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?
“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
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.
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?