Monthly Archives: January 2006

The Bible – Genesis Chapters 16-20

The following entry represents my notes and observations as I read ‘Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible’. The text of the entry is my best attempt to summarize a large volume of text for easier reference in the future. As I go, I will compare and contrast the text of the NASB with ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ by Oxford University Press. If a passage is not specified as referring to either the Jewish or Christian version of the Bible then it can be assumed that it applies to both works. Passages specific to one or the other will be marked with either [NASB] or [JSB] as appropriate. Any person who differs with any detail of interpretation is invited to comment and include specifics and I’ll be happy to reexamine the passage(s) at issue.

Chapter 16
Another ten years pass and still Abram and Sarai do not have a child. As an act of desperation, Sarai suggests that Abram have relations with their Egyptian maid, Hagar, and perhaps through her they can have a child. Abram’s no fool and in no time Hagar is pregnant with Abram’s child. Both texts point out that this procedure is well rooted in Middle Eastern laws of the time.

Pregnant, Hagar takes on a less than respectful attitude towards Sarai and when Sarai complains to Abram about the maid’s behavior, he tells her to deal with it herself. Sarai responds by berating and abusing Hagar who runs away. Luckily for the line of Abram, an angel comes down and bids Hagar go back to Abram. In exchange for her obedience, the Lord promises her that offspring will be many, her child will be a male, that he shall be called Ishmael, that he will be “a wild ass of a man” who will always be at odds with everyone. Hagar returns to Abram and at the age of 86 Abram is born a son, Ishmael.

God is apparently fine with Abram and Sarai abusing their maid and using her for purely reproductive purposes. Is this because she’s a pagan? She seems to get little more respect than an animal in this chapter; she’s used to sire an entire nation of people when God could just as easily given Sarai a child. Alternatively, is God merely responding to local laws and customs when he allows this to take place? Either answer has interesting implications in today’s world.

Chapter 17
When Abram is 99, the Lord appears to him again and proceeds to make yet another covenant with him. Oddly, this covenant appears to be exactly the same as that he agreed to in Genesis 12 and Genesis 15. JSB attributes this to yet another change of authorship. God again promises Abram land for his own nation and again indicates that Sarai will be the mother of all these new people. This time, however, there is a price. All the males of his line must be circumcised on the 8th day of life. Any male who doesn’t get circumcised gets the boot. Abram is given a new name, Abraham and Sarai is renamed Sarah to symbolize their new positions in the world. Abraham questions God, “Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety?” God reassures him and tells him that the son born to him will be named Isaac. Ishmael is not forgotten, despite his mixed heritage, he is to be the father of twelve chieftains who will beget a great nation.

After God exits, Abraham takes Ishmael and all his male servants to be circumcised. Ishmael is 13 at the time and interestingly, the NASB points out here that the ‘Arabs’ consider themselves descendants of Ishmael and therefore they also practice circumcision but at the age of 13. This actually makes good sense since you may recall that Ishmael’s mother was an Egyptian.

… In Progress …

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Real Problem with America

You know the real problem with this country? Oh! You do?! Do Tell!

Too many stupid Republicans getting us involved in wars that are none of our business, you say? No, not really. Leaders have been getting us involved in wars for as long as their have been leaders. War is a natural process in our species and if we can’t find someone to fight somewhere else then we’ll just end up fighting ourselves. Even if you think the current War in Iraq is a sham, you must admit that nobody reading this really KNOWS enough about the situation to say for sure that the war is a sham or not. We haven’t seen the real intelligence; god only knows what’s really going on or what the Bush administration is basing this whole war on. Republicans are definitely NOT the real problem.

Too many stupid Democrats going around hugging trees, causing problems for Republicans, sympathizing with terrorists and trying to erode national security in the name of civil liberties, you say? No, sorry, wrong again. The Democrats are an important part of the political ecosystem; the Republicans tend to try to govern from the top down. They tend to take care of the top of the societal food chain, the rich, corporations, etc, while democrats tend to try to govern from the bottom up by taking care of the little guy by supporting unions, minorities and the least represented of all, the environment. No matter how much we may enjoy pointing fingers at each other, an honest person must admit to themselves that we need both. The truly right way is somewhere in the middle. We need people to support corporations because they employ people and we need to make sure workers and the environment don’t get abused. The Democrats and the Republicans fill these roles nicely and balance each other out over time as the grand pendulum of democracy shifts power back and forth between the two parties. Democrats are definitely NOT the real problem.

The moral fabric of the country is being eroded, you say, by a vast conspiracy of godless deviants? No, I’m afraid you’re wrong on that count too. This is, in fact, all a trick. There were just as many deviants back in whatever golden bygone area you want to look at but today more than ever our media tells us about every single one of them in excruciating detail. We hear SO much about these people that we start to think that everyone’s this way and that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Clearly though, this is just not the case. If anything, people are actually more benevolent than ever because as a society we HAVE more than ever. There is so much material wealth in this country that sometimes we have to load it in bags and take it to Goodwill because we just don’t have anywhere else to put it all. So no, this is definitely not the problem because it’s just not true. If anything, this country is more homogeneous than ever. We just hear a lot more about the oddballs because that’s what sells newspapers and gets people to watch the news.

