And then they knew shame

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That feeling when you suddenly realize that you’ve forgotten to close the vine curtains…

(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

If God had hired a contractor

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(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

The First Take-Out Rib Joint

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(H/T: Exploring Our Matrix)

A man has need of a companion

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Joke - Billy the Rib

People just don’t appreciate fruit anymore


Klondike Bar

(h/t: Cheezburger)

Moses and Abraham

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As I’m reading about Moses, it occurred to me that there are a few similarities to the stories about Abraham. I’m not saying that there is a connection, but it’s interesting to look at. I can’t help but wonder if the two heroes were not occasionally confused, or if stories were sometimes mis-attributed (and then the new associations carried forward).


Both Moses and Abraham are immigrants to Canaan (though ***SPOILERS*** Moses doesn’t quite make it). Abraham came from the east, from the Ur region (“of the Chaldeans”), as we see in Genesis 11. Moses comes from the west, from Egypt – as we see in Exodus 2.

It seems that there’s a strong cultural memory about coming into Canaan from the outside, whether by following Abraham or by following Moses. It may be that, when the two narratives were merged into a single tradition, Abraham’s cycle was placed before Moses’ as an attempt to legitimize Moses’ later entry into Canaan (and its conquering by Joshua), since it would have established a prior Hebrew claim to the land (something the Abraham narrative is clearly all about).

Perhaps Abraham is the initial settler of the rural shrine priests, and Moses is the initial settler of the urban sanctuary priests…

Wives that matter

In both the narratives of Moses and Abraham, we see hints of wives who matter in a possibly cultic capacity. Twice, Abraham is said to have prostituted his wife, Sarah, to a king (to an Egyptian pharaoh in Genesis 12, and to Abimelech in Genesis 20). I have no idea how much credence this is given in scholarly circles, but it does – superficially, at least – sound vaguely like an echo of Inanna (or a similar myth) being brought into the Israelite belief system.

According to Wikipedia, there was Sumerian ritual referred to as the Sacred Marriage Rite in which a king would symbolically take the place of Inanna’s consort Dumuzi and sleep with her (represented on earth by a high priestess). This consummation between king and goddess granted the king’s reign legitimacy. By sleeping with Inanna, the king was placing himself as the earthly representation of the god-king Dumuzi – in much the same way as Egyptian Pharaohs would be seen as earthly representations of the god Horus.

So when we see Sarah sleeping with two kings, it seems that she is performing Inanna’s function, indicating that she may either be a shadow of a historical high priestess or an appropriation of the goddess herself. Either way, she seems to be cultically important. (Incidentally, we see the same story repeated a third time in Genesis 26, except this time it’s Isaac prostituting Rebekah to Abimelech.)

[If Sarah/Rebekah really are shadows of Inanna, I find it interesting that in the Biblical stories, it is the men – Abraham and Isaac – who are the active agents in getting their wives into bed with the kings, rather than something the women themselves are initiating.]

In Exodus 4, Moses falls deathly ill. In order to save him, his wife – Zipporah – circumcises their son and rubs the foreskin on Moses’ feet. Either this story is a different tradition of the origin of the commandment to circumcise (which, I’ll note, was otherwise given to Abraham in Genesis 17), or the practice had fallen by the wayside at some point (either culturally or just Moses, given his rather unusual infancy).

Regardless, Zipporah serves a cultic function – symbolically sacrificing Moses’ son and saving Moses from God’s wrath. It’s even possible that Zipporah is positioned as the initiator of the circumcision ritual.

A sacrificed son

Both Moses and Abraham must symbolically sacrifice their sons. In Genesis 22, Abraham is told by God that he must sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham follows God’s instructions and, once God is satisfied that Abraham really totally would go through with it, his hand is stayed and a lamb is sacrificed instead.

In Exodus 4, God tries to kill Moses, but Moses is saved just in time when Zipporah circumcises their son. I’ve discussed this elsewhere, but it seems that circumcision – in that it endangers the mechanism by which a man might have descendants – may be a stand-in for child sacrifice. As with Isaac, it seems that Moses’ son is symbolically sacrificed to avert God’s wrath.

