Bible and Western Culture
Mr. Sean Ross
Week 3, Class 1: Abraham
Recall names: Recall Story:
• Abraham • Covenant
• Sarah • Lot's city (Sodom & Gomorrah) are destroyed
• Ishmael • Hagar has a child Ishmael
• Isaac • Sarah gives birth to Isaac
God promises Abraham success.
• With Abraham, we end the primeval History.
• Beginning of:
o Patriarchal Genealogy.
o Birth of Abraham, first father of Israel.
o View narrows on Abraham's family, and the nation derived from that family.
Why does God makes a promise to Abraham?
Judaism, Islam and Christianity see Abraham as a father figure.
• Inspires monotheism and faith.
• Abraham seen as the founder of monotheism.
Midrash: Exploring, searching interpreting the Hebrew Bible.
• Expanding upon biblical passages in order to uncover a spiritual or moral lesson, or to explain
• A genre of biblical interpretation.
o Developed early on by the rabbis.
o Illustrate and explain biblical narrative by using story‐telling.
Deals with narrative texts in the bible, type of Midrash.
o Singular is Aggadah.
o Legend says Abraham’s father had a shop.
o He broke all the idols in the shop except one.
o Put a stick in his hand, says "He did it".
o Father says impossible, the idol is just made of stone!
Abraham replies, then why do you worship him?
Abraham becomes a type of monotheistic hero that fights idol worship. Philo of Alexandria:
• Interpreted the Bible and Judaism so it would work in accordance with Greek Philosophy.
• Lived 20 BCE‐50 CE in Alexandria
o (major cultural hub in Egypt).
• Influenced early Christian theologians.
• Understood Abraham to have come to the idea of monotheism through natural reason and
Mishnah: First Really important body of rabbinic Jewish writing/interpretation of the Jewish bible.
• First major redaction of the “Old Torah”
• Has a similar idea as Philo.
o Rabbi (Author) believed that Abraham discovered the Torah all on his own.
***A covenant is a treaty made between god and the people.***
First covenant: Abraham will have descendants, descendants will get land.
Second covenant: Offspring and land will be yours if you circumcise every male among you.
Circumcision becomes a primary marker of Jews.
Also happened in other regions:
• Freed slaves become circumcised.
o Jews humiliated because of circumcision
o Circumcised Jews could be executed.
Circumcision marks you as an outsider.
o Notion: As long as foreskin covers the penis, you're not really naked.
o Jews did not have foreskin, they are naked!
o 6th Century BCE Greek image of slaves:
A slave is showed with a large, uncircumcised penis, indicative of his barbaric
origins and low status.
• A debate emerges in early Christianity: Is circumcision essential?
• Apostle Paul: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything”
o Trying to negotiate among ethnic differences in the religious community he is trying to build
o Paul wants to preach Jesus to gentiles (Non‐jews)
He sees circumsision is a barrier.
Does not think gentiles should follow Jewish traditions to be part of the new Christian
• The new covenant with Christ, the new Israel which Christ allows to emerge.
Abraham in Islam:
• Ibrahim rejects surrounding idol worship and is truly devoted for Allah.
o Surah: Ibrahim was neither Jewish, nor Christian; he was a Muslim.
Allah took Ibrahim as a friend
• Pilgrimage to Mecca, facing of the Kabbah
• Abraham is emphasized as a natural believer in god.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Theodicy: The Justification of God.
Attempts to explain how God can be understood to be good in the face of all of the evil and
suffering experienced in the world.
o Concern is to justify God’s actions.
The flood raises the question of theodicy.
o Why destroy mankind?
Quote: “Then Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the
wicked? ... Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the
righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is
just?” (Gen 18:23‐25)
Abraham questions what God is doing.
Is it right for God to destroy these cities?
Sodomy: Anal/Oral sex.
Derived from the genesis text, where people of Sodom engaged in homosexual behavior.
Although these were bad, lack of hospitality is the reason for the city's destruction:
“Pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
o Pride, Selfishness are the main crimes. Not sexual morality.
o Sodom only becomes associated with sexuality in the middle ages.
Important medieval theologian.
Obsessed by the notion that the church was infiltrated with homosexuals trying to overturn
o Understood it as an extension of Sodom and Gomorrah:
“Blasphemy makes a man to err, sodomy to perish.”
“The sodomite is deprived of all moral sense.”
Lot and his daughters.
Descendants of Lot and his daughters are traditional enemies of Israel.
Renaissance paintings are reminiscent of Eve seducing Adam.
Abraham cast out Hagar
Interpreted as "black" in the 19th century.
o Enabled female authors to use her as a transgressive figure, who could behave sexually
in a way not available to upper‐middle class white women.
o She symbolised strength and survival.
African American usage:
Hagar was a slave used to birth children for other women.
o A ready symbol for African American slaves.
She is a survivor, symbol of strength.
o Hagar is the only woman allowed to name God.
o Ishmael founds his own tribes, becomes a mighty hunter.
o Hagar thrives and earns a blessing for her child.
“Hagar's children” was adopted by African Americans as a term for self‐
Week 3, Class 2: Akedah
The Binding of Isaac:
Abraham, Sarah and Isaac's feelings during the sacrifice are open to interpretation.
• Paintings and literature interpret the text differently.
o Some say Is