Religious fanatics are trying to run our lives, steal our country and take away our liberties, you bemoan? No, that’s not it either because that’s an inherent contradiction. Those people who try to run your private life with a Bible in one hand and a cross in the other are not really religious. They do what they do in the name of religion but in reality they’re doing it for their own selfish ends. Their motivations actually have nothing to do with religion except that they try to use it as a crowbar to get what they want by threatening you with eternal suffering of one sort or another. These people are the modern equivalent of snake-oil salesman trying to sell an idea and in exchange get 10% of your income (gross, not net) each week. Truly religious people you typically don’t even know about. They don’t try to sell you anything or hit the pavement trying to earn their Heavenly Rewards merit badge for converting people. A truly religious person won’t actually try to convince you of anything in an active manner. You may find a Bible on your desk at work but the person giving it won’t make themselves known or take credit for it. So no, the religious people of the world aren’t the problem, they’re quietly going about their business in the best way they know how and you probably couldn’t point them out in a crowd if you tried.

You’re apparently not going to guess so I’ll tell you. The problem, my good readers, is us, every single one of us. It’s not the politicians, it’s not rich people, it’s not welfare moms, it’s not religious fanatics and it’s not even Satan worshipers. The problem is every single one of us and the society we’ve made for ourselves. As a society, our energies are so incredibly misdirected that people from a hundred years ago would just shake their heads. We have more free time, more material wealth, longer lives and better general health and security than any group of humans ever to gather on this planet. We have got it really good. We should be the most incredibly enlightened, intelligent, cooperative and technologically advanced nation ever by a factor of ten at least, but we’re not.

The reason is, frankly, a very simple one. As a nation, we’re lazy, and when we’re not working at the jobs we hate, our top priorities are partying, having fun or just wasting away the hours until it’s time to go back to work. We eat fast food because we’re too lazy to cook. We’d hate to take time to cook because that might cut into CSI. We’re too lazy to read a book or do something productive so we sit and watch television and encourage our children to do the same because we’re too lazy to raise them properly too.

Our society produces an infinite variety of video games, sports entertainment, TV shows and movies (primarily ones with violent themes), junk literature and pornography to fill our free time almost to the exclusion of all else. Sadly, these things are out there in such abundance because it’s what people care about. Don’t believe me? Go to work and eavesdrop on a few conversations. I think you’ll find that if people aren’t talking about their jobs, they’re talking about one of the five things above. American’s seem to love to exist in a zombified state, a constant hypnagogic trance induced by mindless images on a television screen. When we aren’t watching TV or playing some abhorrently violent video game, we’re blathering endlessly on the phone with our equally zombified friends about them.

Some of you may well say, “So what? So what if I watch TV? What does that hurt?” The answer is that it may not be hurting anything. If, in fact, all you were capable of ever doing was watching television then you’ve lost nothing. If, on the other hand, you were capable of something else, something more meaningful than merely occupying space for 60 minutes, then you’ve lost everything. Every hour you spend doing some mindless activity is an hour you failed to achieve something.

Rather than sleeping away an hour in front of the tube, you could have read a book that inspired you and changed you forever. Perhaps that hour would have been spent talking to an elderly neighbor that really needed someone to talk to or perhaps you talked with your child and discovered a really wonderful human being there that you never knew before because you never bothered to listen. Maybe you volunteered at the homeless shelter and met your future wife. Maybe you went for a walk every day and added 20 years to your life. The point is, that television, video games, getting sloppy drunk and other mindless entertainment is a big fat 0 in the grand scheme of things. No matter what you do, as long as it’s not wasting your time with passive and meaningless activities it’s better than watching Gilligan’s Island reruns and the world will be a little better place for your efforts. Einstein did not take a break from Relativity to watch Survivor. Don’t let your own magnum opus go down the drain because some voice in a box told you, “Don’t miss a second of next week’s exciting episode!”


Filed under mankind, politics

The Bible – Genesis Chapters 11-15

The following entry represents my notes and observations as I read ‘Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible’. The text of the entry is my best attempt to summarize a large volume of text for easier reference in the future. As I go, I will compare and contrast the text of the NASB with ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ by Oxford University Press. If a passage is not specified as referring to either the Jewish or Christian version of the Bible then it can be assumed that it applies to both works. Passages specific to one or the other will be marked with either [NASB] or [JSB] as appropriate. Any person who differs with any detail of interpretation is invited to comment and include specifics and I’ll be happy to reexamine the passage(s) at issue.

Chapter 11
After the flood, everyone spoke the same language. People migrated west and settled in a valley in Shinar. In humanity’s last true cooperative effort, they built themselves a great city [Babylon] and proposed to build themselves a great tower [a ziggurat, a typical Mesopotamian stepped temple tower meant symbolically to represent a stairway to heaven] that was so tall that its head would be in the sky [JSB] or would reach heaven [NASB]. God, looking on from above, is displeased and says “…this is what they have begun to do, and now nothing which they propose to do will be impossible to them.” So in order to protect his superiority as God of men, he confounds them all by splitting the languages of man so that they can no longer communicate effectively and progress on the tower ostensibly stops. Since that time of course, mankind has spent more of its collective time and energy thinking of new ways to kill people. Thanks, God.

So far, God has made man in his own image. Fine.
Man has been naughty and needed cleaning out. Fine.
Man was born anew from the line of Noah but even these good people apparently did things that God didn’t like. Fine.

But the things that man did this last time seem pretty natural. Man was made in God’s image with some God-like attributes. He’s intelligent, curious and relentlessly self-improving so he wants to build; he wants to create just as God created. In Genesis chapter 11 though, we get a clear sign that this makes God nervous. He outright says, “Nothing they propose will be impossible.” So in response, God makes everyone speak different languages so that they can apply all that God-given ingenuity towards killing each other and general chaos?!? Would it not be better to let man do what man does best? If man were intended to simply follow God like a sheep, then why give him the intelligence to do more? Why give him the curiosity to seek out new things? Why give him this drive to build and achieve? It seems a hopelessly flawed plan to create a creature that is apparently collectively smart enough to do anything and yet expect them to simply follow you about mindlessly like sheep. So far, the God of the Old Testament seems either downright evil or perpetually stupid.

