Gen’esis (origin), the first book of the law or Pentateuch, so called from its title in the Septuagint, that is, Creation. Its author was Moses. The date of writing was probably during the forty-years wanderings in the wilderness, b.c. 1491–1451.
Time.—The book of Genesis covers 2369 years—from the creation of Adam, a.m. 1, to the death of Joseph, a.m. 2369, or b.c. 1635.
Character and purpose.—The book of Genesis (with the first chapters of Exodus) describes the steps which led to the establishment of the theocracy. 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 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. The book of Genesis has thus a character at once special and universal.
Construction.—It is clear that Moses must have derived his knowledge of the events which he records in Genesis either from immediate divine revelation or from oral tradition or written documents. The nature of many of the facts related, and the minuteness of the narration, render it extremely improbable that immediate revelation was the source from whence they were drawn. That his knowledge should have been derived from oral tradition appears morally impossible when we consider the great number of names, ages, dates, and minute events which are recorded. The conclusion, then, seems fair that he must have obtained his information from written documents coeval, or nearly so, with the events which they recorded, and composed by persons intimately acquainted with the subjects to which they relate. He may have collected these, with additions from authentic tradition or existing monuments, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, into a single book. Certain it is that several of the first chapters of Genesis have the air of being made up of selections from very ancient documents, written by different authors at different periods. The variety which is observable in the names and titles of the Supreme Being is appealed to among the most striking proofs of this fact. This is obvious in the English translation, but still more so in the Hebrew original. In Gen. 1-2:3, which is really one piece of composition, as the title, v. 4, “These are the generations,” shows, the name of the Most High is uniformly Elohim, God. In ch. 2:4 to ch. 3, which may be considered the second document, the title is uniformly Yehovah Elohim, Lord God; and in the third, including ch. 4, it is Yehovah, Lord, only; while in ch. 5 it is Elohim, God, only, except in v. 29, where a quotation is made, and Yehovah used. It is hardly conceivable that all this should be the result of mere accident. The changes of the name correspond exactly to the changes in the narratives and the titles of the several pieces. “Now, do all these accurate quotations,” says Professor Stowe, “impair the credit of the Mosaic books, or increase it? Is Marshall’s Life of Washington to be regarded as unworthy of credit because it contains copious extracts from Washington’s correspondence and literal quotations from important public documents? Is not its value greatly enhanced by this circumstance? The objection is altogether futile. In the common editions of the Bible the Pentateuch occupies about one hundred and fifty pages, of which perhaps ten may be taken up with quotations. This surely is no very large proportion for an historical work extending through so long a period.”—Bush. On the supposition that writing was known to Adam, Gen. 1-4, containing the first two of these documents, formed the Bible of Adam’s descendants, or the antediluvians. Gen. 1-11:9, being the sum of these two and the following three, constitutes the Bible of the descendants of Noah. The whole of Genesis may be called the Bible of the posterity of Jacob; and the five Books of the Law were the first Bible of Israel as a nation.—Canon Cook.