The opening of Genesis is like an x-ray of the human world. Instead of concentrating on the surface of things—the wealth, the cleverness, the looks—it focuses primarily on what is underneath, on the deepest heart and on the way things relate. It also manages to give impressions of the surface—its stories are like an encyclopedia of available knowledge—but the primary emphasis is on the deeper dimension.
Its portrayal of this deeper dimension is imperfect. The picture of the woman, for instance, at best is open to misuse. Yet in its day this very picture contained a major advance—a vigorous protest against the kind of misogyny found in Hesiod. And while Genesis 1–11 did not have the detailed knowledge of subsequent centuries, yet amid the fluctuating oceans of modern information, its central insights still provide an important anchor.
The commentary on Genesis 1–5 beings with the two perspectives on creation (1:1–2:24). The panorama is vast and slightly shadowed, but it is harmonious. Then the harmony is shattered, culminating in murder (2:25–4:16). Eventually a form of harmony returns, not primarily through technology and music, but through a basic relationship to the God of creation (4:17-chap. 5).
Genesis 6–11 takes a hard look at creation. The flood story (6:1–9:17) indicates that people are rotten (“corrupted”), yet it ends not in bitterness but in compassion. Later, Noah's sons radiate exuberance, peopling the earth (9:18-chap. 10). But from Babel onward the exuberance beings to fade, both in city and family. Life crumbles (chap. 11).