Sunday, November 21, 2010

Slavery Gets Oh-So-Marginally Better

Chapter 18 features the return of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, who gives him what is apparently a ridiculously long-overdue lecture on the merits of delegating. Moses has apparently been personally handling every quibble and confusion that arises in our group of extremely whiny nomads, and is nearing burn-out. He appoints an entire hierarchy of trustworthy men to govern subgroups in sizes of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands, to teach the laws, tell everyone what work to do, and "show them the way wherein they must walk" which seems like it might be overkill, but I suppose God is nothing if not a stickler for detail.

Next, preparations for God's descension to Mount Sinai, where Moses will receive the Ten Commandments, thought to be the fundamental basis of our legal system by people who presumably are totally unfamiliar with either the ten commandments, our legal system, or both.

As far as I can tell, the rules given in Chapters 20-24 happen before Moses goes up the mountain; either God is just talking to himself, or he has no problem with giving out rules, including the Ten Commandments, without three days of cleansing and hullabaloo.

Most notably, we get a ton of super creepy slavery rules! If you buy a Hebrew, you have to let him go in seven years for free, but if he gets a wife from you then you get to keep her and all their kids-I guess the seven year limit doesn't apply to Hebrew women? Or children? Or maybe you are giving your servant non-Hebrew wives or something. If your servant doesn't want to abandon his entire family, he has the option of committing to lifelong slavery, at the low low price of getting stabbed through the ear. Also you are NOT allowed to beat your slaves to death, unless it takes your slave a day or two after said beating to actually die, in which case hey, your money, your business. Careful not to blind your slave or knock out any teeth, though, because if they survive, they get their freedom! I get the impression this explicit out was conveniently ignored during our country's sordid pro-slavery past.

If you dig a pit and someone's ox falls into it and dies, you have to buy it, so careful. "You break it, you bought it" also applies to virgins, btw.

Most interesting to me is the context in which we find the famous "Eye for an eye" passage:

[21:22] And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
[21:23] But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
[21:24] eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
[21:25] burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

That's right, gang-beating a woman to miscarry warrants a fine. That has to be more morally despicable than a clinical abortion procedure, and yet it is a slap-on-the-wrist offense. Right there with the most explicit vengeance morals in the Old Testament, it clearly says fetuses don't count. Kind of puts a kibosh on the logic of blowing up abortion clinics, don't you think?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Exodus: Chapters 10-16

Number of times Pharaoh hardens his heart: 3
Number of times God hardens Pharaoh's heart: 8

I guess once upon a time free will was not the philosophical and moral sticky widget it is nowadays? By modern standards, this part of Exodus is super sketchy! Also it is super formulaic, it is just plague, repentant Pharaoh, end of plague, hardened hearted Pharaoh, repeat.

You really think for a second that after God kills all those firstborns it'll be over, or at least that Pharaoh will be hardening his own heart from now on, but no! Imagine being Moses, you're a very nervous public speaker but you keep going head to head with Pharaoh as the people you grew up with become more and more beset by plagues because the disembodied voice of a burning bush keeps bossing you around and occasionally trying to kill you, and it's very clear this disembodied voice could just make Pharaoh DECIDE to let everyone go immediately but instead goes through this whole rigmarole of intentionally making Pharaoh LESS compliant, just so he can torture Egyptians and murder their children, but finally, FINALLY, Pharaoh is letting you all go. The bags are packed, the cattle rounded up, the bread unleavened, the goats sacrificed, the penises circumcised, everything is SET, you are OUT of Egypt and in the desert, and after all that God says to you, "Hey, Moses, I've got this great idea: I'm gonna harden Pharaoh's heart again! It'll be great!"

I guess on some level I always knew this, but I am really getting now that the point of God was not always to have an all-loving all-powerful being who would care about you and listen to all your problems and forgive you no matter what and be like the nicest Dad ever. The point used to be to be fucking TERRIFIED.

On that note, I don't think the Israelites are terrified enough. Seriously, whenever anything goes wrong they are all, "Ugh, why did you even BOTHER freeing us? If we'd known food would be hard to find in the DESERT we just would have stayed HOME." To be fair, God always lets things get to the point just before everyone is about to die, and then he steps in and fixes everything while yelling at Moses for the people not having faith. I'm not a business student, but I bet there is a part in Managing 101 about not doing exactly that. Anyway, soon they are eating delicious quail and bread that tastes like honey wafers. But it appears on "the desert floor" which I think means SAND. Honestly, was I the only child who wondered if the manna got covered in sand? Have you ever dropped food on the beach? That shit is DONE FOR.

If you are interested, the amount of manna each person requires is one omer. If you don't know how much an omer is, don't worry! Chapter 16 ends with a delightful clarifying conversion:

Exodus 16:36: Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why is God only slightly better than an Egyptian magician?

Real Analysis and Set Theory homework keeps piling up, I've got a midterm on Friday about imaginary numbers and darn it all, but those Heroic dungeons in WoW aren't going to run themselves. So, delays! However, I have been reading Exodus, and even though updates will be more sparse and probably less witty, I would be remiss if I didn't record my current thoughts.

Probably everyone reading this has seen either The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt, so I'll assume we all know the basic plot. The main problem with the story, which is left out of most movie versions but with which most people are still familiar, is that God deliberately hardens Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh will be unwilling to grant God's and Moses' requests. This is mentioned repeatedly, and mostly it comes off like God really REALLY wants to visit all manner of plagues and unpleasantnesses upon the Egyptians, and is just itching for an excuse. Really, God? The generations of slavery(that you twiddled your thumbs during, presumably) aren't enough justification? And who is God worried about justifying himself to, anyways? Maybe that older, more rational brother he has who I'm now sure exists. Still, the whole thing feels like very heavy-handed puppeteering on God's part.

One problem which has troubled me since I was a child, and to which I've never gotten a satisfactory answer, is why can Pharaoh's magicians pull off the same tricks Moses does? It's not like Moses does miracles nobody can replicate, it's that he does miracles which ARE replicated, but not quite as well. Both Moses and the Pharaoh's magicians can turn rods into snakes, but Moses' snake is a little more badass and eats the magicians' snakes. Both can turn water into blood, but the magicians can't turn it back into water (can Moses do this? Probably not). Where is this magic coming from? Is there a source of magic OTHER than God? Can you somehow go over God's head and turn your staff into a snake without his approval? I guess Satan might be doing it, though he hasn't been mentioned at all yet and you'd think for a power display God would step in and put a stop do it. So what gives?

My favorite passage:

[9:24]So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous
Grievous, but impressive! I would think those two things would cancel out; nice show, God!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Uncircumcised Lips and Yet More Incest

School has started! I am chronically behind on homework! Updates will be less frequent, but I will have my Kindle back TOMORROW, so that should help. In the meantime, thoughts on the next two chapters of Exodus!

