Next month in Ireland we will have a referendum on allowing same-sex couples the right to marry each other. As you can imagine, the main opposition to this is coming from religious groups, with the usual talk of traditional marriage as God intended. What is strange is that if you actually read the Bible, there is a striking absence of traditional marriage or family values in general.
After all, Jacob had not only two wives, but he also got his two servants pregnant with his wives blessing. Abraham too gets his slave pregnant and seems unconcerned when she and his son are banished. Abraham also has several concubines (Genesis 25:6), the exact number isn’t said. Esau had three wives: Adah, Oholibamah and Basemath (who was also his aunt) (Genesis 36:2-3). There is a striking lack of family values or even blood loyalty as we see repeated examples of brothers betray brothers and sons cheat fathers. The very first Biblical family saw Cain murder his brother Abel. Ham, the son of Noah, did something that caused his father to curse him. Lot offered his daughters to a mob, the daughters later got him drunk and get pregnant by him. God demanded that Abraham violate the strongest family bonds by murdering his own son. Jacob and Rebekah conspired to scam Isaac and rob Esau. And all of this is before we begin today’s reading.
Today’s story begins with Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, who is raped by Prince Shechem (Genesis 34:2). The Prince falls in love with his victim and his father, King Hamor, offers an alliance with Jacob if Shechem can marry Dinah. Jacob and his sons hide their feelings, requesting only that Shechem and his people are circumcised. Hamor agrees to this and all the people of his city are circumcised and a union is agreed. Three days later while the men are still “sore”, the sons of Jacob kill them all (Red Wedding style). However, rather than just take revenge on those who raped their sister, they “killed all the males” and plundered the city (Genesis 34:25-7). “All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in their houses, they captured and plundered.” (Genesis 34:29). Now I can understand taking revenge (it’s not very loving or forgiving, but understandable), but why punish the whole city? Why slaughter innocent men? Why take their wives and children, presumably to be sold as slaves and probably raped too? Why commit the very crimes that outraged them in the first place? Why do the chosen people act in such a murderous fashion and why does God not stop them?
Then we have a couple boring pages of genealogy before we come to Joseph and his robe of many colours (which can also be translated as robe with long sleeves, which just isn’t as good). Joseph had a lot of dreams, which apparently were significant, even though if God was trying to contact humans, dreams would probably be the worst way of doing so. Most of the time, people forget their dreams or dream such weird stuff that literally any interpretation could be drawn. Anyways, Jacob’s sons hated Joseph so one day they sold him into slavery and told his father that a wild animal had killed him (Genesis 37).
The Bible takes an odd diversion away from the story of Joseph and talks about Judah; one of Jacob’s other sons. “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.” (Genesis 38:7) This is very odd, because we have no idea what Er did, and at this point there were still no rules from God. How was Er supposed to know he had done wrong? Also, this raises the question of whether or not God kills wicked people? There are plenty of examples of evil people living their life in peace without God striking them down, so what did Er do differently? Or why does God only strike down people who lived long along before records were kept? Anyways, Judah tells Er’s brother Onan to “perform his duty” by which he means make his dead brothers wife, Tamar, pregnant. These are really weird family values. Onan doesn’t want to make his sister-in-law pregnant (she doesn’t get a say in any of this) as the child would be the son of Er, not him (is that how it worked?). So Onan “would waste the semen on the ground”. But “what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.” (Genesis 38:10) Really? When does the loving God show up because so far all we’ve got is a tyrant that kills people for bizarre or no reason at all? Do we have to wait for the New Testament?
Just in case this story wasn’t odd enough, it gets really weird. Tamar one day covers her face with a veil and sits on the side of the road. Her father-in-law Judah sees her and “he thought she was a prostitute” (Genesis 38:15). I know I say this in every post, but this is really messed up. I mean who writes this crazy stuff? How can anyone in all seriousness claim that this is greatest book ever that can help people with moral issues? Imagine if people did life their lives according to the Bible, how messed up with that be? So Tamar, rather than correcting her father-in-law’s mistake like a normal person, sleeps with him in exchange for his staff and sigil (why did he not recognise her? Did she keep the veil on? Was it dark and/or was he drunk?).
