So, as I write these posts, I’m finding myself struggling a bit- not with the readings, not even with what to talk about, not really- what I’m having trouble with is resisting the urge to write a five page paper on each five verses.
Because, you know, that’s exactly what I used to do.
So, I can tell you about all of the textual apparatus involved here. I can write pages about the theories behind the J source or the E source, or about the feminist readings of the matriarch stories, or the usage of the Hebrew verb bnh as it relates to humans or divine beings, or or or…. you get the idea.
I don’t know what to say here. Do you want me to talk about the academic sides of these passages? Do you want me to cite my work?
For my own anal-retentive sanity, I am going to state here my intent- I will discuss what I find relevant in the passages, and will discuss relevant academic theories as I recall them. If there’s something you’re curious about, or want to challenge, please comment! I will look it up for you, or discuss further. In the meantime, however, I am going to resist the urge to cross-reference everything I type, and just… pretend this is a conversation. Ok?
So, Genesis, in the first ten chapters, takes us through almost all of our best-known Bible stories that don’t have to do with Moses. As Stephanie said, it’s very fast, almost too fast, and it’s not how I, at least, remember it as a kid. I spent a lot of time in Vacation Bible School, and Sunday School, and while I certainly knew that this was the old bit of the Bible, I don’t think that I had any concept that there were vast swaths of the Bible I wasn’t hearing anything about (see Numbers).
I think one of my favorite things about Genesis is all the strangeness. There’s a lot we can theorize about, and there’s a lot that we do know about the cultural mores of the time, etc. But then there are things like, in the Noah story, the children of angels who are apparently living with and producing children with humans. What on earth? Or the idea that humans, when building the Tower of Babel, might really actually physically reach Heaven. Or God, who has a bow, quite literally disarming himself as a sign of his seriousness in promising never to wipe out humanity again.
One of the things that these stories bring up for me is the amount of fiction written that deals with them- there’s something endlessly inspiring about stories that grab the mind like this, and authors are no more immune to it than anyone. Many Waters, by Madeline L’Engle is perhaps my favorite, but as we get into the stories of the matriarchs, there’s a whole spate of recent books of varying quality that attempt to deal with the little we know of the matriarchs. Orson Scott Card has done a series, creatively titled Sarah; Rebekah; Rachel and Leah, that I thought started off strong, but petered out. The Red Tent is likewise a story about the matriarchs, and while it’s got its historical issues, it’s also quite a good read.
Our first story of the matriarchs, namely Sarai, is… ambiguous, at best. She and her husband go into Egypt, and Abram protects himself by claiming her as sister, rather than wife. This is more than a little sketchy, but I ask you this- if you were a desert herder, wealthy in cattle or not, and you went into a kingdom that had already been established for a thousand years, would you be hedging your bets? I think I would. Fortunately G-d is on guard against Abram’s deceit, and reveals the truth to Pharaoh, who chastises Abram.
And then it’s back to Canaan, to take control of the land promised to Abram for his multitudinous future offspring.
In Hebrew, the verb for “to take possession of”, as in, “to take possession of land or territory”, is the same as “to dispossess”. Because even then, it was an acknowledged fact that whatever you took, you were taking it from someone else.