Genesis: The Stay in Shechem and the Rape of Dinah

Genesis 33:18-35:5

Jacob settles in the land of Canaan, outside the city of Shechem. He traveled to the city and purchased the land which he settled for one hundred pieces of money. On his land he erected an altar to El, the god of the early Israeli religion.

This story offer an opportunity to raise an important point. The identity of the biblical god changes throughout the story. The god of genesis is replaced as the tribe of Israel changes. The stories of Jacob regard the god El, who is eventually supplanted in later stories. Even that god is eventually replaced by a deified man, but that is getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, went to visit the women of the city. While in the city, the son of Hamor and prince of the Hivites, Shechem, rapes her. (The annotation states that some scholars believe the Hebrew verbs used imply that the intercourse was consensual but illicit, which would still be a defilement of Dinah.) Shechem falls in love with Dinah and asked his father, Hamor, to persuade Jacob to allow him to marry her. Hamor meets Jacob, who knows of Shechem’s actions. Hamor discusses his son’s intention to marry Dinah with Jacob while his sons are out in the fields. When they return and hear what has happened to their sister, they are outraged. Hamor protests his sons affection for their sister and hopes to create a covenant with their family. Hamor hoped to marry all the sons of his region to Israel’s daughters, and for Israel’s sons to marry the his daughters. He pledged to pay any price named by the Israelis. Their demand: foreskin. They required that all Hivite men cut off the skin covering the glands of their penis before they marry any woman of Israel. By disfiguring their genitals, they would then become Israelites.

Hamor and his son agreed to this demand. With haste, Shechem cut off his foreskin to betroth Dinah. Hamor and Shechem then spoke with the men of their city and told them that the Israelis are friends. They wished to intermarry, but on one condition: all men of the city must be circumcised. They told their men, “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?” (Genesis 34:23) Clearly illustrating that the intent of the Hivites was to assimilate the Israelites and acquire their property. With such a tempting offer before them, the men all agreed to the demand.

Three days after disfiguring their genitals, while the men were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, entered the city of Shechem. As the direct brothers of Dinah, they felt compelled to avenge the violation of the family’s honor, so they drew their sword and began to massacre the men of Shechem. They entered the house of Shechem, murdered him and Hamor, and retrieved Dinah. Jacob’s other sons came to the city and saw the men slain. They then proceeded to plunder the city as their sister had been defiled.

Upon returning home, Jacob scolded Simeon and Levi for what they did. He feared the ramifications of their actions because the news of their actions would surely turn the Canannites and the Perizzites hostile toward them. They responded to their father saying, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Touché. God then tells Jacob to return and settle in Bethel, and to make an altar to the god that spoke with him there. (Is that not the same god that is speaking to him now?) Jacob then gathers his family, and tells them to give him all their idols of foreign gods. He then buries them under an oak tree, and they leave Shechem.

The actions of Jacob’s sons begin the fulfillment of Noah’s curse on Ham, the father of the Canaanites. Jacob is the descendant of Shem, who Noah said would make the Canaanites his slaves. Jacob’s sons perpetuate the feud between these two families by massacring the men of the city. While Shechem’s actions toward Dinah are deplorable, if he raped her, it does not justify the massacre of all the men of the city. And according to biblical law, Shechem did as he must. In the Bible, the punishment of a rapist is to marry the woman he raped and to pay the father for damages done to his property, that is his daughter. All of which Shechem did. Today, no one would force the victim of rape to marry their rapist because that is vile, yet those who believe the Bible provides us the laws to govern our lives would have to subscribe to such a detestable law.

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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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Genesis: The Flood

Genesis 6:1-8:22

The story of the flood is one of the most iconic tales in the Bible. Many movies–”Evan Almighty”, possibly Steve Carell’s best work and a personal favorite of mine–and children’s cartoons have been based on this story. Many religions, especially around the near east and Mediterranean Sea, have a common flood myth. One other myth that I’m aware of is the one told in “The Metamorphoses” by Ovid, which is the Greco-Roman version. In this myth, Jove has become displeased by the actions of man, and decides to clear the Earth of all life. Jove instructs his brother Neptune, God of the seas, to bring down rain and crash the waves of the seas against the land. Neptune does as instructed and floods the Earth. After the Earth flooded only one man, Deucalion, and one woman, his wife, survive. Jove sees that these two are the purest of all of the humans and favors them. They are then told by the Gods to repopulate the Earth.

I digress from the original topic, but for good reason. The point is that the flood myth is common. This Greco-Roman myth is based on the Genesis myth, which the oldest written account is found written on tablets from the eighteenth-century BCE in Sumerian. The fact that it’s written in Sumerian, a dead language by eighteenth-century BCE, indicates the myth predates the Israelites by many centuries, and must have later been adopted as part of their religion and written in the Torah, or Old Testament as the Christians call it.

