Genesis 35 — Sex, Death, and Reruns

Friday, March 13, 2009

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Genesis 35 — Sex, Death, and Reruns

Here God renames (or re-renames) Jacob as Israel; Rachel, Isaac, and a nurse of Rebekah’s all die in separate incidents; and Reuben (son of Jacob) has sex with his dad’s concubine.

Who was that (un)masked man that wrestled with Jacob back in Genesis 32 ? If it was God, which isn’t clear but which we’re led to believe, then God is forgetful. After the wrestling match, the being that Jacob defeated told Jacob he would now named  Israel. The Bible still continues to call him Jacob, though. In chapter 35, this time we’re flat out told God is renaming him Israel. And just 4 verses later, the Bible starts intermittently calling him Jacob again! Get your names straight. Even the artist-once-again-known-as-Prince was less confusing than this.

In any case, Jacob-Israel and the gang are fleeing after his sons Levi and Simeon killed an entire city as revenge for one man rapes their sister.  God speaks to Jacob, telling him to build him an altar. Jacob tells his family to get rid of all their gods (Yahweh was apparently being uncharacteristically lenient if they had gods and he didn’t show him some of that good ol’ wrath he’s known for) and off they go.

Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, dies (from what, or why this death is noteworthy, is left untold). God again promises to Jacob that his descendants will be fruitful and will get the land his dad and granddad were already promised. Maybe Jacob should have asked God for a timeframe on this recurrent promise.

Rachel, who’s pregnant with yet another child, has difficulty in childbirth and passes away. God didn’t want to save her, I guess. She names the son Ben-Oni, which the NIV tells us means "son of my trouble." Jacob renames his dearly-departed wife’s son Benjamin (or, I assume, Ben-Jamin), which means "son of my right hand." I don’t know whether to be upset that Rachel would give her son such a sad name, or to be upset at Jacob for undoing his wife’s dying act of naming her son. Rachel, on her deathbed, can probably be forgiven for her reaction. And let’s be generous and just assume that Jacob wasn’t being disrespectful of his wife, but just didn’t want to say "Hi, son of my trouble!" all the time.

Jacob-Israel finds out that his firstborn son has slept with his concubine. Unless we find out later, we don’t hear how God or Jacob-Israel deal with Reuben for this, or what God thinks of Jacob-Israel, in addition to having two wives and sleeping with their slaves, also having at least one concubine. How many women does one man really need? Sure, I can understand wanting to be fruitful and multiply, but come one! We get a listing of Jacob-Israel’s offspring, or rather just the 12 boys he has with his two wives and their two slaves. We know he had at least one daughter (Dinah), but she’s not mentioned here. Did he have any others? Did he have any sons or daughters with his concubine(s)?? The Bible doesn’t say.

In other news, Isaac lives to a ripe old age of 180 before passing away, and Jacob (who we thought was now Israel) and Esau reunite again to bury their father. Did Esau ask Jacob why he didn’t meet up with him in Seir as he’d said he would? The Bible doesn’t say, unless it comes up sometime later (it’s not in the next chapter, at least).

So we’re getting bits and pieces of stories that don’t really seem to tell us anything (other than it’s apparently okay for men to have sex with as many women as they want, that daughters aren’t important enough to mention in a list of descendants, and that renaming was apparently a big thing back then). Why is all this in a holy book again?

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.

Genesis 34 — Rape and murder, as God does nothing

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Genesis 34 — Rape and murder, as God does nothing

The family-friendly Bible has what is hopefully a fictional account about what happens to Jacob’s daughter Dinah, and an entire city as a result.

Dinah is raped by Shechem, son of the leader Hamor. Rape and other sexual disfunction have come up a lot in the Bible so far, men wanting to rape women, angels, fathers having sex with their daughters, brothers with their (half)sisters. Were men that horrible back then that women were consistently at the risk of being stolen away or raped by the men around them? Rape is too horrible and frequent nowadays, it scares me to think that it may have been even more common back then. Give the way women are regarded overall in the Bible, and in most of human history, I guess it’s not surprising.

When her brothers hear about this horrible act, they go to have a talk with Hamor. They lie to Hamor and say that everything will be okey-dokey if all the men in the city circumcises themselves. We already found out earlier that God thinks male genital mutilation is pleasing to him, for whatever reason.

