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The Typical Patriarch-King, or, The Single Story of Genesis


David T

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It seems to me that Genesis tells a single story, told in several iterations, through the personas of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses may even be included (albiet it's more of a stretch, admittedly), if his 'children' are to be the Israelite nation itself. We see this pattern:

  • Leaves the Land of their Father
  • Receive promise of obtaining the Land through Covenant and Promise (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc)
  • Has children who are in conflict (Cain & Abel, Ishmael & Isaac, Jacob & Esau, Sons of Israel)
  • The Elder children lose the birthright for rebellion (Cain, Ham/Canaan, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, Children of Israel)
  • The Younger has a death/resurrection experience and becomes confirmed as the New Firstborn Heir (Abel-Seth, Noah, Isaac, Joseph)
  • Continues to seek the obtaining of the promised Land

Each story is mixed in with several incidental stories, many of which are of themselves common motifs and popular stories in ANE literature. Within these sub-narratives, there are differing and contradicting versions of the same event. We see polemical insertions of shameful and oft incestual origin stories of the patriarchs of the enemy nations.

Abraham's name itself, "Exalted Father", seems to me to be a Typical name. Could it be that each of these figures are aspects of the collective memory of a single "ISRAEL" king/prophet figure who brought together unrelated clans and tribes under covenant to form the Israelite Coalition?

Could it be that the Genesis - Judges narrative contains a shorthand Mythologized and symbolic narrative of Israel's history, which the Lord uses for didactic purposes? That Adam, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses are all mythologized aspects of a single historical figure, which opened up a new era in covenantal religious history?

I believe the Lord can and does teach through Myth and Symbol. Jesus used fictional stories often to teach eternal truths, without always identifying that he was speaking in parable. Do you believe it's possible (and compatible with what we definitively know) that the Lord could (or is an did) teach us Truths about our religious heritage and covenants through the medium of myth and symbol to paint a clearer, more organized picture?

EDIT: I'm adding something to the OP that I presented below, for convenience for those just coming in. It was stated that Modern Revelation accepts these as historical individuals. I responded in this manner:

I think it's safe to say that there are specific historic individuals who have taken up at the very least, those names or roles/titles. Or who the Lord accepts to be designated as such (how many people have been designated Elias?). I do feel, however, that it's difficult to take many of the stories surrounding them as history as we know it today.

A good example of a modern myth is that of George Washington, cutting down the Cherry Tree, and when asked, admits it, saying he cannot tell a lie. Now, we know it probably never happened. But what is the point of the story? To teach a Moral lesson through the example of a foundational leader. There are probably many intricate political and militaristic examples of his integrity, but very few that could be emulated on a literal level. But the cherry-tree story is an easily grasped (and applied) story for those not knowledgeable (or active) in politics and the armed forces. Each teaches the same mesage and truth: George Washington was a man of integrity. We can be men of integrity too. The details weren't important.

I feel many of the stories about the Patriarchs are, at the very least, "Cherry Tree" stories that teach truth without teaching history.

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I believe the Lord can and does teach through Myth and Symbol. Jesus used fictional stories often to teach eternal truths, without always identifying that he was speaking in parable.

I couldn't agree more. I find this post very interesting since I've studied common elements to myths and stories. I found The Hero with the Thousand Faces besides the Jungian stuff to be quite educational. Thanks for pointing out this pattern in the Old Testament.

I would point out that things can be both symbolic and actually happened. It may be that the author of Genesis emphasized certain parts of their lives so as to illustrate a principle or be a type of something.

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it be that the Genesis - Judges narrative contains a shorthand Mythologized and symbolic narrative of Israel's history, which the Lord uses for didactic purposes? That Adam, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses are all mythologized aspects of a single historical figure, which opened up a new era in covenantal religious history?

I believe the Lord can and does teach through Myth and Symbol. Jesus used fictional stories often to teach eternal truths, without always identifying that he was speaking in parable. Do you believe it's possible (and compatible with what we definitively know) that the Lord could (or is an did) teach us Truths about our religious heritage and covenants through the medium of myth and symbol to paint a clearer, more organized picture?

For the sake of discussion, limiting what I "definitely know" to my read of the standard works, I've sometimes thought how this sort of thing might explain the long life-spans (the "shorthand" would be in the form of describing multiple generations of loyal high priests as one figure or the name-title being passed on and the works of several generations attributed to one personality, etc.). Though phrases like "through the lineage of the fathers" (D&C 84:14-16) might support this idea, the genealogies like in D&C 107 are quite specific about the priesthood/patriarchal lineage. There is plenty of room for myth and symbol without applying it to the patriarchs, and the argument can be made that there is a sufficiently unclear / less organized picture in the rest of scripture. I wouldn't be surprised if otherwise, but I tend to think that Adam, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were distinct historical figures (and might allow grandfathers-fathers-sons-grandson amalgams, but not mythical characters), which opened up their dispensations.

