Sunday, November 28, 2010

Job, Chapter 2

God and Satan are hanging out again, and they have the exact same conversation as last time, only god points out that even with all the things Satan has been doing, Job still hasn't cursed him. Satan points out that Job still has his health, so of course he hasn't cursed god. God gives him permission to mess with him some more, so long as he keeps him alive. So Satan gives Job boils so itchy he's reduced to sitting in the ashes scratching himself with a piece of broken pottery.

His wife points out that if he curses god, he'll be put out of his misery, but Job tells her to stop with the crazy talk.

Now Job's three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar show up to comfort him, which they do by ripping their clothing, pouring dust on their heads, and weeping dramatically. They don't speak for seven days.

God: 2

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Job, Chapter 1: Meet Job

Job is perfect. He has ten perfect children, a big, perfect ranch out in the countryside full of perfect camels, sheep, oxen and donkeys. He's perfectly pious, sacrificing for his own sins, plus a little bit extra in case one of his kids forgot. He's ripe for the taking, in other words.

So one day, some angels plus Satan are hanging out with god and they get to talking about Job. God brags that Job is his most righteous servant, a man who fears him and rejects evil. Satan's like, of course he loves you! You give him everything. If you took it all away, he'd curse you to your face. God: challenge accepted. The only rule is, Satan can't lay a hand on him.

One day, Job is alone when a servant approaches to say that he was plowing the fields when the Sabeans attacked and ran off with all the oxen and the donkeys. Then another servant appears and says god set fire to the sheep and some of the other field hands. Then a third servant appears and says the Chaldeans have run off with the camels and killed some more of the servants. Then a fourth servant appears to say a freak tornado came along and killed all seven of his sons, who were feasting at one of their houses. The girls apparently survived, but that's no comfort

Job rends his clothing, shaves his head, and starts to pray.

God: 1

Friday, November 26, 2010

Esther, Chapters 8-10: The vengeful queen

Chapter 8
The king gives Esther all of Haman's wealth and makes Mordecai prime minister. Esther begs the king to lift the extermination order, and he does. Haman is impaled on the stake. Then things get ugly. Another order is issued, this time to kill everyone that would assault them (v. 11) and their families. How quickly the victims become the agressors! A lot of people convert to Judaism to hide.

Chapter 9

The Jews gather together to exterminate their enemies, including Haman's ten sons. But that's not enough, so Esther asks for another day of slaughter. All told, 75 810 people die in those two days.

To celebrate, the Jews get together and have a party. They decide to make the anniversary of their conquest a national holiday and call it purim, after the lots that were cast to determine Haman's would-be slaughter.

Chapter 10

The king raises taxes. There's no Tea Party revolt. Mordecai is a hero. The end.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Esther, Chapters 6 & 7: How to cure insomnia

Chapter 6

The king can't sleep, so he asks his servants to read to him from Chronicles. That certainly put me to sleep. They happen to open the book to the section where Mordecai rats out the two conspirators against the king. That reminds Ahasuerus that he hasn't rewarded his gatekeeper.

He looks into the courtyard and happens to see Haman, who has woken up bright and early for the hanging. The king asks him how he should honour a man who pleases him. Haman, thinking he's about to get a reward, he asks for the kings used robes, horse, and crown. Think big, Haman. Then, to his utter shock, the king orders him to dress up Mordecai and parade him around on his horse. Haman has no choice but to obey. Then he goes home and sulks and bitches to his wife and friends. Then the king's servants arrive to remind him about Esther's second banquet.

Chapter 7

The king and Haman arrive for the banquet. Before they even start eating, Ahasuerus is asking Esther to come out with her request, not that I blame him. She finally asks him to pardon the Israelites. Ahasuerus is so dumb he doesn't even remember granting permission to kill the Jews, nor who sought it. Esther points to Haman, who goes pale. The king goes out to the garden to cool off, while Haman makes the unwise decision to lay down on the same sofa as Esther. When Xerxes comes back, he thinks Haman is trying to rape her and orders him hoisted by his own petard.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Esther, Chapter 5: Mordecai's foolish pride

After three days of fasting, Esther puts on her prettiest frock and heads in to see the king. He holds out the sceptre to her, granting her permission to speak. He offers her anything she wants, because she's so freaking hot, even half the kingdom. No, she just wants him and Haman to come to a banquet. He agrees immediately.

At the banquet, the king knows something is still up so he asks her to come out with it. She waffles a bit, and only asks them to come back again tomorrow for another meal.

