Friday, April 30, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 4-7

According to David Plotz, this section roughly follows the plot of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film I have seen, but not since childhood.

Chapter 4

The Philistines attack and the Israelites are defeated, losing 4000 men. They lament to god and decide the key to victory is to bring the ark of the covenant to them. Eli's sons receive the ark, and the Israelites cheer so loudly the ground shakes. The Philistines hear it, and are afraid, but resolve to fight rather than become slaves.

They fight again, and this time 30 000 Israelite foot soldiers are killed, the ark of the covenant is taken, and Eli's two sons die.

A Benjaminite comes out of the battle. Eli is sitting by the side of the road, 98 years old, blind and in ill health. He asks for an update. The Benjaminite informs him of his sons' deaths and he falls off his seat and breaks his neck. Phineas' pregnant wife also hears the story and goes into labour, then dies, but not before naming her son Ichabod, which means 'the glory of Israel is departed.' How.. auspicious.

Chapter 5

The Philistines put the captured ark in a temple of their god Dagon. In the morning, the statue of Dagon has fallen over. They right it, and the following morning, the statue has fallen over, and the head and arms have snapped off. After that, the Philistines refuse to enter the temple. Nevertheless, god isn't finished smiting them and sends along a nasty case of hemorrhoids. They decide the ark is the cause, but don't know what to do with it. While they're carrying it around, the hemorrhoid epidemic spreads.

Chapter 6

The Philistines hold onto the ark for seven months. They ask their priests what to do about the damned thing, and they recommend returning it, along with a trespass offering of five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice.

They decide to send the offerings in an ox cart, and decide that whatever happens will be a sign: they'll let the cows go free, and if they go towards Bethshemesh, god is responsible for the piles, if they go another direction, it was chance. Of course the cows go for Bethshemeth, where the people are harvesting. They see the ark and run out to meet it, and use the wood from the cart to build a sacrificial fire for the cows.

Of course, all does not end happily for the Bethsehmites, because they look inside the ark, and 50 070 of them are killed for their sin. They immediately start looking for another town to fob it off onto.

Chapter 7

The people of Kirjathjearim keep the ark for 20 years. The people of Shiloh kinda start to miss the crazy old box that killed 50 070 of them. Samuel tells them they can have it back if they open their hearts to god, so they throw away all their idols. Samuel then says he'll pray for them. The Philistines hear about this and attack. The Israelites ask Samuel to stop that too, so he sacrifices a lamb, which causes god to thunder, which scares the Philistines and allows the Israelites to smite them. The Philistines retreat, and the Israelites chase them to a place between Mizpeh and Shen, where Samuel erects a monument.

God continues to protect the Israelites from the Philistines, and restores all their cities to them, and Samuel is made judge.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2

Hannah sings a hymn of praise to god, including the lyric The lord killeth (v. 6), showing she knows exactly who she's complimenting here. We also find out, in verse 8, that the world is set upon pillars. Personally, I always liked the one where a woman falls out of the sky and lands on a turtle's back, but whatever floats your boat.

When she finishes singing, she goes home and leaves her son behind with Eli's two sons, who are corrupt. First of all, they keep the meat from the sacrifices for themselves. Samuel, on the other hand, is a good boy. Coincidentally, he's supposed to be the author of this book. Self-serving much?

Hannah comes back to visit with new clothes every year, and in time she has another five children. Eli's sons take to having sex with the women who gather outside the temple. Their father reproaches them, but they don't listen because god has already decided to kill them. You know, if I was in the same situation, I'd do exactly what they're doing. I'd make a terrible Calvinist.

Next, a man of god (whom Jerry of course thinks is Jesus) comes along and rebukes Eli, accusing him of spoiling his sons and informs him that all the members of his family will die before their time and the rest will be cursed. He'll start with killing the two sons on the same day as a sign, and he'll put an honest priest in their place. Gee, do you think the 'honest priest' will be Samuel?

Chapter 3

Oh gosh, look at that! Samuel is ministering to the people, but god doesn't have much to say. Much as he hasn't since his book was published. Eli is getting old, and one night a voice calls out to the sleeping Samuel. He assumes it's Eli, so he runs out to see what he wants. On the third try, Eli figures out it's god talking. And what is god so eager to tell Samuel? Why, that he's going to punish Eli, of course! For his sons' sins! And then all the generations of his family after that. What was that about god being just and merciful?

The next day, Samuel is reluctant to share the heavenly threats with Eli, but Eli presses. Eli accepts his punishment without complaint. Samuel grows up and eventually god speaks to him again. The chapter ends on that dramatic note, as the bible finally learns about suspenseful buildup.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapter 1

Samuel's father Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah has children, but even though Elkanah loves her more, Hannah is barren because of some divine pique or another. They take a yearly vacation to Shiloh to sacrifice, where Peninnah is nasty to Hannah about her lack of children. This always makes Hannah cry, and then she refuses to eat. Doesn't polygamy sound great?

Elkanah always tries to comfort her, but it's no use. One time, Hannah goes back to the temple after lunch to pray. She promises god that if he gives her a son, she'll raise him as a Nazarite, like Samson was. Will she also raise him with S&M fetishes and genocidal tendencies?

Eli the priest comes in and notices Hannah sitting there, but because she isn't speaking, only her lips are moving, he assumes she's drunk. He tells her to put the wine down and leave. I'm sure that happens now, but then? Really? Anyway, she says she isn't drunk, just sorrowful. He tells her to leave in peace and that god will surely grant her whatever she asked. Cheered, Hannah leaves and has some lunch.

In the morning, the family rises and prays, then goes home. Once there, Elkanah fucks his wife and she finally gets pregnant with Samuel.

The following year, Hannah doesn't go on the sacrificing holiday, saying she doesn't want to present Samuel to god until he's weaned, and possibly because it's the lamest family trip ever.

When he is weaned, she gathers some sacrificial material together and goes to the temple for her own ritual. She presents the child to Eli the priest.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ruth, Chapters 3 & 4

So, as I mentioned before, Jerry Falwell holds Ruth up as a paragon of Christian virtues, an example for every woman to follow. So far, she's been fairly innocuous, following her mother-in-law back from Moab to Bethlehem and gleaning the fields of her rich relative Boaz while flirting with him. Let's see how the rest of her story holds up, hmm?

