Genesis 13

BABEL to AVRAM

Monday June 18:

Chapter 13

After repeated exile stories, here is an immigrant tale: Avram, Sarai and Lot migrate from Egypt up through the Negev, to arrive at Beth-el. There Avram and Lot split up, an etiological legend of how one set of cousins ends up in the east plain and Transjordan, and the other in hill countries.

Take a moment to find this on a map – we’ll visit this turf repeatedly before this book is over! This occupation is less warlike than the Joshua tales to follow, and based on a choice not to overburden the land, let alone displace the people already in the land. Lot’s peoples are judged, while Avram receives a development of chapter 12’s promise, land added to offspring blessings, settling by Mamre in Hebron.

From the past 2 weeks of creation myths and universal assertions of common humanity. We have moved to legends, sagas and epic stories about particular peoples in recognizable geographic regions. ‘Etiological’ legends are stories that explain how a place got its name, and we’re in the old folk stories now.

Did we come from Egypt, or from Iraq and Iran? Yes. Both.

These stories bind a people gathered from many places, in several waves, over centuries, into one people with a common story. Can you see how Canadians are retelling our story in this century, differently than in the last one, or in the 18th century facing a revolution to the south, or a 19th century facing a civil war and expansionary republic to the south? How did 20th century immigration change us, and how do we retell our story to include Asian and African immigration – and also First Nations voices?

BABEL to AVRAM: Reading Week from June 17 

GENESIS:  

“The Gospel According to Torah” 

Posted daily at www.hereticslikeus.com 

Weekly summaries also at www.billbrucewords.com 

Concurrently at www.trinityunitedkw.ca  

Summer Reading 2018 

 

BABEL to AVRAM 

Reading Week from June 17 

Garret Talk June 17, Tues June 19 

Genesis 7 to 12: Mon June 11 to Sat June 16 

 

Sunday June 17: Week 3. 

In 2008, and in 2017, this was the teaser: 

The Lone Ranger and Tonto huddle behind a rock, under fire from Indians, in our subculture’s myth of the ‘Wild West’.  One says ‘I think we’re in trouble!’ The other: ‘What do you mean ‘we’, white man?’  This block of Genesis, chapters 12 to 25, moves from universal humanity ‘us’ to a smaller circle of shared identity.  Jews, Muslims and Christians all claim Abraham as ‘father’ of our people.  What does that mean? In our times of identity politics, ‘nativism’ and racism, we each require a ready answer to ‘what to you mean ‘we’. 

It took a couple of weeks to read the toledot of Adam and Noah, the myths of prehistory, and universal common humanity.  We were presented with some home truths about human nature and destiny, and common origins.  Friday of Week 2, with the second half of chapter 11, we turned a corner with the lineage, the begettings, the generations, of Shem, one of Noah’s 3 sons, presented as the forebear of what we might call Middle Easterners, as Ham begat Africans, and Japeth Eurasians, from a Palestinian perspective and ancient worldview.  It will take a couple of weeks to shake out Abraham’s toledot. 

What’s at stake in these perhaps less familiar legendary tales of the first of the ‘patriarchs’ we recite as ‘Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’?  This is a passing of exquisite discomfort for modern liberals, who prefer to deal in universal humanity and atomized individuals choosing their identifications.  We can make it through this week on what has been the platitudinous affirmation of ‘monotheistic faiths’, or of ‘Abrahamic religions or ecumene’, or that vague one of ‘Judeo-Christian traditions and values’.  I prefer to surrender before we begin, and say that none of those unified field theories survive scrutiny.   

We ended Week 2 with 3 branches of Noah’s family leaving the ark, and of the scattering, baffling babble of many languages and peoples leaving Babel.  Like Adam and Eve, Cain and Seth moving ‘east of Eden’, we enter human history of mortality and limitation, cursed and blessed by common human nature and destiny.  The next cycle of toledot is not about all peoples, but one people. 

Some will read this distinguishing ‘us’ from ‘other’ as being about a covenant promise by God to Avram, of a land, descendants, and blessing.  Terah’s clan leaves Ur, at the bottom of the Tigris-Euphrates basin, and follows the Fertile Crescent north and west toward our Turkey and Syria, the biblical Haran.  Avram and Sarai leave Terah and Haran, toward a promised land in Canaan, by way of Egypt, which on our maps is some detour or overshooting, true to ancient migrations and anthropologists’ theories, but true in other ways. 

Along the way, Avram and Sarai pursue not only place, but the heritage of offspring, heirs of their promise, and they recognize how they are blessed and can be a blessing.  Torah claims the identity of sojourners, seeking a better country, as Hebrews echoes it in turn in Christian scriptures. ‘We’ come from all over, and ‘we’ tell the story, in many voices, from a Palestinian vantage. 

One way of telling the tale is that ‘we’ left neighbours in realms where imperial rulers would rise, and to which exile would follow.  ‘We’ left cousins in frontier lands to the north, from whom would come partners for Isaac and Jacob in turn.  ‘We’ left a half-brother Ishmael, fully a son of Avram.  ‘We’ have inextricable relationships with ‘them’, the ‘Other’, dwelt among them always, and returned to them often.  This is not a saga of ‘get thee apart and be holy’, or a heroic epic of superiority, but it is one of distinctive distinguished identity tied to affirmation of Jahweh, or Yahweh, or Elohim, or El Shaddai.   

Michael Wyschogrod of Baruch College of City University of New York points out that one can be a ‘monotheist’ and worship Zeus, or Baal, or Yahweh.  One can be a ‘monarchist’ and disagree with other monarchist about which monarch is ours.  The crucial assertion is that our one God is Avram’s one God, and that ultimately, other and all peoples will come to recognize that Avram’s one God is the one God whose will and actions will prevail.  (‘Abraham’s Promise’, 2004 essays from Eerdmans).   

By the end of Week 3, Ishmael has been born of Hagar, and given his promise, and the couple Avram and Sarai, one aged 99 and the other post-menopausal, have named and perhaps conceived Isaac but he is not alive, and they have not arrived.  Scripture is kinder to Ishmael than we have been in history, in this week’s reading and in the one to come.  Listen for stories of ‘us’ and ‘them’. 

Saturday June 16: Genesis Chapter 12

‘Lech lecha’ – get up and go!  Here begins the new cycle, a new Torah portion, and a shift from the primeval myths of origins of humanity and peoples, to the patriarchal account of the origins of ‘our’ people.  Some call it the ‘Abrahamic ecumene’, that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all appropriate Abraham as a root narrative.  This first chapter in the cycle sketches Avram coming from Haran, and also sojourning in Egypt, personification of migrations restated throughout the biblical story.  Like Canadians claiming roots in Europe and Asia, this story starts in both Asia and Africa.  Where do ‘we’ come from, who are ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ of our collective identities?  

Monday June 18: Chapter 13

After repeated exile stories, here is an immigrant tale:  Avram, Sarai and Lot migrate from Egypt up through the Negev, to arrive at Beth-el.  There Avram and Lot split up, an etiological legend of how one set of cousins ends up in the east plain and Transjordan, and the other in hill countries.  Take a moment to find this on a map – we’ll visit this turf repeatedly before this book is over!  This occupation is less warlike than the Joshua tales to follow, and based on a choice not to overburden the land, let alone displace the people already in the land.  Lot’s peoples are judged, while Avram receives a development of chapter 12’s promise, land added to offspring blessings, settling by Mamre in Hebron. 

Tuesday June 19: Genesis Chapter 14

Don’t get lost in all the proper names of the ‘kings’.  This account of tribal war among neighbours is hard to hear in terms of our nation-states and monarchies.  Imagine something closer to Mario Puzo’s Godfather trilogy, where dons figure out who will pay tribute to whom.  An alliance of sheiks rise up against Chedorlaomer. Foolish Lot joins up.  Avram comes to rescue his cousin, forgoes his share of the booty, and consigliore Melchizedek marks the peace with a ritual meal.   The polemic about those eastern tribes, on the plain, in the Transjordan, is told from the perspective of the hills of Judah and Israel, like the ethnic slurs and prejudice of any people toward any other today.  Not you?  Sure! 

Wednesday, June 20: Genesis Chapter 15

Here’s yet a third round of promise from God to Avram.  Avram is childless, doubting the original promise of offspring.  Avram has no title to the land, save this ritual of slaughter sacrifice – compare that to the root of our word ‘indenture’ for legal titles.   In a dream, God tells Avram of a prospect of 400 years of slavery in Egypt, then Exodus when judgment comes on their slave-drivers.  The shorter cycle of patriarchs is also previewed, till the Amorites get theirs. The ritual ends with fire and smoke passing between the halves of the slaughtered sacrifices, and intoning the dispossession of the neighbouring tribes in favour of Avram’s clans.  What gives us title to our land, to the exclusion of first nations’ claims, and the rejection of immigrants and refugees from away?   

