My Mum's Ancient Family Bible

My Mum's Ancient Family Bible
Kept in the garage of all places for so many years, it's finally been put to good use.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Daddy's Little Girls (Genesis 18-20)

So here's something interesting: I thought it was a big deal when God incarnates himself as Jesus but in Genesis 18, he incarnates himself into three different guys and appears before Abraham. At the sight of God times three, Abraham rushes to Sarah and demands that she whip up some extra food. Sarah's like, "You didn't tell me we were having company," and Abraham's like, "I thought it was just going to be God". Sigh. Men. Sarah rises to the challenge and produces a fine meal with all the fixin's (unleavened bread).

Sarah and God have a little spat because he thinks she laughs after something he said, which most people hate if they're trying to be serious (especially men). God insists on getting the last word in: "No, but you did laugh," he says to her (Gen 18:15). Typical. To ease the tension, God suggest that they all take a roadtrip to Sodom and Gomorrah to do some serious punishing of the wicked. This doesn't sit well with Abraham, who asks if God will destroy the whole city if there are "fifty righteous" (Gen 18:24). God says no and then Abraham starts to barter him down. Forty-five righteous? Thirty? Twenty? Eventually, Abraham gets God down to ten but it's never clear whether he'd go as low as one or zero. Probably not.

Once the gang gets to Sodom and Gomorrah, the men there request the following of Lot: "Where are the men that came to you tonight? Bring them to us, that we may know them" (Gen 19:5). I added the italics here. And Lot comes up with a great alternative. Wouldn't the men rather have at his two daughters? "Behold, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof" (Gen 19:8). If there's a morality lesson to be learned here, it's that compromise is important.

Knowing what's coming, Lot, Abraham and company flee Sodom and Gomorrah before God rains fire and brimstone down upon it. Lot's wife looks back on the chaos, which I assume she wasn't supposed to do, and gets turned into a pillar of salt. Stupid! Lot finds himself in a cave in the hills with his two daughters, who I'm surprised did not take the opportunity to get away from their him after he served them up for gang rape. Rather, the two daughters are more concerned that their father will not have any male heirs because he's old. So, they do the logical thing and get him drunk on wine and have sex with him on consecutive nights. The Bible is very clear here that Lot did not have his wits about him and did not know what was happening: "...he did not know when she lay down or when she arose" (Gen 19: 33). That's repeated twice (Gen 19:35). Lot's not responsible at all, althought I must say I find it hard to imagine a man that old being able to perform that drunk.

In the meantime, Abraham and Sarah have wandered off to Gerar, where he tries again to pass her off as his sister.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Abraham Goes on a Circumcision Spree (Genesis 15-18)

I feel like I should just skip ahead to the part about circumcision. But a bit of background first: God is really liking Abraham and he gives him a large tract of land from the river of Egypt (the Nile?) to the river Euphrates. He also makes a covenant with Abraham. What are the rules of making covenants exactly? Are they like the rules of dating? Now that Noah's dead, I guess it's okay that God makes a covenant with Abraham; otherwise, I feel like it would be cheating in a way.

A covenant is all well and good but Abraham still has the problem of a barren wife. Sarah can't cough up an infant so she suggests that he impregnate her servant woman, Hagar (known as the Horrible because of her ungainly looks). Good idea! Abraham needs little convincing and he promptly knocks up Hagar, who gets pretty pissy about the whole situation. Imagine that. Sarah "deal[s] harshly with her," which certainly implies a bitch-slap or two (Gen 16:6). Hagar gives birth to a son, Ishmael, a "wild ass of a man" (Gen 16:12). Say no more. Ishmael doesn't pass muster so God decides that he'll make Sarah pregnant after all. The Bible makes it out to be a big deal because she's ninety, but I thought that everyone lived many hundreds of years anyways. I'm confused. You would think that living that long would buy them a few more procreative years, but apparently not.

There's a catch: God is willing to give Abraham a proper son but he is very intent all of a sudden that all the males get circumcised. He hammers home its importance: "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my convenant" (Gen 17:14). THAT'S what breaks the convenant with God? Not murder or rape? Got it. So Abraham goes a'circumcisin'. Like crazy. Everybody gets circumcised, even the slaves. All the males were probably in a huge line like they were waiting to buy tickets to Aerosmith. Abraham gets circumcised, too, at ninety-nine years of age (and it is unclear as to whether or not he circumcises himself). I can't imagine he had a steady hand being that old. Because of all this slicing and dicing, Sarah bears him a son, Isaac.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Location, Location, Location (Genesis 12-14)

At this part in the Bible, Abraham takes centre stage as the lead actor and God's class pet. Abraham decides to take his family on a journey and settle in a new land. Since it's a long journey he has to stop numerous times and "pitch[ed] his tent," which makes made me giggle every time I read it. Because of a drought Abraham takes a sojourn in Egypt (isn't Egypt all sand?). He's really paranoid that everyone there will think his wife, Sarah, is super-hot and kill him so they can have sex with her so he tells her to say that she's his sister. Sure. Sarah's pretty old and I doubt she looks like next month's cover of Maxim but I guess this would have been a palpable threat in those days.

