Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ruth 1-4: The entire book of Ruth, and nothing happened

Ruth marries into a family, and all the men eventually die. Ruth's mother-in-law (Naomi) wants to go back to where she originally came from, and she encourages her daughters-in-law to do the same. But Ruth is totally (like kind of over the top) devoted to Naomi, so Ruth goes with Naomi to her home in Bethlehem.

Ruth goes to some guy's (Boaz) fields to follow behind the harvesters and pick up extra grain. Boaz is nice to her, tells her to come back and keep harvesting in his fields. And Ruth is SUPER grateful (again, kind of over the top, lol).

Ruth ends up marrying Boaz. This somehow involves Ruth sneaking into the threshing floor (where women are not allowed), and finding Boaz while he's sleeping and laying down near his feet. It apparently also involves some property that belonged to her dead husband – if Boaz buys the property, Ruth comes with it. Like some sort of toy in a box of Cracker Jack. Extra prize wife! It also involved Boaz assembling the town elders, and some ritualistic removing of sandals. All rather strange, if you ask me, but whatever.

Ruth and Boaz have a baby, but for some reason everyone acts like Naomi is the one who had the baby. I am so confused.

This baby is Obed, grandfather of David. David must be important, because we get a 9 generation genealogy.

That is the entirety of the book of Ruth. If anything of note happened other than “David's grandfather was born”, I'm not sure what it is.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Judges 19-21: What if the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was even worse?

Every chapter of Judges 18 – 21 starts with this sentence: “In those days Israel had no king.”

I'm not sure what that's all about, but it's apparently really important. “There was no king” could be either good or bad... Was it a period of chaos and lawlessness? Godlessness and immorality? Or freedom and democracy? Lol. Well, this is the Bible... I'm sure it was nothing good.

WOW. “Nothing good” was a massive understatement. This story is much like Sodom and Gomorrah, but if the virgin daughters on offer were actually raped, and then chopped up into pieces. So you know, much worse than that.

The main character in this part is “a Levite”. Why do the Levites never get names? Is this the same guy as from the previous story? I just have no idea.

“Nameless Levite #2” has a woman, who is alternately called his concubine and his wife, which confuses the hell out of me. She leaves him and goes back to live with her parents. 4 months goes by, and Nameless Levite #2 decides to go and try to convince her to come back.

It says nothing about this, but she apparently decides to go back with him (or, because this is the Bible, she likely had no choice in the matter). On the way home, they stop for the night in an Israelite city (Gibeah). They hang out in the town square for a long time, but no one invites them to spend the night at their house. (It makes it sound like this was just how things were done. Hang around in the town square and hope someone invites the strangers to their house for the night. That is just so fascinating.)

Just when it was starting to look like they were going to have to camp out in the town square, an “old man” (no one gets a name in this chapter) comes by and invites them home. So they go, and feed the animals, eat dinner, all those things you do.

And then, this happens: “some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, 'Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.'”

“Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish.”

Gee, where have I heard this before.

Here's where the story gets even worse. Nameless Levite #2 actually sends his wife/concubine out. (The virgin daughter is apparently spared, or at least, she is not mentioned again.) “And they raped her and abused her throughout the night”. Fucking great.

At daybreak, she goes back to the house and collapses on the doorstep. Nameless Levite #2 (who is her goddamn husband, by the way) gets up and “opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way.” Continue on his way to where, I wonder. To rescue his wife (lol)? On his way to just assume that she was dead and merrily continue on home? On his way to get fucked with a rusty chainsaw (this one, please)?

This collosal fuckup basically trips over his collapsed wife on the doorway, on this way to whatever the fuck he was going to do. And “He said to her, 'Get up; let’s go.'” Seriously. Fuck this guy so much.

“There was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.”

Well then. Was she already dead when he started chopping her up? I would rule nothing out at this point.

Seriously, I am... speechless. What the fuck even is this.

I feel like I'm supposed to be wondering why exactly he would choose to send a piece of chopped up human to each tribe of Israel, but at this moment, I don't fucking care.

For anyone keeping score at home, this is the second time that Judges took an already horrific story from earlier in the old testament, and just make it a billion times worse. (The first time was Jephthah.)

Well, that was disgusting. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Moving along...

Chapters 20 and 21 are about the fallout of this event. It is very confusingly written. It'll go along apparently consecutively and choronologiclly for a while, then it suddely seems to jump backward and tell the exact same thing over again, then it'll skip over to something else, etc. With all the usual Biblical giving of waayyy too much detail about some things, while being incomprehensibly vague about others. But anyway.