Next we get the genealogy of Shem (one of Noah’s boys). Through ten generations in which the lifespan of man goes from 602 years for Shem to 119 and 70 years for the two generations that have died by the end of the current genealogy. The genealogy ends with Abram and Nahor, sons of Terah. Abram married Sarai who bore him no children and Nahor married Milcah who bore him Haran, Milcah and Iscah. Haran had a son Lot.

Terah took Abram and Lot and Sarai to Harn and settled there where Terah died at the age of 205.

Chapter 12
The Lord commanded Abram [later, Abraham] to leave Haran and in exchange he would bless him and make him the leader of a great nation. Abram does as the Lord commands and takes Lot and his wife Sarai [later, Sarah] along with all they own first to Canaan, then to Shechem and finally Negeb building altars to God the whole way.

In Negeb, there is famine so Abram journeys to Egypt but instructs his wife that since she is so beautiful, she must never tell the Egyptians that she is his wife but instead insist she is his sister. If the Pharaoh were to see her then he would kill Abram first so that he could incorporate Sarai into his harem. In Egypt, as expected, Sarai is noticed and the lie is perpetrated. Rather than trust in the Lord’s protection, Abram lies and Sarai is taken by Pharaoh who showers Abram with material wealth.

This does not go unnoticed by God however, who brings mighty plagues on Pharaoh’s house. Pharaoh determines the cause of the problem and sends Sarai back to Abram and they are both sent off with an armed escort.

Chapter 13
Abram and Sarai journey from Egypt to Negeb and they’re rich from all the gifts Pharaoh piled on Abram in exchange for his ‘sister.’ It would seem that prostitution paid well in this era. When Lot and Abram finally arrive at their destination between Bethel and Ai they bicker. They both have so much livestock that there’s not enough forage for all the animals within the amount of land their herdsmen can police. Abram begs peace from Lot and tells him to choose whatever land he would have and they’ll separate. Lot greedily chooses the Jordan river valley near the city of Sodom thinking it the best despite the fact that it has a very poor reputation.

Abram settles in Canaan and as soon as Lot is out of earshot the Lord speaks to Abram. He tells Abram that all the land he sees about him will be his and that his people will be as plentiful as the dust-specks of the Earth. Abram concludes the chapter by taking up residence in Hebron and builds yet another altar to the Lord.

Chapter 14
Years pass and history finds our anti-hero, Lot, living in Sodom. He’s still a righteous man, but he’s surrounded by temptation. Unfortunately, war comes to Sodom and Sodom is on the losing end; the losers carry off the contents of their cities including Lot and his own possessions. Abram, hearing that his nephew was a prisoner, musters his personal army of 318 men [he is extraordinarily rich after all from that affair with the Pharaoh], frees Lot and brings him back with all his possessions.

After the rescue, Abram breaks bread with a couple of the losing kings. Finding that the King of Salem worships the same God he does, he offers the King a tithe of [10%] of the goods taken. The King of Sodom offers Abram an exchange of goods but Abram refuses bluntly that he has entered a covenant with God and cannot accept so much as a thread from him. Ostensibly, this is to ensure that Abram does not become indentured to the King in any way.

Chapter 15
Later, the Lord comes to Abram in a vision. “Fear not,” God says and goes on to tell Abram that he is with him and his reward shall be great. Abram objects, “what can you give me seeing that I shall be childless?” [recall that Sarai his wife is barren]. Abram goes on to state that since he has no children his steward Dammesek Eliezer will be his heir. God replies that Abram will have his heir and that his line will be as numerous as the stars themselves. Abram said no more on that topic, he trusted in the Lord.

Later, God says that he has brought Abram here to possess this land. Abram asks how he will know that it is truly his. To seal the contract between them, God asks Abram to bring a three-year-old heifer, she-goat, ram and two birds. Abram cuts each in two and stood between the two halves sealing the deal in traditional Mesopotamian fashion. After the covenant is complete, God tells Abram that while his offspring will be many, they will be “strangers in a land not theirs” and that they will be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years. It is promised though, that God will look after them and “execute judgment” on the enslaving nation. God then decrees that Abram’s offspring will receive all the land from the “river of Egypt” [no such river known, some arm of the Nile possibly] to the great river Euphrates.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Bible

Bronze Age Warfare – Italy

The Italian Bronze Age lasted from about 2100 B.C. to 900 B.C. and this period is well-covered by finds of weaponry and art of the period. To understand the Italian world in this period, we must first understand a bit about its geography; Italy is an extremely varied country both in terms of geography, climate and resources. Her landmass includes two large islands and a 1000m peninsula with the Apennines down the center making travel from east to west and north to south problematic.

The warfare of this area was as varied as the geography. Art of the time shows battles and raids carried out on both land and at sea with diverse combatants from many neighboring lands and even some indication of high seas piracy.

Settlements and Fortifications
Italian fortifications shared the usual common features with those of her neighbors. Building was more common in areas that provided some feature of natural defense and tended to protect major trade routes such as rivers and high mountain passes.

The key difference between Italian construction and that of her contemporaries seems to be a greatly increased use of stone. Elevated fortifications known as castellieri are found in northern Italy and number in the hundreds. Some Castellieri have multiple walls of limestone blocks. Making use of natural plateaus and ridges, they can sometimes be found close together and typically only measure 50m in diameter and 5m in height. Many were used to control trade routes or as temporary structures and look-out posts. Later, these constructs would evolve to include higher walls and semi-circular towers along their perimeters.

