Tuesday, August 17, 2010

2 Samuel or not 2 Samuel

Book: 2 Samuel

Synopsis: In 2 Samuel we see the things David does as king of Israel. Both the good and the bad. David defeats various enemies of Israel = Good. David gets a woman pregnant while she's still married and then has the husband killed = Bad. David declares his hatred for the blind and the lame = (??????). At one point, David is overthrown as king by his son, Absalom. David fights his way back, but, despite David's orders to the contrary, Absalom is killed in the process. He mourns the death of his son but is told it looks bad to mourn the guy that kicked him out, so he stops mourning his son. Then David stops a rebellion, sings a song to God, takes a census of his people which makes God angry for reasons unclear to me, and, finally, he builds an altar to make up for it.

Most Famous Story from 2 Samuel: I'm really not sure.

My General Take: Probably the hardest book I've read so far if only because I struggled to find much to write about. It's a fairly straight forward account of David's reign as king. How it came to pass, what he did as king, and the general results of his actions. Though one story in particular stood out as absurd, most of the book is plausible save conversations with the Lord (which I've already addressed in previous posts and won't bother to attend to here). That is not to say I think it should be taken at face value. Plausibility of an account does not equal truth or fact. The events of "The Catcher in the Rye" are entirely plausible, but very few people would call that book an historical one. All plausibility gives us in 2 Samuel is a tedious reading. Of course, there are some moments that stand out, perhaps more so because they are plausible. For as good as David is usually portrayed (at least, in my experience) he does some pretty terrible things, too, but I hardly ever hear about those things. It makes it all the more shocking when you read about them yourself unprepared. Though one event in particular is paired with direct retribution by God, the others are mentioned without any clear moral lesson leaving me uncertain at the moment of just what a person is supposed to take from them. Other than that, 2 Samuel gives us a song supposedly written by David which makes it clear to me why it was important to consider Jesus to be descended from him. In it, David uses very poetic language about God that comes the closest the modern Christian rhetoric of anything I've read in the Bible so far.

More Specifically: 2 SM 1:6-10, 1:14-16 A messenger tells David that he saw Saul on Mount Gilboa about to be overtaken by Philistines. According to this messenger, Saul asked him to kill him and end his anguish. So, he did just that. David's response to this is to have the messenger executed. This despite the fact that we're told in 1 Samuel that Saul takes his own life. While this alone might be excusable on David's part since it could be said that the messenger lied and David did not know that (though one would wonder why the messenger would lie about something like that), David himself later says that he killed the messenger merely for bringing him the news of Saul's death. I fail to see how this can be considered good.

2 SM 1:26 I mentioned in the last post that there was another piece of evidence in regards to the ambiguous sexuality of David. Here it is. David considered Jonathan's love to be greater than the love of women. I still don't consider this conclusive by any means. It might simply be evidence of an ancient bromance. Either way, it's worth mentioning.

2 SM 5:8 David talks of his hatred for the blind and the lame. The reasons for which escape me. Though he later shows favor to Jonathan's crippled son, there is never a reversal of feeling towards the blind at all or to the lame in general. Other than that, his hatred for the blind and the lame isn't portrayed as either bad or good. It's just sort of there.

2 SM 8:2 David decides that certain people left over from his defeat of Moab should live or die based on, I'm assuming, their height. To me, not the greatest thing a person could do, nor can I imagine a justification for it.

2 SM 11:2-5, 11:14-17, 11:26-27 Here's the story of David's affair with a married woman, the subsequent pregnancy, the hit he calls out on her husband, and the aftermath. This is clearly a bad thing (the Lord kills his son over it) so all I wanted to say is it's hard to imagine a gay man killing another man for his wife (though, not impossible). Which means it might be a little more reasonable to consider David bisexual if you aren't going to consider him strictly heterosexual.

2 SM 12:13 It is told to David that the Lord has put away his sin (this is after the affair story above, mind you) and David shall not die. This is a little odd because **SPOILER ALERT** David does eventually die (in the next book).

I mentioned earlier a story in this book that I found absurd. As I debated the best way to talk about this story, I was struck with the idea to include images in this blog to make it pop a little. Also, I think it helps point out the absurdity. So, this story will be told in images I drew using MS Paint because I have absolutely no Photoshop skills. First, a little background. This story takes place during David's attempt to reclaim his kingdom from his son, Absalom, the current king. I really want to stress that Absalom is the current king. Ok, so here's what happens...

2 SM 18:9 Absalom gets his head stuck in an oak tree.
Help me!
The battle continues...
The battle rages...
2 SM 18:10 Someone sees this and informs Joab, the captain of David's army.
2 SM 18:14 Joab stabs Absalom in the heart with three spears.
1! 2! 3!
That is one determined army.
Aaahhh!! WTF!?
2 SM 18:15 Somehow, Absalom is still alive, so ten of Joab's men come and beat him up and that's what kills him.
Wow. Just...wow.
Worst. Army. Ever.
I'm sure someone will say these drawings aren't accurate or something like that, but I think they're ignoring the fact that the army let the king get stuck in an oak tree undefended and that he somehow survived three spears to the heart. That's pretty absurd.

Anyway, moving on...

2 SM 22:22-24 In David's song to the Lord, he says he was guiltless and never turned from his statutes, even though we all know full well that he did.

