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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Num. 5-6 (testing)

We start out okay.  Don't defile the camp.  Separate people with diseases and impurity.  Eh, okay.  Then, if you wrong someone, admit it and restore them to their previous status.  Yay!  Agreed.  What's next?  Uh oh, unfaithful wife.

Step one, if a husband is jealous or suspects his wife of cheating, take her to the priest. 
Step two, the priest creates a "bitter potion" that he tells the woman will only hurt her if she's been unfaithful.
Step three, the woman says, "Amen, so be it."
Step four, the priest writes it down and she drinks the potion.
Step five, see if her abdomen swells causing her to miscarry and become sterile.

So, that's just terrible and awful.  One commentary points out that magic potions and rituals like this are much more rare among the Hebrews than other people of that era.  Um, okay.  Also, less child sacrifice--that's the deal with Molek from earlier.  But this this the patriarchy in full glory. It is the people of God oppressing the people of God.  Can't really make excuses for it.

The next bit is about how a non-Levite can become a priest.  A man or a woman, btw.  Which is cool.  No booz.  No cutting of the hair.  No touching dead bodies--even if your immediate family dies.  If someone dies in front of you, they've got a procedure; it's okay.  All this is during the dedication period.  Afterword, you shave your head, kill some animals, then you can drink wine again.

We do wrap up with this chestnut, here in KJV:
24 The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
25 The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Which is nice, right?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Num. 3-4 (counting & colors)

We've discussed how the first born often play second fiddle.  Examples:
  • Cain -- first murderer
  • Ishmael -- exiled through no fault of his own
  • Esau -- cheated out of birth right
  • Reuben -- slept with Dad's wife
  • Manasseh -- not as good as Efraim
  • Aaron -- Moses' PR guy
  • Nadab -- consumed with fire for offering "unauthorized fire"

No es bueno por los primogénitos.  But then we get this from Numbers to remind us that first born kids were special to the Israelites. 

The Lord also said to Moses, “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”

Numbers 3:11-13.  Interesante, ¿no?

Next, we have uncovered the color controversy.  Earlier, I noticed what the Spanish translators were rendering as "púrpura, carmesí y escarlata," the English translators were calling, "purple, blue and scarlet."  But, carmesí is crimson.  So, I didn't see how you got from blue to crimson.  In today's text, the colors are separated out and I have discovered that what is happening is that púrpura and blue are translating the same Hebrew word, and carmesí and purple are translating the same Hebrew.  Less of a color stretch. 

Last, equally trivial point.  There are a couple of censuses taken.  Levites 30-50 (total 8,580 which matches the total of each clan, Num 4:34-49) because they can serve in the temple.  Before that, Levites older than one month.  The Levite clans total 7500, 8600, and 6200.  The total number of first born Israelites, excluding Levites, totals 22,273.  Because the Levites total 22,000, the Israelites need to redeem the excess 273 first born Israelites with a temple tax.

Monte Python Hebrew: Excuse me, but 7500, 8600 and 6200 are actually--
Monte Python Levite: Right, about 22,000. So, since the total number of first born Israelites is 22,273, the Lord God Almighty requires that you pay a tax on the excess.
MPH: No, but that's what I'm saying. Those number actually total to--
MPL: Yes, yes, 22,000 give or take. That is why you have to pay the tax because it is less than the 22,273 first born. So it will be five shekels per excess.
MPH: Well, I suppose at some point we should get into what a ridiculous basis for a tax that is. But, in the meantime, even accepting your exceptionally silly formula, these numbers don't add up to--
MPL: Okay, look, why don't you ask Nabad his thoughts on the matter. Oh wait, you can't because the Nameless God consumed Nabad in a ball of fire for using the wrong formula of lighter fluid to light the fire the Nameless God requires for burning large pieces of animal flesh to make the Nameless God happy! So, seems to me the best course of action for you is to spend less time totally four digit numbers and more time counting out shekels.

Scene.  (based on Numbers 3.) 

UPDATE 2/25:  This fellow here, quoting an 18th century commentator Adam Clarke, makes a pretty attractive argument for the letter/number representing the second digit in 7500 being mistaken for a 5 when really a 2.  Seems pretty plausible, particularly given the representations of the Hebrew letters he provides, but I also thought it was plausible that "The Eye of the Needle" was a gate in Jerusalem, which it evidently is not.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Num. 1-2 (well, numbers)

This was a great chance for me to practice my larger numbers in Spanish.  I was pretty good in translation, but not perfect.  Cincuenta and Cuarenta seem to trip me up way more often than is expected.

The reported population of the Isrealites continues to increase.  First, we have Jacob and his twelve sons.  But when then move to Egypt, the total roster of males is 70.  Gen. 46:26-27; Ex. 1:5.  Over the next 430 years the population increases to over six hundred thousand.  Ex. 12:37-40.  There is that little set back when Moses directed the Levites to walk through the camp and kill a bunch of people indiscriminatingly  dropping about three thousand people, literally.  Ex. 32:28.  But, by the time they are forming up camps from today's reading they are up to 603,550.  P.S. As predicted in Gen. 48:17-21, Joesph's younger son Ephraim has more people, 40,500, in his tribe than his big brother Manneseh, 32,400.  [Update 2/25: From here, this would require a Growth Rate of 2.13%, which seems not crazy to me because in 2000 the world wide growth rate slowed to 1.2%.]