Did You Know Moses' first request to Pharaoh was NOT for freedom forever, it was for a three day vacation so they could go into the desert and make sacrifices to the Lord? However, unlike the US public school system, Pharaoh does NOT hold with giving extra time off for Jewish holidays. Instead, he takes away their straw and punishes them for making less bricks. So the slaves whine at Moses, who whines at the Lord, who spends the next half chapter saying, yes, he is GETTING to the whole freedom Promised Land thing he promised generations ago.

We also get another family tree recap; it may interest you to know that Moses is NOT a direct descendant of Joseph, even though Joseph was the Good Guy. Moses is the great grandson of Levi, whom you dear readers know as one of the two brothers who defended Dinah's honor through mass murder.

It may also interest you that Moses' mother is also his great aunt, but after a certain point the incest angle just gets too repetitive to be very funny.

Chapter 6 ends with more Moses whining:
Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
They circumcised their LIPS back then? HARDCORE. It seems to me this would, if anything, impede good public speaking. Unless everyone spoke with a heavy lisp EXCEPT for Moses and not having a lisp was considered weird, like that stupid Twilight Zone episode with the pig people.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Exodus: So God and Moses Walk Into A Bar...

Updates may be less frequent for a while, because I left my Kindle at my boyfriend's place so I have to read Exodus online, unless someone in Chicago wants to lend me a bible, and I tend to read slowly online. But I did manage to knock back the first few chapters!

I am a bit concerned; four chapters in and we are definitely over halfway through the plot of The Prince of Egypt. I'm starting to think Exodus is going to be 10 chapters of awesome plot, 30 chapters of people whining in the desert and listing boring and outdated rules for society.

Still, let's enjoy the awesome plot for as long as it lasts! First off, the Pharaoh of Egypt is not super great at thinking things through: "Uh oh, the Jews outnumber us and might one day decide to conquer us! Let's preemptively strike by enslaving them and giving them a really good reason to hate us!" Also, I love that he's ruthless enough to want to kill all the baby boys, but mostly just politely asks the two Hebrew midwives to do it for him, and when they're like, "Sorry, no can do," he's all, "Oh, okay".

Also, the Jews vastly outnumber the Egyptians, who were pretty numerous, but they only have two midwives?

In the Bible version, baby Moses is not surrendered upon the treacherous Nile, but instead hidden on the shore-much less dramatic! I hear in the Qu'ran it is different and more exciting, though. And then Moses' older sister is like, "Hey, I noticed you found a Hebrew baby just this second, want my mom who literally just lost her baby to nurse him?" and nobody puts two and two together, it's great.

Moses grows up in all of two verses, and kills an Egyptian in defense of a Hebrew slave. But then the next day he tells two Hebrews to stop fighting and they're like, "What're you gonna do, murder us like you did yesterday?" Jeez, ungrateful much? I guess, though, if I were part of an enslaved demographic and there was ONE member of the demographic who got to be ROYALTY that would kind of get to me, too.

At the end of Chapter 2, God remembers that promise he made about ten times in Genesis, and how all those descendants he promised don't mean much if they're all enslaved, and how maybe he should be doing something for those people he Chose. It's weird to think that this is the God people credit with constantly watching and caring about every little thing that happens, because here it reads like he spaced out for a few generations. This kind of neglect spells Child Protective Services for us ordinary humans, but God naturally is held to a different, lower standard.

GUYS did you know the phrase Stranger in a Strange Land comes from Exodus 2: 22? It does! It is Moses' self-description, and his explanation for why he names his firstborn son Gershom. Go figure.

In Chapter 2 Moses' father-in-law's name is Reuel, but in Chapter 3 it's Jethro. Go figure again.

God deliberately hardens Pharaoh's heart so that he won't let the Hebrews go. What the hell, God? I mean, seriously, he explicitly says he will make sure Pharaoh is non-compliant. Why?

But everyone's complained about this. What is more confusing, and what is left out of every telling of Moses's story even though it's AMAZING, is this:
24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.

25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast [it] at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband [art] thou to me.

26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband [thou art], because of the circumcision.

What the hell? Moses runs into God in an inn. Clearly the way God interacts with the world is not the way he used to interact with the world. And he wants to kill Moses, in the middle of Moses' journey to do his bidding? Why? And then Moses' wife steps up to the plate, which is awesome, and realizes that God wants what God always wants, which is baby penis skin. The whole incident is very confusing, and entirely ignored. I suppose God was mad that Moses' son wasn't already circumcised, but you'd think it would have come up earlier. Also, why isn't Moses' son circumcised? I guess when you are doing it as part of a deal with God and God clearly isn't holding up his end of the agreement, you stop mutilating penises after a few generations. That's reasonable. But God's back now, and he wants his foreskins!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Retrospective: Genesis!

Things we learn from Genesis

Why children leave their parents and get married and have sex (2:24).
Why snakes don't have legs (3:14).
Why women hate snakes (3:15).
Why childbirth is painful (3:16).
Why there are weeds (3:17).
Why there are rainbows (9:13).
Why people speak different languages (11:7).
Why the hell anyone would ever perform a circumcision (17:10).
Why Jews don't eat of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh (32:32).

I was going to include Why Men Have One Less Rib, which is a common misconception, but then I looked it up and it turns out RIBS GROW BACK, which is a much more awesome biological legitimazation of the creation of Eve.

Things we don't learn from Genesis
Why God has the hots for Abraham, or any of his kids.

Things endorsed by Genesis
Staying in an abusive relationship
Tricking old blind men
Impregnating your wife's wives' servants
Famine profiteering

Number of times God promises either Abraham or his descendants numerous progeny: 10
..."as the stars of heaven" : 3
..."as the sand of the sea" : 2
..."the dust of the earth" : 1

Relevant facts
Number of stars: 200 billion in this galaxy alone
...that can be seen by the naked eye: 5770
Number of grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth: 1 million billion billion
...on an average beach: about a billion, give or take...a lot.
Number of dust particles in the world: I can't even. Google and I are both at a loss.
Number of people who have ever lived: about 106 billion as of 2002
Number of descendants of Abraham who have ever lived: No clue, but a lot less than a hundred billion.

So, depending on how you interpret God's covenant, he's either nowhere near fulfilling it, or it was fulfilled centuries ago and also wasn't that impressive of a promise. Either way, it is basically all the same promise and he makes it about ten times, and it's still not fulfilled by the end of Genesis.

Family Troubles
Number of older siblings inexplicably passed over in favor of a younger brother or sister, with unfortunate results for all parties: 14 (10 of which belong to Jacob)

You know, since nearly every main patriarch falls in the "younger child favored for no reason despite social convention" camp, and considering just how many stories in Genesis have the moral of, "Suck it up, sometimes the youngest kid is just better," I'm beginning to wonder if God isn't a passed-over younger child himself. Maybe God has an older brother, who made a wildly successful world, fair and harmonious and peaceful, and their parents always mentioned how good it was, and God got fed up with it and decided to make his OWN world which would be EVEN BETTER and the YOUNGER sons would be the favorites, so take THAT. I mean, it would explain a lot.

