Introduction to the book of Genesis
The Book of Genesis is the first book of a compilation of five books called the Pentateuch which contains the Torah or ‘Law’ of the Jewish people. It probably took final form around the time of the Babylonian Exile. The exile was the deportation of the Jewish people to Babylon from around 586 to 538 BCE after the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. The theological concerns reflected in these stories are of this particular people living in exile. These people in exile and are looking for ways to preserve or refashion their traditions. (Dianne Bergant)
Biblical scholarship has convincingly identified four ancient traditions (or ‘authors’) who shaped the text of the first five books of the bible. This first creation story reflects the Priestly tradition and focuses on the majesty and power of God. (RESource)
The first eleven chapters of Genesis contain stories of the origins of the Jewish people. These stories arose out of the tribal and oral traditions of these ancient nomads. As stories of origins they have been influenced by their neighbours’ cultures and religions. These stories are not history nor are they historical narratives. They are myths. The question to ask is not, “Is this really the way things happened?” but rather, “What are the meanings within the stories?”
Three Worlds of the Text: First Creation Story Genesis 1:1-2:4a
The first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) is notable for its order, especially its ordering according to spatial differentiation and different levels of detail. God creates in a very orderly fashion, following a seven-day plan. The number seven was considered a perfect number for the Jews.
The manner in which God proceeds gives the reader clues as to the relationship between the Creation and the Creator in Genesis. “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light and that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness” (1:4-5). God not only creates by calling, or naming, but he also uses separation as a means of creation. God is an organiser as well as creator.
The phrase, “it was good,” is an integral part of this creation account. It appears six times in the first chapter and its repetition adds to the poetry and symmetry of the writing. “It was good” appears not after God has created something, but after He has seen how that creation is organised with respect to the rest of nature. “It was good” denotes the congruence between the new creation (or separation) and the rest of nature. God is following a set of rules, or rather creating a set as he goes. God is creating nature with some order; it is not randomly formed.
This creation account was never meant to be a scientific treatise. It is rather a primary witness to the profound truth of God who created the universe, who created each one of us, who loves and cares for us, and presents God’s challenge to us to be responsible stewards of the gift of life that we have been given. It is poetry not science.
The creation accounts are based on a Hebrew understanding of cosmology. The earth was seen as being flat with four corners (Ezekiel 7:11, Isaiah 41:9, Revelation 7:1). An expanse or firmament, also called heaven, separated the waters below the earth from the waters above (Genesis 1:6-8, Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 5:8). The sun, moon and stars moved about in the firmament (Genesis 1:14-18). The earth was supported on pillars (1 Samuel 2:8, Psalms 75:3). Sheol, the abode of the dead, was a pit under the earth.
(Adapted from “The Old Testament Parts 1 and 2” by Professor Amy-Jill Levine. The Teaching Company, 2001. Available from Resource Link).
The world of the text: Second Creation Story Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25
This second creation story in Genesis (2:4-9, 15-25) is the oldest of the two very different creation accounts in Genesis. It “seeks to explain the relationship of human beings to God, to the created world and to each other”. This second creation story was written to explain why the world is as it is. It answers fundamental human questions about the meaning of human lives and the origins of sin and suffering. (RESource)
The ‘author’ of this second creation story (Genesis 2:4-9, 15-25) is sometimes called the Yahwist (J), because they used the name ‘YHWH’ for God. This is often seen in biblical texts translated into English as Lord God.
The YHWH God (Lord God) is shown as being ‘down to earth’ and intimately involved with the people. He is not afraid of getting his hands dirty! He creates man from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7) and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. YHWH God (Lord God) plants a garden, and puts the man in the garden to look after it. Both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil are placed at the centre of the garden but YHWH God (Lord God) asks the man not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:15-17)
YHWH God (Lord God) is concerned that the man might be lonely. He gives the man the responsibility of naming the animals and en-fleshes a woman from his rib so that he will have a partner. (Gen 2:18-25)
The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil are a figurative device for exploring the ways humanity is different from animals and from God. The man was not prohibited from eating from the tree of life but was warned that the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil would cause death. (Gen 2:16-17)
The story of David, 1 Samuel 17:1-49
The World Behind the Text
The text of 1 Samuel 17:1-49 was composed by more than one author and took its final form around the time of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE. Ancient court records and hero stories were used as source material and there is evidence of oral traditions extending back to the time of David.
The World of the Text
The story of David and Goliath belongs to the genre of folklore. As a narrative it contains characters and details that we can relate to our day to day lives.
The World in Front of the Text
This story of the triumph of the young and innocent David, over the much more powerful Goliath is attractive to children and adults alike.
Some ideas suitable for Prep Students:
David’s story shows people that it is important to have faith – to believe that God is always with us and helping us – even when it looks like it is going to be a terrible day.
David’s story shows people how God is like a shepherd – always caring for us, loving us and trying to protect us.
David’s story shows us that God wants people to keep believing in themselves – even when others say “you’re too little” – God can do great things through little people. It is not what size you are but what your heart is like inside that matters – is it a heart of courage, faith in God and strength to do things that might seem to be way too hard?
David’s story shows us that families usually look after one another, but sometimes families struggle to understand one another, and sometimes people in families can say things that are hurtful. David’s story reminds people to not worry about those things but to keep remembering the important things – it is not what people say or do that is most important but the important thing is to keep trusting in God and remembering that God can people to do amazing things everyday.
