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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Genesis

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

1.1–11.26 : The primeval history.

From creation to the birth of Abraham. This unit is composed of two principal layers, a Priestly source that also provides an editorial framework, and a non‐Priestly narrative, identified by many scholars as belonging to J (the Yahwist)

11.1–9 : The tower of Babel.

This narrative (from the non‐Priestly or J source) revisits the theme of preservation of the divine‐human boundary. The threat to that boundary, self‐reflective speech by the LORD, and act of divine prevention all parallel 3.22–24 and 6.1–4. With 11.2 the human family completes the eastward movement begun in 3.22–24 (cf. 4.16). Yet this story will focus on a scattering of the human family into different ethnic, linguistic, and territorial groups. As such, it now gives background for the table of nations in ch 10 , although it was not originally written with that in view.

2 :

Shinar, see 10.8–12n.

4 :

The humans are depicted as fearful of being scattered and thus aiming to make a name for themselves through a tower reaching into heaven. The humans’ intention here to stay together contradicts the divine imperative to “fill the earth” now found in Priestly traditions ( 1.28; 9.1,7 ).

6 :

The LORD is described here as fearing the human power that might result from ethnic and linguistic unity (see 3.22 ).

7 :

Let us, see 1.26n.

8–9 :

The LORD's scattering of humanity and confusing of language is the final step in creation of civilized humanity, with its multiple territorial and linguistic groups. The movement toward cultural maturity begun in ch 3 is complete. Each step toward this end has been fraught with conflict and loss. The name “Babel,” interpreted here as “confusion,” serves as a final testimony to the ambiguous results of this process.

11.20–26 : The descendants of Shem.

This genealogy from the Priestly tradition closely parallels 5.1–32 (though it lacks death notices). It builds a genealogical bridge from Shem to Terah, the father of Abraham. Parts of the genealogy of Shem ( 10.21–31 ) are repeated, but now the text focuses exclusively on those descendants who will lead to Abraham. The text implies that all these descendants are firstborn sons, thus setting up Abraham as the firstborn heir of Shem, the eldest of Noah's sons.

11.27–32 : Introduction of the Abraham story.

The genealogical heading (v. 27 ) and the concluding notices regarding Terah's travels and death (vv. 31–32 ) are Priestly materials, whereas many attribute vv. 28–30 to the non‐Priestly source.

27 :

Abram, see 17.5n. The designation “Abraham” is used here in the annotations as the better‐known name of Abra(ha)m. Aside from his birth, nothing is told about the early life of Abraham; this lack is filled in by later tradition.

29–30 :

Sarai, see 17.15n. This is the first appearance of the theme of barrenness of the three most central matriarchs: Sarai/Sarah, Rebekah ( 25.21 ), and Rachel ( 29.31 ). Their initial barrenness helps highlight God's power to provide heirs of the promise.

31 :

Haran, in northwest Mesopotamia, was Abraham's ancestral home, according to 24.10 (cf. 29.4). Nonbiblical sources show that several of the names of Abraham's ancestors in the preceding genealogy were place names in Haran; e.g., Peleg (vv. 16–19; also 10.25 ), Serug (vv. 20–23 ), Nahor (vv. 24–25; cf. 26 ), and Terah (vv. 24–26 ).

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