Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 14: Genesis, Chapter 46 - 50

This will finish up with Genesis, in my Bible reading series, following directly from Pt. 13. Note that all quotes come from the King James version of the Bible.

Chapter 46:
1 And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac.

2 And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.

3 And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:

4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.

Note that God is lying to Jacob (Israel) here, because he ends up dying in Egypt. ("I will also surely bring thee up again..." Nope, not unless dead counts.) But we'll get to that later.

In previous chapters, we saw that there was famine in the land, but that God had arranged - in a Rube Goldberg kind of plan - for Joseph to be in charge of famine relief in Egypt (indeed, to be second only to the Pharaoh).

In Chapter 45, both Joseph and the Pharaoh himself had invited the clan to Egypt and sent wagons to pick them up. In fact, Jacob (Israel) had already decided to go at the end of Chapter 45 - even before asking God about it, apparently.
5 And Jacob rose up from Beersheba: and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, and their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him.

6 And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him:

7 His sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt.

This says "his daughters," but he has but one daughter, Dinah, who's only been mentioned at all because she was raped in Chapter 34. Similarly, Jacob's sons and grandsons are all listed here by name, but no living women, except for Dinah and his granddaughter Serah, daughter of Asher (and, presumably, Asher's unnamed wife).

Since women aren't considered important enough to even mention, for the most part, we don't know if Tamar was with them. Too bad, huh? But altogether, there were 66 in the immediate family (i.e. not including slaves and other servants), 70 including Joseph's family who are already in Egypt.
31 And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father's house, I will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and say unto him, My brethren, and my father's house, which were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me;

32 And the men are shepherds, for their trade hath been to feed cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.

33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation?

34 That ye shall say, Thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.

When they get to Egypt, Joseph is going to take them to meet the Pharaoh. But he cautions them to be sure to tell the Pharaoh that they're shepherds (are they lying about this? aren't they really shepherds?), because "every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians."

That doesn't seem to make any sense, so I suspect that "abomination" isn't meant as we'd define the word. Egyptians probably don't think of shepherds as we'd think of pedophiles or slavers (neither one of which would probably have been an abomination back then, huh?). I suspect this just means that Egyptians didn't commonly become shepherds themselves.

After all, Egypt was the breadbasket of the ancient world because the Nile flooded every year, enriching the farmland on either side of the river. But away from the river, it was just desert. So there probably wasn't much grazing land in the country. (That's just a guess, admittedly.)

The Hebrews were being settled in Goshen, in the eastern Delta, which was a very rich land. (In the next chapter, the Pharaoh calls it "the best of the land.") According to a later Egyptologist, it contained both crop land and grazing land.

Chapter 47:
5 And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee:

6 The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.

Again, shepherds hardly seem to be an "abomination" as we'd understand the term. Indeed, the Pharaoh is glad to hear that they're shepherds. Apparently, he needs capable shepherds, because he makes them "rulers over my cattle."
12 And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.

13 And there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine.

And so, thanks to God's extravagantly elaborate plan, Joseph keeps his whole clan fed, even during this terrible time of famine. But what about the rest of Egypt (let alone the rest of Canaan)?
14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house.

15 And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth.

16 And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail.

17 And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.

18 When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said unto him, We will not hide it from my lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands:

19 Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate.

20 And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's.

Of course, God doesn't give a crap about the Egyptians. They're not his people. And they're not Joseph's people, either. And Joseph has a monopoly on grain, since the Pharaoh had taken one-fifth of everything during those seven years of booming harvests.

So what does he do? He sells the grain back to the Egyptians (and to anyone else with money) until the money runs out. Then he demands their livestock - their horses, their sheep, their cattle, their donkeys,... everything - which keeps them from starving for one more year. (Remember, this is a seven-year famine.)

After that, these poor Egyptians have nothing left to sell but their land and themselves. The Pharaoh - and Joseph, inevitably - make out like bandits. Everyone else is basically enslaved...
22 Only the land of the priests bought he not; for the priests had a portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them: wherefore they sold not their lands.

...Well, everyone but the priests, at least. Typical, huh? Remember, the Egyptian priests had been useless in interpreting the Pharaoh's dreams. And the Pharaoh recognized that no one contained the "Spirit of God" like Joseph. Yet, as I noted before, there's absolutely no hint of proselytizing here.

Joseph doesn't even attempt to get the Pharaoh to worship his own god, and the Pharaoh doesn't seem to consider it, himself. Why not? According to modern Christian (and Jewish) thinking, this is the only god. According to Christians, certainly, this is the 'God' who cares about everyone - and who wants everyone to know about him, too.

But not here, not in Genesis. Here, this is simply the god of the Hebrews. There are many other gods, and they've got their own worshipers. There doesn't seem to be any desire to poach other believers or to spread the word about a particular god among other folk - not even among these people who are supposed to be (according to modern thinking, at least) monotheists.

Sorry to repeat that, but I just think it's really weird that Christians seem to ignore all this.
23 Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land.

24 And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones.

25 And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.

26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.

