Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I know it seems like ages since I posted anything here, but it was a long and interesting summer that really didn't allow for the time required to tend to a blog. And as I start up again, it occurs to me that the "big picture" of what I am trying to do here - go through the Scriptures to permit those who would like to know more about the narrative it lays out to go slowly through and not flit from one thing to another without ever having gone through the "whole" - can easily get lost in the details of certain chapters. That is true of the chapters here. They are not about key events that are looked to very often. They are part of the sometimes problematic minor stories that make us wonder how anything of religious significance could be attached to them. I do not let it worry me. I see them as just part of the messy history of a people whom God was molding into a faithful community. They were human. Their history is sometimes propelled by passion and vengeance. We are about to finish the story of Jacob and his huge family from which the tribes of Israel will come. Next time we will move on to Joseph.
Gen. 34 - The first story we have after the tale of love and forgiveness that we finished last June is a story of violence and sexual depravity—the land of Canaan is always associated with these vices. Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah and the only woman listed among the children born to Jacob's wives and concubines, is raped by a man named Schechem, son of the chief of the region called Shechem—Hamor. Hamor tries to rectify the situation by arranging for the marriage of the offending son to Dinah, but Jacob’s children—especially Simeon and Levi (the angry ones) plan revenge and not only revenge but revenge taken in the process of Hamor’s men accepting the rite of circumcision. Hamor and the son are "put to the sword," and Dinah's brothers "carried off all their riches, all their little children and their wives, and looted everything to be found in their houses" (34:28-29). Jacob reacts weakly, telling Simeon and Levi that what they have done will put him "in bad odour with the people of this land . . . they will unite against me to defeat me and destroy me and my family" (34:30).
Gen. 35 - Jacob is led by God to go to a new place, to Bethel, and to build an altar there and get rid of household idols he has permitted his family to have. Bethel is south in Shechem (half way to Jerusalem)—the place where Jacob had his dream on his way to Haran. Earrings worn as amulets associated with the worship of these idols are also gotten rid of. On the way to Ephrath (Bethlehem), Rachel dies in giving birth to Benjamin (35:18). There is some confusion in places here because Rachel’s tomb is in Ramah, just north of Jerusalem and Ephrath is to the south.
Here Reuben, another of Leah's sons, offends his father by sleeping with Rachel’s maid Bilhah (mother of Reuben’s half brothers Dan and Naphtali). They end up in Kiriath-arba (Hebron-Mamre) where Jacob grew up. Jacob dies at 180.
Gen. 36 - Edom’s (Esau’s) tribes and genealogies are given before the Joseph cycle is begun. Esau moves his “household” to the hill country of Seir.
This may be a little redundant for people who were following this Scripture discussion, but if you are new to it and wonder how going through the story could be important to Friends (Quakers), I would encourage you to take a look at an article I have archived on another blog - Friends and Scripture - at http://scripturenarrative.blogspot.com/. That is a blog I try to keep up for several local Friends Meetings who are interested in some Bible Study. Actually I just noticed I might be able to attach it here. Hopefully that will work
Hello, welcome back! [I've been suffering from computer-disorders or I would have been prompter to say this. You know, when you're juggling obsolete motherboards & hard disks that you're trying to make into a few clunky computers, only the one you've pulled out of your functioning system gets confused so that nothing works nowhere....? I felt so sorry for it! :>} and me! ]
Perhaps to take a look through what I (& some others) put into "discussions" 'Luke' & 'Prophets' & see if anything there inspires a comment...
For some reason I find your not-so-easily-domesticated stories sometimes more interesting than the 'religiously-significant' ones-- & consider the fact that these are in there significant!
I like these stories specifically because they don't provide easy handles for whacking the wicked, or any other tendentious use.
Yes, we want a sacred book that means something. But if anybody with a Scheme can readily squeeze the book into it, the book becomes redundant. Not 'sacred' anymore.
The Bible is a very fine sacred book, from that perspective. No matter how hard people try.
Forrest, You are such a dedicated thinker. I read through your posts and appreciate the creative energy you spend on thinking through the place of the stories in the grand scheme that God seems to have going with us. I'm sure there are places where I could pick up an argument about a term you use, but if I have learned anything over the years it is that it is the great variety of nourishment we can get from the narrative - its parts and the larger meaning it seems to have. I think its parts are from all kinds of sources and that they were all placed together without eradicating the inconsistencies and still seem to cohere in a mysterious way mesmerizes me.
Like you, I see it - the whole and all its parts - as a way of God communicating and establishing communion with us. The more people and cultures that see this somehow as THEIR story, their spiritual narrative, the more we will feel like we are one. And I agree that what the story is about is basically God seeing his creative intention through - past our disobedience and cluelessness, past our natural limitations through history.
