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!

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