Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 12: Genesis, Chapter 36 - 38

This continues my commentary on the Christian Bible - not as a scholar, but just as an ordinary reader - from Part 11. The entire series is here, and all quotes are from the King James version.

Chapter 36:
6 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.

7 For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle.

8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.

Chapter 36 just lists Esau's descendants (well, his daughters aren't mentioned by name, naturally), but there are still a few interesting parts to it.

Here, Esau takes his entire household and moves to Seir, in Edom. Now, according to Wikipedia, se'ir means "hairy" in Hebrew. And edom apparently means "red." Do you think it's just coincidence that, back in Chapter 25, Esau was born red and hairy? Heh, heh. Clearly, those details were added to the story later.

Also, when did this move take place? These verses claim that Esau "went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob," but Jacob was away, living with his uncle, for twenty years.

Since these verses also claim that both men were so rich there wasn't enough grazing for all of their cattle, you might think this happened after Jacob had returned, laden with wealth. But as we saw in the Chapter 32, Esau was already in "the land of Seir, the country of Edom" at that point.

This is just another example of how this narrative has been pieced together from separate, often contradictory stories. It wasn't inspired by a god. It's just a bunch of ancient myths and stories collected together into a more or less coherent whole. Only if you don't pay attention to the details does it hang together as a single story.

Another example? In Chapter 26, Esau married two Hittite girls, Judith and Bashemath. But his parents hated them, because they weren't family, so in Chapter 28 he takes a third wife, his cousin Mahalath.

But here, his Hittite wives are named Adah and Aholibamah, and it's Bashemath who's his cousin. Details, yes, but this is supposed to be the word of God, right? Or did God just have an off day? (I'm sure there are lots more of these things I'm missing, because I noticed this difference purely by accident.)

As I say, most of this chapter is just a listing of Esau's descendants - or the male descendants, at least - and it's pretty boring. It boils down to "Esau (was) the father of the Edomites." But I thought this part was interesting:
24 And these are the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.

Oh, it was that Anah, huh? (The emphasis is actually in the original. In my quotes, I've left them out, because it usually just makes the text even more confusing.) Was this a common story, then, that audiences of the time would have recognized? I don't think it's related elsewhere in the Bible (not yet, certainly).

Apparently, this whole thing is a matter of some debate, and sometimes it's translated as Anah finding "hot springs," instead of "mules." Why is that important? Well, it's not, but I loved this comment:
This last explanation ["mules"] was the one most frequently met with in Jewish lit; the tradition ran that Anah was the first to breed the mule, thus bringing into existence an unnatural species. As a punishment, God created the deadly water-snake, through the union of the common viper with the Libyan lizard...

Neat, huh? It's another 'just-so' story, this time in Jewish literature. Anah was the first to breed mules, but God punishes... everyone (as usual) by genetically engineering the water-snake - not just by poofing it into existence, like he did every other species, but by combining a snake with a lizard. I love stories like this. (They're just myth, of course.)

Chapter 37:
1 And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.

2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

Yup, this is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I suppose I would have hated the little spoiled brat, too. For one thing, it sounds like he was a tattletale. He listened to his brothers talk among themselves and then "brought unto his father their evil report."

But to make it even worse, he starts telling them about his dreams:
7 For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

8 And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

Egotistical little bugger, isn't he? "The sun and the moon and the eleven stars" bow to him? I don't think I would have liked it much if my younger brother had told me about dreams like this, and unlike these primitive people, I don't place any significance at all to dreams. (I probably wouldn't have sold him into slavery, though, let alone conspired to kill him.)
18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.

19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.

22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.

They still plan to kill him, apparently, because the pit has no water. They're just a little squeamish about shedding blood. But then they get a new idea:
25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?

27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.

Hey, they can even make a profit out of the deal! Unfortunately for them, someone else has already spotted Joseph in the pit and had the same idea. When they go back, the pit is empty, because Joseph has already been sold as a slave.

But the result is the same:
36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.

Meanwhile, Joseph's brothers take the amazing technicolor dreamcoat, which they stripped from Joseph before they tossed him in the pit, and convince their father that his favorite son has been killed:
31 And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

32 And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son's coat or no.

33 And he knew it, and said, It is my son's coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.

34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

We'll get to Joseph's adventures soon enough, but first, there's more Jerry Springer Show stuff:

Chapter 38:
1 And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.