Incidentally, a cursory Google search reveals child favoritism does indeed have serious psychological ramifications, both for the out-of-favor children and, counter-intuitively, for the favored child as well. Just a thought.

Number of times a patriarch marries a woman more distantly related than first cousin: 1 (and he was in Egypt, where there were no first cousins to be found)

Number of times a woman tricks her father or father-in-law into bed so she can have a baby: 3

Number of times God punishes a main patriarch for his actions: 0
Number of times God punishes someone else for the actions of a main patriarch: 3
Via infertility: 3
Of an entire country: 2

Writing Style
A good chunk of Genesis is devoted to blandly detailing Abraham's tangled family tree; the word "begat" occurs 67 times, and "bare" 56 times.

Percentage of verses which begin with "And" or "But"
1163/1533 = 76%
To be fair, not all of these are the beginnings of sentences, but a lot of sentences which don't begin with "and" or "but" still begin with inappropriate connectives, so I figure this is a pretty good estimate.

Okay, so that's Genesis. It contains some of the most well-known stories in the Bible, and was one of my favorite parts of my children's comic book bible as a kid. The stories were mostly fragmented, incomprehensible, and stuck between great big chunks of family tree descriptions.

Next up, Exodus! I am looking forward to Exodus-it is one big story instead of a dozen tiny ones, so hopefully it will more closely resemble a proper story.

Bonus Fun fact: Noah's ark was made of gopher wood!
Another fun fact: No one knows what the hell gopher wood is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Book Down, 65 To Go

So it turns out seven years of famine is a long time. According to Genesis, after a single year of it everyone is out of money and out of food again, the economy has failed, and everyone in Egypt is knocking on Joseph's door asking for bread. This leads me to the conclusion that Pharaoh and Joseph, having advanced warning of the famine, chose to NOT spread the word to everyone to store up food, but instead just stored up their own food, all for sweet, sweet profiteering. Your money is worthless? No problem, Joseph accepts cattle. You're out of cattle and there's still four years of famine to go? Don't sweat it, Pharaoh will buy your land! And you! Just sell yourselves and your families into the service of Pharaoh for all time, and Joseph will graciously give you just enough food to not die, because that's the kind of stand-up fellow Joseph is.

Granted, it's not slavery so much as a legitimization of taxes until the end of time. Joseph gives the people of Egypt seed, and they agree to give Pharaoh 20% of their crop forever. My question here is, what exactly was Pharaoh's authority before Joseph buys all of Egypt for him? Why didn't Pharaoh own it already? Was he just a rich guy everyone agreed to listen to and bow down to? Before the faminie, during the years of plenty, he takes 20% of everyone's crop to begin with-did he pay for it, or is this a typical tax? There's no mention of buying it, just taking it, but now I'm back to my original question, namely, what makes this arrangement something new?

Israel reaches the end of his life, after living for seventeen years in the lap of luxury at the expense of the starving Egyptian people, so it is time to bless the next generation of patriarchs. Israel gives Joseph's younger son the better blessing-you'll recall Israel, formerly Jacob, has something of a history with younger sons getting better blessings. Everyone is all, "No, Israel, you're blessing the wrong son," but Israel knows better: if you don't give younger kids the good blessing under your supervision and on your terms, they'll just get them off the street.

Right before Jacob dies, he tells his sons what he thinks of them, and gives them their fortunes. There is an unexpected amount of occult, fortune telling and dream interpreting both being methods of predicting the future, but I guess it doesn't count if you're Chosen.

Simeon and Levi are scolded by their father for killing men in anger-these are the two brothers that massacred an entire city because they didn't like their sister's boyfriend, so this part reads like a massive understatement, but it is nice to see we're finally acknowledging that these two are psychopaths who shouldn't be trusted with founding a book club, much less a fucking nation. Maybe leaving the inheritance to the youngest son isn't such a bad idea after all!

Once Israel dies, Joseph's brothers are once more afraid Joseph will take revenge for the whole selling and death faking thing, so they throw themselves at his feet and declare that Israel's dying request was that Joseph forgive his brothers. Now, nowhere does it say Israel said any such thing, so I think this is just a lie they make up as a last-ditch attempt to save their cowardly asses. Fortunately Joseph has some good perspective on the whole thing, having been made second in command of all Egypt as a direct result of their dickery, and he forgives them, presumably graciously accepting their offers of lifelong servitude.

Genesis ends with Joseph's death at the age of 110-hardly more than a child, cut down in his prime! Still, as far as Genesis stories go, the story of Joseph is a nice one to end on; it resembles a proper story more than most, and has a nice message of forgiveness and making the most of any situation. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only Genesis story deemed worthy of immortalization via musical.

Next up, a giant retrospective of Genesis as a whole. I will actually put some effort into it, so it might take a while, but stay tuned!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 42-47

Famine strikes the world, and Egypt is the only country with any grain, so Jacob/Israel sends his non-Benjamin sons to go buy some. Benjamin is too precious to risk sending to Egypt, since he is the only son of the now dead Rachel left, and I guess he's just not allowed to do anything. In my children's bible, Benjamin was portrayed as a young child, maybe ten, so not sending him to Egypt made sense, but by my calculations he is at least...twenty. Twenty plus however old he was when Joseph was sold into slavery, so somewhere between twenty and thirty-six. This is the point where maybe you'd be like, "Dad, I'm really sad Mom and Joseph died, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't live my life!" which I'm pretty sure was the moral of Finding Nemo, and that kid couldn't have been more than two. Man up, Benjamin! But Benjamin is content to let his brothers do all the work, and they are sent off their merry way.

Joseph recognizes his brothers the second they get into town. Is this luck? Or is Joseph actually personally meeting every vagrant that shows up to get food from the only country in the world that has it? Or is it just that a group of ten douchebags stand out in a crowd? Whatever the reason, Joseph takes advantage of his position and accuses his brothers of being spies. You see, Joseph wants to believe that his brothers can be forgiven, but he must test them first. They insist they are humble brothers who left their youngest brother at home, so Joseph takes one of them prisoner, sends them off with grain, and says they'll get their brother back when they return with Benjamin, which I guess will prove they're not lying spies. I really don't see how, surely nine spies could go round up some brat to play along, but the brothers aren't in a position to point out that everything Joseph is saying and doing is insane.

When they get home they discover that all the money they paid for grain is back in their sacks! For some reason, this scares them most of all, I guess because they can now be certain Egypt, the only land with any food, is being run by a first class madman.

Jacob is, of course, very reluctant to part with Benjamin, "for his brother is dead, and he only is left," present company excluded I guess. His eldest, Reuben, offers to let Jacob slay his two sons if he doesn't bring both Simeon and Benjamin back safe and sound. Yeah, that's a great consolation, "Hey, if you lose another son, you can kill two of your grandkids!" Brilliant collateral, Reuben. Jacob is having none of it, understandable considering how fishy the whole situation is in general, so Simeon has to hang out for two years in an Egyptian prison. When all the grain is used up, Jacob finally agrees to let Benjamin do something, and sends them off to buy more. They are welcomed with open arms, and there is a very touching scene where Joseph has to excuse himself because he is moved to tears at seeing his long lost kid brother after so long. Adorable!

