Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Judges: I Find Your Murder-Fu… Lacking

Hello again, my fine friends, and welcome back to my Bible blog. We just finished whipping through the Book of Joshua, which now brings us to the Book of Judges. We find the Israelites in the promised land, riding high on the wave of bloodshed that allowed them to claim the land as their own.

Judges starts out after the death of Joshua, and the first thing we discover is that there’s still some conquering to do. Which is kind of confusing, since the Book of Joshua pretty clearly states that the conquest was complete before Joshua died. It gets even more confusing when you read further and realize that some of the conquests related in Judges are some of the exact same conflicts that were described in Joshua. At least one story (in which Caleb rewards his nephew for conquering a city by giving him his daughter as a wife) is an exact, word-for-word retelling of the same event from Joshua. Except that the event in Judges is explicitly said to be after Joshua’s death, and the one in Joshua is explicitly before Joshua’s death.

Yeah… inerrant and perfect. Totally self-consistent.

But to get to the text, Judges starts off with the following lines:

Judg 1:1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired after Yahweh ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 Yahweh said ‘Judah shall go up; behold I have given the land into his hand.’ 3 And Judah said to Simeon his brother ‘Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.’ So Simeon went with him.”

So just out of curiosity… with their prophet dead and no one in particular set up to replace him, just how did the people inquire of God? Supposedly nobody but his chosen guy can hear his voice and live. Back in Numbers 12, God said that other than when speaking to Moses, he only spoke to prophets in dreams and riddles. And back when Moses died, the Bible stated that there was never anyone since that was like him in that God spoke to him plainly face-to-face (although when Joshua got put in charge, God promised to be with him in exactly the same way he was with Moses, so who the fuck really knows who God spoke to and who he didn’t?). And if God could have talked to “the people” directly at any time, why did he need prophets in the first place? The whole thing is confusing as hell.

Also, in that passage it’s kind of unclear whether God chose some actual guy named Judah to lead the fight and Judah literally spoke to his brother named Simeon, or whether the passage is speaking of the tribes of Judah and Simeon metaphorically as if they were singular persons. But as you read further, in context it comes a bit clearer that it’s speaking of the tribes.

Moving on, what follows is basically a repeat of the info from Joshua about Judah claiming its inheritance. Some is word-for-word repetition, but there’s some elaboration. Like this little gem:

Judg 1:19 And Yahweh was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.”

So there you go. If for any reason you need to go to war against God, iron chariots are your weapon of choice. He can’t defeat them. I wonder if it has to be literal horse-drawn battlewagons, or if tanks will do.

We’re actually treated to a list of places where the Israelites either failed to or chose not to completely destroy or drive out the inhabitants. In many of these places, they made the Canaanites perform forced labor for them instead. This kind of displeased God, so we get:

Judg 2:1 Now the angel of Yahweh went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give your fathers. I said “I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.” But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

Now, I went ahead a quoted that because it illustrates another little thing that’s been nagging at me from time to time. See how we’re told it’s an angel that is doing the speaking, but his words are written as if God is speaking first-person? This isn’t the first time that sort of thing has happened. We saw it with Moses and the burning bush, for instance, and from having read ahead a little I know we’ll see another instance shortly. Which leads me to wonder if the idea we have of angels these days isn’t what the original writers actually had in mind. We tend to think of them as these individual beings who run around heaven (and occasionally on earth) acting on God’s orders. But in these instances it seems more like the angel is meant as some sort of manifestation or vessel that God projects on earth in order to interact with people – a sort of avatar, if you will.

That might also explain why it is that “the commander of God’s army” showed up for the incredibly idiotic purpose of telling Joshua to remove his shoes, and then two verses later Joshua seems to be talking to God in person. If the commander was just some God avatar, that passage makes a little more sense (although still not exactly free of nonsense). Perhaps that commander and the angel in this passage are one and the same.

Perhaps this is a lot of fucking conjecture to try to string together some sense from this stuff.

Incidentally, the punishment God is levying against the Israelites (some of the people you just invaded and dispossessed are going to do their best to be a pain in your ass, and others you might get along with well enough to start adopting their religious practices) is exactly what one might expect to see happen if there were no divine influence going on as well. It’s called assimilation, and it happens every damn time one people conquers another. So what, exactly, is God actually contributing to this situation?

And remember, we’re to understand that God is intending to punish them for not committing enough genocide.

As a fun aside… anyone they drove out of their land would, presumably, have gone to live in the neighboring nations. Israelites are explicitly told that they can buy slaves from neighboring nations. One could argue that by enslaving the conquered people rather than driving them out, they’re just kind of cutting out that middle step and the associated expense of actually buying the slaves.

But anyway, moving on we’re told that after about a generation past Joshua’s death the Israelites enter a cycle where they become wicked and start worshipping other gods, then Yahweh gets angry and punishes them by letting other peoples dominate them militarily for a bit, followed by the Israelites turning back to Yahweh and he raises up a hero (called a judge, from which this book gets its name) who leads them to defeat their enemies. Then the Israelites obey the judge until he dies, at which point they become wicked again and the cycle repeats.

The bulk of the Book of Judges is dedicated to telling the stories of a bunch of these individual judges, who are some of the more famous “heroes” of the Bible. We’ll start getting into those stories in my next post.

So I’ll take my leave for today. Take care and be well!

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