No discussion of biblical marriage can be complete without the major elephant in the room: polygamy. Though modern Jews and Christians hold that marriage should be like Adam and Eve, one man and one woman, early Jews thought otherwise well into the post-Christian era. Echos of this practice still exist today in Islam as well as a few very fringe Mormon groups. (Mormonism as a whole outlawed the practice around forty years after the religion’s founding.)
If you are just joining us, this week in honor of my first wedding anniversary, I’m doing a post every day about a different aspect of marriage in the Torah. Monday was marriage in the creation story. Tuesday was Levrite marriage. Today, I’m digging into polygamy.
Continue reading Marriage in the Bible – Part 3: Polygamy
Stop me if you’ve heard this one… Abraham and his wife travel to a foreign country. They’re enjoying the sights, sampling the exotic food, but it doesn’t look good to be attached and so he asks his wife if she can, you know, pretend to be his sister for a few days… And then the leader of the country falls in love with her, abducts her, gets punished by God for his sin, and the couple get out as fast as they can. The end. Some jokes never get old.
We’ve reached the second of the three wife-sister narratives in Genesis. The first wife-sister narrative was in Genesis 12. This time, the guilty party is Abimelech, the King of Gerar.
Biblical Canaan was not a place for tourists. Abraham comes off as being weak-kneed. Read on for more.
Continue reading Va-Yera – Abraham vs Abimelech: Part I.
Where we left off, Abraham and Ishmael had just been circumcised, accepting the covenant with God. The following chapters (summary after the break) paint a complex story of punishment, of two men’s relationships with God, and how sometimes a weaker man can do more than a strong one.
This story also marks a turning point: The first time that a man (Abraham) argues with God and wins. It is also the moment where it appears that God’s vision of justice begins slowly to turn from the clan- or family-based justice to individual justice. It won’t get there until the Book of Ezekiel, but it’s a good start. More on that in the next post.
But what do you say about a man who selflessly puts his own butt on the line (rather literally) while trying to save a group of strangers from a rape gang? If he’s Lot, you call him a buffoon.
More after the break…
Continue reading Va-Yera – A Tale of Two Dinners
For those new to my blog, I am closing each portion with some observations I make as I read Rashi’s commentary on the portion. While I cannot properly summarize, or probably even understand, some of the subtle theological and traditional points he makes, there are many observations and stories that I can relate. Many of them are serious. Some of them I find quite funny!
Unlike modern textual criticism, Rashi was coming at the text with the belief that it was perfect. Every word and punctuation mark was critical, and the text had to be considered in the light that adding or removing any word would have to change the meaning. As so Rashi sometimes concocts fanciful explanations why a specific word means a specific thing. These don’t appear to be the minimal explanations – he was no fan of Occam’s Razor – and he is pulling some of these stories and legends from other traditional sources.
Here’s an example: one of the kings that Abram tussles with is King Shember, the king of the Zeboiim. Rashi tells that Shember was a biblical Icarus; he built a set of artificial wings which he wore that allowed him to fly.
Lots more after the break…
Continue reading Rashi on Lech-Lecha
We end Lech-Lecha on some really high notes. I was feeling for a while that the bible’s authors would be taking Abram down a peg, but I have clearly misremembered so far. As it stands, Genesis 17 ends with Abram’s head held high, he wins favor for his first son, a promise of a second son, and he only had to cut off the tip of his penis to get it! Sounds like a bargain to me.
Let’s think on that. This IS a bargain, isn’t it? Not in the sense that it’s inexpensive, but this is the third repetition of the Abraham covenant (from Genesis chapters 12 and 15), but the first that clearly stipulates that there is a cost associated. In Genesis 12, Abram’s condition was that he leave Haran and his father and journey to Canaan. In Genesis 15, God doesn’t require any conditions at all. (If anything, Abram is bargaining some conditions with God.)
More after the break.
Continue reading Lech-lecha – Abraham’s New Covenant (snip-snip)
After spending the last several chapters lifting up Sarai and Abraham, the bible then takes a very surprising turn. Sarai is a woman that was clearly one of the most beautiful of her age. Abram is a fantastic warrior-king and strategist who goes to war against impossible odds to save his kinsmen. But we discover something new: Sarai is jealous and abusive and Abram is a whipped man.
More after the break…
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Three’s a Crowd
Abram may be one of the most important men in three religions, but the text of the Torah says surprisingly little about him.
We know, first of all, that he is 75 when God spoke to him and commanded him to go forth to Israel. We don’t know whether God spoke to him prior to that time; if He did, it wasn’t documented. We know that his father was Terah, a man who lived to a ripe old age of 205. We also know that it was Terah, not Abram, who started the march of his family from Ur to Canaan, but they stopped part-way, in Haran. Could it be that God also spoke to Terah and commanded him on his march? Could it be that the reason Abram received his call is because Terah gave up and didn’t complete the journey. The bible, of course, doesn’t say.
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Abram Who?
I’m now unapologetically behind: there’s just more to learn in each portion than you can possibly learn in a week. So at this point, I will continue at my own pace and see where I get. With luck, I’ll catch up to the calendar once we get out of the dense stories of Genesis and into the long legal tractates. Not very likely, but why not dream?
This portion, only the third one, is notable for the introduction of the First Family of Judaism (and the other Abrahamic religions): Abram, his wife Sarai, her maid Hagar, his nephew Lot, and his first son Ishmael. But more importantly than that, the title of this portion is the first reference to the undisputed focus of the Torah: Israel.
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Go! Go! Go!