A lot of different place names have appeared so far, most of which I have never heard about, and the fragmented nature of the story has made it hard for me to know which places would be of importance later. But things have calmed down now; we are no longer in the fantasy world of the Garden of Eden, the flood has swept over the earth, and our characters are now travelling back and forth between known locations in the Middle East. So I thought it would be useful to summarize their locations throughout the story.
Noah and his family are the progenitors of all later humans, so we will start with them. After making a landing with the ark, they travelled either eastward or westward (the text is ambiguous) to Shinar (Mesopotamia) in present day Iraq. Here they built Babel (Babylon), but God quickly scattered them “abroad over the face of all the earth” – or at least the Middle East, where their names became the names of the places they settled (like Egypt, Nineveh, etc.).
But we will focus on the family line of Noah’s son Shem, from which Abraham came. They were living in Ur of the Chaldeans, which is possibly the same as the historical Ur, and certainly in Shinar. But Abraham’s family left Ur and settled in Haran, which is possibly Harran in south-eastern Turkey. When he was 75, Abraham left Haran with Sarah and Lot to travel to Canaan, which is the general area of modern-day Israel. He travelled through Canaan (Shechem and Bethel), and into the Negeb, but because of the famine there he continued to Egypt. After the business with Sarah and the Pharaoh he went back through the Negeb to Bethel in Canaan. Here he parts ways with Lot, who travels to Sodom in the “plain of the Jordan” (probably south of the Dead Sea), then to nearby Zoar, and finally up into the hills. Meanwhile Abraham moves to Hebron, and this is also where he buried his wife Sarah in chapter 23.
I’ve made two maps to more easily visualize these movements: One that shows the place names in the context of modern country borders, and one that shows the biblical characters’ travels.
One of the things I want to spend more time doing is reading ancient texts, in particular Japanese and Chinese texts, in order to understand how people living a long time ago, in a completely different culture, thought about the world. Reading such a text, however, is a very demanding endeavour: Even if there is a translation available with accurate, yet flowing language, the whole cultural context is just too different. I don’t know any of the person- or place names, and I don’t understand the concepts that are being discussed. With nothing to “grab onto”, I easily lose the thread, and my interest, and give up after a short time.
Then last year, I remembered that there is this really ancient book, recording the strange world-view and practices of a small, far-away pastoral tribe, which has been extensively studied and translated by scholars for millennia, and whose cultural context is largely intertwined with my own culture. I even had a class in school for nine years that was almost entirely dedicated to teaching the contents of this book. I therefore decided that if I ever was to properly study, and understand, an ancient book, it might as well be this one.
I went ahead and bought The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version, An Ecumenical Study Bible, and lately I’ve finally started reading it too. In order to organize my thoughts, create some sort of output, and in general motivate me to finish this project, I’ve also decided to post a summary of the Bible here, one chapter a day. Hopefully that’s slow enough that I won’t stop because of the intense publication pressure. Since the Bible contains 1189 chapters (most of them in the Old Testament), this should only take a little more than three years.
I follow the order of the Oxford Bible; I start with the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, with the first of the five books of the Pentateuch: Genesis.