The conditions at the beginning of the world were thus: It was dark, there was nothing but water everywhere, and God’s spirit moved around in it. It doesn’t say that God created the water, for all we know it the water is “co-eternal” with God. Then God spoke and by doing so performed his first act of ex nihilo creation, or something from nothing. Now there was light to see, but water was the only matter which existed, with nothing in the water to see with the light, not even a surface with waves.
Next God performed his first act of judgment, he separated the light from non-light. All through the Sacred Scriptures God will repeat this same act of screening or filtering, more often with people. It was Sunday night but there was not yet a sun, only a time when it was light, and a time when it was dark. That tells us God separated the light and darkness by intervals of time.
A firmament is a solid dome or vault, as shown in the image here. This dome was God’s second act of ex nihilo creation, created on Monday morning. The purpose of the solid dome was to divide the water that was, at that point, everything, into two separate reservoirs, upper and lower. Only on Monday did God call the firmament or dome “heaven”. That is why verse one is not when God created the heavens and earth but only a chapter heading. Since heaven is identified as the solid dome, it also meant there was water “above” heaven.
Tuesday was a busy day. After heaven was created, God proceeded to create the Earth, by producing land and dividing the sea from the land. Only then did facts on the ground catch up to the first verse in the Bible. And God performed his first quality self-check. Then for the rest of Tuesday God occupied himself by covering the land with the first living things, in the form of vegetation. But this was before the creation of the sun, which now provides the energy for all life on Earth. On this first day, plants drew their life-giving power from the whole sky, which was brilliant with undifferentiated light. And God performed his second quality self-check.
On Wednesday God started to decorate the firmament with lights. The lights were placed in the solid dome that covers the earth. Comets were provided to give “signs” (such as the passing of great kings). The stars with their familiar patterns revolved to mark the seasons. The sun and moon and stars were placed in the firmament, where they could move independently. This presumes the firmament is transparent, at least on the inside surface. And a curious thing has happened. Where before the light of creation was diffused over the whole sky only in daytime, now the light was confined to the sun during the day, to the moon at all times, and to the stars at night. And God performed his third quality self-check.
Thursday was when God populated the Earth with all the creatures which were not confined to the land. This included every creature swimming in the rivers and seas, as well as all the birds and bats and winged insects. God performed his fourth quality self-check, it is has become evident that God is working to an orderly and precise plan, with creation ordered by categories of habitat.
On Friday God made all the creatures which were confined to the land and performed his fifth quality self-check. Wingless insects such as mites were created at the same time as the higher-order mammals such as apes and horses. This claim is in direct contravention of the progression of species asserted by Darwinism. And yet, God said, “Let the earth bring forth” the living animals, which is precisely the claim of abiogenesis, that non-living chemical evolution preceded the beginning of life.
Now God proposed to make human beings, and for the first time he used the plural, when he says “let us make man…after our likeness”. Some Christians take this to prefigure the Holy Trinity, yet even the doctrine of the Trinity asserts there is but one God. And God doesn’t begin to use the plural until the beasts of the earth are created. Obviously this means God proposed to make a hybrid creature which is like an animal, but also made to resemble God in some way. He said man was to be made after “our” likeness; that is, combining attributes of the animal kingdom with divinity. If the days are not taken to mean literal 24 hour periods of time, this interpretation allows for evolution to co-exist with creation.
Both male and female humanity reflects the image of God. As a spirit, God is not a “he” but an “it” with no physical gender. And since humans resemble animals in body, the image of God is reflected in mankind’s interior life. Man’s mind was made in the image of God’s mind. Our body may be either male or female after the fashion of animals, but our interior temperament, male or female, also reflects the image of the temperament of God, which has elements of both.
God authorized sex and the colonization of the planet, and he put man in absolute control of all the fish and birds and beasts of the earth, to do with as he wished, as long as he didn’t eat them. In the beginning, God did not authorize a meat diet for human beings. We were only permitted to eat fruits and herbs. And God said he gave man the fruit of “every tree”, but later amended this permission to mean every tree except the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which he strictly forbade man to eat, and the Tree of Life, which he guarded with cherubim to prevent man from eating.
In the beginning, all the animals were only allowed to eat vegetables, not each other. All the birds of prey with their sharp talons and all the lions with their fangs, only ate green leaves. No blood was shed anywhere on the whole earth. The lion lay down with the lamb.
In the beginning, everything that God created, including human beings, was “very good”. This stands in stark contrast to the Gnostic view (which has bled into the Puritan view) that matter is intrinsically evil, and only the abstract things of the spirit are pure. No, God created matter and found it to be very good.
In the next chapter, God rests on Saturday, and then we flash back to the important events of Creation Friday when, during a single twenty-four hour day, Adam is created, then the animals, which are named by Adam, and finally a female human companion is created for him.
By an oversight, the chapter and verse numbering convention which was imposed on the Bible centuries after it was written creates an unnatural break in the creation narrative, which actually continues a few verses into Chapter 2.
When the Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem, they were introduced to the concept of “evil days” which occured on the new moon and every seven days thereafter, when the moon was quarter waxing, full, and quarter waning. On those days, the Babylonians curtailed their activity, and this custom was more or less imposed on the captive Jewish population.
But members of the Aaronic priesthood in exile attempted to reconcile this practice with Judaism, claiming ownership of those “evil days” by reversing them and declaring them holy. The Babylonian Shapattu became the Jewish Shabbat, a day of total rest when no work was to be performed at all. The priests read the Sabbath back into their scriptures when they assembled the Torah from the Jawhist, Elohist, and Deuteronomist sources, and Genesis chapter one is the ultimate instance of that, a retrojection of the Babylonian tradition right back onto the time of creation itself. And within a few years the myth that Moses himself had written the entire Torah and Jewish scribes had faithfully copied it in an unbroken series was accepted by all, and not seriously questioned until the 20th Century.
The second half of Genesis 2:4 marks the beginning of the Yahwhist contribution to Genesis, where all the preceding material came from the Priestly source, and was actually a post-Exilic synagogue litany chanted by Jewish congregations to put them in the frame of mind for worship much like the similar group participation rituals at the beginning of the Catholic Mass. But I will proceed as though Genesis was inerrant and had Moses as the sole author to trace out the consequences of that “conservative” position. Genesis chapter 2 begins after Creation Monday, before he caused the Earth to be covered with green growing things. And it says God created the earth and heavens in just one day, not six.
Genesis 2:7 has significance to the pro-life movement. The Bible says man doesn’t have a soul until he actually breathes air.
The text of Chapter 2 also says the first living thing God created was man, and so we are presented with an inescapable dilemma. If we accept Genesis 1 as true that man was created on the first Friday, then the plants of Creation Tuesday and the birds and fish of Creation Thursday could not have been created on the days they were said to have been. If we accept Genesis 2 as true, then man was created on Monday before any other living thing, contrary to what it clearly says in Chapter 1.
The name of the garden was not “Eden”. It was not the “Garden of Eden” as is commonly supposed. Eden is a land, and the garden was planted in the eastern half of Eden. Mormons insist the Garden of Eden is in present-day Jackson County, Missouri, in the greater Kansas City Metropolitan Area. I once took three weeks of instruction from a manufacturer in Kansas City to learn how program a circuit tester they made, and I can assure you Kansas City is not Eden.
There is a curious digression from the straight narrative of Genesis 2, and we veer into a little geography. The garden is the source of a river which divides into four streams. We never see this occur in real rivers except at their mouths, where they debouch into the sea. Josephus identified this river with the Ganges in India. Others associate it with a river in Iran that flows north into the Caspian sea, based on the description of gold and other resources given in the text.
Josephus identified another river in Genesis as the Nile, and this leads to a serious problem. The source of the Blue Nile is Lake Tana in Ethiopia, nowhere near Mesopotamia. Of course, Bible inerrantists claim the geography of all these lands were greatly distorted by the Great (Noachian) Flood, just like Middle-earth after the fall of Numenor. The changed-land hypothesis has a problem because the rivers Hiddekel (Tigris), and Euphrates are well-known and extant on a flood plain that would have been the first to be modified by a global flood. In any event, this little geography lesson seems to be a strange insertion of irrelevant material which interrupts the bold flow of the Yahwhist source, which now resumes as originally scheduled.
The first thing God did with the man was give him a job. He was to tend the garden. Presumably this was accompanied with extensive training, or perhaps the required skill set was built right into Adam’s mind from the gitgo. Along with his training, God gave Adam a Law consisting of a single commandment. He was never to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it was immediately lethal. This seems to be a little white lie on God’s part, because Adam did eat the fruit yet lived to be 930 years of age.
There are between 1.5 million and 1.8 million named species in the world. Adam never finished the task of naming all of them, because the total number of named and unnamed species in the world could range as high as ten million, and there were many more species back in the Day before man really began to dominate the Earth and kill everything.
God didn’t have a problem finding a help meet (a female beast) for every male beast, but when it came to finding a help meet for Adam, it was a real head scratcher. But finally God hit upon the solution! He would make something a lot like Adam, except it would be (wait for it…) female!
When I was growing up, it was “common knowledge” that boys had one less rib than girls, and when we learned different, it was as traumatic as learning that Santa Claus wasn’t real. It was not until 1543 that Andreas Vesalius did what none before had dared to do: He simply counted the ribs. And he found in every instance their number was the same for man as for woman. But it is a wonder he was not put on the rack.
Talking snakes. Now we are firmly in the genre of children’s fiction. But there are millions of people who believe this really happened, exactly as written. They can do this because the Book of Revelation identifies the serpent as the Devil. The snake is possessed by an evil spirit, they tell us. When the woman later identified as Eve told the snake she was not even allowed to touch the forbidden fruit, it was the first instance of a person adding to the Word of God. In chapter two, God merely said they may not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. She is the Bible’s first legalist.
God’s claim was that “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The serpent’s counter-claim is that in the day they eat the fruit they won’t die, but they will attain the power of reason. The serpent is called a liar today, but we soon see who is telling the truth. Adam is right there with the woman, but it is the woman who is taking the initiative to investigate reality and verify the serpent’s story, to test whether God was telling the truth or pulling a fast one. She is my role model: the first scientist in history, and a woman at that. After she has a bite of the fruit, she gives it to a passive Adam, who dutifully takes a bite as well.
Immediately after eating the fruit, they become fully human in the sense that we know humans to be today. Alone of all animals in the world, only human beings have awareness of our impeding doom. We know with certainty that someday, just like mayflies and redwoods and every other living thing in this world, we will not only cease to exist, we will not even know that we ever did exist. And that is the essence of the “Fall”… before that time we lived in the bliss of not knowing our mortality. We lived only in the eternal now like the beasts.
The early conception of Yahweh was that he was a physical being, not a spiritual one, a deity who could walk and enjoy his garden. He was not omnipresent, and it was possible to hide from him. This version of God was not omniscient as well, or if he was, then he was toying with Adam and Eve by pretending not to see them, the way a mother would let a child think he was successfully hiding from her.
Adam made the first confession of sin in history. But it was not a perfect confession, as soon becomes apparent. Yet Adam and the woman did not have moral culpability for disobeying God’s commandment not to eat that fruit, because it wasn’t until they ate the fruit that they knew it was wrong to disobey God.
God began an investigation. Adam responded with an astonishing piece of footwork. He said, basically, the woman put the fruit in with a bunch of other fruit and I ate it unawares. It wasn’t my fault, besides, you’re the one who made this woman and gave her to me, I didn’t ask for a partner, let alone a defective one. It was God’s fault, it was the woman’s fault, but there is one thing Adam is quite certain of, and that it was not his fault.
The woman’s defense is “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” But the serpent is innocent. Everything he said was true. They did not die in the day they ate the fruit, but some nine hundred years later. And their eyes were opened, and they became like gods with free will – the ability to know all the facts and choose accordingly.
God punishes the serpent anyway, by removing his legs and causing him and all his progeny to go about on the belly. But if the serpent is really possessed by the Devil then God is punishing an innocent animal that is dancing to the Devil’s commands like a puppet. And God says there will be eternal warfare between the race of serpents and the race of men, with no choice in the matter for either side.
