Whew! That was Genesis, a long, fascinating, and at times, tedious, look at early Hebrew literature. There were many things I liked and several I did not. Overall, I’ve had a great time doing this, but before I pass on to the story of Exodus, I feel a brief look back into Genesis would benefit me. I’ve been rereading it again to see if there was anything I missed and any impressions that have changed. Unremarkably, there are some of both.
Here they are in no particular order. Sorry for the sleep deprived, ADD assisted chaos. Welcome to my world!
Have you ever noticed that there are very few references to an afterlife in Genesis. The only one I can find is Jacob’s exhortation to his sons not to take Benjamin back to Egypt with them. He says, “If some disaster should befall him on the journey you must make, you would send my white head down to the nether world in grief.” That’s it! No great Hebrew paradise, no vicious Hebrew hell, it’s just life here and now. I’ve been reading what I can find on more scholarly looks at the subject and by all appearances the ancient Hebrews were not really into an afterlife. They believed in Sheol,a Hades-like land of the dead where the deceased dwelt. All dead, whether righteous or not, went to the same place. The Oxford companion to the Bible states “There was no notion of a judgement of the dead based on their actions during life,nor is there any evidence for a belief that the righteous dead go to live in God’s presence.”
God didn’t reward his followers with eternal bliss so what was the advantage of worshipping someone who just abandons you to eternal death? It seems the idea of paradise was a later addition to the Hebrew theology. Even in Jesus’ day, there was still a substantial conservative branch of Judaism, the Sadducees, which did not believe in an afterlife, either as a punishment or as a reward. No wonder the Hebrews remained such a small isolated group for so long. I mean, who in the hell is going to cut the tip of their dick off with a sharp rock without even the fictional promise of eternal bliss. It’s gotta be a deal breaker! Now throw in paradise and those 72 virgins and maybe, just maybe! But without heaven, without the pagan orgies and add all the dietary and sexual restrictions, what in the hell is the point. The only thing this religion gave them was a toughness and meanness, and hey, I fully admit, those are strong survival traits. Few people can doubt the ancient Hebrew’s pure admirable toughness. It has certainly helped them through many trials. It just doesn’t seem like that good of a recruiting tool
Did you know that before the Flood, every animal including man was vegetarian? Oh, yes. This is anti-fact is unquestionably believed by millions of young earth creationists worldwide. Apparently, those spear-like eight inch Tyrannosaurus Rex teeth were great for the gathering of berries, or perhaps taking down the vicious wild watermelon. Very dangerous when cornered!
I’ve also noticed in Genesis a serious lack of monotheism. Other Gods and idols are spoken of and even dealt with occasionally. Take the pact between Laban and Isaac, Gen. 31/53, “May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor maintain justice between us.” Or when Rachel steals her father’s gods and hides them under herself claiming that she cannot rise due to her period. I did not realize this at first, but this was intended as an insult to Laban’s god, for women were considered very unclean during menstruation. To have an “Unclean” woman sit on your god was a serious theological matter. Note that they were not denying the other god’s existence; they were lessening his power.
In fact, you could trace many parts of this narrative to a willful desire to demean the surrounding peoples or rationalize the Hebrews subsequent treatment of them. Take the account of drunk Noah cursing Canaan to slavery. If your neighbors are Canaanites, what better excuse do you need for dominating them than this “inerrant” bit of theology. It proves that all Canaanites are fit only for slavery. Don’t laugh! The American South used this very same verse to justify its “peculiar institution” not all that long ago. All they had to do was assume that all Africans are descendants of Canaan and, bingo, instant guilt-free atrocity.
How does a modern theist reconcile the vast differences between the ancient eternal theology and the more modern one, for these are great examples of how the Judeo-Christian religion has evolved over the ages to attract more members. These attractive qualities are added to the basic theology in a very darwinian pattern. The old archaic writings are not just forgotten but often remain vestigially, like dormant genes, either contradicting the newer stuff or warped into new theological interpretations. This book offers a great view of how humans work, all muddled and confused. But it’s not such a great view of an unalterable perfect divinity. If that’s perfection I’d rather shovel shit!
I have had to modify my opinion of sexism in Genesis some. I’m, by no means, claiming that it didn’t exist, but I am saying taken as a whole Genesis seems less sexist than it felt on my first pass. Yes, women didn’t have anywhere near an equal status, but they did have influence. Take Sarah’s sway over Abraham. She actually forced him to send Ishmael away contrary to his own wishes. If he’d been a complete despot, this couldn’t have happened. It also puts the majority of the onus for Ishmael’s treatment firmly on Sarah’s shoulders. Other examples include the reluctance of Rebekah’s family to give her up and asking her what she wanted, Rebekah’s control of Isaac, and Rachel and Leah’s bickering over Jacob’s sexual favors. These all demonstrate a more sexually “liberal” view, if I can use that phrase, of these early stories. By every account I read, it gets far worse later on.
