CONTENT WARNING: BIBLE SHIT! Contains discussions of women as property, pimping out women, trafficking of women, a lot of treating women like shit, as well as discussion of male genital mutilation. Later on there is a 14th century depiction of a 99 year old man cutting off his own foreskin with a butterknife. May be NSFW.
In our last instalment God had decided that everything he had previously said was “very good,” was not quite as good as he had first thought so he literally killed everyone and everything barring whatever was on the ark of Noah. This included Noah and his three sons Japheth, Ham and Shem, or the Ham Sandwich.
Everything started getting back to normal (barring a hungover curse because Ham took the piss out of Noah’s exposed winky) except the nations of the Earth were united and had come together to build a massive tower which God didn’t like with no discernable reason but what’s reason when you’re God? So he destroyed the Tower and ‘confused the tongues’ of the people, making them all speak different languages so they could go on to a future of inevitable miscommunication and conflict.
We had a nice long genealogy leading up to Abram, who I mentioned was about to become possibly the most important figure in the moral history of the world.
God tells Abram to “Fuck off!” – Well, not quite in that way. He wants Abram to go to a chosen land that will be blessed. At the moment they are in Haran, where Terah died. They are to go to Canaan to settle. So Abram, his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot all pack up their things and head to Canaan at God’s command. He wanders along, building altars along the route, as you do when you’re travelling until a famine put an end to their adventures.
What follows is possibly the worst set-up for presumed incest porn you could imagine.
They go to Egypt during the famine and I assume there was still food there. But, since Sarai, despite being 60-odd years old, is very beautiful all of the Egyptian men will want her. So Abram tells her this, and suggests she pretend to be his sister or else the Egyptian men will kill him and steal his wife.
This comes to pass and Sarai ends up shacked up with Pharaoh, as you do. He hands off a bunch of animals and slaves to Abram in exchange.
Sarai, though, comes with Holiest of STDs as God curses Pharaoh and his house with ‘great plagues’.
I’ve got no idea what the hell this is about! It’s Abram who is in the wrong here, and if God is on their side why would he need to be deceitful and lie about Sarai being his wife? Surely God will protect them?
Instead, what he does is trick everybody, get given a bunch of shit in exchange for his wife and then when the Egyptians are all cursed up, they just tell him to bugger off and take his stuff with him. He has obtained goods and/or services through deception. That’s fraud. God, Abram and Sarai are scammers! Although there’s every possibility God and Abram are scammers in which case Sarai is a victim of human trafficking for the purposes of a scam!
Abram and Lot go their separate ways in this chapter. Basically they’re all so damn rich (having scammed the Egyptians) that they have two big herds and their shepherds keep conflicting so Abram tells Lot to take any of the land and Lot decides to head off toward the Jordan valley in the direction of Sodom.
God also tells Abram that all of the land (North, South, East and West) will be for him and his offspring – who he will make as numerous as the dust of the Earth.
But Abram has to move again.
That’s the chapter.
War! Kings! Kings and war! There are some Kings, they make war! Honestly I’m trying to figure this out but it’s not exactly fucking Breaking Bad over here, there’s no gripping suspense keeping me hooked. A bunch of Kings go to war with some other Kings, then some Kings betray the head King in charge of the war and then they war with some other people then apparently some of them run away but fall into tar pits and that’s, of course, where Israeli museums get their supplies of mammoth bones and dead Kings.
The point is Sodom and Gomorrah get sacked and the sackers take Lot who has been living out that way. Abram by this point is apparently some kind of Hebrew mob-boss so he gets told about this and rounds ‘the boys’ up. Abram and his crew jump in the Jag, sandwiched between the two Range Rovers – all black, tinted windows. It’s all kicking off like proper British gangsters.
They go in pursuit as far as Dan.
Dan is a place, not a person. This confused me for a while wondering quite what Dan had to do with it. I was reading this part quite late in the evening.
Anyway, they obviously win and get Lot back and all of the possessions, women and people. I like that the ‘women’ and ‘people’ are listed after the possessions. Okay I get what you mean, furniture > wives > slaves – I get it, Bible, you’re morally arse backwards, no need to be so blatant about it.
So after this, the King of Sodom comes to meet with Abram and give him some food, wine and good, solid blessing.
Abram, because as we’ve established by now is a straight up motherfuckin’ G, refuses the favours of the King of Sodom saying;
“I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and Earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap of anything that is yours, lest you say ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol and Mamre take their share.”
Aner, Eschcol and Mamre are three Amorite brothers who travelled and fought with Abram.
