Saturday, April 30, 2011

Song of Solomon, Chapter 1: sex poems in the bible!

Whoo-hoo! The book of sex poetry that somehow got mixed in with the rest of the bible and they can never, ever take it out because one of the apostles said so! Whee! Even Jerry Falwell admits that it's sex poetry, rejecting the theories that it's 'an allegory for the relationship between god and Israel' or some such bullshit, though he stipulates that it was written when Solomon was very young and he was legally married to the woman.

Anyway, let's get started. Solomon is a good kisser, and his love is better than wine. Damn, that is good. I'm not sure who would win if you told me I'd have to choose between my relationship and wine. Virgins are drawn to him by his manly perfume. She begs him to take her into his chambers so they can delight and rejoice in each other.

The woman describes herself as very dark, but beautiful. She got that way because her brothers made her tend their vineyards and wouldn't let her tend her own. I hope that isn't a creepy metaphor.

She wants to arrange an assignation and asks her lover where he'll be tending his sheep today so she doesn't have to pass by all his friends. He answers, telling her to graze her goats by the shepherds' tents, which is not likely to arouse suspicion at all.

Then he starts telling her how hot she is: she's like a mare in the pharaoh's chariot brigade, her earrings touch her cheeks (showing that nothing changes), she wears a lot of necklaces. He wants to make her some gold earrings.

She starts talking again, teasing him that while he's at dinner, he'll be smelling her perfume, which she keeps between her breasts, where he is also welcome to lie. He's also like henna. They tell each other how hot they are: she has dove eyes. Then the real-estate porn: they have a green bed, cedar beams, fir rafters. Either that or they're going to do it in the forest.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12: Shed a little tear for me

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are blaming theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too...

Whoops wrong poem. Ecclesiastes reminds us that even in tough times, our days are numbered. This chapter is oddly written in a different voice, as though our narrator is dead and someone else is teaching us now.

This guy reminds us that the preacher was smart, but eschewed book learning because it makes you old. Also, our only duty is to fear god. That's so not what the entire rest of the book was about, but anyway.

Well, that's it. Not exactly going out with a bang. Tomorrow: the book of sex poems that somehow worked its way into the bible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 11: Privileged children

An endorsement of exports, instructing us to send our grain to foreign markets at a profit. Of course it says nothing about imports. Then it instructs us to make sure we have diversified investment portfolios.

Then we are told that if there's a big storm and a tree falls over, it... lands and then stays there. Wow, that's some profound biblical wisdom there. And here's what Jerry Falwell has to say about these verses: 'Although man cannot comprehend god's work, nor predict success, he needs to be involved in life's activities and trust god for the results.' I can tell you one way to predict success: have a rich father.

Don't wait for perfect weather to sow or reap. Also, apparently we can never understand how babies are made or the works of god, at least, not until Life magazine publishes photos of a fetus in development. Fortunately, the bible also doubles as a Farmer's Almanac and instructs us to sow in the morning and work at handicrafts or something in the evening in hopes that one of them will yield fruit.

Sunlight rocks, so you should focus on enjoying the sunny days rather than hating the gloomy ones. Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, but remember it's fleeting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 10

Fools and dead flies both cause good things to stink. As a metaphor, it falls a little flat. Wise men's hearts swing right, fools' left. I kind of like mine in my chest. If your ruler gets angry, stay calm and he'll simmer down. I actually find that there is nothing more maddening than a person who stays cool when I'm all het up.

If you dig a pit, you'll fall in and if you break through a hedgerow, a snake will bite you. Removing stones will result in one falling on you and if you chop wood you'll invariably lose a hand or something. It's like a really depressing Murphy's Law.

Snakes sometimes bite the charmer before he's done his bit. Woe betide the land ruled by a boy king and whose princes enjoy all-you-can-eat brunch buffets. Much better to have a noble king and princes that eat at the appropriate time. You know, I live in a country where the vast majority of the people eat the following for breakfast: one extremely thin slice of ham on bread, and another extremely thin slice of cheese on bread, all washed down with coffee. Then they have the same for lunch. Four sandwiches a day, none of them buttered. And they don't rule the world.

Don't curse the king or the rich, even in the privacy of your bedroom because you never know what the walls will overhear.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9: Everybody dies

Whatever you are in life, a bitch, lover, child, mother, sinner, saint, hell, dream or nothing in between, the end is the same. The author somehow missed all those vague references to Sheol in the other books, because he indicates that the end is the end and death is permanent and final.

