Genesis, Chapter 25 (Baby Boom!)

8 Sep

After Sarah’s death, Abraham takes another wife, Keturah, who bares him six more children, who have more children. I could list their names, but I have a feeling we’ll never hear from these kids again. Abraham gives everything he has to Isaac, but to his concubine’s sons, gives gifts and sends them away. Abraham lives 175 years before giving up the ghost; Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the same cave as Sarah.

Ishmael has twelve sons, in fact “twelve princes according to their nations.” 1-2 princes here before us–princes, princes who adore us. Ishmael gives up his ghost at 137 years, dying in the presence of his brethren.

Isaac takes Rebekah as his wife at the age of forty, but she was barren, which seems like a common affliction in Genesis, but God acts even faster than He did with Sarah, although it still takes twenty years for her to conceive. Carrying twins, Rebekah can feel them struggle within her, and God tells her that two nations are in her womb, one of which will be stronger than the other, with the elder serving the younger. This sibling rivalry trope is not at all overused.

The first child is red and hairy, and named Esau. His brother, who literally arrives on Esau’s heel, is named Jacob. Esau grows up to be a hunter and outdoorsman while Jacob is a farmer and tent-dweller. Isaac, who loves him some venison, also loves Esau, whereas Rebekah loves Jacob most of all.

Esau, coming home weak from the hunt, asks Jacob for some soup; Jacob tells Esau to sell him his birthright. Talk about a soup Nazi! Esau, starving now, sees more value in soup today than birthright tomorrow, and sells his future to Jacob, who throws in some bread as well, a filling meal by any measure.

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Genesis, Chapter 24 (A-Wife-Huntin’ We Will Go)

26 May

Abraham, who has just lost his wife and is very elderly and frail himself, calls his eldest servant to him and asks him to grab his cock. Well, the Bible says “put thy hand under my thigh” but that’s just being polite. Abraham tasks his servant with finding his son Isaac a wife, but not one from the people amongst whom they dwell–the Canaanites. I can only assume that’s because Abraham is a racist.

The servant is to journey to the land which Abraham left and find a wife from amongst his kin. The servant wonders whether, if the woman won’t come back with him, he should take Isaac to her? Absolutely not, says Abraham. An angel of the Lord will guide the servant, and if he still can’t get the woman to return with him, he will be released from his oath. The servant grabs Abraham’s cock–which was the custom at the time, there not being any Bibles yet–and swears his oath.

Taking ten camels, the servant heads to Mesopotamia [for the remainder of this post, please listen to the B-52’s song of the same name]. He and the camels lurk at the well outside the city, knowing that’s where all the fine ladies are. He prays to God to show him guidance: let the woman who gives him water when he asks be the one who offers to give his camels water, too. In what must be the easiest wife-huntin’ errand ever, even before his prayer is done, out comes Rebekah, a stone-cold virgin babe, who gives him water without hesitation and draws water for his camels. That didn’t take long.

He asks if her father’s house has lodging. She says yes and straw and provender for your camels as well. It’s a case of love me, love my camels, and the servant thinks he’s found his woman, but just needs to verify that she’s kin to Abraham. Kin? She’s the daughter of Abraham’s nephew–kissin’ cousins. What luck! He gives her a gold earring and bracelets, and she runs to tell her family, then her brother comes to meet the servant. They enter the house, but before he’ll eat with them, the servant insists on telling his story… which is just a recap of the very things we just read (this is by far the longest Chapter in Genesis so far, because of its repetition).

The servant asks if he can take Rebekah with him and her father and brother reply that since this is God’s will, they have nothing to say, agree or disagree, so yes, take her. Rebekah and her family are showered with jewels, and they all party like it’s 1999 BCE. In the morning the servant wants to leave straightaway, but Rebekah’s brother and mother want her to stay with them a while. The servant wants them to stop gettin’ up in his bizniz, and they decide to let Rebekah decide. She agrees to leave with the servant.

Returning to Canaan, they meet Isaac, and tell him of all that has transpired. Isaac takes Rebekah into his mother’s tent, and takes her in his mother’s tent, and she becomes his wife. This takes the sting out of Sarah’s death.

