Genesis: Jacob’s Children

Genesis 29:31-30:24

The story of Jacob’s offspring shares similarities with the story of Abraham’s offspring. This story also includes a barren wife, Rachel, who believes her inability to bear children stems from god’s disapproval of her. She grows envious of her sister Leah, Jacob’s first wife, because she bears sons for Jacob. Leah finds pride in her ability to give Jacob children while her sister cannot. To Leah, her hospitable womb proves that god is rewarding her for enduring misery; Jacob does not love Leah, though it appears Leah is quite fond of Jacob. Rachel refuses to let her sister be the only one to bear sons for Jacob, so she forces her maidservant, Bilhah, to act as her surrogate. Bilhah births two sons in Rachel’s stead. Leah also gives her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob when she no longer conceives, and Zilpah births two sons. Rachel eventually births two sons of her own once god comes around, and Leah gives birth to two more sons and a daughter.

Since the Bible is held as the measure of morality by many because they consider it the literal word of god, one must ask: what moral lesson do we learn from this story? Here we have two women married to the same man, who follow the precedent set by the mother of the Judeo-Christian faith, Sarah, by giving their servants to their husband to have sex with, and their god condones this action. First, what right do these women have to force their servants to be sex slaves? Second, how can the Judeo-Christian god be considered moral if he supports this action? Today, almost no one would agree that this action is moral, because morality evolves as civilization progresses. Religious texts are not the culmination of revealed morality, but the reflection of the morality at the time in which they are conceived. Hence, why the moral teachings of the Bible change. If the Bible were written by god, then its moral teachings could not change because that would mean god changed. God cannot change because god must be perfect and infallible. And if one changes their position, they admit to being fallible. (This line of argument stems from Anselm’s argument for the existence of god.)

So if the Bible is not the literal word of god, then why do people want to live by its teachings? Why can we not all admit that morality will not be revealed to us, instead it must be sought.

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Genesis: The Death of Sarah

Genesis 23:1-20

At a hundred and twenty-seven years old, Sarah dies. She dies at Kiriath Arba (Hebron) which is in the land of Canaan. Abraham speaks to the Hittites and asks them to sell him property to bury his deceased wife. They offer him prime burial tombs to bury his wife for free. Abraham declines, and again asks to buy land to bury his wife. Ephron the Hittite replies to Abraham’s offer and tells him that he is willing to give him the field he wants as well as the cave at no cost. Abraham insists on paying for the land, and be deeded the property. He is told that four hundred shekels is the going rate for the property in question. Abraham pays the four hundred shekels for the property, and the land is deeded to him. Abraham then buries his wife in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre.

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Genesis: The Birth of Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away, & The Treaty of Beersheba

Genesis 21:1-34

The Birth of Isaac

As the Lord promised, Sarah gives birth to a son when Abraham is a hundred years old. They name the son Isaac as they said they would. Abraham circumcised the boy after eight days like his covenant with God commands.

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away

By the time Isaac had been weaned, Sarah had noticed that the son of Abraham’s other wife was beginning to mock Isaac. Sarah commands Abraham to “ ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’ ” (If you remember, Sarah told Abraham to take Hagar and have a son with her.) Abraham was concerned with sending his son and his other wife out into the desert, but God tells him to do as Sarah commanded because he will make a nation out of Ishmael. Abraham packs them food and water, and sent her off with their son. The two wander into the desert of Beersheba. They run out of water and Hagar sets the boy under one of the bushes. She sits away from the child under the shade of a tree. She says to herself, “ ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ ” God, hearing the helpless cries of the child, comes to Hagar and asks what is wrong. She tells the Lord that they are out of water. God tells her not to be afraid and pick up her child, and that He will make a nation out of her son. Then Hagar spots a well of water, and refills her skin (a pouch to carry water) and gives the child a drink. The boy grows up and becomes an archer. He lives his life in the Desert of Paran, and his mother finds him a wife from Egypt.

This is the first passage (that I find evidence of) where God shows true signs of compassion. For me, this doesn’t excuse the further and past atrocities He commits, but it is pleasant to read a passage that isn’t all about animal sacrifice and genocide. I’m sure even Genghis Khan had his good days.

