corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.20.11.26
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Genesis


Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(Sept. Γένεσις , generation), the first book of the Law or the Pentateuch, is in Hebrew called כּיֵץשּׁית, Bereshith', from the word with which it be. gins. (See LAW).

I. General Character. The book of Genesis has an interest and an importance to which no other document of antiquity can pretend. If not absolutely the oldest book in the world, it is the oldest which lays any claim to being a trustworthy history. There may be some papyrus-rolls in our museums which were written in Egypt about the same time that the genealogies of the Shemitic race were so carefully collected in the tents of the patriarchs. But these rolls at best contain barren registers of little service to the historian. It is said that there are fragments of Chinese literature which, in their present form, date back as far as 2200 years B.C., and even more (Gfrorer, Urgeschichte, 1:215); but they are either calendars containing astronomical calculations, or records of merely local and temporary interest. Genesis, on the contrary, is rich in details respecting other races besides the race to which it more immediately belongs; and the Jewish pedigrees there so studiously preserved are but the scaffolding whereon is reared a temple of universal history.

If the religious books of other nations make any pretensions to vie with it in antiquity, in all other respects they are immeasurably inferior. The Mantras, the oldest portions of the Vedas, are, it would seem, as old as the 14th century B.C. (see Colebroke, Asiat. Res. 7:283, and professor Wilson's preface to his translation of the Rig-Veda). The Zendavesta, in the opinion of competent scholars, is of very much more modern date. Of the Chinese sacred books, the oldest, theYihking, is undoubtedly of a venerable antiquity, but it is not certain that it was a religious book at all; while the writings attributed to Confucius are certainly not earlier than the 6th century B.C. (Gfrö rer, 1:270).

But Genesis is neither like the Vedas, a collection of hymns more or less sublime; nor like the Zendavesta, a philosophic speculation on the origin of all things; nor like the Yih-king, an unintelligible jumble whose expositors could twist it from a cosmological essay into a standard treatise on ethical philosophy (Hardwick, Christ and other Masters, III, 1:16). It is a history, and it is a religious history. The earlier portion of the book, as far as the end of the eleventh chapter, may properly be termed a history of the world; the latter is a history of the fathers of the Jewish race. But from first to last it is a religious history: it begins with the creation of the world and of man; it tells of the early happiness of a paradise in which God spake with man; of the first sin and its consequences; of the promise of redemption; of the gigantic growth of sin, and the judgment of the Flood; of a new earth, and a new covenant with man, its unchangeableness typified by the bow in the heavens; of the dispersion of the human race over the world. It then passes to the story of redemption; to the promise given to Abraham, and renewed to Isaac and to Jacob, and to all that chain of circumstances which paved the way for the great symbolic act of Redemption, when with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm Jehovah brought his people out of Egypt.

It is very important to bear in mind this religious aspect of the history if we would put ourselves in a position rightly to understand it. Of course the facts must be treated like any other historical facts, sifted in the same way, and subjected to the same laws of evidence. But if we would judge of the work as a whole we must not forget the evident aim of the writer. It is only in this way we can understand, for instance, why the history of the Fall is given with so much minuteness of detail, whereas of whole generations of men we have nothing but a bare catalogue. Only in this way, too, can we account for the fact that by far the greater portion of the book is occupied, not with the fortunes of nations, but with the biographies of the three patriarchs or it was to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob that God revealed himself. It was to them that the promise was given, which was to be the hope of Israel till "the fulness of the time" should come. Hence to these wandering sheiks attaches a grandeur and an interest greater than that of the Babels and Nimrods of the world. The minutest circumstances of their lives are worthier to be chronicled than the rise and fall of empires. This is not merely from the patriotic feeling of the writer as a Jew, but from his religious feeling as one of the chosen race. He lived in the land given to the fathers; he looked for the seed promised to the fathers, in whom himself and all the families of the earth should be blessed. (See ABRAHAM).

II. Unity of Design. This venerable monument, with which the sacred literature of the Hebrews cominences, and which forms its real basis, is divided into two main parts; one universal, and one special. The most ancient history of the whole human race is contained in chapters 1-11, and the history of Israel's ancestors, the patriarchs, in chapters 12-50. These two parts are, however, so intimately connected with each other that it would be erroneous to ascribe to the first merely the aim of furnishing a universal history. That a distinct plan and method characterize the work is now generally admitted. This is acknowledged, in fact, quite as much by those who contend for, as by those who deny the existence of different documents in the book. Ewald and Tuch are no less decided advocates of the unity of Genesis, as far as its plan is concerned, than Ranke or Hengstenberg. Ewald, indeed (in his Composition der Genesis), was the first who established it satisfactorily, and clearly pointed out the principle on which it rests.

What, then, is the plan of the writer? First, we must bear in mind that Genesis is, after all, but a portion of a larger work. The five books of the Pentateuch form a consecutive whole: they are not merely a collection of ancient fragments loosely strung together, but, as we shall prove elsewhere, a well-digested and connected composition. (See PENTATEUCH).

The great subject of this history is the establishment of the theocracy. Its central point is the giving of the law on Sinai, and the solemn covenant there ratified, whereby the Jewish nation was constituted "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Jehovah." With reference to this great central fact all the rest of the narrative is grouped.

Israel is the people of God. God rules in the midst of them, having chosen them to himself. But a nation must have laws, therefore he gives them a law; and, in virtue of their peculiar relationship to God, this body of laws is both religious and political, defining their duty to God as well as their duty to their neighbor. Further, a nation must have a land, and the promise of the land and the preparation for its possession are all along kept in view. The book of Genesis then (with the first chapters of Exodus) describes the steps which led to the establishment of the theocracy. In reading it we must remember that it is but a part of a more extended work; and we must also bear in mind these two prominent ideas, which give a characteristic unity to the whole composition, viz. the people of God, and the promised land.

