Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blogging the Bible: June 7th, 2009
In the beginning... To begin with, I want to say that this is not an original idea. Like all good ideas it was stolen (although I would imagine the individual who was creative enough to do this first wouldn't mind it at all if I did it as well, as long as I gave this disclaimer). I think I first read about this in an article in Relevant Magazine. Anyways, now that I have that out of the way, I'll give you part of my reasoning behind starting this blog. First of all, while I have read the entire Bible before, usually it was out of obligation, or because I was searching it to find some sort of defense for my own opinions. I want to read the Bible with an attempted open mind. I want to look at it with renewed eyes. Instead of reading the bible from a conservative/fundamentalist/Western/evangelical/Anglo-Saxon perspective, I want to try and read what it says, no more and certainly no less. While I realize I can't be completely unbiased, and that my upbringing, socio-economic status, and geographical location will all place limitations (and enhance) my perception of what I read, I do want to try and challenge my own thinking as much as possible. My intention is to try and do a chapter a day, at least in the New Testament. In the New Testament, there are 260 chapters, which I should be able to finish in about a year (there will probably be around 100 days that I forget/don't want to do this). The Old Testament, on the other hand, has over 900 chapters, so I'll be doing some cutting here and there (for instance, I don't really want to spend 150 days on Psalms, as the get a bit repetitive). That being said, this project could easily take three or four years (if I ever actually complete it, which would be a minor triumph for me), so this is hardly a race. But, if I don't complete it, at least I'll have material to look back on and determine how I've changed, and it will get me writing (hopefully) every day. So, without further ado, this is Caleb Slinkard blogging the Bible.

Monday, June 8, 2009
June 8th: Genesis, Chapter One
"In the beginning..." thus starts the most controversial and influential book ever written. Genesis was traditionally written by Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible (also known as the Torah or the Pentatuech). In the first verse, we learn of the entity God. God creates the heavens and the earth, which are apparently two separate things. Genesis says that God's Spirit hovered over the shapeless, dark void that was the earth. Why the writer chooses to deferintiate between God and his Spirit, I don't know yet. But I can make a tentative observation that there is some sort of distinction

between God and his Spirit. The next 29 verses detail God's creation of the earth, from God's separation of light and darkness to his creation of man. God demonstrates divine power in his creation, as it takes only his spoken word to create the Sun, the infinite number of stars, etc. We are told that all of these creation instances occur across a six day span. These days are made more specific by the inclusion of the phrase "and there was evening, and there was morning, on the - day." After each day of creation, God reviews his work and calls it "good." The sixth day is the most unique day. The writer pauses, and tells the reader that God created man "in his own image." While in the story, God only creates man, the writer let's us know that God created both man and woman in his own image. Man is told to multiply and subdue the earth, to rule over all of the animals. He is also allowed to eat plants to sustain himself. All of this may seem rather cliche to us that were weaned on this story in countless Sunday School lessons, I think that a closer observation of the text can reveal some interesting things. The big debate surrounding this text is whether or not God actually created everything in six days. If so, this places the age of the Earth around 6,000 to 10,000 years- a time period that is inconsistent with the findings of modern day science. Personally, I don't know whether or not God created the Earth in six days. He very well could have. But since Moses is telling us this story based on oral tradition, and considering the fact that no one was there during this creation, and taking into account the fact that this story is very ritualized, I would guess that the Creation Story is exactly that- a story told by early Jews that was passed on and ritualized until Moses (or someone else) recorded it. True, God could have divinely told Moses what happened but this seems somewhat unlikely. I believe, like other Christian thinkers such as C.S. Lewis, etc., that the Creation story is simply and allegory for what really took place. The important thing that I think we should take away from Genesis 1 is that God is the origin of the Universe, a fact that, whether all species evolved over billions of years or they were created in a week, is ripe with implications. Whether or not God created it in a week or not is actually pretty inconsequential, and is simply a point of contention for Christians who refuse to acknowledge both the limitations of the Biblical text and the validity of scientific research and discovery. Much like when the Catholic Church suppressed the heliocentric model of the universe and the fact that the Earth was a sphere, modern day Christians need to acknowledge that the Bible is an ancient religious text, not a scientific textbook.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
June 9th: Genesis, Chapter Two
After the wonders of Creation, chapter two of Genesis slows down and bit and gives us the setting for what is one of the most dynamic and influential passages of the Bible in chapter three.

The chapter starts off with God resting on the seventh day following six days of work. Now, obviously this is the writer or God trying to communicate something to his reader, as the allpowerful God clearly does not need to rest. Instead, this day of rest is a very practical inclusion into the ancient work week. Human beings need rest, especially after six days of labor. This day of rest was God setting an example for the Jews. The seventh day was also "made holy" by God. Of course, this passage is the foundation for the Jewish sabbath and the Christian Sunday. The rest of the passage is a bit confusing, as the author apparently contradicts himself several times regarding his timeline for creation. To begin with, the writer tells us of the "generations of the heavens and the earth... in the day God created the heavens and the earth." So, did God create man on the same day he created the heavens and the earth? Did God create the heavens and the earth in a day? I think this points back to the fact that the Creation Story is allegory, and in reality, God would have created everything in an instant. This concept is simply too hard for us to understand, so the ancient writer established the six day story to simplify and explain creation, as well as reflect God's sense of order. The writer then tells us that there are no plants on the face of the earth (which is strange, as the Earth "brought forth" vegetation on the third day of Creation). I believe that this is another passage that points back to the fact that the Creation Story is allegory. Man is made from dust, and God "breathes the breath of life" into him. Man is put in a garden God has made at a location known as Eden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is also in the "midst of the garden." We are later told, after four verses regarding the location and geography of Eden and the surrounding area, that Man was put in the garden to maintain it. God then tells the man that he can eat anything in the garden, save for fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, telling him that such an actions will result in his death. Man apparently inherently needs a companion, so God parades all of the animals in front of the Man, who names them all but can't find a good companion. The resulting passage is a bit controversial. In it, God takes a rib from the Man and creates Woman, which is then given as the basis for heterosexual marriage. The reason I see this part of the passage as clearly the result of oral tradition is because it sets the foundation for sexism that was and remains rampant in both Middle Eastern and Western cultures. Woman is shown as simply a companion of man, something made from him (not the ground, like the Man and all of the creatures) and, more importantly, made AFTER him. While I can certainly see the truth in the fact that humans need the company of other humans, this particular part of the passage seems to indicate a rather sexist God, something that is not consistent with a God of love. While Genesis chapter three will certainly give us more material for this kind of commentary, it seems to me like the entire Garden of Eden/Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil set up is allegorical. Much like the Creation Story, the writer was not there and, barring any kind of divine dictation, the story is simply the result of oral tradition which, while containing truth, was also

influenced by men and women that passed it down. Now, this is not to say that the story has no merit. Clearly, we can learn several things through the Creation Story and the Garden of Eden. We learn that men and women need companions. We learn that God created them both, and that God placed certain stipulations on their existence that, if broken, would result in serious consequences. In other words, we have the foundation of a moral code. We also see that Man and Woman are innocent, as demonstrated by their oblivious nakedness. In conclusion, chapter two sets up a lot of the drama that we will see unfold across the entire span of the Bible. Whether you take it as literal truth, allegory, oral tradition, or a mixture of all three, it has tremendous implications for any Christian.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
June 10th: Genesis, Chapter Three
The third chapter in Genesis is one of the most, if not the most, pivotal chapters in the entire Bible. In it is recorded the fall of man and the entrance of sin into the world as the stage is set for the divine and human drama that I know that so far I've taken a more liberal approach in my understanding of these verses. It is my opinion (read, my opinion) that the early chapters on Genesis, especially if they were written by Moses, are mainly the result of Hebrew oral tradition, and are mainly allegorical. While I don't necessarily believe that a strict liberal or conservative interpretation of these chapters really changes much, I understand that many more conservative Christians dislike this kind of interpretation, which is fine. Chapter three begins with the serpent, a crafty creature who can talk (allegorical, perhaps?). The serpent asks the woman about God's previous commandment outlined in Genesis 2. The woman's response is interesting. She tells the serpent that God doesn't want them to eat or touch the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (this seems to be another allegorical element). This additional stipulation seems to be the first time legalism has stuck it's ugly head up, as the woman is adding extra rules to God's (rather simplistic) commands. The serpent tells the woman that she will not die, but rather that she will become "like God," knowing the difference between good and evil. The next few verses are extension of the sexism shown in Genesis 2. The woman wants to fruit for it's nutritional properties, it's appearance, and it's affect. She eats it and then gives it to her husband, who also eats it. Note here that it is the woman that eats the fruit first, and that she was the one tempted (or deceived, to use traditional nomenclature) into disobeying God's one command.

These seemingly rather harmless verses are rife with consequences. Following their consumption of the forbidden fruit (allegory?), the man and the woman recognize their nakedness (remember when I wrote that this might stand for their innocence?) and cover themselves. Later, when God walks (whether God manifests himself in a physical body and actually walked through the Garden, or this is a figure of speech is up for debate) through the Garden, the man and woman hide from him, claiming their nakedness as the cause of their actions. This is a dead giveaway for God, who knows instantly that they disobeyed him (wouldn't God have already known this?). When he interrogates them, the man blames the woman and the woman blames the serpent. God then proceeds to curse the three individuals. First, the serpent is told that he will crawl (apparently he was walking), eat dust, and that he would always be in conflict with the woman and her offspring. This passage is a bit odd. If the serpent represents Satan (as is traditionally believed), then why would God curse all serpents? This definitely seems to be a bit of oral tradition explaining the the natural characteristics of snakes. Secondly, he curses the woman in a passage definitely written by a man. In it, God tells the woman that childbirth will become very painful, and that her husband will "rule over her." This passage is the foundation for the Western cultural idea that woman obtain value from their husband and their ability to produce children. Certainly in ancient cultures the ability to produce children was vitally important, as they were are work force and army. But times have certainly changed, and this curse certainly appears to be very shortsighted to come from the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God. The man, because he listened to his wife (apparently this is NOT a good thing), was cursed with manual labor and death (again, hello cultural stereotypes. The man is the workforce, and his value comes from his ability to work for most or all of his life). Their reactions to these curses are not recorded (Moses wasn't there, after all), and the passage moves rather obliviously along to their well-known names, Adam and Eve. God then kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden so they can't eat from the Tree of Life, which apparently grows fruit that possess the magical ability to sustain eternal life (much like the golden apples of Greek and Norse mythology). Overall, this passage reeks of oral tradition and male influence, but with all of that we can't miss the very important themes of the chapter. With mankind's disobedience and subsequent curse, the human race is doomed, hopeless and in desperate need of a Savior.

Thursday, June 11, 2009
Genesis, Chapter Four: Murder, Art, and the Beginning of Religion
The first three chapters in Genesis have covered an enormous amount of ground, from Creation to the Fall. Chapter four of Genesis slows everything down. We learn more about Adam and Eve and the first struggles of mankind as he attempts to flourish in the post-Garden of Eden era.

