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Friday Bible Blogging - Genesis 1 to Genesis 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleThis week's entry covers the first ten chapters of Genesis. This includes some of the best known stories from the Bible - the seven day creation story, the Garden of Eden creation story, temptation, Cain and Abel, and Noah's Ark.

Genesis, Chapter 1

This is the famous seven day creation story, the first of two separate creation stories in Genesis. I've already covered it in detail in the essay, Problems With Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis (also available as a blog entry if you want to comment on it). I also discussed it in my review of an old book, God- or Gorilla, in the sections on Chapters 24 & 25 and Appendices, Part I. Of course, a literal interpretation of this story is completely counter to what we have learned of the true history of the universe, and as discussed in the above links, figurative and allegorical interpretations don't do much to save the accuracy of the story.

If you step outside of a modern perspective and read this story on its own, it seems to be describing a much different world than what we know to be the case. This is discussed in detail at ReligiousTolerance.org. It looks as if the ancient Hebrews believed the land was more or less flat, surrounded by an ocean. The sky was an actual discrete physical dome above the Earth. Stars were points of light embedded in the dome. Above the dome was water (hence the blue color, and why rain would fall from the sky). It is an interesting, if incorrect, view.


Genesis, Chapter 2

This was the second creation story in the Bible, the one that took place in the Garden of Eden. This time, God created Adam first (out of clay), and then created all the animals, letting Adam name them. This had a feel of a just-so story, on how all the animals got their names. There's also the line about Eve being made from one of Adam's ribs, giving rise to the false belief that women have one more rib than men.


Genesis, Chapter 3

This is the chapter where the serpent tempts Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (the type of fruit is never actually specified). This is one of those stories that is just weird when you think about it too much. A god creates people, and tells them not to do something. But apparently, they don't yet have any conception of right and wrong, as evidenced by the fact that they're unashamed to run around naked. So when they do commit an action that's wrong, not knowing that it was wrong beforehand, they get punished for it, and punished rather severely. And then, in verses 22 and 23, it's shown that God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden not because they've eaten the forbidden fruit, but because they might next eat from the tree of life and become like the gods.

This chapter shows a very physical god, that Adam and Eve could hear walking in the garden. This chapter also has a bit of the just-so feel, in explaining why snakes don't have any legs.


Genesis, Chapter 4

This chapter contained the story of Cain and Abel, which I'm sure most people know. As is often pointed out in discussions of this chapter - who was Cain afraid of, when his parents were supposedly the first two people?

There's yet again a just-so aspect, in verses 20 to 22, explaining where different groups of people came from. For example, "Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock." For someone trying to literally accept the Bible as a whole, these three verse do seem a bit odd, since supposedly everybody but Noah's family is going to be killed in just a few more chapters.


Genesis, Chapter 5

This was one of those genealogy sections that I just skimmed through, listing the descendants of Adam and their life spans. The only thing that stood out was Enoch. Every other person mentioned went something like, "Thus all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died." Always ending with, "and he died." But for Enoch, it went, "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him." Although nothing else is mentioned of Enoch in the Old Testament, extra-Biblical sources (such as The Book of Enoch) have Enoch being taken directly to heaven without ever dying.


Genesis, Chapter 6

This chapter started with a little hanky panky going on between angels and mortals, "when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them."

Then the chapter jumped into the story of Noah. Of course, this is the Hebrew variation of the Mesopotamian Flood Myth. Earlier versions include Gilgamesh and the even older Sumerian creation myth.

And of course, there is no way that the flood story is plausible. But rather than spending a lot of time critiquing that here, I'll just link to this article on the TalkOrigins Archive, Problems with a Global Flood, Second Edition.

The Noah story in the Bible starts with one of the teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition that I consider to be one of the worst, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually." On a whole, people are not bad, and it gives people needless guilt to be constantly told that they are so, especially if they believe that the message is coming from their creator. That's not to say that people never do bad things, but there are lots of examples of benevolent actions to balance the scales, and in my opinion, to actually tip the scales in favor of people being more or less good. We just wouldn't have survived as a social species without cooperation and good deeds.

So far as of this chapter, God has only instructed Noah to take two of every kind of animal.


Genesis, Chapter 7

At the start of this chapter, God instructed Noah to take "seven pairs of all clean animals" and "and a pair of the animals that are not clean", not just the pair of every animal that he'd instructed just a few verses before.