I find it interesting to note that Moses is shown to have only one son in the Exodus 4 story, though he has at least two everywhere else (that I’ve noticed). This parallels nicely with Abraham who, at this point in the narrative, also has only one son (having abandoned his other son in the wilderness).


So, what do you think? Is it plausible to think that both Moses and Abraham may have come from a single tradition, or that they might both be patriarch figures whose narratives have gotten a little muddled together at times? Have you encountered this theory before?

On the worth of reading the Bible


I often get asked why I would bother reading the Bible if I don’t believe in God, and I have my stock set of answers, but it’s not often that I find an atheist who agrees with me that it’s worth bothering with.

In Dale McGowan’s new book, Atheist for Dummies, he recommends reading it because of the book’s cultural relevance. In his own words:

[M]ost people are only familiar with that carefully handpicked sampler of inspiring passages from the Bible. For each and every inspirational passage that finds its way into pulpits, and needlepoint pillows, half a dozen immoral horrors stay pretty well hidden. When you decide to read the book on your own, without a filter, a very different picture emerges. (p.43)

But, of course, the Bible is long and finding the time and emotional fortitude to wade through such a long book can be difficult. So McGowan recommends at least reading through two books: Genesis and Matthew.

Religious scholar Stephen Prothero estimates that 80 percent of the religious references you’ll hear in American culture – from political speeches to figures of speeches to Christmas caroles – get their start in one of those two books. (p.43)

In total, he estimates that these two books should take a total of six hours or less to read (much much more if you’re blogging, of course!), so it’s a reachable goal by most people’s standards.

Do you agree with McGowan’s assessment? Can you get a good idea of the Bible by reading only these two books? Is even that much a waste of time (realizing that my sampling is probably biased)?

Book Review: The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

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The Book of Genesis presents the text of Genesis in graphic novel form. It’s an interesting – but dangerous – project. The Bible is so important to such a large number of people (on all sides of the Great Theological Divide) that it’s pretty much impossible not to offended someone. I think the comments on illustrate this. Here’s two quotes from one-stare reviews:

I have not purchased this book, but have read the first chapter online. As a Jew, I am personally affronted by picturing God as an old man with the flowing beard and robes. God is noncorporeal and God’s name ineffable, and the Ten Commandments warns us against any kind of god-imagery, which can lead to idolatry.

Crumb’s illustrated Genesis is quite an amazing illustration accomplishment, but I’m afraid it’s NOT quite a success. The artistry certainly is eyeball-boggling, but Crumb is so overly respectful of the source material that he doesn’t add anything to it. There’s no breath of life to it at all. My honest opinion is that it lacks in personality, just as the Bible itself does (for me).

Between these and all the people who thought that it must be a book for children because it involved pictures and we can see where the issues lie.

Crumb, R - Book of GenesisThat being said, however, I found that Crumb handled his subject with great fairness. There’s no dearth of commentaries/illustrations that poke fun at the Bible, or that use paraphrasing or illustrations to make the stories seem more ridiculous than they are. I mentioned in my discussion on the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible that there seems to be too great of a focus on that site to find “gotcha” moments, even to the point of ignoring context. But Crumb’s illustrations remain pretty straightforward and literal. Where interpretation is required, I found him to be rather uncontroversial.

The format is quite interesting. Rather than paraphrase the text, Crumb has essentially just stuffed it into a graphic novel format, so that speech is presented in speech bubbles and narrative text gets text boxes. The result is that the text of Genesis is presented nearly in its entirety in what appears to be a pretty solid translation (he primarily uses Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses, though the breadth of his research shows and he mentions consulting with Hebrew-speaking friends as well).

The art style is quite gorgeous. It’s very detailed, but also stylized in a way that accentuates musculature even in the female characters. The use of lines reminded me of the woodcuts used to illustrate old King James editions, which really worked in this context. And, though I’m far from being an expert, I was quite impressed with the presentations of culturally-specific details such as clothing, hair styles, and buildings. There is quite a bit of nudity, but it isn’t too gratuitous (although all the nipples showing through shirts might be a bit much).

