03 March 2011

Bereshit / Genesis

Well, I'm starting to jump around a little bit now.  I really don't like focusing too much on one topic and I'm now in the midst of reading three different books.  One of my goals for my time in Asia is to make my way through holy scriptures for Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.  I've already started in on Buddhism and since Christianity is the other predominant religion in Korea I figured I would start that up as well.

Let's start off by looking at Christianity in Korea.  As of 2005, Christianity was actually the most popular religion in South Korea with about 14 million followers, which corresponds to about 29% of the population.  However, Buddhism is more popular than either Protestantism or Catholicism.  Buddhism is followed by 22.8% of the population, Protestantism is followed by 18.3% of the population and Catholicism is followed by 10.9% of the population.  Christianity has only existed in Korea for a little over 200 years, with the first Catholic missionaries arriving in 1785 and the first Protestant missionaries arriving about 100 years later.  An interesting fact I found was that South Korea is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries working around the world.

So let's move on to the Bible.  As of now (I'll probably change this format along the way) I'm planning to provide a short introduction, followed by a summary of each chapter and some discussion about the more important and well known stories.  Then I'll throw in some verses that I thought were interesting and I'll finish off the post with some questions that I had on the material.  I would welcome any religious or non-religious person to provide thoughts and insights on these questions.


The first book of the holy scriptures in Judaism and in Christianity is known as Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, which translates to "In the beginning") in Hebrew and as Genesis (Γένεσις, which translates to "Birth" or "Creation") in Greek.  Genesis (I'll refer to it by its more well known name from here on out) is one of the books in the Torah (תּוֹרָה, translates as "Teaching"), also known as the "Five Books of Moses", which consists of the first five books of the Tanakh ( תַּנַ"ךְ ), or Hebrew Bible.  Genesis is also the first book of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible.  The oldest version of Genesis known today was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are believed to have been written between 150 BC and 70 AD.  Genesis was traditionally believed to have been composed by Moses (2 Kings 14:6) sometime between 1440 and 1400 BC, after Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt.  However, historians generally agree that the book was written in the 1st millennium BC and many point to a date around 500 BC as the most likely time period in which it was written.  Historians also believe that the book was not written by one person, but rather by multiple authors (at least three). 

In the Beginning: Chapters 1 - 4

Ahhh, the story of creation.  Quite possibly the most discussed story (at least among non-Christians) in the entire Bible.  Should the creation story be taken literally or figuratively?  Should the Bible (or the Tanakh) be taken as a scientific document?  Was the story merely a reflection of the limited understanding of the people of that time period?  What about close similarities to other creation stories?  Do these similarities help to prove or disprove the credibility of the story?  There seem to be thousands of questions that could be discussed about these four chapters, but before I get into any discussion about specifics I am going to outline the four chapters.

Chapter 1 - Creation
The first chapter of Genesis tells the story about God creating the universe (specifically the earth) in six days.  He creates light on the first day, the sky (it seems implied that the oceans already existed at this time) on the second day, land and plants on the third day, the sun and the moon on the fourth day, fish and birds and on the fifth day, and finally land animals and humans on the sixth day.

Chapter 2 - Eden and Eve
The second chapter begins by providing a slightly different (or simply more in depth) account of creation in which man is created before God has sent rain and there are apparently streams (also translated as mist) that come up from the earth to water the ground.  We are also provided with the story of God creating man from dust and breathing life into his nostrils.  God then places the man (Adam) into the Garden of Eden, instructs him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and goes about finding a helper for Adam.  Adam does not find a suitable helper amongst the animals (although he does give them all names), so God creates a woman from one of Adam's ribs.

Chapter 3 - The Fall of Man
This chapter documents the fall of man after the serpent succeeds in at first tricking Eve (although she didn't have a name until after this story) and then Adam into eating from the tree of knowledge.  God proceeds to force the serpent to exist on its belly (what did it look like before this incident?) for the rest of its existence.  He also increases Eve's, as well as all subsequent women, pain during childbirth and causes men to painfully work the ground in order to grow food.  God then provides Adam and Eve with clothes (which is the first documentation of an animal being killed) and forces them to leave the Garden of Eden.

Chapter 4 - Cain and Abel
After leaving the Garden of Eden, Eve gave birth to two sons.  The older brother, whose name was Cain, was a farmer and the younger brother, whose name was Abel, was a shepherd.  The two brothers each brought an offering to God.  It is recorded that Cain brought "some" of his crops as an offering, while Abel brought the best animals in his flock to God.  God of course looked more favorably upon Abel, which angered Cain and eventually caused Cain to kill Abel.  God banished Cain from the land and sentenced him to a life of wandering (Cain eventually founded a city in spite of this).  The chapter ends with Eve giving birth to Seth and the statement that it was at this time that men began to worship the Lord.

What do I have to say on the subject?

There seem to be four ways to interpret the stories found in these chapters, as well as many of the following chapters in Genesis.  They can be viewed as nothing more than myth or folklore, in the same way that we currently view the stories of the Greek gods or the founding myths for many religions or civilizations.  Some people see the stories as metaphorical or symbolic and believe that the Bible was not attempting to provide a scientific account of creation, but rather it was simply trying to provide teachings through the stories.  There is also the belief that creation happened as it is documented in the Bible, but that a "day" is actually representative of millions or billions of years because God's concept of time is much different than that of humans (any relation to the theory of relativity?).  Of course, the final interpretation is the acceptance of everything in these chapters as fact.

