Liturgical use of the book of Genesis

Lecture 5

Pentateuch (general information). Book of Genesis (general information)


The first five books of the Old Testament in the Jewish tradition are called Torah, which means Law. In the Greek tradition – πεντάτευχος, which is translated into Russian as the Pentateuch.

The Pentateuch contains the following books:

Jewish tradition Greek tradition Russian (synodal) translation
בְּרֵאשִׁית Genesis (In the beginning) Γένεσις Genesis (Origin) Being
שְׁמֹות Shemot (Names) Ἔξοδος Ecosdos (Exodus) Exodus
וַיִּקְרָא Vayikra (And called) Λευιτικόν Levitikon (Leviticus) Leviticus
בְּמִדְבַּר Bemidbar (In the desert) Ἀριθμός (Arythmos) Numbers Numbers
דְּבָרִים Devarim (Words) Δευτερονόμιον (Deuteronomion) Deuteronomy Deuteronomy

Contents of the Pentateuch

The narratives of the Pentateuch cover the period of sacred history from the creation of the world to the return of the Jews from Egyptian captivity to Canaan (Palestine).

The book of Genesis contains a narrative of the earliest stages of human history: from the creation of the world to the resettlement of the Jews in Egypt under the patriarch Jacob. The Genesis narrative is a kind of prehistory to the other four books, which cover the time span from the birth to the death of Moses. Nevertheless, Genesis is a complete literary work with its own value. It is from here that we know how the world was created, how mankind ended up in such a deplorable situation, and how the Lord creates the Jewish people, in whose bosom the Savior of the world is to be born.

The book of Exodus tells us about the exodus of the Jews from Egypt until the moment of their stay at Mount Sinai, where the Lord makes a Covenant with them.

The book of Leviticus contains almost no narrative sections. Its entire content is a collection of ritual laws that God gave to Israel on Mount Sinai.

In turn, the book of Numbers is devoted to describing the path of the Jews from Sinai to the borders of Canaan and also contains laws that regulate various aspects of Jewish life.

The last book, Deuteronomy, is a kind of generalization of what was said in the previous three books. It briefly repeats the story of Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan, contains important legislative decrees, as well as the last instructions of Moses given to his people.

Structure of the Pentateuch

The structure of the Pentateuch can be viewed at different levels. First of all, we can talk about five different books, each of which is a complete literary work with literary features characteristic of it.

It can also be said that the Pentateuch consists of two parts: 1) the passage of Gen. 1 – Ref. 19 – this is mainly a historical narrative; 2) Ref. 20 – Deut. 34 – the content of this block is mainly laws.

There is another view of the structure of the Pentateuch. It can be divided into three large blocks, each of which ends with the blessings and curses of the descendants, as well as the subsequent small epilogue. So, the first block is Gen. 9:25-27, in which Noah blesses Shem and Japheth and also curses Canaan (epilogue of Gen. 9:28); Gen. 49 contains Jacob’s predictions to his sons (epilogue of Gen. 50); Deut. 33 – Moses’ prophecy to the tribes of Israel (epilogue Deut. 34).

As a result, we have the boundaries of three eras:

1. the era of the primitive world (Gen. 1 – 9);

2. the era of the patriarchs (Gen. 10 – 50);

3. the era of Moses (Ex. 1 – Deut. 34).

In turn, within each of the three eras there are subsections. The transition from one section to another is carried out with the help of poetic inserts.

Thus, the period of the primitive world is divided into Edenic (Gen. 1-3) and post-Edenic (Gen. 4-9). The story of the stay of the first people in paradise ends with a poetic speech of God (Gen. 3:14-19) and an epilogue (Gen. 3:20-24). The era of the patriarchs is divided into pre-Canaanian (Gen. 10:1 – 12:5) and post-Canaanian (Gen. 12:6 – 50:26). They are separated from each other by God’s poetic speech to Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 3) and the epilogue (Gen. 12:4, 5). The era of Moses is divided with the help of poetic inserts into three periods. The Egyptian period ends with the crossing of the Red Sea and the song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-18) followed by an epilogue (Ex. 15:19-21). The story of the Jew’s journey in the wilderness ends with a poetic interpolation (Num. 21:27-30) and an epilogue (Num. 21:31-35). Finally, the last section ends with the song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43) and the epilogue (Deut. 32:44-52).

