Let’s Play The Bible: Book of Genesis
I use the app “YouVersion” to get some daily messages and insight from God via the Bible, after a long time of using “Daily Bread” which wasn’t quite as slick. I did some of the “plans” (extra daily reading and analysis for set period) offered in the app and have eventually found myself doing the whole-hog main event “Canonical” plan, which takes you through the entire Bible in one year. Over 2 weeks and a few days I completed the book of Genesis. I figure it might be a good idea not only to go back over and understand more of what I read, but also to make some notes for extra fun. I will now do this now.
I guess it’s worth noting that I use the KJV translation of the bible within the app, and while I can’t pretend that I hadn’t meandered around different translations in hopes of finding some “perfect” one, I ended up picking KJV for simplicity sake, trying to apply a philosophy of “de-analysing” things and just proceeding. Then of course I guess while writing this I will refer to material entirely translation-agnostic and even third party for extra interest. I am not a biblical scholar so I don’t put too much importance on divining a correct translation and won’t pretend this article is going to be of the sort someone like that might write. These are matters of intrigue and wonder.
The hierarchy of this book resolves itself to me as an initial world creation followed by a record of lineage from the first humans, interrupted on occasion of God’s interjection and similarly meaningful events. It seems to get a bit less fantastical as it tends to its climactic finale in the passing of Jacob, where things are a bit more humanically dramatic but subsequently perhaps less allegorically meaningful. The big tentpole sequence of interjections/events (stories, I guess) are as follows:
- Creation + Cain & Abel
- Noah + The Diluvian Event
- Nations + Tower of Babel
- Chronicles of Abraham
- Chronicles of Jacob + Joseph
Throughout the book you see many instances of man testing his limits as we follow a range of men and women from one great line across time, in extreme and intricately webbed contexts the human condition, relationships with God and the nature of the world is laid both bare and obscure. This is a very exciting book to read, even if you do not ascribe spiritual importance to it. Great at once as sculpture, and more so as puzzle under a less strict stare. A real page-turner and mind expander.
There’s a variety of interpretations of this book and the tales and information within, from strict belief in the factual nature of events which unfold and the covenants initiated and demonstrated by most jewish people (the zionist amalgam tend to be of the mind that it evidences the divine nature of a specific group of people and specific tracts of land), all the way down to Da-Vinci-Code ramblings of schizophrenics and agnostic philosophers. While for Christians a lot of the stuff depicted here is rendered somewhat obsolete or at least with more clarity by the teachings of Jesus at later dates, this is still a very important collection of writings that immediately begin to set in place the pillars of the many religions that hold it divine.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.
The initial retelling of a creation out-of-nothing is an easy favourite for us. Why wouldn’t it be? The sequence is ethereal yet functional, it allows you to feel God working. I believe this is by design. Here we have God depicted as Geometer putting in his hours as Architect, per Calvin, and he is working hard. We are repeatedly told that the fruit of his labour is Good, and this is in my eyes agreeable.
The run-on and-and-and-ing of this initial passage in the book gives the tale a great continuous movement, it allows you to be immersed in the hard work of God. I can’t imagine the and-and-and-ing is not a fundamental part of the text rather than brought about in this translation. Regardless I love it, and it works well to express the discipline and intuition of God so that we might emulate, pause given only when we reach fittingly his day of rest.
This primary sequence lends greater contrast when afterward we shift focus to the creation in his image, man, who fails to maintain his discipline so taut, in a piece of story where God is reformed from singular incomprehensible power into more anthropomorphic concept, enhancing relation to oneself.
Kings and Things
As the book tends temporally into what appears to be more descriptive of life and relationships contemporary to its writer(s, e.g. moses), there’s many references to the lineage or ancestry of those commonly known as “patriarchs”, namely Adam through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob alongside their wives who would be “matriarchs”. At first glance a lot of these people live extremely long lives (some almost a thousand years) and many make appearances of only a clerical, documentary nature.
It is interesting to note here that the ages listed could be down to numerological intentions on the part of the ancient authors. Indeed it is hard to imagine someone living over 900 years and having an exacting annual figure for their age. Maybe there are records eluding us, maybe there are miracles at hand or maybe the meaning behind the words and numbers is incongruent with a face value modern interpretation. Of course, it would be a little foolish to be treating the Old Testament as a historical report that ought to sit flush with other more clinical reporting and recording refined through modernity for more general societal ends.
There are worldly kings referenced, too. This is yet another avenue from which further issues to those attempting to wed the Old Testament with known extra-biblical source derived history arise. One interesting attempt to make this wedding is in the case of the king of “Shinar” who is named as “Amraphel”. There are (or have been) claims, via phonetic/language reasoning, that this figure is in fact well-known king of Babylon “Hammurabi”. I say well known, but I don’t know who that is. His fame seems to come from the “Code of Hammurabi” - an early recipe for punitive measures against criminals - which is famous for being one of the earliest surviving writings of significant length. While the evidence in support of the link is scant, there’s a suspicious lack of justification for dismissal of the theory, which I guess follows naturally - it really rests on just an alleged phonetic similarity and circumstance.
One of the more shocking elements of the book involves rape. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, is raped by Shechem, a man from a region/city of the same name. Shechem fancied Dinah a lot and after raping her he asked Jacob through his own father for a more permanent arrangement. Jacob’s sons told them to circumcise themselves as part of the bargain, a usage of religion as means of deception, and they agreed to do it. Then, as they were recovering from this primeval surgical procedure, the sons Simeon and Levi descended upon them and their city, killing them along with all the other men there. They also decide, in an example of “Old Testament Justice”, to in turn rape all the women of the city. They did save Dinah however, collecting many of the wares and cattle of the city along with her, as penance. Jacob wasn’t a fan of their idea of retribution. He was henceforth steadfastly aware of their rancid temperament.