Thursday June 21: Genesis Chapter 16

Hagar bears Ishmael today.  This is an account of the origins of the Arabian neighbours of the bible writers.  It has been adopted in the tradition of Islam as the account of Muslim origins from Avram.  Barren Sarai, and fertile Hagar her slave, give more dimensions of the relationships among these peoples.  Go on back to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and “call me Ishmael”, or to Margaret Lawrence’s character Hagar Shipley in Stone Angel if you have more time!  How do you construe or construct the ‘other’ – or identify as one? 

Friday June 22: Genesis Chapter 17

Circumcision of adults makes some guys queasy, but again, consider how this story works as an explanation of the origins of defining rituals of a cultural and religious group.  Avram changes name, getting another syllable: Avraham, ancestor of a multitude.  The claim to the  specific land is repeated.  Sarai’s name changes, too, to Sarah.  Note the promises made to Ishmael, father of 12 princes, a great nation, though the covenant promise goes to the younger one Isaac – named but not conceived yet. Now, what do you make of circumcision – which includes Ishmael?  

Saturday June 23: Genesis Chapter 18

Here’s a folksier etiological legend of divine visitation by angels or heavenly beings, disguised as humans, to deliver the promise of Isaac.  Avraham is 99, and Sarah not much younger, and though they are generous good hosts, they can’t resist a snicker at the prediction of a baby. Contrast that message carried by the same messengers to Sodom and Gomorrah of threat, anticipating inhospitality.  Avraham haggles with God through these intermediaries, on behalf of his kin Lot, to say 10 righteous could save an evil city: ours? 

Genesis 12

‘Lech lecha’ – get up and go! Here begins the new cycle, a new Torah portion, and a shift from the primeval myths of origins of humanity and peoples, to the patriarchal account of the origins of ‘our’ people.

Some call it the ‘Abrahamic ecumene’, that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all appropriate Abraham as a root narrative.

This first chapter in the cycle sketches Avram coming from Haran, and also sojourning in Egypt, personification of migrations restated throughout the biblical story. Like Canadians claiming roots in Europe and in Asia, this story starts in both Asia and Africa. Where do ‘we’ come from?

Who are ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ of our collective identities?

The trip into Egypt gives us the first of several ‘tell them you’re my sister, not my wife’ stories. These are not historical romances or bodice-rippers for Harlequin – they are arguments about assimilation threats when a people is a minority, or resident aliens.

I like to imagine the matriarchs as running the business of the caravan, a small nomadic tribe, not as individual agents, or ‘typical women’. If Sarai is the wife of Avram, the other tribe just kills him and woos her. If she is the sister, they are hoping for favour from him, before they woo her – and he likely has the ownership of the whole tribe.

This is also a precursor of tales of plagues in Egypt, leading pharaoh to ‘let my people go’. How does Avram get out of Egypt with stuff?

Genesis 11

The myth of Babel comes at the ‘us and them’ issues of peoples’ differences in a story of language. One language, with few words, and one common technological enterprise, becomes many languages, pursuing many ends.

Like the story of being east of Eden, is that simply a curse? I say not, that this tale of diversity is affirmation, and Pentecost in Acts doesn’t reverse the curse, but fulfills the promise of Babel.

Don’t just skip the ‘toledot’ of Shem, associated with roots, places and peoples running east from Palestine – construing 10 generations from Noah to Avram, to balance 10 from Adam to Noah, primeval tales of the boot & reboot of humanity!

As the primeval myths give way to something more legendary and epic, we start to recognize more of the geography. There is asserted a human migration from the Tigris-Euphrates valleys of Iraq and Iran, by way of Syria and Turkey. From Ur of Chaldea, we reached Haran.

Notice this set of toledot, with fathers of first-born in their early 30’s, and life-spans half or a quarter of the earlier figures, on their way to our shorter ‘120 years’. We don’t know the stories of many on the liset, but those we do come near the end, the grand-father and father of Avram, leaving the Tigris Euphrates and arriving ‘over the top’ around desert to lands north of Palestine.

We are ready for the story of Babel, and then the toledot of Avram.

Genesis 10

These toledot include the names of places, and of tribes and groups, some already familiar to us. There is overlap and repetition, reflecting the interleaving of the competing sources. From an old perspective in Palestine or Iraq, this was a recital of the surrounding places and peoples.

Have you tried the map exercise of Adam Shoalts? Start drawing a map of your home country and people, and neighbours – see what you omit or exaggerate. Then start again, with a bigger picture, more inclusive. It’s a story about what matters, not simply what exists.

Here’s an account of how the nations relate to their common origins: Shem, associated with places and peoples of Asia, Ham associated with places and peoples of Africa, and Japheth associated with places and peoples of Europe – their clan-groupings, by their nations.

One vicious line of interpretation applied a race bias against Africans – but the original affirmed ‘our’ Asian lineage from Shem, denigrating both Europeans and Africans! If the alternative theology is that different Gods created different peoples from different soils, this myth offers a greater source of common humanity, while recognizing ethnic and regional associations.

Genesis 9

God reiterates the command to Noah and his 3 sons, in the same words as offered the original humans: be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The Noahic covenant is different from the Adamic one: vegetarians may now become carnivores, and non-human creatures should fear the humans.

There is a kasrut limit on eating live pieces carved off a still-living beast. Either humans or animals who kill a human shall have some punishment. Prohibition of murder or other killing is punished by vengeance – but not by vendetta. The rationale is found in the ‘image of God’ reasoning.

The covenant is marked by a bow, (as in ‘bow and arrow’, not ‘ribbon tied in a bow), a rainbow, hung up and pointed away from the humans, with no immediate threat.

Immediately, the tale turns to farce: Noah makes wine from the vine, and passes out drunk in his tent. His middle son violates his privacy, sees his father’s shame, and gossips it to his brothers. They show greater respect, and approach Dad walking backwards with a blanket. Shem will be a host to Japeth, the chosen peoples.

There’s some polemic about how some peoples have always been crude, and others couth. The legend insults Canaanites – but in the next chapter, as Ham is associated with Africans, the invidious reading of racial inequality is given a pretext. What did you hear?

Who is your daddy? Ham, Canaan, Egypt, Africa. Shem, Mesopotamia and Asia. Japeth, the nomadic chosen people. The story was never intended to be

read by outsiders about strangers, but only by those who claim first person identity with one of the brothers (and later with one of the 12 brothers)

Genesis 8

Go ahead – check your timeline and the math of 7 days, 40 days, 150 days, from the second month to the tenth month. This is not a historic account of facts. God remembers the ark load, and returns the sphere of order amid the chaos of the deeps and beyond the heavens. This is epic, legendary scale.

Add another 40 days, then send a dove – which returns unable to alight anywhere. Send another a week later – and it returns with an olive branch, the symbol and image of peace-making in our time. Months later, over a year from the first rain, the occupants of the ark may re-inhabit the earth.

In post-exilic times, the idea of a small diaspora acting as the preserver of life, and the breeding and seeding base for re-claiming the earth. God makes peace with the land, relieving its curse, and with the occupants of the ark.

The passengers offer sacrifice of the ‘spare’ clean animals, and God promises relief, and accepts a lower standard from humans, revealed as prone to violence, violating the relationships intended among humans and creation.

The promise asserts ‘nevermore’, and we cling to that hope. The good creation is not malevolent and threatening, nor is God barely restraining abusive anger. This is more of God’s self-limiting, kenotic or self-emptying to make room for relationship with free humans with agency.

Genesis 7

These 3 chapters, c.6 to c.8, change the previous rhythm of big chunks of either the later voice P or the earlier voice J. Here, the interweaving is in smaller pieces with smoother seams. This myth has long mattered to us, inviting integration and reconciliation of different positions on ‘just deserts’.

In our age, the apocalyptic threats are usually construed as environmental disasters or global technological warfare. The script points out a set of evils, and asserts dystopian outcomes. We are invited to a polarizing worldview, with or without a heroic intervention or survival. Watch some current movies!

In contrast with our childish vision of “two by two”, notice that seven pairs of clean animals and seven pairs of birds are prescribed. This makes sacrificial offerings without extermination possible at the end of the flood.

Again, I find humour in the received account. The ark is not a navigable ship, but a clumsy box, which would turn turtle. How would it smell, and how would the occupants co-exist? I prefer to imagine our globe as our ark, raising the same questions. Noah is not heroic like the Mesopotamian protagonists.

The text visualizes the gates of chaos, the sluice-gates of the skies and the fountains of the deep flooding out the earth, 15 cubits deep, enough to drown all flesh. How deep would it have to be to cover mountain-tops? The roots of the myths are likely tied to regular and exceptional floods of the great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Nile, and Africa.