It’s a very canny move, even considered out of a supposedly Holy context. In essence Abram is saying he does not want to be indebted to any King. He will not have another taking credit or responsibility for the riches in his life. By this point he is clearly rich enough, especially after robbing the Egyptians with the old White Stripes sister/wife routine.
What he’s also saying, however, is what he returns is not a gift, he is not paying tribute to the King of Sodom, merely returning what was already his. In that regard, he is not showing favour to the King, nor does the King owe him anything.
From the perspective of God, it makes it quite clear that the Lord is Abram’s King and he’ll not be in debt or favour to anyone else.
However I look at it from the perspective of someone who has done the odd bit of dodgy dealing in his time and I think it’s exceptionally savvy business from someone who is basically a religious gangster. He makes it apparent his power is his own and what he does is done for his own purpose. It puts everyone in their place with little room for misunderstanding.
Is it righteous? It could be considered so. Does it have to be? Absolutely not, this is a power-play.
We’re ploughing through these but it’s kind of because there’s a bit of a plot and not just a bunch of God doing stupid shit that it takes me 500 words to take the piss out of!
So God speaks to Abram in a dream and is like “I’m here for you, G!”.
Abram’s all like “But I ain’t got no kids, ‘s’up with that? My heir is Eliezer of Damascus!”
And I think I speak for everyone when I say fuck Eliezer of Damascus? Am I right?
Actually no, apparently Eliezer was just a servant of the family who actually did right by them so…I mean, surely it’s better your legacy is inherited by a useful servant than a feckless son? I mean I’m not saying their potential future son will be feckless but he’ll be the son of two old age pensioners, one of whom had her menopause an average lifespan number of years ago and his dad talks to sky people in his dreams who encourage him to do silly shit. That kid is gonna have problems!
Anyway God reassures him and says “Look, mate, you’ll have a son. Look at the stars in the sky. Your offspring will be that numerous!”
Then – remember what I was saying about the sky person in his dreams encouraging him to do silly shit?
So Abram’s having some doubts, asking questions of God about how he’ll possess the land etc. and God says to Abram;
“Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove and a young pigeon.”
Err…What…? Is this a setup to a gag?
“And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over again the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses Abram drove them away.”
Do you want to know what the point to all this is?
ME FUCKING TOO! Nothing is explained. Clearly it’s some kind of ceremony – and that’s literally all the answer I could find on it when researching, too! Nobody knows, it is just presumed this is some kind of ancient ceremony for the sealing of a contract or covenant.
Apparently then Abram falls asleep, God tells him the future of his people in his sleep, and then a ‘smoking fire pot and a flaming torch’ pass between the pieces (of cut-up three-year-old animal). This is, presumably, God ‘signing’ the covenant.
I’ll be honest, ritualistic behaviours are a jam of mine (thanks Lorenz) and I’d like to hear a lot more about the evolution of this contract signing. I also want to see it brought back. Imagine how interesting transfer deadline day in the Premier League would be if you had to have…I don’t know…Phil Foden walk over a bunch of dead animals to sign a contract with Real Madrid! Butchers would start having agents! It’d be weird and great.
Either way, God basically says “Yo, it won’t be easy, but eventually you’ll rule over this whole area, so chill dude.” And Abram chills. Then hopefully eats some meat, it’d be a shame if it all goes to waste.
Abram fucks the slave girl.
So Sarai has what is politely termed a ‘servant’ named Hagar and she says to Abram “I’m ancient and haven’t had a kid yet. Knock up the servant!”
And apparently Abram has absolutely no objections as to why he shouldn’t bang the young Egyptian servant girl, especially since his wife has so tenderly asked him to do so. Let’s be honest, Abram is a horny old bastard.
Once she’s knocked up, though, she gets all high and mighty about it, which upsets Sarai.
One interesting thing is that Sarai says “May the wrong done to me be on you!” So even though this was all her idea, it’s Abram’s fault for listening to her, paying attention to her thoughts, feelings and ideas and not immediately dismissing her. A wonderful lesson in how to ensure self-inflicted misogyny!
Abram is like “She’s your slave…err…’servant’ do what you want with her.”
So Sarai “dealt harshly with her” and Hagar flees.
So we’re advocating the beating of slaves now, are we, Bible?
Anyway the ‘Angel of the Lord’ finds Hagar and tells her not to be sad, because the son she will have with Abram, who shall be called Ishmael, will go on to have numerous descendants, but he’ll also be a “wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.” So that’s alright, then?
