Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Genesis 25-27: Pericopes of patriarchal progenitorial prowess

Abraham may be "well stricken in age" but that doesn't stop him from taking a new wife (Katurah) after the passing of Sarah, and fathering six more children thereafter. I get now why they call this guy Father Abraham. One begins to get the sense that the point of enumerating all these various offspring (and their respective cities) is to mythically link together the diversity of tribes living throughout the ancient near east, and perhaps more importantly, to put the Sons of Jacob (later rechristened "Israel") in pride of place among all the many children of Abraham.

Oddly enough, Isaac pulls the old "she is my sister" gag on the king of Gerar, just like his father before him. Why didn't Abraham tell his sons that this trick doesn't play well in Gerar? Personally, I think that Hebrew narrators are running out of original ideas fairly early on in a thick book. Maybe they are just into bragging about their super-hot foremothers, who were evidently the envy of kings.

In a familiar tale, Esau sells his birthright for a mess of pottage, because although he was a cunning hunter, he wasn't a good negotiator. In his defense, lentil stew can be really delicious. I'm wondering what the moral of this story is, and supposing that it can't really be about the price of stew. Eventually, Esau takes a wife, and another wife, and they prove to be "a grief of mind unto" Esau's parents. The new mother-in-law says "I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth." Isn't that just the way of it with new wives?

Speaking of dirty tricks, we get to see Jacob putting on the goatskins and pulling the wool over Isaac's old eyes. This story has always puzzled me, even when pastors tried to draw something useful out of it. Are we supposed to believe that paternal blessings and curses are magic words that may be chanted only once and thereafter cannot be revoked? "Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing," says Isaac, evidently powerless to bless his favored son.

The best lesson I can take from these stories is that if you send your big hairy brother, the guy who kills wild beasts for a living, into a murderous rage, be sure to hide away in a foreign land for awhile. This is not what I told the kids in Sunday School, but it's the best I've got.

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