2 SM 22:29-31 Here's some of that modern Christian sounding language I mentioned. Especially when it is said that God is a shield for those that take refuge in him. Now, I can understand how people could hear that sort of rhetoric and become disenchanted with it when they see that bad things still happen to believers. Then, to counter this reaction, it could change into the refuge being found in the afterlife from a messiah. Just a thought.

That is all I have from 2 Samuel. If the opportunity shows itself, I'll do more drawings in future books and might even go back and add a few images to previous posts. I'll see everyone next time with 1 Kings.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

If you've read 1 Samuel, you've read them all.

Book: 1 Samuel

Synopsis: Samuel was a prophet, priest, and judge. He led Israel for a while before the Hebrews began demanding a king for themselves like the other nations had in what is possibly the first instance of keeping up with Joneses. God told Samuel to make Saul king. He did so but Saul kind of sucked as a king. God was all, "Saul sucks." And Samuel was all, "I know!" So Samuel told Saul that God rejected him as king and then Samuel anointed this other guy, David (yes, that David), to succeed Saul as king. Then, for some reason, Saul stayed king while David rose up the ranks by slaying Goliath and being a better military leader than Saul. This made Saul jealous and he tried to kill David, but David was too wily for that and Saul only succeeded in driving David out of town. While on the lam, David had two chances to kill Saul but he spared Saul's life each time because he's such a nice guy. After the second time, Saul stopped pursuing David and then Saul took his own life after being wounded in battle. Also, somewhere in there Samuel dies. That's pretty much where it ends.

Most Famous Story from 1 Samuel: David and Goliath.

My General Take: It's a slow read until David steps into the picture. Before that, it's a mostly innocuous book about Samuel becoming a prophet, the Ark getting stolen and returned by the Philistines, and Saul being chosen and rejected as king. David's story, however, is pretty juicy stuff (including a potentially homoerotic relationship with Saul's son Jonathan), if you can get beyond the archaic syntax. Which is probably why NBC based their show "Kings" on it (well, sans the homoerotic stuff. I think. I never watched it.). There are also some morals woven in, such as don't judge a book by its cover (sort of) and forgive those that have wronged you (sort of). But, taking it all in and then stepping back, it came across to me as an attempt to blend different word-of-mouth stories/tall tales about Samuel, Saul, and David into one cohesive narrative with modest results. Some of the stories were probably based on some real events and some were possibly created by Samuel, Saul, David, and/or other people to serve as political propaganda. It's hard to say for sure, and we probably can't know for sure, because all we have to go by is this one book. There aren't any other primary sources to verify this information and it's this inherently partisan sourcing that only pushes me further towards a skeptic viewpoint.

More Specifically: 1 SM 3 There is a point early in 1 Samuel where a young Samuel thinks he hears Eli calling for him three separate times and so he races to Eli each time only to have Eli tell him to bugger off. Until the third time when Eli realizes it must be the Lord calling to Samuel, so he sends Samuel back and tells him to listen to the Lord. I see two things wrong with this. The first is that this is the Lord we're talking about. I have a hard time picturing the Lord calling to Samuel and then just watching Samuel run out of the room three times in a row without saying anything. As if the Lord is incapable of saying, "No! No! Stop running! Stop! It's not Eli, it's me! The Lord!" Or why not just start out with, "Do not move, Samuel, for it is I, the Lord! ....I had to say 'Do not move' just now because I knew, what with being omnipotent and all, that you were going to think it was actually Eli calling to you. But no, it's me! Anyway, we need to talk."? The second thing is that people accidentally hear their name being called all the time. We even sometimes feel phantom vibrations from our cell phones. The difference is that now no one tells you, "Hey! Maybe God is trying to send you a text message!" That's because in modern times we're aware of the fact that the brain is capable of playing tricks on itself, so when we realize no one was actually calling us and we're just lonely, pathetic, and unwanted, we simply go back to our rooms and cry ourselves to sleep (right? that's what everyone does....right?). Opposite of that, in a culture where hearing the voice of God isn't only considered a possibility, it's encouraged, maybe you go back to your room and think you're a prophet. At which point you're either hallucinating and continue hearing voices or you want to be a prophet so bad that you convince yourself you're hearing voices. Or, possibly, you are hearing the voice of God, but then you gotta wonder why he didn't just say so in the first place.

1 SM 9:8-10 I just thought this was a funny exchange.
The servant answered Saul again, "Here, I have with me a quarter of a shekel of silver, and I will give it to the man of God to tell us our way." ... And Saul said to his servant, "Well said; come, let us go."
Yes, servant. Very well said, indeed!

1 SM 9:2 Saul is described as being very handsome and tall and it is Saul whom the Lord tells Samuel to choose for a king (or maybe Samuel ascribed the Lord's voice to his own feelings). When Saul turns out to be a bad king and Samuel starts looking for a replacement king, Samuel tells himself the Lord tells Samuel not to focus on outward appearances. This is a perfectly fine rule of thumb, and Samuel the Lord chooses David out of a group of brothers, of which David is the youngest/smallest, and David ends up being a great king. At which point we all learn that outward appearances aren't important! Except that for some reason it's necessary to point out to us that David has beautiful eyes and his handsome right before Samuel the Lord chooses him. In that case, being tall isn't important as long as you aren't an uggo.

