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The Book of Genesis (Greek: Γένεσις, "birth", "origin") or Bereshith (Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית, "in the beginning")[1] is the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and the first of five books of the Torah, called the Pentateuch in the Christian Old Testament.

The narrative runs from the creation of the world to the descent of the children of Israel into Egypt and culminates with the death of Joseph, and it contains some of the best-known biblical stories, including Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the patriarchs of the Jewish people.

For Jews the theological importance of Genesis centers on the Covenants linking Yahweh (God) to his Chosen People and the people to the Promised Land. Christianity has interpreted Genesis as the prefiguration of Christian beliefs, specifically the Christian view of Christ as the fulfillment of covenant promises as the Son of God.

Structurally, Genesis consists of the "primeval history" (chapters 1–11) and cycles of Patriarchal stories - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel.[2] The narrative of Joseph stands apart from these. Scholars believe that it reached its final form in the 5th century BC, with a previous history of composition reaching back possibly to the 10th century.


In Hebrew the book is called Bereshit, meaning "in the beginning", from the first word of the Hebrew text, in line with the other four books of the Torah. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the 3rd century BCE to produce the Septuagint, the name given was Γένεσις Genesis, meaning "birth" or "origin". This was in line with the Septuagint use of subject themes as book names. The Greek title has continued to be used in all subsequent Latin and English versions of the book, and most other languages. An exception however would be for example the Polish version, which uses a polish translation (Księga rodzaju).


Old Testament and Tanakh
Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox
Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox
Russian and Oriental Orthodox
Oriental Orthodox

Rolf Rendtorff's division of Genesis into a primeval history and Patriarchal cycles - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph - is followed here for convenience in organising the summary.

Primeval history

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and a powerful wind hovering over the waters, and God said, 'Let there be light.'genesis 1:3˄ and there was light"[3]; the "firmament" separating "the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament;" dry land and seas and plants and trees which grew fruit with seed; the sun, moon and stars in the firmament; air-breathing sea creatures, fishes and birds; and on the sixth day, "the beasts of the earth according to their kinds." "Then God said, Let us make man in our image ... in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."[4] On the seventh day (observation of the Sabbath had yet to be instituted) God rests from the task of completing the heavens and the earth: "So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation."

God forms Adam "from the dust of the ground...and man became a living being."[5] God sets the man in the Garden of Eden and permits him to eat of all the fruit within it, except that of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." God makes "every beast of the field and every bird of the air, ... and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name ... but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him." God causes the man to sleep, and makes a woman from one of his ribs, and the man awakes and names his companion Woman, "because she was taken out of Man."[6] "And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed."[7]

The serpent tells the woman that she will not die if she eats the fruit of the tree: "When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[8] knowing good and evil." So the woman eats and gives to the man who also eats. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." God curses the serpent: "upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life;" the woman he punishes with pain in childbirth and with subordination to man: "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you;" and the man he punishes with a life of toil: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground." The man names his wife Eve,[9] "because she was the mother of all living". "Behold", says God, "the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil," and expels the couple from Eden, "lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever." The gate of Eden is sealed by a cherub and a flaming sword "to guard the way to the tree of life."[10]

Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Each brought an offering to God, but God rejected Cain's offering. Cain murders Abel, and God then curses Cain: "When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." Cain fears that whoever meets him will kill him, but God places a mark on Cain to protect him, with the promise that "if any slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." Cain settles in the land of Nod,[11] "away from the presence of the Lord."[12] The descendants of Cain are Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, and Lamech. Seth is born to replace Abel.[12]

The generations of Adam are described, including Enoch, who "walked with God...[and] was no more, for God took him",[13] Methuselah, and Noah. The antediluvian Patriarchs are notable for their extreme longevity, with Methuselah living 969 years. The list ends with the birth of Noah's sons, from whom all humanity is descended.[14]

God sets the days of man at 120 years.[15]

