Friday, May 10, 2013

Genesis: Founder’s Day

More eye-glazing genealogy lists. But the writer is getting more egalitarian. The daughters are still nameless, but their existence is acknowledged. And most of the sons are nameless as well, as the author is really only focusing on the line that leads directly to Abram (the guy who will later be renamed Abraham). At the end of it we see our first explicitly acknowledged episode of incest: Abram’s brother marries his niece. Also, turns out that Lot (yes, that Lot, the one from the Sodom stories) was Abram’s nephew.

Abram’s story kinda meanders all over the place, just like Abram himself. When he’s 75, God tells him to go traveling through Canaan. Lot joins him, and of course they take their households and all. And while Abram is wandering through Canaan, God promises (for no stated reason) to give his descendants all the land he’s touring despite the fact that there are already people living there. So Abram wanders around kicking the tires a bit and building altars to God until there’s a famine and he decides to cruise down to Egypt in search of greener pastures.

This is where we get our first real glimpse of Abram’s personality. Spoiler alert: he’s kind of a douche.

See, apparently Abram has a little hottie of a wife named Sarai (barren, btw). And he’s afraid that, since she’s so beautiful, Pharaoh might kill him in order to have her for himself. So he tells her to pretend she’s just his sister so that instead of killing him Pharaoh will give him goodies for her. Sure enough, Pharaoh falls for Sarai and marries her, and gives Abram all kinds of good stuff for being his “brother-in-law” (re: cuckold). Of course, God rains down plagues on Pharaoh as punishment (because it’s totally his fault that he was deceived into marrying what he thought was an available woman – but he’s a descendant of Ham who laughed at Noah’s junk, so he totally had it coming anyway). Once Pharaoh realizes what’s going on, he tells Abram to take his wife and get the fuck out of Egypt.

So yeah… Abram has all this special favor from God, who’s following him around promising him shit like the nerdy rich kid trying to buy the cool kid’s friendship. God could totally protect him from Pharaoh if he wanted (and would kind of have to if he was going to fulfill any of those promises). But instead of relying on that, Abram decides the best thing to do to deal with a threat nobody even made would be to pimp his wife. ‘Cause, you know, why not? It’s not like women were real human beings anyway. And nothing in the text so much as implies that he was wrong to do it.

I wonder if he spent the rest of his life wondering if she was thinking of Pharaoh whenever they got it on.

Anyhow, with all of his ill-gotten gains, Abram and Lot are now getting so rich that traveling together is getting difficult, on account of trying to find enough forage for their massive herds. So they decide to split up, and Lot goes to settle in Sodom. There’s a bit about Lot getting captured in a war between a metric shitload of different kings (near as I can tell, pretty much every city in the region had its own king), and Abram going out to rescue him.

So then God promises again to give Abram descendants and give the land all around to them. Abram asks how he will know this is true (what? Questioning God?). So God tells him to sacrifice a bunch of animals to him, and afterwards tells Abram the same fucking promise in a dream, and adds some bits foreshadowing the Hebrews’ slavery in Egypt. So… somehow God making a promise in a dream constitutes proof, when him making it in person does not. That’s a pretty fucked up mindset, if you ask me.

But that’s pretty much the faith-based mindset in a nutshell: the idea that stuff that is not based in reality is somehow more reliable than stuff that is.

And while we’re talking about this episode, what’s with the sacrifices? Most Christians I know claim that it’s man’s fault that death is in the world because of the Fall, and that God didn’t want it. If that’s the case, why does God keep demanding that people kill shit in his name? He really seems to get off on death quite a bit, for a being who didn’t actually want it to exist.

Moving right along, Sarai decides that since she’s barren, Abram should impregnate one of her servants, an Egyptian woman named Hagar, instead. So he does, and she has a son named Ishmael, who God tells her will be a “wild donkey of a man.” Hilarious: “Your son will be an ass!” Who says there’s no humor in the Bible?

I know this is already running long, but if I get through the covenant of circumcision, we hit a good break point between that and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. So bear with me a little longer.

So you know how God keeps promising to give Abram and his descendants all these lands that already belong to other people? Well, he repeats that all again, just in case nobody believed him before. But this time there’s some sweetening of the deal (“deal” being used in a very loose sense, since at no point is it even implied that Abram’s consent is wanted or required). Now God says that all this can happen through a son Abram has with his real wife, Sarai (who God has decided gets to be not-barren now that she’s an octogenarian), instead of that asshole Ishmael. He just needs Abram to do a few little things first. Like change his name from Abram to Abraham, and his wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah (according to the footnotes, btw, Sarai and Sarah mean the exact same thing, so I guess this is really an arbitrary “you’ll change your name because I tell you to, bitch!” kinda thing). Oh, and cut off his foreskin. And that of his sons. And all his servants and slaves. And every male descendant will have to do the same thing. And Abraham went and did it.

“Gen. 17:23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house of bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him.”

That’s the whole description of the events of carrying out the circumcisions. Very matter-of-fact. Personally, I think there might have been a bit of an uproar in the household when Abraham came home one day to announce “Guess what, everybody! God has declared it Genital Mutilation Day! Whip ‘em out and slap ‘em down on the butcher block!” You think maybe, just maybe, there might have been some resistance to the idea of cutting off pieces of everybody’s penises? Say, maybe from the possessors of said penises? I suspect there might have been. I imagine a bunch of slaves had to have it done by force (and if you imagine Biblical slavery was somehow benign, please dwell a moment on the plight of a bunch of men forcibly held down while a maniac sliced off bits of their genitals because said maniac owns them and the voices in his head told him to do it).

Or maybe it’s just badly written fiction in which two-dimensional characters react to situations in completely unrealistic ways in order to justify the narrative. Just tossing that out there.

Anyhow, this is a pretty good break point because next we get to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

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