Is it a myth?
Christians inherently need to disapprove of this view because if the Bible was in fact written by God through men, then there can not be any falsifications or mistruths within the Bible.  The strongest evidence for this viewpoint is also the strongest evidence against it and lies in the Bible's similarity to other myths of ancient age.  Non-believers claim that similarities are proof that the creation myth, as well as many other myths in the Bible, were simply influenced by other civilizations and religions.  On the other hand, Christians point to this similarity as evidence that "myth" is in fact true because it was revealed to people all over the world and that the Bible was the only book that got the story completely right.

How about metaphor?
I think this is the most sensible stance for a Christian to take on the issue.  The Bible is made up of many different literary genres, some of which include poetry, biographies, letters and legal documents.  So while the Bible may be a brilliant literary work, that doesn't necessarily make it science textbook.  Some Christians are willing to accept that simply because they believe that God created the universe, this doesn't necessarily mean that he felt the obligation to tell us how he did it.  While I like this viewpoint, I have to ask how much of the Bible is metaphorical?  Did any of it actually happen?  When you start down the path of picking out stories and claiming that they're not actually true, where do you stop?

Maybe it's real, but the timescale is wrong
This idea gained popularity as Christians attempted to mesh their beliefs with the findings of modern science, but it simply can not be true.  The order of events makes it impossible.  For starters, the sun isn't created until the fourth day.  Hmmmmmm.  So the earth was just wandering through space for millions of years?  And how was there day and night before the sun?  Plants also arrive prior to the sun's creation.  Personally, I think the order of events is the strongest evidence supporting the idea that the writer did not intend for people to take the story literally.  While the order of formation of the sun and moon would have been unknown to people at that time, they surely knew that plants couldn't exist without the sun.  If the author was trying to establish a logical time line, it wouldn't have made any sense, even in that time period, to assert that plants came into existence before the sun.

Is it actually real?
At least from my perspective, this would seem to be extremely unlikely due to our understanding of modern science.  There simply isn't any way that a rational person could look at the massive amount of evidence supporting the age of our earth as billions, rather than thousands, of years old and not be convinced that it is at least much older than the timescale presented in the Bible.  Geology, physics, astronomy, biology and other sciences all agree on the age of the earth being about 4.54 billion years old, as opposed to the 6,015 year age that is indicated by the Bible.  Therefore, there are only two conclusions that a fundamentalist Christian could arrive at.  The first being that science is simply wrong.  Perhaps fundamentalists believe that scientists are deliberately falsifying data to disprove the Bible or they simply think that scientists are morons and that science does not produce facts (there are some problems with the carbon dating system, but it is still very reliable to time periods that are much older than the 6,000 year age assumed in the Bible).  The other conclusion would be that for some reason God placed geological evidence on the earth to make us believe that the earth was much older than it actually is.  This would seem to be the practice of a deliberately deceiving god and I would have to question why a benevolent and gracious god would do such a thing.  Of course, that question would be answered with the standard "His ways are higher than ours", so there isn't really any point in asking that question.

The Flood and Babel: Chapters 5 - 11

Chapter 5 - Lineage

This chapter simply lists Adam's descendants and their respective lifespans.  Many of the men in this chapter lived to be over 900 years old and this is obviously an aspect of the Bible that has come under scrutiny with respect to its historical reliability.  The chapter ends with the birth of Noah and his three sons.

Chapter 6 - Men Have Become Wicked

God sees that men have become wicked and decides to destroy humans along with the all living things on earth (except fish I guess).  However, God finds favor with Noah and decides to save him and his family and also put him in charge of saving the animals.  God commands Noah to build an ark in order to accomplish this task. 

Chapter 7 - The Great Flood

Noah complies with God's commands and the floodwaters arrive after the completion of the ark.  The rain (and apparently the "springs of the deep") continued to flood the earth for forty days until the entire earth was covered in water (even Mt. Everest?). This obviously led to the demise of all creatures on land.

Chapter 8 - Dry Land Reappears

This chapter documents the receding flood waters and Noah's attempts to find to dry land.  However, in verse 16 God definitively tells Noah when to come out of the ark, so I have to wonder why sending out the raven and doves to find dry land was necessary.  This obviously seems to indicate a metaphorical story rather than an actual account.  Chapter 8 ends with Noah sacrificing clean animals to the Lord and the Lord in turn promising to never again destroy life on earth.

Chapter 9 - The Covenant

God establishes his covenant with Noah and his sons and claims that a rainbow is the sign of this covenant (this just screams "mythology") because anytime he brings clouds over the earth he will see the rainbow and remember his covenant.  This chapter also claims that Noah became drunk one night and Ham (one of his sons) saw him lying naked in his tent.  Noah curses Ham for this and claims that the descendants of Ham (the Canaanites) will be the slaves of the descendants of Ham's brothers, Shem and Japheth.

Chapter 10 - The Three Sons

The descendants of Noah's three sons disperse over the entire earth (is this an attempt to explain the existence of the Mongoloid, Caucasoid and Negroid races?  As a side note, there is also the Australoid race, but this wouldn't have been known at this time).  The only particularly interesting thing I found in this chapter was that the Canaanites (Ham's descendants) founded the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which of course were not looked upon very favorably in future years.

Chapter 11 - Tower of Babel

This chapter begins by stating that "the whole world had one language and a common speech" (11:1), but in Genesis 10:4, when talking about the sons of Javan (son of Japheth), the Bible claims that each clan had its own language.  This obviously brings up some questions about chronology and authorship.  But anyway, the story goes onto tell that men desired to build a tower up to heaven and it was for this reason that God dispersed the men throughout the world and gave them different languages.  The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the lineage of Shem, which eventually culminates with Abram.

