Wednesday, March 6, 2013

About Genesis

  1.  The Book of Genesis has fifty chapters.
  2.  The Hebrew title of the book is bereshith ("in [the] beginning").  If you are familiar with the book of Genesis, you know that these are also the first few words of the book.
  3.  The English title, Genesis, comes from the Greek word "geneseos", which can mean 'birth', 'genealogy', or 'history of origins'.
  4.  Chapters 1-38 include a great deal of Mesopotamian culture.  For example:
  5.  The Garden of Eden seems to be located somewhere in Mesopotamia.
  6.  The Tower of Babel was built there.
  7.  Abram was born there.
  8.  Isaac took a wife from there.
  9.  Jacob lived there for twenty years.
10.  Chapters 39-50 of Genesis reflect Egyptian influence.  This makes sense because these chapters tell of the life of Joseph after he is sold into slavery by his brothers and ends up in Egypt.  Also, later, Joseph invites his father Jacob and all of the Israelites to come to Egypt to escape a famine.
11.  Historically, Jews and Christians alike have held Moses to be the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch ("five-volumed book").  These books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
12.  Genesis is divided into ten sections, each beginning with the words "this is the account of...".

13.  The first five sections deal with the period of Adam to Abraham.  This part is sometimes referred to as 'primeval history' and deals with God's dealings with mankind as a whole.

14.  The next five deal with God's chosen people Israel (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and their families).  This part is referred to as 'patriarchal history'.

15.  Within the patriarchal history part are three narrative cycles:
  • Abraham to Isaac (Genesis 11:27-25)
  • Isaac to Jacob (Genesis 25:19-35:29 and 37:1)
  • Jacob to Joseph (Genesis 37:2-50:26).

16.  The genealogies of Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18) and Esau (Genesis 36) are interspersed between these cycles.  

17.  In Genesis, one striking aspect is that frequently, a younger son is chosen rather than a firstborn son:
  • Seth over Cain
  • Shem over Japheth
  • Isaac over Ishmael
  • Jacob over Esau
  • Judah and Joseph over their brothers
  • Ephraim over Manasseh
What is going on here?  This quote from the NIV Study Bible's Introduction to the book of Genesis puts it clearly:  "Such emphasis on divinely chosen men and their families is perhaps the most obvious literary and theological characteristic of the book of Genesis as a whole.  It strikingly underscores the fact that the people of God are not the product of natural human developments, but are the result of God's sovereign and gracious intrusion in human history.  He brings out of the fallen human race a new humanity consecrated to himself, called and destined to be the people of his kingdom and the channel of his blessing to the whole earth."
[This also reminded me of David, a shepherd boy who was chosen to be king rather than one of his seven older brothers.  This must have been quite a surprise to his father Jesse, who hadn't even bothered to call David in from watching the sheep when the prophet Samuel came to call on the family.]  Of course this does not automatically mean that there was something wrong with the others who had not been singled out for some particular purpose of God's at that time.

Now sometimes there was something amiss:  In the list above, Cain had been banished because he had murdered his brother and refused to repent, and Esau had despised his birthright by selling it for some food.  But often, it was just a matter of our omniscient God making a choice according to His will.
18.  Numbers which have some symbolic significance are often found in Genesis: 7, 10, 12 and 40 are used frequently.
19.  Although Genesis is mostly prose, there are some poems in it, the longest one being the blessing which Jacob bestows upon his sons before his death. (Genesis 49:2-27)
20.  The book of Genesis uses a full range of literary devices:
  • Figures of speech,
  • vertical and horizontal parallelism,
  • ebb and flow,
  • repetition,
  • phrases which give a climactic hinge to a passage,
  • the 'hourglass' structure of particular accounts,
  • alternating between brief and lengthy accounts,
 ...and probably many others which are not listed here.  I'll bet you never realized that the book of Genesis was such a literary masterpiece!

21.  Speaking of the Bible and of literary masterpieces, did you know that many of the themes found in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis are repeated in the last three chapters of the last book of the Bible, which is called Revelation?  Space does not permit me to go into detail here, [though you know I will eventually in another post], but despite being written over many years by around 40 writers, the message of the Bible is a unified, coherent whole.

