Genesis

I attended a talk about baby dinosaurs on the ark (& more fun facts!)

Harrub talk adsSource of images: http://www.colliervillechurchofchrist.com/Special_Events.html

This weekend, my wife and I made a trip to see a seminar entitled “Truth About Human Origins” given at the Church of Christ in Collierville, TN. Given the titles of some of the talks ( “Atheism’s Attack on America”, “ Scientific Accuracy of the Bible “, etc.) we pretty much knew what we were getting into. My wife is still a believer (but not a fundamentalist), and I’d never been to a talk like this before, so we both thought it’d be interesting to see what the speaker would say.

The speaker, Dr. Brad Harrub , has an “earned” PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology, so I figured he would try to harmonize the Bible with carefully selected scientific facts, or try to disprove scientific claims that don’t agree with the Bible. I was right on both fronts. We were only able to attend two back-to-back sessions: “Is Genesis a Myth?” and “The Dinosaur Dilemma”, but I think it was enough to get a good idea of Dr. Harrub’s arguments, which even my wife as a believer strongly objected to!

After a prayer (during which I bowed my head, kept my eyes open and kept quiet), the talks began: back-to-back talks with a 10-minute break in-between, followed by 10-15 minutes of Q & A. I didn’t take notes, but here were a few highlights of the talks. Please note that I am summarizing the information he presented, not advocating it!

Is Genesis a Myth?

* There are three options: the universe always existed, the universe created itself, or something else created the universe.
* We know the universe is expanding, so this proves that it didn’t always exist.
* The Big Bang is unsatisfactory: where did the matter for it come from? Something had to create that matter.
* God is eternal, outside of the universe: he’s the only one who could create without having to be created.
* Creation happened in 6 literal days (comparison with other verses to prove “day” is not a metaphor for millions of years, etc.).
* Evolutionists want us to believe humans started out stupid — but Genesis says Adam was smart enough for God to ask him to name all the animals
* There are no gaps in the lineage in the Bible, it says who was born when up until Jesus, so we can calculate the age of the Earth.
* Archeological evidence supports historical claims in Genesis and the Bible.

The Dinosaur Dilemma

* Dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, and were created on the same day (5th day).
* The Bible mentions dinosaurs (but not by name since the word “dinosaur” wasn’t invented until the 1800s) after the flood.
* Dinosaur-like creatures mentioned after the Flood (in Job), so they must have been on Noah’s Ark.
* The way dinosaurs could have fit on Noah’s Ark was as unhatched eggs or small children. No, I am not kidding. (I would say this is the part where he seemed the proudest of what he was saying, like he was single-handedly defeating the infeasibility of the Ark and any objections skeptics would raise.)
* There’s proof for a worldwide flood since every continent has fossils from so-called “localized” floods, and fossils can be found at the top of the highest mountains in the world.
* Carbon-dating of fossils is not proven and is unreliable. Scientists have dated dinosaur bones to as recent as 9000 years ago (much closer to truth than the millions of years normally claimed by evolutionists
* Dinosaur artwork, in the form of carvings and figurines, can allegedly be found in a number of ancient artifacts from around the world, showing that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.
* A mammal fossil was found eaten inside the stomach of a dinosaur fossil, which should be chronologically impossible if science is right about evolution.
* What was thought to be a prehistoric ancestor to fish was found to still exist today, proving scientists can’t date bones correctly.
* Important to tell kids early the truth about dinosaurs, creation, and the Bible, before books, TV, and school tell them lies.

I believe those were all the main points he made. Dr. Harrub had a very convincing, authoritative way of speaking and presenting his information. Although I found some of his ideas laughably funny (baby dinosaurs on the Ark!), I can see why people would want him to speak, and why people would be duped into his pseudo-science if they have been taught to believe that they should have faith in what the Bible says. The Bible says it, this guy with a PhD says it, so it must be true!

For most people, some of the claims should be obviously false at face value. Others would take a little more to debunk, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to research every one. Here are two that I did look up since I hadn’t heard about them before: the dinosaur figurines and Ica stones depicting humans and dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Figurines in Mexico: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH710_2.html
Ica stones in South America: http://skepticwiki.org/index.php/Ica_stones

To my dismay, there were only two people who were clearly atheists or freethinkers who were asking questions in the Q and A afterwards. They were allowed to ask several questions each, which I thought was very fair of the speaker and congregation to allow. It’s interesting that at least some creationists, as one questioner pointed out, have changed their ways in the past few decades from denying dinosaurs existed, to saying of course they existed, it’s in the Bible! Scientists just have the dates wrong about when dinosaurs lived, according to Dr. Harrub. So now that we know baby dinosaurs were actually on the Ark, it’s okay for kids to be exposed to the “sugar candy” (his expression) of dinosaurs, which evolutionists try to give kids to lure into believing in evolution.

There were 3 or 4 other people who spoke, all supporting the Bible and the points Dr. Harrub had made. I wondered how many people were in the audience who were atheists or skeptics/skeptical but didn’t want to speak up. I know my wife afterwards said that she wanted to ask questions and make a point, but that she was too nervous to do so and didn’t know if he questions would sound stupid. Believe me, they were intelligent questions, and even if she tried they couldn’t have been any stupider than the nearly 2 hours of crap we had just heard!