This structure of the Pentateuch can be represented in the form of the following table:

primitive world period of the patriarchs era of Moses
Eden before the Flood to Canaan after Canaan Exodus travel in the desert plains of Moab
Gen. thirteen Gen. 4 – 9 Gen. 10:1 – 12:6 Gen. 12:7 – 50:26 Ref. 1:1 – 15:21 Ref. 15:22 – Num. 21 Number 22 – Deut. 32

Chronology of the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch covers a huge time period. It is not possible to determine it exactly. The key to determining the chronology of the five books is the following text: “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the departure of the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of the reign of Solomon over Israel, in the month of Zif, which is the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 6 :one). Historical records report that the construction of the Temple began in 967 B.C. Therefore, the date of the Exodus (adding 480 years) is 1447 B.C. Moving back centuries through the text, some chronological indications can be found. The Jews were in Egypt for 430 years (see Ex. 12:40). Therefore, Jacob’s migration to Egypt took place around 1877 B.C. Jacob was 130 years old at this point (see Gen. 47:9), so he was born around 2007 B.C. Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob was born (see Gen. 25:26), therefore, he was born in 2067. In turn, Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born (see Gen. 17:17), therefore, he born about 2167 B.C. Abraham came to Canaan at the age of 75 (see Gen. 12:4), that is, in 2092 BC.

There is no way to accurately date the earlier events of biblical history. However, you can point to the duration of certain segments, which are spoken of in the Bible. So, based on the data of Chapter 5 of the book of Genesis, it can be assumed that about 1656 years passed from the moment the ancestors were expelled from paradise until the flood. In turn, from the flood to the calling of Abraham – about 427 years (see Gen. 11). These figures are obtained as a result of the mechanical addition of those numerical data that indicate the life span of the patriarchs before Abraham.

With a certain degree of accuracy, the events of biblical history can be dated, starting with the story of:

a) the creation of the world (-)

b) the calling of Abraham (+)

c) the exodus of the Jews from Egypt (-)


1. Kashkin A. Holy Scripture of the Old Testament. Saratov, 2012.

2. Men A., prot. Isagogy. M., 2000.

3. Smith J. Pentateuch. N. Novgorod, 2009.

4. Snigirev R., prot. Legislative Books of the Old Testament. M., 2010.

5. Tantlevsky I.R. Introduction to the Pentateuch. M., 2000.

The Book of Genesis


In Jewish tradition, the first book of the Pentateuch is called בְּרֵאשִׁית (“Beresheet”), which translates into Russian as “In the Beginning.” This corresponds to the ancient Eastern tradition of naming a book by its first word. In Hellenistic Judaism, the book of Genesis is called Γένεσις (“Genesis”), that is, “origin”. The word γένεσις corresponds to the Hebrew תֹולְדֹות (“toledot”), which is translated as genealogy, offspring. Significant narrative parts of the book of Genesis begin with this word. Thus, the Greek title reflects the content of the book itself. The Slavic and Russian name “Being” is a translation of the Greek Γένεσις.


The book of Genesis can be divided into three main parts:

I. From 1 to 3 chapters. It contains a story about the creation of the world and man, the life of the forefathers, the stay in paradise and the fall.

II. From chapter 4 to 11:26. It tells about the history of primitive mankind before the calling of Abraham.

III. From 11:27 to chapter 50. Here is the history of the Old Testament patriarchs from the moment of their migration from Mesopotamia to Canaan to the migration of the Jewish people to Egypt.

It is also possible to divide the book of Genesis into two parts, the first of which tells about prehistoric times, this is the so-called. Prologue (1 – 11:26); the second is about the times that can be identified with certain chronological periods of human history known to us (11:27 – 50).

The book of Genesis also has a certain structural organization proposed by the author himself. All of it is nothing but 10 genealogies תֹולְדֹות (“toledot”). The author gradually outlines the history of the genealogical branches of the human race. In the course of this presentation, the scope of the narrative narrows more and more, until the story focuses on the history of one Israelite people. In accordance with the genealogies, the structure of the book of Genesis can be represented as follows:

1. prologue (1 – 2:4a);

2. genealogy of heaven and earth (2:4b-4);

3. genealogy of Adam (5 – 6:8);

4. genealogy of Noah (6:9-9);

5. genealogy of the sons of Noah (10 – 11:9);

6. genealogy of Shem (11:10-26);

7. genealogy of Terah and Abraham (11:27 – 25:11);

8. genealogy of Ishmael (25:12-18);

9. genealogy of Isaac (25:19-35);

10. genealogy of Esau (36);

11. genealogy of Jacob (37-50).

If you carefully read the book of Genesis, you can see that each successive part begins with an overview or enumeration of those topics that this part covers. Thus, for example, Genesis 1:1 briefly describes everything that happened during the seven days of creation. Further Gen. 1:2 – 2:3 – details exactly what happened on each individual day.

Chronology and geography

As mentioned above, the chronological period of the book of Genesis embraces the period of time from the creation of the world to the resettlement of the Jews in Egypt under the patriarch Jacob. The very first event in biblical history that we can speak of with some certainty is the birth of Abraham, which supposedly followed in 2167 B.C. Accordingly, the calling of Abraham is 2092 B.C.; Jacob’s family migration to Egypt – 1877 B.C.