We shall then observe that the history of Abraham holds the same relation to the other portions of Genesis that the giving of the law does to the entire Pentateuch. Abraham is the father of the Jewish nations to Abraham the land of Canaan is first given in promise. Isaac and Jacob, though also prominent figures in the narrative, yet do but inherit the promise as Abraham's children, and Jacob especially is the chief connecting link in the chain of events which leads finally to the possession of the land of Canaan. In like manner, the former section of the book is written with the same obvious purpose. It is a part of the writer's plan to tell us what the divine preparation of the world was, in order to show, first, the significance of the call of Abraham, and, next, the true nature of the Jewish theocracy. He does not (as Tuch asserts) work backwards from Abraham till he comes, in spite of himself, to the beginning of all things. He does not ask, Who was Abraham? answering, of the posterity of Shemn; and who was Shem? a son of Noah; and who was Noah, etc. But he begins with the creation of the world, because the God who created the world and the God who revealed himself to the fathers is the same God. Jehovah, who commanded his people to keep holy the seventh day, was the same God who, in six days, created the heavens and the earth, and rested on the seventh day from all his work. The God who, when man had fallen, visited him in mercy, and gave him a promise of redemption and victory, is the God who sent Moses to deliver his people out of Egypt. He who made a covenant with Noah, and through him with "all the families of the earth," is the God who also made himself known as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. In a word, creation and redemption are eternally linked together. This is the idea which, in fact, gives its shape to the history, although its distinct enunciation is reserved for the N.T. There we learn that all things were created by and for Christ, and that in him all things consist (Colossians 1:16-17); and that by the Church is made known unto principalities and powers the manifest wisdom of God. It would be impossible, therefore, for a book which tells us of the beginning of the Church, not to tell us also of the beginning of the world. The book of Genesis has thus a character at once special and universal. It embraces the world; it speaks of God as the God of the whole human race. But, as the introduction to Jewish history, it makes the universal interest subordinate to the national. Its design is to show how God revealed himself to the first fathers of the Jewish race, in order that he might make to himself a nation who should be his witness in the midst of the earth. This is the inner principle of unity which pervades the book. Its external framework we are now to examine. Five principal persons are the pillars, so to speak, on which the whole superstructure rests, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

(I.) Adam. The creation of the world, and the earliest history of mankind (Genesis 1-3). As yet, no divergence of the different families of man.

(II.) Noah. The history of Adam's descendants to the death of Noah (Genesis 4-9). Here we have

(1) the line of Cain branching off while the history follows the fortunes of Seth, whose descendants are

(2) traced in genealogical succession, and in an unbroken line as far as Noah, and

(3) the history of Noah himself (chapter 6-9), continued to his death.

(III.) Abraham. Noah's posterity till the death of Abraham (Genesis 35:18). Here we have

(1) the peopling of the whole earth by the descendants of Noah's three sons (Genesis 11:1-9). The history of two of these is then dropped, and

(2) the line of Shem only pursued (Genesis 11:10-32) as far as Terah and Abraham, where the genealogical table breaks off.

(3) Abraham is now the prominent figure (Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 25:18). But as Terah had two other sons, Nahor and Haran (Genesis 11:27), some notices respecting their families are added. Lot's migration with Abraham into the land of Canaan is mentioned, as well as the fact that he was the father of Moab and Ammon (Genesis 19:37-38), nations whose later history was intimately connected with that of the posterity of Abraham. Nahor remained in Mesopotamia, but his family is briefly enumerated (Genesis 22:20-24), chiefly, no doubt, for Rebekah's sake, who was afterwards the wife of Isaac. Of Abraham's own children, there branches off first the line of Ishmael (Genesis 21:9, etc.), and next the children by Keturah; and the genealogical notices of these two branches of his posterity are apparently brought together (Genesis 25:1-6, and Genesis 25:12-18), in order that, being here severally dismissed at the end of Abraham's life, the main stream of the narrative may flow in the channel of Isaac's fortunes.

(IV.) Isaac.-Isaac's life (Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29), a life in itself retiring and us-eventful. But in his sons the final separation takes place, leaving the field clear for the great story of the chosen seed. Even when Nahor's family comes on the scene, as it does in chapter 29, we hear only so much of it as is necessary to throw light on Jacob's history.

(V.) Jacob. The history of Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 36:1). Here, after Isaac's death, we have

(1) the genealogy of Esau (chapter 36), who then drops out of the narrative, in order that

(2) the history of the patriarchs may be carried on without interruption to the death of Joseph (chapters 37-50).

Thus it will be seen that a specific plan is preserved throughout. The main purpose is never forgotten. God's relation to Israel holds the first place in the writer's mind. It is this which it is his object to convey. The history of that chosen seed who weae the heirs of the promise, and the guardians of the divine oracles, is the only history which interprets man's relation to God. By its light all others shine, and may be read when the time shall come. Meanwhile, as the different families drop off here and there freom the principal stock, their course is briefly indicated. A hint is given of their parentage and their migrations; and then the narrative returns to its regular channel. Thus the whole book may be compared to one of those vast American rivers which, instead of being fed by tributaries, send off here and there certain lesser streams or bayous, as they are termed, the main current meanwhile flowing on with its great mass of water to the sea.

Beyond all doubt, then, we may trace in the book of Genesis in its present form a systematic plan. It is no hasty compilation, inc mere collection of ancient fragments without order or arrangement. It coheres by aee internal principle of unity. Its whole structure presents a very definite and clearly marked outline. But does it follow from this that the book, as it at present stands, is the work of a single author?