It is quite difficult to read much of beauty into this section of the book. It’s kind of sick and ridiculous, kind of funny when you lay it out plain, but it is not out of step with the book in exploring much of the human condition as mentioned previously, and this is perhaps the most extreme example of that. If you bear in mind the nature of circumcision as a ritual and think in the frame of mind of this period of history, the most prominent aspects of the story are the ideas of revenge, desire, familial loyalty and maybe even rebellious children acting in spite of their father. It also helps to paint the state of society and law at the time, giving this conception of a primal world primacy in the mind before we are graced with the commandments and order that God will provide to set things on the straight and narrow.
It might be worth noting that not only is this part of the book controversial in subject matter, but its inclusion and sourcing is a cause for controversy too. Supposedly, in some alleged form of the book of Genesis, this was actually a seduction rather than a rape, the differing accounts offered by “Yahwistic” and “Elohist” scribes being intertwined into the final Genesis we have here. The book of Genesis is in fact littered with discontinuities and apparent erratum that critics and scholars have long analysed to reverse engineer the sources and the binding thereof. Whatever the case, Shechem was drawn to and had sex with Dinah, and her brothers didn’t like it one bit. Golly!
Tower of Globalists: Unfederation
The tower of babel story is one that I feel has legs of its own outside of the Bible. It’s a very clever tale, and an interesting conceptual outline on the nature of different languages, cultures and the problems and benefits this brings about. I read a good short story that extends on this classic a while ago, “Tower of Babylon” by Ted Chiang from the collection “Stories of your life and others”. This man is famous for writing the story that the movie “Arrival” is based on. I don’t think I’ll follow that tangent, because it’s been a while since I read the thing, but I did enjoy this re-imagining/template use.
In the story we see humankind has bound itself together, speaking a single language and isolating themselves and their focus in pursuit of this concentrated building project city/tower. They are stranded in place by their own hubris to build higher and higher, toiling endlessly and converging on infinity and zero. God sees this, and forcefully scatters them across the earth, their unified language being broken in turn. The disdain for the narrow horizons of humankind in their now dismantled endeavour is palpable.
I have seen it since I was a girl, the plotting and scheming of corporations to make Europe into one big country with no separate languages, cultures or tastes.
A source of contemporary enjoyment of this story lies in its mirror of the current “globohomo” situation and treatment of humans as units of some whole. I can’t put it better than this deus ex NPC (quoted textually above for posterity). Of course this doesn’t quite parlay perfectly with the story, but some of the themes are there. A homogenous and singular ant farm is not what humans should be, or can be, for many reasons. Fascism, communism and transnational megacorpism will all lead to turmoil for the human spirit and these will cave in on themselves in time and effect scattering anew, and that’s just some examples at the most obvious scale. Not to say co-operation or federation is bad wholesale, but our dominion as humans should be broader.
There are many locations cited and visited throughout the book of Genesis. The patriarchs can be found to have passed through and have knowledge of the land of mesopotamia and specifically the land known today as Israel. For example the story of Noah has his Ark come to a rest in the “mountains of Ararat” - and there is a “Mount Ararat” today, named so after it became associated with the tale over time. While the mountain/volcano today bears this name, the Biblical reference is said to be more of a general indication (referring to “mountains” rather than a single “mountain”) of the region where the Ark is said to have came to rest, and when translated accurately it correlates with an area encompassed by modern day Armenia.
The ritual site of “Mamre”, which plays a significant role in Abraham’s life, was said to be amongst “great trees” and today we can see a location and tree has been venerated as being associated with this site. There’s some pretty interesting facts surrounding this tree, not least of which is the fact it was reported to be dead in the 90’s (the 1990’s, very recent) and apparently fell in 2019 (2020 doomsday sign?). The site is owned by the russian orthodox clan. Another identified locale for “Mamre” is the site “Ramet el-Khalil” which appears to have once been an area with an enclosure around a great tree, and supposedly venerated and often visited many centuries ago before the tree died and the theorized sanctity was riddled with holes by those ascribing the tree to more primitive semitic religions.
Sodom and Gomorrah are another notable pair of locations in the book. They were cities infamous as depraved hellholes which God saw fit to destroy, being beyond salvation. Naturally they would not exist any longer. Some speculation persists of their location being that of archaeological sites near the Dead Sea, and to perhaps tie their destruction into known history have been alleged to be destroyed by “natural disaster”.
Closing the Book
I think an appropriate way to finish this article is to briefly note that this book conjured some childhood memories tied to it. I recall in early school years there was general learning concerning this book of the Bible, especially the story of Joseph. I think, as well as seeing a version at a theatre at some point, we did our own production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Joseph and then Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”. These are present in my head without strong visuals for some reason. Like a LIDAR point cloud rather than a neat and proper shaded mesh.
I think I might have leant to heavily on pondering the historicity of this book and spent more time enjoying the many artistic renderings of the events within than actually writing or noting anything particularly interesting. I think I should lean further into the “feeling” of the book, and other more esoteric elements. Citing sources and checking the book against known history is easy but laborious, and superficially interesting while missing much of the divine point of the Bible.
Anyway. The next book is Exodus, which I have started this morning. I should try and watch “Prince of Egypt” before I type up my mental firings concerning the book it’s based on. This could be an exciting extracurricular endeavour to augment my profound analyses, or a simple excuse to enjoy some masterful 2D animation from millennium era Dreamworks. We will see.