“But, Chris, the Bible Is Not Political”: Part 3

“I am Richard II, know ye not that?”

This was Queen Elizabeth’s famous remark about William Shakespeare’s Richard II as she clearly observed many of her popular stereotypes humorously reflected in the play’s title character. Importantly, her observation spoke to a truth common to many if not all of Shakespeare’s histories. Their power is most richly experienced when viewed beyond just “history” and more as commentary on his present day. That is to say, Shakespeare was less interested in “accurately” depicting his subject characters and more in crafting stories tailored to his observations of 16th and 17th century England and the house of Tudor.

The iconic Queen Elizabeth was both successful as the monarch of England and yet frequently criticized for lacking decisiveness. So, Richard II was depicted strikingly with similar indecisiveness. Sometimes the complicated political nature of Elizabeth’s day required making concessions that arguably lacked principal. This too was how Richard II was depicted. Elizabeth was accused of murdering Amy Dudley, the wife of Lord Robert Dudley, but never ended up marrying him, despite their courtship. Correspondingly, Richard II’s indecisiveness made him look guilty in the death that is the central problem within the plot.

Of course, criticizing Elizabeth I for excessive caution was wildly unfair. Elizabeth I was the product of both a complicated political climate and quiet years observing the hasty mistakes of her Tudor predecessors. Mary was completely decisive, but lead England into religious, economic, and military disaster. On the other had, Elizabeth I made caution work for her. By the end of her reign, England was the dominant political and military force of a fractured European continent. So, when she was accused of being indecisive—usually on account of her sex—the Bard of Avon whipped up a play that depicted a man with exaggerated versions of her supposed flaws without—unlike Elizabeth I—any accomplishments to show for it. Fun stuff.

I tell you this because Bible history and Shakespeare history have a lot in common.

The Old Testament history you find in Genesis and Exodus is less videotaped history as it is commentary on life in Israel after war with Babylon. The book of Daniel, the last-written book of the Old Testament, is less the “true” story of Daniel in Babylon and more commentary on life in Israel in the 2nd century under the abuses under Antiochus IV that ultimately lead to the Maccabean Revolt. You could say I’ve written about this at length.

But this creative use of “history” doesn’t end with the Old Testament.

The story of Jesus was not told in written form until immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem. Not surprisingly then, it reflects and speaks to the most important things that people were thinking after losing everything in that war. Jesus’s story and stories are tailored to speak to its time and agony. This means that our cultural and temporal distance from the Bible require us to retrain how we read it.

The Bible is mostly the product of war.

War is the subtext of virtually its every subversive word.

Including the angry Gospel of Mark.

In the fifth chapter of Mark, Jesus encounters a man said to be possessed by demons—so many that they would later enter two thousand pigs—and these demons apparently gave him great strength and made him terrorizing in the countryside. In fact, the story tells us that “no one was strong enough to subdue him.” However, when Jesus encounters him in the region of Gadara (modern-day Jordan), this all-powerful man immediately kneels down before Jesus.

We make this a spiritual story.

But, to those who lived through the terror of Rome’s War on Terror, the message was far less a spiritual one, but a tangible one. They had just experienced the relentless power of the Roman legion, a force that no one on Earth was strong enough to subdue. No one had the audacity to claim they were greater than the Roman military. But this story not only depicts this all-powerful being kneeling before Jesus, but begging—yes begging—to enter a herd of Judaism’s most famously unclean animal, pigs, and descend down a lake to their death.

Oh.

And—did I mention?—the man’s name is “Legion”.

Haha.

Guys.

That one is a dead giveaway.

Last, but not least, Gadara (or the “region of the Gerasenes”) was where a diplomatic mission was sent to the Roman general, Vespasian, as he was destroying the countryside around Jerusalem before his later siege. The details aren’t clear, but, apparently, they made some show of allegiance to the empire in order to protect their investment.

Josephus tells us in The Wars of the Jews as follows:

However, [Vespasian] was obliged first to overthrow what remained elsewhere, and to leave nothing outside of Jerusalem behind him that might interrupt him in that siege. Accordingly, he marched against Gadara, the metropolis of Perea, which was a place of strength, and entered that city on the fourth day of the month of Dystros for the men of power had sent an embassy to him, without the knowledge of the seditious, to treat for conditions of surrender; which they did out of the desire they had of peace, and for saving their effects, because many of the citizens of Gadara were rich men.

Just in case the reader might think this story about anything other than Rome, Mark tells us in his story that when the men of the region lost their huge investment, they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.

What do you think Mark saying about those who pledge allegiance to the empire?

Does he think you can pledge allegiance to the empire and to Jesus?

Does he think war-making and “fire and fury” makes the world safer?

I simply cannot accept that Mark—after the bitter destruction Israel had experienced at the hands of Rome—told this story with any other motivation than to say that the way of Rome was dying to the way of Jesus. That Jesus was greater than Caesar. That war destroys those it conquers as well as the conquerers.

Again, we fundamentalists spiritualize everything in the Bible, and we do so to the benefit of only one man, Caesar. This is unfortunate. The “miracle of the swine” is a dangerous story about quite visible empire, not a fun story about some amorphous devil.

Which brings me back to Shakespeare. I can imagine the powerful Romans—whose understanding of the world was tethered to the might and security of their Empire—listening to the story about Legion and asking themselves:

I am Legion, know ye not that?

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“But, Chris, the Bible Isn’t Political”: Part 2

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of PeaceOf the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.

Isaiah c9

We American Evangelical Christians have problems with the Bible. They remind me of our problems last year with #BlackLivesMatter and this weekend with #TakeTheKnee.

