THE JEW-HATRED OF GENESIS
The scrolls unroll before me. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." The very first words I ever read. They are still the most beautiful words I know. Baaraishes buroo Elohim as kashamayimm ve-hu-uretz. Ve-hu-urtez hoysu sehoi uvohoi, vechoischach aal penai tekoim." That is how the words actually sounded. I read on through the unfolding scrolls, from the first word to the last, and the ancient wonder stirs into music for me again. Good, deep, true lovely old book. It tells a straightforward honest story. None of the illusions, following which I almost broke my neck, are here. Only the rabbis lied to me.
The first time I heard the words, of the poet-author of Genesis it was from the mouth of my father, and I revered him as if he were himself their author. My father's father was a great man in the country in which I was born: I heard him recite Hebrew words one Yom Kippur night, and he wavered like a great god with wings between the two tall taper lights on each side of the Ark of the Covenant. My father had three brothers, each as tall and as stalwart as himself: occasionally Hebrew words would emanate from them, and they appeared to grow into godhood in front of my eyes. They are all dead now except one. I realized long before they died that they were not gods. My father's father, his father before him, and all the Jewish fathers yielding all the way back to Abraham the father of them all – they were all Jews, far, far from gods.
No one knew this better than that wise poet-author of Genesis – now that I have learned how to read him correctly. "And there was a famine in the land," he relates, "and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there: for the famine was sore in the land. And it came to pass when he was come near to enter into Egypt that he said unto Sarah, his wife: Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon. And it will come to pass when the Egyptians will see thee, that they will say: 'This is his wife,' and they will kill me, but thee they will keep alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister; that it may be well with me for thy sake, and that my soul may live because of thee. And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. And the princes of Pharaoh saw her, and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. And he dealt well with Abram for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants and maid-servants, and she-asses and camels. And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarah Abram's wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said: 'What is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou; She is my sister? so that I took her to be my wife; now therefor behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way! And Pharaoh gave men charge concerning him; and they brought him on the way, and his wife, and all that they had. (13) And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the South. And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold."(3)
Apparently these words describe one of the very early stages in the career of this nomad chieftain to whom the blood of our race rolls back. By the evidence of the little (practically nothing outside of his wife's beauty) he brought along with him to Egypt, Abraham was rich only in his dreams of the future. Else-supposing, as we have no right to, that he had a strength such as is not represented by worldly goods-why should he have been afraid of Pharaoh? But there can be no misunderstanding the nature of this little jaunt of Abraham's. It was only one of several such raids told with cynical politeness as to detail by the author of Genesis. There probably were more raids which it was pointless to record. One thing is certain: those visits were not motivated by friendliness. According to the most reliable historians of that period the nomads wandered through many countries, sometimes by pre-arrangement with those countries, but more frequently in the spirit of sheer invasion. The historian of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica says: "In times of draught and food-shortage such nomads as these ... were compelled to raid their agricultural, settled neighbors." But in that first recorded trip to Egypt, Abraham, of whom the ancient historian Nicolaus of Damascus wrote that he "came with an army out of the land above Babylon" and "reigned at Damascus," was not yet strong enough to enrich himself by violence. There are, however, more ways than one of making conquest. The one chosen by Abraham, and resulting in his being laden by Pharaoh with presents for the favors of his beautiful wife, has become a very popular occupation. Apparently, also, few of the tricks in the game as it is played today were unknown to Abraham. How else are we to understand these words in Genesis: "The Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarah Abram's wife." I cannot accept the popular anti-semitic interpretation that Abraham and his wife suffered of a venereal disease. On the contrary I do not think anything physical is implied here at all. Whenever he means to convey the idea of a physical ailment the poet of Genesis is always at great pains to name it. Here he merely says that the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house. Is it too rash to assume that this plague sounds a little more like blackmail than syphilis? Or why, if this is not true, is the poet at pains to explain that when Abraham returned with his family out of Egypt he "was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold."
That Abraham, having discovered this new racket, decided to practice it further, becomes apparent when he repeats the adventure in a similar manner before the king of another people. "And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the land of the South and dwelt between Kadesh and Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah and his wife: 'She is my sister.(4)And Abimelech King of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him: 'Behold, thou shalt die, because of the woman that thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife! Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said: 'Lord, wilt thou slay even a righteous nation? Said he not himself unto me: she is my sister? and she, even herself said: He is my brother. In the simplicity of my heart and the innocency of my hands have I done this! And God said unto him in the dream: 'Yea, I know that in the simplicity of thy heart hast thou done this, and also withheld thee from sinning against Me. Therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man's wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live; and if thou restore her not, know that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.' And Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told them all these things in their ears; and the men were sore afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him: 'What hast thou done unto us? and wherein have I sinned against thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done! And Abimelech said unto Abraham: 'What sawest thou that thou hast done this thing?' And Abraham said: 'Because I thought: Surely the fear of God is not in this place: and they will slay me for my wife's sake. And moreover, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and so she became my wife. And it came to pass when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her: 'This is thy kindness which thou shalt show unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me: he is my brother.' And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and men-servants and women-servants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. And Abimelech said: 'Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee! And unto Sarah he said: 'Behold I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is for thee a covering of the eyes(5) to all who are with thee; and before all men thou art righted.'"