The woman, who was certainly the leader in this misadventure, was placed into a subordinate position under her husband, and cursed with a painful and dangerous experience every time she gives birth.
Adam, who previously ate whatever we put in front of his face, was cursed with the necessity to bust his ass for every scrap of food. All because they felt they were different from Yahweh in some vital way and tried to close the gap.
The first killing recorded in the bible was by God himself, when he provided furs for Adam and Eve to wear on their way out the garden gate. God insisted that they leave his garden because they had indeed bridged a major gap between gods and men. Adam and Eve, in fact, were only one step away from becoming gods. The only missing ingredient was immortality, which would be conferred by the Tree of Life. That is a very important point. Some believe death only came after the fall, but in truth, Adam and Eve were already created mortal, otherwise God would not need to create and then protect the Tree of Life.
Yahweh had cursed the very soil, which caused it to grow thorny weeds. Adam had to work his butt off just to put food on the table. When his first-born son Cain was old enough he pitched in with dad and helped out in the field like a good boy. But Adam’s snotty younger son Abel preferred to just walk around the hills with his sheep, which could not even be eaten because Yahweh did not authorize a meat diet for humanity until after the Flood (Genesis 9:3). The only thing Abel could do with his sheep is offer them to Yahweh as a burnt holocaust. So Abel became the next person (after Yahweh made Adam and Eve some fur coats) to perform the act of killing.
One day Cain brought to Yahweh, in good faith, some of the fruit of the ground he had managed to grow (despite the soil being cursed) to offer in thanksgiving, but Yahweh had no respect for his offering, despite Cain being the first-born and natural heir to Adam’s priestly ministry, because it didn’t involve blood at all. So Cain, scratching his head and trying to figure out the rules, decided to kill his brother. Of course Cain was angry. Not so much angry with Abel as angry with Yahweh, who seemed to favor the lazy, shiftless one who just watched sheep over the faithful son who helped his father provide for the family. So killing Abel was a direct attack on Yahweh. No more lamb chops for him!
This murder got the deity’s attention. Yahweh gave Cain a chance to confess, but Cain covered up and said he did not know what became of Abel. As punishment, Yahweh cast Cain out of the farming profession completely, telling the soil not to yield up anything for him. Never again would Cain get to pester Yahweh with his boring fruits and vegetables that didn’t involve blood and killing. At least Yahweh did not demand Cain’s life as a human sacrifice for Abel’s life as we do today with the death penalty. But it is not known what the mark of Cain actually was. Unless it were an actual written threat tattooed on his skin, it’s hard to see how the mere sight of this mark would deter would-be murderers. And how do you take sevenfold vengeance for killing someone anyway? It seems to me you only get onefold and the victim is dead and that leaves six more folds that you can’t do to him.
For the second time we see the consequences of defying God, which is to be scattered. As Adam and Eve were scattered from paradise, so Cain and his wife were scattered from the land itself. Later at Babel all of humanity would be scattered.
Who was Cain’s wife? Obviously it was his own sister, unnamed in the Bible. Fundamentalists who believe the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God assure me that the Fall was a gradual process that continues to this day, and early on, men and women still had most of the genetic perfection that was Adam and Eve’s state when they were freshly created by God. So there would not have been any defective recessive genes that would be expressed in the offspring of Cain and his sister. And Cain was not content to just build a Little House on the Prairie, no, he built an entire city called Enoch. Population three.
After Enoch came Irad, Mehujael, Methusael, and Lamech, the husband of Adah and Zillah. Adah bore Jabal, father of tent-dwelling herdsmen. Zillah bore Tubal-cain, blacksmith, and brother of Naamah.
Lamech confessed to his two wives that he, too, killed a young man, and boasted that God would punish anyone who avenged themselves on him eleven times worse than the recompense promised by the mark of Cain. That means after God killed the victim onefold, there would be TEN folds remaining that he wouldn’t get to do, not just six.
Adam, created in 4,163 BC, was 130 years of age when he begat Seth, according to Genesis 5:3, so this joyous event occurred in 4,033 BC. Assuming Eve was popping out girls at the same rate, the world had eight people: Adam, Eve, Cain, Mrs. Cain, Li’l Enoch, Seth, Mrs. Seth, and the widow Mrs. Abel.
What follows in chapter five is a straightforward genealogy of the patriarchs ending with Noah’s triplets, Shem, Ham, and Japeth:
- 3928 BCE Enosh to Kenan (Gen. 5:9)
- 3838 BCE Kenan to Mahalalel (Gen. 5:12)
- 3768 BCE Mahalalel to Jared (Gen. 5:15)
- 3703 BCE Jared to Enoch (Gen. 5:18)
- 3541 BCE Enoch to Methuselah (Gen. 5:21)
- 3476 BCE Methuselah to Lamech (Gen. 5:25)
- 3289 BCE Lamech to Noah (Gen. 5:28)
- 3107 BCE Noah to Shem (Gen. 5:32)
When Enoch was 365 years old Yahweh took him somewhere way the hell out of the Middle-East. It couldn’t have been to heaven, because Jesus told us in the gospel of John that, “[N]o man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
Methuselah lived to be 969 years of age and died in the same year as the flood, which was 2507 BC. Since the narrative says nothing about Methuselah getting into the ark, it is entirely possible that he drowned in the flood. In any event, we know something about the moral character of Methuselah because he lived contemporaneously with Noah, yet God told Noah alone that he had proved to be righteous in his eyes.
Some say the “Sons of God” who had sexual intercourse with the “daughters of men” were actually angels, or demons, or angels who became demons after getting laid. But loyal angels would never have sex with women, and fallen angels would never be called sons of God. When the Sons of God knew the daughters of men, this was simply members of the clan of Seth marrying outside of their clan and forsaking the original religion.
Much demonology can be traced to a sloppy reading of Genesis 6:4. In the Hebrew the word used for giants is Nephilim and some versions of the Bible simply carry that word over without translation. Somewhere along the line, people got it into their head that the Nephilim were the offspring of angels and men. But a closer look at the verse reveals the clause “and also after that” which separates the Nephilim story from the sons of God story. The final piece of evidence is the appearance of the word Nephilim again in Numbers 13:33, rendered in English as:
And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
Unless the Nephilim had their own Ark, they would have all been swept away with the flood. So Nephilim is just your run of the mill generic giant, not a demigod or union of divine angel and mundane human flesh. They were the Jewish equivalent of our modern Sasquatch myth.
Besides, angels are spirits, and they only rent bodies like a tuxedo for specific tasks, such as wrestling with Jacob. So we must conclude the “Sons of God” were merely the line of Seth, who pre-figured the Hebrews, who in turn pre-figured the Church. They preserved a reverence and awe of Yahweh and the ordinances of worship inaugurated by Abel.
The “daughters of men” referred to everyone else, in the line of Cain, who had long been estranged from God and knew him not.
This process continued until only Methuselah, Noah, and Noah’s immediate family remained faithful among the Sons of God. Upon the death of Methuselah, God sent the flood, but saved eight persons, including Shem, whose line produced Abram. We can trace a continuous, blessed remnant from Adam to Christ. What tipped God over into this viewpoint? Perhaps it was when Lamech, the great-grandson of Cain, boasted to his wives of murdering a man rather than showing any remorse.
The theology of Genesis has Yahweh existing in linear time with the rest of us. He doesn’t know how the future will pan out, and when things go sour, he feels regret at having chosen that course of action. This Yahweh bears little resemblance to the ineffable, omniscient, eternal God that is asserted to exist by theologians today. And the Genesis God is going to take out his anger at man’s naughtiness on the animals too.
Isaiah said our own righteousness is like a filthy rag to God. Apparently Noah’s rag was the least filthy one in all the world, like a lazy bachelor getting ready for a job interview and putting on his cleanest dirty shirt. Noah was of the line of Seth, the “sons of God”, and neither he nor his sons intermarried with the line of Cain, and they practiced with perfection the ritual animal sacrifices established by Abel.
It had become a dog-eat-dog world. Even the animals killed each other for food now, when they were supposed to just eat green leaves. So God decided to meet violence with violence. He would kill everyone except Noah and start all over, and see if that nipped violence in the bud. It was worth a try.
God told Noah to build an ark with roughly the same displacement of a US Navy fast combat support ship like the Sacramento class oilers. Noah was told to use an unknown material called “gopher wood” but the text could refer to all the times Noah ran out of lumber while he was working and told his sons to “go for wood.”
After the so-called “Fall of Man” God himself cursed the land, but now he acted surprised when all of creation demonstrated the brokenness of the very curse he cursed. Nevertheless, God proposed to enter into the first of four covenants he will contract with mankind. The Noahide Covenant would cover Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives, and by extension all of mankind, since according to the Biblical narrative we are all descended from these eight people.
In Chapter six, God tells Noah to take into the ark a male and female representative of every beast of the earth and every bird. In Chapter seven there will be a change of plan. God will tell Noah to take seven of each species of bird, and seven of each clean beast.
Now we have a problem. Elephants for example (and there are two vastly different genera, Asian and African) eat low density food such as hay, and the four elephants on the ark would have required a total of about 50 tons of food for the duration of the flood. The ark itself, with three levels, and many rooms (to keep the birds from eating the bugs) and many interior wooden struts to prevent the bulkheads from caving in would have only had about three thousand tons of available cargo capacity before it sank. And there are between five and seven million species of animals.
And that completely disregards the problem of whether any species is genetically viable after reducing it to only two members.
Noah was reckoned by God as righteous, despite the absence of the Mosaic Law by which to measure that righteousness. Thus, contrary to St. Paul, it is possible for man to please God without the Law or Christ, because Noah did it.
In this chapter God amended his original commandment for Noah to gather animals by twos. Now he wants clean animals and birds to be loaded into the ark by sevens. This is a problem because as St. Paul says much later, no animal is unclean in itself. But there are animals which are ritually unclean according to the Levitical laws, which come much later than Noah. Clearly, what we have with this sudden obsession with sevens and ritual purity is a retelling of the Noah story by the post-Exilic priesthood writing during the Babylonian Vacation, and sometimes the seams between the original source material still shows.
And oh, by the way, Noah has seven days to round up the extra five animals of the clean species and the birds, because that’s when the Flood is scheduled. Noah did everything that God told him to do, but in the very next two verses, Noah clearly disobeyed God:
- 8-9 Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth, there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah.
No, that’s wrong, Noah! God changed his mind and said seven of the clean beasts and fowls, and two of everything else. Apparently Noah thought the last-minute change by Yahweh was silly, so he went back to the original plan, and loaded the ark with the animals he already had, whether they were clean or unclean.
When the Earth was created, the firmament (heaven) divided the waters above from the waters below. Now a set of windows were opened in this solid dome, which allowed all the waters above the earth to drain out. Additionally, all the waters below the Earth bubbled up to the surface.
When the flood came, the waters prevailed to the top of the highest mountain, plus another fifteen cubits (23 feet) above that. Mount Everest is 5.5 miles above sea level. The Earth has an area of 200 million square miles. This means the Flood required 1.1 billion cubic miles of water. This is not a problem, because the water was pre-positioned during Creation. The problem comes later, explaining where the water went.
The strata where we find fossils of dinosaurs are explained as layers of mud laid down by the flood, and the progression of animals, where we find the highest-developed animals higher in the strata is explained by the mechanism of animals competing for the high ground, the weaker and less successful animals would have had to settle for the flats and they would have been buried first. There is a big problem right there: At a certain level of the strata, we find trilobites. And they have the same frequency no matter if they are dug up in Kansas City or in Spokane or in Australia. People who compress 300 million years of evolution into 300 days fail to see the implication of that: the antediluvian world must have been wall-to-wall trilobites, let alone chock full of all the other animals we find.
The flood lasted one hundred fifty days in Genesis 7:24, forty days in Genesis 7:17, and ten months in Genesis 8:5. Take your pick.