I have to say I am frustrated that this man apparently goes around the country presenting himself as a scientist and appearing to present “proof” of his claims, when he is clearly trying to promote the Bible more than he is trying to promote science. Worst of all, Dr. Harrub said a number of times how important it was for parents to teach their children about the Bible and to tell them not to believe what science says about evolution. There were a number of small kids (pre-teens) in the audience, so I felt very sad that they were being exposed to / brainwashed by this information. He also told people to be ready to answer questions from teenagers when they come back from science classes they may have to take at college which might confuse them or raise doubts about their beliefs.

The message was pretty clear: scientists and atheists are lying to you and your children. Don’t listen to what they say; just believe what the Bible says. I’ll talk more about my wife and my reactions to the talk in a future post.

EDIT: Here is a link to audio from a previous seminar given by Dr. Harrub, so you can get an idea of what his talks are like.

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I Am … (partially) out as an atheist

Imagine (Original Soundtrack)

I finally had "the talk" with my wife. It was very difficult to do, but it turned out a lot better than I had expected.

I had been considering coming out to her for the past month or so. I’m becoming more and more active in the atheist/freethought community. It just didn’t feel right for something that is such a big part of who I am to remain a secret from my wife. I’m posting this in hopes that the experience might help others who aren’t "out" yet to their wife/husband/significant other. I’m glad to say that coming out to your loved one doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

[UPDATE : This post is a play-by-play, which I'm hoping will be interesting and useful. A more concise version of my story can also be found here on Atheist Nexus.]

My decision to come out was helped along by a discussion from a less successful experience by a fellow Atheist Nexus member. His wife flat-out told him that she wouldn’t have married him if she had known he didn’t believe in God. I felt very sorry for him, especially since I’ve been fearing a similar reaction from my wife (who considers herself a Christian) if and when she found out I didn’t believe in God. So although I’d like to say I bravely announced my atheism, it was much less courage and more of a desire to deal with something that’s been worrying me for quite a while and a decision to be more open with my wife about my non-belief.

I was very nervous the night I had decided to come out to her. She could tell I was nervous, which made it a little easier to bring up the subject. If she can tell something’s bothering me, she’ll keep asking me what’s wrong until I tell her. So when there was a good moment that I knew we could talk for as long as we wanted, I told her there was something very important to me that I’d like to tell her about.We sat down, I took a deep breath, and just started talking. I had a general idea of what I wanted to say, but no specific speech written out.

She saw me reading the Bible a few weeks ago on my computer, which surprised her. So I started with this incident, saying that over a number of years, I have read a lot about the Bible, read a lot of the passages, and reminded her that for a while I had considered going to seminary to become a pastor. I told her that the more I had read, the more I started to have questions about some of the things the Bible said. I said that I had come to the conclusion that there were some things in the Bible that I just couldn’t believe — things that either didn’t make sense, or that contradicted other things, or that didn’t seem like they could happen. I told her that a lot of what I’ve been doing online lately has been related to this.

After this introduction to the topic, it was mostly she who led the conversation, with her asking questions and me answering. She asked me what sort of things I didn’t think were true. I asked if she remembered our nephew’s baptism, when we talked about whether or not to get him a Noah’s Ark book (she did). I didn’t tell her I was an atheist at the time, but had told her that the Bible doesn’t teach child baptism and that I felt children should be old enough to make up their minds before being baptized (a position she disagreed with, but understood). I said that I felt the Noah’s Ark passage in the Bible, like others, basically says that all people are evil by nature, and that God can kill them because of this.

I said I don’t believe humans are bad by nature, and that I didn’t like that this is what the Bible teaches. I then moved on to another example, and said I didn’t like what the Bible says happened in Egypt, where God kills all the firstborn male Egyptians just because the Pharaoh wouldn’t free the Israelites, even though the Bible says God was the one who made the Pharaoh act that way. I didn’t want to say too much to make it seem like I was just trying to rip apart the Bible, but I wanted to bring up a few specific instances that I thought she would be familiar with, and that I could make a clear argument about why I didn’t agree with them.

She didn’t dispute any of this, but said that there are parts of the Bible she doesn’t understand and like as much as other parts, but that she liked the New Testament better and that she thought it had a good message in it. I said I agreed that the Bible does have some very good messages in it, but that they are often surrounded by messages that are not so good that people don’t quote or talk about much. I brought up the massacre of the innocents sermon that I had blogged about earlier as an example of something bad that happened in the New Testament. I said I couldn’t understand why a loving God would let all those children be killed. She said that she didn’t know what to say, but that maybe that was the best thing that could have happened, that maybe that prevented something worse from happening. So I said that if God were able to do anything he wanted, I believe that he could have found a way around it.

Interestingly enough, she brought up at this point the fact that there was a lot of evidence for the stuff that happened in the New Testament, which I wasn’t expecting. I said that unfortunately, it isn’t always true that the Bible’s claims can be verified outside the Bible. Confirmation for some of the events in the New Testament comes over a hundred years later, and no independent evidence of a large amount of things in the New Testament has ever been found, such as for the massacre of the innocents.

At this point, she shifted gears. I don’t know if it’s because she realized that I had done a lot of looking into the Bible, or if my answers were satisfying her, or if they weren’t satisfying but she didn’t know how to respond. But then she asked me what I do believe if I don’t believe everything in the Bible. This was the question that I was the most afraid of. I told her that I used to be a very strong believer, much stronger than other people in my family. I gave the example of thinking songs shouldn’t be played because they were "lustful" (the Beatles’ "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)" was one song in particular), I told her I was confirmed, and then eventually I started to have little questions about my faith. Instead of finding answers, from looking at the Bible, looking online, listening to sermons, asking people, I just kept having more questions. Eventually, I realized there were some things I would never find answers to.

