Book of Genesis

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Genesis (Greek: "birth", "origin") is the first book of the Bible, and the first of five books of the Pentateuch or Torah. It recounts beliefs regarding the world from creation to the descent of the children of Israel into Egypt, and contains some of the best-known stories of the Old Testament, including Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the biblical Patriarchs.



In Hebrew the book is called Bereshit, meaning "in the beginning", from the first word of the Hebrew text, in line with the other four books of the Torah. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the 3rd century BCE to produce the Septuagint, the name given was Γένεσις Genesis, meaning "birth" or "origin". This was in line with the Septuagint use of subject themes as book names. The Greek title has continued to be used in all subsequent Latin and English versions of the book, and most other languages. An exception however would be for example the Polish version, which uses a polish translation (Księga rodzaju).


God calls the world into being through his divine word and appoints man as his regent, but man proves corrupt and God destroys his world through the Flood. The new world after the Flood is equally corrupt, but God does not destroy it, instead calling one man, Abraham, to be the seed of its salvation. At God's command Abraham descends from his home into the land of Canaan, given to him by God. Abraham dwells in the land as a sojourner, as does his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel. Jacob and his twelve sons descend into Egypt, 70 persons in all with their households, and God promises them a future of greatness.


Primeval history

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The opening passages of the Book of Genesis consecutively contain two accounts of creation. The two creation accounts have similarities and differences and are commonly interpreted as showing differing perspectives of one story.[]

In the first account Genesis 1:12:3 God progressively creates the different features of the world over a series of six days, resting on the seventh day (Sabbath). The process begins with the creation of light, then the dome, then land and plants, then heavenly bodies, then aquatic creatures and birds and finally on the sixth day land animals and humans.[]

In the second account Genesis 2:425 the creation of man follows the creation of the heavens and earth, but occurs before the creation of plants and animals. God then plants the Garden of Eden, after planting the garden of Eden God grows the "Tree of Life" and "Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil". God then creates every animal of land and air for the man. After the animals creation, God takes a rib from the man to create woman.[]

The world God creates is good, but it becomes corrupted by the sin of man, God waits, and sees all that he has made and it is no longer good, so God sends a Deluge (a great flood) to destroy it, saving only a man who is righteous (Noah), his wife, his sons and his daughters in law, from whose seed the world is repopulated ("be fruitful and multiply").Genesis 8:17 Mankind falls back into rebelliousness, but God selects Abraham to be the seed of his chosen people, Israel.

Patriarchal history

Abraham and Isaac

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  • Lech-Lecha, on Genesis 12-17: Abraham, Sarah, Lot, covenant, Hagar and Ishmael, circumcision
  • Vayeira, on Genesis 18-22: Abraham's visitors, Sodomites, Lot’s visitors and flight, Hagar expelled, binding of Isaac
  • Chayei Sarah, on Genesis 23-25: Sarah buried, Rebekah for Isaac

God reveals himself to Abram, tenth in descent from Noah and twentieth from Adam, and instructs him to travel to the land which Canaan's descendants had settled. "Lift up your eyes, and look ... for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you."Genesis 13 God makes a covenant with Abram,[] promising that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, but that they shall suffer oppression in a foreign land for four hundred years, after which they shall inherit the land "from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."Genesis 15[] Abram's name is changed to "Abraham" and that of his wife Sarai to "Sarah," and circumcision of all males is instituted as an external sign of the covenant.

Sarah is barren, and tells Abram to take her Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar, as a concubine. Through Hagar, Abraham becomes the father of Ishmael,[] Abraham asks God that Ishmael "might live in Thy sight," (that is, be favoured), but God replies that Sarah will bear a son, who will be named Isaac,[] through whom the covenant will be established.Genesis 17]] At Sarah's insistence Ishmael and his mother Hagar are driven out into the wilderness, but God saves them and promises to make Ishmael also a great nation.

God resolves to destroy the city of Sodom for the sins of its people. 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 19[] Abraham's nephew Lot is saved from the destruction of Sodom, and through incest with his daughters becomes the ancestor of the Moabites and Ammonites.Genesis 19

God tests Abraham by commanding that he sacrifice Isaac. Abraham obeys; but, as he is about to lay the knife upon his son, God restrains him, promising him numberless descendants.Genesis 22 On the death of Sarah, Abraham purchases Machpelah for a family tombGenesis 23 and sends his servant to Mesopotamia, Nahor's home, to find among his relations a wife for Isaac; and Rebekah, Nahor's granddaughter, 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


"In principio creavit deus..." First page of Genesis in a Latin bible dated 1481 (Bodleian Library)
"In principio creavit deus..." First page of Genesis in a Latin bible dated 1481 (Bodleian Library)
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Isaac's wife Rebekah is barren, but Isaac prays to God, and she gives birth to the twins Esau, father of the Edomites,[] and Jacob.[] Jacob's name is changed to Israel, and by his wives Rachel and Leah and their handmaidens he has twelve sons, the ancestors of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel.


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Jacob's son Judah takes a Canaanite wife. She gives birth to twins, the elder of whom is Pharez, ancestor of the future royal house of David. Jacob's favourite son, Joseph, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, who resent the favouritism shown him. But Joseph prospers, and when famine comes he brings his father and his brothers and their households, seventy persons in all, to Egypt, where Pharaoh assigns to them the land of Goshen.Genesis 47-47 Jacob calls his sons to his bedside and reveals their future to them Genesis 49 before he 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 brethren, if God should remember them and lead them out of the country, to take his bones with them. The book ends with Joseph's remains being "put in a coffin in Egypt." Genesis 50

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