Abraham became a really rich man. There was too much for him to lose now if having tried this little game, it should happen to fail. Besides, having had the greater means, there were other grander schemes to work. The story of Abraham becomes eloquent with intrigues and alliances between himself and other desert bandits and-God. He solemnly announces his allegiance to a new Deity, and, probably to economize on the expensive materials which went into the making of idols, and to save himself the trouble of having to cart them about with him in the desert, he invented God's incorporeality. This carried him far into the esteem of his gaping contemporaries. Only one thing seemed to trouble him: the lack of a son to inherit the spoils and found a new nation in his name, as he had promised himself in his dreams. Genesis reports that Abraham was not really very particular. Finding himself too old to beget children of his own, Abraham was quite content to let Ishmael, a son by his wife's servant Hagar, to be his heir. If the passion of the narrative here is to be trusted, Abraham was more than ordinarily fond of Ishmael. But Sarah had never forgiven Hagar for laughing at her, and as she hated Hagar she loathed Hagar's offspring. No, under no circumstances was that obnoxious handmaiden of hers to fall heir to the name and riches of Abraham. Rather, since Abraham was too old for the hope of a child by him, would it be a son of her own by the seed of another man which might fructify within her(6). Nothing is clearer in the book of Genesis than that Sarah was a shrew, and that Abraham was a henpecked husband.
The stream of the narrative in Genesis is often turbulent and unclear because it is really two narratives blended into one, with spots where the process of blending was not so successfully accomplished. But the unfolding of the strange circumstances leading to the birth of Isaac is not the result of this difficulty. It must have been told quite honestly by the author (or authors) of Genesis; but it was obviously tampered with by those Hebrew scholars in Alexandria who Committed most of the mischief in Biblical exegesis. Here is the Passage as it is given to us today:
"And the Lord appeared unto him (Abraham) by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the text door in the heat of the day; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth, and said: 'My LORD, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet and recline yourself under the tree. And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and stay ye your heart; after that ye shall pass on; forasmuch as ye are come to your servant.' And they said: 'So do as thou hast said.' And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said: 'Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it and make cakes! And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hastened to dress it. And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat. And they said unto him: 'Where is Sarah thy wife?' And he said: 'Behold, in the tent,' And he said: 'I will certainly return to thee when the season cometh round; and lo, Sarah thy wife, shall have a son! And Sarah heard in the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I have waxed old shall I have pleasure(7)my lord being old also?' And the Lord said unto Abraham: 'Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the set time I will return unto thee ' when the, season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son! Then Sarah denied, saying: 'I laughed not,' for she was afraid. And He said: 'Nay but thou didst laugh!"
Until the very last bantering words it is wildly possible that a story as gravely beautiful, as poetically sincere as Genesis might have confused humanity and divinity so badly. But would even the most rabid apologist for Abraham and our national pride insist that the Lord carried on such petty and utterly useless banter with the woman Sarah?
Notice that three people appear before Abraham. Three people are fed by him, and fed "to stay the heart," an expression that would never have occurred to the original author if he tried to convey the impression that Abraham knew he was entertaining the Lord himself. But Abraham, you will notice, carries on his conversation with only one. The expurgators of the Bible who here did their best to veil the clear sense of the narrative, would have you believe that the trio consisted of God and two of his angels. Nothing concerning their nature is said or hinted in the first part of the narrative here quoted. But in the next part, when, their leader having remained behind to converse with Abraham, the two are described entering the city of Sodom, the Alexandria meddlers seem to have made up their minds, and those who are described as men in Chapter 18 are definitely referred to as angels in Chapter 19. This inconsistency is made plausible by the fact that the Hebrew word maluchim means both angels and messengers.
Now to any intelligent unprejudiced reader it should become obvious from the fact that Abraham greets three visitors and holds conversation with only one, that the one was some important local chieftain, on his way to prosecute an important business and that the two who accompanied him were his bodyguards. To prove that these two were servants and not angels, it is only necessary to prove that their master was a man, and not God. The Hebrew text, so Inexpertly tampered with, proves this conclusively. The word Lord is written in two ways in Hebrew. When intended to denote the Deity it is spelled Yahwah, and pronounced Adenoi. But when the word is intended to denote a human master the word Adenoi is spelled as it is pronounced. In that part of the narrative where I reproduced the word LORD in capitals, the expurgators of Genesis – who faltered so frequently in their mystifications – spelled the word Adenoi, as appertaining to a man.
