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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
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

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.