This is my first “book review” blog post for my bible-reading project. I started off, of course, “in the beginning,” with Genesis. This is a loonng-ass book. 50 chapters … from what I can tell it’s one of the longer books in the bible (I think Psalms is gonna kill me). That’s just from spot-checking though, maybe I’m wrong. But this review is going to be long because there’s a LOT to cover. Though I suspect these reviews will probably get shorter as I go on, because I only have so much energy hahah. And I gotta hit a lot of really basic stuff in my first review that I probably won’t need to re-hash in later reviews.
Anyway, let me start off by listing the good points and the bad points (IMO) of this book, and in the end I’ll give it an overall rating number. I think I need to list my pros and cons before I can figure out exactly what that number is. First, some overall thoughts:
This book by definition is meant to be a background book to kinda get us started on everything and give the backstory … I guess, right? It’s likely for that reason that I didn’t find it to be very fulfilling in terms of learning any actual lessons or getting to the point of a lot of these stories (it’s engaging on a general entertainment level but I’m looking for something deeper from The Bible). It seems that the book is more focused on backstory than it is on lessons. Presumably we’ll get to those later on in the bible right? I sure hope so. Here is what I liked, and what I didn’t like:
What I Liked:
Well, first off, Genesis contains a large number of the more famous bible stories that I remember as a kid. The way they were given back then (or maybe it was just due to my lack of attention to them at the time) was such that I never really tied them together very well. They were kind of just a bunch of disjointed stories and I didn’t see how they fit together at all. Now that I have read Genesis cover to cover, it all makes a lot more sense. I now know that Noah descended from Adam and Eve (well, as everyone did) and Noah was Abraham’s great (several greats) grandfather, and Abraham was Isaac’s father, Isaac was Jacob’s father, and one of Jacob’s sons was Joseph (of Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fame). I now also know that God gave Jacob the name “Israel”, and the “Israelites” are specifically the descendants of Jacob. Noooow it’s all coming back to me. I also now remember the backstory on how the Israelites wound up in Egypt, which then required them to make that big ol’ “Exodus” people are always talking about (next book).
Genesis is also pretty entertaining … there are not many chapters that don’t have at least one or two exciting things happening in them. So that’s a plus, but as you’ll see in my “What I didn’t like” section, it’s also a minus, because part of the reason it’s so entertaining is all the insane crap that happens in many of these chapters, heh. But I’ll get to that in the next section.
In terms of the lessons and or take-aways that I found valuable:
- I have always kind of liked the idea that Adam and Eve never realized they were “naked” until they sinned for the first time and got the “knowledge” from the magic Tree of Knowledge. Even as a kid I always found it to be kind of an inventive way to explain why humans seem to be inherently embarrassed by their naughty bits. But in the end maybe it’s a good thing, because 95% percent of the population are not really people that I want to see walking around naked anyway.
- In the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat story we see how Joseph was very forgiving of his brothers even though they sold him into slavery when he was a kid. God makes no statement on this at all in terms of his opinion of it, but Joseph seems to think God is speaking through him a lot of the time, so I guess I’ll take that one as a lesson in forgiveness.
- I was incredibly disturbed by the chapter where Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi slaughter an entire city of people just because one of the dudes from this town sleeps with their sister Dinah. It is completely unclear if this guy (named Shechem) raped Dinah, or if he was simply her boyfriend. Because Dinah’s opinion or point of view on this matter is never mentioned at all (I’ll get to more on that in the “What I Didn’t Like” section). God seemed to have no opinion on this one at all either, but finally in one of the last couple chapters, Jacob tells Simeon and Levi that they will not have bright futures because they did this. So at least the book finally acknowledges that it was a bad thing for them to do this? Again this comes from Jacob, not God, but I’ll still take it as a lesson that you should never slaughter a whole town of people because one of them banged your sister. Not that I would need to be taught that lesson to begin with.
