Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Worst Kind of Deja Vu

After Moses is done checking God out, God descends and describes himself a bit:
Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.(34:7)

Wow, we can't even keep up the loving God angle for the length of an entire verse, can we? Seriously, am I missing something or does it seem like "mercy" and "forgiveness" in this passage have totally different (meaningless) meanings from the ones we currently employ?

God also delivers a more boring version of the Ten Commandments, and as far as I can tell it is the only set of ten commandments actually described as The Ten Commandments by the Bible itself, but for some reason nobody wants these on display at their local courthouse. The Google tells me it is referred to as the Small Covenant Code, if you are interested in learning more.

In case you really really liked God's endless specs for the Ark of the Covenant, and thought six chapters wasn't enough, you're in luck! There are ANOTHER six chapters devoted to the Ark's actual construction. Although to call these chapters "new" would be a bit of a stretch. Compare these two passages:
And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.(25:17-20)
And he made the mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half was the length thereof, and one cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And he made two cherubims of gold, beaten out of one piece made he them, on the two ends of the mercy seat; One cherub on the end on this side, and another cherub on the other end on that side: out of the mercy seat made he the cherubims on the two ends thereof. And the cherubims spread out their wings on high, and covered with their wings over the mercy seat, with their faces one to another; even to the mercy seatward were the faces of the cherubims.(37:6-9)

And these:
And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same. And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side: Three bowls made like unto almonds, with a knop and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, with a knop and a flower: so in the six branches that come out of the candlestick. And in the candlesticks shall be four bowls made like unto almonds, with their knops and their flowers. And there shall be a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, according to the six branches that proceed out of the candlestick. Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold. (25:31-36)
And he made the candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work made he the candlestick; his shaft, and his branch, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, were of the same: And six branches going out of the sides thereof; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side thereof: Three bowls made after the fashion of almonds in one branch, a knop and a flower; and three bowls made like almonds in another branch, a knop and a flower: so throughout the six branches going out of the candlestick. And in the candlestick were four bowls made like almonds, his knops, and his flowers: And a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, according to the six branches going out of it. Their knops and their branches were of the same: all of it was one beaten work of pure gold. (37:17-22)

And it's very tempting to keep going, but you get the idea. Trust me, it's all like that. This might be the earliest recorded example of a Find and Replace.

Between the Golden Calf and the Ark of the Covenant, there is an awful lot of gold floating around this band of ex-slaves. I couldn't figure where it had come from, but Google tells me they stole it from the Egyptians back in Chapter 10. Which I read in October. Man, this procrastination thing is not working nearly as nicely as I thought it might.

Anyway, that's the end of Exodus! The Israelites build the Ark, and God blesses it and hangs around as a pillar of cloud or fire. I thought about doing an Exodus retrospective, like with Genesis, but until the Israelites get to their (currently occupied by Canaanites minding their own business) Promised Land, the story just doesn't feel finished.

So! I will do a retrospective at the end of the Pentateuch. Next up, Leviticus! Which as far as I can tell is just a very long list of arbitrary rules, so I will be powering through at LIGHTNING SPEEDS. I will read NINE chapters a week and tell you all about the best/worst/silliest rules of the lot. Should be fun!

As an apology for taking half a year to read one measly book, have a nine minute beat poem by Tim Minchin. If you are a fan of this blog you will almost certainly love it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Golden Calf; or, Moses checks out God's ass

When we left off, God had just finished handing Moses the Ten Commandments, after spending a month or two describing exactly how to take care of them. The People have worked themselves into quite a panic, and their first thought is to make a golden calf and worship it. This has always confused me, since I was a child and first heard the story. What is going on in your mind where you think to make something yourself and then worship it? Surely you know it's not a god if you yourself have made it! It's not like it's a pre-existing god and they just made a statue of it so they had something to bow down to. As far as I can tell, they made it up and then started worshipping it.

But it's even worse than the version I had as a child, because once they've made it Aaron goes, "These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."


Seriously, what are you thinking? You JUST made it. It didn't EXIST when you were leaving Egypt. Man, I am starting to see why God hates idols so much, they are clearly a very difficult habit to break.

So, yeah, God is pissed. In the kids' Bible I had, Moses just shouts at them and makes them drink Golden Calf Dust Water as punishment. We don't really get God's reaction, which unsurprisingly is to kill everyone. Moses talks him out of it by appealing to his sense of embarrassment: Those Egyptians are totally gonna talk smack about God if he annihilates all the people he went to such roundabout lengths to free.

Moses also reminds God of his promise to multiply the progeny of Abraham, which he still hasn't really made good on, and "Jehovah repented of the evil which he said he would do unto his people."(32:14) So God is a) capable of evil and b) capable of changing his mind. How is this an omniscient being of pure good again?

FUN FACT: The ten commandments are double sided! Now You Know!

