Bereshith! (Or as we like to call it in English…Genesis)

So.  One of the books in the Top Ten is the Bible.  Dave gladly gave me the opportunity to read it and blog about it.  Now all of you know, the Bible isn’t a short work by any means.   Which means, there will be multiple entries by me on parts of the Bible.  (which I know, might take us to like 12.5 years of books, but hey, the Bible is LONG.  I’ve been reading from it for most of my life and I can say I’ve probably only read about half of it and in piece meal).

A lot of the books of the Bible are shorter, so can be read multiple ones at once.  Genesis is not one of those books.  In fact Genesis has so much happening that I’m splitting it up into two (translation:  I got caught up in the footnotes and sidenotes in my study Bible, so ergo did not finish the entire book of Genesis) parts.  I’ll put up the 2nd blog about Genesis in the next couple of days, Dave will then be back next Thursday with another book.

I’m not sure if I will just keep with the Bible until done with it, or if I’ll read parts, then read something else to blog about and return.  Just letting you know that in advance.

The Bible has six authors that listed it in their top ten.  Andrew Hudgins, Haven Kimmel, Erin McGraw, Richard Powers, Robert Pinsky and James Salter all listed it in their top ten.

I know you’re probably wondering why the Bible is even important to you if you’re not Christian.  Why it’s something that as a book lover, you should even be interested in.  Andrew Hudgins wrote about this in The Top Ten.  He points out that the Bible is a great story itself, also “The Bible is also the source of great stories, by geniuses from Dante to Dostoevsky, Faulkner to Thomas Mann, and the poetry of the Psalms echoes through great poetry from William Blake to Walt Whitman to T.S. Eliot”.  He also says “”the greatest story ever told”, in the majesty of its telling and the power of its message, has taught an entire culture how to think about love, suffering, and transcendence, and it has fundamentally colored the language by which we talk about everything.”  And this is why it’s important, even if not a believer. 

My whole lead in above is also why I’ve split Genesis up into two blogs (I know, it sounds handy, like I’m just making sure that it sounds more planned, but I would have done it whether I had the entire thing ready to talk about or not.  None of y’all came here to read term papers).

Genesis has strongly been held throughout the centuries to have been written by Moses.  It is the first book of the five books that the Jewish religion called “the five fifths of the law (of Moses)”.  Genesis truly is about beginnings, starting with the story of creation, but also of sin and redemption, of blessing and cursing, of society, of marriage and family.  And really, Genesis also is instrumental in understanding the rest of the Bible.  The promise of Christ begins when God curses the serpent and his role in the downfall of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel”.  ( Sin and the serpent were crushed by Christ’s death on the cross, but in the doing so, Jesus was mortally wounded).  And all through the book of Genesis and the Old Testament itself, the promise of Jesus’s coming and salvation go through it.

Genesis is a prose style book.  It’s divided up into ten “accounts”  (the sections start with the word account somewhere in there, Gen 2:4 “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created”.)  There are a few poetic moments in the book.  There is a lyricism to Genesis, and it is rich.  Read it aloud sometime or listen to it read aloud and you will see the lyricism.

First is the creation.  In the Bible it takes six days.  I do not have the interest nor the time to debate about each particular point as I go through here, I am reporting what the text says.  You are free to think the days were actually six 24 hour periods, that each day means a million years, that the story is merely a story.  Some of what I write will be directly related to my own faith, but please remember that mostly I am commenting on the content of the books, much like I would with Madame Bovary or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   (Sorry.  After the election I just don’t have interest in debating anyone at the moment.  Check back with me in a month or two…or with the way the election was maybe even six.  I might feel more up to discussing potentially contentious items.)  If you have questions, let me know, that’s fine 🙂

Then God makes man.  He has man, named Adam, name all the animals while looking for a suitable helpmate/companion.  Surprisingly, Adam doesn’t find a suitable companion…or not so surprisingly.  Either the animals don’t interact well with humans or they fling poo like the monkeys…haha.  So God puts him into a deep sleep, removes his rib and forms woman from it.  Names her Eve.  They of course, are happy as larks running about.  Interesting note, God already starts talking about marriage in Genesis 2:24, after creation of woman “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother an be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”.  The serpent comes along and tempts Eve to eat from the tree that God forbade Adam from eating.  Eve eats it.  Adam eats it.  They realize that they are naked and cover themselves.  God comes and finds them hiding.  Of course, beginning the history of people evading responsibility for their actions and blaming others; Gen 3:12 “The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”  V. 13  “Then the Lord God said to the woman “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate”.

They get cast out of the Garden of Eden.  Then comes along Cain and Abel, their sons.  Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd.  They brought offerings to God, Cain just “some fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord”.  But Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”.  Now, before you carnivores out there all start stating that this shows God wants us all to EAT MEAT URRGGHHH.  God wasn’t upset that Cain brought him some fruit and vegetables.  He was upset because Cain brought “some fruits of the soil”…doesn’t sound very special does it?  Compared to the fat portions from some firstborn of the flock (pretty high quality stuff there).  So Cain gets mad and jealous.  He kills Abel.  Buries him.   Genesis 4:10 “The Lord said, “What have you done?  Listen!   Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand”.  Abel’s voice crying from the ground where he was buried, sounds like plot twists and themes in many books I’ve read.

Cain is cast out to wander for all his days, he decides to build a city and has a few children of his own.  His family line doesn’t amount to much, and as you will soon see, eventually is drowned out.  Adam and Eve have another son, naming him Seth.

