Thursday, September 26, 2013

Deuteronomy: Scattershot Law

Hello once again, dear reader. I’m guessing by now you know that this is my Bible blog, in which I discuss my impressions of the Bible as I read through it. At present I’m making my way through Deuteronomy, and Moses is giving speeches laying down the “final” versions of the laws that the Israelites are supposed to follow in their promised land. At the end of my last post, he had just gotten through the extremely sketchy section on what kings are supposed to do.

We rejoin our genocidal hero as he returns to the topic of Levitical priests (he seems to like to tell the people a little bit about a subject, then go talk about something wholly unrelated, then come back to the previous subject. He does this quite a bit and imo, it’s a horrible way to organize a treatise on laws). In this spot, he’s just reminding us that the Levitical priests are entitled to eat a portion of the offerings made to God at the temple. Also, any Levite living elsewhere can decide at any time that he wants to go become a priest at the temple, and when he does he will also be entitled to an equal share in the food from the offerings.

After that, he returns for at least the third time to the subject of abominable practices of the people whose land they’re about to take that God will not stand for among his people. Here’s the list:

Deu 18:10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to Yahweh. And because of these abominations, Yahweh your God is driving them out before you.”

OK, so, burning your son or daughter to death is pretty abominable (and it’s been established that God wants his people to be willing to do if he told them to). But in the practical sense, everything else on that list is bullshit and fraud. However, if you look at it from a worldview in which this stuff is literally true and actually happens, a good bit of it is stuff that Yahweh’s followers have done or claimed to do and been rewarded for (e.g. Joseph claimed to be a diviner, and he most certainly interpreted omens and dreams to tell the future).

Next, Moses tells the people how God has promised to raise up a new prophet (the Hebrews may not have sorcerers, charmers, and fortune tellers, but they have prophets, who appear to do much the same stuff, they just claim to do it in Yahweh’s name rather than some other god or from their own abilities) once Moses dies. Like he did with Moses, God will speak directly to this prophet and have him convey God’s wishes to the people. False prophets can be identified by the fact that they will give predictions in God’s name that won’t come true, and such people are condemned to death (hear that, Robertson?).

Then, just like that, we’re of that topic and onto cities of refuge. I’ve covered them in another post, and nothing seems to have really changed, so I won’t bother repeating it here.

Randomly: you’re not allowed to move your neighbor’s property markers.

And then we’re back to legal disputes and judges. Dammit, Moses, finish a topic before spraying twelve more out onto the page!

In this part about legal disputes, we get it repeated that that one witness alone isn’t enough to convict someone of a crime. Also, if someone bears false witness at a trial, their penalty is the same as what the falsely accused man would have received (actually, I think that’s a pretty cool idea).

Next topic: warfare. The Hebrews are instructed not to fear armies greater than their own, because God will help them fight. Before battle, a priest is supposed to give an inspirational speech. Then the officers are supposed to send home anyone who has a new vineyard they haven’t eaten from yet, those who have new homes that haven’t been consecrated yet, those who have fiancés they haven’t bedded yet, and people who are just plain scared (so that their panic doesn’t spread). Then they choose a commander and commence with the ass whuppin’.

When they attack a city, they’re to offer “terms of peace,” (i.e. surrender). If the city surrenders, everyone in it becomes slaves. If they fight back, then every male in the city is to be killed, and just the women and children enslaved. But these rules don’t apply to the cities in the promised land: every living thing in all of those cities are to be “devoted to destruction.” They are explicitly ordered to commit genocide against the Hitites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Interesting how these days we can abhor someone for committing a single genocide, while for some reason we’re expected to admire Moses and his successor Joshua for committing five (not counting the ones they’ve already committed before this point in the story).

Oh, but at least they’re instructed not to cut down the fruit trees to make siege weapons. So there’s that.

But as barbaric as the warfare rules are, at least they make a sort of sense - unlike the batshit crazy stuff in the next section on unsolved murders. See, if a man is found murdered and no one can figure out who did it, then the elders of the nearest city have to take responsibility for dealing with it. And “dealing with it” consists of murdering a cow to make up for the man’s murder. I shit you not. The elders are required to take a heifer that has never worked a plow, take her to a valley with running water in it, break the poor thing’s neck, wash their hands over its dead carcass while a priest gives his blessing, and declare that since they spilled no blood in killing the animal, God should accept it as atonement for the dead man’s blood and not hold the people guilty for it. What kind of madman comes up with this shit? Did the priests make a drunken bet amongst themselves to see who could get the people to do the craziest damn things in the name of God?

Then on to marital matters. We start with the rules about war brides. Women captives can be forced to marry their captors, but only after shaving their heads, cutting their nails, and being allowed to mourn their murdered relatives for a month. If you decide after bedding her that you don’t want her after all, you have to let her go rather than simply selling her as a slave.

A man with multiple wives still has to give the firstborn’s share of his inheritance to his actual firstborn son, rather than to the son of the wife he likes best.

And speaking of sons…

Deu 21:18 ‘If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city , “This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.’”

“The fuck?!” you say?

How fucking sick does a society need to get before this law makes it onto the books? Though really, I almost have to read this as something thrown in there just so parents can hold it over their kids’ head as a threat and not because they expect anyone to actually do it. “Eat your peas, or I could totally kill your ass and nobody would say ‘boo’ about it!”

But then… something else occurs to me. If this is the parenting model these people were operating on, is it really any wonder they came up with such a douchebag concept of God? After all, the religion casts God as the father figure, and humans as his children. And if mortal fathers are expected to kill their disobedient children, then it only stands to reason that a godlike version of a father would kill disobedient children on a far more grandiose scale.

This law is actually kind of a microcosm of the character of God as presented so far in the Bible.

And as an aside… if death is deemed an appropriate punishment for a stubbornly rebellious child, that kind of implies that anything and everything short of death could legitimately be considered discipline. Put the right combination of rebellious son and pious father together, and you could easily have a household transformed into a legally sanctioned house of horrors. Just a thought.

This seems like a good place to call it a day. The laws are coming fast and furious, scattershot all over the place in terms of theme and ranging in value from “not horrible” through “utter nonsense,” and deeply into “screamingly psychopathic.” It sure makes for plenty to talk about! Hope you’ll come back next time to see more of the moral brilliance that will descend from God’s law. In the meantime, you keep yourselves well!

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