Updated: Jul 21, 2021
I grew up thinking that Genesis was a person. Am I alone in my misunderstanding? The name of this book in the Bible is actually the name given to the Greek translation, because it seemed to be all about the start of life. It originally began with the Hebrew word, "bereshit", which means "in the beginning".
It's not what I thought it was. It is, in my opinion, a description of things long past, by a man or men who were not directly involved in the stories they told. Inside the first two pages, I am struck by two very different stories of "creation". Which begs a whole lot of questions, like, which one was right? Which author was actually there at the start? How did these authors know what they were talking about? What evidence did they provide? How much of this contains the original words (and how much is a version of "Chinese whispers")?
Don't get me wrong. I have believed in a Supreme Being all my life, unquestioningly. I now find myself drawn to discover more, and I find myself dismayed, shocked and resolute at what I find.
Look, some of the stories in Genesis were probably great bedtime stories. I was chatting with my sister recently, who has a tribe of kids, and what feels like thousands of grandchildren (though that's overstating it a bit). She said, that if you want to hold a child's attention, you make it exciting; if you want them to go to sleep, you make it boring.
So, I have often fallen asleep to the repetitiveness of the Old Testament. Those parts, the canticles and genealogies, must be the bedtime stories.
Then there are the tales of battle, which are gruesomely graphic. Think, Brothers Grimm. On steroids. Those must be the Old Testament version of "Boys Own" books.
There's little mention of women, apart from Eve, so I can't tell how the sons of Adam came to be fathers, grandfathers etc. But there is a lot of talk about how old men were when they became fathers and how long they lived after that until their deaths (into the centuries), so they must have had enough time to procreate to their hearts' content. Occasionally, when women were mentioned, it was in the context of how they were related to their fathers, brothers, and husbands. For example, in Genesis Chapter 11, we have the start of Abram's story (before he changed his name to Abraham):
Terah was a man who had three sons, Abram, Haran, and Nahor. Haran had a son and a daughter (Lot and Milcah, respectively) but Haran died before his father Terah. Milcah was wife to Nahor. That's right, Nahor married his niece. But wait! Abram married his half-sister, Sarai (Genesis 20:12, she was his father's daughter).
During a famine, Abram and Sarai went to Egypt.
Before entering, Abram told his wife to pretend to "be his sister". When Pharaoh's courtiers saw the beautiful Sarai, they praised her to him, and she was taken to him. Pharaoh wanted Sarai for himself, and offered Abram flocks, herds, and slaves to sweeten the deal so that Sarai would stay in his harem. It went very well for Abram, because he was a swinging single and the "master" of his "sister" Sarai, and therefore his fortune grew significantly. However, poor old Pharaoh not only missed out on keeping Sarai as his concubine and losing all that loot, but he and his household were also struck down with severe plagues (which were attributed to poor Sarai; she must have been very sick, and didn't have her husband to care for her).
So far in my very early reading, there is no mention about how Hagar came to become Sarai's maid in the Old Testament. I go to the internet for that. She has been thought of as the "Grand Mother of Arabians", as Abram/Ibrahim/Abraham's second wife. But there are different stories about her, and not all are from the same sources. According to one story, she was the daughter of the King of Maghreb. Pharaoh Dhu l-'arsh killed her father and she was taken as a slave, made mistress of the female slaves and shared in Pharaoh's wealth. For some reason, Pharaoh gave her to Sarai as her slave, and for some reason she gave Hagar to Abram/Ibrahim/Abraham. Another story tells of Hagar as the Pharaoh's daughter, and that he gave her to Sarai because he thought it better for her to be slave to "such a woman" than a mistress in another house (an instance of a daughter being belittled). A third story says that after Sarai/Sarah's death, Abram/Ibrahim/Abraham goes looking for Hagar and they live happily ever after with six more sons (because listing girls was never the done thing). In the third story, her name is changed to Keturah. Different stories, different authors, different commentators, different contexts.
It seems to me, that the #1 lesson I learned in high school history stands: history is written by the victors, and the victors are usually men. Thank you, Sister Irenaeus and Mrs Playford!
So, let's get back to the story of creation.
My old self would say that the seven days of creation and rest were a simple man's version of a very complicated series of events, put into words that simple men could comprehend without having to write them down. Although there were many mentions of men living into the three-hundreds or more, the reality was that men were lucky to make it to forty years of age back then. So the men of Genesis were super-human; and the work of God, a mere thought-made-reality.
That was my old self. Now, I question everything I read in the Old Testament. I question what is missing, because despite so much being listed, the stories of the women are put aside and forgotten. Or worse, the stories which contain women are used to teach something like obedience (see Genesis Chapter 19). The story of Lot and his family made me so sick, so angry; because the "moral of the story" was always "obey; don't be like Lot's wife". Whereas Lot's story for me now, is that Lot was a selfish man who put the safety of his daughters below that of two strange men whom he'd just met. Lot's wife had every reason to be angry, and for her heart to turn to stone.
For me, Genesis is the birth of mysogeny.
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