In Sardinia, the signature fortification was the nuraghi. Thousands are known and are primarily single conical towers comprised of large stone blocks. These simple but massive structures (some with walls 4m thick) typically had only one entrance and stairs cut into the walls. The exact purpose of nuraghi is not known with some theorizing that they acted as protective bases for wooden structures perched on top. Later, the nuraghi would develop into complicated nuraghi complexes of interconnected towers in which dozens of the buildings may be clustered in a very small area.

Weapons and Armor
As in the other areas discussed, evidence of weaponry in Italy is various since many caches of weapons have been excavated. Originally placed for storage or for sacrificial purposes, some of these hoards contain hundreds of weapons. Burial chambers are also a common source for weapons.

Copper Age deposits are dominated by flint arrowheads and daggers much like those in other areas. Some of these were highly decorated and intricate. With the introduction of bronze, we see a gradual replacement of flint in weapons as diverse as axes, daggers and halberds. By the time we reach the Middle Bronze Age, flint has almost disappeared, replaced by bronze for most uses. Daggers are common and we see the introduction of the sword proper with an optimized design for both stabbing and slashing. The variety of sword designs was immense. Many were extremely intricate and ranged from solid cast one-piece swords to two-piece swords with bone or antler handles riveted to a bronze blade. Even later in the Bronze Age, the spear becomes popular. The greatest advantage of the spear was its versatility. At range, the weapon could be throw, or used to unhorse a rider with the pointed butt planted firmly in the ground or at close ranges the staff could even be used as a club of sorts.

Defensive Equipment
The use and composition of defensive equipment in this region closely parallels that of other regions. Organically based materials were used to protect most major body parts while metallic equivalents existed for use on ceremonial occasions. Helmets are described as particularly ornate and impractical by the iconographic evidence available. The use of the horse also increases near the close of the Bronze Age with chariots and horses appearing in the archaeological record sometimes buried with their owners as a sign of standing or prestige within the community.

Burials and Paleopathology
Copper Age tombs are relatively common and give us good examples of armaments from hat period. Typically these can contain copper axes, halberds, daggers and arrowheads. Later examples include Bell-beakers and archery wrist-guards. However, tombs from the Early to Middle Bronze age are relatively rare. By the Late Bronze Age, cremation has become the norm but some of these gravesites still include weaponry. Based on at least one gravesite example, the presence of weaponry may not indicate the deceased was a warrior. One 6-year-old child was found buried with full battlefield regalia indicating the grave goods may have merely been indicative of social status rather than actual battlefield experience.

Italian iconographic evidence from Italy is rich and includes rock carvings, stelae, and bronze figurines. One notable example of this is the Sardinian bronze figures of which about 500 have been found. These bronze castings sport leather armor, helmets, round shields and wield the common weaponry of the day. Nearly missing from the records here though are the spear and the bow and arrow. The stelae, or burial stones, are .5 to 2.5 meters in height and several dozen are known from this area of the world. These works vary in quality in detail over time but typically the depicted warriors are carrying daggers or spears. Typically stones demonstrate either war themes or those related to hunting.

The large amount of iconographic and physical evidence seems to indicate that warfare and the role of the warrior in Bronze Age Italy was a very significant one. Whether this is because war was common or merely an assumed defensive posture and cultural norm is not known. At the least, the people of the area were competent hunters with a long tradition of weaponsmithing equipped itself well both in personal weaponry and fixed defenses. In all likelihood, war was common but not a constant companion of the Italian countryside.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Bible – Genesis Chapters 6-10

The following entry represents my notes and observations as I read ‘Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible’. The text of the entry is my best attempt to summarize a large volume of text for easier reference in the future. As I go, I will compare and contrast the text of the NASB with ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ by Oxford University Press. If a passage is not specified as referring to either the Jewish or Christian version of the Bible then it can be assumed that it applies to both works. Passages specific to one or the other will be marked with either [NASB] or [JSB] as appropriate. Any person who differs with any detail of interpretation is invited to comment and include specifics and I’ll be happy to reexamine the passage(s) at issue.

Chapter 6
Of the chapters outlined so far, Chapter 6 seems to be the most in dispute insofar as determination of a definitive meaning and intent.

Men began to increase on the earth and “divine beings” [JSB] or angels [NASB] or righteous sons of Seth [NAVB] took women for their wives. The NASB seems most strongly behind the theory that the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth commingled and blurred the boundaries between the two family lines. It is not, however, definitive in this opinion in that it also allows the possibility that angels married human women.

Whoever these “divine beings” are, God is not pleased with what he sees and declares either that man has 120 years to clean up his act before God cleans house [NASB] or that man’s lifespan will be limited to 120 years from this point forward [NASB & JSB]. It is now that the Nephilim, (Giants [JSB] or mighty men who were really sinners [NASB]) make an appearance on the scene and take human wives.

Man was in fact so wicked that God declares he regrets even creating him in the first place and that he will blot out all the men and poor sinless animals from the entire planet… except for Noah. Noah, whose name spelled backwards is Hebrew for ‘favor’, was “righteous and blameless”. He beget three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. God instructs Noah to build an ark of gopher wood with three decks, many rooms inside and seal it on the outside with tar. It should also have a roof, one window and be 450 ft long, 75 ft wide and 45 ft deep. That’s a little more than half the length of the Titanic, almost as wide, one third the depth and very, very dark inside.

God goes on to say that for his part in this little arrangement, he’ll make it rain until everything floods. The NASB argues with itself briefly on whether this is actually a world-wide flood or merely a local flood that was enough to wipe out only the Middle East. The JSB looks at this from a more literary standpoint and points out merely that the whole tale is simply an adaptation of a well-known Mesopotamian story of the same general theme. Whichever the case, Noah is to take his wife, his sons and their wives and pile them all onto the ark with enough food to eat and one additional minor detail: two of each animal that crawls on the Earth or flies in the air (one male, one female) will make its way to the ark and Noah’s to cram them all inside along with enough food to feed them for an undesignated period of time. All this, Noah does.