Crumb also includes commentaries at the back of the book that I found quite interesting. He presents a theory – which he found in the book Sarah the Priestess by Savina Teubal – that many of the tales in Genesis are actually remnants of the battle between the matriarchal/matrilineal and the patriarchal/patrilineal cultural influences in early Hebrew culture. He doesn’t delve into too much detail, but I found his arguments interesting and I’d love to get my hands on Teubal’s book!

If you’re thinking of reading through Genesis for yourself but are feeling a bit daunted by the writing style, I don’t hesitate to recommend that you give Crumb’s book a try.

Lost in translation #2: Cultural memory and the Fallen Angel

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I’ve mentioned before how my perceptions of some of the Bible’s stories are much longer, and more detailed, than the stories themselves. This is because the Bible’s stories are – despite the sola scriptura posturing of many protestant denominations – largely transmitted culturally rather than textually, and that means that details, associations, and references all get added and mixed in with the pure text versions (though, even here, the textual variations between manuscripts and, especially, between translations make things even more complicated).

The example of what I mean that most people would be familiar with is the harmonization of the New Testament gospel stories. When we build a nativity scene, we have a little crèche, three wise men, the shepherds, and a star overhead – but how many people know that the shepherds are only found in Luke and that the star and wise men are only found in Matthew? The fact that these are details of two separate stories has been entirely lost in the cultural tradition.

But what I wanted to talk about today specifically is a text called Genesis B or “The Later Genesis.” This text is found in the “Codex Junius 11,” spliced into an entirely different version of Genesis known as Genesis A, despite being very different in style and repeating some of the same story-lines. We don’t know why someone thought it would be a good idea to just stick the one into the middle of the other, but it makes for an interesting reflection of what happened with the Bible’s own two creation stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

The version of the story that I will be quoting from is Charles W. Kennedy’s translation, found in Early English Christian Poetry Translated into Alliterative Verse (Hollis & Carter: London, 1952), but I found another translation online if you would like to read the whole thing for yourself.

In the Bible

From 'The Garden of Eden' by Jacob de Backer, 16th cent

From ‘The Garden of Eden’ by Jacob de Backer, 16th cent

To recap the Bible’s version of this story, Genesis 1 has God creating the heavens and the earth, including a blow-by-blow account of his daily To Do list, culminating in his handing over of the earth to Adam for “dominion.” Genesis 2 repeats the same portion of the story.

In Genesis 3, a serpent (not identified as Satan, Lucifer, or anything other than simply a snake) chats with Eve with convinces her to eat a piece of fruit from a special tree, and Eve then convinces Adam to do the same. The two humans suddenly realize that they are naked, are caught by God, punishments are dolled out, and the couple is expelled from Eden.

It’s a pretty bare bones version of the story that most people are familiar with. But, as you will see, much of what many who haven’t directly read the Genesis account (and even some who have!) think is part of the Biblical story is actually missing, but can be found in Genesis B.

In Genesis B

Genesis B picks up with a description of God’s favourite angel, whom he has made especially strong and “mighty of mind,” making him his right-hand and “next unto God.” But this angel was “ungrateful and bold”:

By his own strength only     he thought to construct
A mightier throne     and a higher heaven.

(Curious about the odd spacing? It’s called a Caesura.)

So the angel convinces a group of his fellow angels to join him and they rebel against God. Understandably, God is not pleased, and he banishes the rebel angels to Hell, changing them into “fiends” and giving the lead angel the name Satan.

Satan is upset and feels like he and his companions have been treated unfairly:

He has wrought us wrong,
In hurling us down     to the fiery depths of hell,
Deprived of heaven.     He has marked those heights
For man to settle.     ‘Tis my greatest sorrow
That Adam, fashioned     and formed of earth,
Should hold my high seat     and abide in bliss
While we suffer this torture,     this torment in hell.

So Satan concocts a plan to get revenge. He isn’t powerful enough to attack God directly, as his earlier rebellion showed, but he can attack God’s “thralls” – Adam and Eve:

Let us wrest heaven’s realm     from the sons of men,
Make them forfeit His favour,     break His command.
Then His rage will be kindled.     He will cast them from grace;
They shall be banished     to hell’s grim abyss.
We shall have them to serve us,     the sons of men,
As slaves fast-bound     in these fettering bonds.

