Chapter 1:1-2:3 offers a formal, theological narrative of the Creation of all things, all creatures, by God, an expression of the unity of creation and of the universal power of God. The basic structure of the narrative is that of the seven-day week. Seven was a sacred number, and the week was the fundamental unit of the Hebrew calendar.

The story is clearly designed to be a 'scientific' account, in the Aristotelian manner, emphasizing the unity of the Many by grouping things within broad general categories. The living creatures are introduced in a hierarchy determined by the way in which they reproduce; first come plants with seeds and fruit, then the egg-laying fish and birds, then the mammals, and finally humans, who are recognized as mammals by being created on the sixth day. The Creation ends on the Sabbath, the resting from work on the seventh day (Saturday). Since Sunday, the "first day of the (new) week", was the day of Jesus' Resur­rection, it became the day when Christians rest and attend worship. It is not the Old Testament Sabbath.

1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

And God said, "Let there be light"  and there was light. God saw that the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day"  and the darkness he called "night". And there was evening, and there was morning the first day.

6. And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water below from the water above. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning the second day.

9. And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered together and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land" and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and trees on the land that bear fruit with seeds in it, according to their various kinds."  And it was so. The land produced vegetation:plants bearing seeds according to their kinds.And trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14. And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,  and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so.

God made two great lights, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20. And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living, moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24. And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so.

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move  along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the wild animals of the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Then God said, I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground, everything that has the breath of life in it I give every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw all that he had made and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

(Chapter 2)

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,  because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 

Chapter 2:4-3:end  contain the other, older story of the creation of humanity, with the symbolic names Adam (Man) and Eve (Living), their life in "Paradise" (garden) with visits from YHWH (the name is not used in Chapter 1), the story of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the temptation of Eve, the Fall, the punishment and the Expulsion from the Garden.  A mysterious story, combining many elements, not at all a "full explanation" or a "myth" in the usual sense.  It stands at the beginning of the Bible as an expression of a truth about humanity: people do not do what they know to be God's will, and the result is un­happiness, suffering, hardship.

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.  When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up; the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.  And the LORD God formed a man (Adam) from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being.

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.  And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.  In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ....


(15) The LORD God took Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you will surely die."

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him....... (21) So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.  Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man ....

(25) The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Chapter 3: The Fall

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, "Did God really say You must not eat from any tree in the garden?"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves to­gether and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, "Adam, where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And he said, "Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that -1 commanded you not to eat from?"

Adam said, "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The ser­pent deceived me, and I ate."....

So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. 

Chapter 4:1-16, the story of Cain and Abel, the first murder, the picture of "fallen humanity" begins, with a growth in disasters and moral corruption leading up to the story of Noah.  The idea of social responsibility and of interdependence is present from the beginning, as also the irrationality of evil.

Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.  The LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it de­sires to have you, but you must master it."

Now Cain said to his brother, "Let us go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother, Abel?

"I don't know," he replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The Lord said, "What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you.  You will be a restless wanderer on the earth." 

In Chapter 5 there are strange lists of people reported to have lived for 900 years, the oldest being Methuselah, who has become proverbial.

Chapter 6:1-9:17 contains the epic of Noah, a story which is close to that found in Mesopotamia, (see the Gilgamesh Flood Myth in Chapter 1) where terrible floods were very common.  It should be seen as a symbolic new beginning offered to humanity by God, the hope exists that even the worst disaster is not the end of God's love and promises.  Noah is shown as a man of faith, and a craftsman able to build the Ark, but not as an extraordinary person, Noah is a normal human being, the Bible is not interested in the "heroic".

This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of

his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with

violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.

I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark‑‑you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for youand for them."

Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

Genesis 7


The LORD then said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven [1] of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made."

And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground,  9male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in.

For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of  the water.  They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished‑‑birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind.  Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.  Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.


Genesis 8


But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.  The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down,  and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.  The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth  month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.  Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground.  But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark.  When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.  By the twenty‑seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Then God said to Noah,  "Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you‑‑the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground‑‑so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it."

So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives.  All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds‑‑everything that moves on the earth‑‑came out of the ark, one kind after another. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.

The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."

In Chapter 10 there are lists of strange tribes, records of places: the Bible is from the beginning anchored in a culture, a history, a specific geography, not ours.  It expresses its message in a universal context.  This is the meaning of what follows.

Chapter 11:1-9, the story of the Tower of Babel, an allegory of the multiplicity of languages by which people are divided, both a blessing and a curse.  Here, as in the stories about Eve and Noah, we must note that humour is not absent.