2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.

Judah is Jacob's son, his fourth with Leah, and this is apparently how you marry in the Old Testament. You just "take" a girl you fancy and "go in unto her." (Of course, we're not told what she thought of the whole idea.)

Admittedly, men rarely seem to have much of a choice about it, either:
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.

7 And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.

8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.

9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

It's Judah who picks a wife for his firstborn son, but God doesn't like the guy and kills him for unspecified reasons. So then Judah directs his second son to marry his brother's widow. Why? I don't have a clue. He's supposed to "raise up seed to thy brother," but it's going to be Onan's seed, not Er's, so how does that make any sense?

(Yes, I know that this is a Levirate marriage, but what's the point? If the eldest son dies childless, why wouldn't the second-oldest son inherit, then? Why wouldn't Onan's own child continue the family line as his child? Is this just more magical-thinking?)

Onan thinks the same, apparently, so he pulls out early,... and God kills him, too! This is just God being a dick again, isn't it? But Judah isn't one for giving up, I guess, and he's got a third son, though one that's still just a kid:
11 Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house.

12 And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.

13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.

14 And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.

So Tamar has to go home and live with her father until the third son is old enough to marry. Yeah, that must have been as pleasant as it sounds, because she gets pissed when Shelah grows up and Judah still hasn't arranged for the marriage.
15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.

16 And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?

17 And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?

18 And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.

19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.

20 And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not.

21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place.

22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place.

23 And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.

This whole thing is interesting, isn't it? Prostitutes wear veils; other women don't. That's how you identify them, apparently. But doesn't that seem a little backwards? Fundamentalist Muslims make their women wear burqas because they don't want other men to get the hots for them, but this is just the opposite. How does that make any sense?

But you have to think that it's very convenient, both for the women who want to earn a little extra on the side and for the men, too. How could I know who that was? She was wearing a veil! And that's what Tamar does. She puts on a veil, and her father-in-law doesn't have a clue who she is. (She leaves it on during sex, apparently.)

He's horny ("I pray thee, let me come in unto thee"), maybe because his wife just died. But he's not carrying any goats at the moment, so he asks for credit. And he's willing to give her - he thinks she's a prostitute, remember - his ring, his bracelets, and his staff, as collateral!

Afterwards - no steamy sex scenes here - he sends his friend off with the baby goat, to redeem his stuff. But the 'prostitute' has taken off her veil, so she's completely disappeared. Without that veil, no one has a clue. The friend can't find her, and the locals claim that there hasn't been a prostitute in their neighborhood at all, so Judah is worried that he'll be shamed for not paying his debts.

Now, just think about this. He's not shamed by having sex with a prostitute. He's willing to give her all sorts of personal stuff as collateral, he has no problem telling his friend about his sexual escapades, and they have no problem asking around town about her. For him, the only shameful thing would be skipping out on payment.

But what about for her?
24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

Yeah, he's going to burn her for having sex outside of marriage. "Let her be burnt." Note that they say she's "played the harlot," but they don't know about her little experiment with prostitution, not yet. All they really know is that she's pregnant and she doesn't have a husband. So burn her!

It's perfectly fine for men to patronize prostitutes. Indeed, it's not even shameful. But if an unmarried woman gets pregnant (at this point, they don't even know if it might have been rape), they're going to burn her? Luckily, Tamar has an ace in the hole:
25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.

They don't actually burn her - not before she gives birth to twins, at least - but I'm not sure if it's because she blackmailed Judah or if he really did see himself in the wrong here. Maybe he's just had the hots for her all along? This says that Judah "knew her again no more," but according to Jewish writings, he ended up marrying her.

Incidentally, Tamar, through one of these twin sons, is supposed to be an ancestor of both King David and Jesus. (Well, not really the latter, because God was supposed to be Jesus' father, not Joseph, right? But that's how it's listed in Matthew, at least.)

We'll jump back to Joseph - in Egypt - next time.

Note: Links to this entire series can be found here.


Chimeradave said...

I was wondering if you'd actually like any of the bible "heroes." But so far Joseph is a "Egotistical little bugger," huh?

What I love about the story is how, if his brothers had done nothing then Joseph visions wouldnt have happened. But because they threw him into the pit and he got sold into slavery, it started the course of events. It's just a darn good story.