There were many things I liked here Esau forgiving Jacob. Joseph forgiving his brothers. The blessings given were often touching and beautiful like Jacob’s to Joseph or Rebekah’s family’s blessing to her. I still love that one, “Sister, may you grow into thousands of myriads; And may your descendants gain possession of the gates of their enemies!” There is a real affection in these stories, but like today it’s the conflict that sells.
As a counterpoint, there were several things I found unjust. In all the events in life, there are few things I tolerate less than injustice. Violence, while I don’t condone it, doesn’t affect me like that. Death, though hardly pleasant, is a part of life and one I can fit into my world view. But injustice… there’s one that my mind shrinks from. I absolutely hate it; I have my entire life. My morality at five was bad guys need to be punished; good guys should be rewarded. My ethics are much more sophisticated now, but they still rest firmly on those two pillars. For instance, when I watched the movie Pulp Fiction, I laughed and cringed with the rest of the theater and then slept like a baby that night. No big deal. But after watching Schindler’s List, I had serious trouble sleeping for the next three nights. I’ve owned that movie for seven years but have yet to watch it again. The very idea of it haunts me. The scene where the Nazi thugs pull the one-armed old man out of the group and casually shoot him, laughing all the time is one that still haunts me.
I believe it was this injustice that led me on my first tentative steps away from Fundamentalism so very long ago. I vividly remember my reaction to Yahweh’s demand for Isaac’s sacrifice and the slaying of the first born of Egypt when I was no more than nine or ten. I felt then and feel now that a god who could do this wasn’t being fair. I was always told that I just didn’t understand God’s plan. That was the truth, I didn’t, but I’d shove the thoughts back into the deepest mental recesses and just try to believe. I really wanted to believe! I wanted to be a part it, to feel to love. But during every retelling, the sense of injustice would resurface, gnawing at me. With a little outside help, it eventually devoured all my belief. If God is not just then a god he is not.
So in the interests of littering your path with the inequities that bothered me most, I’ll list the worst of them in this chapter.
The whole idea of punishing the entire human race for the eating of a fruit that made us know right from wrong; aka. human.
The Flood. I can’t imagine what sin could justify the total genocide of every living thing.
The damning of Canaan into slavery because his father saw his grandpa naked. WTF?
Babel. Why would God feel the need to destroy what greatness people created? Are we to remain chattel forever?
Sarah as Abe’s sister. Punishing anyone for doing something that they don’t know they’re doing is foolish. Without intent or neglect, there can be no sin.
Sacrifice. What the hell does an all powerful being need with animals cut in half or burned. It makes no sense.
Circumcision. Um… No! Please God no!
Jacob’s deception. How this fraudulent contract could be held up in a divine court of law is beyond me.
Abraham’s test. That any god could test one of his “Beloved” creations this way appalls me. This is unfairness squared. Times infinity! Abraham failed the test. So did God!
Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, the concept of collective guilt and collective punishment reeks of incompetence and cruelty. Have a better aim for Darwin’s sakes!
Joseph’s food for slavery deal. If Bill Gates did it now, it would be horrid. That’s relative morality!
There are others but these stand out.
In the end I have to say this about Genesis. It was a great human story. It has realistic human characters in their normally screwed up situations with their frakked up morals. The people are magnificently flawed. Their actions are full of all the hatred and envy and love and nobility that make up every one of us. I have little problem with the people in the story. Many of them appeal to me and that makes this a great piece of literature.
It does not, however, make it absolute, unchangeable and inerrant truth. The people may be realistic, but their actions do not at all conform to someone who is created and led by a perfect god. And his actions, even when taken at face value, are childish and immature. In fact, I find children to have far better morals. If I had to choose between my twelve year old boy and God running the universe, I’d have to go with the twelve year old. I’ve at least taught him some manners.
If we are to believe that God is real and he did the things ascribed to him here, then I can find no other logical description of him than that of a petty but powerful tyrant. His deeds point to a sociopathic disregard for any but himself and his most sycophantic worshipers. He is Lord Voldemort triumphant and us without Harry Potter.
Were I a believer, I would be throwing away any idea of inerrancy. If this book is without flaw, then the vast majority of Christians are worshipping what can only be described as the devil. The literal interpretation leads us to no other conclusion. But I choose to take Occam’s razor and do what it does best. That is cut away all the unnecessary baggage and look at this how it really is. The vast majority of Christians are worshipping… absolutely nothing! That nothing rapidly fills with the greed, desire and envy of the most forceful personalities among the worshipers.
And regarding our direction in the world and science and morality, that nothing is in control. And it’s driving us straight for the cliff.
Have a nice day!