This blog was dealing with Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem and Mark was completed two weeks ago. Today Genesis is completed. I’ll take a couple of blogs to sum up what I’ve learned before moving on to a new project. The whole series can be accessed from my archive, starting on 01/0/ 2015. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
POPE WELCOMES MAHMUD ABBAS OF PALESTINE AS A MAN OF PEACE
Genesis 49 CJB
49 Then Ya‘akov called for his sons and said,
“Gather yourselves together, and I will tell you
3 “Re’uven, you are my firstborn,
5 “Shim‘on and Levi are brothers,
8 “Y’hudah, your brothers will acknowledge you,
13 “Z’vulun will live at the seashore,
14 “Yissakhar is a strong donkey
16 “Dan will judge his people
(v) 19 “Gad /troop— a troop will troop on him,
20 “Asher’s food is rich —
22 “Yosef is a fruitful plant,
27 “Binyamin is a ravenous wolf,
28 All these are the twelve tribes of Isra’el, and this is how their father spoke to them and blessed them, giving each his own individual blessing.
29 Then he charged them as follows: “I am to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors in the cave that is in the field of ‘Efron the Hitti, 30 the cave in the field of Makhpelah, by Mamre, in the land of Kena‘an, which Avraham bought together with the field from ‘Efron the Hitti as a burial-place belonging to him — 31 there they buried Avraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Yitz’chak and his wife Rivkah, and there I buried Le’ah — 32 the field and the cave in it, which was purchased from the sons of Het.”
When Ya‘akov had finished charging his sons, he drew his legs up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.
50 Yosef fell on his father’s face, wept over him and kissed him. 2 Then Yosef ordered the physicians in his service to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Isra’el. 3 Forty days were spent at this, the normal amount of time for embalming. Then the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.
4 When the period of mourning was over, Yosef addressed to the household of Pharaoh: “I would like to ask a favor. Tell Pharaoh, 5 ‘My father had me swear an oath. He said, “I am going to die. You are to bury me in my grave, which I dug for myself in the land of Kena‘an.” Therefore, I beg you, let me go up and bury my father; I will return.’” 6 Pharaoh responded, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”
7 So Yosef went up to bury his father. With him went all Pharaoh’s servants, the leaders of his household and the leaders of the land of Egypt, 8 along with the entire household of Yosef, his brothers and his father’s household; only their little ones, their flocks and their cattle did they leave in the land of Goshen. 9 Moreover, there went up with him both chariots and horsemen — it was a very large caravan.
10 When they arrived at the threshing-floor in Atad, beyond the Yarden, they raised a loud and bitter lamentation, mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the local inhabitants, the Kena‘ani, saw the mourning on the floor of Atad they said, “How bitterly the Egyptians are mourning!” This is why the place was given the name Avel-Mitzrayim [mourning of Egypt], there beyond the Yarden.
12 His sons did to him as he had ordered them to do — 13 they carried him into the land of Kena‘an and buried him in the cave in the field of Makhpelah, which Avraham had bought, along with the field, as a burial-place belonging to him, from ‘Efron the Hitti, by Mamre.
14 Then, after burying his father, Yosef returned to Egypt, he, his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.
15 Realizing that their father was dead, Yosef’s brothers said, “Yosef may hate us now and pay us back in full for all the suffering we caused him.” 16 So they sent a message to Yosef which said, “Your father gave this order before he died: 17 ‘Say to Yosef, “I beg you now, please forgive your brothers’ crime and wickedness in doing you harm.”’ So now, we beg of you, forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Yosef wept when they spoke to him; 18 and his brothers too came, prostrated themselves before him and said, “Here, we are your slaves.” 19 But Yosef said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good — so that it would come about as it is today, with many people’s lives being saved. 21 So don’t be afraid — I will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he comforted them, speaking kindly to them.
22 Yosef continued living in Egypt, he and his father’s household. Yosef lived 110 years. 23 Yosef lived to see Efrayim’s great-grandchildren, and the children of M’nasheh’s son Makhir were born on Yosef’s knees.
24 Yosef said to his brothers, “I am dying. But God will surely remember you and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya‘akov.” 25 Then Yosef took an oath from the sons of Isra’el: “God will surely remember you, and you are to carry my bones up from here.” 26 So Yosef died at the age of 110, and they embalmed him and put him in a coffin in Egypt.
In this way the Genesis narrator brings to an end his story which began with the creation of the heavens and the earth. Although it shares some of the characteristics of the Exodus story, and has been edited and re-edited by the compilers of the Torah, and the post- exilic editors of Israel’s traditions, it has retained enough of its original author / editor’s distinctive style to merit recognition as single literary and theological work. I consider that Genesis was always a composite achievement, involving ancient sources and traditions, woven together by a master writer of unmatched theological subtlety, whose achievement is underrated, especially by Christian commentators. Early commentaries are skewed by their focus on the doctrine of original sin which can certainly not be derived from Genesis, and modern ones by their interest in history and historical sources rather than the text itself. In making these criticism I am not saying that Genesis is not concerned with the problem of human sin, nor that the contexts of its composition and editing should not be taken into account, but rather that the story it tells should be the point of departure for studying it.
For example, chapter 49, can be seen as a stage in the history of salvation, with hints of the coming of Messiah (“until he comes to whom obedience belongs”), a motif especially valued by Christian commentators. Or it can be teased apart for evidence of source material from the era of the Judges of King David, so that Yaakov’s prophecies can be seen as reading the subsequent history and status of Israel’s tribes into the time of the forefathers. These approaches are not without value. But they ignore the story: Yaakov/ Yisrael, the trickster who became the God-Fighter, is dying, and at least some of what he predicts derives from the story of his relationship with his sons – his judgement on Re’uven’s disrespectful lust and on Shim’on’s and Levi’s savagery over Tamar are obvious instances; less obvious is his favour to Y’hudah, who has shown an increasing awareness of God’s justice and a capacity for leadership, over the course of the whole Yosef story. And then there is Yosef himself, to whom Yaakov gives a rich blessing, justifying his own human favouritism to him. These are ways of confirming the conviction of the Genesis author/ editor that those who in the midst of human concerns are aware of the goodness that comes from God and decide to work for it, are the true bearers of God’s blessing to all people.
The burial of Yaakov in Canaan is another sign of the stubborn faith that the task of bearing the blessing belongs to a particular people in a particular land. The Creator God with his partner Israel will use this land as the place where a solution to the problems of creation will be found.
Finally, the ending of the book returns to the issue of what God’s favour means for the one on whom it rests. Yosef misinterpreted his dreams as indicating quasi-divine power over his family. After a long process of suffering, learning, and success, he asks, “Am I in the place of God?” He knows that standing in judgement or power over people is usurping the rule of God. So the correct answer to his question is “no.” But because YHWH is in his heaven and does not directly intervene on earth, he has found himself in the place of God’s goodness to his partner family and incidentally, to the people of Egypt. It is God’s dream that “many people’s lives should be saved.” This sort of “standing in God’s place” is not forbidden and is indeed the true nature of God’s blessing on individuals and communities. There is a real connection between Genesis picture of Yosef and St.Paul’s picture of Jesus:
That which Jesus freely chose, Yosef had to learn by hard experience, but his capacity to learn, and to use all that was learned by Avraham , Yitzhak and Yaakov, shows that human beings can learn how to bear that original gift of the Creator to Adam and Eve: the form of God.