As the Bible has it, the water of Noah’s flood was removed by evaporation. But the atmosphere can only hold about an inch of water in suspension as water vapor. More than one inch of water can be evaporated away if the saturated air is transported elsewhere by wind (and this works in reverse, more than one inch of rain can fall in one spot if saturated air masses are transported in by a storm), but since the whole earth was covered by water in the Flood, there was nowhere for it to go. There is simply no way to evaporate 1.1 billion cubic miles of water. Fundamentalists do their hand wave and suggest that it all went underground into the aquifer, and perhaps the seas are larger now. But that still leaves a lot of water to account for. Other believers suggest that the mountains were only about a thousand feet high back in that time, and they’ve grown since then, but they do not offer the geological evidence to support that.
James Irwin, the eighth person to walk on the moon, led a number of expeditions to find Noah’s Ark on these mountains, to no avail. Sometimes you see pictures where they say, “We found a piece of Noah’s Ark sticking up out of the snow, but when we tried to get back up there in July to verify it the Turkish authorities denied us permission.” Or there is tribal warfare that makes it too dangerous. It’s always something. Grand Conspiracy Theories always have a reason why there is no evidence. This plants the modern day search for Noah’s Ark firmly in Art Bell woo woo territory with UFOs and Bigfoot. In the Great Depression they chopped up a lot of railroad ties for firewood. Imagine tribesmen finding a whole ark full of firewood up at the timberline of Ararat. They’d have burned it all up in short order, long ago. A man gets cold herding goats and sleeping in the 2000 meter hut.
Mt Ararat is the highest mountain in the Middle-east but the Himalayas are much higher, and they would have been exposed by the receding waters long before Ararat..
Mr. Raven went out and got lost, but Mrs. Raven stayed on the ark, so I wonder how we got ravens today. Mrs. Dove went out, but had to come back because there was nowhere to land with trees. Noah waited a week. Mrs. Dove came back with evidence of vegetation. Noah waited yet another week. Then Mrs. Dove went out again and never came back. Good luck for her finding Mr. Dove, who stayed on the ark.
Noah saw the ground was dry on January 1st. Whoops, no, now it says the ground was dry on February 27th.
After months on the ark, feeding the animals and scooping their poo, Noah and his family waited for permission from God before leaving the smelly thing. Now if Noah took the animals in “two and two” as the earlier text indicates, there would be no spares to sacrifice to God. And even if he took them by sevens as God suggested (but Noah didn’t do, see chapter 7), perhaps four females and three males, and only sacrificed a few of these, it seems that God put the ritualism of animal sacrifice at a higher priority over genetic diversity.
Creation was cursed after Adam’s “fall” but in Genesis 8 God has reversed his sentence. Creation is no longer cursed on account of man. Neither will God destroy every living thing.
- 22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
If God is true to this vow, then there never can be an end to the world.
God repeated the blessing that he gave Adam and Eve to fill the Earth with progeny, because Noah’s family represents a reboot of humanity. And God for the first time authorized a meat diet for human beings, and presumably animals too, since he only allowed them to eat vegetables before, and everyone obeyed God in this to the letter, because they were so obedient (sure, that’s why God sent the flood). Maybe God thought a change of diet might mellow out the humans. This was welcomed especially by women, who run with a 15% iron deficit, relative to men, due to menses, nursing, and childbirth. But this meat diet had to be phased in gradually, otherwise entire species would be wiped out, since at this point there were only one breeding pair of each one, especially after five of the “clean” animals were all barbecued as a kind of incense to God.
The first ceremonial commandment given by God since the Garden of Eden (when he forbade consumption of a certain kind of fruit) was a prohibition on consuming blood. And since it is given to Noah’s family, it is interpreted to be applicable to all humans, unlike the prohibition of pork at Sinai which is only given to the Israelites. It is based on a primitive understanding of how life works. They thought the blood was the life of an animal.
The first moral commandment ever given by God was an explicit prohibition of murder. And it establishes the penalty of death for murder, which is still in use today, even after Calvary. In this day and age, two thousand years after Christ atoned for the sin of murder with his own life, men must atone for their sin of murder in the own blood, at least according to the Christians who favor the death penalty.
Thus the six laws which Jewish rabbis assert were given to Adam and Eve were modified (death penalty for murder) and completed with the seventh law against eating animals with blood (newly applicable under the carnivorous diet) and we received the complete seven Noahide Laws which are binding on every human being.
- Idolatry is forbidden. Do not entertain the thought that there exists a deity except the one Creator. Do not make images of these alleged deities.
- Incestuous and adulterous relations are forbidden. People must not copulate with close kin or with others of the same gender.
- Murder is forbidden.
- Cursing the name of God is forbidden. Acknowledge the existence of God and do not blaspheme against him.
- Theft is forbidden. Do not commit fraud or even covet the possessions of others, which leads to thoughts of stealing.
- Eating flesh removed from a living animal is forbidden. Eating flesh with the blood still in it, or eating blood itself (the delicious Filipino dish I often make called dinuguan for example) is right out.
- Mankind is commanded to establish fair laws and just courts, and is forbidden from giving false testimony.
God commands Noah’s family to be fruitful and multiply one more time. The entire Noah narrative could use some editing to tighten it up. And God amends his original promise never to end the world. Now he says he will never end the world by flood again. That leaves him some legal wiggle room to end the world by asteroid or fire. At least the covenant is one way, with God promising something without requiring quid pro quo on the part of humans or animals to maintain it.
We now understand that rainbows work by the alteration of the velocity of light in droplets of water, which results in a Fourier transform and sorts the random photons of white light by color (frequency). If the rainbow never appeared until after the flood, as seems clear here, then it must not have ever rained before on Earth. God apparently needs the rainbow to jog his memory. He says the sight of a rainbow will cause him to remember his covenant never to destroy the Earth by water.
According to the text Noah had no more offspring, and everyone was descended from one of his three sons. Some people think the three so-called “races” of mankind, Caucasian, Negroid, and Mongoloid, started at this time. The Mormons, in fact, call dark skin the “curse of Ham” based on a curious incident that follows:
- 20-22 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
Noah got drunk and passed out without his robe on, and Ham walked into the tent and accidentally, through absolutely no fault of his own, saw his father naked. Ham’s two brothers, based in the warning given by Ham, then cover their father up without seeing him naked. It could have been any one of them who stumbled into the tent first, it was just the luck of the draw.
- 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
This is the strange part. Noah woke up, found himself covered with a garment, and somehow remembered that he had passed out naked. He put two-and-two together, and somehow realized that Ham must have seen him naked, then told his brothers, then Shem and Japeth covered him up without looking. Alternatively (and this makes far more sense) he woke up with a sore bottom and figured out that Canaan must have sneaked himself a piece of Noah hide.
So what does Noah do? He curses Canaan, the youngest son of Ham and sentences him and all his descendants to a life of slavery to his uncles all because his father accidentally saw him naked, which seems an over-reaction, but then again, if the date-rape theory was correct, Noah might have had a better case.
Chapter 10 is mostly begats that don’t go anywhere, so I will pretty much gloss over this. It consists of the names of the sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of Noah, each one of whom is the “George Washington” of his own nation, ranging from Ethiopia to Yemen to Russia. Nimrod gets a nod as the founder of Babel. Asshur built Nineveh in Iraq and the cities of Rehoboth and Calah. One gets the distinct impression that Noah’s family didn’t like each other very much, they seem to spread way the hell out early on. My objection here is the same with the situation with Cain. Three or four generations out from Noah the Earth might have had enough people to form one clan in a single village. But the Scriptures are talking about these gentlemen building huge cities. Everyone was a city-builder back then. Nobody just wanted to be a blacksmith or a farmer, no. The text says “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” Yet in the very next chapter that story changes, and everyone lives on the plain of Shinar, where they build a tower, and only then are they divided every one after his tongue.
The narrative seems to backtrack a bit from Genesis 10 and shows the descendants of Noah before they all split up, when they still spoke a common language. As a single clan they went to the Tigris-Euphrates valley, which is south of Ararat, but the text has them coming from the east. Early on they decided to band together, because they knew they would be invincible if they were united. But they had their work cut out for them. They had just come down from a 17,000 foot mountain that wasn’t anywhere near heaven, and now they wanted to build a tower on a flood plain that would go higher. Bricks and mortar weren’t going to cut it. The biggest thing still standing is the Great Pyramid in Egypt, 455 feet tall, which qualifies as a small hill in Washington State.
So Yahweh came down from heaven to see what was going on, and it actually seemed to worry him, because if they could do this mighty work, then “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” This was the same thing that bothered Yahweh about Adam and Eve having access to the Tree of Life in their awakened state. They would be godlike, in that they would be free of restraint. Yet there is something inside each of us that yearns to be free of restraint. And there is something in God that freaks out when we try.
Apparently it suits Yahweh to see humanity disunited, mutually unintelligible, fearful of one another, and therefore always at war, shackling us with the restraints of one man restraining another. A humanity that is united by a common tongue, a common set of laws, a common belief does not suit him at all. So once again, just as he scattered Adam and Eve from paradise, and scattered Cain from the agricultural profession, now he scatters all of humanity from our brief flirtation with world government and begins the dreary cycle of human history that we all know too well.
But in the end, all he achieved by this was a short respite. English is the universal language. The scientific method works inexorably to standardize belief. Only instead of a Tower of Babel, we have a Network of Babel spanning the globe, and we really have reached into heaven. Voyager 1 has even passed through the solar wind termination shock wave at 94 AU and entered raw interstellar space.
Until this time, we have just been reading little episodes, a sort of “coming attractions” for the rest of the book of Genesis. Now we are come to the single narrative that will take us all the way to the settling of the Israelites in Egypt and a happy ending. And the bouncing ball I will follow is the Blessing which originated with Adam and now rests in the person of Abram, a Chaldean who has grown disgusted with the variety of (to him) meaningless religious practices in his city of Haran.
The Creator called Abram, and Abram responded by leaving home as El Shaddai said, believing in the divine promises sight unseen. Many years later, he will be held up by St. Paul as the very model of faith. Jesus would disparage the claim that certain haughty and unruly people made that they were children of Abram by blood, saying that God was able to raise children unto Abram from stones. Paul in turn would assert that everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, who responds to God in faith is considered a child of Abraham.
Abram built an altar to mark the spot where Yahweh first appeared to Abram in person rather than just a voice. And this seems to a very different God than the one who appears later to Moses as a burning bush or a pillar of fire or hidden in thundering clouds. That God makes Moses’ face glow with light just by talking to him. But Abram has got to be scratching his head at this point. God told him to leave Harah to see this wonderful land that he will give to him and his descendants, but so far all Abraham has seen is desert, and he has to move his herds and people down to Egypt just to keep body and soul together.
But when he was down in Egypt Abraham didn’t trust Yahweh to keep him safe from anyone who might want to take his supermodel wife. When Abram and Sarai got to Egypt, the sons of Pharoah all said, “You gotta see this Sarai chick, Pop, she’s a real looker,” and Sarai was brought into the household of Pharaoh to be wooed as his wife. As part of the wooing process Pharaoh loaded her “brother” Abram down with a lot of material goods. But Yahweh did a sort of trial run of the Ten Plagues, and sent some plagues to plague Pharaoh before he could lay a hand on Sarai.
- 18-20 And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.
Close call there. This first adventure didn’t really reflect all that well on Abram. He didn’t trust Yahweh to protect his life from the Egyptians, and he lied to Pharaoh and put his wife in the position of being forced to give her affections to a man who was not her husband. I really hope that Abram learned his lesson this time and never does this thing about calling his wife his sister ever again. And I hope when he has kids he tells them never to do it either.
- 1 And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.
South of Egypt is Ethiopia. Or maybe the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps what the text really means here is that Abram went out of Egypt into the south of Canaan.
- 2-4 And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.
