Genesis

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Genesis

Genesis (jĕn´əsĬs), 1st book of the Bible, first of the five books of the Law (the Pentateuch or Torah) ascribed by tradition to Moses. Beginning with two accounts of the creation and of humankind, the narrative relates the initial disobedience of the man and the woman and their consequent expulsion from God's garden. Next is an account of the ongoing effects of human sin. The narrative then focuses on the fortunes of Abraham and his immediate descendants Isaac and Jacob. The author of Genesis perceives God's call of Abraham and God's commitment to Abraham's descendants as the divine response to the disasters that have befallen the world earlier in Genesis. It is clear that the reader is dealing with stories that were originally unconnected and have a lengthy oral history. The stories preserve memories of ancient clan migrations. In these, mythic elements from the ancient Middle East can still be felt despite ubiquitous devotion to Yahweh, the God of Israel. In the Jacob cycle, the 12 patriarchs are presented as ancestors of the tribes of the later Israeli establishment; it is likely that this represents an importation of the later notion that Israel was one people of God, with a common heritage and ancestry. During the period of the tribal confederacy (12th–11th cent. BC), these stories coalesced to tell the story of one people. Moreover, the patriarchal cycles are not biographies. These characters personify Israel's historical experience (e.g., the Jacob/Esau cycle) and its venture in faith (e.g., the Abraham cycle). For views regarding its composition see Old Testament and higher criticism.

See studies by C. Westermann (3 vol., tr. 1984–86, 1987, and 1992), N. M. Sarna (1989), R. Alter (1996), and R. Hendel (2012).

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