Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rewritten Bible - the living word speaks again

The Genesis Apocryphon consists of a series of first person accounts of the patriarchs Lamech (4QapGen 0-2.1-25), Enoch (3.3; 5.1-27), Noah (6.1-17.19) and Abraham (19.6-22.34). Unfortunately, the text is fragmentary so there are large sections missing. Still, a brief overview will provide a feel for the character of the text, with noted similarities to another book found among the DSS scrolls called Jubilees. This summary will focus on the portions of the book devoted to Lamech, Enoch and Noah with a subsequent post dedicated to Abraham.

The text begins after the corruption of the earth by the angelic “watchers” and the birth of their angel-human offspring – the Nephilim (4QapGen 0-1.29; cf. Gen 6.1-4). See, the story is already weird and interesting. Next, the text picks up with a frightening account of the birth of Lamech’s son Noah (4QapGen 2.1-18). While the text of Genesis provides us with only a brief mention of Lamech fathering Noah (Gen 5.28-31), the Genesis Apocryphon provides an intriguing back-story. Lamech is in turmoil because when he sees his son the baby is so glorious that Lamech assumes it must be the offspring of one of the Holy Ones or Nephilim (4QapGen 2.1). He questions his wife, who assures her husband that the child is his (2.3-18). Unconvinced, Lamech asks his father Methuselah to solicit the wisdom his grandfather Enoch (2.19-20) because the Holy Ones “reveal everything to him” (2.21). Here again we have an interesting tradition about Enoch as a mediator between God and men based on a unique description of the man in Genesis (Gen 5.21). Eventually, Lamech is reassured that Noah is in fact his progeny (4QapGen 5.24-27).

The scene shifts rather abruptly from Lamech to a first person account of Noah. Before the flood Noah practices righteousness (4QapGen 6.1-5; cf. Gen 6.9-13), follows certain marriage laws (4QapGen 6.6-10) and then receives a vision of the coming flood (6.11-26). The flood story is not mentioned, or lost, but the text does focus on Noah’s sacrifice after the flood as Torah obedient (10.11-17; cf. Jub. 6.1-3). The children of Noah’s sons are listed, which includes daughters who are unmentioned in the Genesis and Jubilees (4QapGen 12.8-12; cf. Jub. 7.18-19). Noah is also recorded as observing a Jewish calendar (4QapGen 12.13-18; cf. Jub. 7.1-6). The portrait of Noah, then, is of a man who is obedient to Torah practices that have not yet been given! As Jews reflected on what it meant for Noah to be described as “blameless in his generation” (Gen 6.9), they conceived of a man obeying Torah. Even after the flood, when Noah gets drunk (Gen 9.20-27), the Genesis Apocryphon focuses on how it is that Noah knew what Ham had done and thus apportioned the land according to a dream-vision. While passed-out drunk (cf. Gen 9.21-23; Jub. 7.7-13), Noah receives a vision that provides divine guidance regarding the land allotments of his sons (4QapGen 13.8-16.20). There is on condemnation of Noah’s actions, but only further explanation of how Noah’s sons divided the land as divinely ordained.

As Jewish readers read the stories of Genesis they had all kinds of questions that people still ask. They wanted to know more about Enoch, Lamech and Noah. So, with what preachers sometimes call a “sanctified imagination,” they filled in the gaps. They tried to describe what it might have looked like for Noah to be “blameless” and “righteous.” They tried to make sense of the odd description of Enoch as one who “walked with God.” They also used these retellings as exhortations. Not only was Noah righteous, but he was righteous in the way that we’re supposed to be righteous today – keeping Torah! Preachers do the same thing all the time. It’s one of the ways a good storyteller can make the Bible come alive in a new way. 

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