Adventures of Abram: Part I

September 28, 2014

Many years pass between the events at Babel and the release of Mumford & Sons’ single. Fewer years pass before another iconic figure takes the biblical stage. We follow the lineage of Shem through many generations until we get to a man called Abram. Abram was one of three brothers (Nahor and Haran being the other two) born of Terah in the land of Ur of the Chalde’ans. Another potentially important observation is that this is the second time in the Bible so far that a wife is mentioned by name. Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and Nahor’s wife was Milcah. As it turns out, Milcah was none other than Haran’s own daughter. Creepy, but times were different.

Unfortunately, Haran dies young and his son, Lot, is taken in by Abram. Afterwards,  Abram, his wife, his father, and Lot move away from Ur with the intention of moving to the land of Canaan.

It must have looked like providence when they came upon a town called “Haran”, which may be why Abram and his family decided to abandon their quest and settle there (talk about constantly being reminded of your dead brother/father/son though). Regardless, in due time God would present Abram with a new quest to pursue:

“‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation…'” (Gen 12.1-2)

God will probably just lead Abram to the remains of Babel and be like, “Whoa ho! Looky here buddy. I already got you started!”

But seriously. As added incentive, God tells Abram that he will make a name for himself and “bless those who bless [Abram], and him who curse [Abram] I will curse.” (Gen 12.3) So with new purpose Abram accepts God’s quest, uproots his family (despite God’s direct instruction to leave his “kindred”) and heads off for the land of Canaan.

This time Abram actually makes it to Canaan, and when he arrives God declares that the lands before him will be given to the descendents of Abram. The one catch that is glossed over in the story is that there are actually a bunch of Canaanites already living there. This brings up two important points. The first is identifying the people (Canaanites) present in the valley already. If the preceding events in the Bible are to be believed, the current residents of Canaan are descendents of Noah, and not just any descendents. These are the people cursed by Noah after his son (Canaan) saw him naked. Granted, it wasn’t God doing the cursing, but I can’t help but wonder if this is fulfillment of the promise made long before.

The second, and potentially more interesting point about Abram’s land acquisition is its geographic location. When Abram stops in Canaan, he builds his first alter to God at a place called Shechem between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim. Today, this city is known as Nablus and is in the West Bank. This information was inconsequential until Oxford informed me that Abram, also known as Abraham, is actually the biblical representation of Israel. I found this piece of information interesting given the current climate in Israel-Palestine today. I am woefully under-educated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I know that a fraction of it involves land and a dispute over who owns what. I find it intriguing that a similar interaction over the same land is taking place in the Bible thousands of years before our modern struggles. Whether or not Abram’s Israel is a reflection of the current Israel and if Canaanites are synonymous with Palestinians, I don’t know. Regardless, the information adds another layer to the already complicated perspectives.

In thanks for His gift of the land of Canaan, Abram starts on an unofficial quest across the land building altars to God. On his way to Egypt, ostensibly to build another altar, two, grim situations present themselves. The first is that there is a severe famine ravaging Egypt. The second is a belief held by Abram that the Egyptians will kill him to free his beautiful wife Sar’ai from the bonds of marriage putting her “back on the suq”. Abram gives no consideration to the first reality to instead plan for the second possibility. At this point, as a reader, I’m not sure what to make of the Egyptians. This could be the first instance of prejudice demonstrated in the Bible as Abram considers the Egyptians to be the type who would kill a man to get at his wife. At the same time, I’m not sure if I should respect the Egyptians for holding the institution of marriage so highly as to think there is no way out but through death. Attempting to avoid the situation altogether, Abram’s grand idea is to travel through Egypt as brother and sister. Because if they would kill a man for his wife, they certainly wouldn’t just take his sister…

At this point, I would have just gone home.

Abram, however, does not seem to question his trip into Egypt despite the two threats facing him. His commitment to his task makes me see him as a sort of missionary, the first of his kind in the Bible. I am further convinced of this when I remember that Abram has been traveling around the country building altars, none of which, surprisingly, were prompted by God. The last we’ve seen of God is when he gave the land of Canaan to Abram at which point Abram started on his mission. Perhaps Abram’s actions are a subtle indicator of how the reader should give thanks to God.

As if on cue, Sar’ai is claimed by the Pharaoh of Egypt soon after she and Abram enter. Fortunately Abram is not left empty handed as he is given “sheep, oxen, he-asses, menservants, maidservants, she-asses and camels” (Gen 12.16) for his wife-sister. Alas, God will have none of it and unleashes plagues upon the Pharaoh’s house whereupon the Pharaoh relinquishes Sar’ai. It is important to note that the Pharaoh does not begrudgingly give up Sar’ai or put up a fight; he simply says, “‘Why did you  not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say ‘she is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.'” (Gen 12.18-19) Here we see the Pharaoh redeem himself and the Egyptian people from the negative stereotype presented by Abram earlier in the chapter.

Strangely, there is no lesson imparted at the conclusion of Abrams sojourn in Egypt. I anticipated some turmoil, where the Pharaoh doesn’t let them leave, won’t give up Sar’ai, or Abram is imprisoned and tortured and ultimately some great lessoned is learned. But no, they just get to go home. It’s like if you watched Titanic, and 3 hours in instead of the boat sinking (spoiler alert), it just docked in New York and everybody went home.

I guess all stories have to end somehow.

The Tower of Babel

November 16, 2012

The eleventh chapter of Genesis starts an undetermined amount of time after the flashing of Noah. The people of Earth have spread themselves out and have “one language and few words” (Gen 11.1). Those peoples have settled on a plain and at someone’s suggestion they plan to build a city.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11.4)

Oxford informs me that these ambitious folk have settled in what has been determined as Mesopotamia. The tower they seek to build is supposedly one of the “ziggurats” that was typical in Mesopotamia.

