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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

- Genesis

by John Dummelow


1. Title and Contents. Genesis is the first of the five books which compose ’The Pentateuch’ and deal with the history and religion of the Hebrews before their final settlement in Canaan. It is known in Hebrew as ’B’reshith’ (’In the beginning’), from the word with which it opens. ’Genesis’ is a Greek word meaning ’origin’ or ’beginning,’ and is the name applied to it in the LXX version. It has passed into general use as an appropriate description of the contents.

The book is divided into two main sections: Genesis 1-11, giving an outline of the Hebrew traditions regarding the early history of the world and man; and Genesis 12-50, containing an account of the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, in their bearing upon the origin of the Hebrew race. More particularly, its contents may be summarised as follows. Part 1. The Primeval History: (a) Genesis 1-5, the story of Adam and his descendants; (b) Genesis 6-11, the story of Noah and his.sons. Part 2. The Patriarchal History: (a) Genesis 12-26, the lives of Abraham and Isaac; (b) Genesis 27-36, the life of Jacob; (c) Genesis 37-50, the life of Joseph. The first eleven chapters may be regarded as an introduction, designed to show the relation of the Hebrew race to other nations, and connect their history with that of the world. The real history of the book commences with the twelfth chapter, where the call of Abraham marks the beginning of an epoch. As a whole, the book presents an account of the origin and rise of the Hebrew nation, written from a religious point of view, to show how God chose them to be His peculiar people, and made with them those covenants and promises which were fulfilled in their later history.

2. Religious value. While recognising the progressiveness of revelation, and finding the standard of Christian morals in the New Testament rather than in the Old, we must still regard the book of Genesis as ’profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instraction which is in righteousness.’ Certain great fundamental truths of the religious and moral life are woven into the texture of its narratives, and the lessons to be derived from them have lost little or nothing of their original significance and force. That God is one, the Source of all that is, the Supreme Lord and Ruler of the world; that what He creates and does is all ’very good’; that He does not brook disobedience to His will, but punishes the sinner, while He rewards them that diligently seek and serve Him: these are some of the ideas on which it insists, ideas which lie at the root of all morality and religion. It has even a gospel to proclaim, for the love and grace of God are brought out conspicuously, not only in His normal relations with man, but amid the ruin and havoc wrought by sin. He holds communion with the creature whom He has created in His own image; He loves and cares for him in his state of innocence or rectitude; He has mercy on him when he has sinned and forfeited the blessings of Paradise. Throughout the book there is a conception of God as one, holy, spiritual, and an insight into His relationship with man and the world, neither of which can be paralleled in ancient literature. Some of its earlier portions have points of resemblance to the primitive traditions of other nations, but they are clearly distinguished from them in their representations of moral and religious truths. They may be cast in simple language, and embody ideas of their time; but, unlike the ancient mythologies, they are never immoral or unreal,.and they trace everything to the thought and action of a living, personal God.

The teaching of Genesis, then, is still applicable in Christian times. It is the more valuable that it is enforced, not by precept merely, but by concrete examples in personal and family life. Its characters are real men, not fictitious heroes or demigods. And God is actually in touch with them, working out His purposes in the events of their lives. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in all the incidents of their careers, in the general march of human history in which they bear their part, we see Him moving and acting with merciful, redeeming aim. The promise that ’the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent,’ the covenant with Noah after the Flood, the choice and call of Abraham, the covenants with him and his successors, the election of the Hebrew nation and its progressive consolidation into a theocracy or kingdom of God, are all indications of His underlying purpose to redeem the whole world from the effects of ’man’s first disobedience.’ Genesis thus graphically and realistically depicts the beginning and partial development of that long and patient process which cuiminated in the work of Christ.

3. Authorship. Until recently, Genesis, like the rest of the Pentateuch, was regarded as the work of Moses. This view was accepted on the authority of Jewish tradition, which generally seeks to attribute the sacred books of the nation to the most famous names in its history. The tradition, however, did not arise until a comparatively late period; and, in the absence of corroboration, its evidence can hardly be regarded as conclusive. The book itself is anonymous, and contains nothing to suggest a Mosaic authorship. On the contrary, it bears traces of having been put together in its present form, many years after the death of the great Hebrew patriot, when the Canaanite was no longer in the land (Genesis 12:6), and the Jewish monarchy indeed had been established (Genesis 36:31). Dual accounts are sometimes given of the same event, and different passages exhibit such diversity of literary and other characterstics as point to an origin in independent sources. Accordingly the view is now largely entertained that Genesis is the work of an unknown editor who had access to documents containing the traditions and early records of the Hebrew race, and welded them together into a whole. For a fuller discussion of the subject, reference should be made to art. ’The Origin of the Pentateuch.’ Of the three documents there mentioned as underlying the Pentateuch, only two are to be met with in Genesis, viz. the so-called Primitive and Priestly documents. The latter supplies the framework of the book, and the various parts of the former are dovetailed into it, as it were, by way of heightening the effect, and giving more detailed information.

