Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 9

We now turn to the post-flood world and learn more about God's "promises" and find out that Noah could be a bit testy when he was hungover.

Genesis 9:2
In this verse God says every living creature of the earth and every bird will be terrified of mankind. This is kind of odd because there are quite a few land animals and birds that are not at all terrified of humans, especially in places like the Galapagos where, up until recently, there was no human presence. People can just walk right up to frigate birds on the islands and they won't fly away. Similarly, dodo birds who lived in isolation on the island of Mauritius had no natural fear of humans and were easily hunted into extinction. It's almost like animals that were around humans evolved to fear them because of selective pressure caused by easily being killed by them. Nah, that can't be it. Evolution is just a fairy tale for grown-ups.

Just look at how terror-stricken all these animals are!

Genesis 9:4-5
Prohibition is made against eating bloody meat. It would have been easy for the ancients to conclude that blood was the source of a creature’s life essence as any time they observed major blood loss it would have looked like something’s life was literally draining out of it. We now know what blood actually is and does.

Genesis 9:6
Here we find the foundational verse for the biblical argument for capital punishment and it’s based on the fact that man was made in the image of Elohim. If this universal truth was applied at creation why wasn’t Cain’s blood or Lamech’s blood required of them for their homicides? The principle that forms the basis for this statute had been around for well over a thousand years. Why all of a sudden does God decide to enforce it now? The argument could be made that Cain and Lamech were indeed punished through the extinction of their descendants in the flood...except their blood was not shed. They were drowned. Again the capricious deity is changing the rules.

Genesis 9:7
Noah and his family are told to be fruitful and multiply. Didn’t we just read this about 6 verses ago? Was Moses just being repetitive for emphasis, or is this another doublet resulting from the editing together of different source material?

Genesis 9:8-17
The word “covenant” is used no less than six times in this passage, yet it’s not associated with the covenantal name “Yahweh.” Rather “Elohim” is used in confirming this covenant. One could argue that this is due to the universal rather than personal nature of this covenant and perhaps that works. It does raise some questions, however, when one takes this reasoning and applies it to chapters 1 and 2 wherein Adam is supposed to represent all of humanity.

The reminder of this covenant is a rainbow. Elohim places it in the sky whenever he brings clouds over the land so that he remembers that he promised not to wipe everything out again...with a flood that is. Fire is apparently still on the table. The bow, of course, represents judgment and by hanging it in the sky, Elohim is symbolically saying that his killin’ days are over.
"I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea,
    a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
though the waves toss, they cannot prevail;
    though they roar, they cannot pass over it."
Jeremiah 5:22

We’re left to conclude that rainbows did not exist prior to the flood. That’s perfectly plausible to an ancient mind that believes a rainbow is a mystical object in the sky. It causes some real problems, however, for people who know better. There are three ways this idea works based on what we now know of light refraction: there was no liquid water in the atmosphere from which a rainbow could form, there was no sunlight, or light did not refract. The last two would make life and sight impossible. Most creationists seem to prefer the first option, making the pre-flood hydrologic cycle mystical or completely incoherent.

Genesis 9:18-19
In a parenthetical remark the text reminds us - even though this is the first time his name appears in the text - that Canaan was sired by Ham. Why Ham gave his son this name is a mystery. Haven’t these people realized how this naming stuff works yet? The name Canaan comes from a root word meaning “humiliated.” Really, Ham? You named your kid “he who is humiliated.” Nice.

The incredibly ethnocentric nature of this text should be readily apparent by now. The author doesn’t like Canaanites or any Hamites at all for that matter, but especially Canaanites. Naturally we get some backstory explaining why it’s totally OK to hate these people. We’ll get a similarly humiliating story when we come to the origin narrative for the rival Moabites and Ammonites later on. It seems that the nearer the cultural threat the more worthy of derision a particular ethnic group is based on its ignoble founding.

Genesis 9:20-27
On the surface, it appears that Noah plants a vineyard, drinks wine, gets drunk and strips off all his clothes. Ham goes in and sees his father naked and then goes and tells his two brothers who are outside the tent. Shem and Japheth take a garment and walk backwards into the tent and cover their father. Noah sobers up and curses his grandson, not Ham the offending party, into slavery and blesses Shem and Japheth.
"We're totally telling dad about this when he sobers up, Ham."

The story makes absolutely no sense whatsoever on its face. It’s not that it has never made sense; it’s just that the cultural context has been completely lost. Numerous guesses have been made ranging from positing that seeing your parents naked was really, really bad in this culture to supposing that Ham went in and raped or castrated Noah while his son Canaan was present. No one knows. Everyone is guessing. To take the story on its face just seems really weird given how Noah reacts. The original audience must have had some additional context that we just don’t get and never will unless someone digs up some really ancient expanded version of the story that gives more details.

There are clues, at least, that suggest some kind of sexual deviancy or perversion here. Leviticus 18 uses a euphemism similar to the one employed here to denote sexual relations. Additionally there is a Hurrian legend about the god Kumarbi castrating his father Anu, laughing about it and being cursed. When compared to the origin story for the Moabites and Ammonites, which also involved drunken sexual perversion, we see that dehumanizing rivals by having them originate from sexual deviants appears almost thematic.

Either the Bible has left us with an incomplete account of what occurs so that we will never know what really went on or this is the complete story and Noah, a man who was "blameless in his generation", pronounced slavery and ultimately genocide upon the descendants of his own grandson - a guy who wasn’t even there and already has a crappy name to begin with - simply because he got drunk, stripped naked and then was seen by his son.

Any way you look at it, it’s really messed up. God is going to order the complete annihilation of these people and this incident is what sets it off. Imagine if your grandfather got drunk and made a fool of himself, your dad saw it accidentally, and when your grandfather woke up he wished enslavement upon you and your descendants forever. Now imagine that God himself makes sure that curse plays out.

Regardless of what Ham did, it’s very troubling that God follows through on this to the point that he orders the enslavement and genocide of thousands (millions according to Exodus) of people based on the irrational curses of a belligerent, hung over old man whose own actions were the cause of the whole incident to begin with. Is this supposed to be a cautionary tale against pronouncing curses while you’re hung over? Again, how does this distinguish this deity from other capricious gods who behaved similarly? If this really happened, is it any wonder that the Canaanites worshiped and served other gods?
Can we really blame Ham for facepalming?

A minor oddity here is the fact that verse 24 calls Ham Noah’s youngest son. In every listing of the sons of Noah (there have been four thus far and two more will follow), Ham is placed between Shem and Japheth. Normally this would indicate birth order. At least one apologist points out that the Hebrew word qatan could also mean “smallest.” One wonders how pointing out that Ham was short adds anything meaningful to the narrative. If anything it creates more problems, given that the incredible stature of several notable descendants of Ham will be mentioned later.

Noah lived 350 years after the Flood, meaning Abraham – yes, Abraham – was nearly 60 years old when Noah died. Noah outlived his great, great, great grandson Peleg by ten years. He outlived his great, great, great, great, great, great grandson Nahor by nine years. I wonder if Noah bounced little Abraham on his knee or if he told him all about shipbuilding or about the time they did rock, paper, scissors to determine which of his sons got to play host to venereal diseases on the ark (I'm betting it was Ham). Hey, maybe that’s why Abraham waited until after Noah was dead to try to have kids. He was worried he might accidentally walk in on the old man naked and drunk and get one of his children cursed into slavery.

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