I LOVE comments. Please leave some even if they are brief half-formed ideas
that you aren't even sure you really believe. I just love comments.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

1 Chronicles 1-2

So, I am now reading from three books at the same time.  The generally accepted date of authorship for the Psalms is similar to that for the Deuteronomic History, it appears to me.  Chronicles, although classically consider to be connected to Ezra & Nehemiah, may actually have been written much later, according to the introductory commentary in the New Interpreter's Bible from the 1990s I'm reading.

This is all a way of saying that I don't get anything more from the several chapters of genealogy that open Chronicles than I do from the Psalms.  They do list the Canaanite ancestry, which I used to see as being honest about a checkered past (in the eyes of the Israelites, I'm not dissing any Canaanites).  But, I've since read that this was important to explain the presence of Canaanite descendants in Israel in light of the tradition that they, you know, killed them all.  :( 

Ps. 6, 8-10, 14, 16, 19, 21

You know what?  I just don't get the Psalms.  They seem like pretty unconnected jumbles of praise and lamentation.  Every once in a while I'll read one and say, "Wow, that phrase is kind of striking," only to realize it is just that it's a psalm I've heard before.


Friday, April 21, 2017

2 Sam. 1-4

This passage is about David consolidating his power.  He is anointed kind of Judah.  (P.S. Saul's son is merely installed king of Israel.)  Then all of his enemies are killed, through no fault of David's, and while these deaths establish the conditions for him to be king of a United Kingdom of Israel, he takes no pleasure in learning of their deaths.  Instead, he punishes all those responsible for them. 

David is established as a noble leader.  Maybe even chivalrous.  I've mentioned several times how these wars remind me of medieval legends reporting in the Canterbury tales or Don Quixote.  Obviously, the medieval legends borrow from these themes. 

Civility is a tool of the oppressor.  Is nobility?  In the practice of law, there is a tension between zealously advocating for your client and behaving with professional dignity.  I say dignity because things that fall into that category are often about status for the actor.  I grant an extension because I am an upright lawyer, above the fray.  Was that fair to my client who would have been advantaged by denying the extension?  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ps. 121, 123-125, 128-130

The selections will get choppy as we attempt to maintain the chronological approach to reading the Scriptures.  I'll be reading Second Samuel, Psalms and First Chronicles.  All deal with King David's reign.  Based on a briefing reading of the New Interpreter's Bible Introduction to Psalms, it appears that it was written generally at the same time as the Deuteronomic and Priestly selections of the Old Testament, around the time of the exile (590 BCE - 530 BCE -ish) 

Each of the Psalms in today's reading is short.  Psalm 121 is directed to the reader, not God, and encourages faith in God.  There is a real mix of lamentation and praise.  So, Psalm 123, 129, and 130 talk about oppression and suffering.  Psalm 124, on the other hand, claims that but for God's intervention, we'd all be doomed.  And then Psalm 128 is almost straight up prosperity gospel about how great God is to the righteous.

Psalm 130 is my favorite because of its hopefulness.
A song of ascents.

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
The Psalms are also so much more individual focused than what we've read so far in the Old Testament.  And this bit about forgiveness of sins, of "my" sins, seems downright New Testament.  And of course, the New Testament didn't come out of nowhere, right?  Obviously its claims have to be rooted in the belief system of first century Jews, which in turn are rooted in the works I'm reading now.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1 Sam. 28-31 (the end); Ps. 18

Saul, Saul, Saul.  This poor guy cannot catch a break.  God has abandon him, even while he admits that he has sinned; but he admits he has sinned a lot.  I've really fallen in love with how well drawn this Saul is.  After God won't answer his questions, and neither will the urim and neither will the prophets, he decides to go to a medium--in disguise because, you know, he just go done expelling them all from Israel.  Then she summons Samuel from the dead.

Notes on this, Samuel comes up from the ground to join Saul as a ghostly figure and basically tells him if God won't help you neither will I.  So, are we to believe that this person who is not a prophet of God can summon spirits?  Spirits are floating around under the ground?  This is in fact a pretty rough clash of ancient and modern scientific understanding of the world.

Samuel is popping up from "Underworld."  Realize, this is not the point of the story.  It is an assumed fact around it.  

The intrigue continues.  David has pledged allegiance to a foreign king and it looks like he and his army may actually go against the Israelites under Saul's command.  Although that doesn't happen because the Philistine generals, with whom this new king is buddies, are like, "Hey, we remember that dude.  Uh, no, we're not going into battle with him."  David executes a daring rescue of his family and the whole city which had been plundered by the Amalakites while he was off almost fighting against the Israelites.  But, this book is really about Saul.  And it ends with Saul's sad suicide the same day everyone of his boys dies in battle.  (Cf. Eli, his sons and his daughter-in-law mother of Icabod).

Psalm 18 is a little braggy for my taste.  It is full of how awesome God is, compare to the end of Job, but also a lot about how pure David is, I guess also compare to Job.  But, it comes off differently when the speaker is a king.

Closing thought, Saul feel like Darth Vader to me.  Much more interesting from a literary point of view than goody two shoes David (so far). 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

1 Sam. 25-27; Ps. 17, 35, 54, 63

Our civil war seems to come to a cease fire when David has the opportunity to kill Saul in his sleep but chooses not to, them makes Saul aware of it.  David retires to Philistine territory where he and his 600 men conduct raids on Israel's enemies.

Before that we can David's marriage to Abigail.  She is the widow of a guy who refused to feed David's army and was generally a jerk.  The dude died of a heart attack, and David married his widow--like you do.

Oh yeah, and Samuel dies.

Psalm 17 - plea for help from God
Psalm 35 - how great is God for rescuing me; also he rescues the poor; also, Awake God and help me
Psalm 54 - a short little plea for help
Psalm 63 - "Oh God, you are my God," and "my soul thirsts for you."

The stories of David & Saul really are interesting to read.  In the encounter with Saul above, he again admits that he has sinned--something Saul does often--and starts referring to David as his son.  Seriously, abuser behavior.  Sort of interesting to read in an ancient text.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Psalms catch up

Psalm 7 is about seeking safety and wanting vengeance.

Psalm 27 speaks to me of confidence.  It also has an interesting theological note, I will live in the house of the lord all of my days.  Hmm, so not after he dies, but all of his days.

Psalm 31 is about anguish. It even has the psalmist say, "Into your hands, I commit my spirit."

Psalm 34 is about loyalty to God and includes "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

Psalm 52 is more hopeful.

Psalm 56 is also about loyal and include the phrase I walk in the light of the God.

Psalm 120 is a short little sad ditty.

Psalm 140-142 keep me safe from the enemies, don't let me sin, keep me safe from enemies.

Okay, now I'm still but only still one day behind in my reading.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter

So, I did read some today, I didn't finish the reading for the day.  Curiously enough because all of my time on Easter.  I've officially decided that God will grant me grace on this one.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ps. 7, 27, 31

Psalms.  These psalms like all of them are weird for me because I feel like there is something amazing about them.  They seem to capture emotion and intimacy.  Nonetheless, I don't find room for  a lot of commentary.

I will say that it is interesting to read these psalms about refuge while the reading story about the civil war / David's flight from Saul.

Friday, April 14, 2017

1 Sam 21-23

This selection returns to that feel from reading the Canterbury Tales.  It really feels medieval to me, which I recognize is silly.  Saul and David are engaged in what has become a civil war.  David saves a city from the Philistines, which brings Saul his way since Saul figures David is finally pinned down to a particular place.  God tells David--and God is still talk directly to people in words, but does seem to appear to them any more--that, yeah, the people in the city he just liberated would in fact deliver him to Saul if Saul arrives.  The selection ends with Saul giving up the hunt for David because the Philistines have invaded again.

What strikes me here is that the author records Saul's continued desire to win YHWH's affection and approval.  Saul really is a tragic character.