[To show how humanly impossible that is, try passing along a single message of even several sentences,  person to person, through twenty people in the same room.  Even though they share the same culture and historical time period, the resulting message will generally be a garbled mess.  The results are often humorous and never correct.  In fact, this type of activity is sometimes used as an ice-breaker in a group setting or party].
However, the Bible is one coherent message, even though it has been passed though many cultures, time periods and people groups.  Josh McDowell, in his book Evidence That Demands A Verdict notes that the Bible was written: 
  • over a 1600 year span
  • by 40 plus authors
  • by men from every walk of life: a fisherman, herdsman, military leader, political leader, doctor, king, tax collector, rabbi, etc.
  • in different places: wilderness, dungeon, hillside, palaces, while traveling, in exile, etc.
  • during times of peace and war
  • in times of intense joy and deepest sorrow
  • on three continents:  Asia, Africa and Europe
  • in three languages:  Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic
  • and, importantly for our point here, its subject matter includes hundreds of controversial subjects.  Normally that would result in a tangle of opposing opinions.  However, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has one coherent message:
God's redemption of mankind.
     [Sometime I need to do a post about the Dead Sea Scrolls, and how manuscripts found in that incident measure up to other manuscripts of the Bible found elsewhere after a gap of many years.  Very interesting stuff, and the results will astound you.]  Anyway, you get what I am saying here:  
 The Bible is composed of many books, but has one Author.

22.  Speaking of authors, the author of Genesis reveals a strikingly different view of creation than many of the creation stories of other cultures.  In other cultures of the ancient Near East, the creator often had to struggle against some type of powerful, primeval beast or figure in order to establish his authority over creation.  Even then, there seems to be the ever-present threat of that beast continuing to attempt to throw things back into chaos.  In the book of Genesis, the Creator simply speaks and His will is accomplished, and His Word continues to uphold His creation.  [There is, of course, the battle against Satan and his minions, but that is the fight between the Creator and some of his created beings, not a fight among equals, and the outcome is never in doubt.  In fact, God finds  the idea of anyone fighting against Him to be laughable:  (See all of Psalm 2, but especially verses 4-6]

23.  One good thing to keep in mind as we read Genesis, [and the rest of the Bible as well], is that there are several levels of things which are happening in each account.  In How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth  (by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart), they outline several levels of what is happening in each narrative:
  • top level:  "...that of the whole universal plan of God worked out through His creation.  Key aspects of the plot at this top level are the initial creation itself; the fall of humanity; the power and ubiquity of sin; the need for redemption; and Christ's incarnation and sacrifice."
  • middle level:  key aspects " on Israel:  The call of Abraham; the establishment of an Abrahamic lineage through the patriarchs; the enslaving of Israel in Egypt; God's deliverance from bondage and the conquest of the promised land of Canaan; Israel's frequent sins and increasing disloyalty; God's patient protection and pleading with them; the ultimate destruction of northern Israel and then of Judah; and the restoration of the holy people after the exile."
  • bottom level:  "Here are found all the hundreds of individual narratives that make up the other two levels:  the narrative of how Joseph's brothers sell him to Arab caravaneers heading for Egypt; the narrative of Gideon's doubting God and testing him via the fleece; the narrative of David's adultery with Bathsheba; et al."

Fee and Stuart note that each bottom level individual narrative is at least part of the middle level story of Israel's history, which in turn is part of the top level narrative of God's creation and His redemption of it.  They note that this narrative goes through the Old Testament and right through the New Testament as well [see 'Many books, one Author' in point 21 above.].
Now for the main point of this point #23.  Again, it is a quote from Fee & Stuart:
"You will not fully do justice to any individual narrative
without recognizing its part within the other two."
 In fact, that is why I had to stop our account of the life of Abraham and the Israelites and return to the first few chapters of Genesis to get the background as to why the temple worship was so detailed and important in the accounts of Exodus and the books to follow.
 24.  Archaeology often confirms or at least supports the facts found in Genesis.  Again, this will have to be the subject of another post or series of posts.  Archaeology has confirmed many places, people, kingly reigns, nations, etc, found in the Bible.  However, there has not been even one example of an achaeological discovery which has been proven to contradict a fact presented in the Bible.  Of course at times there are disagreements and controversies, sometimes over matters of dating, etc.  However, when the dust settles, the facts presented in the Bible always turn out to be correct.  Sometimes, the difficulty in people's acceptance of a Biblical fact is not because there is actual evidence to the contrary, but rather, because the individual does not want to believe that a fact is true, because then this would have implications for their own lives which they do not want to accept.  


Ok, I am going to pause this list for now, although I will certainly add to it as other interesting items about the book of Genesis come up.  However, I want to get back to those first few chapters of Genesis which I had skipped over before.  There is important information in those chapters which have implications for the things which we are studying about the Israelites.  As we noted in point 23 above, we can't do justice to those accounts without knowing about the things found in the early chapters of Genesis.  So let's go there.

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