Friday, September 30, 2005

Swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath (Gen 21)

Most of the objections that the SAB gives for this chapter are pretty trivial, in my opinion. There's a lot going on here that's confusing and sometimes seems harsh, and indeed, it is to an extent, but taking the long view, I think it all makes sense.

Like the previously-discussed passages in which God "appears" to people, I think saying that God "visited" Sarah is really a figure of speech. Really, God is with Sarah all the time, as He's with everyone, but in this case, what there was was a visitation of God's power upon Sarah's post-menopausal reproductive system. As the SAB points out, Abraham doesn't seem to need any help in that area, as he has several children after Sarah dies years later. The SAB points out that "God-assisted conceptions never result in daughters." which is technically not true, as theologically Christians and Jews believe that all conceptions are God-assisted in a sense, but the point is clear enough. I'm not sure why this needs to be pointed out, unless the implication is that there's some sexism involved. From one point of view, it's often the mothers that seem to care the most about infertility, and a point could be made that these special conceptions are a special blessing to the women in particular, but I can certainly understand that that might not convince everyone. (Remember that Abraham was perfectly happy to have Ishmael be his heir!) If Steve Wells is trying to make a different point, perhaps he can leave a comment.

So Sarah has a child, and he is named Isaac, a word often translated as "laughter". There's a lot of interesting usages of this word surrounding the life of Isaac and his parents: Abraham laughs the first time he's told Isaac is going to be born, and so does Sarah. The word can also mean "mocking", "playing" or "messing around". It's the word used of Ishmael's actions towards Isaac in verse nine, and even Issac's actions with his wife in chapter 26 (probably some sort of "heavy petting" as they say). Because of the ambiguity/flexibility of the word, verse six may possibly mean Sarah's saying something like "God's making fun of me!" but certainly in a positive way. But in the midst of this mirth, Sarah gets angry when she sees Ishmael doing whatever he's doing to Isaac. (Although "mocking" is most likely the best translation, some have suggested due to the word's usage elsewhere that he may have simply been laughing in a friendly manner, and Sarah somehow couldn't stand to see this illegitimate child happy, or the possible other extreme that Sarah caught Ishmael molesting his younger brother. The latter would probably give very good justification for Sarah's anger in this story, but there's not a real strong basis for this speculation as far as I know.) Sarah insists Abraham send Ishmael and Hagar away, and whether or not she's at all justified in her anger, God seems to feel that it's a good idea, and tells Abraham to do it.

The SAB claims that Abraham sent them "out into the wilderness to die" but I think there's an important point missing from such a reading of the story. Even if it wasn't reiterated by God here (which it is), Abraham no doubt remembers that God already promised that Ishmael would come to eventual prosperity. No, the point wasn't to have Ishmael dead, but to have him come into his own someplace a bit farther away from his half-brother Isaac. Note that this is a repeated theme throughout Genesis, that two close family members are too prosperous to be able to coexist in the same general area, and they have to part ways. This is just preemptive in Ishmael's case. Abraham gives them food and water and sends them off.

The SAB questions Ishmael's age at the time he is sent off with his mother, as the general context of the story suggests he's in his mid-teens, but some of the particular wording in this passage suggests a much younger child. First of all, the wording of the translation in verse 14, while technically following the wording of the Hebrew, unfortunately doesn't quite capture the spirit of the grammar, unfortunately. Note that the phrase "and the child" comes after the phrase "on her shoulder", and the implication is that she's carrying the bread and water, but not her son. Grammatically, "the child" follows the verb "gave", but not the subclause. Admittedly, it's not real clear, but apparently, this is just a difficult to translate passage. I don't think verse 15 really poses a problem, as one could certainly even take a full-grown adult and shove them under the shade of a bush. Verse 18, on the other hand is much more awkward phrase, as the KJV translation makes Ishmael sound like a tiny infant; many other translations use "by the hand" or "with your hand" which make more sense for a teenager. (I have a whole spiel about translation of prepositions that I usually share in the context of chapter one, and I can't believe I skipped over it! I even promised I'd include it in one of my early posts. I'm going to add it to the comments here later today.)

Back to Abraham, we see that he is approached by King Abimelech and Captain Phichol, who tell him that they respect Abraham's standing before God, and they'd like to make a pact with him that they will all do their best to get along, and hopefully they will all prosper. Note that we have seen the name Abimelech before, and we'll see it again, once with the name Phicol. While some instances of this may be the same person, it's very likely that "Abimelech" is more like a royal title than a proper name in the usual sense (it means "the king is my father") and Phicol (meaning "strong") may also be a title for the head of the army of Gerar. When Isaac runs into these guys, it's about 40 years later, and he has a similar sort of experience to his dad's first run-in with them.

Abraham makes a pact with them, which takes a bit of working out of some details concerning a well and some sheep. Swearing, making covenants, and taking oaths are good things to do, but Jesus gives an important caveat, which is echoed by James: if you understand the cultural and scriptural context for the two quoted verses, the point of the verses is not that someone should abstain from swearing (although it is true that some Christians, to be on the safe side, have "sworn off" swearing, if you will) but that swearing should not be an excuse for hypocrisy. When you were a kid, did you ever hear a kid say (or say yourself) "I swear on a stack of Bibles!" Why should swearing on a stack of Bibles be better than swearing on one Bible? Why should swearing on one Bible be better than just swearing? Why should swearing be better than just saying something, and people know you to be of such good character that they know you mean what you say at all times? Paraphrasing Jesus in Matt. 5:37, "Just say what you mean all the time, and swearing should serve no purpose."

The chapter ends with a couple of questions by the SAB concerning some geography. I'm going to answer the questions together, as they are related in a way. This story is supposedly the time Beersheba is given its name, and although another story is given later, the SAB apparently missed the fact that earlier, Hagar and Ishmael were sent away to Beersheba, which seems like it would be a clear anachronism. The thing is, while the area and the well in that story were named later, the author is writing after the fact, and calls the place by the name it was known by in the time of the writer. Beersheba was still called that 1,000 years later, and as far as I know, is still called that today. My point in answering this question that was not asked (but maybe should have been?) is that when the Bible here refers to "the land of the Philistines" hundreds of years before Philistines, it may simply mean that it was the land that eventually would belong to the Philistines. Also, as with so many other names, the meaning has a vagueness that means it may mean nothing so particular at all, as the Hebrew word for "Philistines" means "immigrants". As for the naming of Beersheba being covered twice, and seemingly thus contradicting, there are many interesting things going on in the Hebrew. There's a bit of wordplay involved here, as they make an oath (shev'uah) over seven (sheb'a) ewe lambs. In Isaac's story, there's no sense of "seven", but only an oath involved. It may be that while Abraham called the place Beersheba, the name didn't quite stick until Isaac's time. It may also be that Isaac's well was not just his father's well redug, but a new well in the same general area. Since Abraham and his son keep having to dig new wells here and make new covenants, the name just eventually comes into common usage, I guess, and the name sticks for over 3,000 years.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Behold, of a surety she is thy wife; and how saidst thou, She is my sister? (Gen 20)

So chapter 20 opens with Harry coming downstairs to find Hermione and Ginny already at breakfast... Oh wait, wrong book.

Here in Genesis, we see essentially a replay of the story in chapter 12. Abraham enters a strange new area, he figures the men of that area have no scruples and will kill him to take his wife, so he tells her to (half) lie and say that she's his sister, and troubles follow.

This time, there are a few differences, though. God actually talks directly to Abimelech in a dream instead of sending some plagues as He did in Egypt. Now, while God does say to Abimelech "Behold, thou art but a dead man..." and it sounds like a death threat, some have suggested (and I think it makes sense both logically and in regards to some of what follows) that the actual implication is that God has rendered Abimelech impotent. Either he's a "dead man" in bed, or he's a "dead man" because he is unable to have children, perhaps a bit of both.

Abimelech pleads with God, and points out that he's acted in good faith, and that in any case, he hasn't actually touched Sarah yet. Note that the only thing in the chapter that indicates that God caused any harm to anyone outside of the king's household is the word "nation" in verse four. While it may indeed imply that the curse/threat/plague/whatever was on the whole country, it seems also quite likely that being the king, Abimelech is referring to himself as a "nation", not an uncommon thing to do in a monarchy. Also of note is the similarity between this verse and verse 18:23. Although it's not crystal clear, it seems that Abimelech, despite Abraham's suspicions, is to some degree familiar with Abraham's God.

An interesting thing that comes out of this is that while God surely would have had the ability to just make everything right again if Sarah just went back to her husband, He decides to make Abimelech have to pay Abraham and Sarah, and ask Abraham to pray for him. I've got to say I think it's a little odd to be forced give gifts to a guy that nearly got you killed, but I think the real point is to respect Abraham as God's representative, albeit a very flawed one.

Yes, Sarah and Abraham were half-siblings. Is incest okay? No, but... As I think I mentioned before, there's some sort of dividing line in history that happens, and the reason for it is never given, but one could guess. Cain probably married his sister, or at the very least married a niece that was the daughter of two of his siblings. He essentially had no choice, did he? I think also, in the early days after the flood (which would be Abraham's time), there was a limited number of available women to men wanting to marry, and they probably would have to marry a close relative, perhaps even especially after Babel, when a non-relative wouldn't speak the same language. However, once your nation becomes as big as six hundred thousand men (and probably about the same number of women), you should be able to find a wife that's at least as distant as a second cousin. The dividing line for the Jews was the Exodus, and the handing down of the Law. In Leviticus 18, God says this practice should be no more.

