Monday, January 29, 2007

3. The Bible: Genesis

The difficult thing about reading the Bible for anyone, I think, is separating what you believe from what you read. I can’t imagine comprehending it as someone who isn’t Christian, let alone someone who is either agnostic or atheistic, but it’s also a little weird reading it as someone who does fundamentally believe in the truthfulness of the writings. It seems somewhat, well, sacrilegious reading it not for its religious value, but solely for its literary value. I was brought up Catholic and still identify as such, so I possess a general knowledge of the Bible and its teachings, but I have no self-discovered knowledge of it. I only know what was taught to me in catechism. In the sense that the Bible is one of the most influential written works of all time, I have no detailed knowledge of that.

I’ve read that reading the Bible straight through isn’t the best idea because it’s not chronological and some parts are dreadfully boring, but my tactic is to read five chapters a night. Eventually, with five chapters a night, I’ll make it through. Right? Well…I’ll try.

So I’ve started with Genesis. Most people are familiar with the creation story, the banishment from Eden, the slaying of Abel by Cain, the story of Noah and his ark, and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. What I found interesting was realizing that those things that have been ingrained in our culture really did begin here. For example, in Chapter 3, after God discovers that Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (yep, that’s what it’s really called), He actually does say to Eve, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Thy husband shall rule over thee! Could this really be where the root of our patriarchal and sexist society lies? Could this be why, for innumerable generations, women have believed that their place is in servitude to their husbands? I’m three chapters in and I’m already marveling at how far society has come. This is also the first of many times I’ve thought, “This is why you can’t take the Bible literally.”

Some other cultural beginnings I discovered: After the great flood, Noah knows that it’s safe to leave his ark because a dove came to him with an olive leaf in her mouth. In Chapter 11, there was a city that built a tower so high as to reach heaven, but not wanting this God scattered the people and “confound[ed] their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech…therefore is the name of it called Babel.” So there really was a Tower of Babel. In Chapter 13 it’s written, “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly,” which is why God destroyed the city. It does not say, however, how these people sinned and why sodomy is labeled as such, but there’s the reason why it’s considered sinful, whether that reason be semantic or otherwise. People were turned into pillars of salt, God commanded that every man be circumcised to keep His covenant with Abraham, the father of many generations, and Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, really did wear an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Well, not really, but Jacob did give Joseph a “coat of many colours” which caused his other sons to drive Joseph away in jealousy.

The Joseph story was actually quite interesting. By that I mean, the Isaac/Jacob and Esau/Joseph and his brothers story because it’s all one big entwined story involving all generations. Esau was to be the stronger of Isaac’s two children, but his wife Rebekah loved Jacob more and when Isaac was old and blind and ready to deliver his blessing unto Esau, Rebekah tricked him and Jacob was bestowed with the strength of the covenant. Jacob went on to become Israel and his twelve sons (by four different women, I might add) are what we refer to as the twelve tribes of Israel. Although he’s driven from Canaan by his jealous brothers, it’s Joseph, having become second-hand man to the Pharaoh in Egypt, who saves their lives when famine hits the land and the sons are forced out to find food.

Genesis was actually suspenseful and full of action –- who would have thought you’d find that in the Bible? Of course, that’s just the first book. Something tells me the going won’t always be so easy.


Blogger piksea said...

Very nice review. I do think you may have one thing backwards, though. Man wrote The Bible, not man in general, but specifically, man, as in not woman. The patriarchal society came straight from the pens of the men who wrote The Bible. There have always been and always will be matriarchal societies in many species of animals, including some races and cultures of humans. Just not those responsible for the writing of The Bible.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Exxie said...

Piksea - you pose a very good point. In fact, I don't know why I didn't think of that myself, that Biblical patriarchy was created by the men writing the book and not just a part of the book in and of itself. I think that's a problem I'll have as I continue reading, being able to think of it as the word of man and not as, you know, the word of God. Of course, I'd love to hear anyone else's opinions on it at any time!

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Hold up a second. First, we've got four authors behind Genesis and Harold Bloom says one of them's a woman. Second, feminist scholars demonstrate the instrumental role of women both in the Bible and in Judeo-Christian history, from Eve to Lady Wisdom to the BVM. Keep your eyes peeled for others.

And get thee a modern translation!

9:22 PM  
Blogger Janice said...

I'm thinking of reading the Bible this year. Maybe.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Amy from Dazzle ME said...

Ouu very interesting-I'm at uni and studying it from a purely literary perspective which is actually quite a strange concept. I'm currently writing an essay on the patriarchal society (?)

6:24 AM  

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