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!