Bethel is about twelve miles north of Jerusalem where Abram had constructed an altar to God just to the east of town on a hilltop. How did he know how to build that, and why? Abram was part of the unbroken tradition of the Sons of God from Adam through Seth and Noah all the way down to Abram himself. Today Bethel has been settled by about 500 Palestinians and is called Beitin. There is a new city of Beit El, home to about 5,000 Jews just to the northwest.
- 5-7 And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.
Lot went with Abram, and he had large flocks and herds and servants and camels and tents, and it was apparent that the land, rich though it was, could not support both teams. Some of Abram’s cowboys were getting into tussles with some of Lot’s cowboys.
- 8-11 And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.
Lot saw the well-watered valley of the Jordan, which was as green, Lot deemed, as the garden of Eden. So he chose the road to the right, and dropped down out of the hills into the big valley where the Jordan River loops and bends on its way to the Dead Sea. There Lot parked his tent in the suburbs of the infamous city of Sodom.
- 12-17 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly. And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.
Abram stayed in the hill country and the plains nigh to the Mediterranean Sea. This was the land of Canaan, promised to him by Yahweh, who said to Abram that everything he could see to the north, south, east and west of here would someday belong to him and his descendants. And he bade Abram to take a walking inspection of his new digs.
- 18 Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.
When Abram had checked out the land as he was told to do, he built his second altar to God in Hebron, which is another West Bank town populated by Palestinians. Arabs, too, are the children of Abram by blood, not only the Jews. Their presence in the Holy Land fulfills God’s promise to give this land to Abram’s seed every bit as much as the presence of Israelis does. Some Christians, in order to cut out the Muslims, have told me the promise and the land deed only tracks with the Jews because they had the Blessing. But if that was true, then only the tribe of Judah would have been entitled to land in Canaan, not the other eleven tribes, because the Blessing passed from Jacob to Judah, and ten generations later to King David. No, the Blessing was essentially the right to rule.
And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations; That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea. Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled. And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their mount Seir, unto El-paran, which is by the wilderness. And they returned, and came to En-mishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites that dwelt in Hazezon-tamar.
Sometimes the names in the Bible are pretty funny. One time on Twitter I parodied this by writing, “He who spaketh unto Ephtshpareht, Maigollygoshgolah and Amog in the days of Najobullahdongblod (Hezekiah 19:3)”
Anyhow, there’s these ruffians led by King Chedorlaomer who sacked Sodom and Gomorrah, and they took Abram’s nephew Lot captive. Only one of Lot’s servants escaped to tell Abram. “Call me Ishmael”.
Abram had over three hundred able-bodied men which he armed and led into battle to get back all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as rescue Lot and all of his goods.
If the Bible was a movie, this would be the first set-piece action scene, something that would be included in the sneak previews. This was the first time that God took sides in human conflict. Abram with his three hundred did what it would take an army of many thousands to do.
Melchizedek accepted a tenth of Abram’s servants but allowed Abram to keep the tithe of goods. This seems to indicate a manpower shortage in that time. Mystery surrounds this Melchizedek figure. He was a priest of Yahweh, but nothing is known about his order. Catholics see his bread and wine oblation as a foreshadow of the Eucharist. Christians in general believe Psalm 110:4 prophesies of Christ when it says “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
In the New Testament, in Hebrews 7:3, it says of Melchizedek: “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” This seems to imply that he is immortal.
Dead Sea Scroll 11Q13 sees him as an angelic being, sort of a tax collector for God, and indeed he accepts a tenth of Abram’s spoils. The second book of Enoch says that Melchizedek was born of a virgin and was preserved from the flood by being taken to the Garden of Eden, which presumably had a force-field bubble around it to stay the floodwaters. And when he was there he probably ate the fruit of the Tree of Life, which explains why he was still around in the time of Abram.
Some denomination go further and say that Melchizedek is the pre-incarnate Son of God. But in Hebrews, Paul is comparing the Aaronic priesthood, which is based on genetic descent from Abram through Aaron and the tribe of Levi, to a priesthood by divine appointment. Melchizadek has no pedigree in the Bible, no chain from father to son. And that is what Paul was alluding to when he said “without father, without mother”. He says that Christ was appointed High Priest in the same manner, without regard to descent, although Christ can claim descent from Abraham through his mother. And in Christ, the baptized are appointed to a priestly ministry as well, through conversion, after being drawn to faith by God, without regard to their status as Jew or Gentile. Paul implies that this Melchizedek priesthood is the superior one. After all, Abram tithed to him, not the other way around:
Abram insisted that Melchizedek take the tithe of goods too, not just the servants, and for himself he only accepted the full bellies of the men in his army, and some booty for three of his lieutenants. Abram was not a greedy man.
Abram and his wife were full of years, but childless. God told his human friend in a vision that he would receive a great reward, but Abram was puzzled, because he had no blood heir, and had designated his steward Elizer of Damascus to inherit all that he had when he died. God assured him that his heir would be the fruit of his own loins. They went for a walk, and when it was night, God asked Abram to look at the stars and see if he could count them. So shall his descendants would be.
There are only about 6,000 stars visible to the unaided human eye but Abram got the idea. He trusted that God would do as he said, and God laid this trust to his account as righteousness. God agreed to reward Abram in this way, and Abram agreed to worship only God and trust that he would always do what he said he would do. This was the basis of the first covenant between God and man. And just as the covenant between God and all the living creatures of Earth was marked by the sign of the rainbow, the Abrahamic Covenant was marked by a very strange ritual where Abram took a cow, a goat, a ram and split their carcasses in two. Then a floating barbecue and a floating torch passed between those pieces.
Evangelicals today have a doctrine that says a person must accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior or they will burn in hell for all eternity. This leads to some difficult questions, such as, what about Abram? He never accepted Christ, but God took his trust that he would grant him blood heirs to qualify as righteousness. Jesus attested that Abram (Abraham) was in paradise by his parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In reply, these Evangelicals claim that Abram’s faith was in a future Savior. He looked ahead in time to the Messiah, just as all the other Old Testament saints did (say the Evangelicals), where we look back.
But this is not found in the text without seriously mangling it. Abram had no need to anticipate a future Savior. God himself told him that he was his shield. The concept of a future Messiah did not appear in Judaism until their line of earthly kings had come to an end. It was a wish for the return of the “golden age” of David and Solomon. As for Abram, the head of a large nomadic clan and possessor of great riches, he was already living in the golden age as far as he was concerned. Abram did not pine away for “salvation” or an afterlife. He had lived a full and blessed life, he accepted that he was mortal, and the only thing left that God could promise him was that his name and his DNA would be carried into the future by a people who would live in the land of what could be termed “Greater Israel”, which was to extend from the east bank of the Nile to the west bank of the Euphrates.
At great personal sacrifice, Sarai marries off her slave girl Hagar to Abram so he can knock out an heir, just like God promised. And as soon as she conceived, Hagar began to show contempt in the way she looked at Sarai, and Sarai could see this in Hagar’s eyes. Professor Harold Bloom suggests that the Yawhist was actually a woman in the court of Jeroboam, and certainly the way rival women can annihilate each other with glances, with “looks that kill” is a hallmark of women’s fiction. Hagar runs away.
In the wilderness Hagar seemed to confuse an angel with God himself. This chapter has the first appearance of the word “angel” in the Bible.
And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?
This confusion continues. During an incident in an upcoming chapter where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Later in Genesis it gets to the point were Joseph even ascribes redemptive powers to this angel!
Genesis 48:16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
What is going on here? We are beginning to see the process where the Yahweh of the Southern Kingdom of Judah is being merged with El-Elyon of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The hands-on deity of the Yahwist who talks to Abram face to face is going to morph into a transcendent, almost abstract figure who only deals with men by remote control, using avatars which are called “the angel of the LORD”.
The “angel of the LORD” is like the “Predator of the UNITED STATES”, and when the Predator drone kills a terrorist in Pakistan, it is the same thing as America killing him.
That is not to say that God is not accompanied by other beings of a higher order than men. These are the Elohim and two of them accompany him to visit Abram and they go on to nuke Sodom and Gomorrah. It is these other beings to whom God is speaking when he says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. And they were eventually called angels in an evolutionary process that you could well imagine could occur with my drone analogy. Imagine that after many years of hitting targets in Pakistan with the “Predator of the UNITED STATES” we send in ground forces to do the same thing. And the native people, who had come to fear the sky Predator, transfer that name to the ground forces, and speak of legions of predators.
After Ishmael was born, God demonstrated that he keeps his promises. So he came to Abram and initiated Part B of the ritual to establish the covenant with him. This involved a name change. Where Abram meant “exalted father” and was heretofore an ironic name, now God changed his name to Abraham, which means “father of many nations”.
But the important transition that occurs here is that the ritual of circumcision is instituted. Before this time, Abraham’s worship of God was of the character of a personal devotion. Setting aside Hagar’s interlude with God, which was a special case to ensure Ishmael would be in Abraham’s household, all of the human-divine interactions had occurred solely between Abraham and God. Sarah followed Abraham because she loved him and was his wife, but one could imagine that she was humoring him when he made pillow talk about Yahweh speaking to him. Ishmael looked up to his father. His servants followed him because they were either owned by him, or at least employed by him.
But now, with the introduction of the ritual of circumcision, the worship of Yahweh became corporate worship. And this proto-Judaism was something that would be embedded in the culture, rather than a creed adopted by choice, for baby boys would be circumcised when they were eight days old, and anyone who was not circumcised was to be cut off from the people, so to speak.
There is, actually, an evolutionary benefit to circumcision. No longer protected by the foreskin, the glan of the penis is chafed day and night by clothing, and the brain responds by reducing its sensitivity to the 4,000 nerve endings there. It turns down the “volume”. This results in the ability of a man to last somewhat longer during intercourse before making that funny noise that means it’s all over. And that, in turn, means a happy lady who is less likely to sleep around on him.
God told Abraham to rename his wife from Sarai to Sarah, and promised that she would bear him a son as well. And that was too much for Abraham. He fell on his face and laughed, and God stood there and took it. Perhaps there were complex emotions at play, the emotions of a new father, a father who only became a father near the end of his life. Abraham came to his senses and began to fear that God was going to have Sarah bear his son because something bad was going to happen to his first son.
And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
One cannot blame Abraham. After all, Ismael, now thirteen years old, was the son he actually had, and not the son who was yet to be. Ishmael was Abraham’s legal son, because Hagar was his second wife. God insisted that Sarah would bear him a son, to be named Isaac, and he would establish a covenant with him and his sons after him. One can imagine Abraham hearing these words but not fully grasping them. He was near the end of his life, and God was telling him that after Abraham was gone he was going to continue his dealings down the line of his younger son, who was yet to be.
It is tempting for the descendants of that younger son, who kept the history and the geneaology, to turn back and denigrate Ishmael, to paint him and his seed as somehow naturally wicked because God chose Isaac over Ishmael. But Abraham, as father of both, stands in the breach between both sides. As for Ishmael, God assured Abraham that he would be fruitful indeed, and become the father of twelve princes, and God would make of him a great nation as well.
One time it was hot and Abraham was taking a nap in his tent. He stirred awake and saw Yahweh with two sidekicks standing outside. Abraham ran out there, bowed to the ground, and begged them to stay long enough for him to bring refreshments. Then he told his woman to hurry up and make three cakes while he went out and fetched a calf for his servant to fry up real quick to be served with the cakes, and some butter and milk. And Abram stood there and watched them eat. Yahweh told Abraham that the next time he came around, Sarah would have a son.
Sarah laughed to herself when she heard this, and said, “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (this being the days before Viagra). It was one thing to have Abraham laugh when promised this, but now Sarah too? Yahweh complained about this, and Sarah realized with fear that this was the Creator of heaven and earth she was laughing at, and she denied laughing. “Did not laugh!”
Then Yahweh and his two companions started walking towards Sodom, and Abraham went along with them. They were great friends, you see, God and Abraham. And the LORD was a little troubled, because he was investigating whether or not he should destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and he debated with himself whether he should hide this thing from Abraham, because it might come across to Abraham as an injustice. “For I know him, the LORD thought, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment…”
Finally God told Abraham what he intended to do, if the reported wickedness of the cities turned out to be true. First the omniscient God had to go down there and check it out to make sure.
