A Plain Text Reading Of Genesis Chapters 1 Through 9

by Buzz on 8/11/2012

They are the best recollections of
an abusive drunken Bronze Age farmer
and his dysfunctional family.

In Chapter 8 the text reads “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.

This means Noah and his family (Mrs. Noah, his sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth, plus their wives [presumably only three total]) are the sole means through which all information found Chapters 1 through 8 are transmitted.

So who is this Noah guy?

Well, Genesis 6:9 tells us “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”

An example of this would be Genesis 7:5: “And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him.”

So far, yea, Noah!  Genesis 6:8 reports “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”

…uh, wait…isn’t “grace” in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic monotheistic tradition “unmerited mercy”?  Something God gives to us because He loves us, not because we’ve done anything to deserve it?

No matter; God gives Noah his orders:  Build the Ark. And Noah does so just as God commands.  God then commands in Genesis 6:19-20 “And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.  Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.”

“Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” (Genesis 6:22)

…but apparently after Noah does this, God changes His mind.  With just a week to go before the flood, God issues this command in Genesis 7:1-3 “… Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.  Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.  Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.”

…well, okay, not an illogical order; one male can impregnate six females with relatively little urging, so domestic and / or food animals will have a jump on the non-kosher variety in the post-diluvian era.[1]

But still, two different versions of the same basic set of instructions.  God is perfect, God knows all that will happen before it happens, God is eternal and unchanging, why did He tell Noah to do one thing at one time and another thing at another time?

No matter; press on:  God floods the world, wipes out all non-aquatic life.[2]

We don’t know what existed before the flood in terms of civilization (other than a reference to the City of Enoch built by Cain in Genesis 4:17), but it doesn’t appear to have left any lasting monuments.  From internal evidence in Genesis 4 and Genesis 5, writing hadn’t been invented yet (but more on this below), so apparently nothing that wasn’t in the Ark made it through the flood.

“In the Ark” in this case also meaning “in the collective memory of Noah’s family”.

So Mrs & Mrs. Noah survive, along with Mr. & Mrs. Ham, Mr. & Mrs. Shem, and Mr. & Mrs. Japheth.  Human / animal nature being what it is, it doesn’t take long for the procreatin’ to begin.

All well and good, part of God’s plan.  A just reward for a just and righteous man.

How do we know Noah was just and righteous?

Why, it tells us right there in the Book of Genesis, Chapters 6 through 9.  Noah was perfect, better than every other person on the planet.

We know because it’s in the Bible.

In that portion that is passed down to us solely through…

…the recollections of Noah and his family.

Well, what kind of family were the Noahs?  Genesis 6 through 8 are pretty straight forward God sez / we do narrative, nothing there to really give us an insight on the family dynamics.

No, for that we need to go to Genesis 9:20 – 27

Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:  And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.

And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.  And he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”   And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.  God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”

Okay, let’s put this in contemporary terms:

Your family survives a terrible disaster.  Your dad ties one on (not an unreasonable reaction to the loss of literally everything he’s ever known in six centuries on the planet).  You see him drunk and asleep and naked in his tent.  You do a rotten thing; you tell your brothers about this instead of keeping it to yourself.[3]

Your brothers then go in, walking backwards with a garment over their shoulders, cover your dad without ever looking at him.[4]

Dad then sobers up, gets pissed at having been exposed — literally and figuratively — as a rip-roarin’ drunk, and takes it out on you by laying a curse not on you but on one of your kids, making them (but none of your other kids) the eternal slaves of your two brothers.

Say wha — ? Huh?

That doesn’t sound like a perfect and righteous man.  That sounds like an abusive drunk.  And Shem and Japheth don’t sound like good and loving sons, they sound like enablers who know how to steer their father’s rage away from them & theirs and over to the family scapegoat/s:  Ham & sons.

And Noah goes right along with it.  To paraphrase for modern times:  “See what you made me do, Ham?  You made me punish your son because you told people I was drunk and naked!  This is all your fault!  If you hadn’t told anybody, I wouldn’t have had to made your little boy a slave!”

Okay, people, can we call shenanigans on that?

So, let us review:

The Bible explicitly states that the first nine chapters of the Book of Genesis are the best recollections of an abusive drunken Bronze Age farmer and his dysfunctional family.

