Friday, August 2, 2013

Numbers: The Israelites’ First Genocide

Welcome back, dear reader.

I gotta say, I’m pretty dissatisfied with my last post. I feel like I wasted most of it on tediously repetitious stuff. Admittedly, that was partly due to the material I had to work with, but I was still disappointed with the product. So my apologies once again.

Returning to Numbers, we are once again moving forward with the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness. And as we discussed toward the end of the last post, the Israelites had just dropped in on the city of Kadesh, and Moses had been punished for not giving God enough (as in all) credit. At this point Moses wants to move the Israelites on from Kadesh into the land of Edom, so he sends a message to the king of Edom asking permission to pass through his territory.

For some funny reason, the king of Edom doesn’t want two million people (i.e. probably more than the population of his kingdom) traipsing across his lands, so he says no. There’s a bit of back and forth, with Moses promising that they won’t try to leave the road or eat their food. The king of Edom says that if they try to cross his lands he will send his army to attack them, but Moses keeps trying to persuade him. It’s only when the king actually sends his army out that Moses gives up on the plan and heads off in another direction.

So the Israelites wander on toward someplace called Mount Hor. And when they get to the mountain, God tells Moses that it’s time for Aaron to die. He orders Moses to take Aaron and his son Eleazar up onto the mountain and have Aaron give his high priest robes to his son before dying. So they do, and Aaron dies, and then supposedly the people of Israel wept for thirty days. I’m guessing more of a period of official mourning, since the constant rebellions suggest at least a good portion of the people wouldn’t have been all that sorry to see him go.

Meanwhile, the king of Arad (a Canaanite, which in Biblical terms means evil) had heard that a metric fuckton of Israelites were getting ready to pass through his lands, so he attacked them and ended up taking some captive.

“Num 21:1 And Israel vowed a vow to Yahweh and said ‘If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction.’”

Now if you’ve been paying attention all along, then you may be beginning to suspect the implication of that vow. And I’ll clarify it a little for you by saying that the footnotes give an alternative translation of the phrase “I will devote their cities to destruction,” as “I will set aside their cities as an offering to Yahweh.”

The Israelites are promising that if God helps them defeat Arad, then they will offer every single one of them as human sacrifices.

“Num 21:3 And Yahweh heeded the voice of Israel, and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.”

Clearly God liked the deal, because he helped them win and they did in fact sacrifice the inhabitants of the cities of Arad to him. And aside from being an example of mass human sacrifice, you know what else it was?


That’s the last we hear about Arad, too. The Bible, which dedicated almost fifty verses to describing how much fucking loot the various tribes gifted to God to sanctify his little murder temple, and hundreds of verses gushing about said temple’s decorations, tosses off the destruction and bloody sacrifice of an entire people with a whole three verses. Truly it is the Good Book.


Moving on, the Israelites head out from Mount Hor to try and circle around Edom. But the people get impatient with the length of the journey, and the fact that they’re still eating the same damn thing every meal of every day, and so they start bitching at Moses once again.

So God provided them with some new and tasty food to break up the monotony.

Nah, I’m just fucking with you. He sent poisonous snakes to bite and kill a bunch of them. You didn’t expect anything different, did you? Haven’t you been paying attention?

So the people go back to Moses to grovel and beg him to ask God to save them from the snakes. So Moses prays to God, and God saves them from the snakes. But the method he chooses is… odd.

“Num 21:8 And Yahweh said to Moses ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”

I seem to remember something about not making idols and worshipping them. It’s supposed to be a pretty important commandment, in fact. But here you have God commanding them to create an idol, and by gazing upon it they are saved from a punishment God himself imposed. Does this make any damn sense to anyone? It’s almost like he’s tempting them to start worshipping this new idol and start believing it’s more powerful than Yahweh (possibly as a prelude to killing another load of them). Or like the Israelites really did worship multiple gods, and someone just did kind of a crappy job of scrubbing them out of the literature once singular Yahweh worship became dominant.

There really is a lot in this book that smacks of poor attempts to cover up stuff. Either that, or complete nonsense. Take your pick.

Next the Israelites set out from Mount Hor, and we get a bunch of places where they camped in their route near the borders of Moab. One of the places was called Beer (which some readers may consider the holiest thing in this book :P ), and there they found a well and sang  song about it.

And since we’re next going to be getting into some more wars, which could take a bit of space to write about, I’m gonna go ahead and call this today’s stopping point. Until next we meet, be well!

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