One verse I really do like is the sixth: Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. I wish more people would remember that and just let things go. Or, as the writer says, eat drink and be merry.

Some other advice: always wear white, even to barbecues, keep your hair oiled, find joy in your relationship, despite his earlier misogyny. Work hard at whatever you do. Remember that your life is as governed by random chance and time as everybody else's and no one knows when his number will be up.

Then he tells a little parable about a city that was under siege and a wise man who helped them out, but wasn't remembered for his good advice, and reminds us that wise men are heard better in silence and it only takes one fool to ruin it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 8

Wisdom makes you pretty. That I like. Obey the king and don't question him. Laws, yes, autocrats, no. If you keep the commandments, nothing bad will happen to you. And if you believe that, I have some swamp land in Florida I'd like to sell you.

Everything you do will be judged eventually, and that's what makes us so miserable: we don't know when our day of judgement will be and we can't stop it. So moody!

Because there are no immediate consequences for being evil, people keep doing it, up to 100 times more. That seems like an easy thing to rectify.

Injustice: yes, sometimes bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. All the author can do is assure us that those seeming indiscrepancies are meaningless and the solution is to eat drink and be merry. Okay, I'm starting to see his game here: use drugs and sex to distract people from the misery of their lives and inequality of their living situations. Too bad it usually works.

Finally we are reminded that men will never understand what god hath wrought. At least until science is invented.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 7: Happy Funeral Day!

Apparently the day you die is better than the day you're born, and funeral homes are better than all-you-can-eat buffets (the house of feasting (v. 2)). I'm not the world's biggest fan of babies, especially other people's babies, but I certainly prefer them to corpses, nor will you ever catch me saying the funeral home was more fun than the restaurant meal afterwards, but each to his own, I guess.

Sorrow is better than laughter because it makes the heart stronger and wise people like funeral parlours better than comedy clubs. There is absolutely no way in heaven that is factually true.

Fools, vanity, oppression. Endings are better than beginnings, which, okay, is true of Ashton Kutcher movies because it means the process of wiping your memory clean can begin, but not of say, summer. But oddly there is no profit in saying the past was somehow better than the present.

Wisdom is made better if it also comes with an inheritance. Don't be too righteous, wise, wicked or foolish, which I interpret to mean 'moderation in all things,' but which Jerry Falwell is careful to point out does not mean you can skip church sometimes or sin a little bit, it only means you can never decide you've achieved righteousness. I like my version better because you can sleep in on Sundays.

There are no just men. Accept that your friends talk about you, and it isn't always nice, because you've been known to do the same thing. We can't find out about faraway or deep things, at least not until we develop airplanes or scuba equipment.

In this book's first instance of misogyny, we're informed that bitter women are worse than death, and you can only escape them if god favours you. And all women are like this. He's been all over the world and maybe one man in a thousand is righteous, but not one woman in the whole world. Well dude, this is what happens when you don't educate girls. Alas, Jerry is silent on this particular verse.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 6: The bonfire of the vanities

Don't you hate it when god gives you stuff and then doesn't let you enjoy it? And sometimes even a stranger gets it! It's like this book was written by the Koch brothers.

A man may have a hundred kids, but if he doesn't find his calling in life or doesn't get a proper burial, he might as well have been stillborn. Of course, Jerry Falwell's bible glosses over this less-than-ringing endorsement of his family values.

The point of work is to get food and yet we're always hungry. The wise aren't better off than fools. Why learn proper conduct? Don't wallow in jealousy. Everything is decided. And that's the part of Calvinism that I've never understood: if your fate is sealed, why behave? You can't change it through right conduct, so why bother? This is Ecclesiastes' answer: we don't know what the best way to spend our time on earth is and we don't know what the future holds.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 5: The return of Proverbs


Ecclesiastes suddenly turns into Proverbs with a series of oddly disjointed aphorisms. First, be careful when going to the temple and only make mindful sacrifices and for heaven's sake, don't talk too much.

If you make promises to god, keep them or he'll think you're an idiot. In fact, it's better not to make a vow to god than to make one that you can't fulfill. Then don't complain to the angels that you didn't actually mean it when you promised to keep your room clean if god would make your parents give you a puppy for your birthday. I don't even know where to start.

You can just ignore oppression and injustice, because everyone has a boss except the highest boss.

