Friday, 9 August 2013

Did the Exodus really happen? - Exodus: 1-15

The Pentateuch is suspected to have been written by four author's over a broad period of time according the JEDP theory: The Yahwish source (J), who used the name Yahweh when speaking of God, and the Elohist source (E) who used Elohim as God's name, wrote approximately between 1000-800BC; The Deuteronomist source (D) focused on centrallised worship and politics in around 600BC; and the Priestly source (P) who refers to God as Elohim and El-Shaddai around 500BC [1]. Traditionally Moses is believed to have been the author but historically this does not seem accurate.

The reason I bring this up here is because the Exodus raises issues when considered in a historically factual sense and so it is important to see where the story originates. As far as archaeology can tell there is no clear evidence for a literal mass exodus of Jews from Egypt after years of slavery, yet many theories can loosely try to refer to it. The oppression of the Jews in Egypt and their deliverance from God to the promised land is a fundamental part of the Jewish tradition. For me it does not take away great significance to the meaning of the story if it did not truly happen, but this would not go down well with those belonging to the Abrahmic faiths. But if the Exodus did happen surely something a big as this would be recorded somewhere? True, the Egyptians are known to have covered up their failures and presented them as victories (Ramses and the Battle of Qadesh), and so it is possible that they would not have advertised such a humiliation; but the record of mass Jewish slavery surely would have required legal documentation somewhere? 

A date for the Exodus has thus been impossible to conclude. It must have been at the earliest 1650BC as in 14:6 the king of Egypt 'had his chariot made ready and took his army with him' in pursuit of the Hebrews after they had fled - chariots were introduced to Egypt during the occupation of the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period of Egyptian history, and were not used before then.  If this was the case then the author (of whom is likely one of the above mentioned between 1000-500BC) would be writing hundreds of years after. To complicate the date issue it is possible his retrospective narrating may be coloured by his own experiences and may not be historically accurate, assuming that the Egyptians had chariots at the time of this story... Nevertheless if we go with this idea, we are still left with a huge time span of possible dates and pharaohs - if this did indeed truly happen. The expulsion of the Hyksos, an Asiatic people who could be seen as the ancestors of the Israelites, may be interpreted as the origin of this story. 

The Hyksos were not slaves to the Egyptians, and even ruled the North for a time. In some instances they were hired as workers for their foreign skills, but this cannot compare the slavery that goes with the Jewish story; they certainly didn't build any pyramids. But they were forced out of Egypt and Egypt was reunified after. If this is the origin of the story then I believe that the writers of Exodus had heard of this history and identified with the Hyksos people, re-writing the story for their own purposes.

It has also been suggested that this story is based even later and even more further from its narrative telling. As eventually written in Isiah, in the 6th Century BC the Israelites were under the dominion of the Babylonians and when Babylon fell, the Israelites were freed. The exodus could be a re-telling of this story of freedom; however, why would the Jews need two such stories?

As I am not a Biblical historian I shall leave the debate here, concluding that I do not believe the exodus happened literally as the Bible dictates and I believe it is a re-telling of old myths or historical happenings, modified to create a sense of identity for the Israelite people.

Names of God - Exodus 3-6:1-8

I now move on two the second book in the Pentateuch: Exodus. Instead of narrating the whole story to you - of which I am sure many people already know - I will instead try to highlight key areas of interest. 

I wish to quickly start with a small comparison of Moses' flight from Pharaoh to the Egyptian story of Sinuhe, in which a high official to the now deceased Pharaoh, flees to the land of the Asiatics for safety (supposedly worried about being blamed for the mysterious death?); Sinuhe is welcomed by the people and lives a successful life there, before returning to Egypt. Many of the Biblical stories bare similarities to other myths, mostly Mesopotamian ones, and so it is possible that this was inspired from the Egyptian tale.

Now in this post I am focusing on the names of God given in this particular section. This starts with the dialogue between Moses and God in the Burning Bush. Moses asks God what his name is so that the Israelites will know that he has truly been sent by their God and so God responds:

3:14: '"I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: "I AM has sent me to you."' God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob - has sent me to you,' This is my name for ever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation."'

The first line of course is curious. The Hebrew for 'Lord' sounds like the Hebrew for 'I Am' and so may be the origin of this. It seems to be an affirmation of his existence, so maybe he is one who exists? At this stage in the Bible God still appears to be a tribal God of the Israelite people, and less so a universal God of all peoples, as shown here.

This name seems to change later on where God explains that he has revealed himself under different names to Moses' ancestors:

6:2-3: '"I am the Lord [Yahweh]. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by my name the Lord [Yahweh] I did not make myself known to them."'

(Parenthesis added)

Here we see that God has shown himself to his followers in different names - different names for the same God. Interestingly, in the Genesis creation myth he is referred to as Elohim, the plural form of El; El was the chief God of the Canaanite pantheon and his name is carried on in the epithet El Shaddai, as revealed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God has revealed himself to these pre-monotheistic people with the name of the chief polytheistic god of the Canaanite religion! Before this point many people and places contained the word 'El' within them - IsraEL and BethEL for example; now names and places contain 'Yah' instead, progressing away from the association with the pagan god, to a new name of God, Yahweh, for the new tribe of people that Moses is about to form. 

