Study Guide

Book of Genesis Summary

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Book of Genesis Summary

What's bigger, pound for pound: your phone book, your dictionary, or your Bible? Chances are your Bible stands a chance. It's pretty thick and scary-looking. But the good news is that Genesis is the easiest needle to find in this giant haystack because it's the very first book of the whole thing.

The stories in Genesis can be best understood in two parts, Oreo cookie style. The first part is the prequel. It's about the origin of everything from why snakes slither on their bellies to why people speak different languages to how Superman found himself on earth. Okay, not that last one.

The second part zooms in and is more narrowly focused on one family's long saga. A guy named Abraham is the Big Daddy of this clan, and we read all about what four generations of his descendants did after him. Seems basic enough, right? Well, it's pretty complex. There will be more names and locations in Genesis than in a Russian novel.

Zoom Out

The first eleven chapters of Genesis are like a combination of creation myth, the Star Wars crawl, and a TV miniseries. Here's how it goes down:

  • God creates the cosmos and humanity (twice, actually).
  • Adam and Eve, the first humans, make cataclysmic (bad or good?) choices and get booted from the Garden of Eden. 
  • Their son Cain kills their other son Abel.
  • Civilization at large becomes wicked. The bad kind.
  • Noah, his family, and a numerically select group of animals are spared from a massive flood in order to restart creation.
  • God "confuses" human speech by turning their one language into many, then scatters all people throughout the world. All because humanity tried to build a tower into the heavens. Silly humans, Trix are for kids.

That's a lot for eleven chapters.

Zoom In

The rest of the book of Genesis (12:1-50:26) is a reality TV-style family saga told in old-fashioned biblical prose. The stories are generally about the patriarchs of the family (think Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), but women like as Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel will get in on the action, too.

Here are the deets:

  • The deity sends Abraham to Canaan.
  • The deity cuts two important deals with Abraham (Genesis 15, 17) promising a thriving lineage and land, meaning lots of kids and a place to put them for generations. 
  • Put very shortly, Abraham has two sons, Ishmael via Hagar and Isaac via Sarah. Isaac is much more important, even though he's the second born. 
  • Hospitality norms are breached by the male inhabitants in Sodom and Gomorrah. They try to rape the visitors. Result? God destroys the cities. 
  • Abraham rejects and expels Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness.
  • Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac at God's command.
  • Isaac marries Rebekah, and they have twins: Esau the firstborn, then Jacob.
  • Jacob, by aid of his mother, finagles his twin brother Esau's birthright.
  • Jacob acquires two brides, Leah and Rachel, by working for his uncle Laban. He has twelve sons and one daughter.
  • The girl gets raped and her brothers wipe out a whole village in vengeance. 
  • Jacob's son Joseph is sold into slavery by his older brothers. Not cool.
  • Sidebar: Tamar dupes her father-in-law Judah into having sex with her and getting her pregnant. 
  • As a slave in Egypt, Joseph gets sexually harassed and then wrongfully accused of sexual assault. He's thrown in prison.
  • Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams and goes from prisoner to CFO of Egypt in one day.
  • A famine brings Joseph's brothers to Egypt.
  • Joseph concocts a clever way to reveal himself to his brothers and gets some revenge on them for selling him into slavery by making them wiggle and worry.
  • Jacob and his family move to Egypt, where Jacob blesses Joseph's son and shares his final words with his sons. 
  • Jacob dies. Joseph makes up with his brothers, and then he dies, too.

We know. This is an absurd amount of information. It can be like getting caught up on all the family gossip over the holidays or sitting through an episode of Gossip Girl. And you know what? We love Gossip Girl.

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