Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Genesis 24

I'll be honest, I've been delaying this post because this chapter is just so damn long. But it must be done! Besides, there are some gems in this one.

Right off the bat, Abraham is demanding an oath from his servant that requires the servant to put his hand under Abraham's thigh. I thought that was weird to begin with, but when I went to try to find the origins of that symbolism, I found that it might actually be swearing by Abraham's testicles. Just imagine the face I am making right now (Abraham is "advanced in years" at this point, too).

Anyway, the oath that Abraham wants is that Isaac won't have to marry a nasty Canaanite. Because even though Abraham is totally okay with stealing all of their land, he definitely would not be okay with one as an in-law. So he sends his servant back to their home land to find a wife for Isaac.

The servant apparently has no idea where to start, because he takes some camels to a well and tells god that he is just going to consider whichever girl offers to water the camels The One. Funny how people in the OT get to pray like that, but nowadays it's all "god works in mysterious ways." Seems like a really shitty way to choose your master's new wife, but what do I know.

So Rebekah, who is incidentally Abraham's brother's granddaughter and therefore Isaac's cousin once removed, is the lucky girl. Also fair to look on and a virgin (cause god would never saddle Isaac with an ugly slut, obviously). She waters the camels, so the servant gives her money and bracelets and asks if he can stay at her father's house. Rebekah is happy to offer, and her brother, Laban, prepares a place and welcomes the servant to stay. It specifically says he does this "as soon as he had seen the" gifts given to Rebekah. Seems a bit materialist but sure. Now the servant tells the whole story that we've just read to Laban (part of the reason this chapter is so damn long, and it bothers me as a writer because it's poor storytelling).

Laban and Bethuel (their father) immediately agree that it is clear god has chosen Rebekah for Isaac. The cynical side of me wants to say this has far more to do with the evident wealth and prosperity of Abraham's family than any true devotion on their part. Women are best used to turn a quick profit, amirite? The servant gives them more presents and wants to take Rebekah right away. Rebekah's mother does want her to stay for a few more days, but the servant insists. Surprisingly, Rebekah's mother and brother say that it is up to Rebekah. That's something, at least!

Rebekah chooses to leave with the servant, and she gets a blessing and takes some maids and goes. They travel to Negeb, where Isaac lives, and when Rebekah sees him in the field she veils herself and goes to him. Isaac takes her into his dead mother's tent. He "takes" Rebekah, she becomes his wife, and he loves her (interesting order there). And this helps him get over Sarah dying, which is actually one of the more reasonable things about this whole thing.

This is Genesis's idea of a love story, and honestly it could be a lot worse. Rebekah is given just a smidgen of agency, Isaac seems to be kind, and only one guy had to touch wrinkly old man balls.

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Genesis 23

After the excitement of the last chapter—unquestioning child slaughter!—this one is a bit of a come down. And a downer.

The entire chapter is only about the death and burial of Sarah. Although, somewhat predictably, it seems way more focused on Abraham.

Sarah dies (aged 127), and Abraham needs somewhere to bury her. Since he is still a stranger, he doesn't have anywhere to bury her. I'm not sure how he ended up surrounded by Hittites, since last we heard he was cozy amongst the Philistines, but that's where he seems to be now. Anyway, he pleads for a place to bury Sarah. The Hittites are all in awe of him (they call him "my lord" and "mighty prince") and offer him the choicest of their burial places.

Abraham decides he wants a certain cave of Machpelah, owned by Ephron, and declares that he will pay full price for it. Ephron hears this and says that he will give Abraham not just the cave but the whole damn field for free. Abraham insists on paying a fair price. Ephron insists that the field is only worth 400 shekels and is a trivial matter. Abraham pays the 400 shekels and buries Sarah in the cave.

Yes, that's really all that happens in this chapter. It's astonishingly pointless. I guess it's a good story about doing fair business and not taking advantage of the bereaved? There are certainly some people today who do that. If only we could all be a little more like Ephron.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Genesis 22

Here we go, the infamous tale of the faux-sacrifice of Isaac.

This starts out because god decides to test Abraham. It doesn't give a reason, and it seems like Abraham and god have been on the same wavelength so far, so it seems a little out of the blue. God starts his test by telling Abraham to take his "only son Isaac." Um, Ishmael? He hasn't ceased to exist. Anyway. God says for Abraham to take Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering in Moriah.


