Thursday, June 27, 2013

Leviticus: Unclean!

OK, you may have noticed that I put a whole bunch of posts all at once recently. That’s because we just moved, and I was without internet access for several days. But I was still reading and writing, so I had a backlog when access was restored. But now, hopefully back to a more regular posting schedule.

Anyway, when last we left we’d just completed the bloody, traumatic, and homicidal process of consecrating Aaron and two of his sons as God’s priests at the cost of the lives of two other sons. And now we’re moving on to more laws, starting with what is and isn’t unclean.

God begins by telling Aaron and Moses to pass on his strictures regarding what animals the people can and cannot eat. This is a good bit of the basis for the kosher rules for food, such as why Jews aren’t allowed to eat pigs. Though it might surprise you some of the things that are on the list and why. For example, everything with parted hooves, cloven feet, and that chews cud is OK to eat. So the reason pigs are unclean is because, while they have cloven feet and parted hooves, they do not chew cud. Not for any logical reason like because they’re likely to carry trichinosis. Rabbits are also unclean because they don’t have cloven feet or parted hooves, but chew cud (actually, they don’t chew cud or anything like it, though to ignorant goat herders in the ancient world it might appear that way).

Also, anything in the water with fins and scales is allowable. Which leaves out shrimp, lobster, and scallops. So you pretty much know that this god is evil because that’s the only possible reason to make those things and then forbid people to eat them. The fact that combining these rules renders scallops wrapped in bacon completely out of the question is all the reason anyone should ever need to abandon the worship of the Abrahamic God.

There’s also a list of birds that are (literally) off the table, which for some reason includes bats in spite of the fact that bats are not birds in any sense. Though maybe the Hebrew word for “bird” used to include everything that flies and isn’t an insect, which only goes to show how fallible a tool written language is for communicating the supposedly eternal word of God.

Speaking of flying insects…

“Lev 11:20 ‘All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22 Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. 23 But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.’”

Is this a really complicated way of saying “you can eat nearly any winged insect,” or of saying “God doesn’t understand such a ridiculously, visibly obvious fact about the insects he made as that they have six fucking legs?!” It’s doubly stupid, because not only is this something that an all-knowing god should know, it’s visibly obvious to even the most ignorant cock-up who might be writing a book impersonating a fictional god. There is no excuse whatsoever for this passage other than that someone wasn’t really even trying.

Moving on, anything with paws and all the “things that swarm on the ground,” are unclean – things like rats, mice, and geckos (good thing, or else they might not have survived human predation long enough to sell us car insurance).

So not only are unclean things off the dinner table, they also communicate uncleanness through contact with their corpses. So touching a dead “unclean” thing makes you unclean for a period of time (rather than until you wash).

Interestingly, in the bits about consecrating the altar it was said that anything that touched it would become holy. But here we see that anything that touches the carcass of an unclean animal becomes unclean. What happens when you touch the carcass of an unclean animal to the altar? Would they mutually annihilate?

God finishes the section on the law about clean and unclean animals by blowing his own horn a bit with some verbal masturbation about how awesome and holy he is. Then he moves on to childbirth, where we learns that a woman is unclean when she menstruates, is unclean right after childbirth, and is unclean twice as long for giving birth to a girl as she is for giving birth to a boy. So making more people is bad, but making more female people is really bad.

Also, after giving birth and completing her month (or two) of purification afterwards, she’s required to take a burnt offering and a sin offering to the priest to “make atonement for her.” Which kind of implies that the so-called “miracle of birth” is a sin for which the mother owes God an apology.

The Bible then goes on at great length for fifty-nine verses about how the priest should identify leprous disease in people and garments. Then another thirty-two verses on what to do about it. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t really comment knowledgeably about the medical value of most of it. I suppose that in a primitive culture with practically no medical knowledge at all, advice to wash on occasion and quarantine people who might have communicable diseases is at least some improvement over nothing at all.

Then there’s a section that talks about “cleansing” the person of leprous disease by taking two birds, killing one, dipping the other in its blood, and releasing it. The Bible catches a lot of shit for claiming that this is a cure for leprosy. But I don’t think that’s really the case. It seems to be instructions for after the person has already healed from the infection on his own (actually, there are no instructions for helping the guy at all – just quarantining him). The appearance is that the bird procedure is for a kind of spiritual cleansing to purify them so they can once more approach God at the tabernacle. So it’s still bullshit, but it’s at least not medical bullshit.

Then there’s a brief section on “leprous disease” in a house, which sounds more like mold on the walls from the description. The cleansing ritual, as usual, involves killing animals and doing stuff with their blood.

Now, since talking about skin disease and animal blood wasn’t quite unappetizing enough, the Bible moves on to talking about bodily discharges. As in, when you get sick and your body starts leaking stuff it shouldn’t. Well, those and perfectly normal things like semen and menstrual blood that are kinda dropped into the same category. And basically, whatever comes in contact with those discharges, or the person having them, becomes unclean. Here’s a fun little subset of that bit:

“Lev 15:18 If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening.”

Yes, nothing says romance like making love to someone and then going “OK, God says I need to wash your filth off of me now, and even then I won’t be clean.” Not that I’m opposed to regular bathing, or even bathing after sex (heck, I’m a proponent of bathing while having sex if I can arrange it). But pay attention to the wording. Even after you’ve washed up, the act of having had sex has polluted you to such a degree that you remain unclean for a period of time thereafter.

I also love how the woman’s period is referred to as her “time of menstrual impurity.” Now, if you believe the Bible, God made humans and therefore made their reproductive systems. Women menstruating is nothing more than part of the normal function of that system, and is not something over which she has a choice (short of radical medical interventions). For that matter, so is the system in which the man has to “lie with a woman and have an emission of semen.” The idea, therefore, that the normal function of a process God himself designed (and is necessary to fulfill his command to multiply) is inherently “impure” makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

And why is it, exactly, that blood and semen associated with the most life-giving process there is (reproduction) are impure, and the blood associated with death (that of sacrificed animals) is required to purify stuff? Could it be that the assholes who wrote this book (or God, if you believe in that) are just in love with death?