Every time we hear those words, what we really hear is “only black lives matter.” With an assist from Breitbart (which still features a section on its website entitled “Black Crime”) and from Fox News (which capably blows up the television screens of white America every night with every black person it can find whom it can use to fit its narrative), we proudly and arrogantly understand those movements to mean that black people don’t want to work hard or follow the rules like white people do. We puff ourselves up and imagine them hating us and essentially wanting to burn down our way of life. We imagine the same things that Christian slave owners imagined a hundred and sixty years ago and that Christian parents of children in desegregated schools imagined sixty years ago.

However, every other person in the universe hears something that is nowhere to be found in the wildest imaginations of white people. They see blacks incarcerated at stunningly higher rates than whites. They see blacks consistently charged more harshly than whites for the same crimes. They see qualified blacks less likely to get job interviews. They see hard-working blacks struggle to escape poverty. They see hard work reward mostly whites and poor choices punish mostly blacks.

And it is out of that struggle and injustice that they clearly hear the cry that “black lives matter too.” What everyone but white people soberly observes is that the American system treats black lives as if they don’t matter.

This—by the way—is the vacuousness and irrelevance of white, suburban America every time it thinks itself so enlightened when it angrily shouts “All Lives Matter.” No, duh.

And this is being out-of-touch. This is life on top.

At number one.

Privilege.

This is the people of Rome as they sneered at the Israelites whom they conquered in war. If you listen, you can hear the citizens of Rome complaining that “they should have just followed the law.”

And it’s exactly how we read the Bible in 2017.

When we read the Bible we have to make choices about what it means. When we in White America make our choices, we have to realize that our interests are aligned with Pharaoh, with Nebuchadnezzar, and with Caesar. We have the materials. The resources. The access. We are at the top of the system. Hard work more consistently rewards us than it does others. And there are some ways of reading the Bible that ask us to risk, if not sometimes give up, those things.

So we spiritualize everything in the Bible.

We interpret everything in a way that circumvents God’s deep care for the systems of earth that work to the detriment of its most oppressed and vulnerable. We miss everything it says about social justice. About peace. About poverty.

And that includes politics.

If you ask a modern evangelical Christian to articulate Jesus’s role as the “Messiah”, they would state roughly as follows: People’s sins separate them from God. Jesus came to die on a cross as a sacrifice for people’s sins so they can be pure enough to enter Heaven with God when they die.

If you ask what the purpose of life on Earth is, it is to do whatever—according to their denomination’s interpretation—is necessary to receive the benefits of that sacrifice. Otherwise, the Earth and what happens on it to its most vulnerable people isn’t really that important. At some point, it will simply go away.

I am a white evangelical Christian, and evangelical Christianity has devastated my soul this year.

(I say this not ignorant of the few reasons for my black readers having any sympathy for my “plight”)

Every time our government has used some vulnerable minority group—Muslims, young immigrants, blacks, transsexuals, gays, lesbians, or whomever else—as a political pawn, the church has been absolutely nowhere.

Absolutely. Nowhere.

“Jesus wasn’t concerned with fixing all the problems of his day,” I’ve heard in more sermons than I can count. “After all, this world is going to go away and what really matters is where your soul goes on Judgment Day.”

And I watch as the church of America says “Amen.”

Let me repeat. Caesar would have loved this theology. Nebuchadnezzar would have loved it. Pharaoh would have loved it. A faith that is only concerned for “my” salvation has no space for “group sin” as is articulated so often throughout the Bible.

It’s a faith with no concern for systems.

For social justice.

For peace.

For the environment.

For politics.

And it is completely foreign to the way of Jesus, the Messiah.

(though it was quite convenient for slave owners during the Civil War and segregationists a hundred years later in Little Rock, Arkansas)

As non-white Americans face greater discrimination and segregation, as the world edges closer to nuclear war, as our polar ice caps melt beyond repair, we sing gnostic songs like “This World Is Not My Home” and “I’ll Fly Away” because we’ve embraced the Gospel of Caesar—a gospel that is oblivious and unconcerned with justice and peace in this world. Our Gospel is a comfort to the powerful and little help for the oppressed.

We’ve ignored what the prophets of the vulnerable nation of Israel were concerned with when they envisioned the “Meshiakh”—a liberating figure on whom would rest the government. Guys, the freaking government. Isaiah actually uses that word!!

Not some invisible place in the sky.

But, now.

Here.

In this world.

Among these people.

With our problems.

With our systems.

With our economics.

With our government.

A judge who would make things right where they are wrong. Real things.

Suffering.

War.

Discrimination.

Nationalism.

Starvation.

Empire.

Poverty.

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Isaiah c2

 

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
  the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the EARTH will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah c9

These statements of hope from the Hebrew prophets are universally known and embraced by everyone in the world (even among non-Christians)—but white Evangelical Christians. Frankly, these statements aren’t relevant to our spiritual theology of being saved so we can leave this world and not burn for eternity in fire wherever we end up.

Listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and you’ll find a man who was fluent in the Hebrew prophets. I wonder why.

In one scene, Jesus comes to Jerusalem—a place fomenting with violent, rebellious imagination—and this is what we read.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.

When Jesus talks about “what would bring you peace”, he’s not talking about the “Sweet By and By”. He’s talking about war. Jesus knew that Jerusalem’s belief in peace through violence and warfare would be its undoing. As our nation edges closer to atomic war, if we want to hear the message of Rabbi Yeshua, we need to place ourselves in the shoes of the poor Yitzhak ben Abba, whose story I told you in the last installment.

