Genesis is the first book of the Bible and is our introduction to the Creator and his creation. The most well known Bible stories are from this book: e.g., Creation, Noah and the Ark, the story of Abraham, and the story of Joseph. Genesis is one of the most important books of the Bible—it contains two major origin stories, as well as, the first prophecy of Jesus. The original Hebrew name for the book is Bereshit, which means “In the beginning.”
- High Level Overview
- Spiritual Themes
- Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
- Important People
- The Documentary Hypothesis
- Using Different Names for God
- Duplications of Stories
- Vocabulary Choice
- Biblical Quotes Confirming Moses as the Author
- Verses from the Old Testament
- Verses from the New Testament
- Date of Authorship
- Interesting Facts
- Other Posts on Genesis
- References & Footnotes
High Level Overview
Genesis 1-3 tell us about the creation of man and how sin entered the world through our disobedience. Genesis 3-6 describes the decline of mankind into so much sinfulness that God brings about the flood (which is detailed from Genesis 6-9). Genesis 10-12 explains how the Earth was repopulated by Noah and his sons after the flood; it also explains why each nation has a different language. From Genesis 12 to the end we are told how the Hebrews came to be, starting with Abram (Abraham). We learn about the origin of the 12 tribes of Israel as well as how they came to be in Egypt. Yet, the most important thing we can take away from Genesis is who God is: the Creator. Genesis is not only a book that tells us how man was introduced to God, it also introduces us to God.
The main theme of Genesis is beginnings. The original Hebrew name for the book, Bereshit, actually means “in the beginning.” We usually associate “beginning” with creation when talking about Genesis, but this book actually gives us many more beginnings:
- the nation of Israel
- the nations (almost every nation is accounted for in the Table of Nations)
- rivalries between nations
Genealogies are a big part of Genesis; these genealogies establish both a time line and a history for different nations. Often the arguments between two men in Genesis foreshadow large conflicts that exist between whole nations later in the text.
There are also some interesting Spiritual themes in this book. From establishing covenants to the allegory that exists in the fall of Genesis 3, there is much to inform us about our walk with YHWH. It makes sense that the beginning has many stories through which we can be introduced to the spiritual lessons God needs us to know.
Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
I was always taught that Genesis was written by Moses, both in church and in my religion class (if my memory is serving me correctly). However there also exists The Documentary Hypothesis, which suggests that Genesis was not authored by Moses. Below is some information of that theory, as well as, why I (and many others) still believe that Moses wrote Genesis.
The Documentary Hypothesis
This school of thought is relatively new in contrast with the history of the Bible. It wasn't until the 18th century that anyone disagreed that Moses was the author of Genesis, and it wasn't until the 19th century that scholars came up with this theory. The Documentary Hypothesis began with the research of Jean Astruc in the late 17th/early 18th century and suggests that 4 different people authored the book.
Throughout the Bible, there are several names uses for God, of which Astruc thought he could use to identify authors of the Bible. In Genesis, this theory is based primarily on the usage of Elohim versus YHWH (or Jehovah) as the name of God.
Elohim is one of the Hebrew names for God, and is usually translated as God when found in the Bible (an etymology of the word can be found here). Jehovah is an English translation of YHWH, God's true name.
From this, scholars identified the supposed 4 authors of Genesis as J, E, D, and P, where J uses Jehovah, E uses Elohim, D writes similarly to Deuteronomy (another book attributed to Moses), and P is a priestly writer. Supporters of this theory argue its merits based on the fact that different names are used for God, duplications of stories, contradictions, vocabulary usage, continuity, and source.
However, all of these reasons make assumptions and none are actually solid.
Using Different Names for God
My mother (note that I just wrote "my mother") has a given name from my grandmother (note that I just wrote "my grandmother," but I called her Ma Tum). Sometimes I call my mother "Mom", other times I call her "Momma", and when I was small, I called her "Mommy." When she doesn't answer after I've called her a few times, I call her by her given name. However, when I reference her to someone, I tend to say, "my mother". It is entirely possible that the same person is ping-ponging between the names of God throughout their writing. You will notice that throughout my notes on the Bible, I use Christ, Messiah, and Jesus interchangeably. If you look closely, you will notice my earlier writings favor Jesus and my more recent writings favor Messiah. Yet, I authored all of these posts. Anything from the time in which someone writes a passage, to the mood they are in while writing the passage, to the tone of the particular passage could influence which name they chose to use.
Duplications of Stories
Off the top of my head I can think of two things considered "duplications" in Genesis: Creation (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2) and Abraham deceiving Abimelech (Genesis 20) vs. pharaoh (Genesis 12). Genesis 1 and 2 are not actual duplications however; Genesis 2 provides more details on the events that occurred in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 has the purpose of telling readers the order in which things happened while Genesis 2 is unconcerned with the order (per se, I've seen suggestions that Genesis 2 refers to things God made in the garden which were duplications of what he had already made in the world—I'll link it when I find it again), but focused on details such as how the animals are named, telling us that it had not rained yet, explaining that we were all vegetarians at that point, etc. This is not necessarily indicative of different authors but could easily be one author conveying two points.
