Thursday, January 30, 2014

1 Esdras, Chapter 9: Hectoring in the rain

Esdras gets tired of sulking on the ground, so he goes to annoy someone called Joanan. He sits in Joanan's house, not eating or drinking, just glaring at the sins of the Israelites.

Someone issues a proclamation that all the Jews have three days to get to Jerusalem. Anyone who isn't there forfeits his cattle to the temple and will also be excommunicated. Everyone gathers in the forecourt of the temple, it's raining, which probably means Esdras has a 4-hour speech prepared.

So our hero stands up and starts haranguing them about their strange wives (v. 7) and the crowd agrees to send their foreign wives and children 'home.' Bear in mind that these assholes are the ones we're supposed to be rooting for. They do stand up for themselves a tiny bit, pointing out that the weather sucks and it will take some time to figure out which women exactly are non-Israelites. My money is on the fatties and the old. They propose that the priests stay in the temple to figure out which marriages are mixed, and they'll come back to find out later. The priests agree and tell everyone to come back later. They find a long list of men, including the sons of Jesus (v. 19) and someone named Momdis and tell them to send their wives away and barbecue rams. They do so cheerfully and that's the last we hear of it.

But of course, that's not the end of Esdras' hectoring, not by a long shot. He stands up in front of the people, who include someone named Anus and starts lecturing them about the law. After a few hours, they break for a party.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

1 Esdras, Chapter 8: The most cruelly insane prophet yet

Finally, we get to the person this book is named for. And all of his ancestors, who go back to Moses' brother Aaron. The dude who made the golden calf that pissed Moses off so much he broke the ten commandments in half.

Esdras is a swot, especially when it comes to matters of Jewish law. Kings love him, because he finds ways to justify whatever they want to do. But eventually they send him back to Jerusalem with a bunch of priests and singers and a letter of protection, because as useful as hall monitors can be, they are also extraordinarily annoying. This is what the bible says about him: he omitted nothing of the law and commandments of the Lord, but taught all Israel the ordinances and judgements (v. 7). In other words, not someone you'd want to have a beer with.

Anyway, the next part is about the contents of the letter, which commands that temple employees are tax-exempt and Esdras gets to pick the entire judiciary, neither of which sounds even the slightest bit corrupt. Esdras praises the king and lists off all his traveling companions/cronies, approximately 40 percent of whom are named Zacharias and one of whom, bizarrely, is named Johannes. The first thing they do is camp along the river Theras for three days so they can scratch and fart before they meet up with their women in civilization. In the middle of a burping contest, Esdras realises that there are no priests or Levites among them, which disturbs him and I think gives us further insight into why he might not be the life of most parties. So he sends off to the treasury secretary for some more Zacharias', the comically-named Annuus. Then he makes them all fast, then he asks the king for a compliment of armed guards.

At some point, he calls some of the chief priests over and gives them a bunch of gold and silver and tells them to distribute them amongst the Levites, the city fathers, and the temple.

At some later point, the rest of them arrive in Jerusalem. Three days later, they hand over some more money to the temple. They also have a giant barbecue, so the day isn't entirely wasted. Some neighbouring rulers are invited to the party, and a few of them accost Esdras and remind him that the Israelites aren't pure, as they've intermarried with the surrounding tribes. For some reason, this is news to Esdras, despite the fact that his own great-something grand-uncle Moses was married to a Midianite AND an Ethiopian, and he wasn't the first or the last of the biblical patriarchs to find love abroad. See for example Judah, son of Jacob, who marries a Caananite, or David and his United Nations of Wives.

He tears his clothing and tears his hair out, then sits down on a rock to pout for the entire day. Then he throws himself on the ground and prays to god to forgive them and promises that from now on, the Israelites will only marry each other, which is probably why even to this day there is no civil marriage in Israel. While he's doing this, a large crowd gathers to see if he'll make bread over a fire made from his own shit like Ezekiel. Oh, and to weep and confess to marrying foreigners. Their solution is to divorce their wives and send them home with their half-breed children like Esdras wants. Let's make this crystal clear: the men promise to send their own wives and children away and god and the leaders approve. And somehow we're all supposed to believe this horseshit and try to live by it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

1 Esdras, Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6

Construction of the temple continues apace. A new governor of Syria is on the scene and he has a friend named Sathrabuzanes. They come to the construction site and demand to see their building permits and documentation for the workers. Somehow they fob the officials off, but clearly whatever bribes they paid weren't enough, because they go home and write to Darius about the temple and how the prophets refused to identify the workers except as servants of the lord (v. 13) and had a crazy story about how there was a temple there before but the Jews pissed off god and they got kidnapped and taken to Babylon and meanwhile the Chaldees destroyed the temple. Then Cyrus set them free and now they're rebuilding and if the officials don't believe the prophets, they should look in Cyrus' records and send permission from the current king, who already gave them permission a few chapters ago, but continuity is not the bible's strong suit and the Apocrypha are even worse.