His great love and joy and being secretly reunited, however, doesn't stop him from framing Benjamin for theft and declaring his life forfeit. Judah explains how Benjamin can't be killed since he is their father's favorite after he lost his old favorite son, and he begs Joseph to take him in Benjamin's place. Finally, Joseph can be sure that his brothers have learned their lesson about respecting parent favoritism. Joseph is moved to tears and reveals himself as their long lost(sold) brother! There is much weeping and hugging and kissing, and Pharaoh himself gives Joseph his blessing to go get his entire inbred clan and bring them all to Egypt to live the good life for the next five years of famine.

God assures Jacob Israel that he totally SHOULD go down and move to Egypt, it will be a GREAT move for the Hebrews, seriously, nothing could POSSIBLY go wrong with a ton of Hebrews moving into Egypt. Seriously, God? We know how this turns out.

Note: Benjamin has ten sons. He is totally too old for his dad to be sheltering him. To be fair, some of those must be multiple births; for example, I bet Huppim and Muppim are twins.

Note the Second: Huppim and Muppim. Benjamin named a kid Muppim, and then he named a kid Huppim. We can end the Best Name contest, guys, nothing will top those.

Chapter 46 ends on a particularly bizzare note. Joseph meets his clan halfway, more weeping and Oh My Son Is Alive-ing, and then Joseph is like, "Guys, whatever you do, DON'T tell the Pharaoh you're shepherds. Tell him you keep cattle, for (and this is a direct quote) every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians" Why? Why would that be the case? Does anyone know if the Egyptians actually hated shepherds?

At the opening of the next chapter, Pharaoh is all, "So, what do you guys do?" and they're like, "We're shepherds, sir!". Way to listen, guys! Fortunately Pharaoh doesn't care. At all. This family has this weird history of thinking they need to lie about things they totally don't need to lie about, but at least this time nobody's womb got cursed or anything. Jacob then blesses Pharaoh-is that allowed? It seems kind of presumptuous of this abominable shepherd to bless the most powerful man in the world.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Slavery Isn't So Bad, Really...

We rejoin Joseph in Egypt, where he is discovering that slavery is pretty fine and dandy if God likes you, and your owners aren't his great-grandparents. God's favoritism is apparent to all, including Joseph's master, and Joseph is shortly made Boss of Everything. Thus we get a more explicit description of what being a Chosen One actually means: crazy awesome luck. This explains why the various surrounding tribes didn't wipe out Joseph's family, or his ancestors, for unbelievably dickish behavior. Why God favors these schmucks to begin with is certainly a puzzling matter, but let's recall that God's judgment has been far from reasonable and move on.

Unfortunately for Joseph, he is a little too sexy and his master's wife takes note. Considering the amount of sex our beloved patriarchs have with their slaves, the double standard here is staggering (but not surprising). It is clearly a given that a man's female slaves are his property, and a woman's female slaves are her husband's property; if it weren't for this, Joseph would only have about half as many brothers to sell him into slavery, and there wouldn't be any Ishmaelites for them to sell to in the first place. But when a female owner tries to seduce a male slave, it is Big Trouble, because a pious vagina can only have one owner. Joseph understand this and refuses his master's wife's advances, so she frames him for attempted rape and the next thing he knows he's in prison.

My point here is, one side of the double standard gets him enslaved in the first place, and just when he's making the best of it, BAM, he gets whacked upside the head with the other side of the double standard. IRONY. It is DEEP.

However, God's favoritism is still glaringly obvious, and soon Joseph is the boss of the jail. Joseph also gains a good reputation for being a dream interpreter; surprisingly, he can interpret dreams that have nothing to do with him being the boss of everything. He interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh himself, predicting agriculture for the next fourteen years, and on the spot Pharaoh makes him the boss of Egypt. I don't know, this strikes me as strangely trusting of Pharaoh. I don't know what the hierarchy was like in ancient (fictional) Egypt, but going from a slave in jail to Pharaoh's right hand man I'd have guessed would require more than giving an opinion on what a couple of weird dreams mean. I suppose I am just underestimating how very obvious God's favoritism is?

Pharaoh renames Joseph "Zaphnathpaaneah" which leads me to believe Pharaoh put a little bit more thought into it than God's "I don't know, just stick a few 'h's into it" approach when he renamed Sarai and Abram.

Friday, August 6, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

In what may be the earliest recorded example of a cliffhanger, Genesis breaks away from Joseph's exciting tale just as he is sold and Egypt bound, and revisits some of the less important branches of the family tree.

If you were unlucky enough to see The Meaning of Life in your misguided adolescence instead of just looking up the Catholic/Protestant sketches on YouTube, you may remember the intermission sketch, "Find the Fish". Chapter 38 of Genesis reminds me of nothing so much as that level of bizzarity, stumbled upon amidst an otherwise boring and repulsive string of tales. It is random, it is upsetting, and its logic bears no resemblance to our modern day Earth logic.

The chapter opens with Judah, who the reader may (but almost certainly doesn't) remember as the brother who thought that selling Joseph would be more profitable than simply killing him. Judah "turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah," which sounds like a particularly disorienting experience for both Judah and Hirah. Apparently this just means he visited; sadly the rest of the chapter can't be explained away via vernacular.

Judah has a few sons with a Canaanite woman; it's been well established that the worst thing a man can do is not marry his first cousin, so we know this isn't going to be a happy story. His first-born, Er, was "wicked in the sight of Jehovah". We can only begin to guess what his crime was, but the point is God strikes him dead. Judah's immediate response is that his second-born, Onan, should knock up his brother's widow, Tamar.

...what? At some point this must have made sense to someone, but it leaves me pretty thoroughly baffled. Apparently if Onan knocks her up, Er will get credit for fathering the kid. Why? And why would anybody care? Onan really doesn't want to father a kid just so his wicked, dead brother can get credit, but instead of being a gentleman and refusing to sex up a grieving widow, he DOES have sex with Tamar, but then pulls out, and God strikes him dead as well. Judah tells the widow to hang out until his third son grows up and she can get pregnant then, provided he isn't struck dead like his brothers before him in the meantime.

The more biblically literate of you maybe be saying to yourselves, "Oh, yeah, Onan, he's why we can't masturbate or use birth control" but this seems to me to be a pretty big generalization of a pretty specific story. At best all we can say is that it is evil to not knock up your brother's widow.

Jail-bait grows up but Judah fails to send him to perform his brother-in-law-ly duties, so Tamar gets fed up and heads off to seduce Judah himself. She wraps herself up from head to toe and covers her face, so Judah mistakes her for a harlot. So...apparently the burka used to be something only prostitutes wore? I couldn't confirm this with my standard 30 seconds of Google and Wikipedia searching, but I did find this.

