Awkward title, right?
Since starting the book Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell gave me the idea to write this blog, it’s the one I’ll talk about first. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, mostly because of the shocking (gasp!) title, but also because Rob Bell has a lot of influence in many strains of modern Christianity and I think it’s important to engage with his thoughts. Here we go!
p10 – Bell says that the “custom in the ancient Near East at that time was for the father to give his blessing to his firstborn son before he passed away.” He then says that this was a “symbolic gesture loaded with significance.” A symbolic gesture? That’s a BIG claim. If it’s only a symbolic gesture, why doesn’t Jacob give the same symbolic gesture to Esau and bless him with the same blessing he gave Jacob? Why the big deal? Also, we need to read “blessing” in the context of the rest of the Old Testament, and even the New Testament if we want to. A blessing is often considered to have real power behind it; something real is given. For Bell to state, in one sentence with no further explanation, that a blessing is merely symbolic is like someone saying that the Lord’s supper is merely symbolic: whether or not that’s what you believe, you need to understand that that’s not a simple issue in Christendom. Bell offhandedly tosses out something deep and important that resonates throughout the Old and New Testaments. Too bad for his readers. It’s really their loss.
p10 – Bell claims that “Jacob’s lie is a serious offense against the family, against Isaac, and ultimately against Esau.” The biblical text says nothing like this. The only good/bad qualification that appears at all is that Esau gives up his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup. Later, this example is used to chastise those who, like Esau, give up something lasting and better for something immediate and shallow. Jacob is a trickster, something that is never directly criticized (and may even be mildly praised) in the Bible. If anything, Esau is the one at fault here according to the Biblical text, not Jacob…or his mother Rebekah, who actually was the mastermind behind the whole thing, and whom Bell fails to mention at all.
p10-11 – Bell frequently sites Ancient Near East custom. First of all, there isn’t one Ancient Near East (ANE) custom. There were lots of of customs associated with different people groups. Furthermore, part of the point of the story of the Israelites in the Old Testament is that they break away from the customs around them, slowly at first, but more over time. They fail at this frequently, but that seems to be their general or intended direction. To say that Isaac is just following an ANE custom is adding information to the story that we don’t have. As one professor at Duke has said, just read the words that are there. That’s your safest and best way to an understanding of the passage you’re reading. This passage does not say “as was the custom” or anything like that. Oh yeah, and he didn’t cite any research about this. It’s just a claim about the whole Ancient Near East, and a really unnecessary one. Thanks, Rob Bell, thanks.
Ok…that’s a long enough post. Be back soon!