Chapter 3

Naomi is pimping her daughter-in-law out to Boaz. She tells Ruth to anoint herself and go down to the barn where Boaz is planning to sleep so as to be fresh for threshing tomorrow. It seems like his bed would be the best place for that, but whatever. So when he's a bit drunk and lies down, Ruth is to uncover his 'feet' (yeah, not the feet) and lie down next to him. Boaz will then tell her what to do. So she does, and at some point during the night, Boaz rolls over and finds her lying there. He doesn't even remember who she is. She introduces herself and asks him for sex, like any good, unmarried Christian woman ought to do.

Boaz, who is supposed to be an exemplar of good Christian manhood, thanks her for choosing him over an old man. His conscience pricks him a little and he tells her there's another relative who is closer than him, and who technically should have first dibs, which, I suppose if you're going to live a life based on biblical inerrancy, would make Ruth a good Christian, but this particular law seems pretty well ignored by most. Anyway, another prick is also conscious of the fact that there's a nubile young lady in his bed, so he asks her to stay until morning. She uh, lays on his feet for the rest of the night, leaving before dawn. Before she goes, Boaz gives her a veil full of barley in payment.

Ruthe goes home and spills to Naomi. Then they wait until the end of the day for the decision of the other relative.

Chapter 4

Boaz finds the kinsman and some village elders. Then they start haggling: Boaz informs him that Naomi is selling her land. He proposes that the kinsman buy it. The kinsman agrees quickly. Then Boaz throws Ruth into the mix and says their kids would get the land as an inheritance. The kinsman then balks, saying he doesn't want to jeopardise his own inheritance. So he takes off his shoe (a man who doesn't want to marry his childless, widowed relatives has to give his shoe to the one who takes her off his hands, according to Leviticus), and hands it over.

The people rejoice at the match, and they have a son. They also praise Ruth and Naomi. Then Naomi nurses the boy, despite being too old to conceive. The boy is called Obed and we get a brief genealogy that will lead to the great king David.

So, that's the book of Ruth. No mass murders, kidnappings, assassinations, executions, rapes or divine tantrums. It's not the gentle love story it's held up to be: Ruth and Boaz might have feelings for each other, but she's still the kinsman's to keep or trade, and his stated reason for choosing trade isn't that he sees their love, but he doesn't want someone else's kids getting his inheritance. As for being good examples of Christian virtue, what? Regardless of what was intended or what actually happened, Ruth quite brazenly sneaks into a barn and gets into bed with a man she isn't married to, something I doubt the students of Jerry's fiefdom, Liberty University, would get away with, even if they said it was 'showing submission', as the author of the Skeptics' Annotated Bible answered posits. And Boaz? Well, regardless of whether he has sex with her (and my guess is that he did), he lets a woman sleep in his bed all night, then purchases her in the morning. That's exactly the kind of husband I'd want.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ruth, Chapter 2

Boaz is a relative of Naomi's late husband.

Apropos of nothing, we're back on Ruth in the second verse. She and Naomi are broke, so she invokes the law that says she can glean the fields. Whose field is it? Boaz'. Why not say who he is now, rather than in the first verse? Boaz comes out and magnanimously greets the scavengers. His eye falls on Ruth and he asks who she is. He asks her to stay on in his fields and promises her that the young men won't harass her and she can drink his water. Well, that's practically a declaration of love, right there.

Ruth prostrates herself and asks why he's being so kind. He coyly says she's nice to her mother in law. They flirt for awhile and finally he invites her to dinner. When she gets back up to return to the fields, he tells his harvesters to let her take some of the harvested barley, and to deliberately drop some on the ground for her.

At the end of the day, Ruth threshes her barely, which doesn't amount to much. She takes it home and Naomi asks her whose fields she was in. She explains, and Naomi is thrilled, because Boaz is their nearest relative and therefore the person who is obligated to have sex with Ruth so she can have a son. It's very romantic. I wonder if Jerry's followers do this when a childless husband dies? Because he explains in the introduction to this book that Ruth is a good model for a Christian woman.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ruth, Chapter 1

A famine occurs, and an Israelite man from Bethlehem goes to Moab to ride it out. He takes his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, and promptly dies. The two sons take Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. Then, ten years later, the sons die and Naomi decides to go back to the land of Judah. She urges her daughters-in-law to stay behind and remarry. They protest, but Naomi doesn't have any other sons that they could have children with, and points out that even if she got pregnant that night, they'd have to wait a long time for the sons to grow up.

Orpah decides to stay behind, but Ruth really likes Naomi and goes with her. They go back to Bethlehem, where people recognise Naomi, who is now calling herself Mara.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Judges, Chapters 20 & 21

A civil war to exterminate the Benjaminites, followed by a mass murder of the residents of Jabeshgilead to give the remaining Benjaminites virgin wives. When that fails to yield enough brides, they kidnap a bunch of girls from another town, which they follow up with another mass rape. Good times!

Chapter 20

Following the concubine body part telegram from the last chapter, the tribes of Israel, minus the Benjaminites, gather together with their army of 400 000 men, which puts it on par with Indonesia's current army. The Benjaminites hear about the meeting and ask why they weren't invited. The Levite from the last chapter reminds them about a certain vile incident in Gibeah. He frames it like they stole her, rather than him pushing her out the door. He asks the other Israelites what they think. They want vengeance.

They gather outside Gibeah and start interrogating all the men, demanding the rapists, but the Benjaminites refuse to give them up. Instead, they attack. The total size of the Benjaminite army is 26 000 men, about the same size as a modern army in Scandinavia, including 700 super-special troops, all of whom are left-handed slingshot sharpshooters.

The other tribes ask god who should attack first, and he says Judah. The Benjaminites win the first battle, killing 22 000 Israelites, which is impressive when you consider that the bloodiest battle in the American Civil War, Antitem, only killed 23 000 troops. After that loss, which would take humanity several thousand years to repeat, the Israelites wail and ask god if they really need to wage war against Benjamin. He says yes and a further 18 000 men are killed. The Israelites go to the temple, which, amazingly, is still presided over by Phineas, who must be about 400 by now, and offer sacrifices and prayers to god, who tells them that he's really going to let them win this time. Riiight.

This time, the Israelites succeed in drawing the Benjaminites out of the city and then it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Then they kill everyone in Gibeah, even though only the men sinned. Then they burn the city. The Benjaminites notice the flames, realize they don't have a hope of winning, and flee, but are picked off as they retreat. 25 100 are killed this way, for a 3-day total of 80 100 casualties. 600 Benjaminites do manage to escape to the Rock of Rimmon. The Israelites then slaughter everything in the Benjaminite territory, then institute the first-ever scorched-earth policy, burning everything to the ground. Well, that certainly avenges the gang rape! What happened to those courts Moses was supposed to set up way back in Exodus?