The townsfolk do this, and while they are still getting over the pain of the circumcision, Dianh’s brothers kill the entire city, plundering the city ("plunder" is the Bible’s own description: verse 29) and seizing all the livestock. While it is noble to defend one’s raped sister, the Bible does not say the entire city was to blame for this. It is mass slaughter and plundering for the crime of one man.

Jacob gets wind of this (maybe the stench of an entire city of dead bodies reached his nose) and he does not rebuke his sons for the mass murder. He just says they have to high-tail it out of there before the neighboring peoples try to attack Jacob in retaliation for what his sons did. The brothers reply, ""Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?" (34:31, NIV) Certainly, as painful and life-changingly horrible as raping someone is, there was some solution besides making all the males in town painful mutilate themselves so that they could then be killed en masse.

In the next chapter, neither God nor Jacob seem to condemn this. Certainly God, who opens and closes wombs, removes legs from serpents, and does other tricks throughout the Bible, could have found a way to punish Shechem and/or his father. Or in his omniscience and omnipotence, he might prevented Dinah from the forever-scarring experience of rape in the first place or at least warned someone about it so they could prevent it.

I guess God was too busy doing things like wrestling.

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.

The Good News

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Good News

I saw some good news on Yahoo News and NBC Nightly News tonight. Apparently, 15% of Americans (with a margin of error of only ± 0.5 given in the ARIS survey) now say they are non-religious. Here is an article from USAToday, with links to graphics state-by-state for Christianity, Other Religion, and None.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-03-09-american-religion-ARIS_N.htm

"None" has gone up in every state of the union since 1990. And the media seem to be covering this fairly objectively. NBC News showed a clip of Obama’s "non-believers" line from the State of the Union. USA Today remarked in the above article that "So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists."

It make me feel better personally to think that I’m the 3rd largest group in terms of a religious survey instead of being part of a tiny shunned, or even hated, minority. (Well, maybe still shunned and/or hated, but not as tiny as many thought!)

But it also makes me feel better about the state of things in the country. Sometimes it saddens me to think that so many people still believe in religious superstition. But maybe the tide is starting to turn? Even if some of the "non-religious" are actually spiritual or just not a "traditional" religion, it shows people are thinking outside of the box on religion. They are either examining it and choosing something different from their parents, or choosing not to be religious at all. And of the former group, at least it shows some examination of religion, meaning it’s okay to make up your own mind about religion.

With 15% saying they’re non-religious, this hopefully means "none of the above" is an okay option in an increasing number of minds. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but the results of this survey could mean that people may at least be becoming more open-minded about religion, and in my opinion, that can only be a good thing.

Genesis 33 — (Brief) family reunion

Monday, March 09, 2009

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Genesis 33 — (Brief) family reunion

Here we have a family reunion between Jacob and Esau. Esau, instead of being (probably justifiably) angry at seeing his brother Jacob again, welcomes him with open arms and a kiss. For some reason, Jacob and his wives, servants, and children all bow down before their "lord" Esau. This is a sign of submission, isn’t it? This is maybe Jacob’s way for apologizing for all he did to his brother, but it is not explained.

Jacob offers Esau the gifts mentioned in the last chapter, which Esau at first refuses but then reluctantly accepts. Jacob offers to stay behind and take care of the animals and says he will catch up with Esau in a place called Seir. Except for Jacob doesn’t go to Seir, he goes to Succoth instead. I looked ahead a few chapters, and no explanation is given for this in the text that I’ve found so far. He tells his brother, who welcomes him warmly, that he’ll catch up with him in Seir, but then instead goes off to other cities (first Succoth, then Shechem) and sets up camp there. He does set up an altar to God in Shechem (no word as to whether God wanted this, or what God thought of it).

So it is a very positive thing that despite his brother’s actions, Esau welcomes him warmly and they apparently make up to each other, and Esau is eager to find out about his brother’s family. Finally, some positive family relations in the Bible. But then Jacob appears to wander off on his own again for no stated reason, even though he told his brother he’d meet with him in Seir. If he did do so, the Bible doesn’t say here.

