Background of Genesis
Scholarly efforts to reconstruct the history that lies behind the book of Genesis have had mixed results. Regarding Genesis 1-11, it is best acknowledged that these chapters were edited over many centuries and that a specific historical background cannot be discerned with any confidence. As for Genesis 12-50, a period of some scholarly confidence in the basic historicity of this material within the second millennium has faded in recent years in view of the character of the biblical text and challenges to supposed archaeological evidence. Various ancient Near Eastern parallels to ancestral names and customs have at times been overdrawn.
Since the biblical texts underwent a long period of transmission, they reflect aspects of Israel’s history all along the way. Yet, these chapters are not finally without historical value, even for a second-millennium dating at some points. One such matter pertains to the religious practices reflected in these texts, which are often distinctive compared to those of later Israel, including the worship of God under various forms of the name El and references to God as the God of my/our/your father. It seems reasonable to claim that the narratives carry some authentic memories of Israel’s pre-exodus heritage, that is, from the period 2000-1500 B.C.E. At the same time, it is not possible to determine the extent to which the women and men of Genesis were actual historical figures.