The duration of the flood is not just 40 days and 40 nights, but 150 days – a long trip, for some creatures’ lives and gestation periods. I noticed last week that the super-humans, giants, and various monsters were washed away, not

saved by the ark. Our unity as survivors and offspring of the 3 sons of Noah is a return to the earlier claim to our common humanity in Adam.

ARK to BABEL: Reading Week from June 10

Garret Talk June 10, Tues June 12

In the first week of this year, we’ve been reading the ‘ante-deluvian’ age, the toledot of the created heavens and earth, the toledot of Adam, and the toledot of Noah. That has already been a rich irreconcilable set of mythic repetition. 

In our relentlessly progressive culture, ‘antedeluvian’ is a pejorative term for being out-of-date. What did the story-telling sound like in other eras?  Were people in those days stupid or gullible – or reading differently, as we may now? 

Our myths of prehistory teach us that all humanity shares one origin with one God, and other humans cannot be reduced to sub-human or ‘not-yet’ human ‘other’, in our worldview.  Deeply understood, these myths challenge racist, homicidal and genocidal tyrannies.   

Is creation ex nihilo, ‘out of nothing’, or alternatively, ‘ordered from chaos’, out of the depths, tohu va bohu? What does it mean to say we are made from clay and breath, earth and spirit, body and soul, male and female?   

What do you understand as being made imageo dei, a human created ‘in the image of God’?  When is a child said to be ‘the spitting image’ of an ancestor?  How does our individual intersectional identity related to collective identities? 

What is fundamental to human nature and destiny, and why were we created, within all of creation?  What do we make of paradise or an Edenic original state, and the exercise of choice and freedom by the woman and man to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?   

Was it ‘original sin’, punished by a curse, or an original blessing, leading to the full humanity of mortality and work?  The first two children differ, and one kills the other: ‘am I my brother’s keeper’?  What is Cain like, and what does the ‘mark of Cain’ mean? Are we made for subsistence hunting and gathering, agriculture, or urban technological development?   

Genesis answered none of those questions in the first 6 chapters – but who wants to have the right answers to the wrong questions?  These foundational myths, and shape our worldview.  God knows how you might revisit conversations of eugenics or euthanasia, law and order, freedom and tyranny.   

Is sin a way of talking about the difference between our created purpose and nature, and our actual identity and expression of our humanity among other humans, and within creation?  Is it a good thing to be ‘east of Eden’?  Are we heading toward a new garden and/or a new city? 

This week we complete the toledot of Adam and Noah, and on Saturday, we start the toledot of Avram, about which we may pause to reflect next Sunday.  We already have Noah and his ark – let’s see what floats his boat, and recall the smaller stories embedded in the journey.   

God makes a deal with Noah, and the story accounts for the diversity of peoples descended from one boatload.  Friday we revisit that whole ‘unity and diversity’ theme so dear to liberals like us, in the Babel myth.  By the weekend, we may be ready for ‘get up and go’, lech lecha, with Avram and Sarai! 

Daily Content Outline 

Monday June 11: Genesis Chapter 7

The flood comes once the ark is loaded, with 7 days prior notice, when Noah is 600 years old. There is redundancy and duplication throughout this story, and more than one pair of some creatures.  40 and 40 nights it does more than rain – the sluice-gates are opened, releasing the waters held back since creation – and the waters swell for 150 days.  Once all others have died around them, the 3 branches of Noah’s family are the only available ancestors for any of us, just as Cain, Abel, and Seth were the 3 branches of Adam’s humankind.  Alien mutants are gone – just us mortals left. 

Tuesday January 10: Chapter 8

The flood subsides, the waters contained again as at creation, abating after 150 days.  The ark grounds on the top of the highest mountain to surface first, and it takes another 40 days till Noah sent the first raven, then a dove to seek dry land.  7 days more elapses before the dove returns with the famous olive branch, and 7 more before the dove flies off and does not return. Noah unloads the ark – and slaughters some creatures in thanksgiving.   Some traditions manage this from the 7 pairs brought aboard – others by procreation while the ark is sailing.  Have you lived such long seasons in your own ark, or felt the anticipation of nearly-ended times?  Did it seem endless?  Did it stink?  

Wednesday January 11: Genesis Chapter 9 

Here’s another deceptively familiar story of the rainbow.  God makes a more restrictive covenant with Noah than with Adam – dominion, as east of Eden, and vengeance for murder, as for Cain – meat as well as vegetarian diet – but no mixing meat and dairy dishes!   Don’t skip over the legend of Noah’s drunken shame, and Ham’s failure to preserve Noah’s dignity. There’s some polemic about how some peoples have always been crude, and others couth. The legend insults Canaanites – but in the next chapter, as Ham is associated with Africans, the invidious reading of racial inequality is given a pretext.  What did you hear? 

Thursday, January 12: Genesis Chapter 10

Here’s an account of how the nations relate to their common origins: Shem, associated with places and peoples of Asia, Ham associated with places and peoples of Africa, and Japheth associated with places and peoples of Europe – their clan-groupings, by their nations.  One vicious line of interpretation applied a race bias against Africans – but the original affirmed ‘our’ Asian lineage from Shem, denigrating both Europeans and Africans!  If the alternative theology is that different Gods created different peoples from different soils, this myth offers a greater source of common humanity, while recognizing ethnic and regional associations.  

Friday January 13: Genesis Chapter 11 

The myth of Babel comes at the ‘us and them’ issues of peoples’ differences in a story of language.  One language, with few words, and one common technological enterprise, becomes many languages, pursuing many ends.  Like the story of being east of Eden, is that simply a curse?  I say not, that this tale of diversity is affirmation, and Pentecost in Acts doesn’t reverse the curse, but fulfills the promise of Babel.   Don’t just skip the ‘toledot’ of Shem, associated with roots, places and peoples running east from Palestine – construing 10 generations from Noah to Avram, to balance 10 from Adam to Noah, primeval tales of the boot & reboot of humanity! 

Saturday January 14: Genesis Chapter 12

‘Lech lecha’ – get up and go!  Here begins the new cycle, a new Torah portion, and a shift from the primeval myths of origins of humanity and peoples, to the patriarchal account of the origins of ‘our’ people.  Some call it the ‘Abrahamic ecumene’, that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all appropriate Abraham as a root narrative.  This first chapter in the cycle sketches Avram coming from Haran, and also sojourning in Egypt, personification of migrations restated throughout the biblical story.  Like Canadians claiming roots in Europe and Asia, this story starts in both Asia and Africa.  Where do ‘we’ come from, who are ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ of our collective identities? 

Genesis 6

 

The first 4 verses don’t flow - perhaps I’d have put them before chapter 5. Post-exilic editors in the Second Temple had different pressures in anthologizing sources already well-known and ancient. This is old ‘J’ earthy legendary style. 

Why keep this scrap?  Compare other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) myths, right up to the Greeks, and echoed by the Romans.  Gods marry humans, and yield super-humans – myth-making like the Marvel empire of today. 

The ‘moral of the story’ is tacked on:  to shorten human lifespans to 120 years, and to set up the extermination of these super-humans in the flood.  This way biblical anthropology can return to its original one-race of mortals. 

Jahweh God is disappointed then angry at humanity, and decides to clear the decks of all humans, animals, and birds.  (Flood is no way to purge sea-creatures, and the Leviathan myths were left ambiguous in Genesis’ creations. 

Noah is excepted, finding gracious divine mercy, or earning it by being good.  Was he just better than his peers, or righteous in any age?  The rabbis debated it for centuries.  I find Noah is flawed, needing divine grace and mercy to live. 

There’s a brief allusion to toledot to come – these are the generations of Noah, beginning with 3 sons, not just one eldest plus ‘other sons and daughters’.  This is enumerated later in relation to Asian, African, and Mediterranean peoples. 

The vices of the racializing use of Noah’s 3 sons (Ham as black) are well-known. As with the heterosexist misogynist reading of creation myths, is it intrinsic, or is the original virtue an assertion that we are all siblings and one extended family? 

God prescribes an ark, and the people and creatures (plus food) to be aboard the ark, to survive calamity.  What’s the ark you are building, and who’s your clan that you’re gathering, and what creatures get to share the ride with you? 

Timothy Finlay wrote ‘Not Wanted on the Voyage.’ Cartoons show unicorns and dinosaurs missing the boat.  Gary Larsen’s ‘Far Side’ shows Noah belatedly moving the carnivores to separate decks.  Enjoy the paradoxes of the vision! 

The ark offers an ecological and ecumenical vision:  ‘we’re all in the same boat’.  The World Council of Churches logo is an ark with cross.  We’re also all off the same boat – and all traditions toy with which in-laws declined the invitation. 

My vision of the ark is comic – a square, crowded, un-navigable boat that would turn turtle.  It’s a parody of the myths of heroes sailing a fast ship on a quest.  Sadly, religious traditions suppress humour, irony, and paradox too often. 