As is pointed out in the general article, the difference of style in the two documents is clearly marked. The Primitive document is lively and picturesque, and abounds in descriptive touches, which lighten up the narrative, and impart a living interest to the people and places described. The Priestly document, on the other hand, is written in a more formal manner: it is much taken up with chronologies and genealogies, and loves to dwell upon covenants and religious ordinances. In illustration of these characteristics, the Priestly account of the end of the Flood in Genesis 8:1-5 may be compared with the picturesque description of the same event taken from the Primitive document in Genesis 8:6-12 also the appearance of God to Abraham in Genesis 17 with the accounts of similar appearances in Genesis 16:7-12 and Genesis 18:1-8, Genesis 18:16. The two threads of narrative, Primitive and Priestly, are supposed to have been based upon older written accounts compiled from oral traditions, and to have been put together, to form the present book of Genesis, in the days of Ezra.

4. Analysis. The framework of the book is marked by the repetition of the formula, ’These are the generations of,’ a phrase which occurs ten times, and always at the beginning of a new section, except in Genesis 2:4, where it is put at the end of the first account of the Creation, to which it properly belongs. The instances of its occurrence, with the references, are these: Genesis 2:4 (of the Creation); Genesis 5:1 (of Adam); Genesis 6:9 (of Noah); Genesis 10:1 (of Shem, Ham, and Japheth); Genesis 11:10 (of Shem); Genesis 11:27 (of Terah); Genesis 25:12 (of Ishmael); Genesis 25:19 (of Isaac); Genesis 36:1, Genesis 36:9 (of Esau); Genesis 37:2 (of Jacob). The passages derived from the Priestly document which constitutes the framework are roughly as follow: in Part 1 (Genesis 1-11): Genesis 1:1-24 a Genesis 5:1-32; Genesis 6:9-22; Genesis 7:6 to Genesis 8:5; Genesis 8:13-19; Genesis 9:1-17; Genesis 10:20-23, Genesis 10:31-32; Genesis 11:10-32 in Part 2 (Genesis 12-50): (a) the history of Abraham and Isaac, Genesis 16:15 to Genesis 17:27; Genesis 21:1-6; Genesis 23:1-20; Genesis 26:34-35; (b) the history of Jacob, Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:9; Genesis 34 (parts) Genesis 35:9-15, Genesis 35:23-29; Genesis 36; (c) the history of Joseph Genesis 37:1-2; Genesis 46:6-27; Genesis 47:5-11; Genesis 48:3-7; Genesis 49:28-33; Genesis 50:12-13. The Primitive document is traced in these passages: in Part 1, Genesis 2:4-4, Genesis 6:1-8; Genesis 7:1-5; Genesis 8:6-12, Genesis 8:20-22; Genesis 9:18-27; Genesis 10:8-19, Genesis 10:24-30, Genesis 11:1-9 in Part 2, (a) Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 16:15; Genesis 18:1 to Genesis 20:18; Genesis 21:7 to Genesis 22:24; Genesis 24:1 to Genesis 25:6; Genesis 25:21 to Genesis 26:33; (b) Genesis 27:1-45; Genesis 28:10 to Genesis 33:20; Genesis 34 (parts) Genesis 35:1-8, Genesis 35:16-22; (c) Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 46:5; Genesis 46:28 to Genesis 47:4; Genesis 47:12 to Genesis 48:2; Genesis 48:8 to Genesis 49:27; Genesis 50:1-11, Genesis 50:14-26.

The discovery of the composite character of Genesis, it may be added, need not be regarded as affecting the question of the inspiration of the book. That question remains practically the same, whether Genesis be the work of one or of several hands. The dates assigned to the parts of which it is supposed to be composed, as well as to the recasting of them in their present form, are all embraced within the age of the prophetic activity in Israel; and the whole bears all the marks of true and genuine inspiration. In this respect Genesis will stand comparison with any of the historical books of the Old Testament. God, it must be remembered, ’at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets’ (Hebrews 1:1).

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