Genesis's Central Concern
Human Existence under God
This chapter indicates that Genesis is primarily about human existence; such is its unifying focus. Genesis also depicts the flow of history—including origins, and the origins of a specific people—but it describes history in a way that is constantly adapted to the portrayal and evocation of the more permanent realities of human life.
Among the threads holding Genesis together two are fundamental—the thread of specific history, and the more general pattern of human life, human existence.
Specific history means the flow of events. It is the subject that school students sometimes dislike, and in Toynbee's oft-cited definition, history is “one damn thing after another. ” Insofar as Genesis is a portrayal of specific history, it is best divided into dealing with all nations (chaps. i—n) and dealing with the ancestors of Israel (chaps. 12–50; Genesis does not use the terms “primeval” and “patriarchal”).
But Genesis has another concern—a didactic purpose—namely the more general portrayal of human life or human existence, a subject one learns about long before school—in fact from birth—and about which one continues to learn till death. Insofar as Genesis is concerned with this larger topic of life in general it has a further structure—two halves (Genesis 1–25, and 25–50). As seen earlier (Chapter 2) each half contains a double drama. At this more general level, portraying life, each double drama has a separate function. The first sets the stage (it evokes humans' environment); the second describes the action, from birth to death.
Each half has its own unity.
The unity of the second half (25:19-chap. 50) is easy to see (this was already partly indicated in Chapter 2). The stories of Jacob and Joseph are in fact one story, centered largely on one person, Jacob (see esp. Coats, 1983, 259–61; 1976, 15–21). Within this double drama (Jacob/Joseph) the two dramas correspond to the two basic times of Jacob's life—youth and old age. Jacob's youth—taking “youth” broadly to include what today is called middle age—extends to both the birth of his last child, Benjamin, and the death of his father (25:19—chap. 36). His old age, dominated by the Joseph story, extends from the first explicit scene of old age (chap. 37) until his death and burial (chaps. 49–50).