Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Genesis: A Woman Actually Defended… by Massive Overreaction

When we last left off, Jacob had just reconciled with his brother Esau.

Next Jacob set up his tents outside the city of Shechem, and bought a plot of land to settle on. And while he was there, Shechem, the son of the local prince Hamor, raped his daughter Dinah. Afterwards, Shechem decided he had to have her as a wife, and he and his dad went to Jacob to ask for her hand. And actually, Hamor seemed to want to turn the thing into a full-fledged alliance with Jacob’s people settling down and intermarrying with his own. But Dinah’s brothers were… well… less than pleased about a courting process that involved raping their sister.

So they told Hamor and Shechem that their women couldn’t marry their men unless they were circumcised. Hamor was so eager for this alliance that he readily agreed to have all the men in his city cut off their foreskins in order to secure it (people seem to have been awful cavalier about cutting their penises back then).

So all the men were circumcised. And while they were lying around hurting and recovering from Bronze Age surgery, Jacob’s sons went into the city and killed every last motherfucker of them. Shechem and Hamor, and every single man in the city. Then they plundered their houses, took their livestock, and enslaved all the women and children.

OK… I agree that rape is a heinous crime. And I might be persuaded to buy the argument that Shechem, and maybe even his father (who could be seen to be sanctioning that crime in this story) deserved to die for it. At least by the standards of the day. But that every man in the city deserved to die, and all their women and children enslaved? Oh, fuck no!

Now Jacob rebuked his sons – not so much because he thought killing and enslaving a bunch of people was bad, but because by doing so they had probably pissed off the people of the surrounding cities and he was afraid of retribution. So on God’s orders, they set out for Bethel (which is where Jacob had the dream of the ladder to heaven and made an altar from the stone he slept on). So Jacob collects up all the idols of all other god that any of his people might have had, buried them, and set out for Bethel. God made the occupants of the cities they passed too scared to oppose them.

Then God came to Jacob and (once again) changed his name to Israel. And then, since it hadn’t been done in a couple chapters, he promised to give him multitudes of descendants who would get to have all the land around him. Jacob built him another altar, then they hit the road again toward Ephrath. Rachel went into labor on the road, and died giving birth to Jacob’s (now Israel’s) twelfth son. Oh, and somewhere along the line the eldest son Reuben slept with one of Israel’s concubines and Israel found out. But apparently nothing was done about it, or at least nothing worth reporting in the text.

At last, Israel finds his way home in time for Isaac’s death, so he and his brother Esau can bury him.

Now… you remember how Jacob and Esau had their falling out in the first place? Isaac’s final blessing, as he was blind, frail, and convinced he was dying any day now. After that, Jacob (Israel) was gone for twenty friggin’ years! Did Isaac lay around dying for twenty years? Did he have some miraculous return to health, and then die twenty years later? Literally nothing is said about what happened to him in the intervening twenty years, so I guess we’re left to assume he just lay there slowly dying. Once again, shitty storytelling.

The entire next chapter, a full 43 verses, is nothing but a list of Esau’s male descendants told in a really confusing manner that seems deliberately structured to make readers’ eyes glaze over.

Break time! Next we can get into a story familiar to most everyone who ever went to Sunday School: Joseph and his coat of many colors.

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