Chapter 7
His work done, God commands Noah into the ark: “you alone I have found righteous before me in this generation.” God apparently modifies his previous edict by instructing Noah to place 7 pairs of each of the “clean” animals in the ark rather than 1 pair as specified in Chapter 6. JSB cites this as an error and further proof of the mosaic authorship theory for the Torah. NASB explains, however, that Noah must take the extra animals in order to make a ritual sacrifice after the flood is over. Whatever the case, that’s a lot of sacrificing. God gives Noah 7 days warning of the impending start of the rain to get his affairs in order.

Noah collects the animals and gets into the ark while daily life outside for the rest of the population remains relatively unchanged. That is, until the rain starts. 40 days and 40 nights the Lord promised the rains would continue and true to his word the flood buries even the highest mountain under 30 feet of water. All the animals left on the earth have perished though the NASB incorrectly points out that sea life would have been unaffected. This is clearly incorrect, however, since the influx of rainwater would no doubt have changed the salinity of the oceans considerably beyond the tolerances of most ocean life. These too would have perished in the flood. Only Noah and the animals remained alive.

The chapter closes with he words, “and when the waters had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days” which the JSB points out is in contradiction with the 40 days figure cited earlier in the chapter. Clearly, this is not the case though since it rained for 40 days but apparently took 110 days for the water to drain away to wherever world-wide floods could find to drain away to

Chapter 8
After the rain, God suddenly remembered Noah and his animals and passes a wind across the Earth to counteract all that water. The water steadily decreases and five months after all this started, the ark comes to rest in a mountain range in the area of Ararat. Contrary to popular belief, there is no Mount Ararat, the name refers to the ancient country Uratu now occupied by Turkey, Iraq, Armenia and Iran. Three months after it comes to rest in the mountains, the tops of the mountains became visible.

After 40 days, Noah opened the window and sent forth the raven. It “flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.” Considering that’s months away, it’s a pretty impressive feat of endurance. He then sends out a dove but it returned as it found no place to land. Noah waited another seven days and sent out the dove again; this time it returned with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. This is surprising given that no olive tree could survive several months under water. Further, the common olive (Olea europaea) can take several months to germinate even in the most optimal circumstances. Add to this the fact that the olive is not a mountain-dwelling plant so the waters must have receded at an incredible pace for there to be an olive leaf available even if it plucked a new sapling tree from the ground.

Noah waited another seven days and sent the dove again. This time it did not return. Deciding after very nearly a year in the ark that it was safe to come out, Noah removes the covering of the ark and at exactly a year from the time they entered the ark the earth is declared dry again. God speaks to Noah and tells him to get out of the ark and bring all the animals forth to repopulate the earth. This is, of course, impossible. Two individuals from a species cannot repopulate the earth for very specific genetic reasons.

After bringing out the animals, Noah builds an altar to the Lord. Then he takes some the extra “clean” animals that the lord commanded him to save in chapter seven, slit their throats and burned their corpses on the altar as an offering to God. It’s funny, I never heard about any of that in Sunday school or those made-for-TV-movies about Genesis. If a person did this today, they would be thrown in jail or burned as a witch. This is exactly the sort of behavior that modern society ascribes to devil-worshipers. God “smelled the soothing aroma” and promised to never again curse the ground because of the acts of man. He goes on to say that “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

Frankly, I’m appalled at this chapter. Noah murders animals and burns their corpses and God looks on in apparent glee. Further, he goes on to say directly that man, who he created, is evil from his first days on earth. Any entity that looks at a baby and sees evil yet rejoices in the smell of burning corpses is frankly sick. Luckily, for the people who subscribe to this doctrine, all this has been revised and expunged from popular perception of the Bible.

Chapter 9
For serving God, Noah and his sons are blessed and charged with the responsibility of repopulating the whole earth. He reiterates that man shall have dominion over the birds and the beasts and that man is now allowed to eat them (recall that in chapter 1 man was to be a vegetarian) as long as the blood is no longer present. The JSB points at that this is the origin of the Jewish practice of kashering, salting meat so as to absorb blood before consumption. I would point out that this is the first of many examples of commandments which simply echo what would have been common sense at the time. Cooking also removes the blood from meat and reduces the risk of disease. Contemporary people would have been aware of this from experience and so inject this allegory into their religious texts as a reminder. It also improves the believability of your mythology greatly if you can point to specific instances in which individuals failed to follow the commandments and paid some price for having done so. Finally, God specifically stipulates that “whoever sheds the blood of man shall, by man shall his blood be shed” and so we get our second post-diluvian commandment.

God then goes on to establish the Noahic covenant. He promises never again to destroy the earth via flood and as evidence of his goodwill in this matter we will have the rainbow to look upon when it rains. This is commonly referred to as the “Covenant of the Rainbow” for that reason.

As you may recall the sons of Noah were Shem, Ham and Japheth. Ham had a son Canaan. Noah was a farmer like his father and he was the first man to plant a vineyard. Noah drank of the wine, became drunk, retired to his tent and then became naked. Ham found him in this state and went to tell his brothers of this and they responded by covering their father in a garment in such a way as to not see his nakedness themselves. When Noah awoke from his intoxicated state, he lashed out at Ham by cursing his son, Canaan, and his descendants to slavery in the houses of the other two brothers.