There is another line that is somewhat confusing. Jacob, when insisting is brother should take his gifts, says to Esau, "For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably." (NIV, 33:10). The author of the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible recently hypothesized that this means God looks like Esau (who is red-haired and very hairy). This is a possible interpretation, but the text really isn’t clear, just as it isn’t clear who it is Jacob wrestled with in Genesis 32, nor why Jacob was renamed Israel, but is still called Jacob in this and other chapters later!

There really should have been an editor to check all this for continuity and clarity. If God was the source for the Bible,  he really ought to have done a better job at finding editors. Or why delegate, certainly the big man himself could have done a better job.

In any case, nothing overtly negative happens in this chapter, and the reunion between Jacob and Esau might teach some to let bygones be bygones. Something that should happen more often in the Bible, and in the modern-day Middle East, for that matter.

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.

Genesis 31 — The Yahweh made me do it

Sunday, March 01, 2009

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Genesis 31 — The Yahweh made me do it

Fortunately for Jacob, people are scared of Yahweh. So they often seem to do unfair things clearly against their interests just to make him happy.

Now, I am not an expert in the Bible, and that’s not the point of this blog. The point is to go through it as an average person and see what’s there. I do probably a little more than the average person, since I often compare different versions (on http://www.biblegateway.com/ , etc.), but later I plan to investigate more. For now I want the text to stand for itself.

If I compare Genesis 30 and 31, I see that in Genesis 30, it makes no mention of God, or an angel of God, telling Jacob to make Laban’s goats and sheep streaked and spotted, or telling him that what he did was good. But in Genesis 31, not until AFTER Laban’s sons catch on to Jacob’s trickery, does Jacob tell his wives that:

The Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’” (Genesis 31:11-13, NKJV)

Suddenly, what appears to be Jacob ripping off his (unfair, yes) master is actually God’s idea. But God doesn’t tell us this, and not even an angel of God. Jacob tells us that an angel told him this in a dream. This seems rather convenient to me. We only see God tell Jacob to go home to daddy, and he’ll be with him (verse 3). All the rest, we just have to take Jacob’s word that he was told in a dream. He’s proven to be an honorable sort, so I’m sure we can trust him.

His wives decide they might as well run off with him and all the riches, since after all, Jacob says an angel says that God says to do so, and their dad doesn’t have much anymore (31:15). And to add insult to injury, Rachel steals her father’s gods. Take his goods, and steal his religion. So they just up and leave likw dishonest cowards (the NIV even says "Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away", 31:20). Surely this isn’t how God wants honorable people act, right?!

Well, God reportedly appears to Laban in a dream telling him not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. Well Laban, when he tracks down Jacob, does outline the case against him, but is most concerned about the stolen gods (maybe he wants protection from Yahweh and his hare-brained schemes?). Rachel hides them by sitting on them and pretending that she’s having her period. Jacob is said to not know that Rachel stole them, and we’re not told why Rachel stole them anyway (if it was because they were an outrage to Yahweh, you would think she’d just destroy them. Maybe she just thought they looked pretty and would be nice to steal, or wanted a back up in case the whole Yahweh thing didn’t work out. Who knows?).

So since Laban can’t find his gods, he gives up and makes a covenant with Jacob, making him promise that he’ll take no other wives than his two daughters (does he know about all the slave sex and resulting children earlier?) and treat them well. They swear  by "The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father" (31:53) that they won’t cross past the pillar to harm each other. Sounds like polytheism to me, although I’m sure some would claim that these are just different names for Yahweh. Yahweh is also given a different name twice in the chapter, "the Fear of Isaac." A quick look at a few sites indicates that this apparently is a generally accepted translation. That’s what I want my God to be known as, the Fear.

They put up a pillar, offer a sacrifice, eat, and the deal is sealed. Yahweh seems to find unusual chosen ones, who use decipt, lying, cowardice, slavery, and messed up competitions over sex and children to become rich and plentiful.

PS Copyright notice for NKJV : "New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Bible text from the New King James Version® is not to be reproduced in copies or otherwise by any means except as permitted in writing by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Attn: Bible Rights and Permissions, P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214-1000."

Copyright notice for NIV: 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.