Sunday, January 17, 2010

Genesis Chapters 12-25

We are introduced to Abram and his wife Sarai (which has presumably evolved into Sarah), who was barren, at the end of Chapter 11. At that point, they were on their way to Canaan, presumably to finish the job the Japhetic Romans started and conquer the Canaanites for once and for all.

Chapter 12

God promises Abram that if he moves to Canaan, he'll make of thee a great nation, and I will bless the, and make thy name great (v.2). Isn't that exactly why he scattered the people of Babel? Jerry does accept that this is ironic, but justifies it by saying that now it's god's decision, not some selfish humans, so it's okay. What he does not find ironic is the labelling of the Canaanites as wicked sinners. By the winners. Who generally write history. I'll shut up about that now.

Abram goes, of course, with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, and when they finally arrive, god promises him the land, and he builds an altar. Then he... promptly moves to a mountain near Bethel, where he builds another altar. Unfortunately, there's a famine there, so he heads further south to Egypt to ride it out.

Once he gets to Egypt, he turns to his 65 year old wife and says that since she's such a hottie, they Egyptians might kill him if he says she's his wife, so she'd better say she's his sister. Since she his half-sister, that isn't really a lie, it just isn't the full truth. Apparently, Jehovah's Witnesses use this verse to justify something called 'Theocratic War Strategy', whereby they lie when they think they're protecting the truth from god's enemies, even while under oath in court. Don't trust a Joho, especially if he thinks you're his enemy, I guess.

Getting back to the story: the Egyptians, who are clearly hard up, do indeed find Sarai pretty tasty, and she is added to his harem. Pharaoh, who never gets a name, does compensate Abram with sheep, oxen, asses and servants, and Sarai gets asses and camels. But he leaves out god, who punishes him with the plague. For believing Abram. Who lied. What was he supposed to do, go to the civil records office in Ur and ask if there were any marriage certificates issued to Sarai? It's not like there were fax machines then. Pharaoh does the honourable thing and gives Sarai back, and they leave.

Chapter 13

Lot, Abram and Sarai go back to Canaan, but conflict quickly develops because now they're too rich, and there isn't enough room for everybody's herds. Abram is generous and offers Lot his pick of the grazing lands. Lot choses the plain of Jordan, which also happens to contain Sodom and Gomorrah, so we know this isn't going to end well for Lot.

Abram continues along as a farmer and Lot moves to the city, where the men are wicked. Isn't that pretty much the view of every country dweller, even today? I remember I was sitting in front of a woman from London on a train to Toronto once, and she was fretting about having her purse stolen while she shopped. Because daytime purse snatchings are so common in the Big Smoke. Surprisingly, Jerry is demure in is characterization of Sodom, saying it is only known for moral wickedness.

God reaffirms his promise of Canaan to Abram, a promise he has clearly not fulfilled, given the conflicts in that region, from the Crusades to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abram moves once again to the plain of Mamre, and builds yet another altar.

Chapter 14

Rebellion! Five cities revolt after 12 years of servitude. Eventually, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah are eventually deposed and their allies flee to the mountains. Yet another reason to call them sinful, no?

So the other army marches into Sodom and Gomorrah and takes all the food, as conquering armies are wont to do, and also take Lot.

One member of Lot's household does manage to escape to Mamre and get word to Abram, who gathers his trained servants (v.14), which I guess means private army, and goes after the raiders. He catches up to them in Hobah and gets the captives back, as well as the goods.

The king of Sodom creeps down to meet him, and another king provides a feast. Jerry thinks that because he's the priest of the most high God he's a fellow Christian but I think that adjectival phrase there indicates polytheism yet again. Anyway, they all bless each other and god and Abram gives them tithes. The king of Sodom tries to do a deal with Abram: give him the people, and Abram can have the loot. Abram refuses, because he's a good Christian, and because he doesn't want to owe them anything.

Chapter 15

After the events of the preceding chapter, God comes to Abram and promises him a reward. According to Jerry, his reward is that he'll have children and they'll be the rulers of Canaan. Abram believes him but asks how he'll know that he'll inherit it. God then tells him to sacrifice a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon and to sacrifice them. He kills the animals, but drives the birds away when they try to come down for their share. What a weird way to find out you're going to inherit land.