She asked me if I believed in the Bible at all, and I said that there are too many things in it that I don’t agree with, that I can’t say I believe in the Bible anymore. She then asked what I thought happens to people when they die. I think the atheist answer to this is very unsatisfying; I would like to believe something happens to us after death, but I know now that this isn’t so. This sounded depressing, so I thought for a few moments and said that I believe that we are all part of the circle of life, and that when we die our remains go back into nature, and life continues from there. This is not a main aspect of my belief system, but I do believe this occurs and I felt was a more satisfying answer than just "we cease to exist".

She asked if I believed in heaven. I told her that while I think it would be nice to think that heaven exists, I more have a problem with the fact that Christianity teaches that there’s a hell — that even though Jesus was said to die for our sins that there are still people who go to hell. I think that if there was a God and if he loved us, he would send us all to heaven. So at this point, I asked her one of the few questions I asked all night. I asked if she thought that people who don’t believe in Jesus go to hell.

My wife obviously had thought about the issue before, and said that she didn’t know what happens to people who don’t believe. She said that some people think that if you don’t believe in Christianity, then you go to hell, but other people think that if you’re a good person, that you’ll be saved even if you don’t believe in God. She brought up the issue of what happened to people who never heard of Jesus before, which I was glad to hear that she had heard of and considered before. She mentioned that Catholics believe in purgatory, so just because you don’t go to heaven doesn’t mean you go to hell. She said she wasn’t sure what happens, and that there were other things that she wasn’t sure about, but that she still has faith in God.

This was the only thing that frustrated me during the conversation. She used the word "faith" a couple of times basically when there was something that she couldn’t explain. I realized that she doesn’t know that having faith in something isn’t really an answer, since I’m sure she’s heard this thousands of times in her life. I felt she thought this was a perfectly acceptable answer, so I though it would be counterproductive to try to tackle the issue of faith then. So I told her that I respect her beliefs and that I’m not trying to say that she’s wrong, but just that based on the Bible, on what I’ve read, and what I’ve thought about for a long time, I don’t have faith anymore. I did not say I’m an "atheist", because of the baggage attached to this term. But she knows now that I don’t believe in God.

She had said a few times recently that I "don’t like church", so I asked her why she said this. She said that she could tell from some comments I made. I asked her what these were (since I had tried very hard not to make any such comments!), and she brought up the Noah’s Ark incident that I had mentioned earlier, and the fact that I made comments about the Catholic Church after the tragic child rape / excommunication case that was in the news (where they excommunicated a mother and her daughter’s doctors for giving the girl an abortion after she had been raped by her stepfather. They did not excommunicate the father, however.) I also apparently mentioned at some point about religious displays on public property being against the constitution, which I might have thought was a safe topic to bring up since there are many believers who also think religion should be kept out of government.

I told her I wasn’t "against" churches, but that I just didn’t believe in some of the things they taught. She mentioned that churches do good things, and I said that while I know that churches and people who go to church do a lot of good things, you can do these same things without going to church — you don’t need to believe in the Bible to be a good person. She didn’t argue with this. I then asked her if she remembered the fact that I brought up the fact that the town we used to live in had an intersection of "Church and State", and I had told her it was my favorite intersection. She said yes and she said she thought that was another clue. So I guess she had suspected for quite a while, but just didn’t know exactly where on the spectrum I was.

The only time religion really came up between us, except for the Noah’s Ark occasion, was a few months after we met. I had told her that I was brought up a Lutheran, that I had considered becoming a pastor. I had read a whole lot about religion, and I wasn’t sure what I believed, but I was pretty sure what I didn’t believe. She had never asked me to elaborate on this. She’s a Christian, and even did some missionary work when she was younger, but in the years I’ve known her, I don’t think she’s ever brought up God just out of the blue — both before the Noah’s Ark thing and afterwards, and even when she’s with other believers. I hoped that this was a good sign, and since things turned out well, I think it was.

She had revealed a secret to me early on in our relationship, and I told her that I had a secret too that I would tell her someday. I told her this was the secret. She said "That was it?! I thought it was something more serious than that!" I laughed and I told her it was kind of funny then, because I thought she would think it was a big deal. She said she may not agree with me, but she respects it. She then asked if I mind if she goes to church.

This was another thing that the Atheist Nexus thread I mentioned earlier helped with. One of the commenters mentioned Unitarian Universalism as a possibility for atheists with companions who still want to go to church, and it’s something I had looked at from time to time. I had a friend who had said he had gone to a UU church. I didn’t tell him much about much beliefs (or lack thereof) on Christianity since I was afraid he would tell others, but I did tell him that I wasn’t a typical Christian. He had liked it overall, so I looked into UU again after reading the post on Atheist Nexus.

When my wife brought up church, I told her that I would be willing to consider going to a UU church. I don’t believe in going to church — since I don’t believe in God, I don’t see the need of going to church. But I know church is something that is very important to my wife, so I told her I would be willing to try it. She said she had heard of UU, and I explained a little more of what I understood about it. I said that I liked the fact that they welcome people who have all sorts of beliefs there, but that they were generally based on a Judeo-Christian model and that a lot of people who come from different denominations go to UU to find a common ground.

I found a couple of UU churches online the next day, sent the links to her and we separately looked at them. We both looked at other ones as well, and we both decided on the same one, which I thought was a very good sign. We went to the first service this weekend, and overall I was pleased with how it went. The service started with a welcome to newcomers, which was very warm and funny; a thoughtful and at times funny sermon that my wife and I said we both enjoyed; and included several Christian hymns that we both recognized, with some altered lyrics. My wife said this  after the service, and it was funny because even the pastor pointed it out that for the one hymn, he would understand if some people accidentally did the old lyrics since he liked those, too.

