Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Numbers: Apologies for the Tedium

Howdy howdy! Welcome back to my little Bible blog. I hope you’re enjoying yourself as we wade through the Book of Numbers.

In my last installment we enjoyed a bit of excitement, as Moses put down a rebellion against his and Aaron’s leadership with the help of God and at the cost of a mere fifteen thousand lives. I’d like to say things will be just as riveting today, but as usual when the Bible takes a break from sex and killing it just falls back on giving rules (which usually also have to do with sex and killing).

And not even new rules, this time. God speaks to Aaron reminding him that he and his sons will have responsibility for the sanctuary and the priesthood, and that the tribe of Levi are to keep guard over them and the tabernacle (but can’t enter the sanctuary lest they die). I find this passage contained in there kind of amusing.

“Num 18:6 And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to Yahweh, to do the service of the tent of meeting.”

Now if you’ve been following along, the Levites were never a gift given to God. He claimed them for himself, as a ransom for the firstborn whom he had also claimed for himself. At no point did the Israelites offer them to him as a gift, nor was it ever implied that their consent was required for God to take them. Just a little bit of spin doctoring on God’s part here.

After reminding Aaron of the role of the Levites, God goes on to remind him that the priests are entitled to a portion of the food offerings, and who in their households are allowed to eat it. He also explicitly states that this includes the firstborn that are given to God, but that they are to redeem (sell back) firstborn people. Now, if you recall, back in Exodus when God first claimed that the firstborn are to be given to him, he set the redemption price for firstborn people as a lamb a year old. In this section, though, he sets the price at 5 shekels of silver. I guess Moses started to realize that when you’re carting around a million people, the number of lambs you’d end up with is kind of impractical for one family to manage and decided that operating on a cash basis would be more convenient.

It’s also pointed out that when the Israelites are given their land, the priests won’t be given a portion of it, because God is supposed to be their portion of the Israelite inheritance (well, that and all the free shit the Israelites are already compelled to give them).

There’s some discussion about the Levites being given a tithe from the products of Israel as payment for their service in the tent of meeting. It also says that the Levites do that service so that the rest of Israel don’t have to come near the tent of meeting “lest they bear their sin and die.” In earlier passages, there had been references to outsiders dying if they came near the tent, and I had assumed “outsiders” meant non-Israelites. Apparently it includes all the Israelites as well, except for the Levites.

It’s then pointed out that since the Levites get the tithe, they also will not have an inheritance from among the people of Israel. And the Levites also have to give a tithe to the priests, from the tithe they themselves receive from the people.

This is all exceedingly dull and repetitive, especially if your last name isn’t some variation on Levi.

Then we move on to instructions for one of Aaron’s sons to sacrifice a red heifer outside the camp, with a lot of specifics about washing up afterwards and disposing of the ashes, for no particular reason given other than God instructed him to. We’re told that this is a perpetual statute for the people of Israel and for strangers who sojourn among them, even though there’s no instruction on why to do it, when to do it, and how often to do it.

After that, we get some expansion on how being in contact with dead bodies makes people and objects unclean. And then, finally, back to something resembling story.

The Israelites arrive in a land called Zin, and “stayed in” the city of Kadesh, and while they’re there Aaron’s wife Miriam dies. I feel the need to point out again that the Israelites, according to the Bible, number over six hundred thousand men of fighting age. So with women and children factored in, you’re looking at probably a million and a half  to two million people. A little poking about online indicates that the largest city in the world at that time (which was not Kadesh) had an estimated population of well under two hundred thousand people.

When a band of refugees arrives at a city, and is over ten times the population of that city, they don’t “stay in” the city. They overwhelm the city, its population, and its infrastructure, and devastate the agricultural lands for miles around. The arrival of the Israelites in Kadesh would have been the greatest disaster the city had ever seen. And the Bible just says that the Israelites “stayed at” Kadesh.

Something here smells like bullshit. At the very least, the number of Israelites cruising around.

So anyway, there’s not enough water for the Israelites to drink, and once again they start bitching at Moses for dragging them out of their cushy lives (of slavery) in Egypt to die of thirst. Moses and Aaron then went to the tent of meeting to prostrate themselves before God, who instructs them to take their staff and strike a rock with it, which will cause it to spew out enough water for everyone. So they do.

“Num 20:10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.’”

So now we know why Moses won’t get to see the promised land (spoiler for those who don’t know the story already – Moses dies before they get there): because he failed to give God credit for this one particular miracle.

So anyway, that’s enough for today. I’m afraid it was kinda tedious, at least in my own mind, so I apologize for that. Hope y’all remain well, and catch you next time!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Numbers: Who’s in Charge Around Here?

Well, I’m back again. I’d apologize, but if you’re here too I’m going to assume you feel you’re getting something out of it. So no apology necessary!

Back to the Book of Numbers. We’d just finished getting through the reason why God made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years, followed by their getting spanked by the Canaanites and Amalekites.

Now, for some odd reason, a group of Israelites had become disillusioned with Moses’ leadership. So a Levite named Korah and some Reubenites named Dathan, Abiram, and On gathered up about 250 well respected men from the people to go and confront Moses. And basically their argument was that all the Israelites were God’s chosen people, so what made Moses think he was so special that he should put himself above them and make all the rules? I wonder how it could be that they’ve missed all the times when God was directly manifesting and speaking to Moses face-to-face. Perhaps all the evidence for that was somewhat less convincing in person than the Bible likes to pretend that it was.

Anyhow, Moses seizes the initiative by claiming that God himself will show them who his chosen guy is if they’ll just come back tomorrow and do a little test of Moses’ devising. And this test will be that all of them will come to Yahweh tomorrow with their censers, and burn incense, and God will pick the one he wants. These guys then actually kind of prove that they wouldn’t have been competent to take over as leaders anyway, because they agree to these terms. Except Dathan and Abiram, who basically refuse to grant that Moses even has authority to put them to this test.

So the next day everybody gathers outside the tent of meeting, and the two hundred fifty men who were subjecting themselves to the test lit up their censers. Then the ill-defined “glory of the Lord” appears and starts talking to Moses and Aaron (again, tellingly, only to them and not the hundreds of witnesses standing around). And what he tells them is to separate themselves from the rest of the crowd, because he’s about to destroy them all. But Moses and Aaron throw themselves on the ground and beg God not to destroy everybody for the sins of a few. So God tells them instead to tell everyone to move away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

So Moses gets up and heads down to where Dathan and Abiram are camped (recall that they had refused to come to his little test), where he warns everyone to get away from their tents. Dathan and Abiram come out with their families (it’s specifically stated that their wives and children are with them) to see what all the hubbub is about. At this point Moses announces that the proof that God has chosen him to lead will be that these people will go straight to Sheol (the Jewish afterlife, kinda like the Greek Hades that is a physical underworld) without dying first. And then the ground opens up and swallows them, and all their belonging and people (i.e. their wives and kids, and servants too).