The town where this happened was part of the Benjamite tribe. So, all the rest of the Israelite tribes decide they need to destroy that town, and also go to war with the Benjamites. They ask God if he approves of their plan, and God is like, “yup, sounds good to me!” Because utterly destroying entire towns because a few people did something terrible is totally God's jam.

I, as usual, want to know why all the innocent people who live in Gibeah deserve to die, while Nameless Levite #2 is considered perfectly fine and good after giving his wife up to a bunch of rapists. If this is what objective Biblical morality is all about, I want no part of it.

Anyway, there is a battle at Gibeah. The Israelites get their asses handed to them at first – 40,000 of them died in the first 2 days. By the way, before each of those 2 days, they asked God whether they should fight, and God was like “yeah, I totally got your back”. It seems to me that God was directly responsible for all 40,000 of those deaths. I wonder how many Israelites God has personally murdered, I should have been keeping a count all this time!

On the third day, God apparently gets his shit together at last, and helps them win. So the Israelites go into Gibeah, and “put the whole city to the sword.” Because obviously.

Then for good measure, they go on to destroy the Benjamites entirely: “The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire.” Because why stop at just overkill, when you could have “OMG WTF are we even doing anymore???” overkill.

Then they all cry for a while about how sad they are that one of the tribes of Israel is no more. Well maybe you should have thought of that before you killed them all.

Wait, this is confusing. Apparently there are some Benjamite men left, but they have no women for some reason. And at some point, all the rest of the Israelites had made some sort of vow to never let their daughters marry a Benjamite. So now they have no wives and they're going to die out. Crisis!  Even though they were just trying to kill them all like 5 minutes ago!

At the same time, they learn that the people of Jabesh Gilead had failed to attend the assembly before God (I think it might have something to do with those rules about how they all have to present themselves before God at some particular place at regular intervals). This gives the Israelites a convenient excuse to murder everyone at Jabesh Gilead, which they do, except for the virgin women, who they give to the Benjamites. But it's still not enough women for them, oh no!

So, the rest of the Israelites encourage the Benjamites to steal women from Shiloh. Why Shiloh, and why is it OK to just randomly kidnap women and basically turn them into sex slaves/baby machines? I have no idea. Anyway, that's what they do. Because just changing their random rules about not marrying the Benjamites is so out of the question that it is never even considered.

And then everyone went home.

And that was the end of Judges. I'm having a hard time thinking about what I thought of the book as a whole, because the end of it was just so repulsive.  Oh well.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Judges 17-18: An idol is stolen, and I'm not sure why I'm supposed to care

Now we move on to some guy named Micah.

Micah's story starts with him confessing to his mother that he stole 1100 shekels of silver from her. But she's not in the slightest bit mad, for some reason: “The LORD bless you, my son!” She took 200 shekels of the silver and had an idol made out of them, to put in Micah's house. We've already seen how much God loves it when his people make idols, so I'm sure this will end well.

Apparently this silver idol will fit in well with the rest of Micah's household decor – he also has “some household gods” (whatever that is), a shrine, and an ephod (apparently some sort of priest garment?). The Bible also says “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” I will take that to mean that this is not supposed to be an example of good behavior? Lol.

Then Micah takes in a Levite, so now he has a live-in priest for some reason. This guy never gets a name, he's just “the Levite”. Okie then.

Then we meet the Danites, one of the tribes of Israel who were “seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”

Now, there is a general lack of any clear time-frame for the entire Bible so far, but I was of the impression that since at least the beginning of Judges (which seems to be several generations ago), the Israelites were in the promised land, and that this whole covenant God made with Abraham thing had been fulfilled. But apparently not. Why is God so very horrible at keeping promises?

Anyway, five Danite scouts or spies or something come to Micah's house and spend the night. While there they talk to “The Levite”, who tells them that God says “Go in peace. Your journey has the Lord’s approval.” Yeah God, finding them a place to live was supposed to be your job, remember? Pretty magnanimous of you to “approve” of them doing it for themselves.

The five scouts moved on to some other place called Laish, which they quite liked. So they went back to their people are were like, “Come on, let's attack them!” Because that is the solution to everything in this book.

600 Danite men armed for battle head out, and on the way they stop by Micah's house to steal that silver idol from the previous chapter. While they are there “The Levite” confronts them, and they suggest that he join them and be their priest instead: “Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” Can't argue with that, I guess. So he goes with them.

Micah gets some of his neighbors together and goes after the Danites, and has this silly argument with them.