Interesting note: a 1 Sam. 22:3-4 we have the following:
From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” So he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David was in the stronghold.
 Recall that the Book of Ruth was likely written to explain David's Moabite roots.  This may have been another attempt.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

1 Sam 18-20; Ps. 11, 59

Were Jonathan and David in love?  Were they a couple?  From Genesis 2:22-24 & 1 Sam. 18:1-3.
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
* * *
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.
Also, when Saul plots to kill David, because Jonathan "had taken a great liking to David," he tips him off.  1 Sam 19:1. Also, from this reading, after Jonathan confirms that Pops is definitely interested in killing David (including a cool signal with arrows scene), we get this:
David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.
1 Sam 20:41-42.  I had not remembered these passages.  I did remember David's eulogy for Jonathan which is usually pointed to for this point.  I'm not sure what I think.

For the record, I have zero doubt that gay people lived during time of the House of David.  I am unsure if people had an understanding of two men being in love, and am even more unsure that the Biblical authors would have recorded it.  As for an unintentional capturing of a gay romance, well?  It's hard to believe that the data was transmitted with sufficient "signal fidelity" to reveal something unintentional.  Nonetheless, we are reaching the part of the story where there is reason to believe that these are real people.  There was a House of David, and quite likely a King David.  So, who knows.

Interesting Note: It was evidently controversial as to whether Saul was among the Prophets.  1 Sam 19:23-24 has a story about Saul falling into a trance and prophesying while looking for David, and there is a similar story about him joining Samuel's prophets shortly after being chosen to be kind, again, falling into a trance. 1 Sam 10: 9-11.  In both cases the question "Is Saul also among the prophets?" is presented with the implied answer, "Uh, no."

Translational note: When David prays to God in the Psalms, Psalm 59 was specifically for this part of the story, btw, the Spanish has David use the informal "eres" and "tu" rather than the form "es" and "Ud."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

1 Sam 15-17

This is an amazingly dense selection.  Both from narrative points and for meaningful reflection.

Saul again fails to kill someone and this time really upsets God.  Plus we have three origin stories for David.  One his is anointed by Samuel; two he is the musician who calms Saul's late onset madness; three he slays Goliath.  (P.S. he will slay Goliath again.)

Of course, some of David's origin stories can be reconciled.  Samuel could have anointed him and then he just happened to be the kid who plays the harp.  Or maybe Samuel anoints him, everyone forgets that, and then he happens to show up at camp with his brothers, and no one says, "Actually, aren't you the anointed king of Israel?  Maybe it does make sense for you to fight Goliath."  But, the thing is the authors didn't do that.  They gave us three sides of who David was.

It is interesting to think about these stories as what is required of the ideal leader. 

On a theological note, when Saul is caught having allowed King Agag to live and some of the animals from the city, he tries to rationalize saying that he left the animals for a sacrifice.  Samuel is having none of it, and in some crazy baller scene kills the king himself.  Then we have this: "And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel."  1 Sam. 15:35.

God, regretted.  Interesting.

Translational note: the words translated in the NVI as siervos y cortesanos are both translated as servants in the NIV.  1 Sam. 16:18.  Courtesan or courtier has a different connotation to me than servant. 


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

1 Sam 13-14 (rule breaker)

Saul does alright.  He rules over Israel for forty-two years, which is record breaking.  1 Sam 13:1.  He wins victories against the Philistines.  But so does his boy, Jonathan.  See, e.g. 1 Sam 14:1-14. 

The Bible talks a lot about armies being confused and killing each other.  It is a major component in Saul's big victory over the armies of the Philistines.  1 Sam 14:14-23. 

Here's something interesting, Saul makes a dumb vow about no one eating.  His boy is off killing Philistines and doesn't hear it, so he eats too soon.  AND Saul does not kill him.  And the reason he doesn't kill him is the soldiers are like, "Hey, c'mon, he saved us from all those dirty Philistines."  Seems like a big deal, but recall, Saul also didn't kill the dudes who were talking shit about him when he took over as king.  Saul also tries to do a sacrifice, himself.  That makes Samuel pretty upset. 

He's tall and good looking. He's from humble roots.  He's a hot head that gets Israel into unending war.  He doesn't really care about the rules.

Monday, April 10, 2017

1 Sam 9-12

You know what's great about Saul?  He's tall.  It's mentioned more than once in the description of him.  Oh yeah, and he comes from the humblest of families in the smallest of tribes, Benjamin.  Seriously, I guess this "born in a log cabin" stuff has a long history.

He is also painted as quite moody.  How does he get Israel to unite and liberate the city?  He cuts up a couple of oxen and says, "This is what happens to those that don't follow us into battle."  When he is flying high on his first military victory and the end of questions about his legitimacy, he spares the doubters, even though some suggest they should be put to death. 

The we get Samuel's farewell speech, which is much more of a bummer than even Obama's.  He does call down thunder and rain before reminding the people what a bunch of screw ups they are.  Also, he lists the important heroes who delivered the sinful Israelites: Gideon, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel (or Samson depending on the manuscript).  More evidence of complex tradition.  I'm not sure at all that Jephthah was a good guy. 

Interesting note: When describing the army that follows Saul, it is 300,000 from Israel and 30,000 from Judah.  1 Sam 11:8.  That's an interesting division since the kingdoms have not yet been divided. 

Sunday, April 09, 2017

1 Sam 4-8

Again, just racing through the narrative portions.  This really is a just the facts man style story telling.

This passage includes the loss of the arc and the death of Eli's kids and Eli.  As foretold, the boys die on the same day, the day they lost the arc to the Philistines.  Eli dies falling back in his chair--I just watch the movie Logan last night and am seeing Patrick Stewart as Eli, btw--and the wife of one of the boys gives birth to a boy and names him Icabod.  If you didn't think it was a weird name before, it mean "No Glory." 

Anyway, Samuel gets them straightened out, and then we have this argument about a king.  It's really interesting.  The people want a king, literally because everyone else has one.  Samuel basically says, "Seriously, here's all of the crap a king will do to you." The people don't care.  Then God tells Samuel, "Look, it's really a burn on me, not you.  You did your best." 

So, the Deuteronomists are really conflicted on this whole monarchy thing.  I mean, the tale of the Levites Concubine is unbelievably horrible and is blamed 100% on not have a king.  But then you have Samuel, who is unquestionably a man of God, is beside himself that these dummies want a king.

It's hard not to see connections with America's role with local and federal power.  Although it oscillates with the party in power, the party in power represents ideology.  Like everything from Joshua forward, we have lots of fodder for conversation.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

1 Sam 1-3

In this selection we move on to the story of Samuel.  It is remarkable how fast the narrative sections of the Bible come and go.  Only one day on Ruth makes sense based on the number of pages, but weird when you consider how much time is spent describing the tabernacle. 

The mother of Samuel is Ana in Spanish and Hannah in English.  Hannah begins the story unable to conceive.  So far in my reading, Sarah was unable to conceive, Gen. 11:20, Rebekah was sterile, but just for like a minute until Isaac prayed that she not be, Gen. 25:21, Rachel was sterile, Gen. 30:22, and the mother of Samson was sterile, Judges 13:2. 

On the plus side, perhaps these passages can challenge the notion that being able to easily conceive children is "normal."  On the downside, these passages clearly suggest that the purpose of womanhood is childbirth.  More ugliness comes with Sarah, Rachel and Hannah all having another woman in the picture who torments them for not being about to conceive.  (Hagar, Leah, and Peninnah, all significantly less popular name, no?)  This picture of women and jealous of each other is some pretty shitty cultural baggage that is carried by the Scripture.  Although, we should not lose sight of the place in the narrative for the forgotten and forsaken. 

[For what it is worth, both Samson mother and Hannah agree to dedicate their boy, if they conceive a son, to YHWH and to not cut his hair.  I makes me wonder if there is some bleeding of stories here, like with Rebekah being unable to have children but for like one verse.]

