A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If the Commandments were in order of importance, this would be the second most immoral thing you could do.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 4 - once again Yahweh brings up the Second Commandment. "When thou ... make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and do evil in the sight of the Lord, you shall perish upon the land and be utterly destroyed."

I'm trying to understand this irrational paranoia about the graven image. While I'm convinced the punishment is ridiculous, I kind of understand what the authors were trying to get at. A graven image isn't the thing itself, or the 'ding an sich'. It's merely a representation of something.

So, a drawing of a bird, for example, is nothing more than a manmade representation of a bird. It's obviously not the real thing. Apparently, to the ancient Hebrews, this was a problem.

Since they were the descendents of Sumerians and Canaanites, it's quite likely that a lot of Israelites still held on to the beliefs in other gods within the Sumerian/Canaanite pantheon. And they probably had a lot of idols to represent each of these gods. The Israelite priesthood, who was really trying to get this Yahweh thing off the ground, decided that the best way to deal with this was to ban graven images entirely.

The Catholic Church, a 1000 years later, approached the subject with a different strategy. Instead of banning idols, they simply incorporated their own images to substitute the idols of various barbarian tribes. The Catholic saints are usually the replacement of various pagan gods. For example, St. Nicholas replaces the Greek god Poseidon.

I'm inclined to believe that the Catholic Church's tactic was a little more successful. It incorporated more people, and it didn't alienate them at all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In Deuteronomy, Chapter 3, Moses and his band of Israelites take on yet ANOTHER giant! This time, he's the king of the Bashanites; a man named Og.

While his name sounds like he's nothing more than a primitive caveman, and his nation sounds like a violent gang (the Bashingites?), Og is apparently the last of the race of giants. I think that's the Israelite priests' gimmick; portray Moses as the Giant Slayer.

Sure enough, we get another wonderful pearl of wisdom in Chapter 3: "And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city. And we utterly destroyed them ... utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city. But all the cattle, and the spoil of the cities, we took for a prey to ourselves."

Now, since Og was a giant, he was obviously no pushover. According to the narrator, Og was 9 cubits high! That's like 13 feet high! Shaq ain't got nothin' on him. Og's bed along was 13.5 feet long and six feet wide!

Moses later comforts Joshua with a little pep talk. He essentially says, "You saw how we breezed through those two kingdoms so easily. You serve an awesome God. What OTHER god is there that could kill so many people?!?"

Next time, God promises to utterly destroy anyone who creates ANY graven image!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Above: A giant from Greek mythology, the Cyclops. Isn't it likely that giants were a regular subject in ALL ancient mythology?

Well, let me just say that I'm very excited to be finishing up the Pentateuch. As I started reading the first two chapters of Deuteronomy I noticed that this book seems to be written more as a letter to the Israelite people, from Moses, and basically just recounting what they did.

In Chapters 1 and 2, it almost seems like there's a lot of repetition going on. In Chapter 1, Moses talks about killing the Amorites and their king, a group of giants called the Anakims, and about the faithless cowardice of the Israelite people.

I find the talk of giants to be interesting. There were quite a few tribes apparently. There was of course the Nephilim, whom we learned of previously. But there was also the Anakim, the Emim, the Avims, and the Caphtorims - all of which lived in different areas.

For some reason, Moses talks about the strange arbitrary choice to let the Moabites and Ammonites live in peace, but kill off people like the Amorites, which we learned of in Numbers. He even "hardened the heart" of the King of Sihon, just so the king would come out and fight the Israelites and give the Israelites a good reason to kill of his people. That's crazy talk!

To quote the author of Deuteronomy, ""And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I'm finally going to finish Numbers here. I've been at this book for what seems like months. After all the huffing and puffing, animal sacrifices and censuses, the Israelites send 12,000 men to battle against the Midianites. The Midianites are obliterated, and every Midianite male is killed.

The Israelites take the Midianites' livestock and goods, and bring the surviving women and children to Moses. Moses is shocked, and says, "Why did you bring back ALL the women alive?!? Kill every male child, and kill every women who has had sex with a man! But all the female children that haven't had sex, keep them for yourselves!"

If you don't believe me, that's Numbers, Chapter 31:17-18.

After this proclamation, the Israelites inventory all the goods they've pillaged. It comes to:

- 675,000 sheep
- Threescore (a "score" is 20, so I'm guessing the total amount here is 72,000) and 12,000 "beeves"
- Threescore and 1,000 donkeys
- 32,000 virgin women.

And I'm not sure where these came from, but they also received an additional:
- 330,500 sheep (of which over 600 were sacrificed)
- 36,000 beeves (sacrificed threescore and 12)
- 30,500 donkeys (sacrificed 61)
- 16,000 persons (It reads as if they may have sacrificed 32 people here.)

This is the main event, but the next few chapters have a few interesting things as well, aside from the constant recordkeeping of where the Israelites move to and set up. It's also good to know that the journey from Egypt to Canaan (where the Israelites eventually wind up), for some reason they were lost for 40 years, when it would've taken a few weeks even back then. Yahweh apparently curses them to wander because the Israelites were discouraged at the sight of the land He had promised them.

In Chapter 33:50, Yahweh tells Moses to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and make sure to destroy all their religious symbols - melt their statues and take down their 'high places'. High places is probably a reference to the Asherah's, or groves, in which the Canaanite people worshipped Asherah - who in Canaanite and Sumerian mythology is the wife of El. And El, the chief sky god of the Canaanite and Sumerian pantheon, is who Yahweh was originally (in Genesis). Pretty crazy stuff, eh?

"Yahweh" tells the Israelites to kill ALL the Canaanites, or otherwise He will make the Canaanites a thorn in the side of the Israelites. Yahweh my ass. The political leaders of Israel are using Yahweh to justify the killing of the Canaanites. This crap has been going on for thousands of years!

The rest of the chapters are just a bunch of divvying up of the spoils of war, a few begats, and a few extra rules. And that's pretty much it for Numbers - a truly horrific, and horribly written, book of the Bible.

I will close with this interesting rule from Numbers 35:16-28, which I will sum up: "If you kill a person with malice, you shall be put to death. But if it is an accident, you will be safe within the haven of the city. But if you are caught outside the city walls, it is okay for the closest relative of the victim to kill you."