Then, to put a capstone on the whole proceeding, a blast of fire from Yahweh kills all the two hundred fifty men who had come to do the censer test. Then God tells Moses to collect all of the censers and use the metal to create a cover for the altar as a reminder to the people that only the descendants of Aaron are fit to offer incense to God.

So one might think that puts an end to the episode. But one would be wrong.

“Num 16:41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying ‘You have killed the people of Yahweh.’”

So once again, the “glory of Yahweh” appears at the tent of meeting, and God tells Aaron and Moses to separate themselves from the crowd because he’s going to destroy them (sense a pattern here?). God then starts killing people with a plague, and 14,700 people die before Aaron rushes out among them with a censer full of incense and puts a stop to it.

All of this is very curious when you think about it. None of the people here, at least as described in the Bible, actually questioned whether they were supposed to obey God. They questioned whether Moses was truly God’s representative, and blamed Moses’ leadership for the bad things that happened. It’s almost as if they hadn’t seen any actual evidence of God living among them and transmitting commands through Moses.

Which means that all of this could have been resolved very easily by God manifesting in a clearly evident way and saying “Dudes, I’m really here, and I’m really talking to Moses, so listen to him. If he does something I don’t want, I’ll smack him down myself” Instead, without providing any more manifestation to the people, he just fucking kills thousands of people. Not for questioning God, but for questioning Moses.

It kinda reads like Moses and his followers viciously put down a rebellion in the camp, perhaps with a bit of deceptive theatricality thrown in, then wrote a bunch of God bullshit into the story to make it look like it was divinely ordained and accomplished. Even assuming anything like this ever actually happened, this episode was never about obeying God, but about obeying Moses. And it took the deaths of 14,950 people (plus an unknown number of additional women and children) to establish that Moses was in charge. His position was secured by naked, lethal force.

So now that the killing is done for the moment, God decides to give one more proof as to who really holds his favor. This one is kinda unique in that nobody has to die. He tells Moses to tell the people that the head of each of the tribes should give him a staff with their name carved on it, and Aaron should do the same. Then he should put them into the tent of meeting, in front of the ark of the testimony and the staff of the man he chooses to be his priest will sprout.

So Moses goes out and gives the orders, and gathers up the staves. Then he puts them in the tent of meeting (you know, that part of the tabernacle that nobody but Moses and Aaron are allowed to go, so you totally know that this is completely on the up-and-up). And the next morning when he brings them all out, Aaron’s staff has sprouted buds and blossoms and almonds. And God then tells Moses to put Aaron’s staff in front of the tent of the testimony as a symbol to show the rebels that they should shut up about who’s in charge.

Well, that was fun! Certainly a pickup from the accountancy of the early portions of this book. I can hardly wait for the pearls of divine wisdom that will surely be revealed in the next section of Numbers. And of course I will be happy to bring them to you in all their glory. Until then, be well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Numbers: 40 Years!

Welcome back to my exploration of the Book of Numbers. In this posting, we’ll be talking about one of the most famous numbers in the Bible: 40. As in, the forty years that the Jews spent wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan.

This story starts with the Jews now encamped in the wilderness of Paran.

“Num 13:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying 2 ‘Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.’”

So, pursuant to God’s orders, Moses gathers up men from each tribe (including his buddy Joshua), and sends them to spy out the land that God is supposed to be giving them and bring back some of the fruits for proof of how good the land is. So off they go, and they spy about for forty days, and they return with some grapes, pomegranates, and figs.

Everyone gathers around to hear what they have to say. It starts out well enough, talking about how good, fertile and hospitable the land is. But then they get to the people, and the report goes downhill. Most of them claim that the people who live there are too strong for the Israelites to overcome, and that they live in fortified cities which they wouldn’t be able to conquer. They even go so far as to claim that there are Nephilim (no more explanation of what they are here than when they appeared in Exodus) living there, and giants next to whom the Israelites would only seem as large as grasshoppers.

Then the Israelites start whining and moaning about how God has brought them here just to have them killed in a hopeless war. And of the spies, only two (Joshua and Caleb) are telling people that God will help them overcome their enemies, so they should keep going to the land he promised them. But nobody is willing to listen to those two, and the mob starts working themselves up to the point where they start threatening to stone Moses and Aaron to death and head back to Egypt.

At this point, “the glory of Yahweh” (whatever the hell that means) appears at the tent of meeting and God starts talking to Moses. He tells Moses that he’s tired of putting up with all this rebellion from the people, and he’s going to just kill them all and use only Moses’ descendants to create that great nation he keeps talking about.

But Moses pleads on behalf of the people, not by appealing to God’s goodness and mercy (for which there has been very little evidence) but to his ego (for which there has been plenty). The argument is that if God kills the Israelites, the Egyptians and other people in the area will hear about it and make fun of God for being too weak to bring his people into the land he promised them. Moses follows that up with some judicious application of lips to divine buttocks, and lo and behold God relents.

But all is not well. While he does agree not to just kill the people outright, God is still pissed. So he declares that none of the men who rebelled will live to see the land he promised them. To that end, God declares that the Israelites must remain in the wilderness for forty years, until all the men over twenty who rebelled against him had died. Only then would he take the Israelites into the land promised them. He further promises that Joshua and Caleb, who had remained faithful, would live to see the promised land.

Then he killed the spies who’d brought the bad report. You know… the men he had personally ordered to go and spy, presumably already knowing what they would see since he’s supposed to be omniscient and all.

So when Moses told the people God’s decree (ummm… in the scene as described, they were all gathered around Moses during the conversation. Couldn’t they hear it themselves?), they belatedly decide that they’re going to do as they were first told and try to go into the promised land. As opposed to what they were just told about not being allowed to do so. And so, despite Moses’ warning that God wouldn’t protect them if they go now, they try to invade and get their asses kicked by the combined forces of the Amelekites and Canaanites.

This seems like a good time in the narrative for God to talk to Moses about how, once the Israelites come into the promised land, when they make offerings on the altar they should accompany them with grain and wine. And to talk about how to offer bread. And to reiterate rules about making offerings to atone for unintentional sins. Actually, it’s kind of a shitty and random place in the narrative for this conversation, but it’s where it happens nonetheless.