Haman leaves, in a great mood because he got to schmooze with the king and queen, but it sours immediately when he comes to the palace gate and meets Mordecai, who has clearly learned nothing, and refuses to bow again. He goes home to his wife and raves about the banquet and Mordecai's foolish pride, and vows to build a 50-foot gallows the next day to hang him from. Well deserved, I'd say.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Esther, Chapters 4: Mordecai the big, fat idiot

Chapter 4

Mordecai hears that the Jews are going to be killed and it's all his fault. He runs around wailing in sackcloth and ashes, as do all the other Israelites, rather than, you know, whittling spears or something intelligent. Esther hears about the sackcloth and tries to send her uncle some clothes, proving the apple didn't fall far from the stupid tree, and is surprised when they get sent back. Only then does she send her eunuch out to find out what happened. He explains it and tells the eunuch to ask Esther to intervene with the king.

Esther immediately starts whining that only people who've been summoned by the king can meet with him, and people who try to sneak in get killed. Would that had been the case for the Salahis. She, just two chapters ago the hottest virgin in the kingdom, hasn't been called for 30 days.

He gets nasty in reply, saying her status won't protect her and if she won't speak up, another force will intervene and save them, only her house will go down in flames. Esther believes him and asks him to tell the Israelites to fast for three days while she works up her courage to go to the king.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Esther, Chapter 3: Haman, the first persecutor of the Jews

Haman is appointed to some important post in Ahasuerus' court, and all the servants save Mordecai bow down to him. Because no human being has ever been able to mind his business for longer than 5 seconds, the other servants immediately start hassling him about it, especially since he told them he's an Israelite. They also snitch on him to Haman. You especially see this kind of behaviour between smokers and non-smokers in modern offices.

Of course, now that it has been pointed out to him, Haman has to get angry. At first he decides only to punish Mordecai, but there hasn't been a massacre now for like, 3 books, so of course Haman decides to wipe out the Israelites. He casts lots to figure out which day to start the massacre. Lots are called Pur, hence the festival of Purim.

He finally thinks to ask the king if he can start the first Holocaust, framing it in terms of There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them (v. 8) which is pretty much the excuse given by every government in history to deport people it doesn't like, from Jews everywhere to Protestants in France to Muslims in modern-day Europe. The king is still distracted by his new harem of virgins, and he gives his blessing.

Finally, the day of killing arrives. Letters are sent to all the towns and villages, but the city of Shushan is perplexed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Esther, Chapter 2: Pageant Queen

Today: virgin beauty pagents!

Ahasuerus discovers that an empty bed is not as fun as it fist seems, and decides to get married again. His ministers send out minions to all the provinces to round up hot young virgins and bring them to Senor Frog's the palace. The king will then crown the one he likes the best.

Now, working in the palace is a certain Mordecai, an Israelite, who happens to be the sole guardian of his niece Esther, who happens to be very hot. So she enters the wet t-shirt contest palace with the other babes.

Here's how the contest works: All the nubile young things get a first opportunity to go in to king Ahasuerus (v. 12). She then spends 12 months developing an eating disorder purifying herself. After that year, she gets a cash prize, and the chance to go back to the king's bedchamber, or whatever. If she lost enough weight and got those breast implants he likes her, she'll get called back when he feels like it.

Esther is the Miss Congeniality of the harem, because she isn't a total bitch. Oddly enough the king also likes her, and decides to make her his queen. He throws a big party. Esther keeps her identity secret.

She endears herself even further to the king when Mordecai overhears two men plotting to assassinate the king and she tells him about the plan. They get hung for their troubles.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Esther, Chapter 1: Biblical Strippers

Joe Francis Ahasuerus tries to turn his wife into a stripper! Whoo-hoo! Let's get it on!

So Joe Francis Ahasuerus is the king of everything from India to Ethiopia. In the third year of his reign, he decides to throw a giant 6-month-long party to show how rich he is, although his decorating sense white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble (v. 6) is that of a colour-blind 12 year old girl.

At some point, he goes on a 7-day bender with his closest advisors and gets the brilliant idea that they should all look at his wife, Vashti. I'm going to interpret this as a would-be 'Girls Gone Wild' moment. Some pedants will insist that this episode has nothing to do with sex, and that all Joe Ahasuerus wanted his wife to do was show her face. The point, however, is not what he wanted her to do, but that he wanted her to do it at all. She was doomed from the moment he made the decision. Poor Vashti refuses to let her husband objectify her, even for a t-shirt, thus causing his entourage to decide she's a 'frigid bitch' and decide to make an example of her before any other wives get the idea that they don't have to strip for their husbands' friends. Of course, had she done whatever he wanted, whether it was poke her head in to say 'hi' or let his friends eat sushi off her naked body, he would have decided she was a 'slut' and had to be punished to make an example for the other wives.

See, this is where I actually like the bible: when it's showing us that really, truly, nothing ever changes. Too bad it spends so much time talking about building temples and massacring enemies.