What follows is an astonishing episode of negotiation, where Abraham dances right up to the edge of God’s forbearance. God agrees that if he can find just ten righteous men in Sodom, he will spare the whole city on their account. Abraham was concerned for the safety of his nephew Lot, but this was also a case of man reining in the apparent bloodthirstiness of God. So in a way, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was also a test of Abraham, to see his qualities of “justice and judgment”. And it is also a test of the qualities of justice and judgment of the reader, depending on whether they see Abraham or God as the hero of the story.
Would a cow lick Lot’s wife?
The two Elohim who were with Yahweh at Mamre arrive at Sodom. The investigation is over, and the LORD has ordered weapons Red and Free on that city, and the neighboring town of Gomorrah. But he wants to rescue Lot and his family before the airstrike.
The two angels were intercepted by Lot at the city gate, and escorted through the streets to his house where he ministered to them in much the same way Abraham had ministered to them and Yahweh. They were willing to stay out in the street all night, but Lot insisted, and they agreed to accept his hospitality.
This hospitality was soon contrasted with the contempt demonstated by all the male residents of the city, who crowded around Lot’s house and wanted nothing more than to rape the two angelic beings, who were no doubt specimens of astonishing male beauty.
Lot was horrified. So important to him was his oath of hsopitality that he was even willing to offer his own daughters to quench the crowd’s sexual fire, so long as they put all thought of molesting these two divine visitors far from their mind. He even told them they were virgins, even though in reality they were both married. This defiance only infuriated the crowd all the more, and they threatened to treat him worse than they wanted to treat his two guests. But the angels pulled Lot back into the house and flooded the area with a burst of light so intense that everyone in the crowd was rendered blind.
The angels had seen quite enough. God’s judgment was well-founded. They told Lot to gather his kin and all his goods and get out of the city, because it was about to be nuked. Lot tried to convince his son-in-laws, the husbands of his daughters, to leave with him, but they thought he was nuts.
Time grew short. The angels took Lot’s hand, and the hand of his wife, and the hands of his two daughters, and whisked them far from the city so they would be well outside the Nuclear Damage Avoidance Zone. The angels told them to keep running for the mountains, “and whatever you do, don’t look back!”
Of course, the first thing Lot’s wife did was look back to watch God zap the two cities, and she became a salt lick for cattle.
In the area around the Dead Sea there are strange formations of crystalized salt. No doubt one of these salt pillars suggested this story to the author.
Lot and his two daughters spent some time in a cave until the danger was clear. His two daughters thought that the entire earth had been destroyed in the same way that Sodom and Gomorrah had been. They thought their old father was the last man remaining on Earth, and it was up to them to continue the human race. So over two consecutive nights, they contrived to get Lot drunk, and lay with him. One became the mother of the Moabites, and the other became the mother of the Ammonites, which were traditional enemies of the people who would be reading this story. A nice little scandal to wrap up the tale. Of course, the Moabites and Ammonites probably had a different story about the founding of their country, but no matter.
Now Abraham went on another road trip to the Sinai, and when he got there he did that “Sarah is my sister” thing again. And instead of Pharaoh, this time it was Abimelech king of Gerar who took Sarah into his household. But soon after he did, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Dude, you’re a dead man walking. Sarah is another man’s wife.”
And King Abimelech said, “Whoa, Lord, I never touched her, and anyway that old guy said he was just his sister, and she even went along with it and said, yeah, that’s it, he’s my brother. I’m innocent I tell you! Besides, she’s a hundred years old if she’s a day!”
And God said unto him, “Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, he just likes to play this ‘wife-sister’ practical joke every twenty years or so.”
When Abilemech took Sarah back to Abraham he had some hard questions, but Abraham defended himself by saying that she was, after all, his half-sister, the daughter of his father, but not the daughter of his mother. So like Ben Kenobi, he did tell the truth after all, from a certain point of view.
Incest. Later in Leviticus 18:9 God puts the kibosh on that practice.
Of all the passages in Genesis up to this point, this chapter, from the Elohist (E) source, strikes me as the one that should have been put on the chopping block when Ezra the Redactor (R) compiled all of the documents into the Torah, and not because Abraham looks like he’s too stupid to have learned from his close call in Egypt, and not because Abraham has to admit to a sexual practice that is condemned later by the Law of Moses. It’s because about nine months after sleeping in the house of King Abilemech, Sarah gives birth to Isaac.
“Off you go, Hagar, you and the boy. One bottle of water oughta do ya.”
Isaac was born in the year 2,117 B.C.E. and circumcised the eighth day according to the commandment of God. Not only did the aged Sarah give birth to him, she nursed him as well, but on the day when Isaac was weaned and Abraham held a large feast in honor of the occasion, Sarah decided the tent wasn’t big enough for two sons of Abraham. She insisted that her husband send Hagar and Ishmael packing.
Abraham was inconsolable, but God assured him that he would make a nation of Ishmael because he was his seed. So Abraham gave Hagar a bottle of water and a little bread and sent her off into the Negev desert outside of Beersheba, which looks a lot like the Yakima Firing Range south of Ellensburg, Washington.
Very soon they drank all the water in the bottle, so Hagar hid the child under some sagebrush and went about fifty yards away to cry. She did not want to see the death of her only child. But God heard her crying and sent a ministering angel, who promised Hagar that God would make of him a great nation. And she was led to a nearby well of water.
Ishmael and Hagar lived in the wilderness under God’s care, and he became an archer. When he was of age, Hagar obtained a wife for him out of the land of Egypt.
The rest of Genesis chapter 21 seems at first read just a minor story about the Philistine named Abimelech and Abraham making nice. Abraham agrees to treat Abimelech honorably unto the third generation. Abimelech agrees that Abraham dug the well at Beersheba with his own hand and hands it back to him. Only when one considers that much of Genesis was actually written by someone in the time of Israel as a kingdom, and the Philistines were their mortal enemies, does it become clear what is really going on.
Imagine someone in the 1870s writing a biography of George Washington, and in the book this author has the nation’s first president make a side trip out to the Black Hills where he concludes a treaty with the forefather of Sitting Bull and George W. gets recognition for a gold mine there which he dug with his own hands. It’s a retroactive claim for a land grab, and the claim is made with a forked tongue.
In Chapter 23 Sarah dies at the age 127 in Hebron and Abraham purchases land from locals, using the sons of Heth as intermediaries. Abraham said, “Hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth.”
The cave changed hands for 400 shekels of silver. This eventually was where Abraham is laid to rest, as well as his son Isaac and wife Rebecca, and his grandson Jacob and wife Leah. The site is shown in the picture above, and it is the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount.
Today Jews refer to Genesis 23 as “evidence” that they have a claim on the West Bank, but obviously if Abraham bought the land from locals, then the only claim he had was the land that he bought, and Jews cannot say they are the sole heir of Abraham. Even Christians and Muslims revere the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and in fact Arabs have joint custody of what is called the “Cave of the Patriarchs”. Abraham, after all, is their exalted father too.
Abraham charges his oldest servant to find his son Isaac a wife from among Abraham’s own people in Mesopotamia. By chance he ends up at the very house of Abraham’s original clan, and by a sign, Abraham’s servant focuses on Rebekah as the one God has chosen to be Isaac’s wife.
…behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.
Rebekah was Abraham’s great-neice, and therefore Isaac’s first cousin once-removed. The servant tells of his master and his errand, and showers everyone with precious goods.
And they called Rebekah and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.
And by this acceptance, Rebekah takes her place in the great story that Yahweh has set into motion when he inserted himself into human history and called Abraham out of Mesopotamia. And she does not on the basis of Isaac’s character, which remains unknown to her, but on the basis of how Abraham’s servant presented himself to her at the well when they first met: courteous, humble, and devout. The gold and jewels were obligatory, but Rebekah was deciding on a hunch. This servant was good people, so his master must be a good man. And the son of that man must be a good man as well.
Contrast that with God’s servant Pat Robertson, who does nothing to recommend the Lord to people who do not know him. Rather, the Lord they prefer not to know is known to them by how they know Pat.
And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
That’s Isaac for you, he loses his mother Sarah, but Abram essentially provided him with another mother to love, and he draws his comfort from that. One can almost imagine Rebekah saying to herself, “Oh boy, what do we have here?” with just a twinge of regret. But she had assented to the journey. She was committed.
All his life Jacob would struggle for life, and life more abundantly. And this struggle would begin in the womb, when he jockeyed for pole position with his brother Esau. God would tell Rebecca why: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.”
Now Esau won that struggle, and emerged from Rebecca’s womb first, but Jacob’s persistence was seen in that he was gripping his brother’s ankle on the way out, announcing from the first moment that he was a survivor. The twins Esau and Jacob were born in 2,057 B.C.E.
Just as Abraham’s favorite was Ishmael, though the Blessing went to Isaac, so Isaac’s favorite is Esau, though the Blessing went to Jacob. And this seems to be a pattern. God favored Abel’s offering over his older brother Cain’s offering.
And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. Esau was an extrovert, Jacob an introvert.
Esau derived his own Blessing, his own “life and life more abundantly” from the things of the world which he was able to obtain by his own efforts. Jacob, as the more interior man, would never be able to compete on those terms. Yet he was a survivor. He would contrive to obtain more life by tapping into a Divine Source. And the first step was to get the Birthright, which entitled the first-born son to a double-share of the inheritance.
They were twins but as things stood, Esau was the older man, by mere seconds. By some misfortune, Esau found he could not always depend on his own efforts and skills to maintain his life. He came in from the field famished, near death and begged Jacob for some food. Jacob provided some bread and lentil soup, but the price was that Esau assign his birthright to Jacob under oath. And Esau was more than willing to do it, so close to death was he.
As it turned out, Esau just needed a little help that one time, and for the rest of his life he would do well for himself. So he left Jacob with a full stomach, and almost convinced himself the Birthright was nothing much anyway.
We are now officially halfway through the Book of Genesis. Except for a brief foray in the next chapter where Isaac tries his father’s tired old “she isn’t my wife, she’s my sister” schtick, the entire second half is the story of Jacob, from his birth to his death, plus the wacky adventures of some of his kids.
Isaac, who is over sixty years old, emigrates to Gerar, whose king is named Abimelech. This king has a friend named Ahuzzath and captain of the guard named Phichol. Back about nine months before Isaac was born, Abraham saw a king of Gerar who was also named Abimelech, and by an amazing coincidence, that king also had a friend named Ahuzzath and captain of the guard named Phichol.
Before Isaac’s mother was pregnant with Isaac she was a real hottie, only ninety years old and many years past menopause, and Abraham was afraid that someone in Gerar would try to kill him so they could scoop Sarah right up. So Abraham told everyone that Sarah was his sister. This didn’t work out too well, just like it didn’t work very well when Sarah was very young and Abraham took her to Egypt and tried the same trick.
He must have told Isaac about this trick, because now in this chapter Isaac is worried that the Philistines will do him in so they can bag Rebecca, so he tells everyone in Gerar that his wife is really (wait for it)…his sister!
The difference is that Abraham was smart enough never to be caught fondling his “sister”. Not the case for Isaac. Abimelech discovers Isaac snuggling with Rebecca (which is very cute, in a way, see picture above) and the king goes, “Aha! That’s not your sister, that’s really your wife!”
Now the last time, the wombs of all the women in Gerar were closed up as a “plague” to punish Abimelech for allowing himself to being deceived by Abraham’s lie, but the Lord told him if he begged Abraham to pray for him, he would be forgiven for believing the lie and the plague would be removed. This time, Abimelech didn’t even want to start down that road. He decreed that if anyone ever touched Rebecca in an inappropriate way, they would be put to death.
At the end of the chapter the desert oasis of Beersheba is named for the first time (again), consecrated for the first time (again) and Abimelech, Phichol and Azzuhath sign a peace treaty with Isaac to cover multiple generations, just like the other peace treaty they signed with Abraham to cover multiple generations.