Everyone has the right to profit from the land, even the king. As this book has already said, there is nothing new under the sun. People are never satisfied with what they have. If crop yields increase, so does family size, so what good is wealth?

Workers sleep well, but rich people's wealth doesn't allow them to. My heart bleeds. As A&E has abundantly demonstrated, hoarding is not good for you. Don't make risky investments.

You can't take it with you, so eat drink and be merry. If you're rich, it's because god ever-so-conveniently made you that way.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 4: Happiness is a warm puppy

Preacher looks around at the oppressed and the oppressors, how neither side has a comforter, and decides that being dead is really the best thing. But not until he finishes the book, one hopes.

Then he looks at people who live alone, who have all that money and no one to share it with, and concludes that being married is more satisfying, because then you have someone to come home and bitch to about your boss and how hard you work. Unless someone comes up with the idea of host and hostess bars like the Japanese. I always knew they were the most civilised people on earth.

Other benefits to having a partner, and note here that nowhere in the text does it say 'husband and wife', just 'two': if you fall down, your honey can pick you up; when it's cold at night, the other one keeps you warm; and if you're in a dispute, the other person has your back. There's even a seeming reference to group marriage when the author tells us that and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (v. 12). Now, I agree that having a partner is lovely if it's what you want, but for those who enjoy time on their own or aren't inclined towards relationships, I'm glad we live in a consumer culture where all these problems have solutions that don't require a full-time spouse.

It is better to be poor and wise than a foolish king. I'm not sure who they asked about that. Certainly not Jerry Falwell.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: Don't you wish you'd been a hippie?

For many of you, this chapter will be most familiar as sung by Jim McGuinn and The Byrds, and it's one of those songs that makes one very, very sorry to have missed the late 1960s for the music.

Anyway, the song only covers the first eight verses. In the rest of the chapter, we're informed that it's impossible for a man to find out anything about god's works. You'd think this would be an opportunity for Jerry Falwell's crack team of biblical scholars to jump in against natural science, but you'd be wrong.

Try to do good things in your one shot at life. Eat, drink and be merry. Everything that happens to humans also happens to beasts, because we are no better than them. We all turn into dust. Take pleasure in your accomplishments. I wish the whole bible were like this book.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 2

Teacher, Preacher, Solomon, Koheleth, whatever you call him, has been a sinner, a smoker AND a midnight toker, exploring pleasure, laughter and wine in the effort to find out what makes people happy in their brief time on earth. Oddly, despite this being years before the invention of LOLcats, he still concludes that it's all meaningless.

Then he gives us a list of all his material possessions: a big house with a wine cellar, gardens, swimming pool, slaves, concubines, gold, silver, a personal orchestra, the guy was more extravagant than an African dictator. And talk about your wealth gaps: he was richer than all of the rest of Jerusalem put together.

And then one day he looked around and realised it was all futile and he decided to start thinking about wisdom and folly, although whichever you choose to be, the ending is the same and no one remembers you anyway.

Then he decided he hated life, because the fruits of his hard work would just go to someone else, and he doesn't know whether that guy will be wise or a fool. Well, if he's been reading his Proverbs, he'll know it all depends on the thickness of the rod.

So he works himself into despair, thinking about this imaginary heir who won't have done any work for his inheritance, and how he won't have anything but vanity and vexation.

Then he concludes that the best things in life are food, drink and work. And since he has more of those than anyone, he must be pretty awesome, especially since he can tax poor people into giving him even more wealth. Though he concludes by saying it's still futile.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1: A breath of fresh air?

I keep hearing that Ecclesiastes is the best book in the bible. The bible as it should be. I know that isn't saying much, but I'm ever hopeful.

Anyway, Ecclesiastes is supposedly written by a son of David's who became king who isn't Solomon. Some people who care enough about proving all the inconsistencies in the bible will point out to you that in other places in this same book, it is stated that only Solomon became a king. I shrug that the authors of the bible were too cheap to pay for a decent copy editor.

Then the book becomes a meditation on death. First, everything is meaningless. Hmm, sounds like somebody's been playing FarmVille!. Why is it meaningless? Because we all die. Meanwhile, the earth goes on... earthing, the sun rises and sets, the wind blows and the rivers flow.

Every one and every thing is tired, yet dissatisfied. And then history repeats itself, because there is nothing new under the sun (v. 9). We don't remember the past, nor will people remember us.