Joe Francis Ahasuerus decides that her punishment will be banishment from his sight and replacement by a younger, hotter, Stepford model. The apparent effect of this will be that all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small (v. 20) because every man should bear rule in his own house (v. 22). Or, you know, it will make marital rape legal for the next two thousand-odd years.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nehemiah, Chapters 11-13

Chapter 11

The Israelites draw lots to determine who will live in Jerusalem and who will live in the other cities. Then there are lists of all the people who go to each. It's absolutely riveting.

Chapter 12

The first 30-odd verses of this chapter detail the duties of the various families. Then Nehemiah divides his congregation in two and sends one half to pray at the eastern wall and another to pray at the western. Then they barbecue.

Chapter 13

On reading the Torah, the Israelites discover yet again that god has outlawed intermarriage with the Moabites and the Ammonites and they exile all the foreigners.

Meanwhile, someone named Tobiah moves into the temple with the blessing of his relative, Eliashib the priest. Nehemiah was in Persia at the time, so he had no idea, because this was before texting took off. He throws him out and orders 'purification' of the room. He also finds out that no one has been tithing to the priests and choir. He puts new, trustworthy clerks in charge of the store rooms.

Another day, Nehemiah observes his citizens using wine presses and transporting the wine on the Sabbath. Wine sold the day it's pressed? Yuck! So he bans the sale of food on that day.

Finally, he notices the Israelites are intermarrying again, and some of their kids don't even speak Hebrew. He has his goons beat some of them up. But this time the wives and children aren't sent away.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nehemiah, Chapters 8-10

Chapter 8

Ezra reads the Torah out loud. That must have been a thrilling morning. Then they realise it's Succor, so they set to work sacrificing animals, giving the meat away to the poor, and building shelters, which they haven't done since the days of Jeshua. A long time, in other words.

Chapter 9

A few days later, it's time for another party. A costume party. They all dress up in sackcloth, fast, confess their sins, read the Torah, and confess their sins. Your average self-criticism session, in other words. Then they recap everything that has happened since Abraham.

Chapter 10

The Israelites make a vow not to intermarry, to keep the sabbath and to tithe.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nehemiah, Chapters 5-7

Chapter 5

There's a famine and some of the rich Jews are taking advantage of the poorer residents, buying up the corn and land and even their children as slaves. Nehemiah accuses them of usury and they don't have a defense for themselves.

He orders them to return all the stuff they bought and the money and they do, ashamed. They appoint him governor, and he's so uncorrupt he doesn't take a salary. Nope, he mostly wants to finish the wall.

Chapter 6

The three governors who have been harassing Nehemiah send letters requesting a meeting with him. When that doesn't work, they start antagonizing him overtly, accusing him of rebelling against Persian. They even send a mole to try and convince him to go into the inner sanctum of the temple, thus dirtying himself in the eyes of his people. Fortunately he perceives the ruse and refuses. Instead he redoubles his efforts on the damned wall, finishing it in 52 days. No wonder nobody actually reads this book.

Chapter 7

Nehemiah puts his brother in charge of security, then sets about numbering all the people he has locked inside. What follows is a long list of their names, similar to the one in Ezra. some people are so pedantic that they'll go all the way through both lists and point out all the contradictions. Others, let's call them literalists, are so pedantic they'll try to justify the contradictions. Personally, I like what Northup Frye had to say, that the authors of the bible didn't care about accuracy, they were telling a story.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nehemiah, Chapters 1-4

Another case of the same story being told slightly different ways. Ezra tells the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem from the point of view of the priests, Nehemiah is the same story from a political standpoint.

Chapter 1

Nehemiah finds out that the rebuilding of Jerusalem has been a disaster and the walls have been knocked down and the people enslaved. He cries and prays.

Chapter 2

The Persian king Artaxerxes notices Nehemiah's teary face and asks what's wrong. He explains about Jerusalem and the king agrees to let him go help with the rebuilding effort. He also gives him some letters to deliver, like an early pony express. He sneaks away from his escorts one night to survey the ruins, then cajoles the local leaders the next morning to rebuild the city. They laugh at him. Note that one of them is an Arab. Nehemiah's response: you have no claim on Jerusalem. Nothing new under the sun.

Chapter 3

The Israelites set to work rebuilding the walls. Even some of the women help. That's the whole chapter: a list of who repaired which section of wall. Scintillating.

Chapter 4

The governors mock the Jews and their walls, saying even a fox could break through. Ooh, nasty stuff! The Jews ignore them and join the wall up. That pisses them off and they conspire to attack. This causes the wall project to be suspended as so many workers are needed for guard duty. They never put on pajamas, even. They only take their clothes off to wash.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ezra, Chapters 8-10

Chapter 8

Ezra and his entourage of 1500 camp out and fast for three days while praying to god about whether they should accept protection from the Persians as they travel to Jerusalem. He smartly divides his gold stockpile up and gives some of it to the priests to bring to Jerusalem, then leaves himself, sans soldiers.