"The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown."[16] Angered by the wickedness of mankind, God selects Noah,[17] "a righteous man, blameless in his generation," and commands him to build an Ark, and to take on it his family and representatives of the animals.[18] God destroys the world with a Flood,[19] and afterwards enters into a covenant with Noah and his descendants, the entire human race, promising never again to destroy mankind in this way. God creates the rainbow and puts it in the sky as a sign of his promise[20] Noah plants a vineyard, drinks wine, and falls into a drunken sleep. Ham "uncovers his fathers nakedness," and Noah places a curse on Ham's son Canaan, saying that he and all his descendants shall henceforth be slaves to Ham's brothers Shem and Japheth[21]

The seventy generations of the descendants of Noah are named, "and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood."[22] Men decide to build "a tower with its top in the heavens" in the land of Shinar, "lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." God fears the ambition of mankind: "This is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." And so mankind is scattered over the face of the earth, and the city "was called Babel, because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth."[23][24] The Generations of Shem brings the biblical genealogy down to the generation of Abraham.[25]


Terah leaves Ur of the Chaldees with his son Abram,[26] Abraham's wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot, the son of Abraham's brother Haran, towards the land of Canaan. They settle in the city of Haran, where Terah dies.[24] God commands Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." So Abraham and his people and flocks journey to the land of Canaan, where God appears to Abram and says, "To your descendants I will give this land.[25]

Abraham is forced by famine to go into Egypt, where Pharaoh takes possession of his wife, the beautiful Sarai, who Abraham has misrepresented as his sister. God strikes the king and his house with plagues, so that he returns Sarai and expels Abraham and all his people from Egypt.[25]

Abraham returns to Canaan and separates from Lot in order to put an end to disputes about pasturage. He gives Lot the valley of the Jordan River, as far as Sodom, whose people "were wicked, great sinners against Yahweh." To Abraham God says, "Lift up your eyes, and look ... for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you."[27]

Lot is taken prisoner during a war between the King of Shinar[28] and the King of Sodom and their allies, "four kings against five." Abraham rescues Lot and is blessed by Melchizedek, king of Salem (the future Jerusalem) and "priest of God Most High". Abram refuses the King of Sodom's offer of the spoils of victory, saying: "I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, `I have made Abram rich.'"[29]

God makes a covenant[30] with Abraham, promising that Abraham's descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, that they shall suffer oppression in a foreign land for four hundred years, but that they shall inherit the land "from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."[31]

Sarai, being childless, tells Abram to take his Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar, as a concubine. Hagar becomes pregnant with Ishmael,[32] and God appears to her to promise that the child will be "a wild donkey of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him," whose descendants "cannot be numbered."[33]

God makes a covenant with Abram: Abram will have a numerous progeny and the possession of the land of Canaan, and Abram's name is changed to "Abraham"[34] and that of Sarai to "Sarah," and circumcision of all males is instituted as an external sign of the covenant. Abraham asks of God that Ishmael "might live in Thy sight," but God replies that Sarah will bear a son, who will be named Isaac,[35] and that it is with Isaac and his descendants that the covenant will be established. "As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac."[36]

God appears again to Abraham. Three strangers[37] appear, and Abraham receives them hospitably. God tells him that Sarah will shortly bear a son, and Sarah, overhearing, laughs: "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?"[38] God tells Abraham that he will punish Sodom, "because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave." The strangers depart. Abraham protests that it is not just "to slay the righteous with the wicked," and asks if the whole city can be spared if even ten righteous men are found there. God replies: "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."[39]

The two[40] messengers are hospitably received by Lot. The men of Sodom surround the house and called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them." Lot offers his two virgin daughters in place of the messengers, but the men refuse. Lot and his family are led out of Sodom, and Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire-and-brimstone; but Lot's wife, looking back, is turned to a pillar of salt. Lot's daughters, fearing that they will not find husbands and that Lot's line will die out, make their father drunk and lie with him; their children become the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites.[41]

Abraham represents Sarah as his sister before Abimelech,[42] king of Gerar. God visits a curse of barrenness upon Abimelech and his household and warns the king that Sarah is Abraham's wife, not his sister. Abimelech restores Sarah to Abraham, loads them both with gifts and sends them away.[43]


