Monday, March 18, 2013
Genesis in Review
It has been my observation that both testaments of the Christian Bible are front-loaded with good stories and become progressively weirder as they go along. In the Old Testament Genesis through 2 Kings really comprise a single sustained narrative.
The stories in Genesis are about origins. The book divides into three sections. Genealogies mark shifts in the narrative.
Chapters 1-11 are set in a mythic prehistory. Here we find Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah' Ark, and the tower of Babel. The scope of these stories is universal. They are about the origins of all things, the human race, sin, nations, and languages.
The focus in Chapters 12-36 is narrower. These stories are about the origins of the nation of Israel and its twelve tribes. Here we have the stories of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yes, their wives: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel. I am not overlooking the women but, let's face it, women don't fare well in these stories. The Bible was written in an androcentric culture. The closest thing we have to as self-actualized heroine is Tamar, and look at what she had to do to ensure her security!
Chapters 37-50 tell the story of Joseph. The narrative function of these chapters is to get the ancestors of Israel's tribes settled in Egypt.
It is clear that the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are not factual accounts. Likewise the stories of Noah, and the tower of Babel. I don't know whether there is any actual history in the book of Genesis at all. It seems to me that the people who wrote, collected, and redacted these stories were not interested in providing scientific or historical accounts. Their interest was theological. Genesis is narrative theology.The stories in Genesis are stories of Israel's God.
Genesis proclaims that God is the creator of all that exists. This Creator God desires to live in relationship to his human creatures. Humans have a way of messing that up. We try to put ourselves in the place of God. We also offend God with our tendencies toward evil and violence.
The God we meet in Genesis is not the unmoved mover of Greek philosophy. Instead this God grows, changes, and tries new things. Some of those things don't work out so well.
I appreciate that the people God chooses to be his own, Abraham and his offspring, are not 2 dimensional models of virtue. They are not "flannelgraph saints." They are fallible. They sin. They lie, cheat, and steal. And yet God persists in relationship with them.
It isn't always easy for us to live in relationship with God. It isn't always easy for God to live in relationship to us.
There are disturbing stories in Genesis. the one that I personally find most disturbing is the Akedah, Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac in chapter 22. God, the text tells us, was testing Abraham. It occurred to me that Abraham may actually have failed that test--that God may have wanted Abraham to balk at the idea. Maybe God wanted a good old argument with Abraham like the one that they had over the fate of Sodom.
I'm not sure that the text actually supports this reading. It may be just wishful thinking on my part. After all, Abraham is rewarded for his willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Maybe this is another instance of God growing and changing. What do you think?
Abraham may not have argued with God about the sacrifice of Isaac, but I will. I'll take Jacob as my model here, not his deceit and trickery, but his wrestling with God, his hanging on for a blessing.
The thing I find most inspirational in Genesis is the theme of reconciliation. Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers, come to terms with one another. Old hurts are overcome. God is able to bring good from intended harm.
What did you see in Genesis that I may have overlooked?