Previously God was seen as a powerful chief god with henotheistic reverence, elevated above other gods; now he is given a new name in an attempt to individualise himself and only have association with the Israelite people. After this he'll keep his new name but broaden and become a universal god and not just a tribal one.

God = El (singular), Elohim (plural), Eloah (feminine)
God Almighty = El Shaddai
The Lord = Yahweh/Jehovah

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Questioning God's Ways - Job: 1-43

Thus far I have now relayed the highlights (in my opinion) of the book of Genesis. Before moving on to the next book in the Pentateuch (Exodus) my chronological plan inserts the book of Job. In my Bible Job is the eighteenth book. I don't yet know why the books of the Bible are arranged in the order that they are, neither chronological or in the order of writing.

The book starts with a conversation between God and Satan, where Satan questions why Job should be God-fearing when God has kept him safe from all harm, and nothing to fear. God seems to agree with Satan(!):

1:12 'The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."'

I find this dialogue puzzling, wondering why the two would meet to so casually discuss this idea. Things then start going wrong for Job, but, 'In all this, Job did not sin by God with wrongdoing.' (1:22)

One quote of which I do not think was intended to stand out but did was in Job's distress, he cries:

1:21 "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall depart*." *or 'shall return there.'

Although not critical to the story, quotes like this stand out to me as hidden sacred references; this one referring to rebirth.

In Job's second test, with more destruction he corrects his wife by asking:

2:10 "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

I find this to be the core meaning of Job's story. Suffering is a test of faith in God. But in this story it is Satan who is sending the destruction, and God condoning it, watching on. The rest of the story is an almost continual monologue of Job's, where he finally breaks down and questions God, with others reprimanding him for it. Some interesting quotes arise.

12:7-10 "But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind."

My Pagan senses lit up when I read this, describing the sentience and unity of all things, including the earth itself.

Despite criticizing God's methods, he does not deny God and even maintains his honour in this: 

13:15-16 "I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him!"

Because Job's story ends well, we can learn that it is OK to take a critical stance on religious matters in trying to find answers, with the humility to see that just because we don't understand, it does not mean it isn't so, or that God therefore doesn't exist. I think this is still very relevant to people today. Job later cries out that he wishes his words would be recorded on a scroll (19:23) which makes me wonder who did write this, and 'remember' what was said?

A reference to Jesus appears here too, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth." (19:25)

Before a storm approaches and God appears to respond, Elihu personifies God in nature: 

37:2-3 "Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven."

It is very interesting that God is seen manifesting in a thunderstorm, because the Semitic God El was also a storm God and scholars have provided convincing arguments for the Hebrew God originating from El. This is a very clear link to the Jewish Pagan past!

And now God speaks and reprimands Job and reveals his masculine and feminine nature, as father and mother. Obviously as a Pagan I find this significant, and it comes from God's lips him/herself.

38:28-29 "Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?"

To conclude the book Job confesses, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (42:3) God forgives Job and rewards him with a long life and prosperity. The key meaning of this story is to acknowledge our natural inclination to question God's actions, and to explain to the Jew or Christian reading that this is OK, so long as we do not deny God and accept that the ways of God are beyond our comprehension; this is something I have been repeatedly told by Christians and Pagans alike. Us humans cannot know all of the answers, however hard we try.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Judah and Tamar - Genesis: 38:1-30

This story cuts into Joseph's one, just before he meets Potiphar's Wife. Previously I had easily passed by this story, but after having read 'Feminine Mysteries in the Bible: The Soul Teachings of the daughter of the Goddess' by Ruth Rusca, I can now read this short story with more meaning. Through this book I learnt that the Divine Feminine makes herself known throughout the Bible, waiting for people to recognise Her. At times she is defeated by Patriarchy, as indeed did happen in the context of the time.
Rusca identifies Tamar as one of the four women who stand out in the genealogical tree of Jesus, and that all four stories include a red thread, linking us to the blood line of the Goddess. I feel like I need to share what I learnt from her book from my own notes about it and hope that this would be approved by the author.

To give some context, the story is as follows: Judah's firstborn son was originally married to Tamar but due to his wickedness was struck down by the Lord. Judah then asked his son Onan to lie with her so that she could conceive, but he did not want to in fear that the child would not be his, so he wasted his seed. This was considered a sin and so the Lord struck him down also. So Tamar was then made a widow. Then Judah's wife died and so he left for Timnath. In hearing of this Tamar removed her mourning clothes, disguised herself with a veil and went to Judah. He did not recognise her and propositioned her.

38:15 'When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.'

She asked him for something in return and a pledge to prove his honesty. They consummated the deal and she left, removing her disguise. Judah went out and asked around if anyone had seen 'the shrine prostitute' but none had. Three months later Judah was told that Tamar was pregnant and in his anger at her dishonour he proclaimed that she should be burned to death! In response she announced:

38:25 'I am pregnant by the man who owns these...'

