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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Gen. 27-29 (trickery)

In today's narrative, we have the strangely elaborate plot to trick blind Isaac into blessing his smooth skinned wimp of a son Jacob.  It seems to be a really big deal how harry Esau is.  When his mother suggests Jacob steal Esau's blessing while Esau is off hunting, he replies, "Hay un problema: mi hermano Esaú es muy velludo, y yo soy lampiño./There is one problem: my brother Esau is very harry, and I am smooth skinned."  Gen. 27:11.  Yeah, that's the only problem with this Three's Company stunt to steal a blessing. 

The trick works.  Esau is pretty upset, noting, "Ya van dos veces que me engaña: primero me quita mis derechos de primogénito, y ahora se lleva mi bendición./This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!”  Gen. 27:36.  So, birthright and blessing are different which is interesting.

Then, Jacob runs away, like the wimp that he is, and works for fourteen years in order earn a couple of brides.  It's fourteen and not seven because Laban tricks him into marrying the one he doesn't want first so he ends up marrying them both.  Laban is pretty indignant about this saying, "La costumbre en nuestro país es casar primero a la mayor y luego a la menor./Is it not our custom to marry the older daughter first, and then the younger one?" Gen. 29:26.  But he's cool about though.  After Jacob spends the honeymoon week with Leah, he gives him Rachel too, in exchange for another seven years.  Gen. 29:27.  Yeah, seriously.

En route to his parents' homeland, Jacob sees a vision of the stairway to heaven, near a city he renames Bethel.  Gen. 28:10-20.  This vision certainly does not suggest that humans can go up to that place, but it strikes me as interesting in setting up the idea of pleasant afterlife.  In Job, I did not read anything that suggested anything about a pleasant afterlife.  And with the exception of Enoch, I don't recall anything so far in Genesis to suggest as much.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Gen. 25-26 (reboot)

In this passage we learn about Abraham's second family after Sarah.  They all do alright becoming the fathers of nations.  Gen. 25:1-4.  Ishmael comes back to bury Abraham in the tomb that Abraham bought from the Hittites for Sarah.  So, that is kind of sweet.  We learn that Ishmael's descendants also form twelve tribes Gen. 15:12-18. 

Then we get another story of two sons.  This time from the same womb.  Spoiler alert: the first son is not the favorite.  Then, we get this reboot of the my-wife-is-my-sister trope.  Gen. 26.  In fact, this time, it is with one of the kings that Abraham did this to, Abimelek. Cf. Gen. 20.  Also, the whole reason Isaac has taken the crew there is out of hunger.

So, with both the Philistines and the Egyptians we have stories of the patriarchs going to the country, being somewhat deceptive with them, and at least with the Philistines, living together for some time after that in mutual harmony.  This, to me, is an interesting theme to have repeated in our sacred stories.  As is the theme of the oldest son not being the most favored son.  Did the Hebrews have an inferiority complex?

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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Genesis 19-21 (incest)

My point of blogging this exercise is to record sort of rapid observations and, frankly, keep me honest about the task at hand.  This passage, however, includes the story of Sodom and Gomorra.  That story has been used to abuse people in the name of Christ for so long, it is hard to ignore.  So, here are some facts from today's reading:

  • The men, both young and old, of Sodom wanted to rape Lot's visitors Gen. 19:4
  • Lot only knows them as men, not as angels Gen. 19:1-5
  • Lot offers his two virgin (why does that matter) daughters to be raped instead Gen. 19:8
  • Lot real bad wanted to at least stay in a small city rather than go into the mountains Gen. 19:18-20
  • God turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt for looking back at the city Gen. 19:26
  • Lot ended up living in the mountains anyway, so, since his daughters had no men with whom to bear children, they got Lot drunk and slept with him, each conceiving children who became fathers of nations Gen: 19:30-38.
  • Abraham told ANOTHER king that Sarah was his sister, so God sterilized the kings' household Gen. 20: 1-17.
  • Abraham confesses that Sarah is BOTH his wife and half-sister Gen. 20:12
  • God lets Abraham send away the mother of his first born to make Sarah happy.  Gen. 21:12.
Look it up.  So, I am not sure what to get from this.  I had actually forgotten that Abraham's marriage to Sarah would be illegal in modern times.  I see in here three things of note about the culture that created these passages: (1) they were a rural people, suspicious of urban life, (2) they were obsessed with sex as something evil, and (3) they were distrustful of women. 