Sarah gives birth to Isaac, saying, "God has made laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh over me." At Sarah's insistence Ishmael and his mother Hagar are driven out into the wilderness. When Ishmael is near dying, an angel speaks to Hagar and promises that God will not forget them but will make of Ishmael a great nation; "Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, "... And God was with the lad, and he grew up..." Abraham enters into a covenant with Abimelech, who confirms his right to the well of Beer-sheba.[44]

God tests Abraham by commanding that he sacrifice Isaac. Abraham obeys; but, as he is about to lay the knife upon his son, God restrains him, promising him numberless descendants.[45] On the death of Sarah, Abraham purchases Machpelah for a family tomb[46] and sends his servant to Mesopotamia, Nahor's home, to find among his relations a wife for Isaac; and Rebekah, Nahor's granddaughter, is chosen.[47] Other children are born to Abraham by another wife, Keturah, among whose descendants are the Midianites; and he dies in a prosperous old age and is buried in his tomb at Hebron.[48]


Isaac's wife Rebekah is barren, but Isaac prays to God, and she gives birth to the twins Esau,[49] and Jacob.[50]

Isaac represents Rebekah as his sister before Abimelech, king of Gerar. Abimelech learns of the deception and is angered. Isaac is fortunate in all his undertakings in that country. His prosperity excites the jealousy of Abimelech, who sends him away; but the king sees that Isaac is blessed by God and makes a covenant with him at the well of Beer-sheba.[51]

Jacob deceives his father Isaac and obtains the blessing of prosperity[52] which should have been Esau's. Fearing Esau's anger he flees to Haran, the home of his mother's brother Laban.[53] Isaac, prohibiting Jacob from marrying a Canaanite woman, tells him to go and marry one of Laban's daughters. On the way, Jacob falls asleep on a stone and dreams of a ladder stretching from Heaven to Earth and thronged with angels, and God promises him prosperity and many descendants; and when he awakes Jacob sets the stone as a pillar[54] and names the place Bethel.[55]

Jacob hires himself to Laban on condition that, after having served for seven years as a herdsman, he shall marry the younger daughter, Rachel, with whom he is in love. At the end of this period Laban gives him the elder daughter, Leah, explaining that it is the custom to marry the elder before the younger. Jacob does get to marry Rachel at the same time, but to be allowed to leave with her he must serve another seven years. During the next seven years, he has sons by his two wives and their two handmaidens, the ancestors of the tribes of Israel. Jacob then works another seven years, deceiving Laban to increase his flocks at his uncle's expense, and gains great wealth in sheep, goats, camels, donkeys and slave-girls.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Alexander Louis Leloir.

Jacob flees with his family and flocks from Laban; Laban pursues and catches him, but God warns Laban not to harm Jacob, and they are reconciled.[56] On approaching his home he is in fear of Esau, to whom he sends presents under the care of his servants, and then sends his wives and children away. "And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day."[57] Neither Jacob nor the stranger can prevail, but the man touches Jacob's thigh[58] and pleads to be released before daybreak, but Jacob refuses to release the being until he agrees to give a blessing; the stranger then announces to Jacob that he shall bear the name "Israel", "for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."[59] and is freed. "The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel,[60] limping because of his thigh."[61]

The meeting with Esau proves friendly, and the brothers are reconciled. Jacob greets him by saying, "to see your face is like seeing the face of God." The brothers part and Jacob settles near the city of Shechem.[62] Jacob's daughter Dinah goes out, and "Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humbled her."[63] Shechem asks Jacob for Dinah's hand in marriage, but the sons of Jacob deceive the men of Shechem, slaughter them, take their wives and children captive, and loot the city. Jacob is angered that his sons have brought upon him the enmity of the Canaanites, but his sons ask, "Should he treat our sister as a harlot?"[64]

Jacob goes up to Bethel. There "God said to him, Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name. So his name was called Israel". Jacob sets up a stone pillar at the place and names it Bethel. He goes to his father Isaac at Hebron, and there Isaac dies and is buried.[65]