Read those passages straight through in a single sitting, don’t break them up into individual chapters, stories, or verses.  Don’t read them with Morgan Freeman or Orson Welles narrating them in your mind’s ear; let Foster Brooks or Otis the Town Drunk or Cliff at the Cheers’ bar do it.

We’ll wait.

So now it makes sense.

Not in a logical, flawless sense, but sense in a very messy, very human way.

Noah and his family apparently had no written records.  The Bible doesn’t mention writing until we’re well into Exodus (though we know from other historical records that writing existed in Babylon and Egypt well before then).

There is no mention of how any information is transmitted in the first nine chapters of Genesis other than the implication of verbally from generation to generation.

The historical record supplied in Genesis 1 through 9 is scant.  We have a general description of where the Garden of Eden lay, the name of the mountain where the Ark came to rest[5], a handful of tossed off references to antediluvian cities, and that’s it.

We also have two accounts of the Creation (Genesis 1 and 2), two different genealogies for Noah (Genesis 4 and 5), and an image of a spiteful, short-sighted God who cannot see into the future and responds to human misbehavior by killing everyone on the planet ‘cept His good ol’ buddy Noah…

A short while back I posted on this blog one of the greatest short stories ever written:  Ring Lardner’s Haircut.

Haircut is a perfect example of the literary device known as The Unreliable Narrator.

An Unreliable Narrator is not necessarily evil or malicious or stupid or foolish; all it takes to be an Unreliable Narrator is for the audience to become aware that the UnNar isn’t revealing all the facts, perhaps because the UnNar doesn’t know all the facts, perhaps because the UnNar is incapable of recognizing the facts, perhaps because the UnNar has interpreted the facts in a manner that they understand regardless of their objective reality.

Based on what Genesis reveals about Noah and his family in Chapter 9, based on the internal evidence that points to a lack of a written record, based on internal evidence that 2/3rds of Noah’s offspring had every motive in the world to shade the story in their favor and against their brother, it’s pretty obvious that Genesis 1 through 9 are meant to be taken literally.

And by literally I mean “the best recollections of an abusive drunken Bronze Age farmer and his dysfunctional family.[6]

[This post, BTW, was in the works before a Facebook friend sent me this link and asked me what I thought of it.  Consider this my reply.]

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[1]  Kosher law, of course, isn’t established until much later in Leviticus, but that doesn’t mean the various Semitic / Hebrew / Israelite tribes and peoples before then didn’t have a cultural tradition of clean / unclean animals, or that Leviticus wasn’t simply a formal codification of those traditions.  It does kinda fly in the face of Jesus’ teaching “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man” in Mark 7:15 or in Acts 10 the Holy Spirit telling Peter in a trance that God had cleansed everything, making it kosher for those who still followed Jewish rituals & traditions.  Of course, the Levitical purity laws applied only to the Israelites and then the Jews and were never binding on Gentiles, but that’s another post for another day (don’t worry, we’ll get there…).

[2]  Presumably gooney birds, which spend much of their lives bobbing around on the ocean, or puffins and penguins which could climb on floating ice, or seals or walruses or other such critters didn’t have to board the ark.

[3]  Don’t begrudge Ham not covering Noah; in AA circles that’s known as enabling.  Noah wants to get drunk and naked, he can take the consequences.

[4]  Or so they presumably tell Noah later; who knows for sure?  Based on the way Cain treated Abel, Jacob treated Esau, or Joseph’s brothers treated him, I wouldn’t put anything past these two suck-ups.

[5]  But no confirmation it is the mountain known by that name today.  Ask the citizens of Constantinople if place names can’t change, or the good folks who live in Portland MA/OR/UK if it’s impossible for one name to be associated with more than one locale.

[6]  The real icing on the cake is Genesis 11:1-9, in which God purportedly decides to “confound [human] language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” It’s as bold a caution that what one reads prior to that point may not have been accurately transmitted as one could hope to have.  (I say “purportedly” because again this is a spiteful, short-sighted version of God, not the loving kind Father Creator who knows everything that will happen long before it happens in our POV; it’s almost as if the culture that described this spiteful, short-sighted God had a spiteful, short-sighted patriarch as their founder…)

buzz@buzzdixon.com

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