The Old Testament opens very impressively. In measured and dignified language it introduces the story of Israel's origin and settlement upon the land of Canaan (Gen. -- Josh.) by the story of creation, i.-ii.4a, and thus suggests, at the very beginning, the far-reaching purpose and the world-wide significance of the people and religion of Israel. The narrative has not travelled far till it becomes apparent that its dominant interests are to be religious and moral; for, after a pictorial sketch of man's place and task in the world, and of his need of woman's companionship, ii.4b-25, it plunges at once into an account, wonderful alike in its poetic power and its psychological insight, of the tragic and costly[1] disobedience by which the divine purpose for man was at least temporarily frustrated (iii.). His progress in history is, morally considered, downward. Disobedience in the first generation becomes murder in the next, and it is to the offspring of the violent Cain that the arts and amenities of civilization are traced, iv.1-22. Thus the first song in the Old Testament is a song of revenge, iv.23, 24, though this dark background of cruelty is not unlit by a gleam of religion, iv.26. After the lapse of ten generations (v.) the world had grown so corrupt that God determined to destroy it by a flood; but because Noah was a good man, He saved him and his household and resolved never again to interrupt the course of nature in judgment (vi.-viii.). In establishing the covenant with Noah, emphasis is laid on the sacredness of blood, especially of the blood of man, ix.1-17. Though grace abounds, however, sin also abounds. Noah fell, and his fall revealed the character of his children: the ancestor of the Semites, from whom the Hebrews sprang, is blessed, as is also Japheth, while the ancestor of the licentious Canaanites is cursed, ix.18-27. From these three are descended the great families of mankind (x.) whose unity was confounded and whose ambitions were destroyed by the creation of diverse languages, xi.1-9.
[Footnote 1: Death is the penalty (iii.22-24). Another explanation of how death came into the world is given in the ancient and interesting fragment vi.1-4.]

It is against this universal background that the story of the Hebrews is thrown; and in the new beginning which history takes with the call of Abraham, something like the later contrast between the church and the world is intended to be suggested. Upon the sombreness of human history as reflected in Gen. i.-xi., a new possibility breaks in Gen. xii., and the rest of the book is devoted to the fathers of the Hebrew people (xii.-l.). The most impressive figure from a religious point of view is Abraham, the oldest of them all, and the story of his discipline is told with great power, xi.10-xxv.10. He was a Semite, xi.10-32, and under a divine impulse he migrated westward to Canaan, xii.1-9.

There various fortunes befell him -- famine which drove him to Egypt, peril through the beauty of his wife,[1] abounding and conspicuous prosperity -- but through it all Abraham displayed a true magnanimity and enjoyed the divine favour, xii.10-xiii., which was manifested even in a striking military success (xiv.). Despite this favour, however, he grew despondent, as he had no child. But there came to him the promise of a son, confirmed by a covenant (xv.), the symbol of which was to be circumcision (xvii.); and Abraham trusted God, unlike his wife, whose faith was not equal to the strain, and who sought the fulfilment of the promise in foolish ways of her own,[2] xvi., xviii.1-15. Then follows the story of Abraham's earnest but ineffectual intercession for the wicked cities of the plain -- a story which further reminds us how powerfully the narrative is controlled by moral and religious interests, xviii.16-xix. Faith is rewarded at last by the birth of a son, xxi.1-7, and Abraham's prosperity becomes so conspicuous that a native prince is eager to make a treaty with him, xxi.22-34. The supreme test of his faith came to him in the impulse to offer his son to God in sacrifice; but at the critical moment a substitute was providentially provided, and Abraham's faith, which had stood so terrible a test, was rewarded by another renewal of the divine assurance (xxii.). His wife died, and for a burial-place he purchased from the natives a field and cave in Hebron, thus winning in the promised land ground he could legally call his own (xxiii). Among his eastern kinsfolk a wife is providentially found for Isaac (xxiv.), who becomes his father's heir, xxv.1-6. Then Abraham dies, xxv.7-11, and the uneventful career of Isaac is briefly described in tales that partly duplicate[3] those told of his greater father, xxv.7-xxvi.
[Footnote 1: This story (xii.10-20) is duplicated in xx.; also in xxvi.1-11 (of Isaac).]
[Footnote 2: The story of the expulsion of Hagar in xvi. is duplicated in xxi.8-21.]
[Footnote 3: xxvi.1-11=xii.10-20 (xx.); xxvi.26-33=xxi.22-34.]