III. Unity of Composition. This, which is a point in dispute among the critics with regard to all the books of the Pentateuch, has been particularly questioned in the case of Geasesis. The question was raised whether the sources from which the writer of Genesis drew his information were written documents or oral tradition. Writers as early as Vitringa (Obs Joel 1:4), Richard Simon, Clericus, and others, though they were of opinion that Genesis is founded on written sources, did not undertake to describe the nature and quality of those sources. Another opinion, advanced by Otmar in Henke's Magaz. 2, that Egyptian pyramids and other monuments of a similar nature were the sources of Genesis, was but transient in the critical world; while the attempt of some critics not only to renew the previous assumption that Genesis is founded on written sources, but also to determine more closely the character of those sources, has gained more lasting approval among the learned. When different names of God are prevalent in different portions of Genesis is a question much discussed by early theologians and rabbis. Astruc, a Belgian physician, in his Conjectures sur les Memoires originaux, etc. (Bruxelles, 1753-8), was the first to apply the two Hebrew names of God, Jehovah and Elohim, tothe subject at issue. Astruc assuened that there had originally existed a number of isolated documents, some twelve in all, which had subsequently, by the fault of transcribers, been joined and strung together in the present form of Genesis. Eichhorn's critical geaniss procured for this hypothesis a favorable reception almost throughout the whole of Germany. (See ASTRUC).

Eichhorn pruned away its excrescences, and confined his own view to the assumption of only two different documents, respectively characterized by the two different names of Jehovah and Elohim. Other critics, such as Illgen (Urkunden des Jerusalem Tempel-Archivs, 1798), Gramberg (Adumbratio libri Geneseos secundum fontes, 1828), and others, went still farther, and presupposed three different documents in Genesis. Vater went much beyond Eichborn. He fancied himself able to combat the authenticity of the Pentateuch by producing a new hypothesis. He substituted for Eichhorn's "document-hypothesis" his own "fragment-hypothesis," which obtained great authority, especially on account of its being adapted by De Wette. According to this opinion, Genesis, as well as the greater part of the Pentateuch, consists of a great number of very small detached fragments, internally unconnected with each other, but transcribed seriatim, although originating in very different times and from different authors. This "fragment-hypothesis" has now been almost universally given up. Even its zealous defenders, not excepting De Wette himself, have relinquished it. In its place the former "document-hypothesis" has been resumed by some critics, simplified, however, and supported by new and better arguments. There is at present a great variety of opinion among divines concerning this hypothesis. The leading features of this diversity may be comprised in the following summary. According to the view of Stabelin, De Wette, Ewald, Von Bohlens, Tuch, Knobel, Delitzsch, and others, Genesis is founded on teo principal original documents. That of Elohissi is closelv connected in its parts, and forms a whole, while that of Jehovah is a mere complementary document, supplying details at those points where the former is abrupt and deficient, etc. These two documents are said to have been subsequently combined by the hand of an editor, so ably as often to render their separation difficult, if not altogether impossible. But Ranke, Hengstenberg, Drechsler, Hulmernick, Baumgarten, Keil, and others, maintain that Genesis is a book closely connected in all its parts, and composed by only one author, while the use of the two different names of God is not owing to two different sources on which Genesis is founded, but solely to the different significations of these two names. The great weight of probability lies on the side of those who argue for the existence of different documents, but only ass sources to some extent which, together with original materials, were wrought by the author into one homogeneous whole.

1. It is almost impossible to read the book of Genesis with anything like a critical eye without being struck with the great peculiarities of style and language which certain portions of it present. Thus, for instance, Genesis 2:3 to Genesis 3:24 is quite different both from chapter 1 and from chapter 4. Again, chapter 14 and (according to Jahn) chapter 23 are evidently separate documents, transplanted in their original form without correction or modification into the existing work. In fact, there is nothing like uniformity of style till we come to the history of Joseph.

2. We are led to the same conclusion by the inscriptions which are prefixed to certain sections, as Genesis 2:4; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 10:1; Genesis 11:10; Genesis 11:27, and seem to indicate so many older documents.

3. The resumptive form of some of the narratives, e.g. the repetition of the account of the creation of man in chap. ii, with additional particulars, is evidence of the same character. We may eveen hazard the conjecture that the pure cosmogony of chapter 1 may have been one of the mysteries of the Egyptian theosophy, while the more distinct accounts of the subsequent chapters may have been derived from the early traditions of the Hebrews and cognate nations. (See MOSES).

4. Lastly, the distinct use of the divine names, Jehovah in some sections, and Elohim in others, is characteristic of two different writers; and other peculiarities of diction it has been observed fall in with this usage, and go far to establish, the theory. All this is quite in harmony with what we might have expected a priori, viz., that if Moses or any later writer were the author of the book, he would have availed himself of existing traditions, either oral or written. That they might have been written is now established beyond all doubt, the art of writing having been proved to be such earlier than Moses. That they were written we infer from the book itself. Yet these peculiarities are not so absolute as to show that the same writer did not embody them all into one composition, for they are sometimes found blended in the same piece.