So she does as God says and goes back to Abram and Sarai and apologises for Sarai’s idea of Abram getting her pregnant, because it’s clearly her fault.
Abram is now 99 years old, Sarai is somewhere around 90 which makes this the best time for God to turn up and be like “Remember how I promised you a kid!?” which is what he does!
I know. In case you didn’t figure it out from the earlier chapters, God is complete nutter! He does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants with no regard for any reason, logic, constancy or consistency. It would make sense for Sarai to give birth as a much younger, healthier woman, but that’s not a challenge enough for God!
So again God reminds Abram of his promise to make nations out of Abram, and to reflect this his name will be changed to Abraham. ‘Abram’ roughly translates to ‘father of many’, whereas ‘Abraham’ roughly translates to ‘father of many nations’. Given that, as far as we know, he’s only got one kid, this is a magnificent irony from God and I applaud his sense of humour.
I haven’t really been noting the names, but all of the Biblical names are like those novels where everyone’s name means something in the story. You know how like there’s a character called ‘Charity’ and she’s really nice to everyone and then there’s ‘Hope’ who’s supposed to keep everyone’s spirits up. The Bible is full of that.
So there are lots of reminders about covenants and then God’s like “Let’s make a new one!” and Abraham is like “Ooh sounds fun, what is it? Are we going to butcher a bunch of animals again?” and God’s like “Just one! Cut off your flap of dick skin.”
Now it is a testament to Abraham’s faith, and/or stupidity, that he does not ask more questions here. Instead he just wholeheartedly agrees with God that genital mutilation of all of the males in your household is a reasonably request as an act of faith.
Now, many of you might be wondering why it is modern Christians do not necessarily have to follow this covenant. The answer is because they don’t want to.
Seriously, we’ll get to the Pauline epistles later on when we talk about the establishment of the religion of Paulanity, but effectively he equates a baptism with a circumcision without ever actually saying one replaces the other – that’s just taken as a given.
There is actually zero evidence in scripture, either Old or New Testament, to suggest that modern Christians should not be circumcised to keep their covenant with God. Much like all the old rules about foods should still technically apply. Christians just literally changed the rules because they wanted to, not because God had directly given any indication otherwise, but because the people who, after his death, interpreted his words and actions, decided Christ said they didn’t have to.
The thing is if we take the Bible at face value what it looks like happened is Abraham literally had an actual, personal, non-faith based relationship with God. God came to him, walked with him, spoke to him and told him to do all these things.
Later on a bunch of people who didn’t have that personal relationship with the Lord himself decided a man was effectively acting for the Lord and they were the sole arbiters of interpreting the meanings of the vague, wishy-washy parables he used to preach and statements he used to make.
If I genuinely believed in the word of the Bible as a Christian, Paul can fuck himself, I’m getting circumcised.
Thankfully, mercifully, even that’s one leap of faith too far for me. But that’s just how I read it. There’s a lot of post-hoc Christian bullshit. If you want to keep this Old Testament about and say it’s important then uphold it, otherwise, lose it. If all one needs for salvation in the eyes of the Lord is faith in Jesus Christ as our saviour then why the hell do we need all the rest of this nonsense in the book?
It makes no sense.
Anyway, circumcision debate aside we now have unveiled Abraham’s true identity. Yes, this is Abraham of ‘the Abrahamic faiths’ Abraham. I mentioned that he would go on to become the single most important moral and ethical figure in history and I truly think that. Many people might like to point to Christ as that figure but, again, why do we keep all these Abrahamic legends in the Bible if Christ is the most important moral figure? The covenant God establishes with Abraham, and the laws and rules he passes to Abraham’s descendants, through Moses, are the foundations for the moral and ethical systems that would come to dominate the majority of the world!
According to a poll by the Pew Research Centre in 2015, over 50% of the world’s religious adherents are of a so-called ‘Abrahamic’ faith, with Christianity and Islam being the top, and second most followed respectively. Those two account for the bulk of that figure, whilst Judaism only retains 0.2% of the World’s religious population, albeit as a religion less obsessed with conversion.
Judaism and Islam claim direct descent from Abraham (or Ibrahim as he is in the Islamic faith) via Abraham’s sons. His son by Hagar, Ishmael, is supposedly the progenitor of all the Arabic peoples, and his other son (who we haven’t got to yet) is supposedly the progenitor of all the Hebrew peoples. Christianity takes a more spiritual descent opinion, although it still claims to be of the Hebrew line.
Other ‘Abrahamic’ faiths include Babism, Rastafarianism and Yazidism among other small, similar-but-different faiths.
