The following entry represents my notes and observations as I read ‘Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible’. The text of the entry is my best attempt to summarize a large volume of text for easier reference in the future. As I go, I will compare and contrast the text of the NASB with ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ by Oxford University Press. If a passage is not specified as referring to either the Jewish or Christian version of the Bible then it can be assumed that it applies to both works. Passages specific to one or the other will be marked with either [NASB] or [JSB] as appropriate. Any person who differs with any detail of interpretation is invited to comment and include specifics and I’ll be happy to reexamine the passage(s) at issue.
Genesis, Greek for “birth” or “genealogy”, in Hebrew is titled bereshith, “In the beginning.” Books of this era commonly took as titles the first few words of the text. The introduction acknowledges the influence on Genesis from outside literatures much as described in the corresponding Jewish Text. Chapters 1 through 38 display a strong influence from Mesopotamian cultures and 39 through 50 a strong Egyptian one. The author further acknowledges the influence of local mythology on the events described therein including: Enuma Elish, a Babylonian epic describes the creation of the world; the Epic of Gilgamesh parallels the Adam and Eve episode and the Mesopatamian Atrahasis that of Noah and the flood.
The story of Genesis, by the admittance of the author of the JSB introduction, appears to have no historical basis in fact; the persons described have no known historical equivalents. At no point does the book claim to be divinely inspired or dictated. In fact, the varied authorship of the text is evident as many versions of the same event are presented at the same time. This is standard practice in Near Eastern literature of the time and does not reflect inconsistency so much as a tolerance for differing viewpoints.
The NASB bible is relatively vehement in its dismissal of the possibility that several authors had a hand in the creation of Genesis except to admit that certain editorial modifications were made throughout the years and that these explain the instances in which the author refers to himself in the third person. The primary date of authorship is therefore fixed between 1446 and 1406, the years during which Moses is supposed to have wandered in the desert. Special note is also made of the significance of certain numbers; specifically, 7, 12, 40 and 70 appear in many key places throughout the book. The introduction also describes the overarching literary superiority of the text of Genesis. This seems a strange echo to the claims made in the Qur’an that it is obviously a divinely inspired work if for no other reason than it’s just such a good piece of literature.
God creates heaven and Earth from what appears to be a pre-existing substrate of some sort, “the earth being unformed and void.” How can something be both void and unformed? Unformed indicates something exists to take form? The notes explain that at this time in history the opposite of creation was actually considered to be a swirling chaotic mass. It is this chaotic mass from which the world was created.
Day 1: light created from the chaos of ‘uncreation.’ This is somewhat contradictory since we don’t get the sun and moon until day 4. Apparently a primordial light of some sort exists before the heavenly bodies exist to light the world.
Day 2: the creation of the sky
Day 3: gives us the land; the “water below the sky” is gathered together in one place leaving the land everywhere else. On the land we get vegetation; specifically, the seed-bearing plants.
Day 4: The sun and the moon to distinguish night and day though the use of the terms Sun and Moon are intentionally omitted from the account of verse 16, presumably to remove any possible reference to pagan deities which were based on these heavenly bodies.
Day 5: fish, birds and “the great sea monsters” all with the admonishment to “be fertile and increase”
Day 6: land animals and man shall be made in God’s image to have dominion over the fish, birds, sky, cattle and the whole of the Earth. Male and female are created at the same time in this instance. Man is further given all the seed-plants and fruit as his food and the animals are given the green plants.
On the seventh day, God rested. Not, as the text points out, because he was tired but because he was done. The primordial chaos was all tamed. Before God had ever sent rain to the earth, he formed man (Hebrew: Adam) from the dust of the earth and “blew into his nostrils the breath of life,” a much more terrestrial creation than the previous one “in God’s image.” God then planted Eden with “every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food” along with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Note the use of the word ‘Planted’ rather than created. Apparently God had to resort to seed? The notes point out that this location was probably somewhere in current day Iraq.
From Eden the water issues as a single river which then divides into four: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Tigris and Euphrates are known modern day rivers while the Pishon and Gihon may have been minor tributaries in Lower Mesopotamia at the time. God places man in Eden to till and to tend it and bids him eat of any tree in the garden except that of the knowledge of good and bad: “as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” God sympathizes with Adam in his being alone in the garden and so forms all the living creatures and allows Adam to name them. After all that, there is still no “fitting helper” for Adam so he puts him to sleep, takes a rib from it and creates woman from it. The allegory here is a simple one; since the man and the woman are made of the same flesh, they should forever remain together as a couple, monogamous. The chapter closes with Adam and Eve naked and unashamed in the garden.
The serpent finds Eve and asks her, “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” (The JSB is very specific in its claim that the serpent is only a devious animal. Contrarily, the NASB is similarly specific in stating that the serpent is actually Satan in disguise.) Eve responds that they may eat of any tree but that God forbade them from eating or touching the tree of knowledge lest they should die. It is interesting to note that God never actually forbade them from touching the fruit, only eating it. Since Eve never heard the commandment first hand (it was spoken before her creation) either Adam embellished it in relating it to her for her own protection or she just fails to remember correctly. In either case, it is this perversion of the word of God that causes the whole problem.