Although there were a couple of things on the website I find mildly objectionable, and I don’t feel comfortable with the mentions of God, even if I understand it’s not meant in the same way that it would be in a Baptist church for example, there was nothing in the service that I found objectionable (no "massacre of the innocents" moment, for example). The pastor mentioned non-belief and embracing doubt several times in his sermon, even though from references in church and on the site, it seems clear he believes in some sort of higher power personally. I very highly disagreed with this, but thought the repeated nods to doubt and non-belief in a God were good and inclusive, and I was glad in a way that God was mentioned since I thought this would be more welcoming to my wife. I was worried after the service because of what I would deem, with no offense meant to any UU followers, to be a "watered down" version of God, as compared to the one mentioned in Christianiaty. But my wife said she really liked the service and would like to go again.

Not only that, but she thanked me for going to church with her. I didn’t think she would thank me for asking her to go to a different church that she grew up in and did missionary work in. I think she very much likes the fact that I’m willing to go to church, and since she doesn’t bring up God herself very often she might be interested in more than just the God speak found in many services (she’s mentioned before that she really likes church music, so familiar hymns probably helped).

In turn, I thanked her for being willing to try out a different church that’s more inclusive of people. She mentioned some of the elements of the service that were like other churches she had been at, so I thought it was good that we were both trying to find common ground. She said that the sermon and other parts of the service seemed like it would be more my kind of thing than other churches we’ve gone to probably were, and I said I agreed. Hopefully we will both get something out of it.

I wouldn’t say I’m a UU, I don’t believe in a god of any kind, and I don’t think all atheists would be comfortable about this solution, but I think it will work for us for now. I would like to imagine a day where no one feels the need to talk about god, heaven, or hell, but that day is far off. For now, I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders and that I don’t have to keep my stance on religion secret from my wife, and she gets to go to church. Since we disagree, I won’t go out of my way to bring up various things I disagree with, but if she asks I feel like I can talk with her openly about it.

My coworkers and other family are another story. My grandmother just retired as church secretary after decades of service, and my future sister-in-law is becoming a pastor in about year, to give you an idea of some of the believers in my and my wife’s family. My mother seems to be becoming more religious and not less. Plus, I’m in a profession that does not lend itself to religious discussion in theory, although it comes up surprisingly often. Two of my coworkers have discussed religion with me — one very religious and one not very religious at all — and I’ve tried to be as vague as possible on my own views to avoid any problems down the road.

So for family and professional reasons, I’m not coming out to the whole world just yet, although someday I hope to do so. Hopefully this post will help someone who also hasn’t told their significant other yet about their atheism: it doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

I will continue posting and seeking out atheist news under my assumed name for now. I am out to the most important person for me now, which was a very huge step.

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Genesis 50 — The end of the beginning

Friday, June 19, 2009

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The End [...of the beginning!]
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Genesis 50 — The end of the beginning

Chapter 50 of Genesis marks the end of the beginning in two ways. First, it’s the end of the first book of the Bible (which at times I thought I’d never get to!). Secondly, it marks a good time to do two things which I had decided to do several months ago, but which time and other commitments had prevented. I will explain this at the end of the message.

For Chapter 50, we see the death of two of our favorite characters from the second half of Genesis, Jacob and Joseph.

Joseph falls and weeps on his father after his father’s passing, which is touching. If the Bible were filled with more compassion and love, maybe it would be a better book. Joseph orders his servant/slaves to embalm his father, which apparently took 40 days back then. Egypt mourned Jacob for 70 days. Pretty amazing for a guy whose profession of shepherd was an "abomination" (Genesis 46:34, KJV) to Egyptians. You think I wasn’t paying attention, didn’t you?! I suppose it could be argued that they mourned him out of deference to Joseph, the guy who made them sell themselves into slavery for food. This possible inconsistency is not in the SAB I see, so maybe there’s some explanation I’m missing, or it’s just a fairly minor detail.

Pharaoh gives Joseph permission to go bury his dad in Canaan (don’t forget Joseph himself was a slave, but an important slave!) and all of Pharaoh’s servants and elders go with. The Canaanites see the Egyptians mourning (apparently not seeing it’s because of Jacob’s death) and name the place for this. When Joseph’s brothers see that Jacob is dead, they fear Joseph’s wrath. So they lie and say Daddy told Joseph to forgive them. Joseph weeps (as he is wont to do) and says it’s okay, because although they had evil intentions, it was all part of God’s great plan. So Joseph will be kind and provide for them and their families (no mention of servitude here, unlike the Egyptians!). Does Joseph know the brothers are lying? We’re not told, and their dishonesty appears to go unpunished.

Joseph eventually gets old himself, and at the ripe age of 110 he tells his descendants God will take care of them in the promised land. The end of Genesis says that Joseph was buried in Egypt. As the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out, this seems to go against what Jacob foretold to Joseph in Genesis 48. But, if you’re picky, you could say that Jacob did go back there, he just wasn’t buried there. If only the omniscient, infallible Yahweh and his followers would have known that this was unclear!!!

So Genesis begins with God’s creation of the world and ends with the death of two of God’s main men, who helped found the nation of Israel, which is meant to show I suppose that while God created everything, he has a special place in his heart for the Israelites. In the beginning of the chapter, God seems to be everywhere, towards the end God is pretty quiet, although I know he’ll be back again in force in Exodus.