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It seems to me that Genesis tells a single story, told in several iterations, through the personas of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses may even be included (albiet it's more of a stretch, admittedly), if his 'children' are to be the Israelite nation itself. We see this pattern:

  • Leaves the Land of their Father
  • Receive promise of obtaining the Land through Covenant and Promise (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc)
  • Has children who are in conflict (Cain & Abel, Ishmael & Isaac, Jacob & Esau, Sons of Israel)
  • The Elder children lose the birthright for rebellion (Cain, Ham/Canaan, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, Children of Israel)
  • The Younger has a death/resurrection experience and becomes confirmed as the New Firstborn Heir (Abel-Seth, Noah, Isaac, Joseph)
  • Continues to seek the obtaining of the promised Land

Abraham'

Don't forget the very important part about the faithful and spiritual wife (wives) that figure so prominently in these stories.

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Don't forget the very important part about the faithful and spiritual wife (wives) that figure so prominently in these stories.

It is true. There is a pattern of them having wives who think (and act) outside the prescribed order in order to obtain the promised blessing. Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, etc.

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It is true. There is a pattern of them having wives who think (and act) outside the prescribed order in order to obtain the promised blessing. Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, etc.

Would Tamar be one of those?

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Well she wasn't Judah's wife, but she certainly was resourceful and clever in her method of obtaining her "promised blessing." :P

Then let's not leave out Lot's daughters . . . the great progenitrixes of Moab and Ammon.

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Fun theory, but no, I don't think so. Modern day revelation confirms that Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and others were historical individuals.

Always stay with your anchors.

I think we can say it's safe to say that there are specific individuals who have taken up at the very least, those names or roles. Or who the Lord accepts to be designated as such. I do feel, however, that it's difficult to take many of the stories surrounding them as history as we know it today.

A good example of a modern myth is that of George Washington, cutting down the Cherry Tree, and when asked, admits it, saying he cannot tell a lie. Now, we know it probably never happened. But what is the point of the story? To teach a Moral lesson through the example of a foundational leader. There are probably many intricate political and militaristic examples of his integrity. But the cherry-tree story is an easily grasped story for those not knowledgeable in politics and the armed forces. Each teaches the same mesage and truth: George Washington was a man of integrity. We can be men of integrity too. The details weren't important.

I feel many of the stories about the Patriarchs are, at the very least, "Cherry Tree" stories that teach truth without teaching history.

EDIT: I've added this to the OP.

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It seems to me that Genesis tells a single story, told in several iterations, through the personas of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses may even be included (albiet it's more of a stretch, admittedly), if his 'children' are to be the Israelite nation itself. We see this pattern:

  • Leaves the Land of their Father
  • Receive promise of obtaining the Land through Covenant and Promise (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc)
  • Has children who are in conflict (Cain & Abel, Ishmael & Isaac, Jacob & Esau, Sons of Israel)
  • The Elder children lose the birthright for rebellion (Cain, Ham/Canaan, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, Children of Israel)
  • The Younger has a death/resurrection experience and becomes confirmed as the New Firstborn Heir (Abel-Seth, Noah, Isaac, Joseph)
  • Continues to seek the obtaining of the promised Land

Each story is mixed in with several incidental stories, many of which are of themselves common motifs and popular stories in ANE literature. Within these sub-narratives, there are differing and contradicting versions of the same event. We see polemical insertions of shameful and oft incestual origin stories of the patriarchs of the enemy nations.

Abraham's name itself, "Exalted Father", seems to me to be a Typical name. Could it be that each of these figures are aspects of the collective memory of a single "ISRAEL" king/prophet figure who brought together unrelated clans and tribes under covenant to form the Israelite Coalition?

Could it be that the Genesis - Judges narrative contains a shorthand Mythologized and symbolic narrative of Israel's history, which the Lord uses for didactic purposes? That Adam, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses are all mythologized aspects of a single historical figure, which opened up a new era in covenantal religious history?

I believe the Lord can and does teach through Myth and Symbol. Jesus used fictional stories often to teach eternal truths, without always identifying that he was speaking in parable. Do you believe it's possible (and compatible with what we definitively know) that the Lord could (or is an did) teach us Truths about our religious heritage and covenants through the medium of myth and symbol to paint a clearer, more organized picture?

Very interesting.

Other than the elder/younger distinction (elder loses birthright)there is a parallel with our beliefs about Eloheim, Lucifer and Yahweh/Christ here as well.

I wonder what the difference is which breaks the pattern.

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They fall into the 'Mean Stories about Our Enemies' category, methinks.