Jacob makes a coat of many colours[66] for his favourite son, Joseph. Jacob's son Judah takes a Canaanite wife and has two sons, Er and Onan; Er dies, and his widow Tamar, disguised as a prostitute, tricks Judah into having a child by her (Onan, who should have fathered the child, refused). She gives birth to twins, the elder of whom is Pharez, ancestor of the future royal house of David. Joseph's jealous brothers sell him to some Ishmaelites and show Jacob the coat, dipped in goat's blood, as proof that Joseph is dead. Meanwhile the Midianites[67] sell Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard,[68] but Potiphar's wife, unable to seduce Joseph, accuses him falsely, and he is cast into prison.[69] Here he correctly interprets the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, the king's butler and baker.[70] Joseph next interprets the dream of Pharaoh, of seven fat cattle and seven lean cattle, as meaning seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the good years. He is appointed second in the kingdom, and, in the ensuing famine, "all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth."[71]

Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain. The brothers appear before Joseph, who recognizes them but does not reveal himself. After having proved them on this and on a second journey, and they having shown themselves so fearful and penitent that Judah even offers himself as a slave, Joseph reveals his identity, forgives his brothers the wrong they did him, and he promises to settle in Egypt both them and his father[72] Jacob brings his whole family to Egypt, where Pharaoh assigns to them the land of Goshen.[73] Jacob receives Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh among his own sons,[74] then calls his sons to his bedside and reveals their future to them.[75] Jacob dies and is interred in the family tomb at Machpelah (Hebron). Joseph lives to see his great-grandchildren, and on his death-bed he exhorts his brethren, if God should remember them and lead them out of the country, to take his bones with them. The book ends with Joseph's remains being "put in a coffin in Egypt."[76]

Text, structure and composition

Bereshit aleph, or the first chapter of Genesis, written on an egg, which is kept in the Israel Museum.


The oldest extant Biblical manuscripts (mss) of Genesis are the 24 fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from the few centuries immediately prior to the Common Era. The next oldest manuscripts are the Greek Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus based on the Septuagint and produced by the early Christian church in the 4th century CE. The Masoretic Text which forms the basis of Jewish worship today, is also the youngest of these manuscripts, dating from around 1000 CE. Also worthy of note are the Samaritan and Syriac translations, whose manuscripts are not as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint, but preserve noteworthy differences which are pointers to the history both of the text and of the communities which produced them.


Scholars generally accept the division of Genesis into the Primeval History of Genesis 1-11, the Patriarchal cycles of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the story of Joseph. The "primeval history" consists of three narrative units separated by two genealogies and an ethnography (or ethno-geography). The first narrative is that of Creation-Eden and the descendants of Cain and Seth. The second narrative is the "Sons of God", Noah and the Curse of Ham and ethnography, the Table of Nations. The third narrative is that of the Tower of Babel and the dispersal of peoples and the descendants of Seth to Abraham.

The highly artificial and literary character of this unit makes it unlikely that any oral traditions lie behind it, and indeed its literary origins have long been identified in the corpus of Babylonian myths, especially the Enuma Elish. A Greek influence has also been discerned as the Table of Nations is based on a 7th century Greek work by Hecataeus.


For much of the 20th century, academic scholarship on the origins of Genesis was dominated by the documentary hypothesis advanced by Julius Wellhausen in the late 19th century. This sees Genesis as a composite work assembled from originally independent sources: the J text, named for its use of the term YHWH (JHWH in German) as the name of God; the E text, named for its characteristic usage of the term "Elohim" for God; and the P, or Priestly source, named for its preoccupation with the Aaronid priesthood. These texts were composed independently between 950 BC and 500 BC and underwent numerous processes of redaction, emerging in their current form in around 450 BC. Several anomalous sources not traceable to any of the three major documents have been identified, notably Genesis 14 (the battle of Abraham and the "Kings of the East"), and the "Blessing of Jacob" contained in the Joseph narrative. One such work, the Book of Generations, was used by the Redactor (final editor of the Pentateuch) to provide the narrative framework for Genesis, ten occurrences of the toledot (Hebrew "generations") formula introducing ten units of the book.[77]