Abraham asks literally no questions about this. He just gets up and takes Isaac and goes. That is so unbelievably fucked up. If you heard someone was going to kill their child based on voices in their head, that wouldn't alarm you? This, in fact, has happened based on people being told this myth is real. It is tragic and terrible and this does nothing for god to earn my respect. Besides, isn't god omniscient enough to know that Abraham is obedient or not without devising horrible, child-endangering tests? God is like a jealous girlfriend creating fake facebook profiles.

But Abraham thinks this is totally fine and goes to the place god told him to. He leaves his servants and takes Isaac and some wood for the burning. Isaac still doesn't know what's coming to him, and he asks why they haven't brought an animal to sacrifice. Abraham sidesteps having to tell his son that he is going to murder him by saying that god will provide. But then they get there and Abraham ties up Isaac and places him on the altar. No mention is made if Isaac resists. I think I would! Then, of course, when Abraham takes the knife to his soon, an angel appears and is all "No no no, don't hurt him! You passed the test!" and a convenient ram is provided.

Then god is happy and says that since Abraham didn't hold back his "only son" (sorry, Ishy), Abraham's offspring will be crazy numerous and prosperous. Except of course, god had already made this promise. Four times, in fact, by my count (Genesis 12, 13, 15, and 17). So this entire exchange was entirely pointless except for an extremely emotionally stressful event for Abraham and Isaac. Honestly, is there any way that Isaac doesn't emerge from this with serious issues? "Hey, Dad, remember that time you were going to kill me and burn me, no questions asked? Good thing god was just kidding!"

That is one fucked up story. And from what I remember from church and Sunday school, this is a very popular story and often used as a teaching point for trust in god. I do recall being distinctly uncomfortable that my parents would ever consider doing such a thing to me. Wouldn't you rather go to hell than kill your own child? Yeesh.

And last but not least, we get a quick bit of genealogy tagged on at the end. It lists the eight children that Abraham's brother has by his wife (including the father of Rebekah, who will appear later). It then lists the four children Abraham's brother has by his concubine. Cause, you know, traditional marriage.

What a depressing chapter of Genesis. God comes off worse than your crazy ex-girlfriend here, Abraham is a psychotic and possibly worst father ever at this point, and marital fidelity is for chumps.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Genesis 21

So god finally makes good on his promise that Sarah will bear a son to Abraham, even though Abraham is 100 years old at this point. The little baby boy, Isaac, is duly circumcised. Understandably, Sarah is thrilled that after all this time she finally has the baby that she wanted.

What happens next is a little less understandable (well, perhaps understandable but certainly not justifiable). She sees Hagar's son, Ishmael, playing with Isaac, and Sarah decides she wants both Hagar and Ishmael kicked out so as not to imperial Isaac's inheritance. Considering the whole plan with Hagar was Sarah's idea in the first place, this seems especially cruel.

Abraham is reluctant—Ishmael is as much his son as Isaac is—but god tells him that it will be okay, because Isaac is the one that god will use to fulfill all his covenants about the multitude of offspring. God does relieve a bit of Abraham's worry by agreeing to also give Ishmael a nation of descendants, so Abraham gives Hagar some bread and water and boots her and Ishmael out.

Hagar wanders around in the wilderness around Beersheba until her water runs out. Which was pretty inevitable because it's a freaking desert. Reasoning the likely end of this, she sets Ishmael under a bush and walks away so she won't have to watch her son die. While she is crying over all this, god sends an angel to tell her that he heard the cries of her and her son, and that he will make a great nation from them. Then Hagar sees a well and her and Ishmael go on to be happy wilderness dwellers. Ishmael even gets an Egyptian wife. So I suppose that totally makes up for being dismissed from your home for following orders and having the father of your son abandon all responsibility for you.

Then we switch gears back to Abraham. Abimelech (yes, the one who was tricked by the Sarah-is-my-sister routine) realizes that Abraham obviously has god's favor, so he wants to make a pact that he and Abraham will treat each other loyally. Abraham thinks this is a good deal, probably because he is still an alien in the land, and so they agree. Later Abraham complains about some of Abimelech's servants seizing one of Abraham's wells, and Abimelech takes care of it when Abraham gives him some lambs (seven, an auspicious number). It's a pretty boring story, honestly, but it explains why Abraham was able to live in relative peace as an alien with the Philistines.