Instead of being, what it has been made to appear, a meeting between Abraham and God, the incident is merely that of a meeting between Abraham and one of his more powerful neighbor chieftains.
His message to Abraham is in effect: Obviously, Abraham, you are not a man to trifle with. One capable of inventing your particular monstrosity of a god, should be consulted on all important desert matters. Well, I don't like the behaviour of the people in Sodom. I understand the lovemaking of man and woman because it is sweet and fruitful. But what comes of the love of man and man and woman and woman? Certainly nothing that can be seen by the naked eye. And what a terrible example for our children. And what of the future of the race? Their destruction which is certain should be hastened. Towards that end I have sent my messengers ahead for a view of their fortifications. Then we'll knock hell out of them. So much for our moral chieftain's message. He began by accepting Abraham's hospitality, and, with the insolence of the just, ended by proposing to provide him with an heir.(8) It is to be presumed from the context that the beauty of Sarah was as well known as Abraham's unfortunate lack of an heir; so that when this chieftain saw the aged desert beauty winking at him from behind the doorway it was only natural for him to become licentiously interested.
But are you not going a bit too far from the accepted reading of the story, I can hear the reader ask. In proof of my belief that the incident as I quote it from the Old Testament has been tampered
with(9), and that the story is really as I am setting it forth, I offer the corroboration of Philo Judaeaus, the greatest Hebrew scholar of all time. Philo, who lived about 10 B C., must have had available the unaltered text of Genesis(10). Here is his version of the matter:
"And when those persons, having been entertained in his house, address their entertainer in an affectionate manner, it is again one of gem who promises that he will himself be present, and will bestow on him a seed of a child of his own, speaking in the following words: 'I will return again and visit thee again, according to the time of life, and Sarah thy wife shall have a son.'"
Apparently the Old Testament's tamperers cut down his lordship's proposed two visits to one, for it is only too obvious from the original, as quoted by Philo, that the first visit, "according to the time of life" was for the sowing of the seed, and the second, that he might see the seed in flower.
But Abraham lived to bitterly regret this bargain. The account Genesis gives us of Isaac, his indolence, his lack of pride and venturesomeness, makes him, a pale ragged figure beside that of the flaming Ishmael. The more Abraham looked at Isaac, the son of a stranger by his wife, the more he loved Ishmael, sprung from his own loins. He grew to hate Isaac with a terrible hatred, and it seems altogether likely to me that Abraham would have thought of the sacrifice of Isaac even without divine intervention.
If Isaac died, Abraham decided, he would never again let Sarah inveigle him into such an arrangement. And, whether Sarah liked it or not, Ishmael would inherit everything. If my suggestion that Abraham really took Isaac into the wilderness, when Sarah happened not to be aware, with the object of murdering him, is not true, why was Abraham so secretive about his operations! It could not be that he was performing a religious rite. All other religious rites Abraham performed within sight of all his family and servants.
The carelessness of our Hebrew fathers with regard to the chastity of their wives passes on in the same deliberate tradition, to Isaac. When, like his father, Isaac fell upon evil days, he wandered out with his family into the land of the Philistines, the people ruled by Abimelech whose affair with Isaac's mother had been so costly to the tribal treasury. "And," records Genesis, "Isaac dwelt in Gerar. And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said: 'She is my sister;' for he feared to say: 'My wife, lest the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah, because she is fair to look upon.' And it came to pass when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife. And Abimelech called Isaac and said: "Behold of a surety she is thy wife, and how saidst thou: she is my sister?" And Isaac said unto him: 'Because I said: Lest I die because of her.' And Abimelech said: 'What is this thou hast done unto us? One of the people might easily have lain with thy wife,"(11) and thou wouldst have brought guiltiness upon us.' And Abimelech charged all the people saying: 'He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.' And Isaac sowed in that land, and found in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him. And the man waxed great, and grew more and more until he grew very great. And he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him."
It must have been this propensity to trade the favors of their women for gold that caused the Jews to be held in such abhorrence by the ancient world. How deep-stung was this hatred of Jews in olden times is testified to eloquently by the author of Genesis in his description of the feast set by Joseph for his brethren: "And Joseph made haste; for his heart yearned towards his brother; and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber and he wept there. And he washed his face, and came out; and he refrained himself, and said: 'Set on bread.' And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves; because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination for the Egyptians."