Then the floodwaters came - forty days and forty nights of rain and fountains bursting forth from the deep. "21And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; 22everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died."

Now, I know most people don't stop and think too much about this story. Children's books show Noah, his family, and the elephants and giraffes surviving happily on their boat. But just stop and imagine if something like this had actually happened. Think of all the newborn babies, toddlers, precocious seven year olds, expectant mothers, new mothers, proud fathers, newlyweds. Think of the puppies and kittens and baby koalas and cute cuddly polar bear cubs. Think of the hawks and eagles and their fledgling chicks. Think of the ants, and frogs, and freshwater fish. Think of all the life on the entire planet save one boatload full. And now think of them watching the floodwaters come, the fear they felt as they kept climbing to higher ground, wondering when the rising waters would stop. The terror when they finally realized that the waters were going to swallow them, and there was nothing they could do about it. The desperation of trying to save their children, of looking for something, anything, to keep them afloat and keep them from drowning.

Now, I know this story never actually happened, and a good chunk of the Christians in this country don't take it literally. But it really does present a tyrannical monster who caused suffering on an almost unimaginable scale.


Genesis, Chapter 8

The flood waters finally receded, and when a dove finally came back with an olive leaf in its beak, Noah knew the flood was over. So what was the first thing Noah did when got off the ark? He built an altar and slaughtered "of every clean animal and of every clean bird" (when so many species were already on the verge of extinction). Imagine the rivers of blood. And then he burned them, creating a "pleasing odour" to the Lord, who decided that maybe he wouldn't cause a planet wide massacre again.


Genesis, Chapter 9

This chapter wrapped up the flood story with yet another just-so story, explaining where rainbows come from. They are, apparently, God's promise "that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

This chapter also contains the curse of Canaan (also known as the curse of Ham), which was apparently a justification for how the Hebrews would treat the Canaanites, but it's a bit of a bizarre story. Noah had made himself a vineyard, and went and got drunk off of his wine. He got so drunk he passed out naked in his tent. His son, Ham, noticed that he was naked, and went out to tell his brothers. The two other brothers cover up their father with a blanket, apparently walking into the tent backwards so that they wouldn't see him naked. Now, the Bible is not very detailed in the recounting of this story, but I can just imagine something like this happening. A guy gets too drunk and passes out in an embarrassing manner, and one of his sons finds him and goes off snickering to share it with his brothers. The brothers, being a bit more mature, cover up their father instead of just laughing along. But then the story goes off the rails of what you'd expect for a reasonable reaction. When Noah finally came to, he was furious with Ham for pointing out the situation to his brothers, and called down a curse on Ham's son, "Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers." Not only is it a huge overreaction to make someone a slave for being laughed at drunk and passed out, but he punished the son instead of the father. And Noah was supposed to be "a righteous man, blameless in his generation."

And just for the record, this is the first, though certainly not the last, mention of slaves in the Bible. And note that it's to condemn somebody to slavery, not to condemn of forbid the practice itself.


Genesis, Chapter 10

This was another genealogy section, listing the descendants of Noah. Again, it seems like a just-so story, explaining where all the different peoples came from. For example, "These are the descendants of Japheth in their lands, with their own language, by their families, in their nations." I found that mention of "with their own language" to be interesting, since this seems to be an attempt to explain where all the different languages of the world came from, but I know that there's another story coming up soon with the Tower of Babel that attempts to explain the same thing.

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So, after reading the first ten chapters, I can say that even after this little bit, I definitely have a different impression than when I read the Bible as a believer. I don't see it as a coherent work written by a single author. It seems to be pretty clear that it's an amalgamation of many different stories, sometimes even seeming to be combining different versions of the same story. It reminds me of papers, proposals, and school projects I've seen where someone cuts and pastes from the input of a few people to make the final product, still leaving rough edges between the snippets.

So far, I don't foresee this exercise doing anything to win me back to religion. In fact, reading the Bible with clear eyes is probably doing more to reinforce the fact that it's not a divinely inspired book. I know many of my comments throughout this project are going to be pointing out absurdities and oddities, but I do still find parts of the Bible interesting. It's a bit like reading about the labors of Hercules or the exploits of the Hero Twins in the Popol Vuh. The difference is that I'm not surrounded by a society that believes two young Mayans fed Seven Macaw poisoned meat and then buried him forever. It's because so many people do take the Biblical myths seriously that I'm going to be a bit more critical with it than other mythologies.


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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