|Books of the|
Genesis (Greek: Γένεσις—"creation," "beginning," "origin") is the first book of the Bible, also called The First Book of Moses. In Hebrew, it is known as בראשית (B'reshit), after the first words of the text ("in the beginning").
The book begins with a description of God's act of creation, the origins of humankind in Adam and Eve, the first sin (called the Fall of Man in Christianity), and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It goes on to tell of the murder of Abel by Cain, Noah's Ark, and the Tower of Babel. The greater part of Genesis, however, is devoted to stories of the Hebrew patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and their families, their special covenant with God, their marital difficulties, and family struggles. It culminates in the migration of the Israelites from Canaan to Egypt.
Genesis is the most widely read book of the Hebrew Bible. For Jews and Christians, and to a lesser degree for Muslims as well, it records mankind's origins and early history. The Creator and Supreme Being, God, is never far removed from the story line and often central to it as the book suggests archetypal patterns in the relations between God and humanity as well as between people.
The start of the Book of Genesis declares, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Before God (here called Elohim) acts, the earth is without form and void. "Darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." On successive days, God creates day and night; the "firmament" separating the upper and lower waters; dry land, seas, and plants; the sun, moon and stars; fish and birds; and finally, on the sixth day, "the beasts of the earth" and humans: "God said, Let us make man in our image ... [I]n the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27) God blesses the man and the woman—who are not yet named—to "be fruitful and multiply," and to have dominion over all of the things of creation.
On the Sabbath, or seventh day, God rests from the task of creation: "So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation." (Genesis 2:3)
One of the most famous aspects of the Book of Genesis is its account of the creation of humankind. According to the text, it is said that God formed a man out "of dust from the ground," and breathed into the man's nostrils, "and man became a living being." The man is named Adam. Next, God plants the Garden of Eden and places the man there, permitting him to eat of all the fruit within it, except that of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." God creates a female companion for Adam from one of his ribs, and names her "Woman," "because she was taken out of Man." The couple is described as "naked and unashamed."
Later, the Serpent tempts the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit. She does so, and gives some to the man who also eats it. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked." God curses the serpent: "upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life." He punishes the woman with pain in childbirth, and with subordination to man: "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." The man is cursed with a life of toil: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground."
The man names his wife Eve, "because she was the mother of all living." God expels the couple from Eden, "lest [Adam] put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever," and the gate of Eden is sealed by a cherub and a flaming sword "to guard the way to the tree of life."
Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel, the first a tiller of the ground, the second a keeper of sheep (Genesis 4:2). Both bring offerings to God, but God accepts only Abel's. Cain is upset by this rejection, and God warns him to overcome the sin that is "couching at the door" for him, promising that he too will be accepted if he does well. However, Cain succumbs to temptation, striking Abel when they are in the field together and murdering him. Asked by God what has become of Abel, Cain replies, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God curses Cain: "When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." Cain fears that whoever meets him will kill him, but God places a mark on Cain, with the promise that "if any slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." Cain settles in the land of Nod, "away from the presence of the Lord," where he "knew his wife."
Genesis 4:16-24 lists Cain's descendants: Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, and Lamech. Seth meanwhile is born to Adam and Eve to replace Abel. Adam's descendants through the line of Seth are listed: Enosh, Kennan, Mahalalel, Jared, and Enoch. The narrator states that Enoch "walked with God. Then he was no more, for God took him". After Enoch came Methuselah, Lamech and Noah. All the ante-diluvian patriarchs are notable for their extreme longevity, with Methuselah living the longest at 969 years. The list ends with the birth of Noah's sons, from whom all humanity would be descended (Genesis 5:32).
God sets the lifespan of humans at 120 years. Genesis 6:4 mentions an intriguing legend of a race of giants apparently resulting from angelic beings interbreeding with human women. The "sons of God" take wives from among the "daughters of men." The products of these unions are the gigantic Nephilim, described as "the mighty men that were of old."
Angered by the violence of mankind, God selects Noah, "a righteous man, blameless in his generation," (Genesis 6:9) and commands him to build an Ark, and to take on it his family and representatives of the animals (Genesis 6:19-20). After the Ark is built, God destroys the world with a Flood and enters into a Covenant with Noah and his descendants, the entire human race, promising never again to destroy mankind in this way (Genesis 8:21). The details of the covenant are: God forbids the eating of flesh with blood, "that is, its life," still in it (the origin of the Jewish practice of ritual slaughter), and forbids murder (and institutes the death penalty for murderers); in return, God promises never again to visit a deluge upon all the world, and places the first rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant. Noah plants a vineyard, drinks wine, and falls into a drunken sleep. Ham, son of Noah, sees his father naked; in shame covers him, and when Noah awakes he places a curse on Ham's son Canaan, saying that he and all his descendants shall henceforth be slaves to Ham's brothers Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:25).