Life is icky, death is purity. It’s a pretty fucked up mindset.
Sigh. Bit of a rant there, but all this law stuff is so dry that it kinda gives the mind time to wander into tangents about the implications. But we can hear more law stuff in the next post. Y’all take care!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Leviticus: My Temple, My Slaughter House

Welcome to the third book of the Bible: Leviticus. This is the book famous for all of the laws that it lays down, and as such I’m sort of expecting it to be a bit of a dry read. Although it’s also kind of famous in some circles for how horrible many of those laws are, so maybe there’ll be enough outrage to keep things interesting. Guess we’ll find out!

We start out with God calling Moses to the tent of meeting. Presumably this is somewhere on the journey after the Israelites left Mount Sinai, but the actual setting is never specified and I’m not sure it matters. But anyway, the reason for the meeting is that God has some laws to lay down about burnt offerings, which can be either bulls, male sheep or goats, or birds (specifically turtledoves or pigeons). And although the text spells out the process for each of those three categories separately, I’ll just give you the one for bulls since it’s pretty much identical to the one for sheep. The birds are a little different because the anatomy is different, but you’ll get the idea.

“Lev 1:4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptesd for him to make atonement for him. 5 Then he shall kill the bull before Yahweh, and Aaron’s son the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7 and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9 but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.”

This “pleasing aroma” theme gets repeated in all the descriptions of burning animal sacrifice to come as well. It’s apparently very important to understand that God loves the smell of burning flesh. Also… did you get a good visual of the entire blood volume of a bull getting splashed over the sides of the altar?

Next God moves on to grain offerings. These can take many forms, either fine flour mixed with oil, or mixed with oil and baked in an oven, or cooked on a griddle or in a pan. But regardless of form, it must be unleavened, and only a portion is burnt while the remainder the priests get to keep and eat. Free food for priests! Oh, and it must always be salted (I toss that in like an afterthought because the Bible does the same). Offerings of firstfruits should be roasted.

Next we move onto peace offerings, whatever they are. The choices are bulls, sheep, or goats, and each follows essentially the same procedure with slight variation for anatomy. Once again, the person making the offering kills the animal at the entrance to the tent of meeting, and the priest splashes its blood against the altar. In this case the whole animal doesn’t get burned, but rather just “the fat covering the entrails, and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with all the fat that is on them at the loins, and the long lobe of the liver…” It’s specified that all the fat belongs to God, and as a statute forever the people shall not eat fat or blood.

Notice how there’s a lot of that animal that’s not accounted for? What do you suppose happens to it? We’ll get to that, since the Bible will graciously spell it out in a bit. But first… more types of sacrifices.

Next on the list is sin offerings – to be made whenever someone does something God told them not to, but does so unintentionally. The offering is different depending on who committed it. If a priest (or the entire assembly) commits a sin, the offering should be a bull. Same procedure as a peace offering, but a portion of the blood gets taken inside the tent to get smeared on the corners of the incense altar and sprinkled in front of the veil of the sanctuary. The rest of the blood gets poured at the base of the altar instead of splashed on it. And the leftovers get taken outside the camp to be burned. When a leader sins, the same thing is done with a male goat. For common people, it’s a female goat or lamb. There’s also a list of specific sins for which anyone of any station must sacrifice a female goat or lamb or, if he can’t afford those, a pair of turtledoves or pigeons. Or if he can’t afford those, then flour.

Then there’re guilt offerings, which are apparently performed for breaches of faith or touching “unclean things,” or for sins committed unknowingly but discovered later. In addition to paying restitution for any ill-gotten gains from the breach of faith, the guilty party must offer a ram which gets the same treatment as a sin offering.

Anyone else notice that the tabernacle is a fucking abattoir?

God then moves on to talking about how the priests are to deal with the offerings. Stuff like how he has to put on his priestly robe and underwear to remove the ashes of burnt offerings from the altar, but then change into other garments to actually take them out and dispose of them. Oh, and all the leftover bits of the animals (which in many cases includes the vast majority of the meat) that I mentioned earlier? The priests get to eat them. They also get to keep the hides, which are all kinds of useful and can represent significant wealth in a primitive society.

Hmmm… convenient how the God that only Moses can talk to in person has set up a system of sacrifices that provides the priests (i.e. Moses’ immediate family) with free food and wealth.

Oh, at the end of all this, the Bible finally mentions that these laws were handed down on Mount Sinai. I love how the Bible is so awesome at scene setting that you often don’t know where something is happening until after the event.

OK, so now that it’s established how the priest class can leech food off the people of Israel, it’s time to actually create the priest class. Yep, time for the ordination ceremony for Aaron and his sons.

So Moses gathers everyone around the tent of meeting for the start of the ceremony. Now, I’ve never been to an ordination ceremony myself, but this one started out in what I can only imagine is a fairly typical fashion: dressing the new priest in his holy robes, spreading about some holy anointing oil, killing a bull and two rams then splashing their blood all over the altar then setting the carcasses on fire and sprinkling blood on the priests-to-be. Y’know, the kind of shit I’m sure we’re all accustomed to seeing at religious ceremonies. Then Aaron and his sons were sequestered in the tent for seven days. It’s not clear exactly what they were doing in all that time – maybe trying to bone up on the ridiculously complicated ceremonial rules. As we’ll see, mistakes were made…

On the eighth day, they emerge for the next portion of the ceremony. This involves Aaron giving offerings for his ordination (a bull calf and a ram), and then making offerings on behalf of the people (a male goat, a calf, a lamb, an ox, and a ram). All of these animals were slaughtered, and their blood poured out on and around the altar, and then the carcasses burned. And when all of this was done, Aaron and Moses went into the tent. When they emerged they blessed the people, and the glory of God appeared and consumed the offerings in a ball of fire.

Now this is the point where one of those aforementioned mistakes occurs. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, put burning incense in their censers to offer before God. The text doesn’t say why – there certainly doesn’t appear to have been any call for incense in censers at any point in the ceremony, so it’s not like they got something out of order. Maybe they were just caught up in the excitement of the moment and decided to embellish a little. It was a historic occasion, after all, and I imagine they were pretty excited. Anyway, this being the first time this ceremony has ever been performed, and it’s pretty fucking complex, one might expect a mistake or two and a bit of patience and understanding about the whole thing.

Or one might have been paying attention up to this point, and realized that that’s not the kind of God being described in this book.

“Lev 10:2 And fire came out from before Yahweh and consumed them, and they died before Yahweh. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron ‘This is what Yahweh has said “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron held his peace.”

Oh, and just to add insult to injury, Moses declared that while the people were allowed to put on mourning displays for the dead men, Aaron and his remaining sons weren’t. I must admit, I’m quite impressed with the superhuman self-control with which Aaron did not turn and kick his brother in the nuts at this point until he vomited up his own intestines. Or maybe it was just shock.

At this point God speaks up – not to acknowledge the horror he’d just perpetrated, but to declare that the priests were, as a statute forever, not allowed to drink alcohol when going into the tent of meeting, or they’d die. From this point Moses shuffles the ceremony onward, instructing Aaron and his surviving sons to eat their portion of the offerings that had been given on the altar. So they sit down and eat it. But then Moses notices that the goat, which they had been supposed to eat, had accidentally been burned up completely on the altar. So he got pissed at Aaron and his sons and demanded to know why they’d messed that part up.

“Lev 10:19 And Aaron said to Moses, ‘Behold, today they have offered their sin offering before Yahweh, and yet such things as these have happened to me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would Yahweh have approved?’ 20 And when Moses heard that, he approved.”

I’m pretty sure that’s Bible-speak for Aaron going “Really? You wanna fuck with me right now? If I ate your fucking goat, would God give me my sons back?” followed by Moses shutting the fuck up before he got his ass curb stomped in front of God and everybody.

And that seems like a good, happy place to bring today’s post to a close. Catch you next time – there’s more laws!

Exodus: What Are the Ten Commandments Again?

Welcome back to the supposedly inspiring story of the Israelites' migration from Egypt to Canaan. When last we checked in on God’s chosen people, they had gotten restless and made a golden calf to worship, so Moses had three thousand of them slaughtered. Now they are getting ready to leave Sinai.

The Bible takes a moment to discuss the tent of meeting, which is a tent that Moses would set up outside the encampment where people could go to seek God. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, people would go stand at their tent doors and watch him until he entered. I imagine they are trying to convey an air of reverence about this little ritual, but in light of recent events I suspect the feeling would be more of terror and dread anticipation. The people watching the fanatical leader who’d just had thousands of them butchered, much like they might watch a rabid dog to see if it was going to attack. I bet they all breathed a huge sigh of relief every time he entered the tent without ordering any exectuions.

Anyway, whenever Moses entered the tent, a pillar of cloud would descend to the tent door and God would speak with Moses. Meanwhile, all the people stood at their own doors worshipping (cowering?).

“Ex 33:11 Thus Yahweh used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend…”

Once again, we see someone described as seeing God face-to-face.

In one of these conversations, Moses manages to convince God to travel with the Israelites after all. Just as, you know, a personal favor. Moses also asks to see God’s glory, to which God responds that Moses cannot see his face because none can see it and live (I guess all that stuff about people seeing God in person was just poorly written description of events, or maybe just complete bullshit). But God does promise to arrange things so that Moses can watch him pass by and see his back. Whoop-de-doo!

So then God commands Moses to go back up the mountain for another forty days with a couple stone tablets, and God will write the words of the covenant on them to replace the ones Moses broke earlier. Nobody else is allowed to go up with him, nor is anyone allowed to graze their flocks opposite the mountain (probably so no one can see Moses himself doing the carving, since it seems kinda ridiculous that it should take a deity capable of fashioning a world in six days forty days to carve some words on some stone).

While Moses is on the mountain, he gets that promised glimpse of God.

“Ex 34:6 Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’”

Hooowee! There’s something very godlike in that proclamation. Specifically, the godlike balls it takes to identify yourself as merciful and gracious and forgiving in the very same sentence where you brag about punishing people for stuff their ancestors did four generations back.

So after a little more begging from Moses that God will continue to travel among them, Yahweh proceeds with the renewed covenant to be written down on the new set of tablets. It’s worth reminding at this point that God had said he would put the same words on these tablets that had been on the first. Now… I’m going to jump ahead to the end of the section, because I have a point to make that might be easier if I do these next sets of quotes out of order.

“Ex 34:27 And yahweh said to Moses ‘Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ 28 So he was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”

Now, the point I want to make is about the Ten Commandments. As you’ll recall, I quoted them in full a few posts back. And you may also recall that I’ve mentioned that the publishers of the translation I’m using have included handy bold-faced headings (not from the original text) to identify what’s going on in any given section. Well, the Ten Commandments I quoted earlier were identified by one of those bold-faced headings. There was nothing in the actual Bible text identifying them as such. In fact, that quote I just posted right above this paragraph is the only textual reference to the Ten Commandments I’ve seen so far. And from reading it, you might get the impression that the commands that immediately precede that verse are the Ten Commandments. So now… let’s take a look at those commands.

“Ex 34:12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.

13 You shall break down their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god) 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons , and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.

17 You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.

18 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt.

19 All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed.

21 Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing and in harvest you shall rest.

22 You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruit of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. 23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before Yahweh, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before Yahweh your God three times in the year.

25 You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the sacrifice of the Feast of Passover remain until the morning.

26 The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of Yahweh your God.

You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

And I’ll point out that those commands there represent the entire Bible text between God’s declaration that he’s remaking the covenant and the end of Moses’ second forty-day tenure on top of Mount Sinai. There are no other commands in this portion of the story. As far as I can tell, a straightforward reading of the Bible says that those are the Ten Commandments, and if we didn’t live in a culture that taught us that other set practically from birth, nobody would think otherwise.

You know what I think? I think somewhere along the line somebody saw the line “the Ten Commandments” and thought “That’s a pretty catchy title. Too bad the actual commandments it refers to are pretty stupid, mostly apply only to the specific situation the Israelites were in at the time, and if we tried to generalize them could only result in a state of perpetual open warfare with the adherents of every other religion on the planet. Let’s apply the title to these other ones over here that are a bit more general.”

I’m also concerned with the phrasing that says all the firstborn belong to God, but sons should be redeemed with a lamb. Because things that are supposed to be given to God are supposed to be sacrificed on his altar, and not all firstborn children are sons. Now, I know that in some languages all nouns have gender, and that when a plural noun refers to a group of mixed gender the language defaults to using the male form. I don’t know if ancient Hebrew is one of those languages, but I really, really hope so (as in, the word for “sons” can be read as “children of either gender,”) because otherwise the implications are disturbing.

Anyway, once the very important divine commands about destroying other people’s religious icons and not boiling young goats in their mothers’ milk were done with, Moses went down to the people with his new tablets. This time, apparently, his face was glowing as a side effect of his talking directly with God. So after he finished passing on God’s infinite wisdom to the people, he put a veil over his face. And from then on whenever he went to talk to God he would take off the veil, when he came out and recited God’s words to the people he would reveal his glowing face, and when he was done talking he’d put the veil back on.

That must’ve been damn handy for doing some nighttime reading before hitting the sack.

Moses assembled all the people again to make good and sure that everyone understood that you’re not supposed to work on the Sabbath. And that anyone who did so should be put to death. He even specified that they weren’t to do so much as light a fire in their homes on the Sabbath. I suppose that last bit may seem a reasonable restriction when you live at the southeastern corner of the Mediterranean – it becomes somewhat problematic for, say, winters in fucking Poland.

Anyway, after that Moses asked for contributions of the materials to actually build the tabernacle. And the people gave so generously that he collected more than was needed and eventually had to tell them to stop giving him stuff. God had appointed some guys named Bezalel and Oholiab to oversee the construction, and filled them and all their craftsmen with the skill to do so (I guess they didn’t get it from the normal route of years of training and practice?).

Now, you know how I’d said before that God specified the construction of the tabernacle in exhaustive detail? Well, the next eighty-some verses are spent repeating those details in the construction phase. You could pretty much take the original description and replace every instance of “You shall build…” with “He built…” And while there may or may not be subtle variations between the two descriptions, I really couldn’t tell you because my eyes totally glazed over in reading this section. I’m just not going to compare them line-by-line. You can, if you have the mental stamina, but I don’t think it’s important. Suffice to say that the tabernacle got built, along with the ark, altars, tables, lampstands, etc., etc., and an account is given of the amount of material it took.

Then we get the same shit with the construction of the priestly robes.

And when it’s all built, God orders that the tabernacle be set up, and everything consecrated with the holy oil and incense and all. And when it was all done the glory of god filled the tabernacle, and holy cloud settled over the tent of meeting. And from that point on, whenever the cloud lifted from the tent the Israelites would travel, but if the cloud stayed on the tent they would stay encamped that day.

And this, finally, brings us to the end of the Book of Exodus. Two books down, and… only about sixty-five or so to go. 8% done, according to the app. Join us next time when we wade into Leviticus. In the meantime, be well!

Exodus: All Hail Mooby!

Welcome back to my ongoing commentary on the so-called word of God. So far it’s been instructional, if not especially inspirational (even the parts that are supposed to be). And now we rejoin Moses and his merry band on the slopes of Mount Sinai. God has just been laying down some law about interior decorating and blood sprinkling, and Moses is about to come down off the mountain to see what the Israelites have been up to under Aaron’s supposed leadership. He’s not gonna be pleased.

So as has been covered before, Moses was up on the mountain getting instructions for forty days. And while he was gone, the Israelites started getting restless with the need to worship something. So they go to Aaron and complain that they need a god, and nobody knows what’s become of this Moses guy, so could Aaron please make them a new god? So Aaron, God’s chosen fucking priest, goes “Sure thing! Gather up your gold jewelry and I’ll see what I can come up with.”

“Ex: 32:3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”

First of all: gods? It’s one fucking idol. How does it get to be multiple gods? Whatever. Chalk it up to inconsistent storytelling. Nobody really understands this shit anyway, and it’s not the most important thing about the scene.

But that brings me to the second point here: given the context, is this actually reasonable? If the story is to be believed, we have here all these people who have personally witnessed multiple miracles performed by Yahweh. Several of them have met him in person, and supposedly they’ve all heard his voice. He’s threatened death on multiple occasions for worshipping anything other than him, and they have seen him kill the shit out of thousands of people. Aaron himself has been directly carrying out the guy’s orders. Furthermore, they are standing in the shadow of the guy’s mountain where Yahweh has just been putting on a stunning pyrotechnic display, and is currently hanging out at the mountaintop in a perpetual cloud. Now… we’re supposed to believe that these people, having been witness to all of that, believe they can just whip up a god from whatever fucking jewelry they have lying around and think that it’s just as good?! REALLY?! Does that sound at all like something that ACTUALLY FUCKING HAPPENED?!

Say what you want about ancient people. They may have been ignorant, superstitious, and savage. But this scene asks us to accept that, on top of all of that, they were also dumber than a bag of hammers. Sorry, but I’m just not buying it.

If there’s any historical accuracy to this book at all, this event right here seems like a pretty strong hint that the God stuff is complete bullshit. Because in the minds of these people, there was no demonstrable difference between Yahweh and just any old god they had been accustomed to inventing out of thin air. Which means very likely that all the stuff that looks like explicit in-person manifestation of this Yahweh guy were either exaggerated versions of natural occurrences the author couldn’t explain (and so attributed to his favorite god), hallucinations, or completely made up out of whole cloth. That’s exactly how made-up gods work, and the Israelites couldn’t tell the difference between this god and any other made-up one.

But to get back to the story, after Aaron had made the golden calf and the people declared it their god, Aaron built an altar in front of it and declared that the next day they would have “a feast to the LORD.” Assuming the same substitution of “LORD” for “Yahweh” in the translation is in effect (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be), that seems to imply that these ignorant folks thought the golden calf actually was Yahweh.

Meanwhile, up on the mountain, God tells Moses what is happening and tells him to go back down to the people. Then he adds that he wants to be left alone to nurse his rage at the Israelites for a bit before he just wipes them out and starts over on this whole scheme to give Abraham’s descendants a great nation using only Moses. But Moses pleads with God not to do it, basically arguing that God wouldn’t want the Egyptians going around saying he’d only taken the Israelites out of slavery in order to kill them. I guess God is vain enough to care what the Egyptians are saying about him, because he relents and agrees not to kill all the Jews.

Then Moses heads back down the mountain with his assistant Joshua and the stone tablets God carved for him with the laws of the covenant engraved on them. They hear the sounds of the people celebrating the feast day Aaron had declared for their new golden idol as they approach. when they come into view of the celebration, Moses flies into a rage and smashes the tablets. Then he takes the calf, burns it, grinds it into powder, scatters the powder in water, and makes the people drink it. I’m not exactly sure how one burns and grinds into powder a ductile metal like gold, but maybe it’s just a translation artifact. He could, I suppose, have melted it down, then shaved it into flakes, which would accomplish the same thing.

After this he turns to Aaron and demands to know what the people had done to him to make him commit such a sin. And Aaron turns into such a weasel you can actually picture whiskers sprouting from his face. He basically says “Hey, you know how evil these people are? They told me to make them gods. But all I did was throw the gold they gave me into the fire and out popped this golden calf!” I’m pretty sure Moses didn’t buy it, though. And Moses isn’t done expressing how pissed off he is, either:

“Ex 32:26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said ‘Who is on Yahweh’s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them ‘Thus says Yahweh the god of Israel, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.”’ 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand of the people fell. 29 And Moses said ‘Today you have been ordained for the service of Yahweh, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing on you this day.’”

Now firstly, it may be worth noting that although Moses said these were orders from Yahweh, the Bible doesn’t actually record God giving the order. So it’s rather ambiguous whether God wanted this done or not. But he certainly shows no disapproval of the action.

Secondly, although it says that all the sons of Levi responded to this order, that can’t really be what happened. After all, “sons of Levi” literally means that these people were descended by blood from Levi. So you couldn’t possibly have “all the sons of Levi” killing their literal brothers, since that would mean everybody responding to Moses’ order was simply killing each other and nobody would be left for him to bless at the end of it all. So the wording here is ambiguous at best.

Thirdly, this is a slaughter roughly equal in magnitude to the 9/11 attacks. Only carried out up close and personal with swords instead of anonymously with airplanes, against people the killers knew and cared for personally and who knew and cared for them in return. Just to put things in perspective.

Lastly, think about the situation here. You have an angry god. You have followers of that god killing people in order to propitiate the god and/or earn a blessing from him. There is a term for this behavior. Can you beat me to it? Do you know what it is? I know it’s one that Christians love to shy away from when it comes to their god, so it might not spring readily to the mind of any believers who read this.

Human sacrifice.

Now don’t go jumping to conclusions: I’m not just spinning this in the worst possible light in order to toss out that nasty phrase. There will be more explicit examples in later posts, so you’ll eventually see how this is a justified claim even if it isn’t immediately obvious now.

Anyhow, after this act of barbarism Moses tells the people that he has to go up to the mountain again and meet with God to atone for their horrible sin (because killing three thousand people wasn’t atonement enough, I guess). So he goes up and begs God to forgive their sin, or else “blot me out of your book,” which I presume to mean destroy him utterly. But God tells him he will blot out whoever has sinned against him, but for now Moses should go lead the Israelites to the land he promised them. Then he sent a plague to the people and told Moses it was time to depart from Sinai. Lastly, he told Moses that he wouldn’t travel among them anymore because, basically, the Israelites were so stubborn and disobedient that if he was forced to put up with their company constantly he’d just kill them all.

Yeah… this is the same god that they keep describing as slow to anger, and full of steadfast love for his people. I think that’s kind of in the same spirit in which Celtic pagans sometimes referred to clearly malevolent faeries as “the Good Folk,” in the hopes that kissing a little ass would convince them to be a little less evil.

From that point on the Israelites stripped themselves of their jewelry. Although the Bible says “from Mount Horeb onward,” despite the fact that these events took place at Mount Sinai. Gasp! Could that be an error?!

Anyway, this seems to have gone on long enough for today. I’m pretty sure that the next post will manage to close out Exodus. As always, take care and be well!

Exodus: God the Interior Decorator

Good day, and welcome back!

When we last left off, Moses had just finished drenching his followers and an altar with gallons of blood. Did your Sunday school teach you about that scene? None of mine did.

Anyway, after that Moses follows God’s instruction to bring Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders up to the mountain to worship. Here’s the passage:

“Ex 24:9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”

So seventy-four men saw God. That is kind of an important point, since later the Bible claims nobody has ever seen him. I’ll point that out if/when we get to it.

Then God tells Moses to come up further so he can give him stone tablets containing the text of the covenant. Moses took his assistant Joshua with him, and left instructions to the elders that Aaron and Hur are in charge while he’s gone. Moses was up on the mountain for six days before God called him into the cloud that he was hanging out in that covered the top of the mountain. Moses then heads into the cloud, and he was up there getting additional marching orders for forty days.

The first thing God tells Moses is that he should take up a collection of valuables such as gold, silver, bronze, yarn, wood, etc., in order to make implements of worship. And the first of these he instructs Moses to have built is the famous Ark of the Covenant, which will contain the stone tablets God is about to give him. It’s basically a big wooden box covered in gold, with poles and rings to carry it. God is very specific about the construction, which includes instructions to sculpt two gold cherubim to go on the lid.

Say… remember these words? “You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” And remember elsewhere in God’s law where it specifically says not to make any gold or silver idols to use in his worship? Yeah… fuck that. God’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, even make a container for his law that directly violates said law. At least he has a good solid sense of irony.

God moves on to specifying the construction of a wood table overlaid in gold. Then he demands a golden lamp stand, also described in great detail. From there he moves on to the construction of a tabernacle – basically a portable temple for the Hebrews to haul around with them while they travel to Canaan. Again this goes on in great detail, specifying the size and shape of all the components, construction materials, what images to embroider on the curtains (more cherubim), how to make the tent that covers the tabernacle, how to make the frames to support the curtains and the tent, and where in the tabernacle the Ark, table, and lamp stand are supposed to be placed when it’s set up.

The next item up is a bronze altar. Again described in detail, and those details make it pretty clear that its purpose is to have sacrifices burned on it. This is followed by another detailed specification, this time for a courtyard outside the tabernacle bordered with fine linen and supported by bronze pillars. Finally, oil for the lamp is specified, and the lamp is required to be kept lit from evening to morning every night forever.

Once God is done with the interior decorating portion of the law, he moves on to fashion design. Specifically, he describes the holy clothes and jewelry Aaron and his sons (acting as his priests) should wear. It’s pretty elaborate, really. The funny part is near the end, when God states that Aaron’s robe should be ringed about the hem with golden bells.

“Ex 28:35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before Yahweh, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.”

What the fuck? So that he does not die? It sounds suspiciously like God is putting bells on his priest so he can hear him coming, and not accidentally kill him when he walks in on God playing with himself (or whatever it is that God does when hanging out alone in the Holy Place).

It’s also specified that Aaron and his sons must wear holy underwear whenever they come to the Holy Place, “lest they bear guilt and die.” God’s antipathy to naked penises in the Holy Place is also a statute forever, so I suppose he never anticipates coming to terms with his neuroses about being exposed to organs that he himself created.

Wanna pause there and think about it a bit? What the fuck is God’s issue with penises? I mean, he supposedly made them, after all. Yet apparently he dislikes the look of them so much that he makes his people surgically modify their Johnsons before he’ll consider hanging out with them, but even that’s not good enough to prevent him from flying into a killing rage if he ever actually sees one. That’s some pretty neurotic shit, right there.

Anyhow, now that God has established the holy wardrobe scheme, we move on to how he actually wants the ceremony consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests performed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it involves killing stuff – in this case a bull and a couple rams - and spreading their blood around. There are very specific instructions about what is to be done with the blood and body parts of each animal. Part of it involves sprinkling the blood of one of the rams over Aaron and his sons while they’re wearing the holy uniform. And if you know anything about how hard it can be to get out bloodstains even with modern laundry detergents, you pretty much realize that these guys will be presiding over every ceremony of their lives in blood-spattered garments. This makes them holy to God.

Also, a year old lamb is supposed to be sacrificed on the altar as a burnt offering every morning and every evening for all of eternity. Because burning flesh is a pleasing aroma to God. Seriously, it says that.

Once all this is laid out, God returns to his passion for interior decorating. He specifies the construction of an altar for burning incense, made of acacia wood covered in pure gold. Incense is to be burned every morning and every evening for all of time.

Then there’s a census tax. Every time a census is conducted, each person over twenty years old must pay a half a shekel. Supposedly this will prevent a plague? Wtf?

Then a bronze wash basin, followed by specifying recipes for various anointing oil and for incense that nobody is allowed to use for any other purpose. Toss off another reminder to keep the Sabbath (and add a decree that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death), and finally God is done writing stuff on stone tablets.

For those keeping count, those tablets contain quite a lot more than just the Ten Commandments.

Anyway, it’s time for Moses to head back down the mountain and discover what the Israelites have been up to in his absence. It’s pretty fucking dumb, but we’ll get to that in the next installment. Until then, take care!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Exodus: On the Relationship Between Law and Bloodbaths

Usual disclaimer about the Yahweh/LORD substitution applies.

Ok, now, when we left off God had just delivered the Ten Commandments, and the people of Israel had just given Moses a handy excuse for the fact that nobody other than him could actually hear God speaking words. And as we move on… more laws.

First, there are laws about altars, for animal sacrifice no less. They must be earth or unworked stone, with no steps to walk up so that nobody can get an upskirt shot, and no gold or silver idols to represent God.

This is immediately followed by some laws about slaves. No… the law is not that you can’t own people. These laws are about how you go about owning other people. In this section it mostly talks about Hebrews owning other Hebrews. Male Hebrews bought as slaves only serve for six years, and then you’re supposed to set them free. Unless you managed to marry one of your slave girls off to him, and he actually doesn’t want to leave her and any kids they might have had together (because you own his wife and kids). In order to remain with his family, he basically has to agree to be your slave for life, and you mark him by driving an awl through his ear.

Now girls… girls have it different. I’m gonna quote the whole section, because it’s a bit confusing.

“Ex 21:7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”

I’m a little confused about the nature of this situation. It’s clear that when a girl is sold into slavery, it’s for life unless the master chooses to sell her back to her father. What’s less clear is the actual nature of her slavery, due to the reference to her master taking “other wives.” Is she a slave, or is she a wife? Are the terms interchangeable? Or is she more like a concubine – a slave who essentially acts as a wife in all ways except she doesn’t have the same status as an actual wife? Then I recall that in earlier stories Jacob had his wives Rachel and Leah.  Each of them were had servants that they gave to Jacob “as wives,” but who were later still referred to as his servants. That makes me think the concubine situation is the most likely interpretation of this particular passage. But it’s pretty clearly in the law that men could have multiple wives/concubines, and men were allowed to sell their daughters into lifelong servitude of a likely sexual nature. Something tells me this isn’t the situation most people are thinking of when they toss around the term “Biblical marriage.”

Anyway, the laws continue. There’s some reasonable stuff about retribution for murders (penalty is death of course), human trafficking, striking pregnant women (though it treats that as a crime against her husband), theft, responsibility for loaned property, responsibility for damage caused by your livestock, etc. There’s also some less-than-stellar stuff, such as that, while you can’t beat your slave to death, if you stop short so that he survives a day or two then it’s OK whether he dies or not. Or that if he’s permanently disabled by your beating you have to let him go free (no restitution specified – I’m sure penniless and disabled former slaves got along quite swimmingly in ancient Palestine). Then there’s some batshit crazy awful stuff, like that anyone who curses or strikes their parents should be put to death (news flash: there are some parents out there who are frankly awful, and a few harsh words or a sock in the jaw is the minimum they deserve. Though I suppose it’s possible that, given the context, that the authors may believe that the word “curse” involves casting actual magic spells on their parents… which is still not a death-worthy thing because it’s nonsense).

Now, I should point out that my copy of the Bible includes these handy little heading titles to tell you what any given section is about. It’s worth mentioning now because the next section has the hilarious title (in the dark humor sense) of “Laws About Social Justice.” Yes, there is some good social justice stuff, like not letting widows and orphans starve, not oppressing travelers in their lands, and not committing perjury or manipulating lawsuits to favor the rich over the poor. But this is also the section that contains the famous line “Thou shalt not permit a sorceress to live,” (sorceress? Does that mean sorcerers – the male version of the same thing - are A-OK?), and makes it a crime worthy of death to worship any god other than Yahweh. And of course, from my perspective, that amounts to killing people over fictions.

From there we move on to laws about festivals and worship. In these the Hebrews are forbidden to even say the names of other gods. There are some feast days specified, notes on offering the blood of sacrifices, and the specification that the best of the first fruits of the harvest must be given to God. Oh, and for some reason this section ends with forbidding the boiling of young goats in their mother’s milk.

Now I don’t want to give you the wrong impression here. There are some good things in the laws laid down here. I’m not making an exhaustive list because this is a blog, and anyway the Bible will have it all spelled out for you. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that these laws simply are not universally good. It’s a mixed bag of good, bad, and downright fucking evil, which is pretty much what you might expect from laws written by a barbarian tribe 4000 or so years ago. Or by many if not most modern lawmakers, if truth be told.

Then there’s a break in the lawgiving to talk about the coming invasion of Canaan. The gist of it is that they’re supposed to enter Canaan and completely wipe out the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and God will send an angel with them to make sure they can pull off the genocide successfully. Of course, they are forbidden to adopt the gods of the people they wipe out. Yahweh is really big on hoarding the worship for himself.

God even promises that he will be sure to drive out the peoples of those lands only as fast as the Israelites expand, to make sure that the land they leave behind won’t have time to fill up with wild animals that might harm them. I actually find this hilarious. Firstly, it’s kind of a fact that people you’re warring against are far more dangerous to you than wild animals. Secondly, does this suggest that Yahweh would have been unable to prevent wild animals from taking over? Lastly, you know what else causes people to driven out of a land at the same rate that the invaders expand? Getting driven out by the fucking invaders! This line is nothing more than claiming the natural result of a successful invasion and giving the credit entirely to God. And very transparently so.

So at this point God seems to be done laying down the law, and tells Moses to go fetch Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders to come up and worship on the mountain. Though they must still worship from afar – only Moses can come close to God. So Moses heads down, and while he’s there he passes along all the laws to the people. They agree to follow them, and he then proceeds to write the laws down in a book. He then builds an altar and commands that a bunch of animals be gathered together as a sacrifice. I should point out that this includes multiple oxen, which are really damn big animals. I bring that up, because I want you to have a sense of the amount of blood that will be involved in the next verse.

“Ex 24:6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said ‘All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”

Do we have that image fully in mind here? Yahweh’s covenant with the Israelites was sealed by pouring gallons of blood over both his altar and the people themselves. That’s pretty fucking hardcore. Do you have any doubt that this is a blood god these people worshipped? And by extension, that Christians worship?

So with that lovely image in mind, I take my leave for another day. Hope you all remain well, until next time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Exodus: The Ten Commandments

(Note: In case you haven’t read previous postings, you may notice that when I directly quote the Bible I use the name Yahweh a lot. You’re probably used to seeing “the LORD” in those passages. The reason for the substitution is simple: I actually read the translation notes for the version I’m reading and quoting from, where it states that the translators use “the LORD” wherever the original text uses God’s personal name YHWH – which we would say as Yahweh. So what I’m really up to is undoing a substitution the translators have made, which I believe they do for the purpose of emotional manipulation).

Alright, so we finally have the Israelites to the sides of Mount Sinai, the site at which God appears to deliver the Ten Commandments. But as usual there’s more to the story than most people remember and/or are told. So as usual I’m going to dwell on the details a bit. Here we go!

The Israelites arrive at Sinai about three months after leaving Egypt. While the people camped there, Moses went up the mountain to talk to God. And God’s message is to tell the Israelites that as long as they keep his covenant and obey his commandments, they will be his “treasured possession among all peoples,” and a holy nation. So Moses tells the people this, and they agree to go along with the deal. Moses relays their consent to God, who then tells him that in three days he will come down as a thick cloud so that the people can hear him speak to Moses and thus believe Moses (I guess it was somehow unclear so far whether Moses was actually speaking for God or not).

God then instructs Moses to tell the people to consecrate themselves and wash their clothes to be ready for his appearance on the third day. And also that Moses should set limits around the mountain and that anyone who tries to cross them and climb the mountain should be shot or stoned to death. So Moses goes back down the mountain to relay the message, and tosses in “Do not go near a woman.” I guess women deconsecrate men or something, and you don’t want to come near God with woman on you. God hates cooties.

“Ex 19:16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because Yahweh had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the show mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.”

Now… does this sound to anyone else like a bunch of primitives mucking around at the base of a volcano and thinking it’s a god? Note that in this passage God does not respond in words, but in thunder. Which is a perfectly natural occurrence. Then Moses goes up the mountain where suddenly God is talking to him in words again (where no one else can hear).

In these words, God tells Moses to go back down and warn the people once again not to try and break through the perimeter they set up, and that any priests who are to come near should consecrate themselves. Moses seems a bit confused about this mention of priests coming up, and he reminds God that he had forbidden anyone to come up on the mountain. So God is like “Oh yeah… umm… I mean go bring Aaron back. The priests have to stay back there with the people like I said before.” This passage makes God sound like kind of a dim bulb. Or something made up by a fallible author. Take your pick.

But now… we’re finally there: The Ten Commandments!

“Ex 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying

2 ‘I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 You shall have no other gods before me.

4  ‘You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 ’You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

8 ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 ‘Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh your god is giving you.

13 ‘You shall not murder.

14 ’You shall not commit adultery.

15 ‘You shall not steal.

16 ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Now, for those of you who think American law is based on the Ten Commandments, take note of a few things here. The First Commandment is directly contradicted by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The second, third, fourth, and fifth have no representation in law. The sixth, eighth, and ninth do appear in American law… as well as in the laws of pretty much every society ever formed on the earth whether they had ever heard of Yahweh or not. The seventh shows up merely as grounds for divorce (and is also very common in non-Abrahamic law systems as well). And the tenth is a thought crime held to be completely unenforceable and therefore not written into American law, and violating it is pretty much the driving force behind our entire economic system. Coveting shit is pretty much what capitalism is all about.

Basically, there is absolutely nothing that is both unique to the Ten Commandments and part of American law. Because our founding fathers had better sense than that.