The two Bibles disagree on exactly WHY Canaan was punished in such a way for what seems like a trivial act. The JSB maintains that the original Hebrew in this area could actually mean many things including the possibility that Ham actually raped his father or castrated him. The JSB considers it more likely though that the passage should be taken literally and that Ham is punished only for his impropriety and gossip about the incident to his brothers. The NASB has less to say on the subject but does point out that the punishment of the son is contrary to other biblical restrictions but is most likely a pre-emptive chastisement in that it anticipates the future misdeeds of Canaan’s descendants. Whatever the case, condemning your grandson to slavery is a harsh punishment for a simple error arising primarily because Noah got drunk.

After all the damning and condemning is sorted out, we are told that Noah lives another 350 years after the flood to an age of 950.

Chapter 10
Chapter 10 treats us to the full family tree of Shem, Ham and Japheth.

In the interests of sanity, I will not repeat them all here as they are easily enough found in the text and of little interest by themselves.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Bible – Genesis Chapters 1-5

The following entry represents my notes and observations as I read ‘Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible’. The text of the entry is my best attempt to summarize a large volume of text for easier reference in the future. As I go, I will compare and contrast the text of the NASB with ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ by Oxford University Press. If a passage is not specified as referring to either the Jewish or Christian version of the Bible then it can be assumed that it applies to both works. Passages specific to one or the other will be marked with either [NASB] or [JSB] as appropriate. Any person who differs with any detail of interpretation is invited to comment and include specifics and I’ll be happy to reexamine the passage(s) at issue.

Genesis, Greek for “birth” or “genealogy”, in Hebrew is titled bereshith, “In the beginning.” Books of this era commonly took as titles the first few words of the text. The introduction acknowledges the influence on Genesis from outside literatures much as described in the corresponding Jewish Text. Chapters 1 through 38 display a strong influence from Mesopotamian cultures and 39 through 50 a strong Egyptian one. The author further acknowledges the influence of local mythology on the events described therein including: Enuma Elish, a Babylonian epic describes the creation of the world; the Epic of Gilgamesh parallels the Adam and Eve episode and the Mesopatamian Atrahasis that of Noah and the flood.

The story of Genesis, by the admittance of the author of the JSB introduction, appears to have no historical basis in fact; the persons described have no known historical equivalents. At no point does the book claim to be divinely inspired or dictated. In fact, the varied authorship of the text is evident as many versions of the same event are presented at the same time. This is standard practice in Near Eastern literature of the time and does not reflect inconsistency so much as a tolerance for differing viewpoints.

The NASB bible is relatively vehement in its dismissal of the possibility that several authors had a hand in the creation of Genesis except to admit that certain editorial modifications were made throughout the years and that these explain the instances in which the author refers to himself in the third person. The primary date of authorship is therefore fixed between 1446 and 1406, the years during which Moses is supposed to have wandered in the desert. Special note is also made of the significance of certain numbers; specifically, 7, 12, 40 and 70 appear in many key places throughout the book. The introduction also describes the overarching literary superiority of the text of Genesis. This seems a strange echo to the claims made in the Qur’an that it is obviously a divinely inspired work if for no other reason than it’s just such a good piece of literature.

Chapter 1
God creates heaven and Earth from what appears to be a pre-existing substrate of some sort, “the earth being unformed and void.” How can something be both void and unformed? Unformed indicates something exists to take form? The notes explain that at this time in history the opposite of creation was actually considered to be a swirling chaotic mass. It is this chaotic mass from which the world was created.

Day 1: light created from the chaos of ‘uncreation.’ This is somewhat contradictory since we don’t get the sun and moon until day 4. Apparently a primordial light of some sort exists before the heavenly bodies exist to light the world.

Day 2: the creation of the sky

Day 3: gives us the land; the “water below the sky” is gathered together in one place leaving the land everywhere else. On the land we get vegetation; specifically, the seed-bearing plants.

Day 4: The sun and the moon to distinguish night and day though the use of the terms Sun and Moon are intentionally omitted from the account of verse 16, presumably to remove any possible reference to pagan deities which were based on these heavenly bodies.

Day 5: fish, birds and “the great sea monsters” all with the admonishment to “be fertile and increase”

Day 6: land animals and man shall be made in God’s image to have dominion over the fish, birds, sky, cattle and the whole of the Earth. Male and female are created at the same time in this instance. Man is further given all the seed-plants and fruit as his food and the animals are given the green plants.

Chapter 2
On the seventh day, God rested. Not, as the text points out, because he was tired but because he was done. The primordial chaos was all tamed. Before God had ever sent rain to the earth, he formed man (Hebrew: Adam) from the dust of the earth and “blew into his nostrils the breath of life,” a much more terrestrial creation than the previous one “in God’s image.” God then planted Eden with “every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food” along with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Note the use of the word ‘Planted’ rather than created. Apparently God had to resort to seed? The notes point out that this location was probably somewhere in current day Iraq.

From Eden the water issues as a single river which then divides into four: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Tigris and Euphrates are known modern day rivers while the Pishon and Gihon may have been minor tributaries in Lower Mesopotamia at the time. God places man in Eden to till and to tend it and bids him eat of any tree in the garden except that of the knowledge of good and bad: “as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” God sympathizes with Adam in his being alone in the garden and so forms all the living creatures and allows Adam to name them. After all that, there is still no “fitting helper” for Adam so he puts him to sleep, takes a rib from it and creates woman from it. The allegory here is a simple one; since the man and the woman are made of the same flesh, they should forever remain together as a couple, monogamous. The chapter closes with Adam and Eve naked and unashamed in the garden.