And she revealed the tokens that Judah had given her. Judah then says that she is more righteous than he and she is forgiven. She gives birth to twin boys. As the firstborn emerged from her womb the midwife tied a scarlet thread to his wrist, but he drew back and his brother emerged and was born first. Here the story ends and continues with Joseph's.

Now to analyse what this all means: Tamar means 'palm tree' and is given the title 'kadesha' meaning 'holy one' which was used for unwed women (also called virgins, regardless of physical virginity. Mary was also called a kadesha). The palm tree was sacred to the Babylonian Goddess Astarte, and was believed to be the Tree of Life. Rusca notes that Tamar is the first woman mentioned in the genealogical tree of Jesus, making her a symbolic tree of life in this respect, representing Jesus's divine roots.

Tamar plays the role of the sacred prostitute, who prior to and during Biblical times would take the place of the Goddess and be worshiped in her sexual-spiritual nature. The sons of Judah were unable to be fruitful with this Tamar-Priestess-Goddess, reflecting the male energy of the time abandoning Her, which ends in destruction (their death) rather than creativity (offspring).

Her veil signifies either hidden awareness or revelation and is common in a number of cultures for practical and spiritual reasons. Rusca argues that Tamar was not disguising herself, but revealing her true nature - the sexual-spiritual nature than she only reveals to Judah and that is not recognised by the other men. A woman's sexuality was a cause for fear within the primal male subconsciousness - with the threat of not knowing if their offspring was really theirs and thus, the fear of the independence that women naturally had. This fear is reflected in the Patriarchal religions and their insistence on the Virgin ideal. 

Judah's promised gifts to the 'shrine prostitute' are his sacrifice, and offering to the Divine Feminine. She bestows her Divine revelation to him and thus goes by unseen by the other men.

Her pregancy with two twins reflects duality in nature. Rusca suggests that the twin with the red thread, Zarach, is actually the feminine Zerah (of which my copy of the Bible supports). She has a scarlet thread on her hand representing the blood bond with the Goddess. These twins are the fruit of the Tamar-Palm-Tree-of-Life.

What I find the most interesting is this scarlet thread, as it occurs in the other three stories featuring the Divine Feminine, which I will discuss as they come (and sum up together when they have all been mentioned). Rusca concludes by stating that Tamar, the sacred prostitute is the Goddess of love.

So here we can see that this short story, appearing suddenly in the midst of Joseph's story holds a bounty of information. As I see it, the story goes almost unnoticed at first glance. But if you offer to the Goddess and speak with her, she will lift her veil (or maybe don the veil in this case!) and reveal the Divine Revelation of this story to you! This is a true Goddess gem to be found in Genesis (again a book of which acts as the roots of the Bible's own Tree of Life).

I give great thanks to Ruth Rusca for her book, and for my dear friend Bee who gave me this book and its Goddess gifts!

Feminine Mysteries of the Bible: Soul Teachings of the Daughters of the Goddess, Ruth Rusca. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Joseph's Story - Genesis: 37-50:1-26

This post is a continuation of the previous post which discussed the dreams within Joseph's story. I have already discussed the beginning section up until Joseph has advised Pharaoh on how to survive the upcoming famine. 
Pharaoh puts his faith in Joseph and allows him to take charge in managing the grain supply, ensuring that there will be surplus for the years of famine to come. Famine doesn't just strike Egypt, but surrounding areas too and thus due to the surplus grain that Egypt has now saved, it is relied upon by the starving foreigners, Joseph's family included. His brothers come to ask for food and do not recognise the new Egyptian Joseph.

To cut the story short, as you yourself can read it in full, Joseph toys with his brothers in revenge for the cruel way they had treated him. He even accuses them of stealing his divination cup which he planted in their sack (a divination cup, may I emphasise).

After the stress he puts his brothers through he eventually reveals himself and makes amendments with his brothers.

45:5 "' not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.'"

Now there are easy criticisms for this story: If God made his brothers sell him so he could save Egypt, are they guiltless? Did they not have freewill? And furthermore, why did God send the famine in the first place? Why did Joseph need to save these people from it?

As I have mentioned before, the default answer given is always, 'We cannot know God's ways...' 

With this put aside for now, the crux of this story is that Joseph's suffering was necessary in order for him to receive his bounty and happiness, and to enact God's will in saving people from famine. We must often suffer in order to receive.

Joseph's story concludes with a great migration of the Hebrew's into Egypt to the area of Goshen. If wikipedia is anything to go by, E.H. Naville believed Goshen to be the 20th nome of Egypt, in the Eastern desert at the time of the 26th Dynasty 672-525BC.

As a side note, Joseph's brothers had been unable to recognise him, as he he had been fully Egyptianised. Whilst his montheistic belief may not have left him (he was afterall, guided by Yahweh this whole time) he certainly embraced the Egyptian polytheistic culture who has taken care of him, including marrying an Egyptian woman, dressing as an Egyptian, possibly speaking Egyptian and even being mummified - which was not the Hebrew way.