For centuries, Moses had been believed to have been the author of Genesis, and Wellhausen's hypothesis was thus received by traditionally-minded Jews and Christians as an attack on one of their central beliefs. But in the first half of the 20th century the science of Biblical archaeology, developed by William F. Albright and his followers, combined with the new methods of biblical scholarship known as source criticism and tradition history, developed by Hermann Gunkel, Robert Alter and Martin Noth, seemed to demonstrate that the stories of Genesis (or, at least, the stories of the Patriarchs; the early part of Genesis—from the Creation to the Tower of Babel—which were already regarded as legendary by mainstream scholarship) were based in genuinely ancient oral tradition grounded in the material culture of the 2nd millennium BC. Thus by the middle of the 20th century it seemed that archaeology and scholarship had reconciled Wellhausen with a modified version of authorship by Moses.[78]

This consensus was challenged in the 1970s by the publication of two books, Thomas L. Thompson's "The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives" (1974), and John Van Seters's "Abraham in History and Tradition" (1975), both of which pointed out that the archaeological evidence connecting the author of Genesis to the 2nd millennium BC could equally well apply to the 1st millennium, and that oral traditions were not nearly so easily recoverable as Gunkel and others had said. A third influential work, R. N. Whybray's "The Making of the Pentateuch" (1987), analysed the assumptions underlying Wellhausen's work and found them illogical and unconvincing, and William G. Dever attacked the philosophical foundations of Albrightean biblical archaeology, arguing that it was neither desirable nor possible to use the Bible to interpret the archaeological record.

The theories currently being advanced can be divided into three: 1). Revisions of Wellhausen's documentary model, of which Richard Elliot Friedman's is one of the better known;[79] 2). Fragmentary models such as that of R. N. Whybray, who sees the Torah as the product of a single author working from a multitude of small fragments rather than from large coherent source texts;[80], 3). Supplementary models such as that advanced by John Van Seters, who sees in Genesis the gradual accretion of material over many centuries and from many hands.[81] The 19th century dating of the final form of Genesis and the Pentateuch to c. 500-450 BC continues to be widely accepted irrespective of the model adopted, but with greater respect being made to the ancient nature of the majority of the material. [82] Although, a minority of scholars known as biblical minimalists argue for a date largely or entirely within the last two centuries BC.

Alongside these new approaches to the history of the text has come an increasing interest in the way the narratives tell their stories, concentrating not on the origins of Genesis but on its meaning, both for the society which produced it and for the modern day, placing "a new emphasis on the narrative's purpose to shape audiences' perceptions of the world around them and to instruct them in how to live in this world and relate to its God."[83]


The Flammarion woodcut portrays the cosmos as described in Genesis chapter 1.

Religion of the Patriarchs

In 1929 Albrecht Alt proposed that the Hebrews arrived in Canaan at different times and as different groups, each with its nameless "gods of the fathers," In time these gods were assimilated with the Canaanite El, and names such as "El, God of Israel" emerged. The "God of Abraham" then became identified with the "God of Isaac" and so on. Finally "Yahweh" was introduced in the Mosaic period. The authors of Genesis, living in a later period when Yahweh had become the only God, partly obscured and partly preserved this history in their attempt to demonstrate that the patriarchs shared their own monotheistic worship of Yahweh. According to Alt, the theology of the earliest period and of later fully-developed monotheistic Judaism were nevertheless identical: both Yahweh and the tribal gods revealed himself/themselves to the patriarchs, promised them descendants, and protected them in their wanderings; they in turn enjoyed a special relationship with their god, worshipped him, and established holy places in his honour.

In 1934 Julius Lewy, drawing on the recently discovered Ugarit texts, argued that the "God of Abraham" was not anonymous, but was probably El Shaddai, "El of the Mountain", El being identified with a mythical holy mountain. The name Shaddai, however, remains mysterious, and has also been identified with both a specific city and with a Hebrew root meaning "breast".[84] In 1962 Frank Moore Cross concluded that the name Yahweh developed as one of the many epithets of El: "El the creator, he who causes to be." For Cross the continuity between El and Yahweh explained how the other El-names could continue to be used in Genesis, and why Baal - in Canaanite mythology a rival to El who gradually took over the father-god's position - was regarded with such hostility.[85] More recently, Mark S. Smith has returned to the Ugarit texts to show how polytheism "was a feature of Israelite religion down through the end of the Iron Age and how monotheism emerged in the seventh and sixth centuries."[86]

