« AnteriorContinuar »
The Book of Genesis derives its name from the history of the creation, in Greek yévedis, with which it commences. The Jews designate the several books of the Pentateuch by the words with which they respectively begin; this book, therefore, is known by the name Bereshith, or Bereshith bara,
Although the book is a part of the Pentateuch, and consequently not in all respects an entire work, it is still sufficiently complete in itself to admit of its being examined independently of the four books which succeed it. It may be divided generally into two portions. The first, chap. i–xi. 26, contains the principal events from the creation to the birth of Abraham, with genealogical lists of such of the ancestors of that patriarch as had preserved a due regard for religion and good morals. The second portion, comprehending the remainder of the book, furnishes a more detailed history of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, continuing to the death of Joseph ; and in this portion the promises made to the patriarchs form everywhere the most conspicuous object.
After an account of the creation, of the original state of man, and of the fall, the first portion proceeds to relate the . increase of irreligion and immorality, until, about the year 235, (iv. 26; v. 3, 6,) the true worshippers of the Deity were distinguished by the appellation “sons of God," whilst those who disregarded the divine instructions and were led by merely human propensities, were called children “ of men.”
Of the former class were the ancestors of Noah, who are consequently here introduced, (chap. v.) although the genealogy, like a long parenthesis, interrupts the close connexion between iv. 26 and vi. 1. For the same cause the extraordinary piety of Enoch and his translation are mentioned in v. 22 ss. The intermarriages or illicit union of these two classes of persons produced at last so general a corruption of religion and morals, that God destroyed by a flood all living creatures except Noah and his family, and the various animals which were preserved along with them in the ark. On account of the importance of this terrific event, it is related with more than usual particularity, (vi. 9–ix. 29.) This is followed by a genealogical and geographical account of settlements made in the world, (chap. x.) and then, (xi. 149,) the attempt to build the tower of Babel is related, which, as it gave rise to the dispersion, is intimately connected with the account of that event. The posterity of Shem, with whom religion and morals were preserved longest and in the greatest purity, are then introduced, (xi. 26,) down to the birth of Abraham.
The second portion of the book contains.a more particular account of facts in which the Israelites were interested. As the family of Terah were idolatrous, (Josh. xxiv. 2; Gen. xxxi. 30, xxxv. 2,) Abraham is divinely called to go to Canaan, where a numerous posterity is promised him, and the settlement of his descendants through Isaac, after a residence of four hundred years in a foreign land; and also, that in his posterity “all nations should be blessed,” (xii. 2, 3; xiii. 14–17; xv. 4, 5, 7, 13–18; xvii. 4–8; xviii. 18; xxii 17, 18 ;) all which has in view the preservation of the knowledge of God and true religion, together with the coming of a spiritual deliverer to bring the blessing of salvation to mankind. These promises, which are repeated to Isaac, (xxvi. 1-5,) and to Jacob, (xxvii. 13—15,) are the principal point on which every thing in this domestic history turns, the account of Joseph not excepted, as this includes the descent of Jacob's family into Egypt, where they became exceedingly numerous. Whatever is introduced in relation to other families and nations, has some bearing on the history of these patriarchs, or concerns some collateral branches of their families. See chap. xiv. 17 ss.; xxv. 1-4, 12—16; Xxxvi. *
That the Pentateuch, and consequently the Book of Genesis as a constituent part of it, is the genuine work of Moses, is supported by the tradition of the whole church, both Jewish and Christian, which, with unanimous consent, ascribe it to this most extraordinary man, whose deeply religious character, natural talents, and profound and extensive learning, abundantly qualified him, under that inspiration of the Holy Spirit by which he was guided, to prepare the work, and to rule over the people of God, for whose use it was originally designed. In the earlier ages of the primitive Christian church, some of the Gnosticks and certain other heretics did indeed oppose the genuineness of the Pentateuch; but their efforts were directed chiefly against the divine origin of the law which it contained, and some of the historical narratives which it recounted, which appeared to them unworthy of the Divine Being.t The fathers considered the Pentateuch as the original work of Moses, restored through inspiration by Ezra, after its loss in consequence of the Babylonian captivity. The notion of this fabulous restoration originated with the Jews themselves.