The second “account” begins.  Genesis 5:1  “This is the written account of Adam’s line”.  A genealogy follows, with the refrain of “and then he died” after each person.  Here’s another literary device.  There is an impact here, that makes the one different line stand out “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away”.  Basically, Enoch so pleased God that he was taken away without suffering death as the rest of his ancestors and heirs did.  The line ends with Noah.  Then chapter 6:9 “This is the account of Noah”.

Most people know about the flood, and the ark, and the two of each animal being crowded onto the ark.  Basically God is so displeased with the wickedness of all of mankind, except Noah that he decides to destroy his entire creation.  There is some debate amongst different theological groups as to whether angels had come down and began to mate with women Gen 6:4 “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-and also afterward-when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown”.  All of Noah’s family and all the animals get in the ark, and the flood waters take them afloat.  Months later, the waters finally start to recede and Gen 8:1 “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded”.  God then makes a covenant with Noah, where he blesses Noah and his sons.  He states that they need to get busy to repopulate the earth and from Genesis 9:11  “I establish my covenant with you:  Never again will all ife be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  He then names the rainbow as the sign of that covenant  v16  “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth”.

Then we have Ham observing his father in the throes of drunkeness (Noah’s youngest son).  Noah, upon waking, curses his son and states that his descendants will be slaves to his brothers.  (However, it can’t be used to justify the slavery of different skinned people since those cursed were Canaanites who were Caucasian).

And that’s where I leave you.  Join in next time for some good old incest, brothers attempting to murder other brothers, and potential sacrificial offerings of sons.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

For this time, I chose to read Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.  This is another one that as a voracious reader, I probably should have read previously, but never have.  I’m glad I finally did however though as I have to say, I adored it.  The “hype” about it is definitely deserved.  This isn’t always true of books hyped in the last decade (The Davinci Code springs to mind).

Madame Bovary was actually listed on quite a few authors top ten lists.  Russell Banks, Julian Barnes, Bebe Moore Campbell (which I might have to read her as my last middle name and my last name are Campbell Moore), Philip Caputo, Peter Carey, Michael Cunningham, Margaret Drabble, Mary Gaitskill, Denise Gess, Michael Griffith, Kathryn Harrison, John Irving, David Lodge, Thomas Mallon, Valerie Martin, Erin McGraw, Claire Messud, Lorrie Moore, Reynolds Price, Alexander McCall Smith, Lee Smith, James Salter, Scott Spencer, Barry Unsworth, Anthony Walton and Meg Wolitzer all listed it on their top ten lists.

Madame Bovary is a novel about a narcisstic woman, centuries before narcissm was recognized as a mental illness.  The story begins by following Monsieur Bovary as he studies to become a physician.  Then his mother (who is overbearing and cloying imo) arranges a marriage for him to an older woman who has money.  Charles Bovary finds marriage to her quite hard.  He has a patient whom he fixes a broken bone for, who has a daughter.  Enter Emma into the story.  Charles finds solace by going to the farm and having a small innocent flirtation with Emma.   Old, miserable first wife dies.  Charles moons about until Emma’s father basically pushes him into proposing marriage.  Emma says yes.

Emma almost immediately regrets it.  Numerous times throughout the story, Flaubert writes in feelings Emma has for Charles.  They’re always tinged with disgust.

Emma has always been looking for sweeping feelings, and feels that nothing else will do for her.  She first was swept away by religious feeling in the convent her father had her at.  Then she was swept away by the joy of living in the country with her father and being the “lady” of the house.  Then she is swept away by Charles’ wedding proposal.  Then she becomes swept away by a ball held by nobility and a dance with a Viscount (this is where the disgust she has for Charles really starts showing).  Then she has a nervous breakdown and Charles moves her to a new location.  She is swept away by passion for a clerk there.  Then he leaves.  Enter guy #2, who is quite the womanizer smooth talker.  Guy #2 goes away, enter back in clerk.

Emma is never satisfied with what she has.  She always believes she needs better.  She borrows money from one of the storekeepers who constantly is pushing it at her, as well as playing on her need to have the best.  It eventually becomes a game of borrowing to pay and refinancing notes.  This is what ultimately gets her into trouble.

It was weird.  I both recognized Emma and loathed her.  I found her both familiar and foreign.  At times I wanted to throw the book, yelling at her “Omg, get over yourself and look at your husband who ACTUALLY LOVES you, idiot”.  At other times, I found myself nodding and seeing why she felt a certain way.

I think one of the things that makes this one of the top ten novels I’ve read with the most authors listing it, is it’s universality.  It’s written over 250 years ago, yet the characters remain fresh.  We all have known Emmas.  We’ve all known Charles.  We’ve all known some of the more minor characters who pop up and propel the narrative around Emma, such as the blowhard pharmacist.  I definitely would reread this novel (after a few years to let the narrative chain of events fade), as I think it’s one that could be rediscovered again and again.  It did remind me a little of Anna Karenina, but much easier to read.  Flaubert doesn’t digress into tens of pages on some side character or a description of fields and farming.  Flaubert is a much tighter author, he paints a picture of the characters and their surroundings, the events and the consequences of the events with vivid brush strokes, but stops short of overlayering.

I highly encourage you to read this book if you never have.  While reading it, make sure to focus on the characters.  In today’s entitlement age (the whole idea that all of us deserve the very best and so we get into credit debt beyond belief), we all know Emmas or are Emmas.