Genesis: The Covenant of Circumcision

Genesis 17-1:27

At this moment, a baby boy is being born, and soon a small part of him will be severed from his body–how insulting of me to assume it would be small, but he is infantile. This is the story that gives the biblical basis for such genital mutilation. There has been much discussion on the pro’s and con’s of this practice. Many praise it to be beneficial to the hygiene of males as a way of preventing urinary and yeast infections for men. Others claim that it robs men of sexual pleasure, as well as women, when they are of age, and circumcision can have lasting psychological effects. I am circumcised, as it is the western thing to do, and see no effect on my pleasure (maybe I do, but I will never know) or my psychological well-being. I agree with the health benefits, and that the benefits outweigh the con’s. This genital mutilation likely began in Egypt where it spread to the Mesopotamian region, and was then adopted by the Judaic people. Genital mutilation is a common ritual amongst many religious groups, but I must make it clear that in my opinion male genital mutilation is a far more genial than the heinous act of female genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation serves no benefit to women, only negative effects on their physiology and psychology, and robs them of an important component to their attainment to sexual pleasure. I must step off my soap box and return to the text at hand, because I have digressed. FGM has nothing to do with the text at hand, but it is an issue that must be addressed and fought against.

Now to address the text at hand, God comes to Abram to discuss His covenant with him. God promises him again that he will have many sons who will be kings of many lands. God also decides to give a new name to both Abram and Sarai; they are now to be known as Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was the first of his people to reject their idol worship and the first to promote a monotheistic religion based on the Israelite god, if Abraham ever existed, and puts us somewhere around 1800 BCE. God promises Abraham that he will be given a son by his first wife, Sarah, if he makes a covenant that all men who descend from him, and all the men he owns and their descendants are circumcised. In “God’s Covenant With Abram”, God required that Abram cut in half a heifer, a ram, and a goat, all three years old, and to sacrifice a dove and a pigeon for the birth of one son, Ishmael, to another women, Hagar. For the birth of another son by his first wife, God has raised the stakes. God now requires the flesh of penises of all that descend from Abraham and the people he owns to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant with God. God’s new found desire for the flesh of penises is odd to say the least, but this sacrifice of flesh (and blood) is a recurring theme in the Bible. God states that all new born’s are to be circumcised within eight days of birth and any who are not circumcised have broken their covenant with God.

Abraham laughs and asks God how can he and Sarah have a child; they are so old–Abraham a hundred and Sarah ninety. Abraham says to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’ God tells Abraham that his first wife, Sarah, will give him a son in a year named Isaac, whom God will make a covenant with. God will bless Ishmael and make him into a great nation, but won’t make a covenant with him. When they had finished their discussion God went up from him. Abraham, with haste, then circumcised every male in his household and all the men he owned. Both he and his son Ishmael, thirteen at the time, were circumcised on the say day. A great father and son bonding experience.

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Genesis: Hagar and Ishmael

Genesis 16:1-16

In the last story of the Bible, Abram is promised a child by God. Sarai, however, is unable to conceive a child. Sarai then tells Abram that he should sleep with her maidservant Hagar, whom she acquired in Egypt ten years ago. Abram agrees to sleep with Hagar and take her as his second wife, another example of polygamy in the Bible. When Hagar knows she is pregnant, she begins to despise her mistress, Sarai.  Sarai then goes to her husband, Abram, and says this is all his fault. Abram tells his first wife that Hagar is her maidservant and it is her place to “[d]o with her whatever [she] thinks best”. Sarai mistreated Hagar, abuses her in some way, and Hagar flees. Hagar flees to a spring in the desert where an angel comes to her. The angel ask why she is fleeing. Hagar responds to the angel saying that it is because her mistress is mistreating her. The angel tells her to go back to her mistress and submit to her. The reward for her submission will be more descendants, which doesn’t seem like much of a reward to me. No person should be forced to live in an abusive situation; that is immoral. Tyranny of any kind should never be tolerated, but in the Bible it often is. The angel tells her that she will give birth to a son, and she will name him Ishmael. Ishmael “will be a wild donkey of a man”, a jackass perhaps? He will be aggressive towards everyone and everyone will be aggressive towards him. Ishmael doesn’t sound like he will be one of the most savory of characters, rather quite a brute. Hagar returns to Abram and Sarai, and she bears Abram a son, whom he names Ishmael.

