Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where the ancestors sleep

It’s the Jewish High Holy Days on the Upper West Side. These are the days where my neighbors at Barney Greengrass go through their annual avalanche of orders. He’s always got one round  the clock day filling orders from across the country getting ready for the trucks to arrive  early in the morning the day before Kol Nidre.  Gary sends his crew over on Friday to borrow three of our tables and this year has rented out the empty store room where Schatzie the Butcher used to be. After all these years, I still enjoy being part of this in some small way, classic Upper West Side, classic New York.

Tonight our gang gathers for Bible Study again and we’re looking at Genesis 22: 20-23:20. This section begins with a genealogy of the children of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. Not a guy we heart a lot about.  Other than liking the fact that he has a son named Buz, there’s a couple of things to note. This section is included (clearly) as a demonstration as to how Abraham will be a father of so many countless offspring. Also in this list we find Aram, the ancestor of the Arameans whose language was the lingua franca of this corner of the midEast from  911 BCE until 70 CE. It is an ancestor of both written Hebrew and Arabic and is the liturgical language of the Chaldean Orthodox Church, portions of the Jewish liturgy and probably the language Jesus spoke most frequently.

Next we come to the death and burial of Sarah. Abraham needs to seek out a place to bury his wife, but this will also afford him an opportunity to gain possession of land, a permanent holding, in the land that was promised to him. Abraham is a stranger and alien in the land as opposed to the Hittites, descendants of Het, who are described as the people of the land.

Abraham comes into this negotiation without many troops but due to his successful hustles involving his wife, Pharoah and Abimelech, a very wealthy man. What follows is a marvelous and richly detailed bargaining with Ephron, a leader of the Hittites, who apparently owns this cave at the edge of his field. The bargaining is so detailed and nuanced (and so familiar to anyone who has ever bargained in the Middle East) that it can only be an accurate account. Abraham comes out of this with his land, for the right price.

Our commentator Wes Howard-Brook notes that :
* There is no other land negotiation like this in scripture
*  Abraham’s acquiring this land through negotiation and purchase is in stark contrast to the later stories of Joshua who gains territory through sacred violence and ethnic cleansing.
* However, YHWH never appears in this story. Yes YHWH promised the land to Abraham but never said exactly how that was going to take place.
* Are there yet other ways to acquire land?

Our friend Steve continues to argue that these are stories with early and deep roots and that the traditional source argument for Yahwist (J) and priestly (P) origins still stands.

Marsha has her eye on Abraham the clever hustler.

Russ and I are reflecting how this the origin story for a very troubled place in Palestine, Hebron. Revered by Jews and Muslims alike  as the burial place for the patriarchs and matriarchs, some legends even  have Joseph there, and if you go deep enough, Adam and Eve. And is said to be at the periphery of the Garden of Eden.

The city of Hebron has a quarter of a million Palestinians in residence and a few hundred (no more than 850) Jews who control 80% of the city’s territory. ( I remember seeing both Muslim and Jewish prayers watched over by Israeli Defense Force soldiers with automatic weapons. Abraham’s ancient purchase continues to echo through to today’s mosque/former church/former mosque/former church/former synagogue and the automatic weapons. Orthodox Jews point out that Jews were forbidden from praying at  Hebron for over 700 years. And today Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. Occupied territory. 

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