I finished a DVD lecture series (24 half hour lectures) on the book of Genesis last night. It was interesting but at times quite sleep-inducing. If I was at all sleepy it literally forced my eyes shut and my brain to sleep. So I only watched when I was wide awake.
Professor Rendsburg "holds the Blanche and Irving Laurie chair in Jewish History in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. An expert in the history of ancient Israel and the literature of the Bible, he has spent decades immersed in the study and exploration of Qumran and other ancient sites in Israel,
Egypt and Jordan." He is also fluent in the ancient languages of the Old Testament (mostly Hebrew) and doesn't need to rely on someone else's translation.
The thing that struck me the most watching these lectures is Rendsburg's approach; at no time does he suggest that the author (he believes in a single author for the whole book of Genesis) was in any way 'inspired by God.' He talks about a gifted literary craftsman recording the oral/aural lore of the region. Over and over he shows us how the author uses various literary devices (alliteration, rhyme, etc.) to tell his story. Consequently the series never takes a position regarding the 'truth' of the stories. He does attempt to place them in a historical time-frame, e.g. when did Abraham live, and cites the evidence for his conclusions.
The two creation stories (yes, two) are treated as just that, two stories. Clearly allegorical in nature and not historical. Ditto the flood story, which he suggests was borrowed from the Epic of Gilgamesh only with a local guy as hero. He also shows us the several themes that run throughout, such as the 'second son' theme. Isaac was Abraham's second son, Jacob was Isaac's second son, etc., and suggests some possible lessons that can be drawn from these recurrent themes.
I tried reading Genesis last fall but threw it in about half-way through. I now feel like I have some understanding of what the point of the damn book is, how it fits in with the rest of The Bible and the other literature of its time and place. What still puzzles me is how so many people insist on taking everything in it as literally true when it so clearly is a literary work and not an historical one.