The Book of "Genesis"

The Book of "Genesis": A Biography

Ronald Hendel
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Book of "Genesis"
    Book Description:

    During its 2,500-year life, the book of Genesis has been the keystone to almost every important claim about reality, humanity, and God in Judaism and Christianity. And it continues to play a central role in debates about science, politics, and human rights. With clarity and skill, acclaimed biblical scholar Ronald Hendel provides a panoramic history of this iconic book, exploring its impact on Western religion, philosophy, science, politics, literature, and more.

    Hendel traces how Genesis has shaped views of reality, and how changing views of reality have shaped interpretations of Genesis. Literal and figurative readings have long competed with each other. Hendel tells how Luther's criticisms of traditional figurative accounts of Genesis undermined the Catholic Church; how Galileo made the radical argument that the cosmology of Genesis wasn't scientific evidence; and how Spinoza made the equally radical argument that the scientific method should be applied to Genesis itself. Indeed, Hendel shows how many high points of Western thought and art have taken the form of encounters with Genesis--from Paul and Augustine to Darwin, Emily Dickinson, and Kafka.

    From debates about slavery, gender, and sexuality to the struggles over creationism and evolution, Genesis has shaped our world and continues to do so today. This wide-ranging account tells the remarkable story of the life of Genesis like no other book.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4459-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Life of Genesis
    (pp. 1-13)

    Despite predictions of its demise, the book of Genesis is still alive and well in the twenty-first century. From political and religious debates to consumer culture, Genesis is all around us. One has only to glance at the headlines to find controversies that take their heat and light from Genesis. The question of whether the contents of Genesis 1 should be taught in science classes—under the names “creationism” or “intelligent design”—preoccupies school boards and political candidates. Proponents and opponents of gay marriage and gay clergy appeal to the testimony of Genesis. The “new atheist” writers criticize the irrationality...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Genesis of Genesis
    (pp. 14-44)

    The book of Genesis had a complicated birth, or rather, many births. It is composed of multiple layers of text, composed at different times and with differing interests and emphases. Like the biblical twins Jacob and Esau, who wrestled in their mother’s womb, these texts often seem to be rivals. They stake out different claims about the authority of the past and the nature of God and humans. Let us consider what we can plausibly know about the beginnings of Genesis, and then turn to the different Genesis accounts of the beginning.

    The oldest part of Genesis is the tribal...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Rise of the Figural Sense
    (pp. 45-62)

    Ever since its birth, the book of Genesis has attracted interpreters of every stripe. For various reasons—including its laconic style, its complex compositional history, and its religious content—it requires interpretation. From our first glimpse of Genesis as a book in the public domain, it is an interpreted text. This event is presented in the book of nehemiah, from the fifth century BCE:

    Ezra the priest brought the Torah to the congregation—the men, women, and all who could understand—on the first day of the seventh month. He read it aloud in the public square before the Water...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Apocalyptic Secrets
    (pp. 63-82)

    For over two thousand of years, the life of Genesis has been shaped by the belief that it is a repository of apocalyptic secrets, that is, revelations about the end of days, when the world will be remade. This is the oldest and most long-lived form of figural interpretation.

    The word “apocalypse” is Greek for “uncovering” or “revelation.” The central idea of apocalypticism is that God has granted a revelation about the imminent transformation of the world. Apocalypticism is a child of crisis. not every crisis gives rise to apocalyptic ideas and expectations, but in the history of Judaism and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Platonic Worlds
    (pp. 83-108)

    Alfred north Whitehead famously wrote that all of Western philosophy is “a series of footnotes to Plato.”¹ What is at least as true, if less obvious, is that all of Western religion also owes a deep debt to Plato. Throughout much of its life, Genesis has been filtered and shaped by Platonic ideas. Beginning with the conquests of Alexander the Great, Judaism became deeply imbued with Greek ways of thought and practice, creating a synthesis that continued in Judaism and in its daughter religion, Christianity, for well over a thousand years. For the Platonist, the Bible and the world are...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Between the Figure and the Real
    (pp. 109-144)

    Sometime between the medieval and early modern world, the figural sense of Genesis became strained and began to break. The figural sense began to yield to a simpler, more realistic sense. But with the decline of the figural sense, new problems arose in the life of Genesis. The hidden meanings of Genesis, which were most palpable during the Middle Ages, became endangered. Not all of these controversies were focused on Genesis, but as the central text in medieval cosmology and history, its foundational stories were always in play.

    In theInferno, the greatest poem of the Middle Ages, Dante has...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Genesis and Science: From the Beginning to Fundamentalism
    (pp. 145-195)

    Modern science was born in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the astonishing discoveries by Copernicus, Galileo, newton, and their colleagues. Its first milestone was Copernicus’s treatiseOn the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres(1543), which presents his theory that the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. When news of these ideas began to spread, Martin Luther had a reaction that was typical for his time and his temperament. He was annoyed:

    There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around, not heaven or the firmament, sun, and...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Modern Times
    (pp. 196-241)

    The modern life of Genesis began during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, as the forces of modernity came of age—science, historical scholarship, and the vast social changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Assumptions about how to understand the Bible, once widely shared, became fractured and fragmented. Increasingly, the old questions that Genesis had traditionally answered—about God, the cosmos, and human origins and destiny—seemed to be open-ended or even unanswerable. new ways of seeing were needed, which would bind up the fragments and provide a point from which to view things truly. The Word and the...

  12. AFTERWORD Stories of Our Alley
    (pp. 242-246)

    “This is the story of our alley—its stories, rather.” So begins naguib Mahfouz’s 1959 novelChildren of the Alley. In it Mahfouz retells the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad in a realistic manner, as if they were characters inhabiting a run-down quarter of Cairo. not surprisingly, the Egyptian religious authorities accused Mahfouz of blasphemy, and his novel was banned. In 1994 two fundamentalist thugs, fulfilling afatwaagainst the novel by an extremist cleric, stabbed him in the neck outside of his home. Although Mahfouz had been awarded the 1988 nobel Prize...

    (pp. 247-248)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 249-268)
    (pp. 269-270)
    (pp. 271-288)