This passage also contains solid story telling that sparks the mind and the soul.  Hannah's giving up her first son, her miraculously conceived son, is made more touching by the detail that she kept him with her only until he is weaned.  Also, she provides either a three-year-old bull, or three bulls to Shiloh.  So, they are rich. 

Then we have the carousing of Eli's sons.  They are defiling the Lord's house.  Eating meat the wrong way and having sex with the women who tend to the meeting tent.  (Basically, typical preacher's kid behavior.)  Then we have goody-two-shoes Samuel who, in a time when visions are rare, gets a personal call from God.  The refrain "Here I am," or "Aqui estoy," the refrain from Abraham returns.

It feels to me like this section, with Samuel's becoming the new Prophet, means Israel is back.  Or at least on its way back, after the ugly division of Judges.  And, it is weird, because my church experience is to just tell the story of Deborah and Samson, and only the good bits of Samson, from Judges so I think we miss the people losing their way, even after entering the Promised Land, theme.

[Last note: the House of the Lord is in Shiloh during this time.  That happened without much fanfare.  There is a verse in Joshua 18:1 that remarks that they set up the meeting tent in Shiloh as they were sort of regrouping.  The title of the section is literally "Division of the Rest of the Land."  Again, compare to the full month of reading about what to make the candle holders out of.]




Friday, April 07, 2017

Ruth

This selection is the Book of Ruth.  According the NVI introduction, this is a play and serves to nicely bridge the pre-monarch period with the monarch period. 

The following detailing Naomi's daughter-in-law Ruth's devotion to her really is poignant.
Pero Rut respondió:
―¡No insistas en que te abandone o en que me separe de ti!
»Porque iré adonde tú vayas,
y viviré donde tú vivas.
Tu pueblo será mi pueblo,
y tu Dios será mi Dios.
Moriré donde tú mueras,
y allí seré sepultada.
¡Que me castigue el Señor con toda severidad
si me separa de ti algo que no sea la muerte!
Your God will be my God, I will die where you die.  Ruth 1:16-17.

As with Job, the Book of Ruth, seems to challenge a major contention.  In this case, ethnic purity.  King David--and therefore, Jesus btw--has a Moabite in his lineage.  Quite a counter culture reference. 


Thursday, April 06, 2017

Judges 19-21(end of Judges/worse story in the Bible)

Today's selection is the Levite's concubine.  Probably the most horrific story in the Bible.  (Translational note, the same phrase translated as "her master" in NIV is translated as "su marido" in NVI, which is husband, a synonym for "esposo.")

The concubine is unfaithful to the Levite and returns to her father's home.  After a few months he goes to get her back, unclear what has changed.  Her father invites him to stay with him for longer and longer times.  Seems like an homage to Jacob's experience with Leah & Rachel.  Eventually he heads out, passes on staying the night in the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, and stays in a Benjaminite city.

That city very closely replays the events of Sodom.  Perverts want to rape the Levite.  Instead, the old man with who he is staying offers his daughter and the Levite's concubine.  It says the perverts don't listen to this offer, but when the Levite sends out his concubine they rape her all night.

She dies at some point, but not until he disrespects her, yelling at her to get up when he discovers her laying on the doorstep of the house where he is staying.  After she dies--presumably--he cuts her into twelve pieces and sends them to the tribes of Israel.

Then then the tribes of Israel attack the city, reminiscent of this I learned about in Hard Core History, and the story ends with sanctioned kidnapping of Israelite girls by Benjaminites. 

What unholy hell is this story?   According to the author, this is all due to Israel not having a king.  I feel like they could do better even without a king.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Judges 16-18

Chapter 16 is the more familiar passage about Samson.  In addition to Samson's incredible strength, his libido is constantly getting him into trouble.  The patriarchy is present here, of course.  Samson is a hero with a flaw.  The women he sleeps with are garbage.  Either unnamed or the villains.  I don't think promoting the patriarchy is the point of the story, but it gives evidence to a grand cultural flaw.

Nonetheless, a blinded superhero pulling down the columns of a temple to vanquish his enemies, "thus, he killed many more when he died than while he lived," is pretty badass.  I was looking for a serious comparison between Samson & Hercules, but this "debate" about who would win is too entertaining not to pass along.  Note, several respondents indicate that Samson was "a real man."  Seriously?  The weirdest thing is I suspect many of these people read the book of Judges and think it is an accounting of historical events. 

Next is the story of Micah and his priest.  Micah has a shrine full of idols, but seems to be alright with YHWH.  He even essentially hires a Levite to be his priest.  And, he's happy to have a priest of YHWH there.  At this point in judges we start getting the lament: "In those days Israel had not king; everyone did as they saw fit."  Judges 17:6.

The story of Micah concludes with a "to this day" kind of ending.  The Danites are unhappy living so close to the Sidonites.  So they send out some scouts, find a good town to take over.  On the way, they steal all of Micah's riches, commandeer his priest, then destroy the tranquil city far from the Sidonites.  They rebuild it, and that's where they live today.  Descendants of the Levite "were priests for the tribe of Dan until the exile.  They continued to use the idol Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh."  Judges 18:30-31.

So, honestly, pretty entertaining stories.  I like the complexity of these over the stories in Joshua which seem so laden with a moral point to make.  It is also interesting to come across such an explicit reference to the exile for purposes of dating the work.
 

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Judges 13-15

This selection is the less known story of Samson.  It even closes with a "Samson led Israel for 20 years in the days of the Philistines."

As with many of the folk tales, I feel like it is full of rich details worth exploring in discussion.  For example, Samson is from Judah, has a miraculous conception--his mother was sterile--and is dedicated to God as a Nazirite.  Israel, or perhaps specifically Judah, has an archetype for its saviors.

This passage includes riddles and mass slaughter and very confusing marital relationships.  It also has betrayal be a lover--who is not Delilah--and trickery that starts with Samson's being bound.

Interesting note: It's not clear from the text if the Delilah story is presented as a sequel, prequel or perhaps "a Samson Story".  Jumping ahead, it closes with "he led Israel for 20 years."  Presumably the same 20 as at the end of 15.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Judges 10-12

This selection kicks off with a couple of minor heroes.  Tola and Jair who rule for 23 and 22 years respectively.  Okay.  Then we return to the primary vehicle of the book.  The people turn from God and are taken captive or are oppressed.  Then, importantly, they cry out to God.  Emphasized here because God denies them at first.  He's had enough of their nonsense and won't help them any more.

They unilaterally straighten up, getting rid of the false gods, and so God "no pudo soportar mas el sufriemiento de Israel/could bear Israel's misery no longer." 

That's pretty interesting few of God.  Not just changing his mind, but doing so from a place of absolute pity and affection. 

At this point, things are serious.  The enemy has crossed the Jordan and is pushing into Judah.  Jephtah is the next hero.  He is born of a prostitute and thrown out by his fathers sons from his wives.  Reminds me of Ishmael.  He lives in the wilderness and leads a band of scoundrels. 

So, the bastard scoundrel becomes king and starts off sending a message to politely ask the foreigners to leave his country.  Then, Henry V style, he responds to their declining to do so with an epic list of his powerful god, YHWH.  My favorite line, "Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you?"  Judegs 11:24.  Jephtah must not have been clued into the radical monotheism yet.

He also makes the never to go wrong pledge to sacrifice the first thing he sees upon return to his home if God delivers the enemy into his hands.  Dude, he's going to do that any way.  Of course, his only child, his daughter meets him. 

Unlike Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, Jephtah's daughter is willing to be sacrificed to allow Jephtah to keep his vow.  She asks only to have two months with her female friends in the mountains--since she has never married.  Thus, to this day, Israelite girls spend four days in the wilderness to commemorate this unnamed character.

I found this interesting collection of other such stories in the Bible and in other contexts.   Frankly, although rarely as deliberate, is it that rare for parents to make commitments that lead to the untimely death of their children?

