The name Genesis is derived from Greek words meaning "birth", "generations", or "origin". The Book of Genesis can be divided into two main sections : Chapters 1-11, which deal with the creation and primeval history of the human race; and Chapters 12-50, which deal with the particular history of the patriarchs of what was to become the tribe of Israel. The patriarchal narrative describes the lives of Abraham and Sarah (Chapters 12-25), Isaac and Rebecca (Chapters 26-46), and the family of Jacob, who was also called Israel (Chapters 37-50). The setting of the patriarchal narratives fits best with the Middle East at some time during the Bronze Age. However, the purpose of the Book is not so much to give an account of the history of the Middle East, as to show how God was at work in the choice of a people to accomplish His purposes for humanity.
Genesis 2:2 - "God . . rested . . from all His work . ." the original sense of "rest from" something means to "stop doing" it, i.e. it does not mean that God was tired and had to take a rest, but that He had completed His creation, and so stopped.
Genesis 2:17 - Note that the forbidden tree was not called the tree of knowledge, but "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil". The Hebrews were very practical down-to-earth people; for them "to know" something meant to try something out and experience it. Until taking the fruit Adam and Eve had experienced only good; their choice was to experience evil also.
Genesis 3:12 - What a wonderful abdication of responsibility (and true of human nature to this day) "The woman whom Thou gavest . . she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." i.e. "It's all her fault. And if it's not her fault, then it's your fault, God, for giving her to me. And I just happened to go along and eat."
Genesis, chapter 5 - The long life-spans recorded for the antediluvian patriarchs may be due to several factors : We do not know how a year was reckoned ; for example, one of the first calendars, used by the Sumerians was lunar, not solar, and was shorter than our present solar one. The Sumerians kept a list of kings who reigned before the Flood, and their reported life-spans and reigns are also extrememly long.
Genesis 10:25 - "in his days was the earth divided" i.e. the scattering of peoples after Babel (Genesis 11:8)
Genesis 12:13, Genesis 20:2 & Genesis 26:7 - Abraham and, later, Isaac claim their wives to be their sisters. The Bible merely records that this is what they did - it does not say that it was right. In fact, Sarah was Abraham's half-sister (Genesis 20:12-13). Marriage to a female near-relation was an accepted custom in early Mesopotamian cultures - it was a way of making sure that the woman was protected and cared for, rather than letting her marry a stranger who might mistreat her after her family had moved on their way.
Genesis 16:15 - Ishmael is traditionally the ancestor of the Arab peoples. Abraham and Sarah's unwise decision has repercussions down to the present day.
Genesis 22:1 - the original meaning of "to tempt" is "to test". God was testing Abraham to see how far he would go in obedience.
Genesis 50:19-21 - compare the attitude of Joseph as a mature man who has been through suffering, with his attitude as a brash youngster who had not yet encountered adversity (Genesis 37:3-10).
Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved
Department of Religion
Portales, NM 88130
Last Updated: May 23, 2008