So Abimelech gives all sorts of stuff to Abraham, along with some money to Sarah, and tells them they can live wherever they want in the land. Abraham prays and the people in Abimelech's household get to have children again, "For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs..." Yeah, like the SAB said before, it's always the women with the problem in the Bible, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah (Gen 19)

Pardon me for missing a post yesterday. I've started working a second job this week, so I've been really busy. I guess we'll just skip chapter 19, after all, there's nothing interesting there, right? Uh, yeah...

Okay, so two of the three men/angels from the last chapter show up in Sodom, and they meet Lot sitting at the gate. Culturally, this means that Lot was a man considered to be of some authority in the city, which I've always thought a little odd given the rest of the story. The SAB wonders whether angels can have sex, and while this subject was touched upon back at the beginning of the flood story, there are a few different things that ought to be said here. While the question is an interesting one, it's a moot point here, because these angels did not actually have sex with anyone in this story, despite people claiming to wish to do so. Furthermore, even if they did, there's another issue about the terminology. In both the Hebrew and the Greek, the term translated as "angel" is a word that technically means "messenger" (the same word is used several times in Gen 32); these are not necessarily supernatural beings. It's actually possible that these two men are unnamed human prophets that God has sent in His power to deal with the city in a personal manner.

Whoever the men were, they refuse the hospitality of Lot at first, and tell him that they're planning to sleep out on the street that night. This horrifies Lot, who apparently knows this would be a very dangerous thing, and he eventually talks them into staying at his house. Now as I said in yesterday's post, hospitality was a very serious business, and Lot eventually says some things that show he considers their lives more precious than that of his own family, perhaps including himself.

The men of Sodom show up at Lot's door, and insist that Lot turn out these visitors so that they can be gang-raped. Although homosexuality is addressed in the Bible, and it may indeed have been one of the things that God was unhappy about in Sodom, let's face it, this is gang rape, which is wrong regardless of the gender of the people involved. Maybe I'm not good-looking enough, but I've spent many a time in San Francisco, even in public after dark, and nobody ever propositioned me for public group sex. When I was in college, the majority of my close friends were homosexuals, and while we spent many a Friday evening drinking and playing cards, I don't remember anyone ever suggesting we go out knocking on doors in the neighborhood looking for attractive out-of-towners to molest. I know homosexuals, and this is not your standard homosexual behavior.

Well, Lot steps outside and suggests that it would be better for the men to have at his own daughters than at his guests. This is definitely disturbing behavior for a man that the Bible calls "just" and "righteous" in 2Peter. There are a few things that can be said in his defense, but in the end, this is one of those things I have to admit I just can't quite comprehend. One thing is the matter of Middle Eastern hospitality, as I have already mentioned (see the end of verse 8). The other thing is actually from the very passage that speaks so highly of him: that he was "vexed" by the men of Sodom. It seems possible that being a man of some authority in the city (see above) and being unable to do anything about how immoral these men were for so long while living there, he was just so exhausted trying to "fight the good fight" that he was all out of ideas of how to deal with them. Apparently just leaving the door locked wouldn't be enough, as after he spoke with them, they tried to break his door down. In my opinion, that doesn't justify him, but I'd take a plea of "temporary insanity" on his part, so to speak.

The angels cause the men to go blind, and pull Lot back inside, telling him he needs to leave, because the city is going to be destroyed in the morning. The SAB claims that Lot having "sons-in-law" shows that Lot was lying about his daughters being virgins, but this is not the case. While it may be possible that these "sons-in-law" were men that were engaged to be married to his daughters, but had not yet officially married them and consummated the relationship, it's also possible that these men are married to other daughters of Lot. Sure, such daughters are not mentioned, but the two daughters that play an important role in this story are not named.

So Lot leaves with his wife and two virgin daughters, and God destroys the city and nearby region. As for his reason to do so, the SAB gives a link to this article, which I agree is a very good overview of the matter, far better than mine, I'm sure. In leaving, Lot's wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. It happens that the region in which all of this is supposed to have taken place contains several "pillars of salt" which, depending on your view, may either lend extra credence to the story or convince you that it's more of a fable.

After a while, Lot and his two daughters go and live in a cave in the mountains. A friend of mine who was not a Christian always said that the story that finishes out this chapter is Lot's daughters getting revenge on their father for what he did to them by shaming him, and I suppose there may be some truth in it. They get him drunk and when he's apparently so drunk he doesn't even know what's going on, they have sex with him, and get pregnant. This is a weird story, and in no part of the story does God say that he approves of it. The two children are Moab and Bennami (two names that in the Hebrew are suggestive of the incestuous act that conceived them), and their descendants form a couple of nations that would neighbor Israel and cause them trouble from time to time.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Some have entertained angels unawares (Gen 18)

Chapter 18 is the prelude to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Chapter 19, and some elements of this story make more sense when you put the two chapters together, in my opinion. First of all, the SAB notes that "Abraham feeds God and three angels." Various religious traditions have different understandings of this story, but I'm not aware of any that have that particular understanding. If I'm not mistaken, the Jewish tradition is that God is not physically present at this meal, but only these three angels. Christian tradition states that either God is one of the three or, being a Trinity, God is all three at once. In any case, something one can see in the next chapter is that while three men come to Abraham, only two men/angels arrive at Sodom. I think the Jewish tradition might be that the third went to Gomorrah, which makes some sense, as it seems that if there's a need to send physical witnesses of some sort into the city before judging it, then both cities needed a visitation. Something odd about this story overall is that while both the cities are destroyed for their wickedness, we really don't ever hear any details about Gomorrah's issues.

While I have already addressed the question of whether or not God can be seen, something interesting to note about this story is that there seems to be little indication that Abraham realizes that these men are anything special at first. The wording of his greeting to them is different than the way he addresses God in chapter 15, but then again, he also speaks to God differently in verse 27 onward, when it seems pretty clear that he does know who he's talking to, so it's hard to say. (In the KJV, a word translated all-caps to "LORD" or "GOD" is a translation of the Hebrew name for God. At current, the SAB has the capitalization wrong for this chapter, so you can see the correct version here.) In any case, I think the real point here is a contrast in styles of hospitality between Abraham and the Sodomites. It's understood that proper etiquette in those days was that when you had a guest in your home, you would almost go so far as to act like their slave to show them proper hospitality, which may explain some of the bizarre actions of Lot in the next chapter. Abraham suggests humbly that he will get the men "a morsel of bread" and when they agree, he runs off and has a banquet prepared for them.

(Interestingly, the meal includes both meat and milk, a Jewish dietary no-no; while the dietary laws have not been handed down yet, it's fascinating to note it. Jewish tradition is that Abraham, despite living before the law, kept kosher, and many theorize that while he served meat and milk at the same meal, it was not part of the same dish, and the angels probably only ate one or the other.)

So the men ask where Sarah is. Once again, this is not a case of God failing to be omniscient, but merely a conversation-starter. While it may be possible that one of the angels asked, and he himself did not know the answer, it's not like they called her out to talk with her, they're drawing the subject to this message of her upcoming pregnancy. When Sarah overhears the message, she laughs, because she thinks it's silly since she's well past menopause, and perhaps isn't even having sex with her husband anymore. God hears Sarah's thoughts, and tells Abraham, asking "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" The SAB points out a few verses that name some things that are apparently too hard for the Lord, and while I'm tempted to simply answer the question "No," and move on, addressing those verses when I get to them, it's an important enough question to give time to here.

The three verses that are quoted on the page each have their reasons, and let me address the last one first: Yes, God cannot lie. This is not to say that God does not have the physical ability to lie; any being that has the ability to give information could conceivably give false information. However, God, by His nature, is unable to do anything but tell the truth. As for the other two verses, the answer is probably similar for both of them. In Mark 6, if you look at context, you see that the problem there is lack of faith. Some people have supposed that God is like a big engine that uses faith as a fuel, but that's not why faith is important. Note that just about everywhere else Jesus went, big crowds gathered around Him, eager for His wisdom, his forgiveness, and His miracles. Here, nobody shows up. What is likely happening is that Jesus is interested in doing miracles for people, but only for people who really want to see miracles, and are putting their full trust in Him. Jesus wasn't able to do much in that town because nobody wanted Him to, and so there was no point for it. The similarity in the Judges passage is that the people of Israel were fighting for God to take the land, but it probably was the case that when they got to whatever valley this was, they saw all the chariots and lost hope, never taking hold of God's promise that He would make them victorious. Note that it doesn't say they lost against the chariots, only that they couldn't do it.

So before they leave, God says, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do...?" God's not "worried that Abraham might stop Him", He's asking a rhetorical question; it's His way of saying, "Y'know what? I ought to let Abraham in on what's about to go down here." So He explains it. When He says He "will go down now, and see" it's not an instance of Him being unable to see from Heaven, but something else. There's a pattern that recurs in the Bible fairly often that God always takes some concrete action before judging, in order to give a last chance. In this case, it occurred to me that God might be giving these angels the final say on the matter in a way, telling them, "I've decided that there's not much worth saving in these cities, so go down there and take a look; I've given you authority to do with them as you see fit." I think a more orthodox approach would probably be that the angels coming to visit is a final test to see how the people respond. More on this next chapter, I think.

