Sunday, August 22, 2010

Retrospective: Genesis!

Things we learn from Genesis

Why children leave their parents and get married and have sex (2:24).
Why snakes don't have legs (3:14).
Why women hate snakes (3:15).
Why childbirth is painful (3:16).
Why there are weeds (3:17).
Why there are rainbows (9:13).
Why people speak different languages (11:7).
Why the hell anyone would ever perform a circumcision (17:10).
Why Jews don't eat of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh (32:32).

I was going to include Why Men Have One Less Rib, which is a common misconception, but then I looked it up and it turns out RIBS GROW BACK, which is a much more awesome biological legitimazation of the creation of Eve.

Things we don't learn from Genesis
Why God has the hots for Abraham, or any of his kids.

Things endorsed by Genesis
Staying in an abusive relationship
Tricking old blind men
Impregnating your wife's wives' servants
Famine profiteering

Number of times God promises either Abraham or his descendants numerous progeny: 10
..."as the stars of heaven" : 3
..."as the sand of the sea" : 2
..."the dust of the earth" : 1

Relevant facts
Number of stars: 200 billion in this galaxy alone
...that can be seen by the naked eye: 5770
Number of grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth: 1 million billion billion
...on an average beach: about a billion, give or take...a lot.
Number of dust particles in the world: I can't even. Google and I are both at a loss.
Number of people who have ever lived: about 106 billion as of 2002
Number of descendants of Abraham who have ever lived: No clue, but a lot less than a hundred billion.

So, depending on how you interpret God's covenant, he's either nowhere near fulfilling it, or it was fulfilled centuries ago and also wasn't that impressive of a promise. Either way, it is basically all the same promise and he makes it about ten times, and it's still not fulfilled by the end of Genesis.

Family Troubles
Number of older siblings inexplicably passed over in favor of a younger brother or sister, with unfortunate results for all parties: 14 (10 of which belong to Jacob)

You know, since nearly every main patriarch falls in the "younger child favored for no reason despite social convention" camp, and considering just how many stories in Genesis have the moral of, "Suck it up, sometimes the youngest kid is just better," I'm beginning to wonder if God isn't a passed-over younger child himself. Maybe God has an older brother, who made a wildly successful world, fair and harmonious and peaceful, and their parents always mentioned how good it was, and God got fed up with it and decided to make his OWN world which would be EVEN BETTER and the YOUNGER sons would be the favorites, so take THAT. I mean, it would explain a lot.

Incidentally, a cursory Google search reveals child favoritism does indeed have serious psychological ramifications, both for the out-of-favor children and, counter-intuitively, for the favored child as well. Just a thought.

Number of times a patriarch marries a woman more distantly related than first cousin: 1 (and he was in Egypt, where there were no first cousins to be found)

Number of times a woman tricks her father or father-in-law into bed so she can have a baby: 3

Number of times God punishes a main patriarch for his actions: 0
Number of times God punishes someone else for the actions of a main patriarch: 3
Via infertility: 3
Of an entire country: 2

Writing Style
A good chunk of Genesis is devoted to blandly detailing Abraham's tangled family tree; the word "begat" occurs 67 times, and "bare" 56 times.

Percentage of verses which begin with "And" or "But"
1163/1533 = 76%
To be fair, not all of these are the beginnings of sentences, but a lot of sentences which don't begin with "and" or "but" still begin with inappropriate connectives, so I figure this is a pretty good estimate.

Okay, so that's Genesis. It contains some of the most well-known stories in the Bible, and was one of my favorite parts of my children's comic book bible as a kid. The stories were mostly fragmented, incomprehensible, and stuck between great big chunks of family tree descriptions.

Next up, Exodus! I am looking forward to Exodus-it is one big story instead of a dozen tiny ones, so hopefully it will more closely resemble a proper story.

Bonus Fun fact: Noah's ark was made of gopher wood!
Another fun fact: No one knows what the hell gopher wood is.