In contrast to this picture of a Canaanite background to Genesis, Lloyd R. Bailey (1968) and E.L. Abel (1973) have suggested that Abraham worshipped Sin the Amorite moon-god of Harran, pointing, among other things, to Abraham's association with Harran and Ur, both centres of the cult of Sin, to the epithet "Father of the gods" applied to Sin (comparable to Abram's name, "Exalted Father") and to the close similarity between names associated with Abraham and with Sin: Sarah/Sarratu (Sin's wife); Milcah/Malkatu (Sin's daughter); and Terah/Ter (a name of Sin).[87] M. Haran has also distinguished between Canaanite and Patriarchal religion, pointing out that the Patriarchs never worship at existing shrines but build their own, fitting a semi-nomadic lifestyle. He also points to the invocation of Shaddai by Baalam and the identification of the Patriarchal God with the "sons of Eber" in Genesis 10:21 as evidence that their god was not originally Canaanite. Gordon Wenham has pointed out that Il/El is a well-known member of the third-millennium Mesopotamian pantheon, concluding: "Whether El was ever identified with the moon god is uncertain. To judge from the names of Abraham's relations and the cult of his home town, his ancestors at least were moon-god worshippers. Whether he continued to honour this god identifying him with El, or converted to El, is unclear."[88]


The covenants are integral to the understanding not only of Genesis but also of the entire Bible.[89] Otto Eissfeldt, an early scholar of the Ugarit texts, recognised that in Ugarit the promise of a son was given to kings together with promises of blessing and numerous descendants, a clear parallel to the pattern of Genesis. Claus Westermann, (1964 and 1976), analysing the Genesis covenants in the light of Ugarit and Icelandic sagas, came to the conclusion that the Patriarchal stories were usually lacking any promises in their original form. Westermann saw the promise of a son in Genesis 16:11 and 18:1-15 as genuine, as well as the promise of land behind 15:7-21 and 28:13-15; the rest he saw as representing later editors.[90] Rolf Rendtorff accepts Westermann's thesis that the Patriarchal stories were originally independent, and suggests that the promises were added to link the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob into cycles which grew through a process of gradual accretion into the final book. John Van Seters, in contrast, sees Genesis as a late and unified composition, from which it is impossible to excise the Covenants without doing damage to the overall narrative.[91]

See also

Books of the Torah
1. Genesis
2. Exodus
3. Leviticus
4. Book of Numbers
5. Deuteronomy

This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Book of Genesis. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.

Further reading

  • Umberto Cassuto, From Noah to Abraham. Eisenbrauns, 1984. ISBN (A scholarly Jewish commentary.)
  • Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit, Genesis. Jerusalem: Hemed Press, 1995. (A scholarly Jewish commentary employing traditional sources.)
  • Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Baker Books, 1981. ISBN (A creationist Christian commentary.)
  • Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), In the Beginning. Edinburgh, 1995. (A Catholic understanding of the story of Creation and Fall.)
  • Jean-Marc Rouvière, Brèves méditations sur la création du monde. L'Harmattan Paris, 2006.
  • Nahum M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis. New York: Schocken Press, 1966. (A scholarly Jewish treatment, strong on historical perspective.)
  • Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. (A mainstream Jewish commentary.)
  • E. A. Speiser, Genesis, The Anchor Bible. Volume 1. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1964. (A translation with scholarly commentary and philological notes by a noted Semitic scholar. The series is written for laypeople and specialists alike.)
  • Bruce Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1977. (An introduction to Genesis by a fine Catholic scholar. Genesis was Vawter's hobby.)
  • Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis. New York: Doubleday, 1995. (A scholarly Jewish commentary employing traditional sources.)