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Genesis: God’s Convenant With Abram

Genesis 15:1-21

The last few stories of the Bible have been jejune, except maybe the last story which gave some insight to Abram’s military prowess, but even that leaves the reader unfulfilled due to lack of detail. This passage at least offers some things to discuss.

The Lord comes to Abram in a vision: “Do not  be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abram replies to this by asking God what God can offer him. He has no son to be his heir, and will have to give all he has to Eliezer of Damascus since God has not given him a son. God tells him that Eliezer will not be his heir and that God will grant him a child from his own body. God takes him outside and tells Abram to look up at the stars and count them, if he can. His offspring will equal in number to the stars. Obviously not his actual descendants, those from his own loin, but must include his descendants offspring as well. This news pleases Abram. God reminds Abram that He is the one who promised this land to him. Abram asks how can he be sure that the land will be his? God orders Abram to bring Him a heifer, that’s a young virgin cow in case you don’t know, a ram and a goat, each three years old. Also, he is to bring a dove and a young pigeon. Abram brought all these animals to the altar to sacrifice to God. He cut each animal in half–I wonder in which way, hot dog or hamburger. Am I the only one who remembers these saying from school to illustrate how to fold paper in half?–except the birds. When birds of prey came to feast on the flesh of Abram’s sacrificial offerings to the Lord, Abram fought them off. As the sun set Abram fell asleep, and in a dream God came to him. God told him that his descendants “will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.” God promises to punish the nation that enslaves his descendants after four hundred years of oppression, and then will reward them with great possessions. God tells Abram that he will die before this, and die peacefully. God says he cannot give the land to Abram and his descendants yet, because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” That is the day, according to this passage, that God made his covenant with Abram, and promised him and his descendants all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates.

In this passage we see another example of God’s unquenchable appetite for the blood and flesh of animals, not only that, now His taste is even more refined. He has acquired a taste for virgin-female animals as well. This was not enough to please God, and grant Abram and his descendants the land He had promised them. More suffering had to endure before He could fulfill His obligation.

In the next story we see the conception and birth of the first child of Abram, but this child’s mother is not who you would think.

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Genesis: Abram Rescues Lot

Genesis 14:1-24

The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim are at war with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. The latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim. For twelve years these kings were subjects to Kedorlaomer, the king of Elam, but after thirteen years they rebelled. King Kedorlaomer and all his allies went out and defeated the Rephaites, Zuzites, Emites, Horites, Amalekites, and the Hazazon Tamar in the fourteenth year. The kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela go to battle in the Valley of Siddim against king Kedorlaomer and his allies. This valley is full of tar pits. When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their allies fled from the battle some fell into the tar pits and the rest fled for the hills. King Kedorlaomer and his allies took all the goods in Sodom and Gomorrah, and they also took Lot, who was living in Sodom, and all his possessions. One of the men who escaped the battle went to Abram and told him of Lot’s abduction. Abram gathered 312 men and set off to save his nephew. When he caught up with the army, he attacked at night and routed the troops. He recovered all the good and his nephew Lot. The king of Sodom meets Abram as does Melchizedek king of Salem, who brought out bread and wine, after Abram returns from defeating King Kedorlaomer. The king of Salem says that Abram is blessed by God Most High. Abram gives him a tenth of everything he recovered during his military campaign. The king of Sodom offers Abram to keep all the good he had recovered during his campaign, but Abram denies. Abram says, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread of the thong of a sandal, so that you will be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me . . . Let them have their share.”

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Genesis: Abram and Lot Separate

Genesis 13:1-18

When we left off, Abram is ordered to leave Egypt by the Pharaoh, because he had his wife lie. He told his wife to tell the Pharaoh they were brother and sister, because he believed the Pharaoh would kill him and take her for his wife. After they told the lie, the Pharaoh took Abram’s wife, and gave Abram land and livestock making him a wealthy man. The Pharaoh is subjected to God’s wrath for marrying Abram’s wife. When the Pharaoh learns of Abram’s deception, he calls upon Abram and asks why he didn’t tell him Sarai was his wife. The Pharaoh then tells Abram to take his wife, all that he owns, and leave Egypt. I question the motives of Abram, or at least his ethics. I believe the ethics of any man favorably procuring his wife should be scrutinized.