If Abraham was a genuine historical figure – and to be perfectly honest, the way the Bible switches from obviously metaphorical to more documentary once we get to the story of Abraham, it would at least suggest that there is a possibility a figure in history who we can equate with Abraham (even if names were different or became symbolically changed over time) existed – Then there should be no doubt this is the figure who has altered the course of human moral-ethical development, their actions and behaviours, more than any other in history.
Whilst his grip or influence on the religions and ideas that have spawned from him is tenuous, at best, he is the conduit for all of them. Chances are, without an Abrahamic figure to justify our thoughts and behaviours, we would just invent one anyway!
I don’t have to believe in the divinity of a God, or of his blessings, to know and understand the importance individual, powerful human beings (especially thousands of years ago as communities were developing, shifting from pastoral-nomadic systems to agricultural, settled ones) can have in changing and shaping our societies. Even today we see popular movements spearheaded by powerful or charismatic individuals, or even just individuals who come to embody the power and charisma, the fervour, of the crowd. If Abraham existed I believe he was such a figure and I believe his influence has shaped what was a morality growing, out of necessity, in a world moving from disperse, mostly nomadic populations, to crowded, settled cities.
I may be alone in the atheistic community for wanting there to be evidence of the existence of Biblical figures, whether Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus etc. It will not make me any more of a believer, just as I don’t believe it will make believes believe any less. Indeed it may strengthen their resolve. What it will do, for me, though, is give me knowledge that there is a firm grounding for these ideas. I will understand that throughout time and history, seemingly innocuous people have been able to make a huge difference on the moral direction of not merely their own societies, but huge swathes of the entire world, through their actions.
Sometimes this is a double-edged sword, and those moralities become corrupted, used and abused for hideous acts of violence and inhumanity in the name of ‘righteousness’ and ‘belief’.
But knowledge is never a bad thing, and if we can understand that it was humans and their human ideas, whether or not with divine inspiration, that sparked these movements, we can then at least make decisions as humans, humane decisions, of what to do with this information.
As it is, I feel too much stock is put in ‘faith’ where that faith simply means an intrinsic entitlement to feel superior. In Christianity (as we’ll see when we get to the New Testament) this is about as far from ‘faith’ as you could possibly comprehend and yet, such is the way of people. Pride is a mortal sin, and one which ‘faith’ can often boldly engender.
Anyway, enough serious talk, God’s about to talk about getting a pensioner up the duff!
To celebrate this joyous abuse of a pensioner’s womb Sarai’s name is also changed, from Sarai to Sarah. Translation-wise I think this represents a shift from, effectively, ‘my princess’ to ‘the princess’.
We find out that Abraham and Sarah are to have a son named Isaac.
Then God buggers off and Abraham immediately takes all the men of his household to get their wieners snipped.
And that’s about where we’ll leave it. We are far from done with the story of Abraham yet. He gets to negotiate with God, have a son named Isaac, attempt to kill him at God’s command, have God say “j/k don’t kill him!” it’s all kicking off!
If there’s any major take-away point from these chapters it’s that the Bible very quickly becomes more of a truncated history than this allegorical creation story. It genuinely feels like there’s a tonal shift, and those earlier stories about Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood are just…stories…Whilst the stuff about Abraham, and as we move forward through Isaac, Jacob, Moses – they all feel a lot more biographical. Even if they’re ‘just stories’ there’s more human substance to them, they’re not abstract creation myths, they’re, if not actually accounts of real lives, at least portraying real lives.
I’ll be honest, that makes it much harder to take the piss out of, although the fact that a 100 year old man is about to fuck a 90 year old woman to have their first son together is pretty out-there! But it becomes a bit easier to see how people can be taken in by the ‘reality’ of the stories.
Narrative is hugely important in terms of how the human mind seems to understand the world. We forge stories constantly, linking events, putting together patterns, with cause and effect linking them all. I think if this book did not have such compelling narrative threads there is no way Christianity would have taken off and become the world’s most dominant religion.
So there we go, some old bloke gets ordered to leave where he’s at and move to Canaan, he scams some Egyptians, moves about, forms an organised crime gang in Canaan, owns some local kings and walks with God.
Not bad for a nomadic shepherd!
Want to catch up on your We Lack Discipline: Preaches?
Introduction – Why I am doing this and the validity of studying the bible for an atheist.
Genesis Chapters 1 to 5 – The creation, Adam and Eve, the Fall and Cain and Abel.
Genesis Chapters 6 to 11 – Noah and the Flood and the Tower of Babel.