I have been teaching recently the first chapters of Genesis. As expected, these chapters raise huge controversy, more than any other chapter in the Bible. It is easy to understand. After all, while most of the Bible deals with society, morals, or spirituality, the first few chapters of Genesis deal with the creation of the physical world, presenting a very different view than modern science. This is particularly true when questions about the age of the universe are concerned.
Naïve reading of the Bible will tell us that the world is about 6,000 years old. Science, on the other hand, has a different view. By combining data from different disciplines, scientists believe that the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years, and the age of earth is about 4.5 billion years.
This is huge, hardly imaginable, difference. The age of the universe according to science is about a million times larger than the age according to the Bible. To make these huge numbers easier to comprehend, let’s scale them down. If, for instance, the world according to the Bible was scaled down from 6,000 years to 6 hours (in other words, if the Biblical world was created 6 hours ago) then the world according to science was formed nearly 700 years ago. That was during the Spanish inquisition, before Columbus discovered America.
Of course, there are many religious scientists who are familiar with the two versions of creation and find no contradiction between them. How can they do it?
With the people of Sodom surrounding his house, demanding to surrender the angels to them, Lot comes out and try to talk them out of their evil way. How can we explain that the very same events and words happens again in the story of Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:23)?
It’s all about the intentions
Why does Lot use the word תָּרֵעוּ (do evil)? He does not say, “don’t kill them”; he does not say, “don’t harm them.” Instead, he says, “Do not do evil.” Why?
One of the most difficult tasks facing any judge, past or present, is figuring out the intention of the person who committed the crime. With good forensic evidence, eyewitnesses, modern science, it is quite often possible to establish the details of many crimes. But once the facts are established, one question always remains, the mindset of the criminal while committing the act: were they aware of what they were doing? Could they comprehend the consequences of their actions? Were they sane? Could they tell good from evil, and did they know they were committing a crime?
Establishing their intentions, would determine the severity of their punishment.
After all, in a society in which murder, for instance, is the norm, killers do not consider murder to be evil. Lot had to bring it to their attention. More than that, the Bible had to bring it to our attention, too. The Bible wants us to be clear beyond doubt that the people of Sodom were aware of their actions, and therefore, the horrible punishment they received was just. They plan evil and know it is evil. There are no mitigating circumstances.
But this is controversial point. Something many disagree with. So, I would like to discuss it further. If the Bible is speaking to us, the readers, making sure that we know, beyond doubt, that they are guilty, what does it say about Lot’s actual words? Were these the very words Lod said, or can the Bible misrepresent them to ensure we are clear about the message? In other words, could there be factual inaccuracies in the Bible?
Truth vs. historical facts
In Judges 19 we read a story of Levite’s concubine. The story begins exactly like the story of Lot: A man, his woman, and his servant stay for the night at a man’s house in the city of Giv’ah. While having dinner, the people of the city surround the house and demand from the host to surrender his guests (sounds familiar?) The man refuses, pleading, using Lot’s very words (verse 23):
How likely is it that two events hundreds of years apart, are not only replication of each other, but the people involved use the very same words? Is it possible that the Bible is bending the truth to strengthen the message?
We all know of many Jesus’s parables. He loved them and used many. For example: The Two Debtors, or The Lost Sheep. Jesus did so, not to tell us about particular people, but rather to teach us lessons that otherwise, would have been too hard, if not impossible, to understand. Would anyone shout, “Who are these debtors?” Would anyone claim that Jesus was a liar because no such debtors ever existed? Of course not. The stories were true even if the events had never happened.
And this is something we often forget. Truth is not the same as historicalfacts.
The Bible is true, because it tells us about things that matter, things of the utmost importance, using words and concepts we can understand. And just like Jesus, if a parable is the best way to make us understand a concept, then the Bible uses parables, and if changing words is what needed, than the Bible changes words.
Many confuse truth and historical facts, and are fixated with the historical factuality of particular stories, rather than the message they come to tell us. But for me, the history, as interesting as it may be, does not make a difference. I am interested in the truth alone, and I trust the Bible with telling it to me in ways that touch my heart and soul. As for the historical facts – I am happy to leave the matter to historians.
So what is the truth in the case of Lot?
In my view, this verse comes to tell us that the intentions behind actions are as important as the actions themselves. This is true when we judge others, and even truer when we ourselves take action. And why is the Bible telling it to us twice? To answer this question I will quote Joseph’s telling king Pharaoh why he had two dreams (Genesis 41:32):
This is a story the Bible tells about a man who starts his life toiling in the fields as a farmer and ends up building a city. He calls this city after his son, and then he starts a dynasty that helps shaping human civilisation.
What an inspiring story it can be, what an inspiration it is for anyone that is facing a major life change, to anyone who mourns what they are leaving behind, and cannot see the opportunities ahead.
Only that this story has a catch. To start his transition into the position of power, the man must first get punished for a murder. But not just of anyone. He first has to kill his own little brother.
In our previous post we discussed Genesis 4:17. We saw that Cain built a city and called it after his son, Chanoch (Enoch). But that was not the end of Cain’s dynasty. His descendants were instrumental to the evolution of human society and culture. Not bad for a person who, without the punishment for killing his brother, would have remained working the soil for the rest of his life. The question we must never forget to ask ourselves when we read the Bible is why is it telling us this story. In other words, what can we learn from it, and how it is relevant to us?
Verses 18-22 are mostly a list of births. So instead of analysing it word by word, as we normally do, I will draw it as a chart.
In Gen 4:16-17 Cain’s trial is over. He is leaving God a free man, finds a place to settle, have a son and builds a city. But what about God’s punishment? Wasn’t Cain destined to be a wanderer, a nomad forever? How can a wanderer settle and build a city? Can he defy God?
In Gen 4:15 God accepts Cain’s concern for his own safety. He provides Cain with a sign, a protection no other man has ever received. This sign not only voids Cain’s ‘punishment’, it also ensures that Cain’s future would turn out to be better than the farming life he was leaving behind.
In Genesis 4:12-13 God continues to elaborate on the consequences of Cain ’s action. This verse makes us wonder, again, if a punishment was handed by God, or is God elaborating on the consequences as a matter of cause and effect?
Cain follows with an ambiguous defence statement, which can be interpreted either as an admission of guilt, or the exact opposite.
Clearly, we cannot attribute human feelings, like anger or even love, to God. The Bible, written for people, uses the words of human emotions to describe God, knowing well that it is only for the sake of our limited human understanding. But under this limitation, was it out of anger that God confronted Cain in Genesis 4: 10 and 11? Does the text tell us who punishes Cain?
Gen 4:7 is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible.
After rejecting Cain’s offering, God speaks to him and gives him a paradox to contemplate, a paradox that should guide him, and every person, throughout our lives. This verse, as we will see in a follow up post, also defines sin, and instructs us how we must deal with it.
But before we can continue to verse 7, let’s start with verse 6.