Abraham, upon hearing the news, asks, as the SAB puts it "two good questions" about the destruction of S & G. These two questions are the beginning of a series of similar questions, of the form, "Will you destroy the city if there are X righteous people there?" Most people interpret this as Abraham bargaining with God, but the concept bothers me to some extent. It seems to me personally that a possibility is Abraham is trying to understand both the nature of God's justice and how wicked the city is. "Surely you wouldn't destroy a city if it had at least thirty good people in it, right?" "That's correct, Abraham." Maybe Abraham is indeed hoping if he gets the number low, God will change his mind, but I think Abraham is possibly thinking in the end, "Man, there's not even ten righteous people living there? What's my nephew doing living in a place like that?"

Friday, September 23, 2005

The gospel of the circumcision (Gen 17)

"Good news, Abe! I've decided you should have the tip of your penis cut off!" That wacky God; what a cut-up! (This is where I'm supposed to say, "No pun intended," with the express purpose of not caring whether you think I intended it or not, but just making sure you didn't miss it.)

Here's a little personal anecdote my mother told me: when I was born, it was widely believed that circumcision was a very healthy thing to do, and they gave my mother a hard time getting out of the hospital with me without having me circumcised. My mother repeatedly explained to the staff that I would be circumcised, but several days later, according to Jewish custom, at my parents' synagogue. Although apparently they had no legal right to do so, they pretty much threatened not to release her until she signed a release form allowing a doctor to do it right away. Weird stuff. Anti-Semitism, or just ignorance? I don't know.

Anyway, getting to today's passage, God appears to Abram again, and makes another covenant with him. Now I've heard it discussed that this is a separate covenant than the one in chapter 15, and this one is a conditional one. I have to admit I'm not real clear on what the difference is, and while part of it is just me being tired, it's also not super clear in the text. The fact that God doesn't give the land to him in his lifetime is something I've already discussed in recent posts, but I'd say verse eight is particularly confusing as the construct "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee" seems to be clearly specifying the giving of the land to Abraham himself. I don't know what the deal is with that.

Now Abram ("exalted father"), who is renamed Abraham ("father of a multitude") has to do something a bit more challenging than cutting up a few animals; he has to cut off his foreskin, and talk every man living in his house into doing it as well. The SAB questions whether circumcision is necessary, and while looking at some of the New Testament verses on the matter can be confusing out of context, I think there is a fairly unified message concerning it. The main N.T. texts that discuss it at length are Acts 15, in which the early church fathers meet together to discuss the matter of circumcision of gentile converts to Christianity, and a large portion of the book of Romans, particularly chapter four, in which Paul points out that Abram was called righteous over thirteen years before he was circumcised. The upshot is that if you're a Jew and you're going to follow the law of the Jews, then you have to be circumcised. If you're a non-Jew who wants to follow God, you don't have to be circumcised. I don't believe I'm mistaken in my understanding that even Jews believe this. This is the first of many commands in the Bible that are specifically for Jews (although Muslims also circumcise), a subject I'll talk about a lot if I ever make it out of Genesis. Circumcision is to be taken very seriously by the Jews, though, to the point that God says a man who is not circumcised can't be part of the Jewish community, another point I'd have to say is rather odd, since one might assume that, as a Jew, it's really his parents' fault if he's not circumcised.

Sarai's name gets changed to Sarah, which changes the meaning from "princess" to "noblewoman", not a big change. The real point of changing the names was in some way that it was significant in this case to add an "H" to each one, I seem to recall being taught when I was a kid, although I can't remember why; it was something to do with God's spirit being on them in some way. The SAB mentions here that Sarah was Abraham's half-sister, which makes the relationship between them incestuous, yes, but Biblical scholars have pointed out that God never said anything against incest until after the Israelites leave Egypt, probably because with the smaller population in the first few hundred years after the flood, incest would have been harder to avoid.

In changing Sarah's name, God also says that He's going to give Sarah a child, and since she's eighty years old and has never conceived, Abraham laughs. God tells Abraham that the child will be named Isaac, a Hebrew name meaning "he laughs" because, as explained more in the next chapter, everyone is going to laugh at the idea of an 80-year-old woman having a child. (The SAB doesn't put its laughing "absurdity" icon next to verse 16, a place where one might actually consider it respectful to do so!)

So the chapter ends with Abraham circumcising himself, his son Ishmael (Muslims circumcise at age 13, following the tradition of their forefather!), and all of his male servants. While the Bible doesn't say this all happened in one day, it probably did happen in a short time frame, and the SAB is right in painting the rather disturbing picture it does in responding to verse 23. I imagine the announcement; "Hey everyone, I'm giving you the rest of the day off, right after you do just one little thing..." Yikes.

I guess the only thing I haven't covered here is the issue of Ishmael's age, but I think that's really a matter to cover in chapter 21, if indeed it's a matter at all. I don't think it is, but I'll address it when I get there.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

As for Ishmael, I have heard thee (Gen 16)

Sorry for the lateness of this post, but the SAB was down all day, and I just recently figured out how to get the info I needed for the post. Hopefully it's sufficient.

I don't know whether to chalk it up to chauvinism or simple lack of biological understanding, but yes, as the SAB says, "In the Bible, it is the women who are barren, never the men." Most likely, if a couple wasn't having children, it probably would have been assumed to be the wife's problem in those days, unless the man had something obviously wrong with him. In this particular case, while it seems possible that there was more going on here than Sarai's infertility, it is notable that Abram had no difficulties conceiving with at least two other women besides Sarai, namely Hagar and Keturah. Also, the specific language ("went in unto" rather than "knew" Hagar) used is suggestive that Hagar conceived the very first time.

It was apparently a practice in those days that if a couple wanted children but the wife was unable to conceive, they would find a surrogate mother, usually one of the wife's female servants. (It's not made clear whether the servant has to be willing or not. One would hope so, but I suspect it was not the case.) A pretty barbaric practice, surely, and in the few cases where the Bible mentions someone using it, it's usually a story given a negative tone. We see here that the end result of using Hagar in this fashion is that Hagar is unhappy, Sarai is unhappy and Abram is unhappy. Eventually the child becomes the ancestor of the Ishmaelites, known today as the Arabs, who from their beginnings until today have very seldom gotten along well with the Israelites. So, as I said before, polygamy is allowed, but never fully approved of by God.

(Another note about possible strong language in the original Hebrew: In verse 5, the word translated "bosom" is actually more like "lap", and may have some strong connotations.)

So Sarai gets angry that Hagar conceived so easily, no doubt due to jealousy on multiple levels. Abram decides to placate her by letting her be mean to Hagar, which she is in some unspecified way, perhaps physical abuse. So Hagar runs away, and eventually has the first run-in with an "angel" in the book of Genesis. Note that it's a common belief among Christians that the phrase "angel of the Lord" is an indication of a Christophany. Whoever this angel is, he suggests to Hagar that she return and submit to whatever she has to, and that in time, her own son will become very prosperous, although warlike. Somehow, this encounter leads to the well being named after the event as "the well of the living One who sees."

So, Ishmael was born, and was he Abram's first son or not? It seems that he is, but the Bible often says otherwise, that Isaac was Abram's first son, and even his only son. What does this mean? The fact is that while Ishmael's father was indeed Abram, Isaac was Abram's first legitimate son. Although Abram cared about and loved Ishmael, Isaac was the only son of his wife Sarai. In that sense, Isaac was the first. But what about the children he had through Keturah in chapter 25? Wasn't Abram married to her? Yes, but I would venture to guess that in every case Isaac is called Abram's "only son," it's referring to a time before Abram remarried. It certainly is the case in the verses cited by the SAB, but someone may know of others that I don't.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

There was a certain disciple at Damascus (Gen 15)

An interesting feature of chapter 15 is the fact that verse 2 is the only mention of the name of Abram's chief servant, Eliezer. This guy has a few important roles to play, but for the most part he does it rather anonymously. Some have suggested that his name, which means "God is help", has a certain suggestive symbolism to it. There are a few moments in the life of Abram that are considered by Christians to be prefiguring of events in the early Church, and in those stories, Abram represents God the Father and Isaac represents God the Son. So what about the Holy Spirit? Well, apparently the third person of the Trinity, who is never given a name in scripture, but is sometimes referred to as a "helper" (the word translated "comforter" in John 14:26 could also be translated "helper") is represented by Eliezer. I may get back to this in a later chapter.

One of the reasons that Eliezer is so important at this moment is that Abram has no child, and verses 2-4 are, translated into plainer, more modern words: Abram says, "Thanks for all the wealth you've given me, God, but I don't have any children. I guess when I die I'll leave it all to Eliezer." God says, "No, I'm going to give you a child that will actually be your blood descendant." Then in verse 5, God says that Abram's descendants are one day going to be so numerous, trying to count them would be like trying to count the stars. Some people interpret this as meaning that the Jews will be plentiful, some think it means all nations that trace descent from Abram (which would include the Ishmaelites, the Edomites, and a few others) and some interpret it to mean all followers of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. One thing it clearly doesn't mean is Abram's immediate descendants, as he had only about eight.