The events of the book of Genesis unfold in different places. Most likely, the events of the first 11 chapters take place in Mesopotamia, in one of the cities of which, Ur of the Chaldees, the Lord calls Abraham. From chapters 12 to 38, the biblical narrative takes us to various parts of Canaan (Palestine). The last 12 chapters are events that took place in Egypt. Rice. one.


Speaking about the theology of the book of Genesis, it is necessary to single out five themes that are fundamental and are of fundamental importance for the Christian doctrine.

A) creation. The book of Genesis teaches about one almighty God who created the entire universe. Unlike pagan cosmogonies, which speak of the existence of some kind of eternal matter from which the world is created, Scripture teaches about creation from nothing. God creates both matter and time itself, which arises “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). The crown of creation is man. He is endowed with the image of God, which distinguishes him from the midst of the entire created world, over which man is appointed king. This distinguishes the biblical view of man from the views of Mesopotamian myths, according to which man was created by the gods as a slave and for slave labor. The human soul is immortal and is not destroyed after the death of the body, but continues to exist in the underworld (Heb. Sheol) (see: Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31).

b) Evil and death. According to Genesis, God is not the cause of evil. All of His creation is “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The reason for the distortion is the will of the person himself, who succumbed to the temptations of the serpent and violated the commandment of the Creator. This is how sin entered the world. As Scripture says, “the earth was corrupt before the face of God and filled with wickedness… for all flesh has perverted its way on the earth” (Gen. 6:11, 12). The result of sin was death, discord between people, between man and nature, man and God.

C) Divine Providence. Despite the fact that a person turned away from God of his own free will, God does not leave a person and continues to take care of him and arrange his life. This Divine care is manifested in various events described in the book of Genesis: He looses the barren (see: Gen. 18:10; 21:1; 25:21; 30:33); pours out his mercy on the oppressed and despised (see Gen. 29:31); keeps a person throughout his life (see: Gen. 28:15; 32:11, 12; 35:3; 48:15, 16); suits his happiness and well-being (see: Gen. 26:24; 30:27); hears the prayer of the righteous (see: Gen. 8:20, 21; 18:23-32; 20:17; 24:12; 25:21); punishes sinners (Gen. 4:9-15; 9:5, 6). Even the executions of God are nothing but the mercy of God, as it stops the spread of sin and evil.

Obviously, God’s care for man is manifested in the fate of the Old Testament righteous, with whom the Lord makes a covenant and for whom he provides in a special way. The effect of this providence is especially noticeable in the fate of the Old Testament patriarchs (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph).

God cares not only about man, but also about all of His creation (see: Gen. 1:14; 8:22; 9:9-17) – he arranges the world as expediently as possible.

D) Waiting for the Messiah. The culmination of divine care for man is the promise that he will be saved from sin and death. An indication of such promises can be seen in the so-called. “Protevangelia” (see Gen. 3:15), in the words spoken by God to Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3), as well as in Jacob’s prophecy about Judas (see Gen. 49:10). God’s care for Israel is the visible beginning of the fulfillment of these promises.

D) testament. In order to introduce a person to the coming salvation, the Lord establishes a covenant with him. The task of this union is to inform a person of hope for the coming salvation, and also to arouse in him fidelity to God. God establishes such a covenant with Noah as the founder of the new mankind (see Gen. 9:1, 2), then with Abraham and his descendants (see Gen. 12; 15; 17:20, 21; 26:2-5; 35:9-13). An important condition for keeping this covenant is the observance of the commandment of the Lord, which everyone who has entered into this union must guard (see: Gen. 9:3, 4; 17:1). Loyalty to these commandments is the basis for God to keep all the promises he made to man (see Gen. 26:3-5). The visible sign of this covenant is circumcision.

Liturgical use of the book of Genesis

The book of Genesis is almost entirely used in worship. During the six weeks of Great Lent, on weekdays, most of it is deducted. In addition, the story of the first three days of creation (see Gen. 1:1-13) is read at Christmas, Theophany, and on Holy Saturday as the first paroemia. On Palm Sunday, the story of Jacob’s blessing to Judah is read (cf. Gen. 49:1, 2, 8-12); on Great Saturday (10 Paremia) – about the sacrifice of Isaac (see Gen. 22); on the feasts of the Theotokos – about Jacob’s ladder (see Gen. 28:10-17).

Genesis Prologue

The first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis stand out from its general narrative. The fact is that we cannot with a great degree of certainty identify the events they tell about with some specific historical events in world history. The non-biblical data that we have and which could shed light on what happened is, first of all, mythological material recorded in the monuments of various ancient peoples (the story of creation, the golden age, the flood, and the tower, etc.) We have no other clear scientific evidence.