50:2-3 "So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days." 

This funerary process undoubtedly would have had Pagan influences, yet is not condemned in this Bible story, which is interesting to me. It is also interesting, as mentioned in the previous post, that God wanted to save the polytheistic people and communicated with polytheistic Egyptians through dreams. He does not appear to discriminate here.

Joseph's Dreams - Genesis: 37:1-36; 39-41

This is a famous story and tells us that divine messages can be sent to us in dreams, for us to interpret. The story also tells that there are certain people who are skilled in interpreting these dreams, such as Joseph; this is an idea that is commonly found in cultures around the world and acknowledged by modern Pagans today.
I find these dreams and interpretations of interest so I will include them all here

37:5-7 "Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it."

His brothers are angered by this assuming that it means he wants to rule over them. Corn is being used as a metaphor for Joseph and his brothers probably because crops were a staple of the economy and the wealthy would have a higher status. Then Joseph had another dream.

37:9 "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."

This aroused jealousy in his brothers and rebuke from his father as, naturally it is does sounds rather arrogant. But, arrogance or not this was a message from the Divine and this jealousy would be what manifested the dream itself (as will be discussed in the next post). Joseph is then sold by his brothers to an Egyptian slaver, who trick their father into believing that he has been killed by wild animals.

The story is interrupted by another, which I shall talk about after this one.

So Joseph is taken to Egypt as a slave as as the story goes, his married mistress tries to seduce him. In her humiliation after being rejected he is accused of attacking her and sent to prison where he meets 'the cupbearer and the baker'. These two men both had dreams for Joseph to interpret. 

40:8 "'We both had dreams,' they answered, 'but there is no-one to interpret them. Then Joseph said to them, 'Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.'"

The cupbearer's dream is as follows, with interpretation:

40:9-15 "'In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup and put the cup in his hand.'
'The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put the Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to when you were his cupbearer.'"

The baker's dream is as follows, with interpretation:

40:16-19 "'I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top  basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.'
'The three baskets are three days. within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.'"

In both of these dreams, as with Joseph's, the subject matter is relevant to the life of the dreamer, corn, cups, and bread; these are dreams sent to these people in their own language of understanding. The dreams come true as Joseph had interpreted, acting as a form of divining the future - later in the Bible said to be sinful. Joseph also interprets Pharaoh's dreams and earns his freedom in doing so.

Pharaoh's dreams and interpretations is as follows:

41:1-4 Dream 1: "He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows.
41:5-7 Dream 2: "Seven ears of corn, healthy and good  were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other ears of corn sprouted - thin and scorched by the east wind. the thin ears of corn swallowed up the seven healthy, full ears."
41:25-32 Interpretation: "Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, 'The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and theseven good ears of corn are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean ugly cows that came up afterwards are seven years, and so are the seven worthless ears of corn scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine."

He goes on to explain clearly what will unfold: There will be seven years of abundance in Egypt, which will be forgotten as seven years of famine will follow. "'The reason two dreams were given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.'"

What I see here is that clearly God is sending help to the polytheist king in order to help him and his people. This is supposedly before the Hebrew's migrated to Egypt, and so He is helping these people because he loves them too. I don't believe he is helping them just so Joseph can fulfill his own dream and destiny. God can and does send his help and dreams to 'non-believers' as well. He sent Joseph to help these people.

This story tells readers of the Torah and Bible that dreams can be sent from God for us to interpret. I don't know if one exists, but a Bible dream interpretation book would certainly be very interesting to look through. This resonates with me as it is something the Abrahamic faiths and Pagan belief systems have in common.

Joseph own dream will be manifested later in the story as he continues to advise Pharaoh on how to handle this famine successfully.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Blessings and Jacob's Story - Genesis 27:1-40; 27-36

There are two parts to this post as I am retrospectively adding in more details.


In this section the Old Testament reveals that not only God can bless us, but we can bestow blessings upon one another. In the story Jacob gets Isaac's blessing by tricking the blind old man that he is his elder brother Esau. The definition of blessing is 'God's favour and protection', and so in giving a blessing to someone else you are asking God to do so and believing He will.

27:12 "What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing."

The definition of a curse is 'A solemn utterance to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.' This line reveals that we are also able to curse one another, asking God to do so. Jacob does indeed receive his father's blessing, but under a falsehood and so in reality it is possible that God did not respond to this requested blessing, although later in the story it seems like he is in Divine favour.

The blessing is as follows:

27:27-29 "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness - an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed."

Now either Isaac had prepared what he was going to say, or he genuinely smelt the blessing of the Lord radiating from Jacob? So is he truly blessed by God? After this an angry Esau walks in and him and his father realised what had happened. It is said that Jacob took Esau's blessing and that no more are left for him. He gives him a blessing anyway which actually is no blessing at all.

27:39-40 "Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness. away from the dew of the heavens above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But you will grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck."

This blessing really just says what will come about rather than bestowing the Lord's favour. These blessings appear to be ones that bestow human permissions and favour upon another, rather than Divine favours.