What do I have to say on the subject?

Why did people live such long lives?
Biblical scholars have attempted to explain this through scientific explanations, such as the earth had ideal living conditions because of its recent formation or that the human genetic code had not developed defects at this point.  All of the "scientific" explanations that I have seen have obvious flaws and I would say that the most logical argument is that the age of men is representative of man's distance from God.  According to the Bible, men were initially created in the image of God and intended to live forever.  Therefore, as men became less and less God-like, their ages became closer to the life expectancy of modern man.  As was the case with the creation story, I don't think this is a story that can be taken literally unless the understanding of modern science is completely suspended. 

Did the flood actually happen?  And if it did, was it localized or worldwide?
Well, if the Bible is to be interpreted in a literal sense, then I think the only conclusion to be reached is that there was in fact a worldwide flood.  Of course, science does not support this conclusion, but I don't know how you can read "all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered" (7:19) any differently.  It also wouldn't make sense for God to command that Noah build an ark when he could have just told him to move to another area.  This naturally leads to the conclusion that the Bible once again is not speaking literally.  While the account in the Bible is that of a worldwide flood, it is of course very possible that the story was inspired by localized flooding or a tsunami.  And while neither of these would have completely destroyed life, either of them could have had very devastating effects on the area.  Another interesting note is that flood myths are found throughout the world.  So does this mean that plagiarism was in play?  Or did all people really descend from Noah and therefore all have knowledge of this flood?  Hmmmmm.

Noah gets drunk and Ham gets blamed?
So I was a little confused by the Bible's morality on this one.  The text gives the impression that Ham was alerted to his father's inebriation, went to check in on the situation, saw him naked, and then proceeded to tell his brothers and possibly other people in the area.  Now granted, Ham should not have gone around publicizing the fact that his father had passed out naked, but I don't really see how Ham is at fault for the fact that Noah passed out naked to begin with.  Perhaps this story is intended to show Noah's imperfection (up until this point Noah seems to have lived an essentially perfect life) or maybe its meaning was to emphasize respect for parents.  Nonetheless, by today's standards it certainly seems as though Noah was much more in the wrong in this situation than was Ham.

Did they actually intend to build the tower of Babel up to heaven?
Again, I'm gonna have to go with metaphor on this one.  Not because this seems like a ridiculous concept in today's world, but because it would have seemed like a ridiculous concept in the ancient world as well.  Even if people held the belief that heaven was above the clouds, the idea that men could build a structure into the clouds would have been inconceivable in an age where the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest structure on earth at a height of 480 feet.  This story really deals more with man's desire to make a name for himself (by building cities and monuments) and God preventing the scenario from occurring.  It is generally believed today that the Etemenanki, which was a ziggurat built in Babylon during the 6th century BC, was the inspiration for this story.  This of course conflicts with the idea that Genesis was written in 1440 BC, but fits nicely with the belief that it was written around 500 BC.  This story ends what is traditionally referred to as the "primeval history" and the remaining chapters of Genesis are dedicated to the "patriarchal history".

Abram: Chapters 12 - 16

Chapter 12 - Abram's Time in Egypt

God commands Abram to leave Haran (believed to be in modern day Turkey), so Abram sets out with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot.  They first stop in Canaan (an area that includes modern day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria), but are forced to move to Egypt during a famine.  Upon entering Egypt, Abram tells Sarai to say that she is his sister so that the Egyptians will not kill Abram out of jealousy (so lying is okay?).  Pharaoh takes Sarai into his palace, but God proceeds to send diseases upon Pharaoh's household because Sarai is Abram's wife.  Pharaoh eventually realizes the situation and forces Abram and Sarai to leave. 

Chapter 13 - Abram and Lot Split Ways

The Pharaoh had treated Abram very well because of Sarai (he thought he was her brother) and for this reason Abram left Egypt as a wealthy man.  Lot and Abram eventually part ways because their combined flocks were too large for the land to support.  Lot chooses to settle near Sodom and Abram returns to Canaan.  It is at this point that God promises to give Abram and his descendants all of the land that he can see.

Chapter 14 - Abram Rescues Lot

There is war involving nine kingdoms, one of which is Sodom, and Lot is taken prisoner after Sodom is defeated.  When Abram hears about this he takes 318 men to attack the armies (there were four of them) who had taken Lot prisoner.  The Bible claims that Abram routed the armies and returned to Sodom with Lot and all of the possessions that had been plundered from Sodom. 

Chapter 15 - God's Covenant With Abram

God makes his covenant with Abram in which he states "to your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates" (15:18).  God also warns Abram that his "descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years"(15:13).

Chapter 16 - The Birth of Ishmael

Sarai is still baron in this chapter, so she tells Abram to sleep with her maidservant, Hagar.  Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, whom the Bible describes as "a wild donkey of a man" and claims that "he will live in hostility toward all his brothers" (16:12).

What do I have to say on the subject?