Luckily, we don't have any people like that ruining our country today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Genesis 16-18

This is an important passage.  We have the birth of Ishmael.  We have the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, and related name changes.  We have circumcision, a visit from an angel--but only to Hagar--and we have God bargaining with Abraham about how many good people need to be found in Sodom.

What jumps out at me most is why Sarah is so badly treated in this passage.  We have the motif (trope?) of the two women who are jealous of each other. So, Hagar runs away only to have an angel fetch her back.  (Gen. 16:6 and as near as I can tell the only reference to an "angel" in this passage.)  Then, despite the fact that Abraham literally laughs at God when he tells Abraham that Sarah will be a mother, and in that passage it is identified that Isaac will be named "he laughs," Gen. 17:17-18, we need this story about Sarah laughing, and then for kicks lying about it to God.  Gen. 18:10-15. Recall, that Sarah is just overhearing promises from three travelers; Abraham laughed directly at God.

These passages are not fairy tales.  They are told with an attempt to include real people, and as such, biases and caricatures of the culture find their way into the story.  It is noteworthy that the editors could no choose whether to identify Abraham or Sarah's laughter as the source of Isaac's name: so they listed both.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Genesis 12-15

While reading Job, I often thought, jeez this is moving slowly.  Another three chapters of poetic tirades!  Not so with Genesis.  We're back to very fast paced action.

First, we have a little mini-exile as Abram & Sarai move very quickly from the Fertile Crescent to Egypt passing briefly through the land of Canaan.  Here we have the first time that Abram tells a king his hot wife is his sister, and the first time the king (here Pharaoh)  gets mad that Abram didn't tell him.  God punished Pharaoh by sending illnesses on Pharaoh's family, or in Spanish "grandes plagas" so Pharaoh kicked them out.  Hm.  Foreshadowing?

Second, we have Abram the badass who brings an army to settle a score on behalf of the King of Sodom, rescuing little nephew Lot who is always getting into trouble, receiving a blessing from Melchizedek, king of Salem and high priest of the Most High God.  Then Abram refuses to take anything from the King of Sodom because he doesn't want his dirty money. 

Through out these stories we have God's promising to Make Abram father of a great nation.  Interestingly, we also have the typical tension between the evil city and the noble country.  That's an old story we're still telling.

It is interesting to me, that the story of Abram includes both him as a general and as a sniveling coward literally giving his wife to another man in hopes of protection.  I'm not sure what morals can be derived from this story.  King of Sodom offers him goods and money, "I'm to proud to take your blood money," but Pharaoh wants to take his wife as a concubine, "Her?  That's just my hot sister."  Complicated dude.

Last note on this dense passage, the Promise Land as described in Gen. 15:18-21 is from the Nile to the Euphrates.  That's quite a bit more than modern Israel, or the expanse of Israel at any time, even as described by Biblical authors.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Job 40-42 (the end)

Summary: God demands an answer from Job; Job takes it back; God makes his friends give Job some of their stuff and makes Job rich again, even gives him new kids.

Let's look at the end of Job from three perspectives.  Theological, Bible as Science, and Social Justice.

Theological:  The message of Job is intensely maddening.  It is really frustrating that Job doesn't make his case, but crumbles before God.  "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand."  Job 42:3.  Really?  Not according to the story's narrator.  According to the narrator, God let Satan attack you for no reason.  And, getting all of your stuff back at the end does not make up for the, I don't know, CHILDREN, that were lost.  [By the way, I thought it was obvious that the epilogue is added later, but review of my dad's old text books anyway, puts that at "some people thing," so who knows?]

Bible as Science:  We've got some real problems here.  Besides the whole Sons of God being translated as angels, Job lives 140 years after his calamities.  Job 42:16.  Recall that earlier we read that the "sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful," and started marrying them; so, God put a stop to that and declared "My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years."  Gen. 6:2-3.  Oops.  This doesn't bother me, because I think it is dumb to try to use the Bible as a science book, but Job posses some problems for these folks.

Social Justice:  Now, this is interesting.  Job lists caring for the poor as a reason why he's a good guy.  And when he gets everything back, his new daughters get both names and an inheritance.  Not to mention, animals and creation get pretty special treatment here. Interesting.

UPDATE: If you would like to hear a podcast with me and my pastor on Job, it's available here.