Jacob's Story

I do not want to go into too much detail here as you can read the story yourself, but I did want to comment of some points of interest. I have read the Red Tent by Anita Diamant and so was inspired to re-read the original Genesis version of the story.
To sum, Jacob flees from his brother's anger and arrives in Paddam Aram. Here he meets Rachel and asked her father Laban for her hand in marriage. This is agreed upon on the condition that Jacob serves Laban for seven years; but Jacob is tricked into marrying Rachel's sister Leah:

29: 23 "But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her."

Jacob awakes to angrily discover he was tricked - although it is unclear how this trickery actually happened (possibly the bride was veiled at the wedding, but she woudn't have been at night time...). So Jacob agrees to work another seven years for Rachel. There are children being born of Jacob and his wives and his family prospers. Jacob tricks Laban into giving his the best of his flock and understandably Laban gets jealous over Jacob's success, so Jacob flees.

Rachel steals Laban's household gods as they go causing Laban to come after them. What I found interesting here was that when Laban enters Rachel's tent to find the gods she cannot rise as she is menstruating. Diamant suggests that the gods are placed underneath her, hidden from Laban. The text does not confirm this, but I wonder why the story would deem it necessary to even mention her cycle otherwise. It is also of interest that both Laban and Rachel appear to be Pagan's, attaching value to these 'teraphim'. And so the story continues until the next point of particular interest.

Originally I had skimmed past the part about Dinah. In this story Dinah (the only daughter of Jacob) is raped by Shechem, son of King Hamor. The king and his son try to barter for Dinah's hand in marriage and eventually an agreement is made for their whole people to be circumcised. They agree to this and do so, but in the days of their painful recovery Jacob and his sons attack the city and monarch, killing every male in revenge and taking Dinah home. Jacob scolds them for bringing trouble on their family but the brothers reply:

33:31 "...Should we have treated our sister like a prostitute?"

This is the last we hear about the situation and Dinah. Diamant creates a story where the rape of Dinah was actually consensual love, which may explain Shechem's willingness to circumcise his people for to marry her; Diamant also explains the discontent of Jacob's sons was out of jealousy of Hamor's family, fearing that their own family glory will dissolve to Hamor's. Jacob and his sons are shown in a very bad light, as murderers. Jacob even changes his name to Israel on God's orders; Jacob means 'he grasps the heel', which my Bible tells me means 'deceives'; Israel means 'he struggles with God'. Nevertheless, other than the name change, that story is not what is written and so we should still refer to the original text. Jacob's story is completed through his son Joseph, to be covered next.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Circumcision - Genesis 17:1-27

In this section Abram (meaning 'exalted father') becomes known as Abraham (meaning 'father of many') as God promises Abraham that he will greatly increase his number, or family.
17:6 '"I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you."'

This is on the condition that Abraham and his descendants agree to the Covenant of Circumcision.
17:10 "'Every male among you shall be circumcised."'

17:14 "'Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."'

Abraham did as God told him, with himself and all of his household.

It isn't written why God would make such a request of Abraham at the age of 'ninety-nine years old' (17:24). There is no explanation and all that is said is that if Abraham does this he will be rewarded, and if Abraham's people don't, then they shall be rejected (a theme that occurs a lot later on). So unfortunately this is all we have, God just said so.

The practice of circumcision was not an original idea by the time of Genesis' writing. The Egyptian's and other ancient groups also practiced this as a part of health and cleanliness. Again, as will be seen in Exodus and Leviticus, the Hebrews were to our standards today excessively clean and so the practice of circumcision introduced here fits in with this. This story probably simply explains why the Hebrews practiced circumcision, in a spiritual perspective (although it doesn't actually explain much).

Nowadays in certain parts of the world it is perceived as an act of self mutilation. To me as a modern Pagan I do not think it is a necessary precaution to keep hygienic and it is unnatural to remove any part of your body like that; however, statistics show that the practice is still common in the world with a high percentage being non-Jewish American men. There are arguments about whether or not it is right to do it to a baby without his permission. For both a baby and a fully grown man it is just horrible.

*I've been informed that there is a modern Jewish movement aiming to stop this practice, saying, "We are a group of educated and enlightened Jews who realize that the barbaric, primitive, torturous, and mutilating practice of circumcision has no place in modern Judaism." More information can be found here:

I do not know yet if Jesus told people to actively stop doing this - because Christians generally don't practice circumcision, so I'm wondering why?

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Tower of Babel - Genesis 11:1-9

Here are some observations that I made in this section:

11:1-9 Briefly explains how humanity shared one universal language and in working together they planned to communally build a city and a tower that would reach to the heavens, so that they would not be 'scattered over the face of the whole earth' (11:4). God responds negatively to this:

11:6-7 'The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand one another."'

As a consequence of this the people then ceased to build the united city and were scattered over the earth.

