Thursday, March 12, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 37 & 38

Chapter 37
Summary:Jacob/Israel settled once again in the land of Canaan when his son Joseph was seventeen years old. Joseph's job, like his half-brothers, was to shepherd his father's flocks, but he often would tattle-tale on the bad things his brothers were doing. Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons, due to the fact that Joseph was born to him in his old age, and gave Jacob a special gift of a brightly colored coat. His brothers of course noticed their father's partiality and thus hated Joseph for it.

One night Joseph had a dream that he couldn't wait to share with his brothers. He told them that in the dream, they were out binding sheaves when his sheaf stood up and his brothers sheaves bowed low before it. His brothers scoffed at Joseph's dream and his arrogance for apparently desiring to become a king over them.

Shortly after, Joseph reported another dream he had, this time being that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down before him. This time he also told his father along with his brothers, but his father was having none of it. While Joseph's brothers began to hate him even more for his seemingly arrogant dreams, his father pondered what Joseph's dreams might mean.

One day when Joseph's brothers had gone off and taken their father's sheep to graze in Shechem, he asked Joseph to follow them out there to check on them. When Joseph arrived however, he didn't find his brothers. A man who noticed him wandering about tells Joseph that his brothers had left, but that he overheard that they were headed to Dothan.

Joseph travels to Dothan, but when his brothers notice him coming in the distance they hatch a plan to kill him. They planned to kill Joseph and toss his body into a well, and that they'd tell their father that he was attacked and eaten by a wild animal. But Reuben, hoping to spare Joseph's life, persuades his brothers not to kill Joseph, but to simply throw him down into the well alive, so that he would die without leaving his blood on their hands.

When Joseph arrived, his brothers pulled off his brightly colored coat and tossed Joseph into an empty well. When the brothers sat down for supper that evening, they noticed a caravan of camels coming towards them in the distance. Judah tells his brothers that instead of leaving Joseph to die, that they should sell him off to these Ishmaelite traders passing through. After they pulled Joseph out of the well, they sold him to the traders for twenty pieces of silver. Reuben, who's idea it was to spare Joseph's life, had been away when the traders passed through, and when he returned to the well later that night to rescue his brother. When he found the empty well without his brother, Reuben tore at his clothes out of anguish and frustration.

The brothers then killed a goat and splattered it's blood upon Joseph's coat. When they returned home they showed the coat to their father Israel, telling them that they had found it out in the fields, and asked their father if this was Joseph's coat. Israel broke down in sobs and mourned his son for many weeks.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, the traders had sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer to the Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard, and chief executioner.
Thoughts:This chapter basically serves to set up the story of Joseph, who through his boastful dreams, tattle-tales, and being his father's favorite has earned the ire of his brothers who decide to kill him.

Reuben is made to appear as the only remorseful brother of the bunch, by convincing his brothers to not kill Joseph right away, but to leave him to die alone in the well - under the guise that Joseph's blood wouldn't be on their hands. However, Reuben's real intentions were to free Joseph from the well late that night, a plan that was thrown askew by brother Judah who noticed some traders passing by and opted to sell Joseph into slavery.

The brothers then slay a goat and splatter its blood onto Joseph's coat, bringing it to Israel for a positive identification. Israel goes into mourning, while Joseph has been sold off in Egypt to a palace guard and executioner.
Chapter 38
Summary:Around this time Judah left home and moved to Adullam, and lived there with a man named Hirah. There he met and married a Canaanite girl - the daughter of Shua. They lived at Chezib and had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. They were named by their mother except for Er, who was named by Judah.

When his oldest son Er grew up, Judah had arranged for him to marry a girl named Tamar. However, God deemed Er a wicked man and killed him. Judah then tells Onan that according to their laws, Onan is now required to marry Tamar so that her sons could with him would be Er's heirs. However Onan was not very keen on the idea of fathering any children that would not be counted as his own, so whenever he slept with Tamar he refused to ejaculate inside of her* and in turn angered God enough to kill him also.

Judah then told his daughter-in-law Tamar not to remarry, but to return home to her parents as to wait until Shelah was old enough to marry her. Judah however had no intentions of letting his now only son Shelah marry Tamar, fearful that God would kill him too.

After some time, Judah's wife died, and after the period of mourning was over, Judah and his friend Hirah went to Timnah to supervise the shearing of his sheep. Tamar realizing by now that she was not going to be permitted to marry Shelah, as he was fully grown by now, she laid aside her widow's clothing and covered herself in a veil and sat beside the road at the entrance of Enaim, which was on the way to Timnah. Judah noticed her as he went by, thinking she was a prostitute, and propositioned her.

He offered to pay her with a goat from his flock up in Timnah, but she asked Judah to leave behind his walking stick and identification seal as collateral for his payment. He gave them to her and proceeded to sleep with her, in turn impregnating her. When Judah later asked Hirah to bring the goat back to her and collect his collateral, Hirah was unable to find the prostitute.