He brings me to the book of Mark, one sentence of which I quoted in that installment. Mark was the first time the story of Jesus, the Messiah, was written, which is amazing considering that Jesus had died forty years earlier. That said, I find it no accident that whoever wrote that book found it most relevant to tell the story of Jesus right after Israel’s devastating war with Rome—while the Roman military propaganda machine was announcing “gospels” of Israel’s destruction throughout the empire.

Mark uses the word “gospel” way more times than any other book of the Bible, but it doesn’t talk very much at all about the afterlife. What it does talk about is a valley outside of Jerusalem, called “Gehenna”, where thousands of dead Israelite bodies were buried and burned up after their devastating war.

However, in keeping with our reflex to spiritualize everything in the Bible, we usually translate the name of this valley “Hell.”

You and I confess that Jesus is the son of God—God in the flesh. Among the people to whom Jesus came to Earth and identified, the Jews, the statements of hope we just read in Isaiah and the other prophets were their sacred expectations of the Messiah. These were Jesus’s prophets. These were his texts of the Messiah.

And nowhere in the book of Mark are these Messianic expectations disturbed.

Nowhere does any book of the Bible take away from the Messiah’s work in making the world—this world—better.

Where Mark defies Hebrew (and Roman) expectations is its loud and radical statement that the world will not be made better through war and violence. Jesus was the Prince of Peace. Not peace from Hell.

Peace from Gehenna.

Notice how Mark uses the symbols of peace from Rome and Israel in his opening statement.

“The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet.”

In so making this statement, the Gospels take aim in no uncertain terms at both sides of the conflict—the Empire of Rome and the rebels of Israel. Unfortunately, our modern-day lives of comfort prevent us from hearing the political messages of the Bible—literally from its first page until its final page. Please understand how crazily political and subversive this statement was.

When the early church said “Jesus is Lord” the message they heard was “and Caesar is not.”

“But, Chris, the Bible Isn’t Political”: Part 1

It’s a summer day in Caesarea, the great Roman port city in Northern Israel. Weaving in and around your fingers is a Denarius—a coin you specifically remember earning years ago—and, in recent years, the only coin you’ve owned more than a day. It’s a rarity, so you’ve kept it. It’s also the only tangible memory from your previous life.

On the front is a picture of Augustus Caesar. On the back are the words DIVVS IVLIVS (“Divine Julius”) and a picture of Julius ascending among the gods as a comet. Augustus, who called himself “the Son of God”, died long ago, and you’re not completely sure which new son of Jupiter currently sits on the throne in Italy. You’ve never been to Rome, so coins have long been your only glimpse into its happenings.

If this were a normal summer, you would be at the completion of the barley harvest and enjoying a time of relative rest as the Jewish holiday of Shavuot approached. The year is 74 AD, and the rest you enjoyed after the harvest in all the summers you’ve known since childhood has been replaced with despair.

In fact, despair is all you’ve know for years.

Your name is Yitzhak ben Abba, and work on a farm just North of Jerusalem was life since your teen years. You had been lucky not just to have work, but to work on this farm. The landowner was one of the best to work for as far as you knew. Your friends in your village seem to have always had a worse time with their employment. No doubt, times have been tough for as long as you could remember, but at least you could always count on the luxury of a fair day’s work for one Denarius.

But, since the year 67, lack of work has been only one of your problems. On this afternoon, as you stare numbly at your coin, you hear it announced that Rome has just completed its war with Israel—the culmination of eight years of devastation. Frankly, everything you ever knew and thought you could count on has been destroyed in that time. At one time, you had a wife, a son, a mother, and had even a few sheep.

But no more.

Your first memory of the war happened seven years ago when a worn-out teenage boy from Jotapata in Galilee arrived in your village. He had obviously been on the run for several days. You will never forget the exhaustion in his voice and the fear in his eyes. This boy had seen the look of Hell.

Apparently, the Roman general Vespasian had laid siege to the elevated town, and this boy had gotten out in time. Of course, his story brought dread to the whole countryside. Were the Romans concerned only with Jotapata, or all of Judea? Might the Romans ever come here? Can Jotapata defend itself? If Jotapata succeeds, might the Roman army give up and turn back to Syria?

Months later, you let out a great sigh of relief when you heard that the general Joseph ben Matiyahu, now named “Flavius Josephus”, had successfully held off a massive bombardment up the steep rise to the town. This was good news. Surely the Romans would give up. The village threw a party.

Months later, the Roman army crushed Jotapata.

And several legions of Roman soldiers were marching due south.

In your direction.

Vespasian’s strategy was to route out rebels throughout the countryside and then stage a final showdown at Jerusalem. This left you with two bad choices: Either remain in the village and almost surely be crucified as a rebel (you’ve witnessed multiple crucifixions in your lifetime) or take your chances within the walls of Jerusalem, just like the residents of Jotapata had already attempted and failed.

So, you and your family fled south to Jerusalem.

That was years ago, and here in Caesarea you are still haunted by the choice. At least death would have ended you and your family’s suffering on a cross within an afternoon.

But the Roman siege—then led by Vespasian’s successor, Titus—of Jerusalem lasted forever.

And life trapped within those walls was as saturated in misery as humanity had ever known. Homelessness, banditry, malnutrition, starvation, treachery, fear, sleeplessness, cold, rain, disease, and ceaseless death. Factions of Jews fought each other within the walls over who would be in charge of this or that. Over who would get to eat this or that.

Sometimes the “this or that” were people.

Your nation was under attack from the mightiest military power in the history of the world, but the Romans could do little that the Israelites weren’t already doing to themselves.

Finally, five legions of Roman soldiers breached the wall.

You escaped with your life but little else. Your mother had already died from malnutrition. There was nowhere to bury her. Your son died during the fighting in a fire. Your wife was stabbed multiple times.

Her killer, too, is dead.