So Darius, apparently forgetting something he did just a few months ago, orders a search of the Babylonian archives and lo and behold, they find the roll with the blueprints. Conveniently, the roll, or possibly the accompanying letter from Darius, instructs the Syrians to leave the Jews alone on penalty of hanging. He also donates even more money and provisions than before.

Chapter 7

Sisinnes and Sathrabuzanes stop seeking bribes and start overseeing the temple construction. It ends in the sixth year of Darius' reign and they immediately set about barbecuing a whackload of animals for the next seven days.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

1 Esdras, Chapter 5: Jesus is on the list

Even though we've just proven that women are the most powerful, the headmen of each tribe are preparing to go back to Jerusalem with their families, slaves and animals. Darius sends some of his troops and a band along. We are then treated to a boring list of names and numbers. None of it is significant except that there are several people named Jesus in their midst. The only funny name is Meani. Anyone whose name isn't on the list is barred from the priesthood.

So they all arrive eventually and they set the temple back up. Seven months later, the men, who again, were just judged as helpless in the face of pretty women, meet up for a barbecue, because they're surrounded by hostile tribes and sense that the answer is to grill meat. It's also the feast of the tabernacles, so they offer even more burnt flesh. They decide to keep meeting regularly for barbecues, even though the temple isn't ready yet.They also give the carpenters money and sustenance, as well as the cedar haulers who will be bringing materials in from Lebanon.

The next year, they finally lay the foundation stone for the temple. They appoint Jesus the head priest. Then the rest of the priests line up in their Sunday best and have a party. The people hear and come to investigate, as do their enemies, who now know they're free. This inspires the people to volunteer their free labour for the temple, but Jesus and Zorobabel turn them down, saying it's a priest thing. The enemies don't go away, and start sabotaging the building.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

1 Esdras, Chapter 4: Wine versus Women

The second of our village idiots steps forward and points out that humans rule the sea and the land, but the king is like our boss and we do what he says, even if it's something stupid like going to war or busting up a mountain. If we win, we bring back the spoils for the king. Farmers don't fight, but they bring tribute to the king. But throughout all this, the king is just a dude and he eats and drinks and sleeps while his bodyguards watch over him round the clock. How is the king not the strongest?

Finally, the third guy steps forward to show how the driveway doesn't quite reach the street. His name is Zorobabel, which I am definitely going to call my students in secret when they do dimwitted things from now on. Anyway, his thesis is that women rule the world, because they give birth to kings and plant vineyards and sews. He also points out that being a rich man is pretty useless if you can't use your wealth to buy some poon, and that women have noted that men often love pretty women more than they love money. He points out that men leave their families and countries behind for women. They'll also do extremely foolhardy things like fight lions and go out robbing people at night so they can bring their ladies shiny baubles. Some men have even gone crazy or sold themselves into slavery. Many have died or sinned for the love of women. He does not point out that they are therefore entitled to things like birth control or hell, equal inheritance.

But then he veers into dangerous territory, pointing out the king's concubine, who is sitting next to him. She not only took the king's crown off his head and is wearing it, she slapped him across the face earlier. But the king is a smitten fool and thought it was funny.

The king had his advisers look at each other and realise the guy is telling the truth. But then they remember that god made all these things, and conclude they're all wicked and untrue and need to die. However, the truth will live forevermore. What the truth is at this point is anyone's guess, but the king invites this particular poster child for birth control to ask for even more than he did before and to sit next to him and be called cousin. All our himbo wants is for the king to remember his promise to rebuild Jerusalem.

Darius agrees and makes the necessary arrangements and writes protection orders for the Jews and expels the Edomites. He even donates money to the temple and for sacrifices and pensions for the caretakers. Zorobabel goes out and tells the other Jews, and they immediately declare a 7 day feast before they go home.

Monday, January 20, 2014

1 Esdras, Chapters 2 & 3: These people invented chess?

Chapter 2

When Cyrus becomes king of Persia, he announces that Jeremy's prophecies are fulfilled. What was the prophecy? Well, conveniently, that god made Cyrus king, and he's supposed to build a temple in Jerusalem, so the Jews are free to go home and build it. Their neighbours are supposed to give them money and livestock. He also gives back the baubles from the original temple. We get a detailed accounting of how many of each thing he had in possession, but even the accountant gets bored and ends one sentence with and a thousand other vessels (v. 13) which tells us that no one has ever been interested.

At some later point, a bunch of mean girls write to another Persian king called Artaxerxes that the Jews will refuse to pay tribute and rebel, and if he doesn't stop it, he won't be able to travel to his summer homes in Celosyria or Phenice. The king writes back that Jerusalem has a long history of rebellion and he has ordered them to stop the building, which leads to skirmishes until Darius takes over the Persian throne.