The evidence alluded to is strong; and nothing can be more natural than that an honest historian should seek to make his work more valuable by embodying in it the most ancient records of his race; the higher the value which they possessed in his eyes, the more anxious would he be to preserve them in their original form. Those particularly in the earlier portion of the work were perhaps simply transcribed. In one instance we have what looks like an omission (Genesis 2:4), where the inscription seems to promise a larger cosmogony. Here and there throughout the book we meet with a later remark, intended to explain or supplement the earlier monument. In some instances there seems to have been so complete a fusion of the two principal documents, the Elohistic and the Jehovistic, that it is no longer possible accurately to distinguish them. The later writer, the Jehovist, instead of transcribing the Elohistic account intact, thought fitto blend and intersperse with it his own remarks. We have an instance of this, according to Hupfeld (Die Quellen der Genesis), in Genesis 7:1-10 are usually assigned to the Jehovist; but whilst he admits this, he detects a large admixture of Elohistic phraseology and coloring in the narrative. But this sort of criticism, it must be admitted, is very doubtful. Many other instances might be mentioned where there is the same difficulty in assigning their own to the several authors. Thus in sections generally recognized as Jehovistic, Genesis 12, 13, 19, here and there a sentence or a phrase occurs which seems to betray a different origin, as Genesis 12:5; Genesis 13:6; Genesis 19:29. These anomalies, however, though it may be difficult to account for them, can hardly be considered of sufficient force entirely to overthrow the theory of independent documents which has so much, on other grounds, to recommend it. Certainly when Keil, Hengstenberg, and others, who reject this theory, attempt to account for the use of the divine names on the hypothesis that the writer designedly employed the one or the other name according to the subject of which he was treating, their explanations are often of the most arbitrary kind. As a whole, the documentary character of Genesis is so remarkable when we compare it with the later books of the Pentateuch, and is so exactly what we might expect, supposing a Mosaic authorship of the whole, that, whilst contending against the theory of different documents in the later portions, we feel convinced that this theory is the only tenable one in Genesis.

Of the two principal documents, the Elohistic is the earlier. So far as we can detach its integral portions, they still present the appearance of something like a connected work. This has been very well argued by Tuch (Die Genesis, Allgem. Einl. 51-65), as well as by Hupfeld (Die Quellen der Genesis), Knobel, and Delitzsch. This whole theory of a double origin of the book, however, is powerfully opposed by Tiele in the Stud. u. Krit. 1852, 1.

Hupfeld, however, whose analysis is very careful, thinks that he can discover traces of three original records, an earlier Elohist, a Jehovist, and a later Elohist. These three documents were, according to him, subsequently united and arranged by a fourth person, who acted as editor of the whole. His argument is ingenious and worthy of consideration, though it is at times too elaborate to be convincing.

The following table of the use of the divine names in Genesis will enable the reader to form his own judgment as to the relative probability of the hypotheses above mentioned. Much as commentators differ concerning some portions of the book, one pronouncing passages to be Elohistic which another, with equal confidence, assigns to the Jehovist, the fact is certain that whole sections are characterized by a separate use of the divine names. (See Quarry, Genesis, page 400 sq.)

(1.) Sections in which Elohim is found exclusively, or nearly so: Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 (creation of heaven and earth); Genesis 5 (generations of Adam), except verse 29, where Jehovah occurs; Genesis 6:9-22 (generations of Noah); Genesis 7:9-24 (the entering into the ark), but Jehovah in verse Genesis 16; Genesis 8:1-19 (end of the flood); Genesis 9:1-17 (covenant with Noah); Genesis 17 (covenant of circumcision) where, however, Jehovah occurs once in verse 1, as compared with Elohim seven times; Genesis 19:29-38 (conclusion of Lot's history); Genesis 20 (Abraham's sojourn at Gerar), where again we have Jehovah once and Elohim four times, and Ha- elohim twice; Genesis 21:1-21 (Isaac's birth and Ishmael's dismissal), only Genesis 21:1, Jehovah; Genesis 21:22-34 (Abraham's covenant with Abimelech), where Jehovah is found once; Genesis 25:1-18 (sons of Keturah, Abraham's death, and the generations of Ishmael), Elohim once; Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:9 (Jacob goes to Haran, Esau's marriage), Elohim once, and El Shaddai once; Genesis 31 (Jacob's departure from Laban), where Jehovah twice; Genesis 33-37 (Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, Dinah and the Shechemites, Jacob at Bethel, Esau's family, Joseph sold into Egypt). It should be observed, however, that in large portions of this section the divine name does not occur at all. (See below.) Genesis 40-50 (history of Joseph in Egypt): here we have Jehovah once only (Genesis 49:18). [Exodus 1-2 (Israel's oppression in Egypt, and birth of Moses as deliverer).]

(2.) Sections in which Jehovah occurs exclusively, or in preference to Elohim: Genesis 4 (Cain and Abel, and Cain's posterity). where Jehovah ten times and Ehlohim only once; Genesis 6:1-8 (the sons of God and the daughters of men, etc.); Genesis 7:1-9 (the entering into the ark), but Elohim once, Genesis 7:9; Genesis 8:20-22 (Noah's altar and Jehovah's blessing); Genesis 9:18-27 (Noah and his sons); 10 (the families of mankind as descended from Noah); Genesis 11:1-9 (the confusion of tongues); Genesis 12:1-20 (Abram's journey first from Haran to Canaan, and then into Egypt); Genesis 13 (Abram's separation from Lot); Genesis 15 (Abram's faith, sacrifice, and covenant); Genesis 16 (Hagar and Ishmael), where אל ראי once; Genesis 18:1 to Genesis 19:28 (visit of the three angels to Abram, Lot, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah); Genesis 24 (betrothal of Rebekah and Isaac's marriage); Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 26:35 (Isaac's sons, his visit to Abimelech, Esau's wives); Genesis 27:1-40 (Jacob obtains the blessing), but in Genesis 27:28 Ha-elohim; Genesis 30:25-43 (Jacob's bargain with Laban), where, however, Jehovah only once; Genesis 38 (Judah's incest); Genesis 39 (Jehovah with Joseph in Potiphar's house and in the prisaon). [Exodus 4:18-31 (Moses's return to Egypt); 5 (Pharaoh's treatment of the messengers of Jehovah).]