The Story of Joseph Genesis 37:1-36, 39:1-6, 41:15-44, 41: 53-57, 42:1-46:34
It is likely that, as with the rest of Genesis, the authors of the Joseph story belong to the time around the Babylonian Exile 586 to 538 BCE, and that they are editing material they inherited from various sources. (Michael Fallon msc) The story gives some insight into the lives of people of that time.
Joseph’s coat (Genesis 37:3).
The special coat provided to Joseph by his father signified a position of authority and favour. Though such coats may have been colourful, they were often distinguished by material, weave or length (of either hem or sleeve). Since the Hebrew word describing it is used only here, it is difficult to be certain which type of quality characterizes the coat. Egyptian paintings of this period depict well-dressed Canaanites as wearing long-sleeved, embroidered garments with a fringed scarf wrapped diagonally from waist to knee.
The importance of dreams (Genesis 37:5–11)
Dreams in the ancient world were thought to offer information from the divine realm and were therefore taken very seriously. Most dreams, however, even the ordinary dreams of common people, were believed to contain omens that communicated information about what the gods were doing. Dreams were often filled with symbolism and therefore they needed an interpreter, though at times the symbols were self-evident.
Shepherds grazing (Genesis 37:12-13)
The lush vegetation produced by the winter rains would have allowed shepherds to remain in pastures near their villages and camps. Once the rains ended, the herds would graze in harvested fields and then would be taken into the hill country, where vegetation remained through the summer months.
Dothan (Genesis 37:17).
Located at Tell Dothan, this is an imposing site covering twenty-five acres. It is situated fourteen miles north of Shechem, on the main route used by merchants and herdsmen going north to the Jezreel Valley. The area around the city provided choice pasture land, thus explaining the presence of Joseph’s brothers.
Cisterns (Genesis 37:19-24)
Cisterns (or wells) were hollowed out of the limestone bedrock or were dug and then lined with plaster to store rain water. They provided water for humans and animals through most of the dry months. When they were empty, they sometimes served as temporary cells for prisoners (see Jer 38:6).
Slave trade (Genesis 37:25-28)
The slave trade existed from earliest times in the ancient Near East. Slaves were generally war captives or persons taken in raids. Traders often accepted slaves, whom they transported to new areas and sold. These persons seldom obtained their freedom.
Spice trade and caravan routes (Genesis 37:25)
Caravans brought incense from south Arabia to Gaza on the Palestinian coast and to Egypt, using various routes through the Sinai Peninsula. It would have been along one of these northern Sinai routes that the Midianites met Joseph’s brothers and purchased him for resale in Egypt along with the rest of their trade goods.
Midianite/Ishmaelite (Genesis 37:25-36)
The interchange of these two names in the story probably reflects a close affinity between the two groups. Some suggest that the Ishmaelites were considered a subtribe of the Midianites. Others suggest the Midianites simply purchased Joseph from the Ishmaelites.
Twenty shekels (Genesis 37:28)
The twenty shekels paid for Joseph was about normal for a slave in this time period, as attested in other literature of this time (for instance, the laws of Hammurabi). It would constitute approximately two years of wages.
Mourning practices (Genesis 37:34-35)
Mourning practices generally included tearing one’s robe, weeping, putting dust and ashes in the hair and wearing sackcloth. Sackcloth was made of goat or camel hair and was coarse and uncomfortable. In many cases the sackcloth was only a loin covering. The official period of mourning was thirty days but could continue for as long as the mourner chose to continue to grieve.
Catholic ideas about God
It is Catholic teaching that the desire for God is written in the human heart. The human person is created by God and for God. The Church teaches that each human individual is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore has inherent worth and dignity. The human person is called to search for God, to be in relationship and communion with God and thus to find authentic truth and happiness.
The question ‘Who is God?’ naturally arises for human beings. The Church teaches that human reason has the ability to know God and to speak about God. Human reason and human language though, is limited. Finite human beings can only come to know something of the infinite God by taking created realities as a starting point. Our human words and images always fall short of the mystery of God who transcends all creation. It is important therefore not to confuse human responses to the question ‘Who is God?’ with the reality of God.
In responding to questions like ‘Who is God?’ ‘What does God look like?’ ‘Who is God for me as human person?’ and ‘How do I name God?’ the Church draws on the riches of its living Judeo-Christian heritage. What is seen as best and most worthwhile in creation and human experience - truth, goodness, beauty - are seen as reflecting the perfections of God, as the starting point for human responses to questions about God. In the Christian tradition God is love. Where love is, God is present. God is imaged as Creator and Lord of all creation. Jesus addressed God as Abba - “Father’’. The Church affirms that God and the world created by God are good.
Diverse images and ways of understanding and speaking of God are found throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, in Christian tradition, in art and literature and in the Christian lives of individuals and communities. Particular images and ways of understanding and speaking of God reflect historical and cultural contexts and are interpreted in relation to the historical and cultural perceptions of particular times and places. Images, understandings and ways of speaking of God need reflection and critique as to their contemporary appropriateness and relevance for individuals and groups. In educational settings images, understandings and ways of speaking about God need to be suited to the age and maturity of learners.
The Church sees the created world as reflective of the goodness and glory of God. At the same time the Church makes a clear distinction between God and the divine creation. God transcends creation. Thus Christians are not pantheists worshipping created realities such as the sun or the moon as if they themselves were God.