Next, a genealogical list known as the Table of Nations reviews "the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth," a total of seventy names, "and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood" (Genesis 10).
The peoples of the earth decide to build "a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens" in the land of Shinar, "lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." (Genesis 11:4) God fears the ambition of mankind: "This is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." And so mankind was scattered over the face of the earth, and the city "was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth."
Genesis 11 reviews the descendants of Shem to the generation of Terah, who leaves Ur of the Chaldees with his son Abram, Abram's wife Sarai, and Terah's grandson Lot. They settle in the city of Haran, where Terah dies (Genesis 11:31-32). God commands Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." So Abram and his clan journey to the land of Canaan, where God appears to Abram and says, "To your descendants I will give this land" (Genesis 12).
Later Abram is forced by famine to go into Egypt, where Pharaoh takes possession of his wife, the beautiful Sarai, whom Abram has represented as his sister. God (Yahweh) strikes the king and his house with plagues, so that he returns Sarai and expels Abram and all his people from Egypt after providing him with rich gifts (Genesis 12:10-20).
Abram returns to Canaan and separates from Lot in order to put an end to disputes about pasturage. Lot leads his flocks to the valley of the Jordan and south to the city of Sodom. Lot is taken prisoner during a war between the King of Shinar and the King of Sodom and their allies, "four kings against five." Abram rescues Lot. He is also blessed by Melchizedek, king of Salem (the future Jerusalem), who is also called a "priest of God Most High" (Genesis 14:18-20).
At Yahweh's command, Abram offers a sacrifice consisting of a heifer, a ram, a she-goat, a dove and a pigeon. A "dread darkness" overcomes him, and he falls asleep. God makes a covenant with Abram, promising that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, but also informing him that they shall suffer oppression in a foreign land for four hundred years (Genesis 15:12-21).
Sarai, being childless, tells Abram to take her Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar, as wife. Hagar becomes pregnant with Ishmael.  Hagar then openly despises her mistress, and Sarai abuses Hagar, who flees to the wilderness. An angel of Yahweh appears to her to promise that the child will be "a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him," but also that he will be the father of a people who "cannot be numbered" (Genesis 16:10).
Yahweh—identifying himself as El-Shaddai—makes a covenant with Abram whose name is changed to "Abraham" and that of Sarai to "Sarah," and circumcision is instituted as an eternal sign of the covenant. God informs Abraham that Sarah will bear a son and will become "the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her." Doubtful that such a thing would be possible for his elderly wife, Abraham ask that "Ishmael might live in Thy sight." God reiterates that Sarah will indeed bear a son. He will be named Isaac, and that it is with Isaac and his descendants that the covenant will be established. "As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac" (Genesis 17:10-20).
Three strangers visit Abraham, who receives them hospitably. Yahweh, apparently speaking through the strangers, tells him that Sarah will shortly bear a son, and Sarah, overhearing, laughs: "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" God also tells Abraham that he will punish Sodom, "because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave." The strangers prepare to depart. Abraham protests that it is not just "to slay the righteous with the wicked," and asks if the whole city can be spared if even ten righteous men are found there. God replies: "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it" (Genesis 18:23-32).
The angels arrive at Sodom and are welcomed by Lot. The men of Sodom surround the house and demand to have sexual relations with the strangers. Lot offers his two virgin daughters in place of the angels, but the men refuse. The angels strike the populace with blindness. Lot and his family are led out of the city, and Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire and brimstone; but Lot's wife, looking back, is turned to a pillar of salt. Lot's daughters, fearing that they will not find husbands and that their lineage (and Lot's) will die out, make their father drunk and have sex with him; their children become the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites (Genesis 19:31-36).
Abraham, having moved to the region of the Negeb, again represents Sarah as his sister, this time before Abimelech, king of Gerar. God (Elohim) visits a curse of barrenness upon Abimelech and his household, and warns the king that Sarah is Abraham's wife, not his sister. Abimelech restores Sarah to Abraham, loads them both with gifts, and sends them away (Genesis 20).
Sarah gives birth to Isaac, saying, "God has made laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh over me." Sarah, seeing Ishmael as a threat, demands that Ishmael and his mother Hagar be sent away. God commands Abraham to follow Sarah's advice, and thus Hagar and Ishmael are sent into the wilderness. When their provisions run out and Ishmael is near dying, an angel speaks to Hagar and promises that God will not forget them, but will make of Ishmael a great nation; "Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, ... And God was with the lad, and he grew up..." Abraham enters into a covenant with Abimelech, who confirms his right to the well of Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:27).