The story of Jephthah actually ends in a civil war with Ephraim.  The Gileadites kill 42,000 Ephraimites trying to sneak across the Jordan, who were discovered because they could not pronounce the word "Shibboleth" properly.  (Interestingly enough, the 'th' diphthong at the end of the word is one of the translational differences between English & Spanish, so the NVI has "Shibolet")

The selection closes with a list of three short lived leaders, who "led Israel," for ten years or less each.


Sunday, April 02, 2017

Judges 9

Judges 9 is about Abimelech.  This is quite a complex story that reminds me of an Arthurian legend.  Gideon had 70 children with many wives, and at least one with his concubine: Abimelech.  Abimelech suggests that he should be king, and then to make sure that it stays that way, he goes ahead and kills the other 70 children of Gideon.  Except Jotham, who escapes.

Then there is a complex series of battles between Abimelech and some rebels.  He has victories including burning the occupants of a tower alive.  He is ultimately mortally wounded by a woman at a city gate and quickly has his squire kill him so it can't be said he was killed by a woman. 

It really sounds like it jumped right out of Canterbury tales.  Weirdly, it reads medieval with the towers and siege warfare etc.  And, obviously I'm projecting my world view.  In a way, it serves as a cautionary tale for me along those lines.

Interesting note:  You may remember Schechem from earlier.  He is the son of Hamor who either raped Dinah, per Gen. 34, or was Dinah's true love, per Oprah book club certified The Red Tent.  It appears the city came back from the attack.  Lastly, you may remember a couple of other Abimelechs scattered through out Genesis.  As my pastor informed me, the term just means "my father is the king." 

Judges 6-8

Gideon is a great folk tale.  First, you have Gideon requiring God to perform miracles, but not to see how powerful God is, just, you know, to confirm it's really God.  Then, after they raise the army, God keeps having Gideon send people home until there is only 300 to fight the "Midianites, Amalekits, and others from the east."  Ultimately, he splits up in the three groups of 100, surround them while they are sleeping and makes it seem as if a massive force is attacking them. Thusly, God delivers them into Gideon's hands.  This story includes a couple of times the battle cry, "For the Lord, and for Gideon" as they charge.  Interesting.

Then Gideon chases down the kings of Midian.  He does not get help from the elders of Sucoth and Peniel.  So, after capturing the kings, he comes back through those territories and takes vengeance on those folks.  And, in case you didn't have enough of a Soprano's feel from Gideon, we have this scene.
19 And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the Lord liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you.

20 And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth.

21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks.

Gideon actually turns down being king, but does have everyone make him an ephod.  An ephod that is ultimately worship as idol.  So weirdly seems like a mixed bag for Gideon.

Also, his kids do NOT get along.




Saturday, April 01, 2017

Judges 5 (Song of Deborah)

Well, I messed up my schedule last night.  I stopped at Chapter 5 instead of reading through chapter 5.  Just as well because the Song of Deborah deserves its own space.  First, it is interesting to me because it gives much more detail, despite being in verse, about who did and did not fight against "the kings of Canaan," Judges 5:19.  Here's a visual summary of verses 13 through 18.

So, some folks stayed home while others risked their life.  There is a similar description of the battle and the river Kishon.  Also, more feminist bits.  For one, the period is described as "In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael."  Judges 5:6.  So, not just Deborah as the major Judges, but Jael the general slayer defines the age in some respect. 

NB: The Song of Deborah dates to the twelfth century BCE, according to my NIB commentary.  The commentary notes that the archaic Hebrew makes translation very difficult in several places.

Last remark, the following lament spoken by the enemy's mother has always struck me as so emotionally complex.
28 “Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
29 The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’

Friday, March 31, 2017

Judges 3:7-4

First up is Othniel from Judah.  He's related to earlier great guy Caleb.  He delivered the Israelites out of 8 years of bondage and into 40 years of piece.

Next Ehud from Benjamin.  He delivered the Israelites from 18 years of bondage at the hands of the Moabite king aided by Amorites and Amelekites.  This stories contains lots of yucks about  this super fatty of a Moabite king.  After Ehud killed him and subjugated the Moabites, there were 80 years of piece.

Shamgar kills 600 Philistines, which is pretty good, but no more details than that.

Then we get to some seriously cold hearted shit.  The Israelites were oppressed for 20 years by Jabin, a king of Canaan and his General Sisera.  ao, Deborah, who hold court in Ephraim under the Palms of Deborah.  She enlists Barak who is Nephtali to raise a 10,000 men between his crew and the Zebulun folks to rid themselves of these 900-iron-chariot having mother fuckers.  Thing is, Deborah figures out theses chariots are for shit in the mud, so she tells Barak to lure them into the Wadi Kishon.  They beat the army, but the general escapes.  He runs to his girl Jael, who is a Kenite--but what he doesn't know is that these Kenites go all the way back to the father-in-law of Moses.  So, while he's sleeping she drives a fricking tent stake into his temple.  She find Barak and basically says, "Hey baby, I left you a present inside of my tent."

Tomorrow we do the musical version of Deborah.

Here's where today's warlords are from (PS, can "Barack's Army" become a thing?):

click to enlarge.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Judges 1-3:6 (Intro)

The book of Judges opens up with a little intro about precisely what work was left undone by the Joshua Generation.  It specifically lists all of the indigenous people who were left within the Promised Land after the Israelite's campaign. 

In fact, after explaining that YHWH let the other people stay in the Promise Land as punishment for their disobedience, Jueces 2:1-4 (which I have to tell you feels suspicious to me because God's angel doesn't list any specific unpunished disobedience, but you know), we get this transition passage that alerts us to a new era:
After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger
Jueces 2:10-12.  The introduction closes noting the God did not abandon the people but instead would raise up judges from time to time to bring the people back to him.  Those judges, spoiler alert, were only ever temporarily successful.

Interesting note:  The NVI uses the term "caudillos" to describe the heroes described in this book in the intro, although notes that they are traditionally referred to a "jueces" and will use the term from here on out.  According to google, caudillos = warlords.  Jueces, of course, is judges.  The NIV on the other hand points out that "leaders" may be a better translation, or at least an alternate. 


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Josh. 22-24 (the end)

The book of Joshua wraps up, naturally enough, with the death of Joshua.  Joshua is laid to rest in the land of Ephraim, his ancestral connection.  Joshua dies at the age of 110.  Josh. 24:29.  Compare with Moses who died at 120.  Deut. 34:7.  Interestingly, 120 was given as the max age of humans after God stepped in to break up the whole Sons of God-Daughters of Humans intermarrying thing.  Gen. 6:1-3.  I mean, it says that, but then Abraham lives to be 175, Gen. 25:7.  So, who are you going to believe?

There is some other business in this passage providing evidence that we don't get every story that the readers/hearers of this story had.  At Josh. 24:9-10 we hear this about our good friend Balaam:
When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
That is not the story that we have in our Bible.  In our story, he never curses the Israelites and tell Balak that he ain't gonna do it.  There is nothing earthshattering about this.  There were different versions of these stories that circulated.

Also, interrupting the nice bring this storying to a close vibe, there was a big conflict over the altar built by the Transjordan tribes.  Interestingly enough, it was Phineas, son of Eleazar, grandson of Aaron, who lead the other 10 tribes against them.  Which means Manasseh was against itself, btw.  Anyway, the Transjordan tribes convinced the other 10 that this was devotion to YHWH and not rebellion. So, it was all cool.  Point: God didn't lead the action against the Transjordan tribes.  Point: The other 10 lead by Phineas changed their minds.

Finally, chapter 24 serves as neat litany of where we've been.  There is even a call and response where Joshua is like, "Nah, you don't love the Lord," and the people are all like, "We so love the Lord!"  They do this three times for you fans of upcoming Easter pageants.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Josh. 19-21 (LOTR ending)

This selection is the penultimate reading for the book of Joshua.  However, Chapter 21 closes with this:
43 So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
                                    ***
43 Así fue como el Señor les entregó a los israelitas todo el territorio que había prometido darles a sus antepasados; y el pueblo de Israel se estableció allí. 44 El Señor les dio descanso en todo el territorio, cumpliendo así la promesa hecha años atrás a sus antepasados. Ninguno de sus enemigos pudo hacer frente a los israelitas, pues el Señor entregó en sus manos a cada uno de los que se les oponían. 45 Y ni una sola de las buenas promesas del Señor a favor de Israel dejó de cumplirse, sino que cada una se cumplió al pie de la letra.

