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 The blessing cannot be withdrawn.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.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Genesis 25: Abraham's death and his descendants

It is possible that the writers of Genesis realised that there weren’t enough descendants to explain the hundreds of thousands of people they came across over the centuries. To explain this, they gave Abraham a new wife after Sarah’s death. This wife, Keturah, bore another six children. 

Abraham was 175 when he died. Impossible? Of course it’s impossible. It’s even more impossible and improbable given that he was over 100 years old when he was making babies with his new wife.
The charts below show the descendants of Keturah’s two sons, Jokshan and Midian, and the second, the descendants of Hagar’s son, Ishmael. I’ve coloured the lines to show the direct line from Sarah, and mixed from the other two women, as these are not the direct line of descendent from Noah, through to Jesus.

As Abraham is about to die, he gives away all his possessions to Isaac. His sons of the concubines, receive “gifts”. His wife Keturah and her children get nothing.

Isaac and Ishmael bury their father in the cave where he’d earlier buried Sarah (verse 9). Apart from the genealogy of Ishmael, and his presence at Abraham’s gravesite, nothing more is said about except for his sons and the towns named for them:

Ishmael dies at the age of 137. His children are named for “their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations” (verse 16).

Verse 18 says that they “dwelt from Havilah unto Shur that is before Egypt”, which is the Bible’s explanation for the people of Arabia. For the actual origins of the various people of the Near East I recommend table of Bible Geography and Chronology, on the website, linked to here.

Verse 20 says that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, who eventually, after “entreating the Lord” gave birth to two sons, Esau and Jacob.

Once again,we encounter the sibling rivalry of Near Eastern mythology, and which we saw in the earlier story of Cain and Abel. 
Genesis 25:27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field: and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. 
Isaac favours Esau, but Rebekah prefers Jacob. Esau is the elder, therefore the heir to all of Isaac’s property. Jacob resents this. He tries to force his twin to sell him his birthright for a “mess of potage” (verse 30). Esau begs for some food “for I am faint” causing his name to be changed to Edom, i.e. the father of the Edomites.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Genesis 24: Isaac and Rebekah

This long chapter begins with how Isaac took his father’s camels to travel to his uncle, where he would find his wife. Theology places Abraham and his family at around the turn of the second millennium BCE.   If we are to believe that the story is real, then Abraham had camels before they were introduced as domestic animals.
TAU [Tel Aviv University] archaeologists pinpoint the date when domesticated camels arrived in Israel Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob.But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible's historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes…In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production.At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE.

If this writing is inspired by God, then why is there this glaring error in the text. It is impossible for Abraham, living in the beginning of the second millennium BCE to have owned domesticated camels. So either the timeline is wrong, or the story was written at a time when camels were commonly used as beasts of burden. It simply cannot be true, and therefore is not God-inspired.
If this important part of the story is not true, then how much of the rest of it is? For example, let’s look at the jewellery offered to Rebekah.

The servant gives her 10 shekels’ weight in gold, in two bracelets, and a half shekel, in an earring. Some research led me to the weight of a shekel, 10.2 grams. Thus the bracelets weighed 105.2 grams and the earring, 5.1 grams. Not terribly heavy or extravagant, but how was a man living in a tent in the desert able to find jewellery to give away to a potential daughter-in-law. The answer has to be in his earlier dealings when he sold his wife to kings, in Egypt (Genesis 12) and later to Abimelech (Genesis 20).  

Abraham is old, “well stricken in age” when he summons a servant to go to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac. He doesn’t want him to marry any of the local girls, but rather to keep the line of descent within his own family. He thus sends him to find a granddaughter of Nahor, his brother, another son of Terah, who had married his niece, Milcah, daughter of the third brother, Haran.
The writers are establishing that their “royal” family was “pure” in the sense that there was no marriage outside of the family itself, by marrying Rebekah to a child of the bloodline.

After the servant leaves Abraham, having sworn to bring a woman back for Isaac, or if she is not willing to leave her home, to not bring Isaac “thither again,” he travels to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia (verse 10). There is no specific city named “Nahor” in Mesopotamia. The name refers to the city where Nahor lived, not a specific place. However, we do know that Rebekah was also the daughter of Milcah, whose father was Haran. Therefore we can extrapolate that Rebekah’s parents probably lived in or near the Hurrian city of Haran.
Haran was a place where Terah temporarily settled with his son, the Patriarch Abraham, who was known as Abram at that time, his nephew Lot, and Abram's wife Sarai, all of them descendants of Arpachshad son of Shem, during their journey from Ur Kaƛdim (Ur of the Chaldees) to the Land of Canaan.  The region of this Haran is referred to variously as Paddan Aram and Aram Naharaim. Abram lived there until he was 75 years old before continuing his journey. Although Abram's nephew Lot accompanied him to Canaan, other descendants of Terah remained in Paddan-Aram, where Abraham's grandson Jacob sought his parents' relatives, namely Laban, for whom he worked for twenty years in Haran. 
Here is some actual history being introduced into the biblical text. Everything before this is pure mythology, and even the story of Abraham seeking a wife from among his relatives, is probably only mythology. However, that a story was being told about a patriarch who sent a servant to find a wife in “Mesopotamia” cannot be completed discarded as mere mythology, because the place was in existence, long before the family who are the subject of the biblical creation story existed. However, because the place existed, and it’s possible that people sent servants to solicit brides from their relatives, it doesn’t mean that this story is true.

