The more we move on in life the more interested we become in tracing our roots: where did our ancestors live? How did our parents come to know each other? Who influenced us in our first decisions? All peoples likewise have tried to reconstruct their past. No doubt they want to save it from oblivion, but more especially they hope to find in the past a confirmation of what they themselves believed. Relating their history surrounding them, has a way of affirming their own identity among the many nations, both great and small.
That is what we find in Genesis—a book that was gradually formed through several centuries. It finally took a definitive form in the fifth century BC when the Jewish people, having returned from the Babylonian captivity fixed forever the expression of their faith.
Genesis means beginning. We will not look so much at it as a document on the origins of the universe or of a sin committed by our first ancestors. Rather, from the first pages, we shall find through images all that is important for us.
The book has three parts. Chapters 1–11 attempts to span vast periods of time from the beginning of creation up to the first “ancestors of the faith” whose names have been remembered, the first of whom is Abraham.
The second part recalls the life of the nomadic clans who believed in a God who was near and compassionate, the “God of their ancestors.” This history (or these stories) take place in the land of Canaan at a time in which the Israelite people did not yet exist (between the 18th and 15th century before Christ). It shows how faith in God’s promises—promises he never fails to fulfill—is the soul of all our religious quest and is the subject of chapters 12–38.
A third part, the history of Joseph, throws a first light on the meaning of our life and the tragedies that are the threads in the weaving of human existence. Human beings need a Savior and salvation comes first through those whom they have persecuted and rejected.
Who wrote the book of Genesis?
There was not one author, but several. The people of Israel were formed through time by the gathering of nomadic tribes which neither knew how to read nor write. They brought along with them the memories of their forebears and the signs God realized among them; these memories were verbally transmitted.
When these tribes settled in Palestine, they slowly entered into a new culture of writing. Scribes surrounding the king wrote the laws and the beliefs of the nation. During Solomon’s reign (tenth century BC) an unknown writer often called “the yahwist” wrote a first history of God’s people. In doing so he freely used Baby lonian literature and its poetry about the first couple and the Flood. The author used a part but deeply transformed them, so that these stories, as comparisons, would express God’s plans for his creation.Later this old account was supplemented with others coming from different traditions. As a result, we sometimes find repetitions.
Much later, when the Jews returned from Exile in Babylon (5th century before Christ), their priests added many paragraphs which are indicated in italics. The priests were the authors of the poem about creation in seven days, where Genesis and the Bible itself begin.