The Importance of Abram and the Abrahamic Covenant
Abram is arguably the most important and most talked about figure in the Old Testament.  The story of his life spans the length of 15 chapters in Genesis and he is referenced numerous times in both the Old Testament and New Testament.  An interesting side note is that Abraham is actually considered to be the second-most important figure in Islam, preceded only by Muhammad.  The covenant is introduced in chapters 12 and 15 before it is finally solidified in chapter 17.  God promises land to Abram and his descendants, he promises to make Abram into a great nation, and he promises to make Abram a blessing to the world.  These are pretty amazing promises and a Christian or Jew believes them to be true.  But from a skeptic's point of view, I can't help but notice the convenience of having a "promised" land to return to following captivity.  It is believed that Genesis was written either after the Jews left Egypt or after the Babylonian captivity.  In both instances it would have been very nice for the Jews to have land to which they could return because it was promised to them by God.

Did Abram just pimp his wife?
So Abram goes to Egypt, allows the Pharaoh to take his wife, and in return leaves Egypt with sheep, cattle, donkeys, servants and camels given to him by the Pharaoh.  How is that not prostitution?  And while I am kind of joking around here, could someone please explain to me why it's okay for Abram to sleep with his servant and sell off his wife, but it's not okay to have sex before marriage?

Abraham: Chapters 17 - 20

Chapter 17 - God's Covenant With Abraham

God changes Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah and creates the covenant of circumcision between himself and Abraham's descendants.  God also promises that Sarah will bear a son and that he will bless both of Abraham's sons.

Chapter 18 - Abraham Meets God

Abraham sees three men (trinity?) near his tent and he offers these men hospitality.  It then says that the Lord (it doesn't specify which of the three men) tells Abraham that he will return in one year and that Sarah will have a son at that time.  Sarah laughs in disbelief when she hears this, but the Lord assures her that it will happen.  God then tells Abraham about his plan to destroy Sodom, to which Abraham asks "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" (18:23).  God assures him that for the sake of only ten righteous people he would not destroy the city.

Chapter 19 - Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Two angels are sent to Sodom to destroy the city, but they allow Lot to leave with his wife and two daughters (he also wanted to bring his two sons-in-law, but they thought he was joking about God destroying the city).  The angels tell the four of them: "Flee for you lives!  Don't look back and don't stop anywhere in the plain!  Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!" (19:17).  "Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah" (19:24).  And of course, Lot's wife wanted to know what was going on, so she "looked back, and she became a pillar of salt" (19:26).  The story then goes on to detail an incestuous relationship between Lot and his two daughters in which they get him drunk in order to preserve their family line. 

Chapter 20 - Abraham in Gerar

This chapter documents the second time that Abraham allows Sarah to be taken by a king and then proceeds to profit from the experience.  It is also revealed that Abraham is Sarah's half-brother.

What do I have to say on the subject?

What was so bad about Sodom and Gomorrah?
This story is certainly one of the more interesting ones in Genesis.  You get the sense that Lot was attempting to shield his visitors (he obviously wasn't aware that they were angels) from the sin and corruption in Sodom.  This ends up being a fruitless endeavor as the men in the city gather around Lot's house and demand that they be allowed to have sex with the men.  Homosexual rape is not looked upon very fondly in our society and I'm sure it was considered to be a horrible act in that time as well.  This seems to be a strange location for Lot to live.  Lot isn't exactly the holiest man in these scriptures, but he certainly doesn't share the same values (or lack there of) as the people in Sodom.  Even after the angels tell him about the fate of Sodom, he is still very reluctant to leave and the angels need to almost force him out of the city. 

What's the deal with all of the incest?
This just seems like one of the more disturbing themes in Genesis.  Abraham is Sarah's half brother, Lot's daughters seduce him, Isaac later marries his first cousin, etc.  This is really more of a question than a commentary because I don't really understand the point of publicizing incestuous relationships.  Was it because the Hebrews were "superior" to other races?  I could have understood the incest in the time of Adam or right after the flood, because there obviously wouldn't have been anyone else on earth.  But why is this still continuing in the time of Abraham and Lot?   

Isaac: Chapters 21 -27

Chapter 21 - The Birth of Isaac

Sarah finally gives birth to a son and she names him Isaac.  Sarah then forces Ishmael and Hagar, who is Ishmael's mother, to leave.  The two are about to die while they are wandering, but God saves them and promises to turn Ishmael into a great nation.

Chapter 22 - The Ultimate Test

God tests Abraham in this chapter by telling him to sacrifice Isaac as an offering to the Lord.  Abraham is willing to do this (Abraham would be placed in an insane asylum today) in order to appease God, but an angel stops him before he commits the sacrifice.  God then says to Abraham, "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore." (22:17)

Chapter 23 - Sarah's Death

Sarah dies at the age of 127 and Abraham buys land from the Hittites in order to bury her.

Chapter 24 - Isaac Marries Rebekah

Abraham sends a servant to his homeland in Mesopotamia to find a suitable wife for Isaac.  The servant finds Rebekah, who is actually Isaac's second cousin, and requests that her parents allow her to be brought back from Isaac.  The chapter ends with the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah.

Chapter 25 - Abraham's Death and Jacob's Birth

Abraham marries a woman named Keturah (there is dispute about whether the text says "marries" or "had married", in other words it is unclear if this marriage occurred while Sarah was still alive or after she had died)  and has six children with her before he dies at the age of 175.  The chapter then provides a short lineage of Ishmael and claims that his descendants "lived in hostility toward all their brothers" (25:18).  Then Rebekah, who is Isaac's wife, gives birth to twin boys.  The first-born is named Esau, who becomes a skillful hunter, and the second-born is named Jacob, who is described as a quiet man who stayed among the tents.  Jacob succeeds in taking Esau's birthright in exchange for food at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 26 - Isaac in Gerar

Isaac lies to Abimelech (who was the same king that took Sarah from Abraham) and tells him that Rebekah is his sister.  However, Abimelech realizes that Rebekah is in fact his wife before any of his men had slept with Rebekah.  Abimelech then forces Isaac to leave because Isaac had become too wealthy and powerful. Abimelech later comes to Isaac to form a peace treaty with him.