This passage begins with Abram leaving Egypt towards Negev with his wife, his possessions, and Lot. Abram has acquired great wealth–livestock, silver, and gold–while in Egypt. Lot has also acquired livestock and people who follow him. While traveling together, the people of Abram and the people of Lot began to quarrel. To prevent fighting between the two, Abram and Lot agree to separate and each to go opposite ways. Lot sees that the land of Jordan is fertile, so he choses this land. Abram goes to live in the land of Canaan. God then says to Abram, after Lot parts ways, that all the land that he sees from where he is belongs to him and his offspring forever. Abram then builds an altar for the Lord.

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Genesis: The Call of Abram & Abram in Egypt

Genesis 12:1-20

In The Call of Abram, God says to Abram, “‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you’”. God tells Abram that He will make him a great nation, make his name will known, bless all that bless him, and curse all that curse Abram. Abram leaves and brings his nephew Lot, his wife Sarai, and the people he had acquired while in Haran with him. God tells him to go to Canaan where the Canaanites already reside. Abram wanders through the land of Canaan. He stops first at the site of “the great tree of Moreh at Shechem” and builds an altar to God. God, pleased with his offerings, promises Abram the lands of Canaan. He then leaves and travels to a location between Bethel and Ai, and builds an altar there. Abram then continues to Negev.

Abram in Egypt

Famine strikes the land of Canaan, so Abram leaves Canaan for Egypt. Before Abram enters Egypt, he tells his wife that if the Egyptians know they are married then they will kill him and take her, because she is beautiful. So he tells his wife to lie and say they are brother and sister, so he would “‘be treated well for [her] sake and [his] life will be spared for [her]’” When they enter Egypt, she tells the official that they are brother and sister. The officials, impressed by her beauty, bring her to the Pharaoh to become his wife. Abram is taken care of, as he had said, and given livestock and servants. According to this story, God inflicts “serious diseases on the Pharaoh and his household”. The Pharaoh summons Abram and asks, “‘What have you done to me?’” “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife, and allow me to marry her?” The Pharaoh then tells him to take his wife, everything he has, and leave his land. A lenient punishment for such a crime. Abram is the original con-artist.

Next, the story of how Abram and Lot separate.

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Genesis: From Shem to Abram

Genesis 11:10-32

This passage is another listing of lineage, this time from Shem to Abram. For some reason these people are still living a half-century even though God said man would live no longer than 120 years in “The Flood”. The passage describes Shem’s lineage, but only one person is important to address, Terah. Terah is the great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of Shem. Terah is the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran became the father of Lot. Abram and Nahor marry. Abram’s wife’s name is Sarai; Nahor’s wife’s name is Milcah, the daughter of Haran. So Milcah was Nahor’s Neice, good family values. Abram’s wife was barren, so she did not have any kids. Terah, Abram, Lot, and Sarai left Ur and set out to Canaan, but settled in Haran where Terah dies.

Besides a little incest, nothing too interesting. Next time, “The Call of Abram”.

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Genesis: The Tower of Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

According to this story, the whole world at this time had one language. Now, we know that the entire world didn’t have the same language, because as the people of the Middle-east were developing their own language, so were the people of China, Egypt, India, and the people of the Americas. So the “whole world” in this passage refers rather to a small portion of the world, the Middle-east. By 1500 BCE, Mesopotamian culture had spread across western Asia. Akkadian was the language of diplomacy and how governments would correspond to each other. In the generations that proceed, Akkadian would be supplanted by Greek, Latin, French, and English as the languages of business and diplomacy, I digress. Many of the nations in this region also adopted the writing system cuneiform. It could be said that the people at this time did in fact speak the same language. It is not because of God that people developed their own language though. Over time, being isolated from other groups of people, populations develop their own dialect and even their own language. Just look at the English language, America specifically. American English began from different dialects of “real English”, British. As time progressed the northern states had a unique dialect, the southern states their own dialect, the Appalachian people had their own, the creole people of Louisiana, the mid-west, and even the west had their own, and some could be incomprehensible even though it is the “same” language. A linguist could explain this better, but I think I’ve made my point. For an example of the language of the Middle-east at this time changing let’s look at the Syrian city-state Ugarit. The people of Ugarit used thirty cuneiform symbols out of hundreds to represent consonant sounds; this is one of the earliest examples of an alphabet system. The Phoenicians would further develop on the alphabet concept by creating two dozen consonant symbols, which the Greeks would later adopt and create the first true alphabet system.