The serpent tempts Eve by telling her that if she eats of the fruit she’ll be wise like God and know good from evil. She of course partakes of the forbidden fruit and provides it to Adam. Both suddenly realize they’re naked (nudity is bad apparently) and make loincloths for themselves from fig leaves (apparently Eve remains topless). In an unusually anthropomorphic episode, God is wandering around the garden looking for Adam. The omniscient one actually utters, “Where are you?” and “Did you eat of the tree?” Adam, repentant, confesses without reservation that Eve made him do it. Eve in turn blames the serpent.
Each is provided a punishment; the serpent loses his legs and must crawl on his belly for the rest of eternity where he will eat dirt for the rest of his life. If the serpent is truly only a snake [JSB] then this is strange behavior indeed. If the serpent is a fallen archangel [NASB] then this is an unusually unfitting punishment. The serpent is also put at odds with mankind which will try to kill him at every turn. Eve, for her punishment, receives painful childbearing and obedience to her husband. For Adam, the punishment is that the ground shall no longer bear his food but that he’ll have to work for his living until he dies and returns to the dust from which he came.
His wrath spent, God makes clothes for the newly cursed and soliloquizes briefly on the topic of the tree of life. Man cannot stay in the garden lest he take of the tree of life and live forever, he says to no one in particular. So God drives Adam and Eve from the Garden to make a life for themselves in the real world. In a very real sense, Adam and Eve at this point are ‘born’ into the world as they leave the protective custody of the garden to face the cold reality of making a living in a new and hostile world.
Adam and Eve bore a son, Cain who became a “tiller of the soil” and later another son Abel (Hebrew for temporary or meaningless) who became a keeper of sheep. They each brought their offerings to the Lord. Cain brought an offering from his line of work and Abel the choicest and best of his line of work. God showed favor to Abel for his superior offering inspiring the envy of Cain. Despite God’s encouragement that everything will be alright if he does right, Cain kills his brother and is soon confronted by an oddly anthropomorphic God in one of the most famous exchanges in Biblical and Literary History:
“Where is your brother Abel?” says God. Cain callously retorts, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God can, of course, see what has happened and declares that Abel’s spilled blood calls out to him from the ground and that the very earth which is soaked in Abel’s blood is cursed and will no yield up to Cain his daily bread.
Cain, ever the honorable soul, rather than repenting his actions, responds by lamenting his own situation. “My punishment is too great to bear”, he whines, “since I can no longer make a living from the soul, I must become a wanderer and all who meet with me will try to kill me.” God responds by placing a mark of protection upon Cain who retires to the land of Nod to the east of Eden. One has to question, who are these people who Cain fears? So far, the population of the Earth is 4, now reduced to 3 by Abel’s murder. Clearly, there’s some bit of missing information in our chronology.
Banished, Cain finds himself a wife (where we don’t know since his mother is supposed to be the only woman on the planet) and several people are begetted:
Enoch who begets:
Irad who begets
Mehujael who begets
Methusael who begets
Lamech takes two wives; with Adah he begets
** Jabal [ancestor of all those who dwell in tents and amidst herds]
** Jubal [ancestor of pipe and lyre players]
Lamech with Zillah begets
** Tubal-Cain [ancestor of metal smiths]
** Nammah (a sister)
Lamech is as bloodthirsty and cruel as his great great great grandfather and represents the culmination of the evil propensities of mankind.
Meanwhile, Adam and Eve have a third son to replace the lost Abel, Seth. Seth has a single son Enosh. From this line come the people who properly worship the lord.
Chapter 5 gives us a record of the line of Adam in the time between ejection from the garden and the great flood as well as their life spans:
Adam – Begot Seth at 130, died at 930 years of age
Seth – Begot Enosh at 105, died at 912
Enosh – Begot Kenan at 90, died at 905
Kenan – Begot Mahalalel at 70, died at 910
Mahalalel – Begot Jared at 65, died at 895
Jared – Begot Enoch at 162, died at 962
Enoch – Begot Methuselah at 65, taken by God at 365
Methuselah – Begot Lamech at 187, died at 969
Lamech – Begot Noah at 182, died at 777
Noah – Begot Shem, Ham and Japheth at 500
In addition, each of these men is credited with doing his fair share in populating the Earth. Only the direct primogenitor is referred to by name but ‘begot sons and daughters’ outside this direct lineage.
After doing the line chart for these life spans, I feel the need to share a few ‘interesting’ tidbits:
• Based on this, there were 1656 years between creation and the flood since it is presumed by the NASB that Methuselah died in the year of the flood.
• The only two persons from our lineage alive at the time of the flood are Methuselah and Noah. Lamech died at a relatively young age and Enoch the father of Methuselah was ‘taken by God’ at an exceptionally early date leaving only Noah and his grandfather standing in the rain with a pair of woefully insufficient papyrus umbrellas.
• Noah’s sons were born exactly 100 years before the flood so by the time it started to rain they were no longer boys but grown men.
After the lineage is presented, Noah is prophesied as the one who will “provide us with relief” from the lord’s curse on the soil.
It should be noted that the textual notes provided by the NASB present the very real possibility, but make no positive judgment, that the years referred to in this chapter may not be intended as literal spans of time. The JSB makes similar but weaker statements on the same topic. Ultimately, the final decision is left to the reader but the introduction to the JSB has already stated that the intent of Genesis is allegorical rather than strictly literal. Ultimately, I think we have to conclude that while entertaining to conjecture about, the life spans indicated are not literally true but merely intended as a literary construct to show the reader the rewards (in terms of longevity anyway) of those good-hearted persons in the line of Seth.