It's a story about a "self-made man" Joseph was the first American :)

the other story you looked at about Tamar. Wow, they don't teach that one in Sunday school, do they? :)

But really they kind of should because woman are thought much of in the Old Testament. Like you said you said a lot of the time they aren't mentioned by name and the guy just "go in unto her" if he fancies her.

And yet despite this there are still countless stories of women outsmarting men. Eve, Tamar, Delilah. the list goes on and on.

Women weren't in charge but a lot of times they should have been. :)

WCG said...

Yes, that is a good story, John, though God seems completely unnecessary for it. Sure, they think it's all been God's plan, just like religious people today think. But, like modern stories, God isn't actually there. He isn't a character in the story, as he is in the rest of Genesis.

And 'heroes'? Genesis reminds me of a really trashy soap opera (maybe Dallas? admittedly, I never watched that). Who are the 'heroes'? Drunken Noah? Abraham, who pimped out his own wife - twice? Lot, who raped his own daughters?

Those were all God's favorites, so I suppose they must be heroes to Christians and Jews, huh? But that's hard for me to understand. So far, Esau seems to be the best of them all, and he's not one of God's favorites. OK, Jacob wasn't so bad, once he grew up, but he was a real jerk before that.

Joseph,... well, I can understand why he wasn't popular with his brothers when he was a kid. But he did OK later. He screwed with them, but he had reason for that. And he ended up doing the right thing.

Maybe I'm biased against Joseph because of that whole prophetic dreams thing. I automatically think of such people as scam artists.

However, what he and the Pharaoh do ends up being very self-serving, as we'll see in the final chapters of Genesis. I've read ahead a bit, so I have to take that into account. Joseph uses a horrible famine to amass wealth and power (for the Pharaoh, yes, but you know that's going to benefit him, too).

WCG said...

(Note: I'm splitting my reply into two parts, since - as usual - it's long.)

Re. women outsmarting men, is that what's happening here? How did Eve outsmart anyone? She was merely a victim. And Tamar,... well, we're just assuming that she didn't get burned alive after she gave birth to those twins. (Admittedly, she did trick Judah. And maybe she ended up marrying him,... but that's not part of the Bible.)

No, what I get from Genesis is a very consistent theme of blaming women. Both Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, but it's Eve's fault, right? Lot raped his own young daughters, but it was their fault. They got him drunk and planned the whole thing.

You might see Tamar as having successfully tricked Judah, but she played the harlot, which was considered so shameful it was a burnable offense. Do you think that Tamar's story was supposed to make her look good? How about that guard captain's wife who tried to seduce Joseph, then accused him of rape?

It's often more subtle than that. When it comes to difficulty conceiving, for example, it's always the woman who is barren. It's never her husband's fault, not in the Bible.

And remember that it was Lot's nameless wife who disobeyed instructions forbidding her to look back (towards her destroyed home and dying children - she can't even grieve?), and so got turned into a pillar of salt in punishment.

At best in Genesis, women are nonentities, merely property who have no say in anything. Often they're completely nameless, like the women Jacob's household enslave after slaughtering all of their men.

Often, they're just passive victims, like poor Dinah, Jacob's only daughter. Jacob's twelve sons go on to become the twelve tribes of Israel. Dinah? She gets raped, and so becomes spoiled property, no good for anything. End of story.

Sarah and Rebekah are both beautiful, so they're valuable property. But, of course, valuable property simply tempts thieves (although both Abraham and Isaac get rich from the kings who fancy their wife).

If there's one thing that's consistent in Genesis it's that women can't be trusted. And the idea that their opinions might matter? Well, would you ask your mule for his opinion? Would you ask your table what it thought?

Women are property, but they're also untrustworthy. The last thing you'd want to do is listen to a woman, and you have to watch them every minute. At best, they'd be careless and become spoiled property. At worst, they'd deliberately play the harlot or cause problems in some other way.

As far as I can see, this is consistent in Genesis. It's one of the main themes of the chapter. This is a patriarchal society, and it's a patriarchal religion (two patriarchal religions, eventually). I wonder what women think when they read this - especially Christian women.

Chimeradave said...

Well, you don't have to worry about your mule outsmarting you so a woman is much more dangerous. That does seem to be the theme, doesn't it? Women are all "femme fatales"like in Film Noir movies.