You don't count the Levites.  And they stay with the tabernacle in the camping formation.  The boss tribes are Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan.  Reuben & Judah are flanked by other kids of Leah.  Ephraim has the other tribe of Joseph and Benjamin, the other child of Rachael.  Then Dan has the concubine kids. 

Note: Rachel's two kids make up three tribes.  Mathematically required since we pulled out the Levites.

Here's what I know about these numbers.  Nothing.  I think they are probably super inflated compared to the actual population of the Hebrews at this time.  Although, it is hard to talk about "actual" anything here since the pre-monarchy period for the Hebrews is not contemporaneously recorded.  Here's what I think, it feels like the numbers may relate to relative size of tribes that existed during the monarchy.  But, frankly, the meaning is pretty lost to me.  It demonstrates the value of scholarship in understanding ancient texts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lev. 26-27 (Final)

One of the fun things for me is when I encounter a text in Spanish and recognize it is a verse I know--like love your neighbor as yourself.  In today's reading, I noticed for the first time, "Yo seré su Dios, y ustedes serán mi pueblo."  Lev. 26:12.  I will be your God and you will be my people.  It is contained in the bright and hopeful opening.

This gives way quickly to some dark Revelation style work.  Revelation style because it is recount a travesty that has already happened.  After a brief reminder of what will happen if the people keep the covenant, this goes into detail about what will happen if they do not keep the covenant.  Specifically, exile.  And those who are left will be weak and cowardly and those who are taken will suffer.  Kind of like exactly what is happening when the author is writing. 

But, the promised land itself will be okay.  "Entonces la tierra disfrutará de sus años sabáticos todo el tiempo que permanezca desolada, mientras ustedes vivan en el país de sus enemigos."  "Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies."  Lev. 26:34.

Chapter 26, like Revelation, then ends with hope.  If you return to obedience, I will return you to your land. 

Then Chapter 27 is a weird list of prices for dedicating a person or piece of property to the Lord, and then how to redeem said dedicated people or property.  It's still Leviticus, right?

And that's it for Leviticus.  Not so bad.  Well . . .

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Lev. 24-25

Another short observation.  Here we have the eternal flame for the Lord.  And we have the year of jubilee.  We have death penalty for blasphemy and the requirement for fallow fields.  We have the famous code of ancient moderation:
Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.

Lev. 24:19-20.  In church we have just finished the Sermon on the Mount including the following:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
These passages remind me that the governing structure of the ancient Israelites, even as they remembered in exile, is complex and foreign to me.  They believed it necessary to link Church and State.  Rather than a market place of ideas; they found certain views or words to merit death.  Private property was not permanent.  They are my spiritual ancestors, nonetheless, and I cannot hope to understand the Sermon on the Mount if I don't know the law that Jesus is completing.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bonus: BMBB 15

I should be sharing my podcasts when they go up.   Bloody Mary Bible Brunch (Ep. 15 Refugees)
In this episode we get all Biblical & liberal about refugees, but do address the dangers of an overly simplistic reading of scripture.

The podcast is available on iTunes.

Lev. 22-23

Today's reading is kind of a nice break, although not entirely free of awfulness, it's mostly mild class-ism with the priests and feast days.  Although we have abandoned the blood sacrifices now--I believe initially because there was no temple nor tabernacle--holidays remain an important cultural tradition.  I think marking the passing of the year--or as NDT says, noting the Earth's relative position to the Sun--is a nice thing religion has provided humans.

If you are interested, looks to me like Passover is March 31, kind of far from Easter this year which is April 16.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lev. 19-21 (hate & love)

So, this passage reminds me that what I love most about faith is included in the Law, even that found in Leviticus.  A few examples from Chapter 19:

  • 3 “‘Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.
  • 9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
  • 13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
  • 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
  • 33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
Please, note that "Love your neighbor as yourself," comes from the Old Testament.  Not just the Old Testament, but the much maligned Book of Leviticus.  

As judges have said to me, duly noted.  Now let's face these.
  • 19:20 “‘If a man sleeps with a female slave who is promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed.
  • 20:13 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
  • 20:14 “‘If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
  • 20:27 “‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’”
  • 21:9 “‘If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.
Let me be clear.  To carry out any of these instructions would be evil.  There is no question in my mind that these words were not the product of the divine moving in the world.  These are tribalism and superstition and in some cases a pretty clear manifestation of the patriarchy.

I also want to call out the NIV's politically motivated translation.  In 19:20, when a man rapes a slave, they use "sleep with," but in 20:13 when translating gay sex, the provide the redundant "sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman."  Were there Southern Baptists confused by "lie with a man as with a woman"?

I am also compelled to point out at least one seeming contradiction pretty close together  
  • 15:24 “‘If a man has sexual relations with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean.
  • 20:18 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people.
As I hope has been apparent from the beginning, I understand that the Bible is a collection of many works written by many people seeking out their relationship with God.  I wish I could shrug off the presence of these verses.  Yeah, the ancient Hebrews were superstitious like everyone else--so what? I think its juxtaposition with "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself," makes it sting a little more.