Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Exodus: A Plethora of Plagues

Well, well, here we are again. Spent a lot of time in the last post railing on the parade of horrible storytelling, translation choices, and moral implications in what I was reading, and so didn’t get very far in the actual story. But today we start getting into the meat of the Exodus tale.

After securing Moses’ agreement to do his part in freeing the Israelites, God checks in with Moses’ brother Aaron and tells him to go out to meet Moses. So they meet up, and Moses explains the marching orders to his brother. Then they go and meet up with the elders of Israel and do their little magic show to convince them to go along.

Next stop is Pharaoh, to inform him that Yahweh has given orders that the Israelites are to go out into the wilderness for three days to worship him. Pharaoh is like “Who’s this Yahweh  character, and why should I care what he has to say?” Then he goes on to say that clearly the Israelites clearly have too much time on their hands if they’re worried about taking three days off to worship their god, so the solution is to give them more work to do. So he orders the overseers, who had previously supplied the Israelites with straw to use in making bricks, to tell the slaves to gather their own damn straw without lowering the brick quota at all. Then he had the Israelite foremen beaten when they couldn’t keep up with the work. The result was that the Israelites got pissed at Moses and Aaron for bringing the punishment on them.

So Moses turns around and whines to God about about how could he bring such evil on his people. And God basically says words to the effect of “Just you wait. I’m a total badass and I’m about to bust Pharaoh up something good. Then you guys will finally get the land of Canaan that I promised your ancestors. Go tell the Israelites that,” (except that in the Bible he takes a lot more words to say it). But the Israelites didn’t believe it because the Egyptians had crushed their spirits.

God then tells Moses to go back to Pharaoh to demand his people’s release again. Moses protests that if the Israelites won’t even believe him, how the hell will he convince Pharaoh? But God will hear nothing of it, and sends him anyway.

Next, totally out of the blue, the narrative is interrupted to spend about fifteen verses on the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. And when the text finally gets back to God sending Moses and Aaron to talk to Pharaoh we get this verse:

“Ex 7:1 And Yahweh said to Moses ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my host, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of Judgment.’”

Remember in my last post where I put up a verse in which God promised to take away Pharaoh’s ability to choose to let the Israelites go, and then punish him for not letting them go? Well, just in case you thought that verse was an anomaly, here we see that promise repeated again. And later, you will see him explicitly fulfill it.

Now, I’d like you to take a moment to think about the implications. When this God character feels he has a point to make, he is perfectly willing to fuck with people’s minds to change their thoughts and decisions. Ironically, I’ve often heard Christians claim that they can have absolute certainty because of God. But this tells us the exact opposite is true – a world that contains this God would be a world in which your thoughts and decisions can be arbitrarily changed at the whim of this deity. And what’s more, your holy book explicitly states that he does do this. And that he punishes people for the decisions that he forces them to make! This is an arbitrary, horrific, Orwellian nightmare of a world!

Speaking of Orwell, how many of you have read 1984? There’s a scene where the bad guy is explaining to the protagonist about how the most important thing in the world is power. He then goes on to say that it is by making people suffer that you demonstrate power, because they would wish to stop you from doing it and be unable to. Think about that as we go through the Exodus story, because it’s pretty much the same philosophy.

Back to the Bible: Moses and Aaron go back to the Pharaoh who demands that they prove they represent their god by performing a miracle. So Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake. But Pharaoh’s magicians turn their own staffs into snakes to show that there’s nothing special about Aaron’s trick. And even though Aaron’s snake then eats theirs, the Pharaoh remains unconvinced.

Now we start getting into the plagues. God has Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh in the morning when he goes down to the river and wave their staff over the Nile to turn it to blood. Which they do. And according to the text not only does all the water in the Nile turn to blood but so does all the water throughout Egypt “even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone,” (Ex 7:19) But then the Pharaoh’s magicians “did the same by their secret arts’ (Ex 7:22), though how the hell they could turn all the water in Egypt into blood when all the water in Egypt was already blood is never really explained (because the author is a crap storyteller, as I may already have mentioned). So Pharaoh is unconvinced of Yahweh’s power and still refuses to let the Israelites go.

Seven days later, Yahweh orders Moses and Aaron to go tell Pharaoh that if he doesn’t let the people go, he will plague the land with frogs. The narrative then skips any mention of them actually talking to Pharaoh and/or him refusing to let the people go, jumping straight to God giving Aaron the order to commence the plague. So Aaron waves his staff about, plagues of frogs wash over the land, and then the Pharaoh’s magicians do the same thing again (how the hell did anyone tell the difference between Yahweh’s plague of frogs and the magicians’ plague of frogs?).

Pharaoh then calls in Moses and Aaron and tells them he’ll let the Israelites go make their sacrifices to God if they’ll plead with Yahweh to end the plague of frogs. So they plead with God, he kills all the frogs (leaving everyone to clean up mounds of rotting frog corpses), and Pharaoh immediately reneges on his word.

So Yahweh orders Moses to tell Aaron to strike the dust of the earth with his staff and turn it into gnats. Which he does. The magicians, who are able to turns vast quantities of water into blood and produces plagues of frogs, for some reason are unable to make gnats. So now they finally believe the plagues are from God because Moses and Aaron had a trick they didn’t. But Pharaoh still wouldn’t listen.

Next came the plague of flies. And now Pharaoh seems to be bending – he tries to negotiate with Moses and Aaron by saying the Israelites can take time off to make their sacrifices, they just aren’t allowed to leave Egypt to do it. Moses replies that their sacrifices are so repugnant to the Egyptian people that they’d be stoned to death if they did them where the Egyptians could see, so they really do need to leave Egypt to do them. Pharaoh acquiesces, Moses talks to God, and the plague of flies ends. Then the Pharaoh goes back on his word again. I’d say he’s being a dick and/or exceptionally thick, but recall that these constant refusals are the result of God “hardening his heart.”

So Yahweh sends Moses and Aaron to warn Pharaoh that he’s going to kill all the Egyptian livestock. Which he does, while sparing all the Israelite livestock. Of course, Pharaoh the meat puppet continues to play his role and refuse to let the Israelites go.

Next, Moses and Aaron are sent to Pharaoh with handfuls of soot from a kiln, which they throw up in the air and it spreads out over all of Egypt, causing everyone it touches to erupt into boils. After which:

“Ex 9:12 But Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as Yahweh had spoken to Moses.”

These repeated warnings and demands issued to Pharaoh have become a sad farce. A stupid, scripted little puppet play in which Yahweh sends Moses and Aaron to issue demands and punishments to a man whom Yahweh himself is preventing from complying. It’s both pathetic, and sick.

The next plague is hail, which somehow manages to kill Egyptian livestock in the fields despite the fact that all of the Egyptian livestock was summarily killed two plagues ago. And once again the sad farce of Pharaoh pleading with Moses to end the plague in exchange for letting the Israelites go sacrifice to Yahweh, followed by Pharaoh once more having his heart hardened and going back on the promise so Yahweh can punish him some more.

I can’t believe there are people who find this shit inspirational.

Eighth plague. Unheeded warning issued to Pharaoh, plague of locusts devour all the crops, Pharaoh pleads for plague to end, plague ends, Yahweh makes Pharaoh go back on his word yet again. Do you see yet why I found this book so depressing?

Ninth plague is darkness. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you’re at all familiar with the story, you know what’s coming. If not, wait for tomorrow – I’ve typed long enough for today, and frankly it’s starting to get me down.

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