When one picks up an English Bible and reads the book of Genesis, an initial survey suggests a structure for reading it. These chapters and verses give readers a presupposition that it is faithful to the original author’s intent. Even many commentaries and critical articles highlight this assumption. However, this presupposition leaves some confused on why certain parts of Genesis seem to be incoherent to the rest of the book. This incoherency leads some critical works to argue why Genesis must be interpreted as a series of fragments. T.D. Alexander, in his article, “Genealogies, Seed, and the Compositional Unity of Genesis,” vehemently challenges this claim. He argues that through examining the original language of Genesis itself, the author has provided a carefully detailed and clear structure to how the book should be read. The arguments Alexander proposes provide clarity to many of the questions many modern commentators have consistently proposed. Alexander argues that the book of Genesis is composed to focus on a main family line, whom enjoyed a unique relationship with God (established in two everlasting covenants), and established the foundation for a royal dynasty. All of the text therein, revolves around this thought, and provides a consistent plot throughout the entire narrative, bringing a unity that most modern commentators seemed to ignore.
Alexander begins his argument by highlighting the word tOwdVlOwÚt, meaning “descendant,” “account,” or “generation.” This word serves as initial headings for structuring the book of Genesis. The major sections of Genesis are divided among Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph (2:4, 6:9, 11:27, 25:19, 37:2), while the subheadings highlight lists of descendants within each of the five main family members. Alexander argues that these serve not only as headings, but plot development markers in the narrative, focusing the readers’ attention to particular details within each section.
In addition to tOwdVlOwÚt, Alexander argues that the word orz, or “seed” as another proof for Genesis’ compositional unity. This provides an even narrower focus on a particular family line the reader should pay attention to throughout the narrative. Various features of this line include focusing on younger sons (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph) receiving blessing, God’s gracious activity (Sarah’s old age, Rebekah and Rachel’s barrenness, among others), subsequent promises to these descendants, and laying the foundation for a future royal lineage. The narrative of Genesis, Alexander argues, continues to repeat these markers throughout each of the descendants, alerting the reader to pay attention to the pattern that develops.
This understanding, for example, sheds light to the confusing Genesis 38 story of Judah and Tamar. Most readers seemingly are confused on its placement within the narrative, in addition to it interrupting the flow of the Joseph story. However, Alexander highlights that Judah is a focus within the Joseph the narrative (43:8-9, 44:16, 44:18-34, 46:28), noting the blessing Judah receives, his descendants leading his older brothers (again, a prevalent theme in the main family line), and the setup of the royal lineage coming through Judah’s descendants. This is one of many examples within the narrative of Genesis solidifying Alexander’s argument for compositional unity.
Alexander’s article not only provides significant evidence to the unity of Genesis, but elevates the text itself as critical to interpretation. While many hold the Bible as the Word of God, Alexander pushes these even further suggesting the Genesis text itself provides a detailed, unified structure of compositional unity, inspiring its readers to acknowledge its divine authorship. His highlights of the author’s use of tOwdVlOwÚt and orz provide an intentional, clear, and unified structure, providing lucidity to many texts within that seemed out of place. These markers highlight structuring the rest of Torah, and subsequently, the Bible as a whole.