Relax on this story as bad biology.  This is not an answer to those questions, but a moral tale, a myth of meaning and purpose.  It’s not an empirically verified historic account of a specific catastrophe. That doesn’t make it less true.  

Let’s accept the pontifical assertion that Noah was obedient to the impossible task assigned to him by Jahweh God.  Some scholars even attribute that last clause to the ‘P’ source, to allow Noah fallibility and mortal humanity. 

Genesis 5

Do you recognize the return to the last editorial voice? We last heard the Priestly source in the first creation story, then quiet through the older stories which speak of Jahweh God in earthier terms.   

We deride the recitals of ‘begatitudes’, the string of men with the age they were at the birth of their key firstborn son, and their age at death.  The pattern varies, generally shortening lifespans, with younger fathers. What does it mean? 

The toledot are more than an simplified geneology.  ‘Etiological’ legends tell the origins of place-names, ethnicities, or other shared identity markers.  Toledot may be like preachers’ notes from a time when we knew all the stories. 

Take the whole day to hear the echoes and wonder – from the original human, through Seth’s lineage, to Noah and his 3 sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  What does it mean, imageo dei, to be the spitting image of divinity and of dad? 

Is Enosh entirely different than Enoch, the urban one, in the previous story?  Why does Lamech move from early to late in the antediluvian period, and name his son Enoch, a note of reconciliation with the earlier source. 

Lamech’s father Methusaleh births latest, and lives longest, a marker of stature.  Enoch does not clearly die, occultation leading to lots of messianic speculation in the centuries before and after Jesus – a bit like Elijah, taken up, not buried.  

Kenan sounds a lot like Canaan to me – especially in ancient Hebrew written in consonants only and given vowels and sounds by scholars’ hypotheses.  That’s a start to your imagining of what this code might once have meant, and still does. 

The conclusion of the chapter is its rationale:  how does Noah, the last of the ante-deluvians, fit between the first creation myths and human prehistory?  The cursed ground and human burdens of labour might find relief, in this name. 

Some scholars see verse 29, with its rationale for Noah’s name, and link to the other Jahweh God stories, as the ‘J’ voice inserted in an otherwise ‘P’ chapter.  It’s tough to reconcile the two sets of creation and antediluvian myths, eh? 

With the completion of this bridge by the editorial voice, we are ready to enjoy the legend, saga, epic tale of Noah.  I find the rest of chapters 6 to 8 a parody of heroic myths like Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish, Egyptian or Mesopotamian floods. 

 

Genesis 4

Now that the first couple, gendered and mortal, live East of Eden, they know one another, and she conceives and bears.  First Kayin, then Hevel – and the first pair of siblings produces the first fratricide.   

The distinction between farmer and shepherd is introduced as a fundamental difference between cultural identities.  God Yahweh likes Hevel the shepherd’s choice fat, and Kayin’s envy is an opportunity for sin, murderous.   

The paternal Jahweh God asks Kayin about Hevel, who resists disclosure and denies agency.  The cursed ground now curses Kayin to no yield, forcing him to exile, nomadic refugee status, a former farmer alienated from homeland. 

Kayin haggles, fearing that others will murder him.  (The myths don’t try to reconcile where the other humans come from, just tell of these ancestors.)  God prohibits murder even of the vulnerable wanderer, with vengeance due murder. 

So the first couple lived East of Eden, labouring for birth and yield, and one son was buried and the other exiled.  The surviving son cannot even labour for yield from the ground, exiled to the desert lands of Nod. 

Kayin’s wife conceives and bears, and Kayin builds a city for the first son Enoch, and calls the city Enoch.  We now have urban culture to add to shepherds and farmers. Four generations follow, to Lamech, where the narrative resumes. 

From Adah and Zillah come 3 sons and a daughter, ancestors of more specific subcultures: nomadic keepers of livestock, making of music, and metalworking.  This is an introduction to toledot generations of more than individual bloodlines. 

Lamech, 4th generation from Kayin, urbanite, patriarch of these newer subcultures, escalates the prohibition of murder with quid pro quo vengeance to a multiplied threat of vendetta, exponential tribal reprisals for lesser offences.   

Meanwhile, back at the farm, but outside the gates of the garden, Seth is born.  His son, Enosh, ‘mortal’, offers another toledot to the morally ambiguous urbanites issuing from Kayin.  Crucially, this people begins to worship Jahweh. 

These are the bridges from the first humans to Noah.  These are the antideluvians, from before the flood.  One more day, then we enter that story cycle, but don’t rush yet! 

Genesis 3

 

Now that the stage for the second creation story is set, we get narrative.  The pair of humans make a choice.  It takes the risk despite the warning of God Jahweh.  It’s an old myth, this one, with greater truths than modern wisdom. 

Unlearn enough to relearn the story.  The snake misconstrues to the woman the warning as a prohibition of any tree fruit eating.  The woman narrows it more, but adds ‘touch’, as a choice which draws the consequence of mortality. 

The snake denies that mortality will be the consequence of choosing and knowing.  Rather, snake claims that seeing as God Jahweh will be the outcome.  The woman reviews motives, and makes the decision to eat. The man just eats. 

Pause on the motives, with the first woman.  The tree is nourishing, a creation feeding a creature.  It is beautiful, feeding the human soul and spirit.  It gives wisdom, feeding mind and heart.  Nope, she’s not just seeking genital sex acts. 

In a garden, given enough, what are out appetites?  Do we satisfy them and share the things that feed our full humanity: body, soul, spirit, mind and heart?  Is knowledge, and concomitant mortality, simply a curse – or a blessing? 

The first consequence is self-awareness.  Those naked and unashamed now ‘sew fig leaves’ in a futile cover-up.  They then dissemble to God, passing blame to each other, the snake, even God, about the gap between what was or is. 

The ancient myth of an endearing Jahweh God walking in the garden need not assume the voice of doom. Perhaps a concerned parent is closer, inviting a child to accept agency and its consequences: ‘I did it’ – and it had effects! 

God declares consequences for the snake, cursed and condemned to enmity with humans.  The snake is demeaned to its belly – and to be an exception to the benign relationships between humans and other creatures.  

The consequence for the woman is not called a curse.  Labour in childbirth (and early mortality risks) will result from her appetite for co-creation and being less incomplete.  Would she have had fully human children if immortal?  

The consequence for the may is not called a curse.  The ground is cursed, less fertile to feed the humans than in the garden.  Labour in agriculture is required for the desired harvest from dust and clay, to which we return. 

Yes, it reads from one gendered culture to another, proposing distinctive appetites and roles, and inevitable tensions between and among us.  How rigid and constricting are those identities in the text?  Who narrowed them? 

That the woman is the mother of all who lived is a good thing.  That the futility of fig leaves is replaced by the comfort and protection of skins is a good thing.  The humans have knowledge of good and evil: a divine, now also human thing. 

God acknowledges the way in which the humans are now more like the divine.  Warning of consequences of eating from one tree had not deterred the human.  There is another tree, the tree of life, which God now denies the mortals. 

We live East of Eden, with the gates to the garden guarded from living mortals.  Can we return to the garden, individually or collectively?  Keep reading – labour construct a world to feed human appetites  of body, soul, spirit, mind and heart!  

Genesis 2

The start of the second creation story does not fit smoothly with the first.  Let’s not reconcile the stories, but savour each on its own terms.  Here we get humans in a garden as the closer focus of the older Jahwist voice. 

Over the decades, I’ve enjoyed the Hebrew play on words of humanity made of clay and breath, adamah and ish, to create gendered adam and issah.  God makes a hermaphrodite, and separates it into 2 partial beings needing others. 

Back in lush southern Ontario by Lake Huron, I’m relishing the waters swelling from the water table in rivers.  Their names allude to central Africa source, and Nile, then Tigris Euphrates: a ‘Fertile Crescent’.  The imagery remains poetic. 

The humans may be nourished by anything in the garden.  However, God warns that eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil will have a consequence of mortality.  One original hermaphrodite vegetarian immortal gets the word. 

Only then does God add creatures, so the h’adam will not be alone.  The human gets to name the creatures, construing its context.  However, the one human is alone, without a peer companion.  Human is distinct from non-human. 

Let’s not confuse the way the first story framed ‘what is it to be human in creation among creatures’ with this alternative.  Nor let us reconcile or ‘fix’ them before we sweat it out.  Stakes are eugenics, euthanasia, technology, ecology...  

Take a ‘paper doll’ figure, and rip it in half from head to crotch.  Jahweh God takes each from the side of the other, raw wounds and raged edges and all, in my reading of this second story. We seek others, forever, to be less incomplete. 

Let’s echo the Hebrew play on words: God took one hermaphrodite vegetarian immortal hu-man and took it apart into a-man and wo-man, distinctive, complementary, yet of the same hu-man essentials, called ‘flesh and bone’. 