The preacher claims to have seen everything, which is how you know he's lying, and concluded that everything is vanity or vexation and there's no hope. Even though he's rich and great and wise, he's sad.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Proverbs, Chapters 30 & 31: The biblical roots of women's fashion magazines

Chapter 30

Someone named Agur takes over the writing of the book here. No word on how many wives he has or whether he's ever tried to cut up a baby. He does admit to being somewhat of a bad boy, neither educated nor a believer. He then goes on to say the same banal, repetitive things as Solomon about wisdom, lying, and being kind to the poor.

Like every old person ever in the history of the world, he criticises the young, saying they mistreat their parents, that their shit don't stink, they're arrogant, they're mean to poor people.

Then he gives us a Zen Koan about leeches and dissatisfaction. Apparently, leech suckers are never satisfied, which Agur informs us is true for four other things things: the grave, a barren womb (rich, in a culture that tells women their value comes in producing sons), a desert and fire.

If you disrespect your parents, ravens will come and peck your eyes out. Four things Agur thinks are awesome: eagles, snakes, boats, men wooing women. That's a pretty random list. Adulterous women will always deny it.

Four things the earth hates: slaves in charge, fools eating, bridezillas, maids who become mistresses. Ooh, someone doesn't like Hagar! Four wise things: ants, badgers, locusts, spiders. Four things he thinks are sexy: lions (rawr!), greyhounds, billy goats and powerful kings.

Chapter 31

Agur can't think of any more groups of four, so he passes the spirit stick over to someone called King Lemuel, who wants to share what his mother taught him. First, don't give your balls to a woman to keep in her handbag, no matter how warm it is inside there. Second, no drinking. Poor people may drink to forget their sorrows.

Be an advocate for the downtrodden. There are no virtuous women. Of course he says nothing about what happened to their virtue. Here's how you tell if you have one of these rare gems: she works hard, spins flax and wool, goes out to gather food, gets up early to cook, plants a vineyard despite the fact that only poor people are allowed to drink, works out, stays up late despite rising early, gives to charity, shovels the snow, makes warm clothes for her family and is a fashion plate.

Her husband, of course, is to be found sitting around the city gate drinking tea and gossiping with the other men.

The virtuous woman is an entrepreneur who sells her weaving. She's well educated and kind, is never idle (unlike her husband), and her children praise her. The one thing she doesn't have to be is beautiful.

So, even then women were constantly told they could never measure up.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Proverbs, Chapter 29: Do Christians who condemn homosexuality also beat their kids?

The price of ignoring rebukes is death. Respect your father, stay away from prostitutes. It does not say what to do if your father likes the ladies. If your neighbour is buttering you up, it's because he wants to buy your lot and tear down your house to make room for a Jacuzzi.

Thos annoying, happy-clappy people you sometimes see on the subway at 7am? They're the righteous. The wicked are too busy plotting traps for you and sinning. As long as they're quiet about it, especially in the mornings, I really don't care.

Fools broadcast their every thought. Then there are a couple of verses about beating your children with rods. I really must remember Proverbs the next time a sincere Christian tells me he doesn't approve of homosexuality 'because the bible says so,' and ask him if he also disciplines his kids this way, and if not, why, since there are ever so many more verses dedicated to the topic. Oh yes, and you must also beat your servants. So they learn.

If you raise your slave from childhood, he'll eventually become like your son. Especially if you sleep with his mother and she gets pregnant.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Proverbs, Chapter 28

Wicked people are like cats, fleeing even when no one's chasing them. Righteous people, on the other hand, stand firm in the face of danger. But which one is more likely to live to see another day?

Countries should have good leaders, otherwise they'll be unstable. Kind of like when Solomon succeeded the throne after his eldest brother raped one of his sisters, then his fourth brother killed the oldest one, and then his mother banded together with Nathan the prophet to have him declared king, and then his son was so inept the country got split in half. Just your average royal family, really. Also, bad rulers are like roaring lions or raging bears.

Religious people understand everything. So very many things wrong with that statement. No usury. Be afraid of god. Stupid people turn into oppressors. God, it's like religious politicians don't even read this book.

Don't be partial. People who try to get rich quick have evil eyes. Criticism apparently wins more respect than flattery. Not for me. I am completely open to flattery and would prefer never to be criticised. Trusting god makes you fat, as anyone who has ever gone to a megachurch can attest. Trusting your own judgement is foolish. So is trusting Jerry Falwell.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Proverbs, Chapter 26 & 27: Whip it good

Chapter 26

Whipping is fine for horses, asses and fools. Don't indulge fools in their follies, either. There's a lot about fools in this chapter. Methinks the king doth protest too much. Then there's a lot about lazy people.