1 SM 15:27-28 This moment, when Saul accidentally rips Samuels robe and Samuel talks about the Lord ripping Israel from Saul's hands, is a lot like something you'd read in a fictional or allegorical story. Don't you think?

1 SM 15:32-33 After Samuel the Lord tells Saul to destroy the nation of Amalek and everything in it, Saul, for some reason, spares the life of Agag, the king of Amalek. This is what makes Samuel the Lord angry enough to tear Israel from Saul's hands. After telling Saul this, Samuel asks him to bring Agag forward and then Samuel hacks him to pieces, which is pretty gruesome. But what I really want to talk about is a weird translation the ESV Bible uses. When Agag comes into the room, the ESV Bible has that he comes in "cheerfully" and says, "Surely the bitterness of death is past." Yet the ESV Bible annotates the word "cheerfully" and points out that the Hebrew word might actually be "haltingly." Now, I'm no expert on Hebrew or translating or Biblical whatever, but it seems to me that "haltingly" is almost definitely the more accurate word of choice in this situation. Having Agag come in "cheerfully" while seeking reassurance that he isn't going to be killed and then hacking him to pieces is almost comical.

1 SM 16:14-23 When Saul and David meet for the first time, it's because Saul is tormented by a harmful spirit from the Lord and only David's excellent skills on the lyre can soothe him. What's interesting to point out is that Saul learns about David and David's father Jesse throughout all of this and Saul likes David so much that he makes him his armor-bearer and sends messengers to Jesse to ask that David be allowed to remain in Saul's service. After this initial meeting, David goes and slays Goliath. Now here's where things get a little strange for me. When Saul sees this he says to Abner, the commander of the army, "Abner, whose son is this youth?" And Abner has no idea. So Saul orders him to find out and Abner brings David to Saul, at which point Saul says, "Whose son are you, young man?" And David tells him he's the son of Jesse. What. The. Hell. Didn't they already meet? Doesn't Saul already know who David is and that he's Jesse's son? Is it just me or does this sound like a bad attempt to combine two stories about how David came into Saul's inner circle?

1 SM 18:10-11 After Saul becomes jealous of David's fame as a military leader, Saul again is bothered by a harmful spirit from God. Meanwhile, David is playing his lyre, though now it's as if it's just something he does to pass the time. Saul has his spear in his hand and attempts to pin David to the wall with it but David evades him. Then, almost the exact same scene happens again a little later.

That's not the only story that gets repeated like that. There are two versions of David sparing Saul's life. Once here, and again here. While both of those versions have their differences, there are some key similarities:
  1. Under hard to imagine circumstances, David has a chance to kill Saul.
  2. David's men want to kill Saul.
  3. David won't let them since Saul was anointed by God.
  4. David stealthily takes something of Saul's.
  5. David calls out to Saul after this happens.
  6. Saul says, "Is this your voice, my son David?"
  7. David compares himself to a flea in regards to how insignificant a threat he is to Saul.
  8. Saul sees good things for David in the future.
Personally, I think this suggests the possibility that there were a few different stories about David floating around Israel and either they were put together in one book simply to preserve them or someone thought, "Hey! What if they both happened!? Oh! That sounds awesome!," and then wrote them down in one story. It's also possible that all these things actually did happen, but we have more evidence that different versions of urban legends/tall tales can exist over time than we do of these events actually happening.

1 SM 28 There's a brief story about Saul using a medium to conjure up the soul/spirit/whatever of Samuel. I thought that was really odd because I always thought that a soul either went to heaven or hell and I didn't think it could come back from either one of them. Also, wouldn't this story lend support to the idea of mediums? I asked some Christian friends and got a few different interpretations of what exactly is happening here, which tells me that this really was all just pieced together over centuries of different, and far removed from us, ideas about the supernatural realm.

Lastly, I'll cover real quick the potentially homoerotic stuff involving David. There is, as you can imagine, a large amount of debate over the issue so I'll just present some of the details and let you make your own decisions.

David was a gay:
  1. 1 SM 18:1-3 Jonathan's soul is knit to David's soul. Jonathan loves David as his own soul. Jonathan and David make a covenant.
  2. 1 SM 19:1 Jonathan delighted much in David.
  3. 1 SM 20:3 David finds favor in Jonathan's eyes.
  4. 1 SM 20:17 Jonathan makes David swear again by his love for him.
  5. 1 SM 20:30 Saul is angry at Jonathan over his ties to David saying, "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness?" (the key here is that Saul references his mother's nakedness possibly suggesting a negative sexual nuance)
  6. 1 SM 20:41 After it's obvious David must flee to save his life, Jonathan and David kiss each other and weep together, with David weeping the most.
  7. 1 SM 23:17 Jonathan swears that David will be king of Israel and that he will be next to him. Then they make another covenant.
David was not a gay:
  1. 1 SM 16:21 Saul also loved David.
  2. 1 SM 18:27 David obtained the foreskins of 200 Philistines in order to marry Saul's daughter Michal (we'll ignore that he obtained twice the amount of foreskins that he was asked to get and also that it was the request for foreskins that pleased him). However, while it is mentioned that Michal loved David, it is never mentioned that he loves her.
  3. 1 SM 25:39-40 David takes a woman named Abigail as his wife.
  4. 1 SM 25:43 David took another woman named Ahinoam to be his wife at the same time.
Obviously it's unclear. And obviously platonic kissing between men, especially in that region, isn't uncommon today. Nor is use of the word love. Still, there is another piece of evidence that doesn't show up until 2 Samuel, but I guess you'll have to read my next blog to hear about that.