In his dotage Isaac grew blind, and he knew he would soon die. So he told his eldest (and favorite) son Esau to go round him up some fresh venison, fry it up good, and then he would receive Isaac’s blessing before he died.
Rebecca heard all this, and she made her move to advance the cause of her favorite son Jacob. She told him to get a couple goats, and she would fry them up fast and pass them off on Isaac and that way Jacob would receieve the blessing. But Jacob objected that the plan wouldn’t work, because Esau was a hairy man and he was smooth as a baby’s bottom. His father would feel the difference, perceive that Jacob was a deceiver, and deliver a cursing rather than a blessing. But Rebecca had already thought of that, and she told Jacob to do as his mother said.
When he came back in with two kids, Rebecca started cooking them, together with some bread, and meanwhile she fetched some of Esau’s clothes and fitted them on Jacob, and she put the skins of the goats on Jacob’s hands and on the back of his neck.
Jacob took the food and delivered it to Isaac, but Isaac was suspicious because Jacob didn’t talk like Esau and the food was ready so quickly. Jacob insisted that he was Esau, and said the LORD brought the deer to him. Isaac was still suspicious, so he told his son to come near so he could feel it was really Esau.
There was the test of the food. Jacob passed.
There was the smell test. He had to kiss his father, and Isaac smelled Esau’s sweaty clothes and it was enough. Isaac said:
God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.
And so it was done. Needless to say there was an embarrassing scene later when the real Esau came in with fresh venison. But it was too late. Bilbo had already made off with the precious Ring, leaving Esau to say, “Where did he go? Cursed Bagginses, we hates it! Hates it forever!”
And in Esau’s great wrath he forgot basic principles of operational security. He started mumbling about planning to kill Jacob, and a report of this got back to Rebecca through servants. Or if Esau said these things only in his heart, then a report got back to Rebecca through God himself. They had a relationship, you see. It was God who told Rebecca that the elder would serve the younger. Mother and son held a quick huddle, and Rebecca told Jacob to flee to uncle Laban.
This narrative seems written to elicit sympathy for Esau, but God is selecting for cleverness and foresight. The chosen people will need these qualities when they live among their enemies in Egypt and Canaan.
Jacob left Beersheba and journeyed toward the house of his uncle Laban. When he arrived at the place called Bethel, or Beit El (a place of God), Jacob lay his head down on the Stone of Scone and fell asleep.
Jacob had a dream. And in it, there was a ladder from heaven down to the earth, and the angels of God were seen going up and down this ladder. At the top of the ladder, Yahweh stood there and told Jacob that the land he was camping in already belonged to Jacob. God gave it to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham and Jacob’s father Isaac, and it would be the land of Jacob’s many descendants. All the families of the earth would see themselves blessed in Jacob and his progeny. God promised that he would always be with Jacob, and that he would make his Divine vow concerning this land into reality.
Jacob awoke and he was in a state of religious awe. This place, he knew, was where Yahweh stood, and he knew it not. Therefore he turned the stone pillow he laid on into a pillar, and poured oil on it, and consecrated it, vowing that if God brought him safely to Laban’s house, and back to his father’s house in peace, then Yahweh would be his God. And he would give a tenth of his increase back to God.
Jacob continued his journey, and came into the land of his family on his mother’s side, inquiring after Laban. And soon he saw his cousin Rachel, bringing along her father’s sheep. He ran up to her and kissed her, and wept, and said he was the son of Rebecca. Rachel ran to tell her father, and Laban welcomed Jacob into his house, where he spent a month doing some odd jobs for him.
After the month had passed, Laban asked Jacob what he thought a fair wage would be for all the help he was doing. By this time Jacob had the hots for his cousin Rachel, and he said he would serve Laban for seven years in return for the hand of Rachel in marriage. Laban was agreeable to this, because Jacob was a better choice than giving her to another man, he deemed.
So much did Jacob love Rachel, that it seemed the seven years just flew right by. Then when the time was up, he went to Laban to pick up his wife. There was a huge wedding feast, and Jacob was plied with much wine, and at the end of the night Jacob staggered into his tent to tear off a piece, and he seemed to be happy. But in the morning when he woke up, he found out it was just Leah, the older sister, in bed with him. Leah had pretty eyes, but she was a little older and somewhat less beautiful. Jacob was so shallow. But a deal’s a deal. Laban had pulled a switcheroo!
When Jacob complained, Laban explained that it was the custom in Haran that the younger daughter must not be married before the elder one. But he would make it right. All Jacob had to do was serve Laban for another seven years tending his flocks, and he would get both of his cousins for wives. And this he did do, a total of fourteen years, for the hand of the cousin he truly loved. Meanwhile he did not go celibate, he did make love to Leah. She conceived sons for Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.
When he finally consummated his wedding to Rachel, nothing came of it for a very long time. God had closed Rachel’s womb.
God doesn’t have a problem with cousins getting hitched. In fact, later in scripture he commanded Zelophehad’s five daughters to marry their cousins so their inheritance would remain in the family. It is precisely to prevent the accumulation of wealth in families (and thus threaten the temporal power of the Papacy) that Pope Gregory I made cousin-marriage forbidden for all Catholics. Nearly half of American states also forbid the practice.
US prohibitions against cousin marriages predate modern genetics. The USA is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions. About 20% of all couples worldwide are first cousins. About 80% of all marriages historically have been between first cousins. So no big whoop.
Scientists have found that the incest taboo actually has an internal basis, many animals including humans have evolved an aversion to mating very close within the bloodlines, like between brother and sister, or son and mother. But the further away a potential mate is from your own genetic inheritance, the less likely you will run across them in everyday life and have the opportunity to get wid ’em. First cousins represent a sort of optimum point between genetic diversity and sexual availability.
As the years wore on, Rachel told Jacob that if she didn’t conceive a child for him, she was going to die. And this pissed off Jacob, because she was asking him to do what God alone could do. So Rachel resorted to surrogate mothers. The first one was her maid Bilhah. She authorized Jacob to impregnate her, and Bilhah bore Jacob a son named Dan and another one named Naphtali.
And Leah began to suspect that she was finished bearing children, so she authorized Jacob to impregnate her maid Zilpah, and Zilpah bore Jacob a son named Gad and another one named Asher. Then Leah tried her luck with Jacob once more, and she conceived and bore a son named Issachar, and later another son named Zebulun and a daughter named Dinah. Finally God allowed Rachel to conceive a son of her own, and she produced Joseph.
Now Jacob asked Laban to release him from service, so he could return to his own place. And Laban knew that God had greatly increased his herd for the sake of Jacob, and asked what shall be his final payment. Jacob suggested that they divide the flock such that Jacob received all the speckled cattle and all the spotted goats and sheep, leaving Laban all the rest. And this sounded like a good plan. “Make it so, Number One.”
So Jacob took his portion about three days ride away, then he returned to keep feeding and tending Laban’s flock, because it was not yet time to quit. And while the herd was drinking, Jacob whittled some green sticks so they they appeared with white stripes in them, and he set these sticks into the ground. And when Laban’s unspeckled cattle and sheep and goats conceived near these rods, Jacob reasoned, they would bear calves which would be speckled.
There is no scientific basis for this procedure, of course, but God could have interfered with the genetic “allele frequencies” to favor Jacob, whatever he did. That Jacob provided the physical action of making and posting the sticks shows that humans are to cooperate with God’s grace. “God helps those who help themselves” the cliche goes.
And to add insult to injury, Jacob did this stunt only when the stronger animals conceived, but withheld his sticks when the weaker ones conceived. Thus Laban’s flock of unspeckled cattle, white sheep, and spotted goats dwindled in numbers and became enfeebled, while Jacob’s herd grew in numbers and strength. Apart from Jacob’s fourteen years of service for the hand of Leah and Rachel, he served Laban another six years, building his herd in this way. Thus Jacob is revenged a hundredfold for Laban’s trickery, but no guilt can be laid at Jacob’s door.
The dwindling of Laban’s herd caused his sons to grumble, and Laban wasn’t so happy when he saw Jacob’s face anymore. God told Jacob that he was the God of Beth El, where Jacob anointed a pillar, it now it was time to depart for the land of his father. He told this to Leah and Rachel, and they agreed to depart with Jacob, without telling Laban.
And Rachel decided to grab her fathers idols and take them along with her as a final departing blow. When Laban found out his daughters and his idols were gone, he pursued for a week. During the chase, God tried to warn Laban off attacking Jacob, and Laban said he would consider it.
When Laban caught up to Jacob there were hard questions. Why did he just take off in the middle of the night with his daughters, not even a word of warning. Laban had a big party planned, and Jacob ruined it. But nevertheless, even if Jacob felt he had to go right away because he missed his parents, which was understandable, why did Jacob have to steal his gods as well? That is without excuse.
But Jacob knew nothing of Rachel’s theft, and he bid Laban to search his caravan all he wanted, and death to anyone hiding them.
So Laban searched everyone’s tent, not excepting the tents of Jacob and Leah and Rachel. And they were really in Rachel’s tent. She was sitting on them. And she said, “Forgive me father if I don’t stand up, but I’m having my period right now. You know how it is.”
Periods are double-icky to the biblical patriarchs, and those who first heard this story no doubt chuckled with mirth mixed with revulsion. Rachel was having her period on Laban’s stone gods. Serves him right! It was sufficiently icky to Laban that he never required her to stand up so he could search beneath her.
Now Jacob had finally had enough of Laban, and he let it all pour out. “You’ve searched all my stuff. If you found anything of yours set it here in the open so that all may judge. No? Twenty years I served you, Laban. Not once did I eat one of your rams. If any animal was torn by beasts, I absorbed that loss myself rather than pawn it off back on you, because I took my responsibilities as a shepherd seriously. Through drought and cold sleepless nights I served you without grumbling, even when you changed my salary ten times. Surely if the God of my fathers was not with me I would have nothing now, but he is a God of justice and he preserved me.”
So Laban was moved to release his daughters and animals and create a covenant with Jacob. Jacob agreed never to take another wife than Leah and Rachel, and Laban agreed to stay on the Jordanian side of Mount Gilead. And so ended Jacob’s first extended trip abroad.
After Jacob crossed the river Jordan, he sent messengers ahead of him to meet his brother Esau and mention that he had a lot of oxen and asses and flocks and servants and hint that he could smooth over any hard feelings Esau might still have over losing his blessing.
The messengers returned to him saying that Esau was coming out to meet him with four hundred men. This worried Jacob to no end. He divided his caravan into two halves, in case Esau smote one, the other might escape.
Jacob prayed a humble prayer to his God for deliverance, and then set aside a portion of his herd as a gift to Esau. Two hundred and twenty goats, two hundred and twenty sheep, thirty camels, fifty cattle, twenty asses, and ten foals, which he sent with his servants to deliver to Esau.
They left Jacob alone, and he ended up wrestling a nameless being all night.
Some rabbis suggest that he wrestled with Michael, or even Sammael, the angel of death. Surely it was not Yahweh himself, for why would he fear the coming of the dawn like a vampire or wrestle a mere mortal man to a draw?
Could it be that Jacob is not wrestling with God or an angel at all, but his own mortality? In his dark night of the soul, with deadly Laban behind him and deadly Esau before him, Jacob took command of his own fate with sheer dogged persistence, not letting go of his quest for “life, and life more abundantly” even in the face of crippling pain, symbolized by the breaking of his thigh. “I won’t let you go until I have your Blessing,” he insists. He is rewarded with a new name. Passing through this great trial, the old man Jacob Heelclutcher falls, while the new man Israel Godclutcher goes on.
Everyone comes up against Israel and his descendents ends up going away…permanently. You still see the Israelis around four thousand years later. You don’t see the Hittites and Amalekites and Nazis around anymore. The Palestinians and Iranians of today are just a passing fad.
At sunrise Israel hurried to rejoin his wives and children, but he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. When Esau drew near with his four hundred men, Israel put forth his eleven children with their four mothers, then passed in front of them and bowed before his brother. And to Israel’s everlasting surprise, Esau did not assail him, but rather embraced him, and kissed him, and they both wept.