Chapter 3

Darius is crowned and holds a huge feast for everyone from India to Ethiopia. Then he goes to bed. When he wakes up, three members of his personal guard are standing there not at all creepily. They propose a contest where each of them will say a sentence, and whichever one Darius thinks sounds smartest will get a prize. This cannot possibly go wrong. And of course the proposed prize is the tackiest, most biblical prize you could possibly imagine: gold clothing, tableware, furniture, transportation, linen headdresses, and jewellery. They also want to sit next to Darius and be called cousin.

They each write the sentence down and stick it under Darius' pillow so he can judge them when he wakes up, even though according to the text he woke up in verse 3. This is what our three dumb clucks come up with: #1: Wine is the strongest (v. 10) #2: The king is the strongest (v. 11) #3: Women are strongest: but above all things Truth beareth away the victory (v. 12). The king wakes up for at least the second time and they give him their sentences, which were supposedly under his pillow. Somehow, probably inbreeding, Darius is an even dimmer bulb than our original brain trust, and he can't decide for himself which of these three nitwits is the least dippy, because he has to call in all the princes of both Persia and Media, plus all his captains, governors, lieutenants and chief officers to help him decide. They all sit down in the throne room, and someone reads the sentences and still they can't decide, so they call the three chuckleheads into the throne room and ask them to explain their 'reasoning.' The wine guy explains that alcohol is great because it makes everyone who drinks it do something moronic. Then it makes us forget all our troubles, but quite quickly it makes us turn on our friends. The next day, of course, we don't remember a thing. Come back tomorrow to find out why the king and/or women are the strongest.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

1 Esdras, Chapter 1: It's so hard to find a decent king

So I recently discovered that one of my copies of the KJV also contains the Apocrypha. Yes, I have multiple copies of the bible in my home. No I don't know how that happened. At least this one doesn't have the taint of Jerry Falwell on it, and since the bible is still relatively fresh in my mind, I decided I might as well read it.

Josias decides to have a Passover feast, because no one has had one since Samuel was king. Of course this can't be a quiet Passover feast at home with the family, this has to be a great honking feast that gets maximum newspaper coverage so god will know how much Josias cares. First he tells the priests to put on their Sunday best robes. Then he instructs the Levites to pray, put the Ark of the Covenant in the temple that Solomon built, and prepare 30 000 lambs and kid goats, plus 3000 calves for the people's barbecue and a further 2600 sheep and 300 calves for the priests'. Oh, and bake a bunch of bread. A bunch of wealthy landowners with exclusive government contracts sell lots of animals to the priests at a no doubt inflated price.

So they have the feast and then they burn the fat for god, which must have smelled terrible, and there's singing to burn off the calories, and it's all so awesome that they have to put guards on the door to stop people going home, because it goes on for seven days.

So Josias manages to ingratiate himself with god, but his people still go down in the books as a bunch of unrepentant sinners and it gets so bad that god has to send Pharaoh in to attack a place called Carchamis upon Euphrates. Josias meets him on the field, and Pharaoh is confused, because his beef is with the river. Also, god is on his side, so Josias coming out to fight is not going to end well.

But Josias persists, because Jeremy predicted this, and the princes come and attack him, and eventually he leaves with his servants, but in this case he actually dies when he gets home, and people actually mourn him.

Next comes his son Joachaz, who is 23 and he only lasts 3 months before the Egyptians depose him. Either he imposed a property tax before he was deposed, or the Egyptians impose a property tax after they depose him, the text isn't clear. And they put someone called Joacim on the throne and try to bond him and the other nobles to them to keep them under control. Joacim is 25, but appears to be as stupid as Joachaz, because he's evil. This time the Babylonians step in and arrest him, along with the holy vessels of the lord.

Then another Joacim, who is somehow the 18 year old son of the first one, becomes king, but he's also evil, so he only lasts 3 months before the Babylonians arrest him as well.

The Babylonians install one Zedechias on the throne, who is 21. He somehow lasts 11 years despite being evil and ignoring Jeremy, who, to be fair, mostly talks about how god is going to kill us all if we don't circumcise our ears. The Babylonian king makes him swear fealty, but he rebels. He's not the only bad guy, the priests and government are also bad and defile the temple. But god wants them back and refrains from killing them all as a sign of his mercy. All they do in response is make fun of the prophets. Eventually god's patience wears thin and he sends the king of the Chaldees along to attack the Israelites, and they kill basically everyone everywhere, even in the temple, and they steal even more of the treasures and burn down the temple as well as Jerusalem. They take the survivors to Babylon and make them slaves for 70 years until the Persians come along.