You saw people sliced open, children thrown hundreds of feet down onto rocks and burst open, women raped. You’ve smelled thousands of rotting carcasses. In fact, hundreds of thousands died within those walls.

You haven’t slept well in years.

And that brings you here to this day in Caesarea. You sit in the shade of the mighty Roman aqueduct—a technological marvel of this day—along with several homeless and your one companion-coin. The shade protects you during the hot of the midday before you go out to beg at the ports in the later evening.

Every once in a while someone will drop a coin into your bag.

More often than not someone will call you “Sikarion!” (“terrorist”).

Within a short distance of your spot is an arena. It’s close enough that you can hear the sound of its gladiatorial games. Today, as if Yahweh personally dumped a handful of salt in your already gaping wounds, the Romans are re-enacting the war you regret to have survived. Just a few hundred yards from where you sit, Jews with whom you had shared scraps of food in Jerusalem are being hacked beyond recognition.

To the sound of cheering.

Deafening cheering.

And drunken shouts of “Pax Romana!” The joy of the crowd. The laughing. The happy fathers with their happy sons.

With every eruption, your stomach feels like you had just swallowed a stone. You feel the pain of the man or woman being slaughtered because you were slaughtered too. With every cheer, you relive another day of the war.

And now the crowd goes quiet, except for one voice. An announcement. Something called a “Euengelian” You ask one of the men huddled up near you what that means. “Good news”, you are told. This “Gospel” announcement is that the mighty Roman Empire, with the help of the gods, has finished off its final campaign in the war against the barbarian Judaites in Masada, the mountain city in Southern Israel. The world is at peace again.

“Pax Romana!” cheers the crowd in unison. “Euengelian!” cheers the crowd next. You can imagine the gospel being announced at hundreds of arenas throughout the empire. Thousands and thousands of families cheering to the news that the world was now safe from people like you.

You just want to die.

In this arena would be fine.

It’s the late afternoon now and you have transitioned from the aqueduct to the coast again, where you sit in a kind of trance. Would this be my last day? Would Yahweh have mercy on me in the life to come? And then your trance is broken. A fairly well-to-do woman and two male personal assistants has approached you and your companions on the port. She offers bread and a message from a “Rabbi Yeshua.”

You’ve heard that he was a controversial rabbi who died four decades ago on a Roman cross outside of Jerusalem, but its hard to know what is or isn’t true about him. To this date, nobody as far as you know, has ever written down his story.

Until today.

The Yeshua Movement, or “the Way” as you’ve heard it called, remains a distinct minority in Judea. And it’s not clear exactly what Rabbi Yeshua even taught that made him so controversial. Today, however, you get to hear what all the fuss is about. She has a parchment scroll to read. The language of the freshly finished ink is Greek, but the woman has said she would translate it for us into Aramaic.

You haven’t eaten normal food in months, and yet, as she opens up her scroll, your imagination is fully invested in what’s inside. You’ve even forgotten about your bread.

She begins.  You can feel in your bones the warmth of the words in the scroll before she even reads them, and the first line brings feeling to your body that you haven’t known since your childhood.

The beginning of the Good News about Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

She pauses and looks up, her face revealing determination, even . . . defiance.

NOTE: An earlier version of this post stated that Jesus had died “centuries” earlier instead of “decades.” Writing is hard.

Sexy Solomon

Today, I want to talk about what it means to be human. Below your skin, below your bones, below your nervous habits, and favorite Netflix shows. Like normal, we have quite the ground to cover.

Whips and Chains

The Bible is a diverse anthology, and yet one book stands out a lot. I think you know which one I mean.

Readers of the Bible have long struggled with Song of Solomon. The book is a back and forth between two lovers—the Israelite King Solomon and an unnamed (and probably teenage) girl. And, by “back and forth”, I mean mostly of erotic poetry. Some of its eroticism is right there on the surface; much of it comes by euphemism. But it is highly sexual, highly lustful, and ridiculous—even for erotic poetry.

When the two lovers are away, they descend into obsession. They see each other in trees, and towers, and goats, and . . . the pools of Siloam?

“My beloved is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.
His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels.
His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume.
His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh.
His arms are rods of gold set with topaz.
His body is like polished ivory decorated with lapis lazuli.
His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars.
His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.”

“How beautiful are your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of an artist’s hands.
Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.
Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim.”

“Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.
How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.”

OoOoOoh, yeah!

In one scene, Solomon comes to her by night, but because she is a teenager, she is living in what is probably her family’s house. Solomon—who is totally not a creeper—can only peer at her through some opening. And he most certainly does.

This is Song of Solomon, and it too is in your divinely inspired Bible.

A little more than ten years ago, one of my relatives, who has been an elder in the church for decades and who was on the board of a highly conservative Christian college, confessed to me that he didn’t think Song of Solomon should be in the Bible. Seeing as I saw nothing theologically important in it, I agreed with him.

This is because I was a modern conservative evangelical, and modern conservative evangelicals are trained to read the Bible to mean exactly “what it says it is.”

Genesis begins “In the beginning,” so Genesis must be about the beginning. Joshua describes a war in Canaan, so there must have been a war in Canaan. Revelation describes a war in Heaven, so Revelation must be about Heaven. And Song of Solomon contains erotic poetry between Solomon and just one of his many love interests, so Song of Solomon must be about sex.

Which means every once in a while, you get that hip, “edgy” preacher who tries to make Song of Solomon into a great sex counseling guide for married couples. But Song of Solomon isn’t really useful for any of this (unless, I suppose, you are among the 0.000000001% of married people who struggle with whether sex is a good thing). Worse, these almost exclusively male preachers almost inevitably descend into some thinly veiled version of, “See, women, God put this in the Bible so you would know how much your husband needs sex, and that it’s your duty to God to give it to him whenever he wants it.”