The chapter begins with Eve bearing two sons- Cain and Abel. They are, according to the passage, the first to tame animals (Abel) and farm (Cain), although I'm sure Adam probably did a bit of both. Sometime during there lives, Cain brought God an offering "of the fruit of the ground", while Abel brought one of the firstborn of his flocks. The chapter then tells us that God liked Abel's offering, but not Cain's. How God demonstrated this to Cain and Abel is not written, but we do know that Cain was not very happy with this. God then tells Cain that if he works hard ("do well"), his sacrifice will be rewarded. Again, we don't really know what was lacking in Cain's offering, so it's hard to assume much about this passage. We'll take it as is. Cain then kills Abel out of jealousy, and then lies about it to God. God, who knows about the murder, then curses Cain for his sin. God tells him that he will no longer be able to farm and that he will be a wanderer and a fugitive for the rest of his life. It is interesting to me that God does not kill Cain. In fact, God actually protects Cain from being killed by anyone else after Cain complains about his curse. After all, many Christians use different Biblical passages to defend the death penalty. Further on in the Old Testament, God demands death for much lesser deeds. Cain then moves away and has some very productive kids. In fact, Cain's lineage smacks of folklore. We have Jabal, the "father of" nomadic herders, and Jubal, who is the father of musicians, and Tubal-Cain, apparently one of the first men to forge things from metal. These three children represent three social roles in ancient society- the laborers, the educated, and the artisans. Why we are told this I'm not sure, but it may be the reason God did not kill Cain. His descendants were important innovators in the ancient world. Then we read about one of Cain's descendants killing a man in self-defense, an act for which the man suffered no divine retribution, according to the text. In the meantime, Adam and Eve have another son, Seth, whose descendants begin to "call upon the name of the Lord." Overall, man's current interaction with God is rather strange. First of all, we have Cain and Abel sacrificing to God, and we have the first stipulations placed on sacrifices. Then, Cain talks with God, and later escapes from his presence (I don't know what the writer meant by this. Isn't God everywhere?). Then Seth's offspring begin to call on the Lord's name. All of this suggests the first inklings of organized religion.

Friday, June 12, 2009
Genesis, Chapter Six: Giants and the Flood, Part One
I've skipped chapter five of Genesis, as it is a rather laborious listing of Adam's descendants (it does contain some pretty interesting dates, however). Apparently they lived for a long, long time back in the day. The lack of female names on this list is a bit frustrating, but perhaps the writer was simply going for brevity. One very interesting verse discusses Enoch, who "walked with God" and was apparently taken to Heaven by God.

Chapter six begins very strangely. As the population of the earth increased, apparently the "sons of God" took wives for themselves at will, indicating capture and possibly rape. Because of this, God limited the lifespan of human beings to 120 years. The text then tells us that the Nephilim (which can mean giants, or those who cause others to fall) lived at that time and later, and that they were the offspring of the sons of God and human women. These Nephilim were "mighty men... men of renown." The following verses tell us that the wickedness of mankind, probably directly related to the Nephilim, was so great that God wanted to wipe the slate clean and start over. I love this passage. Not just because it's delightfully confusing, but because there is so much mystery here. Who are the Nephilim? Why was their breeding with human women so evil? Were they really giants? There isn't enough in the text to make a definitive interpretation (which seems to be a common theme in the Bible), but I can at least take a guess. There are three pretty reasonable explanations for this passage that I want to explore. The Nephilim were either fallen angels, the evil sons of Cain, or this is more Jewish mythology. Personally, I think that the second theory is the least likely. There's no reason why Cain's children should be referred to as Nephilim, and the idea that Cain's offspring intermarrying with Seth's would have been foundation for God limiting mankind's lifespan and the Flood seems a little harsh since God allowed Cain to live for his crime. The idea that the Nephilim are part of Jewish mythology, much like the gods of Greek mythology, is viable. Or, perhaps they really are fallen angels that had sex with humans and had giant offspring. While the exact biology of that encounter is hard to fathom, if this were true, the Nephilim could very well be the origin of Greek, Norse, and other cultures' myths, as the story of the Nephilim was passed down through the generations. I would tentatively guess that this story is simply myth, probably based in historical reality (since Moses is one of Seth's descendants, perhaps the Nephilim do refer to powerful descendants of Cain), but any option has validaty. Whatever theory is accurate (or, perhaps none of them are), God saw the world as corrupt and commissioned a righteous man (we'll explore the meaning of this phrase throughout the Bible) to build one gigantic boat to house two "of every living thing of all flesh," male and female. Now, at first, the idea of an inexperienced man building a huge ark that can fit two of every kind of animal, not to mention food to feed them all, is rather hard to believe. But, if you consider that it took him 100 years to build it, God apparently gave him the directions, he probably had help from his family, and that most of the world's species would survive in water, the story is pretty plausible. We'll explore the story of the Flood and it's viability as a historical reality in my next blog.

Saturday, June 13, 2009
Genesis, Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine: The Flood, Part Two

The seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters of Genesis deal with a rather disastrous event in a very straightforward manner. I don't think many Christians really dwell much on the fact that in these chapters God kills almost all of mankind. While we certainly have no idea how many people lived at that time, the very fact that God wiped out mankind is a powerful and dangerous passage. This is another instance of the Old Testament God revealing anger, wrath, and genocide, characteristics not often seen in the New Testament, save for passages dealing with the final judgment. The text tells us that God has Moses put seven pairs of "clean" (you can tell someone familiar with the Law wrote Genesis) animals and one pair of "unclean" animals, because God was sending rain in a week. The Bible does not tell us how Moses did this, but I can only guess that it took some kind of divine intervention. We also are not told what the difference between clean and unclean animals is. The passage then goes into great detail concerning the exact date of the flood, using Noah's age (a startling 600 years) as a reference. It rained for forty days and forty nights, and Noah, his three sons and their three wives were stuck on the ark for 150 days. Of course, the Bible doesn't recount how difficult and frustrating this must have been for Noah and his family. That would be a very interesting story. After 150 days, God "remembers" Noah and his family (I take this as a figure of speech, although I guess God has a lot on his mind), and the ark rests on Mount Ararat. Noah and his family ascend from the ark and are given a command very similar to the "be fruitful and multiply" one that God gave Adam and Eve (well, they were pretty fruitful, but then God killed them all). The rest of chapter eight documents the first ritualized sacrifice of live animals as Noah thanks God for saving him and his family. God apparently liked the smell of burning meat, so he told Noah that he was never going to flood the entire earth again. In chapter nine, God expands his commandment to Noah, telling him that all animals will be afraid of mankind, and that he can now kill and eat animals for food. He warns about eating meat with blood in it, and informs Noah that he will require a "reckoning for the life of man" or, basically, that any man that kills another man deserves to be killed (OT validation for the death penalty, apparently). God then establishes the Noahic covenant, often taught as the second covenant he has given so far (the first was to Adam), reiterating the point that he's not going to kill everyone again. To seal this covenant, God puts a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of the covenant and his promise (myth?). In conclusion, while these verses are rather straightforward and somewhat boring, they do recount very important events that impact our understanding of the rest of the Biblical narrative.

Sunday, June 14, 2009
Genesis, Chapters Nine and Ten: Seeds of Racism
The last part of chapter nine recounts the story of Ham's cursing, an event that has some very real historical effects. Noah apparently gets hammered and is naked in his tent. Ham comes in, sees his father naked, and goes and tells his brothers, who walk backwards and cover him with a blanket. When Noah wakes up and finds out what Ham has done, he curses Canaan, one of Ham's sons, and blesses Shem and, to a lesser extent, Japheth (The blessing is interesting. Why was Shem blessed more than Japheth? Well, Moses was a descendant of Shem and he traditionally wrote Genesis. Seems to me like I would want to write a passage that favored my ancestors, and therefore myself, as well).

There are two confusing things here. First of all, while I'm sure it was embarrassing for Noah to be seen drunk and naked by his son, his curse seems a little harsh. Many scholars think that Ham might have raped or humiliated his father in some way, although there is scant evidence of this in the Biblical text. Secondly, Noah doesn't curse Ham or all of Ham's descendants, but Canaan. It is possible that Canaan was somehow involved in the incident, but this is just conjecture. Canaan was Ham's youngest son, not his oldest, the son that would most likely be cursed. Chapter ten of Genesis is, on the surface, a rather bland chapter. One of those that you skip over and largely ignore because you can't pronounce most of the names. But this chapter is rife with implications. The passage gives us the part of the genealogy Noah's descendants through his three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. As everyone else was dead, it was these three sons that repopulated the earth. According to the text, Japheth's descendants went to the north and populated parts of Europe, Shem's descendants lived in the Middle East and served as the ancestors of the Jews (Shem/Semitic), and Ham's descendants moved into Africa (their names are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan). In other words, Japheth stands for Noah's white descendants or European descendants, Shem for his brown or Arabic descendants, and Ham for his black or African descendants. Since, according to the Biblical text, Canaan was cursed to slavery, Arabic, European, and Americans historically used this text to justify the capture and enslavement of Africans. In the Middle Ages, these verses were interpreted to mean that all of Ham's descendants were cursed, and African's black skin was often seen as a sign of Ham's curse. In the 19th, however, theologians began to point out that the curse applied solely to Canaan, and not the rest of Ham's sons that populated Africa. Therefore, the verse did not justify slavery. This text was also the source of Hamitic hypothesis, which was the creation of early anthropologists. In the hypothesis, Ham's descendants invaded Africa and conquered portions of it from the local inhabitants. This hypothesis played an important role in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when the Hutu tribe believed the Tutsi to be Hamitic in origin, and therefore invaders that needed to be removed. On a minor note, some important people to study in this list include Nimrod (the first "might man"), who founded Babel and Peleg, who apparently marks the days of the Earth's division (no idea what this means). There are some problems with the idea that Noah's sons repopulated the Earth. Following the flood, these families spread over all of the Earth and repopulated it... and did what? Did they SWIM to Australia and the North and South American continents? The Earth would have had to have been one solid landmass at this point in time. While their is evidence of a Flood in many portions of the globe, most experts agree that Noah's sons did not repopulate the Earth. Rather, it appears that the writer of Genesis used this text to give us the traditional background on the ethnic groups that he knew and interacted with. This appears to be another instance of the writer of Genesis using Jewish oral tradition and myth to explain something to his reader.