Abram goes to sleep after the hard work of killing things, and receives a prophecy that his heirs will be exiled in Egypt for 400 years, but he'll judge the Egyptians and they'll come back rich after four generations. He then lists the Abrahamic peoples that will live in Canaan after the exile.

Chapter 16

Ten years have passed since the end of the last chapter. The now 75 year old Sarai is still childless. So she has the brilliant idea that Abram should have a child with her maid Hagar. Does this ever end well?

So Abram does, and Hagar gets pregnant, because all cases of infertility in the bible are on the female side, natch, and the result is Ishmael. Oh, and Hagar now hates Sarai. Well, who wouldn't, really? Sarai gets jealous of course, but Abram reminds her that Hagar is a slave and she can do what she wants to her. Sarai dealt hardly with her (v.6) and she flees.

An angel finds her sitting by a fountain in the wilderness and asks her what's up. She explains that she's left. He tells her to go back and submit and he'll give her children without number. He explains the first one will be Ishmael, and he'll be feisty and won't get along with anyone. Oh, and he'll be the forebear of the Arabs, which is pretty fucking convenient for old Jerry, who says Abram's 'act of the flesh' is the beginning of the Israeli-Arab conflict. No, I'd say it's more to do with letting them plunk down there at the end of WWII without thinking about the current inhabitants, not a biblical sex act. But this lets any modern foreign policy off the hook so Jerry goes with it.

So Hagar goes back and has Ishmael when Abram is 86 years old.

Chapter 17

Abram is now 99 years old and god comes along and asks him to go for a walk. He promises him yet again that he'll provide children for him, which causes Abram to fall on his face. Who knew the bible had slapstick bits?

God then changes his name to Abraham, because of all the nations he's going to father. He promises that this covenant will extend to his descendants, which as far as Jerry is concerned, means the Jews are still entitled to it. Well, that should settle it!

He then tells Abraham that his end of the bargain will be to circumcise himself and all the boys in the tribe, even the slaves, will also be circumcised when they're 8 days old. Seems like a good deal to me, if only god would hurry up and hold up his end of the bargain. Finally, he says that any boy that isn't circumcised will be exiled, not that they'll have much choice at 8 days old.

Moving right along, Sarai will now be called Sarah, because she, too, will be blessed with a son who will found many nations. At age 89. Jerry chalks it up to supernatualism, which he pretty much does any time something impossible happens. Abraham falls over again, this time laughing at the idea of a 90 year old and a centenarian having a kid. It also fails to explain why Dutch people have Sarah and Abraham parties when the person is turning 50.

Abraham asks why he can't make Ishmael his heir, but god says Sarah is really going to have a son, who will be called Issac and the covenant will be with him.

He doesn't neglect Ismael however, promising he will also have kids 12 princes to be exact and he will have a great nation as well but the covenant will be with Isaac who will be born n a year. Exeunt god.

Abraham then goes home and takes his son Ismael and all the boys in the house, whether servants or slaves and himself and they all get circumcised. What thing to do together as a family.

Chapter 18

Abraham is snoozing in his tent door one hot day when god appears again with two angels, though here they appear as men. Abraham comes running out to meet them and asks him to stay, wash their feet and rest up. He proves hospitable, offering them food and to stay until they are ready to leave.

He goes inside the tent and tells Sarah to make cakes for their guests, then runs out to slaughter a calf, which he brings back with butter and milk and serves them under a tree.

They ask after Sarah who has stayed in the tent. God promises to give her a child. Sarah overhears, and laughs because she is long past menopause and asks herself whether she's going to have sex with Abraham or what. One would hope so, her being 90 and all. God hears her laugh and asks why, after he promised?

He points out that as god, nothing is too difficult then promises to come back later and give her the promised son. She denies laughing, but he insists, which is rude on the part of a guest, even if you are god.

The men stand up to leave for Sodom. God considers not showing Abraham what he's about to do seeing as he's going to be so important in world history, and because he might send out his personal cavalry again to stop him. He resolves to go to Sodom and Gomorrah and see how sinful they really are.