Danites: “How dare you try to fight us? Waaah!”
Micah: “You broke into my house and stole my stuff, of course I'm going to fight you.”
Danites: “But we don't want to fight you!”
Micah: *Goes home*

After that very exciting confrontation, the Danites go on to Laish. And they kill everyone there so they can build themselves a city there, it's just like every other Bible story so far, and I'm simultaneously bored and horrified by it.

It goes on for some time about how the Danites used the idol they tool from Micah's house, so apparently that's important.

Well, that's the story of Micah. I don't know what that was all about. I thought that Micah, with his house full of idols and false gods, was going to get the old “wrath of God” at some point, but that didn't really happen.

Maybe it's a story about how you can have all the outer paraphernalia of religion, but all of that can be gone in an instant, and you need to have something more. (At one point, Micah says this: “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have?”) Hey, I'm trying to be generous.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Judges 15-16: Apparently, it is possible to kill 1000 people with a donkey jawbone

Previously, Samson threw a fit because some people cheated to solve his unsolvable, “skittles out of a grizzly bear” cheat of a riddle, so he killed a bunch of people, “gave away” his wife to someone else, and stomped off home to pout.

Now, Samson decides he wants to visit “his wife”, who is not actually his wife anymore. He tries to get in to see her, but her father turns him away. Before you start getting visions of a father in Bible actually acting like a decent human being toward his daughter, this is what he says, “Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.” In other words, “Hey you murderous psychopath, can I interest you in marrying or possibly just fucking my youngest daughter?”

Samson decides he needs to “get even” with the Philistines (his former wife's people). For what, I'm not quite sure. So (just like anyone would do when they want vengeance over some imaginary offense) he gets 300 foxes, pairs them off, ties their tails together, somehow attaches a lit torch to each pair, and sets them loose in the Philistines' grain, olives, and vineyards, burning them all down. Why was tying 300 foxes' tails together a necessary component of burning all of their crops? I have just so much to learn about mass crop destruction.

The Philistines are pissed. Samson's ex-wife's father tells them “Samson did it.” So the Philistines burn Samson's ex-wife and her father to death. Even though Samson is the one they are pissed at. Why? Who knows. I guess “shoot the messenger” is part of Biblical morality now?

So clearly Samson requires even more revenge now. “He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them.” This seems less like “vengeance” and more like “escalation”.

Samson hides out in a cave, and the Philistines go menace Judah. The people of Judah go find Samson and tie him up to deliver him to the Philistines. But while they're on the way, “The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands.” Oh look, a miracle.

Then this happened: “Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.” I need to know: how does one kill 1000 people with the jawbone of a donkey?? How do you even kill one person with the jawbone of a donkey? And why on earth did there just happen to be a “fresh jawbone of a donkey” just laying there? That seems...improbable.

“Then Samson said,
'With a donkey’s jawbone
I have made donkeys of them.
With a donkey’s jawbone
I have killed a thousand men.'”

What a goddamn poet.

Apparently, killing 1000 people with a donkey jawbone is thirsty work. Samson “cried out to the LORD”, and God made water come out of a hill. Oooo.

Some unspecified time later, Samson “spends the night” with a prostitute in Gaza (I guess God is cool with his people visiting prostitutes, FYI). The people of Gaza find out that he's there, and decide to kill him at dawn. What has Samson done to piss off the people of Gaza? Who knows.

Anyway, Samson doesn't wait around til dawn, in the middle of the night, he “got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.” Samson just cannot help but to do everything in the most dramatic and over-the-top fashion possible, can he?

So that's the entirely of this little story. Mmm-kay then. I guess it's just to further illustrate how unusually strong he is? Or maybe to further illustrate that Samson is the type of guy who will just up and steal your city gates for no apparent reason?

“Some time later”, Samson falls in love with Delilah. The Philistines (who are apparently still angry), tell her to find out the secret of Samson's strength.

“So Delilah said to Samson, 'Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.'“ What a clever and sneaky plan, Delilah.

Samson is not fooled by this great display of subterfuge (although it wouldn't really surprise me if he was that dumb), and he lies to her. He says that if he is tied up with 7 bowstrings, he will become weak. So she tries it, and he breaks free.

This goes on and on – she keeps asking him directly, without any attempt whatsoever at cleverness, and he just keeps lying to her. She tries whatever it is, and it doesn't work. “With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.”

I have to wonder: why did Samson stick with a woman who's obvious sole purpose was to find out his weakness and destroy him? What kind of toxic, unhealthy relationship is that?

Anyway, eventually, Samson is worn down, and he tells he that if he got a haircut he would lose his strength. So he falls asleep, and she cuts his hair. Surprise! I just don't get why he would tell her that, or why he would have stayed after he did.