The suspicion that the Pentateuch contains interpolations, may also be traced to the same source. Isaac Ben Jasus,
* Jahn's Introduction, Part II. § 2.
+ On this ground they are said in the Clementines to be false. See Homily II, chapters 41–44, 52, in Le Clerc's edition of Cotelerius, Ant. 1700, vol. I. p. 632, 634.
a Spanish Jew,* in the beginning of the eleventh century, suggested the idea that some portions of the Pentateuch were composed after the time of Moses. The 36th chapter of Genesis, for instance, he ascribed to the age of Jehoshaphat. Aben Ezra, who mentions this opinion with disapprobation, still admits that some interpolated passages occur. This learned writer is generally considered as the first who opposed the genuineness of the Pentateuch. Spinoza appeals to his authority, and endeavours thereby to support his own opinion, that the Pentateuch owes its present form to the labours of Ezra. Tract. Theol. Polit. Cap. 8. See Handbuch der historisch-kritischen Einleitung in das Alte Testament, by H. A. CH. HAEVERNICK, Erlangen, 1836, vol. I. p. 634/636.
It is unnecessary to mention various writers, who, in some form or other, have denied the genuineness of the Pentateuch, and consequently of the Book of Genesis. However great may have been the influence of their productions within a limited time and space, their objections have always been met by solid answers, and the genuineness of the Pentateuch as the authentic work of Moses has been vindicated to the satisfaction of the candid and intelligent. The reader will find a masterly discussion of this subject in Jaun's Introduction, Part II. $ 3—14. And in defending the genuineness of the five books of Moses, he comprehends also of course that of Genesis. For, as he remarks,t the events herein related are alluded to in the time of Joshua and in all the following ages, as well known equally with those in the remaining books; whence it may justly be inferred, that Genesis, from the time of Joshua downward, having been comprehended under the general titles of the Law, the Law of
Jehovah, the Law of Moses, and the Book of the Law of Moses, was attributed to Moses. There is the less room for doubting this, inasmuch as Genesis and the first chapters of Exodus form a necessary introduction to what follows,* and, on the contrary, in the remaining books of the Pentateuch, there are frequent references to the events narrated in Genesis and the first chapters of Exodus ; so that both parts are closely connected in such a manner that neither would be perfect without the other. The Hebrews, degraded during their residence in Egypt so as to worship creatures, and, as had been foreseen by Moses, thenceforward continually prone to idolatry, needed the instruction given in Genesis and the former part of Exodus, respecting the nature of the deity whom they at Mount Sinai had acknowledged as their king, whose laws they had received, and to whom they proffered their reverence and gratitude for his mercies, by their Sabbaths and solemn feasts, by their sacrifices and first fruits, by their obedience to his laws, and by all their acts of homage and worship. If they had been unacquainted with this part of the Pentateuch, they must have been ignorant of the nature of the Deity whom they professed to worship; they could not at that remote period have known their king as God the Creator and Governor of the Universe; they could not have understood his frequently recurring titles, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; they could not have been able to
* The connexion of Genesis with the subsequent books, as introductory to their contents, and in some measure serving as an explanation and defence of the proceedings which they relate, will be evident upon an inspection of the following passages, all of which contain matter either alluded to in subsequent books, or else corresponding with some particuJars therein developed. Chap. ii. 3; ix. 1–17, 20—27; xii. 1–3; xiii. 14–17; xv.; xvii.; xix. 30—38; xxi. 1-20; xxiv. 2–8; xxv. 1-6, 19—34; xxvii.; xxviii. ; xxxy. 9—15; xxxvi. 6; xlvi. 1–7; xlviii.; xlix. 1, 7–13.