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Colophons in Genesis

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The colophons in Genesis are a series of statements which apparently indicate the end of each of the original documents which make up the book of Genesis.

In Genesis there are ten places containing a phrase similar to "these are the generations of" (AV) or "This is the account of" (NIV), usually with the name of a person following. These phrases are like colophons, or lines put at the end of ancient documents giving some information about the documents. They were generally placed at the end like a modern letter with a signature at the end, although they are more like the page in a modern book giving the title and author.

Moses is traditionally considered to be the author of Genesis, and this is supported by later Bible writers and Jesus Christ referring to the "books of Moses" and to Moses being the author of parts of the Bible. Under this hypothesis, Moses would be the compiler rather than author of Genesis, but he would still be the one responsible for Genesis in its final form.


The sections

Chapter and verse divisions in Bibles are a later addition, and didn't take into account the significance of the colophons, so some of the following section breaks end up in the middle of verses.

In every case, the preceding section contains information which would have been known to the person named at the end of the section, and often it finishes just before the named person's death.

Heaven and Earth

The first colophon is in Genesis 2:4: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created."

The preceding section describes the creation of the heavens and the earth, living things, and mankind, over a period of six days.

This is the only colophon which doesn't name a person, and it's also the only section which was not witnessed by any human. This suggests that the section was actually written by God Himself.


The next colophon is in Genesis 5:1: "This is the written account of Adam’s line."

The previous section has described the introduction of Adam to the Garden of Eden, the creation of Eve, the Fall of man, and the murder of Abel by Cain, all events which either Adam was involved with or would have known.


Genesis 6:9: "This is the account of Noah."

The previous section is mostly a chronogenealogy from Adam to Noah, information that would have been known to Noah. The rest of the section is the introduction to the flood account.

Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth

Genesis 10:1: "This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood."

The section concluding with this colophon is mainly the account of the flood itself, of which Noah's sons were some of the few witnesses.


Genesis 11:10: "This is the account of Shem."

This section comprises a list of the descendants of Noah, known as the Table of Nations, and the account of the Tower of Babel. Although Shem is not mentioned except as the ancestor of some of the people listed, Shem's lifespan would easily have encompassed these descendants and events.


Genesis 11:27: "This is the account of Terah."

This section is a chronogenealogy of the line from Shem to Terah, the father of Abraham.

Ishmael and Isaac

Genesis 25:12: "This is the account of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham."

Genesis 25:19: "This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac."

This large section relates the story of Abraham and the events he was involved with, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It also includes Esau's marriage to Rebekah, and the death of Abraham.

Unlike previous sections, this one appears to have been written by Isaac, but incorporating a short account from Ishmael at the end, introduced (rather than concluded) by Genesis 25:12.

Esau and Jacob

Genesis 36:1: "This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom)."

Genesis 37:2: "This is the account of Jacob."

Another large section, this one relates the events in the lives of Esau and Jacob. It finishes with the death of Isaac and Rachel, and a list of Jacob's sons, but like the previous section, includes at the end a short section listing Esau's descendants, introduced by Genesis 36:1.


The rest of Genesis was likely written by Joseph, as it relates the events in his life, but concludes before his death. However, it does not have a colophon.


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