Judah pledges her a baby goat, and gives his ring as collateral. But when he tries to send his payment, that mysterious prostitute is nowhere to be found! And at the SAME time, Tamar is pregnant! Everyone is for some reason pretty sure she hasn't conceived via incest, so of course she must be burned to death, which isn't very Pro-Life if you ask me. Judah is about to kill her, but then she reveals his ring, and Judah proclaims her to be a highly righteous woman after all. Hooray!

The chapter ends with Tamar birthing twins; one twin sticks his hand out to wave at the world, and the midwife ties a string around his wrist so they know which one came out first, but then he pulls his hand back into the womb and his brother comes out first! My favorite translation gives the midwife's response as, "What an opening you have made for yourself!" What an opening, indeed; good work, infant! The story ends, "And that's why the baby's name was Perez"; this is not the first time some seemingly pointless story has ended on a note of "And that's why they named it X" which leads me to believe that we have lost in translation some BITCHIN' puns.

So, to summarize: Judah turns into his friend, God kills his son for no given reason, and then his other son for not impregnating the first son's widow. His third son doesn't knock her up either, so the widow seduces her father-in-law and takes his ring. She is almost burnt at the stake, until it is revealed that sleeping with your husband's father doesn't count as adultery, and her deception is heavily praised. Thousands of years later all that remains is the Don't Use Condoms message, with the story's pro-incest themes tragically lost forever.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Who Hasn't Wanted To Sell Their Brother or Sister into Slavery From Time to Time?

I don't want to say that selling your irritating younger brother is ever the answer, but, well, you can kind of see where Joseph's brothers are coming from. Joseph is the latest in a long line of Favorite Younger Sons, except instead of one slighted older brother, Joseph has ten. They put up with him for seventeen years, I guess out of pity since his mother dies in childbirth when he's a kid, but after a certain point enough is enough.

For example, they are all shepherds together, and even though his brothers have been doing it a lot longer, Joseph still finds some fault to tell their father about. When I was a small favorite child and I tattled, I got a time-out. Joseph gets a flamboyant cloak.

As if Jacob's Israel's blatant favoritism weren't bad enough, Joseph spends the next few mornings going, "Guys! I had this crazy dream last night which was a thinly veiled metaphor about how everyone in the world will one day bow down to me, ESPECIALLY YOU TEN!" The brothers briefly consider killing Joseph, but decide to sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. That they are Ishmaelites is mentioned a lot, so I guess it is a big deal-I guess those shunned firstborn kin have to stick together?

The brothers return home, with Joseph's stupid coat clawed to bits and covered in blood, and they convince their father Joseph has been eaten by a lion. If they thought Joseph's untimely death would aid in getting their father to love them more and Joseph less, chalk one more up in the Inbreeding PSA column.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Circumcision as a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Like all great love stories, this one begins with a rape.

Well, that's not quite accurate. It would certainly make the story more dramatic, but the truth of the matter is that Genesis, painfully detailed when it comes to the most boring parts of a story, does not care to inform us about such trivial matters as female consent. I'm not sure a woman is even capable of having an opinion about the matter, considering how we heard nothing from Sarai or Rebekah about being handed all around Egypt and Gerar for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. In fact, the only opinion or desire any woman every has in Genesis is that she wants to have a BABY. Specifically, a son. If she can't have a son (as is so often the case), she wants her slave to have a son for her so she can take credit for it. Which everyone will immediately revoke once she manages to have her own baby, because that's how adoption works. But, when it comes to the act of baby-making for its own sake, a woman is as passive as a piece of furniture.

So, to back up, a local prince (read: non-first-cousin) is smitten with Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, and 'takes' her. His soul claves unto her, he loves her, he whispers sweet nothings in her ear, he longeth for her, he begs, and gets his father to beg for him, the privilege of marrying her, at whatever dowry price her father and brothers care to name, if he can only but have her. So far, so...well, not great, exactly, but he does seem to have as good intentions as anyone in Genesis is capable of having.

The rest of the locals would love to be able to marry these hot Jewish babes as well, so I'm forced to conclude that Dinah has sisters, even though we will never hear about a single one of them. Dinah's brothers explain they cannot let their sister marry an uncircumcised man, but any man who IS circumcised may marry any of their women. The local men are only too eager to cut off the tips of their penises, if it means being welcomed into this clan of Chosen people, and every one of them eagerly does so. I can only assume this leads to a giant mass wedding, and we are left with a heartwarming tale about the beauty of peacemaking, and how divisions of race and nationality are meaningless in the face of the greater truth that We are All God's Children, and...

Oh, wait, the chapter's not over.

Three days later, every male in the city is feeling pretty sore and not at their best. At this point, two of Dinah's older brothers show up and FUCKING SLAUGHTER EVERYONE DOWN TO THE LAST MAN. They kill Dinah's fellow and his father and take her back, and then, because genocide isn't enough, the rest of Dinah's brothers show up and they loot the city down to the last penny, goat, and CHILD. That's right, they then enslave every orphan and widow they can find.

Jacob is...not happy. Not because of the genocide thing exactly, but because he thinks everyone in a 100 mile radius is going to be like, "Shit, those Israelites are insane mass murderers, we'd better band together and take care of them before they wipe out another city," which if you think about it would be a somewhat rational response. Jacob's sons reply, "What were we supposed to do, let him turn our sister into a SLUT?" Surely Jacob will now make some point about how there are right and wrong ways to respond to an undesirable situation, and genocide is NEVER the answer, and...

Oh, wait, the chapter is over.

Conspicuously absent from the 34th chapter of Genesis is God. As a result, also conspicuously absent is any moral analysis of the situation whatsoever. Were Dinah's brothers justified, or was Jacob right to scold them? Jacob is the patriarch, but Dinah's brothers get the last word. Is God pleased by this slaughter, or angered? Does he have no strong feelings one way or the other? I know what I think, but so far God and I don't see eye-to-eye on these things. Why is Jacob scared about being killed when he comes from a long line of patriarchs who inexplicably DON'T get killed after screwing over entire countries? At least Dinah doesn't get killed at the end, which I was starting to expect. But who will have her now? Only the most desperate of her first cousins, that's who.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blog Stuff

No Bible stories here, just some blog business. First, I have been added to the Atheist Blogroll! It is a list of blogs run by atheists, agnostics and skeptics, though not necessarily religion-themed, so somewhat diverse. And it is now scrolling along on the right! It is the latest step in my plan to become Famous on the Internet, and probably the last one on account of I'm very lazy.

Second, due to my one-step plan to Make Money on the Internet, there are ads. One day I will figure out how to make them ads for nerdy T-shirts and not online seminaries, because I know my reader base better than Google's keyword algorithm does. IF you see an interesting ad and feel inclined to click upon it, please do so because I (theoretically) get money! I would never DREAM of asking you to click on an ad solely for this purpose, of course *wink*.

Finally, a delayed THANK YOU to my dear friend over at Shoot the Sea for drawing my delightful profile picture! She absurd and quite talented, and you will certainly enjoy her work.

