70 YEARS AFTER THE LIBERATION OF AUSCHWITZ THE HORROR IS FRESH
10 These are the generations of Shem. Shem was a hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood.
11 And Shem lived after he had begotten Arphaxad five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.
12 And Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Shelah.
13 And Arphaxad lived after he had begotten Shelah four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.
14 And Shelah lived thirty years, and begot Eber.
15 And Shelah lived after he had begotten Eber four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.
16 And Eber lived thirty-four years, and begot Peleg.
17 And Eber lived after he had begotten Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters.
18 And Peleg lived thirty years, and begot Reu.
19 And Peleg lived after he had begotten Reu two hundred and nine years, and begot sons and daughters.
20 And Reu lived thirty-two years, and begot Serug.
21 And Reu lived after he had begotten Serug two hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters.
22 And Serug lived thirty years, and begot Nahor.
23 And Serug lived after he had begotten Nahor two hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.
24 And Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and begot Terah.
25 And Nahor lived after he had begotten Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters.
26 And Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
27 And these are the generations of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot.
28 And Haran died before the face of his father Terah in the land of his nativity at Ur of the Chaldeans.
29 And Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, a daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah.
30 And Sarai was barren: she had no child.
31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth together out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to go into the land of Canaan, and came as far as Haran, and dwelt there.
32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.
As the reader may imagine, I was tempted to skip this chapter of genealogy, but decided I should at least look at what the author is doing. In all his genealogies he has at least two purposes: a) to mark off generations in an orderly way showing that there is a pattern in such matters. Here are ten generations between Noah and Abram, just as there are ten between Adam/Eve and Noah. The author is marking out the key figures in the different stages of his history of God’s creation. b) more controversially he is also marking out family and racial boundaries which are important to his view of the world. In this case we have the descendants of Shem, viewed as the most favoured son of Noah and the ancestor of the Jewish people, just as Ham the least favoured is the ancestor of the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of Palestine.
The racial prejudice expressed is not of course contemporary with his characters, but with his, the author’s / editor’s society in which the heathen inhabitants of the land have been defined as second-class. This reading back of prejudice into the foundational narratives of Israel has had consequences beyond the calculation of the author, which still affect the politics of Israel today.
The content of the genealogy makes it clear that Israel’s origins are amongst nomad herders, rather than the settled people of any land. In fact, the real origins of Israel are a matter of dispute at present – there are historians who describe the original Israel as a religious rather than an ethnic group – but there’s no doubt that the stories of the nomadic mothers and fathers of Israel, as given in Genesis, have profoundly influenced Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith.
It’s possible that most of these stories are theological fiction, but if so the fiction has proven more influential than the neglected reality. Thomas Mann, in his marvellous series of books “Joseph and his Brothers” begins by insisting that the “well (of memory and myth) is very deep” and that the names Abram, Isaac and Jacob, may be social roles rather than individual people. Anyone who values fiction or who would like shaken out of a barren view of the Bible as history, should give themselves the pleasure of reading these books. (Obtainable from Foyle’s)
Jewish ethnic identity has been used by the scum of the earth in all centuries to persecute them viciously. Some of them have been Christian scum. We remember this today as we reflect again on the fact of Auschwitz and other places of civilised extermination.
6 And he went out thence and came to his own country, and his disciples follow him.
2 And when sabbath was come he began to teach in the synagogue, and many hearing were amazed, saying, Where does this man get these things? and what is the wisdom that is given to him, and such works of power are done by his hands?
3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended by him.
4 But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not despised save in his own country, and among his kinsmen, and in his own house.
5 And he could not do any work of power there, save that laying his hands on a few infirm persons he healed them.
6 And he wondered because of their unbelief. And he went round the villages in a circuit, teaching.
This short section of the Gospel is very important.
Firstly it reveals that Jesus’ ability to heal depended on the trust of others (usually of his “patients”) in God’s available goodness. The healings happen because Jesus engenders this trust and acts upon it, along with the sick person, to effect a cure. It is a cooperative process, in which Jesus is the initiating partner. This revelation by Mark is crucial for the understanding of Jesus as Son of God in this Gospel. He is not superman. Matthew, who used this passage in his own Gospel, didn’t like the implications of Mark’s “could not” (verse 5) and therefore changed it to “did not,” meaning he could have, if he’d wanted.
The offence taken by Jesus neighbours is exemplary. To be “offended” in the Gospels, is almost a technical term. It comes from a noun which names a “block of wood or stone placed so as to make someone stumble,” (an instrument of war or crime). Metaphorically this comes to mean anything that might cause any kind of stumbling, in this case, a stumbling away from trust in a person. Various kinds of people are said to be “offended” by Jesus, religious leaders especially, but also potential disciples and as here, ordinary people with their prejudices. It’s not that they reject his teaching and healing as such, but that they do not accept them as done by someone no better than themselves. There is an ironical truth in their distrust: because of it, Jesus is not able to help them much.
These two aspects of the story go together. It is because Jesus Son of God is not superman, but requires their cooperation, that his people reject him. THis the nub of Jesus’ message: God’s goodness is available but it asks for human cooperation.
In historical terms this passage puts on record Jesus’ trade as carpenter or builder, and as such known locally as the one who might repair agricultural implements or fishing boats or houses. He would have purchased materialas for his jobs and charged his customers. He would have been one of the best-known people in his area.
Also on record here is Jesus family. He is called son of Mary, which is odd, and may signal either his father’s death or his absence. He also has four brothers and at least two sisters. The Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary simply refuses the obvious meaning of this information, and all for the sake of a myth which is one of the building blocks of its disastrous and unbiblcal view of sex.
All in all, this is one of most revealing passages about Jesus in our Bible.