Chapter 21

At the initial meeting, the Israelites had pledged not to let their daughters marry any Benjaminites. But then they regret trying to kill all the Benjaminites and ask god what to do, since they've killed all the Benjaminite women. They then discover that one city, Jabeshgilead, didn't send anyone to the meeting. So they decide to kill all the residents save the virgin girls. Unfortunately, there are only 400 of them, and 600 men. Then, fortunately, someone remembers a harvest festival will be taking place soon at Shiloh, and suggests kidnapping some girls from there. As the girls come out to dance, they grab them and run off, caveman style. Sadly, there are no Simeons and Levis this time to avenge the stolen girls.

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!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Judges, Chapters 17 & 18

Chapter 17

Micah's mother thinks someone stole her 1100 shekels. Nope! It was Micah. He gives it back and she decides to have it melted and molded into an idol for him. Micah makes a shrine and puts the idol, along with some other trinkets, inside. He also installs one of his sons as priest, because there was no king, so there's anarchy.

Next, a young Levite from Bethlehem arrives at Micah's house. Micah makes small talk and eventually asks him to become a priest for him, in exchange for 10 shekels a year, plus clothing and food. The man agrees. Micah thinks this will win him favour with the lord.

Chapter 18

Again, Israel is without a king. The Danites have no land. They send out some spies to find a goodly spot, and the spies come to Micah's house. They recognise the Levite and ask him what he's doing there. He tells them, and they ask him to ask god where they can find some land. He tells them to leave in peace, because god is with them. They come to Laish, where the people live in a sort of hippy paradise, self-sufficient and with no lawyers. They go back and recommend invasion and conquest to their leaders. They set back off with 600 men.

Eventually they come back to Micah's house. The rob him of his idol and trinkets. The priest notices and asks what they're doing. They invite him to join them, pointing out how much better it is to be a priest to an entire clan than to one man. The priest sees the logic and leaves with them.

The Danites eventually catch up and ask what's wrong with them that they would steal everything they own like that. The Danites threaten him, so Micah turns back. Then they attack the hippy commune in Laish and kill everybody, and build a city, along with a temple for the idol. That city is called Dan.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Judges, Chapters 13-16

The story of Samson, first president of the Hair Club for Men, who was beguiled by that vile temptress, Delilah, into giving away the secret of his strength (hint: it has something to do with Pantene!). If you went to a conservative Sunday School, you probably learned this story as an example of a sexually voracious woman 'stumbling' an otherwise good and virtuous man. Even if you went to a more liberal place, this was at best presented as a depressing example of male-female relationships.

Chapter 13

The Israelites have been enslaved again, this time by the Philistines. An Israelite woman, who doesn't even have the dignity of being named, is barren, but an angel of the lord appears before her and tells her she's going to have a son. He gives her some excellent pre-natal advice not to drink wine or eat unclean things, not because god has revealed the secrets of a healthy pregnancy diet, but because the boy is going to be a Nazarite, a member of the mystical sect. The angel also tells her not to cut the boy's hair. So what was all the fuss in the 1960s about boys having hair past the tops of their ears, then?

Anyway, the woman goes out to her husband and repeats the story. The husband is skeptical and asks god to tell it to him directly. God sends the angel to her again, but the husband isn't around. Oh, I see. So she had an affair, and got pregnant, but told her husband it was 'the angel of the lord.' Well, we'll see how easy it is to fool people with that old trick when we get to the New Testament, won't we?

So the woman runs off to find her husband and brings him to where the angel is waiting. The husband makes him repeat all his instructions, then offers to sacrifice a goat for him. The angel's all, no thanks, you should sacrifice to god, not me. The husband asks for his name, but the angel insists it's a secret, so it will be harder to figure out who cuckolded him later. They go ahead with the sacrifice, and the angel returns to heaven on the flames. Samson emerges 9 months later, and we hear he is especially favoured by god.

Chapter 14

Samson falls for a Philistine woman and asks his parents to secure her hand in marriage. Where's Phineas with his spear when you need him? But it turns out this is just a part of god's master plan for mass slaughter of the Philistines.

One day, or possibly the same day, it's never clear as the bible is not good on transitioning from anecdote to anecdote, Samson is out for a walk and a lion roars at him. Samson is overcome by the spirit of the lord, and rips the poor beast to shreds with his bare hands. No word on PETA's reaction. He continues on his walk, which was to his date's house. She pleases him well (read: at least a blow job). On his way home, he passes by the carcass, in which a swarm of bees has taken up residence. It must be a miracle, because they've already produced honey. Samson gathers some of the honey and takes it home to his parents.

Samson's father manages to secure the bride, and at the wedding, Samson poses a riddle to his groomsman. If they can answer within a week, he'll give them all 30 sheets and 30 new outfits. If they can't, they have to give him the prize. This is the wording of his riddle: Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness (v. 14).

The seventh day arrives and the groomsmen have bubkis. So they threaten Samson's wife: find out the answer or we'll burn your house down. She cries and wheedles and finally, to shut her up, he tells her the answer. It's a sitcom!

The groomsman, proving themselves 2000 years early for Jeopardy, answer in the form of questions: What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion? (v. 18). Samson accuses them of sleeping with his wife. It's totally a sitcom. And then it totally isn't, because Samson goes into the village and kills 30 men and takes their clothes and bedding and gives them out to his wedding guests as a reward for guessing the riddle. Then it's totally a romantic tragedy, because his wife has been given to his best friend.

Chapter 15

At harvest time, Samson goes to his wife with a kid. Apparently that's the price for sex. And apparently Samson has forgotten that she married his friend instead. Fortunately, his father-in-law has not, and reminds him of the incident. He instead offers his hotter younger daughter. Samson decides this is grounds for revenge against the entire Philistine people. His revenge is particularly gruesome to an animal lover: he catches 300 foxes, sets their tales on fire, then releases them into the Philistine fields. Yup, that'll show them whatever it is god is trying to teach them. Not to promise your daughter to one guy, then give her to another? As if Laban didn't do something similar?

The Philistines, naturally, are angry, but not at the right person. When they find out Samson is responsible, and why he did it, they burn his father-in-law and wife. Samson escalates the problem, killing an untold number of Philistines. Then he takes a time-out on a rock.

