Study Guide

Book of Genesis What's Up With the Title?

What's Up With the Title?

Remember that old classic Call Me Ishmael? Or how about one of our favorites, It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times? No? Oh, right, that's because those books are called Moby-Dick and A Tale of Two Cities

Genesis, on the other hand, takes its name from its very first line. In Hebrew, the title of this text is Beres***, which translates to "In the beginning."

That's all well and good (and very sensible, actually), but where does the English title come from? The short answer: "Genesis" is the English transliteration of the Greek title for the book.

But we know we've got a group of overachieving Shmoopers on our hands, so we'll give you the long answer, too. Ready?

Step 1: Alexander the Great spreads Greek language and culture through his various conquests (after 323 BCE).
Step 2: Hebrew- and Aramaic-speaking Jews start speaking and writing Greek, and they translate their sacred stories into the Greek language.
Step 3: The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible is called the Septuagint (usually abbreviated: LXX), which was translated over a long period during the 300s and 200s BCE.
Step 4: The title in the Septuagint for Beres*** was Genesis, meaning "origin."
Step 5: Voilà!

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