Well, jealous mothers, thirsty babies, and plain old politics, there we have it for Genesis 21!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Genesis 20

This chapter starts out with a sudden change of pace. We leave behind father-raping daughters and head back to Abraham, who has apparently decided to move. There is no reason given for this—perhaps his former home was downwind of Sodom and Gomorrah and was getting a bit ashy with bits of the unrighteous? So Abraham goes to Gerar, and he decides to pull off the Sarah-is-my-sister trick again. Because it worked so well the last time?

So the king (Abimelech) takes Sarah. I guess she is still unnaturally beautiful? Even though she's post-menopausal? I guess King Abimelech doesn't have a lot of nubile young women running around if he's going after the 90+ female demographic. And once again, the king is going to be punished for this, as god appears to him in a dream and says that she is a married woman.

This king, at least, stands up for himself and points out that Abraham and Sarah lied to him, so this really isn't his fault. And god is like "Yeah, I know, but I kept you from sinning, now give her back or die." God doesn't appear to be in any way upset with Abraham for perpetuating this stupid lie, but Abimelech sure is. He calls Abraham and basically asks wtf and demands to know why Abraham was doing this. Abraham says it is because he thought that no one there had enough respect of god to not kill him and steal his wife (instead they just steal his "sister"). Plus Sarah is actually Abraham's half-sister (they have the same father—ew), so he's not really lying, okay, guys?

So King Abimelech gives back not only Sarah but also sheep, oxen, silver, and slaves (yup, slavery is still totally cool) and also gives Abraham permission to settle on the land wherever he wants. Basically Abraham and Sarah are just a good old-fashioned con-artist couple. After all of this tribute, Abraham prays to god to heal Abimelech and his household because, oh by the way, god had made all the women (even the female slaves) barren because of the whole Sarah thing.

The immaturity on display here is quite astounding. It's hard to fathom that these people are supposed to be a respected prophet and his family, approaching 100 years of age, and still running around doing shit like this. And god is demonstrated to be a favorites-playing, spiteful creature. With a dash of incest and slavery, it's an all-around disgraceful outing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Genesis 19

I kind of want to go back and give all my posts at least some sort of subtitles. Just looking at the list of post titles is snore-inducing! But I think my current project must be maintaining my posting schedule (goal: every 3 days, at least), as I've obviously struggled with that in the past. The good news is that I will have a more consistent work life now that I have transitioned out of the military, so I have high hopes for more consistent blogging. And now back to our regularly scheduled genesis!

We left off in chapter 18 with Abraham bargaining for the good people of Sodom, getting god to agree that even ten righteous folks means the city isn't going to get sodomized (couldn't resist, sorry). Chapter 19 picks up with the two angels arriving in Sodom, where Lot (Abraham's nephew) happens to be hanging out at the gate. Lot convinces the angels to come to his home for some hospitality, but after their feast, there's a small problem. All of the men of Sodom come surround Lot's house. Seriously, "young and old, all the people to the last man." How big is Lot's lot? Yikes! I'll chalk that up to hyperbole. So this crowd of men calls for Lot to bring out his guests so that they may "know" them. Winkwink bible-speak for sex.

Lot isn't very happy with this. I guess that isn't the kind of house he's running. So he goes out and tries to bargain with the mob, offering them his two virgin daughters for whatever use they like. He just wants them to leave his guests alone as they are "under the shelter of my roof." Somehow his daughters aren't? That is some fucked up priorities right there. Also, it isn't stated whether Lot knows these two are angels or not. I wouldn't be surprised if Abraham had sent a speedy runner to warn his nephew in an attempt to save the city, but if so, it isn't recorded here.

Anyway, the men are not impressed with the idea of Lot's virgin daughters, plus they're pissed that he's trying to tell them what to do when he is an immigrant. The mob tries to attack him, but the angels pull him inside and struck the mob with blindness. Now that they were blind they couldn't find the door, which considering some of them were literally standing at the door is pretty impressive.

The angels are suitably happy with Lot, and tell him that he needs to get himself and his family the hell out of dodge before the city goes down. Apparently Lot didn't have at least ten people in his household, so Abraham's bet doesn't work out. Also his son-in-laws thought he was joking when he told them to leave, so it ends up just being him, his wife, and his two daughters who flee the city. The angels warn them not to look back and not to stop anywhere in the whole Plain.

