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Genesis 35 & 36 -- other gods, then lots of family tree stuff


I've noticed at least a couple times that some of the stories told in Genesis are told more than once, with some variation. In this chapter we are told of a completely different way in which God appeared to Jacob and renamed him Israel (again). No wrestling this time.

This time God told Jacob to pack up his family, slaves, and stuff, and go somewhere else, where he was to build an altar to God, where God blessed them and renamed Jacob as Israel. By the way, as they were packing, Jacob told everybody to throw away their foreign gods.

This got me to wondering, why there are other gods, especially other gods that are being worshipped in Jacob's own household? Who are these other gods? And what were we supposed to think of these other gods? A footnote says these foreign gods include "household deities" without further explanation. Wikipedia explains that household deities are spirits that protect the home, a common belief in pagan religions. The article explains the term, when used in Genesis, is a translation of the Hebrew word "Teraphim". In some cases, this was a form of ancestor worship.

So it is clear that during Biblical times there were other gods than God, and that God's chosen people worshipped these other gods. But here, for the first time, Jacob discourages his household from worshipping these other gods.

Jacob buried the idols his family members turned over to him. He didn't destroy them, or curse them, or say anything about them. Just buried them. Left them behind, as though they were dead.

We aren't told these other gods are fake, or evil. The context leads me to think that it was time to worship God instead, because God was taking care of them now, and offering them land and descendants. This new God was better than, and insisted on exclusivity. Not just a lowly household deity, this new God was omnipotent.

But do other gods stop existing when you stop believing in them, or worshipping them?


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