Then, the book goes on for three more chapters, which reminded me of the ending to the LOTR movies.

This image seems pretty close to me.  Notice Simeon is inside of Judah.  Reminds me of the Hopi and Navajo land.





Monday, March 27, 2017

Josh. 16-18 (governing is not conquering)

Although not as detailed, the separation and description of territory for the Israelites serves the same literary function (challenge?) as the description of ritual served during the exodus.  It is interesting how quickly the story details cracks in the idea of absolute war in which the enemy was absolutely destroyed. 

Already, there was the story of the wood workers and water carriers who were evidently not Israelite.  Then, in the cities of Mennaseh and Ephraim there are still Canaanites.  Sure, they're enslaved by the power Israelites, but they are still there.  When they complain to Joshua about not enough territory, his response is for them to man up and take the territory in the forest still held by the enemy.  Recall, that is exactly what Caleb did.

We are seeing the divisions that will be featured in the book of Judges. 


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Josh. 12-15 (retrun of the Israelites)

So, Joshua's time in the spotlight seems remarkably short.  We are already to essentially his epilogue.  This selection includes a listing of the kings they conquered, including Og, uno de los últimos refaítas (the Rephaites may be giants descended from the Nephilim).  The author is careful to give Moses credit for the east of Jordan conquests--respect.  Then there is a bit of listing: the 31 kings they conquered and the splitting up of territory.

This selection also sets up what is to come identifying particularly the Philistines as a people yet to conquer.  And there is a bit of action when 85-year-old Caleb goes to see his long-time brother in arms Joshua, and gets permission to kick the Anakites--the giants that Caleb & Joshua, unlike the other spies, were not afraid of--out of the Promised Land.

He does so, employing the time honored technique of promising his daughter in marriage to the man who conquers the last city.  His nephew does it and so he sends his daughter to marry her first cousin which everyone is perfectly cool with.  He even gives them some land in Negev and the upper and lower spring.  So . . .

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Josh. 9-11(Conquistadores)

Chapter 9 explains the presence of an indigenous minority in the Kingdom of Israel.  The Gibeonites, who we all know as wood cutters and water carriers, tricked the Israelites into believing they were from a far away kingdom as Joshua troops advanced from Jericho.  So, Joshua entered into a treaty with them--without consulting with God, p.s.--and when it was discovered they were practically neighbors, it was too late to reverse the treaty.  That's why Gibeonites are there even today.

Chapters 10 & 11 detail Joshua's military victories.  Notably, that time when the sun stood still for almost a day.  "There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when YHWH listened to a human being.  Surely YHWH was fighting for Israel!"  Josh. 10:14.  So, I guess those football prayers are worth a shot. 

By the end of Chapter 11, Joshua has completely destroyed the Northern and Southern rulers of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.  This period features uncharacteristic obedience on the part of the Israelites and their ruler. 

These stories demonstrate a longing for cultural, maybe even racial, "purity" that is pretty troubling. Particularly in light of the fact that unlike those telling these stories who never possessed the power fantasized about here, modern Israelis and their American allies do have the power to completely wipe out the occupants of the "Promised Land."  Is that happening now?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Josh. 5-8

This passage begins with a powerful reversing of the exodus.  They have just crossed the Jordan, made dry by God, and now they restore the tradition of circumcision.  Then they celebrate Passover; then the manna from heaven stops--because they don't need it anymore. 

Then there is the battle for Jericho.  The battle is a cool narrative about obedience to God, courage in the face of danger and having faith in a miracle.  It also contains details of killing every man, woman and child inside of the city except the Prostitute Rahab.  (btw, it's not clear to me how the Israelites felt about prostitution in general.  I know a Levites daughter can't be a prostitute, but that sort of begs the question about who can be a prostitute.)

The need for obedience is emphasized further with the story of Achor.  He hid some spoils of war and brought them back.  Because of this person's disobedience, God turns his back on the Israelites and they loses what should be an easy battle.  Achor is stoned to death, which explains the big pile of stones still there to this day.  These passages, as I recall, are littered with "which is still there to this day" type stories.

Don't worry, they rally and go back to destroy Ai.  The passage ends with Joshua restoring the covenant to Mount Ebal and writing the blessing and curses that Moses told him too.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Josh. 1-4(the good stuff)

In the first chapter of Joshua, we start off with the Big Promised Land, from Mediterranean to the Euphrates.  Josh. 1:4; see also e.g. Deut. 11:24 We also get a big pep talk from the Trans Jordan tribes who are all in to help conquer the Little Promised Land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. 

Then we get into some great Bible stories.  Chapter 2 is about Rahab, the prostitute who hid the Israelite spies.  The Israelites promise not to forget her when they return since she was helpful to them.  Maybe we should call the movement to help Iraqis who served as translators the Rahab Project.  The story is well told with details about where the spies hid.  Also, like Balaam, Rahab seems to at least respect YHWH despite not being Israelite.

Chapter 3 and 4 deal with crossing the Jordan.  This time, it is the priests carrying the Arc of the Covenant that cause the waters to separate.  The author cannot help but remind us that this is very similar to when God parted the Red Sea.  Again, interesting description, like describing the water as "the water from upstream stopped flowing.  It piled up in a heap a great distance away at a town called Adam."  Josh. 3:16. 

On our way to Jericho.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Deut. 32-34 (the end) Ps. 91

Here we have the song of Moses.  It is longer than the song of Moses provided immediately following the crossing of the Jordan, and much longer that Miriam's song.  Compare.  Describing the Lord as "My Rock and My Salvation" and as "My Refuge" are something I've come to hear often in churches today. The latter comes from Psalm 91 also.  Otherwise, Moses' song has three point (1) God is Awesome, (2) the Israelites will sin and be punished, and (3) God will be there when they repent. 

We also have Moses' blessings for the tribes of Israel.  Unlike Jacob's blessings, Moses' are all positive.  No memory about who defiled whose father's bed or killed a bunch of people as revenge for their sister's romance/rape.  The order of the tribes is interesting.  Reuben, Judah, Levi.  Okay, makes sense, but then skips to Benjamin then Joseph.  Kids of the wives, I suppose, but why Benjamin first.  then Zubulun (with Issachar as an after thought), Gad Dan, Naphtali and finally Asher.  Asher does get kind of a badass blessing, "the bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days."  Feels kind of steampunk. 

Finally, the book of Deuteronomy closes.  You can practically hear the music swell as they bury Moses and mourn for him for thirty days.  Then the camera pans to Joshua who has been anointed by Moses.  Moses, the greatest Prophet Israel has ever known.  Now, it is time for a warrior. 

In reality, I'm about to start reading about lists of people who were killed, including women and children. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Deut. 30-31

Today's selection lays out some important principles that are carried forward in Christianity today.  First is the notion of repentance.  After you've received the curses described above, if you repent and return to obedience then you will be blessed again.  Second, it is your choice.  You can decide to follow the path of life or the path of death.  Now, this passage is addressed to the People rather than to people.  But the idea of free will to choses whether to be blessed or cursed remains in Christian theology.  Finally, it is a question of heart and soul, not just outward action.  The passage returns again and again to the idea of holding the law in your heart and soul.  The actions are necessary, but as manifestation of where you heart is.

I hear Jesus' teaching in Deuteronomy especially.  The dual notion of obedience and faithfulness seems particularly familiar to me.

