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.

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