The Philistines, if it's possible, are even dumber, because they go and attack the people of Judah. They go to Samson and ask them what mess he's gotten them into with their overlords. He sulks back that he's just repaying the Philistines in kind. They inform him they're going to take him to the Philistines and he extracts a promise from them not to kill him, and submits to being bound up. As they approach the Philistine camp, Samson is filled with the spirit of the lord, which apparently comes with Incredible Hulk-style temper tantrums. He breaks free of his bindings, finds the jawbone of an ass, and kills a thousand Philistines. He's practically ready for Jersey Shore. He throws down the jawbone and complains to god that he's thirsty. God makes water spring out of the jawbone and declares Samson Judge.

Chapter 16

Here's the part of the story you probably think you're the most familiar with. Samson comes to Gaza and sees a prostitute. Yup, he's a favourite of the lord, all right. He has sex with her, and the men of the town plot to kidnap him in the morning. Um, wouldn't he be most vulnerable in flagrante delicto? But apparently that would be breaking some kind of Bro Code, because they leave him until morning, when he wakes up, dismantles the city gates, and walks off with them to Hebron. Early steroids? He eats his Wheaties? No idea.

Next, Samson goes to Sorek, where he meets Delilah. The Philistine leaders come to Delilah and promise her money if she can find out his weakness. Kryptonite?

Delilah asks him outright, and he outright lies to her and says If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man (v. 7). As soon as he goes to sleep, she ties him up and calls the Philistines in. He wakes up, breaks the binds and they run off. Now, a smart fellow would figure out that his girlfriend isn't exactly trustworthy and leave. But not Samson. When Delilah accuses him of lying and asks him for the truth, our brain trust stays and answers, If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man (v. 11) in fact, one biblical scholar has gone so far as to suggest this becomes a sort of S&M game between them, though whether you believe that or not is up to you. So he again breaks free when she says the Philistines are coming. She asks him a third time, and gets the reply If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web (v. 13) and again he breaks free, this time taking part of the wall with him.

Finally, Delilah turns to that charming feminine tactic of wheedling and whining until she gets the information. And despite his apparent facility with the ladies, Samson stays on and lets himself be worn down and finally says his strength is in his hair. She immediately runs off to tell the tribal elders, then inveigles him to fall asleep in her lap. While he's there, a man comes in and shaves Samson's head. When the deed is done, she again tells him the Philistines are there. He wakes with a start and goes outside for some air, but the spirit of the lord has left him, and the Philistines capture him and gouge out his eyes.

They bring him down to Gaza and throw him into prison, where his hair starts to grow again. Then they throw a party to sacrifice to their god Dagon, in praise for delivering Samson. The party gets raucous, and the merrymakers call for Samson to be brought out and displayed in his humiliation. They tie him between two pillars. Samson calls out to god to give him back his strength. He takes hold of the pillars, and brings the house down on himself, taking 3000 Philistines with him. Which would make him a suicide mass murderer, no?

What a happy, joyous book this is.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Judges, Chapter 12

The tribe of Ephraim is annoyed that Jephthah didn't include him in the slaughter of the Ammonites, and threatens to burn his house down. Well, that's convincing! Jephthah answers that he did call for them, but they didn't help, so he asked for, and received, assistance from god.

These taunts and insults lead to a war. The Gileadites take control of a bridge over the river Jordan and set up a checkpoint. Anyone wanting to cross is asked to say the word 'Shibboleth', but the Ephraimites can't say the 'sh' sound, so they say 'Sibboleth,' which is how we got that word. Anyone who mispronounces it is put to death. 42 000 Ephraimites die that way. I guess Hooked on Phonics didn't work for them. The Dutch famously used this technique in WWII as a way of finding out German spies. They used the word 'Scheveningen' as a password, because it's hard for non-Dutch speakers to say correctly.

Jephthah dies after 6 years, and then a series of unremarkable Judges rules. We hear a lot about how many sons they had, and how many asses, but nothing in the way of real accomplishments. But never fear, Samson is up tomorrow to render this book exciting again!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Judges, Chapter 11

In any other book of the bible, this would be the most fucked-up chapter, but coming as it does in Judges, it's a distant second to chapter 19, which we will get to later this month.

Jephthah is the son of a harlot and a rich man of Gilead. When his father dies, his half-brothers cast him out and he seeks his fortune as a mercenary in Tob. As can be expected in any fairy tale, the Ammonites attack, and the elders of Gilead come to beg him to lead their army. He agrees, on the condition that he be made the political and military leader if he succeeds.

Jephthah's first act as president is to write to the Ammonite leader and ask why he's declared war against the Israelites. The Ammonite king makes the fair point that the Israelites are occupying his land. Jephthah writes back peevishly about all the kings that denied his people passage when they escaped from Egypt, until Sihon, where god finally gave them a victory in battle. He points out that both sides of this battle occupy land that their gods gave them, and the Israelites have been there for 300 years now, yet they've made no effort to recover it until now. Because he thinks this is a transcript, Jerry points to this passage as evidence of an early Exodus. I wish I had remembered this old but brilliant send-up of Mike Huckabee when I was covering Genesis, but it still seems apt here, too.

Anyway, the Ammonites ignore Jephthah and attack. Jephthah is seized by the spirit of the lord and makes a vow to god that If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, / Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. (v. 30-31)

Now, I started this project because so much of Western literature derives its sources from the bible. I haven't actually seen any parallels with the books I've read since Genesis, but finally this chapter has one, albeit with fairy tales.

Now a cynic, like some of the scholars cited in The Harlot by the Side of the Road, might think that Jephthah knows his daughter will be the first thing to come out of the house, and he reckons it'll be cheaper to do away with her than to part with a goat or cow. A less-cynical person might just think that this story is just an archetype, and his daughter comes out because that's what happens in a fairy tale.

Needless to say, Jephthah wins and returns home. Of course, the only person outside to greet him is his only child, a daughter, who is singing and playing music. He sees her and laments his vow, but she says he has to do whatever he promised, because he won. And this again is something one recognizes from hundreds of plotlines: it's easier to be the one who dies for the sake of many than to be the one who has to kill the one who dies for the sake of many.