I hate to say it but that is pretty much it when it comes to the positive … -ish … take-aways that I got from this book. Let me get to the next section and then it’ll kind of help to explain why:
What I Did Not Like:
In the “What I Liked” section, I mentioned that one of the good points of Genesis is that it is pretty entertaining. Well, unfortunately, one of the reasons it’s so entertaining is all the batshit insane stuff that happens – The violence, the melodrama, the sex, and the generally terrible behavior of a lot of these characters (and God). First off … The God of Genesis does NOT seem like a nice dude. In fact, he could best be described as a violent (even murderous), inconsistent, insecure, misogynistic … jerk. Just hear me out here before you get all pissed off at that statement, o.k.? Here are some of the examples:
- Adam and Eve: There’s not just a Tree of Knowledge that exists in the Garden of Eden, there’s also a Tree of Life. Both of them would allow Adam and Eve to gain god-like qualities. So after God gets burned by them eating the apple off the Tree of Knowledge, he purposely puts protection (cherubim and some kind of crazy flaming magic sword) around the Tree of Life and kicks A&E out of the Garden of Eden, because he certainly can’t allow them to gain any superpowers. Then they’d be just like him! Seems a little insecure, and why did he create these two damn trees to begin with if he didn’t want anyone else to get these powers?
- Cain and Abel: I always knew that Cain killed Abel out of jealousy, but I never really understood why he was jealous. Well, Genesis spells it out quite clearly for me – God favored Abel and totally rejected Cain, because Cain brought God veggies as a present, and Abel brought him dead animals. God looooves animal fat. So he totally dumps Cain like a bad habit. What a nice guy. And then to top it all off, when Cain kills Abel out of jealousy, God doesn’t even bother to punish him for it!! Well ok, he does tell Cain that he’ll be a “fugitive and a vagabond,” but then Cain goes on to live a long and happy life, and that’s it! So in the end, we really don’t even get any lesson out of this story at all.
- God eventually decides that all the humans he created on earth are a-holes. They are “wicked”, and their imagination and thoughts of their hearts are “evil continually”. They are also “violent.” So God decides to rectify this situation by … killing everyone. Even the animals and plants who are presumably innocent? He fixes violence with violence? Ohh … k. So he goes through this entire elaborate plan to flood the entire earth and makes Noah build the ark and yadda yadda … taking many months to get all this crap done … and then, right after he finishes, he goes, “Oops!! On second thought, that probably wasn’t the best idea. I kind of regret it. Man is born with evil in his heart and there’s not much I can do about that.” First off, we always hear about God being so perfect … this doesn’t seem like a very perfect God. In fact, he doesn’t seem very trustworthy, he seems quite unstable. And second off … what kind of lesson can we take away from any of this? Even God acknowledges in the end that he effed up, so I guess there is no lesson at all, other than … don’t kill everyone? I think that’s something I can figure out for myself.
- The Tower of Babel: This story is about a city named Babel where the people of the town are building a tower. This is at a time when all the people of Earth speak one language. God sees this and sees how well all the humans are working together, and he gets freaked out because he’s like, “Holy crap, if they are working this
well together, there is no limit to what they can achieve!! This seems like a threat to me! Let me go down there and make them all speak different languages so that they can no longer understand each other! That’ll stop ’em! No way I’m letting these measly humans gain this much power.” Again I don’t really get much of a lesson out of this except that God is suuuper insecure. I wish I could remember the way they spun this one in Sunday School (though it’s not one of the ones I remember them talking much about, and I guess it’s obvious as to why).
- The story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar: Sarah gives Abe permission to knock up her maidservant Hagar, because Sarah is barren. Then Sarah and Hagar start getting all jealous of each other after Hagar gets pregnant, so then Sarah kicks her out of the house. So Hagar runs into a couple angels in the woods, and asks them what to do, and they make Hagar go back to live with Sarah and Abraham because they own her!! That seems like abuse. God is totally fine with people owning slaves, btw. And then on TOP of that, God curses Hagar’s son Ishmael to be a total a-hole that everyone hates! For no apparent reason except to punish her for running away? Way to add insult to injury, God. Hagar never asked for any of this shit in the first place.
- Sodom: God’s second mass murder. Once again we have a situation where a large group of people (everyone in the town of Sodom) are baaadd bad sinners. But it’s completely unclear as to how they are sinners. There is a particularly disturbing scene where the men of the town try to rape two angels who are visiting Lot’s house (Lot is Abraham’s nephew and he lives in Sodom). Yeah that’s right, you read that correctly. The conventional explanation of this one is always that the Sodomites’ sin was that they were all having gay orgies. But the Bible never says anything of the sort. It just basically says the people are wicked and it shows them attempting to break into Lot’s house to rape two dude angels. So is their main sin rape?? Is it a lack of hospitality? Is it breaking and entering? Is it wild sex? Is it human-angel intercourse? What is it? The bible never says. But God has the angels save Lot’s family and then destroy (with “brimstone and fire”) the entire city along with the people (and kids and babies and animals) in it. So what’s the lesson here? If people are guilty of vaguely bad things, they deserve to be mass murdered by God. I’ll keep that one in mind the next time I’m tempted to do something vaguely bad.