The so-called "Good Book" starts out with Genesis, a violent, immoral, sick collection of stories that most believers know very little about, sprinkled with very rare goodness. I think if Christians and Jews took the time to read it through and thought about it with an open mind, it would really start to cast some doubts on the imaginary God they think they love, but who is likely very different than most of them imagine.

That’s the end of Genesis! There’s a lot left in the Bible, but first two announcements about my blog and site…

• I am planning to redo my website. Some visitors may be familiar with my blog only through Xanga, but for several months now I have a site which for the moment mostly features my blog. My intent is to finally have it so you don’t need to excuse my dust anymore, by revamping the site and expanding its contents to include useful links, news stories, and information. Since I’m not a professional web designer, it may take some tinkering for me to get this done, possibly a week or more.

I think the renewed site will be a much better experience for people. In addition to my blogs on the Bible, there will be a wider of variety of things to read about and explore. Right now, I have a couple of blog posts that have attracted a lot of people (in particular my Just Imagine… post, which caught the eye of over 400 people thanks to http://good.is and Skeptic Annotated Bible’s blog, Dwindling in Unbelief ). This made me realize that if I put my mind to it, I can reach more people and hopefully spark more discussion and reflection about religious issues (as well as a good dose of humor now and then)!

• I am also planning on reading the Bible cover-to-cover as soon as possible. Since it will take me years to blog the Bible in its entirety, I’ve decided that the end of Genesis is a good point to take a break from blogging chapter-by-chapter. I am going to start with Exodus, read the rest of the Bible through without stopping for posts, give some general impressions when I’m done, and then go back to chapter-by-chapter comments afterwards. This way, I can feel more knowledgeable about the book I’m talking about, and can also say that I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover. I am sure I will find both positive and negative things in what awaits me, and I will go out of my way to note both mentally to be fair.

In the meantime as I’m renovating the site and reading the Bible, as I’ve already done here and there, I’ll also blog on other issues dealing with religion, atheism, freethought, and related current events.

I hope these changes sound good. If you have any ideas or comments, please let me know. Thank you for reading, hope you like the new site when it’s up!

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Genesis 49 — Tiny Tim’s inspiration?

Monday, June 15, 2009

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Genesis 49 — Tiny Tim’s inspiration?

In Genesis 49, we see the dying Jacob (who’s been dying for several chapters now) bless his children (plus two of Joseph’s), whose descendants will make up the 12 tribes of Israel. Hey, wait a minute: God renamed Jacob as Israel—although he seems to forget often enough—and his descendants are the basis of the nation of Israel. What a coincidence! It couldn’t be that Jacob was renamed Israel by his followers or descendants later on to show him as the founder of the nation of Israel? Nah… Just a suspicion—I’ll have to look into this sometime.

In any case, here’s some lovely parting words that what the patriarch-intermittently-known-as-Israel © had to say to his little nation-builders (which means George W. must not have liked them, since he was all against that nation-building thing, at least in theory).

Reuben will be " Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it" (verse 4, KJV). Translation: Reuben slept with his dad’s wife. Good old family values strike again. I’m sure some would say his sort is what he deserves, but why is he only punished now (and why should his descendants presumably suffer for what their dad apparently did?

For Simeon and Levi, who apparently killed a man in anger, daddy offers them a curse on their anger and violence and wants their descendants scattered. What were the circumstances of the death?? Why should their descedants suffer for it?

It’s a little hard to get what Jacob says to Judah, other than he’s like a lion cub, his brothers will praise him and he and his descendants will rule. He also apparently will have a descendant called Shiloh who will hitch his donkey up to a vine, stain his clothes with wine, and his teeth will be white like milk.

Some would have us believe that these verses announce Christ’s coming and second coming. I, as you might guess, take this with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s because Christ was named Jesus, not Shiloh. Even some sites that support this interpretation admit that we don’t know what Shiloh means. If it was something like the Son of God coming to Earth, you’d think Jacob could have been a little more explicit here. Of course, some of the imagery of Jesus’ followers used to describe their alleged savior could have been simply been "borrowed" from these verses in an attempt to prove their guy was foretold…Call me cynical, I guess.

Another son, Issachar, will bear a burden and become a servant (or slave, not clear from context). Another, Dan, will be a judge like a serpent who makes people fall back from their horses (more symbolism, I assume). Gad will be defeated, then defeat. Asher will be a chef making food fit for a king. Naphtali is like a doe, a deer, a female deer, giving beautiful words (or fawns, some translations say). Benjamin will be like a wolf, devouring others.

And then there’s good ole Joseph, who we’ve heard so much about. He’ll be like an tree who archers have shot at but who has kept strong thanks to Jacob’s God (isn’t he everyone’s God?!) and will be blessed by God more than his dad Jacob and more than his brothers. He’ll be blessed both by heaven and below, and by breasts and by wombs (verse 28, KJV): the latter two meaning perhaps he’ll "know" lots of women, in the Biblical sense?? What is heaven anyway? We haven’t been told yet in the Bible. Why would Joseph also be blessed by the "deep that lieth under" (verse 25, KJV), is this hell? The ocean?? Come on, Jacob, I know you’re dying here, but please explain what you mean, or tell one of your survivors to put it down for us!!!

