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The Book of Genesis,[a] the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament,[1] is an account of the creation of the world, the early history of humanity, Israel's ancestors, and the origins of the Jewish people.[2] Its Hebrew name is the same as its first word, Bereshit ("In the beginning").

It is divisible into two parts, the primeval history (chapters 1–11) and the ancestral history (chapters 12–50).[3] The primeval history sets out the author's concepts of the nature of the deity and of humankind's relationship with its maker: God creates a world which is good and fit for mankind, but when man corrupts it with sin God decides to destroy his creation, saving only the righteous Noah to reestablish the relationship between man and God.[4] The ancestral history (chapters 12–50) tells of the prehistory of Israel, God's chosen people.[5] At God's command, Noah's descendant Abraham journeys from his birthplace (described as Ur of the Chaldeans and whose identification with Sumerian Ur is tentative in modern scholarship) into the God-given land of Canaan, where he dwells as a sojourner, as does his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Jacob's name is changed to Israel, and through the agency of his son Joseph, the children of Israel descend into Egypt, 70 people in all with their households and God promises them a future of greatness. Genesis ends with Israel in Egypt, ready for the coming of Moses and the Exodus. The narrative is punctuated by a series of covenants with God, successively narrowing in scope from all mankind (the covenant with Noah) to a special relationship with one people alone (Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob).[6]

In Judaism, the theological importance of Genesis centres on the covenants linking God to his chosen people and the people to the Promised Land. Christianity has interpreted Genesis as the prefiguration of certain cardinal Christian beliefs, primarily the need for salvation (the hope or assurance of all Christians) and the redemptive act of Christ on the Cross as the fulfilment of covenant promises as the Son of God.

Tradition credits Moses as the author of Genesis, as well as the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and most of Deuteronomy, but modern scholars, especially from the 19th century, onward see them as a product of the 6th and 5th centuries BC.[7][8]

For much of the 20th century most scholars agreed that the five books of the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—came from four sources, the Yahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist and the Priestly source, each telling the same basic story, and joined together by various editors.[20] Since the 1970s there has been a revolution leading scholars to view the Elohist source as no more than a variation on the Yahwist, and the Priestly source as a body of revisions and expansions to the Yahwist (or "non-Priestly") material. (The Deuteronomistic source does not appear in Genesis.)[21]

Scholars use examples of repeated and duplicate stories to identify separate sources. In Genesis, these include three different accounts of a Patriarch claiming that his wife was his sister, the two creation sto

For much of the 20th century most scholars agreed that the five books of the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—came from four sources, the Yahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist and the Priestly source, each telling the same basic story, and joined together by various editors.[20] Since the 1970s there has been a revolution leading scholars to view the Elohist source as no more than a variation on the Yahwist, and the Priestly source as a body of revisions and expansions to the Yahwist (or "non-Priestly") material. (The Deuteronomistic source does not appear in Genesis.)[21]

Scholars use examples of repeated and duplicate stories to identify separate sources. In Genesis, these include three different accounts of a Patriarch claiming that his wife was his sister, the two creation stories, and the two versions of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael into the desert.[22]

This leaves the question of when these works were created. Scholars in the first half of the 20t

Scholars use examples of repeated and duplicate stories to identify separate sources. In Genesis, these include three different accounts of a Patriarch claiming that his wife was his sister, the two creation stories, and the two versions of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael into the desert.[22]

This leaves the question of when these works were created. Scholars in the first half of the 20th century came to the conclusion that the Yahwist is a product of the monarchic period, specifically at the court of Solomon, 10th century BC, and the Priestly work in the middle of the 5th century BC (with claims that the author is Ezra), but more recent thinking is that the Yahwist is from either just before or during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BC, and the Priestly final edition was made late in the Exilic period or soon after.[8]

As for why the book was created, a theory which has gained considerable interest, although still controversial is "Persian imperial authorisation". This proposes that the Persians of the Achaemenid Empire, after their conquest of Babylon in 539 BC agreed to grant Jerusalem a large measure of local autonomy within the empire but required the local authorities to produce a single law code accepted by the entire community. The two powerful groups making up the community—the priestly families who controlled the Temple and who traced their origin to Moses and the wilderness wanderings, and the major landowning families who made up the "elders" and who traced their own origins to Abraham, who had "given" them the land—were in conflict over many issues, and each had its own "history of origins", but the Persian promise of greatly increased local autonomy for all provided a powerful incentive to cooperate in producing a single text.[23]

Genesis is an example of a creation myth, a type of literature telling of the first appearance of humans, the stories of ancestors and heroes, and the origins of culture, cities and so forth.[24] The most notable examples are found in the work of Greek historians of the 6th century BC: their intention was to connect notable families of their own day to a distant and heroic past, and in doing so they did not distinguish between myth, legend, and facts.[25] Professor Jean-Louis Ska of the Pontifical Biblical Institute calls the basic rule of the antiquarian historian the "law of conservation": everything old is valuable, nothing is eliminated.[26] Ska also points out the purpose behind such antiquarian histories: antiquity is needed to prove the worth of Israel's traditions to the nations (the neighbours of the Jews in early Persian Palestine), and to reconcile and unite the various factions within Israel itself.[26]

