The Jewish people have three fathers and four mothers with something to teach us part 1

Americans like to whitewash history. At least until we get to college, all of our heroes are just that, heroes. They heroically get out in front of their troops to life, liberty, and the American way. Any moral failing is proof that a person is not fit to be leader. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament points out how the same rule does not apply to Genesis, and in particular not to Genesis 12- 36. Torah writers go out of their way to show the imperfections of their characters. That includes Torah, Writings, and prophets. The wife-sister stories of the textbook point out how Abraham prostituted his wife twice and Isaac once. Of course, using source criticism, we learn that the first telling of the prostitution story comes from the “J” source, while the second comes from “E.” The “E” telling could be a retelling of the “J” account.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Credit c Mark McNulty

In our Pledge of Allegiance, we pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, but a piece of cloth that represents a republic, which St. Augustine defines in terms of a hundred-piece orchestra, and as a group of people with a common acknowledgment of law, and by a community of interests. City of God, Book 2, chapter 21. Our pledge points out that we claim to be one nation, under one God, with liberty and justice for all.

The people of New England have one independent identity, the people of the old Confederacy another, the people of Texas and the southern plains another, the northern plains another, the rust belt another, the west another, California has its own identity, with Oregon and Ohio yet another. Our identity also has rural and urban components, and racial components. Unlike Americans, Genesis will highlight its different components, with their animosities, and then bring them back to shared familial components, making all one big, although dysfunctional family. What holds that family together will be the family patriarch, and the idea of a shared exodus experience, “Give me your tired, your poor, those yearning to breathe free…”

A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament tells us that when discussing the story of Abraham, Lot, Hagar, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and their brood, we need to forget all of that. A better picture of Abraham and his time is modern Afghanistan, a collection of tribes forming alliances for individual benefit of the tribal leaders. As in Afghanistan, there is a larger cultural/political aspect, but it is not relevant to the tribal functioning.

Israel does not claim to be just one nation. Genesis sets before us the northern kingdom, with “E” as its source, the southern kingdom, with “J” at its source, a group of insiders in charge in both kingdoms, with “P” as its source, and an intellectual group from Jerusalem, the first to write down their traditions, as “D” as its source.

A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament incorrectly tells us, “Bethel seems especially important; Jacob discovers it and returns to it. Bethel is not just another city; the name means “God’s house.” Jacob becomes a forerunner of other Israelites who will want to live near God—in Jerusalem—where the temple, literally, “house of God,” was built.”[1]

Bethel does not refer to Jerusalem. Although “J” seems to be the writer of Genesis 28, the story clearly relates the tradition of Bethel as a place for temple worship and gives the stories of Abraham and Jacob as justification for that location.

Genesis 12 relates, “The Personal Name appeared to Abram saying, “To your descendants I will give this land. Abram built an altar there to the Personal Name who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel, pitching his tent with Bethel to the west … He built an altar to the Personal Name and invoked the Personal Name by name.” Genesis 28:10 relates the story of Jacob’s dream at Bethel, further cementing a claim for a temple at that site.

As part of this process,מֶּלֶךְ יָרָבְעָם builds two golden calves, one in Bethel, house of God, and the other in Dan, judgment. Exodus debates the credibility of this by relating the story of the golden calf at Sinai. It may well be that “J” coming from the southern kingdom is saying, “Yes, Zion does only mean a pile of stones which can be piled anywhere, and yes Abraham did pile Zion at Bethel, but that is not why  מֶּלֶךְ יָרָבְעָם  built his temple in Bethel. The only legitimate place of worship is Jerusalem.”

[1] Brueggemann, Walter; Petersen, David L.; Fretheim, Terence E.; Birch, Bruce C. (2010-03-01). A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: 2nd Edition (p. 79). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.



One thought on “The Jewish people have three fathers and four mothers with something to teach us part 1

  1. Pingback: Creation in Genesis relates the fight between Shalom and Violence « The stories of Curtis and Salvador

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