Walk Genesis!

By Jeffrey Enoch Feinberg. Baltimore, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1998. 238 pages.

Walk Genesis! is no ordinary commentary on the first book of the Bible. Based upon the weekly portions read in the synagogue, the commentary
is as much about the traditional divisions of Scripture and their names as it is about the Biblical text. The author intended the book as a Messianic devotional for individuals
and families who read the weekly portions and study them. Walk Genesis! fulfills this intention in many ways, with a great deal of information about the story of Genesis and the traditional names and interpretation of its sections. Yet the book requires some assumptions about interpreting the Bible that may not be shared by many who will read it.

Following the scheme of the traditional Torah portions [called in Hebrew, parashot], Genesis is divided into twelve sections. For each of the twelve parashot, Walk Genesis! follows the same structure:

  • a poem based upon the traditional name of the parashah.
  • a page listing the eight subsections of each parashah with accompanying Haftarah (reading from the prophets) and a suggested New Testament reading.
  • synopsis of the story of Genesis leading up to the present parashah.
  • quick study of the Hebrew of the portion’s name and first sentence.
  • commentary on each of the eight subsections.
  • commentary on the accompanying Haftarah and New Testament reading.
  • summary and application.

As I will explain, this well-organized commentary will be more useful as a tool for teachers and leaders preparing studies on the weekly parashah than as a devotional for Messianic Jewish families.

The problem with using this book as a devotional for families is that it is based in part upon ideas about Bible interpretation that are outside the norms of interpreting scripture. For example, the author believes that the traditional divisions of the Torah and the physical features of the Torah scroll are part of the meaning of the text. This belief results in some rather mystical interpretations. For example, on p. 214, the author observes that the final portion in Genesis begins without the usual blank space of nine letters that is customary on the Torah scroll. He concludes from this, “It is as if VaYigash [the Hebrew name of the previous portion, meaning “drew near”] drew near this portion.” Most interpreters, evangelical or otherwise, presume that verse divisions made by the church and portion divisions made by ancient Jewish tradition are irrelevant to interpretation.

At other times, the author chooses interpretations from rabbinical literature that are not based upon the plain meaning of the text. One minor example among many is found on p. 35. The author cites medieval commentator Rashi on Genesis 7:4, in which God said that he would destroy the earth in “seven more days.” According to Rashi, these seven days were the period of shivah [seven days of mourning] for Methuselah, who died in the year of the flood according to certain interpretations of the numbers in Genesis 5. The author portrays God as sitting shivah and then gently closing the ark at the end of the mourning period. The custom of sitting shivah traces its origins to more recent times than the days of Noah and it is anachronistic to read this custom back into Genesis.

Yet, the attention that the rabbis give to word plays, word associations, and other features of the text often yield treasures of legitimate interpretation. The author, either in following rabbinical leads in interpretation or in engaging in methods similar to those of the rabbis, often comes up with enlightening observations that are easily missed by most interpreters. The ancient Hebrew writers were artful in their writing. Thus, we read on p. 53 of a parallel between Genesis 12:17-13:2 and the Exodus story. In Genesis, Abram and Sarai are in Egypt where Pharaoh tries to hold Sarai captive. God sends a plague on Pharaoh, who in his anger sends Abram and Sarai away, laden with treasure and livestock. This parallel to the treatment of Israel by Pharaoh in Exodus made the word “wow!” come to mind.

Walk Genesis! has many such treasures for those who seek them out. However, the treasures are found together with some dubious interpretations. The result is that the book can confuse some readers who may not be as scripturally mature as others. For those who are accustomed to reading a diversity of interpretations and who have solid skills in interpreting scripture, Walk Genesis! is a mixed bag of treasures and trinkets.