Text:Catholic Encyclopedia:Book of Genesis

From WikiChristian
Jump to: navigation, search

The Book of Genesis prepares the reader for the Pentateuchal legislation; it tells us how God chose a particular family to keep His Revelation, and how He trained the Chosen People to fulfil its mission. From the nature of its contents the book consists of two rather unequal parts; cc. i-xi present the features of a general history, while cc. xii-1 contain the particular history of the Chosen People. By a literary device, each of these parts is subdivided into five sections differing in length. The sections are introduced by the phrase elleh tholedhoth (these are the generations) or its variant zeh sepher toledhoth (this is the book of the generations). "Generations", however, is only the etymological meaning of the Hebrew toledhoth; in its context the formula can hardly signify a mere genealogical table, for it is neither preceded nor followed by such tables. As early Oriental history usually begins with genealogical records, and consists to a large extend of such records, one naturally interprets the above introductory formula and its variant as meaning, "this is the history" or "this is the book of the history." History in these phrases is not to be understood as a narrative resting on folklore, as Fr. Von Hummelauer believes ("Exegetisches zur Inspirationsfrage, Biblische Studien", Freiburg, 1904, IX, 4, pp. 26-32); but as a record based on genealogies. Moreover, the introductory formula often refers back to some principal feature of the preceding section, thus forming a transition and connection between the successive parts. Gen., v, 1, e. g., refers back to Gen., ii, 7 sqq.; vi, 9 to v, 29 sqq. and vi, 8; x, 1 to ix, 18, 19, etc. Finally, the sacred writer deals very briefly with the non-chosen families or tribes, and he always considers them before the chosen branch of the family. He treats of Cain before he speaks of Seth; similarly, Cham and Japhet precede Sem; the rest of Sem's posterity precedes Abraham; Ismael precedes Isaac; Esau precedes Jacob.

Bearing in mind these general outlines of the contents and the literary structure of Genesis, we shall easily understand the following analytical table.

  • Introduction (Genesis 1:1-2:3) -- Consists of the Hexaemeron; it teaches the power and goodness of God as manifested in the creation of the world, and also the dependence of creatures on the dominion of the Creator.
  • General History (2:4-11:26) -- Man did not acknowledge his dependence on God. Hence, leaving the disobedient to their own devices, God chose one special family or one individual as the depositary of His Revelation.
  • History of Heaven and Earth (2:4-4:26) -- Here we have the story of the fall of our first parents, ii, 5-iii, 24; of the fratricide of Cain, iv, 1-16; the posterity of Cain and its elimination, iv, 17-26.
  • History of Adam (5:1-6:8) -- The writer enumerates the Sethites, another line of Adam's descendants, v, 1-32, but shows that they too became so corrupt that only one among them found favour before God, vi, 1-8.
  • History of Noe (6:9-9:29) -- Neither the Deluge which destroyed the whole human race excepting Noe's family, vi, 11-viii, 19, nor God's covenant with Noah and his sons, viii, 20-ix, 17, brought about the amendment of the human family, and only one of Noah's sons was chosen as the bearer of the Divine blessings, ix, 18-29.
  • History of the Sons of Noe (10:1-11:9) -- The posterity of the non-chosen sons, x, 1-32, brought a new punishment on the human race by its pride, xi, 1-9.
  • History of Sem (11:10-26) -- The posterity of Sem is enumerated down to Thare the father of Abraham, in whose seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
  • Special History (11:27-50:26) -- Here the inspired writer describes the special Providence watching over Abraham and his offspring which developed in Egypt into a large nation. At the same time, he eliminates the sons of Abraham who were not children of God's promise. This teaches the Israelites that carnal descent from Abraham does not suffice to make them true sons of Abraham.
  • History of Thare (11:27-25:11) -- This section tells of the call of Abraham, his transmigration into Chanaan, his covenant with God, and His promises.
  • History of Ismael (25:12-28) -- This section eliminates the tribes springing from Ismael.
  • History of Isaac (25:19-35:29 -- Here we have the history of Isaac's sons, Esau and Jacob.
  • History of Esau (36:1-37:1) -- The sacred writer gives a list of Esau's posterity; it does not belong to the number of the Chosen People.
  • History of Jacob (37:2-50:26) -- This final portion of Genesis tells of the fate of Jacob's family down to the death of the Patriarch and of Joseph. What has been said shows a uniform plan in the structure of Genesis, which some scholars prefer to call "schematism".
    • The whole book is divided into ten sections.
    • Each section is introduced by the same formula.
    • The sections are arranged according to a definite plan, the history of the lateral genealogical branches always preceding that of the corresponding part of the main line.
    • Within the sections, the introductory formula or the title is usually followed by a brief repetition of some prominent feature of the preceding section, a fact duly noted and explained by as early a writer as Rhabanus Maurus (Comment. In Gen., II, xii; P.G., CVII, 531-2), but misconstrued by our recent critics into an argument for a diversity of sources.
    • he history of each Patriarch tells of the development of his family during his lifetime, while the account of his life varies between a bare notice consisting of a few words or lines, and a more lengthy description.
    • When the life of the Patriarch is given more in detail, the account usually ends in an almost uniform way, indicating the length of his life and his burial with his ancestors (cf. ix, 29; xi, 32; xxv, 7; xxxv, 28; xlvii, 28). Such a definite plan of the book shows that it was written with a definite end in view and according to preconceived arrangement. The critics attribute this to the final "redactor" of the Pentateuch who adopted, according to their views, the genealogical framework and the "schematism" from the Priestly Code. The value of these views will be discussed later; for the present, it suffices to know that a striking unity prevails throughout the Book of Genesis.



Return to Genesis

This article incorporates text from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia, available online.