Chapter 27 - Isaac's Blessing
Rebekah and Jacob trick Isaac into giving Jacob his blessing instead of Esau.  Isaac has gone blind in his old age, so Rebekah covers Jacob's skin with goatskin in order to mimic the rough and hairy appearance of Esau.  Therefore, when Isaac reaches out to touch Jacob, he thinks it is Esau and proceeds to give Jacob his blessing.  Rebekah then sends Jacob away in fear that Esau will try to kill him for first stealing his birthright (in chapter 25) and now stealing his blessing.

What do I have to say on the subject?

What if Abraham had actually gone through with sacrificing Isaac? 
This strikes me as one of the more bizarre teachings in Genesis.  Granted, I understand that Abraham showed complete devotion to God by being willing to sacrifice Isaac, but the fact still remains that God commanded Abraham to do something that was wrong.  How could a moral and just God command a person to do something that is wrong, even if he later prevents the person from going through with the act?  God tells Abraham to do something that is contradictory to the word of God.  So doesn't that kind of open the door for people to do anything as long as they think that God commanded them to do it?

Why is stealing your brother's blessing and birthright seen as a good thing?

Before I get into this subject, I have to say that I love the contrast between Esau and Jacob.  Esau is seen as the "macho" man and would probably be a typical high school jock in today's age, while Jacob is very quiet and very smart.  It's the classic clash of brawn vs. brains, and as is usually the case, brains wins out in the end.  But anyway, onto the subject at hand.  The story of Jacob taking Esau's birthright can be seen one of two ways.  Either Esau was in fact about to die of hunger when he begged Jacob for food, in which case Jacob's demand that Esau first give him his birthright seems completely inhumane, or Esau was exaggerating his hunger, which means that Esau simply didn't care very much about his birthright.  As for stealing Esau's blessing, Jacob uses nothing short of an outright lie to obtain this from his father.  Obviously there stands the excuse that Isaac was attempting to subvert God's will (God makes it clear that Jacob will rule over Esau in 25:23), but that still doesn't excuse Jacob's or Rebekah's actions.  The Bible doesn't necessarily present this as a "good thing", but rather more as a "necessary" thing.  Still, using sin to serve the greater good doesn't really seem like a message that you would want taught in the Bible.

Jacob: Chapters 28 - 36

Chapter 28 - Jacob Departs

Jacob sets out for Mesopotamia to flee from his brother's wrath and to find a wife.

Chapter 29 - Jacob and Rachel

Jacob meets Laban, who is Rebekah's brother, and Rachel, who is Laban's daughter, and agrees to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel's hand in marriage.   However, after seven years Laban gives Leah, his older daughter, to Jacob instead and claims that it is their custom to give the older daughter in marriage before the younger daughter.  Jacob then agrees to work for another seven years in exchange for Rachel.  Jacob finally gets Rachel after these seven years and the chapter ends with Leah giving birth to four boys.

Chapter 30 - Jacob's Children
Jacob fathers two sons by Rachel's servant Bilhah, two sons by Leah's servant Zilpah, two sons and a daughter by Leah, and one son by Rachel.  Jacob then tricks Laban into providing him with the strongest animals for his flock.

Chapter 31 - Jacob Heads Home

At this point, Jacob has succeeded in taking all of Laban's wealth and he decides to flee with his wives and go back to his homeland.  However, before they had left, Rachel stole her father's gods (I'm not sure what these are).  Laban catches up with the group and asks to search for his gods, but Rachel is successful in hiding them.  After seeing that no one has his gods, Laban asks to make an oath with Jacob and then departs in the morning.

Chapter 32 - Jacob Wrestles With an Angel

Jacob is left alone as he waits for his brother Esau to arrive.  In verse 24 it is recorded that "a man wrestled with him till daybreak."  The man could not overcome Jacob and for this reason he changed Jacob's name to Israel.  The man refused to tell Jacob his name, but Jacob later says "I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared" (32:30).

Chapter 33 - Jacob and Esau are Reunited
Jacob meets Esau, who does not try to kill him, but rather embraces him and is excited to see him.  Jacob then travels to Succoth to build a house for himself and make shelters for his livestock. 

Chapter 34 - Jacob's Sons Destroy a City
The prince in that area, Shechem, violated Jacob's daughter Dinah.  Hamor, Shechem's father, attempted to make a deal with Jacob and his sons so that Hamor can get Dinah's hand in marriage.  Jacob's sons replied that they would only give Dinah to Hamor if all of the men (specifically Hamor) in the city were circumcised.  The men in the city agreed to do this, but three days after the ritual, when the men were still in pain, Jacob's sons attacked the city and killed every male.  They're reason for doing this?  "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?" (34:31)

Chapter 35 - Rachel and Isaac Die
God instructs Jacob to build an altar to him at Bethel and he later appears to Jacob and changes his name to Israel (didn't this already happen?).  Rachel then has tremendous difficulty in giving birth to Benjamin and dies shortly after.  Israel buries her and then goes home to visit his father, who dies at the age of 180.

Chapter 36 - Esau's Descendants
This chapter claims that Esau moved away from his brother and then provides a lineage of Esau's descendants.

