God’s Blessing on Abram in Genesis 12 and the “Jewish Question”.

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I. Introduction.

The Bible is the most read and most published book in the world by peoples of all nations. In a globalized world, it is clearly the most-global book of scripture. In spite of this there is one factor that might seem to undermine its relevance to most of those who read it: it seems to clearly address itself only to one small group of people in a tiny nation very much unlike ourselves and might not seem to be a good example to us. Furthermore, I have often read the view that this “tribal desert cult” was wrongly converted to an imperial cult in for problematic political purposes. Now rightly viewed almost any Bible story can be seen to clearly contradict this claim, and it is really hard to choose where to start since all of these stories are so anti-imperialist and, in my view, somewhat nationalist in its import. By “nationalist” I do not mean that this story is Zionist or perhaps focused on designating some Master Race chosen by God; rather in my view the message of the Bible seeks to undermine the idea of empire and, by implication, pluralism or multi-culturalism. While we think of these as being uniquely modern, they both have a long history in imperialist politics, and the Bible criticizes them in nearly every book. While any of the Bible stories serves to undermine the imperial idea of multiculturalism, the story of Genesis 12 is as good a place as any.

II. The historical background.

The books of the Bible span many centuries and most scholars date the book of Genesis to the time after the Exile in Persia. Now this time was when the Hebrew nobility with their families and slaves were taken as “hostages” in Babylon. Now this practice was common among ancient empires, dating back to the Assyrians. Even medieval European kingdoms would cement a peace agreement through a marriage or by one side “adopting” a member of the immediate household of one or both of the kings, which adoption was often merely a euphemistic synonym for “hostage”. In the time when Genesis was likely written, the Persians has taken a more significant number of the defeated nation such that it permanently altered the thought and culture of the Hebrews, and that this can be seen in almost all of the Bible (which was written afterward). Now as the Persians and Hebrews became more amicable with each other, the latter gradually began to return to their homeland and to establish what we now call the “Post-Exilic Kingdom”. We can safely assume that not only did a great many return to the land of Israel, but that a great many remained in Babylon. I will also assume that a significant portion also remained in other nations in Asia Africa and Europe, and that these people all thought of themselves as parts of one race or nation and that they conferred with each other either through travel or through the written word. It is my view that much of the Old Testament is a discourse on how people of a single race would make sense of their being divided into many countries or Empires.

A good example of this sort of discourse is found in the immediately preceding chapter, Genesis 11 which contains the story of the “Tower of Babel”. This story really makes very little sense to the modern reader save in light of the political situation described above. We know that the great empires of the ancient world very often had the effect of establishing a lingua franca or “common tongue” that people used within Empires regardless of the local languages. The most obvious example of this is the Hellenistic period, when Alexander’s Empire made Greek the unifying language of everyone from Greece, to Egypt, to Afghanistan. Long after the demise of this empire, Greek continued to be the lingua franca for the Roman Empire and many books of the Bible are written in it. Thus we may take it as established that the reality of a unified imperial language in an Empire was well known to the authors of the Bible. Given this, it seems that the most likely interpretation of the story of the Tower of Babel is that it is reminding the people of God that Empires are temporary institutions not recognized under God’s law, and that once they fall apart under God’s judgement, then people will once again have separate nations, languages and cultures. It is our view that the following chapter of Genesis will elaborate on this theme of coming out of the Empire and back to the land.

III. The First Promise of God to Abram.

Chapter 12 contains as it main theme the first promise of God to Abram. The second promise comes much later after making the Covenant of Circumcision. In this chapter, all we have is the promise othat God will give to Abram a new land in the west which was currently occupied by other nations. The steps in this chapter’s narrative are as follows:

In verse one, God simply commands Abram to leave his country and go somewhere else “to the land which I will show you”. We do not often focus on how strange this is as an origin myth. In my view, the crucial feature of this can be seen in opposition to the idea of “autocthony”. Every nation has an origin myth, and this is especially true of pre-modern nations. While the origin myths of near-Eastern peoples known the Biblical authors may be in doubt, it is well attested that other nearby cultures considered themselves “authothonous” in the sense that their founders were alleged to have “sprung from the earth” (“autochthones” from Ancient Greek αὐτός autos “self,” and χθών chthon “soil”; i.e. “people sprung from earth itself”). Of course, we know that the Greek people were not native to their lands, as can be seen from their own writings and the fact that their place-names are rarely Greek or even Indo-European. Now the Biblical origin myth for the Israelites differs from this is openly admitting that they were not sprung from the Earth, and that the people who gave their name to Canaan land were almost completely slaughtered by the ancestors of the people for whom the Bible was written. This feature make it all the more relevant to us today, who know that there is not a single group of people alive who are autocthonous but that we are all conquerors who should openly admit this fact. This theme is not local to Genesis, but rather is consistently maintained through to the end. Arguably, the main thrust of the Bible is to inspire its readers to be worthy of the sacrifices of these conquerors. This applies just as much to the Christians. Take for example Paul’s telling of the tale of the “cloud of witnesses” – past heroes of faith who should inspire the faithful of his day:

By faith the wall of Jericho fell down after they ha been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:30-34)

Thus it makes sense that, far from renouncing the conquests of great heroes of old, Paul accepts that the people of his generation should accept their own place in a lineage of conquerors whose only title to land is derived from the fact of conquest by just war. Of course, the Bible is notoriously silent on what exactly a just war is, so we shall leave this topic to the side for the time being. While it is clear that God’s people have many other things to do besides conquering territory and founding nations, it is also clear that such warfare is “on the table”, by which we mean that God has revealed to us that he has, as a matter of fact, told some people to conquer some lands, and this for reasons he has elected to either keep to himself or perhaps to reveal only indirectly in the course of a narrative such as we find in the Bible.

V. God’s blessing and promise.

God’s promises in Genesis 12 come after the command to leave Ur and are as follows:

  1. You shall become a great nation.
  2. You shall be blessed.
  3. You shall have “a great name”.
  4. You shall be “a blessing” (to whom?).
  5. God will:
    1. “Bless those who bless you…”
    2. “Curse those who curse you…”
  6. “To your descendants I will give this land…”

Now these verses are often quoted to the effect that anyone who criticizes Israel and or modern Jewry are in effect contradicting the revealed Word of God. I shall disagree with this, but rather shall not focus on this issue here; however my interpretation for which I argue will clearly tell against this charge. For God has on numerous occasions punished or threatened to punish the children of Abram for not keeping up their part in the covenant.

V. The First Sojourn in Egypt.

It’s interesting to note that immediately after God’s first revelation concerning the “Promised Land”, Abram immediately goes somewhere else. Now this in itself is not obviously wrong; for “To every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven.”, and this applies to conquest no less than planting and reaping crops. However, it will be come clear that Abram’s detour is rather his going against God’s plan. Thus it fits perfectly a consistent design pattern of Biblical narrative:

  1. God reveals his will by giving commandments or making a covenant with someone.
  2. They accept the terms.
  3. Then immediately they decide on an alternative plan of action that “seems right in their eyes”. (This turn of phrase is a signal from the Hebrew author that this character is getting ready to make a mistake and rebel against God’s will as found in step #1 above.
  4. Then the people to whom God gave his will or command then suffer the consequences of their actions.
  5. Return to #1 and repeat..

While the Fall of Adam and Eve is clearly the prototype of this design pattern, many other Biblical narratives follow this as well: Cain and Abel, Noah, the Tower of Babel, and of course the present story, where Abram leaves the Promised Land and goes somewhere else. The Bible of course makes it clear that doing so was not obviously wrong (i.e. the famine), but even so this diversion leads directly to trouble. In this case, those living in another country/empire were faced with a choice of either one of these two options:

1) Accept a subordinate position to the natives – e.g. being slaves or an underclass as we find in the Exodus narrative.

2) Brokering a unearned position of power – blending into the native ruling class by deception and deriving weath and security therefrom.