Three months later, Judah is told that Tamar has been immoral (irony alert) and pregnant. Judah orders her to be burned (Genesis 38:24). What the actual fuck! As a rule I don’t curse on this blog, but this is seriously fucked up. This stuff would turn anyone into a feminist, the man can sleep with prostitutes, but if a woman sleeps with anyone she gets burned! At the last moment she reveals the staff and sigil saying it belongs to the man who got her pregnant. Judah gets embarrassed and the story ends. I’ll be damned if anyone can find a moral in that story.
Meanwhile, Joseph earns the trust of his slave master and is put in charge of his land. However, the masters wife tries to seduce him (oh these Biblical women, always causing trouble for our righteous men). She keeps trying and he keeps rejecting her (knowing the Bible probably because she’s not related to him) and eventually she accuses him of trying to rape her and he gets thrown into the dungeons (Genesis 39). He then interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh’s servants and word eventually reaches Pharaoh who asks him to interpret his dream. Joseph tells him that seven fat cows followed by seven lean cows (a metaphor still used today) means there will be seven good harvests followed by a seven year famine (could God not just prevent the famine?). So Pharaoh (it’s never said which Pharaoh because then we might know if the story is true) taxes one-fifth of the harvest to be stored to prepare for the famine (nice Keynesian counter-cyclical policy). Joseph is put in charge of the granaries with only Pharaoh being more important than him (Genesis 41).
The dreams of course come true and “all the Earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe all over the Earth.” (Genesis 41:57) Really, the entire Earth came to Egypt? People from Ireland, Australia, America, Peru and China came all the way to Egypt? Or perhaps God/whoever wrote the Bible thought the Middle East was all of the Earth?
Jacob too is affected by the famine and he sends his sons to find food. They meet Joseph but don’t recognise him. He remembers them but rather than tell them straight away he drags the whole thing out over four chapters (Genesis 42-46). It gets repetitive and the point is made long before the story is over, so I’m going to skim through this. Basically, Josephs toys with his brothers, puts them in prison, gives them a scaring before revealing himself and giving them piles of gold. All the descendants of Isaac (66 men, the woman aren’t counted) then come to live in Egypt.
Meanwhile the famine continues and Joseph keeps selling grain until he has collected all the money in Egypt and Canaan (Genesis 47:14). But the people are still starving, so he takes their livestock in exchange for food (couldn’t the starving people just eat the livestock?). What about the poor who have neither money nor livestock? But the next year the people are still starving, so they request that they be bought as slaves (sure they did). So Joseph buys all the land and people in Egypt and turns them into slaves (Genesis 47:20-1). Let me stop here. Why does Joseph not just give the food away for free? Wouldn’t that be better, kinder and more just than turning the country into some sort of communist slave society? This is problematic, because Joseph and the Israelites don’t seem to have any problems with slaves, their only problem is if they are slaves not slave owners.
Jacob then blesses his sons (who represent the twelve tribes of Israel) on his deathbed. These blessings are mostly animal metaphors and supposed to represent the tribes of Israel as they were in the time this was written, but to be honest; they’re so vague that they could mean anything. After him, Joseph dies and that’s where the Book of Genesis ends.
So the next time someone talks about Biblical family values, you can remind about the story of Judah who sleeps with his daughter-in-law and almost burns her for doing so. Er and Onan who are killed by the supposedly loving God for no reason or Joseph’s brothers who think about killing him but then sell him into slavery. Nor is Joseph much of a model considering he is (allegedly) the reason why Egypt became a slave society. So looking at the first book of the Bible, I don’t see much love or understanding. Instead God and his chosen people are hateful, deceitful, incestuous, murderous and cruel. The idea that the Bible can teach us how to live a moral live is absolute nonsense.