Monday, October 28, 2013

Judges: Barbeque!

Hello again! Or not “again,” if for some reason this is the first post in my series that you happen to be reading. This is my little blog about reading the Bible – I’m trying to go cover-to-cover, and document the stories it tells and my impressions of them. Right now we’re in the middle of Judges, and have just finished telling the story of Abimelech, who’s a villain because he slaughtered people without God telling him to (as opposed to the multitude of other characters who are heroes because they slaughtered people when God told them to).

In the years after the death of Jair (a judge of Israel whose apparently genocide-free life only rated three verses), the Israelites have once again turned into the sort of horrible people who worship gods other than Yahweh. So, according to the now-established pattern, God allows the Philistines and Ammonites to oppress them for eighteen years. And, true to past form, the Israelites eventually get around to begging Yahweh for help. At first he refuses, but they eventually talk him into it by promising to remove their lips from the posteriors of other gods and apply them only to his. Then, suddenly, the oppression that he’d previously been explicitly supporting against the Israelites starts making him impatient and angry.

The next time an Ammonite army comes crossing into their territory, the Israelites gather up an army of their own to oppose them. But even though they somehow put an army together, they can’t seem to find anyone to lead it. Then the elders remember this guy named Jephthah, who’s supposed to be a mighty warrior.

Now Jephthah isn’t really in the best of circumstances. He was the illegitimate son of a prostitute, so when his father’s legitimate sons grew up the drove him out of the house and disinherited him. So the elders find Jephthah living in a place called Tob hanging around in the company of various unsavory types. When they catch up to him and beg him to come lead their army, he’s understandably bitter about the idea of going to help the people who’d let him get driven out and disinherited. But they promise that if he helps them now, they’ll make him their ruler, and so he agrees.

There’s an exchange of letters back and forth between Jephthah and the king of the Ammonites trying to convince the invader to turn his army around, but it doesn’t work. So Jephthah sets out for war.

Jud 11:30 And Jephthah made a vow to Yahweh and said ,’If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be Yahweh’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.’”

Now you just know this can’t end well.

So Jephthah heads off to war and, lo and behold, he defeats the Ammonites. And when the war is done, he goes home.

Jdg 11:34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.”

Well, fuck.

 Jdg 11:35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said ,’Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to Yahweh, and I cannot take back my vow.’”

There you go, douchebag. Blame the girl. It’s totally her fault you promised to sacrifice her to your bloodthirsty war spook.

Now, far from having a rational response to the situation (like “Fuck you, dad! Find your own solution to your problem!”), his daughter tells him it’s OK, he can kill her, just please let her go off with her friends for a couple months to “mourn her virginity.” He agrees, and off she goes for two months, supposedly roaming the mountains weeping for (as opposed to losing) her virginity. But hey… we’ve seen this before with Abraham and Isaac. God’s totally gonna step in and put a stop to it at the last second, right? Sure he is. Everything is right with the…

Jdg 11:39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and in became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.”

Holy Fuck! He totally fucking went through with it!

I love the way the author tries to soft-peddle it, too, by avoiding coming right out and saying the words “he sacrificed her as a burnt offering.” But Jephthah did according to his vow, and his vow was to do just that. Oh, and just in case you’re managing to avoid thinking about what that means, here’s what Leviticus had to say about how burnt offerings were supposed to be conducted.

Lev 1:4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 5 Then he shall kill the [offering]l before Yahweh, and Aaron’s son the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7 and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9 but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.”

So, according to the Bible, that is what Jephthah did to his daughter. TO HIS DAUGHTER!!!

Are you picturing your daughter’s face on that severed head sitting atop a pile of organs getting ready to be set on fire to create a pleasing aroma for the fucking monstrosity this book tells you to worship?

Oh, I can hear the excuses now. “God didn’t tell him to sacrifice his daughter,” “God didn’t want a human sacrifice,” “God couldn’t interfere with her free will choice to go out that door at that time,” “Jephthah shouldn’t have made such a foolish promise!”

Horseshit! All of it.