Chapter 3
The serpent finds Eve and asks her, “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” (The JSB is very specific in its claim that the serpent is only a devious animal. Contrarily, the NASB is similarly specific in stating that the serpent is actually Satan in disguise.) Eve responds that they may eat of any tree but that God forbade them from eating or touching the tree of knowledge lest they should die. It is interesting to note that God never actually forbade them from touching the fruit, only eating it. Since Eve never heard the commandment first hand (it was spoken before her creation) either Adam embellished it in relating it to her for her own protection or she just fails to remember correctly. In either case, it is this perversion of the word of God that causes the whole problem.

The serpent tempts Eve by telling her that if she eats of the fruit she’ll be wise like God and know good from evil. She of course partakes of the forbidden fruit and provides it to Adam. Both suddenly realize they’re naked (nudity is bad apparently) and make loincloths for themselves from fig leaves (apparently Eve remains topless). In an unusually anthropomorphic episode, God is wandering around the garden looking for Adam. The omniscient one actually utters, “Where are you?” and “Did you eat of the tree?” Adam, repentant, confesses without reservation that Eve made him do it. Eve in turn blames the serpent.

Each is provided a punishment; the serpent loses his legs and must crawl on his belly for the rest of eternity where he will eat dirt for the rest of his life. If the serpent is truly only a snake [JSB] then this is strange behavior indeed. If the serpent is a fallen archangel [NASB] then this is an unusually unfitting punishment. The serpent is also put at odds with mankind which will try to kill him at every turn. Eve, for her punishment, receives painful childbearing and obedience to her husband. For Adam, the punishment is that the ground shall no longer bear his food but that he’ll have to work for his living until he dies and returns to the dust from which he came.

His wrath spent, God makes clothes for the newly cursed and soliloquizes briefly on the topic of the tree of life. Man cannot stay in the garden lest he take of the tree of life and live forever, he says to no one in particular. So God drives Adam and Eve from the Garden to make a life for themselves in the real world. In a very real sense, Adam and Eve at this point are ‘born’ into the world as they leave the protective custody of the garden to face the cold reality of making a living in a new and hostile world.

Chapter 4
Adam and Eve bore a son, Cain who became a “tiller of the soil” and later another son Abel (Hebrew for temporary or meaningless) who became a keeper of sheep. They each brought their offerings to the Lord. Cain brought an offering from his line of work and Abel the choicest and best of his line of work. God showed favor to Abel for his superior offering inspiring the envy of Cain. Despite God’s encouragement that everything will be alright if he does right, Cain kills his brother and is soon confronted by an oddly anthropomorphic God in one of the most famous exchanges in Biblical and Literary History:

“Where is your brother Abel?” says God. Cain callously retorts, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God can, of course, see what has happened and declares that Abel’s spilled blood calls out to him from the ground and that the very earth which is soaked in Abel’s blood is cursed and will no yield up to Cain his daily bread.

Cain, ever the honorable soul, rather than repenting his actions, responds by lamenting his own situation. “My punishment is too great to bear”, he whines, “since I can no longer make a living from the soul, I must become a wanderer and all who meet with me will try to kill me.” God responds by placing a mark of protection upon Cain who retires to the land of Nod to the east of Eden. One has to question, who are these people who Cain fears? So far, the population of the Earth is 4, now reduced to 3 by Abel’s murder. Clearly, there’s some bit of missing information in our chronology.

Banished, Cain finds himself a wife (where we don’t know since his mother is supposed to be the only woman on the planet) and several people are begetted:

Cain begets:
Enoch who begets:
Irad who begets
Mehujael who begets
Methusael who begets
Lamech takes two wives; with Adah he begets
** Jabal [ancestor of all those who dwell in tents and amidst herds]
** Jubal [ancestor of pipe and lyre players]
Lamech with Zillah begets
** Tubal-Cain [ancestor of metal smiths]
** Nammah (a sister)

Lamech is as bloodthirsty and cruel as his great great great grandfather and represents the culmination of the evil propensities of mankind.

Meanwhile, Adam and Eve have a third son to replace the lost Abel, Seth. Seth has a single son Enosh. From this line come the people who properly worship the lord.

Chapter 5
Chapter 5 gives us a record of the line of Adam in the time between ejection from the garden and the great flood as well as their life spans:

Adam – Begot Seth at 130, died at 930 years of age
Seth – Begot Enosh at 105, died at 912
Enosh – Begot Kenan at 90, died at 905
Kenan – Begot Mahalalel at 70, died at 910
Mahalalel – Begot Jared at 65, died at 895
Jared – Begot Enoch at 162, died at 962
Enoch – Begot Methuselah at 65, taken by God at 365
Methuselah – Begot Lamech at 187, died at 969
Lamech – Begot Noah at 182, died at 777
Noah – Begot Shem, Ham and Japheth at 500

In addition, each of these men is credited with doing his fair share in populating the Earth. Only the direct primogenitor is referred to by name but ‘begot sons and daughters’ outside this direct lineage.

After doing the line chart for these life spans, I feel the need to share a few ‘interesting’ tidbits:

• Based on this, there were 1656 years between creation and the flood since it is presumed by the NASB that Methuselah died in the year of the flood.
• The only two persons from our lineage alive at the time of the flood are Methuselah and Noah. Lamech died at a relatively young age and Enoch the father of Methuselah was ‘taken by God’ at an exceptionally early date leaving only Noah and his grandfather standing in the rain with a pair of woefully insufficient papyrus umbrellas.
• Noah’s sons were born exactly 100 years before the flood so by the time it started to rain they were no longer boys but grown men.

After the lineage is presented, Noah is prophesied as the one who will “provide us with relief” from the lord’s curse on the soil.

