Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Genesis 28 Jacob goes in search of a wife

In this myth that explains the origins of the “Children of Israel” we see Jacob travelling to his mother’s home to ask for a wife among the daughters of Laban, her brother, i.e. his cousins.
Isaac tells him to go to Padan-aram, to the “house of Bethuel thy mother’s father” and asks that God will bless him that he may be fruitful with a “multitude of people” (verses 2-3).

The Hebrew text of chapter 25 verse 20 refers to “Aramean” and not Syrian.
וַיְהִי יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, בְּקַחְתּוֹ אֶת-רִבְקָה בַּת-בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי, מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם--אֲחוֹת לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי, לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.
Which translates to:
And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.
This is interesting because it identifies the Arameans as descended from Haran, Abraham’s brother, and remembering the myth of how different languages came about in Genesis 11, the difference in the language spoken by the descendants of Haran, and those of Abraham, evolving with their separation, ties in with that legend.

As Jacob is travelling towards “Haran”, the home of his uncle Bethuel, he stops to rest. It is important to note that in order to rest, he piles up some stones, as a pillow, likely to support his back, to lean against while he rests.

He dreams of a ladder reaching up to the sky, with angels going up and down the rungs. God is at the top of the ladder, saying that he will give the land to Jacob, and to all his descendants. 

Further, in the dream, he says that Jacob’s descendants will cover the land, that although he is leaving, he will return. 

Jacob, on waking from his dream says that this place is the “house of God” and the “gate of heaven”. He rises from his sleep, uses the stones to make a pillar and pours oil over the stones. The place was called “Luz”; Jacob renames it “Beth-el”. 

He promises that if he returns to his “father’s house” he will accept God as his god, and that he will give a tenth of everything he owns to his god. 

It is interesting to read the last two verses (21-22) of the chapter, carefully.
So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. 
This indicates two things: one that the god worshipped by Isaac, and who spoke to Jacob in his dream, was not the only god worshipped by his family, note the “Lord be my god”.  This sounds, to me, like there were other options. The other is that until this time, no part of a man’s wealth was set aside for “God”. 

We come to the laws for making offerings, and sacrifices later in the Bible. This is the start of the idea. Also the punishments that were meted out to the people before the flood and Noah, were not as a result of not worshipping God, but because of general “sinfulness” . There were no laws about which god to worship until he was identified as the god of Noah’s descendants through Shem, to Abraham, and the rest of the patriarchs. The punishments threatened, and the legal penalties for not adhering to the worship of God and the laws handed down by him, only begin to occur at this point in the Bible narrative.

The careful assembly of the text, and the order in which it is put down, continues to demonstrate that considerable forethought was given to the writing of the Torah.

This point is missed by the average person who merely dismisses the Bible. It is anything but incoherent nonsense. However, without any extra-biblical evidence that it happened the way the Bible claims it did, it remains mythology.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Genesis 27 Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance

Isaac is dying of old age, and going blind. He sends Esau to hunt for some venison to make his favourite meal for him to eat, one last time before he dies. Rebekah overhears the instruction. She summons Jacob to bring her two goats from the flocks, from which she will make as good a stew for Isaac as Esau would be able to prepare. (Verses 1-10).

Isaac demurs saying that he is not as hairy as Esau, and that his father won’t be fooled by their deceit. To achieve the deception, Rebekah uses the goat skins to make a cover for his arms. Isaac eats the food, is satsified, and blesses Jacob as his heir. When Esau returns with his offering to his father, he is too late. The blessing cannot be withdrawn. Isaac is thus named the heir of his father’s wealth (Verses 11-30).

Esau expresses his intention to kill Isaac once his father has died. Rebekah, hearing this, tells Jacob to leave. She says to go to her brother Laban, and there to hide for a few days until Esau has calmed down. She tells Isaac she has sent Jacob away so that he won’t be tempted to marry a Hittite, a daughter of Heth, as Esau had done in the previous chapter (Verses 31-46).

This story is a continuation of the sibling feud that begun with Cain and Abel, with the variation that Esau is disinherited because Isaac was able to dupe their father into blessing him as his heir. 
There’s really not much more I can say about this, except that it continues with the mythology to fuel dissent in families, with the approval of the patriarchs, and, by association, the approval of the deity they worship.

We see this approval later in the New Testament when Jesus tells his followers to leave their families and follow him. 
Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.Matthew 10:37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Thus we see that the incitement of hatred between siblings, whether they are Cain and Abel or Esau and Jacob, is rife in the Bible. Loving families, who support each other, share their success with each other, and who live together in peace, are not encouraged by the mythology in the Bible.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Genesis 26: Isaac lies about Rebekah

Under the same circumstances as when Abraham sold Sarah to the king of Egypt in chapter 12, when a famine strikes Isaac’s homeland, God tells him Isaac to go but not to Egypt. 

In this story, he doesn’t “sell” Rebekah. He merely lies to the men of Gerar, saying that she is his sister. The king, Abimelech, sees them “sporting” together and questions his story. “Behold of a surety she is thy wife” to which Isaac replies that he was afraid that he would be killed for her (verse 9).

Abimelech reprimands him. “…thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us”. He tells his subjects that the man and his wife are under his protection and that anyone who touches either of them “shall surely be put to death” (verses 10-11).

Isaac continues to live in Gerar, becoming wealthy. When the Philistines who had “stopped” the wells Abraham had dug, and “filled them with earth”, show envy of his wealth (verse 12-15), Abimelech asks him to leave. He goes, pitching his tent in the nearby valley instead.

He reopens the wells previously dug by his father, and names them as they were named by Abraham. However, the trouble doesn’t stop; the men claim the wells as their own, causing him to rename the place “Esek”, meaning, “they strove with him” (verses 17-21). He names another well “Sitnah” before he departs to another well, which he names “Rehoboth”: “For now the Lord had made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (verse 22). He leaves again to go to Beer-sheba, where Abraham had named a well in Genesis 21. He builds an altar, and they dig a new well (verse 25).
Abimelech with two companions, Ahuzzath, and Phichol, approach him to form an alliance. They make an agreement of peace between them, feast to celebrate the pact, and the visitors depart (verses 26-31).

Isaac’s servants find water in the well, and he renames the place “Shebah” which the verse then says is the name of the city “Beer-sheba” “to this day”.

Before I finish with the marriage of Esau, I want to comment on the words “to this day.”

It is now almost universally accepted among biblical scholars that the stories were written down centuries after the alleged events. The oral tradition was handed down over those centuries. Except for a few people on the fringes who are Bible literalists, it is no longer thought that Moses was responsible for the writing down of the texts. That means that when we see the words “to this day” it relates to the continued use of names for places that have existed since the beginning of the settlement of Palestine. These are, possibly, the original names given by the people who dug the wells and built the altars. Whether these people were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we’ll never know. What is important is that these are ancient sites, that they have been in storytelling since the stories were first told, and that the age of them should no more be ignored, than the pyramids of Egypt should be ignored for their antiquity.

These wells, and altars, and other places that continue to bear their ancient names are as worthy of respect as any other antiquity in the Middle East. Just because they are part of the Bible narrative is not a reason to discard them in secular archaeology.

To continue with the final verses of this chapter, verses 34 and 35 speak of the disappointment of Isaac and Rebekah when Esau discards his parents’ ancestry and marries outside of their family, and religion.
He chooses Judith, and Bashemath, both Hittite daughters. Judith is the daughter of Beeri, and Bashemath, that of Elon. 
Genesis 26:35 Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Here we see that removal of Esau from the gene pool. He has married away from the emerging “faith” taking his progeny out of the genealogy tables of the Jewish people.