Let’s actually get to the interesting part of the story now. These people, who all shared the same language, moved to a plain in Shinar, it is unclear Shinar’s actual location. When they arrive they decided to build a city and to build a tower that reaches the heavens. They were using mortar and brick to build this city and tower. A structure made of this material could be no larger than five stories. It was not until the advent of steel were humans able to make towers larger than this, yet God hasn’t displaced us. Now these people attempted this construction project so they would “make a name for [them]selves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth”.  God decides to come down and see what these people are up to. When he sees the accomplishments of these people, God is not filled with joy by their accomplishments, rather God is fearful. God then says, “‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’” (This is one of those quotes when you wonder who else God is taking to.) God, being the malevolent God the He is, takes the people of this town and scatters them, to halt the progress of man. This is another example of God’s contempt for human progress, a constant theme in the Bible. This repression of progress promoted in this archaic book is detrimental to our society.

Next time, “From Shem to Abram”.

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Genesis: The Table of Nations

Genesis 10:1-32

The story, “The Table of Nations”, is the account of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their sons. This passage first describes the lineage of Japheth, the Japhethites. Noah says in the previous story that Japheth and his descendants would live in the tents of the people of Shem. The only additional description we are given in “The Table of Nations”, is that the descendants of Japheth’s son Javan are maritime people who each have their own language.

Next, the account of the sons of Ham, the Hamites. The son of Ham, Cush, is the father of Nimrod, a mighty warrior and great hunter before the Lord. “That is why it is said,  ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord’”. This is not the definition I associate with Nimrod. I did a little research on the word ‘nimrod’ and found that the official definition is: a skilled hunter. It wasn’t until the later half of the 20th century did youths try to change the definition to mean an idiot. This story claims that Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh are the centers of his kingdom. This passage says that from this land he went to Assyria, and accredit him with the founding of Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen. The mention of Assyria gives us a time period to attach with this tale. By 1500 BCE Mesopotamia was split into two distinct political zones: Babylon in the south and Assyria to the north. The city of Nineveh is found within the northern part of the Assyrian homeland south of modern-day Armenia, where the last story said the ark had settled. An interesting point to mention, the people of Assyria were polytheistic, and believed that their king was the earthly representative of the gods.

The next son of Ham mentioned is Mizraim. A footnote in the NIV version of the Bible says that Mizraim may refer to Egypt, or the ruler of Egypt. Based on the time period we are given from the mention of Assyria, more accurately this is probably a reference to the Hyksos. The Hyksos, which translates to “Princes of Foreign Lands”, were a semitic people from the Syria-Palestine region who moved into the Nile Delta and conquered Egypt around 1640 BCE. The Hyksos had superior military technology compared to the Egyptians. The Hyksos used horse-drawn war chariots to defeat the Egyptians, but they were not the first to develop this technology; the Hittites get credit for that, but we will discuss these people later. The Hyksos married into the Egyptians and adopted their religion–polytheistic–and maintained all other aspects of the Egyptian culture. The Egyptians always saw them as outsiders though, and by 1532 BCE a native dynasty had removed them from power.

The third of Ham’s four sons mentioned is Canaan. Canaan’s firstborn is Sidon. Sidon was an important city-state on the coast of the Mediterranean sea in the land of Phoenicia. The other ten of Ham’s sons are the Hittites. The Hittites were the most formidable power in the region, and were the foremost power in Anatolia from approximately 1700 to 1200 BCE. The Hittites were technologically advance. They were the first to smith Iron in the region and kept this knowledge a secret. They also developed the horse-drawn war chariot, as I discussed earlier. These people adopted the myths, legends, and styles of art and architecture from the Mesopotamians.

