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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Gen. 46-47 (wrapping up)

These chapters include a record of the descendants from Jacob, aka Israel, and his twelve sons.  I wonder what these names meant to those who heard them in ancient times.  What did it mean if your people were from the tribes of Gad, Asher, Dan or Naphtali--the children born of the slaves of Laban sent along as handmaidens of his daughters.  Even among the sons of Leah you have the major four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, and Levi.  Issachar and Zebulun sort of fall in the also mentioned camp.  Were you among the elite if you were among the children of Joseph & Benjamin, from Jacob's favorite wife?  (Actually, things do not go well for the descendants of Benjamin, as I recall.)

Gen. 46:8-26 goes on to list the next generation.  Presumably meaningful to the ancient hearer.

In chapter 47 we sort of add another layer to the claim of Joseph's greatness in Egypt.  Not only did he save the from famine, but he is personally responsible for setting up the feudal system where the Pharaoh owns everything and receives 20% of the lands produce.  Gen. 47.  Sort of a big finish of a "And that's why to this day ..." type of story.

Question:  What were the ancient Hebrews, my spiritual ancestors, doing differently from all of the other ancient religions/cultures?  Does the book of Genesis provide a story of human behavior to be proud of?  Or is it not a matter of pride but of recognizing the faith that gave rise to the faith that I practice today?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Gen. 43-45 (character development)

Now, this is nice.  Joseph reveals himself and invites his family--foreigners--to live within the world superpower and to be welcomed as essentially citizens.

We're not done with manipulation, but it ends well.

It strikes me that the characters in this narrative are well drawn.  We know they aren't historical, but I think it is fascinating how much Judah acts like the responsible big brother.  Simeon & Levi are the older kids who are kind of screw ups.  Benjamin, the baby and the favorite everyone is trying to protect.  And Joseph, the smart one who is actually pretty mean.

I feel like there is a decent movie to be written about these guys.  And that doesn't even mention some of the stuff with Reuben and his kids, which could be a porno.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Gen. 41-42 (immigrants)

This is more of the big story of Joseph in Egypt.  Joseph's dream interpretation is a fascinating episode in an era when intellectualism is so under attack.  The story also seems to challenge nationalism.  Joseph adapted the ways of his new country.  He was an immigrant and because the country where he was brought as a slave allowed him to exercise his exceptional skills, the county prospered and avoided catastrophe.  Seems like a nice lesson.

Fashion plays a bigger part in chapter 41 than in many books of the Bible.  In 41:14 before bringing Joseph to Pharaoh "afeitarse y cambiarse de ropa/shave him and change his clothes".  In 41:42, after he is a place of authority he get "ropa de lino fino/fine linen clothing."  He also gets a wife, a couple of kids--who will be important for keeping the 12 tribes thing going later--and otherwise seems to assimilate into Egyptian culture very well.

In Genesis 42 we get back to trickery to screw with his brothers, but the did sell him into slavery. So ...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Gen. 38-40 (onanism)

We have a mix of weirdness and dangerousness in today's readings.  First, the weirdness.  Judah goes off and marries a woman from Canaan.  Boo!  Then his wicked oldest son dies.  Then he tells his next oldest son to sleep with her--as is his duty--so his oldest can effectively have a lineage.  That boy, Onan, repeatedly "pulls out" and the wife of his oldest Tamar doesn't get pregnant.  God kills Onan.  Then Judah sends Tamar back home while he waits for the third boy to get old enough to impregnate her.  (Ick.)  However, Judah is out with his buddy one day and he picks up a prostitute, but turns out it is Tamar in disguise.  She finally get the Hebrew boy(s) she has always wanted.  They are twins, with a somewhat unusual birth story.

Okay.  So, from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen. 19, people claim to find support for the alleged wickedness of being gay.  That's stupid.  Sodom and Gomorrah no more stands for gayness being bad than it stands for "looking back" being bad, or sleeping with your father being good.  Similarly, the story of Onan has been used to say that masturbation is wicked.  Again, stupid.  The story no more stands for masturbation being stupid than it stands for the virtue of compelling your son to sleep with the widow of your oldest son.

The bulk of today's reading also concerns me.  In Gen. 39-40 we get the story of Joseph constantly rising to the top.  God is with him.  He is smart.  Everywhere he goes he ends up in charge, whether as a slave in Potiphar's house or in the jail where Potiphar throws him when Potiphar's wife unfairly accuses Joseph of attempted rape.  This sort of Prosperity Theology  is rebutted by Job, for sure, but it remains in our zeitgeist.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Gen. 35-37 (the book before the musical)

Today's passage has another example of two stories where the editor couldn't decide which to keep.  The ancient Biblical editor I mean.  Genesis 35:9-10 has God coming to Jacob and renaming him Israel, but this already happened when Jacob wrestled with God, Gen. 32:22-31.  These aren't major contradictions, but just evidence of the Scripture's formation.

We also get a similar motif with Esau returning to bury his father, Gen. 35:29, as when Ishmael did the same, Gen. 25:9.  Like Ishmael, Esau is the father of a great nations.  Reviewing the lineage, chiefs and kings of Edom--Esau's people--it is interesting that the kings are not the children of other kings.  Gen. 36.  So, for those keeping score, Esau hunted and was a man's man.  But, he married took Hittite wives, and may have given rise to a meritocracy. Hmm.

We finish up with the story of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat.  Curiously, Genesis 37:2 starts off listing the age of the son, not the father to put the story in context.  Joseph's mother dies in childbirth a few verses before.  His dad loves him better, and he is kind of a pill to his brothers.  Seriously fascinating story telling beginning and I understand why it's a favorite.

Interesting note: Reuben.  What to think of him.  On the one hand, he slept with his father's concubine, Gen. 35:22.  Not his mother, by the way.  On the other hand, when the brothers decide to throw Joseph in a well and let him die, Reuben actually has a plan to go get him, Gen. 37:29.  Complicated character I guess, but particularly when you figure he represents a tribe of Israelites.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Gen. 32-34 (what is honor?)

The three stories in today's passage are Jacob's return to Canaan and running into Esau.  They have history.  In the middle of that narrative Jacob wrestles with someone and gets a new name: Israel, one who wrestles with God.  Finally, after settling in a location, Dinah is "defiled" by a local prince and so Lea's sons massacre a town and all of the brothers loot what's left.  Simeon & Levi defend their actions as being a defense of Dinah's honor.

It is hard to divorce reading a passage from ones modern sensibilities.  Esau seems, by far and away, the most admirable character here.  He accepts his brother.  (P.S. he is also not an anti-Hittite racist.)  Jacob uses more tricks in splitting up his family to make extra special sure that Esau will not take--kind of well deserved--revenge on him.  Then the brothers trick Schechem's family in getting circumcised only to fall on them while they are healing.  Then they loot the village.  Doesn't sound noble. 

Interesting Note: More angel inflation.  Jacob is traditionally reported as wrestling with an angel, even identified in the Spanish translation as "Jacob lucha con un angel."  But if you read the very short passage (here) you will find no reference to an angel.  In the narrative, the person is called a "man," and Jacob names the place as where he wrestled with God.  Curiously, the English translation titles the passage "Jacob Wrestles With God."  Gen. 32:22-31.  Of course, the section titles are all added after the fact and not a part of any original or nearly original manuscript.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Gen. 30-31 (gym class excuse)

Oy.  This is another set of tough reading for me.  Chapter 30 is two things.  I helpful list of the descendants of Jacob (spoiler alert: due to be renamed Israel) AND another episode of women are petty and conniving.  Then we learn about Jacob's trickery against Laban.  Although he doesn't demand payment to keep working, he comes up with a scheme about which goats & sheep will belong to Jacob.  Then Jacob using some pretty suspect animal husbandry techniques to swing things in his favor.  Gen. 30-27-43. 

Then, Jacob claims that God came to him in a dream to do it.  Gen. 31:6-9.  Not sure which is true.  They flea across a river, (sound familiar?) but Laban chases them down.  Mad in part because someone stole his house gods.  Turns out it was Rachel.  But quick thinking prevails when she uses her period as an excuse to avoid detection of her theft.  Gen. 31:35.  Seriously.

So, not sure what to get from all of that.