Last bit for this post:

“Num 15:32 While the peoples of Israel were in the wilderness they found a man gather sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and all the congregations. 34 They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. 35 And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ 36 And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as Yahweh commanded Moses.”

Stoned him to death. For gathering sticks.

Now, I’m a little fuzzy on why they didn’t think it was clear what they were supposed to do with this guy. I mean, it’s been stated pretty clearly on several occasions before now that people who work on the Sabbath are supposed to be put to death. Were they not sure whether gathering sticks counted as work? Or was it uncertain whether the guy was an Israelite or not (it’s not stated in the passage, and if he wasn’t then the Judaic law would presumably not apply). Or maybe they were suffering pangs of conscience over the fact that it’s a stupid, cruel, and unjust law, and so they were uncertain whether they were actually supposed to follow through on it.

Either way, apparently it’s “just” to kill someone for a situation where it was ambiguous whether they were actually breaking a law for which there was a death penalty. Even leaving aside that it’s fucking stupid to require death for breaking that law in the first place.

OK, I lied. That wasn’t quite the last bit. I’ll also toss in the next brief random command to wear tassels with blue cords on “the corners” of your garments, throughout all generations, as a reminder to follow God’s commands and not “whore after” one’s own eyes and one’s own heart.

That’ll be it for this post. Y’all take care!

Numbers: Something to Complain About

Welcome back, dear reader. We continue our Bible discussion today in the midst of the book of Numbers, with the Israelites having reached the end of their stay at Mount Sinai and setting off into the wilderness on their way to Canaan. No sooner do they set out than we get:

“Num 11:1 And the people complained in the hearing of Yahweh about their misfortunes, and when Yahweh heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of Yahweh burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.”

Complain, will you? I’ll give you something to complain about! Fwoosh!

Fortunately, Moses prayed to God and he stopped burning their shit (a method I’m certain everyone would agree should replace water and fire suppressant chemicals in modern firefighting). But the Israelites apparently didn’t connect the fires with their complaining, because they didn’t stop. You see, they’ve been going more than a year since leaving Egypt and in all that time apparently they’ve been eating nothing but manna (except Moses’ family, who have a constant supply of fresh meat from all the offerings at the altar). They seem to have found this state of affairs annoying.

Now, Moses notices the complaining, and is getting kind of stressed. So he goes and whines to God about how he can’t possibly lead all of these people by himself, and now they’re demanding meat that he can’t possibly provide for them. It’s some pretty intense bitching, to the point of telling God that if he doesn’t help him out somehow then he might as well just kill him right now.

So God tells Moses to gather together seventy elders, and he’ll put part of the spirit he’d put into Moses (whatever that means – maybe whatever it is that let him turn staves into snakes?) into each of the elders so they can help him out. He also tell him to tell the people that he’s going to give them meat… so much meat that they could eat it for a month until it’s coming out of their noses and they’re sick to death of meat. Moses is, oddly for someone whose seen what he’s supposedly seen, skeptical about God’s ability to do that. But God basically tells him to just go tell the people what he said and he’ll see what happens.

So Moses picks out his seventy elders and calls them to his tent. God shows up in his cloud and puts some of the Spirit into them and they start prophesying (but only for a little bit before they stop). Of course, nothing is said about what prophesies they made or whether they were useful, as opposed to just babbling. Also, supposedly two of the elders (Eldad and Medad) didn’t actually go to Moses’s tent, so when the Spirit was put in them they started prophesying in the camp. So Moses’ assistant Joshua comes to him to complain about it and ask him to stop them. But Moses rebuffs him, telling him he’d be thrilled if everyone were a prophet.

So after the elders depart back to the camp, God sends a strong wind to blow in a metric buttload of quail. They fall in a layer two cubits (about three feet) deep for a distance of a day’s journey on either side of the camp. So the people who’ve been craving meat go out and gather some up for a feast.

“Num 11:33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of Yahweh was kindled against the people, and Yahweh struck down the people with a very great plague.”


In case there’s any doubt as to whether that was a fatal plague, the next verse goes on to talk about burying the victims. No word on how many people died, though.

So just to be clear. We have a group of people here who’ve been wandering for a year in the wilderness eating nothing but cakes (which are described as tasting like cakes baked with oil, which would probably be pretty tasty if it wasn’t what you ate for every damned meal for a full year). These same people are watching the priests getting to eat free meat all the damn time. So their asking for meat is a perfectly reasonable complaint. And God’s response is to fatally poison them! And since he did it with an overabundance of the meat they were asking for, I suppose the authors thought it was cleverly poetic, but it’s just a dick move.

But just as an aside… even if you were to assume any of this happened historically, at least one uncontrolled fire in an encampment of over a million people, and an episode of food poisoning in such an encampment, are pretty freaking inevitable. You don’t actually need a god to explain it.

Do I have time and space for the next story? Hmmm… I guess so. It’s kind of short.

So the Israelites set out to Hazeroth, where they stop for a time. Then Aaron and his wife Miriam start complaining about Moses’ judgment on account of him marrying a Cushite woman. Since the only wife of Moses mentioned so far was a Midianite, I assume this is now talking about a second wife, although that isn’t stated explicitly. So they start arguing that God has also spoken through Aaron, and since Moses is clearly clueless on account of being ok with interracial marriage, people ought to listen to Aaron instead. Apparently Moses doesn’t immediately smite his brother down, and the reason given is fucking hilarious.

“Num 12:3 Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth.”

Moses is the meekest person on the face of the earth? The same Moses who first fled Egypt because he fucking murdered somebody? The same Moses who ordered the Levites to murder three thousand of their fellow Israelites? That meek motherfucker? Could the author possibly be more full of shit?

But fortunately for the meek fellow, God has his back and calls the three of them out to the tent of meeting. There, he reams Aaron and Miriam out, pointing out that when he speaks through other prophets he does it in dreams and riddles (aka useless bullshit), but only to Moses does he speak plainly and face-to-face, so they should be afraid to speak out against him. Then he turns Miriam into a leper to reinforce his point and departs.

Aaron, I suppose by virtue of having a penis, is not directly punished. Just Miriam. But Aaron admits they’d behaved foolishly and pleads for his wife. Then Moses prays on her behalf, and God answers (despite having left, and at no point are we informed that he returned) that she’ll be ok after being shut outside the camp for seven days. So they remain encamped for seven days until she’s better before setting out again for Paran.