Of the descendants of Shem, the Semites, two names stand out. One is Elam. Elam were a people who lived in the Zagros Mountains on the border of modern-day Iraq and Iran. The other name that could be of importance is Asshur, which after doing some research, is an alternative spelling of Ashur. Ashur is the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. This is a very interesting point to make. The Assyrian people were polytheistic, and believed that their king was the representative of the gods, as I have already mentioned. What was the name of their chief god? Ashur.

This made me think of the previous passage when Noah says, “‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem!’”. Who is the God of Shem? If his son Asshur (Ashur) is the founder of the capital city of the Assyrian Empire who believe Ashur is the chief god of their polytheistic religion, then one has to wonder.

Already it is apparent that these people–the descendants of Noah’s Sons in particular–do not believe in one deity, they don’t even believe in the same deity, or even the same deity as the modern Judaeo-Christian’s do, Yahweh. Yet, Judaeo-Christians still hold these books as “proof” of the God Yahweh and as “proof” against the evidence of science, despite the fact that they are representative of a different God(s) from a different culture(s).

Next time I will be looking at the Tower of Babel.

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Genesis: God’s Covenant With Noah & The Sons of Noah

Genesis 9:1-29

In this post I will be looking at both the story “God’s Covenant With Noah” and “The Sons of Noah”. The first story begins where the last left off. After the waters had receded and Noah sacrificed clean animals to God, God makes a covenant with Noah and all that lived in the ark. God tells Noah and his family be fruitful, and that everything that lives and moves is food, on one condition. God commands that humanity must never “eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it”. So if you like to eat meat on the rare side, you are displeasing God and be wary of his wrath. God also gives an edict in regards to murder.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9:6)

This is where the justification for the death penalty comes from in the scripture. According to this, if one person commits murder, then it is justified to murder that person.

God makes the covenant with man he will never cut off life by the waters, and he will never destroy the Earth again with a flood. As a symbol of his promise, according to this story, God creates the rainbow to symbolize this promise. God says that the rainbow will remind him that he promised to never destroy the Earth by a flood again. Now that we no longer live in the Bronze Age, and can actually explain how rainbows form, this explanation is void. We now know, thanks to science, that rainbows form because of the Sun’s light shinning on water droplets in the Earth’s atmosphere which causes the spectrum of light appear in the sky.

The second story, “The Sons of Noah”, describes the fate of Noah’s sons. According to the Bible, all the people of the Earth are descendants of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham is the father of the people of Canaan.  Noah proceeds to plant a vineyard and grow grapes to make wine. Noah gets drunk off the wine one day and passes out naked in his tent. Ham sees his father’s nakedness and tells his brothers. His brothers walk in backwards, to avoid seeing Noah’s naked body, with a cloth, and lay it across their father’s naked body. When Noah awakes from his drunken stupor, he learns what Ham had done. The punishment of Ham seeing his drunken father’s naked body is the subjugation of him and his people as slaves to his brothers. This is the first example of the Bible’s promotion of slavery, a practice that secular philosophers have deemed immoral. Noah curses Ham, and he says:

“Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers, . . . Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.” (Genesis 10:25-27)

These are the actions of the man God favored above all other humans. He spared the life of this man, according to this book, and drowned who knows how many people who would have lived on the Earth at this time. This man is a drunkard and a man who condones slavery, on his own son at that. No moral being would favorably look upon the actions of Noah, yet this is the measure of character God views dignified. I am by no means censuring drinking; I particularly enjoy to indulge in my beloved rye and relish the languid, stupor that results. Still, I would not be angered if I learned someone had found me naked while I was passed out. I would be embarrassed, ashamed, but not angry at them. I would accept responsibility for my own actions, not condemn whoever found me to slavery. It is clear, hopefully to all, that Noah is not the man to draw moral inspiration from. This story ends with the death of Noah at the age of 950 years old.

Next time I will look at “The Table of Nations”.

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