That is all. The subject matter is never again broached either in Genesis or in the rest of the Old Testament. Why did not the author of Genesis, who had such a deep respect for Egypt, make some effort to explain Egypt's contempt for the Jews? He might at least have tried to explain why the Egyptians at that table, all inferior to Joseph in rank, would have felt it an abomination to eat with him? His complete indifference to the matter is a more terrible accusation against the Jews than any to be found in the works of Livy and Apion. But might there not have been some explanation which was torn out of its context by the great expurgators?
The portrait of the third of the great founders of our blood is done in even more lurid colors. Jacob-did not stop after stealing his brother Esau's birthright: "And it came to pass," runs the story, "that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said unto him: 'My son;' and he said unto him: 'Here am I' And he said: 'Behold, now, I am old, I know not the day of my death. Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison; and make me savoury food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless me before I die.' And Rebekah heard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. And Rebekah spoke unto Jacob her son, saying: 'behold, I heard thy father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying: Bring me venison, and make me savoury food, that I may eat, and bless thee before the Lord before my death. Now therefore, my son, hearken to my voice according to that which I command thee. Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savoury food for thy father, that he may eat, so that he may bless thee before his death.'
And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother: 'Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. My father peradventure will feel me, and I shall seem to him, as a mocker; and I shall bring a curse upon me and not a blessing.' And his mother said unto him: 'Upon me be thy curse, my son only hearken to my voice, and go fetch me them.' And he went, and fetched, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savoury food, such as his father loved. And Rebekah took the choicest garments of Esau her eldest son, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob the younger son. And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck. And she gave the savoury food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob. And he came unto his father and said 'My father;' and he said: 'Here am I; who art thou, my son?' And Jacob said unto his father: 'I am Esau thy firstborn; I have done according as thou hast badest me. Arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me. 'And Isaac said unto his son: 'How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son?' And he said: 'Because the Lord thy God sent me good speed! And Isaac said unto Jacob: 'Come near I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not.' And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said: 'The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau.' And he discerned him not because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau's hands, so he blessed him... And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from the hunting. And he also made savoury food, and brought it unto his father; and he said unto his father: 'Let my father arise and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me.' And Isaac his father said unto him: 'Who art thou? And he said: 'I am thy son, thy firstborn Esau! And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said: 'Who, then, is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? Yea, and he shall be blessed! When Esau heard the words of his father he cried with an exceeding great and bitter cry...'
When the children, in the old little synagogue where I learnt my Hebrew letters, came to this portion of the Law, the rabbi would add: "And the cry which Esau uttered was so terrible that the fiery Gehannah itself opened before him." The rabbi must have added this to frighten us, to give us an inkling of what a monster out of Hell the man Esau was, so as to make us loathe the hairy man. Instead, a thrill of sympathy shot through me for the cheated Esau. In my heart, I must have loved him more than I loved Jacob.
Only one thing relieves the portrait of Jacob, this man of monstrous cunning and endless guile: his love for Rachel. The appearance of Rachel introduces a new element into the story of the Hebrew race. Unlike the wives of Abraham and Isaac, shrews of the shrillest order, Rachel was beautiful and gentle. One can almost see her softening influence on the character of her husband who combined business subtlety with a fierce determination to rise even above the birthright he had purchased. The delicate fingers of Rachel soften some of the hard lines in the portrait of Jacob.
(3) All Biblical quotations in this book are from the Jewish Publication Society translation, accepted by the Jews as the most faithful to the original Hebrew, obtainable in English.
(4) Even the bare pretense that this is done for fear of his life is abandoned in the telling of the second adventure.
(5) 'Covering of the eyes' the oriental expression for 'hushmoney.'
(6) A barren woman is a firm believer in her husband's barrenness.
(7) The issue is whether Abraham shall have an heir. But notice what the old bitch is thinking about.
(8) The reader might object that Abraham could hardly believe that a son would be his, if he were born of another man's seed. A modern Abraham might not. But the ancient Hebrews had a peculiar attitude in such matters. I refer you to verse 6, chapter 38 of Genesis: "And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. And Er Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan: 'Go in unto thy brother's wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her, and raise up seed unto thy brother."' But how, it may be asked, could the chieftain so glibly promise that the issue would be a boy, and not a girl? The Arabians had a conceit about such matters, and thought they knew by position in love how to predetermine the sex of a child. Besides, an enamored man tries to be not accurate but persuasive.
(9) The Prevailing edition of Genesis has the Lord saying to Abraham that his seed would be a stranger in a land not theirs and be afflicted for 400 years. In the version of Genesis available to Philo, the text read 40 years. Here, too, you see the hand of the expurgator attempting to connect this prophesy with the Jews' eventual sojourn in Egypt.
(10) A similar accusation is made in the Koran. Several instances of vital falsification are cited. But the Koran is a very poor critic of almost everything else; and so I hesitate to cite it even where it is correct.
(11) What a compliment this is to Rebekah's virtue!