Although I have not read and reported much in the last few months, I have had a few conversations with others regarding the Bible. It has been presented to me that the Bible, or at least parts of it, represent what people centuries ago used to understand the world around them. The various sciences and access to knowledge were not as developed as they are today, so many people had to rationalize their world as best they could. Sometimes this came in the form of seemingly ridiculous stories. Now, I don’t plan on poking holes and making fun of the stories presented in the Bible. However, I do find it interesting that the footnotes provided in my edition are offering scientifically established information to suggest the origins of this story. If there is any truth to the idea that our ancient ancestors were simply trying to understand their world, then there is a sort of irony that we are looking for evidence to support the claims made in the Bible. I guess what I am trying to say is this: The Bible is providing an explanation of why the world is the way it is, while we (modern people) are trying to explain whythe Bible is saying what it is saying about the world. Why don’t we just skip the Bible and explain our world using the information we have today?

Anyway…

Mankind heeds the above suggestion and sets out to build the famed Tower of Babel. It doesn’t take God long to figure out what mankind is up to and He decides to come down and check things out:

“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Gen 11.6-7)

Wow. Bold move, God. Mankind is just trying to make a name for themselves and He has to show up and ruin everything. I’m having flashbacks to my childhood when some bully would crush my Lego houses, but let’s not make this about me. Not only does God confuse the language of these hapless souls, but He goes on to spread them “over the face of all the earth” (Gen 11.8) Conveniently, the word “Babel” means “gate of God” but it is often translated from the Hebrew word meaning “confuse”. Coincidence? Highly unlikely.

It is interesting that the explanation for the multi-lingual and dispersed people of Earth is a result of God’s assholery. As a result of God’s actions, the story effectively tells us more than just the reason for why people speak different languages. In the passage, God alludes to a certain fear that He has over what mankind is capable of. After all, Adam and Eve gave humans the knowledge of good and evil and all they need now is immortality to be like gods. The imminent threat of humans knocking on heaven’s door, ripe for godliness, is what spurs God (and His subtly mentioned buddies) into action. Although it may not be correct to call God’s emotions “fear”, it seems He is getting a little regretful at making man in His image.

Regardless, it’s probably the last time they ever listen to that guy who suggested the tower in the first place.

Round Two

December 29, 2011

Let’s hope I pick up the pace with updates. If I continue at this rate I won’t even finish Genesis.

God was putting the final touches on his covenant with Noah…

“’I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’” (Gen.9.13)

I had no idea what God was talking about until I read the footnotes for this passage. Apparently the “bow” God talks of is actually a rainbow. Oxford goes one step further to explain that God didn’t just have the bow for show, but used it to shoot lightning bolts (I can only guess where he got that idea from). The rainbow, however, is old news. One of the first things God did was create light and now we’re supposed be amazed at his ability to refract it? I’m more surprised he decided to paint his bow it like it came from My Little Pony. Regardless of the reasoning I can now take comfort after every rain storm: “That sure was a lot of rain, but at least it’s not a giant flood.”

Finally we can say goodbye to God for a little bit while Noah moves on to raise his family. But, if saving the human race wasn’t enough for Noah, he sets out to top himself.

“Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent.” (Gen.9.20-21)

I’m glad Noah got his priorities straight. The first notable thing he does upon leaving the ark is to invent alcohol. Not only does he invent alcohol but he gets drunk off of it and invents streaking as well. Needless to say, Noah becomes the original bro. Granted, if I were Noah I’d probably be bummed at knowing I’d never do anything as epic as the ark again which might lead me to the drink. More likely though, Noah just kept rambling on at parties about how everyone should thank him and he can do anything he wants considering. I imagine he won all the can-you-top-this contests: “You raised some cattle? I built the ark.”

What does bug me about the excerpt above is the statement that Noah is the first tiller of the soil. Apparently the narrative has already forgotten about Cain. Remember:

“Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.” (Gen.4.2)

I knew he was cursed but I didn’t think we would deny Cain’s existence completely. In all fairness, Noah is a tiller of soil while Cain a tiller of ground. Whereas I may consider them the same, it could be like the Eskimos and their snow; they have one hundred names for it because it’s different to them.

Now, it is important to note that before Noah started drinking he had some kids. Most notable of them were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Whether or not the kids sparked the drinking, we may never know. We do know, however, that Ham was the first to stumble upon Noah naked in his tent.

“And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” (Gen.9.22)

Upon hearing the news of their drunk, naked father, Shem and Japheth take a blanket and cover Noah up. When Noah finally comes to, he curses Ham’s son Canaan and praises Shem and Japheth for their actions.

First off, Noah was probably still a little buzzed and didn’t really mean to condemn Canaan to be a “slave of slaves”. Secondly, none of the sons bothered to put their dad in the recovery position which means they’re all at fault. And finally Ham’s only crime was being concerned for his father. To further insult him, Shem and Japheth get praised for covering up their father despite the fact Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden for covering themselves up. Even though Noah is doling out the judgment and not God, one would expect the same disposition towards nakedness as in the past.

So, with a new world to populate, Noah’s sons go about procreating in a way that would have made their pre-flood ancestors proud. The Bible captures a lot of names in the next few paragraphs so I have taken it upon myself to utilize my engineering studies to make an indented bill of materials to sort out the family confusion.

It is worth mentioning that Canaan’s legacy is collectively called the Canaanites. Also, the Bible informs us where the majority of these sons settle. For example, Japheth’s sons become the “coastland peoples” and Joktan’s territory “extend[s] from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country in the east.” (Gen.10.30)

Finally the Earth is repopulated and at this point God can sit back and effectively declare round two.