(3.) The section Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24 (the account of Paradise and the Fall) is generally regarded as Jehovistic, but it is clearly quite distinct. The divine name as there found is not Jehovah, but Jehovah Elohim (in which form it only occurs once beside in the Pentateuch, Exodus 9:33), and it occurs twenty times; the name Elohim being found three times in the same section, once in the mouth of the woman, and twice in that of the serpent.

(4.) In Genesis 14 the prevailing name is El-Elyon (Auth. Vers. "the most high God"), and only once, in Abranm's mouthe "Jehovah, the most high God," which is quite intelligible.

(5.) Some few sections are found in which the names Jehovah and Elohim seem to be used promiscuously. This is the case in Genesis 22:1-19 (the offering up of Isaac); Genesis 28:10-22 (Jacob's dream at Bethel); Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24 (birth and naming of the eleven sons of Jacob); and 32 (Jacob's wrestling with the angel). [Exodus 3:1 to Exodus 4:17 (the call of Moses).]

(6.) It is worthy of notice that of the other divine names Adonai is always found in connection with Jehovah, except Genesis 20:4; whereas El, El- Shaddai, etc., occur most frequently in the Elohistic sections.

(7.) In the following sections neither of the divine names occur: Genesis 11:10-32; Genesis 22:20-24; Genesis 23; Genesis 25:27-34; Genesis 27:40-45; Genesis 29:1-30; Genesis 34; Genesis 36; Genesis 37; Genesis 40 [Exodus 2:1-22].

IV. The historical character of the contents of Genesis forms a more comprehensive subject of theological discussion. It is obvious that the opinions regarding it must be principally influenced by the dogmatical views and principles of the respective critics themselves. Hence the great variety of opinion that still prevails on that subject. Some, as Vatke, Von Bohlen, and others, assert that the whole contents of Genesis are unhistorical. Tuch and others consider Genesis to be interwoven with mythical elements, but think that the rich historical elements, especially in the account of the patriarchs, can be clearly discerned. Some, again, limit the mythological part to the first two chapters only; while others perceive in the whole book a consistent and truly historical impress. The field of controversy is here so extensive, and the arguments on both sides are so numerous, that we must content ourselves in this article with a very few remarks on the subject. Genesis is a book consisting of two contrasting parts: the first introduces us into the greatest problems of the human mind, such as the creation and the fall of man; and the second into the quiet solitude of a small, defined circle of families. In the former, the most sublime and wonderful events are described with childlike simplicity; while in the latter, on the contrary, the most simple and common occurrences are interwoven with the sublimest thoughts and reflections, rendering the small family circle a whole world in history, and the principal actors in it prototypes for a whole nation and for all times. Not the least trace of mythology appears in it. Genesis plainly shows how very far remote the Hebrew mode of thinking was from mythical poetry, which might have found ample opportunity of being brought into play when the writer began to sketch the early times of the Creation. It is true that the primeval wonders, the marvelous deeds of God, are the very subject of Genesis. None of these wonders, however, bear a fantastical impress, and there is no useless prodigality of them. They are all penetrated and connected by one common leading idea, and all are related to the counsel of God for the salvation of man. This principle sheds its lustrous beams through the whole of Genesis; therefore the wonders therein related are as little to be ascribed to the invention and imagination of man as the whole plan of God for human salvation. The foundation of the divine theocratic institution throws a strong light upon the early patriarchal times; the reality of the one proves the reality of the other, as described in Genesis.

Luther used to say, "Nihil pulchrius Genesi, nihil utilius." But hard critics have tried all they can to mar its beauty and to detract from its utility. In fact, the bitterness of the attacks on a document so venerable, so full of undying interest, hallowed by the love of many generations, makes one almost suspect that a secret malevolence must have been the mainspring of hostile criticism. Certain it is that no book has met with more determined and unsparing assailants. To enumerate and to reply to all objections would be impossible. We will only refer to some of the most important.

1. The story of Creation, as given in the first chapter, has been set aside in two ways: first, by placing it on the same level with other cosmogonies which are to be found in the sacred writings of all nations; and next, by asserting that its statements are directly contradicted by the discoveries of modern science. (a.) Now when we compare the Biblical with all other known cosmogonies, we are immediately struck with the great moral superiority of the former. There is no confusion here between the divine Creator and his work. God is before all things, God creates all things; this is the sublime assertion of the Hebrew writer. On the contrary, all the cosmogonies of the heathen world err in one of two directions: either they are dualistic, that is, they regard God and matter as two eternal co-existent principles; or they are pantheistic, i.e., they confound God and matter, making the material universe a kind of emanation from the great Spirit which informs the mass. Both these theories, with their various modifications, whether in the more subtle philosophemes of the Indian races, or in the rougher and grosser systems of the Phoenicians and Babylonians, are alike exclusive of the idea of creation. Without attempting to discuss in anything like detail the points of resemblance and difference between the Biblical record of creation and the myths and legends of other nations, it may suffice to mention certain particulars in which the superiority of the Hebrew account can hardly be called in question. First, the Hebrew story alone clearly acknowledges the personality and unity of God. Secondly, here only do we find recognized a distinct act of creation, by creation being understood the calling of the whole material universe into existence out of nothing. Thirdly, there is here only a clear intimation of that great law of progress which we find everywhere observed. The order of creation, as given in Genesis, is the gradual progress of all things, from the lowest and least perfect to the highest and most completely developed forms. Fourthly, there is the fact of a relation between the personal Creator and the work of his fingers, and that relation is a relation of love; for God looks upon his creation at every stage of its progress, and pronounces it very good. Fifthly, there is throughout a sublime simplicity which of itself is characteristic of a history, not of a myth or of a philosophical speculation. (See CREATION).