Each leaves our partial household of origin, the prior generation’s attempt to become less incomplete, and re-forms that ‘flesh and bone’ essential humanity, with others.  Some of us make several, serial attempts. 

Compulsory binary heterosexism is a rude narrowing of the vision.  Admission of our needs for others to be less incomplete re-sets a lot of ‘normal’ standards as they exceed statistical description to claim moral authority against minorities. 

The closing note affirms this first pair, torn from the solitary original, was naked and unashamed.  The distinction is made with their future state, and ours, which we confess as ‘clothed and shamed’.  Sartor Resartus, as Carlyle wrote. 

Close your eyes – what do these two look like?  Now look again for your assumptions of secondary gender features, skin pigmentation and hair, relative size and shape, and ‘fitness’ or abled-ness.  Try a few more ‘torn paper dolls’. 

Genesis 1

CREATION TO ARK 

Monday June 04 

Genesis Chapter 1 

Reading aloud or listening together right through the chapter, is worth the time, particularly in a variety of modern translations, rather than the King James or Authorized Version around which so many cultural battle lines have been drawn. 

This is not ex nihilo but tohu va bohu, not ‘from nothing’ but ‘out of the depths’, reopening many conversations about science and religion, and about humanity and environment.  Created time and space begins, not the elemental universe. 

The post-modern slogan ‘language is differential, not referential’ helps me read this first creation myth.  Distinctions are drawn: light from darkness, and so on.  Close your eyes, to visualize this cosmology, not as description, but imagery. 

Separate ‘one from the other’, not ‘better or worse’, in taxonomies to construe our world – I add the first 4 verses of chapter 2, the 7th day and summary in this Priestly (Second Temple, 500BCE) editorial frame putting order to chaos. 

Relish the fecundity and fertility of this creation, beginning with vegetation, seasons and times, then multiplying creatures of sea then land then air, before humanity is created as distinct yet in relationship to these first creatures. 

Humanity, male and female in the image of God, are last added on the last working day of the week.  What is imageo dei – quintessentially human, distinct from other creatures? What is our nature and destiny, meaning or purpose? 

The first creation myth culminates with Sabbath, for Godly rest.  In a very few decades, we have surrendered the priority of Sabbath in our subculture, to a new ‘24/7’ drivenness rooted in alternative myths of technology and progress. 

This first (probably among the last additions in post-exilic times) story is named at the end, rather the beginning, with the final editors’ organizing principle of toledot, ‘generations’, or ‘begatitudes’ – here, of created heavens and earth. 

18 months ago, I surveyed some preaching and teaching themes (link), but this summer my objective is only 250 to 500 words a day of notes.  I hope this sets a threshold of 5-10 minutes a day, 30-60 minutes to read along. 

Below, in the www.hereticslikeus.com post, is the NRSV text daily, but not on the www.trinityunitedkw.ca, and similarly, www.billbrucewords.com will only have the weekly posts.  Find your own preferred translation, and compare it! 

 

The audio is a reading aloud of The Schocken Bible translation by Everett Fox, professor husband of a rabbi in the northeastern USA.  Can you identify who produced your translation, in what context?   

GENESIS: 
“The Gospel According to Torah”
Posted daily at www.hereticslikeus.com
Weekly summaries also at www.billbrucewords.com
Concurrently at www.trinityunitedkw.ca
Summer Reading 2018

CREATION TO ARK
Reading Week from June 3
Garret Talk June 3, Tues June 5
Genesis 1 to 6: Mon June 4 to Sat June 9

Logistics

You may have read what I posted last Sunday as Introduction to invite people to participate in this summer reading of Genesis.  June 1, I posted 3 more long “In the Beginning” notes, “Planning a Reading”, “Patronizing Patriarchy”, and “Reading about Reading”.  This note rambles for 2400 words – quit anytime!

Reading all 50 chapters of Genesis, a chapter a day, 6 days a week, may be an unfamiliar pace for you.  Digital audio on CD for your car, thumb drive for other devices, and 250-500 words of posted notes, lets you listen 5-10 minutes a day, or 30-60 minutes once a week.    Can you find, make, or spend the time?

When will you plan to set aside time, daily and/or weekly?  Who might you invite to join you in this project?  Some people like the sense of a virtual community and conversation. Others appreciate ‘a-synchronous’ communication, on long car rides, or as holy-day re-creation holiday recreation.

In the ‘Introduction’ post, I summarized what translation I chose to read: The Schocken Bible, translated by Everett Fox.  You are free to follow one or more different versions, to compare.    In any event, ‘Genesis’ is the first book in any Hebrew bible, or Tanakh, and of the Hebrew Scriptures in any Christian bible.  

Genesis is also the first of a set of five books of Torah, resting in the tabernacle in a synagogue, the focal point of services, read from the bima with varying ceremony, as Christians do with our longer collection.  “Pick a bible, and make it yours”, as the woman who baptized, confirmed, and ordained me would say.

‘JEDP’: Voices in a Chorus

Traditional claims that Moses wrote the 5 books of Torah, or scribed them as God dictated them, sound odd to modern ears.  The claim of authority, weight, or authorship being greater than any one individual’s genius is still asserted by religious communities of readers.  The 19th and 20th centuries saw scholars from Germany and across Europe developing various ‘source’ hypotheses to understand patterns, repetitions, and other relationships among the 5 books. 

Within the 50 chapters we will read, I find it helpful as a hypothesis to imagine a chorus of voices, analogous to the 4 part musical SATB harmony in a lot of traditional church music: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass.  Sure, further distinctions can be drawn, personality types generalized, but SATB works most of the time.   The acronym in this case is ‘JEDP’, each standing for a ‘voice’ or ‘section’ in this ancient chorus:

    J texts often call God ‘Yahweh’ (‘Jahwist’ in German books).  Not just the name for God, but the person-like character of God becomes recognizable from the second creation story when God can’t find the humans in the garden, then is surprised by their choices.  Lots of great stories with ancient parallels in other oral and written cultures are edited and woven into this ‘voice’.  I prefer the hypothesis that the crucial edition of J was wrestled into shape nearly 1000 years before Jesus.  That’s called ‘10th century BCE’, or ‘the 900’s BCE’, or ‘before Common Era’.  Imagine the ‘united kingdom’ of Israel (north) and Judah (south), capital Jerusalem, under David then Solomon, with the 1st Temple centre telling the J story version of ‘who we are and how we experienced God’.

    E texts often call God ‘Elohim’.  Not just the label, but the way God works according to this version becomes recognizable, with lots of angels and dreams mediating between the divine and the human.  If E were a partisan ‘spin doctor’ with some axes to grind in relation to the received wisdom of the court and the powers that be, it would be a political voice inspired by the prophets of the 8th C BCE (the 700’s) in Israel, objecting to the way the northern 10 tribes were being governed, with the rich getting richer, and assimilation into cosmopolitan ‘globalization’ culture.  

    D texts are easiest to ‘hear’ by reading Deuteronomy, the ‘2nd law’ book, and once you get an ‘ear’ for it, sounding elsewhere in the Torah we have received.  Scholars imagine somebody rewriting history in reflection back on the bitter experience not only of the 730BCE fall of Israel to Assyria, but also of the 586BCE deportation of Judah’s elite to Babylon.  Things looked so good in J days, then E warned us – so what went wrong?  The rationalization of punishment by God through other nations, holding out hope for a remnant’s survival, carries these countermelodies.

    P texts are best ‘heard’ from Leviticus, the codes of purity and sacrifice, perhaps least familiar and disrespected by our generations, but reflecting a deep heritage from the 2nd Temple built after 520BCE under Persian, Greek, and Roman empires to inform and express a religious identity translated into religious practices for scattered, or ‘diaspora’ communities.  This is the ineffable inscrutable God of the 1st creation story, demanding obedience in practice (‘orthopraxy’ nor ‘orthodoxy’).

Although I can hear my colleagues screaming qualification or correction, I plan to leave ‘JEDP’ source theory there, with the crude concept of a ‘chorus of voices singing in 4 parts’ as a helpful general hypothesis.  Nobody has seen a document which was one of J, E, D, or P, yet I find it helps me to read, and has helped me help others to read, Genesis.  You be the judge of its effectiveness.

Toledot

My reading of Genesis begins with another assumption, tried and tested in various communities and contexts, over some decades, that toledot is a key concept organizing the book.  The word toledot, and the phrases translated variously as ‘these are the generations of’ or ‘these are the begettings of’, and the texts we make fun of as ‘begatitudes’ since in the King James Version, a father begets a son, convey a whole worldview.  Yes, it is patriarchal, and based in inheritance traditions of primogeniture (oldest son gets the stuff).  However, here in Genesis, and throughout Torah, it is far more, and far less, than that.

