Reading Week from July 8
Garret Talk NOT July 1, but resumed Tues July 3
Genesis 31-36: Mon July 9 to Sat July 14
Sunday, July 08
Jacob extricates himself from Laban, marking a border behind him, then crosses another boundary to face reception by Esau. In between, he gets another theophany, wrestling with an angel or God. Esau and Jacob dance out a plan of coexistence, then Jacob turns to the ‘people of the land’, a perennial issue.
I warned you last week when Dinah was born of the role of her rape in setting of her brothers’ rage and genocide. Try reading it more carefully as a tale of peoples, and the rhetoric of female honour justifying male violence. The week will end with reasserted territorial claims, setting us up to start the Joseph cycle.
Monday July 9: Genesis Chapter 31
Jacob heads south with all he has accumulated, and Laban chases him down and there is a showdown, culminating in a pile of stones that neither will cross thereafter. How do you leave one homeland for another? What is owed where you left, and what is yours to take alone? For those left behind, what is their claim, and how do they tell the story of emigrants? Laban and Jacob each hustled the other – at some point, one sets up good fences for good neighbours, or as Tom Wolfe wrote ‘you can’t go home again’. What have you left un-reconciled behind you, and what boundary markers have you set between yourself and that past?
Tuesday July 10: Genesis Chapter 32
Now Jacob faces an uncertain reception from Esau, whom he has deceived in the past. Having concluded a truce in a rearguard action, now he has to send advance parties to ensure safe arrival. Yaakov risks committing his 2 wives, 2 maids, and 11 children to the new land, crossing the Jabbok into the land, at Peniel, and he stays behind at the borderland, liminal space, and his dream is of wrestling with God. There’s another etiological legend of a northern sacred place, and an Elohist story of dealing with God. Yaakov, the trickster, is now called Israel, one who strives with God.
Wednesday July 11: Chapter 33
Visualize this strategic procession south to meet Esau. Yaakov goes first, to risk the wrath of his brother Esau, however mollified by the gifts sent on ahead, behind him he risks first the maids and their children, then Leah and hers, and last but anything but least, Rachel and Joseph. Esau invites or at least permits Yaakove to join him in the south, but Yaakove settles first in the north, with etiological references to Succoth, and Shechem. There is a claim that he buys this turf from the sons of Hamor, more land claims, and that he builds an altar from this antiquity. What would you risk in facing the unknown ahead? What would you claim when you arrive?
Thursday July 12: Genesis Chapter 34
Here is the tale of ‘the rape of Dinah’. This is the one named daughter of Yaakov, by Leah. The Hamorite, Canaanite, Hivite named Shechem seizes her by force, but falls in love with her, and asks his father Hamor to haggle a nuptual agreement. Her brothers are angry at the way it began, but propose that if Hamor’s tribe is circumcised to make one people. Rather than lose Dinah, the Hamorites accept circumcision. While they are vulnerable from the painful act, Simeon and Levi kill all the men. Yaakov castigates them for the risk they draw to their minority people – but they protest that their sister cannot be treated like a whore. Can you read this not as moral personal tale, but as a figure for the plight of minorities resisting assimilation but keeping pride?
Friday, July 13: Genesis Chapter 35
God relocates Yaakov from Shechem to Bethel, and there the people are expected to ditch their accumulated ‘foreign gods’ they have picked up on their way among other people. More etiological legends are echoed, including the burianl of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, buried at Bethel. The sacred shrine of Bethel is reinforced with another vision, ritual, and promise. This competing shrine to Jerusalem, in Samaria, in the north, will remain a countermelody to the songs of the temple in the south. On the way to Isaac’s home in Hebron, Benjamin is born to Rachel, precious youngest, born in Judea – though Rachel dies in childbirth, buried in etiological legend of Bethlehem, Ephrath. The 12 sons of Yaakov are lists: 6 from Leah, 2 each from Rachel and the maids. Esau and Yaakov together bury Isaac, just as Ishmael and Isaac had together buried Abraham. We have arrived.
Saturday July 14: Genesis Chapter 36
Can you name the 50 states of the USA to our south? Neither can I – but we can sure give it a fair try! Can you name the states of Australia? The home counties and shires of Ulster or Eire? If you read chapter 37:2, you’ll see this summed up as part of the toledot of Jacob – even though it is the recital of the rivals, the cousins, in Edom to the south of Israel. Can we understand ourselves apart from those we are not? Can understanding our ‘twins separated at birth’ like USA or Australia, or our cousins in Ulster or Eire, enrich our self-understanding as Canadians? Dismiss this all at your own loss and impoverishment!