Moses gets back to camp and witnesses the sin for himself, which really sets him off. So he calls for all the men still loyal to the Lord, and all the sons of Levi show up. Then they slaughter 3,000 of their kinsmen (you may recall their patriarch was somewhat fond of slaughter). I guess this can't be everybody else, because then only one of the twelve houses of Israel would remain? Also, I am really confused as to why the sons of Levi are doing so well for themselves, when on his deathbed Levi's father JacobIsrael cursed his progeny to be divided and scattered.

Hoping 3,000 lives will be enough, Moses begs God to forgive the surviving Israelites, which he does...kind of? He says he will blot out of his book any who have sinned against him. This seems to be everyone except for Moses, and maybe Moses' second-in-command Joshua, who I think was waiting for him by the Mount the whole time. It certainly does NOT include Aaron, God's High Priest, but Aaron doesn't get fired or anything. Aaron's defense to this point has been along the lines of, "Jeez, calm down. What happened was, the people said they wanted an idol, so I told them to make one without any argument or discouragement on my part whatsoever." Because I guess it's not his job as High Priest to give them any kind of moral guidance whatsoever.

The last line of Chapter 32 is "And Jehovah smote the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made." So, yeah, that seems pretty definitive, but it can't possibly include everyone. This is where some detail would be nice, Exodus!

In Chapter 33, God visits the people and communes with Moses in a super special Tent, because everyone else is so stiffnecked that God's presence will kill them instantly. God and Moses chat like old chums, face to face, but Moses wants God to reveal to him all his glory; this kind of feels like a G-rated version of the myth of Semele. God thinks of an ingenious loophole, which basically amounts to "Okay, you close your eyes, and then I'll walk by and cover you with my hand so you don't see anything, and then you look up and check out my back as I leave." That's God for you-you hate to see him go, but love to watch him leave.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Shades of Dorian Gray

Merry Christmas, bloggees!

...yeah. Okay, I'm not even going to apologize for updating less frequently than once a month. You are all GREAT, and I love this blog, but I have been far too busy failing Real Analysis, and then destressing after failing Real Analysis. So. I would like to say this semester will see the return of near daily posts, but it seems unlikely because as you may have gathered, I have to retake Real Analysis. If you can't stand to be without my razor-sharp-yet-terribly-careless wit, check out We've Seen Better, which will probably update more frequently by virtue of the fact that updating it requires nearly no effort whatsoever.

On to the Bible! The other thing causing delays is, the next part of the Bible is basically God describing in great detail exactly what offerings he requires, and exactly how to construct his temple and altars and especially the Ark of the Covenant, and what fine linens and metals and jewels to use and it is LONG and BORING unless you are really into lists of expensive materials, like Oscar Wilde. It is actually a lot like reading that chapter in Dorian Gray, but if Wilde had maybe a fifty word vocabulary, as it is very repetitive: every material is either acacia wood, gold or acacia wood with gold overlay. I wanted to finish all of it, so I could do a complete overview, and it simply took forever. But forever is over now!

Here is a very brief sample of the kind of instruction Moses gets:

And thou shalt put into the ark the a testimony which I shall give thee.

And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.

And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.

And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.

And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.

And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.

And another:

The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the curtains shall have one measure.

The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another.

And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain from the selvedge in the coupling; and likewise shalt thou make in the uttermost edge of another curtain, in the coupling of the second.

Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another.

And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.

And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen.

And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work.

It shall have the two shoulderpieces thereof joined at the two edges thereof; and so it shall be joined together.

And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen.

This goes on for SIX CHAPTERS. At the end of it, Moses is granted the two tablets of the Ten Commandments; this event warrants a single verse. Missing the forest for the trees a bit, aren't we? The ten commandments took up half a chapter at most, but we need SIX of them to describe where they shall be kept and how they shall be kept holy and what the priests for them will wear and what stones go into everything. I don't know, maybe back in the day this was the only way people knew to make something seem IMPORTANT? Or maybe God was just REALLY into interior decorating. One could probably use these chapters to construct a case against the God Hates Fags camp, or at least that he makes an exception for those Queer Eyes.

The one notable thing in all of this is that God spends a lot of time describing how Moses' older brother and God's high priest Aaron is getting a really, really sweet deal out of all of this. Other than the chapter describing exactly what jewel-encrusted linens and breastplates Aaron and his sons MUST wear, there is also the chapter about how ONLY Aaron and his sons get to eat the delicious sacrificial meat, and all this is interesting BECAUSE while Moses is getting all these detailed instructions, everyone is panicking about how long Moses has been gone and Aaron has the brilliant idea that they should all pool their gold to make a statue of a calf and worship THAT and, in what may be the earliest recorded example of a retcon, give it credit for busting them out of Egypt, because clearly they have been abandoned and they have to worship SOMETHING. Poor God; this is the best he has to work with.

An amusing tidbit: At the end of Chapter 30 God describes his Super Special Perfume which must be made for the Ten Commandment tablets. It is made of stacte, onycha, galbanum and pure frankincense, and it is ONLY for the tablets, so if you EVER smell like it you are in TROUBLE. So ladies, next time you go perfume shopping watch out for that troublesome combination!

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.