As in the pagan Germanic war stories that Genesis B copies, Satan asks for volunteers from among his thanes to conduct an attack against God’s thanes.

When the two trees of the garden are introduced, Genesis B tells us that God had put them there so that the sons of men “might choose of good or evil,     weal or woe.”

So Satan “put[s] on     the form of the serpent” and approaches Adam. He tells Adam that he is a messenger, sent by God to tell Adam to eat the fruit. This, he claims, would increase Adam’s strength, attractiveness, and mental might as a reward for having obeyed God so well.

But Adam isn’t fooled. God had warned him not to be “beguiled / Or ever tempted” into eating from the “tree of death,” and Satan hasn’t brought a token of faith to prove that he was sent by God.

Satan then appeals to Eve and tells her that God will be so mad that they aren’t listening to His messenger. Not only can she spare her future children God’s wrath if she obeys, she’ll also get a few perks: “Over Adam thereafter     you shall have sway.”

Eve, convinced, bites the fruit.

You’ll note that this account makes Eve’s culpability far more clear than the Biblical account (in which Eve may have been the one to succumb simply because she was the first to be approached). The added detail of a failed temptation involving Adam reflects the evolution of thought about Eve, and the desire to make her special guilt in the story absolutely clear.

To get her to agree to convince Adam to eat the apples as well, Satan changes Eve’s vision so that everything seems even more beautiful. Thinking the change comes from eating the fruit, Eve goes to Adam and tells him about her wonderful new powers of vision, arguing that such a cool power could only have come from God.

Eve is successful in seducing Adam on Satan’s behalf, and Adam eats the apple. Satan gloats, Adam and Eve are ashamed. Adam gets the last speech and uses it to yell at Eve.

The Fallen Angel

So where does all that stuff about Satan being a “Fallen Angel” come from? It certainly doesn’t come from Genesis 1-3, despite what our cultural instruction might tell us. In the canonical Bible, we have the following references:

Genesis 6:1-4 – In this passage, we’re told that the “sons of God” (assumed to refer to members of God’s heavenly court, i.e.: angels) descended to earth of their own accord in order to mate with human women.

Isaiah 14:1-17 – This is where we get a reference to someone nicknamed “the morning star” who has “fallen from heaven” (Isaiah 14:12). But within the context of the text, this refers to the king of Babylon, not to an angel and certainly not to Satan.

Revelation 12:3-14 – This is our closest match, in which a dragon with angels on his side fights against Michael and his angels. The dragon loses the fight and, therefore, his “place in heaven.” The dragon is called “ancient serpent,” “devil,” and “Satan.” The whole story of the battle is given in a single paragraph and lacks all detail as to the possible motives for the battle.

(There’s a bit more extra-canonical stuff, particularly Enoch 7-8, which expands on Genesis 6:1-4 story. Though in this case, the beings of God’s court are called “the Watchers.”)

And that’s it – such a well-known part of the Genesis story is not part of the biblical Genesis story at all. The fact that the Bible is a written text gives it the aura of unchangeability, but the stories of the Bible are still part of a living tradition. The stories that children are taught in Sunday School, or that we use to construct our holiday decorations, or that we imagine when given prompts from the text are imbued with details and associations that are extra-biblical.

So when we talk about the immutability of the Words of God as set forth in the Scriptures (capitalisation conveys authority, didntcha know!), we’d do well to remember that they aren’t quite so immutable as we may think.


NOTE: The story of Genesis B may sound a little familiar to anyone who has read, heard of, or studied Milton’s Paradise Lost. Certainly, the general details of the story are eerily similar.

Franciscus Junius, who published the first edition of the manuscript containing Genesis B in 1655, was a contemporary of Milton’s and, apparently, the two seem to have been acquainted. This has led some to speculate that Milton drew at least some of his inspiration from the Genesis B text.

If God had a website…

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Paul Simms of the New Yorker has a webpage up for God and it’s pretty gosh darn funny!

UPDATE: Pretty pleased with what I’ve come up with in just six days. Going to take tomorrow off. Feel free to check out what I’ve done so far. Suggestions and criticism (constructive, please!) more than welcome. God out.

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