How should we interpret this? At first, I thought that this was just the invention of taxes. The Egyptians get fed during this famine, but they can go back to their land, they're given seed grain, and they merely owe the Pharaoh 20% of what they grow. This doesn't seem to be any different from before the famine, when the Pharaoh took 20% then, too.

Of course, the priests are tax-free. That seems to be an inevitable fact of life, as inevitable as taxes themselves, huh? But otherwise, this is just the Egyptians funding their own government.

Or is it? This could also be interpreted as serfdom. Joseph says, "I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh." The Pharaoh owns them, and he owns their land, too. As we saw previously, these starving people sold their land and themselves for food. So now the Pharaoh owns them.

And sure, he tells them to return to the land and grow grain, as they always have. What else is he going to have them do? But aren't they just serfs now? Aren't they just slaves? Right-wing rhetoric today may equate taxes with slavery, but there's a huge difference, even in undemocratic societies.

But I don't know, not for sure. You'll have to interpret this for yourself.
27 And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.

28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the whole age of Jacob was an hundred forty and seven years.

"Israel" - meaning a people, instead of just Jacob, apparently - "grew and multiplied exceeding" in the rich land of Goshen. That's going to cause problems, I suspect. :)

Jacob is 147 years old, and he makes Joseph swear to bury him with his fathers (where Abraham and Sarah were first buried, and later Isaac and Rebekah), not in Egypt.

Chapter 48:
8 And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these?

9 And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.

...

13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him.

14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

Honestly, do these people deliberately try to make their sons hate each other? Well, in this case, it's grandsons, but it's still the same thing.

Jacob (Israel) is dying, and Joseph brings his sons to be blessed. Manasseh is the elder, and that's very important to these people. (Apparently, they can't both get a similar blessing to be well and prosperous and happy, which is what I'd do.) But Jacob deliberately switches them.

Joseph objects:
17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head.

18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

Now really, was there any point to that? Was Jacob just showing off his powers of prophecy, or what? Why not bless both sons equally, and if one later became greater than the other,... fine?

How could this do anything but cause unnecessary friction between the brothers, just like what happened between Jacob and his own brother? Did he learn nothing from that? Why can't you love your children, or your grandchildren, equally - or, if not that, at least pretend to do so?

But then, it probably wouldn't make a very entertaining story without all that inter-family conflict, huh? It would be like the Jerry Springer Show without trailer trash. Or a soap opera without backstabbing. What would even be the point?

At any rate, for good measure, Jacob also gives Joseph "one portion above thy brethren," just to encourage continuing jealousy there, too. (Given that Joseph is second only to the Pharaoh in Egypt and no doubt vastly wealthy already, there hardly seems any more reason to it than that.)

Chapter 49:
1 And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.

2 Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.

3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:

4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.

5 Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.

6 O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.

7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.

8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee.

9 Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?

10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:

12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

13 Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.

14 Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:

15 And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.

16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.

17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.

18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.

19 Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.

20 Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.

21 Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.

22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:

23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:

24 But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)

25 Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:

26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.

27 Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.

I'm copying almost all of this chapter here, because these are "the twelve tribes of Israel." This is where that comes from. I thought this was interesting, though I'm not even going to attempt to explain the various prophecies here. But there were two things I thought were interesting.

The first is that Jacob isn't praising all of his sons. Indeed, for a dying old man, he's being rather harsh. He says that Reuben is "unstable as water," and that he won't excel. (That part about defiling his father's bed? That's when he had sex with Jacob's concubine - his brothers' mother - Bilhah.) He calls Simeon and Levi cruel. Even if these things are true, he's not exact making for pleasant family get-togethers. Can you imagine Thanksgiving dinner with this bunch?

The second is that, as I've come to expect, there's absolutely no mention of Dinah, his daughter. All of Jacob's sons are going to become the twelve tribes of Israel. But what does his lone daughter get? Nothing. She's not even mentioned (though she did come to Egypt with them).

Poor Dinah. She was raped in Chapter 34, so now she's spoiled goods. Since she's not a virgin anymore, she's not even valuable property. Her rapist - if that's indeed what happened - loved her and wanted to marry her. He offered to give her family anything they wanted, and part of that turned out to be the circumcision of every man in his village. But Dinah's brothers went back on the agreement and killed them all (and then enslaved their women and children).

I'm not saying that marrying her rapist would have been a good thing for Dinah - certainly not if she had nothing to say about it (which she didn't). But she has nothing now, either. Heck, her father doesn't even remember her on his deathbed!

I sympathize with Dinah, and her story interests me. But she was just a woman, so her story didn't interest the people who told these ancient stories. So she's just ignored. We don't know what happened to her (just like we don't know what happened to Tamar).

According to Wikipedia, Anita Diamant wrote a novel called The Red Tent (1997) that's a fictionalized autobiography of Dinah. So I guess I'm not the only one who wonders about Jacob's only daughter. But she wasn't considered important - women weren't considered important - in the patriarchal culture depicted in the Bible. They're rarely even mentioned by name.