God puts Abraham to the test by demanding the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham obeys; but, as he is about to lay the knife upon his son, God restrains him, once again promising him numberless descendants through Isaac (Genesis 22). On the death of Sarah, Abraham purchases Machpelah, near Hebron, as a family tomb (Genesis 23). He also sends his servant to Mesopotamia, Nahor's home, to find among his relations a wife for Isaac. Rebekah, Nahor's grand-daughter, is chosen (Genesis 24). Other children are born to Abraham by another wife, Keturah, among whose descendants are the Midianites; and he dies in a prosperous old age and is buried in his tomb at Hebron (Genesis 25).
Rebekah is barren, but Isaac prays to God and she gives birth to the twins Esau and Jacob. While the twins are still in the womb God explains that they are "two nations" struggling with each other, and that the elder would serve the younger. Esau, the elder, later sells his birthright to Jacob.
The family moves to Gerar, and Isaac represents Rebekah as his sister before King Abimelech. The king eventually learns of the deception and returns Rebekah to Isaac. Abimelech offers Isaac his continued protection, but eventually Isaac's prosperity excites the jealousy of the citizenry. The king thus sends him away, but later makes a treaty with him at the well of Beer-sheba (Genesis 26).
Jacob deceives his father Isaac and obtains the blessing of prosperity, which should have been Esau's. Rebekah, fearing Esau's anger, arranges for Jacob to flee to Haran, the home of her brother Laban (Genesis 27). Isaac, prohibiting Jacob from marrying a Canaanite woman, tells him to go and marry among Rebekah's kin. On the way, Jacob falls asleep on a stone and dreams of a ladder stretching from Heaven to Earth and thronged with angels, and God promises him prosperity and many descendants. When he awakes, Jacob erects a sacred pillar at the spot, naming it Bethel.
Jacob hires himself to Laban on condition that, after having served for seven years as a herdsman, he will marry the younger daughter, Rachel, with whom he is in love. At the end of this period Laban deceptively gives him the elder daughter, Leah, with whom Jacob unknowingly spends his wedding night. Rachel becomes his second wife, but Jacob must serve another seven years for her. He has many sons (eventually twelve) by his two wives and by their two handmaidens; these sons are the ancestors of the tribes of Israel. Jacob then works another six years, cleverly deceiving Laban to increase his flocks at his uncle's expense, and gains great wealth in sheep, goats, camels, donkeys and slaves.
Jacob flees with his family and flocks from Laban. Rachel takes with her the family's household religious statues. The furious Laban pursues and catches Jacob, but God warns Laban not to harm Jacob, and they are reconciled. Searching for his idols, Laban is foiled by the clever Rachel, who has hidden them in her bed and pleads that she cannot get up because of menstrual cramps (Genesis 31).
On approaching his home in Canaan, Jacob fears the power of Esau, who reportedly approaches with 400 men. Jacob sends large gifts of flocks ahead under the care of his servants. That night, "a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day." Neither Jacob nor the mysterious stranger can prevail, but the man touches Jacob's thigh and puts it out of joint, pleading to be released before daybreak. Jacob refuses to release the being until he agrees to give a blessing. The stranger then announces to Jacob that he shall bear the name "Israel... for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." 
The meeting with Esau proves friendly, and the brothers are reconciled: "to see your face is like seeing the face of God," is Jacob's greeting. The brothers part, and Jacob settles near the city of Shechem (Genesis 33). Jacob's daughter Dinah goes out, and "Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humbled her." The king asks Jacob for Dinah's hand in marriage, but the sons of Jacob deceive the men of Shechem and slaughter them and take captive their wives and children. Jacob is angered that his sons have brought upon him the enmity of the Canaanites, but his sons say, "Should he treat our sister as a harlot?" (Genesis 34)
Jacob journeys to Bethel. There God says to him: "No longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name." Jacob sets up a stone pillar at the place, and names it Bethel. He then travels to his aged father Isaac at Hebron, and there Isaac dies, "and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him" (Genesis 35).
Genesis 37 presents the descendants of Esau, a list describing the tribes and rulers of Edom, the nation supposedly descended from Esau (Genesis 37).
Jacob makes a coat of many colors for his favorite son, Joseph. Joseph's jealous brothers sell him to some Ishmaelites and show Jacob the coat, dipped in goat's blood, as proof that Joseph is dead. Meanwhile the Midianites sell Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard (Genesis 37).