The Treaty of Beersheba

The king that Abraham swindles, Abimelech, and Phicol, the commander of his forces, come to Abraham. Abimelech asks if Abraham will swear that he will no longer deal falsely with him, his children, or his descendants, and that Abraham will show him and the country he is living in as an alien with the same kindness as the king had shown him.  Abraham agrees to do so. Abraham complains about a well Abimelech’s people had seized. The king claims to not be aware of this, and to have only just heard this. Abraham brings to the king some sheep and cattle to make a treaty. Abraham sets apart seven ewe lambs (young female sheep, also the first time we see the number seven). The king asks why he has set these lambs apart, and Abraham replies, “ ‘Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.’ ” The treaty was made, and the king and his commander left. Abraham continued to live in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

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Genesis: Abraham and Abimelech

Genesis 20:1-18

Abraham, the great con-artist, is up to his old tricks again in this tale. Abraham moves into the region of Negev and lived in Gerar. There, he and his wife are approached by the king of that region, Abimelech. Like they did in Egypt, Abraham and Sarah told the king they were brother and sister, not husband and wife. The king then takes Sarah to be his wife. God then comes to the king in a dream and tells him that he is as good as dead, because he has taken Sarah to be his wife. The king had not laid with Sarah, so he asks God if He would destroy an innocent nation. He tells God that he was innocent, because Abraham had told the king they were siblings. God then tells him that He knows that he did this in good conscience, and that is why He prevented the king from touching her. Here God has suspended free will. God is willing to step in and prevent this king from having sex with Abraham’s wife, but God is not willing to step in and prevent Lot’s daughters from raping their father.

Abimelech calls for his officials and told them what had happened. He then calls for Abraham and asks, why did he do this? Abraham says his reason for such treachery was because he believed that this city did not have the fear of God. Abraham does go on to admit that he did not lie, Sarah and him are brother and sister–half-brother and half-sister, same father. Another instance of incest (I am considering a counter for each account of incest). Abraham claims to have told Sarah that for her to show her love of him, she is to tell everyone that Abraham is her brother wherever they go.

Just like in Egypt, Abraham walks away from this situation a wealthier man. The king gives him sheep and cattle, male–who must now be circumcised–and female slaves, and returned his wife to him. The king also gives him a thousand shekels of silver. Abraham prays for the king so that he will be forgiven, and leaves now a richer man. It is said that God had closed up the wombs of Sarah and the female slaves while Sarah was with the king, and now that Sarah has return the wombs are returned to normal. The prophet of God, the great con man, Abraham, has swindled another king.

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Genesis: The Three Visitors & Abraham Pleads for Sodom

Genesis 18:1-33

The Three Visitors

The Lord comes to visit Abraham with two other men. Abraham rushes over to greet the three of them, and offer food and water to wash their feet. Abraham goes to his first wife Sarah and tells her to bake some bread. Then Abraham, knowing of the Lord’s hunger for the infantile flesh of young bovines, chooses a calf and orders his servant to prepare it for his guests. Abraham then brings to his guests some curds, milk, and the prepared calf. While they ate, Abraham stands near them under a tree. They ask where his wife Sarah is, and Abraham tells them she is in the tent. The Lord tells Abraham, again, that when he returns in a year, Sarah will give birth to a son. Sarah was eavesdropping, and when she heard this she laughed. Because she is old, so how could she give birth to a child? The Lord responds to her laughter by posing this rhetorical question to her: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ The obvious answer to this question–if the Judaeo-Christian God, or any deity, does in-fact exist, which there is little evidence to support such an claim–is indeed yes, or, for those that do believe in this deity, it must be yes to reconcile their deity’s contempt for the suffering of billions of our fellow humans. I am of course alluding to that famous Epicurus quote that we Atheist enjoy so much. I hesitate to get into a discussion on the famous quote of Epicurus because first, I think it is slightly contrived, and second, I think there will be a more opportune time to discuss it. If you are not familiar with Epicurus’s argument then do so with haste. It is a philosophical argument that all should at least ponder on for a moment. Now, Sarah lies and tells the Lord that she did not laugh, but the Lord calls her out on her lie, and say, ‘Yes, you did laugh’.

Abraham Pleads for Sodom

The three men get up to leave and Abraham walk with them to see them out. The men look upon Sodom, and the Lord plans to go there to see if the people of Sodom deserve his wrath for their sins. The Lord questions whether He should tell his servant his plans, but in the end decides to do so. Abraham asks the Lord, what if there are fifty people who are righteous, will you spare the city for them? The Lord says he would spare it. Abraham goes on to ask the same question, but each time lowering the number of people who are righteous until he gets to ten people. The Lord each time says he would spare the city if said number of righteous people were found in the city. Abraham is obviously interested because, if you remember, his nephew Lot lives in Sodom. When the two finish their discussion they part.

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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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