The story of Isaac's son Jacob is as varied and romantic as his own was uneventful. He begins by fraudulently winning a blessing from his father, and has in consequence to flee the promised land, xxvii.-xxviii.9. On the threshold of his new experiences he was taught in a dream the nearness of heaven to earth, and received the assurance that the God who had visited him at Bethel would be with him in the strange land and bring him back to his own, xxviii.10-22. In the land of his exile, his fortunes ran a very checkered course (xxix.-xxxi.). In Laban, his Aramean kinsman, he met his match, and almost his master, in craft; and the initial fraud of his life was more than once punished in kind. In due time, however, he left the land of his sojourn, a rich and prosperous man. But his discipline is not over when he reaches the homeland. The past rises up before him in the person of the brother whom he had wronged; and besides reckoning with Esau, he has also to wrestle with God. He is embroiled in strife with the natives of the land, and he loses his beloved Rachel (xxxii.-xxxv.).

Into the later years of Jacob is woven the most romantic story of all -- that of his son Joseph (xxxvii.-l.)[1] the dreamer, who rose through persecution and prison, slander and sorrow (xxxvii.-xl.) to a seat beside the throne of Pharaoh (xli.). Nowhere is the providence that governs life and the Nemesis that waits upon sin more dramatically illustrated than in the story of Joseph. Again and again his guilty brothers are compelled to confront the past which they imagined they had buried out of sight for ever (xlii.-xliv.). But at last comes the gracious reconciliation between Joseph and them (xlv.), the tender meeting between Jacob and Joseph (xlvi.), the ultimate settlement of the family of Jacob in Egypt,[2] and the consequent transference of interest to that country for several generations. The book closes with scenes illustrating the wisdom and authority of Joseph in the time of famine (xlvii.), the dying Jacob blessing Joseph's sons (xlviii.), his parting words (in verse) to all his sons (xlix.), his death and funeral honours, l.1-14, Joseph's magnanimous forgiveness of his brothers, and his death, in the sure hope that God would one day bring the Israelites back again to the land of Canaan, l.15-26. [Footnote 1: xxxvi. deals with the Edomite clans, and xxxviii. with the clans of Judah.]
[Footnote 2: In one version they are not exactly in Egypt, but near it, in Goshen (xlvii.6).]

The unity of the book of Genesis is unmistakable; yet a close inspection reveals it to be rather a unity of idea than of execution. While in general it exhibits the gradual progress of the divine purpose on its way through primeval and patriarchal history, in detail it presents a number of phenomena incompatible with unity of authorship. The theological presuppositions of different parts of the book vary widely; centuries of religious thought, for example, must lie between the God who partakes of the hospitality of Abraham under a tree (xviii.) and the majestic, transcendent, invisible Being at whose word the worlds are born (i.). The style, too, differs as the theological conceptions do: it is impossible not to feel the difference between the diffuse, precise, and formal style of ix.1-17, and the terse, pictorial and poetic manner of the immediately succeeding section, ix.18-27. Further, different accounts are given of the origin of particular names or facts: Beersheba is connected, e.g. with a treaty made, in one case, between Abraham and Abimelech, xxi.31, in another, between Isaac and Abimelech, xxvi.33. But perhaps the most convincing proof that the book is not an original literary unit is the lack of inherent continuity in the narrative of special incidents, and the occasional inconsistencies, sometimes between different parts of the book, sometimes even within the same section.

