Saturday, June 28, 2014

How important is it to read the whole story

Next week we have a truncated Reader's Digest version of the second half of the story of getting a wife for Isaac. (Genesis 24) Now I'll tell you the truth - I have read this story before probably more than once, probably somewhat randomly, but never slowly, one word at a time. And quite apart from form, redaction, or historical criticism, it is a curious story.

I have only done the first half to this point. You will need to sing it yourself because my voice only does so much these days - I did try (the intervals are all quite singable for one with good tonal memory) - even transposed it down a tone (the software won't transpose it back - or at least I haven't figured out how to do it).

Nonetheless it is a long story -even the first half! I often criticize my wife for the dramatic pauses in her story telling - she makes me gasp with anticipation - too much. And she has often criticized my tendency as a cantor to sing too slowly. Mutual criticism for 46 years and counting :). Go figure!

So cant I won't. So there. But here is the music to the first half - a pdf of the full 7 pages is in the usual place. The next 7 pages will hopefully be ready for next week's lesson. Genesis 24 is a 14 page musical story designed and edited to be recited. We don't generally send servants to get our sons wives these days - but it is a love story and a story of bravery and faith nonetheless.

Notice the language, the repeated words - it's not always a well - sometimes it is called a spring. The first half of the story is wrapped by blessed. Notice the ornaments that the servant sings at the beginning and at the culmination of his journey (bars 81 and 215). And the character of the unnamed servant of Abraham - how important this character is - how cautious (what if she won't come back with me), how bold (he runs to her - desperate for water I am sure), how confident (he displays the gold ring and bracelets), how careful (he prays), how careless (impetuous)! Actually everyone runs impetuously - the man, Rebekah, and Laban. My translation is of course curious because of the severe constraints imposed by the music. But you will learn something if you sing or closely read through it. I am sure you will notice things I haven't mentioned.

Now - is this a #bgbg2 story? - sure. I think I can assure you that I have only one ax to grind at this point in my life. And it's not a fundamentalist or confessional ax. Yes - read - but keep the brain and body fully engaged. I would say - read as literature, read as music, read as testimony, read as drama, read and say 'what for!' And don't accept pat answers. Be wary of your power and of the powers that you perceive that others wish to exercise over you. If the story is awful, it probably is awful and was awful and is not there to be imitated. If there is a flaw or a contradiction, love it, turn it and turn it again. Especially don't accept the statement that this complex of documents whose boundaries are loosely defined by human institutions can be watertight with respect to some undefinable perfection. Though it is sufficient, it needs no trite packaging.

I have been reading about philosophy, and post modernism of the strong and the weak kind (I always thought that description of an age was odd). Remember Spinoza and his deconstruction of the divine right of kings what the essayists like Ronald Hendel in the latest SBL Journal, Vol 133 No 2, see as the beginning of critical reading of Scripture. (Well, critical of a different sort - not all who are pre-Spinoza are without comfort. And some comfort is cold.)

I only read about these things - I don't read the philosophers themselves - not enough time in the day. You can ask why I read the Bible - and particularly why the Old Testament. There is an invisible unnamed servant (with camels?) who seems to be with me in thick and thin and I have been called in my impetuous nature to go with him to a place I have not been to before.  Don't worry about the camels.

That means, in the overall scheme of things, that these stories are going to undermine my assumptions - especially my religious ones.

Perhaps my wife's dramatics are more important than I allow. Go on - find the pdf and read the whole thing!