That’s it for this post. Hope you had some fun with it. Next time we’ll move on to finding out why it is that it took the Hebrews forty years to cross the very small stretch of land between Egypt and Canaan. Until then, take care!

Numbers: A Break in the Action

Hello, hello! Welcome back to the Bible, and in particular today the Book of Numbers. We’d just finished talking about the oath of Nazirites, and now we’re moving on to the blessing Aaron is instructed to say over the Israelites. Of course like all the other instructions, this is something that God tells Moses to tell someone else. Here’s the blessing, which should be familiar to most Christians (and at this point I will again refer you to my post titled “Exodus: Name Shame,” to explain why you will be seeing the word “Yahweh” in place of what might be the more familiar “the Lord).

“Num 6:24 Yahweh bless you and keep you; 25 Yahweh make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

I find it amusing, simply because the stated purpose of this blessing is to “put my name upon the people of Israel,” but the silly translation convention of substituting “the LORD” for “Yahweh” serves to actually strip God’s name out of the blessing.

So after the sidetrack into random blessings and rules, the narrative returns to the numbers theme. In this case, the numbers have to do with the offerings made by the tribal chiefs upon the blessing of the tabernacle. The first of these offerings, offered by the chiefs as a group, consists of twelve oxen and six carts, which Moses distributes for the Levites to use in transporting the tabernacle. The Kohathites get none of them, because they have charge of the smallish implements that are to be transported on their backs rather than in carts.

Then there’s a second set of tribal offerings, which God instructs Moses to have the chiefs bring in at one day intervals.

“Num 7:12 He who offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah. 13 And his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, on silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with pot for a grain offering; 14 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 15 one bull from the her, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering; 17 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Nahshon the son of Amminadab.”

Now, the chiefs of the other eleven tribes give exactly identical offerings. A fact which the Bible might have conveyed with a simple list if it were written by sane and rational people. But since that would put the reader in danger of easily understanding simple facts, possibly without even falling asleep while reading them, the authors instead chose instead to repeat the above six verses, changing only the names, eleven more fucking times.

So in the end we get twelve silver plates, twelve silver basins (2,400 shekels of silver altogether), twelve golden dishes (120 shekels of gold value), twelve bulls, twelve rams, twelve lambs, and twelve goats for sin offerings, and twenty-four bulls, sixty rams, sixty male goats, and sixty male lambs for sin offerings spread out over twelve days. Remember that, depending on the type of sacrifice, the blood of each of those animals is supposed to be either splashed on the altar or poured out at its base. Try to imagine all the blood that had to be poured out on and around the altar. Just try. Really.

Then after a random instruction about lighting the lamps on the lampstand, we move on to the consecration of the Levites. This involves a cleansing ceremony in which the Levites are required to completely shave their bodies, wash themselves and their clothes, and of course offer an animal to be killed at the altar. Then God gives instruction that the Levites should serve in the temple from the age of twenty-five to fifty (even though earlier when he instructed Moses to take a census of Levites who would serve in the temple, he specified their ages from thirty to fifty). After fifty they would retire from active service in the temple, but could still perform guard duty outside.

After this, we come to the celebration of the Passover. This establishes that a year has passed since the Israelites left Egypt, and they are still camped at Sinai. Also, it’s pointed out that people who are in a state of uncleanness (for example, from touching a dead body) at the time of Passover are barred from participating, but are required to perform it at the same time a month later after they are clean.

Then there’s a long-winded repetition of the discussion on how a cloud settled over the tabernacle, and whenever the cloud rested there the Israelites would remain encamped, and whenever it lifted up and moved, the Israelites would march. This seems a little out of order, since they still have another order to receive and carry out before they actually start marching. This is the construction of a pair of silver trumpets, which God gives instructions about when and for what reasons they’re supposed to be blown. This includes blowing them to signal the Israelites to start marching.

But now, finally, on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year of their freedom from Egypt, they pack up and leave Sinai. Of course, even though we’ve already been told what order the Israelites are supposed to march in, we get a recounting here of what order they march in.

Then there’s recounted a conversation between Moses and Hobab, the son of Moses’ father-in-law Reuel (guess he got tired of being called Jethro and went back to being Reuel). Moses asks Hobab to go with them, but Hobab wants to go home and remain with his people. Moses asks him to reconsider, because they need him to show them where to camp because he knows the area better. Weren’t we just told that the cloud of God was doing the job of showing them when and where to camp? Doesn’t Moses think God is capable of doing that job reliably? Regardless, they set out and it’s never said whether Hobab agrees to go with them or not. But maybe not, because then we get this confusing passage.

“Num 10:33 So they set out from the mount of Yahweh three days’ journey. And the ark of the covenant of Yahweh went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them. 34 And the cloud of Yahweh was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. 35 And whenever the ark set out, Moses said ‘Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.’ 36 And when it rested he said “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.’”

Am I the only one who now has an image in his head of the ark levitating up and flying ahead of the Israelites to scout like one of those surveillance droids Darth Maul sent out to locate the Jedi on Tattooine in the The Phantom Menace?

Yes, I’m a geek.

Anyway, I think that’s enough for today. Sorry if it was kinda dull, but even the Bible can take the occasional break from saying truly outrageous stuff. Don’t worry; in the next post it picks up the pace as we start talking about the initial stages of the journey from Sinai. Until then, take care!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Numbers: Random Rules

Welcome back, for anyone who’s reading. If this has held your attention so far… great! Glad to be of some service to you.

As of my last post, we were just starting into the Book of Numbers, the fourth Book of the Bible. And yes, it had a lot of numbers. In fact, one of the numbers we’d just gotten through was a simple math error contained in the inerrant and perfect Bible, which apparently resulted in Moses and his family ripping off the Hebrew people.

So as we move on, the Bible repeats the duties of the Levite clans, just delving into them in greater detail. It especially takes great pains to specify that Aaron and his sons must carefully wrap all of the things from the holy implements from the sanctuary before the Kohathites can go and pick them up for transport, because even just looking at those implements might kill any non-priest. And this expansion on the duties includes yet another census count: this time of all the men between thirty and fifty years old, since those are the ages during which they are required to provide service (Kohathites: 2,750, Gershonites: 2,630, Merari 3,200). This time they added the total up correctly.

Immediately after this, God orders Moses to tell the people to put all the lepers and unclean people out of the camp. This is basically just a start to enforcing the rules set forth earlier in Leviticus about quarantining people with leprosy and/o who are unclean. Presumably they were to be admitted back into the camp once they were “clean” again, as those rules had stated, and this was not simply an instruction to kick them all out.

