Understanding Genesis – Nahum M. Sarna


 Understanding Genesis

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Schocken (January 13, 1970)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805202536
ISBN-13: 978-0805202533 
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This book came in pretty helpful in helping to understand Genesis in the Historical context.    First written in 1966, Mr. Sarna covers the whole creation story, filling in all the cracks that sometimes raises questions with people.   He begins with describing how the biblical stories differ from mytholies.  One reason is that in myths, there’s always a biography for the god, and a birth of the god.  This is contrasted with the Abrahamic God, where there is nothing regarding his birth or coming into being, he just is. 

He points out in the beginning that attempting to explain the bible with science, and science with the bible is a futile effort.   Biblical man did not use all the scientific methods we use, nor record things as we do.  Morals, history, etc. was passed down as stories, poetry, songs, etc.  Hebrew history was always a word of mouth tradition, passed on from person to person.  A lot of groups within our culture are the same.  If you remember Roots, Alex Haley met a man from his tribe who’s job it was to remember the entire history of the tribe from the beginning and recite it.  My own personal thought on that is that while civilizations can destroy the written history, as long as people survive from a culture and can pass those stories on to others verbally, the history will survive.

He covers every major occurrence in the book of Genesis from Creation, to the flood.   Everything though is shown in both a spiritual and historical sense.  For example, the tower of Babel was not necessarily a history of how language came about.  It was a story about man not obeying God.   The people of Israel after the flood had been told to go forth among the world, but in Babel they all began to congregate in one area, thereby disobeying God.  So they were punished and forced to go into separate areas of the world. 

I really liked this book.  For me it made the whole book of Genesis much more believable than it had been in the past.  I’d always struggled with the difference between the biblical stories, and with ancient mythologies.  This helped me settle a lot of those questions by putting things in a historical perspective.   Seeing how the Hebrews thought and about their culture during this time period, and then reading Genesis, it really seemed more alive to me.

I’d definitely recommend this book for anyone struggling to understand the older books of the Bible.  I think you need to keep an open mind while reading it, but if you do, that things will make much more sense.  Pick it up if you get the chance, and let me know what you think.

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