(b.) It would occupy too large a space to discuss at any length the objections which have been urged from the results of modern discovery against the literal truth of this chapter. One or two remarks of a general kind must here suffice. It is argued, for instance, that light could not. have existed before the sun, or, at any rate, not that kind of light which would be necessary for the support of vegetable life; whereas the Mosaic narrative makes light created on the first day, trees arid plants on the third, and the sun on the fourth. To this we may reply, that we must not too hastily build an argument upon our ignorance. We do not know that the existing laws of creation were in operation when the creative fiat was first put forth. The very act of creation must have been the introducing of laws; but when the work was finished, those laws must have suffered some modification. Men are not now created in the full stature of manhood, but are born and groan. Similarly, the lower ranks of being might have been influenced by certain necessary conditions during the first stages of their existence, which conditions were afterwards removed without any disturbance of the natural functions. Again, it is not certain that the language of Genesis can only mean that the sun was created on the fourth day. It may mean that then only did that luminary become visible to our planet.

With regard to the six days, many have thought that they ought to be interpreted as six periods, without defining what the length of those periods is. No one can suppose that the divine rest was literally a rest of twenty-four hours only. On the contrary, the divine Sabbath still continues. There has been no creation since the creation of man. This is what Genesis teaches, and this, geology confirms. But God, after six periods of creative activity, entered into that Sabbath in which his work has been, not a work of creation, but of redemption (John 5:17). No attempt, however, which has as yet been made to identify these six periods with corresponding geological epochs can be pronounced satisfactory. (See GEOLOGY). On the other hand, it seems rash and premature to assert that no reconciliation is possible. What we ought to maintain is, that no reconciliation is necessary. It is certain that the author of the first chapter of Genesis, whether Moses or some one else, knew nothing of geology or astronomy. It is certain that he made use of phraseology concerning physical facts in accordance with the limited range of information which he possessed. It is also certain that the Bible was never intended to reveal to us knowledge of which our own faculties, rightly used, could put us in possession. We have no business, therefore, to expect anything but popular language in the description of physical phenomena. Thus, for instance, when it is said that by means of the firmament God divided the waters which were above from those which were beneath, we admit the fact without admitting the implied explanation. The Hebrew supposed that there existed vast reservoirs above him corresponding to the "waters under the earth." We know that by certain natural processes the rain descends from the clouds. But the fact remains the same that there are waters above as well as below. Further investigation may perhaps throw more light on these interesting questions. Meanwhile it may safely be said that modern discoveries are in no way opposed to the great outlines of the Mosaic cosmogony. That the world was created in six stages, that creation was by a law of gradual advance, beginning with inorganic matter, and then advancing from the lowest organisms to the highest, that since the appearance of man upon the earth no new species have come into being; these are statements not only not disproved, but the two last of them at least amply confirmed by geological research.

2. To the description of Paradise, and the history of the Fall and of the Deluge, very similar remarks apply. All nations have their own version of these facts, colored by local circumstances, and embellished according to the poetic or philosophic spirit of the tribes among whom the tradition has taken root. But if there be any one original source of these traditions, any root from which they diverged, we cannot doubt where to look for it. The earliest record of these momentous facts is that preserved in the Bible. We cannot doubt this, because the simplicity of the narrative is greater than that of any other work with which we are acquainted. This simplicity is an argument at once in favor of the greater antiquity, and also of the greater truthfulness of the story. It is hardly possible to suppose that traditions so widely spread over the surface of the earth as are the traditions of the Creation, the Fall, and the Deluge, should have no foundation whatever in fact. It is quite as impossible to suppose that that version of these facts, which in its moral and religious aspect is the purest, is not also, to take the lowest ground, the most likely to be true.

(1.) Opinions have differed whether we ought to take the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 to be a literal statement of facts, or whether, with many expositors since the time of Philo, we should regard it as an allegory, framed in child-like words as befitted the childhood of the world, but conveying to us a deeper spiritual truth. But in the latter case we ought not to deny that spiritual truth. Neither should we overlook the very important bearing which this narrative has on the whole of the subsequent history of the world and of Israel. Delitzsch well says, "The story of the Fall, like that of the Creation, has wandered over the world. Heathen nations have transplanted and mixed it up with their geography, their history, their mythology, although it has never so completely changed form, and color, and spirit that you cannot recognize it. Here, however, in the Law, it preserves the character of a universal, human, world-wide fact; and the groans of Creation, the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and the heart of every man, conspire in their testimony to the most literal truth of the narrative." (See FALL OF MAN).

(2.) The universality of the Deluge, it may be proved, is quite at variance with the most certain facts of geology. But then we are not bound to contend for a universal deluge. The Biblical writer himself, it is true, supposed it to be universal, but that was only because it covered what was then the known world: there can be no doubt that it did extend to all that part of the world which was then inhabited; and this is enough, on the one hand, to satisfy the terms of the narrative, while, on the other, the geological difficulty, as well as other difficulties concerning the ark, and the number of animals, disappears with this interpretation. (See DELUGE).

3. When we come down to a later period in the narrative, where we have the opportunity of testing the accuracy of the historian, we find it in many of the most important particulars abundantly corroborated.

(1.) Whatever interpretation we may be disposed to put on the story of the confusion of tongues, and the subsequent dispersion of mankind, there is no good ground for setting it aside. Indeed, if the reading of a cylinder recently discovered at Birs Nimruid may be trusted, there is independent evidence corroborative of the Biblical account. But, at any rate, the other versions of this event are far less probable (see these in Josephus, Ant. 1:4, 3; Euseb. Praep. Ev. 9:14). The later myths concerning the wars of the Titans with the gods are apparently based upon this story, or rather upon perversions of it. But it is quite impossible to suppose, as Kalisch does (Genesis, page 313), that "the Hebrew historian converted that very legend into a medium for solving a great and important problem." There is not the smallest appearance of any such design. The legend is a perversion of the history, not the history a comment upon the legend. The incidental remark concerning the famous giants, the progeny of the "sons of God" and the "sons of men" (Genesis 6:4), seems to be the true key to the demigod heroes of ancient mythology.

