Book of Genesis Perspectives From Faith Communities In Practice
Getting Biblical in Daily Life
If you didn't notice, God makes some big promises to the Israelites in Genesis. He promises them lots o' land and lot o' babies as part of what we call a covenant. Bottom line: God pledges to maintain a privileged relationship with Israel. Ever heard people say that Jews are "the chosen people"? This is what they're talking about.
Of course, Jewish perspectives of Genesis are by no means unified in terms of a systematic theology.If you've ever read the Talmud, you won't be surprised to hear this news. See, each story in Genesis has a long history of interpretation among rabbis, scholars, and practicing communities. And if that didn't make things messy enough, there are also boatloads of creative retellings thrown into the mix.
Example, you say? How about those Nephilim from 6:1-4? In early Jewish apocalyptic literature, people called these guys fallen angels who introduce all sorts of wickedness to humanity. That's nowhere to be found—at least not explicitly—in Genesis. But these kinds of interpretations have been assimilated into Jewish ways of viewing the world. Just like Shmoop, Jews love them some interpreting.
Christians also have plenty of competing and divergent approaches to the book of Genesis. One image they love, though, is Adam and Eve. Important Christian theologians, including Paul, Martin Luther, and John Milton have turned their story into pretty much a horror story with a moral. For them, Adam and Eve's archetypal act of disobedience is the reason why humanity is in such bad—and we're talking bad—shape. According to these guys, only Jesus can save humans from their own wretched nature that started with good ol' A&E.
Christians also take up Abraham as a central figure, largely under the influence of Paul, who argued that he is the preeminent example of "faith." (Check out our analysis of "Abraham" for more on that.) God's covenant with Abraham is as central for Christians as it is for Jews. The main difference? Most Christians will say that God's initial covenant with Abraham is continued with those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
So remember, the Christian interest in Genesis goes far beyond the issue of creation and whether the theory of evolution somehow conflicts with the account in Genesis. (But, just for good measure, we'll get that conversation started in our section on "Current Hot-Button Issues and Cultural Debates").
Islam is, along with Judaism and Christianity, one of the three religions that can be considered "Abrahamic" faiths. Yep, that Abraham. But unlike Judaism and Christianity, which include the entirely of Genesis in their scriptures, the Qur'an only contains portions of the book—and they're scattered throughout the scripture. On the whole, identities of certain characters in Genesis—Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah—have corresponding counterparts in the Qur'an, but the narratives aren't quite the same.