After the Flood

May 18, 2011

Where were we? That’s right. Noah had just gotten off the boat.

“’The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea;’” (Gen.9.2)

This is God’s long winded way of saying, “Everything will run away from you.” I find it interesting that this aspect of animal behavior made it into the Bible. Obviously people needed an explanation as to why all the creatures of Earth were afraid of them, and here is an answer. From a story telling perspective, it makes sense. If I were an animal on the ark that had just been saved by Noah, I probably wouldn’t be afraid of him when we all got off the ark. In fact, I’d probably want to hang out with Noah in case something else went down. Alas, since animals are afraid of humans, this excerpt needs to be in. It’s nice to see a fact of life represented in the Bible too.

Oxford informs me that after everyone gets off the boat God outlines a deal or “covenant” with Noah and, subsequently, mankind. God first outlines the things He is going to give humans:

“’Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.’” (Gen.9.3) No take-backs!

Alright, so God’s statement in the beginning of this chapter makes a little more sense now. Apparently He’s just giving all the animals a head start seeing as how we’re going to start eating them pretty soon. I’m not really sure how this is a “gift” or good deal for humans though. It’s as if God says, “Happy de-arking! Now here’s a job you have to do to stay alive.” Now, I don’t want to sound selfish, because he did get to keep his life and all, but Noah did build an ark, round up a bunch of animals and live on the ocean for a few months securing the continued existence of life on Earth. I think he deserves a better parting gift than a lifetime of chasing critters through the forest. But that’s just my opinion.

After settling Noah’s end of the deal, God asks (He pretty much tells) for what He wants in return:

“’For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man.’” (Gen.9.5)

I’ve heard it said that the “debt that all men pay is death”, but I never thought it would come from a source like the Bible. If I am to interpret this excerpt correctly, then it seems God requests that all life on Earth be attributed to Him upon death. I can also see this excerpt as the beginnings of the idea that people go to heaven when they die. If, upon death, the “lifeblood” of everything on Earth goes to God, then I don’t think it is a stretch to say that people go to heaven. This assumes that God is in heaven and not sipping mimosas on the beach in Malibu. Although the latter wouldn’t be bad either. Whether or not everyone gets to go to heaven is still up for debate.

I also wonder why God chooses the word “require”. By saying He requires the life of man, it sounds like God needs the lifeblood of man. If God is the supreme power He has always been made out to be, I don’t understand why He would need anything, let alone something from mankind. Maybe He’s just lonely.

Not to beat a dead horse (whose lifeblood would surely go to God), the above quote reminds me of a time when I was a kid. Growing up in a Christian household we would say a prayer before we ate. Although the food had been long since dead, we still made a point to “give thanks” to God. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but it makes sense at this point in the Bible to think pre-food prayers are a demonstration of giving this “reckoning” to God. It seems other religions follow a similar rationale. In several faiths, animals to be eaten are raised and slaughtered in a specific manner per the tenets of the religion. Although I cannot yet speak to why kosher and halal foods are the way they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if it stems from an analogous source as this part in the Bible.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” (Gen.9.6)

God ends his covenant with Noah with this passage, a foreboding passage. With this final deal God makes with Noah and mankind, ethics and morals are being solidified. I feel like this excerpt clearly states that whoever kills a man should reciprocally be killed by man. However, God adds a layer of complexity by giving the reasoning “for God made man in his own image.” I see this rationale as having two possible meanings. First, it could be a simple reiteration of the covenant as if to say, “God would kill a man who was a murderer.” Or, the reasoning could be that God does not want men to kill because killing a man is like killing God. Both interpretations are vastly different and produce noticeable different portrayals of God. Depending on your interpretation God can seem like a hard-core vigilante or a disappointed parent. Regardless of how I interpret it, I can only imagine the verdicts and justifications for murder that have been delivered over time based on this short moment in the Bible.

While at first I agreed with this moral stance presented by God, now I begin to question it. I agree that there is a certain amount of retribution necessary for heinous acts; however, I can see how violence could be perpetuated by this thought process especially when it is difficult to see who cast the first, proverbial stone. Being a relatively grown person I have already determined many of my own ethics and morals. When the Bible challenges my developed beliefs, as it has done here, I am presented with an opportunity to change my opinion. I guess this is a reflection of the reality I was faced with from the beginning: my perspective and opinion about religion and the Bible may change during this journey. It’s still an unsettling thought, but it looks like I will encounter it in the text sooner rather than later.

I know my morals will continue to be questioned and sometimes affirmed by the text. This is a reality I know is not mine alone. If unsettling questions about one’s morals arise in the text, then how does one ultimately choose to believe in the Bible? Perhaps having a dilemma over the text is reason enough to consider another book to follow. However, there’s a lot more Bible to get through, and I can only hope the answers are in there somewhere.

I’m still wondering where all the water went…

Noah. He’s on a Boat.

December 20, 2010

It’s been a while since I’ve done any reading in the Bible, but I thought with the holidays approaching what better time to discuss religion than now.

If the story of Adam and Eve is the most familiar story from the Bible, then the story of Noah and the great flood is a close second. Most everyone religious and non-religious knows some part of Noah’s tale. After God tells Noah of the coming flood, He has him build a Halo to ensure humankind’s continuance on Earth…or something like that.

A couple chapters before Noah’s story we learn of the family that Noah comes from: a long line of people hundreds of years after Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden. Now that Earth is populated with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people, God realizes the majority of them are taking His landscape for granted. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the aforementioned people don’t give thanks and praise to the guy who created it in the first place.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen 6:5-6)

And when God is as bummed as He is here, there is only one thing He can do.