She only asks him for two months to go up to the mountains to bewail her virginity with her friends. Again, Harlot has a few ideas as to what this might mean: she's part of a fertility cult, she's going up to have a two-month-long lesbian orgy, or she went around to the various rabbinical courts trying to get the vow annulled but never finds a loophole. Whatever she's doing up there, she comes back at the appointed time and it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. (v. 39).

Jerry Falwell, great advocate of just reading the words and not interpreting them, interprets this verse to mean only that the daughter never married, because the whole point of taking over Canaan and doing away with the Canaanites was that they practiced child sacrifice. Plus, letting a dude kill and burn his own daughter as a tribute would be pretty fucking evil, and Jerry's god is both wholly good and wholly powerful, as this book has proven so well up until now. It would work if only we didn't also have the text of that original pesky vow, which seems pretty clear. So yeah, god is pretty fucking evil.

The very last verse informs us that the women of Israel have a 4-day mourning period for Jephthah's daughter every year.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Judges, Chapters 9 & 10

Chapter 9

Remember how Gideon had 70 sons? This is how 69 of them die.

Abimelech, who gets a brief mention in Chapter 8, goes to his mother's family in Shechem, the same town that god massacred by Simeon and Levi in Genesis after the prince raped their sister. He convinces them that he should be ruler, then goes home and kills all his brothers upon one stone (v. 5) save the youngest, Jotham, who hides. The men of Shechem appoint Abimelech king.

Jotham goes up a mountain and tells a parable about a grove of trees who try to elect a leader. The olive, fig and vine all have excuses, and finally the bramble accepts the task, and the point is neither of these is a good idea.

Jotham then flees and Abimelech reigns for three troubled years. God sends an evil spirit to stir shit up. Satan? Eventually, some of his soldiers rebel against him. Abimelech gets wind of the plot and attacks the city they're hiding in. The rebels come out to defend and Abimelech pursues them to the city gate. The next day, people come out to tend their fields and he attacks them, too. He attacks the city walls all day long, eventually breaching them and slaughtering all those inside. Then he salts the earth. The pople take refuge in a tower, and he sets fire to the bottom.

He moves on to another city, and people again take refuge in a tower. Abimelech gets too close to the base and a woman drops a millstone on his head. Not wanting to be killed by a woman, he begs one of his captains to kill him instead. The captain obliges.

I have to say, this book just warms the cockles of my heart.

Chapter 10

Two unremarkable judges, Tola and Jair come and go. Jair has 30 sons on 30 asses. When they die, the Israelites sin again and are sold to the Philistines for 18 years. They ask god for help, but he refuses. They go back to worshipping him, and eventually he feels sorry for them. The chapter ends on a cliffhanger, with the Israelites camped across from some Amorites, who wonder who the next leader will be. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but tune in tomorrow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Judges, Chapters 6-8

The story of Gideon, as in the bibles. I wonder if the people who publish those have actually read this book?

Chapter 6

The Israelites sin again and are enslaved by the Midianites. Never mind that Moses killed all of them except the virgins what? A couple hundred years ago? Now they're breeding like grasshoppers (v. 5). The Israelites beg god to free them, so god sends an angel down to Gideon with a message. Gideon is skeptical, asking why this supposedly miraculous god has forsaken them. God then appears and tells him to free his people. Gideon is still skeptical, saying his tribe is the poorest of all, and he's the poorest of his tribe. God promises his assistance, but Gideon wants a sign now. He asks god to wait while he prepares a sacrifice of a goat and some bread. The angel tells him to put it on a rock, then touches the rock with his staff. This convinces Gideon.
God's next instruction is to vandalize his neighbors' altars to Baal and build his own altars to god. Gideon is afraid to do it in daylight, so he goes out at night. In the morning, they find the altar and the remains of the sacrificed bullock and are pissed off about not being invited to the barbecue. They ask around and figure out who is responsible, and demand his head. Gideon's father Joash defends him and warns them that if they fight for Baal, they won't live. Joash then renames him Jerubaal.

The Midianites and Amakelites gather an army together at Jezreel. Gideon blows a trumpet and his men gather. Then he asks god for more signs. He puts a piece of wool on the ground and asks god to make it wet without dampening the ground. God does, but Gideon wants one more sign. He asks god to make the ground wet and the fleece dry. What would Jonathan Creek make of that?

Chapter 7

Despite being enslaved, the Israelites have managed to raise and equip a massive army of 32 000, about the size of a small-ish country like Canada's today. So big, in fact, that god worries they'll think they saved themselves without any help from him. So Gideon tells them that anyone who's afraid can just go home. 22 000 do. But 10 000 is still too many for god, so he tells Gideon to take them to the river for a drink and he'll sort them out there. Most of the men scoop up the water in their hands, as you logically would if drinking out of a stream. Actually, in those times you'd have been better to seek out the wine. Better drunk than riddled with dysentery. But god wants the men who lap the water like dogs, who number 300.

Those 300 men get food and trumpets, the rest go home. One night, god tells Gideon to get ready, because they're going to attack. Gideon goes down to the Midianite camp on a recon mission. He overhears one soldier telling another about a dream he had where a barley cake smites a tent. His friend thinks it's a sign Gideon is going to win. Gideon goes back to his men and says it's time to attack. He divides the men into three companies, each with a trumpet and an oil lamp. He instructs them to surround the camp and on his signal, to attack, shouting The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon. (v. 18). When they blow their trumpets, god causes the Midianites to attack each other. Some flee, and Gideon sends word to pursue and kill them. Two princes are captured and their heads sent to him.

Chapter 8

The men of Ephraim don't feel they got enough action in the whole Midianite massacre, but Gideon points out they killed two princes, and that placates them.

He then takes his army in pursuit of two Midianite kings. They come to the village of Succoth, where they ask for food, but are refused. Gideon vows to take revenge with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers. (v. 7). The people of Penuel likewise refuse him and he vows to tear down their tower.

Gideon eventually finds the two kings and their 120 000 men, slightly smaller than the current French army. He goes back towards Succoth and captures a young man from the village, who describes the leaders and elders. He brings the two kings into the town square and shows them to the people, then proceeds to beat the leaders to death with the promised thorns and briers. Then he goes to Penuel and tears down the tower and massacres the men of the town.

Gideon asks the kings who they killed at Tabor, and figures out they killed his brothers. He tells them regretfully that if they had spared his family, he could spare them, but as it is, he calls on his oldest son to kill them. The boy refuses. The kings taunt him, so Gideon kills them and takes the decorations off their camels. Father of the year, that one.

