THE BIBLE BEGINS WITH stories of the creation of the world and the early Jewish people. These books, which make up the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, and which are also sacred to the Jews, were written by Jewish scribes long before the birth of Jesus. For the Jews they are important because they describe the covenant, or special relationship, between God and the Jewish people. For Christians the Old Testament has added significance because many of the stories seem to prefigure, or mirror, events that happened later when Jesus came to save humankind from sin.
Genesis, the first book of the Bible, tells how God created Heaven and Earth, land and water, animals and birds, and finally Adam and Eve – the first man and woman. God put them in the Garden of Eden, and told them that the only fruit they must not eat was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
The forbidden fruit is often imagined to have been an apple.
ENEMY IN EDEN
Satan, who lived in Hell, was God’s archenemy. Early Jewish writers said that the serpent in the Garden of Eden, a cunning tempter, was Satan in disguise. In the Book of Genesis, the serpent tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, just as Satan later tempted Jesus in the New Testament.
The serpent is often pictured as a snake like this red spitting cobra.
The serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and Adam followed suit. God was angry at their disobedience and threw them out of the Garden of Eden. Christians believe that Adam and Eve, and their descendants, were tainted with this “original sin”. Only the coming of Jesus Christ would eventually offer humankind a way of escaping sin and achieving everlasting life with God.
THE GREAT FLOOD
Another story in Genesis tells how God became disenchanted with all the evil in the world, and sent a great flood to destroy much of the wickedness. Only one good man, Noah, was allowed to escape with his family. He built a great boat, the ark, in which he, his sons and their wives, and all the birds and animals took refuge. Christians think of Noah as the second father of the human race, after Adam.
“Don’t hurt the boy or do anything to him. Now I know that you honour and obey God.”
Angel of the Lord to Abraham
God ordered Abraham to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham was about to obey when an angel told him to stop and kill a ram instead. Christians see this story as a prophecy of the way in which God would sacrifice Jesus.
PROPHETS AND LEADERS
The Old Testament contains stories about Jewish ancestors such as Abraham and the great leader Moses, who guided the Jews from slavery in Egypt back to their homeland. The Old Testament also includes writings about and by prophets such as Isaiah and Daniel, who told of the coming of a Messiah, or saviour.
Daniel window from Augsburg Cathedral in Germany
Isaiah window from Augsburg Cathedral in Germany
Moses window from Augsburg Cathedral in Germany