“’I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” (Gen 6:7)

I am continually impressed at how alike God is to man. Growing up, God was always portrayed to me as this big, potentially scary dude who always has the right answer. Not only does the above passage insinuate that God has made a mistake, but He also feels “sorry”. The regret of creation that seeps into God’s “heart” is an extremely humanistic trait. God made mankind in His image, but I feel people forget to see the other side of that statement; in creating man in His image, man is a reflection of God.  It seems very egotistical but in this sense it is easier to see how God would feel sadness, regret, and make mistakes like humans do. However, the tender image of an almost betrayed God does not persist throughout the chapter. Soon after God voices His initial disappointment with the world, he rephrases his plans a little more harshly:

“’I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.’” (Gen 6:13)

Another irony point to goes to God here. I’m sure He could drum up a dozen ways to “blot out/destroy” the creatures of Earth, but He chooses to do it with the Earth itself. Classy. Alas, there is one man on the planet that God likes enough to keep around. Noah.

Noah is from a small branch off the family tree that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. It turns out Noah is actually an alright guy, a “righteous” guy. God lets Noah in on His plans and guides him towards a means to survive the coming judgment.

“Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.’” (Gen 6:14-15)

God almost sounds like he knows what He’s talking about. I guess carpentry just comes naturally. Oxford informs me that the dimensions of said ark in modern measurements would be about 450 x 75 x 45 feet, in case any of you are looking into making one… In great anticipation God finally reveals his plans:

“For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven…” (Gen 6:17)

or

“For behold! I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven…”

What a difference a little punctuation makes; one exclamation point and the vengeful God turns into a villain and/or magician. In all honesty, God is abusing His “behold” privileges. In less than a page He’s used it twice, leading me to believe He is a little too proud of Himself.

After giving Noah some more pointers on the ark, God tells Noah that his family will escape the destructive flood by living aboard the boat. Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives along with at least two of every animal on Earth (male and female) will pack into the ark when the time comes. I say “at least” two of every animal because God requests Noah pack in seven pairs of what He calls the “clean” animals and only one pair of the “not clean” animals (Gen 7:2). If God doesn’t like some of the animals then why bother bringing them along in the first place? That’s like keeping an ugly friend around just so you look better. Along with the animals and Noah’s family, God request that “every sort of food that is eaten” (Gen 6:21) also be brought along. Oh yeah, and He wants it done in seven days.

What I don’t understand is if God wants to “destroy all flesh” on Earth, why is He having Noah go through all this trouble to gather up, and effectively save, all the creatures of Earth including humans? If anything, it should just be the creatures on the boat because humans are the ones that disappointed God to the extent that He planned this whole thing up in the first place. On top of all that, what about all the sea creatures? A giant flood is just like a giant party for everyone in the ocean. Something tells me God didn’t think this plan through all the way…

At the end of the week God promises Noah that He will make it rain for the fabled “forty days and forty nights” (Gen 7:4). Sure enough, after seven days it starts to rain and Noah and all the animals climb aboard the ark. And while that’s happening I am berated with repeated descriptions of what exactly is in the ark:

“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you;” (Gen 6:19)

“Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean…to keep their kind alive upon the face of the earth. “(Gen7:2-4)

“Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean…two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah…” (Gen 7:8-9)

“They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.” (Gen 7:15)

This is uncalled for. I’ve mentioned my displeasure at the repetitions at the beginning of chapters, but I cut the text some slack. The information that is presented here, across a page in the Bible, could easily be condensed into a single, solid paragraph. Yes, gathering up at least two of every animal in the known world is impressive and could even warrant a rewording of God’s request as clarification of the vast task before Noah. But to continually repeat the word of God over and over throughout the story is absurdly distracting, frustrating, and kind of insulting. I hope I’m not crazy for thinking this.

Pardon me for simply summarizing the remainder of this story, but if the recent revelation is any indication, there is little information currently presented in the text that is worth quoting. The rains fall for forty days and forty nights as God foretold. People back in the day believed, so says Oxford, that the Earth was covered with a “firmament”, or dome, which kept waters above the Earth at bay. When God sends the rains upon the Earth in Noah’s time, the “windows of the heavens were opened” (Gen7:11) causing the massive flood and inspiring the first incarnation of Chicken Little.  I’d also like to point out that the great flood happened over forty days and forty nights, but Noah and the ark remained afloat for at least 150 days. When I heard this story as a kid I just thought the whole ordeal took place over 40 days. In all honesty that’s probably just because that’s as far into the future I could fathom at the time. How long everyone was on the boat I can’t exactly determine (the Bible is clever in its vagueness). Regardless, the waters begin to recede after about 150 days.

While we wait for the water to subside, I’ve been thinking about how the Earth is formed. In the geological knowledge I’ve obtained from the Discovery Channel I know that it is a well accepted idea that canyons, valleys, lakes etc. were formed from giant, prehistoric bodies of water in the form of glaciers, rivers and even floods. Perhaps the current landscape and its features can be explained by a Noah-esque flood. Modern science has always seemed like it is at odds with religion so I want to take any opportunity to find some common ground between them, even if it is in as sorry an example as this.

So God destroys all life on Earth with a giant flood. How then did people and animals come to live on what is now North America and South America? If there was an epic flood then there would be no life anywhere in the Americas when visitors first came over from Asia, Europe and Africa. Life could have made its way across the ocean if all the modern continents were in some sort of Pangea shape, but that would require the Earth to be significantly older than some exceptionally religious people are willing to believe. On the other hand, plate tectonics may have been faster than currently measured.

