Go-to Sources for Study of Genesis

I was going to hammer out a brief exegesis of the creation of humanity (Gen. 1:26-28), but I thought that would be less productive because it would have represented my viewpoints on it, which most likely don’t jive with correlation and would also appear terribly non-Mormon.

Instead, I’m offering here a list of good go-to sources for an in-depth look at the book of Genesis. These are sources that I’ve enjoyed using in my study of the book. I took an advanced Hebrew reading of Genesis this last semester and found a number of great monographs and commentaries which will help us with this wonderful book. Feel free to add others you’ve encountered as well! Note: none of these are Mormon.

Several scholars through the years have stated that if the theologian (which in academic circles I admit I’m not) gets the book of Genesis wrong, everything else will follow suit. That’s a strong statement, but the book does contain key topics that will play major roles for Israel in its salvation history. Some of these are creation, theodicy, the Fall (and, by extension, redemption), covenant, land, and chosenness (or, election). I’ve also heard that no book has received more scholarly attention in all the Bible than Genesis. Not sure if this is true, but there is a lot out there on it. So here are some of my favorite sources for Genesis:

Arnold, Bill T. Encountering the Book of Genesis. Encountering Biblical Studies. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. An undergraduate-level look at the book, and a good place to start. This book is somewhat conservative (he’s a Methodist trained by a Jewish Yeshiva), so that should sit well with most in the bloggernacle (I think).

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1982. A fairly decent commentary given its age. Brueggemann is a genuis.

Carr, David M. Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches. Louisville: WJK, 1996. For source-critical theory. Carr’s is a standard work in this.

Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The World of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 257. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998. Anything by these guys is worth a peek. Tough to find, however.

Fokkelman, Jan P. Narrative Art in Genesis: Specimens of Stylistic and Structural Analysis. Studia Semitica Neerlandica 17. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1975. Great for discourse analysis, and complementary to Carr’s work.

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis. 2 vols. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990-1995. Sometimes laughably conservative, but this Brandeis-trained scholar has some good intersection with the ANE (see also his Handbook on the Pentateuch in the Genesis section).

Hartley, John E. Genesis. New International Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament 1. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2000. The nice thing about this one is that its recent.

Rad, Gerhard von. Genesis: A Commentary. Translated by John H. Marks. Rev. ed. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972. Von Rad’s seminal work. He’s a form-critic, but a good one (next to Gunkel, probably the best). Also see his Old Testament Theology, now available as two volumes in one from cbd.com.

Rendsburg, Gary A. The Redaction of Genesis. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1986. A look at how the final text was sifted, edited, and compiled. Very theoretical, but illuminating.

Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation. JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. Has both the Hebrew and the English with commentary and notes. The JPS translation of Genesis 1-2 is my favorite English translation. Very expensive, but worth it.

Turner, Laurence. Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000. Another recent work worthy of attention.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis. 2 vols. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Tex./Dallas: Word, 1987-1994. Wenham’s is very popular. The WBC series is widely used and fairly easy to understand. I use it in conjunction with the Hermeneia series whenever possible. There are some real dingers in the set though (like the book of John — very poopy!), but this one and others do a fairly good job. I usually stick with monographs and avoid commentary sets, but this one and Hamilton’s are worthy of a peek.

Westermann, Claus. Genesis. Translated by J. J. Scullion. 3 vols. Continental Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1984-1986. This work is very extensive and deep. Westermann is still respected in the field.

This is just “the beginning” (pun intended) of a larger list I compiled and used; mostly works that stood out to me as worthy of anyone’s attention. Logically, there are many, many others which may be equally good. There are also several monographs which treat topics in Genesis that are worth a read (such as God’s name, covenant, etc. etc.) but for the sake of space I omitted them. Another note: I love bibliographies, but only if they are annotated bibliographies. I hate it when a teacher dumps five pages of biblio on me and doesn’t explain why each work merited his/her consideration. I hope my brief notes here help.

Any more books to add?

8 Replies to “Go-to Sources for Study of Genesis”

  1. I’ll second the motion on Fokelman and especially on Sarna’s Genesis in the JPS Torah Commentary series. It deals mostly with the received text, rather than burdening the casual reader with all the redaction-critical details. A good level of insight for Sunday School.

    But what do you think of its translation of Gen 2:4a? I kinda like the AV’s “These are the generations (TOLEDOT) of the heavens and the earth…” Sarna’s “Such is the story of the heaven and earth…” seems quite dynamic. But you’re the OT guy…

    I’ll also add Robert Alter’s Genesis. It’s mostly a translation, with some notes on the translation, some “sticky” historical issues and some narrative issues. Helpful for a reader who is unsure about things like the Bible’s dark humor and plot/characterization choices. Oh yeah. Paperback. I think Alter also has a published set on the Torah, too.

