Saturday, 23 January 2016

Notes on Genesis

Bodleian Library, 1481

This week marks the start of Septuagesimatide, and in the Office, the readings are from Genesis.

Genesis in the lectionary

The arrangement of the readings in the Office seem to imply that it should be read from Septuagesima Sunday up to about the Friday before the Fourth Sunday of Lent.  In essence, Genesis has 50 chapters in total - but the daily readings from Genesis at Matins stop at chapter fourteen on Shrove Tuesday.  Thereafter the daily readings thereafter are Patristic commentaries on the Gospel of the day (in the main).  On the Second Sunday of Lent however, the First Nocturn readings are from Genesis 27; for the Third Sunday of Lent they are from Genesis 37; and for the Fourth Sunday of Lent from Exodus 3.  Presumably the Scriptural readings originally continued right through this period, but at some point the Patristic ones were substituted in.

In fact Genesis is relatively little used in the traditional lectionary - apart from the Easter and Pentecost vigils it only appears at Mass on the Friday and Saturday after the second Sunday of Lent.  That is rather surprising given its importance and the amount of time the Fathers devoted to commentaries on it.


Moses is traditionally regarded as the author of Genesis: ancient Jewish tradition holds that he was granted a vision of the creation of the universe and the early history of the world in the forty days he spent on Mt Sinai.


The concept that God created everything, including us, out of nothing, and that all of creation, all of history, continues to depend on his action is the most fundamental tenet of Christian belief, hence it forms the first line of the Creed.  The history that follows explains the relationship between God and his people through the successive covenants set out, explains why salvation through Christ was necessary, and presents for us important 'types' that foreshadow what was to come.  For this reason many of the Fathers wrote in depth commentaries on Genesis, dwelling on the first few chapters in particular at length.


The structure of Genesis essentially falls into two parts: chapters one to eleven deal with creation, including of Adam and Eve, and their descendants up to the time of Noah and the flood; chapters 12-50 deal with Patriarchs (chapters 12-14 concerning Abraham).

The subjects of the chapters can be summarised as follows:

Chs 1-11: Creation and Adam and Eve.

1-2 Creation of the universe
3 -   Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden
4 - 5  Descendants up to Noah
         - Cain and Abel ch 4
         - second creation story, Seth to Noah
6-11 Flood and Noah’s descendants
        - the arc, chapter 7-8
        - the covenant with Noah, agriculture, ch 9
        - tower of babel, ch 10

Chs 12-50 Patriarchs

- Abraham 12-14
- Isaac 25-26
- Jacob 27-36
- Joseph 37-50


There are many wonderful commentaries on Genesis, far more than can be read in a few weeks.

Many of the Fathers wrote commentaries, particularly focusing on the creation of the universe (the six days of creation).  The key ones available online seem to be:

Take a look also at the resources over at the Divine Lamp.

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