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Online Text for Genesis

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Information on Genesis

Eugene H. Maly provides this outline of Genesis with tentative ascription to the Yahwist, Elohist, and Priestly sources. (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, pp. 9-10)

  1. Primitive History (1-11)
    1. Creation of World and Man (1:1-2:4a) (P)
    2. Creation of Man and Woman (2:4b-25) (J)
    3. The Fall (3:1-24) (J)
    4. Cain and Abel (4:1-16) (J)
    5. Genealogy of Cain (4:17-26) (J)
    6. Genealogy of Adam to Noah (5:1-32) (P)
    7. Prologue to the Flood (6:1-22) (J and P)
    8. The Flood (7:1-8:22) (J and P)
    9. The Covenant with Noah (9:1-17) (P)
    10. The Sons of Noah (9:18-27) (J)
    11. The Peopling of the Earth (10:1-32) (P and J)
    12. The Tower of Babel (11:1-9) (J)
    13. Concluding Genealogies (11:10-32) (P and J)
  2. The Patriarch Abraham (12:1-25:18)
    1. The Call of Abram (12:1-9) (J, P)
    2. Abram and Sarai in Egypt (12:10-20) (J)
    3. The Separation of Abram and Lot (13:1-18) (J, P)
    4. Abram and the Four Kings (14:1-24) (?)
    5. Promises Renewed (15:1-20) (J, E?)
    6. Hagar's Flight (16:1-16) (J, P)
    7. The Covenant of Circumcision (17:1-27) (P)
    8. Promise of a Son; Sodom and Gomorrah (18:1-19:38) (J)
    9. Abraham and Sarah in Gerar (20:1-18) (E)
    10. Isaac and Ishmael (21:1-21) (J and P)
    11. Abraham and Abimelech (21:22-34) (E)
    12. The Sacrifice of Isaac (22:1-24) (E, J)
    13. The Purchase of the Cave of Machpelah (23:1-20) (P)
    14. The Wife of Isaac (24:1-67) (J)
    15. Abraham's Descendants (25:1-18) (P and J)
  3. The Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob (25:19-36:43)
    1. The Birth of Esau and Jacob (25:19-34) (J, P)
    2. Isaac in Gerar and Beer-sheba (26:1-35) (J, P)
    3. Isaac's Blessing of Jacob (27:1-45) (J)
    4. Jacob's Departure for Paddan-aram (27:46-28:9) (P)
    5. Vision at Bethel (28:10-22) (J and E)
    6. Jacob's Marriages (29:1-30) (J, E?)
    7. Jacob's Children (29:31-30:24) (J and E)
    8. Jacob Outwits Laban (30:25-43) (J, E)
    9. Jacob's Departure (31:1-21) (E, J)
    10. Laban's Pursuit (31:22-42) (E, J)
    11. The Contract Between Jacob and Laban (31:43-32:3) (J and E)
    12. Preparation for the Meeting with Esau (32:4-22) (J and E)
    13. Jacob's Struggle with God (32:23-33) (J)
    14. Jacob's Meeting with Esau (33:1-20) (J, E?)
    15. The Rape of Dinah (34:1-31) (J and E)
    16. Jacob at Bethel (35:1-29) (E and P)
    17. The Descendants of Esau (36:1-43) (P?)
  4. The History of Joseph (37:1-50:26)
    1. Joseph Sold into Egypt (37:1-36) (J and E)
    2. Judah and Tamar (38:1-30) (J)
    3. Joseph's Temptations (39:1-23) (J)
    4. Joseph Interprets the Prisoners' Dreams (40:1-23) (E)
    5. Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dreams (41:1-57) (E, J)
    6. First Encounter of Joseph with His Brothers (42:1-38) (E, J)
    7. Second Journey to Egypt (43:1-34) (J, E)
    8. Judah's Plea for Benjamin (44:1-34) (J)
    9. The Recognition of Joseph (45:1-28) (J and E)
    10. Jacob's Journey to Egypt (46:1-34) (J, E, and P)
    11. The Hebrews in Egypt (47:1-31) (J and P)
    12. Jacob Adopts Joseph's Sons (48:1-22) (J and E, P)
    13. Jacob's Blessings (49:1-33) (J?)
    14. The Burial of Jacob and the Final Acts of Joseph (50:1-26) (J, E, and P)

Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush write: "The first five toledoth structure the primeval prologue, with the major divisions set off by and clustered around them. Thus ch. 1 is closed by 2:4a and the next unit—Eden and the Fall—is concluded by 5:1, which introduces the roll of Adam's descendants, setting off 2:4b-4:26 as a unit. In 6:9 the formula introduces the narrative of Noah, separating the story of the sons of God and the daughters of men (6:1-4) and the sketch of man's sin (vv. 5-8), both expressing the extent of the corruption leading to the Flood. Gen. 10:1 begins the Table of Nations, setting off this repeopling of the earth from the flood story of 6:9-9:29; 11:10 introduces the roll of patriarchs after the Flood, setting off the Tower of Babel story in vv. 1-9." (Old Testament Survey, pp. 69-70)

John S. Kselman writes: "The theme of God's promise (Gen. 12:1-3, 7) and its partial or incomplete fulfillment touches both the promise of descendants and of land. The promise of descendants is organized around a series of questions: how will Abram (Abraham) be the father of numerous descendants when he has not even one son? Which of his sons (Ishmael or Isaac) will be the bearer of the promise? Will the chosen son survive to carry on the line (chaps. 22, 27)? The partial fulfillment of the promise of descendants is recorded in the genealogy in Gen. 46:8-27. The promise of land is also delayed in fulfillment. The ancestors to whom Canaan is promised spend more time outside the promised land than in it: Abraham and Sarah in Egypt (chap. 12) and Gerar (chap. 20); Isaac and Rebekah in Gerar (chap. 26); Jacob in Haran (chaps. 29-31); Joseph in Egypt (chaps. 39-50); and Jacob, Joseph's brothers, and their families also in Egypt (chaps. 46-50)." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 86)

