A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

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

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This tree looks like he's got something interesting to say. - Image from Gabriel Millos, Creative Commons

Lord of the Israelites: A Tale of Talking Trees, mass fratricide, and Divine vengeance (Judges Chapter 9) - Abimelech was one of the 70 or so sons of Gideon.  He gained power by killing all of the other brothers, "on one stone" no less.  Seventy brothers killed on one stone - perhaps he was going for a world record (a joke I'm borrowing The Scripture Project).

Only the youngest son, Jotham, lived because he hid from his sadistic brother.

After this slaying come a strange conversation between trees, which in my head sound like the Entmeet in Lord of the Rings.  The conversation goes something like this: the trees (in general) ask the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grape vine (separately) if they'll rule over them.  Each one gives a reason, which is basically that they provide things that are good for God and man (i.e. wine, fruits, olives, etc.) and if they spent all their time ruling over the trees they wouldn't be able to provide God and man their goods.

Finally, the trees ask a bunch of brambles (that's right - brambles) if he'd rule over them, and since brambles have hardly any use for men (or God, for that matter), he volunteers.  However, he warns them, "If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon."

While I'm not sure what that means, I think it has something to do with brambles being a poor source of shade and an excellent source of fuel for fire.  
Meanwhile, God (aka the Creator of Universe) sends an evil spirit among Abimelech and his men.  Let me repeat that - GOD sends an evil spirit.  There might be some sort of translation problem here, as I'm familiar with the Greek notion of spirit, which isn't really an entity but a kind of mode of being.  None the less, God still causes Abimelech and his men of Shechem to be treacherous toward one another, scheming and lying to each other.  But a man named Gaal of Ebed goes to the men of Shechem, and they put their trust in Gaal instead.

They wind up fortifying themselves in a tower  in opposition to Abimelech.  Abimelech lays siege and kills approximately 1,000 men and women by burning the tower down.  Apparently, there were some gigantic towers back then.  

Abimelech then attacks another tower at Thebez, but during the assault a woman casts a millstone and cracks open his skull.  In his shame, Abimelech asks one of his soldiers to slay him so that no one would say that "a woman killed him."  Oh, the shame!  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baal-Berith, an ancient pagan god that a more recent heavy metal band named themselves after.  
Here's the cover of their album.

Israel's Ongoing Battle With Paganism (Judges, Chapter 8) - One of the recurring themes with the Israelites is that one pushy guy gets them to worship Yahweh, and then upon said pushy guy's death, they go back to worshiping other gods.  This tells me that if these stories were true, they probably didn't take Yahweh too seriously.  But the people writing the histories (at least the ones that survived) were the people worshiping Yahweh, so it's their story that remains with us today.

Chapter 8 is the last one with Gideon, who might be the namesake of Gideons International, the group that goes around and puts Bibles in hotel rooms.  Gideon is chasing two final kings, who have an army of about 15,000.  This is vastly reduced from the 120,000 they had before Yahweh caused them to kill each other.  Gideon commands 300 men, and is like King Leonidas on the offensive.

While in pursuit, Gideon's tired men come across two towns and asks for supplies.  The towns refuse, and Gideon tells them after he vanquishes his enemy, he's going to come back and crush them.

Gideon has a shameful moment when, upon capturing the two kings, he asks his son to have the honors in killing them.  His son didn't want to do it, and Gideon said something like, "You're not a man" and then knocked off the two kings.

After their victory, Gideon says a very corny line.  I think my wife would say it's as corny as one of my jokes.  The men of Israel cheer Gideon and ask him to rule over them.  He replies, "I shall not rule over you.  My sons shall not rule over you.  The LORD shall rule over you."

Then something strange happens.  Gideon asks that all the earrings of the dead soldiers be gathered.  Apparently, because they were "Ishmaelites" (remember Ishmael from Genesis) they all had gold earrings.  Gideon arranged to have these melted down and fashioned into an Eshod, which is a ceremonial apron that was worn by the Israelite priests.  And, in a choice of words I don't understand, Judges 8:27 says that the Israelites "went whoring" after the Eshod.  I have no idea what that means, or why they would do that.