This can be most simply illustrated from the story of the Flood (vi.5ff.), through which the beginner should work for himself-at first without suggestions from critical commentaries or introductions -- as here the analysis is easy and singularly free from complications; the results reached upon this area can be applied and extended to the rest of the book. The problem might be attacked in some such way as follows. Ch. vi.5-8 announces the wickedness of man and the purpose of God to destroy him; throughout these verses the divine Being is called Jehovah.[1] In the next section, vv.9-13, He is called by a different name -- God (Hebrew, Elohim) -- and we cannot but notice that this section adds nothing to the last; vv.9, 10 are an interruption, and vv.11-13 but a repetition of vv.5-8. Corresponding to the change in the divine name is a further change in the vocabulary, the word for destroy being different in vv.7 and 13. Verses 14-22 continue the previous section with precise and minute instructions for the building of the ark, and in the later verses (cf.18, 20) the precision tends to become diffuseness. The last verse speaks of the divine Being as God (Elohim), so that both the language and contents of vv.9-22 show it to be a homogeneous section. Note that here, vv.19, 20, two animals of every kind are to be taken into the ark, no distinction being drawn between the clean and the unclean. Noah must now be in the ark; for we are told that he had done all that God commanded him, vv.22, 18. [Footnote 1: Wrongly represented by the Lord in the English version; the American Revised Version always correctly renders by Jehovah. God in v.5 is an unfortunate mistake of A.V. This ought also to be the Lord, or rather Jehovah.]

But, to our surprise, ch. vii. starts the whole story afresh with a divine command to Noah to enter the ark; and this time, significantly enough, a distinction is made between the clean and the unclean-seven pairs of the former to enter and one pair of the latter (vii.2). It is surely no accident that in this section the name of the divine Being is Jehovah, vv.1, 5; and its contents follow naturally on vi.5-8. In other words we have here, not a continuous account, but two parallel accounts, one of which uses the name God, the other Jehovah, for the divine Being. This important conclusion is put practically beyond all doubt by the similarity between vi.22 and vii.5, which differ only in the use of the divine name. A close study of the characteristics of these sections whose origin is thus certain will enable us approximately to relegate to their respective sources other sections, verses, or fragments of verses in which the important clue, furnished by the name of the divine Being, is not present. Any verse, or group of verses, e.g. involving the distinction between the clean and the unclean, will belong to the Jehovistic source, as it is called (J). This is the real explanation of the confusion which every one feels who attempts to understand the story as a unity. It was always particularly hard to reconcile the apparently conflicting estimates of the duration of the Flood; but as soon as the sources are separated, it becomes clear that, according to the Jehovist, it lasted sixty-eight days, according to the other source over a year (vii.11, viii.14).

Brief as the Flood story is, it furnishes us with material enough to study the characteristic differences between the sources out of which it is composed. The Jehovist is terse, graphic, and poetic; it is this source in which occurs the fine description of the sending forth of the raven and the dove, viii.6-12. It knows how to make a singularly effective use of concrete details: witness Noah putting out his hand and pulling the dove into the ark, and her final return with an olive leaf in her mouth. A similarly graphic touch, interesting also for the sidelight it throws on the Jehovist's theological conceptions is that, when Noah entered the ark, "Jehovah closed the door behind him," vii.16. Altogether different is the other source. It is all but lacking in poetic touches and concrete detail of this kind, and such an anthropomorphism as vii.16 would be to it impossible. It is pedantically precise, giving the exact year, month, and even day when the Flood came, vii.11, and when it ceased, viii.13, 14. There is a certain legal precision about it which issues in diffuseness and repetition; over and over again occur such phrases as "fowl, cattle, creeping things, each after its kind," vi.20, vii.14, and the dimensions of the ark are accurately given. Where J had simply said, "Thou and all thy house," vii.1, this source says, "Thou and thy sons and thy wife and thy sons' wives with thee," vi.18. From the identity of interest and style between this source and the middle part of the Pentateuch, notably Leviticus, it is characterized as the priestly document and known to criticism as P.