Towards the end it starts telling us not to stir shit up with rumours and gossip and not to lay traps for people lest we fall in.

Chapter 27

Don't put all your eggs in one basket or toot your own horn. Open rebuke is better than secret love (v.5). Ooh, I like that one. Also verse 10: better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.

Then we get to a verse so important to my heart that it will be the first commandment in my new religion: He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him. (v. 14) I have never understood people who can jump cheerfully out of bed at 5am and expect other people to follow suit. Go away and find something to do until a civilised hour, say, 11.

Contentious women are like Chinese water torture. Take good care of your animals. Feed your daughters goat's milk.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Proverbs, Chapter 25: Nonsense

Apparently, kings are deep, so deep that commoners can't understand them. Clearly royalty wasn't as inbred back then, because I'm pretty sure that Prince Philip is a certifiable idiot. Also, if you take away evil people, you'll secure his throne. A lot of things would be secure if there were no evil people, but all right.

More about kings: don't brag to them and don't stand in the places of great men or sit at the head table if you haven't been invited there. That should go for every house you're invited to.

Only eat until you're satisfied. Don't wear out invitations or try to cheer up sad people. Send postcards. Control your temper. Why are these not grouped by themes?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Proverbs, Chapter 24: Read the instructions first

Don't envy wicked people or hang out with them, no matter how much more fun they may seem to be than the boring bible-readers in church. You can only build a house through wisdom. And knowing how to build a house. Wise men are strong because there is safety in numbers. Weak people faint in the face of adversity.

Eat honey because it tastes good. Don't rejoice in your enemy's downfall because you might piss god off. Be afraid of god and the king. It does not say what to do if your king is Nicholas Sarkozy. Or Elvis, for that matter.

Honesty is like being kissed on the lips. When you see a lazy man's field, all covered in vines and thorns, try to take a lesson away from that.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Proverbs, Chapter 23: Spare the rod and your kids go to hell

Be careful when you eat with a king, not because you might use the wrong fork, but because he might be trying to kill you. Keep that in mind, attendees of the Royal Wedding! Also, don't eat with stingy people, no matter how tempting the food, because he's only thinking about the costs, and doesn't care about you as a person. Then you'll vomit it all up and embarrass yourself. Um, okay. I cannot tell you how many times I've been to a Dutch person's house for lunch and the meal consists of: two slices of bread, a thin slice of cheese, an even thinner slice of meat, one piece of fruit, and a glass of milk (buttermilk if they don't like you). No seconds, but if you're good maybe there will be a cookie with your coffee. I don't think they know about this verse. Or maybe they do and they choose to ignore it.

In verses 13 and 14, we are told to beat our children, preferably with a rod, though not to death. Doing this will keep them out of hell. I thank my parents once again for not being biblical literalists and for taking their parenting advice from books not written 2000 years ago.

Don't hang out with people who overindulge in wine and meat, because you never know when one of them will fall over from a heart attack and you'll have to perform CPR on their drunk asses. Okay, it doesn't say that, because CPR wasn't invented until 1954. No, what it says is you shouldn't eat and drink with gluttons because their greed will cause them to fall into poverty.

No matter what a stripper tells you, there's no sex in the champagne room. Also, if your wife sleeps around, it's like falling into a dangerous pit, because her insatiable sexual appetites will quickly make all the men in the neighbourhood cheat and fight with each other. Again, this guy had 1000 fucking wives and he's going on about women cheating on their husbands. Rich.

The last part of the chapter is about the effects of alcohol, namely that it makes you babble stupidly, fight with your friends and sleep with hundreds of women. Then in the morning you don't remember any of it, because you have an awful hangover.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Proverbs, Chapter 22

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches (v. 1). We'll see if that is true if the next candidate for US President from the Republican Party turns out to be a birther.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (v. 6) I would agree with this, if the entire rest of the book didn't think the way to do this was beating them with rods until they stop crying, like verse 15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

People that god doesn't like will be lead astray by foreign women. I guess god hates everybody in Amsterdam. Don't be friends with angry people or you'll become one, too. That's actually really good advice. Also people who want to tell you about their health problems or who get tattoos of their kids. And probably vegans and evangelical Christians.

Finally, don't tear down landmarks. I'm looking at you Moscow. And Beijing.