Friday, March 21, 2008

Discussion Summaries: Genesis 12 - Abraham 5

Genesis 12

- the imperfect tense in Gen 12.1 ("Now the Lord had said unto Abram . . . ") indicates that God's call, though textually contiguous with the death of Terah, preceded these events in some way; does the tense indicate an immemorial or metahistorical dimension to God's call? the call has always already preceded whatever historical events take shape in light of it?

- Abram is promised the very thing that the tower of Babel builders wanted (a name that would last), but he is promised it by the very means that denied it to the tower-builders (a scattering from family and homeland) (Gen 11.4, 12.2)

- does the scattering of languages open or close the possibility of theology?

- what are the implications of Abram's silent obedience in response to God's command? can such silence constitute a kind of theology?

- God's first words to Abram (Gen 12.1) command him to leave his family and homeland

- textually, God speaks to Abram out of the void of his father's death (Gen 12.1); does this insertion of God into the line imply a break with patriarchy? if so, what are its effects?

- the patriarchal lineage (through Terah) appears to already be sputtering and disrupted before God's command comes (Gen 11.26, 28, 31)

Genesis 13-14

- Abraham is portrayed typologically as the first to move from Egypt to the promised land, Canaan. (Gen. 13)

- The faithful must flee the world for the promised land, though on arriving they will not find the “Garden of Eden/idol” they fantasized about. They will find place where their work can begin anew.

- Abraham appears to work out the theological meaning of God’s commands existentially (in practice) rather than discursively and it is relatively clear that he does not know the meaning of his interpretive actions in advance.

- In addressing the role of family, the centrality of Abraham’s relation to Lot must be taken into account.

- Does Lot function as a placeholder for the patriarchal order that God interrupted by commanding Abraham to leave home, family, country? Does Melchizedek – without father or mother – embody the divinely non-patriarchal order? The first priest in the Genesis being the first person without any lineage?

- Abraham’s family commitments (i.e., to Lot) plunge him into politics and warfare, though on the basis of such a commitment his political actions are marked by an excessive generosity.

- Does Lot have a choice to not settle outside the promised land? It appears that the land cannot support both Lot and Abraham.

Genesis 15

- Is a faithful relation to God mediated or immediate? how does one or the other of these choices effect faith, doubt, knowledge, etc. (i.e., the structure of the relationship)?

- Why does the covenant keep getting repeated? Must it be continually re-made?

- God responds to Abraham’s doubt with a miraculous display of power, but this display doesn’t stick (it only temporarily relieves doubt); does this failure of the sensible image (however spectacular and powerful) imply the necessity of a symbolic supplement (words/texts/promises)?

- Following Melchizedek’s priestly mediation of tithes, Abraham has his first dialogue with God.

- Gen. 15.1 introduces the locution: “the word of the Lord” came to Abram; post-Melchizedek, the relation is mediated by the word? This newly symbolic dimension to the relationship allows for doubt and dialogue rather than simple, mute compliance?

- This re-capitulation of the covenant includes, for the first time, metaphor and metonymy. Is there a connection between the rhetoric and the change in the nature of the relationship? (Dust and stars as metonyms of earth and heaven; dust and stars as metaphors for posterity.)

- Is the substitutionary logic of metaphor an additional interruption of the patriline?

- The starry heavens: the immanent appearance of the immemorial/non-historical, the eternal stars as what circles above the earth/the historical and literally give time (day/night, seasons, etc.)?

- The confusion of day and night in this chapter indicates that the events do not belong to the ordinary run of time?

- The “cut” of the covenant is introduced; does this symbolic cut, the introduction of symbolic/metaphorical difference/substitution touch on the splitting of the subject’s own self-immediacy? The loss of immediacy in relation to God inducing a loss of immediacy in relation to oneself? Such a cut/split in subjectivity prompts fantasies of wholeness (the fantasies that are the substance of pride) and simultaneously leaves us potentially open to others if we do not withdraw behind fantasy in fear.

Genesis 16

- There are a series of notable parallels between Gen 16 and the Eden story: Abram hearkens to Sarai, Sarai takes Hagar and gives her to Abram, Sarai’s eyes are opened, Sarai can then have (vicarious) children

- other Eden parallels: the central role of shame, its connection to blame (16.2), a reflexivity of seeing and being seen, Hagar’s surprise at being seen by God without her destruction (shame as the inability to see the other’s gaze as other than destructively judgmental)

- Abram = Adam, Sarai = Eve, Hagar = fruit

- Sarai brings Hagar into the story as a substitute/metaphor for herself, a metaphor/surrogacy that changes/splits her relationship to herself?

- the difference between seeing and hearing in this chapter (and its peculiar emphasis on sight, on seeing, and on seeing oneself being seen)

- the importance of distinguishing contract from covenant; what is the difference? a difference in one’s relation to the symbolic, a relation which either includes or excludes the Real?

- faith takes place only in relation to the (impossibility) of the covenant rather than in relation to the (possibility) of the contract?

- Hagar’s inclusion is an attempt to “guarantee” rather than interrupt the patriline?

Genesis 17

- “walk before me . . .” (17.1), the first comprehensive commandment given to Abram; “. . . in my presence,” a life thoroughly conditioned by the Lord’s regard?

- the promise of being a king/queen of nations: does this promise still resonate with us? why would anyone want the trouble?

- contract vs. covenant: do we treat the excess of the contract as something that threatens to ruin it or as something that opens the very meaning of the contract itself? a contract supplemented with an avowed excess = a covenant?

- the excess of God’s unconditional commitment to the contract transforms it into a covenant?

- circumcision: indelibly associating reproduction with divine gifts

- the general commandment is vague and indistinct (17.1), but the prescriptions associated with circumcision are so precise and detailed (high-resolution descriptions)

- token : covenant :: signifier : signified; the token seems to be much richer in content that than the signified

- circumcision as symbolic castration: there will be a child, but only by God’s grace and power? a cut that literally interrupts the patriline? a cut that is a token shedding of blood?

- circumcision does not equal covenant: the whole household is circumcised, but only Abram receives a covenant

- fecundity: binding our concrete natural inclinations to infinite possibility?

Genesis 18

- the problem of the ethical ambiguity with which God is portrayed (e.g., Abraham’s negotiation)

- the parallel between Gen. 18 and Job (questioning God, “dust and ashes”): are these provocations meant to test and prove them?

- the unconditionality of the relationship renders it arbitrary or beyond ethics?

- an additional question here: is God impassive or passionate? can he be moved or swayed by the argument or is it a show?

- this chapter: the first time the promise is made conditional on some action

- Abraham must learn to act unconditionally in order for the unconditioned event / impossible child to arrive?

- the lack of clarity about the number of visitors (1? 3? 2?) and their status (God, angels, men?) is felicitous: Abraham, likewise not knowing, acts without regard to the answers offering hospitality unconditionally

- Abraham promises a modest meal and delivers a feast

- Abrahamic ethics: a hospitality that overflows obligation

- does Abraham here teach, at least implicitly, that there is some kind of moral standard independent of God, in relation to which God’s own actions might be measured?

- is the negotiation/dialogue a kind of rational/theological response to God?

- Abraham’s relation to God is very different from Sarai’s; there is no evidence of a “joint” relationship

Genesis 19

- There are a whole series of structural parallels between Gen. 18.1-8 and 19.1-3.

- Abraham promises little and provides a feast. Lot promises a feast and provided little.

- If Abraham's unconditional hospitality is the mark of his fidelity, then how do we distinguish it from Lot's own excessive hospitality in Gen. 19?

- Is Lot's hospitality counterfeit? If so, on what grounds?

- Possible answer: Lot is responding to men rather than God? Lot makes the offer of his own volition while Abraham acts only in response to an explicit command? Abraham meets the angels on their own terms, Lot brings them into the city on his terms? Abraham leads them into safety, Lot leads them into danger?

- Abraham gives perfectly, Lot gives imperfectly, and the Sodomites refuse to give

- Lot: an everyman, wanting to do the right thing but after doing it badly or wrongly?

- What does the text's general antipathy to the urban tell us about the politics?

- Lot's hospitality ends in the following chapters in incest: the mark of a complete dissolution of social structure

- What should we make of the JST's overturning of Lot's offer of his daughters to the mob?

Genesis 20-21

- Gen. 20 is about God's protection of Abraham when hospitality fails?

- the strong parallels between Gen 20 and 12.9-20; the earlier story is a foreshadowing of Israel's entrance, sojourn, and exodus from Egypt, is this one also?

- 20.7 is the only occurrence in Genesis of nabi, "prophet": why is Abraham described this way here?

- the events of this chapter make us realize that Abraham is not such a saint as we might have supposed, nor are all the inhabitants as depraved as those in Sodom

- why frame Gen 22 with a story of the fallible Abraham? In general, has our assessment of Abraham to this point been relatively negative?

- predicates that have been explicitly applied to Abraham over the course of the story to this point: old, son, father, prophet, wandered, stranger, servant, circumcised, husband, rich, Hebrew

- Abraham is the recipient of two gracious covenants with God and Abimelech; his exemplarity derives in each case from his response to the graciousness?

- Gen 21, the birth of the covenant child is the expulsion of the child of the handmaiden (we need to read these events as belonging together)

- covenant and promise do not appear to be the same: Isaac receives a covenant, Ishmael a promise; promise = I will bless you? covenant = I will bless you so that you may become a blessing to others?

- why doesn't Abraham's story end here with the birth of Isaac? many rhetorical figures indicate that the story has cycled through to its conclusion; can we proceed to the next generation only by enacting a kind of traumatic cut/break/fall? this is to ask: how does the eternal round of creation work? how do we understand the parallels between the "generations of the heavens and the earth" and the "generations of men"?

- Gen 21, the birth of the covenant child is the expulsion of the child of the handmaiden (we need to read these events as belonging together)

- covenant and promise do not appear to be the same: Isaac receives a covenant, Ishmael a promise; promise = I will bless you? covenant = I will bless you so that you may become a blessing to others?

- in the entire Genesis account of Abraham he is "old"; a uniquely Mormon understanding of Abraham will be an understanding of Abraham as other than "old"?

Genesis 22

- is hineni, "Here I am," the response of perfect fidelity? Does this response mark a culminating moment in Abraham's relation to Lord, moving from his originally mute response to God's call, to his doubting dialogue, to an affirmatively unconditional response?

- is Abraham's willingness to not "hold back" his son the core of hospitality? hospitality: a willingness to not hold anything in reserve but unconditionally consecrate everything?

- the repetition of the covenants in 22.16, 18 include a causal construction "X blessing because you have done Y"; possible readings: not a making conditional of the covenant but an acknowledgement of Abraham's unconditional commitment to the covenant that God has unconditionally extended to him, a recognition of Abraham's joint-partnership in a mutual unconditionality

- a complex pattern of "hearing" and "seeing" in this chapter; Abraham "hears" passively and "sees" actively? by hearing, Abraham is empowered to actively see? he
"listens" to what the Lord "sees"?

- what about the centrality of substitution/metaphor for the story?

- the chapter narrates a "double" slaughter in which God requires Abraham to relinquish both his sons

- this recognition of a double sacrifice highlights the human costs of an unconditional fidelity? Abraham must sacrifice not only Isaac, but his relationships with Ishmael and Sarah as well? he must willingly sacrifice these relationships for the sake of God's promises about these relationships?

- Abraham's two sons: two ways of constructing community, Ishmael as the willful construction of family/community, Isaac as the kenotic construction of family/community

- does this double loss of both Ishmael and Isaac connect with Mormon doctrines about the loss and risk inherent in the plan of salvation?

Genesis 22/23

- is to ask a question about Abraham as a model of fidelity necessarily to ask a question about typology? how ought we to think about typology?

- does the fact of the Genesis 23 (the fact that, after the akedah, the story STILL continues) recast the events in a new and/or less climatic light?

- it is Sarah’s death that finally leads to Abraham’s acquisition of a portion of the promised land; is this an additional trial? Abraham has to buy even the smallest plot of the promised land because none has been given to him, even for Sarah’s burial? is it a degradation of the covenant, a devolution into banal bargaining for the land? does Abraham have reason to want to “economize” Sarah’s death?

- is Sarah’s narratively contiguous death related to the akedah? even caused by it?

- typology requires us to turn our hearts to our fathers (the past type) and toward our children (the future antitype)? it binds generations together by abridging time?

- is to ask a question about Abraham as a model of fidelity necessarily to ask a question about typology? how ought we to think about typology?

- the question of the importance of the Book of Mormon’s/Jacob’s typological reading of the akedah

- some basic elements of typology? (1) an identification between two dissimilar things that elides the differences between the two (a commutative relationship?)? (2) a metaphorical identification structured by time, a space of time, a bridge the spans a temporal gap that produces a kind of temporal abridgment, a “folding” of the normal course of time in which two previously unrelated events are asserted as identical? (3) it is non-causal/linear fold that “re-sets” chains of causality in order to introduce something new and free and unconditioned? (4) the type is a kind of cipher capable of recoding the elements of an entire situation, a cipher rather than a symbol? (5) being faithful to God means being faithful to this typological realignment he means to enact?

- what of the difference between antitype and archetype? which are we talking about? what are the essential differences?

- typology requires us to turn our hearts to our fathers (the past type) and toward our children (the future antitype)? it binds generations together by abridging time?

- repentance, by creating something new, enacts the gift of freedom or agency

Abraham 1

- the most striking difference between Genesis and Abraham: the shift from an brisk, impersonal, third-person narrative to a detailed and self-conscious first-person narration?

