bible blog 1638

This blog offers a daily reading of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark. This series began on 1st January 2015 and can be accessed from my archives. I normally use the Schocken Bible translation for Genesis.


delegations await verdict

delegations await verdict

God said to Avram:


who brought you up out of Ur of the Chaldees

to give you this land, to inherit it.

But he said:


by what shall I know that I shall inherit it?

He said to him:

Fetch me a calf of three, a she-goat of three, a ram of three, a turtle dove and a fledgling.

And he fetched all these.

He halved them down the middle, putting each one’s half toward its neighbour,but the birds he did not halve.

Vultures descended on the carcasses but Avram drove them off.

Now it was when the sun was coming in

that deep slumber fell upon Avram,

and look! fear and great darkness falling upon him!

And he said to Avram:

You must know, yes, know

tha your seed will be sojourners in a land not theirs;

they will put them in servitude and afflict them

for four hundred years.

But the nation to which they are in servitude-I will brig judgment upon them

and after that they will go out with great property.

AS for you, you will go down to your fathers in peace;

you will be buried at a good ripe-age.

But in the fourth generation the will return here

for the iniquity of the Amorite has not yet reached full measure until then.

Now it was night blackness

and here, a smoking oven, a fiery torch

that crossed between those pieces.

On that day

YHWH cut a covenant with Avram

saying, I will give this land to your seed

from the River of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates

the Kenite, the Kenizzite and the Kadnonite

and the Hittite, the Perizzite and the Refaites

and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Yevsuite.

This story tells us that because YHWH needed human help to bless his creation, and had chosen Avram and his family  because of his trust, he had chosen a particular bit of land for his helpers. Curiously this turned out to be the same parcel of land that later generations of this people wanted as their exclusive possession. The “peoples of the land” therefore, had to be expropriated and expelled. It seems historically that they were never full expelled and that their cultures were not extinguished in the time that Israel / Judah were free nations.

So who says that Israel had to have exclusive possession and that foreigners had to be expelled or killed? Probably it was the religious leadership of the nation after some of them had returned from Babylon in the sixth century BCE. During the four centuries that followed, Israel’s traditions were extensively edited to form something like the the Hebrew Bible we know. The ideology of Israel’s exclusive possession of the land was written back into its earliest records, as here.

Let me be clear: I do not think that in fact the twelve tribes ever conquered Palestine as described in the book of Joshua, but rather settled in the midst of other cultures, sometimes fighting for bits of land, sometimes living peacefully alongside them. The “great story” of the promised land has been read back into history to reflect the view of Israel’s prophets and priests that foreigners were dangerous to Israel and tempted them away from allegiance to YHWH, the one true God.

Obviously that’s a conviction which is contested by many scholars, and which would require to be proven by whole books of argument. Still, for me it’s the only theory that fits the facts and it influences my view of passages such as the one above.

Why is YHWH so careless about the welfare of the Amorites and all the other -ites mentioned? Answer: Because the author / editor of Genesis is. His ideology is not hatred of the foreigner per se, but specifically of the foreigner who contests possession of the promised land. It is not an ideology of expansion, like the Nazi ideology of Lebensraum, but one of sole and undiluted possession of a particular piece of land.

preparing the covenant

preparing the covenant

There are contradictions of this ideology within the scriptures, but it provides an overarching framework for the dominant strand of Bible history. It’s surprising how many commentators on this passage concentrate on the drama of the covenant, the ancient habit of creating sacred space between the divided bodies of animals, rather than its content: ethnic cleansing. The author attempts to justify YHWH’s promised eviction of whole races, by pointing to the “iniquity of the Amorites”. Readers will remember that the Nazi’s tried to justify the Holocaust by alleging the “iniquity of te Jews.”

Of course from the point of view of this story, any ethnic cleansing is a long way in the future. Indeed the faith of Abraham as portrayed in Genesis seems untouched by notions of exclusive possession of the land he is promised. He remains concerned, as we shall see, that YHWH, the judge of all the earth should act justly.

Bible scholars should be aware of what they are reading, especially if they think it is “God’s word.”. In a world where ethnic and religious hatreds, often boosted by fabricated histories, are a major cause of human misery, faith that glosses over the evils of its holy tradition is simply bad faith.


1. And the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem, are gathered together to him,

2 and seeing some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, unwashed, hands,

3 (for the Pharisees and all the Jews, unless they wash their hands diligently, do not eat, holding what has been delivered by the ancients;

4 and on coming from the market-place, unless they are washed, they do not eat; and there are many other things which they have received to hold as custom, the washing of cups and vessels, and brazen utensils, and beds),

5 then the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, Why do thy disciples not walk according to what has been delivered by the ancients, but eat the bread with defiled hands?

6 But he answering said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.

7 But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrine the  commandments of men.

8 For, leaving the commandment of God, you hold what is delivered by men to obey—washings of vessels and cups, and many other such like things you do.

9 And he said to them, Well do you set aside the commandment of God, that you may observe what is delivered by yourselves to obey.

10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, he who speaks ill of father or mother, let him surely die.

11 But you say, If a man say to his father or his mother,  any possession of mine which might have been of benefit to you is Corban that is, a holy gift),

12 You no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother;

13 making void the word of God by your traditional teaching which you have delivered; and you do many such like things.

a "hypokrites" is an actor on the Greek stage who uses a mask. Jesus was accusing Pharisees of acting a part

a “hypokrites” is an actor on the Greek stage who uses a mask.
Jesus was accusing Pharisees of acting a part

It’s hard to read this without thinking of germs and therefore of modern hygiene which encourages hand-washing- or did, before we got careless again. Jesus’ culture had no knowledge of germs and therefore no hygienic hand-washing. The various rituals prescribed in Leviticus and in Pharisaic tradition reflected notions of ritual cleanliness merely. Many of them derived from legislation which had originally affected priests and others involved in religious ceremonies. The pharisees expected this degree of holiness from all Jews. It’s easy to accept Jesus’ accusation of hypocrisy without question. Doubtless there were hypocritical pharisees as there are hypocritical Christians, but there were also many true teachers of Torah, whose “pharisaical” tradition fashioned a Judaism that could survive 2000 years of dispersion.

Jesus was opposed to religion, which he regarded as preserving a holy place where God could be found. He believed that God was available and did not want to be confined to holy spaces; that God’s goodness was present in the world waiting to share the everyday lives of men and women. The pharisees also believed this but thought it could be done by imposing “holy – life rules” on all people. Jesus wanted to do away with all artificial forms of holiness, because God was willing to live with people in the midst of their uncleanness, enabling them to make his goodness their own.

The example Jesus gives is of a man who dedicates possessions to the Temple or Synagogue instead of using them to look after his parents. A moment’s reflection will bring to mind Jesus’ saying that “anyone who loves his parents more than me is not worthy of the kingdom.” So, it’s OK for a someone to neglect parents to follow Jesus but not OK if it’s for the benefit of the temple? I think Jesus’ answer would have been yes, quite so. In the one case a person is avoiding care of parents by making a pious gesture. The disciple of Jesus, on the other hand, may well have made generous provision for parents before giving his/her life to Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus’ concern is that the explosive goodness of God should not be confined by any religious practice.

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