After his haircut, the Philistines captured him, “gouged out his eyes” (gross), and put him in prison. The Philistines were so excited that they finally caught Samson that they had a party. They brought Samson out of prison to “entertain” them. Samson prayed, “Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Always with the vengeance. I had this crazy idea that God didn't support vengeance in his followers, but I guess all that “forgiveness” stuff wasn't until the New Testament.

Anyway, God gave him the strength to push down some pillars, collapsing a temple on himself and 3000 Philistines.

So that's the end of Samson. It seems to me like it could be a story about how stupid and self-destructive vengeance is. He lost one riddle, and he kept escalating it from there, until he ended up imprisoned, eyes gouged out, and crushed under a collapsed temple.

Of course, the lessons I was apparently supposed to learn are: don't trust women, sex = bad, obedience to God = super human strength, disobedience = weakness. Sigh.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Judges 13-14: Samson and the world's most unsolvable riddle

Well, now we're up to Samson, the guy who got a haircut and lost his strength. And that's all I know about that guy! Let's see what else happens.

Anyway, it should really go without saying at this point, the Israelites "did evil in the eyes of the Lord," whatever that means, and God manufactures trouble for them, then he feels sorry for them and sends a new leader. Samson!

Samson's mother was barren and childless, and an angel showed up and told her she was going to have a baby, so she shouldn't drink alcohol. Hey Bible, that's actually good advice! Good job. But it's not because alcohol is terrible for the health of the baby, but because Samson is going to be a Nazirite. As we learned in Numbers, what makes a Nazirite is the teetotalling and the long hair. So also, don't cut the kid's hair. Other than that, I have no idea what a Nazirite is.

So the mother (Zorah) tells this to her husband (Manoah). He prays for the angel to come tell him all about it. I guess he doesn't trust his wife, or something. Oh, Biblical marriage. The angel comes to visit Zorah again while she's out on her own. Guess that angel just really doesn't want to talk to her husband, lol. She runs to get Manoah and brings him back to the angel (I guess the angel just waited there). The angel is like "as I already told your wife, the exact same thing I said before."

Manoah tells the angel to stay while they prepare a goat. The angel says he won't eat, but he will hang out, and while they're at it they should make a burnt offering to God. When they do that, "as the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame." I guess they didn't realize it was an angel before, because Manoah says, “We are doomed to die!” I guess this is one of the parts where you die if you see God, the Bible really can't make up it's mind about that.

Anyway, they live, and Samson is born.

Some time later, Samson the eligible bachelor sees a Philistine woman he wants to marry, so he tells his parents, "go get her for me." Like some kid who wants a candy bar, for christ's sake. His parents are all sad that he doesn't want to inbreed with some relative, but they agree. On the way to Timnah, where this girl lives, Samson is attacked by a lion. He "tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat." I don't know what it's like to tear a young goat apart by hand. Is this some sort of universal experience in the bronze age? Were people reading this at the time going, “My goodness! I tear young goats apart by hand all the time, so I know exactly how easy or difficult that would be!” I assume I am to infer that Samson is unusually strong.

Then I guess they went there, met the girl, made some arrangements and left, because the next thing that happens is that Samson returns to the lion carcass some time later, and finds a bee nest in it. Does this actually happen, bee nests in animal carcasses? Oh well. Samson eats the honey. Gross.

When they (Samson and his parents) get to Timnah to claim Samson's bride, Samson bets some guys they can't answer his riddle within 7 days, the wager is 30 linen garments. This is the riddle:

Out of the eater, something to eat;
out of the strong, something sweet.

I've heard this riddle before, and I always thought it was so stupid. The answer, apparently, is "honey in a lion carcass." I'm no expert, but I thought riddles were supposed to have an actual answer that was possible to arrive at by just thinking about it. The only way this riddle can possibly make any goddamn sense is if you happen to know this story. You could just as well say "kit-kats in a bear carcass" or "maple syrup in a wolf carcass." Any sweet food that somehow made its way inside any large carnivorous animal.

Anyway, they obviously can't answer the riddle, because it's a bad riddle. They ask Samson's new wife to find out the answer, and she spends the rest of the week crying and badgering and guilt-tripping, until Samson finally tells her. So she tells her friends, who pretend they solved it.

So, Samson got super pissed. He killed 30 guys and gave their clothes to the riddlers as their reward. Because that's reasonable. Then he went off home in a huff, and his wife was “given” to some other guy, without her consent, although that should really go without saying at this point.