Firstly, I’ll point out that the version of the Bible I’m reading includes some handy footnotes on words that have ambiguous translations, which include alternate ways to translate them. And in that passage where Jephthah promises to sacrifice “whatever comes out from the doors of my house,” those footnotes inform me that it can be legitimately translated as “whoever comes out from the doors of my house.” Meaning there’s a good chance that our hero intended to sacrifice a human being the whole fucking time. After all, as we’ve gone over in earlier installments, the Bible does condone human sacrifice elsewhere.

Secondly, Jephthah specifically says to God that he will make this sacrifice “if you will give the Ammonites into my hand.” When he goes to war against the Ammonites, the Bible specifically uses the phrase “the Lord gave them into his hand.” The language describing God’s assistance to Jephthah specifically links to the language of the vow. God accepted the fucking deal.

Lastly, we’re often asked to accept that this God is both omniscient and omnipotent. Plus, the Bible has already described several instances where this God has controlled the actions of people and of animals, so the free will bullshit is not an issue. Nobody and nothing was coming out that damn door that God didn’t want to come out of it. With the God described in this book, Jephthah’s vow functionally meant “You, God, choose what of mine you want me to sacrifice, and I will.”

God wanted the girl. He wanted her killed, filleted, and barbequed on his fucking altar. There is no way around that. Furthermore, both God and Jephthah (and, tragically, the daughter herself) clearly regarded the daughter as property that the barbaric warlord had the right to sacrifice if he so chose.

To say nothing of the fact that, according to the Bible, that roasted human being was payment to God for helping Jephthah kill a metric shitload of other people whom he was only in conflict with because God made them attack the Israelites for not kissing his ass enough!

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear before anyone starts accusing me of being mad at God. I do not believe for a second that the God described here actually exists. I do not believe that any invisible supernatural thing ever, ever helped anyone win a war in exchange for human sacrifices and/or worship. The sick appetites of the delusion called Yahweh are not at issue here, because ultimately they are fiction.

But what is not fiction is that large swaths of the human race have twisted their minds up so badly as to believe that this monstrous fictional behavior somehow represents the absolute embodiment of good. That people are willing to accept that violent, debased acts we would never accept from people under ordinary circumstances somehow become the ultimate in beauty and love if they are commanded by God. There is no way that training yourself to think like that cannot be damaging to the mind.

Even if this being existed, that would be sick. That there’s even the possibility that he doesn’t exist, and people do this shit anyway, is nothing short of enraging.

OK… rant over. Let’s finished the deranged story of Jephthah so we can move on.

After all this goes down, some of the tribe of Ephraim show up on Jephthah’s doorstep. They’re all pissed off that he went and killed the Ammonites without inviting them to come join in the slaughter, and consequently they threaten to burn his house down. Jephthah replies that since they’d never come to help when the Ammonites raided in the past, he just assumed that he couldn’t rely on the Ephraimites and decided he’d kill the Ammonites himself. This didn’t sit well with the Ephraimites, and touched off a war between them and Jephthah’s people.

So now we have two different groups of God’s followers killing each other over who denied who the opportunity to kill another group of people. Tell me that’s not insane.

Jephthah wins this conflict as well, and his troops seize the fords between their land and that of the Ephraimites. And rather than just letting the Ephraimites flee back home (remember, they are just another tribe of Israelites after all), they kill every poor sonuvabitch who tries to cross the river. Some of the Ephraimites try to pass themselves off as Jephthah’s people in order to be allowed to cross, but the guards test them by making them say the word “Shibboleth.” Apparently the Ephraimites spoke with a different accent and weren’t able to pronounce that word correctly, so the guards killed anyone who couldn’t say it right.

All in all, we’re told that Jephthah’s army killed 40,000 Ephraimites.

Jephthah would go on to live and “judge Israel” a further six years before dying.

We’ll jump real quick through a few names, since the Bible doesn’t rate the next few judges as having any real stories to tell. Ibzan judged for seven years, and had thirty sons and thirty daughters. After him, Elon judged for ten years, and was otherwise so inconsequential that the Bible doesn’t mention anything about even his sons or daughters. Then Abdon had his eight years, and he had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode seventy donkeys between them (why the fuck do the donkeys keep getting a mention?).

And that’s it for today. Hope y’all are well until next time and beyond, and that nobody has nightmares about their dismembered daughters being sacrificed on altars.

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