  2. Mogget,

    So, the JPS translation is usually straight-up sweet, but alas there are sometimes issues which come up that cause some head-scratching, and 2:4a is one of them. As you know, the TOLEDOT formulae are imperative for understanding the structure of the book of Genesis, as they naturally divide the book into its 11 different pieces. Each of these pieces deal specifically with a special person in salvation history. It’s also important to note the derivation of the word, coming from the Hebrew yalad which, in the G stem, means “to beget” or “give birth.” It’s almost to suggest that progeny and having children are how one establishes greatness and importance in salvation history. Gee, where have I heard that before?

    It’s also worthy to note that the author(s) of the book of Gensis dwelled mostly on the Joseph cycle, and Joseph (and Daniel) is the only people in the Bible who do not have anything negative in their life stories or in their demeanor. Nothing shady ever happens to them, by ancient Israelite standards. What I’m saying here is that instead of straining at gnats and trying to figure out what’s going on in 1:1-2:4b, the author seems bent on showing us what piety and holiness mean through the acts of great ones like Abraham, Jacob, and, most importantly, Joseph. Perhaps I’ll blog on the Joseph narrative later.

    And sometimes source-critical theory really helps in Genesis, especially in Gen. 49 and other places where kingship crops up.

  3. I do so agree with your thoughts about showing us what piety means by way of the actions of great ones, and about the futility of trying to make the Creation into a gnat-like reproducible experiment.

    It seems to me that in Gen 1:1-2:4a, the same dynamic of “show me” is somewhat in effect. God is neither introduced or explained, neither is there an argument concerning his existence. He is presented as axiomatic. We learn about who he is by what he does in the following verses. Primal chaos, then the breath/wind/spirit [presence] of God “sweeping” (Sarna) over the waters, then light and organization.

    I like it. I like it a lot.

    What do you know about the “image” and “likeness?” I’ve heard theologians try to make something of the use of two words, but I think they’re synonyms. What are your thoughts? Intensification of the statment of similarity to God by repetition?

  4. Mogget — I believe Gen. 1:1-2:4a to be “elevated prose” from a form-critical standpoint. It’s not quite prose, it’s not quite poetry, but somewhere in between; hence “elevated prose.” That said, I think genre/form awareness when reading through this section is critical so that the reader doesn’t, again, strain at gnats (and swallow the gamal). Elevated prose, then, would be a genre or form which requires the same theological and historical/literal sensitivities one might expect in, say, poetry (like Gen. 49). The author doesn’t want us to get lost in it, but yet places it here for a reason. A balanced approach between textual minimalism and textual maximalism is safe here.

    As far as “image” and “likeness,” I really stepped out on a limb with this one when I did my exegetical work for class on this by stating that it’s simply rediculous to run around trying to avoid the fact that the author(s) of 1:26-28 uses two distinct and separate (yet semantically related) words to compare the image of God and the image of ‘adam. Two words are stronger than one. Reading it in the Hebrew, you can just feel the author going out of his way to write those two words down (in contrast to the rest of the creation narrative, wherein if one blinks while reading it, one will miss a lot). At the very least, the author wants us to conjure thoughts of some form of similarity in a very tangible way (zelem is used for effigies and images elsewhere in the Bible!). Any rationally minded person can see that. Even my professor agreed that it is rather difficult for folks to avoid the seemingly physical (for lack of a better word) comparison. Now, can we allow our hermeneutic to take us as far as saying that this passage indicates that both have “flesh and bone?” No. Ancient Israelites would never go that far–even if it’s true. But I think we’re on safe soil to say that the two (God and ‘adam) look alike. And yes, many of the commentaries strain at gnats by stating that the image is one of similarity of mind. Huh? I don’t see that from the context at all. The context is the creation, or better said “formation,” of the physical things of this world–it would be wise to read these verses with that in mind–the creation of physical things, not mentalities (insomuch as they’re distinct from physicalities). So for David J, the bottom line is: the two look alike.

  5. ‘demut’ is also used on several Aramaic statue/burial inscriptions with a depiction of the deceased to indicate that it’s a rough picture of the deceased.

  6. I highly recommend a little book by LDS author James R. Baker, Women’s Rights in Old Testament Times, Signature Books, 1992. Baker is an attorney and freelance writer who had focused his studies on the law during Old Testament times, and has studied at BYU, York University, and Hebrew University. While discussing women’s rights in the Old Testament, he greatly illuminates many familiar biblical narratives, especially in Genesis. Extensively researched.

    The work appears to be unfortunately out of print. Used copies at bargain prices are available at Amazon.

  7. MaHahVu-

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve ordered a copy in via ILL, so it might take a couple of weeks to arrive.

    I have to warn you, without knowing who you are, that LDS work on the Bible is usually problematic. But maybe this will be different.

    Anyway, thanks…

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