I'll leave you with a cool article about Michelangelo's David and why his penis was disproportionately small.


Understanding the Skeptic: The Question (That's the final Understanding the Skeptic post. I really REALLY need to catch up. Unless Lane decides to pick up another book. Well, either way, I need to catch up.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

All New Judges Post (Now with extra Ruth at no additional charge!!)

I'm going to test out a more streamlined format with this post. If you have the time, let me know what you think.

Book: Judges

Synopsis: After Joshua dies, Israel goes through a series of different leaders (called "judges") in a cycle that goes roughly like this; the people worship other gods and do what they want, God gets pissed and allows enemies to oppress Israel, the people whine about it, and then God raises up a "judge" to drive out the oppressors. Rinse. And repeat.

Most Famous Story from Judges: Samson and Delilah (maybe other stories in Judges are "famous" but that's the one I'd say most people are familiar with)

My General Take: As with most of the Bible stories I've read so far, there may very well be some skeleton of truth in these tales. Exactly what shape that skeleton takes is debatable and could, to some degree, be answered with archaeological evidence. While I have heard it said that there is scant archaeological evidence to support a lot of these stories (not just the ones in Judges), I am not an expert on archaeology and would prefer to steer clear of those claims. So, going just by what I, in my completely non-expert capacity, get when I read Judges, I'd say it reads like a mixture of some true stories that have been embellished over time mixed with old fables meant to convey a moral message (though often what those morals could be seem to be up for grabs).

More Specific Thoughts/Comments/Hilarious Remarks: Though it comes as no surprise, I find it odd, to say the least, when people attribute events in the real world to the hand of God. I understand why it happens, but I see no need to invoke a supernatural agent for something that has a perfectly reasonable natural explanation. Throughout Judges, God is said to be the ultimate factor behind Israel's fall to outside enemies due to Israel ignoring God's laws (JDG 2:1-5, JDG 2:11-15, JDG 2:20-22, JDG 3:7-8, JDG 3:12-14, JDG 4:1-2, JDG 6:1, JDG 10:6-9, JDG 13:1). However, I see a more likely reason. Before Judges, Israel was nomadic, militaristic, and centralized which means they were essentially a large, disciplined army, always ready for battle, with no land that anyone would want to invade. As we enter Judges, Israel is no longer nomadic. They've started settling into areas and becoming more of a society than a military. And, perhaps most importantly, they've split up into their separate tribes, thinning out their numbers. Even if they didn't start worshiping other Gods, they created an atmosphere more conducive to invasion than before. Not to mention that we're again told part of Israel's failure to complete their conquests had to with more advanced armory in the hands of the enemy (here, too). Invoking an angry God as a reason for failure in a situation like this is A) an easy way to escape blaming yourself and B) a good way to scare people into following the rules.

JDG 3:22 Gross.

JDG 3:31 Shamgar saves Israel but I guess it wasn't a very cool story because that's all the coverage he gets.

JDG 4:4 A female leader. That's pretty cool. Though it would have been cooler if her name was Hilary because she shares some of the spotlight with a person named Barak.

JDG 4:21 Aaaahh!!!

JDG 6:36-40 It's things like this that make these stories sound like fables. Not because it's a miraculous event and I refuse to believe miraculous things can happen, but because the way the narration is structured. To be clear, I'm not saying that definitively makes it a fable. I'm just saying it makes it less credible in my eyes.

JDG 7:2 In my last post I satirically talked about Joshua wanting to send more men into a battle but then realized that would give people reason to think he just messed up by sending too few. Apparently I wasn't the only person that understood this concept.

JDG 7:7 Gideon goes to battle with 300 men. "This! Is! Israel!"

JDG 7:13-14 This is an odd situation. Gideon sneaks up on some enemy men and he just happens to overhear one of them telling another about a dream he had. The other man interprets this as a sign that Gideon is coming to get them. First, this sounds like a situation out of a fable. Second, it made me consider the idea that originally the story wasn't about a real person named Gideon but about a spirit or force of God, possibly named Gideon, and the story included this dream interpretation. As time went on it became more compelling to tell the story as though Gideon was a real person, and an Israeli at that, with a lifeline to God. To maintain the detail about the dream you just have Gideon go down and eavesdrop. I have no way of proving that this is the actual progression the story took overtime, nor should it be considered a legit theory. It's just an interesting option to entertain, and it works on other stories in the Bible as well.

JDG 11 The story of Jephthah. NonStampCollector of YouTube fame retells this story brilliantly and hilariously. Click here to see his spin on it. I'll just comment on two things, myself, from Jephthah.

JDG 11:24 Here we have reference to a God other than Yahweh as though the god actually exists. Note that the god is said to do something. Just another example of the presence of henotheism I've mentioned before.

JDG 11:39 I once got into a debate with a Christian about whether or not Jephthah actually does kill his daughter. The wording here seems to make it quite clear that he does.