From my perspective this story - again a myth in my view -  attempts to explain when new cultures, societies and country's emerged. With the separation of language, humans no longer understood one another; they no longer empathised or understood varying ideas and actions and a cultural divide developed. Unfortunately this lead to ignorance and eventually hate and wars. No longer being one people, groups would become jealous of other groups, lusting for land, riches and power. Why would God do this deliberately? The only given reason is that as one united species, all together as one, we could accomplish anything. As shown in the Garden of Eden, God 'supposedly' did not want us to receive knowledge of good and evil from the Tree, as we would become like God himself. With unlimited capability as a united human race, this would again be the case.

This now ensured that humanity could never rise up as one, working together towards a united cause and limitless in power beside God.
But because of Eden, it also ensured that humanity knew how to do bad things.
Putting two together humanity became its own worst enemy, capable of atrocities against one another.

But why did this all need to happen in the first place? The only answer I have ever been given - so far - is not to question God's plans as we cannot begin to understand them...

Friday, 11 January 2013

Noah and the Flood - Genesis 4-9:17

- Coming forward from Adam and Eve and the next part which caught my interest, The Flood.

This begins with a genealogy from Adam and lists impressive ages to which many people lived. Some Christians have told me that they believe this was actually the case; others reckon them to be family bloodlines which lasted many years.

We are initially reminded in 5:1-2, 'When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. and when they were created, he called them "man".' I brought this up to show when referring to 'man', it does not mean 'males' but humankind; us women aren't always being left out.

I took note of 6:2, where it says: 'the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.' I wondered why the 'sons of God' and 'daughters of men' were separated like that? I also noted the use of the phrase 'sons of God' as obviously this title will become important later on in the New Testament...

God saw that there was corruption within mankind already:
6:5 'The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time.'
We can just take this at face value and accept that as the story goes, humanity was corrupt, although I wonder how exactly? At this point God had sent down no testimony of how humans are supposed to live. Maybe this is the period of humanity in the very early years on animism and polytheism, before God had told us what to do through Moses? 
He vows to destroy mankind because of this sin, including all animals, 6:7.

God chose Noah to survive because he was 'a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he went with God' (6:9); however, he also allows all his family to survive as well, so I assume they were also righteous? (Otherwise all the corruption would just continue...?)

The Flood then happens and wipes away all life on Earth that was not upon the ark, although it makes no mention of marine life, so I don't know what happens there? BUT I don't actually think this is important; if we take it again as a mythologically valuable story as opposed to literal fact, then such practicalities are meaningless.

Now, I had a lot of questions about why this flood happened and if it was in vain ect., so I asked my friend Caroline to explain her views. Here I paraphrase her response:

God was grieved by sin as, like a magnet, He repels anything that is not good. The Old Testament shows a cycle of God trying to build a loyal relationship with the Israelites but sin always gets in the way. He cannot tolerate sin at all as he is purely good and any flexibility in accepting sin would corrupt this goodness. The penalty for sin is death and so usually a sheep is sacrificed, so this is God's most drastic sign that sin is unacceptable and serious.
The stories in the OT show this vicious cycle of breaking the rules and sinning against God's purity. The only thing that can end this cycle is if God comes down to the earth himself and is the sheep of sacrifice - death as the penalty for sin; this is why we call Jesus the Lamb of God.
The seriousness of the Flood and the continual sacrifice of sheep to pay for sins is thus ended with God as Jesus in the final sacrifice.

I personally thought her answer a very good one. When we see the story in the context of the whole Old Testament we see the cyclic sinning and paying for sins that the Israelites go through. A flood that covers the earth should be enough to get the message through, but the point is that it isn't as we are innately corrupt after eating that old apple from the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil! We know how to do bad and so unavoidably we shall do so.
The Flood, although it may be premature in punishing the earth and apparently ineffective, just emphasises that there is NOTHING that God can do to stop this, unless he were to end humanity - which IS in his power to do, but his love prevents him from doing so. 

- One thing I had to ask though is, if God repels anything that is bad, then why on earth did he create humans? Although the did not start bad, they were turned bad and that still means that he created these 'bad' beings, as he created everything.
I was given this answer by Caleb, which I think does make quite good sense:

"The word repel is a bit misleading because it likens it to a magnet where it cannot physically be near something it repels because it goes in the opposite direction, God is more the definition of absolute goodness which means that he cannot have any sinfulness in his presence, not necessarily repels it. He did create humans perfect, with an understanding that they would turn evil by sinning, which by definition meant turning against God and leaving his presence, then our relationship with him was broken so that we could not be in his presence unless we made sacrifices for our sins (OT) but then God made Christ take all our sins, so that when we come before God we are without sin, and therefore able to have a relationship with him and be in his presence!"

Finally we end with Gods Covenant with Noah, 9:1-17. God demands:
9:6 'Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God man man.'
I take note of this because later on this rule does seem to be broken many times and even without causing God's displeasure....
The Covenant is as follows:
9:14-15 'Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every king. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.'

