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Imagine. You are at home with your family, watching a bit of television, playing a game, sharing a meal. An alarm, like an air raid siren, sounds. It's time. You, your spouse (cohabitation outside marriage is forbidden) and children (a boy, fourteen, a girl, twelve) walk the few blocks to where the hundred or so residents from your immediate area are gathering into a large circle around a shallow pit. An arm-banned Monit... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Thursday, 28 October 2010 | Comments | Read more...
When I was a teenager and my parents' friends asked questions such as,"Well, young man, what will you do with your life?" I had no idea that the correct answer would prove to be, "Well, right now I have this really weird, sort of sensual, even erotic, though non-sexual, urge that's been bugging me for years! So, first, I'll spend the next three or four decades doing work that won't reallysatisfy that urge but will prove to be important steps on the way to understanding what it is and to fi... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Monday, 25 October 2010 | Comments | Read more...
No. For a more detailed answer, I'll begin with an overview of the fable: Two messengers, or angels (Hebrew ma 'alak, Greek angelos), arrive at the gates of Sodom. There, Lot, Abraham's nephew, greets them and invites them to his home for the night, where a meal has been prepared. Soon, a mob gathers outside Lot's door and demands that he serve up his guests for a gang rape, which appears to be something of a local tradition... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Monday, 25 October 2010 | Comments | Read more...
“What has been will be again, 
what has been done will be done again; 
there is nothing new under the sun.” —Koheleth, Ecclesiastes (about 300 BCE)... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Monday, 31 May 2010 | Comments | Read more...
My mother and her twin sister, Dorothy, were born five years after Neil's death.  When Dorothy died of rheumatic fever at age fourteen, it was assumed that God, having reconsidered the original punishment, had found it insufficient. This is a line of thinking that had its beginnings in the minds of those who, starting around 536 B.C.E. were trying to make sense out of what had brought about Israel's defeat fifty years earlier! In other words, the wo... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Thursday, 29 April 2010 | Comments | Read more...
So the Doctrine of Original Sin has its origins in the interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve story,... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Monday, 26 April 2010 | Comments | Read more...
I ended my last entry by stating that whether you’re religious, atheist, or couldn’t care less, if you think the ... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Saturday, 24 April 2010 | Comments | Read more...
Think of the bite of the fruit as a force-feeding, an apt metaphor for the child’s brain crossing inevitable developmental thresholds, growing the capacity for abstract thought, including the first inklings of subject (I, me) and object (you, they, it), including the capacity for making moral and ethical judgments. However, this latter higher, even noble, function comes with a dark side. Without meaning to, at least, not at first, he will begin assuming the go... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Friday, 16 April 2010 | Comments | Read more...
The word “serpent” is from Latin and means “creeping,” an activity we associate with legs of some sort, as opposed to slithering—a fate the snake might have avoided had he kept the conversation to a light banter. Ironically, the conversation he did initiate with Eve, one of the more familiar fragments in Western literature, begins with what appears to be no more than an innocent request for clarification. ... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Thursday, 15 April 2010 | Comments | Read more...
So, the interpreters began looking into the old stories—as yet there was no “Bible”—hoping to figure out just what their ancestors had done to warrant the loss of Israel’s divine protection. Some of them fixed on the tale of the Garden of Eden in which the man had been told he could have anything in the Garden, but not the fruit of a certain tree, because if he did, he’d die. After the woman entered the picture, the man told her about the admonition. And what did they do? They ate... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Saturday, 03 April 2010 | Comments | Read more...
If your experience was like mine, you were told that the creation stories in Genesis place women in an inferior status to men. Nope. (See my previous post.) In fact, the language used by the authors of those ancient stories makes it clear that the woman was created to be the man’s partner, his equal. So, what explains the millennia old, so-called biblically-supported inferior status of women? Spin. Mistakes were made. The usual. Here, in summar... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Friday, 02 April 2010 | Comments | Read more...
It’s in the second of the creation stories that the man is created before the woman. (In the first, they’re created at the same time.) Then come the plants, the birds, bugs, and animals. But none of these will do as a mate for him, so the Creator decides to create one. But one what, exactly?... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Sunday, 21 March 2010 | Comments | Read more...
Getting the boot in Sunday school is less radical than expulsion from the Garden of Eden, aka “Paradise,” though, curiously, each event begins with curiosity, that natural expression of Free Will. In other words, each is a different rendering of the same human story. Adam is told he may eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden except for that one which, as I point... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Tuesday, 16 March 2010 | Comments | Read more...
When I was a boy in Sunday school, the characters in Bible stories, especially the men, seemed about as attractive as Chickenpox. That I should admire and want to be like these dull, humorless fellows made no sense, just as it made no sense that I should never question the church’s teaching that the Bible was true and flawless. But it wasn’t flawless, and I did have questions—lots of them. Then, one Sunday morning, my teacher, red-faced with exasperation, flipped open his notebook, scra... Read more...
By: John R. Coats On Tuesday, 02 March 2010 | Comments | Read more...

A Few Notes About My Blog

This is not a religious blog, because Genesis is not religious, not in the way we tend to think about religion—that is, belief in a formal or informal set of beliefs about a Supreme Being.

What you will not find in a reading of Genesis:

  • Anyone trying to convert anyone else;
  • People praying together. Yes, Jacob did pray. Twice. The first time was the morning after the dream about the ladder, the second, twenty years later, on hearing the scouting report that Esau was bringing 400 armed men to their reunion. This, the brother he’d cheated, who, last he’d heard, was "consoling himself by planning to kill you";
  • Anyone whose personal presentation—i.e., manner of speaking, vocabulary, the sort of real and false piety now ubiquitous in the media—signifies him or her as a "religious" person.

What you will find in a reading of Genesis:

  • Characters who occupy a deeply ironic, unique place in the human imagination. On the one hand, their moral/spiritual DNA is embedded in the foundations of Western civilization. On the other, but for biblical stories and commentaries, no proof of their existence is to be found in the vast archeological record. They are probably fictional creations, yet they have and continue to shape us as a society and as individuals, those of us who are religious and those of us who are not;
  • Three thousand year old stories achingly human in their narratives of stupidity, greed, bravery, cunning, courage and the rest. In other words, stories and characters that are universal, that, if the reader wants, can be a conduit into the self, and into the deeper matters of being human. In fact, I would say that anyone who does a close reading of Genesis, who looks deeply into the characters, will find reflections of his/her own best and worst selves.

One last thing: Because these stories and characters have shaped us all, they belong to us all, the unreligious as well as the religious. Think of them as property held in common.