(And we also start wondering what kind of intimacy problems the preacher must be having at the moment.)

Never mind the woman in the poems expresses her sexual desire more than does the man. And never mind the harm this kind of thinking has done to women.

And never mind Solomon.

You need to understand, the people who wrote your Bible were not remotely impressed with that man. Especially as Solomon ages, the Bible depicts him in ways that were meant to remind the Hebrew readers of Pharaoh—a domineering, insecure, power-hungry, ruthless egomaniac. For the same people who felt the whip of slavery in Egypt, Solomon builds a temple out of—guess what?—slave labor. He is paranoid, insecure, and vindictive. And Deuteronomy, which is outwardly styled as the second telling of the law by Moses—but which really was written during the chains of more foreign domination—takes aim at Solomon in no uncertain terms.

Notice how neatly the telling of the “law of kings” in Deuteronomy corresponds with what you read later.

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

Deuteronomy c17

The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 (!) talents, not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the territories. . . .

Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. . . .

King Solomon loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.

I Kings 

(that exclamation point isn’t in the real text, but it might as well be)

It’s as if the writer of Deuteronomy had a manuscript handy of what would later become the finished version of I Kings right in front of him, and he wanted to explain how Israel’s present problems with global empires looked a whole lot like their checkered past.

And, as you evaluate the usefulness of Solomon’s wisdom to your relationship with your life partner, if you still want to ignore Solomon’s shortcomings as a man, you just can’t ignore that Solomon saw no problem with taking hundreds of both wives and sex slaves—a point that should make inherently suspect anything he penned down. In fact, at one point in Song of Solomon, Solomon finds it meaningful and appropriate and I guess sexy to emphasize the superior beauty of his lover with reference to the many other women in his harem.

“Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number; but my dove, my perfect one, is unique.”

(McNeal Revised Standard Version: “Gurrrrrrlllllllll, I’ve been with so many women, but you da best.”)

So, yeah, eroticism is good, but you don’t need Song of Solomon to know that. Solomon was a bad man, and there are better sources on how to spice up your love life. Which begs the question, if Song of Solomon is not a good book to discover the eternal secrets of love and romance and whoopee, then

why is that darn book in your Bible?

I have the answer: It’s the Sh’mah.

Fruit and Chocolate

On one occasion, a member of the Pharisees asked Jesus which command is the most important command of the Torah. Most Christians are familiar with Jesus’s answer here and commonly think that it was some major break from all that “rule following” of Judaism. His answer is prong one of the oft-written “love God, love people” religious views answer you find on thousands of people’s Facebook profiles.

However, Jesus’s response to this Pharisee’s question couldn’t have been more Jewish. It actually came right out of Deuteronomy c6, which reads:

Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, the Lord is one. Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Jews name this command the Sh’mah—the Hebrew word for “hear”—and it is central to both the Jewish and Christian faith traditions. Jews have been reciting the Sh’mah every morning and every night for thousands of years. They even begin their worship services with it. After all, immediately after the Sh’mah, they’re commanded to.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Christians and Jews to this day unite around the Sh’mah. Yet, for all its importance, for all its centrality, the Sh’mah is surprisingly mysterious in a way that you would never know from your English Bible. The Hebrew word translated in most Bibles strength is me’od, but me’od doesn’t mean strength at all. In fact, it’s not even a noun.

Me’od means “very.”

Which is grammatical nonsense.

Just think about what we have in our Bibles. The Sh’mah is universally recognized as the most important command of both the Jewish and Christian traditions. Jews agree on this. Jesus agreed with this. Followers of Jesus agree on this. And yet, grammatically it doesn’t mean anything. Bonkers.

Which leads you to wonder.

If only there was a book of the Bible that illustrated what it looks like to love in a way that is as totally hysterical and nonsensical as this totally hysterical and nonsensical command. And since poetry often works so well to describe such non-formulaic, nonsensical things, if only there was perhaps some poetry—perhaps even erotic love poetry—that described the alternative universe of loving with all your . . . very.

Hi.

I’d like to reintroduce you to Song of Solomon.

More likely than not, it was written for exactly the purpose you see on the surface. But for some reason, the writing stuck around for centuries. And, as the second century rabbis of the Talmud struggled to imagine and articulate to their disciples loving Yahweh with all their very (it sounds awkward every time I type that), they saw in Song of Solomon a picture of exactly the kind of passionate nonsensical devotion demanded in the Sh’mah.

Yes, the poems are about sex. Which, for the record, is perfectly great. But what the Rabbis understood was that where there is sex there is also so much more than sex. Who could be surprised with how much we can learn about being human from the most quintessentially human activity there ever was? Second century rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, in one of my favorite rabbinic quotes of all time, put it like this: “He who sings the Song of Songs in wine taverns, treating it as if it were just some vulgar song, forfeits his share in the world to come.”

Haha. I guess in the 2nd century, they were getting drunk to songs from Song of Solomon.

So, what can we learn from it? First, let’s talk about fruit.

Fruit plays a major role in many of these poems. Fruit and gardens.

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. . . . .

I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, . . .

Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread everywhere. Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. . . .

I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. . . .

My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies. . . .

Of course, these images are saturated in sensuality (I’ll leave the specifics to your imagination), but they were also meant to strike a chord with its ancient Jewish audience who would instantly connect these images to the garden and fruit in Genesis. The fruit is insatiable desire and curiosity.

It is all-consuming desire no matter the consequences. No matter what harm may come.

For many people today, this would be like chocolate, which suddenly you’re already thinking about, aren’t you? (“No, Chris, I’ve already been thinking about it.”) Desire is not some foreign thing to you. It’s something you know well, so let’s talk about it.