Therefore, in biblical science, the historical space of Prolog is often called metahistory, that is, that which is above history. First of all, we should perceive this text as an important source of doctrinal truths, but not as a historical source. Fundamental spiritual truths are conveyed through the language of images and symbols. This does not mean that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not historical. Rather, we should understand their historicity as the historicity of an Orthodox icon[1], which, on the one hand, depicts specific historical characters and specific historical realities (for example, the image “Hospitality of Abraham”), however, they are expressed using a symbolic row in order to first turn to convey the truth of a spiritual nature.

Here is how the well-known Orthodox biblical scholar Bishop B. Cassian (Bezobrazov): “There is a duality in the concept of metahistory. Metahistory does not exclude history. But, revealing itself in history, it exceeds our understanding. And the historical events in which it is revealed lose interest for us in the sense of concrete historical facts. They acquire a symbolic meaning: through them we touch the eternal truth. Thus, a metahistorical understanding renders insignificant certain details of biblical facts in their specific historical meaning: Adam’s rib, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the breed of animals brought into the ark, etc., etc.

But metahistory has its limits. The interpretation of Scripture should not be contrary to the teachings of the Church. Orthodox interpretation cannot dissolve the Old Testament progenitors in a stream of mythological images. They are revered by the Orthodox Church as saints. We, the living members of the militant Church, are with them in prayerful communion. “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). The Savior’s answer to the Sadducees is still valid for us. This is one side, on the other hand, the book of Genesis speaks of the creation of the world, the fall into sin, and the punishment of those who sinned. What is it: mythology or history? Christianity teaches about God the Creator. Christ came to earth to redeem fallen mankind. Are the events of the book of Genesis assumed by the New Testament? Mythological understanding of the Old Testament take away the soil from the New: extra proof of the connection of the Testaments. They stand together and fall together.”[2]

The book of Genesis describes a period of sacred history beginning with:

a) the creation of the world before the resettlement of the Jews in Egypt (+)

b) the creation of the world before the exodus of the Jews from Egypt (-)

c) the creation of the world before the story of Joseph (-)


1. Kashkin A. Holy Scripture of the Old Testament. Saratov, 2012.

2. Men A., prot. Isagogy. M., 2000.

3. Smith J. Pentateuch. N. Novgorod, 2009.

4. Snigirev R., prot. Legislative Books of the Old Testament. M., 2010.

5. Tantlevsky I.R. Introduction to the Pentateuch. M., 2000.


1. Torah is a Hebrew name:

a) the books of Genesis (-)

b) Pentateuch of Moses (+)

c) the book of Exodus (-)

d) those books of the Pentateuch that contain ritual prescriptions (-)

2. The narrative of the Pentateuch ends:

a) the death of Moses (+)

b) the invasion of the Jews into the Promised Land (-)

c) farewell speech of Moses (-)

d) the conquest of Jericho (-)

3. An event that helps date certain points in biblical history is:

a) death of Moses (-)

b) the conquest of Jerusalem (-)

c) the beginning of the construction of the Jerusalem Temple (+)

d) call of Abraham (-)

4. Structurally, the book of Genesis can be divided into:

a) 10 genealogies and conclusion (-)

b) 7 genealogies and conclusion (-)

c) prologue and 10 genealogies (+)

d) prologue and 7 genealogies (-)

5. The events of the book of Genesis take place in:

a) Mesopotamia, Egypt, Canaan (+)

b) Palestine, Mesopotamia, Harran (-)

c) Ur of the Chaldees, Mesopotamia, Egypt (-)

d) Egypt, Mesopotamia, Sinai (-)

6. Paremias from the book of Genesis are not read:

a) at Easter (+)

b) on Great Saturday (-)

c) Palm Sunday (-)

d) at Christmas (-)

7. One of the main difficulties in interpreting the first 11 chapters of Genesis is that:

a) this narrative is not historical (-)

b) we do not have specific scientific data about this period (+)

c) it is primarily a theological treatise (-)

d) this is a collection of myths, traditions and legends (-)

[1] Remarkably this idea is formulated in his “Isagogy” by Fr. Alexander Men: “One of the main features of the Old Testament is that it teaches revealed truths through history. However, the Biblical Prologue is not history in the usual, modern sense of the word. It is rather a spiritual history of the beginning of the world and mankind, where the events of ancient times are conveyed by the language of images, symbols, visual pictures. The theology of the Prologue is similar to the theology of the icon, which communicates the revelation of the upper world with conventional signs of lines, colors and forms. “The Bible is depth; its most ancient parts, and above all the Book of Genesis, unfold according to the laws of that logic that does not separate the concrete from the abstract, the image from the idea, the symbol from the symbolized reality. Perhaps this logic is poetic or sacramental, but its primitiveness is only apparent. It is permeated with the Word, which gives corporality (without separating it from words and things) incomparable transparency “(V. N. Lossky)” (see: .

[2] Cassian (Bezobrazov), bishop. Principles of the Orthodox interpretation of the Word of God (see:

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.