Jay G. Williams writes of the first creation story: "The liturgy ends with the joyous assertion that after the creation of man, God rested on the seventh day and hallowed it. The notion of a seven-day week did not originate among the Israelites but was observed by both the Mesopotamians and the Canaanites. Among these peoples the shabbatu was regarded as a day of evil portent and hence as a day when all usual activity should cease. In Israel the seventh day was regarded as a day of rejoicing. Why? Because after God created man, he rested. That is, he ceased and desisted; he did not go on creating super and super-super men. The seventh day is holy, because it is a reminder that man is meant to be the dominator of the created world. He is God's vice-regent and is responsible only to him." (Understanding the Old Testament, pp. 77-78)

Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush write: "Literary device also is found in the names used. The correspondence of the name with the person's function or role is striking in several instances. Adam means 'mankind' and Eve is '(she who gives) life.' Surely, when an author of a story names the principal characters Mankind and Life, something is conveyed about the degree of literalness intended! Similarly Cain means 'forger (of metals)'; Enoch is connected with 'dedication, consecration' (4:17; 5:18); Jubal with horn and trumpet (4:21); while Cain, condemned to be a nad, a 'wanderer,' goes to live in the land of Nod, a name transparently derived from the same Hebrew root, thus the land of wandering! This suggests that the author is writing as an artist, a storyteller, who uses literary device and artifice. One must endeavor to distinguish what he intends to teach from the literary means employed." (Old Testament Survey, p. 72)

Samuel Sandmel writes: "J, the oldest source interspersed in P, is the born storyteller. He is simple and brief. He uses adjectives only when they provide a characterization necessary to the plot. Thus, in the tale of Eve's temptation by the serpent, he tells us that the serpent is wily; thereby we are led to understand why the serpent does what he does. J, moreover, is a teller of folk tales. He will relate stark tragedy, such as Cain's murder of his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy. But like any teller of folk tales, J has a very rich sense of humor. (It is unfortunate that the Tanak is often approached so lugubriously that its humor and wit are neither noticed nor appreciated.) Sometimes J's humor is broad and almost course; he portrays Rachel as sitting on the gods of her father, and unable to rise at her father's entrance with the excuse that she is in her menstrual period. At other times his humor is more delicate, as when Ephron the Hittite discloses the price of the cave Abraham wants to buy with the words, 'What are four hundred pices of silver between you and me?' J has a fondness for puns (these are known technically as paronomasia, a term calculated to obscure the fun in them); he tells us that the wily ('arum) serpent disclosed to Adam that Adam was naked ('arom)." (The Hebrew Scriptures, pp. 340-341)

J. Alberto Soggin writes: "Foremost among the biblical scholars at the end of the last century and in the first decades of this is the figure of Hermann Gunkel. We have already noted the fact that he was the first to introduce the study of literary genres into Old Testament and oriental studies, a method which is appropriate for the anonymous or even pseudonymous character of the writings. Indeed, in the majority of cases it is the only one applicable, if a method is to be used which is not totally alien to the material studied. Gunkel's commentary on Genesis is fundamental to our theme; in the introduction, which is still a classic and can be considered as setting out a basic programme, he established that Genesis is: (i) a collection of legends, (ii) originally transmitted orally, (iii) which had already been collected into cycles at the oral stage. However, (iv) the sources are more the product of redactional than of creative work, and simply furnished the pre-existent material with a framework and connections; besides, (v) they are not the works of indivudals, whether authors or collectors, but of schools of narrators (scholars now tend to prefer the word 'tradents'). Therefore (vi) the individual material in the collections has its own history and its own setting, quite independently of its later position in the sources, so that (vii) every lesser unit must be examined by itself, leaving aside its present context." (Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 89-90)

James King West writes: "The reader of Genesis has little difficulty recognizing the unity which inheres in the remainder of the book, chapters 12-50. Even though it is none too easy finding the precise literary classification with which to distinguish these chapters from chapters 1-11 ('legend' is the more commonly applied label), in respect to subject matter the differences are apparent. In these chapters we find longer, sustained accounts, centering around the four major patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The brief and highly compact stories of Genesis 1-11, with their universal themes of human beginnings, here give way to cycles of stories associated with the several Semitic fathers and their families. In the real sense, God is still the chief actor in the drama, but there is less anthropomorphism and more of the localized saga concerning specific tribes and their movements, particularly as these are associated with well-known sacred sites. Through every episode, there runs like a red thread the theme of God's election of Israel. The pattern of promise and fulfillment, which gives theological substance to the entire Hebrew-Christian history, is here portrayed as having its start in God's call of Abraham. From this point onward, the tracing of the promise, its renewal with Abraham's successive offspring and the anticipation of its eventual fulfillment in the Israelite successes of Canaan, is the chief concern of the patriarchal narrative." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 75)

Walter Harrelson writes: "The great bulk of the remainder of the Book of Genesis (chaps. 37-50) is concerned with one dramatic theme: God's providential direction of the fortunes of Joseph which resulted not only in the deliverance of the forefathers from prolonged famine in the Promised Land but also in the multiplication of the number and the increase of the wealth of Jacob and his descendants. The story contains materials out of the two basic traditions, J and E, supplemented by priestly materials and by some materials brought into the narratives for special purposes, but apparently not a part of any one of the three narratives." (Interpreting the Old Testament, p. 67)

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