(2.) As to the fact implied in this dispersion, that all languages had one origin, philological research has not as yet been carried far enough to lead to any very certain result. Many of the greatest philologists (Bopp, Lepsius, Burnouf, etc.; Renan, Histoire des Langues Semitiques, 50:5, 100:2, 3) contend for real affinities between the Indo-European and the Shemitic tongues. On the other hand, languages like the Coptic (not to mention many others) seem at present to stand out in complete isolation. The most that has been effected is a classification of languages into three great families. This classification, however, is in exact accordance with the threefold division of the race in, Shem, Ham, and Japhet, of which Genesis tells us. (See PHILOLOGY (COMPARATIVE)).

(3.) Another fact which rests on the authority of the earlier chapters of Genesis, the derivation of the whole human race from a single pair, has been abundantly confirmed by recent investigations. For the full proof of this, it is sufficient to refer to Prichard's Physical History of Mankind, in which the subject is discussed with great care and ability. (See ADAM).

(4.) One of the strongest proofs of the bona-fide historical character of the earlier portion of Genesis is to be found in the valuable ethnological catalogue contained in chapter 10. Knobel, who has devoted a volume (Die Vö lkertafel der Genesis) to the elucidation of this document, has succeeded in establishing its main accuracy beyond doubt, although, in accordance with his theory as to the age of the Pentateuch, he assigns to it no greatqrsantiquity than between 1200 and 1000 B.C. (See ETHNOLOGY).

Of the minute accuracy of this table ce have abundant proof: for instance (Genesis 10:4), Tarshish is called the son of Javan. This indicates that the ancient inhabitants of Tarshish or Tartessus in Spain were erroneously considered to be a Phoenician colony like those of other towns in its neighborhood, and that they sprang from Javan, that is, Greece. That they were of Greek origin is clear from the account of Herodotus (1:163). Also (Genesis 10:8), Nimrod, the ruler of Babel, is called the son of Cush, which is in remarkable unison with the mythological tales concerning Bel and his Egyptian descent (comp. Diodor. Sic. 1:28, 81; Pausanias, 4:23, 5). Sidon alone is mentioned (Genesis 10:15), but not Tyrus (comp. 49:13), which arose only in the time of Joshua (Joshua 19:29); and that Sidon was an older town than Tyrus, by which it was afterwards eclipsed, is certified by, a number of ancient reports (Comp. Hengstentberg, De Rebus Tyrioussi, page 6, 7).

4. With the patriarchal history (12 sq.) begins a historical sketch of a peculiar character. The circumstantials details in it allow us to examine more closely the historical character of these accounts. The numerous descriptions of the mode of life in those days furnish us with a very vivid picture. We meet everywhere a sublime simplicity quite worthy of patriarchal life, and never to be found again in later history. One cannot suppose that it would have been possible in a later period, estranged from ancient simplicity, to invent such a picture.

The authencity of the patriarchal history could be attacked only by analogy, the true historical test of negative criticism; but the patriarchal history has no analogy; while a great historical fact, the Mosaical theocracy itself, might here be adduced in favor of the truth of Genesis. The theocracy stands without analogy in the history of the human race, and is, nevertheless, true above all historical doubt. But this theocracy cannot have entered into history without preparatory events. The facts which led to the introduction of the theocracy are contained in the accounts of Genesis. Moreover, this preparation of the theocracy could not consist in the ordinary providential guidance. The race of patriarchs advances to a marvelous destination: the road also leading, to this destination must be peculiar and extraordinary. The opponents of Genesis forget that the marvelous events of patriarchal history which offend them most, partake of that character of the whole by which alone this history becomes consmensurate and possible.

(1.) There are also many separate vestiges warranting the antiquity of these traditions, and proving that they were neither invented nor adorned; for instance, Jacob, the progenitor of the Israelites, is introduced not as the first-born, which, if an unhistorical and merely external exaltation of that name had been the aim of the author, would have been more for this purpose.

(2.) Neither the blemishes in the history of Abrahams, nor the gross sins of the sons of Jacob, among whom even Levi, the progenitor of the sacerdotal race, forms no exception, are concealed.

(3.) The same author, whose moral principles are so much blamed by the opponents of Genesis, on account of the description given of the life of Jacob, produces, in the history of Abraham, a picture of moral greatness which could have originated only in facts.

(4.) The faithfulness of the author manifests itself also especially in the description of the expedition of the kings from Upper to Western Asia; in his statements concerning the person of Melchizedek (Genesis 14); in the circumstantial details given of the incidents occurring at the purchase of the hereditary burial-place (chapter 23); in the genealogies of Arabian tribes (chapter 25); in the genealogy of Edoac (chapter 36); and in many remarkable details which are interwoven with the general accounts.

(5.) Passing on to a later portion of the book, we find the writer evincing the most accurate knowledge of the state of society in Egypt. The Egyptian jealousy of foreigners, and especially their hatred of shepherds; the use of interpreters in the court (who, we learn from other sources formed a distinct caste); the existence of caste; the importance of the priesthood; the use of wine by the kings (Wilkinson, 2:142-158); the fact that even at that early time a settled trade existed between Egypt and other countries, are all confirmed by the monuments or by later writers. So again Joseph's priestly dress of fine linen, the chain of gold round his neck, the chariot on which be rides, the bodyguard of the king, the rites of burial (though mentioned only incidentally), are spoken of with a slitnue accuracy which can leave no doubt on the mind as to the credibility of the historian. In particular, the account given (Genesis 47:13-26) of the manner in which the Pharaohs became proprietors of all the lands, with the exception of those belonging to the priests, is confirmed by Herodotus (2:109), and by Diodorus Siculus (1:73). The manner of embalming described in Genesis 1 entirely agrees with the description of Herodotus, 2:84, etc. For other data of a similar kind, compare Hengstenberg (Die Bucher Mosns und Aegypten, page 21 sq.). (See EGYPT).

