Covenants in Genesis and Oedipus Rex Essay

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Covenants in Genesis and Oedipus Rex

The classical world is a world bound by covenants. The Book of Genesis describes many relationships that God establishes with men. The covenant story begins with the creation of the world, after which God makes the first man and woman, Adam and Eve and promises them eternal life after their stay in paradise. That plan is altered, of course, and the covenant stories go on. But the covenant stories do not stop with the Book of Genesis; rather, they continue throughout the Old Testament -- and into the New. In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, we witness the creation of a covenant as well -- a covenant between man and man, or rather between Oedipus the King and the citizens of Thebes. Thebes is suffering a punishment from God because it has failed to prosecute the murderer of the slain king Laius. Oedipus makes a vow to the Thebans that he will not only find the murderer but also bring him to justice. This paper will examine the covenant between God and man, described in Genesis 1-37, as well as the covenant between man and man, described in Oedipus Rex, and show how in the classical world, keeping the covenant is of supreme importance -- for it is by the fulfillment of the covenant that we come to "know" ourselves.

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The original covenant made between God and man in Genesis actually contains a kind of test, in which the first man and woman are asked to prove themselves worthy by adhering to the law. Of course, they fail the test -- but because God does not wish to abandon his creatures, He forms with them a second covenant. Thus, the first covenant actually has two parts: the Edenic and the Adamic. The Edenic covenant (Gen 1:26-30, 2:16-17) is between Adam and God before the Fall. God issues his law, which is that Adam must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam breaks this law, God and Adam form a new covenant, the Adamic covenant, in which God tells of the consequences that Adam and his progeny must now suffer.

Essay on Covenants in Genesis and Oedipus Rex the Assignment

This covenant leads to the next, which is made between Noah and God (first) and God and all of humankind (second). This covenant is made when Noah is warned of the impending Flood, which God sends as a chastisement for the world. Noah represents the just man, who observes the Law and knows how he stands before God. Therefore, God recognizes Noah and gives to Noah a sign of his promise to never again destroy the earth by Flood -- and the sign is a rainbow in the sky (Gen 9). The details of the covenant are that God gives his blessing to Noah and his sons (just as he had given it to Adam and Eve) to go forth and multiply. God commands them not to commit murder and not to eat bloody meat.

This covenant is followed by the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12-17). The Abrahamic covenant is between Abraham and God, and in it God tells Abraham to leave his father's house and his country and go to a place that he will appoint. He promises to Abraham that he will make the name of Abraham great (Gen 12:2) and that Abraham will have a long lineage -- indeed, that Abraham would be the father of nations. Here, the covenant takes on a new dimension, as God begins to reveal more about the relationship he wishes to have with all humanity. God speaks of a particular nation, which he calls Israel -- and he describes the area geographically in this covenant, specifically that area of land ranging from the Nile to the Euphrates. Then God goes on to speak of the manner of blessing that will descend through Abraham's lineage -- which can be taken as a foreshadowing of the Redeemer -- in other words, that the Redeemer of all mankind will be a descendant of Abraham.

The Abrahamic covenant also made circumcision a staple sign of the relationship between God and his chosen people. This sign was a way by which Abraham and his descendants could know themselves.

This covenant is passed on to Isaac and from Isaac it is passed on to Jacob. God, in fact, comes to Jacob in a dream and makes another promise concerning the land upon which Jacob is lying -- which God says he will give to Jacob and his lineage. As he does with Abraham, God tells Jacob that he will have many descendants, and that a great blessing will come to the earth through the lineage of Jacob. God also promises Jacob that he will watch over him everywhere he travels (Gen 28:12-15).

Thus, in Genesis, we see that God makes several covenants with men and all humanity -- or rather, he makes one (with Adam) and then continues to make it again and again with the descendants of the first man (from Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and so on), always foreshadowing the greatness that will finally come to the house of Abraham in the person of the Redeemer -- and always emphasizing the fact that it is by the covenant that God's chosen people shall know themselves and how they stand in relation to God.

Sophocles also writes of the importance of the covenant, albeit in a different way. In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Oedipus makes a covenant between himself his subjects: "My children," he calls his subjects, "Why sit ye here as suppliants… / & #8230;My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt; / Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate / If such petitioners as you I spurned" (1-15). Oedipus states that he will bring the murderer of Laius to justice and thereby appease the anger of the gods. What Oedipus does not realize at the time of the making of the covenant is that he himself is the murderer of Laius and that, in a sense, he is condemning himself to death.

As Oedipus investigates the events surrounding the death of Laius, as well as the testimony of the priest (who is privy to certain information regarding the events), he begins to suspect that the truth may bear heavily on him: "O woe is me! Methinks unwittingly / I laid but now a dread curse on myself." Indeed, it is precisely through the covenant that he has made with the Thebans that Oedipus will come to know exactly who he is and what he has done. Had he made no covenant, there would be no reason for him to pursue the matter. Even when Jocasta begins to realize the consequence of this covenant and begs Oedipus to break it ("Oh, as thou carest for thy life, give o'er / This quest. Enough the anguish I endure."), Oedipus cannot break the covenant. Despite the consequence of it, he must keep it -- because by keeping it, he comes to know whose son he is, what he has done, and what Zeus has in store for him.

The covenant made between man and man in Oedipus Rex thus serves a different purpose than the covenant made between God and man in Genesis -- but through both covenants, men come to know themselves and how they stand in relation to their God. What Oedipus learns is that he is indeed not the son of a shepherd, but someone with a much greater lineage. He learns that at a crossroads he got into a quarrel with a group of men and in slaying them all he actually slew his father the king of Thebes, Laius (whom he had not known). Later on, of course, Oedipus encountered the Sphinx -- a horrible monster that terrorized Thebes. All who encountered the Sphinx had to answer a riddle. No one had ever answered the riddle of the Sphinx -- until now. Oedipus gave the correct answer and the monster hurled itself off a cliff in despair. Oedipus was then welcomed into Thebes. He married the widowed queen Jocasta and was hailed as a hero. Oedipus and Jocasta had children and for a time all was peaceful and happy in the kingdom.

All was happy, of course, until Zeus sent a plague to Thebes to punish them for not bringing the murderer of Laius to justice. Nothing would grow, the animals were sick, and the people were dying.

It is at this point that Sophocles begins his drama: King Oedipus calls for the priest Tiresias. He asks the priest if he knows why the gods are plaguing Thebes. The priest says it is because the murder of the Theban king Laius has never been solved. Oedipus asks who the murderer is and Tiresias says that it is Oedipus himself, whereupon the king flies into a rage. To calm him, Jocasta says that priests do not know what they say -- and she herself provides the example of the oracle who claimed that her… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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