Genesis 51 — Ben Franklin’s favorite part of the Bible

August 11, 2011

There’s a longer explanation, but this needs to be put out where it can be caught by search engines.

Ben Franklin reads to a bird, statue at the University of Pennsylvania - photo via Priyank

Benjamin Franklin reading the Pennsylvania Gazette, or "Ben on the Bench" (with a bird), statue at the University of Pennsylvania - photo via Priyank

This is the 51st chapter of the Book of Genesis, as related by Benjamin Franklin.  This copy of the text comes from a newspaper, The Otago Witness, December 2, 1887, page 35, courtesy of a website called Papers Past, maintained by the National Library of New Zealand.

Paste It in Your Bible.

A Chapter Verily Like the Original— How Benjamin Franklin Surprised Ms Friends.

Over 100 years ago the following so-called “Genesis 51″ was used to puzzle Biblical scholars, and today, were it read aloud in any mixed company, it is questionable if its fraudulent nature would be discovered, so beautifully is the spirit and language of the Old Testament imitated : —

1. And it came to pass after these things, that Abraham sat in the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun.

2. And behold a man, bowed with age, came from the way of the wilderness leaning on a staff.

3. And Abraham arose and met him, and said unto him, Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy feet, and tarry all night, and thou shalt arise early on the morrow, and go thy way.

4. But the man said, Nay, for I will abide under this tree.

5. And Abraham pressed him greatly; so he turned, and they went into the tent, and Abraham baked unleavened bread, and they did eat.

6. And when Abraham saw that the man blessed not God, he said unto him, Wherefore does thou not worship the most high God, Creator of heaven and earth?

7. And the man answered and said, I do not worship the God thou speakest of, neither do I call upon his name; for I have made to myself a God which abideth always in my house and provideth me with all things.

8. And Abraham’s zeal was kindled against the man, and he arose and drove him forth with  blows into the wilderness.

9. And at midnight God called unto Abraham, saying, Abraham, where is the stranger?

10. And Abraham answered and said, Lord, he would not worship Thee, neither would he call upon Thy name, therefore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness.

11. And God said, Have I not borne with him these hundred and ninety and eight years, and nourished him, and clothed him notwithstanding his rebellion against me, and couldst not thou, that art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night ?

12. And Abraham said. Let not the anger of my Lord wax against His servant; lo! I have sinned, forgive me, I pray thee.

13. And Abraham arose and went forth into the wilderness, and sought diligently for the man, and found him and returned with him to the tent, and when he had entreated him kindly, he sent him away on the morrow with gifts.

14, And God spake again unto Abraham, saying, For this thy sin shall thy seed be afflicted four hundred years in a strange land.

15. But for thy repentance will I deliver them, and they shall come forth with power, and with gladness of heart, and with much substance.

In 1759, when in England as agent for the colony of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin privately printed this “Chapter,” as he always termed it.  Taking only a sheet of paper, he kept it laid in his Bible at the end of Genesis, and used to amuse himself by reading it aloud to his friends, and hearing them express their surprise that they had never recollected reading it, and their openly expressed admiration of the moral it carried with it. Its origin is unknown.  It has been traced back 700 years to a Persian poet, who simply says “it was so related.” It must be very old.

Ben Franklin’s version of Chapter 51 of the Book of Genesis is a hoax.  There is no such chapter.


Lesson for Congress: Sometimes an eagle has to drift a while just to survive

July 28, 2011

Maybe Ben Franklin got it wrong, and the bald eagle is the best candidate for our national bird.

Cousin Amanda, last year with the condors in California, spends this summer with the bears, salmon, whales and other spectacular wildlife in Alaska.  (Internships are great, for the interns, no?)

Comes this photo of our national symbol, the bald eagle:

Eagle in the water near Hoonah, Alaska; photo by Amanda Holland (rights reserved)

Yeah, it’s a bit of a flyspeck on the horizon photo, but it’s still instructive.  Probably looking for fish, this bird waded too far out into the estuary.  Once it realized it was wet, and in the water, it tried to swim to shore.  Eagle wings are made to soar, however, not swim.  Swimming didn’t work.  At this point, the bird could have continued to struggle to do the impossible, and probably drown; or it could just give up, and drown.

Or, it might sit tight and wait to see if another opportunity presents itself.  After about an hour in the water, the bird drifted into shallow water where it could walk out.

Ms. Holland posted this photo on her Facebook site.  A friend there observed, “The symbol of our nation floating aimlessly with the tide because it is too bogged down to do anything else… How much irony can exist in one single photograph?”

Sometimes we get in “too deep.”  We may want to soar, but that’s not possible.  But if we’re patient, if we don’t do stupid stuff, we might just drift into safer waters, and survive, and thrive.

Yeah, we know, Tea Partiers: You think the nation spends too much money.  That’s a debate worth having.

But that’s not worth failing to raise the debt ceiling.  Failing to raise the debt ceiling will cost the nation, by conservative estimates, a half-trillion dollars in increased interest rates, with no gain of any program or paying of any debt.

It’s time to drift with the flow of events.  Raise the debt ceiling now, and survive without doing something stupid.  We can discuss solutions later, rationally, once we prevent the waste of a half trillion dollars, eh?  Time to stop fighting and stay alive, Congress.

We can learn a lot from the bald eagle.  I think even Ben Franklin would agree.

What’s that, Ben?  Our follies tax us more than taxes?

“Friends,” says he [Father Abraham], “and Neighbours, the Taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the Government were the only Ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our Idleness, three times as much by our Pride, and four times as much by our Folly; and from these Taxes the Commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an Abatement. However let us hearken to good Advice, and something may be done for us; God helps them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says, in his Almanack of 1733.

– Ben Franklin, The Way to Wealth, 1758


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