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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.