Last thing worth noting before I address the objections is verse 6, a verse that Christians consider a very significant one. Off and on, I've had to address the issue of whether Noah was a "righteous" man, and of course, the SAB points out others that are called as such. In Christianity, (and perhaps in Judaism to an extent, I'm not sure) there's a concept of self-righteousness vs. imputed righteousness. Everyone who tries to be righteous by their own merit has the former, and the Bible says "...our righteousnesses are as filthy rags..." (The SAB has many notes on this passage, but they ought to add the "Language" icon to it; the original Hebrew phrase is translated delicately, and literally means "used menstrual cloths". How's that for an image?) It's not that it's wrong to try to do good, but that deep down, we're trying to fool ourselves into believing that we're better than we really are. Now imputed righteousness, which is the kind I believe Noah had, is where a person, despite their failings, decides to trust in the Lord and accept that He is good. The epistle of James talks a lot about how real righteousness of this sort is intertwined with doing good things, but most of the Bible makes it clear that it comes first and foremost from a relationship with God. Abram had this relationship.

Okay, now to the rest of this chapter. Abram cuts up some animals and has a vision. What's it all about? This is an odd one, as this is not a sacrifice in the usual sense. Note that no altar is used and the animals are not burned up. My understanding of this chapter is that it's a cultural thing from Abram's time. When two people wanted to make a covenant with each other, they would take some animals, chop them in half like this, and the two parties of the agreement would walk down the middle. Probably like the sacrifices, the idea was that the goriness of the scene would be a reminder of the seriousness of the matter, and that if one should break the covenant, they might suffer a similar fate. Sure, it's a bit barbaric, but it's a symbolic gesture that Abram would understand. Also, note that there is no mention of Abram walking down the middle, only that God, in the form of "a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp" goes through the middle. This promise to Abram is a unilateral covenant with no conditions: Abram will be the father of a great nation, and that nation will inherit the land of Canaan. The fact that this was not fulfilled in Abram's own lifetime was mentioned a few chapters ago, and I addressed it there.

Then God tells Abram that the Egyptian captivity is going to happen before all this comes to pass, and that it partly has something to do with the Amorites. I thought I had mentioned that before, but I can't find it, so let me risk repeating and explain. Apparently, many of the nations in Canaan were immoral, and God was planning to wipe them out, but He was going to give them a few more years to clean up their act before He got rid of them and gave their land to the Israelites. He didn't just destroy these nations because he wanted to give something to Abram; He was using the Israelites as a tool to get things done.

So, how long was the captivity? 400 years or 430? Well, it depends on how you count it. Note that the wording in this chapter is different than in Exodus 12:40. I believe what's going on here is that the young nation of Israel went into Egypt during a famine, and stayed there 430 years. However, it wasn't until they had been there 30 years that they became slaves. Remember, the period of slavery didn't start immediately upon arrival; at first they were welcome guests treated with honor. How many generations was that? The SAB says seven, which contradicts the claim of "in the fourth generation" in verse 16, but what is that verse talking about? I believe it's not talking about the fourth generation from Abram, but the fourth generation from the beginning of their slavery. That would mean four generations after the death of the tribal patriarchs. So Kohath is the first generation, and Moses is the third, making the generation after Moses (and Moses was quite elderly when he led them out of Egypt) the generation God is talking about. Of course, generations aren't always well-defined. My oldest cousin is about 40 years old, but her father recently remarried and had a new child. Age-wise, my cousin is old enough to be her sibling's grandmother. So what is a generation? In this case, it's oddly enough about 100 years! There's something I think is more worth questioning than the number of generations.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation (Gen 14)

Ugh, Amalekites... What a drag. (No offense to any Amalekites reading my blog!)

The Amalekites are this tribe of people who live in the general region of Canaan. They get defeated about six or seven times throughout the Bible, a couple times being "utterly destroyed". But they just KEEP COMING BACK! What the heck? Sometimes I feel like I'm helping the SAB's cause more than countering it, but the SAB might do well to have a reference page just for all the varied mentions of Amelekites and how they pop up in some strange places.

Here in chapter 14, the SAB points out that the Amalekites are mentioned three generations before the birth of Amalek, who one would think it would be safe to assume was the patriarch of the Amalekites. After all, Cush is the father of the Cushites, Canaan is the father of the Canaanites, Israel is the father of the Israelites, etc. Well, I believe the Amalek mentioned in chapter 36 does indeed become the father of a tribe of people called the Amalekites eventually. But one would be right to ask, what the heck are Amelekites doing back here before Amalek's birth? These can't be the same people, so why the same name?

Well, although it's strange that two separate nations might have the same name, it's certainly not impossible. For instance, there is a tribe in Oklahoma known as the "Kado", but there are also ethnic groups with that name in Chad and Burma, and the groups have nothing in common but their name. I think in this case, the real key to understanding what's likely to be going on is to look at the Hebrew. The name "Amalek" means "dweller in a valley". Thus "Amalekites" would really mean "the people who live in the valley". It may or may not be a genuine name, and could be simply a label that could be applied to any nation that happened to live in a valley. I think that in general, when this name appears in the Bible, there is a chance that it is referring to a people that has little in common with the other Amalekites other than happening to perhaps be located in a valley. That certainly seems to be the case here.

I'm not going to look into all of the Hebrew for this chapter, but there may be more of interest, such as "the Zuzims in Ham" mentioned in verse 5, which apparently is, rather than a title, just a generic term for nomadic people, and "Shaveh Kiriathaim" which means a plain with two cities.

Also, since I've already touched on slavery as an ancient Middle Eastern custom that differs from our modern concept, I'm not going to respond to the notes on verse 14 and 15, but refer you to my earlier post, and the comments following.

I am however going to finish this post out with some comment on Melchizedek, as promised earlier. Melchizedek appears here in verses 18-20, and it's the only place he appears, but the Bible has a fair amount to say about him. Who is he? His name means something like "King of Righteousness", and he's the king and high priest of Salem, a place with a name that means "peace", and eventually becomes Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, location of the Jewish Temple, and location of Christ's crucifixion.

Melchizedek is an interesting person for numerous reasons. His ancestry is not mentioned (it's usually the practice to say a person's name and the name of their father), and in fact Hebrews 7 says that he was "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." This is suggestive, but before I follow this line, I'd like to also point out that he's in the unique position of being simultaneously a king and a high priest; in the law of Israel, a person was never allowed to be both, and you don't really see it in other nations either. (Call it "separation of church and state"; even God thinks it's a good idea!) Apparently some scholars have suggested it might be Shem who, oddly enough, is still alive according to the numbers in chapter 11's genealogy. Other people have other interesting ideas. The most significant idea, however, is that some believe this to be the first "Christophany" as it is called: a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus on the earth. Note that this guy knows who Abram is, knows who Abram's God is, and Abram gives him a tithe (one-tenth of his spoils from the war), something that in Israel's future was something people were supposed to give to their priesthood in order to honor God. Also note that Melchizedek brings bread and wine, a traditional communion plate long before communion was instituted. Whoever this was, he was definitely a messenger from God.

At the end of the story, the king of Sodom offers to give all the material spoils of the war to Abram, but he declines, saying that while he was willing to team up with the army of Sodom to win this war, he's not willing to take anything from Sodom as a gift beyond that. It seems that Abram already knows that something's not quite right with this place.

Monday, September 19, 2005

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise (Gen 13)

Another short post today, as the SAB has little to say about chapter 13, and neither do I.

In verse 13, we see the first mention of the wickedness of Sodom. The SAB marks this passage with the "homosexuality" icon, and while indeed the stories of the destruction of Sodom are often used as a case study in the evils of homosexuality, no understanding of the story of Sodom is complete without a reading of Ezekiel 16:49-50:
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Note that while homosexuality may indeed be the unspecified "abomination" at the end of this list, like so many other lists, it's fairly safe to assume that this is organized by importance. If sexual sin was an issue (and it certainly seems that way by any standard), God seems to consider it of less importance than selfishness and failure to be kind to those that are needy among us. Anyway, Sodom had a lot of problems, and their sexual ones were just a small part of the whole. Maybe the SAB can add a thumbs-up icon to Ezekiel 16:49; I'd like to think we can all agree that looking unfavorably on lazy gluttons who refuse to help those less fortunate is an acceptable attitude

Now after Lot has parted ways with Abram, God speaks to him again. I think this is a bit significant, as this is the first point in time, many years after his initial call, that God is clearly speaking to Abram, and it's the first time that he's fully followed the orders that God gave him back in Ur. God doesn't tend to give people the whole plan all at once, He tends to tell people what the next step is, and then waits for them to get around to taking that step.

God tells Abram that He's going to give the whole region where Abram is to his descendants one day. There's definitely some difficulty in the understanding of this passage, as it has been the basis for a number of Holy wars over the years. Muslims believe that the land belongs to them, since after all, they are descended from Abram's first son, Ishmael. There may even be some justification for it in the Quran, but I haven't read it, so I don't know. Some Christian sects have taken the position that this promise was to be fulfilled in the far future through the followers of Abram's descendant Jesus, and that somehow the Church is the true Israel. Most Christians I know (especially those that are well-educated and have read and studied the Bible thoroughly) consider this a bunch of bull. Everything that God promised the Jews is going to be fulfilled, and while gentile Christians get certain blessings as well, it's a different set of blessings. The ancient Jews probably thought they were seeing the fulfillment of that promise in their time, but God promised it "for ever", and they clearly only had it for a few hundred years before losing it partially to the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and then completely losing it under the Romans. Modern Jews probably expect that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment, but only time will tell.