After this vacay in Egypt, Abraham settles in Canaan and his nephew Lot heads off in another direction and settles in Sodom and Gomorrah. Later Lot will discover that this was a poor choice of real estate. There's a lot of confict around Sodom and Gomorrah. A bunch of different kings are fighting for it. One of them, Chedorlaomar, forms a gang and takes some people and stuff. Abraham is like, "Not on my watch," and gets three hundred and eighteen people together to form what we can assume to be a decent-sized army for the time. Then he kicks Chedorlaomar out and gives back all the stuff that was taken. I guess these events are the beginnings of the eye-for-an-eye mentality which the Old Testament is known for. It's not quite eye-for-an-eye but at the very least it's decidedly NOT the roll-over-and-take it mentality of the New Testament.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fool Me Once (Genesis 8-11)

The flood has been going for many days and Noah isn't sure if he can park his ark yet so he sends a dove off on basically a suicide mission to see if there's dry land anywhere. Eventually the dove comes back with an olive leaf and Noah sets up shop. He makes a few offerings to God from among the clean animals (good thing there were more than two). God establishes some general rules for conduct, such as the following: "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood (Gen 9: 4). I take this to mean that trying to eat animals while they're still alive is a no-no. This would be quite difficult to do anyway, as anyone who has ever tried to put a bowtie on a cat can imagine.

For reasons unclear to me, Noah decides to form a convenant with God (God's suggestion, of course). Watch your back, Noah. God just wiped out most of mankind on a whim. Who's to say he won't do the same to you? Maybe Noah is stressed out about his tenous relationship with God because he promptly gets drunk and naked, and then passes out (Gen 9:20). Horror of horrors, his son Ham finds him, freaks out and gets his two brothers, Shem and Japeth, to help him deal. Despite the trauma of seeing his father naked, Ham and his brothers keep it together and walk backwards approaching him so they don't have to look before throwing a towel or something over him. I'd do the same. Noah must have been really wasted because he isn't grateful at all. In fact, he curses Ham's son Canaan (who is probably like, WTF?) to be a slave. Later, Noah dies at the ripe old age of nine hundred and fifty-three, probably of alcoholism.

Because it's the Old Testament, anything interesting gets sandwiched between genealogy. If we go down Ham's line of descendents, however, we come across Nimrod who  "was the first on earth to be a mighty man" despite being named Nimrod (Gen 10:8). Lots of hipster parents give their kids old biblical names - why'd Nimrod get passed over, I wonder? When I was in Grade 7, I remember a kid from another school over who was a wicked high jumper. His last name was Major. I remember thinking it was pretty funny that his report card would read: Major, Nimrod.

The Bible says that we are all descended from Noah's three sons. Eventually their descendents are plentiful enough to splinter off into different peoples and populate the lands. Somebody gets a bright idea that a bunch of them should get together and build a city with a tower and, I dunno, get civilization going. God doesn't like this because "they are one people, and they have one language; and that is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (Gen 11:6). So God decides to "confuse their language" so they can't understand each other and civilization comes to a halt (Gen 11:7). We're left with the tower of Babel and zero Berlitzes. Brutal. I guess we know who's in charge.

Monday, December 27, 2010

We Might Have Been Giants (Genesis 4-7)

Today I'm at the part in Genesis where Cain kills Abel, in a perfect example of sibling rivalry to the max. What happens here is pretty simple: Abel gives God nice offerings and Cain gives him crappy ones. Sort of like someone showing up to a party with Raincoast Crisps and a wheel of organic brie from the Leslieville Cheese Market and someone showing up with Doritos. Not cool, but would you freak if you were the hostess? God does. As a matter of fact, " Cain and his offerings he had no respect," which sounds to me like the first official dissing in the history of mankind (Gen 4: 5). Cain reacts in the appropriate way and kills his brother in a field. Then he gets cast out to what I assume is the wrong side of the tracks: the east side of Eden. I Googled "east of eden" because I thought I wanted to reference the 1955 film but I found out that it is also known as the Land of Nod (not a bad-sounding place at all).

After the Cain and Abel debacle, things start to slow down considerably. So-and-so begot what's-her-face and blah, blah, blah. Everyone lives an insanely long time which makes it even more boring. Somewhere down the line, Cain decides to copulate with his sister (Gen 4: 17). Pickings are slim but by that time, there are certainly some nieces and grand-nieces kicking around that at least aren't as closely related. Anyways, Cain and his nameless sister (I guess she's not important) have children who have children and we wind up with someone called Henoch who lives to be many hundreds of years old and then has an untimely end (as untimely as an end can be when you're over 100 years old). Henoch "walked with God and was seen no more; because God took him" (Gen 5: 24). God just took him - yoink!

There's one small detail that I think most people don't know about these Genesis characters. I think that it's pretty common knowledge that they all live to be nearly a millenium old but did anyone know that they were giants? Indeed. "Giants were upon the earth in those days" (Gen 6: 4). This was news to me. I thought that maybe I was misinterpreting the word but I read the footnote. Adam and Eve were giants. Huge people. How tall were they exactly? NBA tall or Attack of the 50 Foot Woman tall? I'd love to know. Was everything else their size or were cantaloupes like grapes to them?

