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Book of Genesis


Author and Date
Historically, Jews and Christians alike have held that Moses was the author/compiler of the first five books of the OT. These books, known also as the Pentateuch (meaning "five-volumed book"), were referred to in Jewish tradition as thefive fifths of the law (of Moses). The Bible itself suggests Mosaic authorship of Genesis, since refers to circumcision as "the custom taught by Moses,"an allusion to . However, a certain amount of later editorial updating does appear to be indicated (see, e.g., notes on ). The historical period during which Moses lived seems to be fixed with a fair degree of accuracy by 1 Kings. We are told that "the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel" was the same as "the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt" (). Since the former was c. 966 b.c., the latter -- and thus the date of the exodus -- was c. 1446 (assuming that the 480 in is to be taken literally; see Introduction to Judges: Background).The 40-year period of Israel's wanderings in the desert, which lasted fromc. 1446 to c. 1406, would have been the most likely time for Moses to write the bulk of what is today known as the Pentateuch.

During the last three centuries many interpreters have claimed to find in the Pentateuch four underlying sources. The presumed documents, allegedly dating from the tenth to the fifth centuries b.c., are called J (for Jahweh/Yahweh, the personal OT name for God), E (for Elohim, a generic name for God), D (forDeuteronomic) and P (for Priestly).

Each of these documents is claimed to have its own characteristics and its own theology, which often contradicts that of the other documents. The Pentateuch is thus depicted as a patchwork of stories,poems and laws. However, this view is not supported by conclusive evidence,and intensive archaeological and literary research has tended to undercut many of the arguments used to challenge Mosaic authorship.

Theological Theme and Message
Genesis speaks of beginnings -- of the heavens and the earth, of light and darkness,of seas and skies, of land and vegetation, of sun and moon and stars, of sea and air and land animals, of human beings (made in God's own image, the climax of his creative activity), of marriage and family, of society and civilization,of sin and redemption. The list could go on and on. A key word in Genesis is"account," which also serves to divide the book into its ten major parts and which includes such concepts as birth, genealogy and history.

The book of Genesis is foundational to the understanding of the rest of the Bible. Its message is rich and complex, and listing its main elements givesa succinct outline of the Biblical message as a whole. It is supremely a book that speaks about relationships, highlighting those between God and his creation,between God and humankind, and between human beings. It is thoroughly monotheistic,taking for granted that there is only one God worthy of the name and opposingthe ideas that there are many gods (polytheism), that there is no god at all(atheism) and that everything is divine (pantheism). It clearly teaches thatthe one true God is sovereign over all that exists (i.e., his entire creation),and that he often exercises his unlimited freedom to overturn human customs,traditions and plans. It introduces us to the way in which God initiates andmakes covenants with his chosen people, pledging his love and faithfulnessto them and calling them to promise theirs to him. It establishes sacrificeas the substitution of life for life (ch. 22). It gives us the first hint of God's provision for redemption from the forces of evil (compare with ) and contains the oldest and most profound statement concerning the significance of faith (; see note there). More than half of Hebrews 11 -- a NT list of the faithful -- refers to characters in Genesis.