Monday, June 15, 2009
Genesis, Chapter Eleven: The Tower of Babel
The eleventh chapter of Genesis deals with humanity following the Flood. While we don't know how much time has passed between the end of the Flood and the events in this chapter, we do know that Babel was the beginning of the kingdom of Nimrod, according to chapter ten, which places us three generations from Noah. A group of Ham's descendants that are migrating east, decide to start building a tower out of

baked bricks and an ancient form of tar. This B.C. construction project gets the attention of God, who notes that mankind's universal language has united them into one people. Then, God makes a rather interesting comment. He states that the tower of Babel is only the beginning of mankind's accomplishments, and that, as one people, they have to potential to do anything that they set their mind to. This is a startling and revealing comment. Imagine if mankind did have one universal language, and were united under one purpose. We could do some pretty amazing things. But, God doesn't like this (I'm not quite sure why). "Let's go down" he says to himself (Trinity?), and scatters mankind somehow so that they settle the face of the earth and develop different languages. Now, this passage could easily be part of oral tradition, used by the Jews to explain both the presence of an unfinished structure at Babel and the dispersion of the different tribes following the Flood. Or, it could be entirely accurate, word for word. God could have come down and somehow scattered the people. I think it would be interesting to know HOW God scattered them, since the Biblical narrative doesn't go into it at all. Perhaps, the people began to argue about how to build the structure, and so they formed different factions and split up. Or, perhaps their was some form of sickness that split everyone up. Maybe they all just got bored. Regardless, this explanation of the origin of languages is unique and though-provoking, if a bit contrived. Why do you think God wanted mankind split up? Why was it so dangerous for them to be together? Would they have forgotten/ignored God in the knowledge that they could accomplish anything themselves? Did God create a situation where he would be necessary to mankind? Who knows...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 12: Abram, the Father of the Jews
In the eleventh chapter of Genesis we learn about Shem's descendants, one of which was a man called Abram (remember, Shem was the son most blessed by Noah, and from him the Israelites, or the middle people, descended). God tells Abram to leave his family and his home, and go to a new land. God then promises Abram that God will make Abram a great nation, and bless all of the nations through Abram. Abram will also receive God's divine protection. So Abram, at the age of 75, takes his wife (Sarai, also his half-sister or his niece, depending on whether you go by the Talmud or the Bible) and his nephew (Lot), and proceeds to travel to the

land of Canaan (Canaan, if you remember, was one of Ham's sons). God promises the land of Canaan to Abram, even though it was already inhabited by the Canaanites. After Abram builds an altar and "calls on the name of the Lord" (there's that phrase again), he moves on to Negeb (Negev). To give the reader some perspective, the land of Canaan refers to all or part of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, roughly where present-day Israel and Jordan are. The Negev was south of Canaan, in a very dry region of the country. Abram later traveled to Egypt because of a famine in Negev. In Egypt, Abram does something interesting. He tell Sarai to pretend to be his sister, because she is so beautiful that the Egyptians would kill Abram in order to have her. This is another example of sexism in the ancient world, as Sarai is seen as a piece of property to be owned. Sarai goes along with the plan, which worked out well for Abram, who got livestock and servants from Pharaoh because of his wife. Sarai was in Pharaoh's harem, but the Biblical narrative doesn't go into a lot of detail here. According to Jewish tradition (non-Biblical), God sent an angel who literally hit Pharaoh everytime he tried to "touch" her. According to the Biblical narrative, God afflicted Pharaoh with plagues because of Sarai's presence in his harem. Either way, Pharaoh found out about Abram's deceit, and sent him and Sarai away. Personally, this passage seems to be very biased. First of all, it gives the Israelites a divine right to the land of Canaan, a situation whose foundation was set earlier in Genesis through Ham's curse. Remember, Canaan was cursed by Noah because of Ham's actions, so taking his land would have been the right thing to do for Shem's descendants. Cursing Canaan was an odd thing for God to do (he was Ham's youngest son), unless you look at the story backwards from Moses' perspective. It gives Shem's descendants (one of whom was Moses) divine justification for seizing Canaan. Secondly, it seems rather contrived that Pharaoh wouldn't have had sex with Sarai, although I suppose it was possible. This, again, seems to be more tradition. Moses, a descendant of Sarai, certainly wouldn't have wanted to say that his ancestor was prostituted by Abram in order to save his own skin. Regardless of what really happened, this chapter has set the stage for both Israel's existence, and the events of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 13 and 14: Abram Rescues Lot
Chapter thirteen of Genesis describes the heightened tensions between Abram's huge estate and his nephew's. The land can't support both of them, so Abram lets Lot pick a new location to settle in. Lot picks the well-watered Jordan Valley, where the prosperous but wicked towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are. Abram moves to Canaan.

God then reaffirms his promise to give Canaan to Abram, and tells him that no one will be able to count his offspring. Chapter fourteen tells of an ancient battle between the "kings" or rulers of different regional citystates. In it, the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah are defeated, and the enemy armies plunder Sodom and Gomorrah, capturing Lot as well. When Abram hears about this, he gets his own army together (318 men, according to the Bible), defeats the enemy kings and recovers Lot, as well as the stolen property. The last portion of chapter fourteen deals with Abram's encounter with the king of Salem (believed to be ancient Jerusalem, although it could have been another ancient location), Melchizedek. The King of Salem was apparently a priest of God, and he brings out bread and wine to Abram. Abram then gives him a tenth of the recovered property and goes on his way. While this portion doesn't seem all that groundbreaking, it is somewhat confusing. First of all, there was no systematic religion involving priests set up by God as of yet, as far as we know. All priests in the Old Testament had to be descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother. In fact, we really don't know who Melchizedek is. In the Midrash, a Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament, Melchizedek is identified as Shem. Melchizedek is mentioned once again in the scriptures, in Psalms, where some unknown king in the Davidic dynasty is said to be "a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek" (although the phrase could simply mean rightful king). This passage is used in the New Testament book of Hebrews to identify Jesus Christ, calling him a priest in the order of Melchizedek, although this appears to take the Old Testament text a little far, as the writer of Hebrews is establishing the inability of the Law to save the Jews. This comparison is used for the sake of the Jews, since the writer of Hebrews is writing to a Jewish audience. Some scholars note the similarity between Melchizedek and Jesus Christ, and say that Melchizedek was actually God in human form, or it is at least an Old Testament precursor to Jesus Christ. The passage in Hebrews that refers to Melchizedek as without mother and father suggests this, although I don't really know how the writer of Hebrews would know this. The Old Testament simply doesn't talk about Melchizedek's background- it doesn't say he didn't have parents. The name Melchizedek could simply means king of righteousness. The verse that refers to him as a priest of God (El Elyon) could have originally simply been an ancient god (Elyon), and that later the Jews used this name for the Jewish God. What does all this mean? It meas that the Bible is convoluted and open to numerous interpretations, and that we shouldn't steadfastly stick to one standard way of looking at it, especially if our interpretation is based on a verse as vague as this. It turns out that people can make the Bible say whatever they want it to say, which is something that I attempt to not do. I don't know who Melchizedek is and that doesn't bother me. I'd rather say I don't know than stick to an interpretation that backs up my own worldview and hermenutical method. The Bible was written over the course of thousands of years by many different authors in

different languages. Perhaps it's time we accept the fact that the Bible is not this allencompassing guide to life and take it for what it really is: an ancient religious text with limited scope. It can't tell you which car to buy, where to work, or what you should do with your life. It's not a magic 8-ball, so let's stop using it as one.

Thursday, June 18, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 15 and 16: Smoking Fire Pots and Polygamy
Following Abram's defeat of the invading kings and subsequent rescue 0f Lot, he discusses his future with God. God promises Abram many children, but then Abram points out that he doesn't have any kids, and that his servant's children will receive his property. This must have been a pretty tough point in Abram's life. God keeps telling him that he'll have a ton of offspring, but he doesn't even have one child. In the ancient world, children were everything. They were your workforce and your army, and they ensured that your possessions would stay in family hands. But God reassures Abram, making him go through a rather bizarre sacrificial ritual, in which he cuts a cow, a goat, and a ram in half and leans the halves up against each other. Then he leans two dead birds up against each other, and he falls into a "deep sleep." A smoking fire pot and a flaming torch (sounds to me like Abram was on some sort of ancient form of LSD) pass between these dead animals as a symbol of the covenant God has struck with Abram. The next chapter in Genesis is often held as the foundation of the modern day conflict between Israel and the other Middle Eastern nations. In it, Sarai gives Abram her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, as a concubine, saying that maybe she will give Abram a son since Sarai hasn't been successful so far. Abram has sex with Hagar, and she gets pregnant. This makes Hagar a more valuable woman in the ancient world than Sarai, so she begins to lord it over Sarai. This pisses Sarai off, who begins to mistreat Hagar. Eventually, Hagar runs away, but is convinced by God to return to Sarai and "submit." God does have something interesting to say to Hagar, however: “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” Although Ishmael was born to Hagar, according to Mesopotamian law (number 170 in Hammurabi's Code), he was rightfully Sarai's son, and, Abram's firstborn, his rightful heir. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all deal with Ismael and Abram's second son, Isaac, in different (although very understandable) ways. Although we haven't yet gotten to the Isaac/Ishmael

conflict, we do know that, according to religious tradition, the Jews were descended from Isaac and other Arabic tribes from Ishmael. In Islam, Ishmael is given the bigger role, seen as Abram's firstborn, and is considered an Islamic prophet. In Judaism, Isaac is seen as the firstborn and given a larger role traditionally, while Ishmael is seen as more wicked and wild, although apparently the Biblical image of Ishmael was accepted and liked by the Jews. Since Isaac is seen as one of the ancient patriarchs of the Jews, and Ishmael as the father of other Arabic tribes, it makes sense that the different religious texts would view them differently. In the New Testament, Paul uses this discord to symbolize the difference between the Law and the new method of salvation and righteousness founded by Jesus Christ and expanded by Paul, often called the covenant of grace in covenant theology. But the New Testament doesn't have much to say on the subject, although, since all of the NT writers were Jewish, it's probably pretty safe to say they held to the traditional Jewish version of the story. Overall, Ishmael and Isaac play a huge role in the historical and current argument over who has divine right to the land of Israel. The Muslims say Ishmael, as Abram's first son and heir of his property (and promise), and his descendants do, while the Jews regard Ishmael as illegitimate and Isaac as the true heir of God's covenant with Abram. I don't think we'll ever really know the truth (or if there ever even was a covenant), but it is certainly eye-opening to see the traditional foundations of the current cultural and ethnic tensions in the Middle East.

Friday, June 19, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 17 and 18: Circumcision and Laughter
We have seen a great deal written about God's covenants with Abram (chapter 12, 13 and 15), and chapter seventeen follows that trend, albeit with a little more commitment on Abram's side and a few name changes. Once again, God comes to Abram, and promises to make him a great nation. He changes his name to Abraham, which means father of multitudes, and makes this covenant everlasting, bequeathing Canaan to Abraham's descendant's forever. As a physical sign of this everlasting covenant, God requests that Abraham circumcise himself and tell his household, including his servants, to do so as well. While some parts of Genesis seem rather contrived or, at least, the result of oral tradition, these verses must have come straight from God, because Abraham would never have made this one up. It must have been extremely painful for a 100 year old man to circumcise himself. All joking aside, this is an important part of Genesis, as it is one of the first times that God has separated the Jews from other cultures and made them special. This idea that Israel was unique is a common theme throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, although in the New Testament the Church decided to take the title of "God's special people" from the Jews.

Of course, this physical sign couldn't extend to women, but, in Genesis, women don't seem to be considered as very important. In the second half of the chapter, God moves on to Sarai (now named Sarah), and promises that "kings of nations" would come from her. Abraham first thinks that God is talking about Ishmael, but God corrects him, telling him that he will have a son by Sarah named Isaac (read the previous blog to understand the historical implications of this statement). Chapter eighteen records the first physical encounter that man ever had with God. Three men come to Abraham, who bows to them, calls one of them "Lord", and runs around like a chicken with its head cut off preparing a meal for them. God then tells Abraham that when he returns to him in a year, Sarah will have given birth. Sarah overhears God and laughs at this, which God hears. When confronted about her disbelief, Sarah denies it. I probably would have laughed as well. Abraham and Sarah were quite old at this time (100 and 90 years old, respectively). There is some speculation as to who the three men were. Some have said God, Jesus Christ, and the Angel of the Lord, or the archangel. Whoever they were, it is interesting that God could restrict himself to a physical manifestation. He wasn't simply a vision according to this text, because he ate. He was, at least, in human form. The rest of chapter eighteen deals with Sodom and Gomorrah, the topic of tomorrow's blog post, and perhaps a few blogs.

Saturday, June 20, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 18-19: Sodom and Gomorrah
The eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of Genesis are chapters that I've been looking forward to with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. These chapters are very shocking, the Biblical equivalent of an NC-17 film. Not only do these chapters deal with God's wrath and punishment of sin, but homosexuality, rape, and incest. With me to discuss this rather controversial chapter is my twin brother, Josh, a sophomore student at Criswell College. This is the first of what I hope to be many guest blogs. I've already gone over the first part of chapter eighteen. The second portion continues the dialog between Abraham and the Lord. God tells Abraham of his plans to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah, to see if the reports he's had of their sin are true (wouldn't God already know this, if he was all-knowing, etc.? Clearly either a figure of speech, or something that God so that finite Abraham would be able to understand the actions of an infinite God).

Abraham then tries to reason with God until God makes a bargain that if there are ten righteous people in Sodom, then he won't destroy the city. This interaction certainly seems odd, but we'll leave it be. I think that the important thing to take from this verse is the lack of righteous people in Sodom- it is part of the justification for God's destruction of the city. I'm pretty sure that God already knew what was going to happen, and had already made his mind up. But any commentary on this subject is pretty negligible. Two angels approach Sodom and see Lot (Abraham's nephew) at the town gate, traditionally a pretty social spot. Lot immediately recognizes them as something special, bowing to them and offering to house them (perhaps Abraham somehow informed Lot of God's intentions. This would explain Lot's actions further in the chapter), Once Sodom learns of the arrival of the two "men," every single guy in the place, young and old, surrounds Lot's house with the intention of raping the two men. Lot tries to reason with them, offering his two daughters to the men of Sodom instead of the strangers. The men refuse, and attempt to storm the house, but the angels blind them. The men then wear "themselves out, groping for the door." The angels then warn Lot of God's desire to destroy the city. The next day, they physically force Lot, his wife and his two daughters to leave Sodom, warning them against looking back at the destruction. God then unleashes sulfur and fire from heaven, pulverizing Sodom, Gomorrah and other cities in this valley and killing all of the inhabitants (God has now killed everyone on the Earth with the Flood, and the people living in the Jordan Valley). Lot's wife looks back (perhaps because she was upset at losing her house and possessions), and God turns her into a pillar of salt. "The historical accuracy of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt is questioned by some people, but I don’t find it difficult to believe that the God who created the universe could turn someone into salt," writes Josh. "I find it more interesting than anything else, since salt was about as valuable as gold in that culture. Jesus mentions the incident in Luke 17:32, further verifying the veracity of the account." For those of you with small vocabularies, veracity means truth. Then Lot and his two daughters go live in a cave. His daughters worry about the future of the family, since the two men they were going marry are dead. So they get Lot drunk on two consecutive nights and proceed to have sex with him. Their two offspring go on to father the Moabite and Ammonite peoples. Phew. There is so much to say about this chapter that I don't know where to begin. Josh writes, "Genesis 19 is commonly used as an example to show how much God detests homosexuality, and although there are many passages of Scripture that illustrate that homosexuality is a perversion of what is normal and detested by God, this chapter has a broader impact than that which often gets lost. As far as the reason that Sodom and Gomorrah got destroyed, Ezekiel 16:48-49 explains that: “As I live” – the declaration of the Lord God – “your sister Sodom and her daughters have not behaved as you and your daughters have. Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom:

she and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy.” The attempted homosexual rape was definitely part of Sodom and Gomorrah’s gross immorality, but it didn’t define it. It was a symptom, not a root problem." I also agree that most people overemphasize the homosexual undertones of this chapter. Interpreting this chapter as a Biblical indictment on homosexuality is pulling too much out of the chapter. I know that people love to make the Bible say what they want it to say, but I believe that overemphasizing parts of the Bible has led Western Christianity to the point it's at today. Instead of teaching our children that God hates homosexuals, using this chapter as an example, perhaps we should warn them of the sin of consumerism, of greedily hording resources while the rest of the world starves (USA, anyone?). It's easy for fat pastors to hate on homosexuals using this passage, but it's really hard for them to set down that cheeseburger and actually care about what's happening in other countries. If you really think that God wants us to hate homosexuals, then that is your decision (albeit, I would argue, a bad one), but perhaps you can take a break from it every once and while to take care of our starving, hurting world. As far as the incest is concerned, Josh points out that the Bible doesn't really condemn it. I'm sure God is against incest, but, then again, in the early chapters of the Bible, incest and polygamy are rather common things.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 21 and 22: Isaac and Human Sacrifice
The twenty-first chapter of Genesis discusses the birth of Isaac to Sarah and Abraham. After Isaac is weaned, Sarah sees Ishmael laughing at (or somehow ridiculing) Isaac. Furious, she forces a reluctant Abraham to kick Hagar and Ishmael out of his household. Abraham is told by God that it is ok for him to do so, as God will take care of Hagar and Ishmael. This must have been very difficult for Abraham. After all, Ishmael was his first-born son, and he undoubtedly loved the child. The Bible even tells us that this action was "very displeasing" to Abraham. The passage then goes on to describe Hagar's divine encounter. Alone in the desert, and having run out of water, Hagar puts Ishmael underneath the shade of bush and walks away, not wanting to watch her son die. But the angel of God sees Hagar's misery, and God "opens her eyes" so that she notices a nearby well. Ishmael grows up in Paran, somewhere east of the Jordan Valley, and Hagar acquires a wife for him from her native Egypt. The rest of the chapter deals with a dispute between Abraham's men and Abimelech's men. Apparently, Abimelech's men had seized one of Abraham's wells, the lifeblood of any Middle Eastern herdsman. Abimelech swiftly returns to well to Abraham after Abraham brings it to his attention, and goes to the land of the Philistines. I'm not sure if this means he moved all of his kingdom to the land of the Philistines because of the dispute, but it is quite clear that Abraham

had quite an extensive household himself, if he could make treaties with kings. The twenty-second chapter of Genesis is very interesting. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah. Abraham brings the clueless Isaac to the top of the mountain, ties him up, and is about to kill him, when an angel stops him. The angel points out a ram, which Abraham sacrifices instead. The last portion of the chapter deals with the offspring of Abraham's brother, Nahor. This passage hold tremendous implications, and raises a lot of questions. First of all, I find it difficult to believe that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son, even if he was only "testing" Abraham. In fact, many Jewish scholars believe that Abraham was insane to think that God would seriously ask this of him. Other scholars point out that child sacrifice was common among ancient Semetic tribes, and the idea that God would actually prevent Abraham from sacrificing his son was surprising. The exact age of Isaac is unknown. Modern Christian interpretations describe him as a young boy, but Jewish tradition believed Isaac to be a grown man, anywhere from 20 to around 40 years old. This would mean that Isaac himself went along with the whole thing. Most Christians interpret this passage as a foreshadowing of God's own "sacrifice" of Jesus Christ, and point out that Abraham told his servants that both he and Isaac would descend from the mountain. His firm belief in God's promise to him (that he would become a great nation through Isaac) could have meant that Abraham believed that God would bring Isaac back to life. The writer of Hebrews comments on this passage, calling it a test of faith.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Genesis 24: Isaac Finds a Wife
I'm skipping chapter twenty-three, which recounts the death of Sarah. Chapter twenty-four gives great insight into some of the marriage practices of the ancient Middle East. Since Abraham was nearing death, he decides to commission one of his servants to go to his homeland in Mesopotamia and obtain a wife for Isaac from among his own family. The passage then goes on to tell of the servant's journey to the city of Nahor with ten camels and other gifts from Abraham. When the servant came to the well, it was around the time that the young women of Nahor came to the well to draw water (in the cool of the evening). The servant knew this, and prayed that God might show him who he was supposed to approach with Isaac's marriage proposal. Before he had finished praying, a young woman by the name of Rebekah came to the well. The woman was actually the granddaughter of Abraham's brother, Isaac's first cousin. The passage tells us that she was very attractive and a virgin.

The servant decides to make his move. He approaches Rebekah and asks for a drink of water, which she promptly gives him. She then draws enough water for his ten camels (which was no small feat, since camels can drink between 25 to 40 gallons at a time) while the servant watches. The servant then gives Rebekah some jewelry, and asks about her family. When he learns that she is related to Abraham, he is sure that she was sent by God. He goes to meet her family, and recounts Abraham's commands and his experience at the well. The family acknowledges the divine origins of the encounter, and they allow their daughter to go with the servant. The servant then gives gifts to the family and to Rebekah, and departs for the Negev with Rebekah. She and Isaac meet and are married (although there is no Biblical account as to how exactly they were married). This passage reveals some interesting things about the ancient Semetic cultures. First of all, Rebekah is asked whether she wants to go and marry Isaac, which I thought was somewhat forward-thinking for the time. At least she wasn't forced to go Secondly, the fact that this woman would just get up and leave her family to go marry a man she had never met flies in the face of every thought we have of romance and marriage. There was no compatibility check, no dates, no engagement period. Someone else found her, figured she would fit the bill, and Isaac married her. Of course, marriage in ancient Mesopotamia was certainly done more for convenience, survival, and the continuation of one's line, than for love.

Thursday, June 25, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 25 and 26: Jacob and Esau
We are now halfway through the book of Genesis (yeah!), and the twenty-fifth chapter begins with the death of Abraham, the main character of the book so far. Before his death, he took another wife and had many children, but he gave the majority of his possessions to Isaac, and sent his other sons away to the east so as to avoid conflict with Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah when he was forty years old, as we discussed in my previous post. When he was sixty years old, Rebekah conceived twins. When they were still in the womb, they "struggled within her", prompting this prophecy from God: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” I kind of doubt that this prophecy actually took place, but it might have. It also might be Moses adding some artistic touches, as he knew what was going to happen with her twins. Regardless, Rebekah has twins, Jacob and Esau. Esau, the first child, was born red and hairy. Jacob was born holding on to Esau's foot, something that would certainly foreshadow his

relationship with Esau. Jacob's name means "he takes by the heel" or "he cheats," implying that Jacob would somehow trip Esau up. Esau grows up to be a powerful hunter and outdoors man- a real man's man, which makes his father Isaac happy. Jacob, however, is a bit more docile, and usually stays with his mother in the tents. I find this contrast to be very interesting. Jacob was probably weaker physically, but the text implies that he is craftier and more intelligent than the brawny Esau. Moses tells us a story about Esau selling his birthright, an extremely valuable thing in ancient Israel. The first-born son would receive 2/3 of his father's inheritance, while the rest of his brothers would split the remaining 1/3. Apparently, Esau had been out hunting in the fields all day, and, when he came back to the tents, he was exhausted. Jacob had cooked a stew, which he offered to sell to Esau in return for his birthright. Esau, in a very mellow dramatic way, sells Jacob the birthright in return for dinner. The text tells us that Esau despised his birthright. In chapter twenty-six, we find Isaac encountering some of the same problems that his father had. He also moves near Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, and tells his men that Rebekah is his sister, so they won't kill him. Again, Abimelech discovers that this is a lie. Isaac eventually grows too large, and his men begin to quarrel with Abimelech's again, only, this time, Abimelech sends Isaac away. Perhaps he didn't have the same respect for him that he did for Abraham. Eventually, Isaac finds a place to settle where he doesn't have to fight Abimelech for water, and he makes peace with the Philistine king. The last two verses of the passage tell of Esau's marriage to a Hittite woman. This may not seem like a big deal to us, but apparently Esau and his wife made life difficult for Isaac and Rebekah, although the passage does not tell us how or why. The very fact that she came from another tribe probably grated on Isaac. In conclusion, these chapters are not that revolutionary or important, but they do set the stage for the Jacob/Esau conflict that will dominate the second half of Genesis.

Friday, June 26, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 27: The World's First Con Man
We've already seen some conflict between Jacob and Esau, Isaac's twin sons. While chapter twenty-five certainly created some tension between the two brothers, the events of chapter twenty-seven will escalate the conflict between the brothers to a murderous new level. The beginning of chapter twenty-seven discusses the old age of Isaac. Almost blind and probably somewhat deaf, he sends Esau out into the field to hunt wild game and prepare it for him, so that he could bless Esau. This demonstrates Isaac's love and favor for Esau, as he had technically sold

his birthright to Jacob. Isaac's life so far has been pretty uneventful compared to Abraham's, although he did go through several of the same problems with Abimelech and he did lie about Rebekah's relationship to him. I imagine Isaac as a rather weak individual, although we certainly don't know this for sure. He and Rebekah clearly did not see eye to eye on a lot of things, as they favored different sons. It could have started out rather harmlessly, but I imagine that this unequal love caused a great deal of tension between Isaac and Rebekah, not to mention their sons. I think it's pretty safe to say that if they had raised or treated their sons differently, they might have turned out to be friends, instead of bitter enemies. As a twin myself, I know the struggle they must have gone through in establishing their own identities. While my brother and I are certainly not favored by one parent or another, even we have felt some of the pressure of out-performing each other in order to gain acceptance and individuality. Anyway, Esau goes out to hunt, leaving his scheming mother and brother back at the tents. Rebekah gets Jacob to kill two goats, and she prepares them in Isaac's favorite way. She then clothes Jacob in Esau's clothing, and puts the skin of the goats on Jacob, as his brother Esau was apparently a human gorilla. Jacob approaches Isaac in his tent, who is at first skeptical as to his identity. After he feels Jacob's now hairy arms, he proceeds to give him the following blessing: “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” Wow. Isaac really liked Esau a lot more than Jacob. After the blessing, Jacob leaves the tent and Esau comes in, ready to get his blessing. When Isaac hears that it is Esau that just entered, he trembles violently, knowing the conflict he's just created. Unfortunately for both of them, Isaac cannot take his blessing back (more on this later). Isaac, his hands tied, then does all that he can for Esau within the confines of his previous blessing: "Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother;

but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.” Esau then eases his bruised ego by planning to kill Jacob after his father dies. He is apparently not very subtle about this, and his mother finds out. She sends Jacob to her brother, Laban, using Esau's wife, a Hittite woman who apparently annoys the hell out of Isaac and Rebekah, as an excuse for sending Jacob to Laban. The most interesting thing in this chapter for me is the blessings. They hold such power that, once uttered, they cannot be undone. Jewish tradition holds that the blessing of Tzadik, or righteous person, was given spiritual power by God. Because of Abraham's close relationship with God and God's multiple promises to him, it is often believed that Isaac derived some sort of spiritual power from the Abraimic covenant. The idea is that God gave Abraham his blessing, who bestowed it upon Isaac, who gave it to Jacob. Personally, I think that the way you view the previous chapters of Genesis have a lot to do with how you view the blessing. Other blessings in Genesis were very pro-Israel, pro-Semetic, and pro-Moses' (the book's traditional author) ancestors. I'm not saying that these blessings aren't historically accurate, but it certainly does seem odd that ALL of them seem to go in the Jews favor. I know that the Jews are God's special people, but why? Perhaps it's because of Noah's righteousness, or Abraham's. I wonder what the blessing would have looked like if Genesis would have been written by one of Ishmael or Esau's descendants.

Saturday, June 27, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 28 and 29: Jacob's Dream and Wives
At the end of chapter twenty-seven of Genesis, Rebekah's mother developed a plan to send her son Jacob back home to her relatives to save him from his wrathful and revengeful twin brother, Esau. She approached Isaac, and asked that Jacob be sent to her brother, Laban, so that he could choose a wife from among the women their, instead of the neighboring Canaanites. Isaac agrees with his wife, as he dislikes Esau's current local wives. Jacob is sent to Laban, and Esau, noting his father's displeasure, picks a wife from among Ishmael's descendants. One night during his journey to Laban's, Jacob falls asleep outside using a rock as a pillow. He dreams about a ladder leading up into heaven, with angels ascending and descending. He then hears the word of God say the following words: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep

you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." This promise is very similar to the one God gave to Abraham. It appears that God has extended his covenant to Jacob, affirming Isaac's blessing of his younger son. When Jacob wakes up, he sets the stone up as a pillar, anoints it, and promises to follow God and give him a tenth of his possessions if God stays with him. This actions can be traced back to Abraham's tithe that he gave to Melchizedek. Jacob then approaches Laban's property, and see Laban's daughter, Rachel tending sheep. He is then reunited with his mother's brother, and begins to work for Laban. After a month of working for him, Laban asks Jacob how he should pay him for his labor. Jacob asks for Rachel, his cousin. Laban accepts this exchange, and Jacob works for seven years, infatuated with Rachel. After seven years, Jacob thinks he is given Rachel, whom he proceeds to have sex with. The next morning, however, he discovers that Laban had deceived him, giving him Rachel's older sister, Leah. Jacob angrily demands to know what's going on, and Laban explains to him that it was customary for the older sister to be married before the younger one. Unfazed, Jacob completes the week-long wedding ritual and then proceeds to have sex with Rachel. He works for Rachel for another seven years. Leah, over the course of this time, has four children, while Rachel has none. This is probably a great humiliation for Rachel, as women were measured by their ability to bear children, which, while sexist, made more sense in ancient Israel than it does now. Overall, these two chapters contain some dramatic material. Jacob's dream is something we haven't seen so far in the Biblical text. This heavenly vision confirms Jacob's spiritual inheritance from Isaac and Abraham. Jacob's acquisition of both Leah and Rachel is somewhat questionable. The women are seen as objects to be bought, instead of people, and, unlike Rebekah's marriage to Isaac, they don't appear to have much to say about the matter. The fact that Jacob was forced to marry Leah instead of the women he loved, Rachel, just means that there would have been constant tension and competition in the household. The move on Laban's part was not one that would have benefited either sister. Another controversial angle to this story is that fact that not only were Rachel and Leah Jacob's cousins, they were sisters who were married to the same man. So, in this chapter, Jacob, the father of the Jews and spiritual father of Christians, commmitted both incest (twice) and polygamy. Finally, I found it very odd that Jacob didn't know that he was sleeping with Leah and not Rachel until the following morning. You figure he would have known what she looked like after working for her for seven years.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Genesis, Chapter 30: Jealousy and Prosperity
The first part of the thirtieth chapter of Genesis is a rather humiliating glance into the life of the patriarch Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah. In the last chapter, we learned that Leah had given Jacob four sons, while Rachel had given him none. Jealous of her sister's success, Rachel lashes out at Jacob, demanding that he give her children or she would die. Jacob angrily defends himself, and Rachel ends up giving Jacob her servant, Bilhah, as a sexual partner. Bilhah gives Jacob two children, and Rachel claims these as her own. Since Leah had stopped having children, she gave Jacob her servant, Zilpah, as a sexual partner. Whether these servants had any choice in the matter is debatable, but I doubt that they did. Zilpah also had two children, raising Jacob's total to eight. Later, Reuben, Leah's first son, discovers mandrakes in the field. Mandrakes have historically been associated with sexual desire and fertility because the roots themselves resemble the lower portions of a human's body. Reuben gives these mandrakes to his mother, and Rachel finds out about them. When Rachel asks Leah to give her some of the mandrakes, Leah trades them for a night of sex with Jacob. Leah then conceives two more sons, her fifth and sixth, and Jacob's ninth and tenth. She also has a daughter, Dinah, although Jacob probably had a lot of daughters. They just aren't as important as the men in ancient Hebrew society. God then allows Rachel to become pregnant, and she has Joseph. After Rachel has Joseph, Jacob goes to Laban, his uncle, and asks Laban to send him away so that he could go home. He also requests his wives in children, which, for some reason, aren't in his possession. I'm not quite sure why Jacob can't just leave at this point in time, although I would imagine that after all those years (probably over 30) that Jacob had spent with Laban, their households were pretty intertwined. Laban, however, is loathe to let Jacob go, since, through Jacob's hardwork and God's blessing, Laban's possesions have grown somewhat extensively. Knowing that Jacob is the origin of his monetary success, he begs him to stay, asking him what Jacob wants as his wages. Jacob then strikes a deal with Laban, promising to keep his flocks as long as he can have all of the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, as well as all of the black sheep (i.e., the imperfect animals). Laban agrees, separates these animals from the rest of his flock, and puts them under the eyes of his sons. He moves three days away from Jacob, and Jacob takes care of the rest of his flock. I'm not quite sure whether this means Jacob was taking care of the spotted animals, or Laban was. The text is a bit confusing. Regardless, Jacob takes "fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees" and peels "white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks." He places these striped sticks near where he watered the flocks because they mated in front of these places. When the animals bred in front of the striped sticks, they would have striped offspring, and Jacob would put these in his flock.

Through this method, Jacob slowly began to take the strongest of the flock from Laban. Ok, just in case you were wondering, putting striped sticks in front of animals while they mate has nothing to do with the state of their offspring's coats. This is pure, unadulterated superstition that is fed to us as truth by the author. Here is a good example of the writer impacting the Biblical text. The only natural example for Jacob's flock getting stronger would be that their more varied genes would make them hardier and stronger, like when a mixed-breed dog is stronger than a pure-breed. But this still doesn't explain how Jacob's striping of wood. The only explanation that works with the text is that God saw what Jacob was doing, and decided to make it work, despite the fact that it is naturally impossible. This chapter is not a high point in the Old Testament. In it, Jacob is pretty much seen as a sex object who is bartered around by his two overbearing wives and prostitued out to their servants in order to fuel their little wife war. Jacob tricks Laban, and later magically causes his animals to spawn imperfect animals. Both the striped sticks and the mandrakes are examples of Hebrew supersition, as neither actually can do what the text indicates (actually, mandrakes contain a deliriant hallucinogen). I don't remember a whole lot of Sunday School lessons and sermons coming from this chapter, for obvious reasons. Another interesting point in this chapter is in verses 27 and 28 where Laban says "If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you. Name your wages, and I will give it." The Hebrew word used here is nachash, which is associated with supernatural divinations, although the Biblical text is not clear as to the extent of Laban's use of it. The text does indicate that Laban practiced pagan rituals, something that will certainly come into play later on in Genesis.

Genesis, Chapter 31: Jacob vs. Laban
By this time in his relationship with Laban, Jacob has demonstrated an immense amount of both hard work and cunning. Laban's sons noticed that Jacob was benefiting from his relationship with their father, and complained of his material gains at Laban's expense. They seem to be forgetting that Laban was rather unsuccessful before Jacob arrived. Jacob notices Laban's displeasure, and is instructed by God to return to Isaac. He discusses the matter with Leah and Rachel. The ensuing conversation is very interesting. In it, we learn that Laban changed Jacob's wages multiple times, and attempted to short-change him on many occasions. Jacob attributes his success with the flock to God, and tells his wives that God has told him to go home. Leah and Rachel agree with him, angry at their father for selling them and spending their inheritence. Jacob then packs all of his belongings, puts his family on camels, and gathers his flocks. He sets out for home while Laban is gone shearing sheap. The Bible says that he "tricked" Laban by not telling him he was leaving. Once again, Jacob lives up to his name.

Rachel, however, complicates matters by stealing her father's idols. Three days after Jacob left, Laban found out about his departure, and followed him for a week with his kinsmen. Before confronting Jacob, Laban was visited in a dream by God, who told him to not say anything to Jacob, good or bad. Laban overtakes Jacob in the hill country of Gilead. He says "What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father's house, but why did you steal my gods?” Jacob denies stealing the gods, since he didn't know Rachel had done so. He also explains that he secretly fled from Laban because he was afraid Laban would take Rachel and Leah away by force. Laban searces the camp for the idols, but Rachel hides them in her camel's saddle and sits on them. Jacob then angrily tells Laban off, pointing out that he had worked hard and justly for Laban. Laban then informs Jacob that all that Jacob has he acquired from or through Laban. After this little argument, the two men decide to erect a pillar and a heap of stones, promising that neither would cross this symbolic border in order to do harm to the other. Laban then kisses his daughters and grandchildren, blesses them, and goes home. I'm not quite sure why Rachel stole her father's idols, but there are quite a few theories on that topic. Some believe that Rachel did this so that her father wouldn't worship idols, which I think is really a very foolish theory to believe. Another theory, probably one closer to the truth, is that she stole them so she could worship them. The story that makes the most sense to me is that she did it out of spite for her father, who spent her inheritance and sold her older sister to Jacob instead of her, creating constant tension in her family. The fact that God visited Laban, a pagan who worshipped idols, in a dream, is interesting. Apparently Laban knew and possibly believed in the "God of Abraham" (after all, the God of Abraham is the God he swears on to seal his pact with Jacob), but, like many ancient people, he probably combined local religious traditions and myths. The fact that he would interact with God in such a supernatural way, and then complain about his idols, seems a little contradictary to me. Laban was convinced enough by his dream to not attack Jacob, but his encounter didn't appear to do much to impact his religious beliefs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Genesis, Chapter 32 and 33: Jacob and Esau, Pt. Two
In the first verse of chapter thirty-two we find one of those oh-so-common verses in the Bible that both confuse and frustrate. In it, Jacob is met by two angels, and, when he sees them, he says "This is God's camp." Then the passage moves on. No explanation, no context. The fact is, we very rarely get the writer to comment on what he is writing about, so we are often left at a loss. This is why the Jews created an entire book of commentary on the Old Testament. Jacob then sends messengers in front of him to his older twin brother, Esau. If you remember, Jacob left his father's home many, many years ago because his older brother was plotting to kill him once their father, Isaac, died. Of course, Isaac is dead by now (he was knocking on death's door when he sent Jacob away), but Esau is probably still pretty pissed. Jacob is very deferential to Esau, which means he's still scared of him. Esau is now in control of Isaac's extensive estate, after all. Jacob's servants return and inform him that Esau is headed his way with four hundred men. Jacob then divides his men, women, and possessions into different camps, hoping that if Esau attacks one camp, the rest of his household get away. He then sends his brother about 550 animals as a peace offering. The next night, Jacob sends his family across a river, and stays behind to wrestle with a man until morning. The man turns out to be an angel, who touches Jacob's hip and lames him when he discovers that he can't beat Jacob. The angel then attempts to get away, but Jacob forces him to bless him, and the angel names him "Israel" because he strove with God and man and won. Israel means "he strives with God," a rather apt name for the nation of Israel. This supernatural encounter is given as the reason that the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the thigh muscle that stretches across the hip. In chapter thirty-three, Jacob sees Esau coming. He puts his servants in front, Leah and her children behind them, and Rachel and Joseph in the back, in order of how much he loved them. He then goes and bows down seven times before Esau. Esau, instead of slaughtering his brother and his brother's family, runs to him and embraces him. Esau at first refuses his brother's gift, but then eventually accepts it. He then wants the two families to travel together, but Jacob decides not to, using his large company as an excuse (I think he was probably still afraid of Esau). Esau then wants to leave some of his men with Jacob, but Jacob again doesn't like this idea. Jacob eventually settles in Shechem in his homeland of Canaan. These two chapters intrigue me. First of all, the reference of Jacob wrestling the angel confuses me. Why was the angel there? Why did they wrestle? How did Jacob manage to beat him, since the angel undoubtedly had supernatural abilities? Why was an angel in physical, human form?

Actually, this story reminds me of the Celtic leprechaun myths, where they would catch a leprechaun and then make them tell them where their pot of gold was before they released them. I'm not quite sure why Esau forgave Jacob. Perhaps, after many years of exile away from his family and hometown, Esau figured Jacob had paid his dues. Or, since Esau took ALL of Isaac's possessions, he probably wasn't still pissed about the birthright thing. Either way, Jacob is alive after all, and he's prospered. But their sibling rivalry is certainly not over.

Friday, July 3, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 34: Rape and Revenge
The book of Genesis is not a pretty book. While there are certainly some chapters that strike both wonder and amazement into the heart of the reader, the majority of Genesis is confusing, frustrating, and revolting. Chapter thirty-four is one such chapter. Dinah, Leah and Jacob's daughter, goes out one day to visit with some of the local women. Shechem, the son of a Hittite, sees her and is immediately attracted to her, so he rapes her. He then goes to his father and asks him to work out a deal with Jacob for Dinah, because he wants her for his wife. Jacob waits until all of his sons came back from working in the fields, and when they hear what had happened, they are very angry. Shechem's dad goes to Jacob, and offers the women of his town in exchange for Jacob's, pleading with Jacob to intermarry with his children. He also tells Jacob that he can live in his land, and exchange goods and gifts with him. Jacob's sons, as crafty as he was, lie to the Hittite, telling him that Shechem can't have their sister, since he and the men of his town are uncircumcized, a tradition that Abraham's descendents had apparently been observing. In order for them to allow Dinah to be married to Shechem, the men of his town need to be circumcised. Shechem was happy with this agreement, so he convinced all the men of his town to circumcise themselves. Three days later, Simon and Levi, Dinah's full brothers, snuck into the city while all of the men were still sore and killed all the males. They then plundered the city, took all of the possessions (including the women and children), rescued Dinah, and went back home. Jacob is not happy with Simon and Levi, as he is now open to attack from the Canaanites Perizzites, and he does not have a large enough household to fight these tribes as of yet. Simon and Levi defend themselves, asking their father if Shechem should have treated their sister like a prostitute. Moses doesn't really comment on the situation, but simply recounts it for us. Neither do we hear whether God approved their actions or not. There are no immediate divine repurcussions for their

wanton slaughter of an entire village, so I think it's pretty safe to say that Moses' hands are tied. On the one hand, the actions of Simon and Levi are both unbelievably violent and deadly- they certainly overreacted to the rape of their sister. I would imagine that a modern-day writer would condemn both the actions of Shechem and Simon and Levi. But, Simon and Levi are two of the founding fathers of Isreal- it's not really in Moses' best interest to really comment negatively on their actions. Secondly, we again have ancient sexism rear its ugly head. Personally, I find Simon and Levi's actions, while certainly evil, to be counter-intuitive to the generally-accepted view of women in Bible times. After all, it's not like women were considered equal to men, or even that much better than other possessions. Their defense of Dinah is admirable in principle, if not in action. Laban sold his daughters, probably against their will. Leah and Rachel gave their servants to Jacob as sexual partners, something Jacob's mom did with her servants and husband. We don't really know if it was against their will or not, but I'm guessing probably not. Lot's daughters raped him, and it's possible that Noah's son raped him. God's people aren't getting off to a very good start.

Sunday, July 5, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 35-37: Life, Death, and New Names
Following the destruction of Shechem and his town, God tells Jacob to take his family to Bethel and make an altar to him where he fled from his brother, Esau. If you remember, Bethel was the place where Jacob dreamed he saw a ladder going to heaven, with angels walking on it. Jacob gets his household to give him their idols and rings, which he buries in Schechem. As they left the land, the text says that the "terror of God" filled the people who inhabited the lands they passed through, so no one attacked Jacob for his son's actions against Shechem. Jacob arrives at Bethel, and God talks with him. He renames Jacob Israel, as the angel did, and then blesses him, saying "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Again, "God" reinforces Jacob's blessing as the spiritual first son of Abraham and Isaac. Jacob then sets up a pillar where God spoke to him, a common practice in the day. The text then tells us that God "went up from him" from the place where they talked. I have no idea what this means. I doubt God talked to him in a physical form, but this passage seems to imply that. I remember mentioning before that I thought Isaac had died by this point and Esau had inherited his estate, but I was wrong. Isaac lives to be 180 years old, and Israel meets his father again before he dies. Israel's beloved wife, Rachel, dies in childbirth, having had two sons, Joseph and the newly-born

Benjamin. Israel now had twelve sons, the traditional fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Chapter thirty six discusses the descendants of Esau. I find it strange that Moses would include Esau's descendants, as he was not the spiritual descendant and recipient of God's covenants with Abraham and Isaac. This list is certainly historically useful, however. In chapter thirty-seven, we again see family tensions swell to the breaking point. Joseph, Israel's favorite son, is somewhat of a brat. He snitches on his brothers and receives expensive presents from his father. At one point in time, he has a series of dreams that he tells his family, exalting him above his brothers. Even his doting father rebukes him for his arrogant behavior. At one point in time, while most of his sons were out pasturing his flocks, Israel sends Joseph after them, perhaps again to make sure they're doing what Israel wants them to do. His brothers see him coming towards them, and they plot to kill them. But Reuben, the oldest, convinces them to simply put him in a large pit, because he secretly wants to rescue him and send him back to Israel. While Reuben is gone, however, his brothers sell Joseph to a group of Ishmaelites for 20 shekels (a shekel was 11 grams) of silver. When Reuben returns, he finds Joseph gone and tears his garments in grief. The brothers dip Joseph's coat in animal blood and send it to their father, who immediately recognizes it. Supposing that his son was killed by wild animals, and he begins to mourn deeply. Meanwhile, the Ishmaelites sell Joseph as a slave to Potiphar, an Egyptian. Potiphar is an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard. Overall, these three chapters reveal the deep emotions harbored by the ancient Israelites. Perhaps if Israel hadn't doted on Joseph so much, and perhaps if he hadn't been so cocky, his brothers would have loved him instead of wanting to kill him. As we've seen with both Abraham and Isaac before him, Israel's disproportionate love has caused pain and anger for his family. These ancient families were just as dysfunctional as ours are.

Monday, July 6, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 38: Incest and Cult Prostitution
Wow. This book just keeps getting more and more interesting. Fresh off the heels of the rape of Dinah and the slaughter of Shechem, we have a story about Judah, Israel's fourth son, his wicked sons and his incestuous daughter. "Moses" takes a break from Joseph's story to tell us about Judah. Judah "turns aside" to an Adullamite, one of the sub-tribes of the Canaanites, a man named Hirah. Then, Judah "marries" a Canaanite woman named Shua, and he has three sons with her: Er, Onan, and Shelah. When his son Er is old enough, Judah gets a wife from him named Tamar. But Er is apparently very wicked, so the Lord kills him. Whether the Lord actually strikes him down, or he dies as the

result of his dangerous and wicked lifestyle, the text is not clear. Judah then tells Onan that it is his brotherly duty to have sex with his sister-in-law, so that his brother can have offspring, even though technically they would not be related to him at all. The son would then inherit his father's name, and therefore the birthright from Judah that was Er's. Onan doesn't really want to do this, because he wants to birthright for himself, so he "wastes his semen on the ground," kind of an ancient form of birth control. God wasn't a huge fan of this for whatever reason, so he kills him. Judah then tells Tamar to "act like a widow" until Shelah is old enough, when she will be given to him. However, it appears that Judah does not intend on keeping his promise, as he believes Tamar to be cursed. At this point in time, it's pretty safe to say that Tamar is SOL. She is destined to be an unmarried widow in her father-in-law's house, an unenviable position, to say the least. In the course of time, Judah's wife dies, and after he is "comforted" (one week of mourning), he goes up to Timnah with his friend Hirah. Tamar, knowing that Judah will want some female company since his wife has died, goes up to Timnah and dresses up like a cult prostitute. Apparently, back in the day, men thought that if they had sex with these special prostitutes, they would have a fertile harvest. Maybe it was just an excuse to have sex with prostitutes. Anyway, Judah sees her and has sex with her, promising to send her a goat in payment. He then leaves his signet ring and staff with her, ancient forms of ID, as a promise. When Judah sends his friend to go find her and pay her, she is gone. Judah then dismisses the matter. Three months later, Tamar is found to be pregnant, and Judah commands her to be burned. Tamar then reveals that she was the cult prostitute, and Judah claims that she is "more righteous" than himself. She was certainly smarter, because now her offspring will be the firstborn of Judah, and receive the main portion of his possessions. The text tells us that Judah does not have sex with Tamar again, and has twins, Perez and Zerah. So, once again, we have Jesus' ancestors populating via incest. Again, there is no record of God judging or looking down upon Judah's sex with a "prostitue" and Tamar's incest. Only Judah's two sons incur his wrath. This passage is very strange for numerous reasons, and is actually believed to be eponymous etiological myth by many Bible scholars, a fictional reason for the creation of levirate marriage (the concept that if a husband died without giving birth to a son, then one of his brothers would have a son for him by his wife). Other scholars simply see this passage as historical fact. Ok, to explain that paragraph's first sentence. An eponym is a name, real or fake, that is the basis for the name of a tribe, city, etc. For instance, Isreal (Jacob) is an eponym for the tribe Israel. An etiological myth is a myth designed to explain the creation or existence of something (in this case, levirate marriage). Other etiological myths in the Bible include God's covenant with Noah (explains rainbows) and Lot's wife (explains salt pillars in the Dead Sea area). The belief is that Er and Onan represent two dying clans, Onan representing the Edomite tribe of

Onam, and Er a clan that was later assimilated by the Shelah clan. While there are certainly some holes in this theory, it is interesting to research and consider. I personally don't believe it to be accurate, although I do believe that the story could have been manipulated in such a way to explain the creation of the leverite tradition. There are also some significant chronological discrepancies within the text. In the chapter before thirty-eight, Joseph is said to have been 17 years old. Afterwards, Joseph is said to meet up with Judah at the age of 39. This leaves 22 years for Judah to have three sons, two of them die, and have two sons with Tamar. Some scholars believe that this story was fused with Joseph's, and that they were written by two different authors, which explains it's odd placement and chronological problems. This is one of the reasons that I question if Moses actually wrote all five books (for instance, how did he write about his own death?), but we'll get to that when the time comes. In conclusion, this passage's inclusion in Genesis is confusing, and the text itself is rather revovolting. But that's not anything new for Genesis.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 39 and 40: Deceit and Interpretation
The writer once again picks up Joseph's story. Last we saw of him, he was being sold to an Egyptian by Ishmaelite traders. Joseph is a successful servant because the "Lord is with him," a phrase that is used commonly in the Old Testament, but is never really fully explained. I'm guessing it simply means that God blessed what Joseph was doing, and that God was the source of his success. Anyway, Joseph is put in charge of the entire household, and Potiphar, his master, trusts him completely. Apparently, Joseph was pretty good looking, because Potiphar's wife asks him to have sex with her, which he refuses, based on the grounds that it would be a betrayal of the master he's worked so hard to please. She continues this day after day, but he continues to deny her. This must have been a constant pain for Joseph, but he manages to escape her for a while. Eventually, however, she manages to isolate him, and physically attempts to force him to have sex with her. He escapes, but she grabs his cloak. No doubt feeling shame, anger, and guilt at his denials, she tells her husband that Joseph attempted to rape her. Potiphar angrily throws Joseph into prison, where he once again rises to power through his hard work and the Lord's blessing. While Joseph is in prison, the cheif baker and cupbearer to Pharoah are thrown in jail for pissing Pharoah off. The cheif guard puts Joseph in charge of them, and they remain in his custody for a

while. One night, both of them have mysterious dreams that Joseph interprets for them, saying that "dreams belong to God." Joseph predicts that the cupbearer will be returned to his former position, while the baker will be killed. Sure enough, three days later, Pharoah hangs the baker and restores the cupbearer. The cupbearer, however, forgets about Joseph, and does not tell Pharoah about him. Joseph is still stuck in prison, with no observable sign of getting out anytime soon. Joseph seems to be at the center of some kind of divine drama. There is some speculation that Potiphar was a eunuch due to his close proximity to the Pharoah. Eunuchs were castrated men used in ancient times for various tasks, including guarding harems. Their lack of sexual desire made them perfect for such a task. There is historical evidence that many of Pharoah's court were eunuchs, and some eunuchs had wives. This could explain why Potiphar's wife was sexually frustrated. The entire Pentutarch is thought by some scholars to be a conglomeration of four individual texts written by four writters. In this thinking, the first story with Potiphar is seen as one writer's equivalent of the other's prison story. Whether or not this is true, both stories reinforce the idea that Joseph is paying for some invisible crime. His unfair treatment is balanced by God's constant favor. The young Hebrew, sold by his brothers as a teenager, sexually harrassed by his master's wife, and thrown in prison for a crime he never comitted, is certainly growing up quickly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 41: Joseph's Redemption
When we saw Joseph last, he was lying in an Egyptian prison, betrayed, falsely accused, and forgotten by all but God. Still, if you're going to have someone on your side, God is definitely the guy to have. His constant blessing of Joseph, despite the hardships he endured, and divine gift of interpretation were both about to rocket Joseph to ancient stardom. Two years after Joseph had correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's cupbearer and chief baker, Pharaoh himself has two very disturbing dreams. He summons his advisers, but none of them can even attempt to interpret the dreams. The cupbearer then remembers Joseph, and tells Pharaoh about him, who promptly sends for him. Pharaoh relates his dreams to Joseph, who claims that God will give him the answer. He tells Pharaoh that Egypt is in store for seven years of plentiful harvests, followed by seven years of terrible famine. Joseph then suggests that Pharaoh find someone to store one-fifth of the grain in the years of plenty to feed the land in the years of famine. Pharaoh is greatly pleased by Josephs comments, and because of his divine discernment, he

appoints him as second in command (viceroy), in charge of this massive food collection. Pharaoh names him Zaphenath-Paneah, which means revealer of a secret or preserver of a world (or age) Joseph is given the Pharaoh's signet ring, putting him in charge of all of Egypt, and he marries the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph is thirty years old when Pharaoh frees him, and, during the seven years of plenty, he stores up such a large amount of grain that it cannot be counted. During those seven years, he has two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. When the famine came, it was so severe that both Egyptians and other tribes had to come to Egypt to buy grain. This certainly raised both the prestige of Egypt and put some major coinage in Pharaoh's coffers. A few interesting notes about this passage. First of all, it says that the cupbearer and the baker were imprisoned in the captain of the guard's house, which means Joseph was imprisoned in Potiphar's house. Secondly, the text relates that Joseph was "brought out of the pit," which means that his imprisonment did not constitute of a jail cell with bars. This is the second time Joseph has been thrown into a pit, first by his brothers, and now by Potiphar. Any sense of entitlement, pride, or arrogance is now gone. There is some extra-biblical historical evidence for the seven year famine, including an inscription on the so-called "Hungry Rock." However, the dates are rather inconclusive, so we are left without any other hard evidence of the famine actually taking place. Another interesting thing to ponder is how exactly parts of this story were written. For instance, how did the writer(s) of Genesis know what Joseph's brothers plotted/said, or the cupbearer's conversation with the Pharaoh, or Jacob's encounter with Potiphar's wife? The writer must have heard these stories from one of the 11 brothers, Jacob, and the cupbearer/someone in Pharaoh's court, respectively. Moses, who lived centuries after this point in time, would have had only hearsay and oral tradition to go off of. An early ancient writer would certainly have had to have been a pretty good investigative journalist to acquire this story in its entirety.

Thursday, July 9, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 42-43: Family Reunion
Joseph has risen to some pretty extreme heights- one could argue that he is the second most powerful person in the entire ancient world. His grain-conservation system has saved Egypt from the seven year famine, and has increased the country's prestige and gross national income. Now Jacob angrily calls his sons together, asking them why they're just standing around starving while there is grain to buy in Egypt. He sends ten of his sons to Egypt, again exhibiting his love for Rachel over Leah by keeping Rachel's second and last son, Benjamin, with him so that nothing would happen to him.

