Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Judges, Chapter 19

You've probably never heard of this chapter, even if you've gone to church every Sunday of your life. Unless your preacher is a gyno-sadist. Bear in mind as you read about this most abominable tale in this most abominable of books, if not in all of literature, that some of its believers would like nothing better than to go through our school curricula and libraries purging them of Nabokov and Vonnegut and replacing it with this filth.

So, the story: a Levite man quarrels with his concubine, and calls her a harlot. She's offended and leaves him goes to her father's house. She doesn't come back for four months, so he goes after her. She refuses to leave her room for 5 days, but on the sixth day, she does, and the leave.

As sunset is drawing near, they approach the town of Jebus, later Jerusalem. His servant recommends lodging there that night, but the Levite refuses, because it isn't an Israelite city. Instead they stop in Gibeah, a city of Benjaminites.

When they arrive, no one invites them in, which should be their first hint that this is not a normal place. Instead, they sit down in the town square and wait. Finally, an old man passes by and invites them to stay for the night.

As they're eating dinner, the men of the city come to the door and start pounding on it, demanding the Levite so they can rape him. Sound familiar? This is also the story of Lot, in Genesis 19. However, Lot's guests were angels, and threw powder at their would-be rapists to blind them. There is no divine intervention here. God, so willing to help the Israelites when it came to slaughtering their enemies, even in this freak-show of a book, is silent on what happens next.

The old man begs them not to harm his guest, and offers his virgin daughter or the concubine instead, just like Lot. The men don't listen, so the Levite picks up his concubine and throws her out of the house. The Benjaminites spend the rest of the night gang-raping her, only leaving her alone in the morning. How is anything that Larry Flynt has ever published more worthy of censorship than that? And how can anyone call a god who would allow this atrocity to happen merciful or just?

And that isn't even the end of the story. The woman manages to crawl back to the door of the house, which her cowardly husband is too afraid to open until dawn. Then he finds her there, and doesn't offer even a kind word or an apology. He orders her to get up onto her donkey so they can go home. When she doesn't move, he throws her over the beast's back.

When he gets home, he cuts her body up into twelve pieces and sends them to all the tribes save the Benjaminites. We're asked at the end of the chapter to think about this horrific act and speak our minds.

Here's what's on my mind: This chapter is like a Lars van Trier movie. It's also the most revolting thing I've ever read, and I certainly don't see how an all-good, all-powerful god can be said to be at work here. How can anyone read something that ugly and still believe this book is divine? I don't want to hear that I'm 'taking it out of context' or 'it's different in Hebrew.' If this book is universal, as is so often claimed, that means it transcends culture and time, and is supposed to be relevant in any context. You can't dismiss the depraved parts as being 'from a different time' and then say the parts that fit with your religion's morals and ethics are somehow important today. And if you're going to dismiss this part as 'the ravings of sand people', why not cut it out?

Tomorrow: genocide, mass rape, mass murder, another mass rape!

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