANE are fascinating, but hardly the first thing or the last to say. Still your NT teacher must have been better or you would hardly be doing a PhD… though come to think of it my first OT tutorial was a bit of a waste of time, shared with a second year I knew nothing, he did, so the teacher taught him, and I floundered… maybe that’s why I try to remember what students don’t know… it has to be me since those things are unknown unknowns for them 😉

  2. Thanks Tim – nice short intro – but I have missed something. You mention the flood and patriarchs at about 4.18. I wondered which psalms you are thinking of. Joseph gets two mentions (77 and 78) but only with respect to the failure of Ephraim.

    1. Author

      Hmm, as well as the explicit mentions of the Patriarchs some of the 30 or so times the name Jacob is used there may be echoes of his story as well as reference to the children of Israel. Ps 105 makes quite a thing of the patriarchal stories, and Y is the “God of Abraham” a verbal echo in 47:9.

      On the flood, I’d see some (though clearly not all) the references to the chaos waters of creation as also carrying echoes of the punishing waters of the flood. I agree this is much more overt in the prophets, but in 104:9 it is fairly strong…

      Ps 74 I think echoes both patriarchal stories and the flood… and I’d wonder if death by drowning or something more cosmic is behind Ps 69.

      I wonder if I’ve overplayed that too much?

  3. You did a good job introducing the documentary hypothesis.

    I enjoy your take on the theological significance of Genesis.

    There’s a bit of awkwardness in this sentence: “Creation and human sinfulness that follows it in Genesis 1 and 2, and in Genesis 3 and 4, provides a necessary foundation to understand much of the theology expressed in the Old and New Testaments.” Perhaps “Creation and human sinfulness that follows it in Genesis 1 through 4 provide a necessary foundation …” would be less awkward.

    I also appreciate your enthusiasm for Genesis. Good stuff, indeed!

    1. Author

      Thanks, John, I think the clumsy formulation was to try to separate creation in Gen 1-2 and human sinfulness that follows in Gen 3-4 (and of course the rest of the story of Scripture and till today… Having notes rather than a script makes my presentation less stilted and more “real” (I think) but does sometimes lead to clumsiness. Though I could edit it… I’ll think about it…

      I wanted to introduce the documentary hypothesis and all that has flowed from it, but not to make that the main focus, in the old ISBE (which I looked at for the dictionary article) and in some Conservative introduction books fighting that “devil” displaces consideration of what Genesis is about 🙁

  4. Thanks Tim – my systems are down at the moment, server failure 🙁
    I agree about the frequent mention of Israel/Jacob – but this is the final stage of Genesis. I get the idea of the flood and yes – there is Leviathan though not in Genesis explicitly, he is implied from Job and Pss 74, 104. I admit, I don’t read as much into the Genesis floods as maybe I should given Psalm 69 etc. It does help in the birthing imagery that is in the Psalter. Yes, also on review – 104 works as an image of the control of the waters from the upper rooms. The avotenu of Psalm 78, I suppose also refers to patriarchs – and you also have the creation in Psalm 136 though we go straight from Gen 1 to the Exodus.

  5. The Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter has some acessible material on Genesis that I found very helpful.

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