“If we all followed Genesis as our collective compass, the world would be a better place.”
This is one of the last quotes in Roadmap Genesis, a documentary by a filmmaker turned rabbi. In it he argues that the ills plaguing society today find their cure in the wisdom of Genesis.
And he gathers a wide array of perspectives to do so. Conservative governor Mike Huckabee, creationist Ken Ham, former Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Francis George, Jewish lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and many others lend their voices from varied ideological corners to herald one unified message: we desperately need Genesis today.
Here are just three insights from the film that you may appreciate knowing next time you open Genesis.
1. God creates so uniquely that he gets his own verb
Early in the documentary, a Bible scholar Dr. Marc Brettler points out that the second word in Genesis 1:1, the verb barah (“to create”), is only ever used in biblical Hebrew with God as its subject. “The fact that you can have a word in Hebrew that has only God as its subject seems to suggests that the way in which God creates is fundamentally different than the manner in which humans are able to create.” He says if he were asked to translate the verse, he’d say something like, “In the beginning of God’s creation… (That is the best word that I can fathom because this word is never used about humans when they create or fashion anything)… of the Heavens and the Earth.”
God creates what others cannot. What he does in creation is unique—too powerful and beautiful for humans to emulate. He is the creator par excellence. This should give us profound appreciation and awe for creation and the created order. What God calls good we cannot even create. How might that influence us to embrace all that he has made, and all the ways he has told us to live?
2. Genesis 5:1 is one of the most important verses in the Bible
Gen. 5:1 reads, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.”
Does this sound like one of the Bible’s most important verses? Perhaps not on the face of it.
But rabbi Elazar Muskin says that many rabbis point to it when debating what the Bible’s most important passage is. This is because it gets at the common ancestry of mankind; it teaches that “we all come from the same book of creation.” Or as one scholar succinctly puts it, that “we are all family.”
Whether it’s the most significant passage in the Bible is besides the point (and, if there is one, Matthew 22:35-40 may lay claim). The point is, the verse cuts to the heart of derision and division in the world today. As Mother Theresa famously said, “If we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Genesis teaches that we are family, which means all conflict is infighting.
3. Genesis is the story behind the 10 commandments
At one point in the film, Alan Dershowitz, renowned lawyer and Harvard law professor, makes this bold statement: “If I were stuck on a desert island and had one FedEx box and could get one book to teach the students who were stuck with me on the island, I would order the book of Genesis. I can’t imagine a more relevant book for today’s life—it talks about everything.”
Dershowitz says it is “a brilliant law book… precisely because it’s a narrative.” He explains that the 10 commandments are based on the narratives of the book of Genesis, which of course preceded the law. “So from a lawyer’s point of view,” he says, “the book of Genesis is the common law, the origins of the law, the law before statutes, the law before the commandments.”
Genesis is the law illustrated. In it you see the goodness of God’s order and the evil of going against it. Should the 10 commandments ever be questioned, one must simply point to Genesis and say, “Show me a tragedy, and I will show you a broken law.”
Genesis has no shortage of benefits. As interviewees in the film say:
“Genesis is a roadmap for life.”
“Genesis is insight into the human condition.”
“Genesis is a reminder that no man or woman is an island.”
These are the themes that pop up over and over in Roadmap Genesis. For those who already know and love Genesis, it is motivation to take a second look and glean more wisdom. For those who consider Genesis a dusty old story with no relevance today, it is an outright rebuttal.
The documentary renews confidence in conventional wisdom and kinship, poking holes in our individualism and overconfidence in modernity.
As one scholar put it, “There is something to be said for a text that has been authoritative for communities for over 3,000 years.”
It may be the world’s oldest story, but it needs retelling today.
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