Tag Archives: Ethnography

What Does The Bible, and History, Tell Us About Marriage?

It seems like everybody in the Old Testament is either married, about to get married, or was recently married but something went terribly wrong. This may be becasue the bible is about marriage. The Old Testament is a history, it is a set of laws, and it is an enthnography, and the themes themes that hold the whole thing together are warfare, resorces, marriage, and a heavy dose of odd cultish rule-making about food and blood. Marriage is a central theme of cultural life, so of course it plays an important role in a culture’s own history and ethnography. But is the bible, as one example of historical reference, a place to learn what marriage is, or what it should be? Biblical Scholar Jennifer Wright Knust says no: Continue reading What Does The Bible, and History, Tell Us About Marriage?

Reading Human Nature

“Human nature” is an interesting topic. People will argue over the definition of human nature, but regardless of what people think or say, it is reasonable to assume that all humans share a psychological and developmental framework to the extent that any two people raised in the same background will ‘turn out’ similar with respect to several behavioral traits or tendencies. Also, a pair of twins separated at birth and raised up in very different cultures are likely to exhibit more differences than similarities owing to the different cultures but perhaps some set of seemingly uncanny similarities owing to their parentage.
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The Bible as Ethnography ~ 05 ~ The Virgin Birth

i-fc0baa42c324cefa8495fdb0044234b2-dice.jpgI have a cousin in law who tells this story: Her youngest child found out about sex. Then he made the connection that if he existed, his parents must have had sex. So he confronted the parents with this, and mom was forced to admit, yes, of course, this is how babies get “made” and this is simply how things are. The child did not seem too concerned.

Moments later, the child noticed his sister playing in the other room. A thought occurred to him … a light went on, as it were. He turned back to his mother with an expression somewhere between accusation and perplexity.

“You did it twice?!?!?”

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The Bible as Ethnography ~ 03 ~ Sometimes a Snake is Just a Snake. But not in this case….

Genesis 2 ends with Adam and Eve being naked yet not ashamed. In Genesis 3, the Serpent, who is wiser than average, tricks Eve into partaking of the forbidden fruit of one of god’s two magic trees. This results in Adam and Eve recognizing their own nakedness, and compelling them to produce the first clothing. The word “naked” in the original Hebrew is either eromim or arumim. The former means naked (no clothes) and the latter means exposure as in exposing lies. The original Hebrew for the “clothing” that they put together, “chagowr” probably means “belt.” The parallel (and probably older) Babylonian/Sumerian story explicitly tells of “sexual knowledge.” Remember, the tree providing the forbidden fruit is the tree of knowledge. The only thing that is clear about this story is that it, the story, is heavily clothed in euphemism.

Origin stories sometimes refer to origins of sexual relations, sometimes prescribing and sometimes proscribing certain practices. The origin story for the Efe (Pygmies) and Lese (horticulturalists) of the Ituri Forest has the first Efe man teaching the first Lese man about sex. He does this by having sex with the first Lese woman. That is an incredibly outrageous concept. Efe men are not allowed to have carnal relationships with Lese women under any circumstances (though Efe women can marry Lese men). This, the Efe/Lese origin story is a kind of beginning and a kind of end for a certain sort of relationship.
Continue reading The Bible as Ethnography ~ 03 ~ Sometimes a Snake is Just a Snake. But not in this case….

The Bible as Ethnography ~ 02 ~ In The Beginning…


Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 (5 – 25) are distinctly different and contradictory origin stories. The biblical origin story represented in this text has long been known to resemble a set of Sumerian stories that mainly deal with a multitude of gods interacting (some of these gods are converted to humans in the biblical version). What is consistent about all of these stories is the relationship between status and labor, in the context of a labor-intensive agricultural system.

Genesis 1 is very systematic, resembling a post-hoc construction of events, and its main practical purpose may be to justify the sabbath. Genesis 2 gives some meaty ethnographic details, including specific geographical reference points (though reconstruction based on this is probably beyond the realm of possibility), reference to irrigation as a practice, and reference to sex. Both of these texts make reference to “seeds” and “fruit” as key features of plants, to an ocean and to whales, and to a variety of other animals. The second text makes specific reference to cattle.
Continue reading The Bible as Ethnography ~ 02 ~ In The Beginning…

The Bible as Ethnography ~ 01 ~ Introduction

As a child in Catholic school, and later in public school and being sent off to “release time” religious instruction, I had the opportunity to read most of the Old and New Testaments of the standard bible. Later, in junior high school, I became interested in comparative religion, and read it all again, together with some other texts that are not normally considered part of the Bible. Then all that fell to the wayside as I went off to do different things.
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