I finally started reading the Bible, planning to go from the beginning to the end, both Old and New Testaments. I've been wanting to do this for a while and became even more motivated through my recent readings, most notably Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible by David Plotz. Also, going to church on a regular basis with Amber, and having one child with another on the way, I've decided it's time to actually read this book and figure out what I think about what it has to say, as opposed to just whipping out some interesting tidbits here and there from my readings about the Bible.
So here I am, 13 chapters into Genesis. The version I'm using is The Green Bible, a version of the New Revised Standard Version that has verses related to God's law about how to deal with creation (i.e. eco-verses) in a green typeface. It also comes with a number of essays in the beginning by various religious thinkers about Creation Theology (i.e. eco-Christianity). (By complete coincidence - or possibly divine providence - The Green Bible and Good Book are being sold together for an additional 5% off as a "Best Value" deal on Amazon.com.)
Anyway, on to the reading ... which was not nearly so tedious as one might expect. It flows relatively easily so far. While the verses of lineages may not be particularly thrilling reading, the also go quickly. I read a section (I'm trying for about 5 pages or so a day), and Amber is reading the same sections. We will then discuss them prior to me posting a blog about it, so this is a mesh of our mutual insights and observations. Here are my comments and notes so far, based on the first 13 chapters of Genesis:
- There are two creation stories, which I already knew. In the first (Genesis 1), the creation of man and woman appears to take place at the same time. In the second (Genesis 2), the more elaborate story of Eve being created from Adam's rib is told.
- God references himself in plural form a couple of times - "Let us make humankind in our image" (Genesis 1:24) and "the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 2:22). Polytheism or a foreshadowing of the Holy Trinity? (Or both?)
- Snakes used to have legs! God made them lose their legs because the serpent tempted mankind into eating the fruit (also, no indication it was necessarily an apple). Also, no indication that this was Satan or a demon or anything - just a regular snake.
- As always, I'm curious about God's behavior when looking for Adam and Eve. Is he pretending that he can't see them, like I play hide and seek with my son? Is he giving them the chance to confess? Or does he genuinely not realize that they've already eaten the fruit? I'm left with two alternatives - either God's not really omniscient, or God chooses to fake us out at times, making any statements of his a bit untrustworthy.
- Cain negotiates his punishment for killing his brother Abel. (Genesis 4:13-15) Initially, God punishes Cain with banishment and with a curse that he'll be unable to farm, making him a fugitive and wanderer, to which Cain replies, "My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today, you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me." to which God replies "Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance" and then God places a mark on Cain "so that no one who came upon him would kill him." This reads to me like Cain actually points out something which God hadn't initially thought of, and God quickly comes up with a way around the problem. David Plotz makes the point that God frequently seems to get talked out of rash action by a good argument. That's something I can certainly respect ... actually, I respect it a bit more than I respect the idea a perfect, infallible, supreme, all-knowing deity.
- I knew that Cain miraculously found a wife after being banished, but I didn't realize that there were details on his lineage (Genesis 4:17-24). Cain founds Enoch, a city named after his son, Enoch. Enoch had a son Irad, who had a son Mehujael, who had a son Methushael, who had a son Lamech, who had sons Jabal & Jubal. Another wife had Tubal-cain and his sister Naamah. Lamech, apparently, was a bit of a prick, with the odd proclamation ending the story of Cain's line: "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold." Not great role models in the Cain family line, although apparently Lamech's kids are ancestors of "those who live in tents and have livestock," "those who play the lyre and pipe," and "made all kinds of bronze and iron tools."
- Adam's line through his third son, Seth, oddly, ends up with some similarities ... there's another Enoch, this time who has a son Methuselah, who then has a son Lamech. The similarities in names threw me, so I had to go back and make sure there was no way this family could have intermarried back into Cain's line ... which isn't possible, of course, since both lines are traced through fathers to sons. Of course, given the time period, it wasn't like there were a ton of names floating around.
- Right before the flood, we are introduced to the Nephilim, who "were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown." (Genesis 6:4) and are, from how I read this, the children of angels having mated with human women (Genesis 6:1-2,4). These angels are sometimes viewed as fallen angels, but there's no direct indictment of their behavior within the text itself. It seems to be just a statement of fact. The text abruptly switches to the wickedness of mankind ... but I wonder if the flood wasn't, in part, to get rid of all the Nephilim. Or was God mad at the women for letting the angels sleep with them?
- In the middle of the Nephilim passage, God declares that humans shall live only 120 years (Genesis 6:3) . Noah, as we will see in some chapters, appears to live 950 years, so has been grandfathered into the over 120 year club.
- The flood timeline is a bit confusing. There are 40 days, then 150 days, then 40 days again. Here is, I believe, the proper timeline: Flood starts on the 17th day of the second month of Noah's 600th year. Water rises from the earth and falls from the sky for 40 days, then stops, so we're at the start of the fourth month. The waters swelled for 150 days in all, putting it in the middle of the seventh month, when the ark lands on the mountains of Ararat. The mountains are apparently still underwater, though (the bottom of the ark is hung up on them, apparently) until the tenth month, at which time the top of the mountains become exposed. After forty days (early in the eleventh month - although I'm not sure if they had eleven months when this was written, so we might be in the first month of the next year) he lets out a raven, who flies around as the water dries up on the Earth. Then he sends a dove, who can't find a place to set down, so comes back. (Why the raven didn't come back is never explained.) A week later, he sends the dove out again. This time it comes back with an olive leaf. A week later (about the end of the eleventh month), he sends out the dove again, but it doesn't come back. At this point, we're told it's the first day of the first month of Noah's 601st year - so this would kind of mesh if the ancient Hebrew calendar had exactly 11 months. All told, Noah and his family spends an entire year in the ark.
- God has mood swings. In Genesis 6: 5-7 we are told that God is very angry about "the wickedness of humankind" and "that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually." He declares that "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created ... for I am sorry that I have made them." Then, after the flood, he says (Genesis 8:21-22), after Noah provides him with a burnt offering of the "clean" animals and he is pleased by the smell of the offering, "I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth." Notice that the situation hasn't changed - human thoughts are still evil. But now God seems okay with it, like it's an endearing personality flaw that he'll put up with. If only Noah had ignited a burnt offering before the Flood, it might have been avoided.
- Noah plants the first vineyard, gets drunk, then passes out naked. When his grandson stumbles upon him, and tells his sons, he curses the grandson to become their slave, because he saw Noah's nakedness. I have no idea how to interpret this. It's just plain weird.
- The tower of Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9) is much more mundane than I expected. Though it says that humans said "let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens," the tower itself doesn't seem to actually be an attempt to reach divine paradise itself. When God shows up, his complaint isn't even explicitly about their hubris in building the tower. It seems to be almost a complaint about their competence: "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible to them." Then God decides to confuse their language almost just for kicks. It's not really a punishment for anything they've actually done.
- Once again, God refers to himself in the plural - Genesis 11:7 - "Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there..."
- More descendants. Among them we've got some who are living a couple of hundred years, even though God specifically set a time limit of 120 years back in Genesis 6:3. At least we're out of the 900s now.