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Book of Genesis Introduction

In A Nutshell

Picture this. You're about to meet your favorite person on the planet for dinner. We're talking Oprah. Ellen. The Old Spice guy. Shmoop. Take your pick.

After sweating over what to wear, you settle on… yesterday's dirty gym shorts? No. You put on that killer outfit you paid way too much for and have been saving in the back of your closet because you never go anywhere cool enough to wear it. After all, first impressions count.

The point? Genesis is the Bible's killer outfit.

The first line of any great work of literature always counts more than the others. Take these zingers: 

  • "Call me Ishmael" (Moby-Dick).
  • "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" (A Tale of Two Cities)
  • "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." (Pride and Prejudice)
  • "It was a pleasure to burn." (Fahrenheit 451)
  • "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…" (Star Wars). (Yes, we know that's not literature. Too bad.)

Beginnings aren't only for literature, either. Humans can tend toward obsession when it comes to the origin of things. Think of the notorious chicken and egg conundrum. Then there's the dreaded question, "Where did I come from, Mommy?" Ideas about how it all began ping-pong around scientific and philosophical circles as well as our own conversations.

This isn't a modern thing, either. Ancient people were reaching for epic explanations back when caves were art galleries and iron was the new black. Genesis, just like the Epic of Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish, is another Ancient Near Eastern story of how it all began.

And boy is it full of firsts: first critters, first people, first culture, first murder. Oh, and God's first redo—of creation, that is. And its first line? No surprise there: "In the beginning..." (NRSV). Work it, Genesis.


Why Should I Care?

Politics and religion: the two things you're not supposed to talk about at dinner parties. Well, Shmoopers, next time you you're invited for hors d'oeuvres, you might want to leave your Genesis at home.

But wait a second. The reason that Genesis doesn't make for polite table-talk is the very reason you should care: it's religiously and politically explosive. In fact, it's downright nuclear.

Think about the violent tensions between Israel and Palestine. Genesis is where you'll find God's first promises to Abraham that the land of Canaan will belong to his descendants, a.k.a. the Jewish people (12:1-9; 13:14-17; 17:8).

And how about those debates over whether evolution or creationism should be taught in the public schools? Well, in Genesis, you can read all about God's creation of the world. Or actually, his two creations of the world, if you really take the time to read it (1:1-2:4; 2:4-25).

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever opinion you may have on topics like these, one thing's for sure. You better be able to back it up with some Genesis.

The good news is that we at Shmoop are throwing the first ever BYOG (Bring Your Own Genesis) dinner party. And you're invited.

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