Dinah NEXT.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 31-33

I didn't mention this last time, but there are some RIDICULOUS episodes between Jacob and his uncle Laban. As you may recall, he was working for his wives for fourteen years total, and he stuck around and kept working long enough that he'd earned a share of Laban's herds. Jacob suggests and Laban agrees that Jacob shall receive all the spotted and speckled cows and goats, and all the brown(or black, depending on your translation) sheep. This is where it gets tricky: Jacob puts some special branches in their water, and then ALL the calves and kids and lambs are speckled, spotted and/or brown.

At many points in the OT, God tells someone to do something seemingly arbitrary and then does something nice for them, but I have NO idea where Jacob got this silly branch idea. It turns out God is punishing Laban for changing the terms of Jacob's wages so many times; was the branch stunt really necessary? Half of the time it feels like important details in these stories are missing, and the other half of the time the whole story seems very unnecessary, and I often can't tell which situation is which!

The EXTRA ridiculous episode is next, and it is a perfect example of the, "Am I missing something huge or is this story just completely pointless?" issue I have with basically everything so far. Before leaving for good, Rachel (the favorite wife) steals her father's 'teraphim' which is basically an idol or graven image, but for the life of me all I can think of this as is a knickknack. Don't ask me why it's stolen, for no explanation is given. After this, Jacob packs up and runs off in the middle of the night, and Laban is pissed. Overnight he loses a huge portion of his flock, his daughters disappear without a by-your-leave, and to top it all off his favorite knickknacks are missing! So he chases after Jacob, and is all, "Why'd you take my knickknacks, jackass? Oh, and also my daughters," and Jacob is all, "I didn't TOUCH your knickknacks, feel free to KILL WHOEVER DID," so you think some awesome Greek tragedy shit is about to go down, right? So Laban searches every tent thoroughly, but when he gets to Rachel's she SITS on the knickknacks and is all, "I can't get up, I'm on my period" and that's the end of that conflict! The knickknacks NEVER COME UP AGAIN. I'm not exactly down on English lingo, being a mathematician, but this has to be breaking like three different storytelling rules at least.

As Jacob gets closer and closer home, he gets more and more nervous that Esau will kill him. He hears that Esau is bringing FOUR HUNDRED MEN to meet him; pretty scary! He does a lot of whining about how he deserves to be killed, and sends SO MANY GIFTS ahead, along with servants instructed to relay all his groveling and subservience.

That night, Jacob wrestled with an ANGEL, and (I like to imagine) holds the angel in a headlock until he agrees to bless Jacob. The angel renames him Israel, because of how BADASS he is. Armed with a blessing and a new name, however, he grovels and whines and frets about Esau exactly as much. Why is Esau more threatening than an angel? Last I remember, Esau was pretty easy to best!

In yet another Father-of-the-Year-Award moment, Jacob Israel blatantly lines his wives, concubines and children in order from least favorite to favorite, so that if Esau is in a killin' mood, at least Leah will be slaughtered before Rachel is. He bows seven times before Esau and declares himself his lifelong servant. Luckily, Esau is in a REALLY good mood and doesn't take advantage of his nonsense. Nobody kills anybody! Yet another disappointing anticlimax.

Dinah next!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 26-30

"And Isaac dwelt in Gerar:
And the men of the place asked [him] of his wife; and he said, She [is] my sister: for he feared to say, [She is] my wife; lest, [said he], the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she [was] fair to look upon."

OH NO YOU DID NOT, ISSAC. Your father tried that TWICE and it didn't work EITHER TIME. Now you're trying it again? In the same country? Abimelech is all, "Dude that is CLEARLY your wife, what the HELL?" At this point, Abimelech cannot possibly have a very good impression of this ridiculous, inbred family. The impression I get is that the only reason anyone is nice to them at all is it is clear God favors them most of all but no one has any idea why, and we don't either.

Esau brings terrible grief to his parents when he fails to marry a first cousin, but he is still Issac's favorite. Issac decides to bless Esau before dying, but Rebekah tells Jacob to trick his blind father into blessing HIM instead. For some reason this works, and presumably Jacob shouts "NO TAKE BACKS" upon receiving his blessing because once it is done, there is nothing Issac can do! He feels very bad, but there it is. Esau sobs and begs his father for some blessing, any blessing, and basically gets "May you live well AND SERVE YOUR BROTHER." Thanks, Dad.

Now Jacob is on the run for his life from Esau, which is what he gets for listening to his mother. Issac sends him off with the instruction to go marry a first cousin-Esau wises up and takes a new first cousin wife for himself to add to his collection of Philistine wives, but it's too little, too late!

Jacob falls in love at first sight with Rachel, and though his uncle makes him work for seven years for the privilege of marrying her, "they seemed unto him [but] a few days, for the love he had to her," which I think is a genuinely sweet passage. Less sweet is what happens just a few verses later; Jacob's uncle throws a wedding and feast, Jacob gets married, enjoys his wedding night, and not until the NEXT MORNING does he notice that he has actually married Rachel's older sister Leah. Inobservancy clearly runs in the family, probably aided by the massive inbreeding.

This whole story just makes you feel terrible for everyone. Poor Jacob has to work ANOTHER seven years, poor Leah is married off to a man that doesn't want her, and poor Rachel is barren because, as far as I can tell, God is punishing her for Jacob's blatant favoritism. Poor Leah just keeps having sons, and after each one says in her heart, "NOW Jacob will love me, surely." Guess again!

God eventually lets up and Rachel bares Joseph. At this point Jacob has worked enough for his uncle, so he packs up his horde of wives, concubines and brats, and moves on to see if his brother still wants to kill him. It's a pretty big caravan; between his two wives and their two handmaids, Jacob has fathered twelve sons, and at least one daughter. I'm guessing he's had more; in general daughters aren't mentioned unless they are relevant to the plot. Stay tuned for what happens with his daughter Dinah, because it's UNBELIEVABLE.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 21-25

I have clearly misunderstood the age cap, as plenty of people are still living over 120-but not by much! Maybe 120 was supposed to be the new average?

The parts following Issac's birth have always really bothered me, and I'm not sure I can be funny about them. First, poor Hagar and Ishmael! Now that Abraham has a new son, they have no leverage whatsoever. Sarah demands that they be kicked out into the desert to fend for themselves, which naturally upsets Abraham. He asks God for advice, and God tells him to...listen to his wife. What follows is a heartbreaking scene; after running out of water and wandering destitute, Hagar weeps and walks away from her son because she cannot bear to watch him die of thirst. In a typical wait-until-the-last-second move, it is only now that an angel of the Lord appears, and of course scolds Hagar for worrying before saving them.

Next, in what may be the most dickish psych-out imaginable, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Issac, and I've gotta say Abraham certainly puts up less of a fight than I remember. Everything about this story I find repugnant. First of all, it is wrong to test people you love; it destroys trust and promotes paranoia. Second...okay, there are some people I love more than others. For example, I love my boyfriend more than I love my second-grade math student. However, if he seriously asked me to kill her to prove it, that would change IMMEDIATELY. Third, when we abandon critical thinking in favor of blind obedience we surrender our moral integrity and basically turn ourselves into three year olds. What is the point of free will and higher intelligence if we are not going to use it? Fourth...why does God even need to test Abraham? Isn't he OMNIPOTENT? Is he doing it for Abraham's sake? Thanks but no thanks, God!

