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Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Genesis 10, 11 – The Nimrods of Babel

It’s really too bad that most of the biblical names we see in modern American society are only from the more popular and well known characters.  Aside from my earlier mentioned affinity with Enoch, we’re missing out on such exciting options as Magog, Togarmah, Erech, and Joktan.  It sounds like a veritable Star Trek convention of Klingon cosplayers.

There’s not too much here of interest among the genealogical record-keeping, but we do get this gem about Nimrod being a mighty hunter before the Lord, which gave rise to that old saying we all know and love, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.”  Got a bit of poetry to it, don’t you think?  It seems that he was the founder of Babel, which may have contributed to the fact that we commonly use this name in the modern day as an insult to someone’s intelligence.  But since it simply means a great hunter in every place aside from America, we really have Bugs Bunny (using it in poorly understood context) to thank.  No, I’m not kidding.

This family tree really only seems to try and account for the existence and spread of the several nations after the flood.  I realize that “nations” doesn’t have an equivalent meaning with the way we understand nations in the modern day, but the most interesting sections top note in this chapter are undoubtedly verses 5 and 31.  These explicitly point out that each nation was separated out according to their families, lands, nations, and most importantly languages.

This may be just a big snore along with the roll call, except when put into context with chapter 11, which begins by saying that “now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.”  It’s arguable that all those people mentioned previously only separated into nations after the tower of Babel incident (sorry, spoilers), since Nimrod was the founder of this city and only 3 generations removed from Noah.  Once again the bible fails to equip us with an adequate understanding of the chronology and proves itself to be confusing and poorly written storytelling.

And once again I find myself at odds with the traditional church narrative on how things went down.  I was always told that Yahweh caused the tower to crumble and confused their languages because they were arrogant people who tried to rival and challenge god with their project.  Sounds to me more like a collaborative enterprise to build a nation and do great works.  Sure they mention that the tower will reach into heaven, but they don’t talk about rivaling god or his power.  In fact, the only one who’s mentioned this idea so far is Yahweh himself when he kicked out Adam and Eve in a fit of paranoia.

His inherent fear of being overthrown by his creation is documented explicitly here when he says,

“Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language.  And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”

This feels more and more like Yahweh learned his paranoia from all the other Mesopotamian and Greek myths about creator gods being overthrown by younger generations (Tiamat/Marduk, Ouranos/Chronos, Chronos/Zeus, etc.).  He speaks not as if they are arrogant and forget their place in the cosmological hierarchy, but as a threat to be swiftly dealt with lest they actually gain the power to usurp him.

If this were true, why does Yahweh allow large, cooperative enterprises like skyscrapers now?  Could it be that this thought doesn’t bother us because we no longer think that he literally resides in the clouds (even though we still depict him this way in cartoons)?

Hell, maybe he’s just a capricious prankster god with a mischievous sense of humor.

And there’s sadly no mention of a Barad-dûr-like cascading demolition of the tower.  In fact, it’s presumably left undisturbed, for all that we hear about it.  The only thing we’re told it just that the trickster god Yahweh switched all their languages around so they couldn’t collaborate any longer and whisked them around the planet.  Is this where biblical literalists think that the Native American, Australian, and Pacific Islander peoples and languages came from?  And that they gained that kind of genetic diversity over a period of a few thousand years?

At least human lifespans are getting down to a more reasonable range of four hundred years or so, though how this is in line with Yahweh’s pronouncement in Gen 6:3 is anybody’s guess.  Nahor is the first person noted to fall within the decreed lifespan boundaries, and this isn’t until humanity is eight generations removed from Noah.  Could it be that he’s simply titrating down the actuarial tables to avoid system shock?  Who knows…

And then we get another anomaly when Nahor’s son Terah lives to be two hundred and five.  Not that I wouldn’t like some of those genetics, but I’m beginning to suspect that this data is untrustworthy…

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Genesis 9 – Covenants and Curses

Yahweh blesses Noah and his sons for the enormity of the task they have completed and the kickass cookout they organized afterwards, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply.  One gets the sense that they wouldn’t get too far along in this endeavor if Noah and his sons were indeed the last people left on earth, but this isn’t the first nor the last time god left out consideration for women.

All the animals on earth are now to fear them (presumably their descendants as well, this being an etiological myth) and “every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you.”  My retcon precognition alarm is going off.  Aren’t there some very specific instructions later on how to eat Kosher?  Something about pork and shellfish?  At least here Yahweh draws the line at drinking blood.  None of that unnatural pagan vampirism in god’s house!

Subsequently, we get our first real decree of morality in the bible when god tells them not to hurt or kill people!  Except he actually says to shed the blood of those who shed others’ blood, which is a lot closer to “an eye for an eye” than any of that turn-the-other-cheek hippie Jesus stuff we see later on.  Sounds more like a product of the culture and times than any sort of divine inspiration, especially considering that even the oldest parts of the Torah were written only well after the code of Hammurabi.

Speaking of inspiration, how exactly is Yahweh talking to Noah here?  In other places in the bible it notes rather meticulously how god appeared in the form of a burning bush or whatnot, but here we only get the sense that he’s speaking to the humans directly and without mediation.  Considering how convoluted the ancient and modern efforts at interpreting god’s will through obscure and supposedly cryptic events, I know plenty of Christians who’d be jealous to note such direct revelation.

The promise to never flood the earth again is made and god’s bow set in the cloud to mark this promise.  An intriguing thing to note here is that the rainbow isn’t placed in the sky in order to reassure human beings that god won’t flood the earth again to purge all life.  One might be understandably concerned about that when seeing stormy clouds in the sky, especially not understanding meteorology as well as we do today (all weatherman jokes aside).

No, the rainbow is hung up in the sky in order to remind Yahweh not to kill everything in a massive flood again, as if it’s some massive nuclear missile launch button he might accidentally hit his elbow on or smash in a rage.  Personally I find myself substantially less reassured that god has to place a multicolored rubber band in the sky as a mnemonic to snap against his wrist to remind himself not to commit genocide.  It doesn’t inspire the firmest confidence in his character.

This of course leads, tangentially, to some questions about optics as well.  Rainbows only appear in the sky at 42 degrees opposite the sun, because light is refracted inside raindrops, reflected, then refracted again, separating out the wavelengths of light.  Does this mean that the laws of optics and light were different before this?  Did all electromagnetic waves travel at the same speed through all mediums?  Did refraction simply not exist?

So what happens when the sun is too high in the sky and the rainbow effectively appears beyond the horizon?  What happens when it’s raining at nighttime?  What about when the sun itself is covered by clouds?  That’s a pretty big loophole!  Surely there’s been ample opportunity where clouds are in the sky but rainbows haven’t appeared for a long enough period to allow Yahweh to flood the earth?

I suppose we’re just lucky that people just haven’t drunk enough blood to move him to an extinction event yet.

We get a massive gear change and find that Noah has planted a vineyard and gotten drunk off of his crops.  Bravo to you, sir, for keeping that knowledge alive.  While I certainly believe you have earned the right to celebrate, I must submit that I hope you planted some additional, more practical crops.

On a side note, I was told by my church growing up that one should never despair of one’s failings and character flaws, because “Noah was a drunk, and look at what he accomplished.”  It is a somewhat morose yet hilarious idea to imagine an inebriated 600 year old man sloshing about the bowels of his ship while the rest of his family are desperately trying to keep all the animals from starving to death, but it doesn’t really have any textual basis.  The bible talks about one time he got drunk and passed out, and if that’s enough to convict someone as an alcoholic then I’m sure most of us have some meetings to attend.

Although, he did plant himself a vineyard, and with everybody else on the planet dead the implications are unflattering…

Ham wanders in and sees his father naked, and his brothers grab a blanket to cover him and walk backwards into the tent to avoid seeing . . . anything.  Does Noah wake up later and shake off his embarrassment at drinking too much and thank his sons for helping him out, like any rational and loving father?

NO!

He somehow knows what Ham did even though he was unconscious, and then curses the son of the son who saw him naked to be the servant of the sons who covered him up.  I’m just going to throw this out there: how were Shem and Japheth to know to cover him up if Ham hadn’t wandered in and stumbled upon his naked, passed-out father?  Was the crime that he invaded the sanctity of his father’s tent?  Perhaps he was just checking to see if the old man was okay.  It’s not as if the bible says he mocked his father, just that he told his brothers.

I get the feeling that there’s some real cultural sacrosanct norms that just aren’t translating here.

Nevertheless, we still have the gem here that Noah curses Canaan for the mistakes of his father. I suppose this is par for the course in this book of the bible, but not just by any definition of the word.

Yet again we see the specter of white supremacy rearing it’s brainless head due to this chapter, as those who gave up on the the idea that Africans were destined to be slaves due to Cain’s curse (perhaps due to the already-mentioned extinction of his bloodline) adopt this passage instead to justify their ideas about inherited servitude that of course have no roots in European feudalism.  The only people who are slaves are the ones god wants to be slaves.

The question must be asked: where the hell would Noah get the power to curse someone, let alone in a fashion that significantly altered their genome?  Are we saying that Noah’s a wizard now?  Does he get magical drunky powers?  A dipsomancer well before his time…

Nevertheless, the sky wizard hasn’t lent his power to anyone yet (I believe Moses is the earliest example of this), so this notion of Noah’s curse holding any literal weight in physical reality and the nature of that reality being racial is supported nowhere in the text.  It’s just another sad example of people interpreting the bible to support their own ignorant prejudices.

Then again, there’s so much crazy shit in this book that it could be construed to justify just about anything.  Nothing scarier than confirmation bias when you think you’ve got the power of the Almighty behind you.

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