The bible starts with a bang (cosmological pun intended). A lot happens in the first book and very quickly. As almost everyone knows Genesis starts with “Let their be light” and the classic biblical creation story. Scientifically this is a mess, but honestly thats not really any different from any other religious creation story so I have a pretty easy time letting that slide. Honestly as far as impressions go this is largely inconsequential. What comes next is more so.
After creation and the establishment of man and woman we find an idyllic paradise known as Eden, but we also find humanity in a state of ignorance. Perhaps I am looking at this from the perspective of knowledge, but for me more or less force ignorance is no different from that of slavery. This is where the serpent comes in. While not explicitly stated as Satan it is heavily interpreted to be so. Some say he deceives humanity, but honestly my reading of it paints a different picture.
He tells the woman that she will not die if she eats from the tree. People have said that this is the deception since after eating from the tree death was introduced to humanity, but honestly it did not have to be. God introduces death for his own reasons after the fact and was not required to do so. The fruit itself had no control over life or death. All it was able to do was introduce knowledge to humanity. After this these were cast out of Eden again by will of God and for no other reason.
First Murder and The Flood
I’m not going to go through every chapter and verse, but this is important to the rest of the book. This is the first truly punishable act of humanity. Cain, through basically jealously kills his brother Abel then denies it. Perhaps owing to a limited supply of humans, although a as yet unknown “land of Nod” exists, but Cain is not killed and is instead exiled. This shows restraint which is commendable not two chapters later he changes his tone and unleashes a worldwide flood that only spares a handful of people and animals. I find this change of tone so drastically to be a bit disconcerting.
For one murder you get simple exile and still taken care of by God, but because “wickedness” later he hits the cosmic reset switch and kills everyone. I had trouble squaring this as a child and even now I’m not able to find a good reasoning beyond simply “God’s will”.
This new tone is continued however throughout the book and honestly a good portion of the Bible from this point which he shows with the destruction of Sodom and turning Lot’s wife to salt.
God’s chosen can do no wrong
So for the next couple chapters God shows extreme tribalism and backs the play of Abraham and others. The deceive the people around them, lie and take advantage of the people. God however does not punish them, but in fact increases their bounty and gives them every advantage he can.
He did test Abraham telling him to sacrifice his son to him. Without batting an eye he takes Isaac to the mountain to do so. God stops him just in time. Growing up this was always portrayed as a story of unerring devotion and loyalty, but i cant help now but read it as more horrible people doing horrible things. Perhaps its because its one of multiple instances of this happening in Genesis.
Honestly the more I read this section the angrier I got seeing truly despicable people getting the favor of God made my blood boil. What didnt help was when I reached out to religious communities about how this can be justified the answer I got was almost uniformly “isnt the grace of God wonderful?”. I can accept that in Christian doctrine that we are all sinners and need the grace of God to be saved, but I wanted evil man after evil man not see any rebuke or punishment, but in fact get encouraged by God to continue in their ways.
It took me a long time to get through this section of Genesis for this reason. I’m dedicated to exploration in this area so I continued.
Joseph and Egypt
The rest of the book centers around Joseph. The first real story of redemption and forgiveness in Genesis. At a high level Joesph is prized by his father and eventually his brothers became jealous of him and sold him to Egypt. After some tribulation Joseph finds himself in a high position in the pharaoh’s kingdom. This is of course again by aid of God who give him prophetic dreams and endears him to the pharaoh.
Joseph encounters his brothers and puts them through a bit of manipulations but eventually forgives them and embraces his family fully. This part I find quite admirable as it shows a virtuous nature that as yet has been missing from the book. This is however undermined later when Joesph effectively sells most of Egypt into servitude to pharaoh during a famine.
The end of the book also sees the end of Joseph, but before he passes on he is told his people will be delivered to the land promised by God to his family.
- Creation story
- Fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and exile
- First murder
- Multiple instances of God smiting people
- Lot’s wife
- Worldwide flood
- God’s chosen can do no wrong
- Jacob and Egypt
- Promise of deliverance and establishment of the promised land
Overall impressions of Genesis are negative, but let me explain.
The book is basically a detailing of how God sees the world. His chosen people can do no wrong and anyone that would stand in their way will either be pushed aside, warned or straight up punished. Looking at this from a agnostic perspective I think a lot of this was conjecture, a misunderstanding of history and facts and a desire to create a positive narrative.
There are a lot of Christians that say what is in the formative books of the Bible are simply allegory and meant to teach a lesson. If so I wonder what lesson is meant to be taught. You have people lying to get their own way and God praising and rewarding them for it and the list goes on.
It does a good job of aligning the people of Abraham to God which is a theme that carries through the next couple of books (and in a way the rest of the Bible) so this groundwork may have been important for that.
Another impression that is overlooked often is the way this story is told in the Bible versus how it is portrayed in the church. A lot of glossed over when talking about it as simply unimportant window dressing. Joseph ended up in Egypt is what is taught not that he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Abraham was remorseful and conflicted in sacrificing Isaac, but this in place in the bible. I wonder why the church is not more honest about these passages and what they have to gain here.
The cynic in me says its because if they did tell the whole truth it would be much less appealing, but I wonder if its for a different reason. People of a faith dont want there to be fault in that faith. They want it to be pure and to be in the right in believing in it. I think this often results in surface-level analysis and portrayal.
It will be interesting to see if the rest of the book frame this perspective differently for me. Right now I understand why this is not normally people’s first introduction to Christianity. It is a harsh reality and one that would not be appealing without other context.
So far this has not changed my perspective that while I believe the religion to be an honest attempt to understand the divine. I am also reminded that the structure of the Bible is not straightforward and makes for difficult understand and resolution. I have to remember that moving forward.