Then we get a reiteration about paying restitution for breaking faith with other people. Interestingly, there is a clarification here that specifies that if the person wronged is dead and has no next of kin, then the restitution has to be paid to the priests. Interestingly how the rules here are focusing more and more on putting wealth into the hands of Moses’ family.

After this, we get a rule that’s entirely new: a test for adultery. This is for cases where a man suspects his wife of sleeping with another man, but has no proof. Basically, whenever he feels suspicious of his wife, he can subject her to this bullshit. The test consists of taking her before the priest and giving a grain offering. Then the priest takes some holy water, sprinkles from dust from the tabernacle floor into it, and then recites an oath for the woman in which she swears that, if she’s been unfaithful, when she drinks the water (now referred to as “the water of bitterness that brings the curse”) her body will swell and her thigh fall (possibly wither?) away and her name will become a curse among the people. She agrees to this oath by saying “Amen, Amen.” Then the priest writes the accusation against her down, scrapes the ink from the accusation into the holy water/dust mixture, and then forces her to drink it.

Note that there is no similar test for a man if his wife suspects him of adultery, nor is there any penalty to the husband for a false accusation. Neither does the above curse appear to affect the man with whom the woman was sleeping nor is there any effort to identify and punish him. In fact, the act is repeatedly referred to as the woman having “defiled herself,” as if the man involved bears no responsibility in the act whatsoever. Pretty much, as far as I can tell thus far, the Biblical definition of adultery consists only of having sex with a married woman, and that a man (married or not) is pretty much free to fuck whomever he pleases so long as he avoids incest. And just to be sure the message that women are to blame comes across loud and clear, the section on this test ends with the following verse:

“Num 5:31 The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”

Just as an amusing aside, I did a little research about the test (mostly to try and figure out what the hell was meant by the bit about her thigh falling away). And I came across a bit of commentary that claimed that since there aren’t any known instances of a woman’s name being used as a curse as this test would require if they failed it, that must mean that the test was an effective deterrent to adultery. No mention at all of the far more likely conclusion that the test is bullshit, there is no supernatural curse transmitted by dirty water blessed by priests (though there’s the perfectly natural one of dysentery), and therefore nobody ever fails it.

Then the Bible moves on to discussing Nazirites. These are people (man or woman), who take a special oath to set themselves aside to God for a period of time. These people are not allowed to ingest alcohol or grapes, or any grape products in any form. They’re not allowed to shave or cut their hair, nor go near any dead bodies (not even those of any close relatives, if one should happen to die during the period of the oath). Apparently God felt pretty strongly about that last part, since he goes on to clarify that even if somebody dies suddenly right next to you with no opportunity for you to save them or get away, you’ve somehow fucked up and need to atone for it.

“Num 6:9 And if any man dies very suddenly next to him and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. 10 On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest to the entrance to the tent of meeting, 11 and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. And he shall consecrate his head that same day.”

Take note of the portion I bolded there. The poor Nazirite is blamed for committing a sin, even though he had no control over the situation, no knowledge it was coming in order to try and avoid it, and hell, he didn’t even fucking do anything! But he sinned. Now take into account that, depending what Christian/Jew you’re talking to, if somebody just has and aneurism and dies right out of the blue it’s because God gave him the aneurism (and no matter what believer you’re talking to, he at least had the power to prevent it and chose not to), you’re right back into Orwellian nightmare territory. This is a world where God has reserved the right to kill the guy standing next to you and call you a sinner for it. And moreover, specifically to do this to people who have gone out of their way to demonstrate devotion to God. It’s increasingly difficult to understand how anyone can believe, much less endorse, this world view.

Oh, and by the way, once the Nazirite has made his little sacrifice of atonement for the sin, he’s still subject to the additional penalty of having all the time he’s served on his oath getting wiped out and having to start over.

Once the Nazirite has finally completed the period of his oath, it’s naturally ended with more offerings (bread and a ram). And naturally, most of that offering ends up as free food for the priest.

This seems like as good a stopping point as any, since this portion of the text seems to be assembled pretty much at random anyway. Hope everyone is well, and catch you next time!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Numbers: Appropriately Named

If Leviticus was a book for lawyers, Numbers seems to be a book for accountants.

It starts out with God commanding Moses to get together the leaders of all the tribes, who he calls out by name, while they’re still on Sinai and have them take a census of all of their men over twenty years old who are able to fight. The Levites are excepted from this census. So Moses gets them together and they start counting.

“Num 1:20 The people of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 21 those listed of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500.”

Now, you see those words up there? Repeat them eleven more times, changing only the name of the tribe and the number counted at the end. That’s how the Bible lists this census. Because why use one word when you can bore your audience to tears with way, way more words than you can possibly need? Here, I can summarize about twenty-seven verses just like this:

Reuben: 46,500

Simeon: 59,300

Gad: 45,650

Judah: 74,600

Issachar: 54,400

Zebulun: 57,400

Joseph: 40,500

Manasseh: 32,200

Benjamin: 35,400

Dan: 62,700

Asher: 41,500

Naphtali: 53, 400

Total: 603,550

See? Isn’t that nice and succinct? Wouldn’t you agree that something that’s trying to teach you facts ought to do so in a clear and concise manner? The Bible seems to disagree.

By the way, the Bible doesn’t make a point of mentioning this, but remember earlier there was a law put in place that whenever the Israelites take a census they’re supposed to give half a shekel per person counted to God (i.e. the priests, i.e. Moses’ brother and his family)? That would mean that this particular “command from God” netted the Moses family about 300,000 shekels of silver, or roughly 120,000 ounces (roughly $2.4 million at today’s prices). Hot damn, the “talking to God” business was profitable!

Anyhow, God moves on to explain that the Levites are to be set aside from the census, and that they are going to have the responsibility of guarding, caring for, and transporting the tabernacle. As such, they are instructed to camp around the tabernacle whenever the Israelites are encamped.

Now God’s apparently a bit of a micromanager, because he then goes on to specify exactly where each of the tribes is supposed to camp whenever they stop, and what order they are supposed to leave camp when they move. So we get Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun camping in the eastern quarter of the camp, and they always set out first. Reuben, Simeon, and Gad camp in the south, and they set out second. Then the Levites from the center set out. Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin are in the west, and set out after the Levites. And finally, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali are in the north and set out last. Apparently the author felt it was important to let us know, as well, how many people that meant would have lived in each quarter of the camp, and then repeat the total number it added up to again. Told you this book was appropriately named.