With the end of Chapter 11 we enter a new stage in the narrative of Israel's past.  What had been told until now applied to all humanity, was not linked to "history" in the way that what follows claims to be.  Now the Bible begins the history of salvation worked out in reality, not myth, through faithful individuals and families, the Patriarchs (fathers).  This is essentially a family epic, in prose, preserving many memories of an early period in human history when life was nomadic and pastoral, and here too there is none of the heroic exaggeration of other cultures.  The only "extraordinary" thing noted about Abraham, for example, is his trust in God.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Patriarchs, are seen as the founding fathers of the families (tribes) making up the later Amphictyony of Israel.  Israel is a later name given to Jacob.  As in all such foundation histories, the symbolic is mixed with the historical.  Most important, there is here nothing of the usual Myth, no unions with gods, no supernatural origin, only the appearance of a group of people seeing itself as being in a special relationship with God, who has made them a promise of blessings.  The meeting with God remains mysterious.

Chapter 12:1-7, the beginning of the Abraham story, expresses the promise of God in a very undramatic way, with no details about how God appeared.  Abraham sets out, returning to the nomadic life which was already being replaced by sedentary farming.  Abraham's setting out is seen as a expression of his trust in God, who has promised him another life in another place.

In the saga of Abraham, there are many adventures, in which he is sometimes seen meeting God in humble ways (chapter 18), and even arguing with him, making God change his mind (chapter 18:25-end).  For a long time Abraham has no son, there is the puzzle of who will inherit the promise.  Then, very late, God enables him to have a son, Isaac.


Chapter 22:1-18, tells how God "tests" Abraham, ordering him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.  Child sacrifice was common in the tribes of Canaan, this story is designed to discourage it, but later the Church saw in it a "type" of the love of God who was ready to give up his only Son.  "Typology" involves finding a new meaning in a story by events happening later, so that events of the Old Testament are found to be "allegories" of what happens when Jesus comes.


The last part of Genesis (chapters 37-50) consists of another literary type, an adventure story or popular romance in which a person is separated from his family, becomes very powerful, then confronts the family in this new position; once the relationship is discovered, there is reconciliation.  The story of Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt where he becomes the servant of Pharaoh thanks to his interpretation of dreams, is one of the world's first "comic" stories.  



Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.  Now his father Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented  robe (a coat of many colours) for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down

 to it."

His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."

When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?"  His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. His brothers sell Joseph as a slave, then dip his coat in blood to suggest that he has been eaten by an animal. He becomes slave in the house of Potiphar, a high official in Egypt, but soon rises to a posiion of great responsibility. There he undergoes a difficult situation with Potiphar's wife:

Now Joseph was well‑built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he refused. "With me in charge," he told her, "my master does not concern  himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. "Look," she said to them, "this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed.  When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house."

She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home.  Then she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house."  When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. Joseph's master took him and put him in prison.

In prison, Joseph correctly interprets dreams for the Pharaoh'scup-bearer and baker. The cup-bearer is restored to his position and recalls the event when Pharaoh has a strange dream. Joseph explains that the dream means that Egypt is going to experience a long famine, and should take appropriate measures. Pharaoh makes Joseph his chief minister. The same famine strikes Jacob (Israel) and he sends ten of Joseph's brothers to buy grain in Egypt, keeping the youngest , Benjamin, at home.

Joseph allows them to buy corn, but then accuses them of being spies, keeps one of the brothers as hostage, and commands them to return to Egypt with Benjamin. They have not recognized Joseph, of course, yet they suddenly recall him:


They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother Joseph. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us." Reuben replied, "Didn't I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn't listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood."

They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.  He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.

Yet on their way  home, they find that the money they paid for their grain has been put into their sacks. Confused, they return to Egypt with Benjamin, and double the money, 'in case it was a mistake'.

When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, "Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare dinner; they are to eat with me at noon." The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph's house.

Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, "We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys."

So they went up to Joseph's steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house.  "Please, sir," they said, "we came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver‑‑the exact weight‑‑in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us.  We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don't know who put our silver in our sacks."

"It's all right," he said. "Don't be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver." Then he brought Simeon out to them. The steward took the men into Joseph's house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. They prepared their gifts for Joseph's arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, "How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?"  They replied, "Your servant our father is still alive and well." And they bowed low to pay him honor.

As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother's son, he asked, "Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?" And he said, "God be gracious to you, my son."

Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, "Serve the food."

Joseph plays the same trick as before, sending them off with their money placed in their sacks; but this time he puts his own cup in Benjamin's sack. His steward rides after them, discovers the cup, and accuses them of stealing it. They all ride back to the city, where Joseph decrees that Benjamin must become his slave, the others can go. They tell his it would kill their father to lose Benjamin; they even offer to all become his slaves, if only Benjamin can go home.

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still living?" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.  Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me."

When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five  years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

"So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, `This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay.  You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me‑‑you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have.  I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come.  Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.'

"You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything  you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly."

Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping.  And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

This story is remarkable, both by its "change in fortunes" themes and by the emotionally touching scenes involving Benjamin (the youngest son) and the old father Jacob.  It is extremely well structured.  The story is put here to explain why the "children of Israel" were in Egypt. 


<big>11 The Bible: The Old Testament</big>