Costumes and Roleplay

We desire many things, but I think at the core of the human is the desire for deep passion. I think it is the engine of our souls. Think about the times when you felt most alive. You didn’t feel distant. Isolated. Passive. Or uninterested.

No.

Your pupils dilated. Your veins surged with oxygen. Your synapses fired. You gave a damn.

As ridiculous as Song of Solomon is and as terrible of a man as Solomon was, I actually think your life should look like the two lovers in Song of Solomon. No, I’m actually not talking about going to more church, or singing louder in church, or praying harder in church, or even reading the Bible more when you leave church. Most of you are probably doing this fine—and the prophet Amos was hardly impressed with any of it.

And neither am I talking about a life of indulgence—the kind I see in so many people I observe. The life of moving from one thing to the next out of boredom is not a life of passion. No matter how fun it may be at the time.

I’m talking about making the conscious choice that some things have more weight than others.

Have you ever randomly gotten emotional at something and your friends wondered what was wrong with you? And you struggled to explain yourself? That there is so much more going on than they could see? That it may seem like this silly little thing, but it’s actually connected to this thing and that thing and that thing? And all these things together mean so much to you? That the moment felt heavy? And the more you tried to explain it, the more overcome with emotion you became? And in the end you just sounded ridiculous?

The Hebrew word for weight is kavod. We usually translate it “glory.”

A life of passion begins with the acknowledgment that some things are full of kavod and other things are not. If you still need me to spell it out for you, your favorite football team is not the important thing you think it is. I love football like every other red-blooded American, but I’ve lost no joy from not knowing the quarterback ratings of each of the last year’s starting quarterbacks in the SEC.

Most people basically live this way. It may not be a football team, but your energy is probably going mostly to things of equal uselessness to yourself and other human beings. And your soul is dying a slow death. You were made for intimacy and passion, but the real you is safely hidden in a costume, playing out a role designed and scripted by a few very rich people who profit off of your life of nothingness. Your naked self was lost when you set your desire on the tree in the garden—the tree that promised safety and power. That you would be like God.

But when you find something worth giving yourself to, you give your whole self. You put yourself out there. You make yourself vulnerable. Risk things. Even when it’s lonely. Even when people don’t “get” you. When your body becomes weary.

“Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.”

You make the world better when you devote yourself to the things that have kavod. And you stick with those things through the best and the worst because they feel more important than you. Weightier than you. More prized. More jealously guarded. Meanwhile your friends think you’re obsessive. They start saying words like that’s nice but maybe you could tone it down and I think it’s important that we exercise moderation. You hear their words of wisdom, but you don’t care. Because you feel privileged to even have this thing. To sacrifice for it. You even feel unworthy of it, just as Solomon’s lover did. You study, learn, and observe everything about it, and even see it connect to the world around you in the most random ways (“Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim.”).

Further, when you’re away from it, it is the thing you think about. Where you long to be. You wonder whether it will come back or be gone forever.

“All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.”

But despite all the energy it demands from you, satisfaction is always the end. This is the life of passion for things that have weight. This is loving God with all your very.

Because the most sexual things sometimes involve sex.

 

Why Isn’t the Old Testament Written In Egyptian?

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

The central driving force of the Old Testament is the exodus story. The phrase yatsa erets Mitzrayim (“out of the land of Egypt”) is written 142 times, and it is from this memory that the first command of the Torah begins.

According to the Old Testament book of Exodus, the Hebrews lived in Egypt for four hundred and thirty years. But in light of that reading of the story, several odd things happen when they leave. First, you have to accept the fact that there is virtually no record of the Hebrews living in Egypt. That’s simply an archeological fact. Of course, I’ve heard Christians say that the pharaoh must have scrubbed any record of them in order to save his reputation, and I guess that’s a possibility. But there are plenty of things in the Egyptian record, so to speak, that memorialize bad things happening to Egypt. You can find plenty in the Egyptian record of lost battles and humiliating defeats. Further, no other nation records the Hebrews living in and escaping Egypt.

And let’s be clear about the scale we are talking about: The biblical account of the exodus describes a Hebrew community that was at a minimum one million people. That is a truly huge movement of people and stuff. In light of the fact that the number of Egyptians living at the time was also about one million, I simply don’t find it plausible that there would be no record of the Hebrews ever living in Egypt. And if, when you read the Old Testament books of the Torah, you expect simply a videotaped version of history, there’s another problem with the exodus story.

The Hebrew slaves whom Moses delivered through the Red Sea didn’t leave Egypt speaking Egyptian.

Four centuries is a long time to live in a new place and not pick up a language. If that doesn’t mean much to you, consider that the Hebrews were captives in Babylon for only about fifty years, and yet they left Babylon speaking Aramaic. Further, not only did they leave Babylon as Aramaic speakers, but the language turned out to be durable. In fact, more than five centuries after the exile in Babylon, Aramaic was the primary language that Jesus spoke.

Genesis and Exodus are a great history of the Israelites if you want to understand their understanding of Yahweh and their neighbors when they came back from Babylon (which is when and why those books were written). They are a terrible history if you expect a literal reading to reveal their actual origins.

So if the Hebrews didn’t come out of Egypt, where did they come from?

The best theory on this question begins with the striking similarities of Judaism to Canaanite religion that was practiced in the coastal plain of Israel around 1400 BCE to 1100 BCE. This was also an area that Egypt sought to control, though never with complete success. Over time, as some Canaanites moved away from the coast and further inland toward the then largely unoccupied mountainous center of Israel, they began to establish a distinct identity from the coastal-dwelling Canaanites and Philistines. They became Hebrews. Further, to the extent that Egypt also sought control of that coastal region from which they came, you could say there was an “exodus” of sorts—though it wouldn’t have been anything of the scale you read in Exodus.