JDG 16:4-22 The back and forth between Delilah and Samson over what will make him weak is pretty ridiculous. *cough* fable *cough cough*

JDG 19:22-24 This story, called "Gibeah's Crime," has remarkable similarities to the story of Sodom. Here's a comparison:
From Gibeah's Crime: "As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, 'Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.' And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, 'No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.'"
From the story of Sodom: "But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.' Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, 'I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.'"
It could be just coincidence. It could be that they're both born of the same fable. It could be that one borrowed from the other. I can't say for sure one way or the other, but it is rather interesting.

JDG 19:29 F*ck!

JDG 20:40-42 This story of Israel defeating the Benjaminites has some similarities to part of the story of Joshua defeating Ai. Check it out:
From the defeat of the Benjaminites: "But when the signal began to rise out of the city in a column of smoke, the Benjaminites looked behind them, and behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. Then the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were dismayed, for they saw that disaster was close upon them. Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness, but the battle overtook them. And those who came out of the cities were destroying them in their midst."

From the defeat of Ai: "So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers."
Admittedly, it's not as interesting as the Gibeah/Sodom similarities, but it's still worthy of note, I believe.

JDG 21 Here's a delightful story! After Israel defeated the Benjaminites they killed everyone in the city. Except 600 Benjaminites ran and hid. The problem is the Benjaminites are Israeli themselves and Israel can't bear to see one of their own tribes die out (well, unless it's by the sword). So now Israel has 600 Benjaminites with no wives and they've just gone and sworn not to give the Benjaminites their daughters. Crazy, huh? The Israelites can't figure out how this happened (here's a hint: you killed all their women). It all works out, though, because they end up killing all the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead except for the virgin girls. And when that turns out to not be enough, they sanction kidnapping daughters of Shiloh because that way the men of Shiloh aren't actually giving them the daughters and so no rules are broken. I love loopholes that involve kidnapping!

And that's pretty much it for Judges.


Book: Ruth

Synopsis: Ruth is the daughter-in-law of an Israeli woman but is not Israeli herself. After her husband, her husband's brother, and her father-in-law die, Ruth vows to stick with her mother-in-law and they travel to Bethlehem where her mother-in-law has family. Ruth captures the attention of Boaz, a relative of her dead father-in-law. Boaz is obliged by Levirate law to marry Ruth and redeem the family line. He does so after another relative, who Boaz says has first dibs, declines. And it turns out Ruth is the great-grandmother of David.

Most Famous Story from Ruth: Beats me.

My General Take: It's actually a decent story for what it is. Nothing really terrible happens outside of treating Ruth almost like she's property to be sold with land. Other than that I really don't have much to say about it.

My next post will cover the first Samuel book. If enough people tell me they like this streamlined format it'll be written like this but otherwise I'll just write it however or try a new format. So let me know!


Friday, June 4, 2010

Joshua Smash!

In the immortal words of Jim Anchower, "Hola, amigos. What say? I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but your old pal Jim's been thicker than a donkey's dick with problems."

Hmmm... well, maybe not all of those words, but the point is I've slacked on the blog a bit these past seven few weeks and for that I am truly sorry. I plan to be much more dedicated to this project over the summer from here on out. One way or another, I will finish reading the Bible. I swear to science.

Ok, so the next book in the Bible is Joshua. It's from Joshua that we get the famous story of Jericho's walls coming down as well as the story of the sun standing still in the sky for a whole day.

For those of you that aren't in the know, Joshua was Moses' assistant. After Moses dies Joshua takes over control of Israel after God tells him to do so. From the way the book Joshua reads, the person Joshua must have been Moses' assistant in military related matters because Joshua spends virtually all his time kicking ass and taking names (no seriously, he actually takes names!) in a fairly successful effort to claim the land God promised Israel. He's absolutely ruthless about it. He leaves no stone unturned and no baby unstabbed. Then the land gets portioned out to the tribes of Israel and Joshua dies and that's pretty much it.

Of course, what kind of blog would this be if I didn't have something to say about the details?

JOSH 3:14-17 Joshua has his own mini-"parting of the Red Sea" involving the river Jordan. I had never heard this story before but as I read it all I could think was, "This sounds an awful lot like a river being dammed up by something rather than a divine miracle." Sure enough, a little Googling will show that a mudslide caused by an earthquake is often used as a natural explanation for the event by Christians and non-Christians alike. So, assuming that this story actually did happen, it's entirely possible that Joshua lucked out and simply attributed his good fortune to God (which didn't hurt to establish him as Moses' rightful replacement).

JOSH 6:21, 8:25, 10:28, 10:30, 10:32-33, 10:35, 10:37, 10:39-40, 11:11, 11:14 Joshua kills a ton of people. Probably literally and then some. Men, women, and children. I have nothing to say about that. I think it speaks for itself.

JOSH 7 & 8 After Joshua defeats Jericho he sends two spies to the land of Ai. The spies come back and inform Joshua that he need only send in two or three thousand men to attack Ai because it's sparsely populated. Joshua sends in 3,000. Except, by surprise, the men of Ai are able to fight them off. Joshua is torn up about this and can't figure out what went wrong. He looks to God and God tells Joshua that some jerk broke the law and kept some of the "devoted things" from Jericho and that's why God let Israel be defeated. God tells Joshua to get rid of the offender if Joshua wants the Lord's help killing people. Joshua finds the offender, named Achan, through what appears to be interrogations. Joshua kills Achan and his family (more on that later), attacks Ai again, and is victorious the second time around proving once and for all that God will help you if you follow his rules.