5. It is quite impossible, as has alread had been said, to notice all the objections made by hostile critics at every step as we advance. But it may be well to refer to one more instance in which suspicion has been cast upon the credibility of the narrative. Three stories are found in three distinct portions of the book, which in their main features no doubt present a striking similarity to one another, namely, the deliverances of Sarah and Rebekah from the harems of the Egyptian and Philistine monarchs (Genesis 12:10-20; Genesis 26:1-11). These, it is said, besides containing certain improbabilities of statement, are clearly only three different versions of the same story.

It is of course possible that these are only different versions of the same story. But is it psychologically so very improbable that the same incident should happen three times in almost the same manner? All men repeat themselves, and even repeat their mistakes; and the repetition of circumstances over which a man has no control is sometimes as astonishing as the repetition of actions which he can control. Was not the state of society in those days such as to render it no way improbable that Pharaoh en one occasion, and Abimelech on another, should have acted in the same selfish and arbitrary manner? Abraham, too, might have been guilty twice of the same sinful cowardice; and Isaac might, in similar circumstances, have copied his father's example, calling it wisdom. To say, as a recent expositor of this book has done, that the object of the Hebrew writer was to represent an idea, such as "the sanctity of matrimony," that "in his hands the facts are subordinated to ideas," etc., is to cut up by the very roots the historical character of the book. The mythical theory is preferable to this, for that leaves a substratum of fact, however it may base been embellished or perhaps disfigured by tradition. If the view of Delitzch is correct, that Genesis 12:10-20 is Jehovistic; 20, Elobhistic (with a Jehbomistic addition, Genesis 12:18); Genesis 26:1-13, Jehovistic, but taken from written documents, this may to some minds explain the repetition of the story.

There is a further difficulty about the age of Sarah, who at the time of one of the occurrences must have been 65 years old, and the freshness of her beauty, therefore, it is said, long since faded. In reply it has been argued that as she lived to the age of 127, she was then only in middle life; that consequently she would have been at 65 what a woman of modern Europe would be at 35 or 40, an age at which personal attractions are not necessarily impaired.

But it is a minute criticism, hardly worth answering, which tries to cast suspicion on the veracity of the writer, because of difficulties such as these. The positive evidence is overwhelming in favor of his credibility. The patriarchal tent beneath the shade of some spreading tree, the wealth of flocks and herds, the free and generous hospitality to strangers, the strife for the well, the purchase of the cave of Machpelah for a burial-place we feel at once that these are no inventions of a later writer in more civilized times. So again, what can be more life-like, more touchingly beautiful, than the picture of Hagar and Ishmael, the meeting of Abraham's servant with Rebekah, or of Jacob with Rachel at the well of Haran ? There is a fidelity in the minutest incidents which convinces us that we are reading history, not fable. Or can anything more completely transport us into patriarchal times than the battle of the kings and the interview between Abraham and Melchizedek? The very opening of the story, "In the days of Amraphel," etc., reads like the work of some old chronicler who lived not far from the time of which he speaks. The archaic forms of names of places, Bela for Zoar; Chatsatson Tamar for Engedi; Emek Shaveh for the King's Vale; the Vale of Siddim, as descriptive of the spot which was afterwards the Dead Sea; the expression "Abram the Hebrew;" are remarkable evidences of the antiquity of the narrative. So also are the names of the different tribes who at that early period inhabited Canaan; the Rephaim, for instance, of whom we find in the time of Joshua but a weak remnant left (Joshua 13:12), and the Zuzim, Emim, Chorim, who are only mentioned besides in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 2:10; Deuteronomy 2:12). Quite in keeping with the rest of the picture is Abraham's "arming his trained servants" (14:14) a phrase which occurs nowhere else and, above all, the character and position of Melchizedek: "Simple, calm, great, he comes and goes the priest-king of the divine history." The representations of the Greek poets, says Creuzer (Symb. 4:378), fall very far short of this; and, as Havernick justly remarks, such a person could be no theocratic invention, for the union of the kingly and priestly offices in the same person was no part of the theocracy. Lastly, the name by which he knows God, "the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth," occurs also in the Phoenician religions, but not amongst the Jews, and is again one of those slight but accurate touches which at once distinguishes the historian from the fabulist. (See MELCHIZEDEK).

V. Author and Date of Composition. It will be seen, from what has been said above, that the book of Genesis, though containing different documents, owes its existing form to the labor of a single author, who has digested and incorporated the materials he found ready to his hand. A modern writer on history, in the same way, might sometimes transcribe passages from ancient chronicles, sometimes place different accounts together, sometimes again give briefly the substance of the older document, neglecting its form.

But it is a distinct inquiry who this author or editor was. This question cannot properly be discussed apart from the general question of the authorship of the entire Pentateuch. Under that head we shall show that this could have been no other than Moses, and that the entire work was finished when he deposited a copy of the law within the "sides" of the sacred Ark (Deuteronomy 10:5). (See PENTATEUCH).

We shall here confine ourselves to a notice of the attempt of some critics to ascertain the period when Genesis was composed, from a few passages in it, which they say must be anachronisms, if Moses was really the author of the book (


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Genesis'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/g/genesis.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
ADVERTISEMENT
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Genesia
Next Entry
Genesius
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology