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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Genesis 22-24 (intimacy)

This passage begins with the testing of Abraham.  YHWH says sacrifice your only son, the one you love.  Abraham gets up to do it.  Abraham, who bargained shrewdly for Sodom's residents, obediently responds, "Here I am"/Aquí estoy —respondió, Gen. 22:1, to this painful request.  There is nothing that I can say on this that Kierkegaard hasn't already said perfectly in Fear and Trembling, a work that makes me think the testing of Abraham may have more value that the seduction of Lot.

The rest of this passage contain intimate vignettes of culturally foreign interactions.  Sarah dies.  We're given another scene of Abraham as powerful prince in obtaining a proper sepulcher for her; although to be clear, he paid for that tomb.  Gen. 23:12-16.  Abraham sends his servant back to the old country to fetch Isaac a wife, but making it clear that ¡en ningún caso llevarás a mi hijo hasta allá!/under no circumstances take my son back there.  Gen. 24:8.   Sounds like living in Canaan may kind of suck and somebody doesn't want the boy seeing what he's missing.  Finally, you have the thrice repeated story of Rebekah proving her worth by offering to water the camels of Abraham's servant, and thereby demonstrating that she's the one.  Gen. 24:14 (naming as a sign), 19 (actually happening), 46 (retelling to her brother).

The passage closes with Rebekah coming upon Isaac and what seems like marriage at first sight, notably in the tent of Sarah, and these sentences which either brings a tear to your eye, or you are in fact dead inside:  Luego Isaac llevó a Rebeca a la carpa de Sara, su madre, y la tomó por esposa. Isaac amó a Rebeca, y así se consoló de la muerte de su madre./ Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.  Gen. 24:67.

Interesting note: In describing Rebekah at Gen. 24:16, we have, "The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her."  So, why the follow up clause?  Is it not a given that the word virgin means no man had ever slept with her?  Or perhaps does the Hebrew word for virgin require more detailed explanation?  Things that make you go hmm.


Matt Dick said...

I was reading parts of Genesis last night and ran into a bit I'd never keyed into before. Why in genesis 22:12 does the angel of the Lord call Isaac Abraham's only son? Literally the entire previous chapter is about Abraham and Sarah agreeing to his fathering a son by Hagar and then feeling bad and treating her like crap.

So what is this "only son" business? I mean obviously it's about "only legitimate son" because raping your slave is all good if you need a son unless afterwards your wife bears a son and then that other thing isn't really a person or anything. Really, WTF?

JimII said...

Your question requires an examination of how to read this section of the Bible. Recently, I've come across folks describing this section of the Bible as "legend" or "saga" as opposed to either "myth" or "history."

For myth, the only details are those that are provided. What kind of fruit did Adam and Eve eat in the Garden is actually a stupid question. Or, the answer is, just: "It isn't identified." For histories, even ancient histories that aren't as rigorous as modern histories, it makes perfect sense to explore components that aren't provided explicitly. What was Solomon's relationship with the Queen of Sheba like? Legit question. Maybe we can't find out, but it is a knowable thing.

Legend/Saga is in between. Hagar & Ishmael are certainly a key part of the Abraham narrative. And, as you are probably aware, in Islam, it is Ishmael who is nearly offered as sacrifice.

Thus, it is possible, the Isaac story originated from a tradition that did not include the Ishmael story. It could also be to emphasize that Isaac is the only "real" son, I suppose. I honestly don't know.

Another example of this tradition merging, btw, is that Abraham offers Sarah to a foreign king claiming she is his sister TWICE, and then Isaac does it once. It's be like reading an Arthur Legend where both Perceval and Galahad find the Holy Grail.

Matt Dick said...

I would love a more rigorous discussion of myth vs saga. History is clear enough to me already, even history as it is often understood by cultures where fact and history are not intended to coincide completely. So any guidance on myth vs saga would be super-appreciated.

Of course you're right that it's probably in reality just the fact that the story is myth (or legend) and with multiple versions floating about, the authors just kept a few of the legends they thought were of value and didn't worry about the contradictions because it isn't history.

BUT... what is the modern apologetic around this anomaly. Perhaps you don't know and it doesn't really matter, but I really felt for Ishmael there...

JimII said...

I think the King Arthur stories are the best example of legends in Western culture. The narrative is set in the real world. The events that transpire are generally realistic. On its face it sounds factual; but the story has evolved with zero concern for factual accuracy. It conveys cultural values, but any connection to actual events is too tenuous to be interesting. Maybe John Henry counts as an American legend. Paul Bunyan's giant blue ox seems to move it into fable for me.

Myth or fable is entirely fantastical. The three little pigs or Aesop's fables: the setting is vaguely realistic, like it's on Earth, but nothing about the stories are realistic.

I would say the Bible contains several myths. The first 11 chapters of Genesis, Job, and Jonah easily fall into this category. It is ridiculous to take these a "literal." Search for Noah's ark is like searching for the actual house where the Red Riding Hood's grandmother lived. If you are looking for the ark of the covenant, the text itself doesn't suggest that would be silly pursuit.

The story of the patriarchs, the exodus, Esther, and Ruth, feel more saga to me. If you say that you believe there was an actual person Abraham, I can't point to a passage and say that it is ridiculous, like we could for an actual tower of Babel. But, from studying other material, it seems that the earliest section of the Bible independently confirmed and at least somewhat historical is the House of David.

Maybe that's another thing about legend and saga--on its face, I'm not sure you can tell whether it is a history with fantastical additions, or a legend with some real world inspiration.

JimII said...

"BUT... what is the modern apologetic around this anomaly. Perhaps you don't know and it doesn't really matter, but I really felt for Ishmael there..."

Yeah, sorry. I don't know. Kierkegaard says nothing of it in Fear and Trembling and he spends like 10 times as many pages analyzing the story as the Bible takes telling it.

Matt Dick said...

Thanks, that helps a lot.

I put Job in even a further category... it's not myth or legend or fable, it's just like a strait fictional work. For instance, "Waiting for Godot" isn't fable or myth, it's just a thing a guy wrote so we could talk about stuff that matters. Isn't that Job?

JimII said...

Most of Job, yes. The first and last chapters of Job--i understand--likely make up the fable that is very old. It seems that a later author then created the drama in in the intervening 40 chapters. Essentially using the fable of Job as a prompt.

Consider the following two prompts found in the OT that could have enjoyed a similar treatment. (And perhaps were more fully developed outside of that which was canonized.

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4:10

Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. Gen. 5:24