What do I have to say on the subject?

When does polygamy cease to be okay?
The answer to this is actually never.  The Bible actually never explicitly states that polygamy is immoral (I obviously researched this, because I have not yet read the entire Bible).  Of course, there are numerous instances in which the scripture states that the ideal plan is for one man and one woman (the first of which is Genesis 2:24).  The polygamy in ancient times is generally seen as "allowed" by God in order to help the growth of his people.

Jacob wrestles with an angel
So did Jacob wrestle with a man (as is stated in verse 24), an angel (as biblical scholars suggest), or God (verse 30).  The consensus seems to be that it was the Angel of Jehovah in human form.  Verse 25 states that "the man saw that he could not overpower him."  How could God (or an angel) not be able to overpower Jacob?   Well I guess the answer could lie in the translation.  Although my Bible says "could not", I believe that most translations are "did not", which of course would indicate that while God could have overpowered Jacob, he decided against it.  However, another strange verse follows when the angels tells Jacob, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." (32:28)  Again, we're told that Jacob overcame God.  I think this is to indicate that Jacob (or Israel) will overcome any obstacle, but I'm still not completely sure about the being able to defeat God part.
As a side note, Jacob has undergone quite a transformation from the quiet and intelligent boy that grew up near the tents at his home. 

Why destroy an entire city because of one man?
Again, really more of a question here than a commentary.  I think that calling this an extreme overreaction would be an understatement.  Obviously I could understand why Dinah's brothers (or Jacob's sons as they are constantly referred to as) would want to kill Shechem.  But why the ill feelings toward the entire city?  And are there any repercussions from God that result from this massacre?

Joseph: Chapters 37 - 44

Chapter 37 - Joseph's Dream and His Brothers' Hatred
Joseph was Israel's favorite son (he even gave him a "richly ornamented" robe) and his brothers hated him for this.  Joseph later tells his brothers a dream in which he says "We (Joseph and his brothers) were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it." (37:7)  He also had another dream in which "the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." (37:9)  His brothers hated him even more because of these dreams.  His brothers plot to kill him in a field, but Reuben, the firstborn, convinces them not to do this.  The brothers instead decide to strip him of his robe and capture him.  They later sell Joseph to Midianites while Reuben is away and convince their father that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.  The chapter ends with the Midianites selling Joseph to one of Pharaoh's officials in Egypt.

Chapter 38 - Story of Judah
Judah marries a Canaanite named Shua and she gives birth to three children.  The firstborn, Er, marries Tamar, but he is seen as wicked in the eyes of the Lord so he dies.  Judah tells his brother Onan to lie with Tamar to provide offspring, but Onan pulls out while having sex and this is seen as wicked in the eyes of the Lord, so he too is put to death.  Judah then unknowingly sleeps with Tamar because he thinks that she is a prostitute.  This union eventually results in the birth of twin boys (the first-born was named Perez, who is the ancestor of Jesus).

Chapter 39 - Joseph Goes to Jail
Joseph's Egyptian master entrusted him with everything in his house because the Lord gave him success in his endeavors.  However, his master's wife wanted to sleep with Joseph and one day she grabbed his cloak when he was trying to escape her advances.  She later used the cloak as evidence that he attempted to rape her and his master sent him to prison.  However, it is stated that the Lord granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.

Chapter 40 - Joseph Interprets Dreams
Two of the king's officials are sent to prison with Joseph and they both have dreams.  The cupbearer (apparently an official position in Egypt) tells Joseph his dream and Joseph informs him that he will be restored to his previous post in three days and asks him for help once he does in fact get out of prison.  The chief baker then reveals his dream to Joseph and Joseph tells him that he will be hanged in three days.  Both of these predictions come true, but the cupbearer does not help Joseph after he leaves prison.

Chapter 41 - Joseph Gains Control of Egypt
Pharaoh had a dream two years after the previous incident and the cupbearer suggested that he should go to Joseph for an interpretation of the dream.  Pharaoh told his dream to Joseph and Joseph claimed that there will be seven years of great abundance followed by seven years of famine.  Joseph then suggested a plan in which Egypt would store its food during the years of abundance and Pharaoh put him in charge of this plan.  It is said that Joseph rode in a chariot as Pharaoh's second-in-command and that Pharaoh said to him, "without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt." (41:44)  Joseph stored food in Egypt during the seven years of abundance and once the famine began it is said that countries from all over the world came to Egypt for food because the famine was so severe.

Chapter 42 - Joseph's Brothers Go to Egypt
Jacob tells ten of Joseph's brothers (all except Benjamin) to go to Egypt to buy grain.  Joseph immediately recognizes his brothers, but they do not know him.  Joseph accuses them of being spies and demands that they bring Benjamin to Egypt as proof that they are not spies.  When the brothers return home they attempt to convince Jacob to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt, but Jacob is reluctant.

Chapter 43 - Benjamin Goes to Egypt
As the famine continued to get worse, Israel eventually allowed Benjamin to go to Egypt so that the family could get more grain.  Joseph was deeply moved when he saw Benjamin and went to a private room to cry.

Chapter 44 - Joseph Demands That Benjamin Stay in Egypt
Joseph puts his silver cup in Benjamin's sack and then tells his steward to chase after the men and search them.  The steward obviously finds the cup in Benjamin's sack and Joseph demands that Benjamin remain in Egypt as his slave.  Judah then pleads with Joseph to allow him to stay in Benjamin's place because Jacob had demanded that Benjamin be brought back unharmed.