The people of Israel invite Gideon to be their king, but he says that's god's job. He does ask them to each give them an earring from their plunder. He casts the gold into an ephod, some kind of object of worship.

There is peace for 40 years, during which time Gideon manages to father an impressive 70 sons, not unlike a Saudi prince today. Only one is named, Abimelech of Shechem. Gideon dies eventually, and the people go back to worshipping Baal and stop paying tribute to Gideon's family.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Judges, Chapters 4 & 5

This little story, of Deborah, the only female Judge, and Jael, the dominatrix who's handy with a tent peg, was so popular among the ancient Israelites that they wrote it down twice, once in prose, once in what is probably the original poetry.

Chapter 4

The prose version. God gets angry with the Israelites following the death of Ehud. He enslaves them to the Canaanite king Jabin, who lives in Hazor. His general is Sisera, who has 900 iron chariots that he uses to oppress the Israelites. So this is like, a hundred years they've been watching their enemies' iron chariots defeat them, and they've never once thought to make them themselves?

Anyway, Deborah is a prophetess and the only female Judge, and she calls on one of her generals, Barak, and tells him to raise an army of 10 000 to defeat Sisera. Barak the 'fraidy cat refuses to go unless Deborah comes, too. Deborah, disgusted, tells him fine, she'll go, but a woman is going to defeat Sisera. So they go together to raise their army.

Now we go over to a Kenite man who has pitched his tent near the battlefield. That's all, back to the armies. God finally gets the better of the iron chariots, but Sisera gets away on foot. The rest of his army is slaughtered.

Sisera manages to escape and comes to the Kenite man's tent. Jael comes out and invites him inside, where she covers him with a blanket. He asks for water, but instead she gives him milk, which may or may not be breast milk. They may or may not have sex then, and he goes to sleep, asking her to stand guard. As soon as he's asleep, she takes a tent peg and hammer and nails him through the head with it. Or possibly through the scrotum. Or possibly through another orifice. It's not clear.

Barak comes along and Jael shows him her handiwork. The army kills the rest of Jabin's people.

For those wondering, yes the Christian right has picked up on the similarities between the Barak in the story and the US president. Alas, they do not consider Deborah to be Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, but as generic 'messengers of god', most particularly Rick Warren. Everybody else, of course, is an agent of Baal.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 is a rehash of the last chapter, written as a song sung by Deborah and Barak in praise of Jael. I like to hum 'Camptown Ladies' while reading it. We do get a few extra details, Jael is now to be praised above all women, unseating a certain blue-robed someone Catholics are so fond of, who is only blessed among women.

We also find out that Sisera's mother looked out the window for her son, and her ladies-in-waiting reckon he's tarrying in the fields with the Israelite women before ripping off their gowns to bring them home. Happy Mothers' Day, mom! Here, have this dress from the woman I raped last night. Sorry it's a bit bloody.

Anyway, Israel was then at peace for 40 years.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Judges, Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2

An angel comes down (okay, it's Jesus, at least according to Jerry), and tells the Israelites that they haven't been obeying god fully. Apparently, they haven't destroyed all their altars, so he's going to stop massacring all of them and leave the Israelites to their fate.

The Israelites start serving Baal, a fertility goddess known across the Middle East. This angers god, who causes their enemies to attack. He also appoints a series of judges, or high priests/warrior kings, to maintain the faith.

Chapter 3

The story of the left-handed assassin that kills a king on the toilet, then escapes through the drop-pit! Hey, at least it isn't another 20 massacres. Just a couple.

Anyway, when the chapter has begun, god has left some tribes in Israel because he can't defeat their more sophisticated weaponry to test their faith. The Israelites start to intermarry with the locals and they worship their gods, which pisses off the "real" god, so he sells them to Chushanrishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, who enslaves them for 8 years.

But then Othniel is filled with the spirit of the lord. Not the happy-clappy kind you see in charismatic churches, where people put their hands in the air and dance around and speak in tongues. That's much scarier than what happens here. Othniel just goes to war and frees them. They're peaceful for the ensuing 40 years, until Othniel dies and they revert to sinning again.

This time, god sends the Moabite king Eglon to defeat them and enslave them for 18 years. This time their deliverer is Ehud the lefty. He goes to Eglon, whom the bible judgementally informs us is fat, and says he has a gift. In fact, he has a daggar strapped to his thigh. I'll bet he has to strap it down. Eglon refuses to see him at first, but eventually he finagles his way into the king's summer parlor (v. 20), which according to my Uncensored Bible, is a mistranslation of toilet by telling him he has a secret message. The king sends away his attendants, who were probably happy to go. Ehud stabs the king, who, as often happens when the body is subjected to sudden trauma, shits himself (yes, like a Freudian 5 year old in his anal stage, the bible makes a point of giving us the scatological details). Either because of disgust or because it's too far into the fat, Ehud leaves the knife in the king and makes his escape. But the door is locked from the inside! How does he escape? Well, according to my Uncensored Bible, he goes down the hatch, modern plumbing being a distant dream. He leaves unnoticed, because who wants to look in a king's pit? and the king's servants think he's just in there for an extra long session. Much like when the other king, Elvis met a similar fate, they wait quite a while before searching out a key, only to discover the regicide.

Ehud is long gone by then, and rallies his army to attack in the confusion. They kill 10 000 Moabites, and have peace for 80 years.

The next judge is Shamgar, who kills 600 Philistines with an ox-goad, a stick used to drive oxen when ploughing.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Judges, Chapter 1

Umpteen massacres and a wedding. So romantic.

Judah and Simeon decide to try and rid Canaan of its pesky inhabitants. They kill 10 000 Perizzites and Canaanites at Bezek. Someone named Adonibezek flees and has his thumbs and big toes cut off as a result. This apparently is a revenge strategy, because he once cut the thumbs and toes off 70 kings and made them eat scraps from under his table. He is sent to Jerusalem, where he dies.

Next, the fighting force goes to Jerusalem, where they kill everybody and burn the city. Judah then goes and fights the peoples of the valleys around Hebron and turns to the city of Debir. Yes, we already heard this story. Caleb offers his daughter Achsah to anyone who can defeat the city of Karjathsepher and Othniel succeeds. She asks her father for a field and spring of water and he gives it to her. It seems like at least one of those passages could have been cut without losing any narrative clarity. In fact, it would have made the whole thing clearer.