I tend to shuffle the 50 chapters of Genesis into 4 parts, based on toledot , and I hope you find it helpful  began with the toledot of Adam (1-11) Abraham (12-25), Jacob (25-36) and Joseph (36-50).   Reading that book, in the same structure that shapes this study (see the oldest 2008 posts on this blog), I heard the word differently:

Toledot of Adam (and of Noah) Chapter 1-11 places us, the community of hearers, in Adam’s people, descended from Noah, part of the one and only human race, with a shared mythic ancestry.  Other groups, enemies, can’t be dismissed as non-human, sub-human, or creatures of some competing god.  Everything was created tohu va bohu, which as Catherine Keller reminds us in ‘Face of the Deep’, does not mean creation ex nihilo, creation from nothing.  Reading and hearing, we imagine waters, and chaos.  The fecundity of nature is celebrated with the same words that are repeated for the Hebrews in Egypt: teeming, multiplying, exceedingly.  We begin in fratricide, and Noah released from the ark with 3 sons scattering to populate Europe, Asia, and Africa. Moses’ very name means ‘pulled from water’.

Toledot of Abraham Chapter 12-25 places us, the community of hearers, in Abraham’s people, called out from Ur to Haran, and on into Palestine.  Lech lecha , ‘get up and go’, is the first synagogue portion in this cycle, as Abram and Sarai leave their ancestors, then Terah, following a promise.  Read or heard in its integrity, one gets a sense of legend and saga, less than a myth but more than a history, the tales a mother tells a child about roots and origins. Many stories are tied to places or groups of people, especially in the long ‘begatitudes’ of geneology.  The more you know the associations of each proper name with stories, the easier they are to remember.  Ishmael, the first child, is identified with Arabs, claimed by Islam.  Isaac, Sarai’s child, is identified with Israel.  In turn his son Esau is identified with Edom, a territory of red earth on the trade routes south to Egypt or Africa, while Jacob or Israel is the next patriarch.

Toledot of Jacob, Chapters 25-36 appears to tell about one guy and his 12 children by 4 mothers, placing us, the community of hearers, in Israel, within and among the 12 tribes.  The mothers are met in ‘the old country’. Jacob is then ‘on the lam’.  Leah’s children (and those of her maid) are associated with northern territories of Israel, and Rachel’s (and her maid’s) with southern heartland of Judea. The stories we tell our children about our own tribes and clans make this mix of morality and geography familiar, though they won’t fit modern demands for historicity, facticity, or even domestic morality.  The analogy of family for the politics of a nation offers tools for claiming unity and respecting difference.

Toledot  of Joseph, Chapters 36-50 appears to present the second-youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel, bringing us, the community of hearers, as Israel, the 12 tribes, a heritage in the land of Goshen, in Egypt.  This one too starts with a narrative of a young man sojourning as an alien, as Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, and thrives to high civil service. Famine drives the rest of his brothers into his arms, and security in Egypt under Joseph’s patronage.  The deathbed blessing of each brother, by Jacob (Israel), foreshadows much about the centuries ahead.  By the end of the 50 chapters of Genesis, you belong within the story, and can construe the world in these terms.  Will you? 

Monday June 4: Genesis Chapter 1
The first creation story is deceptively familiar, the spirit moving over the face of the waters – but it gets stranger as you pay closer attention!  Imagine the vision of a dome separating the waters above and below our dry land, and holding the lights in the sky over us.  Savour the order of the six days of creation, (and in the opening verses of chapter 2, of Sabbath rest at the end).  This is the Priestly voice and ‘P’ tradition, imposing order on chaos.  This is one version of the origin of humankind, of ‘adam’, and the basis for ancient theology about what it was to be made human, in the image of God, in relationship to the non-human creation and to the divine.

Tuesday June 5: Genesis Chapter 2

The second creation story is also deceptively familiar – opening with our defining word ‘toledot’ or generations, repeated at the start of each of our 4 sections.  We start with dry land waiting for water and stream, till the Jahwist voice of the ‘J’ tradition tells a tale of God breathing spirit into clay, in complex wordplay.  Visualize a hermaphrodite human, placed in a garden, source of a river of 4 branches, to care for it and enjoy the fruits of it, except for a tree.  Here is another version of what it is to be human, clay and spirit, in relation to what is non-human, and what is divine – and newly gendered.  What is it to need, and to find, human company, and to be innocent and unashamed?

Wednesday June 6: Genesis Chapter 3

The story of the snake, the woman and the man in the garden is just as hard to hear, through the traditional interpretations of ‘fall’ that we assume or reject.    The snake tests the limits, the woman as first theologian and ethicist reflects and chooses, and the man just eats.  What is our original created blessing, what are its limits, and what has changed and how for mortals like us?   This God, whimsically taking a stroll in the garden, and surprised by the human’s shame,  is hardly all-seeing or all-powerful – but names the consequences of eating the prohibited fruit.  So is this about sex, knowledge, morality, shrewdness, responsibility, culpability – as Matthew Fox frames it: original sin, or original blessing?

Thursday June 7: Genesis Chapter 4

Can you relish another familiar tale, and hear it again as if for the first time?  The human and Havva his wife begat Kayin, then Hevel, the farmer and the shepherd.  Each offers first fruits to Yahweh, who prefers the sheep to the produce – and Kayin’s response is fratricide.    God asks ‘where’s Hevel’, and Kayin sulks ‘Am I the watcher of my brother?’   Another transgression of a boundary, and consequences, as the brother’s blood cries out to God from the soil, and Kayin faces exile and guilt and risk, save for the ‘mark’ that threatens vengeance for him and his toledot, Enoch to Lamech, seven-fold become seventy-seven fold.  The chapter ends with a new line, a third son Seth, and in turn Enosh, meaning ‘mortal’.

Friday, June 8: Genesis Chapter 5

Here’s a whole chapter of toledot, begatitudes, lineages recited with the degenerating primeval lifespans of nearly a millennium, fantastic claims descending to more plausible mortality for the patriarchs to follow.  Are these legends, fables, etiological legends explaining the origins of place names and peoples?  Is this another way of articulating the origins of the species, or political roots of nationality and ethnicity?  Toledot is the editorial organizing key to this reading of Genesis in 4 parts,  and this chapter is nothing but begatitudes.  Take the whole day to hear the echoes and wonder – from the original human, through Seth’s lineage, to Noah and his 3 sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Saturday, June 9: Genesis Chapter 6

The strange legend of divine beings marrying human women sounds like ancient science fiction: aliens creating mutants. If so, it is an affirmation of old heroes and men of name – and a reason for God to reduce mortal life spans to 120.  God’s condemnation of human evil was not focused on or limited to those creatures, but on all humanity.    Only Noah was found righteous in his time – being less bad than his peers, or being good in any frame of reference? God prescribes an ark, and the people and creatures to be aboard the ark, to survive calamity.  What’s the ark you are building, and who’s your clan that you’re gathering, and what creatures get to share the ride with you?
 

Genesis: The Gospel According to Torah

GENESIS: 
“The Gospel According to Torah”
Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
And from www.hereticslikeus.com
Summer Reading 2018

‘IN THE BEGINNING #1 - PLANNING A READING’

On Trinity Sunday May 27 2018, I posted an invitation outline, online and onsite at ‘Trinity on Church’ in Kitchener. Join me, and join us, in a summer reading: Genesis (in June and July) and Romans (in August).  Here’s 1000 words more.

A handful of us just completed a reading of Joshua and Judges through Easter season.  In Lent a few more had enjoyed a reading of Mark. Those actively engaged were ready to keep going, but wanted me to invite more company.

I provide audio of my voice reading a daily portion, on CD, thumb drive, and online at my websites and www.trinityunitedkw.ca.  At weekly gatherings, we listen to other voices reading other translations, to begin lively discussions. 

“Don’t call it ‘Bible Study’’, they said.  “I’ve never laughed this much in ‘bible study’”, they said.  “Don’t try this alone at home”, they said.  Join us at ‘the Garret’, over the Apollo Cinema in Kitchener – or suggest other times or places.

Only in the past 500 years did we reimagine ‘reading’ as something one person does alone with a book, let alone from an electronic device.  Orality and aurality, reading aloud with others, is necessary, if not sufficient, to ‘read’ our bible.

Unschooled people can ‘read’ people, and ‘read’ situations well. ‘Literacy’, celebrated by ‘The Gospel in Solentiname’ of Ernesto Cardenale, and Paulo Freiere’s work in ‘conscientization’, is more than decoding marks on a page.

Readers enjoy being provoked to new questions and answers about people and the world, as we construe our world.  ‘Hermeneutics’ is the fancy word for patterns how we interpret experience and observation to one another.

Join this reading.  We need you reading with us, to reshape our reading.  Sure, we have read lots of Genesis before, but we have since changed, as has our context and our community – including you!  Change the sound of our chorus!

Reading aloud slows us down on those proper nouns, names of people and places, over which our eye may conveniently skip, but our tongue will trip.  We notice in study groups that a map is indispensible in reading, and that most bibles have good maps, if we use them.  