Then we get a brief recounting of the names of all of Aaron’s sons, along with a reminder that God killed two of them for deviating from their consecration ceremony with the unauthorized incense burning. This segues into an instruction for the Levites to gather around for Aaron to minster to them, then into a discussion of the specific duties of the Levites. God also tells Moses that he claims the tribe of Levites for his own in place of the firstborn from among the Israelites (hopefully you remember back in Exodus when God claimed all the firstborn as his).

The Levites are to act as guards for the tabernacle and for Aaron and his sons, with standing orders to kill any outsiders who mess with them. They are also assigned additional duties with respect to the tabernacle and camping spaces, according to their clans (which appear to be subgroups within the tribe based on which particular member of Levi’s family you’re descended from). Also, all of them a month or older are supposed to be counted at this point. So we get:

Gershonites: 7,500, west side (tabernacle, tent with its coverings, screen for the tent entrance, hangings of the court, the door to the court).

Kohathites: 8,600, south side (ark, table, lampstand, altars, vessels).

Merari: 6,200, north side (frames, bars, pillars, bases and accessories).

We’re told that the total number of Levites added up to 22,000. Add up those numbers. What do you get?

OK, sure, so they’re off by 300. Maybe it’s just an estimate, not really a mistake. No big deal, right? But then… get this.

The next thing God orders Moses to do is to take another census, this time to figure out how many firstborn are among the Israelites. Because, remember, God is claiming all the Levites in place of the firstborn. And the number of firstborn they come up with is 22,273. That’s 273 more firstborn than Levites if you use the 22,000 number, which means God is getting 273 fewer people than he is “owed.” So “God” charges the Israelites a “redemption fee” of 5 shekels for each of those 273 people.

But wait… in order to do that, the 22,000 Levites has to be treated as a real number, not as an estimate. But it’s fucking wrong! The numbers of the Levite clans add up to 22,300, which means there are more Levites than firstborn. If anything, God owes the Israelites money!

I did a little looking about the ‘net to see what apologists say about this. The big two explanations I found were 1) somewhere along the line some scribe made a transcription error (key word: error), 2) there were 300 firstborn among the Levites, and since firstborn couldn’t be used to redeem firstborn (for some reason not stated in the text) they couldn’t be counted in the total (but for 300 people out of 22,300 to be firstborn, that would mean an average family size of 74, which is simply ridiculous). Nobody seemed to take seriously the possibility that Moses just straight-up ripped the Israelites off, and the math error is so basic and obvious that it does seem hard to believe that was the case. But who knows? We kind of take for granted these days that people are versed in basic math, but how many people in those days would have done anything more than throw their hands in the air when confronted with numbers in the tens of thousands?

But draw your own conclusions.

Anyhow, I think that’s enough for today. This is turning out to be another dry book, but I have hopes that, like Leviticus, it’ll still produce enough ridiculousness worth commenting on that it’ll keep some interest. In the meantime, take care all!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Leviticus: Human Effing Sacrifice

Welcome back. We’re slogging our way through Leviticus, and ended the last post with the story of a young man stoned to death for the victimless crime of blasphemy. The Bible tells us this was just. Do you believe that? It might be worth thinking about (as might the implications of the answer you come up with).

So next we swing from brutal killings to a little concept called the Sabbath Year. Basically, it’s letting your fields go fallow once every seven years. My understanding is that giving your fields a rest now and then is a good thing, though I have no idea whether doing so every seven years is ideal or merely a product of the Bible authors’ obsession with the number seven.

That number obsession shows up again in the Jubilee, which occurs every fifty years. The Bible specifies this as the year after seven sevens of years has passed. And the festival associated with it starts on the tenth day of the (wait for it) seventh month. In the year of Jubilee, you’re not supposed to sow fields nor reap whatever grows on its own. The claim is that God would make it such that the harvest in the year before would be so great that they’d have enough food left over to get all the way through the jubilee year without harvesting anything new (actually, it makes this claim for the year before every Sabbath year as well).

That last bit? That’s what we call a testable claim. I should be interested to see if anyone trying to follow these Biblical instructions actually sees a dramatic increase in crop yields in that one year. However, my brief sojourn into the internet seems to indicate that nobody has followed the jubilee rules for centuries… possibly because they’re bullshit and didn’t hold up in actual practice.

And the Jubilee has some… odd… rules regarding property. I’ll see if I can summarize them.

In the year of Jubilee, the Israelites are to return to their own property. Even if they had previously sold it, it now reverts back to them. Because of this, whenever you sell property you’re supposed to pro-rate the price of the land based on how many years remain until the next Jubilee. Basically, the Jews are forbidden to actually sell their land, but are only allowed to sell the right to use their land until the next Jubilee.

This sort of implies that peacefully acquiring land on a permanent basis from Israelites is impossible.

In addition, land that has been sold can be redeemed (bought back) before the jubilee year. If the original owner can meet the price, it has to be sold back to him.

Interestingly, dwellings in walled cities are an exception. These can only be redeemed within a year of the sale, and after that they belong to the buyer forever. They are not returned in the jubilee. Houses in unwalled villages are treated like other property (can be redeemed at any time and must be returned in the jubilee). Interestingly the Levites (one of the tribes, of which Moses and Aaron are conveniently members) get additional exceptions, in that they are allowed to redeem city dwellings at any time, and get them back in the jubilee at any rate.

Say, remember when I told you the publishers of the version I’m reading include “helpful” section headings that aren’t in the original text? The next one is titled “Kindness for Poor Brothers.” It’s funny, because while yes, this section includes a number of instructions on kindness owed to fellow Israelites, it’s also the section that instructs them that they can buy slaves from the nations around them, who will be their possession forever and can be passed down by inheritance just like any other property. Kindness to poor brothers indeed!

And for the record, among the kindnesses owed to poor Israelites is that if they sell themselves into servitude to cover their debts, you have to allow relatives to redeem them, or release them at the jubilee for free. Of course, you may also remember earlier when we discussed how you can manipulate even other Israelites into becoming permanent slaves.

Then we get into eleven verses on the blessings God will give the Hebrews for obedience, followed by thirty-three verses on the punishments for disobedience. So you see where the priorities lie.

Now we’re (finally) into the last section of Leviticus. This discusses the treatment and valuation of things – and yes, people - given to God. And there are a few different levels of gifting things to God. At one level, things (and people) are dedicated to God but can be redeemed (bought back) by paying money to the priests. This section sets the value at which the priest should allow you to redeem those things and people. As in, yes, it sets a monetary value on people.

