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.

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