My opinion is that the Jews are eventually going to get the land. In fact, forget about the issues of Gaza and the West Bank, I believe they're eventually going to get a huge chunk of the Middle East, far bigger than the nation of Israel has ever been. In the end, it's not going to be about who has the biggest guns, or who has the backing of the U.S. or the U.N.; when the time is right, God's just going to give it to them, and all this warring over the land is from an eternal standpoint of no consequence.

The SAB apparently considers this an injustice, but I think that the real reason for giving the land to the nation of Israel has to do with the righteousness of them as a nation vs. the unrighteousness of the Canaanite nations that held the land before the time of Joshua. A violent, cruel and immoral people, God just decided to take it away from them. And Abram, who was the person to first hear the promise, never owned any of that land, except a small burial plot.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil (Gen 12)

Okay, for those who read this blog, and think I'm too long-winded, here's the short version of the commentary for chapter 12: Yes, Abram essentially lied to Pharaoh, and it was wrong for him to do so. See you on Monday.

Now the long-winded version that touches on the finer points. There's a lot that I hear said about the early part of Abram's life that is far less admirable than much of the latter part of his life. Some people tend to think that Abram was this guy who, upon hearing God's word on a matter, just dropped everything and ran off to do God's will. After all, this is the guy who's often referred to by people as the "father of faith". Well, although I've already responded to the question of Abram's age at the time of his leaving Haran, there is something else that needs to be noted about Acts 7:4; the Lord told Abram to leave his family and country, but he waited until his father died to leave. Also, you'll note in Acts 7:2 that Abraham got the message from God before he lived in Haran to leave it all behind, but he went with his whole family to Haran. Then he stayed there for some time, until his father died, and Haran (although it's not real clear from the story) isn't actually in Canaan, but a bit to the north of that land. Assuming Stephen got his story straight, which I haven't heard anyone question except for in a few minor details, then Abram is really dragging his feet about following God's orders. In the end, when his father finally dies and he goes, he brings along his nephew!

Eventually, Abram makes it to Canaan, and God gives him some sort of vision. Now, this is one of those odd sticking points about Judeo-Christian theology that's hard to explain well. The SAB asks here, as in many places, whether or not God can be seen, and it's obviously a tough question to answer, since the obvious answer is "yes and no..." God, in His true form, is a spirit being, and therefore not visible in the normal sense. On the other hand, there are many verses in the Bible, starting with this one, that say that God "appeared" to someone. How does that work? Well, if this is a vision or a dream, there are things that can happen in a dream or vision that don't quite make sense in normal terms. I once met President Clinton in a dream, myself, and have had a few "visions" of Jesus Christ, although not of a prophetic sort like Abram seems to be having here. I think the thing with these sort of "appearances" is that God is not so much physically visible as that He is creating some sort of physical manifestation of Himself as a physical representative of Himself on earth. Although men cannot see God, He does make Himself known in various ways. Really, this sort of "appearance" of God, although hard for me to put into words well seems less of a difficulty to reconcile with claims of God being invisible than the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. Jesus Himself said that, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" yet also had said, "Not that any man hath seen the Father..." Jesus is being very cryptic, no doubt about it.

So after Abram spends so much time dragging his feet getting to Canaan, he ends up leaving there shortly after he arrives, and heads down to Egypt. Apparently, Abram hasn't yet learned to trust that God will see him through the famine, nor to keep him safe in Egypt. He also may have made the mistake of assuming that the Egyptians were men with no moral scruples, and he asks his wife Sarai, well, not so much to lie as just hold back a little part of the truth. Really, though, holding back such an important part of the truth is no better than flat-out lying, and certainly when they came to take Sarai away to Pharaoh, he should have told the truth at that time, at the very least.

So "the Princes of Pharaoh" (I assume his sons) take Sarai away to Pharaoh, and he apparently thinks she's pretty hot, because it appears he's getting ready to marry her. He gives Abram a bunch of stuff (a bride-price?), gives her a place to stay in his house, and in verse 19, says that marrying her was a high likelihood. (I think this shows that Abram should have thought higher of the Egyptians than he did, but too late for that!) Of course, she's already married to Abram, and God is apparently not happy this is going on, so He sends some plagues on Egypt. Now, it may seem very unfair, and I myself think that Abram should have been punished more than simply being thrown out of the country, which seems to be what happens at the end of the chapter. However, I think in this case it's less about fairness than appropriateness. God is sending a message to Pharaoh that despite Abram's reluctance to stand up for what's right, He's not going to stand for this going forward. The nature of the plague is not specified, and I'd suppose it was just enough to get Pharaoh's attention, and it worked. Pharaoh gives Sarai back, and kicks the couple out, so they go back to Canaan where they belong.

That's pretty much the facts of the story, but there's an interesting hidden agenda that's more in the area of speculation, and worth noting. There's an interesting overarching theme that runs through the Old Testament in a subtle fashion, and we see a facet of it in the life of Sarai and Abram. In chapter 16, we have the odd incident of Sarai giving her maid Hagar as a concubine to her husband, but God rejects Hagar's son Ishmael as the rightful heir. Later on, after being renamed Abraham, and his wife dies, Abram has more children, but he sends all of them (including Ishmael) away from Canaan, knowing that eventually it will belong to the descendants of his true heir born of Sarai, Isaac. God is manipulating the events of the lives of the patriarchs so that the right heirs will be born at the right times in the right places; He's got a plan, and His plan involves some timing. For whatever reason, it was meant to be that Sarai's one and only child would be Isaac, and that Isaac would be born when Abraham was 100 years old. Why? All of this sets up for the maneuvering of the nation of Israel to be carried away into Egypt for a time to grow strong, until God could judge Egypt at the right time, and send the nation of Israel back to judge the Canaanites at the right time. Also, in the midst of all this, God is setting up a proper lineage specially selected for the future king of Israel, David, and his eventual descendant, Jesus Himself. This, as far as I can see, is the reason for the Bible setting up strange stories like not only this one, but the story of Judah and Tamar, and the story of Ruth and Boaz.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Am I my brother's keeper? (Gen 11:10-32)

Yay! This will be a short post. I've already addressed just about everything that's to be found in the rest of chapter 11, so I'll drop some links and give a few short comments. At least, I hope so.

The extraordinarily long lives of these people are, in my opinion, a residual effect of whatever let people live so long before the flood. Whatever was making these people so healthy is quickly going away, as their lives get progressively shorter generation after generation. I've already commented on the paternity of Salah, but there are new problems that must be sorted through when we finally get to Abram in verse 26.

The first question is regarding the timeline of Abram's life. How old was Abram when he left Haran? Okay, let me sort some things out. First of all, although the SAB probably knows better since it gave no comment on it, it's worth nothing to alleviate confusion that the city Abram's family moved to after Ur was "Charan", which has a similar pronunciation to "Haran", Abraham's brother and Lot's father; that's why the KJV renders both names the same. I just wanted to make sure nobody gets stuck there, because it is easy to get confused.

Okay, back to the first verse in question. The quote of Gen 11:26 on the above page in the SAB is a partial quote. The full verse is important. When the Bible says "And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran." there's no reason to believe that these three sons are triplets, nor that the verse is giving them in birth order. (See the final paragraph of this post.)

5:32 "And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth."
7:6 "And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth."

So Shem should have been one hundred when the flood started, and "two years after the flood" he ought to be 102, or even 103 or 104 if by "two years after the flood" the Bible means two years after the end of the flood. The fact is, I strongly believe that Shem was Noah's second son, and Japheth was the first-born, two or three years older than Shem. Likewise, Haran was Abram's older brother; older by about 60 years. This leads to the interesting concept that Lot, while Abram's nephew, could easily have been older than Abram. His age is never mentioned to my knowledge.

But, was Lot Abram's nephew? Well, yes, he was. The SAB notes accurately that Lot is referred to as Abram's "brother", but this is hardly a problem. The real problem is in understanding the looseness of the way familial relationships are expressed in the Biblical Hebrew. Ancestors, regardless of the number of generations past, are often called "father", while likewise descendants are called "sons". In this case, "brother" is a word that can literally mean brother, or it can also mean a man who is a near relative. Heck, it can also mean a really close friend, as David referred to Jonathan as his "brother", and Solomon referred to his wife as his "sister", which I believe he meant in a non-literal sense, unlike Abraham. I think in chapter 14, the word "brother" is used to emphasize how important Lot was to Abram, and it may have also been the case that they were raised like brothers since, as was noted before, Lot's father died, and he was possibly raised by his grandfather.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand (Gen 11:1-9)

The SAB starts the commentary on chapter 11 with a comment using the "Science and History" icon, the issue being that it is generally understood that varied languages did not appear in the world all at once, but gradually over time. Linguistics is an interesting study, and partly because my older sister had studied it in college, I've always had some interest in it. I'm not sure what methods are used to decide how old a language is; as far as linguistic history, most of what I do know is confined to a general understanding of how linguistic lineages are determined. It's fascinating to me the way that linguists can find the similarities that show that most of the languages of Europe, along with many languages of Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal all are descended from a common linguistic ancestor that probably was spoken somewhere in the Middle East. I've heard some people speculate that all these languages being related is a sign that the Babel narrative is true, and while I suppose it's a possibility, a big problem in my mind is the fact that Hebrew itself is not part of this language family.

