Monday, August 11, 2008

Deconstructing Genesis

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Ankh if you love polytheism!

My daughter The Heir begins college in 10 days. At her college, every freshman is required to take two semesters of this course called "Common Intellectual Experience." It's sort of a mini-Great Books, and I'm gnashing my teeth because my college (The Johns Hopkins University) didn't have anything that big, broad, and flexible.

At Johns Hopkins when I was there, we just learned how to deconstruct literature. And postmodernism was all the rage. Ick. I wonder if they're still teaching postmodernism?

The first two books on The Heir's reading list for CIE were the Epic of Gilgamesh and Genesis. The Bible book, not the rock band.

Gilgamesh is chock-a-block with bored gods and goddesses, sort of like the Iliad and those old Greek plays. Sometime we'll have to invite those Sumerian deities here to TGAB for an interview. Maybe we can find them a new praise and worship team.

Actually I was more interested in the scholarly, texty-looking Genesis that The Heir had to buy, required. You've seen these books. An Introduction running to 50 pages on the nuances of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, followed by three or four pages of acknowledgements of other diligent scholars. Then the text itself, consisting of maybe a quarter page of the actual Genesis and three quarters of a page of margin notes, usually more long-winded stuff about Hebrew verbs.

So what the heck? It's been awhile since I read Genesis from A to Z, so I did it. Here and there consulting the voluminous scholarly notes.

Regarding those notes: Did you know there's no archeological evidence for the use of camels in the Middle East during the supposed era of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? I didn't know that either. And neither did the author of Genesis. Maybe we should ask the camels.

Having read Genesis before, I was not surprised by the stories therein. Like Clarence Darrow before me, I tried to imagine how the snake got around before God cursed it. But you can drive yourself to the brink wondering about stuff like that. Just dig up William Jennings Bryan if you don't believe such musings can kill you.

There is, however, a short poem stuck toward the very end of Genesis. The scholarly translator identified this poem as one of the most ancient texts in the Biblical canon.

Here are the most interesting lines from that poem:

A fruitful son is Joseph
a fruitful son by a spring
daughters strode on the rampart.
They savaged him, shot arrows, the archers did.
But taut was his bow, his arms ever moving
Through the hands of the champion of Jacob,
through the name of the Shepherd and Israel's rock.
From the God of your fathers, may He aid you,
Shaddai, may He bless you--
blessings of the heavens above
blessings of the deep that lies below,
blessings of breast and womb.

It is funny how all religions start to sound alike. Those last lines sound like the Carmina Gaedelica, don't they?

But what interests me is this description of Joseph, said to be one of the most ancient in the Bible. Where's Pharaoh? Where's that fancy jacket? Omitted. The picture we get is of a warlord in a fort, defending his family from archers. And far be it from me to suggest that God didn't help Joseph, because we're still reading about God and Joseph today. (God probably wasn't nearly as busy in those times as he is now. I'll bet he gets nostalgic about it at the end of a hectic week.)

The poem goes on to say that Joseph was singled out as special by his dad. What makes me think it's because of Joseph's ability on the ramparts and not his larger-than-life sojourn in Egypt?

There's a pattern here, whether it be Gilgamesh (who has been identified as a historical figure), Joseph, King Arthur, even George Washington. A dude goes out and kicks a little butt, saves his people, and the next thing you know, he's endowed with all sorts of special skills and actions.

So here's to Joseph and his taut bow. He got the job done, probably didn't have to sell but two or three of his daughters. I never thought he was really real, but after reading that poem I'd say he did indeed rock on.

As long as we're pondering historical heroes, let me say this about George Washington. I've seen places on the Potomac River where just about anyone with a decent arm could lob a silver dollar from shore to shore. So I believe George did it, and that's the gospel truth.


sageweb said...

How you have the patience to read the book of Genesis amazes me. There is a great book, I forget the name, that compares a lot of the bible stories with history about Buddha. As you know Buddha walked the world a few 1000 years BC. It seems to me there was some plagerizing going on when those men wrote the Bible.

sageweb said...

I mean he walked the world a few thousands miles away from jesus and 500 years before...sorry for my retardedness

jarjar_head said...

For me, the interesting aspect between The Epic of Gilgamesh and Genesis is the similarity of the flood narratives. Quite a few scholars agree that the tale of Noah's Ark is in fact taken from The Epic of Gilgamesh.

~The Weary Muse

yellowdog granny said...

the bible is a good read, but how can you believe it and take it for the truth when it's been translated from one language to another for hundreds of years...sigh*..I read a great non fiction book called the alexander papers..or something like that by steve's based on the idea that papers were written that said when God told Moses all the land he could see was his and belonged to the Jews as the promised land..was not actually where it is all the fighting the jews and the palestines are doing over that land is not actually there but where Mecca is..and don't you know that would be fun...really intersting to think that all the fighting over that land is from the bible which said God gave it to the Jews...what if that was a lie? you thought..

Davo said...

I shot an arrow into the air
where it lands
I know not where.

Common problem between all parents .. heh.