Genesis meaning | Genesis etymology

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Γενεσις
Genesis in Biblical Greek
Genesis
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The name Genesis

In the Hebrew tradition, the title of the book of Genesis is the same as the first word: בראשית (breshit), usually very roughly translated with 'in the beginning.' See our article on In The Beginning to explore the vast meaning of this majestic phrase. But what the original title of this work was we don't know, simply because there was no original work. What we call the Bible is in fact a compilation of what we figure are separate books. But these books themselves are too compilations. Scholars generally deem it obvious that the book of Genesis as we have it, is a carefully edited compilation of much older sources.

Archeology has shown that much of the details of the historic books of the Bible are accurate for the time which they cover, but certainly not for the time in which they were finalized. Since the editors had no Britannica to consult, they must have used sources that had survived until then. It remains a mystery, however, that such a massive undertaking with such enormous results, remains unnoted anywhere in or outside Scriptures. Until that mystery is solved we must admit that we don't know how we got the Bible. And even if that mystery is solved, there is still the mystery of how the ancients came into possession of a text so complex and so wise that it still baffles people today.

Etymology of the name Genesis

Genesis is the Greek title of the first book of the Bible. It comes from the same stock as words such as gene, generation, genealogy and even words such as hydrogen and androgen, and was ultimately derived from the verb gignesthai, meaning to be born or to become.

Another Greek word that comes from this stem is monogenes, meaning born-as-one-of-a-kind, such as used in John 3:16. The nuance of the word monogenes becomes clear in Hebrews 11:17 where the author ascribes it to Isaac, who was by no means Abraham's only born son; just one of a kind.

Genesis and beginnings

The name Genesis means Origin or Beginning, and beginnings are a big deal in Scriptures, although most of them are qualitative transitions rather than absolute beginnings. A 'beginning' in the Bible is usually some point on a complexity scale that is preceded by a period of convergence of certain pre-beginning elements, and succeeded by a period of divergence of post-beginning elements. Think of Adam, for instance. First there is dust of the earth (pre-beginning elements), then God brings some of it together (period of convergence), breathes into that compilation the breath of life, and Adam begins to be. After his beginning, Adam proceeds to produce offspring (post-beginning elements), which diverge in all directions and people the earth (period of divergence).

The tower of Babel story is another example. First there are one-lipped people who converge upon Shinar, stack bricks until God drops the axe, and diverge language-wise. Another beautiful instance of this same structure occurs on the third creation day, where the lower body of water converges (in Hebrew: gathers into one place) so that dry land can be seen. The dry land subsequently begins to sprout vegetation. For a discussion of this passage, which obviously is not about low tide and shrubs, see our articles on Genesis 1 and the Chaotic Set Theory.

Sometimes one of the elements of the beginning-structure is unclear. Take the beginning of Israel, for instance. There's no real convergence of pre-beginning elements, apart perhaps from Jacob gathering his family and flocks to set out for Canaan (Genesis 30:26). The point of transition, however, is among the most celebrated in the Bible, as well as one of its most enigmatic scenes. On the bank of the Jabbok, Jacob wrestles with 'a man' (איש ish, see the name Ishi), whom Hosea identifies as God (אלהים Elohim; Hosea 12:3) and an angel (12:4). After the struggle Jacob the man has become Israel the nation, and as such it grows from a group of nomads to an enslaved people, to a political entity, to a kingdom and finally to a Kingdom.

The beginning of the Kingdom of God is probably the most extensive instance of the beginning-structure. The gathering of the pre-beginning elements begins pretty much on the first page of the Bible and is concentrated upon from then on, from studies of the 'assembly of God' in the Pentateuch, to the call to repent by John the Baptist. The transition point, by Christians called the Second Coming of Christ, lies fixed on the complexity scale but renders a mysterious and paradoxical presence on a temporal scale. The Bible speaks of end of days, but does so from as early as Genesis 4. The only thing that is clear is that the transition from pre-Kingdom to Kingdom will be as massive as the change from dust-of-the-earth to Adam the living soul.

If God Himself produced the Bible onto the human stage, it seems likely that He did so according to the beginning-structure that it purports. A thoroughly revised and expanded version of the original Source- or Document Theory (which speaks of the various sources named E, J, P, D etc) seems not only historically and linguistically likely correct, it's also supported by the very document it discusses.

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