This, by the way, is called the “Canaanite Origins Theory”. There are other theories, but this is the dominant theory and the one I find more persuasive than the others.

How To Cook A Passover Lamb Without Ruining the Whole Bible

Exodus explains how to conduct a Passover.

And Deuteronomy explains how to conduct a Passover.

Which really sucks. First, this is the boring, hyper technical, and legal part of the Bible. Second, cooking a passover lamb isn’t very interesting to me or most people. And, finally, not only do you have to read how to conduct a Passover, but you have to read it twice.  And that’s to say nothing of the fact that, since the Bible is inerrant, we really need only one set of instructions, right? They’re both just going to say the same thing, right?

Anyway, Chris, I think you’re getting distracted . . . how does one cook a passover lamb?

Simple.

Here you go . . .

“You shall not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire.” — Exodus c12

“You shall boil it and eat it at the place that the Lord your God will choose.” — Deuteronomy c16

Okay.

Wait….

WHAT

WHAT?!?!?!

So you furiously open up your Bible right now to check, and … AHA! … smarty-pants McNeal is wrong! You read God’s command in Deuteronomy and it clearly reads, like Exodus, to “roast” a Passover lamb. Meaning, Chris obviously got this idea in some liberal tent meeting, but, like usual, he never bothered to read the Bible for himself.

Some of you have taken it a step further. You’ve gone to Google and searched “alleged Bible contradictions” or done a Strong’s search and read that the Hebrew word for boil is בָּשַׁל “bashal” and that bashal can mean “boil” or “roast.” And since the Bible can’t contradict itself, it obviously in this instance has to mean “roast”.

Case closed. Chris obviously got too excited to find the Bible contradict itself, and now he’s just stumbling over himself.

Actually, what’s going on in our concordances is an example of how our theology prevents us from reading the Bible for what’s really happening in it. Yes, your English translation of Deuteronomy probably says roast. Yes, your Strong’s concordance says that the Hebrew word בָּשַׁל “bashal” can mean “roast.”

But everyone outside of traditional evangelicalism instantly notices that Deuteronomy c16 is the only place in the whole Bible when Strong’s thinks Bashal means roast. And then you insert “bashal” in its place in the English text and notice the trouble that happens.

“You shall not eat the meat raw or bashal it in water, but roast it over a fire.” — Exodus c12

“You shall bashal it and eat it at the place that the Lord your God will choose.” — Deuteronomy c16

You must not bashal it in Exodus but you must bashal it in Deuteronomy. You can’t observe one command without violating the other.

And this was not lost in the 3rd century BCE book of 2nd Chronicles, which described a Passover preparation and kind of panicked. Really, if you come to the passage with the knowledge you now have, it’s actually quite telling:

They boiled (bashal) the passover lamb with fire according to the law and they boiled (bashal) the holy offerings in potsII Chronicles c35

The chronicler wasn’t sure whether to describe this as a roasting or a boiling, and after what I assume to be several sleepless nights, settled on describing it as “boiling with fire, according to the law.” This is funny, but also disingenuous.

So, getting back to our original question, how does one cook a Passover lamb without ruining the Bible?

Simple.

We change our expectations of what the Bible is.

We admit that these passages contradict each other rather than rush to keep them from contradicting each other. We ask why two passages contradict each other rather than go to war to explain how they don’t.

Even though Exodus presents itself in the Bible before Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy was written centuries before Exodus. We’re confident about this because of its remarkable similarity with the many treaties that Assyria imposed on nations it conquered (and Israel was one of those nations). So, when the Old Testament tells us that Josiah “found” a book of the law, we’re pretty confident that Deuteronomy was that book. However, by the time Exodus was written—this was after Assyria and the later Babylonian exile—Passover lambs were being roasted and not boiled, so Exodus simply reflects that change.

And, by this point, I’m sure they believed that God had instructed it this way all along.

Again, Jesus came to the Earth and taught about God through the language of the mythic national stories of the people living in Judea. This is no threat to the Christian faith. As I’ve argued at length, we need to understand the Old Testament to understand the teachings of Jesus, but we don’t have to accept the Old Testament to accept the teachings of Jesus.

About That Time Noah Got Drunk And Naked And Started Cursing People

The book of Genesis tells us that God saw the evil of humankind and decided to kill  everyone in a cataclysmic flood—everyone, that is, except Noah and his family. Then, after the flood, Noah gets off the boat, grows a wine vineyard, gets astoundingly drunk on his wine, and passes out naked in a tent. Finally, Noah wakes up, finds out that his son saw him naked, and curses his grandson. The end.

Haha, what?

Setting aside the disturbing fact that the God of all justice apparently decided to wipe out all of humanity (and then later declared that justice would never again require doing that—even if humankind became equally evil), there are still many bizarre things in this story.

First, if someone saw me naked—especially because I’d kicked back about ten or twenty too many the night before—l can imagine all kinds of reactions that I might have when I woke up.

But, no matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine cursing that person’s child being one of them.

That said, let’s suspend all familiar. Let’s just pretend that I had no sense of direction or proportionality. Let’s pretend my reaction would be to curse a man’s child. Let’s say my waiter tonight spills a drink in my lap. And let’s say I immediately stand up, look him in the eye, and proclaim, “Cursed be your child! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

Again, there would be all kinds of not normal in that situation.

But I can confidently say that God would not curse the man’s child.

So when God actually does grant Noah’s really odd curse on Ham’s child, I think it’s in bounds to ask all sorts of questions. Specifically, is there something happening below the surface that we don’t see?