Of course this shouldn’t be surprising by this point. Since the Bible pretty clearly states that people can be bought as property, that implies that they do in fact have a monetary value. In this section we learn that the value of people depends on age (basically adults in prime working years are worth more than the very old or the very young) and gender (females are consistently valued at just over half the value of a male of similar age).

Property dedicated at this level follows the same rules as selling property to others – it gets valued according to the time left until jubilee, and has to be returned to the owner for free at the jubilee. If the person doesn’t want it back at that time, it becomes the permanent property of God (which means, in practice, the priests), just as a thing devoted.

Which brings us to the second level of giving things to God: devoting. Something “devoted” to God is his permanently, can never be redeemed, and is considered “most holy.” It is here that we find the big bombshell of this portion of the text.

“Lev 27:28 But no devoted thing that a man devotes to Yahweh, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to Yahweh. 29 No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.”

Just to make that more clear, the footnotes add that the phrase “who is to be devoted for destruction,” can also be validly translated as “that is set apart as an offering to the LORD.”

Human. Fucking. Sacrifice.

Why the fuck do we never hear about this passage? It surprised me to see it, and as I said in my introduction, this is not the first time I've read up through this section. I think that it's just one of those things that is so at odds with everything you've ever been told about what the Bible says that you just kind of read past it without even acknowledging what it means.
Anyhow, I just had to look it up and see what Christian sites had to say on the subject. The apologetics I found on this are pathetic.
For example, one claims that this whole passage is simply a warning not to make rash vows to God. Along the lines of “if you make a vow that involves devoting someone permanently to God, you should know that you’ll never see that person again so you shouldn’t do it.” Except that nothing in the passage says, or even remotely hints, that devoting people to God is a practice to be discouraged. In fact, defining them as “most holy,” is fucking active encouragement to do it. And also, in the context of a society that clearly views other human beings as property, the idea of seeing one killed is nowhere near the disincentive it would be for us today. This excuse is bullshit.

Another apologetic says that this really means that a person devoted to God simply belongs to him for the rest of his life, which he will live out in service to God until his natural death. Which completely ignores every common understanding of the phrases “devoted for destruction,” and “put to death.”

The apologetics have two things in common. The first is that they all claim the God of the Bible does not, and never did, ask for or accept human sacrifices. The second is that they arrive at this conclusion by completely fucking ignoring what the text literally says!

It’s right there. God accepted human sacrifices, and considered them to be among the most holy of gifts. The god of the Bible is a blood god, as savage and primitive as the people who created him. And even leaving aside the question of human sacrifice, there will be ample demonstration of that fact in upcoming Bible books as well.

There’s a few short verses on tithes after that, but this basically brings us to the end of Leviticus. And not a moment too soon. When next we come back, we’ll be starting the Book of Numbers.

You guys take care!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Leviticus: A Victimless Crime

Hello and welcome back. I’ve had some time to get the ick out of my head from my last post, and I’m prepared to move on with Leviticus. But even finding that there’s plenty of stuff worth commenting on doesn’t really make the format of Leviticus any easier to deal with, what with the lists of rules that basically take up the whole book. But I soldier on and try to make it interesting to read if I can.

So when I ended the last post, we were in the middle of the section on rules for priests. Since they’re mostly ritual rules that probably aren’t going to apply to 99.9% of anyone reading this, I’m not going to waste much time on going over them in any detail. I’ll just bring up a few interesting details if they catch my attention as something worth talking about.

Anyhow, the first thing that caught my attention was still in the section on the chief priest, where it states that he shall not go out of the sanctuary (i.e. temple). At this point in the story, complying with that demand would be pretty damn hard, since the Jews are traveling between Egypt and Canaan, and the sanctuary tent as described is way too damn big to transport without taking it apart. Maybe that command will make sense once they settle, but where it’s placed in the story it doesn’t.

The next interesting thing was that none of Aaron’s descendants (the priesthood is, apparently, hereditary) are allowed to bring God’s offerings to him if they “have a blemish,” or are disfigured, maimed, or disabled in any way because that would be profane. Many of the conditions they listed are the sort that people could be born with or acquire accidentally, so it seems like kind of a dick move for God to create people with inborn conditions that he considers profane. It’s like, just fucking with people because he can.

A little later, we get some more details about the portion of the sacrifices that priests are allowed to eat. Non-priests are not allowed to eat it, because it’s holy and they’re not. But a priest’s slaves are allowed to eat it. So just to recap. Being born blind or lame: profane. Owning other people: not profane. Good one.

So after the bit about priestly rules, there’s a little bit about what constitutes an acceptable sacrifice. It basically amounts to that, with a few narrow exceptions, they have to be physically perfect just like the priests making them.

We move on to a recap on holidays that have been mentioned haphazardly earlier in the Bible. So we get a reminder that nobody is allowed to work on the Sabbath, and that Passover is supposed to be celebrated every year (complete with the seven-day-long Feast of unleavened Bread). There’s also the Feast of Firstfruits, in which the best products of the first harvest of the year are to be offered, and nobody is allowed to eat of the harvest until this has been done. Seven weeks later there’s another holiday (Feast of Weeks) that involves making more offerings to God. Then we get introduced to a holiday to occur on the first day of the seventh month (of the Jewish calendar) that is supposed to be signaled with a blast of trumpets. The text doesn’t name this holiday, but the “handy” headings the translators provided call it the Feast of Trumpets. I’ve never heard of it. The tenth day of the same month sees a Day of Atonement when they’re supposed to “afflict themselves,” which is a phrase alternately translated in an earlier passage as “fast.” And on that day anyone who doesn’t “afflict themselves” should be shunned, and anyone who does any work should be killed.

The last holiday we get introduced here is the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles, depending on translation), which starts on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. It’s a seven-day celebration, with daily food offerings to God (i.e., feeding the priests for free). And everyone is supposed to live in booths (tabernacles) for the full seven days. It’s a statute forever. So why have I never seen anyone move into their church/temple/synagogue for a week in midsummer?

Moving on, more about the lamp to be lit in the sanctuary, and bread for the offerings, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Wow, this is boring. Fortunately, the Bible can sense my waning interest, and decides to perk things up a bit with a story. It’s a fun one about the son of an Israelite woman (but whose father is Egyptian), who gets in a fight with another Israelite man in the camp. Tempers flare, and in the course of the argument he says something interpreted as cursing the name of God (the exact words weren’t recorded, but I like to think it was something pithy along the lines of “To Hell with Yahweh!”).

So anyway, the people confine him until God has a chance to weigh in on what should be done. Moses consults, and God gives the unsurprising verdict that the young man should be stoned to death. He then goes on to clarify that this is a general rule: anyone who blasphemes against God is to be put to death, including non-Jews living among them.