Decades (6, so far) of hearing the bible read aloud in worship and in study have changed what I echo.  Though I may just sound like any old white guy to you, people in my subculture will hear regional accents and emphases. I read surrounded by a host of witnesses. So do you. 

My virtual congregation or ‘bible study group’, and my voice, join a chorus, trying to harmonize or offer a countermelody, not always singing the melody line in unison. I can hear in my head various unique voices over the years. So can you.

The bible is not the word of God in my tradition.  It contains the word of God.  As a record of human experiences of the divine and of human nature and destiny, culled and restated over millennia, it’s a chorus of voices.  No one voice can capture or convey the layered harmonies and countermelodies.   Would you read differently, to more faithfully echo the original voices? Join our chorus!

The publisher Schocken in New York commissioned Everett Fox in 1971 to start this Torah translation.  He’s an academic, husband of a rabbi, father of kids, so it took him awhile, till 1995.  In 2014, they completed the Early Prophets.

Their approach is based on that of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig in their ‘B-R’ German translation of the Hebrew Bible.  ‘B-R’ began publication begun in Germany in 1925, completed by Buber in Jerusalem in 1962.  Fox uses their approach and method in English, using the German “B-R”, but attending to the sound of oral reading in English.

As this approach to making the Hebrew bible ‘speak in a German voice’ was developed and applied, Rosenzweig died in 1929, Buber resigned his academic posts in 1933 in protest, as Hitler came to power.  After 5 years of Jewish popular education outside the academies, Buber moved to Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1938, while it was within Mandate Palestine, governed by the UK.  Buber’s own ‘generation’ spans decades before, during, and after the Holocaust, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

Fox summarizes this approach to translation in part as:

… I have sought here primarily to echo the style of the original, believing that the Bible is best approached, at least at the beginning, on its own terms.  So I have presented the text in English dress but with a Hebraic voice…. guided by the principle that the Hebrew Bible, like much of the literature of antiquity, was meant to be read aloud, and that consequently it must be translated with careful attention to rhythm and sound.  The translation therefore tries to mimic the particular rhetoric of the Hebrew whenever possible, preserving such devices as repetition, allusion, alliteration, and wordplay.  It is intended to echo the Hebrew, and to lead the reader back to the sound structure and form of the original…. 

It seems too soon for me to revisit Genesis, since a reading in early 2017 in community in Calgary.  However, I’ve just got this one summer in Kitchener, and asked this crowd for half-time pace for the summer, and a rerun is easier for me.  

A.    I have already offered mp3 audio files on CDs and thumb drives onsite at Trinity on Church, with links at www.hereticslikeus.com and www.billbrucewords.com.  I also gave the whole set to the guy who administrates www.trinityunitedkw.ca, Keith Summers.

B.    I plan to post weekly, on Sundays, on both ‘billbrucewords’ and ‘hereticslikeus’, a summary note about the preceding and upcoming week, to equip your own reading or conversations, and audio links.  

C.    I plan to post daily at the ‘hereticslikeus’ site, Monday to Saturday, 250-500 words of comment, a chapter of Genesis, and a link to audio for the day – Keith plans to post the same content at the church site.

D.    I plan to welcome folks for 90 minute discussions each Sunday at 7pm, (except Canada Day, Civic Holiday, and Labour Day weekends), and each Tuesday at noon, at ‘the Garret’, above Apollo Cinema, Kitchener – call or email when you arrive outside the theatre lobby at 190 Ontario St!

E.    I am open to engaging others’ readings of Genesis, on any one or more Sunday afternoons or Monday afternoons or evenings (except holidays)  -get 2 or 3 friends, and sort out your reading, and how I could contribute!
 


‘IN THE BEGINNING #2 – PATRONIZING PATRIARCHY’

 On Trinity Sunday May 27 2018, I posted an invitation outline, online and onsite at ‘Trinity on Church’ in Kitchener. Join me, and join us, in a summer reading: Genesis (in June and July) and Romans (in August).  Here’s 1000 words more!

Our reading of Joshua and Judges in Easter season, ‘Settlers or Anarchists’, recognized how that text is associated with the land claims of the current government of the state of Israel, and with the land claims of settlers in Canada and more generally those of European colonial empires of the 19th century CE.   Does the bible encourage or justify genocidal imperial ambitions?

Our reading of Genesis faces the same challenges to the use of the text in the modern Middle East, or Canada’s historic treatment of aboriginal peoples, named in the recent TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) report.  Even more fundamentally, its account of humanity and environment, gender and collective identity, inform and express our cultural and economic constructions.

Why read Genesis with old WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) like me?  Why listen again to the DWEEBs (Dead White Educated European Boys) who ruined the world in the name of ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ or ‘Abrahamic Faith’?  Why revisit those Sunday School myths and fables?  Perhaps because your own intersectional identity connects with mine!

Most of the way I read Genesis comes from the congregations in which I have read it over the past 60 years, and the world around us, in urban Canada.  The ‘semantic field’ of any word is developed from every time I’ve seen or heard it used – and the more I use words in this context, the more the meaning changes.  Your voice, your semantic field for any word, can change mine – as we read.

Some of the way I read Genesis comes from feminist, gay and lesbian colleagues and friends in our United Church over the past 40 years.  As one friend puts it ‘I’d rather be a one-issue person than a no-issue person’! Semantics is not limited to diction, and our ‘hermeneutics’ or habits and patterns of interpretation, reveal endless variations at unexpected levels.  I’m not done.

The modern attempts to ‘rise above’ the text, or subject it to empirical sceptical scrutiny of its historicity, have been corrosive of its meaning and purpose, and of our own.  This summer’s ‘vocative’ reading intends to burn some basic neural pathways, so we recognize the narrative as ‘my story, our story, God’s story’ which is true in a broader sense than facticity.  We read parochially, not academically or bureaucratically – something unfamiliar to the over-schooled!

The myths of Genesis 1-11, from the first 2 creation stories to the saga of Noah, flood, and Ark, may surprise you with their familiarity and strangeness, when read in the summer of 2018 in our company!  What does it mean to say ‘I am a child of Adam, like all humans’, or ‘I am a child of Noah, like all humans’? Where were you in the first city, or in Babel, and after? How do you fit in creation, ‘in the image of God’?  How do you construe human nature and destiny? 

The transitional saga of Genesis 12-25, from mouth of the Tigris Euphrates north through Syria and Turkey then down through Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Arabia, Egypt and back, may feel stranger still, as you relearn the proper nouns used for places and peoples.  What does it mean to say ‘I am a child of Avram’ – Jewish, Christian, or Muslim?  Do we identify with Ishmael, or Yitzaak, or with Avram’s own choice to ‘get up and go’ and choose an identity beyond his father’s roots? How does gender and fertility relate to our individual and communal humanity, in the figures of Sarai, Hagar?

The cycle of stories in Genesis 25-36, the twins Yaakov and Esav, invite us to build our community of discourse at the individual literary level, and as representative of a story of peoples.  The ‘us and them’ conversation is raised to the domestic politics and civil wars of siblings and cousins, a powerful 20th century CE narrative.  Who is the good guy, and what’s your measure of Rivkah the matriarch?  Can you sort out the stories of Rachel and Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, as the mothers of 12 tribes, not only in the frame of Handmaids’ Tale?

The legendary epic from Genesis 37 may seem deceptively familiar as it was Disney-fied into heroic musical theatre.  What might you discern in context and balance with this summer’s reading of the whole of Genesis?  How does the rhythm of sibling rivalry get repeated over millennia?  What’s the message to generations serving their own Pharaohs, or identifying with their own economic migrant relatives? How will you read the rhetoric of reconciliation, and the ‘happily ever after’ foreshadowing of the sequels we all anticipate?

Is Genesis, and Christian reading of Genesis, unavoidably patriarchal, and thus necessarily misogynist, genocidal, and violent?  Is there a resistant or contrarian reading available?  What assumptions are operating in the dismissal of such ancient traditions, or reduction of these texts to narrow ‘literal’ readings?  Can you really have a constructive conversation with your secular, or evangelical, or Jewish or Muslim neighbours, if you haven’t practised with us glib liberal locals?


‘IN THE BEGINNING #3 – READING ABOUT READING’

On Trinity Sunday May 27 2018, I posted an invitation outline, online and onsite at ‘Trinity on Church’ in Kitchener. Join me, and join us, in a summer reading: Genesis (in June and July) and Romans (in August).  

I do give weight to written words, and I enjoy books, so here are a few close to hand as we begin this project together.  I acknowledge that they date me as a guy trained in the early 80’s, though I hope I kept learning since.  What are the books in the room with you, as you read or listen?