But... (and you knew there was a "but," right?) there's one thing that really bugs me about this story. On the second attack, Joshua not only sends in 30,000 men plus at least another 5,000, he also uses a different, and very effective, strategy. That doesn't prove the first defeat was due to God being bothered by Achan's petty theft. It proves Joshua f*cked up by sending too few men and learned his lesson. Achan was probably just some unfortunate scapegoat! I picture Joshua finding out that his first attempt failed and thinking,
"Oh my Yahweh! This is not good. I only just recently took this job. People are still comparing me to Moses, for Yahweh's future son's sake! Ugh! How could I be so stupid!? 3,000 men?! Joshua, you idiot! One lucky mudslide and you act like you own the world! Ok ok ok. Calm down. This isn't over. Think! ...well obviously I'm going to need to go back into Ai and completely f*ck their sh*t up! More men, this time. 30,000 at least. Maybe ambush them from behind while a small group draws them out the front. Yeah! That could work! Except...if I just go back in with more men, it'll look too much like I recognize my own mistake. People will start murmuring against me. I need someone to blame this on. But who? Huh...someone must have broken a law recently, there's so many of them! And that probably pissed Yahweh off. Oh!! Jericho! We were just in Jericho! Someone almost definitely took something he shouldn't have! I'll just pick a tribe and clan at random, start asking around, and I'm sure someone will start naming names. Chances are it'll be someone no one likes anyway or they wouldn't have ratted him out. It's perfect! The people get rid of an annoying neighbor, I look like a strong leader who's brilliant plan was foiled by some sinner, and then Ai gets what they deserve. Joshua, you're a genius!!"
That brings us to Achan. As I previously mentioned, Achan and his whole family were stoned to death and burned with fire for Achan's actions. Let's ignore the satirical inner monologue above and assume that the first defeat really was due to Achan's theft and that he deserved to be stoned to death for it. Does his family really deserve to die as well? As we saw in Deuteronomy, "Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin." So, it would appear that, no, the family should not have been put to death as well. Unless my memory fails me, that's the most blatant case of contradiction I've seen so far.

JOSH 10:11 Joshua gets lucky with some natural phenomena again.

JOSH 10:12-14 This is the fairly famous moment where Joshua asks God to stop the sun in the sky for a day and God obliges. I wanted to bring this up because I have actually heard people say that NASA once ran some calculations with a computer in regards to the position of celestial bodies in our solar system and they found a missing day! This proves that the sun did in fact stop for an entire day! Well, let's see what NASA has to say about this:
"[NASA] does not apply its computers to the task of projecting thousands of years into the future or past, as this would be irrelevant to the operational lifetime of satellites, which rarely exceeds a dozen years."
Ta-da! Knowledge is power!

JOSH 11:20 God hardens some people's hearts again. Which is interesting to me because, as I've been told, he only does this to people that will never turn to him anyway. In which case, we shouldn't be sad for any non-Christians that die, right? It was part of God's plan.

JOSH 1:5 Jumping back a bit here, as long as Israel follows the law, no one will be able to stand in their way. The two battles with Ai are proof of that. So then, what's up with this? And this? And this? If it's due to sinning, why is a sinner not sought out as was done with Achan? And why then are we told, at least in one case, it had to do with Israel not yet being strong enough? Later it's says that not one of all their enemies had withstood them and that no man has been able to stand before them to this day. But obviously they had. That just doesn't make sense. I'm hoping someone has a logical explanation for this that doesn't involve saying the people Israel was unable to drive out weren't enemies after all, because that's too easy to say in hindsight.

That's all I have for Joshua. In the next post I'll cover both Judges and Ruth since Ruth is really short.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Deuteronomy - Second Law - This time it's personal!

As I started reading Deuteronomy I was worried nothing interesting would happen. It starts off as just a reiteration of everything that happened before. It's basically Moses sitting around going, "Hey! Remember the time we killed all the men, women, and children in those cities!? Oooh man! Good times....good times."

Eventually, though, I did come across several noteworthy items. Quite a few big ones, too. So I won't waste anymore time and get right to it.

DEU 9:4 Here we are given a justification for why Israel is allowed to conquer people, kill them, and take their land. It is not because the Israelites are righteous but rather "it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you." Even if they were an incredibly wicked people, I don't see how that justifies the killing of children. However, for the sake of argument, let's say there were some evil behavior that did justify killing every single person in these cities (and apparently it can be something as simple as not letting the Israelites pass through their city). The problem is that we don't know if they really were practicing this behavior because there's no one left to stand up in their defense. They're all dead. It's shoot first and ask questions later in God country.

DEU 12:31 God hates it when people sacrifice their children to other gods by burning them in fire. Right on! I agree! That is pretty bad.

DEU 13:6-10 God wants you to stone your children to death if they even try to get you to serve another god. Yeah! That's what I'm-wait what? Sacrificing children in fire is not OK but stoning them to death is?

DEU 14:18 Bats still aren't birds.