This is not a story about why it’s bad to drink alcohol (yes, I’ve heard that many times).

What’s really going on here is much more dark.

And we need to talk about it.

It tells us a lot about the kind of thing we are reading when we are reading the Bible that I agree is inspired.

So, let’s go back to the story and look at it in detail. When Noah gets off the boat, we are told that his three sons got off the boat too. But the story begins with an interesting detail.

And it’s oddly specific.

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)

Whoever Canaan is, he is not in this story, and Noah’s three children had lots of children. So this odd story only get more odd when it begins by the specific information that Ham was the father of Canaan. Perhaps that was just an accident (spoiler: I wrote this whole thing because it’s not), but let’s read on.

Next, we are told that Noah gets drunk on the wine from a vineyard that he planted (as a side note, as a former Californian I can confidently tell you that it takes a LONG time for a vineyard to become wine producing, but never mind), and Ham happens to see him passed out drunk and naked in his tent. But notice that the writer provides that same strange detail a second time:

When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside.

Again, let me repeat: Canaan is still not in this story. In fact, there is not a single story in the whole Bible about a man named Canaan. Yet, here his name comes back for a second random appearance.

At this point, you would be in the right if you are beginning to suspect that whoever wrote this story might have been obsessed with Canaan. If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who, no matter what the topic, always brings the conversation back to something about someone they used to date, I think you’ve experienced what’s happening here. This story isn’t about Noah or his sons or nakedness or wine.

But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

This story is about Canaan.

And why Canaan is different from his brothers.

Specifically, why his brothers are superior to Canaan.

And what that might mean to a people who have been exiled from the land that their traditions have long held came from Canaan.

And why Yahweh might not look so favorably on a people who took them away from the land that Yahweh took from those evil Canaanites.

BUT, is accidentally seeing Noah passed out naked in his tent . . . evil? No. But that’s probably not what happened. This part of the story is probably a euphemism for Ham sleeping with Noah’s wife. The Bible often tells whole stories as euphemisms like this. For example, when the book of Ruth tells us that Ruth went to the sound asleep Boaz and “uncovered his feet”, trust me she wasn’t uncovering his feet.

“Ah, yes,” I hear people thinking, “that’s what this story is about. This story is about why it’s bad to have sex with your father’s wife.”

But, haha, no. Ham sleeping with his father’s wife isn’t the point of this story either.

Later the Bible will tell us that God commanded the sons of Shem to wipe out the sons of Ham. But who are the sons of Shem? Why, they are the semitic people. Have you ever heard someone say that so-and-so was anti-semitic, and you knew that meant “anti-Jewish”, but wondered where that word came from? Well, here it is.

This story is about them.

And their land.

Which they took from the Canaanites.

And why they believed God gave it to them.

This is a story told centuries after a genocide, and by the people who committed it.

Notice what we are told at the very beginning of the story:

These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

First of all, it should be said that anthropologists are very confident that the spread of humanity throughout the earth did not happen the way Genesis describes (which is a comforting thing if you aren’t fond of following a God who orders genocides). But, as I have argued extensively, Genesis was written thousands of years after the events it describes. It was written a thousand years after Moses’s time, a time when the Semitic people had just returned after being exiled from their land. And since the writer is trying to explain why everything is the way it is now, he starts with a clean slate. He starts with three people from whom all humanity will come. It’s as if to say: If you want to understand why things are the way they are now, just compare us to the people from whom God gave us this land.

Notice everything Noah says when he wakes up:

When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”

He also said,

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.

If you are wondering why Noah got so mad and decided to take his anger out on Canaan of all people, it’s because this story never happened. It’s a myth.

What did happen is that when this story was written the sons of Shem—that is, the Israelites—had just returned to the land they had lost and so constructed a narrative to support their never-ending claim to their land.

The Semite’s claim to their land is what you are reading when you read the entire book of Genesis.

Notice what happens immediately after this story in one of those “boring” genealogies.

This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.

….

The sons of Ham:

Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.

….
Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shiner. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city.

….

Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites,  Hives, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.

Later the Canaanite clans scattered and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha.

These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

If you’ve spent as little as an hour in the Bible, you would know that every virtually every single people group who would later become an enemy of Israel—not to mention the Canaanites—came from Ham. But, then notice who came from Shem:

Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.

The sons of Shem: Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.

The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshek.

Arphaxad was the father of Shelah, and Shelah the father of Eber.

It is from Shem that we get Eber.

And who is Eber?

It is from Eber that we get the name, and the ethnic group, Hebrew.

Now, go back to the text and notice how prominently Eber and Canaan are placed in the genealogy. It’s not an accident. The drunk Noah story and the genealogy are all about them.

The entire Old Testament is the story of the Hamites against Semites. 

This is why I found it important to miss out on normal young, single adult life and spend six months writing a caution against Christians basing their whole faith on the inerrancy of the Bible. It’s easy today for me to say that God never really commanded the things you see written in Joshua and Judges. My reading of the Bible doesn’t force me into that position. And I feel bad for people who still live their lives trying to explain how the justice and wisdom of God required that the Israelites kill the newborn children of the people living in Jericho.

If you realize that the books of the Old Testament are nowhere close to telling what we today think of as “history”, you begin to see that these genealogies are less history and more ancient arguments in support of a claim to nice land.

Arguments that Jesus Christ would later come and kill on a Roman cross.

I certainly believe the Israelites looked from Babylon back at the land from which they were exiled and believed God had commanded this. That their land was their divine right.

But our faith in God doesn’t require that we believe this too.

Unless you are prepared to say that God gave the Israelites the right to kill people for land because Noah got drunk and his son happened to walk into a tent.