While of course at the time of Noah, seeing as they were only eight people who were closely related, there probably was one single language, I do consider this first verse, along with others in this chapter, to be possible hyperbole. After all, the Bible does have a few cases of clear hyperbole: verses where it says "And so-and-so was the richest man that ever lived," or "And so it remained thus until this day." In the former case, one really can't make a claim like that without knowing the future; I tend to suspect Bill Gates has more money than Solomon did. In the latter case, it has to be understood that the writer is referring to up until the time he was writing the story, certainly not up until the time the story is being read, 2-3,000 years later. Getting back to the point here, I wonder if possibly not the whole earth was speaking the same language at the time of the building of the tower, but perhaps a large portion thereof. In any case, the time scale is not fully 100% clear on where this story is meant to fit into history. Also, as with the creation story, God may have made an appearance of many years of language evolution that didn't actually occur, but I can't think of any good reason for that, so chalk that up to wild speculation on my part.

In verse four, a decision is made by the people of Babel to make a tower to reach Heaven. Although the SAB objects on scientific grounds (I assume), the Bible at no point says that this is a project that has any chance of succeeding. (Although it would be impossible to build a tower that would reach to "Heaven" as in the dwelling place of God, I wonder if it would be possible to build a tower that reached into outer space, assuming you had unlimited resources. The meaning of "heaven" is not completely clear here.) While they may have thought that they did have a chance of making it, it's fairly clear that their real purpose is to create a sense of self-importance and notoriety.

So God comes down to see the tower. This is an odd passage, and the SAB places it and many like it on the page questioning God's omniscience. This is something about God that I can't quite fathom, frankly. Doctrinally, Christians and Jews understand God to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, but there are times when the Bible portrays God in ways that appear to contradict those attributes. In cases like this and Genesis 18:21, I believe the sense that's being conveyed is not that God does not know what's going on, nor that He's not already there in the plain of Shinar, but that since something important is going on, He's taking a moment to really fully turn His attention on it. While it's essentially figurative speech, I think there's a literal sense to it, as in the latter case, it appeared that God did physically come down to earth to deal with Sodom and Gomorrah. I suspect God was a physical presence in Babel as well.

So God does this because, as the SAB says, God is worried. However, He's not worried for exactly the reason that is cited. There is no threat to God, but there is a threat to God's order and plan for the human race. God intended the human race to spread out and cover the earth, and He did not intend them to become self-important. He notes that the more they all team up together, the more they can accomplish, but they're not accomplishing the things they were meant to accomplish. Thinking that they can get to Heaven simply by building a tower is a grave misunderstanding of the nature of Heaven and the personality of God. In a later chapter in Genesis, we'll see a structure that does reach from the earth to Heaven, and its significance.

So anyway, God figures that the best way to stop this building project and put a little humility in these folks is to make them all unable to understand each other. I actually recently had heard a sermon that touched on the subject that every time in the Bible that people find themselves against their will in the midst of people who are talking unintelligibly, it's a sign of God's disfavor upon them. Here, it's quite obvious that that's what's going on.

Finishing up this story, there are a few lingering questions about the nature of God. Whether God is singular or not is an item I already addressed, and won't go over here, since I think it was well-covered at that point. On the other hand, the SAB asks a very compelling question, straight out of ICorinthians: "Is God the author of confusion?" While I think I have what may be an adequate answer for this case, I have to admit in my weakness for honesty that I think the SAB could have bolstered its case with far more examples than this, such as ICor 1:27 (EDIT: I see the verse has since been added.) and a few choice O.T. passages in which battles were won by God confusing Israel's enemy. Those might be harder to deal with.

In one sense, there may be a misunderstanding of the passage in ICorinthians. The context is about people getting confused because they're all trying to talk at once in church rather than one at a time. Taking this into account, one might make a good case that God allows confusions for His enemies, but not for His children. On the other hand, dealing with this particular passage in Genesis, there are a few things worth noting. It can be said that these people were already confused. They were rebelling against God's wishes, which is not generally a wise thing to do, and they were attempting a task that was impossible. God didn't make them confused as much as change their confusion to another sort. It could also be said that the word here is not "confuse" but "confound", and while "confuse" seems to be a popular choice for translating this Hebrew word "balal", the KJV word choice is suggestive of something more straightforward; that is, that God didn't so much confuse them, but frustrate them. They probably still could get by, but it became much more difficult to deal with their neighbors and get things done on a communal scale. So they got the hint and quit the project.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations (Gen 10)

Minor point about the SAB's first note on chapter 10: this is actually the third genealogy (fourth if you count chapter one as the genealogy of the earth), after 4:17-24 and chapter 5 as a whole. The point is taken, however; Paul says to avoid genealogies, but the whole Bible is peppered with them throughout. I really don't know what this is about. My study Bible suggests the possibility that some of the pre-gnostic Christian cults were building strange doctrines based on obscure points in biblical genealogies, and Paul was warning not to take genealogies beyond their face value. They serve a purpose, but a very mundane one for the most part. I mean, could you imagine someone building some sort of bizarre cult based on some tiny little passage like IChronicles 4:9-10? How ridiculous would that be? (I've probably offended somebody; oh well...)

The SAB notes, as many others have, the mention of languages in verses 5, 20 and 31, and notes that this provides evidence against the story of the tower of Babel narrative in the next chapter. I disagree, and for similar reasons I disagreed with some items previously. It's always made sense to me that when the people were divided up into languages at Babel, they were divided by families, and so when the division eventually happened, these families migrated apart from each other and became nations, and so these nations were nations of distinct languages. I'll be honest though, and say that I do take the Babel narrative with a grain of salt, but mostly because I don't know much about formation of languages. There are thousands of different languages in the world today, and sometimes it's hard to imagine they all came from the same place. Still, I suppose if I can believe in something as far-fetched as the flood, this ought to be easy, right?

Verse 24 presents a true problem, at least, when you compare it to the genealogy in Luke. (Here's a suggestion for skeptics: maybe Paul said to avoid genealogies because if you really look into the genealogies in the Bible, it'll make you quite confused since they're occasionally hard to reconcile if you really read them closely. I did notice that the SAB catalogs a lot of these oddities and discrepancies.) Luke mentions some guy named Cainan between Arphaxad and Salah/Shelah, and you've got to wonder where he came from. One possibility is telescoping. Mainly I mention this concept because I've heard that many Biblical scholars explain most of the discrepancies in Matthew's genealogy by this phenomenon which the SAB notes on verse 17 in that chapter. In Hebrew, genealogies often are allowed that sort of flexibility, that a grandparent or great-grandparent can be called a parent, although it's odd Matthew tries to make some nifty magic number case by using this shorthand. I'm totally going on a tangent, here, though, because I don't really think this makes sense for Luke (although it's a distant possibility) because it would mean Luke (who wasn't even Jewish) knew some information about these genealogies that weren't in the Torah. That's highly unlikely. What's far more likely is that this is an error by some early copyist of Luke's Gospel, and perhaps he accidentally copied part of verse 37, which includes the phrase, "which was the son of Cainan," in it.

Only one more thing remains to comment on in this chapter, and that's verse 25, and this guy named "Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided". The SAB is right; I have heard creationists try to claim that this passage is referring to continental drift somehow. I find it unlikely (although not impossible) that continental drift somehow happened all at once just a few thousand years ago. It is far more likely that this is referring to the way the people of the earth were divided in the Babel incident. Peleg was likely born right after this moment in Biblical history, and was named by Eber (from whom some believe the word "Hebrew" comes) to commemorate the event.

What's up with this Nimrod guy? How come the SAB doesn't ask about him? That's a weird story, isn't it? Note that his name means "rebel", and he's the one who founds the city of Babel, which we get to in the next chapter.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. (Gen 9:5-29)

Does God approve of capital punishment? That's actually a very good question, and one that many of us wish had a simpler answer. The fact is, God's view of capital punishment in the Bible is a question that would require the study of far more verses than the two quoted here. You'd have to look at passages like the one in which a man is killed for gathering firewood on a Saturday, or where Jesus forgives a woman caught in adultery (but never denies that adultery is a capital crime!), and many others. The short simple answer is, yes, God does approve of capital punishment; the long answer would be an extensive study on what sorts of things God considers worthy of death, and why, and when and why God prefers mercy. I don't believe I'm qualified to give an adequate response of the long sort, but I'd be willing to discuss my views on it in the comments section if anyone really is curious.

Verses 8-17 talk about the covenant that God makes that He will never destroy the world again through a flood, and He offers the rainbow as a sign of that covenant. The main beef that the SAB seems to have with this concept is a scientific one, that being that rainbows are a natural phenomenon. Personally, I don't see why this should be a problem. Just because rainbows may have existed before this covenant was made doesn't mean that God can't use them as a symbolic gesture. Take the early Christians as an example. They were of the habit of using a simple drawing of a fish as a symbol of their faith. Fishes existed before Christianity did, but they decided to use the symbol for their own purposes.

However, my own personal theory that I admittedly have little scientific basis for goes back to the water canopy theory. It seems to me that if the entire earth was covered with a layer of water acting a shield of some sort, then sunlight may not have refracted in precisely the way it does today. Furthermore, regarding this theory, you might remember that I had briefly speculated that it may never have rained before the flood. If it never rained, then there would never have been a rainbow. All of this is in the area of wilder speculation, of course, and the more important aspect of this part of the story is the symbolic aspect. The rainbow, as we now know, is not an actual bow, but is instead a circle that we only see part of from our vantage point standing on the earth. God uses the rainbow as a symbol, knowing that when we look at it, it will look like a bow, but without an arrow on the string. The symbolism is that God has fired this weapon He has, and He intends to now set it down, never to pick it up again.