DEU 14:21 Here is a repeat of the ban on boiling a young goat in its mother's milk. Which I didn't understand when I first came across it but I recently heard an explanation from a Rabbi. It turns out that it was a law meant to show kindness towards the animals. As he put it, imagine a mother goat is walking through your camp and sees you cooking her baby goat in her own milk. She'd be pretty angry, don't you think!? So you see, this was meant as a way to be nice to the animals. Or, at the very least, the goats. After hearing the Rabbi say this and then reading this law a second time, I still don't understand it. I mean, why focus on just the goats? It doesn't make any sense.

DEU 15:7-8 Help out a poor man, whatever his need may be. Unless he needs health insurance. Then the right thing to do is make sure the rest of the country isn't paying for his lazy ass to get sick. Am I right, people!?!

DEU 18:10-14 "There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering...the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this." That's right! You're only allowed to stone them to death. Like if your son is being rebellious. I can see it now...

Israelite Father: "Arrrgghh!! My lousy son won't listen to me! He's stubborn and he drinks and he eats a lot of food! I have half a mind to sacrifice him in a fire to the gods!"

Israelite Father's Neighbor: "Heeeeeyyyy, whoa now! That's not cool, dude. Seriously. Sacrificing him in a fire to the gods? We're not animals. Now take this stone and be the first to throw it at your son like a good Israelite Father."

Israelite Father: *throws rock*

Israelite Son: "Ow! Son of a bitch!"

Israelite Father's Neighbor: "OK! Me next!!!"

DEU 20:10-14 If you approach a city to fight them but then offer peace and they don't accept it, THEN you're allowed to spare the women and children. But only as a plunder for yourselves. It's only when the Lord is giving you the city as an inheritance that you kill everyone in it. Or, you know, if they won't let you pass through because the Lord hardened their heart. Oh, but don't cut down the trees. That's just wrong. The trees aren't human, dummy!

DEU 22:21 Having sex in your father's house? That's a stoning!

DEU 22:23-24 Didn't cry out for help in the city when a man had sex with you even though you're engaged to be married? That's a stoning! Because rapists never tell their victims not to yell.

DEU 22:25-27 Did you rape a young woman engaged to be married out in the woods? That's a stoning! Because young women have never made false accusations of rape.

DEU 22:28-29 Did you rape a young woman who wasn't engaged to get married? Oh you better believe that's a stoni-whoops!! Just kidding! You have to pay her father off and then marry her. So there's some incentive there to rape the hot chick that turned you down a week ago.

DEU 23:9,12-14 This link actually goes to The Brick Testament because I think they handle this passage the best.

DEU 23:24-25 Come on down to God's All-You-Can-Eat Buffet!!

DEU 24:1-3 Apparently they had certificates of divorce despite not having certificates of marriage (as far as I can tell). I think it's because it's obvious when a woman is with a man since you would see them living together. But in a tribe of at least 600,000 people you can't easily tell if that woman you saw living with a guy last month, that is now flirting with you, is single. You might ask, "Hey, uh, you're nice and all but aren't you with that one guy I saw you with last month?" Then she can say, "Nope! Certificate! Check it out!"

DEU 24:16 "Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin." Unless they're from a wicked city. Then kill them all!!!!!

DEU 28:1-14 The first 14 verses of chapter 28 talk about how wonderful things will be for you if you follow the law. Then the next 54 verses are all about the terrible things that will happen to you if you don't follow all of the commandments. And it says that "all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you."

So, for example, if you didn't stone your children for asking you to worship another god, then they'll be given to someone else. Perhaps they'll stone them for you. No, sorry. They'll go into captivity. And yet somehow you'll also eat your children. So maybe they're given to the local deli? Well, either way, that's what you get for not stoning them to death. Serves you right!

But wait, not only will you eat your children, but the most tender and refined man and woman will eat their children too! And to add insult to injury, he won't share!!

I mean, I guess I'd rather stone my child to death than eat them, but you'll eat your kids even if you broke a different commandment. If you boiled a young goat in its mother's milk, for instance, you'll end up eating your kids. Did you eat a bat? Then you might as well have it with a side of daughter. Neglect to stone that guy you caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath? Break out the fine china! You're having your son for dinner! Did you hesitate when you were supposed to kill a little kid in the city you were taking and let him get away? Well you should have eaten him instead because now you're going to eat your own children anyway.

I'm sure someone is going to say that it wasn't literal. It was figurative or whatever. But that doesn't take away from the point that I'm just now finally getting around to making. None of this sounds like the work of an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent God. It sounds more like the work of a primitive leader trying to come up with ways to scare people into following his orders. In fact, all of it sounds like the work of a primitive leader or leaders just trying to come up with ways to deal with sickness and domestic disputes and whatever comes his/their way. The more I read the Bible the more I'm struck by how seriously people take it.

Anyway, that's pretty much it. Moses dies at the end of Deuteronomy. Sorry to ruin that for you but it's not very exciting. Besides, I hear the main character doesn't even show up until later on anyway so I didn't ruin much.

Up next: Joshua!


Monday, April 5, 2010

Numbers - 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

I've said before that reading the Bible will, at the very least, help me appreciate Lost even more. So when I started reading Numbers I thought, "Heck yeah! This is going to really make things clear!" At which point I went through looking for the following passages; 4:8, 15:16, 23:42. Unfortunately, there isn't a 23:42, so instead I just kept counting into chapter 24 and considered that passage to be the 42nd verse of chapter 23. Here's what I figured out:

NU 4:8 Oh man! This must be talking about...something....maybe how to protect yourself from the Smoke Monster? Yeah. That's it!