Today's selection closes with the turnover to Joshua.  I've written about this before.  [Here and here]  But I think this transition of leadership just has a very poignant touch.  I can't help but speculate that the authors remembered those who died while in Babylonian exile yearning to sing their songs of Zion once more. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Deut. 28-29

Before Moses renews the covenant made at Mt. Sinai in Horeb, we get the promise of blessings following obedience to the Law, but then we get another round of curses.  Unlike the curses before, which seem focused on the behavior that will bring the curse, we get a graphic description of what "will" happen to the nation if it is disobedient.
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.

53 Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities.
Deut. 28:49-57.  Within the limits of my layman's exposition, this seems to be the vivid cultural memory of what conquest prior to exile was like, of the horrors of siege warfare in the first millennium BCE.  The terrifying presence of a foreign power speaking a language you do not understand.  The reference to cannibalism and the complete suffering that destroys even familial love strikes an intense tone.

Perhaps more so that the intervening centuries of evolving language and culture, this gap of shared experience makes Scripture difficult for the modern American reader.  I watched the movie Lion this week.  It is an amazing film that works hard to put you behind the eyes of a helpless one from the unthinkable poverty of India.  It is a worthy but unsettling practice to project oneself into such places, I think.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Deut. 24-27

This section closes out the laws with miscellaneous requirements and instructions on giving.

The selection contains some things I like, how to care for the poor and how to avoid excessive burden on a borrower, and some things I'm not found of, like how to throw away your wife if she is unpleasing to you.  For the most part, it gives insight into what was important to Israelites.

The admonitions regarding tithing and first fruits it gives the context that we still use today.  God has given you everything, you should give some back.

Then, we switch back to the curses and blessings as sort of the close out of the document.  This time with the people saying "Amen," to each of the behaviors that will bring about a curse.  A service of blessings and curses seems unlikely to be popular in modern churches.  Although, I am reminded of Luke's formulation of the Sermon on the Plain, which includes both Blessed are . . . and Woe to those . . .


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Deut. 21-23 (law, fascinating)

The listing of the law continues, but it is unusually interesting.

First, we have the procedure for atoning for a murder when you don't know who committed the murder.  Deut. 21: 1-9.  What I find fascinating here is how seriously the Israelites took the notion of retribution.  As in, a sin creates a societal debt that must be paid.

Second, we have the awful laws about rape & conquest.  Deut. 21:10-14; 22:13-30.  I think one thing that interests me about these is from where did they come?  The patriarchy is real, but is it conscious?  Is the point of these laws to oppress women?  Maybe.  Here's a passage about how to terrify children into obedience at Deut. 21:18-21.  There is natural selection at work in societies that formulate such mechanisms of control, yes?

Third, what about the weird "kindnesses" sprinkled throughout.  Do not return a slave to his master when seeking refuge, Deut. 23:15.  Do not sell the captured woman into slavery, but let her go free if you don't want here, Deut. 21:14.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Deut. 17-20

In addition to admonition against worshiping other gods, this selection discusses legal procedure.  For example, it talks about using law courts, witnesses and sanctuary cities again.  Fascinating how often these come up.  The ancient Hebrew code always requires an investigation and, before someone is put to death, at least two eye witnesses.  So, it is not like they are worried about rehabilitation, but they are more worried about wrongful conviction than modern criminal justice, it seems.

The selection includes some weird things for Moses to discuss, like what to do when they have a king, something that won't happen for generations per the narrative, and what to do when warring with fair away nations (make a peace offering) as compared to those nearby (kill them all and let God sort them out).  This causes me to note how silly it is to think that anyone before 1900 thought these were literally the words of Moses.  At least in the sense that we use the term literally.  Really, before entering the Promised Land, Moses was warning them about what to do generations later when they have a king?

I do want to note a couple more passages quoted by Jesus.  Deut. 18:21-22 and 19:21.

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.
Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Deut. 14-16 (day 75)

We're back to small ball, individual rules for a while now.  Right out of the gate we have an interesting translation choice.  En español: Eres hijo del Señor tu Dios.  But in English: You are the children of the Lord your God.  Not the same thing, IMHO.

In describing the tithe, Deuteronomy allows an exception for those living far from the temple to sell animals & crops and use the money for the tithe.  Probably a favorite scripture of certain money changers that will be featured prominently later.

Israel First: According to Deuteronomy, the Jubilee Year applies only to domestic debt.

The festivals are repeated.  Passover, Festival of Weeks, Festival of the Tabernacle.

Also, cooking a goat in its mother's milk must be delicious.  Feels like it is prohibited as often as not consuming the blood of an animal.

Interesting note: I missed a Promised Land definition last reading, " su territorio se extenderá desde el desierto hasta el monte Líbano, y desde el río Éufrates hasta el mar Mediterráneo"/"Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea."  Deut. 11:24.

Finally, this is the seventy-fifth consecutive day of devotion for me.  I am thinking I might actually keep up the practice all year.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Deut. 12-13 (Beginning of the Law)

Chapter 12 is a real blow to multiculturalism.  It closes with this admonition, just in case one finds oneself outside of the Promised Land in some sort of exile or something:
The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.
Reminds me of my Grandmother.  She told me that her mother claimed nuns ate little children.  Ha ha, she never believed it.  But her mother did say it, so ....  There is also the discussion of destroying all of the places of worship used by those in the land they are about to invade.  This reminds me of invaders doing exactly this in recent history.  Either because they thought religion in general was evil or because they despised everyone else's religion. 

Chapter 13 continues this theme, requiring death for anyone who worships another god.  You are to show them no mercy. 
12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt,
In the face of such virulent, violent, religious absolutism, I present two arguments for mitigation.  First, the historical argument.  Everyone was doing it.  Or at least anyone small and weak was doing it.  When put in context is there room to give them credit for their two efforts to avoid misuse--requiring a thorough investigation and prohibiting anyone from profiting from the destruction?  Second, they were weak.  I believe the moral culpability associated with a people on the verge of cultural extinction resorting to such tactics is less than that of a powerful culture in the process of assimilating the conquered.  Although, of course, if you take the narrative on its face, Israel was about to be the latter.

An important question for me is whether devotion to God moved the people away from such practices of intolerance.  I'm sure many readers will find this an absurd suggestion, but I would point out that we have seen atheist nationalism in the very recent past resort to cultural destruction.  Of course, atheist enlightenment deserves credit for tolerance supported by rationalism. 

Deut. 11 (closing the opening)

The introduction to the Law closes out with a reminder about some of the people God has killed in spectacular ways for coming against God's people: Pharaoh's Army and the Reubenites who sided against Moses & Aaron.  For the first, YHWH swallowed them up with water, for the second YHWH swallowed them up with the ground. 

It then details how the Israelites must keep the laws and commandments at all times.  They should write them on their door posts and have signs on their foreheads.  But also, it should be written in their hearts and they should love God with their heart and soul and keep his commandments.

The notion that "a people" and "people" are transformed by God is one that persists today.  Furthermore, in my understanding of Judaism--and FWIW Islam--a major mechanism of that transformation is fidelity to walking in the way.  You can see the beginnings of saved by works or faith in this passage.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Deut. 8-10

I do think my Spanish is improving as a result of this exercise, but it remains mental work to read the Bible in a foreign language. Hence, I get super excited when I come across this: no solo de pan vive el hombre, sino de todo lo que sale de la boca del Señor. Deut. 8:3.  Christians will remember this from what Jesus puts to the Tempter after his first temptation.  Moses recounts frequently that he went up in the mountain for forty days & forty nights waiting to hear from God.  See, e.g., Deut. 9:9.

This selection also contains a slightly different formulation of "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength," as follows:

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?


Deut. 10:12-13.  It's similar, but different, right?

Finally, as compared to the story in Exodus, what happened with the golden calf is whitewashed a bit.  Compare Ex. 32:20 & Deut. 9:21:
And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
# # # 
Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.
Also, no mention of killing 3000 people indiscriminately and whatnot.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Deut. 5-7 (Big Ten Reboot)

This selection includes the Ten Commandments, complete with commentary; the famous admonition to Love the Lord your God with All your Heart, Soul and Mind; and direction to kill everyone and everything encountered in the Land of Canaan.