To continue with the story. Eliezer comes to a well where he stops to water his animals. He prays to the god of Abraham asking that a kindness be shown to his master, by making a suitable woman arrive at the well, which is exactly what happens.  After some negotiation, and exchanging of gifts, Rebekah leaves with her own servants, following Eliezer until they meet Isaac along the road. She covers her face with a veil while the servant tells Isaac of how he came to find her. In verse 67, he brings her to his mother’s tent, and is “comforted after his mother’s death”. 

This is the romantic story of how Isaac found his wife, who was to be the “mother of millions”. Even if the story is set in a real place, and possibly may contain some truths about the customs of wife-finding in the ancient world, it nevertheless cannot be supported with any hard evidence. I’m not disputing that the Jewish people have a common ancestry, or even that their direct patrilineal ancestry is the same, I am disputing that the stories of how that came to be, are clouded with mythology.

(This post is an abbreviated version of my longer more comprehensive dissection of the chapter in the book on the Book of Genesis which will be available for pdf download once I’ve completed the posts of all the chapters).

Friday, 5 August 2016

Chapter 23: Sarah’s death

According to Genesis 17:17 Sarah was ninety years old when God told Abraham that she would bear a child. Give or take a year or two during which other events took place, her death at a hundred and twenty-seven, according to Genesis 23:1, makes Isaac roughly thirty-seven years old at her death.

The whole of this chapter is devoted to the negotiations for a burial place for a “burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight”. They finally settle on a site purchased from “the sons of Heth", who were descended from the second son of Canaan, the son of Ham, son of Noah, and the ancestor of the Hittites, according to the Genesis genealogy .
Genesis 10:15 And Canaan begat Sidon his firstborn, and Heth.
It names Ephron the son of Zohar as a Hittite, living among the children of Heth. It does not specifically say that the children of Heth were the Hittites.
…an Ancient Anatolian people who established an empire centred on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BC. 
Two identifications occur in this chapter. One that the people of Genesis, or rather the people in the mythology, were associating with people known to us as “Hittites”. The other is that it places Abraham in the timeline.

Some biblical scholars attach the name to the descendants of Heth, as demonstrated in this chapter of Genesis. Others, it appears, disagree, saying that they are the “Kittim”, descended from Javan, descended from Noah’s son, Japheth, the ancestor of the Greeks. However, apart from the Wikipedia comment about this, I cannot find any support for this claim. The Kittim, descended from Javan, descended from Japheth, the son of Noah, appear to be the people of Cyprus, and apart from an illegible claim in an ancient biblical encyclopaedia from the late 19th century, linked to in the Wikipedia article on the Kittim, there is no supporting evidence for this, which would, if it were a valid claim, merely point to a biblical contradiction. 

To find out where Abraham fits into the biblical timeline, I consulted the website, Answers in Genesis. There is a complex essay on the subject from which I quote the following sentence.
Abraham is dated anywhere between c. 2100 and c. 1900 and this range of dates are then applied to the standard chronology of Mesopotamia.  
This is not possible, if we look back at the time for the Hittites, i.e. their civilisation, as mentioned in the Wikipedia quote above, existed between 1600 and 1180 BCE. 

I could put the incorrect dating, and the name “Hittite” down to Shakespearean-era ignorance of Ancient History, but all the biblical websites I consulted, and all the versions of this chapter of Genesis, call Ephron, the man who sold a cave to Abraham for four hundred shekels of silver, a “Hittite”.

The area of Hebron, in Israel, is an ancient site. There is no denying that archaeological exploration has shown its age. It was inhabited during the 3rd millennium BCE, that is not disputed. It is also a holy place to all the Judaeo-Christian religions.

It is, according to biblical tradition, the burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Rebekah and Isaac, and Jacob and Leah. 

Of course for the validity of that claim, it is necessary that these people actually lived. For an idea of this, I’ll quote from Finkelstein and Silberman’s book, The Bible Unearthed.

Before we describe the likely time and historical circumstances in which the Bible’s patriarch narrative was initially woven together from earlier sources, it is important to explain why so many scholars over the last hundred years have been convinced that the patriarchal narratives were at least in outline historically true. The pastoral lifestyle of the patriarchs seemed to mesh well in very general terms with what early twentieth century archaeologists observed of contemporary Bedouin way of life was essentially unchanged over millennia lent an air of verisimilitude to the biblical tales of wealth measured in sheep and goats..., clan conflicts with settled villagers over watering wells..., and disputes over grazing lands.... In addition, the conspicuous references to Mesopotamian and Syrian sites like Abraham’s birthplace, Ur, and Haran on a tributary of the Euphrates...seemed to correspond with the findings of archaeological excavations in the eastern arc of the Fertile Crescent where some of the earliest centers of ancient Near Eastern civilization had been found…
Many of the early biblical archaeologists had been trained as clerics or theologians. They were persuaded by their faith that God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…was real. And if it was real, it was presumably given to real people, not imaginary creations of some anonymous ancient scribe’s pen.  [The Bible Unearthed, pages 33-34]

This is the problem. When people try to rationalise the text of the Bible, by citing scientific facts, and the improbabilities of the extreme old ages of the patriarchs, they come up against other people who are blinded by their faith that makes the stories real, just so that they don’t experience cognitive dissonance that may cause them to question that faith. 

I would be remiss if I did not point out that just as we have to be objective about all other historical enquiry, we should apply that same objectivity to this narrative. The story, even if it has some elements of truth, remains a myth.