After these blessings (I’m sure some were happier with their so-called "blessing"s [verse 28] than others!) for the founders of the 12 tribes, Jacob told his descendants to bury him with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah. Then he lays down and dies, or "yielded up the ghost" (verse 33, KJV). If I were just about anyone besides Joseph, I’d be pretty upset that this is what my father and/or his God had in store for me. Why would I want to worship someone who dooms me from the get-go, for example?? In some cases, references are made to past acts not mentioned in the Bible. If they were that bad, why aren’t the recorded with other bad acts we see? Something’s fishy about all this selective storytelling.

Speaking of stories, the end  of the chapter reminded me of Tiny Tim (not the ukulele dude , but the kid from A Christmas Carol ). "God bless us, every one" says Tiny Tim at the end of that famous book (oops, should have said SPOILER ALERT first , and of the 12 founders of the tribes of Israel, the Bible says Jacob "blessed them, every one" (KJV, 49:28). What a coincidence! A quick search doesn’t seem to pull up references between the two, so it must not be a well-known similarity between the two works of fiction. I’m not sure if Dickens was borrowing a phrase from the Bible, or it’s simply a coincidence.

In any case, we’ve found out all that we wanted, and more, about what will happen to Jacob/Israel’s offspring. How much of this fortunate-telling by Jacob will actually come true, I guess we’ll see at the end of Genesis and the remaining Pentateuch.

PS Maybe when Xanga get their act together, I’ll put a picture of "A Christmas Carol" on here. The past few posts have been Listening/Reading/Watching-less because the site isn’t working right. UPDATE: Fixed, for now…

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Genesis 48 — Kidnapping

Thursday, June 11, 2009

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Genesis 48 — Kidnapping

Here we see the dually-named Jacob-Israel close to death. The question of birthrights and firstborns comes up yet again.

God appeared to Jacob and told him that he would give Jacob’s descendants, who will be numerous, the land of Canaan as an "everlasting possession" (verse 4, KJV). Since we know that the Israelites have not always had a homeland both in ancient and modern history, it shows God doesn’t know how to keep a promise (or doesn’t exist: take your pick).

Jacob tells Joseph that Joseph’s first two sons are now his. How that works, we’re not told. I guess if gramps wants to claim any of his sons’ sons as his own, he has the right? Did God tell him this?? But Joseph gets to keep all his other sons (they aren’t numbered here, maybe later; we’ll see).

So anyway Joseph, who is apparently fine with this arrangement, brings the two eldest to Jacob. Jacob blesses Joseph and then the two grandsons, but gives the secondborn (Ephraim) the blessing that should have been given to the firstborn (Manasseh). Joseph is none too pleased with this, and tells his aged, poor-sighted father that he’s mixed the boys up. Jacob insists, though, saying:

"I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations." (48:19, KJV)

Certainly Joseph, the not-eldest dream boy who became nearly as great as Pharaoh, can understand that the oldest son doesn’t have to be the most successful? Why is there this obsession with favoring the firstborn? Speaking of playing favorites, Jacob in fact promises Joseph that he’ll give him "one portion more" (verse 22) than his brothers, meaning I believe that he’ll inherit twice as much as any of his other brothers gets. Not very equitable, but God doesn’t protest.

By the way, everyone’s always going to give rise to great nations, according to God and the head honchos (okay, patriarchs) in the Bible so far. Why does he have to keep re-promising this? I guess with a God who sends 5 years of famine on a whim, you need reassurance sometimes. And his people have had mixed fortunes so far. In the last chapter (47:9), Jacob seemed to admit that he lived a long, hard life and didn’t get much out of it; although maybe the 17 years or so in Egypt made up for the over a century of not much). If I remember my Exodus well, good ol’ God will definitely find excuses to deny his chosen people what he promised.

One last thought: What happened to the 120-year rule in Genesis 6:3? God must be senile, or decided not to apply it to the over 140-year-old Jacob…

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Genesis 47 — Slave, or starve!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Genesis 47 — Slave, or starve!


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Pharaoh gives Jacob and his family land for their sheep. Jacob blesses Pharaoh (twice apparently: verses 7 and 10) and Pharaoh gives them the best of the land in Egypt. You’d think the Egyptians, in a time of severe famine, might not like foreigners taking up their best land. But we don’t hear of complaints, perhaps because of what happens next.

The famine continues, and because they’ve given all their money to Joseph, all the Egyptians have left is their livestock. So Joseph tells them to give him all their livestock in exchange for a year’s worth of food. What a nice man that Joseph was! Especially considering that he had an inside source (that rascal Yahweh) who had already foretold more than a year’s worth of famine. So after a year, they beg him for more food. They offer to give up their land and go into slavery so that they can eat. Joseph accepts their offer, and so all of Egypt goes into slavery. Good old Christian values strike again! Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

One omission here: the beginning of the chapter mentions Canaan also being hit by the famine. Are the Canaanites also bought as slaves, or are they just left to die? In any case, the priests don’t have to give up their land (freeloaders! are they even priests of Yahweh, by the way?!?). Everyone else, who has been made slaves, has to give 20% of their food to the Pharaoh once the famine is over. Joseph distributes seeds, so the famine must apparently be nearly over. How many have died or needlessly suffered due to God’s famine, we’re not told.

"Israel" (verse 27, KJV) lives in Egypt. Here it apparently means the nation and not the man, since it says "they had possessions therein", referring to Israel. They do well in Egypt under Joseph. After 17 years in Egypt, Jacob asks his son to swear that he will bury him not in Egypt, but with his forefathers. Joseph grabs his dad’s private parts ("under my thigh", which is a euphemism for genitalia — the link is to a Christian site so you don’t think I’m making it up) and swears it to his father. This was apparently a way of taking an oath in the ancient world, grabbing someone by their midsection and swearing on something. The word "testament " (a type of oath) is possibly related to the word "testicles". They didn’t teach that in Sunday School!