Sure, these are just stories. Most likely, the whole thing is made up. But I've been reading fiction for most of my life, and I come to care about the characters. I care about Dinah in this same way. Furthermore, I care about all the nameless women - the real women - who suffered in those primitive cultures. I have to wonder how any woman can be a Christian, given how they're treated in the Bible (but, for some reason, a higher percentage of women are Christians than men).
29 And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,

30 In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace.

31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.

Leah is buried there, but not Jacob's beloved Rachel, who died in childbirth and was buried on their way to Ephrath. And his two concubines? The two slave girls, Bilhah and Zilpah, who bore him four sons between them? Their death and their burial aren't even considered important enough to mention.

Anyway, here's when Jacob dies, at the ripe old age of 147.

Chapter 50:
7 And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,

8 And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father's house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.

9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company.

Joseph is a big man in Egypt, and the death of his father is recognized throughout the land. Joseph has Jacob embalmed (which must have been an unusual thing in those days, outside of Egypt) and all of Egypt mourns for 70 days.

The Pharaoh not only gives him permission to leave, in order to bury his father in Canaan, but "all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt" go with them, along with a host of chariots and horsemen. A very great company, indeed!
14 And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.

15 And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.

16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,

17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.

With Jacob dead, Joseph's brothers start to worry about that whole attempting-to-kill-him thing. But no, Jacob "comforted them, and spake kindly unto them." It was, after all, God's will. That was all part of God's elaborate plan to save them (and no one else) from the famine.
22 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years.

23 And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph's knees.

24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.

26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

The End.

Well, that's the end of Genesis, at least. But this has been a lot of fun so far, so I'm looking forward to continuing with Exodus next. I'd read Genesis before - I'd read parts of it, at least, several times - but the rest of the Old Testament will be completely new to me.

Well, it will be as "completely new" as it's possible to be, living all of my life in an overwhelmingly Christian country, where these stories tend to be widespread in our culture. But since I'm blogging about this, I'm reading much more carefully than I normally would. And that makes a big difference.

I should note that I've been surprised at how unimportant some of these things have turned out to be. "Jacob's ladder," for example, is a common Christian theme, but it's just based on a dream in Genesis that seems to be completely inconsequential. His wrestling with an angel (which is how Christians usually interpret that passage), too.

Yet Tamar and Dinah,... well, I don't think I've ever heard anything about them, prior to reading Genesis. But I find their stories far more compelling, myself. What do you think?

___
Note: This whole series can be found here.

5 comments:

Chimeradave said...

The 12 tribes, oh I know this one: Caprica, Aerilon, Gemenon. Oh wait...that's the 12 colonies on Battlestar Galactica. :)

I think it's interesting that according to this King David and Jesus are descendant from Joseph like I would have guessed. They are descendant from Judah who we learned all about...too much about...from the Tamar story.

that thing about "every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians." I'm still not really sure what it means. Here is a wikipedia page about the translation of the word: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abomination_(Bible)

The thing with Ephraim and Manasseh. It's like there are only 3 characters in Genesis. The father, the older brother and the younger brother. I guess the people in the ancient times were comforted by the repetition or something.

WCG said...

Thanks for the link, John. That's helpful, although even "loathsome" doesn't seem to make much sense when applied to shepherds.

But then, if shepherds were foreigners (because there wasn't much need for shepherds in Egypt),... well, I guess it's easy for people to think of foreigners as loathsome, huh? Maybe these Egyptians were all Republican. :)

And you meant to say that King David and Jesus weren't descended from Joseph, I think. True (at least not in the direct male line - these people are all inbred, you know).

I thought about pointing out the prophecy above that "thy father's children shall bow down before" Judah, because that's why it was important that Jesus (or his stepfather, at least) was from that line. That's why that ancestry was included in two separate Gospels (in conflicting genealogies, but that's for another post).

But I think it's even more interesting that they're supposed to be descended from Tamar (from one of her twins). The Bible may ignore women, but I don't. :)

Finally, the oldest son was important in this culture. He inherited twice what other sons inherited, for one thing. But parents frequently have a soft spot for the baby of the family, too, don't they? And this was a perfect opportunity for the kind of conflict which would make a story more entertaining.

It's like television these days. Back then, a storyteller would want to keep his audience entertained, and inter-family conflict would do that. Favoring a younger son over an elder son was probably a common theme in their tales.

Gregg said...

Honestly, I don't know how you can wade through all this stuff. I can barely keep track of reading your summary - the bible passages are too hard to make sense of. I'm looking forward to the rest of the bible. Are you going to go all through the New Testament, too?

Chimeradave said...

Yeah, I meant aren't.

And good point about Tamar.

WCG said...

I'm enjoying it, Gregg, but I'm enjoying it because I'm blogging about it. There's a lot in the Bible which cries out for commentary. :)

And sure, I intend to go through the entire Bible - New Testament, too. But I've only just finished Genesis, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. Who knows if this will still be fun for me months from now?

(Note that I don't say "fun for my readers," because I suspect that it's not as much fun for you to "wade through all this stuff." Heh, heh. But my blog tends to be more fun for me than for anyone else, anyway.)