Genesis Overview

Genesis, the First Book of the Old Testament, is so named because it opens with an account of the creation of the world (1-2). The first 11 Chapters, which are indebted to Mesopotamian tradition, trace the gradual expansion of humankind and the development of its culture and worship. They show the obverse of this development by telling stories of the sin of Adam and eve (3:1-19), Cain's murder of Abel (4:3-8), the deluge survived only by Noah's family (6:7-9:17) and the pride of Babel checked by linguistic division (11:1-9), all of which show a division between the Creator God and his people and between the people themselves.

On the other hand, God makes a covenant with Noah (9:1-17) which is reinforced as the Book's interest narrows from the universal to the particular family of Abram (22:15-18), from Chapter 12 onwards, a theme which persists throughout the Old Testament in the narrative, prophetic and poetic writings.

Although Moses has traditionally been considered to be the author of Genesis (along with the succeeding four books of the Pentateuch: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), contemporary scholars agree that the work is a composite of at least three sources, known by the letters J, E and P (there is hardly any "E" in Genesis).

The conflict between these two positions is unnecessarily acute; the deeds and words of Moses (c. 1600 BC) were carried for more than half a millennium in an oral tradition before they were committed to writing and in that time, no matter how faithful the transmission, some variation was inevitable. The fact that where there was some conflict of detail, multiple accounts were written down, shows that the different traditions were equally respected. There is some evidence that there was a fourth author of the Book of Deuteronomy (D) and that J, E, P and D were woven together by a Redactor, or managing editor to produce the scrolls which, over time, became classic.

One of the central problems of this and other narrative texts of the Bible is to distinguish factual, historical information from symbolic, theological passages intended t convey a religious message.

Preparation. During our session, using the attached table, Literary sources Of Genesis 1-11, we will be undertaking two exercises based on the story of Noah (6:7-9:17):

  1. Reading the text sequentially with different voices for different sources
  2. Reading each source sequentially.

KC June 06

Literary Sources of Genesis 1-11


Yahwist (J)

Priestly (P)

Editor (R)









Garden of Eden




Cain and Abel




Cain genealogy




Adam genealogy


5:1b-28, 30-32


Sons of God





6:5-8; 7:1-5, 7, 10, 12, 16b-20, 22-23; 8:2b-3a, 6, 8-12, 13b, 20-22

7:8-9, 11,13-16a, 21, 24; 8:1-2a, 3b-5, 7, 13a, 14-19; 9:1-17


Noah's insobreity




Noah's age



7:6; 9:28-29

Sons of Noah genealogy

10:8-19, 21, 24-30

10:1b-7, 20, 22-23, 31, 32


Tower of Babel




Shem genealogy




Terah genealogy




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