Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Numbers: Is it the Sexism or the Genocide?

Welcome back once again. I’m still at it: my ongoing reading of the Bible. According to my reader app, I’m now 14% of the way through it, and we find ourselves in the vicinity of Chapter 28 of the Book of Numbers. When last we left off, Moses had been informed that he was going to die soon, and God had just picked Joshua to replace Moses as leader of the Israelites. They were just on the verge of being allowed to cross the Jordan into the promised land, and there was the specter of war with the Midianites, whom God had ordered them to kill. Quite a lot of dramatic tension in the air.

So naturally the narrative takes a random detour into God’s demands for more offerings. In a very effective killing of narrative flow, we are treated to more than seventy verses, two full chapters, detailing exactly how many and which types of animals need to be slaughtered and burned (for a pleasing aroma to God) on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis as well as for special feasts like Passover, The Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, and Feast of Booths. On the plus side, that does allow you, as my readers, to skip two full chapters ahead.

Not that the narrative picks up from there – God has some things to say about vows as well. And the rules are different for men and women. The men’s rules are simple. A man makes a vow, he’s bound by it. He has to do what he promises to do.

The rules for women are more complicated. The way they work is that a woman is bound by her vows… unless their father disagrees (if they haven’t married yet), or their husband disagrees (if they are married). Under those conditions, their father or husband simply gets to veto the woman’s promises. Also, if a woman has made a vow, then later gets married, her husband gets to nullify her existing promises as well. Now as if the rule itself weren’t sexist enough, it is expressed in one of the most condescending passages it has ever been my displeasure to read:

“Num 30:8 But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And Yahweh will forgive her.”

Thoughtless utterance of her lips?! Fucking seriously?! In the eyes of the Bible, even the most solemn vow of a woman holds no more weight than mindless babbling unless validated by a man? I’m a man, and I’m fucking offended by that attitude. This whole passage smacks of a belief that women are essentially children throughout their entire life. And based on the prevailing attitude portrayed up to this point, possibly evil children at that. Grrr!

OK, calm, finding my center. Deep breaths.

Moving on, God has one more task for Moses to complete before he dies.

“Num 31:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying 2 ‘Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.’”

Now let’s recall that the horrid offense committed by the Midianites, for which the people of Israel must avenge themselves, was to accept them, intermarry with them, and invite them to their religious ceremonies. Mostly that last part, because God had told the Israelites they weren’t allowed to join in the worship of any other gods.

Bear in mind, by the way, that Moses’ own wife is a Midianite woman, and her father had provided Moses with helpful advice in the past. Which I mention just so you can have an idea of exactly how much that goodwill is worth in the face of fanaticism.

Under Moses’ orders, the Israelites attacked the Midianites and killed every man among them, taking the women and children prisoner and plundering all of their goods and livestock. Also, you remember Balaam from that silly story about the talking donkey? The guy who obeyed God and refused to curse the Israelites when the Moabites tried to pay him off to do so? They killed him too, the ungrateful shits (Moses later claims that it was Balaam who advised the Midianites to try and convert the Israelites, though this was never actually said in the description of the event). And when they return from battle with all of their plunder, Moses is angry with them, demanding to know why they let the women and children live. Then he gives a new set of orders.

“Num 31:17 ‘Therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by lying with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.’”

See, that’s what we like to call a war crime. But setting aside modern legal definitions, I invite you to imagine the Midianite perspective. A massive horde of people shows up out of the blue. You’re scared at first, but over the course of a few years things settle down. You start to make a few friends among the newcomers. Some of your neighbors marry some of them. Maybe you marry one, or your daughter does. You invite them to church, because hey, that’s what neighbors do. Then one day out of the blue, they explode into an orgy of violence, killing everyone you know and love, including the children. And if you’re a young girl, you’re forced to spend the rest of your life serving (and almost certainly in a sexual capacity) the monsters who slaughtered your mother, father, and brothers.

And the bastards who did this get to be considered heroes because they were acting on the orders of the malevolent, imaginary specter we call God? I don’t think so.

The remainder of the chapter is dedicated to listing all the gold, silver, animals, and human beings plundered by the Israelites, and how the spoils were divided up (with, of course, the requisite portion of gold, silver, animals, and human beings given to the priests as God’s portion). It’s kind of sickening if you dwell on it, and so I won’t.

In fact, I think I’m going to go ahead and call this today’s stopping point. Numbers is going to drag on for a bit, still, so there’s at least one more full post ahead before we move on to the next book. In the meantime, you all be well and take care.

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