The rest of the chapter is pretty much all about the drunkenness of Noah and the curse of Canaan. This is obviously a very strange story, and a lot of it that nobody really fully understands. The SAB gives a link to an excellent article on The Straight Dope, a site that I have a great deal of admiration for in many of these matters. (Even when I disagree with their conclusions, I respect the scholarship that went into them and consider them about as unbiased as it gets on the Internet.) It does seem a little odd to me that they link to an article that gives some straightforward answers to many of the questions they raise right before the link.

First of all, being drunk doesn't necessarily mean that you're not righteous, and I think it's perhaps quite understandable that after seeing the entire world destroyed, Noah might feel the need for a good drink, whether out of shock or guilt or depression. Secondly, being naked is also not a sin, especially if it's in the privacy of your own home (or tent as the case may be).

"What did [Ham] do besides look at him?" the SAB asks. First of all, looking at him alone is not entirely inoffensive; I think Noah has a right to some privacy, and Ham's violating that. On top of personally violating his father's privacy, Ham goes and tells his brothers that this is going on, as if it's their business! Granted, on the face of it, there seems to be very little reason to go so far as to put a curse on someone, and even if Noah was justified, it's not too clear why he curses Canaan rather than Ham. The Straight Dope gives the only possibility that even begins to make sense to me, that being that since Ham shamed his father, Noah shamed Ham's son. I don't know, though really, although there are a number of interesting speculations given in the article there. Actually, something that occurs to me now is that since at this time Canaan is the only offspring of Ham mentioned, he may in fact be the only one at this time, and Noah may be using Canaan's name as a generic label for all the descendants of Ham. Not that it fully justifies the curse, but it might make more sense.

Does God approve of slavery? That's a tough question that has been struggled with for a long, long time. You may have heard this sort of response before, but I do think it's the correct one. Yes, God does approve, but it depends on the definition of slavery. In Exodus 21, it's made clear that among the Israelites that slavery is never to be a permanent thing, and furthermore, slavery is essentially a voluntary position. There are some exceptions that get complicated, but the idea is that if a person sank into poverty and could no longer afford food, one could sell oneself to another person (but you couldn't sell someone else), and then they were bound to serve that person for six years, or until their price could be paid back, whichever came first. Maybe it's not ideal, but it's not the same as we think of slavery from the early 1800s, not by a long shot. (For more observations on the nature of Biblical slavery, see this post.)

But the SAB asks the excellent question "Are we punished for the sins of others?" Yes and no. Sometimes, we end up having to take responsibility for the sins of our parents and grandparents just because it's the natural result of what they did. For instance, when a pregnant woman abuses drugs, her child is often born with health problems, and that's not a curse or a punishment, it's just the way things are. Some things are more subtle, like parents dying and leaving you with their debts to settle, parents doing bad things to you that leave you emotionally scarred, and so forth. In general, it's just a fact that people tend to follow in their parents' footsteps, and if you do something that you really ought not do, your children may be cursed for it not because God's angry at you, but because they decided to follow in your footsteps. This may not account for every instance on the page linked, but I think it accounts for a lot of them, and I'll discuss other ones when I get to them. In this case, it may be the fact that Ham's immoral act performed for Canaan to witness it may have led Canaan into a sinful life which in turn led his descendants into sinful ways of their own. So think about the example you set for your children, all you parents out there.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Of all meat which may be eaten (Gen 9:1-4)

The flood over, we reach chapter nine, which clearly has a lot to comment on, as the SAB has a note for nearly every verse. A lot of these comments are excellent food for thought, but I think there are very few that pose serious problems to the Bible's credibility, as they are largely a matter of opinion.

God tells Noah and his family to "replenish the earth," but what of the modern problems of overpopulation? Should the Bible address the matter? First of all, "overpopulation" is actually a matter of opinion, and I even say that as a person who does think the earth is presently overpopulated. There are a lot of people who disagree, and think the earth can handle many, many more people if we simply did a better job in handling our natural resources. I also tend to agree with that, but don't see any evidence that we're making much progress in that area. It's a really big "if". Also, the Christian view is that the world is eventually going to come to and end, and perhaps this time will come before we really reach a critical point in the world population. That's conjecture, of course, but a real possibility; in fact, the world may be forced to come to an end through a natural disaster brought on by overpopulation, who knows? Whatever the case may be, I do think the Bible indirectly addresses the matter. While the Bible only says to replenish the earth once after the flood, the whole book from beginning to end is full of admonishments to take care of the poor. One of the effects of "overpopulation" is that many people end up living in substandard conditions, suffering from poverty and malnutrition. When such things are going on, our first priority should be to deal with these problems, whether you're approaching the matter from a Biblical or secular viewpoint.

Do all animals fear humans? The SAB says no, but once again, I think this is a matter of opinion. I think it's in our nature to be violent creatures, and any animal that has extensive exposure to humans comes to realize it's wise to fear them. I think any animal with sufficient brain power to experience fear will do so to some extent in the presence of humans. (Just my opinion, but I think it holds water as well as anything.)

The SAB notes that some have undoubtedly used verse two as justification for cruelty to animals and environmental negligence. I think this was addressed in chapter two, but I don't mind repeating this as it's worth saying again. The SAB is right; it has been used that way by some. I think it's wrong, and I think it's a shame. What else can I say?

What about meat eating? The SAB gives a long list of verses in which it seems to be said
(A) Don't eat any meat.
(B) Eat only certain meats.
(C) Eat any kind of meat at all.
These would be on the mere face of things contradictory, but we have to consider context once again. Understand (and should come as no surprise to anyone who's read much Bible at all) that God throughout a great deal of History has set aside the nation of Israel as special. This one race of men was meant to be God's representatives here on earth, and as such, god made some special rules that apply only to them. Among such rules, there are a number of dietary restrictions. (God also has one dietary restriction for all men, but I'll get to that.) Let's take the verses quoted on this page largely in order as they are presented.

In Gen 1:29, this is not so much a command as an observation: there's all the food Adam and Eve need in the fruit hanging on the trees in the garden. I think Adam and Eve were vegetarians, but not because they were forced to be. Pr 23:20 is not a condemnation of meat-eating, but of gluttony. Daniel's refusal to eat meat in Dan 1:8 is not due to a desire to be vegetarian so much as a desire to want to avoid "the king's meat", which may have been unkosher for numerous reasons. Unable to assure himself of a source of kosher meat, he chose not to eat meat at all. Rom 14:21 is pretty nearly universally understood to mean that if you have a Christian friend who, due to something in his past, feels uncomfortable with eating meat, you'd do well to respect his feelings and abstain from meat while around him. Note that this verse, like the one in Proverbs mentions wine as well. It can be thought of much as the way it would be insensitive to drink alcohol around your friend who's a recovering alcoholic. So I don't think we're meant to be vegetarians, but if one chooses not to eat meat, I know of no reason why this would be a bad thing. In fact, if you're considering being a vegetarian for the cause of combating cruelty to animals, I'd advise you to look into veganism.

The two verses that follow are passages from the Levitical law, and represent dietary restrictions on Jews only. Even most Jews agree that these are not meant to be laws upon gentiles.

Now the last set of verses largely come from the New Testament, and need to also be taken in context. The Gen 9:3 verse, which I am covering now, is God allowing meat eating officially for the first time, and it occurs before the establishment of the nation of Israel, so no restrictions except that people should not eat/drink the blood of animals. I don't think too many people follow this dietary restriction; we tend to like our steaks bloody. Mark 7:18-20 is a passage I have to admit I'm not really clear on. Jesus is making a spiritual point, and while many people do interpret this passage as Jesus putting a stamp of approval on all meats, I'm not fully convinced. In any case, the point of what Jesus is saying is not primarily about meat, but about morals, and that what you do to your fellow man is more important than what you put in your mouth. The passage from Acts 10 is a vision that Peter has that god uses to teach him about the way that he is to conduct himself with respect to non-Jewish believers. The passages from 1Corinthians and Romans are both telling gentile believers that they don't have any obligations towards the kosher laws. (Note that this Romans verse is in the very same chapter as the earlier one quoted; how would it make sense to interpret Paul as saying, "Eat meat...but don't eat meat," in almost the same sentence?) 1Tim 4 is likewise a warning to be on guard for people who try to place extra rules on top of the ones that God has given through His Word, such as that they should follow the kosher laws even though they are not Jewish.

Now if you'll excuse me, all this talk about meat is making me hungry.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The flood decayeth and drieth up (Gen 8)

I added one more paragraph to the previous post, as I started some commentary here that I realized belonged with that material.

Now, I already talked about the overall length of the flood in the previous post, so I won't go over that again, but there are a few notes in the SAB about time frames specifically for this chapter that ought to be addressed. (This chapter is much more coherent in general than the previous.) The first new thing noted is that there seems to be an inconsistency between verses four and five, which is strange, since I've never heard anyone elsewhere having a problem with these verses. The fact is that I think the answer is so simple I'd never thought there was a problem. Boats run aground onto things that are submerged under the waters all the time. While the tops of the mountains were not visible until the tenth month, that doesn't mean that the ark was not sitting low enough in the water to rest on them earlier. One might even interpret it as providence that the ark, which was not exactly built for navigational purposes, managed to find landing even before a landing was obviously available. If the ark had ended up bobbing about in the ocean, Noah, his family and all the animals would have been screwed.

