Thursday, 19 February 2009

Genesis 6, 7 and 8: The Flood

At the start of Genesis six things go all Homerian with talk of giants and stories of the "Sons of God" having sex with the "daughters of men"; relationships which produced "mighty men".
But that's all scene setting. The real story is that God has gone in a massive strop with mankind and decided to drown all living things in a massive flood. He makes it sound like he regretted creation completely:

6:7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

However, he's just about to order Noah (whose ways are "perfect") to build an ark so that human and animal life may continue. I don't get it.

Anyway, in chapter six the big G tells Noah to take two of every animal onto the ark in order that life on Earth may continue. BUT WAIT! In chapter seven he orders Noah to take seven of every "clean" animal and of every fowl and two of every "unclean" animal. Then, later in chapter seven Noah takes two of every clean animal, two of every fowl and two of every unclean animal. Confused dot com.
I'm starting to become suspicious that two or more versions of roughly the same story have been taped together here, making a kind of Frankenstein's monster of a tale. Seems like a reasonable way to explain both this and the two accounts of creation.

After the cull of all living things (fish? they're not mentioned, were they spared?) Noah sends out a dove to check that the flood waters have abated, which they have not. So he waits seven days before sending out the dove again, which this time returns with an olive leaf. Where from, you might well wonder. The Earth has been under a flood that covered even the highest mountains for the best part of a year.

So, in thanks for being spared from the deluge, Noah kills and burns one of every clean animal and one of every fowl (this is often thought of as a problem, but I guess the animals could have reproduced during the many months they were on the ark - it's certainly not the most ridiculous aspect of the tale). The sacrifice pleases God, and, now that he's chilled out a bit, he decides that it's not really man's fault that he's evil, he's that way from birth (presumably God's fault then? And how did this escape his infinite wisdom earlier?).

So he promises never to kill everything ever again. Phew.

And we all live happily ever after.

Or do we?

I suspect not.

Been Away

Not updated in a few days as I've been galavanting around Paris drinking expensive cheap wine (damn exchange rate), but I read a bunch while I was away.
I'll be updating later today.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Genesis 4 and 5 - Sex! Murder! Lengthy Lists Of Names!

It begins with Adam and Eve having sex, an activity which produces two sons, Cain and Abel.
Abel becomes a livestock farmer and Cain decides to spend his time in the arable business. For some reason which isn't made clear, God comes down and judges the merits of their produce.
God decides he prefers the animals, making Cain rather jealous. So jealous in fact, that he murders his brother.
Again, God doesn't know whodunnit, but he teases a confession from Cain whom he subsequently condemns to the life of a tramp. Cain protests that he'll be killed in retribution (by whom? Adam and Eve?) but God offers him protection, saying that he'll visit sevenfold punishment on anyone who makes an attempt on Cain's life.
With this immunity, Cain goes to the "Land of Nod" and begins a dynasty and builds a city (does God never stick to his word? Cain's supposed to be a tramp, Adam and Eve were supposed to die the day they ate from the magic tree....walk it like you talk it Lord).
There are plot holes here that a five year old could spot. Adam and Eve clearly weren't the only people on Earth as Cain, in exile, is able to find a wife and father children with apparent ease. Go figure.
And so the chapter ends as it began: Adam and Eve get down to business and produce another boy, who they name Seth.

Chapter five is rather dull. I'd skip it if I were you. It's a yawnworthy account of the descendents of Adam up until Noah and his sons, there's a whole lot of begetting and not much else. Snore.

Genesis 1, 2 and 3

Well, the bible gets off to an entertaining enough start.

The exceedingly famous first chapter* is all very mystical and august but it also seems bizarrely irrelevant, as it's immediately contradicted by a second account of creation in chapter two. It has pretty much next to nothing to do with what follows. For example, in chapter one, God creates animals then man and woman in that order. In Chapter two he creates man first, then the animals, then woman (in a strange ritual where he steals one of Adam's ribs).
Why does God need to perform rituals anyway? A ritual implies that he's beholden to some kind of cause and effect - surely he can just will things to be?
Anyway, small gripe, because God so far isn't the omniscient, omnipotent being we've come to know and love. He's more like a grumpy, magical grandad charged with the task of babysitting Adam and Eve and doesn't seem to be all-knowing at all. Indeed, he has to ask Adam and Eve (who'd previously been unaware of their nakedness) why they are suddenly aware that they're naked, then deduces it must be because they'd eaten from a magic tree (why he had to create a magic tree in the first place isn't explained).
There then follows a farcical "passing of the buck" episode where Adam blames Eve and Eve blames a talking snake. God punishes them all - he condemns the snake to a lifetime on its belly (one wonders what kind of snake it had been previously), tells Eve he'll make childbirth painful and, to punish Adam, he makes the ground grow thorned plants (!?). Then he kicks them all out of the garden, in case they eat from a second tree which will grant them eternal life (again, the reason God created these magic trees isn't given).

It's a rather silly, but kind of enjoyable start to the most influential book on Earth, but I'd struggle to call it an allegory (or even a metaphor), as it's often explained as.

I still don't know what chapter one has to do with anything.

*the obvious flaws with chapter one have been pointed out enough to be tiresome (creating day and night before the sun and moon, for example) so I won't really go into them here.


I'm an atheist, and I'm reasonably comfortable with that view of the universe. I'm by no means militant in my atheism, indeed I find that new species of particularly truculent atheism rather embarrassing and somewhat hypocritical.

That said, I will discuss and defend my opinions in appropriate arenas, and one of the criticisms I'm often dealt is that I "haven't read the bible" and am, therefore, in no position to comment. As loathe as I am to admit it, it's a fair point. I haven't read the bible, yet I do comment on things biblical. I'd say I had a decent knowledge of the bible - better than your average man in the street, for sure - but I've never read it from cover to cover, so I've no idea how it comes together as a cohesive work. Maybe second or third hand knowledge of the bible doesn't do the book justice, perhaps you need the deep, first hand experience to really understand it.

So, I'm going to read it. I fully expect it to be mostly rather boring so I expect this will be a long term project. Unlike how I would approach a novel, I'm going to approach this (at first at least, we'll see how it goes) in small chunks. Every day (give or take) I'll read a few passages, or as much as I can be bothered, starting at the first word of Genesis and finishing at the last word of Revelation, and I'll post my thoughts on what I've read here.

It might take me a year. Maybe longer. Maybe I'll become so enraptured by the beauty of the text that I'll finish it in a week. Who knows?

Anyway....on with the project. Feel free to comment or point out misunderstandings or ommissions.

Oh, a probably important point has just occurred to me: I'll be using the bible I have in my house, I think it's one of the Gideon ones (not the wee tiny red ones they hand out in schools, but a weighty, hardback tome with those wee ribbons on that you find in bibles and diaries). I know that there're different "types" of bible, and I thought this might be important.