So the family feud was ended, if ever there was a feud, for after Israel had fled many years before Esau soon forgot that his Blessing had been stolen by his twin, since he obtained all of Isaac’s possessions anyway by default, and after that he had come to miss his twin brother. Israel introduced his children and their mothers to Esau, and begged his brother to accept the gift of herd animals he sent him, saying, “Take them please, my lord, because El Shaddai has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough. More than enough.”
Throughout this meeting Israel was extremely courteous to his brother and called him “my lord” even though the Blessing required Esau to call Israel lord. The love Israel still had for his own twin brother superseded all such minor considerations. Then after a long discussion in which they caught up on all the things that had happened since they had parted, Esau agreed to go on ahead because Israel had children and young animals that could not travel very fast. So they parted on good terms and both brothers rejoiced that things had transpired so. But the next time they met, it would be to bury their father.
Now Jacob had one daughter, named Dinah, and when Shechem the son of the local governor saw this girl he seized her and either raped her outright, or at the minimum broke through her reserve and had premarital sex with her. But he came under the power of Dinah’s charm. Shechem fell in love with Dinah, and vowed to make her his wife. And Hamor the father of Sechem came to Jacob and his sons and said, “The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. And ye shall dwell with us.”
Jacob let his sons do the talking in this incident, because he was upset that his only daughter had been defiled. His sons said to Hamor that it was impossible to allow Dinah to marry one who was uncircumcised. But if every male in Hamor’s kingdom were circumcised, then intermarriage was possible, because then they would be a single people.
This pleased Hamor, and particularly his son Shechem, who was every bit as smitten with Dinah as Jacob had been with Rachel. So Shechem was the first one to submit to circumcision. Then Hamor and Shechem went to the men of the city and told them all the daughters of Jacob would be available for marriage if they just did the same very small ritual of circumcision that Shechem had submitted himself too. If they only knew that Jacob had only the one daughter, Dinah, they undoubtedly would not have agreed. But they went ahead and did it.
And three days later when the defenders of the city were immobilized by pain from inflammation, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi came to the city and slew all the males of fighting age, including Hamor and his son Shechem, and they took their sister Dinah away. Then the other sons of Jacob sacked the whole city, took all their animals and children and wives and everything that was in their houses.
That was pretty good handiwork for boys. Simeon and Levi were 13 and 14 at the time, and they were the oldest ones, except for Reuben!
Jacob was far more circumspect. He was one who understood the consequences of actions. Jacob complained to Simeon and Levi that the worst thing the local Canaanites feared was being cut down one by one, so they will no doubt band together and wipe out Jacob and his entire household as a result of this incident. And his sons are astonished that their father would hold the honor of Dinah of such little account. The vengeful spirits of Jacob’s older sons will come into sharp contrast with gentle Benjamin (who is yet to be born) and especially Joseph, who is sold into slavery by his brothers, but whose only revenge is to craft a dramatic and heart-warming family reunion.
Jacob, also known as Israel, took over the religious life of the people attached to him. He had them bury their images of pagan gods and consecrated a holy place at Beth El where he wrestled with God one night. There are many details of the proto-Judaism practiced by Jacob that are lost, it is not until Sinai that the laws and ordinances are written down, which transmitted them to the future intact. Before that time they had only an oral tradition, enforced by the authority of the reigning patriarch.
From Beth-El, Jacob traveled to Beth-lehem, where his beloved wife died giving birth to son number twelve, Benjamin. And she was buried in the tomb which still exists today, as shown above. One scandalous incident of note happened in this time: Jacob’s oldest son Reuben lay with his father’s concubine Bilhah. This was a first-magnitude faux pas that together with how Simeon and Levi responded to the rape of Dinah basically elevated Israel’s fourth son Judah into the running as the leader of all the tribes. Of course, it helps that the Jawhist, the author of this material, was a member of the tribe of Judah.
Isaac died at the age of 180, in the year 1,937 B.C.E. His sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Isaac appears to have been only a transitional figure in the Bible, a curiously passive character. He was fodder for a near-sacrifice, and merely aped his father’s ways when he passed off Rebecca as his sister. Blind in his old age, he was easily manipulated into giving the Blessing to his younger son favored by Rebecca rather than Esau, his own favorite.
After assisting Jacob in burying their father, Esau took everyone in his household south into the Negev desert and founded the nation of Edom, which existed from the southern border of Judah all the way to the seaport of Eilat, while Jacob stayed in Canaan. The land was too arid to sustain the livestock of both parties. Because the Israelites and the Edomites had the same grandfather (Isaac), they were first cousins. The Ishmaelites and Israelites have the same great-grandfather (Abraham) so they are second cousins.
Put up your dukes!
These were dukes of the sons of Esau: the sons of Eliphaz the firstborn son of Esau; duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Zepho, duke Kenaz, duke Korah, duke Gatam, and duke Amalek: these are the dukes that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom.
And these are the sons of Reuel Esau’s son; duke Nahath, duke Zerah, duke Shammah, duke Mizzah: these are the dukes that came of Reuel in the land of Edom. And these are the sons of Aholibamah Esau’s wife; duke Jeush, duke Jaalam, duke Korah: these were the dukes that came of Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau’s wife.
These are the dukes that came of the Horites; duke Lotan, duke Shobal, duke Zibeon, duke Anah, duke Dishon, duke Ezer, duke Dishan: these are the dukes that came of Hori, among their dukes in the land of Seir.
And these are the names of the dukes that came of Esau, according to their families, after their places, by their names; duke Timnah, duke Alvah, duke Jetheth, Duke Aholibamah, duke Elah, duke Pinon, Duke Kenaz, duke Teman, duke Mibzar, Duke Magdiel, duke Iram.
These be the dukes of Edom.
Joseph had a prescient gift. He discovered he had many dreams that later came true. One time he told his brothers he dreamed they would someday all fall prostrate before him. That, combined with the fancy long-sleeved coat of many colors his father Jacob gave to him convinced his brothers that Joseph intended to rule over them, and they began to hate him. The hate grew stronger every day. Hate is a psychic poison.
One time Jacob sent Joseph to the fields to do a spot-check on his older brothers, to make sure they weren’t being lazy. They saw him coming and the resentment boiled over. Tehy determined to kill him. His oldest brother Reuben took pity on him convinced his brethren to throw Joseph in a pit instead, an his plan was to rescue him later.
The other brothers saw an Ishmaelite caravan passing by and sold Joseph as a naked slave to them. They killed a goat, dipped Joseph’s unique coat in the blood and told their father that they had found the blood-soaked coat. They never lied outright to their father, but they let him imagine that a wild animal had killed his favorite son.
When Joseph was stripped of his coat, he embarked on a new chapter in his life. To a Christian, Joseph’s coat represents the things Jesus asks us to discard in order to focus only on him. Let go of the created and hang on to the creator.
So Joseph was taken by the Ishmaelites to a new life in Egypt, Meanwhile the Bible returns to Canaan to catch up on what is happening back there.
The story of Tamar is one of those overlooked corners of the bible…because it is a story about a very strong woman. Essentially, Tamar was a proto-Ruth, but more edgy. She was a Canaanite woman who nonetheless became an ancestor of Jesus Christ and the mother of an heir of the Blessing.
Tamar was married to Er, the firstborn son of Judah, who was the fourth-born son of Jacob. But Er pissed off the Lord somehow, and God had him whacked. Then by Hebrew law, the second son Onan was required to marry her, which he did. But he wasn’t pleased with the thought of just being a stud for Tamar, so at the height of his passion he withdrew from her and let his seed spill on the ground. Somehow this part of the story has been mangled to the point where “Onanism” is a word meaning masturbation, but it was coitus interuptus instead.
The Lord didn’t like that either, so he in turn whacked Onan. Judah told Tamar to hang out for a few years until his third son, Shelah, was old enough to give it another go. But when the time came, Judah balked, probably because he thought Tamar was really jinxed.
But Tamar was not to be denied. She dressed like a whore and seduced Judah himself, for the price of one sheep. He didn’t exactly have the sheep with him at the time, she he gave her his bracelet and signet ring and staff as collateral until he could go get the animal. Then they went to it. Judah did not know he was making love to his own daughter-in-law.
Later when he tried to send the sheep to her, she could not be found. Tamar had removed her hooker clothing and put on the clothing of a grieving widow.
Nine months later she had twin boys, Peretz and Zerah. But a report made its way back to Judah that Tamar had played the harlot, and even conceived a child through her prostitution. Judah said bring her out to be burned alive. Tamar, in her own defense, said the father of her children left only these tokens on the bedstand: A bracelet, a signet ring, and a staff.
Judah cleared his throat, hemmed and hawed, and quietly acknowledged her sons as her own. Peretz was numbered in the line of Messiah.
Meanwhile the Ishmaelites sold Joseph to the captain of the guard in the house of Pharaoh. Eventually Joseph became the chief servant in the house of his Egyptian lord, responsible over the whole household and everything in it…except the Lady of the house.
Joseph was a good looking man. The lord’s wife repeatedly tried to get him to bed down with her, but Joseph respectfully declined, refusing to betray his earthly lord and show contempt for Yahweh. One time she grabbed a hold of his second coat and begged him to sleep with her, but he abandoned the coat in her hands and fled naked outside. She screamed to the other servants, “He entered the room to rape me! But when I screamed he ran outside and left his coat in my hands.”
And she repeated the story to the lord of the house when he returned, showing the coat as evidence. Joseph was unjustly thrown into prison, to embark on a new chapter in his life. Step by step he approached the time when his earliest prescient dreams would come true, and his brothers would bow before him.
One time Pharaoh’s butler and baker pissed him off, so he threw him into the dungeon with Joseph, which was very sad, but one night they both dreamed strange dreams and there was no one to interpret them, which made them sad enough for even poor Joseph to notice. He started talking to them and discovered the problem. Master of dreams, Joseph fancied himself, though the real power to interpret them belonged to God alone. Joseph served only as a channel of God’s oneiromancy, so they related their dreams to him to see what Joseph would say.
The butler dreamed of a vine with three branches which budded, and blossomed, and brought forth grapes. He crushed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup, and gave the cup to Pharaoh’s hand. Joseph said the dream meant that in three days Pharaoh would restore the butler to his old job, and all would be forgotten.
The baker’s dream was that he had three baskets on his head, full of pastries. And birds came and ate out of the topmost basket. Joseph said the dream meant in three days Pharaoh would hang the butler by his neck until dead, and birds would come and eat from his flesh.
And everything came true just as Joseph said. In three days, the baker was executed, and the butler was restored to his former office. And the butler forgot all about Joseph for two years.
At the end of the two years, Pharaoh was troubled by dreams. In one of them, seven skinny cows came up out of the Nile and ate seven fat happy cows that were feeding in a meadow. In a second dream, seven desiccated, sickly ears of corn devoured seven full, ripe ears of corn. And none of the wise men and magicians in Egypt could figure out what the dream meant.
Then the butler remembered Joseph, and told Pharaoh there was a Hebrew in the dungeon who interprets dreams, and he seemed to be pretty good at it. So he sent for Joseph, who was shaved and cleaned up and fitted with new clothing, and when he came before Pharaoh, he listened to the sovereign relate his dream.
“The seven fat cows and seven full ears are seven years of plenty in Egypt,” Joseph said. “They will be followed by seven years of famine so severe that the first seven years will be forgotten. So important is this dream, that God sent essentially the same dream twice. So what you need to do, O Pharaoh, is set a minister over the harvest, to set aside a portion of the corn in the fat years, and store it against the seven years of lean times which are to come.”
Pharaoh was so impressed he made Joseph that minister, and renamed him Zaphnath-paaneah, and gave him the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of On, Asenath. And Asenath bore unto Joseph two half-Egyptian sons, Ephraim and Manessah. Life was good for Lucky Joe. He was accorded great honors, given a chariot, and assigned a stature second only to that of Pharaoh himself.