What do I have to say on the subject?
Wouldn't you hate Joseph too?
Granted, plotting to kill the guy or sell him into slavery seems like a bit much, but I would at the very least have become very annoyed with Joseph telling me dreams about how he would one day rule over me.  Perhaps Joseph could have been slightly more tactful in his approach?

Pulling out = Death penalty?
I read up on this story a little bit because it seemed like the punishment was slightly excessive in this situation.  The only other explanation for his death that I was able to find was that he was being disobedient to his father (who had told him to father children with Tamar) and that he was disrespecting his brother (although his brother was seen as evil in the eyes of the Lord, so I'm not sure why that would have mattered).  Nonetheless, this passage has been pointed to by religious zealots to support a ban on birth control, which the passage certainly seems to imply.  With that said, I'm not sure a person could view Genesis as a serious sexual guide when it seems to condone incest and polygamy. 

People from all over the WORLD came to Egypt?
"And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world." (41:57)  This passage obviously demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the size of the world and in turn brings into doubt the story of a worldwide flood.  While a case could be made that God caused a famine throughout the entire world, it is completely inconceivable that people from all over the world were able to travel to Egypt.

The Family is Reunited: Chapters 45 - 50

Chapter 45 - Joseph Reveals Himself
Joseph finally reveals his true identity to his brothers and tells them to bring Jacob to Egypt.  Pharaoh agrees to give the family "the best land of Egypt".  So the brothers return home and tell their father, "Joseph is still alive!  In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt." (45:26)

Chapter 46 - Jacob Travels to Egypt
Jacob set out for Egypt with his family, which is said to have consisted of seventy people.  Jacob and Joseph are finally reunited in Egypt and Jacob says, "Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive." (46:30)  The family settles in the region of Goshen (northern Egypt), which is said to be the best land in all of Egypt.

Chapter 47 - Joseph Buys Egypt for Pharaoh
The famine continued throughout the world and no one had any money left to buy the grain that Joseph had stored.  So he first bought everyone's livestock in exchange for grain and then bought everyone's land in exchange for grain.  He bought all of this for Pharaoh, so Pharaoh now owned everything in Egypt.  The chapter ends with Joseph swearing that he will bury Jacob with his ancestors rather than in Egypt.

Chapter 48 - Jacob Blesses Joseph's Children
Joseph had two children in Egypt and the older child was named Manasseh and the younger child was named Ephraim.  Jacob puts his right hand on Ephraim's head, even though Manasseh is older, because he claims that the younger child will become greater.

Chapter 49 - Jacob Predicts His Sons' Futures
Jacob calls together all of his sons and predicts the future of their lineages.  These twelve brothers are destined to become the twelve tribes of Israel and Joseph's line is to be the most successful because he is a "prince among his brothers" (49:26).  Jacob asks to be buried alongside Abraham and Isaac and then dies.

Chapter 50 - Joseph's Death
It is said that Egyptians mourned Jacob's death for seventy days and then Pharaoh allowed Joseph to take his father out of Egypt and bury him in Canaan.  Joseph's brothers are scared that he will retaliate against them now that Jacob is dead, but he assures them that he holds no grudge against them.  Joseph tells his brothers that God promised to bring their people out of Egypt before he dies at the age of 110.

What do I have to say on the subject?

Why does the author keep switching between the names "Jacob" and "Israel"?
Jacob is given the name "Israel" after wrestling with the angel in chapter 32.  However, after this point the text seems to use the names interchangeably.  From what I could gather, Jacob is used when the man is being compliant or docile, as he was for the early part of his life.  Israel is used when he is being strong and forceful, which was the case when he wrestled the angel.  I could be wrong, but I believe that God always refers to him as Jacob (except to tell him that his named had been changed), which would concur with this analysis.  Some examples include 32:33 and 42:1.  A brilliant contrast arises in 42:38 and 43:11-14.  These are the two reactions of the character when he is asked to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt in order to get grain.  Jacob is scared for his son's safety and does not allow him to go, but Israel realizes what must be done and sends Benjamin to Egypt. 

Does the Bible promote ancestor worship?
I am obviously aware of the fact that both Judaism and Christianity are monotheistic religions (although Catholicism is a little questionable considering the amount of importance it places on saints and the virgin Mary), but I can't help but notice the significance of receiving a blessing from one's father.  The two main stories that come to mind are the stories of Isaac's blessing and Jacob's blessing.  The Bible really seems to imply that Jacob will become a more prosperous nation than his brother because of Isaac's blessing.  This seems to indicate that Isaac actually holds some kind of supernatural power over the future of his children.  Jacob follows suit when he blesses Joseph's children and claims that the younger child will be more successful than the younger.  The argument could be made that God was simply acting through these two individuals, but it just seemed to strange to find this in a religion with one and only one supreme being.


I have always found Genesis to be one of the most interesting books in the entire Bible.  It is loaded with teachings (not all of which are still accepted by modern religion), interesting characters, and even the story of creation.  While I find the stories about creation, the Garden of Eden, and the flood to be very interesting (and very fun to debate), I think the most important aspects of Genesis in regard to Christianity and Judaism are the details concerning the lives of the characters, particularly Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  These are imperfect men, but they set the standard by which future generations of Jews and Christians should be judged.  Their imperfections are what help to make Judaism and Christianity such appealing religions, because people understand that they don't have to be perfect in order to find favor with God.  I'm looking forward to investigating the Bible (as well as other scriptures) and hopefully I can bring a somewhat unique perspective on it because I will not be constantly looking to defend the teachings, as is the case with many Christians, nor will I be trying to debunk them, as is the case with many Atheists.  I simply want to learn more about the Bible to see how it stacks up against other religions and see what meaningful advice it provides.