- God pulls the “sacrifice your son” fake-out move with Abraham: This one is a doozy and it’s one that we were taught ALL the time in Sunday School and elementary school. I was always disturbed by it, but I am even more disturbed now that I have read it in detail. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his own son (favorite son even) Isaac, just to test him!! Then right before Abe’s about to slit Isaac’s throat, God is all, “PSYCH!! I was just effing with you dude!!” And then he specifically says that Abraham has proven that he fears God. Not that he loves him, or that he’s devoted to him, but that he fears him. This type of leadership psychology seems to fit a mob boss or an evil dictator more than someone that I would want to worship and devote my life to.
- God plays favorites constantly, and many times it’s for totally ridiculous or unexplained reasons. He favors Abel over Cain (because he likes meat over veggies), he favors Jacob over Esau (literally because Jacob has a
wrestling match with God and it ends in a draw), and he favors Joseph over all his other brothers with no explanation whatsoever. For God to play favorites so often with no explanation at all is just … he’s not winning me over with this type of behavior.
- God kills Jacob’s son Judah’s kid Er because he’s bad. No explanation other than that. Then, he kills Er’s younger brother Onan, because, I kid you not, Onan uses the pull-out method to avoid getting Er’s wife pregnant (long story as to why he’s banging Er’s wife). The moral of the story? DO NOT USE THE PULL-OUT METHOD. And I’m assuming you should not masturbate either. I think the Catholics love this one.
I’m thinking that part of the problem of Genesis is that it spends a huge of time talking about God punishing people … and a good amount of time talking about God giving people (read: men) rewards (which is always the same thing btw: lots of sons who go on to become kings, lots of descendants in general, lots of livestock, and lots of wealth) … but it spends precious little time talking about why he is doing any of this. What exactly did the good people like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Noah do that was so awesome? It’s incredibly vague on the explanations for both the rewards and the punishments. So then you wind up with a God who is just kind of arbitrarily either very nice, very cruel, or … he purposely does bad things to people just so he can later fix those things HE broke, and look like a nice guy. That really doesn’t work very well for me, it’s totally pointless.
And then even regardless of the vague explanations for his motives, you have a God whose leadership psychology would be considered to be absolutely atrocious if this was some sort of president or dictator, rather than a divine being. He would be like Kim Jong Il or Hitler (given that God is fond of mass murder).
O.k. so this is getting long, but I really have to touch on a couple of the other things that drove me insane while reading this book. The huge one is how male chauvinist and downright misogynistic this book is. Here are some examples:
- Women are almost never even so much as mentioned in Genesis unless their storyline somehow affects one of the male characters. For instance, there are several sections of the book devoted to listing out descendants of people (read: men). Nearly every kid and grandkid and great great grandkid that gets listed off is a boy. The only time I ever saw any females mentioned was if they later on were going to affect the story arc of one of the guys (and most of the time it was just to cause the poor men trouble). A good example of this is Dinah. Jacob has twelve sons, and ONE daughter. Just one, really?? Probably not, but Dinah is the only one who gets a mention. And why is that? Because she gets herself into trouble by banging a dude without being married (or getting raped depending on how you read it). And that in turn causes two of her brothers to feel the need to murder every man in the entire city of the guy who had sex with (or raped?) her. And the reason we don’t know if it’s sex or rape is that Dinah’s point of view is never once brought up in the entire chapter. We get the p.o.v. of every guy involved, including Dinah’s boyfriend (or rapist)!! But no, not Dinah. We have no idea what her thoughts are on any of this because women do not matter.
- Of course the very first example we get of the trouble a woman can cause is Eve. Eve is the one who ruins everything in the Garden of Eden, and the way Adam immediately throws her under the bus to God is hilarious. And because of this, God curses women to always be subservient to men, and to live their entire lives just to please men (as well as to have pain during periods and childbirth). It’s no wonder the entire book revolves around men then. God never even bothers to give Eve a name after he creates her, that’s how little she matters to him. It’s Adam who eventually names her.