It should be noted that the textual notes provided by the NASB present the very real possibility, but make no positive judgment, that the years referred to in this chapter may not be intended as literal spans of time. The JSB makes similar but weaker statements on the same topic. Ultimately, the final decision is left to the reader but the introduction to the JSB has already stated that the intent of Genesis is allegorical rather than strictly literal. Ultimately, I think we have to conclude that while entertaining to conjecture about, the life spans indicated are not literally true but merely intended as a literary construct to show the reader the rewards (in terms of longevity anyway) of those good-hearted persons in the line of Seth.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Bible – Introduction

The following entry represents my notes and observations as I read ‘Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible’. The text of the entry is my best attempt to summarize a large volume of text for easier reference in the future. As I go, I will compare and contrast the text of the NASB with ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ by Oxford University Press. If a passage is not specified as referring to either the Jewish or Christian version of the Bible then it can be assumed that it applies to both works. Passages specific to one or the other will be marked with either [NASB] or [JSB] as appropriate. Any person who differs with any detail of interpretation is invited to comment and include specifics and I’ll be happy to reexamine the passage(s) at issue.

Introduction [JSB]
Early on, the authors acknowledge there is no ‘official’ translation of the Jewish Bible or in fact even an official interpretation: “There are 70 faces to the Torah.” However, the 2nd Edition of the National Jewish Publication Society serves as the basis for this text. The first translation of the Bible took place about 2200 years ago from Hebrew to Greek. This translation became known as the ‘Septuagint’ (Latin for 70 after the 72 elders responsible). Two centuries after, similar translations into Aramaic were known as the Targums. The first Latin version of the bible was translated around 400 A.D. and became known as the Vulgate Bible or Bible in the language of the common people.

The first five books of the Bible are referred to as the Torah, “teachings or instructions” and refer to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Alternatively, they are known as the “Pentateuch” or “The Five Books of Moses.” Jewish and Christian traditions agree on these five books as a single unit standing at the beginning of the Bible. Moses is classically believed to be the author of the Torah despite the fact that in several places the text would suggest that it was actually written after Moses’ time. In fact, the last chapter of the Torah, Deuteronomy 34, describes the death of Moses but it was believed during the middle ages that this was dictated to Moses by God himself in foresight of the actual event.

More modern analysis has revealed that the Torah is apparently an amalgamation of the work of four different authors separated by hundreds of years in some cases. At times, the authors flatly contradict each other or cover the exact same material. These authors have been distinguished from each other by their use of language and their approach to representing (and addressing) god. The authors are not known but they have been assigned letters loosely based on the manner in which they denote the creator: Yahveh (J), Elohim (E), also Elohim (P) and Deuteronomist (D). There is still much debate, but current scholarship suggests that J is the earliest author dating from the 10th century B.C.E. followed closely by E. D and P are associated with the 7th and 6th centuries respectively. The whole of the text was then edited together sometime around 550 B.C.E. and was done in such a way as to preserve differing viewpoints rather than eliminate them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Gift of the Co-Worker Guy

Today I received a Christmas gift. In fact, it was a darn nice gift; it was that rare kind of gift that was not only well thought out but also completely unexpected. It’s not that I hadn’t expressed previous interest in the item in question and in fact we’d discussed it at length but to say the least I was a bit surprised to see it arrive in the mail.

More surprising to me than the gift was the source. Women buy each other gifts all the time. Apparently as a woman, once you break through the “I’ve spoken to you on more than 3 occasions” barrier it’s suddenly expected that you start exchanging Christmas gifts. I see it every Christmas as I watch my wife drag all manner of tchotchkes into the house, wrap them in $7 per square yard wrapping paper obtained from school fundraisers and then in one fell swoop they all emigrate to other people’s houses. It’s like watching $15 lemmings seek out the sea. That’s just the sort of wackiness I expect and I’m used to it.

For men, it’s completely different. To my knowledge, men buy Christmas gifts for two people: their mothers and their wives. That’s it. End of list. If someone saves your life fifteen times at great personal risk then maybe, MAYBE they’ll make it to the Christmas card list. But a gift? Forget it.

So from that starting point, imagine my surprise at having received such an obviously thoughtful gift from someone who is far from fitting any of the valid gift-giving categories stated above. Now, of course, the question becomes what to do about it. Do I attempt to reciprocate? Do I slowly leak loose change into his desk and onto his person in an attempt to make damn sure that I’ve repaid the full value of the gift? Do I embarrassingly prostrate myself before him and give him thanks until he gets sick of hearing about the gift and regrets ever having bothered?

Luckily for the giver, I’ve recently been in exactly his position and know the correct answer. Just before Christmas I took a plate of cookies and treats to the old couple across the street. From all external appearances, they don’t have any family in the area and spend Christmas more or less alone in that house together. Despite the fact that it’s completely contrary to my personality to speak to almost perfect strangers let alone take them food products, I put on my best ‘friendly and harmless neighbor expression’ and took them the goodies. After 30 minutes of friendly neighbor discussion (see Missin’ the Christmas Party for more information on how that sort of stuff usually goes for me) I made it back home to my side of the street.

Since that time, they’ve bought us a box of chocolates and a bag of fruit. While this attempt to reciprocate is appreciated — the road to my heart truly is paved with fruit products — it does tend to diminish our initial attempt to be friendly. I didn’t take the goodies across the street in order to get something in return. I see lonely old people and it seems only reasonable to try to help. I suspect that my giver’s motives are similarly altruistic. Perhaps it’s just the karmic wheel of gift-giving passing back to me what I gave to the neighbors. So in that spirit, I’ll do the only thing I think appropriate:

Thanks, Randy. That was truly an awesomely thoughtful gift! Enjoy your trip to the orient!

That’s it. Let the wheel of Gift Karma continue in its course.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized