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.

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