- the shift in narrative style is exemplified in the shift toward explanation for why things are done (some Genesis is very short on)

- this shift is more “Mormon” because explanation and a discussion of priesthood “rights” is more works oriented and intelligible? de-emphasizing the mysterious, unconditional and unaccountable intervention of God?

- what do we do with the “Pharaoh” who is righteous and blessed but denied the priesthood?

- the deep connection between records + priesthood + family

- connection between the Word and priesthood and family: sealing is authorized giving of one’s Word

- is priesthood a way of “acting out” a typological relation?

- the opening verses set “my fathers” (the particular) over against “the fathers” (the universal) from whom the priesthood comes

- a different kind of relationship between God and Abraham: not the abject subject/Lord relation of Genesis

- the emphasis on “rights” may be a way of re-thinking grace rather than marginalizing it

-the rights in question are the rights of primogeniture

Abraham 2

- the image of Abraham pleading with God to have mercy on his father

- the problem of grace in the book of Abraham: perhaps the issue shifts in this book from receiving grace to giving grace? from receiving blessing to becoming a blessing? (e.g., 2.11)

- grace is received as grace only to the extent that it is given away graciously?

- this is the problem of the blessing of posterity: the relation of a parent to a child is the giving of a grace (life itself) that cannot be earned and, in the end, only related to by giving that unearnable grace to one’s own children

- the gospel: an attempt to work through the tangled complexities of the grace given to us by parents/Parents by taking up this grace as something that we ourselves give; sin is refusing or economizing this grace

- Terah tries to economize this grace by calling in Abraham’s debt when he tries to sacrifice him; Abraham marks no debts, pleads for his father’s life and wants to endlessly give this gift of life to his posterity?

- again, the ethical problem of Abraham’s being told to lie about Sarah

- could we use a typology to understand these ethical conundrums? a kind of typological re-ordering of the ethical?

- our expectations of a “flawlessly” ethical God simply don’t seem to fit the texts – is the problem with our expectations rather than with the text?

- is God engaged in a kind of ethical bricolage? making the best out of the way things are? because the world, always already given, never perfectly conforms to our ethical imperatives? thus we sometimes need to make the “least bad” choice and accept responsibility for its badness rather than imagine some other kind of world in which ethically perfect actions are possible? is the problem located in our desire to have an ethical system that only returns ethically pure results? is the problem epistemological (we just don’t know enough to see how ethical perfection is possible) or ontological (reality is such that ethical perfection is a mirage)?

Abraham 3

- God appears to be described as experiencing time; time of a different “order,” but time nonetheless

- is God’s “other” time a different way of “relating” to time?

- does vs. 14 indicate we should read the entire discussion of astronomy as really a discussion about children and posterity?

- vs. 16 provides a fascinating formulation of infinity (for any two orderable things, there will be a third higher thing . . .): does this found a Mormon ontology on multiplicity/infinity rather than on unity or duality? does this formulation say: everything is one or many but there is no such thing as a dualism because two implies infinity? does our Mormon materialism demand a choice in favor of infinity?

- though intelligences are hierarchically orderable, ALL are co-eternal

- “to be chosen before we were born”: the immemorial, the always already of things having started without us, preceding as a non-recoverable pre-history

- the immemorial dimension of our own histories: our co-eternality? our definitive lack of any identifiable or recoverable point of origin?

- our immemoriality: the problem of our relation to our parents/Parents (or lack thereof!)

- a non-libertarian reading of our co-eternality: our “having always already existed” does not mark the epicenter of our irreducible freedom and autonomy, rather it means that there is NO beginning to which we could appeal as the auto-foundation of our liberty

- it may be worth noting that the moment the story gets ethically complicated (Ab. 2) the story shifts scale from the personal to the cosmological

- stars are used metaphorically in Genesis, but metonymically in Ab. 3 (Kolob metonymically stands in for God as a scepter for a king)

Abraham 4

- it is important to Abraham’s account that creation is a corporate venture

- here the creation of the covenant community echoes (and is intertwined with) the creation of the world

- establishing the covenant community entails, each time, a creation of a “new” world?

- vs. 27, the empathic plurality of the gods gives greater weight to the introduction of sexual difference in that male/female are, together, in the image of the gods?

Abraham 5

- the emphasis on the Gods counseling

- vs. 3, the curious use of the word “decisions”; generally decisions are only required when a way forward is not obvious or when the material situation does immediately appear suitable – is this why it’s necessary to constantly counsel? to get everyone’s consent in the ongoing (and not predetermined?) process?


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