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By the end of Genesis, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Divine only favors scoundrels. Jacob, already a fugitive from the consequences of fraudulent behaviour in impersonating his brother, Esau, is outdone by his prospective father-in-law, Laban, who passes the less desirable daughter, Leah, off as the promised bride, Rachel. Ultimately, Jacob scores both, so he and Laban can congratulate each other in their mutual trickery and call it a day as far as kicking off one of those interminable family feuds.

This is only the climax of a great intra-clan drama that has unfolded over the middle 23 chapters of the first book of the Bible! Dig further back for scandal, intrigue, one-up-manship, near infanticide and cruelty since Abraham began his great journey. Yet the overall message seems to be that a Divine plan is unfolding through this whole morass of misanthropy.

A conundrum for those of us who defend the inspired nature of the holy text and also for those who dismiss the Genesis narrative as fairy tale. Neither party can fall back onto some idealised vision of human nature – because there it is – in your face – full and rough and gutsy! On the strength of these stories the Divine might have abandoned this universe long ago – but the testament is that not only the presence, but the purpose, of the Holy One is to be discerned in the unfolding drama.

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