There are a couple of differences between Deut. 5 and Ex. 20 besides the slight rewording of the commandments.  Exodus includes Aaron, Deuteronomy does not.  Also, in Exodus the people seem to want to come up the mountain and Moses warns them away.  In Deuteronomy the people are scared, although they do hear the words God speaks.  Those seem to me to be important differences of emphasis--particularly with regard to how special the priests are.

With the greatest commandment, formulated in the NIV as--Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength--it seems to me that we return to the idea of YHWH is the best god, rather than the only god.  That could just be that it would be cumbersome to keep saying, "don't worship the other gods--which are fake gods--because out god is the best god and the only god."

Finally, we have the genocide mandate.  Like with the stories about killing the man while having sex with a non-Isrealite, we have modern equivalents of invaders indiscriminately killing current occupants of land and destroying the culture.  Now, I believe this is a story to establish Hebrew purity and to deny a mixed ancestry rather than literally instructions that were about to be carried out.  Still, it is heart breaking to read in the holy text. 


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Deut. 3-4

The Readers' Digest version of the exodus continues in these two chapters, leading up to the Ten Commandments.  It does read like a stand alone work.  And, I agree with the commentators, it reads like a speech and is well written. I think it more engaging that the similar, more detailed, passages in the Priestly texts.

It captures the history of God being angry and then forgiving the Hebrews over and over.  The passage on idolatry is interesting because it does seem to suggest that what the Muslims say is right.  You are not supposed to make images of anything in heaven or on earth.  Although, there is some wiggle room because it does reference worshiping those things.
15 You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. 20 But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.
Also, the radical monotheism seems to be in place to me. God is not just the best God, but "There is no other."  Deut. 4:39. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Deut. 1-2 (recap & revise)

Today's text starts with some highlights from the exodus.  It reminds the reader that God commanded the Hebrews to leave Horeb.  It recounts appointing of leaders--which is key because it establishes the authority of rulers, right?  From a narrative point of view, how important is it to remember that God told Moses to get helpers?

It recounts sending spies and reminds the Israelites that because they were cowardly, God made them go back to wander in the desert.  It also recounts the loss to the Amorites when some faction of God's people ignored God's punishment.  No quick fixes.

Then, it tells about how they were granted passage through Edomite territory.  Deut. 2:8.  This reflects a changed attitude toward the Edomites as compared to that held with Numbers was written.  in Numbers, the Edomites turn the Israelites away.  Num. 20:21

Those who worship the Bible as an idol and make claims of its inerrancy attempt to reconcile these two passages by claiming that at first the Edomites said no and then they said yes.  There is no account of a reconsideration by the descendants of Esau.  Instead, the Bible collects two accounts from God's people about the exile.  It will be a pattern that we see often, not just in myth like the two creation stories, but in historical accounts. 

In service of the heresy of Bible-worship misnamed "literalists" weirdly ignore the text of the Bible.  They create a third version of events to keep their made up contention that the words in the Bible are inerrant, instead of recognizing the Bible for what it is and considering the reasons for the differing accounts.  There, I said it.

In their defense, the scientists maintaining the notions that heavenly bodies move in perfect circles worked really hard to maintain their silly notions too.


BONUS: Dating Deuteronomy

With a new book falling on a Saturday, I pulled a couple of commentaries off the shelf before diving into the reading.  Just like the Gospels each have a unique perspective that informs our reading of them in modern time, so do the books of the Old Testament.  Deuteronomy, it seems is a part of a polished Hebrew tradition, likely rooted originally in the reign of King Josiah around 600 BCE. 

The book is connected with Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings (aka "Former Prophets") that can be called the Deuteronomic history "because they explicitly presuppose a tradition of divinely given law by which events and persons are judged." 

The work, however, was clearly edited significantly during the Babylonian exile, and even refers to it within the next.  This creates the very interesting juxtaposition of a work explicitly describing the people of God preparing to enter the Promised Land for the first time, with the people of God preparing to return to the Promised Land after exile. 

Sources: New Interpreter's Study Bible, Introduction Book of Deuteronomy, Ronald E. Clements (1998); The Old Testament World, Legal Texts, John W. Rogerson and Philip R. Davies (1989)  *Old, I know, but it is very hard to search the internet for reliable Biblical commentary.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Num. 35-36 (the end)

The end of Numbers (not to be confused with The End of Certainty which is one of those obscure books you read that entirely transforms your world view) is pretty fascinating to me as a lawyer.  Chapter 35 deals with Refugee Cities and the death penalty.  Chapter 36 deals with how to handle an inheritance when (1) due to lack of male heir land passes to female tribe members and (2) said female tribe member marry into a different tribe.

It demonstrates that these societies were dealing with complex things like evidence and exceptions.  It allows you to see the core values underpinning a community permeate their legal code.  So, the daughters of Zelophehad could "marry anyone they please," but only "as long as they marry within their father's tribal clan," Num. 36:6.  Which is interesting in a couple of ways.  One way is that you seem to in fact have these pretty powerful land owning ladies.  Further indicated by the fact that the author note that they complied with this requirement latter.  Num. 36:10-11 (where the daughters are named).  But also, you have this overriding value of patriarchy because the land went to their husbands, and keeping the tribal inheritance intact--which is also the point of the Jubilee.  Indeed, the question was not posed from the perspective of immediate transfer of land, but in the context of the Jubilee. 

The other big message for me is the care we should take in reaching back to Biblical legal systems.  We currently have a debate about Sanctuary Cities in the United States.  Those cities are entirely unrelated to the Sanctuary Cities in Numbers.  In Numbers, they are a place where a man accused of killing someone could await trial in safety.  P.S. if he leaves that city and the "avenger of blood" encounters him, the accused can be killed without penalty to the avenger.  Num. 35:26-27.  Not our system.  Also not our system, two witnesses are required before you put someone to death.  Num. 35:30.  In law school I worked on a death penalty case where there was literally zero physical evidence, let alone any eye-witness account.  Zero.

The point being, there is stuff for everyone to be happy with in Biblical legal systems because they are different, not more or less strict, then our code.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Num. 34 (Promised Land)

Only one chapter for today because I read an extra one yesterday.  The point of this chapter is to describe the boundaries of the Promised Land and appoint leaders of each of the twelve tribes.  Here's the description of the land--which is the most detailed so far--provided by today's reading.


34 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance is to have these boundaries:

3 “‘Your southern side will include some of the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. Your southern boundary will start in the east from the southern end of the Dead Sea, 4 cross south of Scorpion Pass, continue on to Zin and go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, 5 where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Mediterranean Sea.

6 “‘Your western boundary will be the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This will be your boundary on the west.

7 “‘For your northern boundary, run a line from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hor 8 and from Mount Hor to Lebo Hamath. Then the boundary will go to Zedad, 9 continue to Ziphron and end at Hazar Enan. This will be your boundary on the north.

10 “‘For your eastern boundary, run a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham. 11 The boundary will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Galilee. 12 Then the boundary will go down along the Jordan and end at the Dead Sea.

“‘This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.’”

As you may recall, I've been trying to keep track of other descriptions of the Promised Land.  Sometimes it is just a description of the people who's land they will be taking.


So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites
Or
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites
But other times, it is more detailed, and much bigger.
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites


Or
I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you
Here's a link to each of the above descriptions.

I wonder why it changes.  I wonder how Zionists feel about these descriptions.  The internet provides something called "Greater Israel" which is a little nerve wracking.


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Num. 31-33 (War! or at least battle)

These three chapters deal first with vengeance against the Midianites.  That means that a thousand Israelites from each of the twelve tribes go conquer Midian. Who, as you will recall, are a people of Abraham.  They kill all of the men and bring back the women and children.  Of course, they then need to kill all of the boys and any women who is not a virgin.  (Here, explicitly a virgin, not just a young women.)