  1. Hebrew word #7225 in Strong's
  3. Robert Alter, 2004, The Five Books of Moses, New York: W.W. Norton & Company page 17. The first verse of Genesis is ambiguous, and can equally be translated as: "When God set about the Create the heaven and the earth - the world being then a formless waste, with darkness over the seas and only an awesome wind sweeping over the water, God said, "Let there by light.' And there was light." (E.A. Speiser, Tha Anchor Bible: Genesis New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.)
  4. The Hebrew for "man" can have the generalized meaning of "mankind", but creates problems with rendering pronouns in English translation.
  5. "The Hebrew term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “being”) is often translated “soul,” but the word usually refers to the whole person. The phrase נֶפֶשׁ חַיַּה (nefesh khayyah, “living being”) is used of both animals and human beings." Netbible (see fn. 4)
  6. Ishah, woman, and ish, man
  7. Genesis 2
  8. The Hebrew is in the plural: "You shall be as gods."
  9. Hebrew Havva, "life".
  10. Genesis 3
  11. Literally, "in the land of Wandering".
  12. 12.0 12.1 Genesis 4.
  13. The meaning of this phrase at Genesis 5:24 was the subject of much discussion in later Jewish literature, being taken by the rabbinic commentators to mean that Enoch did not die.
  14. Genesis 5
  15. Genesis 6:3
  16. Genesis 6 The term Nephilim is mentioned in Genesis, Enoch and Jubilees as applying to a pre-Flood race; but in Numbers 13:33 the Hebrew scouts sent to spy out the Promised Land report them as living there. References to "post-Flood Nephilim" gave rise to Talmudic traditions that their forebear, Og of Bashan, had survived the Deluge by clinging to the outside of the Ark.
  17. Hebrew "Rest": Noah's father Lamech gives this name to his son saying, "Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands." (Genesis 5:29)
  18. Genesis 6
  19. Genesis 7 and Genesis 8
  20. Genesis 9 God forbids the eating of flesh with blood, "that is, its life," still in it, forbids murder, and institutes the death penalty for murderers; in return, God promises never again to visit a deluge upon all the world, and places the first rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant.
  21. Genesis 9
  22. Genesis 10
  23. Hebrew Babal, "confusion"; but if the story is based on the ziggurat of Babylon the etymology is incorrect, as the Akkadian "Babilu", the English Babylon, means "Gate of God".
  24. 24.0 24.1 Genesis 11
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Genesis 12
  26. Hebrew ab, "father", plus ram, "exalted".
  27. Genesis 13.
  28. An inexact location, but roughly equivalent to the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates.
  29. Genesis 14.
  30. See Fire pot#Early Jewish Symbol of God
  31. Genesis 15. The "river of Egypt", traditionally identified not with the Nile but with Wadi el Arish in the Sinai, and the Euphrates, represent the supposed bounds of Israel at its height under Solomon.
  32. Hebrew Yishmael, "God will hear".
  33. Genesis 16.
  34. The name Abraham has no meaning in Hebrew. It is traditionally supposed to signify "Father of Multitudes," although the Hebrew for this would be "Abhamon".
  35. Hebrew Yitzhak, "he laughed," sometimes rendered as "he rejoiced" - three explanations of the name are given, the first in this chapter where Abraham laughs when told that Sarah will bear a son.
  36. Genesis 17.
  37. Often translated as "angels", but the Hebrew refers to men.
  38. The second explanation of the name Isaac - in the first, at chapter 17, it is Abraham who laughs.
  39. Genesis 18. Abraham's intercession on behalf of the people of Sodom is the foundation of the important Jewish tradition of righteousness.
  40. Genesis 18 describes three messengers, Genesis 19 two. The traditional gloss is that God was one of the three who came to Abraham and stayed with him while the other two went on to Sodom.
  41. Genesis 19.
  42. Literally, "father-king", apparently a title.
  43. Genesis 20.
  44. Genesis 21.
  45. Genesis 22.
  46. Genesis 23.
  47. Genesis 24.
  48. Genesis 25.
  49. Hebrew Esau, "made" or "completed".
  50. Hebrew Yaakov, from a root meaning "crooked, bent", usually interpreted as meaning "heel" - according to the narrative he was born second, holding Esau's heel. The precise meaning is unclear.
  51. Genesis 26.
