X Pentecost

August 13, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Recently I rented an interesting movie called “Denial”.  It was based on the true story of a woman who was a professor.  Her primary field of study was the Holocaust. 

In the movie she was being sued by a man whom she had written about in her book, only briefly.  This was an historian who argued that the Holocaust did not happen.  He sued her in London for slander.  He did so because under British Law, the person being sued had the burden of proof.  In other words, her lawyers had to prove that the Holocaust did indeed happen.

History is an interesting thing.  Sometimes people approach the Bible as an historical book.  In some sense it is.  I believe that the Bible is the story of the relationship between God and humanity.  So, in this way, it is history.

The problem becomes, however, that at the various periods of time in which the books of the Bible were written, history was not written the same way.  What I mean is that today Historians are judged by their accuracy.  They are judged by what they have written and how is aligns with the events which occurred.

Going back to the movie for a moment – Credible historians within the academic community agree that the Holocaust did indeed happen.  Anyone who would argue otherwise would not be seen as credible.

The Bible cannot be judged in the same way.  No one was there with a camera or recorder to capture the events of the Old and New Testament.  We can, therefore, understand why it is that there may be varying stories about what happened and how it happened.

So it is with the lesson from Genesis this morning.  I guess we could say the same for the Gospel, but I want to focus particularly on Genesis, because it has within it there are clues that there were at least two versions of the story that were put together to form the current text.

First a quick point about the history of the Chosen People of God.  At one point in the ancient history of Israel, the Chosen People of God were split into two kingdoms – Judah and Israel.  During this period of time, the stories that were common to their history were told with a few differences.  The basics remained the same, but names and heroes were different.

If you would like to look at the text either now or when you get home, let me point out two differences which were synthesized into the one text that we have today.  You may not have noticed, but in the beginning of the lesson, Joseph’s father is referred to as Jacob. 

But in the following sentence instead of using the name Jacob, the name Israel is used.  This is because these are the two different names used in the two different kingdoms for the same person.  They are both valid names because Jacob was his name at birth and after he wrestled with God one night, God changed his name to Israel – meaning one who wrestles with God.

Later on in the lesson, when the brothers are plotting to get rid of Joseph, we find that at first it is Reuben who suggests a way that does not involve killing Joseph, but later it is Judah who talks the brothers into selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites.  This is because in one kingdom when this story was told Reuben was the hero, and in the other kingdom Judah was the hero.  The people corresponded to the tribes who were living in each kingdom.

What is the point of all of this?  First, what we are reading in the Book of Genesis is a synthesis of the two different versions of the same story.  Although the names for Joseph’s father and the heroes were different, the point of the story was still the same – Joseph was not liked by his brothers because of his dreams (dreams in which his whole family bowed down to him).  And that Joseph was not killed but was instead was on his way to Egypt to fulfill his destiny.

The other point – which to me is very important – is that the Bible is meant to give us the Truth, but that the way in which that Truth is given cannot be judged by modern standards of historical texts. 

Honestly, it would be easier if things were spelled out precisely.  Some within the Church believe that we should take everything absolutely literally.  Others believe that we should simply regard the Bible as metaphor.

 I believe that the Lord wants to have a living relationship with us and wrestling together about the Truth as found in the Bible is one of the ways in which this relationship is an active one and not a passive one.

I think that what we as the Church can agree on is that the Truth is found in the Bible.  The Bible is the story of our relationship with God.  As Episcopal Christians, we believe that we are in an active relationship with God and that through scripture, the Tradition of the Church, and our human reason, we will come to know the Truth.  AMEN.