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: http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

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'. 


References:
http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/lilith/



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.




Introduction

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: http://www.ewordtoday.com/year/niv1984/cdec01.htm 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: http://christianreadsquran.wordpress.com/2011/01/page/3/