Fifth, this:

Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son...I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens...

YOU ALREADY PROMISED THIS! Not to be anachronistic, but JESUS, God, what the hell? You promise it, and then demand sacrifices and promise it again, and then demand dozens of penis tips and promise it again, and now THIS? This is taking fine print to a whole new level.

Many years later, Abraham is too old to get a wife for his son personally, which is what happens when you are a hundred years older than said son, so he gets his most trusted slave to swear to do it for him. In order to do this, he must place his hand under Abraham's thigh; working for Abraham just gets better and better.

Abraham's servant journeys far and wide to find a bride for Issac, and finally sets down by a well and decides to pick the first girl who offers to get him a drink. The lucky girl comes along the moment the thought enters his head, and she turns out to be...Rebekah, Issac's first cousin once removed. To be fair, this may be the least incestuous union yet. Abraham's servant gives her many gifts, including a NOSE RING, guys. Turns out this is a classy article!

Next, best pregnancy story ever! Rebekah conceives twins after God fixes her infertility (fixing infertility seems to be God's favorite parlor trick). The pregnancy is a very difficult one, because "Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels."

These twins are fighting IN THE WOMB. Fantastic! When they are born, Jacob comes out second because he has a death grip on Esau's heel. That is some Breaking Dawn shit right there, my friends.

So Issac loves Esau best, but Rebekah loves Jacob. So far a lot of Genesis can be viewed as a cautionary tale about the dangers of blatant favoritism, and wow, is this story no exception. The chapter ends with an account of Esau getting back from the (presumably unsuccessful) hunt and is starving. Jacob decides to take advantage of this by refusing to give him any food unless Esau relinquishes his birthright! Cold move, Jacob. To be fair, is Esau really in danger of starving to death, or is he just kind of an idiot? Impossible to say! Stay tuned, the struggles between Jacob and Esau are far from over.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 13-20

I'd like to take a moment to break down what occurs between God promising to make Abram the father of a great nation, and God actually getting around to doing it. If you guys wanted a numbers-light analysis of the Old Testament, you've come to the wrong place.

-God makes his promise, and tells Abram to travel all over the lands his progeny shall rule (this is when he pulls that stunt in Egypt). Abram is 75.

-Abram and Lot split up their land, in what may be the earliest recorded example of a Fair Division Method. Lot chooses the half which includes Sodom, which turns out to be a mistake.

-Lot is taken captive in what sounds like a VERY awesome battle; five kings against four and SLIME PITS, guys, this is a battle with SLIME PITS. Abram has to go rescue him, and all the other defeated, with a mere 318 men. Abram graciously declines a single thread or shoelace (no, seriously) of reward from the grateful king of Sodom. One wonders where this magnanimity was when he was getting all that stuff for pimping his wife out.

-God appears before Abram to assure him that, yes, he is getting around to it, whereupon Abram is like, "Are you SURE?" and God is all, "Yes you are going to have SO MANY CHILDREN seriously, I'm getting to it" but suggests that maybe a few animal sacrifices wouldn't go amiss, just to make SURE.

-Sarai gets tired of waiting, and suggests Abram simply knock up her slave Hagar. Abram offers no objection. Hagar starts putting on airs, and is beaten. God sends an angel to tell her to go back and suck it up, comforting her with the promise that she will have SO MANY DESCENDANTS. This promise is starting to sound a bit old hat. He also promises that her son shall be, "a wild ass among men," which may be the best pregnancy blessing ever.

-Hagar bares Ishmael; Abram is now 86.

-God appears before Abram 13 years later and says unto him, "I'm REALLY NOT KIDDING, I'm totally about to honor this covenant, and also I've been thinking maybe you should change your name. Oh, and also I've thought of a condition, so please cut off some of your penis for me, and we'll just call it even." At this point, Abraham is maybe feeling a little skeptical, and can we really blame him? This covenant also applies to all of Abraham's children and slaves; between the raping, beating and circumcising I'm thinking maybe Abraham and Sarah weren't the best people to be owned by back in the day.

-God sends a few angels to Abraham and Sarah to enjoy their hospitality and to tell them that yes, God is DEFINITELY getting to it and they will TOTALLY have a baby in a year. Sarah laughs, and is scolded a LOT for her poor faith.

-God tells Abraham he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, in what may be the earliest recorded example of the Sorites Paradox, manages to get God to agree to spare Sodom if it contains as few as ten good men.

-God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah anyway. To be fair, I don't think there are currently any cities on Earth where things are so bad that there is a crowd of people clamoring to rape you the second you get into town. More on this episode later.

-Abraham and Sarah travel to Gerar, where he pulls the EXACT SAME STUNT he pulled in Egypt. What the hell, Abraham? Also, is Sarah really THAT hot? She's ninety. NINETY. God warns the king of Gerar before he accidentally sleeps with Sarah, because for some reason he likes Gerar more than Egypt, though he does make everyone infertile until he is satisfied that Abraham has been treated well. Whereupon Abimelech the king of Gerar says unto Abraham, "Thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done." This is known as an UNDERSTATEMENT. Abraham defensively replies, "Well I figured you would KILL me and anyways she IS my sister" because SARAH ACTUALLY IS HIS SISTER, GUYS. I had no idea! Abraham gets a lot of gifts and slaves out of this interaction, too, and Sarah doesn't have to sleep with anyone!

-Sarah bares Issac. Abraham is now 100.

Twenty five years, guys! Twenty five years and a lot of adventures, and slaves, and smitings.

More on Sodom and Gomorrah: It is not clear whether the message from Sodom and Gomorrah is, "It's wrong to have sex with men", "It's wrong to rape men," "It's wrong to rape men when there are women available to rape" or any number of other possible morals, but the most likely one seems to be, "It's wrong to rape guests" because there's nothing worse than bad hospitality.

Everyone's also probably familiar with the whole "And then Lot's daughters got him super wasted and raped him and got pregnant" bit that comes next and, yes, that is exactly how it happens. What I find curious is the rationale; the elder sister says to the younger, "There is not a man in the earth to come in unto us,"; this is the morning after Sodom has been smote, which leads me to believe these two girls are IDIOTS who think Sodom is the only city in the world, and their father is now the LAST MAN ON EARTH.

Best name: Chedorlaomer

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 11-12

Of all the stories in the Bible, I think the story of the Tower of Babel is most clearly allegorical. I don't know how tall a tower we would have to literally build to make God nervous, but if the Burj Dubai in Dubai doesn't do it at 2,717 ft, I don't know what will. It's clearly just a "Mommy why do different people speak different languages" story.

So, let's look at it allegorically. Everyone speaks one language, and everyone is working together towards the common goal of greatness. God observes that when they all work as one, they are UNSTOPPABLE. So, God creates language to always separate us by misunderstanding and bias. He wants us to not get along.