Next comes the flood. It seems to be a kind of narrative distraction at this point because I'm pretty focused on the idea of giants. (By the way, the Bible I'm using is so old that Noah is spelled "Noe". I've never seen this before and I kept pronouncing it in my head like Zoe, but with an N). This is the part where Noah builds an ark because God forewarns him that he's going to kill everyone for no particular reason other than "corruption". He's supposed to build it to be so many cubits big and fill it with two of every kind of animal, one male and one female. Wait. That's just the unclean ones. All the clean animals have not two, but seven representatives of each sex (Gen 7: 3). I don't know unclean from clean animals but I know it would be harder to draw fourteen giraffe on one page if I was an illustrator of children's Bible stories so I can see how this got overlooked. Noah's job as cruise director must have been super-stressful, especially because he's six hundred years old at this point and in my experience, most old people don't love travelling.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

We're Going to Need a Bigger Bible (Genesis 1-3)

So I was operating under the assumption that my parents would be able to easily produce a regular, compact bible for me to use for blogging purposes. First of all, I was surprised that neither of them had a strong reaction to me asking out of the blue for a bible, since I haven't been to church since I was sixteen (when yanking figure skating lessons for non-attendence became less potent a threat). Chalk it up to the hustle-and-bustle of preparing Christmas dinner. Anyways, my Mum produced for me a positively ancient-looking bible, straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I'll include pictures when I get back to my own place and my own computer (which doesn't sound like it's brewing coffee after I ask it to do something). She told me it was her family's bible and I felt slightly guilty. Until I realized that she kept it in the garage.

This morning I cracked it open and started reading Genesis. After I got two or three sentences in I thought, "This is going to be a slog". Pretty boring. No wonder most people don't read it. One of the first things I was struck by was how easy it seemed to create the entire universe. God's like, "I wanna make a firmament," and - presto! - it's done. But where's the capacity for self-criticism? Everytime God makes something he remarks on how good it is. No room for improvement, apparently. Well, I don' t know about that. Maybe God should have asked some of those Scandinavian countries with high suicide rates if they wanted more daylight.

I already feel this getting out of hand. How am I going to get through this whole book? Moving on to the creation of man (Adam) next. What I don't remember from Catholic school was that man was made out of... slime??? Oh, yes. God "formed man of the slime of the earth" (Gen 2: 7). Cool! If you've taken an intro to feminism course in first year university then you'll remember what follows. God makes woman out of one of Adam's ribs (please see Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth for some pissy feminist breakdown on this event). What I find more interesting than the second-hand nature of womankind's creation is the fact that God lures Adam into a deep slumber and steals his rib (like some Korean black market body-parts dealer who drugs you in a hotel bar, takes your one good kidney, and leaves you in a bathtub full of ice). Furthermore, he replaces that stolen rib with flesh (as if Adam wouldn't notice). In the future, Cher will undergo a similar procedure.

In paradise, there's a weird layout of four rivers or something that lead to different lands with different resources like gold, onyx and bdellium (Gen 2: 12). I don't know what bdellium is, but I know it doesn't have enough vowels. I got confused. Anyways, I get to the part about Eve and the tree of knowledge and the snake. This is interesting. I can only assume that in paradise all the animals can talk as in movies like G-Force and Hotel for Dogs because Eve has no reaction to the fact that the snake is talking at all. She gets past that pretty fast and falls for his little trap. Way to go, Eve. It's not that bad that you won't live forever and have to wear fig leaves  to cover your shame but to not be able to talk with animals about current events is a big loss in my books.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

No Better Day to Start Reading the Bible than Christmas

Although the title says it all, I think I should explain the goal of this blog, since it is my first post. There are a lot of people out there who are devout Christians and a lot of people out there who aren't (myself included: I'm an atheist). But among those people, how many have actually read the Bible? Like, the whole thing? Like, cover to cover? My guess is not many. One day I was reading a book by evolutionary biologist and delightful scamp Richard Dawkins and he kept bringing up these bits of biblical fare that I just couldn't wrap my mind around. Genocide? Gang rape? In the Bible? Aka the Good Book? And I wondered: What does this thing actually say?

So, friends, I made it my mission to read the Bible. I'm just going read it. I'm not trying to belittle Christian folk for believing in it or boost up my Atheist ilk (we can have a capital letter, too - can't we?). I'm just going to try to plow through it as best I can and report on what it says. And if it so happens that something is funny then well, that's not my fault, is it? Should any Christians come across this blog and get all fired up, please, don't shoot me down on my daily visit to the abortion clinic (I believe in preventative health care, thank you very much). I'm just the messenger.

Today is Christmas - fabulous! No better day to start. I'm at my parents' house and surely it is equipped with one or two bibles. Plus, this is a good opportunity to avoid after-dinner conversation that will surely revolve around who got the best deal on a minivan. My hope is that later tonight I can report on the first few pages of the Bible. Let's face it - the pace of this project will probably be slow. I expect this to be a snooze-worthy read. Painful at best. But I'm going to read as much as I can every day until I'm done and have read the entire goddamn thing.