Friday, November 21, 2014

Genesis 7

In chapter 7, the flood hits.

This story began in chapter 5 and take until the end of chapter 10 to run its course. It is the first extended plot in our narrative. And it is a classic myth.

By myth, like story, I do not mean a sub-group of the Modern category of fiction. A myth is a story that transcends its original context. Myths are very often built on an historical core, crafted and embellished over generations of retelling. Think King Arthur, or Robin Hood, or even the demi-god heroes of ancient Greece we assume to be completely ahistorical. And if you have difficulty with the idea of stories from the Bible being embellished, think of how we tell this story to children today: Noah the zoo-keeper with his floating collection of giraffes and elephants and kangaroos. If you grew up with this story, and have ever passed it on, you will have embellished it yourself.

Every ancient near eastern culture knew that there had been a flood stretching from horizon to horizon that had brought an end to the world as they knew it. The flood story explains how life survived, to return. At one level, it answers – whether satisfactorily or not is for you to decide – the question, how is it that we are here? And, how is it that we know there was a flood? (given that they did not have geological investigation).

But these are not the motivations that enable a story to break free from its first context and become a myth, a story that resonates with story-tellers and story-listeners across time and place.

This is a story given voice around the campfire of a nomadic couple who have no children to inherit their flocks.

A childhood story perhaps recalled by their grandson when he fled home.

Told to their twelve great-grandsons, and brought to mind by the second-youngest left to die, and then sold into slavery, by his brothers, and later still thrown into house-arrest.

The story is passed from generation to generation. Spoken softly by an initially-welcomed minority group who at a later point found themselves enslaved in Egypt. Whispered by a mother over the baby boy she hides, before building him a tar-proofed cradle – an ark – and setting him on the waters of the Nile.

By the time a story is whispered – needs to be whispered – it has become a myth. A sustaining-story.

Many generations later, this myth is told – and written down – by a people taken into exile in Babylon.

After they return home, it is passed-on in the shadow of the desecration of their most holy place, the Temple in Jerusalem, by the Greeks; and later again, the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.

It is recalled by Christians hiding in the catacombs of Rome.

By Jews shut up in their ghettoes.

In death camps.

This is a story about surviving the end of the world.

About God, who consistently brings life out of death, out through death.

And a story about how to survive the end of the world.

A representative of the set-apart passes through death, bringing his family with him. This involves great risk – even the experience of being forgotten by God. Yet this action is for the ongoing survival of both ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ life: the set-apart, and the set-aside.

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