{1}         Genesis 12—50: Introduction

The Book

Genesis is the first of the 5 books of the Laws (Torah) of the Jews called the Pentateuch. The word “Pentateuch” means a fivefold volume. The title “Genesis” comes from Latin Vulgate, meaning source, birth, generation. The best English for it is “origin”.

It is a book concerned with origins—the origin of Earth’s creation, of mankind, of institutions by which civilization is perpetuated, including marriage, of sin and salvation, of one special family chosen by God and designated as the medium of world blessing. The book is important as it constitutes the foundation for the whole revelation of God.


The book is clearly demarcated into 11 sections by the presence of the formula elleh toledot, used 10 times in Genesis. The phrase means “this is the story (or history) of X” or “these are the descendants (or generations) of X”. It occurs at 2:4 for the heavens and the earth; 5:1 Adam; 6:9 Noah; 10:1 sons of Noah; 11:10 Shem; 11:27 Terah; 25:12 Ishmael; 25:19 Isaac; 36:1 Esau; 37:2 Jacob.

The clearest division of Genesis is between ch.111 and ch.1250. The first 11 chapters were about primeval history; the last 39 chapters about patriarchal history. The first part describes an increasing alienation from God; the second part describes the solution to this alienation through the obedience of Abraham and his descendants. Chapters 12 to 36 include the stories of the 3 patriarchs of the nation of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Chapters 37 to 50 tell the stories of Jacob’s sons, with Joseph as the main character.

Author and Date

Until the 18th century, hardly anyone questioned the unity of Genesis, whether rabbinical scholars of Judaism or ecclesiastical scholars of Christendom. For all of them, Genesis was a unified work of Moses written in the 15th century BC (around 1450–1410 BC). It was probably written slightly before or after the Israeli Exodus from Egypt (dated about 1446 BC). This approach to the authorship of Genesis is now labelled as the “traditional” approach.

Starting from the mid-18th century, the academic world adopted the new “critical” approach which holds that Genesis is [a] not a unified work and also [b] not written by Moses. By the end of the 19th century, this position dominated the academic world. However, academic research since the 1960s has found evidences that contradict the critical approach and support the traditional approach.

Despite all these academic arguments, it is important to point out that the authorship of Moses is supported by the rest of the Bible, including Jesus Himself. This does not preclude the use of different earlier documents by Moses in his composition of Genesis. Nevertheless, Moses was under the guidance of God and would not have included any erroneous information from those documents.

Documentary Hypothesis: Attack on Genesis

In late 17th century, attack on the “internal inconsistency” of Genesis began. Some critics believed that Moses was not the “author” of Genesis but only a “redactor” (editor), who put Genesis together by copying verbatim from other documents. The reason was because of the distribution of different names for God scattered through Genesis, sometimes “Yahweh” and sometimes “Elohim”.

In the 19th century, some academics invented a hypothesis for multiple sources in Genesis (and the Pentateuch) called the documentary hypothesis (also called JEDP hypothesis), proposed in 1878. The documentary hypothesis led to direct attacks on the accuracy of the Bible.

However, since the 1960s, the documentary hypothesis has been opposed by many scholars. Concrete linguistic and archaeological evidences have been produced to support the authorship of Moses. They satisfactorily answered the two main attacks on Genesis: unity and authorship. Today, the traditional view has gained much ground and Mosaic authorship is again dominant in orthodox churches.

Theme and Motifs of Chapters 12-50

The theme is an overarching idea that holds the stories together. The theme of Part 2 of Genesis is the promise. This promise has 3 elements: land, descendants (or seed), and blessing (relationship).

Motifs are the recurring keywords or ideas that appear throughout the book. They include:

[1] Sibling rivalry: Abraham vs. Lot, son of Haran, Jacob vs. Laban, grandson of Nahor, Isaac vs. Ishmael, Jacob vs. Esau, Joseph vs. brothers

[2] Deception: Abraham and Isaac lied about their wives, Rebekah helped Jacob to trick Isaac, Jacob tricked Esau but was in turn tricked by Laban, Jacob was deceived by his sons about Joseph (37:31–36), Joseph deceived his brothers before reunion

[3] Alienation/Separation: Abraham (from Lot), Jacob and Joseph all involved the separation from the father’s household. The motify becomes increasingly important to each successive story. Separation is followed by reconciliation. Abraham to Terah’s household with Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah, granddaughter of Nahor. Jacob was reconciled by marrying the daughters of his uncle Laban.

In addition, Abraham identied himself as “an alien and a stranger” in the land of Canaan (Gen 23:4, Heb 11:13)— meaning a foreigner who took up residence mostly for a temporary time. Isaac and Jacob (and Esau) also were described as aliens sojourning in Canaan (Gen 28:4; 35:27; 37:1; 36:7). Christians, too, also view themselves as aliens in this world travelling to an eternal home in heaven (1Pe 2:11).

Biblical Chiasmus

Some Bible passages in the OT are constructed in the form of chiasmus. It is a literary device commonly used in rhetoric to give balance and strength to the argument. In a chiasmus, many passages with a common theme are intentionally arranged or constructed in an inverted parallel structure. For example, 6 passages may be arranged in a structure of A—B—C—C’—B’—A’, where A and A’ have similar themes, etc. Since these structures are of interest mainly to scholars, only 3 chiasmuses (on the lives of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph) will be presented in this course.


·         God’s promises are intended for everyone in the world but only those who accept the free gift of God (salvation and eternal life) can receive all those promises.

·         Deception is one of the main motifs of the book. The lesson is that despite these self-indulgent deceptions, God’s goal of blessing proceeded. The deceivers received the same treatment, often more severely. The pattern of “the deceiver being deceived” and the resulted pain warned against the sin of self-interest.

·         For centuries, many academics and critics have tried to discredit the Bible. Many even predicted the loss of credibility of the Bible. But as of today, there is still no definitive proof that any part of the Bible is erroneous. Millions today still have full trust of the Bible as the Word of God.