During the next seven years, Joseph served as the minister of Pharaoh, gathering a portion of the harvest, storing it up in the cities, and so great was the harvest that he lost count of all the corn. Then the seven years of plenty were ended, and famine struck all over the known world, but in Egypt people still had corn bread because they drew down Joseph’s stores. And word of this spread throughout the world, and supplicants came from all over, seeking to buy corn from Egypt. The alternative was to starve.
In seven years the famine would be over in Egypt but it would continue in Canaan for a long time. And this would, in due course, result in the mass emigration of the entire House of Israel to Egypt. Fortunately for Jacob, he had a friend in the court of Pharaoh, yet he knew it not.
Jacob and his people ran out of corn, and his sons just stood around looking at one another. And their father Jacob said, “I heard they still have corn down in Egypt. So get down there and buy us some, geniuses, before we starve to death.” And the ten older ones went, but Jacob kept the youngest one, Benjamin, at his side to keep him safe.
So Joseph’s brothers came before him, but Joseph had disguised his appearance and voice so they wouldn’t know it was him, and there was an interpreter standing there to translate Hebrew into Egyptian, even though Joseph understood every word. And so it was that his ten brothers bowed before Joseph, just like in the dream he had years before.
Joseph accused them of being spies. They tried to deny it, but Joseph persisted, and he got them to spill out that their father was an old man, and they had a younger brother who was still with him and another brother who was gone. And Joseph still maintained they were spies, but if they went back to Canaan to fetch the youngest one, then Joseph would believe their story. One of the brothers, meanwhile, would rot in jail as surety for the deal.
And they talked amongst themselves in Hebrew, supposing that Joseph could not understand. Reuben said it was bad karma for selling Joseph to the Ismaelites. Joseph found a private place and wept so it wouldn’t spoil the drama he was creating. When he returned he took Simeon and had him handcuffed before their eyes. The rest of them were given full sacks of corn, and as an added attraction, all their money was restored to them in the top of the sack, but they didn’t discover this until they were a day’s ride away.
When they told all this to Jacob, it was too much. Jacob counted his son Simeon as lost, and refused to send Benjamin down with Reuben to prove their story, even when Reuben said his own two sons would forfeit their lives if he failed to bring both Simeon and Benjamin back with him.
Jacob’s hunger argued with him as the famine continued. When they had eaten all the corn they bought the first time, Jacob told them to go and get seconds. But Judah reminded his father that the Pharaoh’s lieutenant said unless Benjamin came along, they would not see his face again. And Jacob complained that his sons all had a big mouth. Why did they have to go and tell this guy they had a little brother anyway? But all that was water under the bridge. Judah, the one who stood to inherit the Blessing from Jacob, offered to forfeit this Blessing if he did not bring Benjamin back alive.
When they came before Joseph with Benjamin in their company, Joseph ordered lunch for all of them at his own villa. His brothers tried to explain they didn’t know why the money was found in the sacks, but they brought double money this time in case there was a mistake.
Joseph told them fear not, he was paid, so it was their God, and the God of their father who put the treasure in their sacks. And he brought Simeon out to them, free. But when Joseph saw his little brother Benjamin, his only full brother, enjoying himself in the banquet he could not restrain himself. He went into a side room and wept in his joy, and also in anguish for the years he was apart from his cherished playmate. Then he washed his face and went back out to be with them.
Now Joseph pulls the trigger on the final part of his design. He has his majordomo fill his brother’s sacks with corn once again, and put his special silver dream interpreting cup in the sack of the youngest boy, Benjamin. And when his brothers were on their way home, he sent his majordomo and some other men to overtake them and accuse them of taking Joseph’s cup.
And Judah said, “Why the heck would we even thing about doing that? Recall that we returned the money that we found in our bags and came all the way back from Canaan with it. Why would we now steal silver out of your master’s house? Search all of us, and whoever has it dies, and the rest of us will become your lord’s slaves.”
So the majordomo searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Busted! So they all returned to Joseph’s house to face judgment. They stood ready to become his slaves, all of them. But Joseph declared his justice. Only the one who had the interpreting cup would be his slave, the rest could go free with a clear conscience back to their father.
Judah begged to allow himself to be held in slavery in place of the boy. He dreaded to see the horror that would be on Jacob’s face should they return without Benjamin, and it would probably kill him.
Now Joseph could bear to continue his charade no more. He ordered all the Egyptians to leave, so there was only the sons of Jacob present when Joseph revealed himself as their brother. “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” This stunned all of them to silence.
So Joseph bid them all to draw near, and he said, “I am Joseph, whom you sold to Egypt. Don’t be angry with yourselves, for God sent me here to save your lives. Now I am a ruler throughout the land of Egypt. So go and fetch my father, and return quickly! You shall live in Goshen, you and your children and grandchildren and all their animals, and I will feed you, for there is yet five years left of this famine.”
And there was a big group hug, and much weeping, but this is not the emotional climax of this great story, for that is yet to come when Joseph meets his father.
When Pharaoh heard that Joseph’s brothers were come, he was greatly pleased. He gave them enough wagons to make the move, fully provisioned, and reinforced Joseph’s order to return quickly.
When they returned to their father and told them Joseph was alive, Jacob refused to believe it, after all, Joseph could have sent word long before this, but when Jacob saw the big wagon train that Pharaoh had provided for the move he made his decision to go south.
Israel prepared his people and livestock for a full migration to Egypt, but along the way he stopped at Beer-sheba to make a sacrifice to Yahweh. In a vision, God told Jacob not to have anxiety about moving south. In Egypt, said he, the descendants of Israel would become a great nation, and God would lead them out again to the land he had promised to Abraham and his seed.
The easternmost reaches of the Nile delta was called the land of Goshen, and there Israel brought his mobile operations to a halt. Word reached Joseph, who got a set of wheels from the chariot pool and rushed to meet his father.
When Israel saw Joseph again, the son he had believed to be dead, they embraced and both wept, but it was tears of joy, and Joseph’s brothers could hardly bear to look at them for the raw emotion they knew the two of them were feeling. Israel said he was content to die, because he had seen alive the son he thought was dead.
But Joseph never told his father that he had been sold into slavery by his own brothers because it probably would have actually killed Israel to hear it, and for his part Joseph wasn’t ready to watch his father die, even if his father did say he was ready to go.
Joseph escorted five of his brothers to visit Pharaoh in his court. And Pharaoh asked them their occupation. They answered that they were all shepherds, they and their fathers before them. And they asked to stay in the land of Egypt, because the famine had struck Canaan, and there was no fodder to raise animals there. But shepherds were anathema to the people of the major cities along the Nile. So Pharaoh gave them leave to range over all the land of Goshen, on the easternmost fork of the Nile delta.
Then Joseph brought forth his father Jacob to meet Pharaoh, who asked his age. Jacob answered, “The years of my pilgrimage in this world are a hundred and thirty, yet too short and too hard has my life been, and I have not come close to attaining the years of my father Isaac and his father Abraham.” And he blessed Pharaoh and departed from him.
As the famine continued, all the money that existed in the land of Egypt had been brought into the house of Pharaoh from the sale of grain. When the citizens had no more money, Joseph took their lifestock in payment for more grain, just enough for the people to eat. When he had their animals, he fed them from his stores of grain. And the next year the people came for more grain, but they had no money and no livestock, so they sold Pharaoh all their land, except the priests who were allowed to keep their land.
And Joseph organized the people into a state-owned agricultural workforce, and set them to work on land they did not own, using state-provided seed corn, and 20% of their increase was a tax to Pharaoh.
Jacob lived on Goshen another seventeen years, and when the time grew near for him to die, at age one hundred forty seven, he made Joseph swear an oath not to bury him in Egypt but carry him to the tomb of his fathers in Hebron.
The Old Testament is very specific about how long the Israelites were in Egypt: 430 years after the arrival of Jacob at age 130 (Exodus 12:30). And it is very specific about when the temple construction began: 480 years after the departure of the Israelites from Egypt on Passover, in the fourth year of King Solomon. Those two numbers allow a geneaology to link the table of Patriarchs with the table of Kings. So we gave 880 years.
Subtract four years for when Solomon was crowned king. That’s 876 years.
According to the book of Ruth, there are ten ancestors who lived between Judah and Solomon.
That means, on average, each man was 87.6 years old when he begat the next son in line. This is not an intractable problem, but bear in mind that David only lived to be seventy years old.
One time Jacob was sick, and this was told to Joseph. He went to his father, bringing his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. When Jacob saw them he sat straight up in bed and declared to Joseph that he was adopting his two sons as his own. They would both share the same inheritance as each one of Joseph’s brothers, and any sons that he had afterward would be counted in their tribes. Thus Joseph had received the Birthright, the double inheritance that Jacob and bought from Esau long ago. But Judah would receiving the actual Blessing.
Now Jacob was as blind as Isaac had been at this age, but he was still the same old Jacob, and still up to his old tricks. Joseph brought his sons near for a blessing, and steered Manasseh the older toward Joseph’s right hand, and Ephraim toward his left. But somehow Jacob knew what he had done, and crossed his hands, such that his right hand landed on Ephraim’s head, even though he was the younger, and his left hand to Manasseh’s head. Thus he relived the scene from his younger days when he stole the Blessing from Esau, even though he was the younger boy.
All through the book of Genesis we have seen the younger son preferred to the older.
Joseph saw this and was horrified, and tried to actually move his father’s hands, but Jacob was stubborn. He said both of them would become a great people, but the younger one would be greater, a multitude of nations. And indeed later in Ezekiel, all the northern tribes were referred to as “Ephraim”, while the southern kingdom was referred to as “Jacob”, when it was prophesied that Ephraim and Jacob would be one again.
As for Joseph himself, Jacob awards his son with the city of Shechem, and he does a little bit of revisionist history by claiming to have won the city himself by force of arms. If you recall, Jacob had no role in the sacking of that city, and was quite horrified by the cruelty of Simeon and Levi. Simeon was to have a little territory at Beersheba, completely surrounded by Judah (to keep him out of trouble) while Levi got no parcel of land at all, only a scattered collection of towns in the territory of each tribe. Shechem was eventually absorbed into the territory that went to Manesseh, while Ephraim got the land surrounding Beth El.
Now Jacob was on his deathbed, and he gathered his sons around to say his last words to them.
Reuben, the firstborn, is told that he will not excel, because he took liberties with Jacob’s concubine.
Simeon and Levi are the violent sons. Jacob says they will be divided in the land and scattered in Israel. The tribe of Simeon will be completely surrounded by Judah, and the Levites will indeed be scattered throughout every tribe. They become the priestly tribe, but not on the merits of their father Levi.
Judah receives the main Blessing, the one he stole from Esau. This is the right to rule all Israel. Down his line will be the line of kings, the House of David, ending, so say Christians, with Jesus, the King of Kings.
Jacob predicts that Zebulon will be a coastal tribe with a border nigh to Tyre. This sort of thing fills the rest of the chapter. Jacob is made to say by the Jawhist little obscure anecdotes about the doings of the twelve tribes, known in hindsight from the time the book was written.
Then after Jacob blesses (or curses, as the case may be) all his sons he commands them to bury him with this fathers in Hebron, in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and he dies.
Joseph commands his servants to embalm Jacob after the manner of Egyptian royalty. Jacob becomes a mummy. And Joseph is granted leave by Pharaoh to bury his father in Canaan.
After Jacob had been laid to rest and everyone returned to Egypt, the brothers of Joseph began to fear that Joseph would remember the evil they did to him and hold it against them, now that their father was gone. But Joseph assured them it was all God’s plan to save many people from the famine.
And Joseph lived in Egypt until he attained the age of one hundred ten years, and when he was near death he prophesied that God would bring them again to Canaan from out of this land, and carry his bones with them. Then he died and was embalmed in a casket in Egypt.
Later in the book of Exodus, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straightly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
Finally, in the book of Joshua, And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.
And of course, Shechem is near modern day Nablus in the West Bank, so the shade of Joseph suffers many indignities today, as can be seen in the photo.