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In our relentlessly progressive culture, ‘antedeluvian’ is a pejorative term for being out-of-date.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?