Translations and Editions of Genesis
I rely on a ‘proverbial stack of bibles’ in ‘the Garret’ where I stay during this transitional appointment in Kitchener, and invite groups to discuss this reading. People who start to read this stuff soon ask about translations and editions. Experts often have strong opinions of what is ‘best’, and judge each other by this choice.  We will be pulling these off the shelf on Sundays and Tuesdays:

1.    At the bottom of the bookshelf, a gift in 1979 from a young adult church group in London Ontario, and regularly pulled out for over 37 years in bible studies and sermon preparation, is “The Holy Bible in Four Translations”, 1972 edition, with preface by Billy Graham, commending it to ‘every committed Christian’ as ‘four outstanding versions for significant reasons:
a)    The King James Version (KJV) of 1611 – for elegant, if archaic, English that shaped our language and literature
b)    The New American Standard Bible (NAS) 1970 – for evangelical modern American English, with ‘dignity and original intent’
c)    The New English Bible (NEB) 1970 – modern British English, with style of paragraphs and poetry typeset as unrhymed verse
d)    The Jerusalem Bible (JB) 1966 – Roman Catholic sponsored English translation, styled for easy reading, clarity, and liturgical use

2.    At the top of my pile, The Schocken Bible – Everett Fox, 1997 edition of 1995 translation – with Fox’s notes on the left page, and the text on the right page, big print layout.  I defended my choice to prioritize this translation earlier, above, for this purpose.

3.    Next in my pile, The Message – Eugene Peterson, 2006 edition of 2002 translation, which I used more with Exodus recently, and will use with Matthew in Lent. The edition close to hand, with the New International Version (NIV) of 1984 from the International Bible Society printed parallel down the left side of each page, which enjoys lots of academic Protestant support.

4.    A frequently used volume always near if I try to preach or teach a Torah text, is The Torah – Jewish Publication Society (JPS) 1981 W. Gunther Plaut edition with commentary of 1967 JPS translation, from a prominent Toronto rabbi, often seen and shared at synagogues and gifted at bar and bat mitzvahs.

5.     The Jewish Study Bible, 2004 Oxford edition of 1999 JPS translation, with extensive study aids edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, is handy for the current JPS version and test for where my Christian bias comes out in reading.

6.    The Harper Collins Study Bible, 2006 revised edition of New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1989 translation, edited by Harold W. Attridge, is my daily and weekly use bible for worship preparation and study, the version often adopted in the United Church.  The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of my childhood was the update of KJV authorized by ‘mainline Protestant’ denominations and scholars between world wars, finally published in 1953, and updated, most notably for modest gender-inclusivity, in 1989.

7.    The Interlinear Bible, a 1986 edition using A Literal Translation of the Bible © 1985 to show the order of Hebrew and correlation with Strong’s concordance, helps non-scholars like me see some of the origins of variants among English translations.

Interpreters: 
Anybody that has read this far down in this post may still be trying to second-guess my biases.  What kind of heretic am I?  Why would heretics like me?  Which other heretics are like me?  Here are some of the ‘secondary sources’ on my Garret bookshelf, to inform our conversations this summer:

1.    Jewish Interpreters: In addition to my JPS translations, with their introductions and notes, (2, 4, 5 in the translations above), I keep a number of other texts close to hand since an introduction in 1999 to Talmud studies with Rabbi Robert Daum at Vancouver School of Theology summer school gave me some entry into a dialogue between Jewish readers of Tanakh and Talmud, and Christian readers of Hebrew bible and Christian scriptures, though I have only the Bavli on my e-reader, and on the shelf books like these:

a)    Midrash Rabbah, Soncino Press 1939 edition (1961 printing impression) Volume I, II Genesis translated by Rabbi Dr S. M. Lehrman.  I do routinely look at this ‘haggadic’ or ‘midrashic’ medieval commentary.  Because it is organized by the Torah text, it is more accessible to my literacy than is Talmud, and when I am ‘stuck’ and culturally captive in my liberal modern world, it provokes me to think again what the chorus of a host of witnesses is saying, including those who suffered Shoah, the Holocaust.

b)    Heavenly Torah, 2007 edition of an English translation and commentary of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1965 “Torah min Hashamayim” (TMH), 800 pages from a giant of the 20th century, occasionally accessible to my literacy despite my lack of Hebrew and Talmudic skills in rabbinic reasoning, about how a deeply traditional reader might engage Genesis. It is dedicated by the editors with a quote from R. Isaiah de-Trani:

If you were to place the dwarf on the neck of the giant, who would see for a greater distance?  Evidently, the dwarf would, since now the eyes of the dwarf are higher than the eyes of the giant.  So do we dwarves ride on the necks of the giants, for we are aware of their erudition, and we delve into it, and are empowered by their wisdom. 

c)    The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah, 1998 paperback edition of 1996 work by Ellen Frankel. Adopting the forms of Talmudic commentary, this book has been a welcome corrective to disrupt my own thoughts and our own parochial consensus, as have the two previous books though I’ve only enjoyed it for a year.

d)    Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, 2009 New York University anthology of Jewish writers identifying their own perspective as ‘queer’ or ‘bent lenses’ of gender and sexual orientation, identity or expression.


2.    Christian Commentaries:  Beyond the helpful introductions, footnotes, and articles in each edition of the bible noted above, I see a half-dozen volumes of more detailed commentary on Genesis on my shelf: 

a)    Genesis (Calvin’s Comentaries Vol 1) 1984 Baker Book reprint of an 1843 edition of a 1578 English translation of Calvin’s 1543 commentary in French on a Latin text, a volume I’ve enjoyed since 1985

b)    Genesis (Anchor Bible) 1964 work by E.A.Speiser, published by Doubleday, the volume I’ve had since school in 1980 Vancouver

c)    Understanding Genesis, 1966 work, 1970 paperback from Schocken, Nahum M. Sarna, from school days in Vancouver

d)    On Genesis: A New Reading 1974 work by Bruce Vawter, another long-time companion book from Manitoba days

e)    In The Beginning, 1996, Knopf/Borzoi, by Karen Armstrong, who started to hook me on her popularizing perspective late last century 

f)    The IVP Bible Background Commentary (1997) InterVarsity Press, by J Walton and V Matthews, used cheap from Crux at Wycliffe UofT

g)    International Biblical Commentary (2000), by John Hartley, picked up new for the first of these detailed readings

3. Materialist Interpreters: As I noted back at Thanksgiving, starting Exodus, anybody who has read this far and is still asking ‘where’s he coming from’ deserves a usable hint, so here it is:  I see 5 more battered paperbacks from Orbis (Maryknoll) in the 1980’s, still on a shelf close beside me:

a)    Materialist Approaches to the Bible, Michel Clévenot 1976, English translation 1985, as an introduction to source critical political reading of Torah from its origins and successive editing cycles

b)    Correct Ideas Don’t Fall From the Skies, Georges Casalis, 1977, English translation 1984, title a Mao quote to justify ‘inductive’ theology that assumes material conditions form ideas, as Marx argued

c)    A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark, Fernando Belo, 1974, English translation 1981, applying the apparatus in a full commentary.  Despite the complex discipline of learning to read differently, Belo wryly dedicated the book by quoting a poem ending:

But greater than all this
is Jesus Christ,
who knew nothing of finances,
nor are we told he had a library.

d)    Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom, Orlando E. Costas, 1982, outline of the emergent liberation voice including Paulo Freiere’s ‘conscientization’ approach to literacy in Latin Americ, and Ernesto Cardenale’s ‘Gospel in Solentiname’, copies now lost, but still followed weekly in study groups (and must replace on my shelf)!

e)    God of the Lowly: Socio-Historical Interpretations of the Bible, 1979, English translation 1984, W. Schottroff, W. Stegemann – examples of German scholars applying materialist interpretation…

The newest stuff that is making me think is Catherine Keller, not often enough in these notes, and in relation to Genesis, her ‘Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming’.  I set aside process theology and John Cobb about 35 years ago, dismissively sniffing that ‘you can’t ask people to understand the logical positivism of Russell and Whitehead before they could love Jesus’.  Keller brings me back into that circle of discourse with the agility of her connections – don’t miss her most recent collections of essays Intercarnations 

We’ll also be pulling out my old copy of The Glorious Quran in the edition I’ve used from 1979, published by the Muslim World League-Rabita with text and explanatory translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. This summer The Study Quran, issued in 2015 with Seyyed Hossein Nasr as Editor-in-Chief for Harper One will provide more extensive cross-referencing to the Genesis texts.

This was a confession for a few people I know who read this site shaking their heads and saying ‘where did he get that’?  These blogs began defensively, on one hand responding to lay members offended by what I preached or taught from a ‘pre-critical naivete’, and on the other from listening to academics deriding clergy like me for having stopped learning on the day we graduated from school.  I’m an old white guy with only a basic training as clergy, coordinating a community reading of Genesis that is parochial, neither academic nor bureaucratic.  You should join us, and help us!  

Who, or what, do you think I should be reading next? 
God knows I need advice!