Genesis is the book of beginnings and contains the foundations for much of the theology of the Old Testament. It is the first book of the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah. An understanding of the book’s content and message is essential to the study of the rest of the Bible. It is not a book of science, though scientists are right to investigate its claims. It is not a book of biographies, though much can be learned from the lives of men and women portrayed in its pages. It is not a book of history, though history is the path it follows. It is a book of theology, though its task is not accomplished systematically.
The Writing of the Book
The book of Genesis does not identify its author in its pages, nor does any other book of the Bible explicitly name the author of Genesis. Traditionally it has been attributed to Moses, and with good reason. The other books of the Torah connect Moses to their writing, and most of the biblical literature treats the Torah as a unit. It is therefore understandable that Moses came to be considered the author of the whole. As has been noted often, who better to put together the book of beginnings?
Logic and tradition aside, however, it is difficult to produce much evidence to connect Moses to the writing of the book. As noted in the chapter on the composition of the Pentateuch, much of the scholarship of the last century has been inclined to divide the book between sources dating largely to the late preexilic and early postexilic periods.
Whoever put Genesis together—whether it was Moses (as we are inclined to think) or someone in the time of David and Solomon or the time of Josiah or the time of Ezra—the book clearly has one outstanding compositional feature: It is organized around eleven sections with each section beginning with “This is the account of …,” a device known as a “toledoth formula.” The first of these formulas comes in 2:4: “This is the account [toledoth] of the heavens and earth when they were created.”
The other ten are connected to individuals (Adam, Noah, Shem, et al.). This suggests that either a compiler used these formulas to indicate the documents that served as his sources, or the author used them to organize his material. Since there is no reason to doubt that some of the material of Genesis was in written form even prior to the time of Moses, we would view someone like Moses as doing mostly the work of a divinely inspired editor rather than the work of an author.
- God created and creation was good.
- Disobedience separated people from God.
- God instituted a program of revelation called the covenant.
The purpose of Genesis is to begin the story of the Covenant. Though God created everything just right, sin drew people away from God...so much that they no longer had an accurate idea of what God was like. This was why God decided to make a covenant. The covenant would be with a chosen people, Abraham and his family. The relationship of the covenant was to allow Him to use Israel to give people an accurate picture of what He was like. Genesis tells how the covenant was established despite many obstacles.
- Creation (1:1-2:3)
- Before the Patriarchs: The Need for a Covenant People
- Toledoth of Heavens and Earth (2:4-4:26)
- Toledoth of Adam (5:1-6:8)
- Toledoth of Noah (6:9-9:29)
- Toledoth of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10:1-11:9)
- Toledoth of Shem (11:10-26)
- The Patriarches in Palestine: The Establishment of a Covenant People
- Toledoth of Terah (11:27-25:11)
- Toledoth of Ishmael (25:12-18)
- Toledoth of Isaac (25:19-35:29)
- Toledoth of Esau (36:1-8)
- Toledoth of Esau (36:9-37:1)
- The Patriarchs in Egypt: Incubation for the Covenant People
- Toledoth of Jacob (37:2-50:26)