The other timeline note is on verses 13-14, asking when exactly did the earth dry. I think the King James is lacking a bit in its translation here, as the meaning is not made clear as it could be, but actually when looking at the Hebrew words, I'm not sure I agree with any translation, but then, I'm hardly a Hebrew scholar. Note that even in the KJV, different phrases are used in the two verses. In verse 13, "the waters were dried up from off the earth" while in verse 14, "was the earth dried." The idea here is that at first, Noah sees that there's no more standing water, but everything is pretty much mud. Later, he sees actual dry land. Many other translations say "dry" and then "completely dried". The original Hebrew uses the words "charab" and "yabesh" which of course have different meanings that can include "dry". The thing I find interesting is that "charab" is also often translated as "desolate", which seems like it could be fairly appropriate in this context; one certainly could imagine that the ground must be rather desolate. However, one of the copies of the book of Genesis I own notes that these two Hebrew words appear together in Job 14:11 and Isa 19:5, suggesting a natural temporal sequence of drying.

The SAB notes that it's rather strange that a Dove could find a living olive tree. It does indeed seem unlikely that any tree would survive such a massive flood, and if indeed there were any olive seeds that had a chance to germinate after the flood, could they have produced leaves so quickly afterwards? I really don't know. I'm thinking this is likely to be another miracle to pile on the ones of the previous chapter, but if anyone knows how long it takes for an olive seed to germinate and produce leaves, let us know if it's anywhere in the neighborhood of 50 days.

While it is a good question to wonder what the animals leaving the ark had to eat, I wonder why the SAB waits until now to ask that question. As I mentioned earlier, I think it's much harder to imagine what they ate while on the ark. If there are olive trees, there may be many other kinds of plants. I don't know what the carnivores may have eaten, but really, it's the same problem we had on the ark. Oh, I still don't have any better, more scientific answer than I had then, in case you were holding out for one.

Noah then proceeds to give a sacrifice to the Lord, which is not a logistical problem if he had more than two of each of the animals suitable for sacrifice, and of course, he had seven of each of those. God does require animal sacrifice, yes, and I covered that somewhere way

God promises that He will not curse the earth again, but the SAB points to a verse in Malachi that seems to be God threatening to do so. What's up with that? Well, I'm going to stick with my first interpretation of this, especially after looking at the Hebrew behind it. At the end of a previous post, I implied that what I think God is saying here is that there is an intrinsic property of the ground in general that God placed upon it to make agriculture particularly difficult for Adam, and He's reversing that decision ("not again" thus taking the connotation of "not any more"). The thing that's interesting in the Hebrew is that the words for "curse" and "ground"/"earth" are different in both cases. I think the Genesis verse is saying, as it is put "curse the ground", but the Malachi passage is carrying a meaning more like "I will destroy (or maybe take away?) their territory."

So long as I'm leaving the flood behind, I'd like to point out something I didn't point out yet, nor did I see it in the article I linked to in the last post. Fish. I don't think anyone ever assumes that Noah took marine life into the ark with him, but it would present problems whether he did or not. If he took fish and the like onto the ark, where did he store them? If the entire world was one big body of water, was it salt or fresh water? I think we'll have to lean on another miracle here as well, but it may be that a miraculous saving of marine life is a possible answer to the dilemma of what carnivores ate after the flood. Many modern carnivores do eat fish, and as a source of meat, it may have been quite plentiful at this time. It's something for people on both sides to think about, in any case.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth (Gen 7)

I apologize for the long delay in bringing this post for those of you, I imagine, who hang on my every word. (I'm sure I'm only imagining it, of course.) I had a busy Friday, followed by a long weekend, and while I started to write a post on Friday, I ended up getting sidetracked into a Hebrew word study on "rain". I'm not sure how germane it is to the topic at hand, but Hebrew has at least two words for rain used in the Bible. The word "geshem" is a general-use term, while "matar" is a word meaning specifically a good and useful kind of rain. The only thing of interest in that is that 7:4 uses the latter term, while 7:12 uses the former. The next three times the Bible uses "matar", (Gen 19:24, Ex9:18,23) it is also clearly in reference to God's judgment.

Okay, let me scan what's here and see what's not a repeat of what's already covered (as well as scan my last few entries to see if there's anything I didn't cover but promised to hit on here!) Noah "perfect" or "righteous"? Check. Seven vs. two animals? Check. Flood being cruel? Check. Ah, here we are...

When did Noah enter the ark? It's a very good question. I've always heard it held as a fact that Noah entered the ark seven days before the flood, as it seems to be saying in verse 10, but it indeed does seem to be saying that they entered the ark the day it started raining. This may not be reconcilable, but I'll offer some suggestions that anybody can accept or reject as they see fit.

First of all, one of the things that I think many people, both believers and non-believers, overlook about this story is that loading this many animals into the ark was probably a task that took more than one day. (The SAB notices.) I suppose it might be the case that it took a week to fully load the thing. Whatever amount of animals Noah had on that ark, it was an awful lot, and there was only one door.

Secondly, I have to admit something here that's a minus to the quality of the Biblical story, but that may offer a sort of loophole for the issue of a time line. Let me address this to believers rather than skeptics who no doubt have already noticed it: chapter seven is a muddled mess! I mean really, read it! I don't know whether it detracts from the main point of the story, perhaps it does for some individuals, but stylistically, if you really look at it, it's hard to plow through. It may be because it is, as some have claimed, two different accounts of the same story ham-handedly edited together, or it may just be bad writing, but look at it verse by verse:

6: Notes that Noah is 600 years old
7: Humans go in, because it's flooding
8-9: Animals go in
10: Seven days after (after what?) "the waters" are there
11: Notes again that Noah is 600, apparently waters come
12: Rains for 40 days
13: Humans go in (again?)
14-15: Animals go in (again?)
16: God shuts the door
17: Floods for 40 days

The problem here is the phrase "selfsame day" in verse 13, but in the midst of all this muddling of the time line, I have to ask, "selfsame" as what? You'd be inclined to guess the specific day that was mentioned in verse 11, as it's one of the few attempts in the story to be specific, but in the interceding verse, there's 40 days mentioned. My personal opinion? There may indeed be a contradiction here, but in the general mishmash of this portion of the story told in chapter seven, I'm not sure how you can tell much of anything.

Let's hit a few specifics that can be addressed more directly. How did Noah get all those animals? Clearly, this is a superhuman task. It's my belief that what the SAB suggests in jest is what happened in fact. Noah was far too busy with the actual building of the ark to bother with the filling of it. Although the Bible doesn't specify, it makes a great deal of sense that God was the one who gathered the animals together.

In verse 11, it says, "were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened." The SAB calls this an absurdity (only the second part, for some reason), joking that God opens the window in the sky every time it rains. The fact is, I don't think you'll find this sort of terminology used anywhere else in the Bible to describe rain, and you'll notice that in fact, the word "rain" isn't used much here at all. Thematically, this story is a reversal of the act of creation in chapter one, and while there we saw God creating a space separating waters above and below, now he allows this space holding the waters back to collapse in on itself. Waters rush in on the world, both pouring down from the sky and gushing up from the ground. I once heard someone protest that the amount of water it would take to flood the earth would take more than 40 days worth of rain, and I think they're right; but this is more than rain.

The SAB asks the question about how long the flood lasted. I think there is some ambiguity, but not in the verses cited. The 40 days is the amount of time that it was actually raining and the waters were rising. The remainder of the 150 days is a time frame in which the water was not apparently doing anything, and the remaining time after these 150 days was a period of drying we'll get to in the next chapter.

Not being a geologist, I can't address the geological record, but I think I can address the matter of the supposedly surviving Nephilim. The fact is, even though the passage in Numbers 13 uses the same word, there is no reason to believe these are the same people as existed before the flood. In fact, they may be giants that have nothing to do with anything supernatural. The fact that this race of giant men was wiped out in the flood does not preclude the possibility that giants could someday arise again, nor that the Hebrew scouts might not be exaggerating, for that matter. It's rather unfortunate but true that whatever reason God had for causing the flood, the beneficial effects were only temporary.

(Edited to add on Sep. 8) I was too busy on the seventh to post, but being a much faster reader than typist, I did read the article linked to at the bottom of the SAB's chapter seven, Common Sense and Noah's Flood. As a skeptic who's writing a bit more at leisure than I am in trying to make a post a day and hoping for some progress through the book, the author really gets into a lot of the details that I couldn't fully delve into, and he's right about so many of them. You have to ask yourself exactly how high were those mountains that were covered with water, and how much water it would take, where would it come from, and (a question I don't think he considered, since the thought of so much water existing in the first place seemed to ludicrous to him) where exactly did it go when the flood was over? As he puts it, "{God} chose to have a man build a boat that had to be miraculously stocked with animal life and then miraculously sustained through a miraculous flood of thousands of inches of miraculously produced rain supplemented by miraculously emptied 'fountains of the deep.'" Although I don't agree 100% with all his analysis, I also don't think you can get around this conclusion. The flood is either a myth, or it's a large-scale complicated miracle on God's part. Take your pick according to your own beliefs.