Finally the ark comes to rest on the mountains of “Ar’arat” and everyone and everything is offloaded. A quick Google maps search reveals that Ararat is in southern Virginia about an hour away from Sparta, and here I am thinking this was taking place in the Middle East. There is an Ar’arat in Israel that shows up as well and I’ve also heard the biblical mountains being somewhere in Turkey. I anticipate a post (or series of posts) about biblical locales in the distant future…

Wherever Noah actually landed he exits the ark and promptly builds an altar to God.

“The Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor…” (Gen 8:20-21)

Whoa. Are we talking sacrifices? It can’t just be burnt hair because that smells horrible. I guess there are plenty of pairs of clean animals to use for the “offerings” but it seems out of place in the Bible of a faith that I always thought would condemn sacrifices to God(s). It makes me wonder what place this story and others like it have in the book as a whole and how things that have since been labeled as savage have persisted in the text. In a response to a comment on a previous post I talked briefly about how some people view these stories as a sort of fable or “lessons learned” moment in the Bible. If this is the case then distinguishing between what is fairy tale and what is actual seems like it will be a continual challenge as I progress.

After the long ordeal, God leaves Noah with a parting reminder:

“I will never again curse the ground because of man…neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains…” (Gen 8:21-22)

“While the earth remains”? Why would God say that? He created the Earth so is it wrong to assume that He alone could destroy it? And seeing as how he just agreed to not be so destructive again in the future we can rest easy knowing Earth will be around forever.

Oh wait. He won’t destroy every living creature as He has done. So He’ll just find some other way to do it…

Classy.

The Family Tree

August 31, 2010

So Cain and his wife have a son named Enoch. The first and last thing to be described about Enoch is his own son. Nothing about Enoch’s childhood or teenage years; he is just born and then is suddenly a grown man having kids of his own. I guess there wasn’t much to do back in the day that was worth reporting anyway.

The Bible continues by simply listing off the lineage of Cain and his nameless wife. Enoch has a son Irad, Irad has a son Mehu’jael, Mehu’jael has a son Methu’shael, and finally Methu’shael has a son whom he calls Lamech. This was a long way of saying “Lamech is the great-great-great-great-grandson of Adam and Eve”. And if that wasn’t enough, I now learn about all of Adam and Eve’s other kids…because apparently they had more.

Chapter four closes on the birth of Seth; Adam and Eve’s next child. Not much is revealed about Seth other than the idea he is replacing Abel. We learn Seth eventually has a kid with another undisclosed woman and he calls the child Enosh. Real original Seth.

These chapters continue the trend of mysterious women. Not only does Seth hook up with an unknown woman, but the only women given the consideration of a name are involved someway with Lamech (Cain’s side). Lamech takes two wives (a fact that will definitely be addressed) whose names are Adah and Zillah. Both women give birth to children and Zillah bears the only named daughter: Na’amah. Nothing, yet, is mentioned of what happens to Na’amah.

When chapter five opens I am struck with yet another overlap of stories that borders on redundancy:

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God…When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” (Gen 5:1-3)

At the beginning of Genesis I ran into this problem of repetition. Although some information is new, the manner in which the established information is presented makes things sound like the reader has never heard of God and Adam before. I have hypothesized that the cause of this duality might be due to multiple authors over a span of time and the stories have been simply mashed together. This theory is sounding more and more like a possibility. Maybe our ancestors were just really thick and needed a lot of reminders as they read.

Anyway, let’s get back to what was just said. One hundred and thirty years old! Adam knocks up an equally old Eve at 130 years old! This was a good time for humans (minus the whole damnation and all). On top of this extraordinary age that Adam and Eve apparently reach, the Bible goes on to say that they had “other sons and daughters” until Adam kicked the bucket at the ripe old age of 930. Even without a tree of life Adam lives to be 930 years old. If immortality were given to me I’d probably die of boredom after 930 years, so I guess it doesn’t really matter that Adam and Eve never got a crack at the tree of life. Assuming Eve lived as long as her husband I think it is safe to say they got to see enough of life after exile.

Adam and Eve are not the only ones to achieve impressive life-spans. All of the men in the coming paragraphs live for extraordinary lengths of time, the youngest of them dying at the age of 777. Enoch himself smashes Adam’s record by dying at 969 years old. Why or how these fellas got to be so old I have no idea. I’m guessing all that sex and no alcohol.

What follows after the death of Adam is a long list of the generations following the first man and woman. There is no prose or plot in the page and half after Adam and Eve pass, just a list of the fathers and sons over the next several hundred years. It is an abrupt switch from the story-like mode that has established the text so far and it gives a factual tone to the writing. The text sounds like a history book at this point and I might consider it as such if I wasn’t distracted by the outlandish ages of Earth’s early inhabitants. I wonder if this shift in tone is an attempt from the text to look for credibility in the eyes of the reader. Whatever the cause, it makes for a dull couple of pages. For the sake of space and time I have a flowchart of what we learn of Adam and Eve’s lineage:

Adam > Seth > Enosh > Kenan > Mahal’alel > Jared > Enoch > Methu’selah > Lamech > Noah

The above can be read as Seth is the father of Enosh, Enosh the father of Kenan and so on.

I had to be careful in writing these passages for reasons that may already be apparent. We have already been introduced to an Enoch as the son of Cain, and Enoch’s own great-great grandson was named Lamech. In seeing the lineage of Adam down Seth’s line, there is not only an Enosh, but another Enoch entirely who has a grandson named Lamech. I guess names were scarce at the beginning of mankind. In their defense the Bible does say that each of the men mentioned above had many more sons and daughters (with unique names I would hope), but each had only one son worth textual recognition.