  52. "May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. 29: Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be every one who curses you, and blessed be every one who blesses you!" (Genesis 27:28-29)
  53. Genesis 27.
  54. Traditionally the place where this pillar is erected is identified as the site of the Holy of Holies within the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem.
  55. Genesis 28. The name Bethel in Hebrew and related West Semitic languages means "House of El;" in later Jewish tradition the name was taken to mean "House of God."
  56. Genesis 31.
  57. Literally, "a stranger," traditionally interpreted as an angel or as God.
  58. Hebrew wayyiga bekap-yereko. This is usually translated as "struck (or touched) the hollow of his thigh"; but yerek is also applied to male or female genitals, suggesting that the intended meaning is that the stranger seized Jacob's scrotum, and Jacob's subsequent injury can be construed as a hernia rather than a dislocated hip or thigh. See Lyle Eslinger, "The Case of an Immodest Lady Wrestler", Vetus Testamentum, XXXI 3 (1981), pp273-274
  59. Hebrew Yisrael, "He will struggle with God;" but the second part of the quoted verse can be translated as: "for you have become great (sar) before God and men," implying that "Israel" means "He will be great (sar) before God."
  60. Penuel or Peniel, literally "Face of God" - the sentence connects the mysterious stranger and the following passage about the meeting with Esau.
  61. Genesis 32.
  62. Genesis 33.
  63. This passage is traditionally taken to mean that Shechem raped rather than seduced Dinah, but the text is inconclusive.
  64. Genesis 34.
  65. Genesis 35.
  66. Hebrew Kethoneth passim This is traditionally translated as "coat of many colours", but can also mean long sleeves, or embroidered. Whatever translation is chosen, it means a royal garment.
  67. The merchants are described first as Ishmaelites and later as Midianites. There have been many attempts to reconcile the discrepancy.
  68. Genesis 37.
  69. [ Genesis 39.]
  70. Genesis 40.
  71. Genesis 41.
  72. Genesis 42-45.
  73. Genesis 46-47.
  74. Genesis 48.
  75. Genesis 49.
  76. Genesis 50. The Book of Joshua describes the later burial of Joseph's bones in Shechem following the Exodus from Egypt.
  77. See Frank Moore Cross, The Priestly Work, in "Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic", 1973. The toledot are:
    1. The generations of the heavens and the earth (2:4).
    2. The generations of Adam (5:1).
    3. The generations of Noah (6:9).
    4. The generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah (10:1).
    5. The generations of Shem (11:10).
    6. The generations of Terah (11:27).
    7. The generations of Ishmael (25:12).
    8. The generations of Isaac (25:19).
    9. The generations of Esau (36:1, 9).
    10. The generations of Jacob (37:2).
  78. See Gordon Wenham, "Pentateuchal Studies Today", Themelios 22.1, October 1996.
  79. Richard Elliot Friedman, "The Bible with Sources Revealed", 2003.
  80. R. N. Whybray, "The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study", JSOT Press, Sheffield, 1987.
  81. John Van Seters, "Abraham in History and Tradition", Yale University Press, ISBN, 1975.
  82. For an overview of current critical theories on the origins of the Pentateuch, see Source Analysis: Revisions and Alternatives. For a more detailed treatment, see "An overlooked message: the critique of kings and affirmation of equality in the primeval history" from Biblical Theology Bulletin, Winter 2006.
  83. "What's New in Interpreting Genesis", 1995
  84. See Biblical Studies Org. and David Biale, "The God With Breasts: El Shaddai in the Bible, 1982.
  85. Frank Moore Cross, "Yahweh and the God of the Patriarchs, 1962 and 1973.
  86. Mark S. Smith, "The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts", 2002. Review of "Origins of Biblical Monotheism", Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Vol.).
  87. Lloyd Bailey, "Israelite El Sadday and Amorite Bel Sade" and E.L. Abel, "The Nature of the Patriarchal God El Sadday".
  88. Gordon J. Wenham, "The Religion of the Patriarchs"
  89. Robertson, O. Palmer, The Christ of the Covenants"
  90. Westermann distinguished four types of promise: a son; descendents; blessing; land. He regarded promises as early if they were not combined and if they were intrinsic to the narrative.
  91. Summarised from "The Patriarchs: History and Religion".

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