- Polygamy is completely and entirely normal and accepted in this book. God never mentions having any problem with it. And don’t get me wrong, I personally have no problem with polygamy per se, as long as both sexes are allowed to have multiple spouses. But nope, that ain’t how it is here. In Genesis of course it’s always the man who has multiple wives and concubines. So the fact that fundamentalist Mormons engage in polygamy is apparently completely fine according to The Bible; Christians really shouldn’t give them so much shit for this.
- If I had a penny for every time a woman disappoints her man by being barren in this book I would be rich. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, all barren (God eventually gets to play the hero by magically fixing them later even though he was the one who made Rachel barren in the first place). Number of times we encounter a man who is barren? Zero.
- Another example of women causing trouble: Lot’s daughters, while they are living in a cave with Lot after God destroys Sodom (and Lot’s wife gets turned into a pillar of salt for daring to turn around and look back while fleeing), they either assume the entire world is destroyed or just that they won’t be able to find any men while living in that cave. So what is their next logical choice? Get their father drunk and date rape him in order to conceive children. And that’s what they do! Conveniently, Lot is too drunk to realize any of this is happening, so he can remain innocent.
- Jacob marries two sisters, Rachel and Leah. These two lovely ladies then spend the rest of their days competing with each other to see who can bear Jacob more children (read: sons). And they will do it at any cost, including allowing Jacob to knock up each of their handmaids. Jacob must’ve had a ball with all this. Just goes to show us what a woman’s goal in life should be.
Now, I know these books were written by men so of course it is going to have both the male and the human/cultural slant to them, but all I’m doing is reporting on what I’m reading here. I think it’s kind of a cop-out to gloss this stuff over and brush it off for this reason, because I mean, after all, this is The Bible and presumably we’re supposed to follow what it says. And so many people out there tend to use the Bible as a shopping cart to take certain things literally wherever it suits their needs, and then not worry about the other stuff that contradicts their life goals. Certainly that’s not the what it was intended for.
Anyway last topic to cover before I finally end this long-ass review: Inconsistencies and Illogical bits. I’ll just mention a few things here because this thing is so long already:
- The creation of Earth happens in Genesis so I have to at least give that a mention. Obviously the creation story here does not even closely match all the physical evidence that our scientists have found about the history of humans and the history of the Earth, and the universe as a whole. The Earth is basically the entire center of the universe in the Bible story, which we know is not true. Humans and animals and plants are all created at once in 7 days, which we know is not true. This all happened relatively recently if we follow the Bible timeline, which we know is not true. Where are the dinosaurs? Where are the earlier ancestors to humans that we’ve found so many fossils of? No need to go further on this one cause we all get the point.
- God also gives humans all the power over the plant and animal kingdoms in Genesis, i.e. basically giving us ownership over them. In a sense, we DO have ownership over a large percentage of them just because we have more brain power, and where has that gotten us? Destroying rain forests, taking away habitat from animals and causing many species to go extinct, poaching animals for their body parts, etc. etc. Humans have been really responsible with this, haven’t we? Why God would put his trust in us on this one is beyond me. The one thing the animal kingdom has going for it is the bugs … we’ll never win out over them. Cockroaches will most certainly still be around after humans have nuked ourselves into extinction.
- There are story inconsistencies in this book in many places … many of them seemingly minor … some of them bigger … but all of them adding to a general lack of trust in the story itself, given that the writer of it can’t quite get all their facts straight. I’m not even gonna bother giving examples of this because I’m tired, but there is a website out there that lists all of them out.
- Circumcision: Genesis makes a huge deal about God telling Abraham that all boys need to be circumcised, or else they should be exiled from their people. It makes no sense that God would design penises with a foreskin and then tell people to chop it off every boy. There’s no point in that. This was clearly a customary thing maybe just for cleanliness (if you don’t keep that area really clean I think it can cause yeast infections and stuff), and so whoever wrote this book attributed it to a commandment from God.
Phew anyway, I think I have covered most of my points and this thing is so damn long that if anyone read it all the way up to this point I’ll be impressed. Bottom line is that I have a feeling these early books of the Bible will be more ridiculous than the later ones. I’m not 100% sure but we’ll see. I know the New Testament offers a much more PR-friendly God. So don’t be discouraged that my rating of Genesis is so low, because hopefully some of the other books will fare much better. I would have to give Genesis an overall rating of:
The list of negatives was just SO much longer than the list of positives that this is really the only logical rating I can give it. We’ll see how we do with Exodus …