“The Gospel According to Torah”

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Weekly summaries also at

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Summer Reading 2018



Reading Week from July 15

Garret Talk Tues July 17

Genesis 37-42: Mon July 16 to Sat July 21

 Sunday, July 15

Sunday Summary

 I invite anybody reading this site to reflect a bit on our wider community context.  I’m an old white guy, with lots of regret for how I’ve cooperated with the cool stuff God’s up to around us, and been complicit in our resistance to all that redemptive change.  This discipline of reading the old stuff while learning to ‘read’ my context and ‘read’ the people I meet, helps me to put our specific little congregation, and peculiar little denomination, in wider context.

Monday July 16:

Genesis Chapter 37

Welcome to Yosef’s cycle of stories, like a novella in a different kind of book!  The Jahwist voice dominates, though the Elohist adds some apologetic bits salvaging Reuben’s reputation.  Here is the familiar story of the many-coloured coat of Joseph, his interpretation of dreams, and his brothers’ betrayals.  The Midianite traders haul Joseph off to Egypt – thanks to Reuben, who averted fratricide but did not save his brother from abduction.  Imagine this in terms of the tension between the heartland of Judah and Jerusalem, and the hinterland of the other 10 tribes of Israel.  Imagine this as another etiological legend of ‘where we come from’ – not only from the east, but also from the south and west – not only from Europe, but also from Asia…

Tuesday July 17:

Genesis Chapter 38

Judah was a pre-eminent clan in Israel, and this tale of Judah’s toledot is a good segue while we let Yosef’s abduction mature.  You can reduce it to a warning against ‘spilling of seed’, of Onanism or masturbation by men – or you can read it for a tale of a woman of spirit who would not accept her temporizing father-in-law, and tricks him into providing her with a legitimate heir.  The tribe of Judah may have intermarried with Canaanites – but it was not bad news despite the ideological resistance to assimilation which was heightened in the Second Temple time of the ‘Priestly’ edition.  Tamar is a bit like Ruth, a figure of the integration of a strong line into the geneology of Jacob. 

Wednesday July 18:

Genesis Chapter 39

Now we are back to the main drama of Yosef, with the Jahwist’s narrative.  Here, Joseph is a boss in Egypt and a trusty of the Pharaoh.  Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him and he refuses, in the continuing theme of the temptations of assimilation and success.  Yosef remains pure, and becomes the boss of the prison.  Who is your role model, and what did that hero do?  Most of us in the UCC are working class and civil service folks, the people who really make things work for those who appear to be the rich and powerful, but could not succeed without us.  We were warned not to be ‘tall poppies’, presuming to rise too far, or mix with our social betters – but we also knew the dignity of service, as distinguished from slavery.

 Thursday, July 19:

Genesis Chapter 40

Here’s the Elohist’s version of the same tale.  It’s not just the naming of God as Elohim rather than Jahweh, but the use of dreams as intermediaries of divine presence and revelation, that signals the difference.  Here, Yosef is less of a success in Egypt or in prison – but a seer for fellow prisoners’ dreams, and a person at risk of the same arbitrary fates and tyrannies which befall the baker and cupbearer of the Pharaoh.  My people take care of their working class and civil service peers from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and our friendships and loyalties serve us well, in narratives like the Elohist’s.  Do you ever interpret meaning and purpose to your colleagues in the world?

 Friday July 20:

Genesis Chapter 41

Yosef the dream-seer finds vindication in this continuation of the Elohist’s version of the story of how the alien prisoner succeeded as a stranger in a strange land.  The narrative of seven fat years followed by seven lean years, and changing fortunes of the marginal and the powerful, echoes for millennia in exile and diaspora.  It’s also a sophisticated set of political perceptions of taxation and public commonwealth within a model of monarchy and empire, responding to the inevitable cycles of drought and famine.  We are not only the victims of natural and imperial oppressions and challenges, but can imagine civic service to heal and help, like Yosef.

 Saturday July 21:

Genesis Chapter 42

The drama unfolds now as Yaakov sends 10 sons to Egypt to supply their want.  Yaakov holds back his youngest beloved Benjamin, and we the readers know that Yosef is the boss in Egypt.  The literary art carries the story of the reunion - and Yosef’s deceptions offer a complex character study. However, try reading Simeon the hostage, and rehabilitating Reuben again, as the voice of moderation, in terms of their tribes’ locations on the dry south end of Judea and the east bank of the Jordan, and the repetitions and inconsistencies as evidence of the interweaving of Jahwist and Elohist traditions.  Had Yaakov lost heartland southern and eastern regions – or were they Israel’s hope (not reality) all along – and how might that give hope to later exiles?