NU 15:16 Uh-oh! Kate better watch her back! I think. I'm not sure. This may not be a good idea.

NU "23:42" Yes! This is the key! If Jack is Balaam and Ben is Balak and...Oh, who am I kidding? That's not working out.

Anyway, if I can get back to being serious-ish, when they say "Numbers" they mean it! There's a few passages where all they do is list off the numbers of things like the results of censuses detailing the number of Israelites by their clan, where they'll camp, how many Levites there are, the number of firstborn males (and how much they're worth or something), the number of Kohathites, a whole bunch of stuff about shekels, another census of the Israelites, and how many things the Israelites "obtained" from the Midianites (more on that later). Now, I'm obviously no expert on the Bible, but I can't see why this stuff is necessary to preserve. I imagine there must be some reason or it never would have stayed in, but I'll be damned if I can figure it out.

There wasn't a lot (partially due to those lists) in Numbers for me to comment on. Most of it was fairly benign. However, there were a few things that really stood out to me and I'll go over them now.

NU 5:23-28 This is, in part, what is to be done to a woman that has been simply accused of adultery. She's to drink water mixed with dust from the ground. If she didn't cheat on her husband then she'll be fine and the water will have no effect on her. But if she did cheat on her husband then she'll experience bitter pain, her womb will swell, and her thigh will fall away (whatever that means).
I don't get how someone can read that and think that it was either 1) helpful for an ancient culture to survive or 2) inspired by an Omniscient God. It sounds more like the kind of trial by ordeal that we would expect from a primitive, superstitious culture bent on justice. And yet, people actually believe this was inspired by (or directly written by) an all-knowing God. I suppose it's possible that God simply felt this was the best plan of action, but it's an awfully curious method for an Omnipotent God to prefer.

NU 8:7 I believe "shaved" is the expression.

NU 11:18-20, NU 11:31-35 The people complain that they have nothing to eat, so the Lord gives them food and then kills them when they eat it because they rejected him.

What do you think is the most logical explanation for this story?
A) A failed attempt to understand/explain food poisoning
B) A failed attempt to understand/explain refeeding syndrome.
C) God was an angry, jealous god.
D) There is no logical explanation for this story.

NU 12:8, NU 14:11, NU 14:27, NU 22:9 An omniscient God asks more questions.

NU 15:32-36 I wonder if this guy was asking as he was being stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, "Can't you just make me drink some dirt-water!?!? I'll pretend it hurts!"

NU 25 Yes, let us violently kill someone for dating the wrong kind. That's a wonderful response.

At one point the Lord is angry with the people of Midian (for reasons that I'm not entirely clear on). So he tells Moses to avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Moses gathers an army and sends them to Midian where they kill every male. However, they let the women and children live and brought them back. Which I thought was somewhat decent of them to do. Except apparently it wasn't a good thing to do. So Moses tells the men in the army to kill all the little boys and all the women that weren't virgins (in the sexual sense) but to keep all young girls that were virgins alive for themselves. Maybe, maybe, there's some noble reason for this, but on the surface it looks really really bad. If there were some noble reason, then why keep only the young virgin girls? Was Israel having a shortage of women? It seems possible if they were making them drink dirt-water after a mere accusation but it doesn't get mentioned anywhere that I saw.

That's it for Numbers. Like I said, it's mostly pretty benign.

Usually I would end here but recently I came across something that gave me a lot of pause and I felt it needed to be included in this blog.

I read comic books and in the most recent issue of The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman a true story was retold. (Before I continue, I want to make it clear that Robert Kirkman does not give the conclusion that I got from this story. The Walking Dead is not an atheist book. It's a really good book about humanity. I highly recommend it. In fact, it's so good that AMC is making it into a TV show.) Now I actually heard this story when it first appeared in the news but I had forgotten about it. I don't know if I should thank Robert Kirkman for reminding me or punch him. It's easily one of the most horrific stories I've ever heard. I won't repeat all the details of the story here. I think the following quote from the 4-year-old boy involved pretty much covers it; "My daddy ate my eyes out." If you feel the need to read the full story, you may do so here.

For whatever reason, after hearing this story a second time I found myself unable to shake it from my mind. I couldn't stop thinking about this little boy and the unimaginable horror he must live with now for the rest of his life. Even though I feel somewhat selfish for doing so, I began to relate this to the idea of God and the Problem of Evil. I'm the kind of atheist that feels the existence of evil in the world doesn't disprove God. God may have a very good reason for allowing evil, even this especially egregious example. But as I thought about what it would mean for an omnipotent God to exist alongside such a terrible event more and more, I was eventually hit by a response that I feel is the only response I can have. I'll end with it here;

I would rather spend an eternity in Hell on behalf of that little boy than love a God that would allow that happen.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

No one will EVER Understand the Christian!!

Fuck this! I'm done with this shit! The Bible is stupid! Religion is stupid! If you're religious, you're stupid! I'm not doing this anymore! I've wasted too much time already!

***EDIT: As if it weren't obvious, this was an April Fool's joke!!***