  1. I don't know if this will interest you, but many scholars (of the philological and historical persuasions) believe that the "writing" style of the Bible, particularly its early parts, comes from the "telling" style of its original oral form. You know how when you're telling a story aloud, you use a lot of conjunctions like "and" and "but," and usually your sentences have fairly simple constructions? That's where all those ands and buts at the beginning of sentences come from!

    In fact, if I remember correctly, none of the punctuation was there AT ALL in the early written versions. (Punctuation is a recent invention, relative to the history of written things.) So beginnings of "sentences" are kind of arbitrary, and those conjunctions were just where people took breaths and paused to remember what happened next.

  2. I give this analysis an A. You should submit this in place of one of your actuary exams!

  3. I love this!

    For real, wtf is gopher wood?

  4. Definitely interesting, Brigid! That does make a lot of sense. I know in some ways it's unfair to judge the Bible on its readability when it is a) from an oral tradition like you've described and b) translated, but on the other hand, it's the only way we get to experience it anymore!

    Man, I can't imagine memorizing all those begatting chapters, though. That must've been tough.

  5. You forgot to mention three more things that we learn in Genesis :

    God asks of people to murder their own children,

    God selects a drunk and his inbred family to be the start of a new humanity (that supposedly will do better than the last one),

    and (my personal favorite)...

    God completely endorses pimping one's wife and one's virgin daughters to perfect strangers, especially if it could be profitable.

    Also, God creates the world twice. A rehearsal, perhaps ?

    All kidding aside...

    I've studied this (I like to flaunt my master's degree in History, by the way), so I know that the reason there are two creation stories is that these are the remnants of two different creation myths inherited from (mostly) mesopotamian roots, but the guys in charge of selecting the texts for this whole Bible thing we have now (It was bishops, mostly when debating what dogma to follow, during the first seven oecumenical councils, between 325 AD and 787 AD... So this took a while, and it happened WAY after Christ and the supposed events before that) could have made up their minds... It just doesn't look consistent.

    Oh, yeah, I forgot, it was a matter of politics and influence, what texts were selected among the huge libraries of apocrypha available on Christ and both testaments.

    There you have it : Another reason why the collection of sillyness that is the Bible isn't even coherent and consistent with itself... It's a weird compound of apocrypha, transcriptions and fragments of oral traditions already lost in time centuries before they were even closely looked at for selection. It's been written by thousands of authors over thousands of years. It's been selected among many many more texts (a whole library of the stuff, really, all of the same ilk or worse, apparently) COMPLETELY arbitrarily and by means of political power plays between bishops, emperors, lords, kings and other influential men. Some of those texts have no relations to the rest entirely. Almost all of them contradict themselves, not to mention the other texts, old and new testaments alike. Some make no sense at all because they're incomplete or their meaning has been lost. They all hail from varied eras, cultures, influences, myths and chronicles, mostly middle-eastern. They all have been influenced by many civilisations over the centuries. And, as if it wasn't enough, almost each and every translation of that "book" (even nowadays) has been politically motivated, and the text has been adapted and adapted again from one version to the next to suit the language and the zeitgeist of the time... NONE of the translations are actually from the ORIGINAL texts, some of which have been lost, and some of which are now in the Vatican vaults. Most translations are from the greek, latin, or sometimes hebrew version (the hebrew version most people think of being the LATEST, contrary to popular intuition).

    No wonder it makes so much sense.

  6. This is really fascinating stuff. I wonder if the Koran is as jumbled .... it has some reprehensible material in it regarding women, much as the Bible has all that pimping and impregnating, etc.

  7. We just started Genesis in my required Bible class and for some reason the professor had my partner and I look up the Sodom and Gommorah story to explain to the class. We told about the cities &etc, and then the prof was all 'well, what else happened?'

    "Um, Lot's daughters were all 'we need to make babies and our dad's the only guy here..... so let's get him really drunk....' and uh.... that happened.... Genesis 19...."

    I then remembered this blog and decided I should comment (:

  8. Wait, hold up. Actuary exams?