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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

Genesis - Introduction

Genesis is made up of two large sections. The first part (chs. 1–11 ) begins with stories of God's creation of the heavens and the earth and the first generations of human beings on the earth. Other ancient cultures in biblical times also had their own stories of the beginnings of the world, worldwide floods, and interaction between multiple gods and humans. Some parallels exist between these other ancient accounts and chs. 1–11 . However, the biblical writers reshaped these ancient traditions in distinctive ways that were true to their Israelite understanding of the one God who created all things. The second part (chs. 12–50 ) involves stories about one particular family line whom God selected from among all the families of the earth. This family eventually became the people of Israel, whose story continues throughout the rest of the Old Testament. Israel's family line begins with Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac (chs. 12–25 ). These family stories continue with tales about Isaac's son Jacob (chs. 25–36 ). Genesis concludes with stories about Jacob's children, especially Joseph and Judah (chs. 37–50 ).

In the first part of Genesis (chs. 1–11 ), God works with all humanity to restore the broken relationships caused by human rebellion and disobedience. God's repeated attempts to respond to these rebellions through punishment and continued blessing do not succeed in restoring harmony between God and humans. Thus, in the second part (chs. 12–50 ), God embarks upon a new strategy. God concentrates on working with and through one particular family, the ancestors of the people of Israel. This one family is chosen so that through them “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” ( 12.3 ). In this way, the two major parts of Genesis depend upon one another. Most scholars believe that the present form of the book of Genesis is the result of various stages of oral storytelling, writing, and editing over hundreds of years. Certain texts in Genesis may have arisen quite early in ancient Israel's history. Other texts may have been written much later. They have, however, been combined into an artful and extended story about the beginning of the world and Israel's earliest ancestors.

The date and setting for the final form of Genesis is probably the time when the people of Judah were in exile in Babylon (sixth century BCE) or when the Babylonian exiles returned home to Judah under the Persian empire (fifth century BCE). The time of exile and the return home forced Israel to think hard about its identity as a people and its mission as the people of God among the nations of the world. Remembering the Genesis stories about the beginnings of the world and Israel's earliest ancestors was a way to return to their roots and think about who they were as an exiled people who were returning home to Judah. They could identify with the Genesis ancestors of Israel, who were also a family on the move. Just as the family of Abraham and Sarah migrated back and forth from Mesopotamia to Canaan, so the exiles would migrate from Babylon back to Judah. The key promise in the midst of this wandering and yearning to return home was the promise God made to Jacob: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land” ( 28.15 ).

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