Genesis, Chapter 23 (A Grave Transaction)

20 May

Sarah dies at the age of 127, leaving a husband and young son, but no grandchildren is that too much to ask? She died in Hebron in Canaan, and Abraham, who was apparently elsewhere, comes to mourn her. As a stranger to the land, Abraham asks for a burial place from the locals, who offer him any spot he wants, out of respect. Having his eye on a certain sepulchre (he’s a stranger, not a sucker), Abraham asks the locals to convince Ephron the son of Zohar to give him a certain cave on his land–money is no object! Ephron, who is a Hittite (not to be confused with Zac Efron the Hottie), offers the field and grave free of charge. Abraham insists on paying and Ephron, who was all “take it, its yours!” still knows exactly how much the land is worth–four hundred silver shekels–but wants Abraham to take the land anyway.

This back-and-forth continues for a while, but eventually the bartering ends and Ephron (no fool) takes the money. Abraham buries Sarah in the cave on the land that is now his, fair and square.

Genesis, Chapter 22 (Abraham, Isaac, and the Spare)

12 May

God tempts Abraham, telling him to take his son Isaac into the land of Moriah and make a burnt offering of him. Interesting choice of words: tempt. Not challenge, or shock, or appall, or even test, which is how this chapter is often portrayed, as God putting Abraham’s faith to the test. Instead, God tempts Abraham to kill his son, as if it’s something that Abraham was thinking about doing anyway.

Now I will comment on the use of the term ass to refer to donkey. Which came first? Ass, with “donkey” only appearing in the late 1700s. According to Wikipedia: “From the 18th century, donkey gradually replaced ass. The change may have come about through a tendency to avoid pejorative terms in speech, and be comparable to the substitution in North American English of rooster for cock, or that of rabbit for coney, which was formerly homophonic with cunny.” So the writers of the King James Bible probably weren’t trying to be funny when they wrote about Abraham “saddling his ass” or telling his servants to “abide ye here with the ass.” But it makes me laugh anyway.

Abraham journeys to Moriah and, making Isaac carry the wood for the burnt offering, takes fire and a knife and proceeds to the spot God specified. Isaac–such a smart boy!–asks his father if they aren’t forgetting the lamb for the offering? Abraham tells him that God will provide. They arrive and Abraham builds an altar, ties Isaac to it, and is about to slay his son with the knife when an angel appears and stops him, saying “now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son…”

HAS EVERYONE ALREADY FORGOTTEN ISHMAEL? You know, Abraham’s FIRST son? On the other hand, Ishmael is probably glad that he and his mom moved out of Abraham’s tent, what with all the tempting and testing and burnt offerings.

Abraham notices a ram caught in a thicket, and sacrifices it instead of his son. The angel says that, since Abraham was willing to offer up his son, he will be blessed with numerous offspring, who will possess the gate of his enemies. As almost immediate proof, Abraham is told that his brother Nahor’s wife has borne eight children (the family doesn’t really keep in touch, what with the wandering in and out of foreign lands over the years). And to show that eight is not enough, Nahor’s concubine has added four more children to the mix.

There is no God, but gods (and likely not that either)

4 May

Special Guest Post by fenchurch

It has been said that one way to make more atheists is for people to read their holy books. This is what James is trying to get you to do: read through a distasteful, boring tome with all the irreverence of one who already fails to be convinced that anyone should be punished–in this life or the next–for doing so.

Despite the promised irreverence, James has chosen to use initial caps on honorifics like “Him” or “His,” a convention I find distasteful. There is no “God” but “gods”–in the grammatical sense (any proof is still forthcoming for actual gods). I suppose one has to use conventions–it wouldn’t do to refer to a small-h-hitler when referring to the man–but why carry over the implied respect in word choice for something that doesn’t deserve it? (Next, I suspect that James will start using a red font for the holy moly words of a humble carpenter’s son who features in many a fable.)

Much like the devout Jews who write g_d or YHWH, deliberately omitting letters, and El Propheto Muhammedo’s depicted face in mosaics has been respectfully smashed, I feel that nonbelievers should make unconventional use of mechanics to draw attention to the notion that vicious, generic characters like gods need no initial cap or singularity, and that pronouns concerning the debatably extant carpenter’s son do not need to reflect any glory more than nouns in German.