My final closing words bring out the Pagan and Historian in me. Historically the concept of The Flood which wiped the earth of all life is a widespread theme within the cultures of the Hebrews, Babylonians and Phonecians. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the most outstanding example and many Jewish and Christian scholars study the source for information (ignoring the previous polytheist mythology around the flood of the epic).
So it seems to me, as we'll see in the Exodus later, that it is possible that such stories circulated around the cultures and that the Hebrews took the story to reflect God's power; in turn they then built upon their version of the story and wrote it into their holy books, which we read now.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Adam, Eve and Lillith - Genesis 2-3:1-24

- This is a story in Genesis that actually holds a lot of value to Pagans, and one that certainly intrigues me. Because of this, be prepared for a large post and bare in mind that I see this particular story as mythological.-

Following the creation of the earth and animals, God created mankind, specifying both sexes:

1:27 'in the image of God... male and female he created them.'

But in 2:18-25 it explains that man was lonely and so he brought animals to Adam for company. This is not enough and she God decides to make Eve. Jewish scholars have noticed this inconsistency and formed midrash (stories to explain Biblical gaps) to explain this. This is the case as appears in The Alphabet of Ben Sira, where the author names Lillith as Adam's first wife.

To summarise the story that was given,  Lilith refused to be the obedient wife of Adam and would not lay beneath him during intercourse, demanding an equal position as they were both made of earth; as a consequence she was removed from Eden and went to copulate with angels and other beings ending ultimately in her punishment by God.

Lillith was originally a Mesopotamian demoness and this story did not come about until the Middle Ages. It is, however, very popular with modern feminists and neopagans, due to her resonance with the modern ideals of gender-equality and feminine independence. 

Back to the story recorded in the NIV: As we all know the serpent convinces Adam's new wife Eve to eat from the forbidden tree with the knowledge of good and evil.

3:5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

This suggests that God already knew that the humans would eat the fruit and what would happen after.
Well once they do so they now have the knowledge to cover up their nakedness, giving themselves away to God.

3:11 'And he said, "Who told you that you were naked?..."'

Nakedness was totally natural and ok, until humans gained knowledge (knowledge above what animals can comprehend). I am supposing that nakedness is no longer ok because sexuality could now be abused? Lust is a natural animal instinct that Adam would have desired with Eve and vice versa - the abuse of lust must be the reason they now needed to cover up.

The following are the punishments in summary given to the man and woman:

3:16 'To the woman he said: "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."'

3:17 'To Adam he said...Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life..."

I find it interesting that farming, although undoubtedly hard work, is seen as a curse of humankind - though obviously it is something unique to humans. In Egyptian mythology agriculture was a gift and blessing taught to humans by Osiris as the first God-King of Egypt. I wonder if agriculture was perceived generally negatively in the writers culture and time? (*As far as I know, many of the people of Canaan, Syria and Palestine were predominantly Pastoralists?*)

Now I get on to the real crux of what this story means to me, starting with the serpent: I have seen three suggestions to who this serpent represents: The Devil (the view held by Abrahamic faiths); a jealous Lilith returning as a snake to ensnare Eve; and God Himself, knowing the fate of humanity and allowing events to unfold.

The Serpent

I guess I subscribe to the idea that it was the Devil and in some way a jealous Lilith. When I say the Devil I do not mean the red-skinned demon of hellfire; I mean simply the side of human over-indulgent desires that lead to destruction. Eve gave into temptation - a difficult human trait to deal with. Lilith could even represent the natural human desires and traits of stubbornness and pride and so in some way manifests herself in this 'Devil'. The Devil-Serpent depicts the human conscience that perhaps gives less helpful advice...

The Apple

Z. Budapest, as a Pagan feminist source, has suggested that Eve is the Apple of temptation in Eden, the tempting, sacred feminine, and that Adam is the dominant and lustful male who succumbs to her and corrupts the purity of the garden. Although I appreciate Budapest's work, I find this actually anti-feminist, not supporting gender-equality and turning the anti-female story into an anti-male one, although it certainly is an intriguing idea! The Bible does not actually specify that the fruit is an apple but later interpreters chose to call it an apple in the Greek translations; the word for apple in Greek I believe was similar to the word for breast and so the apple already had a sexual symbolism in those times. The Apple now represents the item of desire of which the Serpent conscience tempts us.

The Tree

Finally and most importantly for me, the Tree. What does the actual story mean to me, and what does it tell me about the origins of humanity? The following idea was revealed to me by a Philosophy teacher of mine, Mary, who happened to be a Christian. This story reveals the evolution of humankind in mythological terms. The Tree of Knowledge represents the very thing that makes us Humans: The knowledge of good and evil. An animal survives and exists; it hunts its prey and devours it viciously without remorse for the pain or consequences - not out of cruelty or nastiness, but out of nature and not being conscious of empathy or the concept of good and evil. When Adam and Eve gained Knowledge the first thing they did was cover their nakedness and go against nature. 
An odd, yet convincing idea that Mary also gave me was that the punishment of Eve could relate to when the first homo erectus stood up and we began that transition into humanity; as a genetic consequence our hips became more slender bringing a more painful child-bearing experience...
There is another tree also mentioned in the garden of Eden: The Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God he could no longer trust them not to eat the fruit of this tree and being immortal, so he ejected them from the garden and protected the tree with a 'cherubim and a flaming sword' (Gen 3:24). The Canaanite Goddess, and consort to the chief god El (thus Eloah - the feminine creator in Gen 1:27) was known as the Tree of Life and was represented by the Asherah pole; her worship is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament as she was so important to the Canaanite people, women in particular of whom the male god did not appeal to as much. This Tree of Life, Asherah, is present in the garden as she was co-creator with El and her roots remained in the garden as the origin and sustainer or all life. She is the root of where we come from and her fruit continues to nourish us. This, however, is forbidden by El in this story and is thus the first reference to God's suppression of the feminine.

