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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Misleading Image of Bloggers

Just a short entry today, but it's something I've been thinking about for a little while now. It seems to me that if you only judged bloggers by what they blogged about, you would have a very biased image of that person. Take me, for example. I write an awful lot about religion and politics. And granted, I may think about religion more than most average people, and I'm always a little bit excited to talk about it if the topic comes up in conversation, but that's only if it actually comes up in conversation. If you came over to hang out with me at my house or grab a beer at the local bar, chances are pretty good that I'd never even mention religion or politics. I write about them here because partly because it's an outlet where I can express my opinions, but also because it's something I think people might actually be interested in reading. Nobody except my friends and family really cares what TV shows I've been watching, what I've been eating for supper every night, the chores I did around the house last weekend, the grades my daughter makes in school, how she did at her piano recital, or many of the other things I do or talk about on a daily basis. Like I wrote above, if you only judged a person based on what they wrote about in their blog, you would only be judging them based on a tiny fraction of their real life.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Numbers 21 to Numbers 30

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleFor the most part, chapters 21 through 30 of Numbers weren't much different from previous chapters. They continue on with the narrative of the Israelites wandering the wildnerness, along with more rules and regulations from God. These aren't the most recognizable of stories in the Pentateuch.

There is a somewhat weird story included in Chapters 22 through 24. It involves a non-Israelite oracle, Balaam son of Beor, who is able to prophesize for God.

Numbers, Chapter 21

This chapter details a few of the events during the Israelites exile. First, after a Canaanite king captured a few Hebrews, the Israelites asked God for help in enacting their vengeance. "The Lord listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their towns; so the place was called Hormah [Destruction]."

Next was a story somewhat typical of what's come before. The Israelites started complaining again, and this time God sent serpents to kill them. After the people went to Moses and Moses subsequently went to God, God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent on a pole. Whenever bitten people looked at it, they were cured. I wonder if this is a relic of an earlier cult? The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) indicated that it was a holistic cure from the Egyptians.

From there, the Israelites wandered a bit more, camping at various locations, until they came to land of King Sihon of the Amorites, who refused to let them pass through. The Israelites fought and beat Sihon. From there, they continued conquering towns until they controlled the entire land. Apparently not all of these battles were as ruthless as other battles fought in the Bible, as verse 32 indicates that the Amorites were "dispossessed", not annihalated. However, when it came to King Og of Bashan, it was back to slaughtering, "35 So they killed him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left; and they took possession of his land. " And to be clear, God told the Israelites to slaughter the people of Og.

Numbers, Chapter 22

This chapter begins the story of Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, and the oracle, Balaam son of Beor. After seeing all the destruction the Israelites had caused in the surrounding lands, Balak was worried about what they would do to his people, and so sent emissaries to Balaam, asking Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam responded in what would be his customary method throughout this story. He told the emissaries to wait overnight. God would come to visit Balaam in the night to tell him what to do. On this first attempt, God told Balaam "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed," so Balaam passed on the message.

Balak decided to try again, and sent even more distinguished emissaries with promises of better payment. That night, it seems that the Lord changed his mind, and told Balaam, "If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them; but do only what I tell you to do." The next morning, Balaam "got up..., saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab." Then, in a break in continuity, even though God had just told Balaam to go, He was still mad that he was doing it, "God's anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary." Three times, Balaam's donkey saw the angel, even though it was invisible to Balaam, and tried to turn aside or stop. And each of those times, Balaam struck the donkey to try to make it continue on its way. But the third time, the donkey actually spoke up to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" Now, the verse said that "the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey", which maybe explains how a donkey could talk. But Balaam's reaction was not at all what you'd expect. If it was me, I'd probably mutter some expletive and wonder how in the hell a donkey began speaking. But Balaam just started having a conversation with it, as if it was completely normal.

At that point, the Lord allowed Balaam to see the angel with his own eyes. After Balaam bowed down to the angel, the angel told him that it was a good thing the donkey kept trying to stall, or the angel would have killed Balaam, for his way was "perverse". But after this brief exchange, the angel gave Balaam practically the same advice he'd gotten the night before, to go with the men, but to only do what God told him to do.

This story so far would be extremely weird if you assume it was all written at one time by one author. God says 'don't go', 'I mean, go', 'I mean, I'm going to try to kill you if you go', 'Oops, I mean, go ahead'. If you assume that this is a blending of two different traditions of the story, then the source of the discontinuities makes sense. But there's still a talking donkey!

Once Balaam finally reached Balak, he warned him that he would only be able to do what the Lord allowed, and then got to work sacrificing animals. He also got his first glimpse of the Israelites.

Numbers, Chapter 23

This chapter was basically just a series of false starts on cursing the Israelites. Balaam would go through all the motions to start the curse, building altars and sacrificing animals, but once he finally heard from God and spoke his oracle, it was only prophesizing the good things that were going to happen to the Israelites.

Numbers, Chapter 24

Balak had Balaam try to curse the Israelites one more time. This time, his oracle included some wording that many people will probably recognize.

a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the borderlands of Moab,
    and the territory of all the Shethites.

Some Jews take this as a prophecy of David, while some Christians take it as a messianic prophecy. It's also worth pointing out the translation notes on this passage. An alternative, rather more violent, reading of those last two lines is:

it shall crush the foreheads of Moab,
    and the skulls of all the Shethites.

Of course, Balak was furious with Balaam for not actually cursing the Israelites, and told him that he wasn't going to be paid. After a bit more prophesizing from Balaam, they both went their separate ways.

Numbers, Chapter 25

The Lord's anger was once again ignited. The Israelites "began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab," and the Moabite women convinced the Israelite men to worship their gods, especially Baal. With as jealous as Yahweh is, you can guess that the reaction was suitably cruel, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the Lord, in order that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.' "

As soon as Moses had relayed God's message, one of the Israelites brought a Moabite woman back to his tent, in sight of all the congregation. Phinehas was so enraged that he took a spear into their tent and impaled the both of them. Phinehas's actions were apparently just what the Lord wanted, because He ended the plague against the Israelites at that point (but not after killing 24,000 of them). God even explicitly told Moses, "Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites," and then promised blessings for Phinehas and his descendents.

Numbers, Chapter 26

It was time for another census. This time, there were 601,730 Israelites (excluding the Levites), counting those "from twenty years old and upwards" - just a little less than the 603,550 from the first census in Chapter 2. There were 23,000 Levite males "one month old and upwards". There was a special note at the very end of the chapter that, except for Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun, no one remained that had left Egypt with Moses, since God had vowed that they would all die in the wilderness.

God gave instructions to the Israelites that once they reached the promised land, they were to divide it up among the tribes proportionally - with the larger tribes receiving more land and the smaller tribes receiving less.

Numbers, Chapter 27

This chapter actually started with a decent rule from God. Three sisters approached Moses because their father had died and they had no brothers, "Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son?" And God said that they should receive an inheritance. And further, whenever any other women are in a similar situation, they should receive their father's inheritance. The instructions continued on through next closest kin in case a man had no descendents at all.

In verse 13, Moses got some pretty bad news, "you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarrelled with me." After all he'd been through, he wasn't going to enter the promised land. But ever the faithful servant, Moses's first concern was finding a replacement who would be able to lead the Israelites in his stead. The Lord chose Joshua son of Nun, and had Moses perform a ceremony in sight of all of the Israelites so that they would know Joshua's authority.

Numbers, Chapter 28

This chapter was more instructions on sacrifices - daily sacrifices, sabbath day offerings, offerings at the start of each month, passover offerings, and the offering for the day of first fruits. And just like offerings throughout these books, these ones included lambs, bulls, rams, grains, flour, wine, oil, etc. And just to be clear, these weren't all simply offerings that were then given to the priests to eat. These were burned on the altar to provide the Lord with his pleasing odour.

Numbers, Chapter 29

This chapter just continued on with the subject of the last chapter - more sacrifices and holy days. The first two were the first day of the seventh month, and the tenth day of the seventh month. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, a somewhat interesting series began. On that first day, the Israelites were to sacrifice "thirteen young bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year old," all without blemish, of course, along with various non-animal offerings. On the second day, it dropped to twelve bulls, with the rest of the sacrifices staying the same. This continued for seven days until they were down to just seven bulls. Then, on the eighth day, it was only "one bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish" along with the various non-animal offerings. So, the countdown is rather interesting. But still, this is a bloody method of worship - 71 bulls slaughtered in 8 days. And God also made it clear that these didn't supercede his normally scheduled sacrifices - they were in addition.