The book goes to great lengths to mention at least one son of each male character. There is no mention of the other brothers and sisters, just one son. I would understand if the mentioned son did something cool that was then written down, but nothing is mentioned for anyone. I am probably getting ahead of myself though. I’ll admit that I know where Genesis will take us in the next few chapters, so I wonder if the only purpose of this segment of the Bible is tell the reader where the character of Noah comes from…

Nowadays, at least in the United States, the family name is passed down through the male side of a family. It has become commonplace for the wife to take the husband’s last name in marriage. Whether or not this is a correct/ethical/moral/whatever practice is reserved for a different blog entirely. What the Bible appears to be doing in the text forming the basis for this post is creating the idea that the males form the family lineage. Although the characters in the Bible do not have any last names, or any unique, filial identifiers as far as we know, by focusing solely on the men, the text creates a family history dependent on them.

In recent years I have heard a great deal of critiques and insults thrown at Islam. The rising tension, whether apparent or not, between the West and Islam is a partial reason for my desire to read holy texts and find the answers myself. One of the critiques that western, often religious, folk have berated Muslims with is Islam’s tolerance of multiple marriages. Whether this is true or not, or to what extent Muslims practice it (I’m guessing few), I feel this is a good time to point out Lamech from a little while ago. At what can still be considered the beginning of the Bible there is a character formally engaged with two women. It is great to see something applicable to the modern argument already coming out of the text.

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with marrying multiple women…

I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I re-discovered a quote that pertains to the whole Adam and Eve business. It may come as a surprise, but the Bible isn’t the only thing I read or have read.

Whenever I read something I find interesting for some reason or another I write it down in what has become a book of quotes. What is surprising is that I found the following quote interesting before I even contemplated this Bible reading adventure. The quote below is from Ayn Rand’s epic Atlas Shrugged:

“What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they considered perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge – he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil – he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor – he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire – he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness and joy – all of the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man’s fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but his essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was – that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love – he was not man.”

Rand focuses on the way religious circles describe the story of Adam and Eve as a detrimental fall of mankind. She has an ability far superior to my own, and her insight is a welcome change of tone from my own prose. I don’t want to spoil her intriguing analysis with lesser discussion on my part, so I want to just leave this quote for your own reflection.

I know there are many authors with opinions about religion and the Bible, so I’ll keep an eye out and add their ideas when they come up.

Who knew?

July 11, 2010

Banished from the eternal play-place that is the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did the only conceivable thing two humans in their predicament would do to entertain themselves: sex. Wow, the first thing to result from the fall of mankind is recreational copulation. I hear being the last man on Earth doesn’t guarantee any purchase in your sex life, but apparently being the first man has its perks. To be honest, I can’t say Adam and Eve just hooked up out of boredom, but it makes more sense considering the last thing I’d want after being banished to a foreign land is a kid or two. Unfortunately, the Bible isn’t even as descriptive as I am in telling of the carnal escapades of Adam and Eve.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,” (Gen 4:1)

This is a potent time in the history of mankind. Apparently just knowing someone can get you pregnant. Fortunately that’s not the case now. I’ve known a lot of women in my life but I guess I never really knew them…

Adam and Eve learn a little bit about each other and the result is two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain, the oldest, is a farmer while Abel raises sheep.

“In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock…” (Gen 4:3-4)

Several aspects of this passage drew my attention. The relationship between Cain, Abel and God seems very primitive. Offerings to a god or gods have always been portrayed by history and the media as the acts of a savage culture. Although I have never heard such a portrayal from a religious representative, I feel their sentiments would be similar in regards to offerings to deities. Also, no special mention is given to the fact that the sons of Adam and Eve are giving offerings to the God that banished their parents. If, back in the time of Genesis, kids were brought up in any way like they are now, then Cain and Abel would have heard plenty of rants and raves about God over the dinner table. Eve would try to explain for the “like millionth” time how a snake talked her into things, then Adam would start mumbling his regret at having listened to mom in the first place. Eventually, dad would go on about how they apologized and God just totally over reacted…or something like that. Regardless, coming out of their parent’s house, Cain and Abel probably wouldn’t have the highest esteem for God. Why then do they feel compelled to give God an offering? I surmise, as does Oxford, albeit subtly, that the brothers do it to gain their own acceptance from God. A logical idea if God didn’t take out his anger for Adam and Eve on their kids.

“And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry,” (Gen 4:4-5)

No kidding! Of course Cain was very angry. The guy just toiled for a season to give God this offering and He doesn’t even say two words to Cain about it. Oxford pointedly remarks, “[n]o reason is given for the acceptance of Abel’s offering”. I’m glad I’m not the only one to read this passage this way. God gives no reason for his acceptance of Abel’s offering, but it also means there is no reason why God does not accept Cain’s offering. Adding insult to injury, God goes and plays dumb:

“the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?’” (Gen 4:6)

I’ll tell you why his countenance has fallen. You cut him real deep God.

After pretending like He did nothing wrong, God either plays with Cain’s mind or reveals an element of his powerlessness. If we assume God to be the ultimate judgment in the universe then He would be the one to accept or not accept offerings. So by phrasing this fact as a question to Cain, God confuses the poor guy and subtly states Cain didn’t “do well”. Either that or God doesn’t have the power to determine if Cain has done “well”. Whoever does have that power, the Bible gives me no hints.

Jealous and frustrated, Cain lures his brother out into a field where he kills him. When God comes calling after his favorite grandson, Cain doles out an awesome retort:

“’Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Gen 4:9)

I would phrase Cain’s comment as the snide, “It wasn’t my turn to look after him” remark of today’s cynical youth. My mom would call this “giving lip” or “back talking” and who knew it’s practice goes all the way back to the beginning of mankind? Now I haven’t known Cain very long, but I consider him a reasonable man despite being prone to over-reacting from time to time. Cain asks God a question they both know the answer to, just like God did to Cain earlier. The spiteful remark towards God leads me to believe Cain knows He was giving him a load of crock earlier about doing “well”.

As a punishment for Cain’s actions, God puts a curse on Cain and his ability to harvest from the Earth. Cain decides he can’t live a farm-less life and chooses exile in hopes that someone someday will end his torture via death. But God doesn’t want Cain to have the easy escape from his punishment should someone kill him, so He puts a mark on Cain to remind everyone of Cain’s actions. Should anyone kill Cain heedless of the mark, then the punishment on the killer would be “sevenfold” (Gen 4:15).  Seven? Really? Okay, seems like a random number, but I’ll go with it.

“Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Gen 4:16)

I didn’t mention the following in the previous posts about the creation of man and Adam and Eve, because I didn’t find it that interesting at the time. The Bible says there are four rivers that flow out of Eden, the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euprhates. The latter two rivers should sound familiar as the two waterways surrounding the prehistoric Mesopotamia, a land archeologically revered for its abundant natural resources. The ancient area of Mesopotamia has since been replaced by many cities, most recognizable of which is Baghdad, Iraq. Although I don’t know anything about the Gihon and Pishon rivers mentioned in the Bible, I can’t imagine a better place to have the fabled Garden of Eden than Mesopotamia. The water that must have been far more abundant in ancient times would have made the Iraq area a haven in the middle of the desert. If Eden did exist somewhere around Iraq, then I can guess Cain settled near what is today Iran. As an aside, I wonder how deeply Catholic people feel about the potential of Eden being in the Middle East…

“Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch;” (Gen 4:17)

Woah. Where did this chick come from? If this is the Bible’s way of being nonchalant, then I am not impressed. I was under the impression Adam, Eve, Cain and the late Abel were the only people on Earth. There has been no mention of extra people having been made and placed on Earth by God unless it has been done in a supremely subtle fashion uncharacteristic of anything I’ve read so far. I think it is only reasonable to expect in the beginning of mankind that the narrative would account for everyone and everything. The very literal appearance of Cain’s wife doesn’t serve to increase my faith in the text. With the woman’s arrival, a pattern begins to emerge in the book; a pattern of shoddy writing that will only lead to more unsupported and unreasonable events down the road. I don’t expect the Bible to iron out every little aspect, but when it comes to the origins of the human race, I expect the argument (if not considered outright “fact”) to be a little more foolproof.

After all, this fool can get through it.

Be you religious or not, odds are you have heard the story of Adam and Eve in some form or another. I know I had heard it many times before reading it for myself. There’s a tree with some fruit that you’re not supposed to eat, Adam and Eve eat said fruit, God gets pissed, Adam and Eve are banished, the end. That is the story I was familiar with and I’m sure many of my peers are familiar with still to this moment. I was delighted to find out that the story in itself has a few more nuances to keep me engaged…if only to question it…

So Man was left alone hanging out with all the creatures on an unpopulated Earth. Since none of the creatures were a good enough fit for man, God decided to create him a “helper”.

“but for the man there was not a helper fit for him…and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman.”(Gen 2:20-22)

I’m sorry ladies but I feel this is the first in a long line of events that are about to unfold where you get the short end of the stick. From the get-go woman was only a helper to man. Some radicals might go as far as to say slave, but fortunately this Bible doesn’t go that far. The most I can gather about this excerpt is, at the moment of female conception, God, and subsequently man, did not consider woman his or His equal. Instead, woman is just a “helper” to man; lower, but still better than the creatures and creeping things.

Soon after the creation of woman we are introduce to the fabled serpent. As far as I can tell from my text, the serpent is never labeled as Satan or a satanic figure. The only information I am given to separate the serpent from the other creatures is that it is “more subtle than any other creature.” (Gen 3:1) The story of Adam and Eve I was always told painted the snake as a definitive embodiment of the devil. I can see how the metaphorical jump can be easily made, but I find it interesting that the devilishness is not explicitly mentioned in the holy text itself.

No special mention is given to the fact the serpent intelligently communicates with the woman. Even taking into account the evolution of cultures over the millennia I feel ancient peoples would still consider talking creatures strange. Nonetheless, the serpent convinces the woman to eat the fruit from the tree of wisdom/good and evil. When she does, she shares with her husband and they get caught by God. What follows is a tri-fecta of curses:

“cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go…all the days of your life.” (Gen 3:14)

I interpret this passage to say the snake becomes the least considered creature of them all. I think it’s interesting God condemns the snake to travel on its stomach as if before the snake did not slither in the way we are most familiar with. I like to think it was a dragon or Trogdor-like creature before its transformation.

“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire will be for you husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)

As suggested in a previous post, Genesis most likely serves to explain why many things in the world are the way they are. God’s curse on the woman explains why childbirth is so painful to women. God seems to suggest that childbirth was no big deal before this fruit conundrum. Now, I have never given birth and I don’t want to challenge God’s judgment, but I can’t imagine a world where passing a cantaloupe wouldn’t be painful.

“And to Adam he said;” (Gen 3:17)

Before I go on to describe the final punishment for mankind, I want to point out that this is the first time a name has been given to the male character. Until this point our characters have just been referred to as the man and the woman, like a deleted scene from “The Road”. Anyway:

“cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life:” (Gen 3:17)

Here the text provides yet another explanation for the reasons behind why things are the way they are. Apparently mankind cannot partake in foliage as a source of food per the damnation that God has put on men and women. I find this punishment clever on behalf of God; you eat His plant and He’ll make it so you can’t eat plants anymore.

The most startling piece of information comes at the conclusion of Adam and Eve’s story when God says:

“Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen 3:22)

Not only does God again mention the mysterious “us”, but He recognizes man as similar to Himself. God shows a concern that man will also eat from a “tree of life” to become immortal and therefore godly. It was always my impression there was only one tree in the fall of mankind. The word “also” tips me off to the fact there are two trees in this story: one tree of knowledge between good and evil and another tree of life. It seems all people have to do is eat the fruit of said trees to become like God. I can see now why God wouldn’t want people eating his trees. He doesn’t like to share. I can’t help wondering: if God is so awesomely powerful then why did he put the trees in the Garden of Eden in the first place? It couldn’t be to tempt Adam and Eve, because I was under the impression temptation was Satan’s job. Perhaps God is compelled to put the trees there by an even higher power, dare I say. The presence of these questions leads me to wonder if good and evil, morality, and immortality exist outside of God.

Having a tree that bestows the knowledge of good and evil suggests there is a definitive line between the two. If physics has taught me anything it’s that there are few things that can be considered absolute. The story of the fall of man seems to insinuate good and evil are two of those absolutes. Banished from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are forced to make their way in the world outside passing their ill-gotten knowledge on to their descendants. At this time I cannot say that humans still possess this knowledge over good and evil. If humans supposedly had this knowledge, why are there so many debates over ethics and morals today? At the expense of sounding cheesy and emotionally optimistic I will say humans have the knowledge of good and evil if only we can find it in ourselves (what a cuddly thought).

Although Genesis explains why things are the way they are I am upset that humanity has to endure the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions a long time ago. Since when has the actions of one’s ancestors been reason to punish a new generation? So Adam and Eve screwed up. Punish them. If you asked me not to eat your fruit I wouldn’t eat your fruit, even if a snake started talking me into it. Especially if a snake started talking me into it. Perhaps it is my bestowed knowledge between good and evil and right and wrong that allows me to decide not to eat the fruit. Either way I would have appreciated some say in this decision.

At the end of the day, towards Adam and Eve, I am indifferent. Thanks for the knowledge. No thanks for the damnation.

The Creation of Man

April 3, 2010

It is a little difficult for me to begin this post because the Bible is already eluding me. Three pages in and I’m already confused. Who thought Genesis could be that confusing? Not this guy.

Let me set the stage…

When we left off last, God had just created Earth and everything on it. He opens a whole can of creeping worms when he goes about describing His, what I assume to be, best creation.

“’Let us make man in our image, after our likeness;’” (Gen 1:26)

I have always had the impression that Catholicism, its branches, and even Judaism and Islam, are monotheistic religions with only a sole, head honcho. This excerpt challenges my previous notions when it depicts God talking to some other conscious being or object up in the heavens. I can only think of two explanations for who God is talking to in this passage. First is that God is up in the heavenly realm chilling with some other godly fellows. Whether or not the others that compose the “us” have powers similar to the God is unclear, but it only seems reasonable to think if there are other figures pre-dating mankind then they would have some kind of divine power as well, even if not on the same scale as God. Oxford seems to agree when suggesting in the footnotes the “us” and “our” are in reference to a “heavenly court” of God’s which resembles a sort of “royal theology” of ancient religions. My second guess is that God has developed some serious multiple personalities. Think about it. The guy has been just hanging around for eternity. I would have started talking to myself after about a millennia.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)

If we take this passage with the previous excerpt then we can see that not only do humans bear a resemblance to God, but a resemblance to the other(s) around God as well.

Chapter 2

After God creates man, he rests, and very appropriately enough. I imagine it is like the peaceful time right before a couple is about to have a baby. They get the most sleep and quiet time they can because there won’t be much of it for at least the next 15 years. Except for God it’s more like…well, I’ll get back to you on that one.

This is where things get fishy for me. Let’s walk through my thought process as I read these next few lines…

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” (Gen 2:4)

Me: Yes, I got that, this is like the seventh time you’ve mentioned that.

“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,” (Gen 2:4)

Okay, let’s see…that’s day two. Alright, now that we’re on the same page…

“when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground-“ (Gen 2:5)

Yes. I get it. There’s just the heavens and the earth, you literally just said that. I swear. You’d have to lack the slightest mental capacity to miss anything here.

“then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground,” (Gen 2:7)

Wait…what?

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air,” (Gen 2:19)

“the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman” (Gen 2:22)

Okay, okay. I take it back. I’m confused.

Even after reading through the passage several times it seems this is another account of the creation of man and Earth. In the second chapter God creates the Earth itself, then he creates man, then animals, and finally woman. This is in disconnect with the first chapter. Oxford offers no insights to clarify this for me and I have only one possible explanation:

Due to the Bible’s length and age it has been suggested to me by others that the whole text itself is a collection of not just separate books but of separate writings from different authors over a period of years. If I accept this understanding, then the beginning of Chapter 2 of Genesis makes more sense. However, how can I account for the resolution of God’s first week in the beginning of Chapter 2? If Chapter 2 is indeed written by another author, how could this author know to sum up the end of Chapter 1 before offering his own account? I surmise that he couldn’t, and therefore suggest this alternate account is somewhat of an error. As I discovered in the many prefaces to the holy text, the Bible is very much edited over time. Either I am missing an obvious explanation or this section has yet to be addressed by those with the power to fix things.

It is frustrating to come upon a portion of the text that I cannot reason out through wit or perversion. I didn’t think the Bible would be as difficult as the lady in the bookstore suggested to me, at least not this early on. I cannot disregard this quandary when determining my judgment (if you will permit me the word) of the Bible, but for the sake of moving on I will let it be for now. Regardless of how they came to be, or in what order, mankind finds its way onto Earth, and two of the most famous characters from the Bible emerge: Adam and Eve.