To conclude this long post, I do believe that this story is a myth that describes our evolution into becoming Humans distinct from other animals. It also describes the Fall of Man, recognising our coming into sin, because with Knowledge comes the concept of good and evil, allowing us to 'sin' - or at least in a non-Abrahamic view, the knowledge 'to do bad things'. 


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Creation - Genesis 1:1-31

Where better to start?

For a very basic introduction: The first five books of the Pentateuch in the Old Testament are traditionally believed to have been written by Moses; however modern scholars now mostly agree that there were in fact four sources of the books: the Yahwist  and the Elohist (1000-800BC), the Deuteronomist (600BC) and the Priestly source (500BC).

I see the creation story as mythological and therefore, to me, it doesn't have to be 100% accurate!

1:2 'the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.'

So I begin with a bias already, or maybe simply background knowledge? I am an Egyptologist and being aware of the contact between the Hebrew Asiatics and the Northern Egyptians I anticipate that there will be cultural influences going on. So when I read this line I can't help but be reminded of the Heliopolitan creation myth, and the concept of the Waters of the Nun in the beginning, with the Creator dormant at its center.

This idea is carried through in a number of other lines:

1:3 'And God said: "Let there be light," and there was light.'

Like the Egyptian concept of the power of spoken word; again Amun-Ra / Ptah spoke the words of creation and so it was.

1:6-8 'And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky"...'

This, to me, echoes the Egyptian view of the separation of the sky and Earth, of which is covered by the sea. They saw the sky as water which mirrored the water of the Nile.

The similarities continue a bit further on. In my view rather than seeing the seven days of creation as literal earth days (which would entail it starting before the Sun had even come into being) I see it as a metaphor of the Earth's evolution and development. What may be one day for us on Earth may be only a second in 'God-Time', and so seven Earth days may not be literally the time it took.

I may just be being picky in the following translation but I found this interesting: 

1:26-27 'Then god said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.'

The bold text is my interest. I spot a plural in the English and this interests me. In the Quran it is noted that when the plural 'We' is used by God it is meant to give him a grander status and certainly not a plural nature; however, in a Pagan perspective this is not evident, especially when 'our image' incorporates 'male and female'. In the Hebrew the word used for 'God' here is Elohim - a plural word! The masculine singular of Elohim is El (the name of the head god of the Canaanite pantheon), and the feminine singular is Eloah. So in my view I interpret this as the Masculine and Feminine Creative Force creating humanity in their dual-gendered nature; furthermore, the meaning of creating us in their image reminds me of a Pagan teaching that the Divine are within us and manifiest within us. I believe the Divine is within us and all things and therefore we are made in their image and they in ours.


I have been inspired to start up this blog in which I record my thoughts as I read the entire Bible this year, after having seen another example of such a blog. This said blog records a Christian's exploration of the Quran, giving their own independent thoughts of the book and its significance, through every Surah; it is an incredible work to read through and inspired my to recreate something similar on a smaller scale.
On the 1st of December 2012 I began a plan to read the Bible (Old and New Testament) in a year, though plan for it to take a long as it needs to. I wish to record on this blog my thoughts of the books and passages and what I learn about the Bible itself; my thoughts will be coming from a Pagan perspective, as I am a Pagan of 4 years. Rest assured, I will never intend to cause offense in anything that I say; I just want to record and share how I feel and think about the text, from the perspective and maybe bias that I have. If anything, it'll merely give a new way of seeing how someone looks at it and perceives the writing (and translation).
Fortunately I have many Christian friends who will hopefully contribute to answering some of the questions that may arise and so this blog may not only be enlightening to Pagans and non-Christians, but maybe even some Christians too!

Too often have I heard non-Christians who are willing to criticise the Bible and Christian teachings, yet are not willing to actually read the Bible in context. This is part of the reason I want to read it: To know what was really written down, and not just other people's interpretations. But the other reason is a spiritual one for myself: I believe all religions have elements of truth, wisdom and Divine within them, and I don't want to have an unfinished puzzle in the end.

I intend to read the whole Bible in 2013, without skipping anything and I am following this 'chronological' plan: I will not be able to report on every part of the Bible on this blog, unlike the aforementioned Quranic blog was able to, yet I strive to report the information that I, myself, deemed important to comment upon. I also may not post in the chronological order I am reading it.

I will be using a New International Version Bible.

Here is the link to the Blog that I highly praise: