Thursday, April 29, 2010

Genesis


I’m reading the Bible. All the way through. I’ve read, of course, significant portions of the good book, but never all the way through. I don’t know what compelled me to take this on right now; it just felt like the time to do it. So I am.

I’m through Genesis and Exodus. I was thinking about starting a whole separate blog about my thoughts on this undertaking, but I don’t think I will. I’ll just occasionally update my biblical journey on this blog. Too many blogs a confused person makes, I think.

So- Genesis. Let me tell you about Genesis.

Genesis contains the stories of the biblical patriarchs, i.e. the founding fathers of the Jewish and Christian traditions. These men include: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. They are God’s chosen people. They are also deeply flawed: they make the same mistakes over and over again. They fail to really learn from history.

One common theme:

Enmity between brothers. Adam’s sons are Cain and Abel. Cain, out of jealousy, kills Abel.

Abraham’s sons are Isaac and Ishmael. Born of, respectively, Sarah and her maidservant, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael are made enemies by their mothers. Their mothers, understandably, are jealous of one another. (Polygamy doesn't work, people.) Hagar and Ishmael are sent away by Abraham, though God takes care of them. He promises Ishmael shall be the father of a great nation. While Isaac is one of the founding fathers of Israel, Ishmael is supposedly the father of the Arab, or Muslim, nation.

Isaac’s sons are Jacob and Esau. Jacob deceives his father and steals Esau’s inheritance and blessing. Jacob flees afterward, out of fear, but the brothers do later reconcile.

Jacob has twelve sons by wives Leah, Rachel, and their two maidservants. Jacob’s favorite son is Joseph, born of his favorite wife, Rachel. Joseph’s brothers, jealous of Joseph, dump him in a well and then sell him as a slave. (Joseph reconciles with them much later.)

Some other stuff from Genesis:

Both Abraham and Isaac pass their wives off as their sisters and get in a bit of trouble for lying. Kind of weird.

Daughters are scarce in Genesis. Jacob has one daughter, Dinah, who is raped by a Hivite, Shechem. The rapist fancies her and asks for her hand in marriage. (So romantic! Reminds me of Luke and Laura from General Hospital.) Jacob’s sons get sweet revenge. They promise that if Shechem and his people become circumcised as Israelites, they will trade their sister and daughters for Shechem’s daughters. So, all of the males in Shechem’s city get circumcised, and on the third day after the circumcisions, when the men are in a lot of pain, Joseph and his brothers attack and slaughter all of the men and plunder their city, taking their women, children, and livestock as their own.

(When Caleb, Ben, and Daniel are of appropriate age, I am going to teach them this story. And then they can tell it to any of Ella’s potential suitors.)

Genesis is ultimately a book of stories about the patriarchs of the Bible. And a lot of them are scandalous. For instance, Jacob’s son, Reuben, loses favor with his father. Why? Because he did something stupid, that’s why. He slept with his father’s concubine. Come on, Reuben. Not cool. Get your own concubines.

Incest is rampant in Genesis. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is his half-sister. Abraham’s cousin, Lot, has two daughters who get him drunk, have sex with him, and become pregnant. Jacob’s son, Judah, visits who he thinks is a shrine prostitute, gets her pregnant, and goes home. Turns out the veiled prostitute was Tamar, his widowed daughter-in-law. She ends up giving birth to twins. (And... it makes one a bit nauseous to think about how the earth was populated by just Adam and Eve.)

There are beautiful events that took place in Genesis, too, like Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation. They see each other from a distance and literally run into one another’s arms. Reading it made me feel a bit weepy. And then there’s the long-awaited reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, who after being sold into slavery becomes the Pharoah’s right-hand man, forgives all of his brothers and is reunited with his father, Isaac, who has been heartbroken ever since he lost his beloved son. The Bible is essentially a book about faith and forgiveness. Those who have faith and forgive are blessed. Those who lack faith and are bitter, nasty people, perish.

Jacob’s twelve sons form the twelve tribes of Israel. (Sort of. Joseph fathers two tribes and Levi’s sons become priests belonging to the Lord.)

And this is the history of the Jewish people.

Isn’t it?

Interestingly, just a few days ago, a Chinese group of evangelical archaeologists found what they believe to be Noah’s ark atop of Mt. Ararat in Turkey. The media announced this around the time I was reading the story of Noah and the flood. Coincidence? I think not. The world does revolve around me and what I am doing, after all.


Man finds ark? Or ark finds man?

There have been archaeological remnants that seem to prove that Solomon and David existed. King David’s palace was excavated, as was a tunnel described in the Bible during the reign of Hezekiah. The tumbled walls of Jericho have even been said to be found.

How about proof that the stories in Genesis and Exodus actually occurred? Not so much. There have been no artifacts found in the Sinai desert, where the Israelites spent years roaming about. The Ten Commandments written on two stone tablets? MIA. The Ark of the Covenant? Locked somewhere in a government warehouse- proof of its existence cannot be confirmed. The parting of the Red Sea? Nary a chariot has been found in depths of the waters. And the flood? While strict creationists insist fossils and current landscape features are indicative of a great flood, scientists are not only not convinced, they find the evidence laughable. After all, whole civilizations that date back to that time period were unscathed by any flood. A myth, they insist.
When it comes to reading the Bible as fact, archaeologists come from two general schools of thought: The minimalists believe the bible is a fairy-tale, and don’t pursue ancient civilizations and artifacts as detailed by the bible. Maximalists refer to the Bible as a veritable historic resource, and refer to it like any other ancient document. Some fall in between, believing parts of the bible, like the flood, to be allegory. Other sections, they believe, actually happened, or are at least based on actual events or people.

So what of this ark in Turkey? Is it actually a boat, or just a remnant of an ancient mountain-people’s residence? And if it really is a boat, how did it get to the top of a mountain? The archaeologists who found it say that the carbon dating on the wood dates back 4800 years, right at the time the great flood is supposed to have occurred.

Both atheists and evangelicals have a hard time believing this whole thing isn’t a scam. If the carbon dating is correct, there are some problems to discuss:

1) How can creationists (those who believe in a literal 7-day earth creation) believe that carbon dating is correct when it comes to this ark, but not when it comes to dating other ancient artifacts?

2) If the carbon dating is correct, why is there evidence of societies thriving during that same time-period? Why weren’t they wiped out in the flood?

3) How did Noah fit two of every animal on a ship? What did the lions eat? Dear God, what did they do with all of the poop? And are you telling me that all of the different kinds of animals were living in the Middle East during this time? Even pandas and kangaroos? How did they eventually make it to completely different continents? And, darn it, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE UNICORN? (And the dinosaurs, for that matter.)

I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic. (For instance, I don’t believe William Shakespeare wrote those plays and sonnets. If you weigh the evidence, the evidence points to someone else. Sorry, but it does. And I’m happy to debate the issue with you.)

I’ve never been a strict 7-day creationist. I believe in God, I believe he created the earth, but, as I weighed the evidence, I moved toward a creation-evolutionist standpoint. (I keep quiet about that, generally, because in Christian circles, the term evolution is akin to the f-word.)

So, it won’t surprise you that I’ve had trouble with the flood story, too. Ask an evangelical Christian if they believe the ark actually existed, and they will say, wide eyed, “Of course! The Bible says it did.”

And this is faith.

Some people come by faith more easily than others. I guess I’m the doubting Thomas. I’m the person who would need to see the holes in Jesus’ hand before I believed he had risen.

Everyone has faith in something. I have faith that my husband won’t run off with a cute little intern in Albany, leaving me to raise four kids alone. I base my faith on the promises he made me and on his character. Can anyone be certain John won’t leave me for a cute little intern? No. But I have insurmountable faith that he won’t.

Atheists have faith that there isn’t a God. Their faith is just as strong, if not stronger, than a Christian’s or a Jew’s or a Deist’s faith. With all of their scientific evidence against events recorded in the Bible, there is no scientific equation, and never can be, that proves the existence or non-existence of God. Or the flying spaghetti monster. Or any other weird deity you come up with. Because God is supernatural. And if you believe in the supernatural, anything is possible.

Even an ark atop of a mountain.

So, I’m doubtful, but I’m kind of hoping it is a boat up there on Mt. Ararat. Because sometimes I need to be wrong.

Favorite verse from Genesis: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning- the sixth day. Genesis 1:31.

10 comments:

Toaster said...

I think this was one of your best posts yet--God, faith, doubt, and the spaghetti monster all rolled into one! :)

(Btw, our household is kind of rooting for the boat too.)

MGBR said...

Your f-word point made me lol--so true, so true.

Unfortunate about Reuben and the concubine. I prefer the Reuben story about how he persuaded his brothers to refrain from murdering Joseph.

Robert Hagedorn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Holly said...

Wow Robert. Wow. I've never deleted a comment on my blog before, but this one... I'm considering it.

Michelle said...

Great summary. I'm on this endeavor to read the Bible in 6 months but manage to get weeks behind! FREQUENTLY! I'm on Deuteronomy right now. Good GRIEF...the end of Exodus and Leviticus KILL me. It takes me forever b/c it says the same thing over and over and over...this is the second or third time I've read up to Joshua. I've gotten to Samuel but I'm not too sure I took enough out of it...hence, the re-reading of everything.

I'm exactly where you are on the 7-day creation story. Well, sort of...I don't believe in the e-word persay (is that how you spell "persay"?) Anyways...to me there is too much evidence this world has been here longer. BUT, my husband swears there are too many cracks and holes in carbon dating to base a lot on.

My doubt comes when I see stuff like 60 minutes with the 1.9 million year old fossils of a 40 yr old woman and a 9 year old boy.

OK...sorry. My response is about to be longer than your blog. I'll look forward to your updates!

Mary said...

Great thoughts, Holly. I really enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

You're gunna hack of allotta Baptists with THIS one, Holly. Next think you'll be saying is the earth isn't flat. Our God is an awesome God, but he's not that awesome. He coudn't possibly be smart enough to create the heavens and the earth using evolution, could he? Setting in motion a complicated process that explains the richness of biological diversity? pbs

Holly said...

The earth isn't flat. There. I said it.

The Editor said...

Excellent post. You appear to be somewhat more enlightened on this subject than your husband.

J. Andersen said...

Interesting. We just finished studying Genesis in Sunday school. My sister-in-law says she loves it because it's better than a soap opera. The thing I find interesting is that Jesus descended from the least likely people. I mean, Jacob loved Rebecca the most, so we'd think that Christ would stem from her, but his lineage comes from the line of Judah, who was Leah's son.

Anyway, I digress. We are now reading Evidence for Christianity by Josh Mcdowell in our class. It's an extremely interesting study, and I suggest it as a read along side of your studies. It is, however, very "heady." I actually don't have the book, I'm just interested in the lessons that we are learning in class, but it might be good for you, nonetheless.