I also agree that this story about the violence and clearly undesirable behavior of Jacob's sons is humbling. Just because God has "chosen" them doesn't make everything they do right. They also are limited by their rage and their occasional stupidity. But the other guys are not easy to turn to as "good guys" - for their attempt to become one with Jacob's family was rooted also in violence against and humiliation of Dinah. We're complicated we humans.
Last first... We've only got one side of the Dinah story, and hers is conspicuously absent. The local prince was probably hoping for an alliance, may have felt some natural affection-- as his willingness to undergo that painful trim suggests-- may have had her consent, and failed to realize that nobody in her family would ask what she wanted. Women may have been "their own property", not their fathers', in his society. These proto-Hebrews were definitely part of (and undergoing) a cultural shift from being fairly gender-equal to male-dominated.
God doesn't necessarily favor all the changes going on with these people (any more than He will initially like either the monarchy or its Temple.) Any more than people altogether like it when their two-year old learns the word "No!"-- although it would defeat their larger purpose if he didn't. So far as we keep getting the narratives from the people involved-- and the interpretations of their heirs-- People may want the Bible to be "normative instructions for us," but a lot of what we're given here are "norms of ancient tribes at different times." God's ongoing concern ( We tend to like these people, despite their occasional savagery, and so, evidently, does God)-- looks to be the main constant. And some of this material serves really well to convey the message: They really really did see things, and do things, differently!
[Just because God loves us "doesn't make everything [we] do right." A commonplace, but painful when I'm struck by a reminder of that. Especially when I've been trying to remember to ask for guidance, but I've missed the target... But as these stories also suggest, even our mistakes become incorporated in God's intention. We aren't going to drift out of God's love.]
The ease with which people see these stories as "their story" has its problematic side: "Our story!"-- "No! Ours!" It's largely what makes the Bible initially dangerous, that seductive power of enticing people into certain identifications... in which they do feel chosen, and thereby entitled to exclude the unchosen. "Remember you were strangers"-- that had to be in there, and even so, the rulers many times forgot. Nobody like to identify with those "Judeans" whom Jesus quarrels with so bitterly-- but we should, because that is how people fit into the story whenever they forget...
I try on a lot of lenses, trying to see where we fit into this story. That's what I saw people doing when Anne & I were briefly showing up for Torah study at P'nai Or in Philadelphia-- and I felt God present, teaching us, when people did that together. Not anybody's imposed meaning: what people were finding 'this time' in something they'd been going over for years. I wish more people would try it!!!
What about Ishmael?
I apologize if I am in the wrong place. What attracted me to this discussion was the concern stated at the beginning of the Bible study for Friends blog about early Friends writings being so inaccessible to young readers.
I thought this was a continuation of that discussion. If it is, can someone tell me which of the early Friends discussed the Dinah story?
I have been very interested in the story of Ishmael ever since I found out the Muslims trace their geneology to him. James Nayler did refer to that story in a rather odd way in his "Milk for Babes and Meat for Strong Men, which you can read at http://www.qhpress.org/texts/nayler/milkmeat.html, where he speaks approvingly of casting "out the mother & her son which must not inherit." Whereas original Friends anticipated modern Biblical study in recognizing the historical and social context of Biblical writers, in interpreting the Ishmael story, original Friends seemed to have force fit this patriarchal story to their religious views.
Of course, Margaret Fell reads the song of Deborah and its reference to Jael in a more intelligible and persuasive way in her "Womens (sic) Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures," but does anyone have other examples of original Friends interpretation of Old Testament passages in convincing ways? (References to Adam could as easily be references to Paul's letters, as to Genesis since references to Paul are abundant in their writings, so mention of Adam does not help me.)
This link may lead you to some of the kind of information you're asking about.
I myself am less interested in 'particular interpretations of Early Friends' than in 'process of interpretation as done by Early Friends'-- ie, in open debate & interchange with a wide range of contemporary understandings, without deferring to any particular external authority.
Their 'interchange' of course frequently became rancorous & colorful, as if the word 'mistaken' were altogether new to English... but it was between people passionately interested in the Bible conceived as a vehicle for communications from God to them.
We don't live in a society that shares that perspective, so we have to re-address the question of "What does this have to do with us?"
Not to say "I believe ___ because I'm 'a Quaker'", but rather "I'm a Quaker because I know ___."
The 'knowledge' to be sought is not 'knowledge of propositions' but 'acquaintanceship with God' ala Robert Griswolds Pendle Hill pamphlet # 'Creeds and Quakers'.