Let’s now take a look at the account of the flood that is given to us in Genesis. The story, “The Flood”, begins with an account of the development of society that stemmed from the lineage of Adam. The Bible states that the “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose”. I had to do a little research to see what “sons of God” and “daughters of men” meant. What I found was that the “sons of God” refers to the line of Seth, and the “daughters of men” refers to the line of Cain. This passage mentions the Nephilim, we will hear more about them later in the Bible. God also says his spirit will no longer contend with man forever, because man is mortal; so from this time forth God decrees that no man shall live more than 120 years. God was displeased of “how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become”. God “grieved that he had made man on the earth”. God was displeased with all of his creation except for Noah and his wife, their sons, and their son’s wives. To fight the wickedness of man, God decides to kill everyone who displeased him by drowning them in a flood. God then gives Noah very specific instructions. Which I find interesting. Why here, unlike many other parts, is God so specific; whereas other times, when clarity would be nice, he is not? Anyways, God tells Noah to build an ark that follows these dimensions precisely: 450 ft. long by 75 ft. wide by 45 ft. high. God commands to “make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 in. of the top.” Also, he dictates to “put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” God establishes a covenant with Noah and commands him to bring two of every kind of animal, male and female, and take every kind of food. Noah did everything God commanded. Now this all occurred in Genesis 6.

In Genesis 7 the story differs slightly in regards to God’s commands about the animals. In this chapter of the story, God commands Noah to take “seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate”. Noah was also commanded to take seven of every kind of bird, both male and female. The Bible does not give us a definition of a clean or unclean animal in this passage, so while God could be specific about dimensions of the boat, he chooses not to have it known what animals are clean and unclean here. Also, why the flip-flopping–if you will allow me to use such a humorous political phrase–on the number of animals. Originally one pair of each, now seven pairs of some and only one pair of the other. Why show favorites on certain animals? If God created all the animals, then why did he create some he didn’t prefer? There are obvious logistic problems with the gathering of all species. There are 1.3 million known species that live on the Earth currently, and scientist estimate that 8.7 million exist in total. So just based off of the number of we do know, how were they all suppose to fit into an ark that is smaller than the Titanic? You also have to take into account the space necessary to store the amount of food needed to feed all of these animals, Noah, and his family. And not just for forty days, as we find out, but to feed them for a year.

God tells Noah that he will make it rain for forty days and forty nights. The water then flooded the Earth for 150 days (about 5 months). God remembers that Noah, his family, and all those animals were in that ark, and he sends out a wind and the waters begin to recede. The ark settles on the Mountains of Ararat, somewhere in modern Armenia. According to the tale it wasn’t until a year later that the Earth was dry and they came out of the ark. God tells them to come out and be fruitful and multiply. Noah then makes an altar for God. He then takes some of the clean animals that he had saved from this flood and kills them as a sacrificial offering to God. God is then so pleased by the pleasurable aroma of the burning meat of these clean animals that he makes this promise, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man,  even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease”.

This is a promising outlook from a “benevolent” deity. All of humanity from childhood is evil and every inclination rooted in evil. I find it interesting that the death of so many lives by the act of God did not change his perspective; it took the death of more lives, the sacrifice of animals, for God to finally ease up on the reigns a bit. There is some archaeological evidence that in early human life there was some serious flooding in the middle east region, but not to this scale. The Tigris and the Euphrates were prone to flood often and sporadically. The weather was very unpredictable in this region. There is an interesting anthropological outlook on religion that correlates weather conditions to a culture’s God(s).

In most places in the world the climate is unpredictable. In societies where the weather was volatile, so too were the moods of the Gods. In contrast, the Egyptian Gods were even-handed and mild-tempered. This reflected the nature of the Nile river. The Nile floods predictably and leads to predictable growing seasons. This is what contributed to the Egyptians stability and prosperity for generations.

The flood myth is a fixture in many culture’s. The story is in some ways a great metaphor for humanity’s ability to triumph over nature and humanity’s will to survive. I would argue that this particular version of the myth is not the best–I prefer the version told in “The Metamorphoses”–but it’s a matter of taste.

Next time I will look at “God’s Covenant With Noah”.

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Genesis: From Adam to Noah

Genesis 5:1-32

“This is the written account of Adam’s line”, Genesis 5:1. That is mostly what this passage is about. One thing to comment on is the age of the people in this passage. Archaeological evidence shows that there are no records of humans living for a half-millennia or more. So what we learn in this passage is that Noah is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Adam. One interesting thing to mention is the grandfather of Noah. In Genesis 4:18, “ . . . Methushael was the father of Lamech”. Lamech is the father of Noah, but what’s interesting about this is what Genesis 5:25 says, “When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he became the father of Lamech”. Now Methusaleh according to “From Adam to Noah” is the son of Enoch, who is the son of Cain according to Genesis 4:17, but here Enoch is the son of Jared, Genesis 5:18. In “From Adam to Noah”, Lamech is the grandson of Enoch, but in “Cain and Abel”, Lamech is the great-great grandson of Enoch. According to the passage “From Adam to Noah” Enoch is the great-great-great grandson of Seth, instead of the son of Cain as it is in “Cain and Abel”. So while this should give us a clear understanding of the lineage of Adam to Noah, instead the lineage is now even more muddled.

A footnote in the NIV version, and this version only, states that “father” in lines Genesis 5:7-26 could mean ancestor. If this is true and this is how the text is actually translated then this would clear up the contradiction, but that is not what all the other version of the Bible say. All the others say either begot, begat, or explicitly says they were the sons of whomever. So based on a literal reading of the text, there is a contradiction of the important lineage of Adam.

The passage ends with the names of Noah’s sons, Noah became the father of Shem, Ham , and Japheth.

Next time I look at the Christian version of the flood myth in, “The Flood”.

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