As I read through this, I’m realizing more and more how many themes are being established so early on. I had forgotten, I think, how very dense Genesis (and, since I know what’s coming, Exodus) is! So, in order to keep up, some thoughts-

  • The sacrifice of Isaac, or, the not-quite sacrifice thereof. The only way to read this story, for me, is as a myth indicting the neighbors for child sacrifice. It’s clear that, while it wasn’t necessarily common, child sacrifice was at least occasionally practiced in that area at that time, and this is probably an example of yet another way in which the Israelites are differentiating themselves from the neighbors by saying “look, we don’t do this, and here’s why”.
  • Rebekkah. The woman at the well is a very biblical theme, and, if i recall correctly, also appears outside the bible in contemporary texts. It’s practical, on the one level; it’s a place where men and women who were not immediate family would have encountered each other. But it’s also metaphorical- women are closely tied to water in ancient mythology; Tiamat is the personification of the waters of the deep, and the understanding of the womb and the waters of life as meaningful had not yet been lost. Thus you get women, giving waters, at a well, and it becomes a trope. (It also often leads to talk of marriage, but, see again- public meetings space for non-related persons.)
  • Jacob the trickster. Remember how I mentioned with Isaac how Isaac is the forerunner of the Usurper type in the Bible? Jacob is, perhaps, the epitome of it. He, the younger and shinier brother, tricks his stupid older brother out of his birthright first, and his inheritance second, and is forced to flee for his life to his mother’s people. And yet, in spite of God’s favor, the trickster is tricked, and Laban marries the “wrong” sister to him, forcing him to stay on and work for another man. As an oldest child, I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the Usurper mythos (not like I would have stood to inherit anyway; I’m female, and illegitimate to boot, but it’s the principle of the thing). But Jacob the trickster is blessed and preserved by God, and even given visions.
  • Jacob’s Ladder- I love it. It’s so weird, but I can’t help it. It’s the weird bits of the Bible I like best.
  • Lot and his daughters- I believe Stephanie touched on this, but yes; this is not a story about homosexuality- this is a story about hospitality. Hospitality was sacrosanct, even more so than the bond between parents and children, even more so than respect for one’s own person. Lot is doing the right thing here, culturally, in *spite* of it being terribly difficult (not out of some cavalier feeling toward his daughters). Sexual dynamics at this time were not about gender anyway so much as power- whoever “submits” (willingly or by force) in a sexual encounter was the weaker party, hence, rape as a not un-expected way of dealing with foreigners. (Yes, I get that that is a horrible sentence. I’m not saying rape is ok, ever, just that these were the cultural mores.) The incest between Lot and his daughters is a jab at the locals- the Israelites were ever interested in proving themselves superior to those around them (from whom, archaeologically speaking, they were not at all different), and writing your neighbors off as descendants of drunken incest is not a bad way to go.
  • The oaks of Mamre. Oak trees occur all through the Old Testament, and are a remnant of the paganism of the Israelites. Trees in general, and oak trees in particular were closely associated with G-d’s wife, Asherah/Ashtoreth/Astarte. They are an ancient symbol of womanhood, and become, in this context, the root for the seven-branched tree of life, which then becomes the seven branched menorah.

seven branched palm tree

seven branched menorah