The starting point: Where did the Book of Genesis come from?
“IN THE beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” reads the first sentence of the Book of Genesis. Or does it? An equally plausible translation runs: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth,” with no hint of the idea (popular since the late second century AD) that this momentous event was the beginning of time, when the universe was conjured out of nothing.
Biblical scholars cannot decide whether the authors of “Genesis”, whoever they may have been, thought that the earth and heavens were crafted from material that had always existed, as the ancient Greeks maintained. Maybe some of the authors believed in an eternal, Greek-style universe, and others believed in a big beginning. For one thing that scholars can agree on is that “Genesis” is a compilation of writings from three main sources, as Ronald Hendel, a professor of Hebrew Bible studies at the University of California, Berkeley, explains in “The Book of Genesis: A Biography”.
If any book deserves to have a biography written about it, it is the opening to the Bible, which was assembled between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. Not only is it the source of some of the Western world’s best-known stories—from Noah’s brush with climate change to the entrepreneurial success in Egypt of his distant descendant, Joseph—it has also led a rather eventful life. Its account of the creation of the world and of the early days of mankind, with its parade of deceptions, retributions and covenants, has been subjected to many kinds of interpretation. “Genesis” has been not one book but many.