Anyways, Chapter 8 ends by saying that as soon as Gideon dies (at a good old age), the Israelites go right back to worshiping other gods, in particular a Ba'al named Baal-Berith.   This really illustrates how hard it is to get a culture that is already steeped in one religious tradition to convert wholesale into another religion.  It is evident today with Christian missionaries, who to their own dismay report that their new converts still believe in their old religion, but have just incorporated the beliefs of Christianity.  This hybridization of religion is reported in all cultures who worshiped previous deity and were approached by missionaries to worship another.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

At the end of the chapter, two Midianite leaders are decapitated and their heads brought to Gideon.  From Firaze Shakir

Gideon Defeats an Army With Only 300 Men (Judges, Chapter 7) - Good ol' Gideon, now that he's been selected to be Yahweh's chosen general, must now select men for his army.  The selection process is very odd indeed.

Starting with about 32,000 people, Gideon asks those who are afraid to return to their homes.  Only 10,000 remain.  Still, Yahweh - cocky as ever - suggests that even 10,000 is too much.  Yahweh says he will select the men who will fight by the manner in which they drink water!  That's right, if they naturally get down and lap up water with their tongues like dogs, they're the ones He wants.

So, Yahweh and Gideon observe how each man drinks water.  Finally, after everyone drank water, it turns out that only 300 people drank water like a dog.  Gideon becomes another King Leonidas.

The Midianite Army

The author of Judges really took some pains in order to describe the vastness of the opposing army.  The Midianites were numerous like grasshoppers and - get this - their camels were numberless, like the sands along the seashore.  If we were to take this description seriously, that's a lot of fucking camels!!!

But, what do camels matter in this equation?  Seriously.  This is a sword and spear fight. 

The Battle

Like most of these stories, the description of the battle seems a little fishy.  If true, King Leonidas would've done better with these 300 rather than his own.  Actually, Leonidas would've only needed Yahweh; He did all the work.

Armed with a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a lamp; the 300 men faced off against the locustlike horde of Midianites.  Following instructions from a dream, Gideon ordered his men to first break the pitcher, hold the lamp in their left hands, and then simultaneously blow on the trumpet with their right.

When they do this, all of the opposing army turn on each other, killing each other off rather rapidly, and the Israelites win.  They later hunt down two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb, decapitate them, and then bring the heads to Gideon. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Image from Light4Us Blog

Gideon vs. the Midianites (Judges Chapter 6) - Right off the bat, I've come across yet another contradiction.  Remember in the Book of Numbers when the Israelites took out ALL of the Midianite men? (Numbers 31:7)  Well, they're back and they've become such a nuisance that Judges Ch. 6 is basically dedicated to their destruction - again.

This time the protagonist is a young man named Gideon.  While chilling under an oak tree (I'm reading King James version so I think that's what it's saying), Yahweh sends angel down to tell Gideon that he is chosen to be the Israelite's Next Top Warrior. 

Gideon, being skeptical said he's just a poor man, how can he be a warrior?  Yahweh says He's on Gideon's side, and He will personally help Gideon massacre the Midianites.  As proof that it is really Him, Yahweh cooks flesh and unleavened bread on a rock.  Apparently, fire came out of the rock.  I guess that must have been pretty cool back then.

So what did the Midianites do exactly?  Apparently, they retaliated against the Israelites for all of their previous acts.  They took their livestock and supplies, and rose up against the Israelites.

So Gideon and the Israelites counter-attack, tear down a statue of Baal, and this angers the Midianite and other non-Yahwehists.  The Israelites actually make a good skeptical argument.  Basically, they say, "If Baal is real, let him plead for himself.  If he is a god, let him retaliate."  

And, nothing happens.

Toward the end Gideon is still skeptical toward Yahweh and asks for more signs.  Apparently, cooking food on a rock wasn't as spectacular as we originally thought!  Well, it gets worse.  The sign Gideon asks for is utterly ridiculous.  He puts some sheepskin on the ground, and tells Yahweh that if the dew is only on the wool and not on the surrounding ground, THEN he will believe Yahweh's promise to him.

Actually, given Yahweh's reckless behavior in the past, I'd be pretty skeptical about his "promises" too.  I probably wouldn't resort to these odd requests, though.  I think I'd just be happy if Yahweh talked to people normally, in a language (like English) that wouldn't destroy us.