One other thing to note: Jacob was not happy with his life before coming to Egypt. He says "few and evil have the days of the years of my life been" (47:9, KJV). Based on consulting a number of other translations, the "evil" here appears to mean more wretched or miserable. Jacob isn’t happy with the life God gave him, and he thinks he hasn’t lived long (after all, some of his ancestors  lived over 900 years!). But he’ll be happy as long as he’s buried with his family, some consolation apparently.

So in this chapter, we see God allowing Joseph, without comment or intervention, to enslave and take away the land of the famished  Egyptians so that they don’t starve to death. Sounds like a nice story to me, Joseph definitely could have been a multi-billionaire businessman if he lived now!

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Genesis 46 — Well, we’re movin’ on up!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Genesis 46 — Well, we’re movin’ on up!

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Here Jacob (aka the patriarch-intermittently-known-as-Israel ©) and the whole family move on up to Egypt to live in prosperity thanks to Joseph.

God calls out to Jacob in dreams or "visions", saying "Jacob, Jacob" (46:2, NASB ). Jacob doesn’t reply "But I thought you renamed me Israel!", or if he does it’s not reported here. God tells him his descendants will be great, and that he’ll die after he sees Joseph again.

We have a long list of who comes with that I’ll spare you, other than to mention that without Playstation back then, I guess he had to keep busy by having 70 children and grandchildren through all his various polygamous encounters.

In verse 28, Jacob sends Judah to get directions (gee God, couldn’t you have included those in one of those visions?) so Jacob and Joseph can meet up in Goshen. When they meet, guess what: they cry. If we didn’t know all that led up to it, and didn’t think about the fact that Joseph didn’t let his dad know all those years he was alive, then it might be touching.

Now that Jacob/Israel has seen Joseph alive again, he’s ready to die. Joseph will tell the Pharaoh that his family are shepherds, so they can settle in Goshen. Egyptians apparently don’t like shepherds, so the shepherds live in Goshen. Why, we’re not told, unless we’ll find out in Genesis 47 when they get to meet Pharaoh.

PS Scripture quotations taken from the NASB as indicated in this post and the few previous ones. I see that their site requires such a notice on web pages that quote from them. I’ve put the notice here, linked to their site in the previous posts I used their translation. Please do not take this as an endorsement of the NASB or the Lockman Foundation; I have been trying out various Bible versions. I have updated previous posts now as well on my own initiative respecting the guidelines as I understand them for a non-saleable, non-commerical blog only quoting snippets here and there. I see now why some sites opt to cite the King James Version…I’ll have to think about what I’ll do from here on out when I quote.

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Genesis 44-45 — Full House

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

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Genesis 44-45 — Full House

Joseph tries to mentally torture his brothers some more in these chapters, but breaks down and finally tells them who he is and acts nicely towards them. With God apparently away on vacation and having nothing to do with the story (which may be why it has a happy ending without bloodshed!), it’s a good thing that Joseph apparently has some morality on his own. The family will soon be united again!

In Genesis 44, Joseph orders his top servant to put his favorite silver cup in Benjamin’s sac of grain before the brothers leave, then he has them chased after and accused of thievery. The brothers, who apparently aren’t aware of what crazy shenanigans God and his people pull in the Bible all the time, say:

"With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves." (44:9, NASB )

Why does everything have to be so dramatic and involve promises of death? In any case they are searched and, lo and behold, Benjamin has the cup! The brothers rip off their clothes (presumably not because of the heat or a sudden urge for exhibitionism) and are escorted back to Joseph.

Back with Joseph, he generously offers not to kill Benjamin and enslave the otehrs, but just to enslave Benjamin and let the others go back. How nice of him! But Judah tells Joseph the whole story about their dad loving Benjamin, not wanting him to go with since he already lost one son, yada, yada, yada (rehashed stories like this make blogging the Bible easier!).

In Genesis 45, Joseph can’t stand it anymore and breaks down before he can hurry off. He admits that he’s their long-lost brother Joseph. The Bible says his brothers "were dismayed at his presence" (45:3). NIV says "terrified", KJV says "troubled". So it’s not clear to me exactly what they were feeling here: were they scared of what their brother would do to them, bothered by the reminder of what they had done to their brother, confused as to whether he was really their brother, troubled because dream boy’s dreams of power over them were apparently coming true? Probably the first one, I suppose.

Joseph tells them not to worry (why would they worry their little heads after how nice he’s been to them?!?), that he’s not mad about being sold into slavery by his brothers because God wanted Joseph to go to Egypt to hoard food for them. So anyway, Joseph tells them all to move nearby, they will be given the very best Egypt has to offer so that they can prosper for generations to come. They all cry, kiss, and make up.

A little reality check here: wouldn’t it have been a heck of a lot easier for God to just not do any of this in the first place? No Joseph to Egypt, no 7 years of famine, everyone’s fine and dandy. What does everyone get out of all this?!? Was it a test? Was it just meant to be like a "Full House" episode, where people do bad things and then at the end, the sappy piano music plays, make up, and they all live happily ever after? (D.J.: I’m sorry, Stephanie, that we sold you into slavery! Stephanie: I’m sorry, Michelle, that I tied you up and held you hostage! God just wanted us to learn us lesson and make us prosperous!)

