Monday, August 31, 2009

The End of the Beginning (Genesis 14 - 50):

Over the last month, I've gotten through Genesis which, while a bit of a feat, isn't nearly as far as I'd like to go. I've also read three other books, though, so it's not like I've been completely falling off the wagon. Anyway, on to my thoughts on the Genesis:
  • So in Chapter 16, we get the situation where Sarah, unable to bear Abraham (still called Abram at this point) an heir, has him sleep with her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, who bears him Ishmael. Hagar conceives, gets haughty, and begins treating Sarah with contempt. No domestic tranquility comes from this surrogate mother situation.
  • Sodom & Gomorrah - a lot of craziness in these sections of the Bible (Genesis 18 & 19). First, Angels show up to Abraham to tell him they're going to destroy the evil towns, but Abraham puts forward a good argument in favor of saving the town if there are virtuous people in it. If God can find 10 virtuous people living there, he'll save the towns.
  • The angels then show up at Lot's house and the Sodomite townspeople begin banging on the door, wanting to gang rape them. Instead, Lot offers his two daughters (virgins, but they're engaged ... and given what transpires after they escape, I'm wagering they haven't been saving themselves).
  • During the escape from Sodom, we're shown once again what a useless putz Lot really is. No one listens to him. He goes to his prospective sons-in-law, telling them to leave the city, and they ignore him. Angels are telling him that the town is being destroyed, and he dallies so long that they finally have to drag him, his daughters, and his wife out of the town. A man of action he is not.
  • Once out of town, and his wife having turned to salt (because she looked back at the destruction when told not to), Lot hides in caves with his two daughters ... and we receive an abject lesson in why alcohol is bad. (Worse, even, than Noah passing out naked.) Noah's two daughters proceed to get him drunk, then have sex with him and conceive children ... who will, incidentally, go on to be ancestors to the Moabites and Ammonites, other tribes of the region. It would be like if someone from Indiana told a story of how Kentuckians were all inbred ... oh, wait, they do tell those stories.
  • In Chapter 20, once again, Abraham is traveling around and tells Sarah to pretend to be his sister. I understood it back in Chapter 12, but for it to happen again is a bit odd. If this chapter is placed chronologically, Sarah is very old - she's already given up on having children, and was quite old at that point, apparently. Again, though, she's snagged by a nearby ruler - King Abimelech of Gerar. Now, while I've seen some attractive older women in my time, I can't imagine a king snatching up elder matrons right and left. Still, according to Abraham, their standard operating procedure is apparently to pose as brother/sister when traveling, because Abraham is continually worried that someone will kill him for Sarah if they knew they were married. I suppose it's much better to just let various rulers yank her into the royal harem for a few days. (In fairness, it never actually says, or implies, that either Pharoah in Ch 12 nor Abimelech in Ch 20 did anything inappropriate with Sarah ... but if this is a society where Abraham has a serious concern of being killed for his wife, I can't imagine that she's particularly safe herself.)
  • Abraham is commanded to sacrifice Isaac in Chapter 22. He doesn't do it, of course, but ... man. I think if God commanded me to sacrifice my son, I'd have to begin turning to pagan gods. Sorry, but that's just how I see things.
  • Isaac marries Rebekah, and they have the sons Jacob & Esau. Jacob is cunning and Esau is a bit of a dolt. Jacob convinces Esau to sell his birthright to him for some stew, and then tricks Isaac into giving his dying blessing to him instead of the older Esau.
  • In Chapter 25, Isaac goes to Gerar and this time, too, goes through this brother/sister ruse. Again, King Abimelech of Gerar (possibly the son of the former or the same guy - it's unclear, although if Abimelech is still king when Isaac comes by, then he was likely a fairly young man when he decided to yank the older Sarah into his household. Maybe he had a thing for cougars.) Abimelech finds out the truth and chastizes Isaac, indicating that someone could have laid with Rebekah thinking she was single and "brought guilt upon us." Overall, this brother/sister plan seems to have played itself out and I think this is the last time we see it in the Bible.
  • Jacob has some serious relationship troubles ... talk about Big Love. When he asks permission to marry Rachel, her father, Laban, convinces him to stay and work for him for 7 years. He then sends Leah in to the marital tent at night, and Jacob does his husbandly duty ... only to realize the next morning that he married the wrong sister. When he confronts Laban, he is lamely told that the firstborn (Leah) had to get married off first. (That would have been nice to know when they entered this arrangement 7 years earlier - he would have had 7 years to have found a guy for Leah, and Shakespeare might have set Taming of the Shrew in the Biblical era.) Since Jacob wants to marry Rachel, he agrees to 7 more years of servitude. After a week with Leah, he marries Rachel as well.
  • Rachel is loved, but barren. Leah is unloved, but fertile. Very fertile, in fact. She in fact has 4 sons for Jacob (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, & Judah), which implies that she wasn't that "unloved" by Jacob and he clearly wasn't particularly put out by having been tricked into marrying her. Rachel, wanting children too, tells him to marry her maid, Bilhah, who bears two more sons (Dan & Naphtali). Not to be outdone, Leah has him marry her maid, Zilpah, who bore Gad & Asher.
  • Rachel wants some of Reuben's mandrakes, so she strikes a deal with Leah that she can sleep with Jacob again in exchange for them. Leah cashes in her IOU and conceives Issachar. Then later (through means not particularly described) she has Zebulun. And finally, a daughter, Dinah. Again, Jacob doesn't seem particularly upset about being married to Leah.
  • Finally, God "opens Rachel's womb" and she conceives Joseph. She later has another son, Benjamin.
  • In Genesis 32, we get the famous "Jacob wrestles with an angel" passage ... and I've got to say that I'm distinctly underwhelmed. First of all, there's nothing overtly supernatural in the passage at all. Here is what it says "Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak." The man wants released at daybreak, but Jacob won't let him go until he gets a blessing. The man blesses him and gives him the name Israel. Jacob says, "Please tell me your name" and the man replies "Why is it that you ask my name?" So clearly the artistic renditions of this are way off, because he is described throughout the passage as a "man" and not an "angel." No wings or anything. In fact, it probably isn't even an angel, because Jacob says "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." So he didn't wrestle an angel, but according ot the passage wrestled God himself (to a standstill, apparently, although I think one can assume that God was probably holding back).
  • The rape of Dinah - this is just weird. It's described well by David Plotz in Good Book, because it's the passage that inspires his reading of the entire Old Testament. I have to agree with his analysis - tricking people into converting to your religion just so you can slay them when they're weak from circumcision seems a bit like a dirty trick. I normally don't defend rapists, but in this odd case the rapist appears to have fallen in love with Dinah, begged for her hand in marriage, and supplicated himself to convert to her family's religion ... and appears to have done so with sincerity.
  • Now we get to the story of Joseph (whose coat is not many colored, but "a long robe with sleeves," according to my translation). I know the story of his brothers selling him off to slavery, but what I didn't know is that they originally wanted to kill him, but Reuben talked them out of it. Instead, they dropped him in a pit in the wilderness. Reuben had the plan of coming back later to rescue him. Unfortunately, once the brothers trap him in the pit, they decide to sell him into slavery ... and do so before Reuben can rescue him.
  • Joseph ends up in Egypt, where he (after a convoluted series of events) becomes Pharoah's lead advisor, essentially in charge of the entire food supply for the nation. His brothers come during famine for help, and he sets up a situation to see if they've changed ... and they succeed. Ultimately, he forgives his brothers, but only after having seen that they have redeemed themselves by choosing right actions. A good message, and a great one on which to end Genesis.
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