It is clear that Abram chooses the latter (12:12-15). He deceives the native rulers by presenting his wife as his sister. This puts one of his people “on the inside”, and it is clear that she manages to greatly benefit her people on th outside with a lot of wealth and security. (12:16) In our view, this part of the story is not merely a tale of legend or historical detail, but is also directed at the people living abroad in other empires during ancient times. If we are correct, even at this early period, there were many Hebrews who have already adopted that way of life that many now allege to be the dominant one for those whom we now call “the Jews”; that of living in other people’s countries and negotiating with their governments for various preferential policies and considerations.

That this strategy is against God’s will is clear from the fact that it brings plagues upon Egypt (12:17-19), and somehow it become clear to Pharaoh that Abram has lied to him and that this is the cause of the plagues. As a result, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrews out of the country. This is the very first time in any literature that the children of Abraham (in the person of their ancestor Abram) were expelled from a country. The acknowledged fact of the matter is that those who we now called “the Jews” have, uniquely among all nations, such a history of being expelled from other lands not their own. And it is curious that in the Bible itself the cause of this very first expulsion is due to Abram lying to the natives of that land in order to become wealthy there. Now of course, the tone of the Bible is not so bitter and nasty as what we find in so many latter writings “against the Jews”, on the contrary, this is written by Hebrews for Hebrews telling them to return to their homeland and not do that which only “seems right” but which alone will fulfill God’s promise to them.

Conclusion

Of course this is not the end of the story; we have not at all dealt with the radical “plot twists” of the later Prophets and the Gospel. But any interpretation of these latter writings cannot stand to ignore the historical context of that we discuss above. Just as the first sin of Adam is meant to be the prototype of all further sins, and the salvation of Noah from the Flood the prototype of all future instances of salvation, so also in our view this first Sojourn in Egypt is meant to be the prototype of all future sojourns in other empires down to the present day. In our view, only this context can make sense of the mission of the Gospel with respect to “the Jews” and “the Gentiles”. We shall return to this topic in another work soon. In the meantime, I am eager to hear any criticisms you may have, since I am only too aware of my inexperience in Biblical studies, and I know that my views are unorthodox among modern scholars, however, I think that I am more in tune with the bulk of interpretation in pre-modern times. If you disagree, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

Philosophy is actually Science.

The further back you go in history, the less separate philosophy and science are. Even Newton called his work “philosophy”. All the Greek thinkers were engaging with the frontiers of science of their own time: Euclidean geometry and astronomy. If you go back and read Plato’s explanation of the Theory of Ideas, it was nothing else besides an explanation for both craft knowledge, engineering, and science. (Think of the craftsman with his idea of the table in the Republic). Even though we now see Plato’s philosophy as rather non-scientific and religious,  what he was fundamentally after was an explanation for how humans have knowledge that allows them to get things done. We are still trying to solve this problem. While we have made a lot of progress since Plato’s time, his contribution is still important.

While the Ancients had their politics, the politics was a side dish served with their confrontation with the frontiers of science. That’s why you can spend your life reading them even if you disagree with their politics. Not the case with others who take their cue from political issues and are stuck in philosophically-“informed” rallying and shaming. In my view, anybody who makes political activism a large part of their philosophy condemns their work to oblivion rather than millennia of admiration. Look at Plato, Marx, Sartre and Heidegger; in spite of their genius, their political activity are all blots on their legacies.

I see this all the time when I engage others in discussion. This is the main problem with the Continental Tradition since (but not including) Heidegger: lack of sincere engagement with fundamental science. Husserl and Heidegger both got their start from engaging with debates on the foundations of formal or exact science, and the later Heidegger contributed essentially to my understanding of what I’m doing as I study computer science. Even “The Question Concerning Technology” is foundational for my metaphysics, if you have the subtlety to see it. However, the later politicization of his thinking was not neutral and therefore abandoned the path of true philosophy since Thales. Heidegger was too scared of the modern world to properly develop his engagement with science. It is only decades later that we can repair his mistakes.