Meanwhile, back in Canaan, Jacob's son Judah takes a Canaanite wife and has two sons, Er and Onan. Er marries a local woman named Tamar. However, Er dies, and Judah gives Onan to Tamar, following the custom that a younger brother should father children on behalf of an older brother who dies without offspring. Onan cruelly refuses to give Tamar children, and he too soon dies. Judah's promises to give his third son, Shelah, to Tamar, but ultimately does not fulfill his pledge, fearing that Tamar is cursed. Tamar, disguised as a prostitute, tricks Judah—who fails to recognize her—into sexual relations. When she turns up pregnant, Judah orders her burned as an adulteress, but relents when she produces evidence that he is the father. She gives birth to twins—Peres and Zelah—who reverse the order of elder son and younger son while still in the womb.
Back in Egypt, Potiphar's wife, unable to seduce Joseph, accuses him falsely and he is cast into prison (Genesis 39). Here he correctly interprets the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, the king's butler and baker (Genesis 40). Joseph next interprets the dream of Pharaoh, of seven fat cattle and seven lean cattle, as meaning seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the good years. He is appointed second in the kingdom, and, in the ensuing famine, "all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth" (Genesis 41).
Because of a famine, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain. The brothers appear before Joseph, who recognizes them, but does not reveal himself.
After having proved themselves on this and on a second journey, and they having shown themselves so fearful and penitent that Judah even offers himself as a slave, Joseph reveals his identity, forgives his brothers the wrong they did him, and promises to settle the clan in Egypt (Genesis 42-45). Jacob brings his whole family to Egypt, where Pharaoh assigns to them the land of Goshen (Genesis 46-47). Jacob receives Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh among his own sons (Genesis 48), then calls his sons to his bedside, blesses each of them, and reveals their future to them (Genesis 49). Jacob dies and is interred in the family tomb at Machpelah (Hebron). Joseph lives to see his great-grandchildren, and on his death-bed he exhorts his brothers that, if they ever return to Canaan, they should take his bones with them. The book ends with Joseph's remains being "put in a coffin in Egypt" (Genesis 50). The Book of Joshua describes the later burial of Joseph's bones in Shechem following the Exodus from Egypt.
Although the text of Genesis itself makes no claim about authorship, the traditional Jewish, and later Christian, belief was that the five books of the Torah were dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. For a number of reasons this is no longer accepted by the majority of modern biblical scholars, and contemporary academic debate centers instead on the proposal known as the documentary hypothesis. This postulates that Genesis, together with the other four books, is a composite work assembled from various sources.
For example, the creation account of Genesis 1—in which God is "Elohim" and the creation moves from a primordial beginning through an orderly progression ending in Adam and Eve—is thought to belong to a priestly source, "P," and to show evidence of influence from the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish. The account of Genesis 2—in which Adam is created before the plants and animals, and Eve is created last, out of Adam's rib—comes from "J," the Yahwist source, who wrote in the tenth-ninth century B.C.E. The presence of the southern "J" source together with the northern "E" source, meanwhile, accounts for several "doublings" of stories—for example in the account of Noah's Ark (Gen. 6), the two accounts of Sarah posing as Abram's sister, the two accounts of Hagar's exile in the wilderness, the two stories of Jacob receiving a new name, etc.
The "J" and "E" sources were apparently combined into a single document, "J/E," in the late eight century B.C.E., to which "P" was later added, along with transitional and other editorial material by a final redactor/editor, "R," in the fifth century B.C.E.
The Torah was reportedly translated into Greek (the Septuagint version) in the third century B.C.E. The oldest Greek manuscripts include second century B.C.E. fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and first century B.C.E. fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets. Relatively complete manuscripts of the Greek version include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the fourth century CE and the Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century CE. These are the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language. There are minor variations between the Greek and Hebrew texts, and between the three oldest Greek texts.
The oldest extant Masoretic (i.e. Hebrew) manuscripts of Genesis are the Aleppo Codex dated to ca. 920 C.E., and the Westminster Leningrad Codex dated to 1008 C.E. There are also fragments of the Hebrew version of Genesis preserved in some of the Dead Sea scrolls (second century B.C.E. to first century C.E.).
Many of the stories from Genesis are retold in the Qur'an, with frequent variations. The Qur'an emphasizes the moral stature of the prophets. Thus, such stories as Tamar posing as a prostitute and the incestuous drunkenness of Lot—considered the first prophet after Abraham—find no place in it. While Islam accepts the Torah in principle, the view of Islamic scholarship is that the revelation given to earlier times had become corrupted in certain parts. The Qur'an, the final revelation, contains the essence of all previous revelations, including the Torah.
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