Background in Genesis: Genesis 1:1–11:9
Throughout the centuries, different interpreters have understood the overarching structure of Genesis in different ways. One approach has been to divide Genesis into ten segments based on the repetition of the so-called “generations” or “toledot” passages scattered throughout the book of Genesis. And we should admit that there is some value in this large-scale outlook. But we have suggested in other series’ that it is much more helpful to think of Genesis in three large sections: the primeval history in Genesis 1:1–11:9; the early patriarchal history in 11:10–37:1; and the later patriarchal history in 37:2–50:26.
The primeval history of Genesis 1:1–11:9 presents God’s revealed truth about the origins of the world. It speaks of the creation, the corruption of creation, and the reshaping of creation through a worldwide flood. And it holds together as a literary unit in the ways it resembles the patterns of many ancient near eastern primeval histories.
The later patriarchal history in 37:2–50:26 tells the story of Joseph. It begins with the story of conflict between Joseph and his brothers, then moves to Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt and Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers in the end. Many interpreters have described this large, unified storyline as a novella about Joseph.
Between these first and last sections is Genesis 11:10–37:1. These chapters contain the early patriarchal history, collections of stories about the first fathers of the nation of Israel. In this series, we are concerned with one portion of this middle segment of Genesis.