They turn to leave but Abraham blocks their path and asks if they're going to destroy the righteous with the wicked? (v. 23). He asks if they couldn't spare the city for the 50 righteous men that are inside and asks Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? Yes and no would be the answers, Bob.

God promises not to destroy the city if he finds 50 righteous men, or even 45. He keeps agreeing until the final figure is 10 righteous men who will save the city. Abraham goes back to snoozing outside his tent and the men leave.

Chapter 19

The two angels go on to Sodom and are greeted at the gate by Lot. He invites them to stay with him, to wash their feet and leave in the morning, but they decline, saying they prefer to stay on the street. But Lot is persistant and insists they stay with him and he makes dinner, but they don't eat.

But the men of the city can smell the catnip from miles away, and they gather outside and demand the angels so they can have sex with them. Jerry calls this 'unspeakable depravity' and cites all the other biblical passages that condemn homosexuality (there are 4 other instances). Here's a rebuttal. When the bible starts calling on us to be tolerant and generous, I'm going to keep a similar tally.

Lot goes to the door and asks them not to rape the angels. Instead he offers his two virgin daughters, and tells them to do as they see fit with them.

The men threaten Lot and try to break down his door, but the angels pull him back and blind the men outside so they can't find it. They ask who else is in the house, and tell him about their plan to destroy the city. So Lot goes to his sons-in-law and tells them what's about to happen. Yes, that's right. He lied about his daughters being virgins. But the sons in law don't believe him which makes one wonder what Lot has been up to for all these years.

In the morning, Lot wakes his wife and daughters and they leave with god, who tells them not to look back until they get to the mountains. Lot whines a bit that the mountains are far and he's frail, and he'd rather just go to the next city, and god says what the heck and lets them go there instead. He tells them to hurry, and they arrive in Zoar at sunrise.

Meanwhile, god is enacting yet another mass murder, but not one by flood, so he isn't breaking his promise from after the flood. He burns it instead in a shower of fire and brimstone.

Sadly, Lot's wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt. Just for looking back on the place she lived her whole life? Ouch.

Now we're back with Abraham, who wakes up and looks over at Sodom and Gomorrah and sees only a smoking mess, but Lot does eventually make his way over. He leaves quickly, and goes into the mountains with his daughters and lives in a cave, even though he's afraid.

Lot's daughters, meanwhile, have somehow decided their father is the last man on earth, so they'll need him to help them repopulate it. Jerry has absolutely nothing to say about the kind of fucked-up family values this demonstrates of course. So they conspire to get him drunk and rape him while he's in a blind stupor. They do this two nights in a row, and they both get pregnant, and again, Jerry is mum. The first daughter has a son called Moab and the second has a son Ben-ammi. Both boys go on to found tribes.

David Plotz has some excellent points about this passage, namely, how do you teach it in Sunday school. Also, this has all the makings of a classic Jerry Springer episode.

Chapter 20

Abraham gets itchy feet again and goes to a place called Gerar. Sarah goes with him, and despite being over 90 years old and having admitted two chapters ago that she's post-menopausal, he again asks her to lie and say she's his sister so no one will kill him and steal her. And again the king of Gerar adds her to his harem. This time god goes to the king in a dream to tell him Sarah is already married and threatens to kill him. The king points out he hasn't even touched her, thus thwarting yet another mass murder because Abraham lied. God says he knew that he didn't know about the ruse and stopped him touching Sarah. Why threaten him with death, then? He tells the king to send her back and tells him he'll only kill him if he doesn't.

The king tells all his servants, then calls Abraham in to rebuke him for lying. Abraham says he didn't think they were godly, so they'd kill him for his hot 90 year old bride. He also explains that technically, he didn't lie, because he and Sarah have the same father, though not the same mother. So does this mean their father was a polygamist? He continues that he made the deal with Sarah when they left home.

To make up for his 'crime' the king takes sheep, oxen and slaves and gives them to Abraham along with Sarah. He also invites him to stay and explains to Sarah he has given Abraham a thousand pieces of silver. Abraham prays, and god, who works quickly, restores fertility to the women of Gerar, whose wombs he had closed in exchange for believing Abraham's lie, which he already admitted wasn't a sin. Sigh.