At first glance I, too, thought that Genesis 20 and 12 were slight duplications differing in that, in Genesis 12, we are given the story from Abraham's point of view; we are told his motivations for presenting his wife as his sister. In Genesis 20, we are given Abimelech's point of view; we are told what God said to him, his reaction, and his subsequent actions. Which would still make sense to separate these accounts into two—the distinct perspective of Abraham and the distinct perspective of Abimelech. However these are two different occasions in which Abraham uses the same lie!
In Genesis 12 Abraham or Abram is in Egypt and it is the pharaoh he is deceiving. In Genesis 20, Abraham is in Gerar and it is the king of that region, a man named Abimelech, that falls victim to this deception. Regardless, it's a gross assumption to say two different people wrote the accounts because someone would have had to stitch the pieces together. If person J came before person E, person J wouldn't have been able to stitch it together because the second part hadn't been written yet. If person E stitched it together why would he leave the duplication? Why not replace duplications with his version? If an entirely different source put them together, this editor would have blended them together to avoid a duplication... The fact that there are "duplications" could actually be used to make the claim that there was no editing/revision, strengthening the claim of one author. Also, repetition was normal the style of writing for the time period.
Some assert that there are contradictions in the Bible. These "contradictions" are discussed as they appear throughout the site (see The Two Tales of Creation for a start).
Most "contradictions" are actually contradictions of assumptions and interpretations but not contradictions of actual words written. Take these two sentences for example:
- Monday, I went to the zoo, and Tuesday, I went to the mall.
- I went to the mall and to the zoo.
Sentences such as these are often cited as contradictions, but they don't contradict each other. One states a particular order based on a timeline, the other gives a summary—any contradiction attributed to the sentences are based on the readers' interpretations and assumptions not the words written.
This is related to the idea of using different names for God. Again, mood, time written, and purpose of writing could change this greatly. For instance, if you read my work here, my poems/short stories on my personal blog, or my technical writing for school, I'm sure the vocabulary, style, and word choice differs. Papers I wrote my senior year in college differ from papers I wrote in graduate school—the same can be said about anyone.
Another argument presented is that individual pieces of the book are continuous and complete stories. This is true of any short story compilation. It's also true of a book series or a poetry anthology... Nothing about this implies anything of authorship.
A supporter of The Documentary Hypothesis states, "Even on a superficial reading, some texts obviously involve more than one source. The best example is Genesis 1–2, which can hardly come from a single source."
No explanation is given on why it is "obviously" more than one source. This is a completely dubious position as it is not obvious that there is more than one source and with no reason given for multiple sources this can't be an argument.
Biblical Quotes Confirming Moses as the Author
In addition to no one doubting his authorship for thousands of years, several verses within the Bible confirm Moses as the author. Prophets such as Daniel and even Jesus Himself, confirm that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. (Note that even within The Documentary Hypothesis scholars find similarities between Deuteronomy, another book of Law, and Genesis, in which we can find several references to Moses being the author of the books of law). The following is a list of biblical quotes confirming Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible). Remember the books outside of the books of law where written at different times by different men and are thus new sources of information.
Verses from the Old Testament
And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Am'-a-lek from under heaven.
And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the son of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord and unto all the elders of Israel.
On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;
Verses from the New Testament
46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.
Date of Authorship
Moses is estimated to live between 1525 BCE and 1405 BCE. He would have written the Pentateuch after being called, most assume during the last 40 years of his life while wandering in the desert (1445 BCE -1405 BCE).
Genesis actually could have been written by Moses before the Exodus, during the time he journeyed back to Egypt. In fact, there's nothing but assumption that Moses did not write Genesis while he was still living with Pharaoh—him killing the Egyptian guard shows he had some connection with the Israelites already despite his status. Essentially, all we can conclude is it was written before he died in 1405 BCE (if that's the right date of death).
In Hebrew (and thus in the original scriptures) the name of this book is Bereshit. An interesting breakdown of this word, along with an interesting interpretation of said word can be viewed in this video on YouTube.
Other Posts on Genesis
References & Footnotes
- Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg 17. 2014
- Thomas Nelson Publishers. KJV Study Bible. 1988
- "Is Jehovah the True Name of God?". GotQuestions.org. 2015
- "The Names of God in the Old Testament". Bible.org. 2015
- "Names of God". BibleStudyTools.org. 2014
- Garrett, Duane. "The Documentary Hypothesis". Associates for Christian Research. September 24, 2010
- “Genesis | Old Testament”. Encyclopedia Britannica; visited July 17, 2022
- RockIslandBooks. “Is the End of Days Prophesied in the First Word of the Bible?”. YouTube. November 1, 2018