Guys! When we fight wars, GOD WINS.

When I was younger, I always wondered why people didn't infer from this story that learning second languages is against God's will; mostly this thought came to me as a fond fantasy in the middle of Spanish class.

More begatting. Best name: Arphaxad, Shem's son.

Next, the adventures of Abram, later Abraham, his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot. God promises to make Abram the father of a great nation, so Abram adventures for a bit, visiting all the places his progeny will SURELY eventually rule.

Things get exponentially sketchy in Egypt, as Abram is worried that Sarai is too sexy and the Pharaoh will kill him and claim Sarai for his own. His plan is to pretend they are brother and sister! This plan never made sense in my children's bible, because it glossed over the part where ABRAM GETS A TON OF GIFTS AND SLAVES IN RETURN FOR LETTING PHARAOH BONE HIS SISTER-WIFE. Super uncool!

This pisses God off, so he curses the already-famine-ridden Egypt with plagues. Thus begins two recurring themes in the early Bible: famines and plagues in Egypt, and God lacking an iota of perspective re: who is morally responsible for what. The rest of the story is predictably awkward; Pharaoh is presumably upset at the assumption he goes around killing everyone with mildly attractive wives (He's not DAVID, we're not AT that bit yet), and pointedly asks Abram and Sarai to leave. Does Abram take his gifts and slaves with him? Who can say!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 7-10

Genesis continues to be somewhat detail-oriented, for something that is supposed to be allegorical. For example, did you know that when the rains begin, Noah is exactly six hundred years, two months and seventeen days old?

The translations I'm looking at (King James Online and The Holy Bible Formatted for the Kindle) both say the waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward; this is about 22.5 feet, not super impressive!

I like that the beginning of Chapter 8 begins with, "And God remembered Noah", as he's the only thing left alive to remember; what else could possibly be occupying God's thoughts here? Maybe he is swamped with judging all those people he killed with the flood more thoroughly and he briefly forgot he hadn't quite killed everyone.

The thing I find most interesting about Noah's tale is that God says in his heart he will never again kill everyone, but to Noah aloud he only says he'll never do it again with a flood. Good thinking, God; hedge those bets!

I like that after the flood, the first thing that Noah does is plant a vineyard because, when you're one of eight people left in the world and you have to repopulate the earth with your 600+ year old wife, that's when you really need a drink, isn't it?

Whoever wrote Genesis has no sense of proper storytelling, because the ending of Noah's story is not at all in the same vein as the grand epic of a global flood. Basically, Noah gets extremely wasted, passes out naked, and his son Ham presumably thinks it's funny, because he runs to get his two brothers. They are a bit more mature and cover their father without looking, and somehow when Noah wakes up he knows exactly what has happened. Noah then curses Ham's children to be servants of Shem and Japeth's for all time, and long story short, that's why it took the bloodiest American war of all time to end slavery.

Chapter 10 is more begatting. There are a lot of really awesome names, but it's possible the best one is Magog, with Hazarmaveth at a close second.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 5-6

Chapter 5 is simply a list of the first ten generations of Adam, their various ages upon conceiving the next generation, and their various ages upon death. A quick numerical survey:

Mean age of death: 907.5 (Not counting Enoch, who is taken to walk with God at 365, or Noah, who is not dead at the end)
Median age of death: 911

Mean age at conception of relevant son: 155.6
Median age at conception of relevant son: 170

My father, who in all other matters believes the Bible to be of literal truth, claims that when the Bible says a patriarch was quite old, they are simply trying to express how AWESOME he was. I feel that this could have been better served by listing how many lions they slew, and how old they were when they slew their first lion, in which case Genesis: 5 would read more like:

And Seth lived seven and ten years, and slew his first lion, and begat Enos:
And Seth lived after he begat Enos and slew sixty lions, and begat sons and dauthers;
And all the lions of Seth's slaying were sixty and one: and he died.
And Enos lived twenty two years, and slew his first lion, and begat Cainan:
And Enos lived after he begat Cainan and slew fifty three lions,
And all the lions of Enos' slaying were fifty four: and he died.

Marginally more interesting! But exactly as formulaic.

Anyway, I find it difficult to believe this was meant to be interpreted as exaggeration when the ages are very exact, and sometimes very close together. What should we make of the fact that Methuselah was 969 upon dying, but Jared was a close 962? That Methuselah is 0.73% more awesome than Jared?

In Chapter 6, God puts a cap on age at 120. As far as I (read: Wikipedia) can tell, the only person who has CERTAINLY violated this sanctum is Jeanne Calment, and women probably don't count.

I think it's kind of strange that perfection and omnipotence is attributed to God, yet by Chapter 6 he's already regretting the stuff he did in Chapter 1; think ahead, God! It's only been 1,556 years, you probably should have seen this coming.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Genesis: Chapter 4

The disappointing thing about Abel's murder is that the whole scene is very short, and we as the readers don't really know why God favors Abel. When I was little I read this comic book Bible which had this whole explanation about how Cain offered his sacrifice with a resentful heart, but there isn't much elaboration in the official version. As far as I can tell, it is simply establishing the pattern of, "Sometimes God doesn't like you as much, even if you're the oldest! ESPECIALLY if you're the oldest!" which is rampant throughout Genesis.

God likes Cain enough to make sure no one murders him in retribution, though, and "whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken upon him sevenfold." I'm not sure what seven times SLAYING is, but it's probably worth avoiding.

This chapter ends with a few begattings, and a quick tale of Cain's great great great grandson Lamech, who kills two men upon being wounded by them, and who declares, "If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold." This sounds pretty scary until you realize it's just Lamech saying it, not God, and then it just sounds desperate.

Genesis: Chapters 1-3

I bet you didn't know all animals were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden, but they were! My mother often asks, without a trace of irony, why 'we can't just train all the animals to be vegetarian'; I suppose we lost that privilege due to Original Sin.

You probably also didn't know that the snake lost his legs as a result of his mischief. Any artwork depicting a legless snake hissing in Eve's ear is WRONG. When the snake lost the ability to speak and be kind of a smartass is not mentioned; this is apparently not as important as the name of Cain's great-great-great-great grandson, Tubalcain. To be fair, Tubalcain is an AWESOME name.

First post!

Believe it or not, dear readers, I haven't read the Bible a single time since my fall from grace! In fact, I've never read the whole thing, though in my younger days I read more than most. I've been meaning to read it, and am genuinely interested in what I will find. Though it is the most influential book in Western civilization, few people are intimately familiar with the whole thing. I suspect there are literally dozens of ignored gems. For example, I hear at some point a she-bear eats forty children. Fantastic!

At any rate, I think a blog will be a good way to make sure I actually DO read the whole thing, and will be a tidy way of keeping track of all of my thoughts and reactions. Plus, there is a minuscule-but-existent chance that it will make me famous! If it is super successful, I may follow it up with An Infidel Reads the Qur'an, or A Preclear Reads Dianetics.

Stay tuned for Genesis, coming up next!