Chapter 21

Sarah finally has the long-promised Isaac, after a visit from god. Abraham names him as instructed and circumcises him at 8 days. Sarah regrets laughing and suckles her baby and Abraham has a feast on the day he's finally weaned. Sarah glances over and sees Ishmael laughing and her jealous feelings are stirred up again. She commands Abraham to cast Hagar and her son out, and to leave Ishmael out of his will, even as co-heir. Abraham doesn't want to, but god reminds him what Isaac will be, and also promises Ishmael will have his own people. So Abraham sends them away to Beer-sheba with a bottle of water and some bread. He puts both the bread and the boy on Hagar's shoulder, despite the book telling us numerous times that Ishmael is at least 13 years old, so it's no wonder she casts him under a bush as soon as the water runs out. She sits down a ways away, because she doesn't want to watch him die, but god hears him and sends his angel to ask what's wrong. The angel promises to watch out for Ishmael, and Hagar suddenly sees a well, so she fills the bottle and gives some to her son. Ishmael stays in the wilderness and becomes an archer and his mom finds him an Egyptian wife.

In a total non-sequitur, we suddenly go back to Abraham, who is being visited by the king he lied to before. He's heard about his relationship with god and wants him to swear he'll deal with him honestly, as he has been. This despite Abraham's earlier dishonesty. Abraham promises, then rebukes him about a disputed well, and the king swears this is the first he's heard of it. So Abraham gives him sheep and oxen and they make a covenant. Geez you really get a sense of what was important to the Israelites in this book, don't you? So they make a covenant, and Abraham goes and gets some sheep. The king is confused, but Abraham explains the sheep are his witness that he dug the stupid well. So they name the place Beer-sheba and the king leaves and Abraham plants a grove. Now suddenly it's the land of the Philistines.

Chapter 22

God seemingly renegs on his promis that Isaac will be the father of nations when he tells Abraham to take him into the land of Moriah and sacrifice him. Oh, and burn him as well. Abraham is enthusiastic about the idea of infanticide, and takes the boy to the designated place to sacrifice him. They build the pyre and Isaac asks where the lamb is, and Abraham says God will provide one. He binds his son to the pyre and he's standing there with the knife in hand when an angel stops him and tells him it was just a test of faith. Well played, god. Good thing you didn't get held up in traffic or anything.

Abraham looks up and sees a ram caught in the bushes. He offers it instead and names the place Jehovah-jireh. Jerry has nothing to say about this episode except that it was a test. A gruesome, capricious test, and an extremely poor example of family values and divine wisdom, I'd say.

But Abraham and Isaac don't seem to mind, as the angel renews god's promise that Isaac will be the father of nations. So they head down to Beer-sheba, because apparently Abraham is wandering again.

We get a brief story about Abraham's brother Nahor, whose wife has 8 kids. Bethuel, the youngest, has Sarah. Nahor's concubine also has 4 kids by him, but of course Jerry doesn't condemn the fact that this is either polygamy or extra-marital sex, because these are the good guys.

Chapter 23

Sarah dies in Kirjatharba, the land of the Heth, or Hittites. She lived to be 127, apparently the oldest woman in the bible, a complete reversal of normal human lifespans.

Anyway, Abraham asks the people to give him a place to bury her and they tell him anywhere is fine. He asks for the cave of Machpelah, which is now the Cave of the Patriarchs in Israel, and still a bone of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The owner of the land, Ephron, gives it to him, but Abraham wants to buy if from him. Ephron says it's 400 shekels, but to forget about it. Abraham insists on paying for it and gets deed to the land.

Chapter 24

Abraham is feeling poorly, so he makes his servant swear on his testicles that he won't let Isaac marry a pagan Canaanite girl. Yes, even Jerry concedes that put thy hand under my thigh (v.2) is a euphemism for penis. He tells the servant to go back to Ur and find a nice girl for his son. The servant asks what to do if the girl doesn't want to come to Canaan, should he bring Isaac with him? No, Isacc needs to stay there because god promised this land to them. So the servant swears on Abraham's member not to take Isaac to Ur.