So the brothers head back home with silver and wagons filled with goods. Jacob/Israel doesn’t believe all this crazy story at first, but when he sees the wagons he’s convinced. He’s happy that he’ll see Joseph again before he dies.

The House of Jacob/Israel will soon be a Full House again. All’s well that ends well. I’m sure the last 5 chapters of Genesis are just like the epilogue of a sitcom with some zany joke to make us laugh at the end, and maybe an old-school freeze frame with credits. Or maybe outtakes, with God accidentally smiting the wrong people or something.

Okay, before I get too loopy, I’ll leave it there. See you soon: Same God time, Same God channel.

PS Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved. For ones marked NASB, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

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Genesis 43 — They’re ba-ack

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

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Genesis 43 — They’re ba-ack

God turns up the famine a notch, and Joseph’s brothers come back with Benjamin.

It took some convincing of Jacob/Israel. He’s smarter than has kids, asking them why on Earth they would have told the Egyptian leader that there was a younger brother who hadn’t come with them. They make it seem like Joseph forced it out of them, but that’s not what it seems like in Genesis 42 to me. Again, Joseph knows there’s a brother anyway, but they don’t know this is Joseph!

Judah then offers to safeguard Benjamin. Unlike Reuben, he doesn’t swear to kill any relatives or anyone else if he fails, just says that he’ll "bear the blame" (verse 9, NASB ). Jacob relents and sends off Benjamin plus a little gift basket of balm, nuts, honey, and so on for the Egyptian leader. Sure they’re in a famine, but I guess he considered it a good investment if it would get them more food. He also doubles the money they had mysteriously received in their food sacks before and return it.

Joseph has an animal killed for his arriving guests to eat (I wonder if God, who loves the smell of meat in the Bible, got a whiff of it!). The brothers are afraid that Joseph will arrest them because of the money situation, but the servant/slave who meets them tells them that it was God who gave them the money.

Hmm, if we look at Genesis 42:25, it says that Joseph, and not God, has this done. I checked, and this discrepancy is not mentioned in the SAB , but it does mention that the Bible says they found the silver in their sacks at two different places: at home and at the inn ("lodging place", NASB). So who did it, God or Joseph? Maybe later it will say that God told Joseph to do it, let’s see.

Before the meal, Joseph asks about his father and finds out he is well. Joseph gets all teary-eyed upon finding out that Benjamin (his full brother from his mom and dad) and goes out to weep, as he had done in the last chapter. I will say that it’s good that the Bible shows men, even strong and powerful ones, crying — it’s a natural emotion.

Joseph doesn’t eat with his brothers, since Egyptians and Israelites can’t eat together, a segregation that Joseph partly breaks by giving them some of his food from his table. Benjamin gets 5 times as much as everyone else, which must have struck them as a little weird, I’d think. I think Joseph’s secret will come out soon.

So besides deception, servitude, and segregation (and a dead animal for you vegetarians out there), this chapter is pretty tame, and even shows a Joseph who is emotional — although he tries to hide it, as many men and women would do nowadays. So if we’re grading on a curve, it’s not that bad as Bible chapters go. But where is all of this leading to?

PS Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

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Genesis 42 — I wish I weren’t tied and bound

Saturday, May 30, 2009

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Genesis 42 — I wish I weren’t tied and bound

Here we have some more family values and brotherly love. When Joseph’s famine-plagued brothers come searching for food, Joseph throws them in prison, and keeps one as a hostage!

Jacob (aka the patriarch-intermittently-known-as-Israel ©) hears about the grain in Egypt and sends his sons off to buy some. He asks that the youngest, Benjamin, stay behind so nothing bad happens to him (since he believes Joseph dead).

When the brothers arrive, Joseph recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him (he "disguised" himself, 42:7 New American Standard Bible, NASB ). A possible inconsistency occurs here: Joseph calls them spies because he "remembered the dreams he had about them" (42:9 NASB, NIV gives the same idea slightly reworded). But, his dreams, at least as reported in the Bible, never mention that his brothers will be spies, or do him harm (which might have come in handy when they sold him off to slavery!!). So if he had dreams of the sort, the Bible doesn’t mention them.

In any case, Joseph tells them that they are spies, and that they must send someone back to go get their youngest brother. Good tip for you youngsters out there: when going to a foreign land, don’t tell the guy in charge that you have a brother back home, especially if the whole idea was to keep him safe! (Joseph would have known anyway, but they don’t know this since they don’t realize it’s Joseph.)

So he throws them in prison, after 3 days letting them all out except for Simeon, whom he ties up as a "hostage" (hey, it’s the NASB’s word choice for the section heading, not mine!). The brothers assume it’s because of what they did to Joseph that this is befalling them (little do they know!).

But Joseph isn’t all bad, he does give them grain for free: he gives them grain, and they discover that the silver has been returned to them in their sacks, too. This upsets them, I assume because they are afraid that Joseph will think it’s stolen, although we’re not told.

Back at home, Jacob is none too pleased. Now he’s down two sons, and the brothers want to take Benjamin back? Even though Reuben promises to kill his own two sons if Benjamin is not brought back safe and sound (what a nice dad, offering to kill his sons like that! What would that solve?). But Jacob refuses for now: "My son shall not go down with you" (42:38, NASB).

Well, this story sure is exciting, at least. It’s a nail-biter. Will the brothers find out who Joseph is? Will Joseph kill his bound-up brother? Will Jacob relent and let Benjamin go with (and if so, will Joseph kill him?) What horrible thing will happen next in this "good" book??

PS Scripture quotations taken from the NASB .

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