Chapter 9

The Israelites are still sinning! Now they've been polluting the blood with foreign wives and the priests and princes have been leading the charge! Ezra gets upset and prays to god for advice.

Chapter 10

The Israelites decide the best way to get back into god's good graces is to send their foreign wives away. So they call everybody to the temple, where they tell them to either send their wives away or be excommunicated. Would you worship a god that demanded that? But they agree to do it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ezra Chapters 5-7

Chapter 5

After a prayer the Israelites set to building the temple. Tatnai, the governor, asks for their permits and the names of the crew, but he's powerless to actually stop them until he gets a decision back from king Darius, because that's how hierarchal societies work, yo. He asks Darius to look up their claims that they have permission from Cyrus.

Chapter 6

Conveniently, Darius finds the decree by Cyrus and even the blueprints and orders Tatnai not only to let them build the temple, but to pay for it and food for the workers out of his treasury. He orders them to hang anyone who interferes.

Chapter 7

Finally we're introduced to Ezra, the supposed writer of this book. He comes to Jerusalem bearing a letter from the king asking him to scope out the situation and hand over a bunch of gold, silver and barbecue sacrificial animals for the temple. It also orders anyone who meets him to give him anything he asks for, within reason and disallowing them to tax any temple workers. Ezra is to convert the people in Jerusalem and kill or banish those who refuse.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ezra, Chapters 1-4

Oh great, another two books that tell the exact same story. In this case, the return of the Israelites to their homeland after a year of exile in modern-day Iraq.

Chapter 1

God causes Cyrus, the king of Persia, who has just conquered Babylon, to decide to free the Israelites and let them rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He also asks their neighbours to donate their old gold, silver, household goods and livestock to the Jews.

Chapter 2

An achingly boring list of all the families that went back to Jerusalem. They bring a choir of 200 and a bunch of livestock and treasure.

Chapter 3

The Israelites go back to Jerusalem, set up the temple, and immediately start barbecuing.

Chapter 4

The Israelites' old enemies approach them and say they've been worshipping god since they left, and they want to contribute to the temple. Jeshua, the new leader, rudely rebuffs them and, unsurprisingly, they start causing trouble. First, they bribe the officials to hold up the paperwork. Then, when that fails, they start petitioning the new king of Persia and all the other local kings to put a stop work order on the project. The gist of the letter: the Israelites are wicked and seditious, and if the king permits this building, they'll stop paying taxes. Wow, I'm surprised Pamela Gellar wasn't involved.

The king, no Michael Bloomburg, bless him, writes back and says, lo and behold, the Israelites are rebellious and seditious and he's going to stop all the permits for the temple. On receiving the response, the Syrians run right over to the temple work site and halt construction.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

2 Chronicles, Chapters 29-36

Chapter 29

Hezekiah orders the resumption of Passover services. They have a giant barbecue to celebrate the cleaning of the temple.

Chapter 30

Hezekiah invites the other tribes to his Passover party. They have to make lots of sacrifices to cleanse the congregation, because most of them haven't been to the temple in ages. Of course all that sacrificing just makes for a bigger, wilder barbecue.

Chapter 31

After seven days of meat, bread and wine, the Israelites need some exercise, so they go around destroying the groves, alters and icons of Baal. Then Hezekiah reinstitutes tithing to the priests, which the people take to enthusiastically, as we tend to do with new, interesting projects.

Chapter 32

The king of Assyria invades, but Hezekiah reassures his people that god is on their side, because THAT always works out so well. But this time he's right: god sends along an avenging angel who kills the raiders in their sleep. Then Hezekiah dies.

Chapter 33

Manasseh is a bad king who puts up altars to Baal, sacrifices children and practices witchcraft. But the thing that REALLY pisses god off is when he puts a graven image in the temple. Then god sends in the Assyrians. This scares the pagan right out of Manasseh and straightens him out, though not his people, who continue to make sacrifices in the hills. Then he dies and his son Amon takes over. Amon's bad and his servants kill them. Then his followers kill the servants and install his son Josiah in his stead.

Chapter 34

Josiah tears down the alters that have sprung up and kills the pagan priests. Then he orders the temple repaired. During the work the men discover a book (Deuteronomy). They read it to a priest and he realises that the Israelites haven't been following the laws. So he asks a prophetess what this lack of obedience will mean: destruction. Josiah himself is safe: it's the people who will bear the brunt of god's anger. Josiah reads the book to the people and uses it as further excuse to tear down the pagan altars.

Chapter 35

Josiah orders a Passover celebration, for the first time that I remember featuring stew as well. Then the Egyptians invade. Josiah goes out to do battle, but is wounded by an arrow and dies.

Chapter 36

A series of bad, short-lived kings takes over the throne of Israel. They're all bad, including an eight year old who somehow prefers putting up altars to Baal to playing with his Legos. Finally, the Babylonians invade and kill most of them and enslave the rest. The end.