Monday, February 3, 2014

2 Esdras, Chapters 3 & 4: Fever dreams

Chapter 3

30 years after the fall of Jerusalem, Esdras was lying in bed, imagining the apocalypse and praying . He reminds us of what happens in Genesis and how the Israelites have always been sinners. He also reminds us that David built Jerusalem, but god had to destroy it. Now he's confused, because god has rewarded evil people and killed off good ones, and he wonders if the Babylonians are somehow better than the Israelites.

Chapter 4

An angel comes along and asks Esdras if he's trying to understand god. Yes, he is. So the angel agrees to show him three real ways of god and three fake ones, and if Esdras can tell them apart, the angel will tell him everything he wants to know, including where wicked people come from. Esdras agrees. The angel's first challenge is: weigh me the weight of the fire, or measure me the blast of the wind or call me again the day that is past (v. 5).  Clearly they don't have the internet, because the answers are: the ideal gas law, Anemometers, and TiVo, but Esdras can only say that no man can do any of those things.

The angel's next challenge is: If I should ask thee how great dwellings are in the middle of the sea, or how many springs are in the beginning of the deep, or how many springs are above the firmament, or which are the outgoings of paradise (v. 7) and of course Esdras can't answer because the questions are nonsensical, so the angel answers for him: peradventure thou wouldest say unto me, I never went down into the deep, nor as yet into hell, neither did I ever climb up into heaven (v. 8) because they don't know about scuba gear or space flight.

But the angel's basic point is that Esdras can't think outside the box, so he can't understand god or why it looks like the world is corrupt. Esdras counters that he'd rather not live if the only choice is wickedness or meaningless suffering. So the angel takes him into a forest into a plain, which I did not write incorrectly, and the trees start talking to him. Except that these trees are Ents and they want to fight the sea so they can make more trees. Meanwhile, the sea wants to attack the forest so for territory. But then fire comes along and burns down the trees and sand stops the water. The angel then asks Esdras who's right and how would he justify his answer and look, just because you can formulate the words into a question it doesn't mean you've asked a good question or that inability to answer it is somehow evidence of intellectual inferiority. Anyway, Esdras manages to decide that the land that the forest is on belongs to the woods and the sea has floodplains. The angel agrees and asks him to judge himself. He points out that earthlings can only understand earth and god can only understand the heavens. But Esdras counters that he only wants to understand why the Israelites are being punished and the bad guys rewarded, and also why life has to suck so much all the time.

The angel replies that the more he searches, the more he'll marvel, because the world is hastening to its end and doesn't know what is waiting for it on the other side. The angel promises that evil will be destroyed someday, so that good can grow in its place. But for some bizarre reason we need evil now. The angel asks Esdras to comprehend the extent of the evil that was sown into Adam's heart and how much it has grown, and how hard it will be to reap it all. Esdras asks when all this will happen, and why the meantime has to be so short and evil. The angel tells him he's trying to get above god. Esdras wonders if righteous people have never asked these questions before. The angel replies that everything will come to pass when the scales balance.

Next, the angel tells Esdras to go find a 9 months pregnant woman and ask her to keep her baby inside an extra month. Esdras replies that it's impossible, and the angel says graves are like that for souls. Esdras is still curious, and wants to know if the world is half over yet. The angel tells him to stand some distance away and sends a burning oven in front of him, then a raincloud. The angel points out that rain is more than drops and fire is more than smoke, but when each ends, we're left with droplets and smoke. Esdras prays to know if he'll be around for the end of days, but finally the angel confesses that he doesn't know.

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