Before the guidance for more genocide, we have a little story about how Gad, Reuben & half of Manasseh end up living on the non-Promised Land side of the Jordan.

My viewing of this story, and the genocidal narratives that will follow, is tempered by these thoughts.  Did these events, or anything like them ever happen?  What does it mean to have a tale like this told by the oppressed as compared to a similar tale told by the oppressors?  If someone who is imprisoned tells you a story of when he had power, how does that hit your ear as opposed to one who is currently empowered?


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Num. 28-30

It's back to laws and rituals today.  I do love the importance on annual festivals.  This time we have a list of daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices.  As my pastor remarked in our bi-monthly podcast, the Scripture establishes a holy rhythm to life.  Then we get the big festivals.  As a cultureless WASP this makes me think of the role St. Patrick's Day plays in my wife's family with a bit of envy.

"The accompanying drink offering is to be a quarter of a hin of fermented drink with each lamb. Pour out the drink offering to the Lord at the sanctuary."  Num. 28:7.  This pouring out a drink for the Lord is repeated for each offering. How connected is this to the practice today of pouring a drink for a fallen friend?  Seriously, I wonder.  Is there a direct connection, or is it just that drink evokes celebration which leads to remembering?

Chapter 30 is all about how women's vows are not really valid unless affirmed by their father or husband.  And, what to do if you have a vow made while she was living with her father, but shortly before she was transferred to her husband.  The most horrible thing about treating women as subhuman is how long the practice has continued.  "States' deprivation of married women's right to contract was judicially condoned through at least the mid-1900s."  This article, starting at page 25.  David P. Weber, Restricting the Freedom of Contract: A Fundamental Prohibition, Yale Human Rights and Development L.J., Feb. 2014. 


Monday, March 06, 2017

Num. 26-27 (buried in data)

Numbers 26 is another census.  First, my ability to accurately translate large numbers from Spanish to English remains less than perfect. Second, it is interesting the little recaps that are snuck into these numbers.  In recounting the numbers of the first born, Reuben, it notes that about 250 of them were swallowed up in the ground when they rebelled with the Levites.  Num. 26:10.  For Judah, the most numerous tribe now, it notes that a couple of his sons did not make it out of Canaan into Egypt (Er & Onan).  Num. 26:19.  Although not noted, it demonstrates that the older son of Joseph, Manasseh has more numbers than the younger son Ephraim.  This is a swap that happened during the wanderings captured in Numbers and seems to contradict the blessing Jacob/Israel gave to the fathers.  Finally, in counting the Levites, we learn that Moses, Aaron & Miriam are the children of the daughter of a Levite, but it appears their father is not a Levite. Num. 26:58-59.  And, of course, we're reminded of the profane fire that Aaron's kids used that one time. Num. 26:60-61.

God tells Moses to use these numbers to apportion the land--which makes the Ephraim Manasseh thing more interesting.  This seems a little "cart before the horse" since they do not yet have the land.  But, I guess planning is important.

Also, the total number is only down 2000, which is impressive because just in 25:9 we have a record of God Godself killing 24,000 of them with a plague.  Also impressive because none of those, except Caleb, Joshua, and Moses left with them out of Egypt.  Num. 25:63-65.

Pause here: I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but the notion that none of those who start the journey finish the journey is a hella metaphor and not just for interstellar travel.

Then Chapter 27 has a huge legal point.  If an Israelite dies without a living son, his property is inherited by his daughter.  If no children, it goes to the Israelite's brother.  So, basically a women's rights movement here.

Finally, at the end of this chapter, God tells Moses to turn things over to Joshua.  Joshua will consult with Eleazar who will consult with God via the Urim. There's a lot going on there.  Peaceful transition of power, changing of roles, and a prediction about the bloody battles that are on the horizon.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Num. 23-25 (foreigners)

Part of the work done by the Torah is settle arguments that we don't have any more. One of the those arguments is the relationship between El and YHWH. I've pointed out a passage before that tries to say they are the same God, but there still exist remnants from the Elohimists and the Yahwehists, even visible to the untrained eye reading the Scripture in a modern language. 

I mention that because we have a weird pair of stories. On the one hand, we have Balaam. A priest of Yehweh, or Elohim, or maybe he can just talk to them. Here's a neat little piece examining the ideas noting that "As modern scholarship and the biblical text both demonstrate, the convergence between Yhwh and El in the minds of ancient Israelites already took place in biblical times." Anyway, thing is, non-Hebrew who is a good guy and passes along God's message.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Israelites are being seduced, literally and figuratively, by those dirty Midianites. (Whores!) And so they are worship Baal of Peor. Gross. They end up with a plague that is finally ended when Phineas drives a spear through an Israelite and his Midianite lover. Evidently impaling them while in the act.  [UPDATE 3/7: Midianites are descendants of Abraham by his wife after Sarah.  Gen. 25:1-2.]

Presumably the deal here is that Baal doesn't make the cut, but El (or YHWH not sure who adopted whom) did.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't know that the scene of a people celebrating a figure for murdering someone for inter-tribal marriage is pretty upsetting. It reminds me of the violent oppression of racial minorities in this country not so long ago.  Nothing profound to say about it other that to identify it as awful.


Saturday, March 04, 2017

Num. 21-22 (story time)

Chapter 21 reads like a bunch of stuff that the ancient editors were like, "Yeah, that should go in."

  • A Canaanite king attacks Israelites and so God destroys his cities, boom! Num. 21:1-3
  • Israelites get bitchy again, so God sends poisonous snakes, but then tells them about this trick where you put a snake on a pole, and then everyone bitten by a poisonous snake lives.  Num. 21:4-9
  • The Israelites kick a little Amorite ass Num. 21:21-31
  • The Israelites beat another king Num. 21:32-33

Then Chapter 22 gets into the cool story of Balaam and his ass.  Balaam seems to be a prophet of God.  Which is weird because he is not Israelite as near as I can tell.  Reminds me of Melchilzedek, Gen 14:18, also not Hebrew but evidently a priest of the Most High God.

Here's a link to the super weird story about an angel of the Lord standing by to kill Balaam, but luckily his donkey stops him from getting killed, then eventually speaks and tells him as much.  (P.S. the whole "only say what I tell you bit," was provided by God Godself right before crazy-donkey story.   

Friday, March 03, 2017

Num. 18-20

The priesthood is a gift 18:7; all the first born are theirs 18:14-16; no land or inheritance 18:20-24; tithe on your tithe 18:25 (probably one of the most consistent tithes); One becomes impure while making sacrifices under the guidance of Eleazar and while moving the dead; 19;   Just like we put caselaw in the middle of our statutes called annotations; No promised land for Moses: 20:9-12; still don't get it; Also Miriam and Aaron die.  20:22-29; 20:1

Today's passage deals with the ups and downs of priesthood, which it identifies as a gift, Num. 18:7, but you get the feeling it is one of those things where you kind of have to convince the recipient that this is a gift, you know?  See 18:14-16; 20-24.  They also have to tithe on the money they receive from tithes.  18:25.  I think there have been times in modern America in which the pastor is the only one who tithes.

Chapter 19 concern ritual impurity and again indicates that one become impure while doing necessary things.  Like burying the dead and making sacrifices.  This patter of providing laws in the middle of narrative seemed strange until I remembers that my law books all have annotations following the statutes.  So, you literally have the law with little abbreviated narratives interspersed.

We return to action with Chapter 20.  The chapter opens with Miriam's death, and closes with Aaron's.  That's a nod to the middle ages annotators, of course, since chapter and verse are not original to the text.  Esau's descendants, the Edomites, do not let the Israelites pass through their territory.  Given Israel was constantly stealing things from Esau through trickery, seems fair.

The middle of chapter 20 also contains this response to Israelite complaining.

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

I still do not understand what Moses did that was so bad.  Certainly not so bad to be denied entry into the Promise Land.  I wonder if part of the story was lost.   Tradition is that Moses took credit for God's work, which I understand is about all you can say, but does the text say that?