Hirah asked the men of the city about the prostitute and was told that the city didn't have any prostitutes. Hirah returned to Judah and explained to him what he had been told.

About three months later, word got out that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant, and was obviously the result of prostitution. Judah upon hearing this exclaimed, "Bring her out and burn her!"

As she was being taken out to be killed she sent a message to her father-in-law Judah explaining that the man who owns the identification seal and walking stick that she possessed, was the father of her child. Judah admitted that these were his and realized that he was now more in the wrong than she was for not keeping his promise to allow her to marry Shelah. Judah however, did not marry Tamar.

When Tamar gave birth it was to twin sons. As they were being born, the midwife tied a scarlet thread around the wrist of the child who appeared first, but he drew back his hand and the other child was born first instead. The first born was named Perez (meaning "Bursting out"), while the baby with the scarlet thread around his wrist was named Zerah.
Notes:1.) The bible specifically says that Onan "spilled his seed upon the bed".
Thoughts:A quite colorful chapter detailing Israel's son Judah, his sons, and the "daughter-in-law of death". Er seems to be doomed right from the get go by his wickedness that causes God to kill him before he can have children with Tamar. Onan now has to step up to the plate to impregnate Tamar, however the offspring according to customs would in fact be Er's descendants and not Onan's own. Onan, not too happy with that arrangement opts to employ messing the sheets as a form of birth control and is killed by the wrath of God as well.

It's really difficult to figure what the whole motive and point for God's killings are here. First we kill off Er, as God deems him wicked, but he kills him before he can have any heirs. Now Onan, as little as he is described, doesn't appear to be doing anything wicked, but more over just being defiant and self-centered. Now God's official reason for killing Onan in this chapter is because he feels it is very wrong of Onan to deny his brother Er a descendant...however isn't this whole mess partially God's fault to begin with? Why is God so concerned with these bizarre man-made customs (there is nothing that states that this is God's mandate) of marriage and descendants that are obviously now obsolete to the majority of Abrahamic religions nowadays that he feels death is an appropriate punishment to serve. Essentially God strikes down Onan for practicing birth control as he's unwilling to clean up a mess that God helped make in the first place.

Now with two sons down and one not quite old enough to go, Judah has Tamar go back home to her family and play the widow for a while. Judah's wife's death is very casually mixed into the story, which to me appears to serve only to absolve Judah from being guilty of adultery in the next part of our story. Apparently realizing that Judah had no intentions of letting her marry his last surviving son, Tamar pretends to be a prostitute along the road that Judah is traveling. Judah hasn't got any money to pay for hookers, so he gives his I.D. and his walking staff to his lady-in-waiting as collateral until he can pay her for her services.

Tamar returns gets back into her widow clothes leaving Judah's buddy unable to find the town hooker to pay her and get Judah's stuff back. When Tamar turns up pregnant, and the rumor going around town is that it was from prostitution, Judah declares that she should be (and apparently will be) set on fire. Set on fire! Fire... I'm thinking that might be a bit too extreme for having a child out of wedlock from prostitution, and is also a bit hypocritical and sexist of a man who is apparently okay with bedding prostitutes himself. I repeat, he wants to set his daughter-in-law on fire...that is until she tells him that she's got his I.D. badge and his cane.

Judah apparently doesn't marry her - which I'm still having trouble figuring out how and when people are actually considered married back then, as all that had to be done with Judah's dad Jacob was a simple bride-swap in the bedroom in Chapter 29, and once the deed was done, Jacob was stuck with Leah.

Anyways, Tamar gives birth to twin boys while a mid-wife manages to tie a scarlet thread around the arm of the first baby poking out, but instead his brother beats him to the punch to be born first. They name the first born Perez, as he "burst out" of the womb, and his brother got stuck with the name Zerah.


  1. Ah, the sin of Onan. This story in particular is what christians interpret as evidence of masturbation being a sin. However, many modern Christians fail to take into account ancient Hebrew marriage customs: Like you had mentioned, If a man died, his brother was legally responsible for marrying his brother's wife, even if he himself was already married. If they had children, they would be considered his brother's children, thus preserving the family bloodlines and honor. It's interesting to me how modern Christians interpret a lot of things from the old testament, i.e. polygamy. According to the old testament, polygamy is acceptable and so is prostitution, so long as it's the man of the house partaking in her services. If a woman had sex with anyone besides her husband, even if she was raped, the consequences were dire. I'm really glad that you're doing have a very iunteresting perspective on things.

  2. I'm glad you're commenting! I've been hoping that people will chime in occasionally as obviously I'm paraphrasing everything here and other people might see something I've overlooked or have a different perspective towards the meanings of certain verses or chapters.

    Quite a few people - even some of my Christian friends - have told me that they're glad that I'm doing this, but I haven't gotten much feedback yet.

    As for the Old Testament, yes, it is indeed odd as to what modern theists cling to versus what they disregard. Exodus should be a fun chapter for that.