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There are always two elements to a morality tale

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Morality tales arise out of all cultures, and in all times. Another type of morality story is the fable; those of Aesop are famous. These stories have given us many phrases to remember, like "dog in the manger," but where they came from is an interesting speculation.

In the more serious morality tales, like the story of Job, we miss the point if we begin to think that it was a historical event. There was no individual who was put through the ordeal recounted in the Book of Job; it is a story that is intended to teach us the value of fidelity. The Jewish people were surrounded by cultures that had religions that were much easier to observe, especially in the days when the Book of Job was written. Early Hebrew people were very tempted to take part in the sensual rites that occurred every so often, spring and fall, various holidays and any observance that they came across in their progress towards the Promised Land. Job's example shines as a man who would never waver in his faith and obedience, no matter how much he was persecuted by God's adversary.

I have written before that there seems to have been a very ugly incident in the early history of the Hebrews, that involved Lot and his family. This brings us to the first element of a morality tale: it could very well be based on a real incident. The Book of Job is not a biography, but it seems that there was a man named Lot who lived in a town where there were some rather ungovernable young men. These young men had a habit of sexual assault on strangers who came through the town, which was one of the worst violations of common law that can occur. These young men threatened Lot's guests, who may have been from another village visiting his daughters.

Lot and his household escaped, but the incident that prompted them to flee was complicated by the subsequent death of Lot's wife. Then the ugly incident of the daughters seducing their father occurred, and the incident seems to have been burned into the memory of the whole society.

This story was grafted into the story of fire and brimstone that rained out of the sky and destroyed two villages in the ancient Middle East. But by now we know what happened: it was the passage of an object that crashed over Europe. The actual cities that were destroyed by the missile were ruins when the wandering Hebrews came across them years later, but they contrived a morality tale by speculating that God had destroyed the cities of Zoar and Bab-ed-Dhra because the inhabitants tried to assault Lot's guests (not because of homosexuality). As I say, the towns were not destroyed by God, nor were they ever lived in by Hebrews; the day of the celestial incident was June 29, 3123 B. C. E.

But following the historical incident, the revision begins. Facts are added or subtracted so as to contrive a story that instructs us. Thus we don't speculate on how Lot's daughters may have felt when he offered them to the rapacious crowd outside his door (much less what his wife may have thought). But the Christian Church took the story from the Old Testament and ran with it, contriving further to add an injunction against homosexuality in what is clearly a story of attempted rape, if you read it.

Every morality tale takes its final form when the culture decides what it is supposed to teach us. I remember when I was about to be involved with a performance project back when I lived in Guam. They were going to make a film based on a local legend, which explains where the breadfruit comes from. It is a story involving starvation and the people in desperate straits, until a god visits them and gives them breadfruit to sustain life.

My problem, which I communicated to our director, was that the legend states that many people starved, but the god only appeared after the chief's son died. I said that it bothered me that it had to be a high-born person of status before there was any divine intervention, and I didn't go on with the project. I have no idea whether it was actually produced.

But the story was definitely designed not only to tell the story of the breadfruit, but to impart the belief that there are "high people" and "low people," and that if high people become seriously inconvenienced it is time for drastic action.

That is a lesson that I never learned; long ago I placed my faith and support in the average citizen and his/her welfare. But as we look at stories of what we ought to do in various situations, we can discern where other cultures are coming from. We can also begin to pick apart the strands that could be historical and those that were woven into the story in order to teach us how societies are put together.

For more info: view the video above for a scholarly treatment of the Book of Job. Consider my points as you hear what the author has to say.

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