In a weird interlude, Moses' heretofore unknown Kenite father in law head out into the wilderness. Judah's people then go kill more Canaanites. They take over three more cities, but are unable to conquer a tribe that has iron chariots. So in this little game of rock-paper-scissors we've got going here, iron chariots beat god, god beats unicorns. I'm hoping unicorns will eventually turn out to beat iron chariots. And also wondering why we don't worship chariots, since they're clearly the superior beings here.

Then, even though we've been told just a few verses ago that Jerusalem has been defeated and burnt to the ground, we find out the Benjaminites can't take it.

Joseph's people go to Bethel and a man comes to meet them. He agrees to show them the entrance to the city in exchange for his life.

There are a bunch of other failed conquests in all the other areas as well but it doesn't seem interesting enough to list them here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Joshua, Chapters 20-24

More administration. The spread of Judaism. The death of Joshua.

Chapter 20

The cities of refuge, places where accidental murderers can hide from their victims' avengers, are designated.

Chapter 21

48 cities are given to the Levites, so they can sponge off the other tribes throughout their territory. At the end, we are informed that god's covenants are all fulfilled now. Well, except those ones about kicking all the Canaanites out of Canaan, which we saw in the last few chapters had not been done.

Chapter 22

The Reubenites and Gadites are sent back across the Jordan River with a reminder to behave righteously, so of course you know the first thing they're going to do is sin mightily. It takes the form of an unauthorized altar. Jerry Falwell is shocked! Shocked! At this act, calling it an act of political disunity and apostasy, so you can see how tolerant his theocracy would be of other religions. Saudi Arabia! The desert is lovely this time of year!

Phineas, the lovely chappie who speared an Israelite and his Midianite date through the stomachs, and who should by all rights be dead now, since no one was supposed to survive those 40 years in the desert save for Joshua and Caleb, is sent to confront them about this.

The apostates swear up and down that they built the altar so their children will remember god, and they won't make any sacrifices on it. Fortunately, Phineas believes them and the crisis is averted. The altar is given a name: Ed. Ed the Altar.

Chapter 23

Joshua is old and dying and in the grand tradition of Israelite leaders, he makes a deathbed speech exhorting them to be loyal to god.

Chapter 24

Joshua continues, reminding them how god rescued them from Egypt, then gave them other peoples' stuff after killing them, and reminds them not to worship other gods. Then the supposed author of the book records his own death, along with his burial and the interment of Joseph's (from Genesis) bones. Then Eleazar, Aaron's son, another anachronism since he should have died ages ago, also dies.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Joshua, Chapters 13-19

The division of land in Canaan, according to tribe. Much better than reading this blog entry would be to mosey on over to The Brick Testament and visualize it. Trust me, you are not missing much.

Chapter 13

Joshua is getting old, which god rudely points out, then tells him to divide up the land by lot. The Reubenites and Gadites have already got their share in Jordan, and only half of Massaneh is here, the rest having also opted for Jordan. The rest of the chapter is the delineation of their territories.

Chapter 14

85 year old Caleb, the only other survivor of those 40 years in the desert, asks for, and receives, Hebron.

Chapter 15

The borders of Judah's territory are named. Caleb goes to Hebron and discovers a group of pesky Anakim, the giants that apparently did not die along with everything else in Noah's flood, though you'd never know it if you read Jerry Falwell's bible, living in the town of Debir. He offers his daughter as a reward to anyone who can conquer them. Othniel, one of his nephews, does it. As the girl is leaving, she asks for, and is granted, a field and some springs. We then get a 42-verse long list of the villages in Judah's territory that not even I am masochistic enough to read. In the last verse, we find out the Jebusites are still living in their territory, despite god's promise.

Chapter 16

The borders of Joseph's territory. We find out in the last verse that a tribe of Canaanites still lives in Gezer.

Chapter 17

The tribe of Manasseh gets its due. The daughters of Zelophehad, who wanted inheritance rights in Numbers, come back to ask for their fair share and get it. The children of Joseph complain about only getting one share, despite being a great people (v. 14), so Joshua tells them to conquer the Perizzites who are still on one of their mountains, and to cut down the trees, and promises they'll drive out the Canaanites, despite their iron chariots.

Chapter 18

The seven remaining tribes are told to go out and survey the land, which will be divided among them by lots. The draw is held in Shiloh. Then we get a description of Benjamin's territory. Joshua gets a city.

Chapter 19

The other tribes get their booty. The tribe of Dan doesn't get a big enough share, so they fight the people of Lesham for their territory and win.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Joshua, Chapters 11 & 12

Chapter 11

The Hazorites attack, and god helps Joshua to kill them and their horses, and to burn their chariots. Then he goes back to their city, kills the king and all the inhabitants, and burns it to the ground.

This is what Jerry Falwell has to say about that: Archaeological excavations at Hazor have yielded destruction layers at three levels: around 1400 BC, around 1300 BC, and around 1230 BC. Because the later two dates are probably to be associated wit the campaigns of Egyptian Pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, the 1400 BC date must reflect Joshua's campaign, a date that further supports the biblical chronology favoring an early Exodus. Oh, I see Jerry. You find evidence of a city that was destroyed three times and choose the date that is most convenient for your narrative, and ignore the evidence that other cities Joshua 'destroyed' namely Jericho and Ai, were in fact demolished a thousand years before your time frame. That's some fine sleuthing.

Anyway, Joshua then goes along and wrecks some other kingdoms, but doesn't burn them down because he's so merciful and shit. They do, of course, loot the cities, though apparently it all goes to god.

The war goes on for a long time, and no nation save the Gibeonites makes a peace treaty, mostly because god hardens their hearts, just like he did with Pharaoh. Just to spell this out: god hardens their hearts so they won't make a treaty, then punishes them for not making treaties. It's like dealing with an angry toddler. Finally, they drive the giants out and rest.

Chapter 13

A list of the 31 nations that Joshua destroyed, though only the names of the kings are listed. This is such a feel-good book. It makes me long for Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Joshua, Chapters 9 & 10

The story of the Gibeonites. Also, god makes the sun stand still! Oh and there's killing. Lots and lots of killing.

Chapter 9

The Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite and Jebusite kings all make a pact to fight the Israelites. The Gibeonites, another people living nearby, try a different tactic. They dress themselves in rags and show up with moldy bread and worn wine sacks and pretend they've come a long way to make a peace treaty with them. In return, they'll indenture themselves to the Israelites. The Israelites don't ask what god thinks, but swear a treaty in his name nonetheless. Of course, three days later they find out the Gibeonites are actually their neighbours, but they can't destroy them because of the treaty! So they make them hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation (v. 21).