Ham and Canaan, certainly, Moab and Ammon, I'm not too sure. It fits in with the motive of desperate measures in order to preserve the name- Lot's daughters, Tamar, Ruth (descended from Moab), the abduction of the daughters, etc. These are met with approval!

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Very interesting.

Other than the elder/younger distinction (elder loses birthright)there is a parallel with our beliefs about Eloheim, Lucifer and Yahweh/Christ here as well.

I wonder what the difference is which breaks the pattern.

I vaguely remember hearing about a belief that the story of Abraham's sons (Ishmael and Isaac) was the first of several attempts by the Israelites to make themselves the covenant people when everyone (in the Muslim world) knows that it was Ishmael and not Isaac who was the covenant son. I believe I've also heard it with the spin that it is representative of the Gentiles of the Christian era actually supplanting the Israelites as the covenant people.

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I vaguely remember hearing about a belief that the story of Abraham's sons (Ishmael and Isaac) was the first of several attempts by the Israelites to make themselves the covenant people when everyone (in the Muslim world) knows that it was Ishmael and not Isaac who was the covenant son. I believe I've also heard it with the spin that it is representative of the Gentiles of the Christian era actually supplanting the Israelites as the covenant people.

And of course the Muslims believe that it is the Jews who apostatized from the truth religion of Allah.

But one would think that these myths ("true" or not) would point to a god figure beyond Abraham and the others, and there are unmistakable parallels with the story of Eloheim and his sons -- but that one variation of the eldest remaining faithful.

It has to point to Eloheim- why would it exclude the most obvious example?

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And of course the Muslims believe that it is the Jews who apostatized from the truth religion of Allah.

But one would think that these myths ("true" or not) would point to a god figure beyond Abraham and the others, and there are unmistakable parallels with the story of Eloheim and his sons -- but that one variation of the eldest remaining faithful.

It has to point to Eloheim- why would it exclude the most obvious example?

Because Jesus was the oldest and stayed faithful? Maybe this story can and does play out differently all over the world, all through history with different outcomes. If we are foreordained to a certain blessing and we stay true to our covenant, we will not lose our inheritance. If we don't, #2 may step in and take it away.

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I think one of the key points in recognizing (or allowing the possibility) that the stories around the figures have been mythologized is that it allows much more leeway (and validity) in prophetic and apostolic interpretations (and or versions) of the stories - even when they contradict. Because if there is no single 'historic' version of some particular stories/events, then it is more than proper for the Prophet and those under his direction to meld, reinterpret, and change the myth for modern application, and to teach the pressing concerns of the day. The framework and general characters remain the same, but often the details and motivations and props change drastically! The ancient prophets certainly had no problem with doing this. Rabbis have been doing it in a very interesting manner for centuries. I think 2 Nephi 2 is a great example of Lehi bringing a fresh new interpretation to the Garden Narrative.

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Because Jesus was the oldest and stayed faithful? Maybe this story can and does play out differently all over the world, all through history with different outcomes. If we are foreordained to a certain blessing and we stay true to our covenant, we will not lose our inheritance. If we don't, #2 may step in and take it away.

So it shows that the plan proceeds regardless of our participation.

I like it. I think there is something to this.

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I think one of the key points in recognizing (or allowing the possibility) that the stories around the figures have been mythologized is that it allows much more leeway (and validity) in prophetic and apostolic interpretations (and or versions) of the stories - even when they contradict. Because if there is no single 'historic' version of some particular stories/events, then it is more than proper for the Prophet and those under his direction to meld, reinterpret, and change the myth for modern application, and to teach the pressing concerns of the day. The framework and general characters remain the same, but often the details and motivations and props change drastically! The ancient prophets certainly had no problem with doing this. Rabbis have been doing it in a very interesting manner for centuries. I think 2 Nephi 2 is a great example of Lehi bringing a fresh new interpretation to the Garden Narrative.

Good point, just as the temple provides us a theme, but with ambiguous details, which allow us to ponder and receive revelations of our own on resolving these apparent "conflicts".

Great ideas, great thread!

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I wanted to comment on this earlier, but was unable to. There are so many fascinating motifs present within Genesis it is hard to label them. On one level you have a strict Jungian process of a collective unconsciousness and on another level it so indicative of many other myths that are present today. My personal feelings is that most of Genesis is set up first as a cosmological motif of creation, but then shifts dramatically to the OP, i.e., archetypal Patriarch(Priest)/King motif. Missing within your observation is the really unique shamanistic ascension motifs of the prophets/seers. This is an area that is under dramatized and will be eventually understood better. Central to the book you mentioned, Hero of a Thousand Faces is the ascension, death, resurrection and glory of the hero. This is all present in the ecstatic prophecies presented by the prophet/kings.

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