So when I debate someone suffering from “dead-end” philosophy, I just ask them “Where’s the connection with fundamental science that we see with Thales, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger and all the analytic thinkers? What’s changed? How is that a good change? Have the foundations of metaphysics changed, or have you lost your way?”

There is no essential and objective basis for a demarcation between science and philosophy except for what ever the  limits of science might be at the time. Philosophy is the frontier of science, not it’s opposite. This has always been the case: both fields grow at the same rate, and debate the same issues from different perspectives.

Philosophy is not a part of science, rather science is part of philosophy.

 

I love ‘Franken-food’!

There is a proposal to enforce “accurate labels on food products so that consumers can choose between GMO & non/GMO products”. While this is being presented as an issue in informing consumers, ethically, it’s no different from supporting accurate labels so that employers can know the religion and ethnicity of prospective employees. Don’t people have the right to know? What do you have to hide? Only if there is some basis to these fears. Fortunately, there is not enough evidence to support either of these laws.

If minorities are actually dangerous, then label them; otherwise it’s wrong. It all depends on how you define ‘actually’. Is evolution actually true? Is there actually global warming?  Is Vitamin C actually necessary? How do you answer these questions? I prefer to use science, but some people seem to think that science is just a big conspiracy. They think that big corporate money subverts research.

If that were the case, how is it that anthopogenic global warming is backed by ~99.9% of scientists? Since the oil business is sooooo much bigger than Monsanto, then there would be more money to subvert research in this area than any other. Since this is not the case, we can be certain that Monsanto ( which is smaller than Starbuck’s! ) will not be able to use their much smaller resources to subvert research.


GMO labelling is wrong. There’s no science behind it. We have many many many times more domesticated animals on this planet than we do people. And we have detailed records of what they eat. This means that we have all the data you could possibly want about GMO’s effects on the health of large mammals and poultry. This is how we test new medicines, and medicines are far more dangerous than foods. It’s not typical to test food like this at all, but since it’s a new breeding technique, it’s best to err on the side of safety and rigorously test GMOs. Because of this, GMOs are far better tested than any other food products ever, because the testers know that people are prejudiced against them. But the time for testing many GM products is over because the evidence is in. You no longer have any right to ruin the future of the human race, so go back to your cave and live there.

 

GMOs are better for the environment, have a lower carbon footprint, and use less water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizer. I’m actually not aware of any disadvantagees to them, other than the taboos of ignorant people who are not very concerned with producing food for the hungry.

GMOs can be designed for use in marginally useful soils. This is especially important with widespread desertification and climate change. This alone makes GMO essential for the future of the human race, especially the starving people in the Third World.

The GMO opposition is all a bunch of part-time Googlers who think they know more than real scientists. That’s it. Rich ignorant people are are blocking the only technology which can cure world hunger. It’s actually worse that supporting ISIS, in terms of the amount of suffering that this pseudoscience does and will continue to cause.

I saw an interview with David Suzuki explaining his opposition to GMOs. I was disappointed because there were no facts at all, just vague “Everything tells us that GMO cannot work!” We have goats that produce spider silk and rats that can provide human replacement tissue and he say that it “can’t work”? Why does he not say something to clarify what he means by this? Anything. Like a fact or two.

My wife unfriended me on FB because of my advocacy, and I was anti-GMO for 10 years before I actually researched it. Thank goodness I studied botany and general science as well during that time.

So I’m not exaggerating when I say that GMO labelling is evil. It’s about as evil as labeling people, just in a slightly different way.

‘Franken-food’, BTW,  is an allusion to ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ a creature that was artificially created, but which had everything that a human has. Because of his superficial differences from others, he was hounded from society for the rest of his life by the hatred of the ignorant many. For that reason, I embrace the derogatory term ‘Franken-food’; those who use it in its original sense merely mark themselves are members of the lowest layer of society, placing themselves and their prejudices  in the path of progress and learning.

My modest proposal:  someone should start a local GMO craft beer called “Franken-beer” to raise consciousness about this issue. Ottawa has enough evidence-based thinkers to make this work.