Why Study Genesis?

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Genesis study starts tonight (Wed) in PBHA room 309 at 7:30pm. Why Genesis? Let me give a few reasons.

Genesis has inspired fantastic literature, which we can appreciate more deeply when we know the source.  Because of the creation story, we have J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, and C.S Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew.  Because of the snake in Genesis, we have Salazar Slytherin in Harry Potter, as well as a model for Claudius ‘the serpent’ in Hamlet, and a precedent for Iago whispering lies in Othello’s ear.  Because of the fall story, we have the journey through exile to a long-awaited Edenic home, which is a motif present in all homecoming stories and many romances like Disney’s happy ending stories, Dante’s Paradiso, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the yearning in American ethnic minority literature for a home of one’s own.  Because of the disturbing fratricide of Cain and Abel, we have Steinbeck’s masterpiece East of Eden.   Kierkegaard wrote haunting reflections on Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22.  The story of Joseph has inspired a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and a movie by Dreamworks.

But there are more serious matters.  Because of Genesis’ assertion that humanity is made in the image of God, we have universal human dignity, something the United Nations has tried to preserve as the basis of human rights, and we will examine whether that has been successful.  In Genesis 1, we have an alternative to the ancient Greek and Indian view of a universe without a beginning, with all its scientific and intellectual implications.  Because of Genesis, we have all the debates about creation and evolution; and we will talk about that.  Because of Genesis, we have the insightful Hebrew and Christian reflection on the corruption of human nature, going beyond even the rest of the Bible to works like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; we will certainly elaborate on that.  Because of Abraham’s story, we have Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and we will compare how people interpret Abraham and ask ourselves seriously, who is the true heir of Abraham?

There are troubling questions we want to confront.  Was there one author of Genesis?  German higher criticism deconstructed Genesis and other biblical books into different political sources supposedly present in ancient Israel, even casting doubt on whether there truly was an ancient Israel.  Also, what do we make of the creation and evolution discussion?  Is there a fundamental conflict?  Is it important that early Christian thinkers like Gregory Nazianzus and Augustine wrote long, long commentaries on the creation story in their attempts to understand it?  Then, what is the role of women in Genesis?  Feminist theologian Phyllis Trible argues that Hagar, the handmaiden of Sarah, is an illustration of the inherent misogyny of Genesis.  Is that the case?

Most importantly, Genesis is the foundation for the rest of the Bible.  Without understanding Genesis, very little else will make sense.  Jesus referred to Genesis in countless ways.  He chose twelve apostles to echo the twelve tribes of Israel, which began with the twelve sons of Jacob.  He said he was removing ‘hardness of heart’ and returning people to the original vision of God’s creation (Mt.19:3 – 12).  Each of the four Gospels sees Jesus’ achievement as God’s new creation and new humanity:  Luke’s narrates the reversal of the fall so that the Christian mission to the world echoes the original creation mandate to spread out over the world; John narrates the Word of God speaking new life into corrupted human nature, and overturning sin and death in another garden.  Paul draws on the ‘new Adam’ motif for Jesus, on the Genesis story to argue against the Greeks that the physical world was vitally important, and on the Abraham story to make the case for righteousness by faith.

All throughout our study of Genesis, we will explore how God forms a people early on to bless the whole world at that time.  We seek to allow God to shape us to be a blessing to our world now.  We will also explore human dignity, human nature, the nature of sin, messianic promise and the birth of the happy ending, ethnicity and culture, family, gender, how God uses broken people and calls them into healing, sexuality, the monotheistic faiths, the reliability of Scripture, historicity, science, and most importantly, the character of this very unusual God who speaks to us from these pages.

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