to the Book of Genesis
The Very Rev John D. Payne
The name Genesis means "origin" and it's a title given by the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). Genesis is the first of five books of the Torah called the Pentateuch. Most critical scholars hold that Genesis is made up of three major written sources or traditions that were put together in the final form that we now know it by the Redactor in the 5th Century B.C.
The Yahwist Tradition (J): This early source dates from 1000-922 B.C. during the period of David and Solomon. The J tradition relates the Yahwistic faith of the desert with its drive toward monotheism. J takes over Babylonian myths and adapts them to Yahwism. J relates back into primeval history to show Israel's ancestors' origins in humankind. The single thread that connects all of the data in the J tradition is that of "election". J is the originating genius of Genesis as a whole-but J is not the author of the final book.
The Elohist Tradition (E): The written source derives from the careful use of "Elohim" or "God" in the pre-Sinai material. The E tradition presents the northern Israel viewpoint as distinct from the southern-dominated J tradition. E was probably written during the reconstruction period following the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. The E tradition was joined to Genesis largely as a sup-plement and modification of the J tradition. E displays sensitivity to certain theological nuances that are sometimes lacking in J and P.
The Priestly Tradition (P): This source receives its name from the priestly interests, particu-larly the legal sections and genealogies in Genesis. P has imposed upon the entire Book of Gene-sis the order and system by which we identify it as a work in its own right in its present form. The priestly concerns are of the exile and post-exilic circles from 587-400 B.C. The monotheism of P is hard-line because it had been hard-won, hammered out fine on the anvil of bitter experience. The Priestly tradition reflects the southern interests of Israel because it associates Abraham exclusively with Hebron, and the Exodus narrative places the revelation to Moses at Sinai, not at Horeb.
The Redactor (R): The hand that readies Genesis in its final form is that of a redactor and not of an author. Very few fresh ideas can be assigned to the Redactor. The Redactor accepted or rejected what he found in the three sources.
The main thrust of the Book of Genesis is the promise that God makes to Israel. The narratives and materials that weave the tapestry of God's promise are diverse. Interpretation must not level the texts but recognize and appreciate their distinctive angularity. When we listen carefully they may yield to us important disclosures about our own life and faith.
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