Genesis :: Catholic News Agency

Author: Unknown

Date Written: c. 1450 BC - 517 BC


The authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is much debated.  Traditionally, Moses wrote the Pentateuch, but in the 19th and 20th centuries scholars have questioned whether this was the case.  Many scholars believe that the books of the Pentateuch underwent a series of revisions and editorial additions and subtractions before reaching their final form which we have today.  Most generally agree that the revisions were completed by the end of the Exile in 517 BC.


Genesis is a story, the story of God's relationship with mankind and his calling of a particular family to be his own.  It is not a collection of laws or sayings, nor a letter or poetry.   As Genesis progresses, the relationship of God and mankind widens.  First, God makes a covenant with Adam and Eve: one holy couple.  Then he makes a covenant with Noah and his family: one holy family.  After that, he makes a covenant with Abraham and his descendents: one holy tribe.


The first part of Genesis (1-11) narrates the creation of the world and the activity of the first few generations of human beings.  God creates everything good, but Adam and Eve sin against him by disobeying his commandment (3).  Thus, the Fall occurs.  This "original sin" is thereafter inherited by every human being except two: Jesus and Mary.  Unfortunately, sin progresses after the Fall to murder, violence and sexual corruption so much so that God decides to destroy humanity with the Flood (6:13).  He commissions Noah to preserve a human remnant and the animals by building the ark.  Noah faithfully obeys and God destroys the world with a great flood.  God makes a covenant with Noah, represented by the rainbow, in which he promises never to destroy the world with a flood again (9:9-17).  Yet humanity again falls into sin and rebellion against God when building the Tower of Babel (11).


God then calls Abraham from Ur (in present-day Iraq) to establish a holy tribe in the Holy Land (12).  He promises to give Abraham the land of Canaan, to make him the "father of many nations" and to make him a blessing to "all the families of the earth."  God makes a covenant with Abraham and his descendents, but Abraham and Sarah aren't able to have children.  So Abraham tries to bring the promise to fulfillment by having a son, Ishmael, with his maidservant Hagar.  But God miraculously provides Isaac as a son to Abraham and Sarah when Abraham is 100 years old (21).  After Isaac's miraculous birth, God tests Abraham's fidelity by asking him to sacrifice his son (22).  Abraham obeys and when he is about to slaughter Isaac, the angel of the Lord stops him.


Isaac and his wife Rebekah give birth to twins: Esau and Jacob.  Esau was born first, but Jacob buys Esau's birthright from him and steals his blessing so he become the bearer of the promises given to Abraham (27).  Jacob has twelve sons and after wrestling with the Lord, he is renamed Israel (32).  Jacob's twelve sons later become the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel.  Joseph is Jacob's favorite son, so his jealous brothers sell him into slavery to Egypt and pretend that he was killed (37).  Yet ironically, the land of Canaan suffers a famine and his brothers come to Egypt to buy food.  Since Joseph has risen to rule over Pharoah's possessions, he is responsible for distributing grain to them.  After a series of trips and conversations, all of the brothers move to Egypt with Jacob and all of their possessions.  By the time of Joseph's death at the end of Genesis, the whole tribe is living in Egypt.


Genesis sets the stage for the story of Exodus and the whole Bible.  It is the book of "origins" which narrates the beginnings of creation, humanity and God's action in history.


By Mark Giszczak


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