Thus, though the mainstay of the analysis, or at least the original point of departure, is the difference in the names of the divine Being, many other phenomena, of vocabulary, style, and theology, are so distinctive that on the basis of them alone we could relegate many sections of Genesis with considerable confidence to their respective sources. In particular, P is especially easy to detect. For example, the use of the term Elohim, the repetitions, the precise and formal manner, the collocation of such phrases as "fowl, cattle, creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth," i.26 (cf. vii.21), mark out the first story of creation, i.-ii.4a, as indubitably belonging to P. Besides the stories of the creation and the flood, the longest and most important, though not quite the only passages[1] belonging to P are ix.1-17 (the covenant with Noah), xvii. (the covenant with Abraham), and xxiii. (the purchase of a burial place for Sarah). This is a fact of the greatest significance. For P, the story of creation culminates in the institution of the Sabbath, the story of the flood in the covenant with Noah, with the law concerning the sacredness of blood, the covenant with Abraham is sealed by circumcision, and the purchase of Machpelah gives Abraham legal right to a footing in the promised land. In other words the interests of this source are legal and ritual. This becomes abundantly plain in the next three books of the Pentateuch, but even in Genesis it may be justly inferred from the unusual fulness of the narrative at these four points.
[Footnote 1: The curious ch. xiv. is written under the influence of P. Here also ritual interests play a part in the tithes paid to the priest of Salem, v.20 (i.e. Jerusalem). In spite of its array of ancient names, xiv.1, 2, which have been partially corroborated by recent discoveries, this chapter is, for several reasons, believed to be one of the latest in the Pentateuch.]

When we examine what is left in Genesis, after deducting the sections that belong to P, we find that the word God (Elohim), characteristic of P, is still very frequently and in some sections exclusively used. The explanation will appear when we come to deal with Exodus: meantime the fact must be carefully noted. Ch. xx., e.g., uses the word Elohim, but it has no other mark characteristic of P. It is neither formal nor diffuse in style nor legal in spirit; it is as concrete and almost as graphic as anything in J. Indeed the story related -- Abraham's denial of his wife -- is actually told in that document, xii.10-20 (also of Isaac, xxvi.1-11); and in general the history is covered by this document, which is called the Elohist[1] and known to criticism as E, in much the same spirit, and with an emphasis upon much the same details, as by J. In opposition to P, these are known as the prophetic documents, because they were written or at least put together under the influence of prophetic ideas. The close affinity of these two documents renders it much more difficult to distinguish them from each other than to distinguish either of them from P, but within certain limits the attempt may be successfully made. The basis of it must, of course, be a study of the duplicate versions of the same incidents; that is, such a narrative as ch. xx., which uses the word God (Elohim) is compared with its parallel in xii.10-20, which uses the word Jehovah, and in this way the distinctive features and interests of each document will most readily be found. The parallel suggested is easy and instructive, and it reveals the relative ethical and theological superiority of E to J. J tells the story of Abraham's falsehood with a quaint naivete (xii.); E is offended by it and excuses it (xx.). The theological refinement of E is suggested not only here, xx.3, 6, but elsewhere, by the frequency with which God appears in dreams and not in bodily presence as in J (cf. iii.8). Similarly the expulsion of Hagar, which in J is due to Sarah's jealousy (xvi.), in E is attributed to a command of God, xxi.8-21; and the success of Jacob with the sheep, which in J is due to his skill and cunning, xxx.29-43, is referred in E to the intervention of God, xxxi.5-12. In general it may be said that J, while religious, is also natural, whereas E tends to emphasize the supernatural, and thus takes the first step towards the austere theology of P.[2]
[Footnote 1: In this way it is distinguished from P, which, as we have seen, is also Elohistic, but is not now so called.] [Footnote 2: A detailed justification of the grounds of the critical analysis will be found in Professor Driver's elaborate and admirable Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, where every section throughout the Hexateuch is referred to its special documentary source. To readers who desire to master the detail, that work or one of the following will be indispensable: The Hexateuch, edited by Carpenter and Battersby, Addis's Documents of the Hexateuch, Bacon's Genesis of Genesis and Triple Tradition of the Exodus, or Kent's Student's Old Testament (vol. i.)]

J is the most picturesque and fascinating of all the sources-attractive alike for its fine poetic power and its profound religious insight. This is the source which describes the wooing of Isaac's bride (xxiv.), and the meeting of Jacob and Rachel at the well, xxix.2-14; in this source, too, which appears to be the most primitive of all, there are speaking animals -- the serpent, e.g., in Genesis iii. (and the ass in Num. xxii.28). The story of the origin of sin, in every respect a masterpiece, is told by J; we do not know whether to admire more the ease with which Jehovah, like a skilful judge, by a few penetrating questions drives the guilty pair to an involuntary confession, or the fidelity with which the whole immortal scene reflects the eternal facts of human nature. The religious teaching of J is extraordinarily powerful and impressive, all the more that it is never directly didactic; it shines through the simple and unstudied recital of concrete incident.

