Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Genesis: Down Came the Rain and Washed the (Everything) Out

OK, so apparently the authors of the Bible were a little worried that all that sex, drama, and action with the Fall was going to overstimulate the audience. So they decided to offset that by boring the hell out of us with a genealogy list. My eyes glazed over for a few generations of geriatrics fathering named sons and nameless daughters until we get to Noah.

Now there’s a weird sidetrack about the “sons of God” marrying “daughters of man,” and something about something called Nephilim being great men of renown. None of it really makes any sense, and it’s not really defined who any of those terms refer to. So I was forced to try and look it up online (why would a perfect book be so vague that you have to look stuff up from other sources just to find out what the hell it’s talking about? Oh yeah… not perfect. We covered that.). Turns out… nobody’s actually sure what it means. There are a few theories, including one that it refers to rebellious angels interbreeding with human women to create a race of hybrid supermen called Nephilim. But since they all died in the Flood anyway, I guess it’s sort of irrelevant. Oh, and in the middle of that in a complete non sequitur, God decides that human life spans will be limited to 120 years (must have been a delayed action decision – we later see many generations pass with people living 400-500 years).

So yeah… Noah. Noah is the only righteous man in the whole world. Everyone else is a complete tool. And not only man, but apparently every animal is “corrupt” as well. God’s creation is basically a big steaming pile, and he’s pretty unhappy about it. His solution: kill it! Kill it with water!

“6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only for evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man in the earth, and it grieved him in his heart. 7 So the Lord said ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

How do you like that? Explicit admission of a mistake.

Of course, since Noah is righteous and all that, God decides to spare him and a small breeding population of animals (specifically – one breeding pair of each “kind” of unclean animal and seven pairs of clean ones, though the Bible hasn’t told us yet which are the clean and unclean. It’ll be several generations yet before people get that news). So he commands Noah to build his ark and gather the animals. I’ll leave aside all the usual arguments about the physical impossibility of all this – we’ve all heard it before, and I’m sure believers just assume God gave the ark T.A.R.D.I.S.-like properties such as being bigger on the inside.

But the T.A.R.D.I.S. is cooler. No sense in arguing it; it’s just a fact.
Noah and his nameless wife then gather their three sons and their nameless wives to join the animals in the long cruise (Biblical wives apparently come in two flavors to this point: ones with names that fuck up all of creation, and nameless ones that bear sons for men with names). 40 days of rain, another few months of drifting about, and every land animal and bird except those that lived on the ark is dead.

Now take a moment here to imagine everyone and everything drowning. Cats, dogs, koala bears, cute fluffy bunnies… and babies. All those evil babies whose evil mothers struggle desperately to keep their little infant mouths above the inexorably rising water until they themselves drown and their lifeless hands drop pudgy little helpless bodies into the water to have their little infant lungs filled up until they choke. Got that image firmly in mind? Good. Live with it. That’s your God.

Fun fact: this would not have killed the albatrosses. They can literally go for years without ever touching dry land. They fly that efficiently, can rest by floating on the water, and eat fish. I guess God must have made special arrangements to kill the albatrosses. Side note: albatrosses rock! You should really look up information on them sometime.

First bird Noah sends looking for dry land is a raven, by the way. Why does that never get mentioned?

So the waters recede, Noah and his family climb out of the ark, and God promises he’s never going to destroy the world with water again. Maybe nightmares about drowning babies were keeping him awake at night.

Now we get to the part of the story that my Sunday school classes never covered. You see, Noah takes up farming, and one day he gets drunk on the wine he made from his grapes. Then he passes out naked in his tent (remember, kids, you can be a righteous man, and still drink yourself into a stupor and wake up naked just like college kids on Spring Break). One of his sons, Ham, comes into the tent in the morning and sees his dad naked. He thinks this is hilarious (as opposed to traumatic), and runs to get his brothers so they can see dad naked too. But his brothers are a bit more respectful, and they cover Noah with a blanket instead of standing around pointing and snickering.

Noah wakes up and finds out about Ham’s hijinks. He’s pissed, hung over, probably a little humiliated. So he does what any righteous man would do in his shoes: condemn Ham’s son Canaan to be a slave to Ham’s brothers. That’s Canaan, not Ham. He’s punishing Canaan for something Ham did. ‘Cause righteous men are assholes like that, I guess.

Mind you, this is the same Canaan from whom the Canaanites are descended. The people the Hebrews will later invade, slaughter, and enslave in order to claim their promised land. A cynical eye might look at this episode as an after-the-fact embellishment of the story to help justify that enslavement. It works, because the God of this book is pretty clearly in favor of punishing people for shit their ancestors did. It especially likes epic punishments for trivial offenses.

Again, the Bible winds us down from all that excitement by boring the shit out of us with lists of all the boys fathered by several generations of men with nameless wives (and presumably daughters, but that’s never mentioned). Mostly it reads like a half-assed “this is where all the nations came from” story, since many of the kids seem to have the same names as the various nations and peoples that populated the area where the Hebrews lived. Of course, people who sucked were descended from Ham. We see Quantum Wife Theory in action some more, since nobody ever seems to father a female but women keep appearing to bear more sons.

The mind-numbing list leaves off to bring us the Tower of Babel story. Everyone knows this one. Some people get together to build themselves a city with a really tall tower, and God doesn’t like it. But reading the actual language of the story provides some interesting insight that I don’t think gets conveyed in Sunday school.

“Genesis 11:6 And the Lord said ‘Behold, they are one people and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.”

Did you get that? God saw that by cooperating together, humans could accomplish anything they set their minds to, AND IT PISSED HIM OFF!  He felt threatened that the collective penis of mankind might be bigger than his, so he had to fuck things up for everyone. Yay God!

The next story is Abraham’s. Most of us don’t know much about him other than that he was willing to kill his son and cut off bits of his penis for God (as if those are good things), but there’s a lot more to his story than that. So we’ll leave it for another day.

Take care!

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