Now it’s a little unclear whether these words were actually spoken in the presence of the people of Israel. Although the delivery of the commandments is immediately followed by a bit about how the people saw thunder and lightning and the mountain smoking, and heard trumpet blasts, and got scared and moved far away. There’s nothing about them hearing God’s words. Though there’s a request from the people for Moses not to let God speak directly to them because they’d die, but rather for Moses to speak and they would listen to him. So I’m inclined to think that nobody but Moses heard actual words. The whole thing reads very much like some huckster taking advantage of the magnificent backdrop of an erupting volcano to con a bunch of hungry, desperate primitives into thinking he speaks for God.

Anyhow, that’s far enough for today. Not sure exactly how I’m going to handle the next section, which is a pretty tedious recital of laws and remarkably specific instructions for precisely how God wants to be worshipped. I’ll probably try to hit the highlights without going into too much eye-glazing detail.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Exodus: Munchin’ on Manna

We rejoin the Israelites fresh from the God-induced suicide of the Egyptian army as they set out into the wilderness east of the Red Sea. They travel for three days without water before coming to Marah, where there’s water but it’s too bitter to drink. So now they go to their leader Moses demanding to know what they’re supposed to drink. Moses turns around to God:

“Ex 15:25 And he cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”

Ummm… ok. What’s the business with the log? If God wanted to make the water sweet, couldn’t he have just done it? Why the log? Meh, whatever.

The verse goes on to say that God tested them there to see if they would keep him commandments, promising that if they did he wouldn’t give them the diseases he’d given the Eqyptians. Afterwards they moved on to the springs at Elim. After watering there, they started traveling again in the direction of Sinai. But now that they had water, they had a new complaint: lack of food. Although they’re traveling with all their livestock, but I guess it isn’t enough to feed them.

So they complain to Moses that they’d have been better off in Egypt than starving to death in the wilderness. God then tells Moses that he’s going to provide them with meat that night, and bread thereafter. And there are specific rules about gathering the bread. They are to gather enough to eat for six days. On the sixth day they will be provided twice as much as on any other day so that on the seventh day they can eat without going out to gather. Because they’re supposed to rest on the seventh day as a Sabbath.

So Moses relays the instructions to the Israelites, and accompanies them with a statement that the Israelites shouldn’t complain about his and Aaron’s leadership, because complaining about them is the same as complaining about God. Again there’s extra stuff he says beyond what’s in the conversation with God, such as the instruction that they aren’t to try and save any food from one day to the next because God will always provide as much as they need every day.

So anyway, what actually happened is that God provided a flock of quail that evening, and every morning some fine flaky stuff from which the Israelites could make bread that they called manna. So every morning they go out and gather this stuff, which has some interesting properties. Such as the fact that everyone gets exactly as much as they need to eat that day – no matter how hard you worked at gathering tons of it you don’t end up with extra, and however little you gather you end up with enough. Divinely enforced communism! Also, if you try to save any for the next day, whatever you save will go rotten and be full of worms. Except on the sixth day, when the leftovers will remain fresh so you don’t have to gather on the seventh.

Of course, some Israelites try to save extra, and Moses gets pissed at them for not doing what God said. And some try to gather on the seventh day, and likewise God and Moses get pissed at them for that. But once that routine was settled in, Moses gave a new commandment about the manna.

“Ex 16:32 Moses said ‘This is what Yahweh has commanded: “Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.”’”

And Aaron then put some of it in a jar to be kept. So unless something happened to it later on, does that mean that somewhere out there is a physical example of the miraculous food? Would be interesting to know.

They travel on through the wilderness until they come to a place called Rephidim to set up camp. But they discover there’s no water there. So once more the people go to Moses.

“Ex 17:2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said ‘Give us water to drink,’ and Moses said to them ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?’”

For some reason, the Israelites failed to be assuaged by Moses treating a critical survival necessity as just some random complaint they had drummed up just to be a pain in his ass. So Moses turns to God and asks what to do about it. God tells him to take his staff, go over to mount Horeb, and strike a rock with it. He does, and water comes out of the rock for the people to drink.

After this the Amalekites came to attack the Israelites (which doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable when you realize that from their perspective their lands had just been essentially invaded by well over a million people). Moses chooses Joshua to lead the Israelites in the fight. But the real key to victory apparently isn’t who leads the fight, but whether or not Moses can stand on a hillside overlooking the fight all day holding his staff raised in the air. Whenever he holds up his staff the Israelites do well, but whenever he lowers it the Amalekites do well. So when his arms get too tired to hold up anymore, he sits on a stone while Aaron and Hur hold his hands up in the air for him. Thus magical thinking (and the Israelites) prevail. Then we see what I think may be one of the most unintentionally hilarious lines I’ve ever seen.

“Ex 17:14 Then Yahweh said to Moses ‘Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’”

He’s going to blot out the memory of them… and write it down in a fucking book? Books preserve memory! If you write it down, that’s the exact opposite of blotting out the memory of it! Did the author even think before writing some of this shit?

Sigh. So afterwards while they’re still encamped near Horeb (the so-called mountain of God), Moses’ father-in-law (still called Jethro) comes out to meet him. He brings along Moses’ wife and sons, whom the author mentions Moses had sent back home at some point while he was in Egypt. I don’t recall it being mentioned back when reading that story, but the author(s) of this book do have a tendency to leave out plot points at the time when they’re happening only to mention them later. Recall Joseph and the interpreter. Maybe that was the height of the literary form at the time, but it sure comes off as bad storytelling now.

So Moses tells Jethro all about what’s been happening, and Jethro makes a burnt offering to God while kissing the divine derriere a bit. Over the next few days, Jethro watches Moses spending most of his time moderating disputes between his followers. So he decides to intervene, telling Moses that he’s just gonna burn himself out like that. He suggests instead he should appoint “chiefs” for groups of ten, fifty, a hundred, and a thousand people, and have them moderate all the minor disputes and only bring the really major stuff to Moses. Moses agrees this is a fine idea, and implements the plan.

After this Jethro and the Israelites part ways, and the Israelites proceed on to Sinai.

I know I said I’d try to get to the events at Sinai today, but there was just too much stuff leading up to that in this post to try and dive into it now. So until next time… take care and be well!