ThemesIn 1978 David Clines published his influential The Theme of the Pentateuch – influential because he was one of the first to take up the question of the theme of the entire five books. Clines' conclusion was that the overall theme is "the partial fulfilment – which implies also the partial nonfulfillment – of the promise to or blessing of the Patriarchs". (By calling the fulfilment "partial" Clines was drawing attention to the fact that at the end of Deuteronomy the people are still outside Canaan).[27]

The patriarchs, or ancestors, are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with their wives (Joseph is normally excluded).[28] Since the name YHWH had not been revealed to them, they worshipped El in his various manifestations.[29] (It is, however, worth noting that in the Jahwist source the patriarchs refer to deity by the name YHWH, for example in Genesis 15.) Through the patriarch's God announces the election of Israel, meaning that he has chosen Israel to be his special people and committed himself to their future.[30] God tells the patriarchs that he will be faithful to their descendants (i.e. to Israel), and Israel is expected to have faith in God and his promise. ("Faith" in the context of Genesis and the Hebrew Bible means an agreement to the promissory relationship, not a body of a belief.[31])

The promise itself has three parts: offspring, blessings, and land.[32] The fulfilment of the promise to each patriarch depends on having a male heir, and the story is constantly complicated by the fact that each prospective mother – Sarah, Rebekah and The patriarchs, or ancestors, are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with their wives (Joseph is normally excluded).[28] Since the name YHWH had not been revealed to them, they worshipped El in his various manifestations.[29] (It is, however, worth noting that in the Jahwist source the patriarchs refer to deity by the name YHWH, for example in Genesis 15.) Through the patriarch's God announces the election of Israel, meaning that he has chosen Israel to be his special people and committed himself to their future.[30] God tells the patriarchs that he will be faithful to their descendants (i.e. to Israel), and Israel is expected to have faith in God and his promise. ("Faith" in the context of Genesis and the Hebrew Bible means an agreement to the promissory relationship, not a body of a belief.[31])

The promise itself has three parts: offspring, blessings, and land.[32] The fulfilment of the promise to each patriarch depends on having a male heir, and the story is constantly complicated by the fact that each prospective mother – Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel – is barren. The ancestors, however, retain their faith in God and God in each case gives a son – in Jacob's case, twelve sons, the foundation of the chosen Israelites. Each succeeding generation of the three promises attains a more rich fulfilment, until through Joseph "all the world" attains salvation from famine,[33] and by bringing the children of Israel down to Egypt he becomes the means through which the promise can be fulfilled.[28]

Scholars generally agree that the theme of divine promise unites the patriarchal cycles, but many would dispute the efficacy of trying to examine Genesis' theology by pursuing a single overarching theme, instead citing as more productive the analysis of the Abraham cycle, the Jacob cycle, and the Joseph cycle, and the Yahwist and Priestly sources.[34] The problem lies in finding a way to unite the patriarchal theme of the divine promise to the stories of Genesis 1–11 (the primeval history) with their theme of God's forgiveness in the face of man's evil nature.[35][36] One solution is to see the patriarchal stories as resulting from God's decision not to remain alienated from mankind:[36] God creates the world and mankind, mankind rebels, and God "elects" (chooses) Abraham.[6]

To this basic plot (which comes from the Yahwist) the Priestly source has added a series of covenants dividing history into stages, each with its own distinctive "sign". The Yahwist) the Priestly source has added a series of covenants dividing history into stages, each with its own distinctive "sign". The first covenant is between God and all living creatures, and is marked by the sign of the rainbow; the second is with the descendants of Abraham (Ishmaelites and others as well as Israelites), and its sign is circumcision; and the last, which does not appear until the Book of Exodus, is with Israel alone, and its sign is Sabbath. A great leader mediates each covenant (Noah, Abraham, Moses), and at each stage God progressively reveals himself by his name (Elohim with Noah, El Shaddai with Abraham, Yahweh with Moses).[6]

It is a custom among religious Jewish communities for a weekly Torah portion, popularly referred to as a parashah, to be read during Jewish prayer services on Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays. The full name, Hebrew: פָּרָשַׁת הַשָּׁבוּעַParashat ha-Shavua, is popularly abbreviated to parashah (also parshah /pɑːrʃə/ or parsha), and is also known as a Sidra (or Sedra /sɛdrə/).

The parashah is a section of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) used in Jewish liturgy during a particular week. There are 54 weekly parshas, or parashiyot in Hebrew, and the full cycle is read over the course of one Jewish year.

See also