It's been roughly twenty years since Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. I'm sure they imagine him to be dead, or working the mines in some far off country. Little do they know that when they walk into the office of the viceroy of Egypt, they bow before their brother, fulfilling his childhood dreams. Joseph decides to give them at a taste of their own medicine, perhaps to teach them a lesson, or perhaps because he still has some hate and resentment stored up in his heart. He accuses them of being spies, which they vehemently deny. They tell Joseph that they are the sons of one man, that their youngest is still at home, and another (Joseph) is no more. Joseph pretends to not believe them, demanding to see their youngest brother. He throws all of them in jail for three days, and then forces them to leave Simeon behind in prison as a promise that they would return. The brothers blame their actions against Joseph for this hardship, and Joseph overhears their conversation. They have no idea he understands them, because they are speaking their own language and imagine that he only speaks Egyptians. Joseph is so moved by what they say and their remorse at their actions against him, that he has to go out of the room and weep. He fills their bags with grain, returns their money to them (secretly), and sends them on their way. The sons return to Jacob, and explain what happened. Jacob is very upset, and refuses to let Benjamin go, but Reuben swears he will return both Simeon and Benjamin. He even offers his two sons to Jacob, telling him that he can kill them if Reuben does not return with Jacob's two sons. Jacob is not swayed by his arguments, and does not allow Benjamin to go. Eventually, however, the family eats all of the grain (remember, Simeon's been in jail in Egypt all of this time), and Jacob sends his sons to Egypt again, with gifts, twice as much money, and Benjamin. The sons return, and Joseph treats them to a meal. Benjamin gets five times as much food as any of the other sons, which amazes the rest of the brothers. Joseph's steward soothes their fears, and lets them know that God must have refilled their money bags, as he received his money. Simeon is released to them, and they party with Joseph. Things appear to be looking up for the brothers. His brother's, however, are still clueless as to Joseph's real identity. These two chapter are rather unimportant in the big scheme compared to some we've seen so far in Genesis, but we do see how past events have impacted both Jacob, his sons, Egypt, and much of the ancient world. If Jacob hadn't loved Rachel and her offspring so much more than his other wives and their children, odds are Joseph would never have been sold into slavery. Jacob himself came from a household where each parent favored one son over the other, and he often tricked those around him (Laban, Isaac, Esau, etc.) to get his way. Now Joseph is tricking his brothers to determine if they've changed at all. Unfortunately, the Biblical text gives us just the bare bones of these stories- we can't really see the hurt and pain caused by this unequal love.

Friday, July 10, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 44-46: Joseph Reveals Himself

In the past two chapters, Joseph has already put his brothers through some interesting experiences. He accused them of being spies, imprisoned all of them for three days, and then sent all but Simeon back home to get Benjamin, knowing that his father would be loathe to let the boy go. On top of that, he returned his brothers' money to them, adding to their frustration and fear. Most recently, he's had dinner with them in his own house, showing favor for Benjamin. But Joseph is not done testing his brothers. As the brothers prepare to leave, Joseph has his steward fill their sacks with not only grain, but the money they used to buy the grain. He also places his silver cup in Benjamin's sack (this is the second time this has happened to Joseph's brothers. They seem to be slow learners). After his brothers had gone a little way out of the city, Joseph sends his steward to confront them. When the brothers find the money and the cup in their bags, they tear their clothing (an ancient sign of great grief) and return. Again, they bow before Joseph, and Judah offers himself as a slave in return for allowing Benjamin to return. Joseph is so moved by their concern for their father's health and their apparent change of heart that he weeps openly, and reveals himself to them. He tells them that their actions were the result of a divine plan, orchestrated to exalt Joseph to a position where he could save his family during the years of famine. Joseph then sends for his father and the rest of his family. Pharaoh hears that Joseph's brothers are in town, and he immediately offers the brothers land and possessions in Egypt. Joseph gives them all gifts, with the most extravagant give going to Benjamin. When Joseph sends them away, he tells them not to quarrel, an action smacking of his old arrogance, but now with the proper authority behind his command. Israel is, obviously, amazed that Joseph is still alive. At first, he doesn't believe his sons, but he agrees to go to Egypt after seeing the wagons that Joseph sent to bring him back to Egypt. On the way to Egypt, God tells Israel to not be afraid to enter Egypt. When he enters he Egypt, he does so with a total household of 70 people, not counting his sons' wives. Joseph has his family settle in Goshen (a location in Northern Egypt near the Nile river), since they are shepherds, an occupation that the Egyptians dislike. So begins a (traditionally) 400 year period of peace and prosperity for the Israel and his 12 sons. These three chapters wrap up nicely the story of Joseph, one of the longest and most in-depth stories of Genesis. It makes sense that as the stories approach the time in which the writer(s) lived, they would increase in detail, accuracy, and length. It is rather frustrating, however, that the writer does not actually tell us which Pharaoh Joseph is viceroy for. The story of Joseph revolves around the idea that God carefully orchestrates human events, and that he specifically cares for the Israelites. God was the one that is responsible for the actions of Joseph's brothers. It was all part of his divine plan to save Jacob's family, fulfill his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and help sustain Egypt as an ancient superpower.

While I certainly believe in the validity of both divine intervention and favor, I think that the reason why God appears so pro-Israel in this book is probably because it was written by Israelites. I know that the Isrealites are the method by which God plans on blessing the world, but I see Genesis as being rather limited in view and scope, which is understandable. The Bible does not address events or peoples extending beyond the limited view of its writers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009
Genesis, Chapters 47-49: Israel Blesses His Sons
With his family settled in Goshon, Joseph returns his attention to the famine that is devastating the ancient world. The Egyptian people spend all of their money for the grain, but eventually they run out. Then Joseph tells them to give him all of their livestock, which they do. When all their livestock are gone, they sell Joseph all of their land, except for the priests of Egypt, who are given an allowance by Pharaoh. All of this land, money, and livestock are now Pharaoh's, who clearly very grateful for Joseph's wise actions. Joseph then gives the people seed to begin farming, and imposes a 20% tax on what they raise. Israel lives to the ripe old age of 147, and Joseph promise to bury him in the land of his forefathers, which Joseph does. Before Israel dies, Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to him in order that he may bless them. Israel does so, although he follows his father, Isaac's, example when he blesses the younger son, Ephraim first. This angers Joseph, but Israel tells him that the younger son will be the more powerful nation. God's promise has now gone from Abraham to Isaac to Israel and then to Joseph's sons. Of course, Israel doesn't bless his firstborn's (Reuben's) sons- he is loyal to his first love, Rachel, to the end. Israel then blesses his 12 sons in a rather lengthy blessing that is recorded below: "Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch! Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company.

For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk. Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor. Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that his rider falls backward. I wait for your salvation, O Lord. Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels.

Asher's food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies. Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns. Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers. Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.” These blessings are very interesting. Some are rather nondescript, confusing, or mystical (Benjamin, Asher, etc.), while others (Judah, Joseph) have a rather lengthy blessing/prophesy. Reuben is the firstborn, but he is not given the traditional birthright because he "defiled" his father's marriage bed- he apparently had sex with one of his father's wives or concubines. Simeon and Levi, the next two in line, also are overlooked because of their wrathful destruction of Shechem. Judah is therefore given the birthright- it is his offspring that will be the kings and rulers of Israel. Joseph is given a rather long blessing in which Israel promises God's favor and blessings, but no monarchy. The other eight sons receive much shorter and less important blessings. After he blesses all of his sons, Israel commands his son to bury him with his father, mother, and wife and then dies. We'll talk more about the events surrounding his death in the next blog. These three chapters are wrapping up the Genesis story for us and building the foundation for Exodus. We have tracked God's blessings to these 12 men, the sons of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the

son of Abraham, a descendant of Noah. Joseph is in power in Egypt and his family has settled in Goshen. All seems well for God's chosen people.

Monday, July 13, 2009
Genesis, Chapter 50: The Last Chapter
After blessing his children and grandchildren, Jacob dies and is buried in his homeland by Joseph. His brothers then tell Joseph that Jacob instructed them to tell Joseph not to harm them. Whether Jacob really told them this or not is debatable, although I imagine that they really just told Joseph this to save their own skins. Joseph, however, has no intention of harming his brother's, regardless of his father's real or imagined words of peace. Joseph lives to be 110 years old, and is embalmed and put into a coffin by the Egyptians. The story of Joseph has many intriguing plot lines- one of the more vague and unexplored is that of his identity. After all, Joseph was only 17 years old when he was captured and sold into slavery. That meant he spent 93 years in Egypt, 60 or so of those as the second most powerful man in Egypt. His own brothers didn't even recognize him some 15 years after selling him to the Ishmaelites, which indicates that he had fully embraced the Egyptian culture. Even his burial is Egyptian. Joseph worked hard to increase the wealth and power of Pharaoh, and God blessed his endeavours. But it wasn't like Pharaoh was a "righteous" man according to our standards- Joseph was working hard for a "pagan," and God blessed him for it. I think the moral here is both that we should work hard for those in authority over us, and that God doesn't necessarily work according to the religious boundaries that we have placed over ourselves (and him). As Jesus says, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust. There it is- 50 chapters, 35 days, 32 blog posts. We've covered everything from the Creation story to the Fall to the Flood to Joseph. I've found this project very enlightening. It's opened my eyes to different verses, historical facts, and alternative interpretations and theories. While I would never say that this is a definitive study on the book, it certainly covers a lot of ground. Genesis is a very interesting and controversial book. Not only does it include some of the major stories of the Bible, it also presents us with some very flawed characters- Adam and Eve sinned, Cain murdered Abel, Noah got drunk (and was possibly raped because of it), Abraham lied multiple times (displaying his own doubt), Isaac favored one son over the other, Jacob lied and cheated and favored one wife over the other, Joseph was arrogant and Jacob's sons sold Joseph into slavery. The list goes on and on. There were numerous instances of rape, murder, incest, and polygamy by some of the patriarchs of the Jewish nation, Judaism, and Christianity. At the same point in time, we see some very brave and noble actions- Abraham saves Lot, Esau

lets Jacob live and Joseph saves Egypt and forgives his brother. Despite these characters' obvious failings, God decides to use them to orchestrate his divine plan, and his personal interest and intervention in the history of the nation of Israel is a central theme to both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Personally, I don't believe that Genesis was written by one man (most scholars don't). I don't think it's the definitive authority on how the Earth began, sin, God's interaction with man, etc. I do believe that the writers of Genesis created, embellished, or simply passed down traditional stories in an attempt to explain the different tribal, linguistic, cultural, societal, and marital traditions that surrounded them. On the other hand, I do believe it is an extremely useful ancient religious text that can give us a unique perspective on ancient event and people, as well as give us a human perspective on God's interaction with humanity. God's covenants with Adam, Noah, and Abraham have had extreme consequences on the history of the world. The idea that Genesis is useless to us because it is not 100% literal is an extremely limited one. This kind of criteria is not extended to other books of the Bible, and neither should it be used on one of the oldest books. Of course, I could always be wrong. I'm not sure what I'll be doing next- whether I'll pick up the narrative in Exodus or jump around the Bible a bit, although I would like to build on top of some of the commentary I've created for this book. We shall see.

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