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Genesis : New Jerusalem Bible

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Genesis, the story of origins, sets the scene for the whole Bible. The very first episode shows that God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, and that he chose Adam to administer it. The second episode already shows human failure and God's forgiveness, themes woven together especially in Genesis 1-11, through stories couched in the remote past, but relevant to every phase of human history. Much of the imagery is similar to that of other ancient religions, but the conception of God and the world is wholly different. Instead of the fantastic world of quarreling deities who use human beings as mere pawns, God is a loving creator who repeatedly acts to save the human race even when it fails him.

The stories of the ancestors which follow represent the oldest traditions of Israel. Their world is that of the Hebrews, pastoral nomads on the fringes of civilization. Abraham stands out as the friend of God at the origin of faith, reckless in his trust in Yahweh, and a partner in the first of the series of covenants which lead up to the great covenant on Sinai. Isaac receives a confirmation of this covenant, and so does Jacob, that figure of cunning and intrigue. Finally, the extended story of Joseph shows that God is able to save his people in Egypt through the very man they had rejected and sold into slavery.

The origin of these traditions is diverse. Many of the stories explain customs such as circumcision or abstention from eating blood; some comment on features of the landscape or the existence of shrines; others explain the origin of names. Although identification of persons is not always certain, details of legal observances often show a striking correspondence with ancient codes of Law, e.g. on ownership of land or on marital customs. Through it all shines the faith of these ancestors and their certainty that they are chosen and protected by their God.