Joshua calls them to him and asks why they made such a bargain? They reply that it was better to be enslaved than slaughtered. Fair 'nuff.

Chapter 10

Five kings make a pact to wage war against the Israelites and the Gibeonites. Joshua hears of the plan and marches his army all night to defeat them, then god finishes off the stragglers with a giant hailstorm. Then Joshua asks the sun and moon to hold still while he makes sure they're all dead. We are told this is the only time god listened to a human voice. So who was talking to Abraham and Moses, then? That would be mass slaughter number one.

Somehow, the five kings escape to a cave, and Joshua again hears about it. He orders them brought to him, then tells his generals to stand on their necks. Joshua slits their throats and hangs them from trees. If that isn't a barbaric act, I don't know what is. And it's also the second mass slaughter.

Next, he goes to Makkedah and leaves no survivors. Number three.

The same fate befalls Libnah. Number four.

Lachish becomes mass murder number five.

Horam, king of Gezer, tries to help, but is also killed on a grand scale to bring the numbers up to six.

Hebron and Debir become victims number seven and eight.

Mmm, genocide. I feel numb.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Joshua, Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7

Ruh-roh! This is the story of Achan, a member of Judah's tribe, who sins and gets the entire nation of Israel punished as a result.

The backstory: Joshua sends some spies to Ai, a village in a valley near Jericho. They come back and report that only a couple of thousand men will be needed to defeat the town, for they are but few (v. 3).

Unfortunately, the men of Ai are fiercer than expected, and manage to kill 36 Israelites before they retreat. Oh, no! A one percent mortality rate! Apparently Joshua thought he could conquer this entire territory without losing anyone. That's why he had a 600 000 person army, of course.

Anyway, he laments and tears his clothes and asks god why he sent them here to be humiliated. God informs him that one of his soldiers stole something, then lied about it and hid it among his possessions. He tells Joshua to find out who, and kill the traitor by burning, you know, rather than acting like the omniscient, omnipotent god he supposedly is and doing it himself.

So the next day, Joshua enquires through the ranks and finally comes to Achan, who readily admits to taking a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight (v. 21) and burying it under his tent. Rather than praise him for his honesty and forgive him, Joshua takes his entire family and his animals to the valley of Achor, where they are first stoned, then burned to death and buried under a heap of rocks.

So much for those verses that say not to punish a man for his father's sins. Also, why does god keep insisting on stoning animals to death? Why do biblical animals have moral agency?

Chapter 8

According to The Skeptical Review, the two cities of Jericho and Ai were abandoned around the same time, 2400-2300 BCE, or 1000 years before all of this supposedly took place. This story is an etiology (story that explains the existence of a phenomenon). Of course Jerry Falwell, who was all over the fact that there was an Egyptian Pharaoh who wasn't his father's firstborn son in 1800 BCE must be proof of the plague of firstborn sons, doesn't mention this little piece of archeological evidence.

God commands the Israelites to go again and conquer Ai. Joshua takes 30 000 men this time. He orders them to fake a retreat, following which they'll burn the city. The plan works and they kill everyone inside. The king is hung in a tree and buried near the entrance of the city, with a pile of stones marking the site.

Joshua then builds an altar at Mount Ebal, where he sacrifices some animals. Then he writes all the laws on some stone tablets

Joshua, Chapters 4-6

Chapter 4

After crossing the river, Joshua takes some stones and builds a memorial cairn. Then they start preparing to invade Jericho. The army, which had numbered some 600 000 in Numbers, is now down to 40 000. Remember that the count was the same at the end of the book. So did some 560 000 people opt out of the army for the draft exemptions given before (newlyweds, first-year farmers, new houses or plain old fear)?

Chapter 5

Among the many things you can do to prepare an army for war, circumcision must rank near the bottom. Nevertheless, that's what Joshua stops now and does. The place was named 'Hill of Foreskins.' It has a lovely ring to it, doesn't it? I should definitely seek it out for a picnic if I ever travel to Israel. Then they stay awhile to heal, and are not attacked by the Amorites, and celebrate Passover. The manna ceases, as they can now eat the corn of Canaan.

Joshua looks up one day and sees a man standing over him with a sword. Of course Jerry Falwell thinks this is Jesus. Joshua asks him if he's a friend or foe, and he says he's a messenger from god. His message: take off your shoe.

Chapter 6

Jericho shuts the gates and prepares for a siege that never comes. Instead, once a day for six days, the Israelite army circles the walls. On the seventh day the priests go around it with the ark seven times. Then they blow the horn and the walls fall down. Rahab is spared, and all the gold, silver, brass and iron is kept for god. Everything else, down to the asses, is destroyed. Joshua orders them not to rebuild, even though Jericho still exists.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Joshua, Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

God starts talking to Joshua, now that Moses is dead. The Israelites are to invade Canaan in 3 days' time. Meanwhile, Joshua is to spend those days reading the Torah and absorbing its laws.

Chapter 2

Joshua sends two spies into Canaan, and in the grand tradition of dudes on vacation, they go to a whorehouse. This isn't just any old whore, though, this is Rahab, an ancestor of King David and Jesus. So that makes two Canaanite prostitutes in the Messianic line. So much for all those laws in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy about mixing with the heathens and not visiting hookers.

Clearly, Rahab's place is well known, because pretty soon the king of Jericho comes along and demands she turn them over. She lies, which again, is condemned, and says they left, but really they're on the roof. After they leave, she comes up to them and explains that she has heard about all the great deeds the Israelite god has done for them (when, exactly? They've been wandering around in the desert telling stories for 40 years, not making conquests) and asks them to ask god to spare her and her family when they take over. They agree. She lets them out onto the city wall, which she lives on, and advises them to go and hide on the mountain for three days. They tell her that if she keeps their secret, they won't harm her or her family. They give her a piece of red thread and tell her to gather her family inside the house and hang the thread out the window. They won't harm anyone inside.

Huh. The prostitutes' union in the Netherlands is called 'De Rode Draad', or in English 'The Red Thread.' Now I know where that comes from.

Chapter 3

Time to cross the Jordan! First, 12 men have to stand in the river, which will cause it to stop flowing. Then the priests have to go through with the Ark of the Covenant, then the rest of the Israelites. Yup, it's that exciting!