Intro to Torah and Understanding Genesis

 

Genesis - The Promise_horizontal_Grace Church of Dunedin_Churches in Dunedin (2)

They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.
By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.
Deuteronomy 32:47

Intro to the Torah:
The Old Testament and Its Divisions - The 39 books of the O.T. can be divided as such:

  • Pentateuch/Torah: Genesis - Deuteronomy
  • Israel’s History: Joshua - Esther
  • The Writings: Job - Song of Solomon
  • Major Prophets: Isaiah - Daniel
  • Minor Prophets: Hosea - Malachi

The division of O.T. books in the Hebrew Bible (Tanach) is a bit different from that in our English Bibles. (Ours finds its divisions by way of the second-century B.C. Greek translation known as the Septuagint.) The Hebrew Bible is divided into three parts:

  • The Law (Torah or “books of Moses”)
  • The Prophets (the Former Prophets, including Joshua through Kings [minus Ruth], and the Latter Prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve [the so-called Minor Prophets]),
  • And the Writings (the Psalms [including Lamentations], the Wisdom books [Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs], Daniel, and the four narrative books of Ruth, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles).

 

The Significance of Torah and A Vision of Jesus:
Torah – (Hebrew: תּוֹרָה, "Instruction"), also known as the Pentateuch (Greek: Πεντάτευχος from πεντα- penta- [five] and τεῦχος teuchos [tool, vessel, or book])

For the Hebrew, the Torah was to be much more than 613 laws to obey. The actual laws, along with the worship/sacrificial rituals within them, were very important; but the essence (that to which the Torah points) and “heart” of the law was always most important and it was to dominate one’s passions, working its way into every category of life.
     See Deut. 6:1-9; 32:47; Psalm 1:2; 119:34, 77, 165, 174

Why? Torah was the very Word of God and so connected to its sovereign author that some rabbinical teachings even personified the Torah. Torah, being the Word of God, in their minds, preexisted creation and God created everything through his Word. Thus Genesis chapter 1 records God (Elohim) as speaking the cosmos into existence.

This is also why John introduced Jesus in his Gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word….Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). He linked, not only the Greek word logos (word) to Jesus, he also linked the Hebrew belief of things being made through Torah and that Torah was the light of the world (a common rabbinical teaching) to the work and essence of Christ himself.

The significance of all this is that the only to know and experience God for the Hebrew was through the Torah (especially after the temple was destroyed). John is/was saying the Torah has “now become flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:13); meaning, God is now closer than ever! Furthermore, another common rabbinical expression about the Torah was that it was the truth, the life, and the way! Sound familiar? In John, retelling of some Jesus’ last words to his disciples, he writes:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.
From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
~ John 14:6-7

 

The Book of Genesis:
Questions about Title, Authorship, Date, and Original Audience:
The English title “Genesis” comes from the Greek translation of the Torah called, Pentateuch, and it means “origin,” a perfect title because Genesis is all about origins. The Hebrew title, Bereshith = “in [the] beginning”, from the first phrase in the book, serves as its title and is suggestive as to what the book is about. Genesis tells of the beginning of God’s story – creation, human disobedience, and divine redemption – while it also begins the Torah/Pentateuch, the story of God’s choosing and making a covenant with a people through whom he would bless all peoples (Gen 12:2–3).

In the strict sense, Genesis (and all of Torah for that matter) is written anonymously. But traditionally Genesis, like the rest of the Torah, has been ascribed to Moses and even labeled “the Books of Moses” (2 Chron. 25:4; Ezra 6:18; Neh 13:1; ect…). The other books of the Torah relate Moses' life and his role in bringing Israel to the borders of Canaan, and parts of these books are expressly said to have been written by Moses (e.g., Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:24). Genesis is clearly an introduction to the books that follow, so it is natural to suppose that if Moses was responsible for their composition, he must also have been the author of Genesis (cf. John 5:46).

Genesis reflects an origin in the second millennium b.c. For example, the flood story finds its best parallels in the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh epics and in the Sumerian flood story, which were composed in 17 centaury b.c.; while the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 find a parallel in the Sumerian King List, dated about 1900 b.c. As far as the patriarchal stories are concerned, many features show that they are at home in the early second millennium. Their names are typical of that period, and many family customs correspond to what is known from that era. The rise of Joseph to be vizier (the highest official in Ancient Egypt), though not mentioned in Egyptian texts, is quite feasible in the era of the Hyksos (Semitic rulers of Egypt, c. 1600 b.c.). Whatever date is preferred for Moses and the composition of the Torah, several centuries must have separated him from the patriarchs, during which the stories about them were presumably passed on by word of mouth.

The World of Genesis:
Genesis describes events in the ancient Near East from the beginnings of civilization to the relocation of Jacob's (Israel's) family to Egypt. The stories of Genesis are set among the oldest civilizations known to man (in ancient Mesopotamia).

The Division of Genesis:
The narrative of Genesis itself comes in two basic parts: a “prehistory” (chapters 1–11), the stories of creation, human origins, the fall of humanity, and the relentless progress of evil – all against the backdrop of God’s enduring patience and love – and the story of the beginning of redemption through Abraham and his seed (chapters 12–50), with focus on the stories of Abraham (11:27–25:11), Jacob (25:12–37:1), and Joseph (chapters 37–50).

Things to Keep in Mind When Reading Genesis:
Most scholars agree, Genesis is an anthology - a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. It is more highly unified than most anthologies, however, because all of the material falls into the overall genre of historical narrative. But it’s not like modern day history; it’s primarily a collection of what may be called hero stories – intermittent tales focused on a central character with whom the reader is to identify with – with interspersed genealogies. Even more specific, the first three chapters belong to a genre known as the story of origins. Genesis also has affinities with the epic genre because the story is one of universal history (chapters 1–11) and the origins of the nation of Israel (chapters 12–50).