The idea that one needn’t tiptoe around the conventions of another’s unjustifiable grandeur I think is important if one is dealing with things that do not exist. It has been said that blasphemy is a victimless crime–accurate in the sense that there should be no protected speech concerning invented deities or superheroes–and neither of which will feel offended since they are fictional characters.

However, meeting a real-life dignitary or faced with a social construct that would make one a bad guest and unnecessarily incite an international incident for no good reason should be avoided. Unless your political statement is greater than the punishment that awaits you for being improper to actual, living persons, then go with the flow for propriety.

But if the idea that words spoken in your own mind or even aloud to yourself and others of your culture (including online) deserve harsh punishments or burning embassies, then there is a disproportionate response.

Genesis, Chapter 21 (Havin’ My Baby… Again)

28 Apr

This needs to be quoted directly: “And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken.” Sarah conceives and bares a son, Isaac, even though she and Abraham are elderly.

But please tell me why I should NOT take the first verse to mean that God knocked Sarah up. That seems a reasonable interpretation.

Eight days later, Abraham circumcises Isaac, as God had commanded. Personally, I think they started circumcising boys so young because any older, and the boy would definitely kick your ass. But being that young, I guess most of us have forgiven and forgotten by the time we’re at the ass-kicking age. Although I still resent it, and I’m not completely ruling out an ass-kicking in the future.

Ishmael, Abraham’s first son with Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar (this shit is better than any soap opera!), is caught mocking Sarah’s breastfeeding, even though, in his defence, she herself thought it was pretty funny just two verses ago. But Sarah has already shown that she’s not a big fan of Hagar, and now that she’s given Abraham a son, Sarah wants Hagar and Ishmael out of the house. Abraham is reluctant, but God tells him that his true legacy is with Isaac, and that he should listen to Sarah. And anyway, God promises to make another nation out of Ishmael. So Abraham gives Hagar bread, water, Ishmael, and the bum’s rush and sends her out into the wilderness.

Having run out of water, Hagar abandons her son, not wanting to witness his death. God hears her weeping and tells her about His plans for Ishmael, and leads them to a well. They’re saved, and Ishmael grows up in the wilderness, becoming an archer.

Meanwhile, Abimelech (from Chapter 20) asks Abraham to swear not to deal falsely with him, since he’s been kind to Abraham. They make a covenant, and Abraham trades seven ewes for a well, calling it Beer-Sheba, plants a grove there, and lives for many days in the land of… the Philistines <ominous organ music>.

Genesis, Chapter 20 (My Sister, My Wife, My Everything)

21 Apr

Abraham journeys south, ending up in Gerar. Again he tells everyone that Sarah is his sister, and the king sends for her and takes her, only for God to whisper in King Abimelech’s dream, “You’re a dead man!” But Abimelech hadn’t so much as touched Sarah, and defends himself, saying Abraham told him Sarah was his sister, after all. God replies that He knew all along Abimelech was a righteous dude, and in fact He was responsible for stopping the king from sinning. Really, God? If you were in charge the whole time why would you threaten the guy in his dream? Dick move, seriously.

God tells Abimelech to restore Sarah to Abraham, and since he’s a prophet Abraham will pray for him. The king summons Abraham and is like, dude WTF? What’d I ever do to you? Abraham falls back on his standby that he only lied to save his own skin, thinking that the fear of God was not in Gerar and they’d kill him for his wife. Maybe Abraham shouldn’t travel so much if he’s so suspicious of the locals.

But here’s the kicker: Abraham now claims that Sarah really is his sister, the daughter of his father but not his mother, in fact his half-sister. Spoiler alert: apparently we’re going to find out later in the Bible that being gay is a sin, in a passage or two that are used to justify banning gay marriage to this day. But the big lesson of Genesis, Chapter 20 is: it’s OK to marry your half-sister. And to put other people in danger of God’s wrath because they don’t know she’s really your wife… and sister. And to enrich yourself by telling people she’s your sister because when they find out she’s your wife… and sister, they’ll shower sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants on you in hopes that you’ll forgive them and pray for them and save them from God’s wrath.

Abraham: the original grifter.

Postscript to this chapter, almost an afterthought: to send a message to Abimelech, God had closed up the wombs of all the women of his house, but heals them so that they bore children. God: the muscle in Abraham’s long con.