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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog

Genesis 12-23

We're just easing our way through Genesis, and we have so many classic stories to encounter in this week's stretch! The transition from Genesis 11 is striking: in the Tower of Babel story, humanity loses the ability to speak to each other with clarity and understanding; chapter 12 opens with God speaking a language of promise to Abraham. We saw the term "covenant" regarding God's promise to Noah never to flood the world again, but here it takes a more usual form: each party promises something. Abraham goes where God instructs, God promises to make him the founder of a people. A covenant is a contract in the ancient Middle East - and the contract is marked by a physical sign - which would be a document for us, but in a largely illiterate world, it's usually a rock or some such visible token. Here we don't learn about the sign of the covenant until the third time the promise is made, and it's circumcision. Why not a rock? Strange choice. But a covenant has, because of these stories, a deeper connotation: it's a sacred contract between God and humankind. God chooses to bind God's self, to be constrained in a contractual relationship. This is understood to be an enormous gift.

This relationship will prove most fruitful, even as it must arise from an erstwhile barren couple. And thus we are launched on the Patriarch cycle of tales, focused on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the fathers of the people of Israel. In these chapters, watch as the initial promise to Abraham deepens into the full covenant, and then is given a wrenching challenge in the near-sacrifice of his only son.

Questions to ponder as we read:

- What does it mean to be called by God? to be chosen to enact God's plan? What sort of person is called? Abraham's behavior in these stories is hardly above reproach; why has God chosen him rather than someone more obviously upright and admirable?


- How do the stories of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and of the angelic visit to Abraham and Sarah promising a child illuminate each other?

And we're off!

Read by Oct. 11: Genesis 1-11

We're off and running! Whether you made it to the opening launch meeting last night (Oct 4) or not, I invite you to start reading now. This will all be easier if you quickly settle into a rhythm of weekly reading. Thus the schedule lists the reading to be done by the following Thursday (since we'll meet on the first Thursday of each month), and this blog will have an introduction each Friday (or by the weekend) for the week's reading (usually shorter than this one!).

This first month we'll be reading all of Genesis. There are so many great stories here, stories both familiar and yet exotic. We all know the Adam and Eve story, right? Well, read it carefully and attend to the details - note that, as I said last night, it never says the fruit is an apple. Nor is the serpent ever called a snake, or Satan. And Adam appears to be with Eve when she is talked into eating by the serpent, and he immediately joins her in eating, so why does she always get the blame? These details can be very important to how we interpret any story's meaning - i.e., what its authors and the people of ancient Israel thought it was telling us about God and us.

As I said last night, all of the Bible is about trying to understand the relationship between us humans and the God who is identified first and foremost as the force/power/will that brought all things into existence. Keep that theme in mind as you read. This week, two creation stories (Gen 1-2:4a ["a" meaning first half of the verse], and Gen 2:4b-3:24), Cain and Abel, Noah and the uncreation and recreation of the world, and the Tower of Babel. Powerful, mythic stuff!

But also confusing and confounding. If Adam and Eve are the only humans created, where do these other people appear from? What's a genealogy for, and why did people live so long back in the day? Why is God so scared of the power humans can attain by working together? So: think about how God is a "character" in these stories, how they are meant to be analogies pointing to God rather than describing God, and see what different facets of God and our relationship with God are revealed in each story.

Quick literary hint/reminder: when you see "Lᴏʀᴅ," it means that the Hebrew word for God's name is Yahweh, and when you see "God," it means the Hebrew word is "Elohim." In Genesis, in particular, there are two narrative strands - one uses "God" ("Elohim") exclusively, while the other uses "Lᴏʀᴅ" or "Lᴏʀᴅ God". These ancient epic strands have been woven together, hence the contradictions (how many days does the flood last? how many pairs of animals?) and the repetitions. The latter, within a strand, also point to the original oral form of these narratives. Just fun things to notice as you read.

Enough for now - start reading! We'll have so much to talk about on November 1!

Getting started soon

The first meeting of the Book of Books Book Club (BoBBC) will be held on Thursday, October 4, 7:00-8:30pm in the Community Room at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church, 157 Montague Street. No reading is planned prior to the meeting - our reading schedule begins immediately afterward. This will therefore be an orientation meeting, to get a grasp of how we will go forward with this project. We will also have time to begin our reading by looking together at the first chapter of Genesis. Please join us!