Interesting Quotes

8:22 - "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."

11:6 - "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."

18:26 - "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."

28:12 - "He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."

29:20 - "So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her."

45:5 - "And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you."

49:14 - "Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags." - Not really any importance here, I just thought it was a bizarre sentence.


How can you explain the discrepancy between science and the Bible's creation myth?

How can a Christian believe in evolution?  If the Homo genus has been evolving for 2.3 million years, why did God decide that Homo sapiens were the chosen species?  My point is that if evolution is such a gradual process, where was the point in which humans were seen as "created in God's image" and therefore given a soul?

If Adam and Eve committed an evil act (disobeying God) before they had knowledge of good and evil, how did they do anything wrong?

Why does Moses (or whoever the author was) feel the need to repeat things multiple times?  For instance, "The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her." (23:16)  Why tell us that she's a "virgin" if he's just going to define the word "virgin".  Is there some sort of poetic beauty in this that I'm missing or is it just repetitious?

I presented some other questions throughout my analysis, but these were really the main questions I've been pondering.  I admit that some of these questions don't have definitive answers (which is why I'm asking the question to begin with), but I am just interested in hearing some different theories on the subject.


  1. Good stuff man, best post yet hands down.

    I feel like the questions you actually posed in the questions section take a little deeper thought, but when you posed the question on ancestors having power over their childrens' successes, I wondered about self-fulfilling prophecy. How many people, even in modern day, are told they are special or worthless and end up that way out of undying belief to that fact (ironicly posed question on the topic of religion)? There was an interesting study where a like 1st grade teacher or something was given something like 20 average kids, and told 10 were intelligent and 10 weren't, and after some time the 10 "gifted" students were performing better than the 10 "ungifted" ones.

    It seems unfortunate that we are so influenced by what people think of us, but there are counter-examples, i.e. people who use it as motivation to prove people wrong. Like when my parents told me I wasn't gonna make it as a smokin' hot model, and I've since used it as motivation to appear on approximately 85% of nyc billboards. Then again, they'll probably be down by the time you return from Korea, so you just gotta take my word on it...

  2. Joseph's global famine (Genesis 41:57) now has been verified! Spread the news! Educate the world to ancient world history connected with Biblical History.

    Shang Dynasty emperor Ching Tang some Chinese historians stated his reign began in 1747 B.C. There are others who believe his reign began in 1675 B.C. Chinese emperor Ching Tang was recorded having a seven year famine verifying Joseph’s seven year famine in Genesis chapter 41. This seven year famine occurred 1704-1697 B.C. Emperor Ching Tang must have been reigning during this time in world history.


    Joseph lived for 110 years 1741-1631 B.C. (Genesis 50:26) Joseph age 30 (Genesis 41:40-46) became governor of Egypt in 1711 B.C. There was 7 years of great harvest and the second year of famine Joseph age 39 in 1702 B.C. met his father Jacob age 130 (Genesis 47:9) in Egypt. Global famine 1704-1697 B.C. (Genesis 41:1-57)

    (1) Jacob brought the starving Hebrew people into Egypt settling near Biblical On (Genesis 41:45) Heliopolis, Egypt in 1702 B.C.

    (2) Starving Hyksos Canaanite chieftain Sheshi lead his people into Avaris, Egypt trading their horses for bread (Genesis 47:13-17) in 1702 B.C. during the world famine. (Genesis 41:57)

    (3) Starving Minoans from Crete also settle in Egypt’s delta in 1700 B.C. Other Minoans migrate to mainland Greece in 1700 B.C. spreading their Minoan culture there.

    (4) Starving Indo-European Sealanders invade Amorite Babylon king Abi-Eshuh 1710-1684 B.C. settling in southern Babylonia in 1700 B.C. Abi-Eshuh dams up the Tigris river trying to starve the Sealanders out.

    (5) Starving Indo-European tribes invade Dravidan dominated India in 1700 B.C. Indo-Europeans destroy the Dravidan Mohenjo-Daro civilizatin in 1700 B.C.

    (6)Starving Indo-European tribes invade western China in 1700 B.C. Chinese archaelogist discovered Indo-European mummies in western China. The Indo-Europeans introduced the Chinese to the horse driven chariot. NOTE: Indo-European Kassites were first to use the horse driven chariot attacking Babylon in the reign of Amorite Babylon king Samsu-iluna 1750-1711 B.C. in his 9th year in 1741 B.C. NOTE: Joseph age 30 was given the Egyptian pharaoh’s 2nd chariot in 1711 B.C. (Genesis 41:43)

    (7) Chinese Shang Dynasty very early in the dynasty recorded a 7 year famine verifying Joseph’s account of the 7 year global famine in Egypt. (Genesis 41:57)

    (8) The American agricultural Indians establish the Poverty Point Mound Culture in Louisiana in 1700 B.C. building their first city in North America during the world famine.

    (9) Olmecs migrate into the Yucatan Peninsula in 1700 B.C. Archaeologist state the Olmecs invented plumbing and the Olmecs were interested in water conservtion at this time in world history.

    (10) Joseph’s account of the world famine (Genesis 41:57) is supported by archaelogy and the migrations of ancient people’s in 1700 B.C. Why not pass this information along to people who are interested in Biblical history.