You may read an introduction to Genesis and find an outline, here.

A prayer to use before reading from Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) a prominent theologian of the medieval period.

 Creator of the universe, who has set the stars in the heavens and causes the sun to rise and set, shed the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my mind. Fill my thoughts with the loving knowledge of you, that I may bring your light to others. Just as you can make even babies speak your truth, instruct my tongue and guide my pen to convey the wonderful glory of the Gospel. Make my intellect sharp, my memory clear, and my words eloquent, so that I may faithfully interpret the mysteries which you have revealed. Amen.

I.The Primeval Story 1:1-11:26

A. 1:1-6:4 The Creation and Disruption of the Universe

1. 1:1-2:24 The Two Creation Accounts: Notice where the two creation accounts are similar and where they are different. Scholars believe the two creation accounts come from different sources. The first account is believed to come from Priestly sources and to have been used in worship in the Temple. The second account is believed to be older and has some parallels  (and significant differences) with Canaanite creation myths. Why would there be two creation accounts? What does each story tell us about God? What does each story tell us about human beings? What does each story tell us about the relationship between God and humankind?

    1:1-2:4a The First Creation Account:Notice the repetition. The first three days describe the work of separation and the last three days describe the inhabitants. The first day describes the creation of light, the fourth day describes the sources of light and so on. Notice that God creates the objects that are divinities in other area religions. Israel’s God speaks into existence what other gods create through effort and struggle. In kingdoms, when the king was at rest, it meant that all was well with the kingdom. The king was at home (not at war)on the throne and things were as they ought to be.

2:4b-24 The Second Creation Account: What does this story tell us about the relationship between God and humankind? Why are humans created?  What English speakers read as a proper name “Adam” is the Hebrew word for “man” and is related to the Hebrew word for earth or dirt, “adamah“. Other ancient near eastern stories have a tree of life.

Notice that in the first creation account, God is referred to as God, “Elohim“. Elohim when singular, in the Bible, refers to Israel’s God, when it is plural, it refers to the gods of other nations. Lord God, with Lord in capital letters is a way of referring to the personal name of God, (see Exodus 3:14) Adonai means “my Lord”.  What does this story tell us about human beings and our place in the world? What does it tell us about God?

2.  2:25-3:24 Crime and Punishment: “Naked” in Hebrew is ‘arummin. ‘arum, is the Hebrew word for “crafty”. What is the author trying to convey by using this word play? In the Old Testament, nakedness often suggests weakness or neediness. What might it mean that the man and woman were unaware of their nakedness?  In other ancient texts, serpents opposed the will of the gods. Notice that the text does not explain why the serpent is crafty, or where any opposition to God’s will comes from. Does the dialogue between Eve and the serpent accurately reflect God’s command? What picture of God does the text present? What was the disobedience, the sin of human kind? Disobedience? Idolatry?  Both? Something else?  This is a familiar text, but on reading it again, is there something that surprises you? What does the text say about the human condition and sin, and what doesn’t it say?

3. 4:1-5:32 Sin and Curse, Cain and Abel:

4:1-16 Cain and Abel: “Cain” sounds like the Hebrew word for “brought forth” or “acquired”, again a word play.  “Abel” sounds like “breath” or “puff”. or “vanity”. Notice no reason is given for the rejection of Cain’s offering and the acceptance of Abel’s, although much effort has been given to trying to understand. Does the reason matter? Or is the point of the story more about how God and Cain respond to each other? This is the first in a long line of difficulties between brothers in the Bible. Are there similarities in Cain’s response to God’s question and Adam and Eve’s response to God’s question to them? What does this say about people?  Notice that Cain, like Adam and Eve, suffers the consequences of his actions but God also continues to provide.

4:17-25 The Descendants of Cain. In the ancient world, the development of cities, animal husbandry, music and metallurgy were the result of the actions of gods. Perhaps this genealogy takes these activities and achievements away from gods..  In Lamech’s actions, violence intensifies. Sin “develops” along with civilization.    “Seth” is a word play on “provided”. “Enosh” has the same meaning as ‘adam. 

Read More About It:

Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, “Understanding the Old Testament” Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.

Fretheim, Terence,”The Book of Genesis”,in Keck, Leander E., ed. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.

Kselman, John S. “Genesis”, in Mays, James L. ed. “HarperCollins Bible Commentary” (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.

Anderson, Bernhard M. “Genesis”, in Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds. “The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books” (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.

Plaut,W. Gunther, Genesis” in Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. “The Torah: A Modern Commentary” (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.