It is one of the most delicate and not the least important tasks of criticism to discover by analysis even the sources which lie so close to each other as J and E, for the literary efforts represented by these documents are but the reflection of religious movements. They testify to the affection which the people cherished for the story of their past; and when we have arranged them in chronological order, they enable us further, as we have seen, to trace the progress of moral and religious ideas. But, for several reasons, it is not unfair, and, from the beginner's point of view, it is perhaps even advisable, to treat these documents together as a unity: firstly, because they were actually combined, probably in the seventh century, into a unity (JE), and sometimes, as in the Joseph story, so skilfully that it is very difficult to distinguish the component parts and assign them to their proper documentary source; secondly, because, for a reason to be afterwards stated, beyond Ex. iii. the analysis is usually supremely difficult; and, lastly, because in language and spirit, the prophetic documents are very like each other and altogether unlike the priestly document. For practical purposes, then, the broad distinction into prophetic and priestly will generally be sufficient. Wherever the narrative is graphic, powerful, and interesting, we may be sure that it is prophetic,[1] whereas the priestly document is easily recognizable by its ritual interests, and by its formal, diffuse, and legal style.
[Footnote 1: If inconsistencies, contradictions or duplicates appear in the section which is clearly prophetic, the student may be practically certain that these are to be referred to the two prophetic sources. Cf. the two derivations of the name of Joseph in consecutive verses whose source is at once obvious: "God (Elohim) has taken away my reproach" (E); and "Jehovah adds to me another son" (J), Gen. xxx.23, 24. Cf. also the illustrations adduced on pp.13, 14.]

The documents already discussed constitute the chief sources of the book of Genesis; but there are occasional fragments which do not seem originally to have belonged to any of them. There were also collections of poetry, such as the Book of Jashar (cf. Josh. x.13; 2 Sam. i.18), at the disposal of those who wrote or compiled the documents, and to such a collection the parting words of Jacob may have belonged (xlix.). The poem is in reality a characterization of the various tribes; v.15, and still more plainly vv.23, 24, look back upon historical events. The reference to Levi, vv.5-7, which takes no account of the priestly prerogatives of that tribe, shows that the poem is early (cf. xxxiv.25); but the description of the prosperity of Joseph (i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh), vv.22-26, and the pre-eminence of Judah, vv.8-12, bring it far below patriarchal times -- at least into the period of the Judges. If vv.8-12 is an allusion to the triumphs of David and vv.22-26 to northern Israel, the poem as a whole, which can hardly be later than Solomon's time -- for it celebrates Israel and Judah equally -- could not be earlier than David's; but probably the various utterances concerning the different tribes arose at different times.

The religious interest of Genesis is very high, the more so as almost every stage of religious reflection is represented in it, from the most primitive to the most mature. Through the ancient stories there gleam now and then flashes from a mythological background, as in the intermarriage of angels with mortal women, vi.1-4, or in the struggle of the mighty Jacob, who could roll away the great stone from the mouth of the well, xxix.2, 10, with his supernatural visitant, xxxii.24. It is a long step from the second creation story in which God, like a potter, fashions men out of moist earth, ii.7, and walks in the garden of Paradise in the cool of the day, iii.8, to the first, with its sublime silence on the mysterious processes of creation (i.). But the whole book, and especially the prophetic section, is dominated by a splendid sense of the reality of God, His interest in men, His horror of sin, His purpose to redeem. Broadly speaking, the religion of the book stands upon a marvellously high moral level. It is touched with humility-its heroes know that they are "not worth of all the love and the faithfulness" which God shows them, xxxii.10; and it is marked by a true inwardness-for it is not works but implicit trust in God that counts for righteousness, xv.16. Yet in practical ways, too, this religion finds expression in national and individual life; it protests vehemently against human sacrifice (xxii.), and it strengthens a lonely youth in an hour of terrible temptation, xxxix.

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