Lot doesn't want to go all the way to the hills, so he asks the angels if he can escape to a little city nearby. The angels decide to grant him his request and not destroy that little city. Phew, close call for whoever lived there! No clue where they fell on the righteousness scale, but the angels don't seem concerned about that. I guess it helps that those people didn't form a mob to try to sodomize them. So Lot runs away, and god rains down sulfur and fire on Sodom, Gomorrah, and the whole of the Plain (except Zoar, Lot's haven). Unfortunately, Lot's wife looks back at the destruction, so she turns into a pillar of salt. Oops!

Abraham watches the smoke rising from all this destruction, and it is said that god sent Lot out of the city in remembrance of Abraham. Not because Lot tried to save the angels? That's weird. Guess he was offering up his daughter's hymens for no good reason if god was gonna warn him anyway.

The last part of Genesis 19 is such a crazy story that it almost deserves a post of its own. Especially as this one is already getting long. But, one chapter per post! So.

Lot and his daughters leave Zoar after this because Lot is pretty freaked out by the whole sulfur and fire raining down from heaven thing. It's just the three of them, since Lot's wife got salted, living in a cave. So when his oldest daughter wants to have a baby, she doesn't have a lot of options. She says that there is "not a man on earth to come in to us." Does she really think they are the only 3 people left on earth? Sure, the whole Plain just got smoked, but there were people in Zoar, presumably. And since her family isn't even from there originally, it makes no sense that she thinks everyone everywhere is dead. But apparently she does.

So she tells her sister about this great plan for impregnation. They will get their father drunk in order to lay with him, and that way their offspring can continue. The older daughter goes one night, the younger daughter the next. Both times, Lot doesn't know when they lay down or rose.


Re-read that again. Yup, his daughters raped him. One hundred percent. Pre-planned sexual assault upon their father. It works in that each of them get pregnant (Lot really must have a very magical penis to be able to impregnate two women while that drunk!). And from them come the Moabites and the Ammonites. That's a very fucked up story, and I suppose it is not surprising that both tribes were enemies of the Israelites.

So that's Genesis 19. In a nutshell, utter destruction of multiple cities plus father-rape and mud-slinging tribal origin stories. Yay?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Genesis 18

This chapter is broken into two completely separate stories. The only common tie is they are both about Abraham (and god, I suppose, but that's pretty much everything in this book). First, we continue the story of Genesis 17, where god promised that Abraham and Sarah would have a son, even though they are old.

The lord appears to Abraham as three men. It doesn't specify how the lord is three different men, and it's unclear if Abraham knows who they are. He is certainly quick to offer them his best hospitality. As they're sitting around over a meal of one of his tenderest calves, one of the men asks about Sarah and says that they'll return in "due season" and she'll have a son. Sarah is listening and laughs at this, because she and Abraham are so old. She appears to be post-menopausal; at least, that's my take on "it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women." I love the euphemism speak!

So then god wants to know why Sarah would laugh at that, since doesn't she know god can do anything? Except, of course, it hasn't really been established by these 3 men that they are god. So how was she to know they weren't just crazy wanderers? Anyway, now that Sarah knows it's god, she gets scared and tries to deny laughing. Aaaand scene. That's a little ominous of an ending. If this were a TV show, I'd totally be expecting Very Bad Things to come Sarah's way. But if there are, it's not in this chapter, as we now segue on to the beginning of the Sodom and Gomorrah story.

The men (who are god) are headed to Sodom, and Abraham is walking with them for a little bit because he's a good host. God has a little argument with himself about whether he should tell Abraham his plans—I guess it comes in handy to be embodied as three people when you want to talk to yourself! He ends up deciding to spill the beans. Turns out the purpose of this trip is that he's heard a great outcry about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and he's going to see for himself if it's as bad as all that. So, definitely no omniscience going on here. He can hear prayers, apparently, but doesn't have eyes everywhere.

Now the men split towards Sodom, but Abraham stays to talk to god. That's a little weird. Maybe the three men were totally separate from god appearing to Abraham? It's honestly impossible to tell. But now it's just god and Abraham, and they're hashing out a deal. Basically, Abraham can't believe that his god, who is just, would destroy everyone in the city if there are righteous people there. (Um, hasn't he heard of the flood?) So he gets god to agree to spare the cities if there are 50 righteous men. But then that seems to high, so basically Abraham keeps bargaining until he gets that number down to 10 righteous men. God here definitely does not come off as an omniscient, omnipotent deity of all. He's haggling with Abraham about his plans!

So now god is off to see if he can find ten righteous men in Sodom, and Abraham is presumably going back to bang Sarah so they can have that kid. Wonder how that's going to end?