The servant leaves with 10 camels and goes to Nahor in Mesopotamia, which isn't were Abraham is from, but okay. He sits the camels down by a well in the evening, when the women come to fill their jugs. He decides that the right woman will be the one who gives him and the camels water when he asks for it.

Rebekah immediately appears. She's very pretty and a virgin to boot. The servant literally runs over to her and asks for some water. She's amenable, even though carrying water is a laborious task and he's making it take even longer and hey, why can't he draw water for his own damned self? She also offers water to the camels, because she's nicer than me, and the man wonders if she's the right one. So he pulls out an earring and some bracelets and asks who she is, and if they can stay at her father's house.

She says she's Bethuel's daughter, and sure, they have room. The servant bows down and praises the lord. Rebekah runs off to tell her mother's house what's going on. Her mother's house. Indicating her father lives somewhere else. Indicating polygamy. Which Jerry ignores.

Anyway, Rebekah's brother Laban comes back to the well and talks to the servant. He asks him why he's lingering outside, as the house is ready. The man comes in, stables the camels and washes his feet. They feed him, but he refuses until he's told them what his mission is. He says he's Abraham's servant and Abraham is a rich man. He says Sarah has had a son, and he will inherit all of Abraham's wealth. He continues that Abraham made him promise that Isaac wouldn't marry a Canaanite, so he has sent him back to his father's house to find a wife among his kin. Long story short: Rebekah is the woman of his dreams for Isaac. So he gave her some jewellery, and now, can he take her back to Canaan for Isaac?

Laban and Bethuel, in a brilliant display of fatherly and brotherly concern, tell him that if god says it, it must be true, so go ahead and take her. The servant converts to Judaism right there nd gives them all jewels. They eat some more and party down and in the morning the servant wants to go home. Rebekah's mother and brother ask for 10 more days, but the servant is impatient. Finally, they think to ask Rebekah what she wants, and she says to go with the servant. So Rebekah and her nurse leave with Abraham's entourage with their blessing.

Isaac comes home and goes out to the field to meditate. He looks up and sees the camel train. Rebekah looks up and sees him and gets off her camel. She asks the servant who he is, and he says Isaac, so she covers herself. The servant tells Isaac about his adventures and he takes Rebekah to Sarah's tent, even though Sarah died in the last chapter, and they get married and Rebekah is a comfort after his mother's death. Now, a good copy-editor would have put this chapter before the last one, so as to avoid confusion, but apparently they didn't have those back then.

Chapter 25

After Sarah's death, Abraham takes another wife. Or rather, concubine. Even the sincere Christians don't really know. Anyway, her name is Keturah, and even though Isaac has always been referred to as Abraham's only son, she has 6 more. This also despite all the help he apparently needed to father Isaac. Maybe Sarah was just exhausting.

Anyway, despite these last 6 sons, Abraham still leaves all his property to Isaac. That isn't going to cause any resentment. He also sends them away with gifts before his death.

Finally, Abraham dies at 175. I had no idea that the expression gave up the ghost (v. 8) was biblical. You learn something new every day. Isaac and Ishmael, apparently back from the wilderness, bury him in the cave of Machpelah, which he bought two chapters ago, and which is still contested. God then blesses Isaac.

We find out the names of Ishmael's 12 sons, who become princes, and that he lived to be 137.

Isaac married Rebekah at age 40, and it turns out that she is also barren, until Isaac prays. Then she conceives twins. Even in the womb, they struggle, so she asks god why. He explains they're going to found two nations, but one will be stronger than the other. He also says it's going to be a reversal of sorts: the older brother will become the younger one's servant.

Rebekah goes into labour, and the first is Esau, red all over like a hairy garment which is pretty mean about a baby, then the brother comes out and takes his brother's heel, so he is Jacob.

Like many twins, the boys grow up opposites. Esau is a hunter, Jacob a city boy preferring the tents. Isaac loves Esau because he likes venison but Rebekah prefers Jacob.

Jacob is a soup-seller and one day Esau comes in hungry from the fields and asks him for a bit of it. Jacob says he'll give it to him in exchange for his birthright. Esau thinks he's literally going to die, so his birthright isn't much use, so he agrees. I wonder if my siblings would do the same? Quite possibly. So he agrees and gives it to his brother.

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