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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


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.