From here there’s a brief lecture about how any injury done from one person to another should be repaid in kind.

“Lev 24:19 if anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.”

Now, this actually doesn’t seem like a horrifically unreasonable code. As a rough rule, I can see some value in it. I’m just struck by the tremendous irony that this instruction is given immediately after God decrees a death sentence, and just before the people carry it out, for the crime of saying some mean words about God!

Just an aside for those people who think US law is based on the law of the Bible: not only is this kind of thing not contained in American law, it is explicitly forbidden as one of our highest national principles. In fact, if American law can in any way be said to be based on the Bible, it would only be in the sense of being based on explicitly repudiating it as much as possible. Because many of these laws are barbaric trash.

I am also reminded at this point of a bumper sticker someone was telling me about. Quite apropos to the situation: Blasphemy is a Victimless Crime.

Anyway, that’s the end of storytime, and the Bible goes back to listing more rules. In a striking illustration of non-sequitur, after that diversion from holidays into punishing blasphemy it jumps right back to holidays. But we can get to that when I get back in my next post.

Take care all!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Leviticus: The Aflac Method

This book is proving to be kind of a challenge to write about. Because a great deal of it is pretty much list upon list of rules and laws loosely organized into paragraphs. It’s really dry, and any given section doesn’t necessarily have a theme to talk around. Plus, since I’m trying not to leave out important details, I’m sort of harnessed into following the lists of rules format while at the same time trying to at least be interesting to read. Naturally, this kind of leads me toward condensing the laws as much as possible. I hope that it’s not too much drudgery for you to read it.

But to continue from where we left off, God had just laid down a whole bunch of laws about who you’re not allowed to have sex with. Then he moves on to commanding Moses to tell the people to be holy. This followed by another list of rules that is basically a repetition of laws already laid down earlier, now with the added innovation of repeating “I am Yahweh” every second or third line like some sort of product placement deal (brought to you by Carl’s Junior). So we are reminded that the people are supposed to revere their fathers and mothers, keep the Sabbath, not make idols, etc. Priests must eat their portions of sacrifices within two days and then destroy what’s left, and eating it on or after the third day profanes it (somehow – more likely this is one of those things meant to keep people from accidentally eating spoiled food disguised as a mandate from God).

Then we move on to some stuff of more practical value. These include instructions to leave a portion of the food from your fields for the poor and sojourners to gather for themselves (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t defraud, don’t swear falsely by God’s name (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t oppress your neighbor, or rob him, and don’t withhold payment from your servants. And don’t fuck with cripples (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t commit perjury, or slander people (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t hate your neighbor, or seek vengeance, or bear grudges. Love your neighbor as yourself (“I am Yahweh”). What are the royalties on all that product placement?

So there’s some good stuff in there. I’ll cop to it without reservation. But this is the Bible, so it can’t make sense for too many verses in a row. So then we get into… don’t crossbreed your cattle, don’t grow two crops together, don’t make garments from two kinds of material. Oddly, in the middle of this talk about farming practices, there’s a bit about how if a man sleeps with another man’s slave woman, they shouldn’t be punished because she wasn’t free. Instead, the man has to make an offering of a ram to God, then all is forgiven.

Back to the farming practices, briefly, before running off into random stuff again. Really, there’s no organizing principle here at all. So you get admonitions not to interpret omens or turn your daughter into a prostitute mixed in with advice on how long you should wait after planting a fruit tree before you start harvesting fruit for food. And all of it accompanied by that “brought to you by God” advertising plug (the theological equivalent of the Aflac duck).

At this point, I think I’m going to give up trying to list all the rules except in the most general sense. It’d be tedious to read (and write), and you can always look them up in the Bible if you’re really that interested. So I’ll just stick to what catches my attention for comment.

And the next thing to catch my attention is the admonition against sacrificing your children to Molech. It doesn’t mention any other god, just Molech. Presumably it’s OK to sacrifice kids to other gods, and we know from the Abraham story that Yahweh himself explicitly demands the level of devotion required to sacrifice your own children (even if he did actually put a stop to it… that time – more on that in a later post). So… yeah.

We move on to find later…

“Lev 20:9 For anyone who curses is father or mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.”

Now at first this seems a little harsh. Has there ever been a child who ever lived who did not at some point say “Fuck you, dad!?” And yet clearly Jewish and Christian parents haven’t killed every child who ever lived, so what gives? Well… based on the context, I suspect that there may be a bit more to it than that. See, this verse immediately follows a repetition of the admonition not to consult with mediums or necromancers (who are also supposed to be put to death). So it may be that when they say not to curse your mother or father, they’re talking about casting a harmful magic spell on them. And that might account for the harshness of the punishment if those things were real. But since they’re not, it’s just outrageously and violently stupid.

Remember earlier when there was that discussion on forbidden sex partners? Well, the Bible finally gets around to proscribing punishments for them. For most it’s death for everyone involved, because apparently in the Bible whenever you break the rules something has to die. And of course there’s the famous Lev 20:13 that claims homosexuality (among men – women aren’t mentioned) is deserving of death. But remember that banning of the mother/daughter fantasy? They must’ve felt pretty strongly about that – not only does everyone have to die, but they have to die by fire! That’s some hardcore stuff right there.

Oh yeah… sleeping with your sister is supposed to result in you being cut off from your people… except that the people being specifically referred to in these laws (the Israelites) are descended from a guy sleeping with his sister (Abraham and Sarah).

Then there’s a section on how the priests are supposed to keep themselves holy, and instructions on how to do so. Among those things are not touching dead people except for close relatives, only marrying virgins, burning their daughters to death if they try to become prostitutes (wtf?), and this little gem, which may only apply to the chief priest (the one who is consecrated to wear the holy garments):

“Lev 21:11 He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother.”

Umm… what the…? If you’ve been paying attention in previous passages, the phrase “go in to” is frequently used in the Bible as a euphemism for having sex. Now… this admonition does not show up in the sections for the general populace, just for the priest. And the phrase “…even for his father or for his mother,” as if, were this not specifically spelled out, the priest might otherwise think that this proscription does not apply to his father or mother.

Please… somebody… tell me this is a case of ambiguous translation or language. Please tell me this doesn’t imply what I think it implies about the Israelite funereal practices. Because… mind… bending… horror…

I think I’ll be trying my best to unsee that. And call it a day, because I don’t know that I can really concentrate on going further until I get that particular thought out of my head. You guys take care.