Numbers, Chapter 30

This chapter was all about vows. "When a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth." But when a woman makes a vow, it's a bit of a different story. If she's still single and her father overhears her or learns of the vow, he's allowed to disapprove and make it non-binding, "and the Lord will forgive her, because her father had expressed to her his disapproval." Once she's married, it's the same situation with her husband. However, if her male overseers hear of her vow and don't say anything, then she will be bound by it. Widows and divorced women are held to their vows. This is just one more example of inequality for women in the Bible.


I don't really have much to write here that I didn't say last week. God acted cruelly towards the Israelites, told the Israelites to enact cruel punishments against each other, and called for the utter destruction of peoples who got in their way. The story of Balaam, though, was a bit of a change from the normal fare I've read so far, especially the talking donkey.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Noah's Impossible Ark - Some Comments and Links

Noah's Ark, by Edward Hicks, croppedOver the past few week's I've heard a few conversations of people discussing Noah's Ark like it actually happened. Now, I know that Biblical literalists are out there, and I even knew that some of those people I overheard were of that bent, but it's always a bit jarring to here people seriously discussing something so obviously untrue.

I've mentioned Noah's Ark on this site a few times, but always in passing. I thought it might be fun to put together a blog post explaining why it couldn't have happened. But then I started looking around on the Internet a little, and there are already fairly comprehensive pages and articles dedicated to debunking the flood myth. So anything I wrote would just be duplicating work that's already been done. So instead, I decided to provide links and highlights to a few of those already existing discussions of Noah's Ark, with just a little bit of my own commentary.

The myth of Noah's Ark breaks down on so many levels, that it's hard to believe that people take it seriously as a literal story. First, there's the implausibility of building a wooden ship that big to begin with. Then there's the problem of gathering all those animals to Noah's location (how did the sloths get there). Then Noah had to somehow fit all the animals aboard, along with all the food, water, and other supplies that would have been required. And for the entire time they were on the ark, a crew of 8 were all that were available to care for all those thousands and thousands of animals (just look at the staffs modern zoos require). Then once the flood was over, there's the little problem of getting all the animals back to where they belonged. (Why did most of the marsupials head straight to Australia? And how did the kangaroos cross the Pacific to get there?) And on top of that is the problem of re-population without inbreeding, and without the predators eating the only remaining specimens of those now endangered animals. And the story totally ignores plants and non-land animals. (Freshwater fish can't survive in salty conditions, and vice versa.)

But all that's granting some plausibility to a global flood happening in the first place. In reality, there's just no evidence that such a flood happened, especially in the time-frame that Biblical literalists claim. And there's no known mechanism by which it could have happened, even if every last speck of ice on the planet was melted (sorry Kevin Costner).

Ignoring all the previous objections, what would such an occurrence say about God's character? Actually, I wrote a bit about this in a previous entry of mine, Friday Bible Blogging - Genesis 1 to Genesis 10.

Children's books show Noah, his family, and the elephants and giraffes surviving happily on their boat. But just stop and imagine if something like this had actually happened. Think of all the newborn babies, toddlers, precocious seven year olds, expectant mothers, new mothers, proud fathers, newlyweds. Think of the puppies and kittens and baby koalas and cute cuddly polar bear cubs. Think of the hawks and eagles and their fledgling chicks. Think of the ants, and frogs, and freshwater fish. Think of all the life on the entire planet save one boatload full. And now think of them watching the floodwaters come, the fear they felt as they kept climbing to higher ground, wondering when the rising waters would stop. The terror when they finally realized that the waters were going to swallow them, and there was nothing they could do about it. The desperation of trying to save their children, of looking for something, anything, to keep them afloat and keep them from drowning.

And finally, Noah's Ark isn't even an original legend. It's just a retelling of the Mesopotamian Flood Myth, common to many cultures of that era.

Okay, let's move on to linking to other websites like I said I was going to do, which will also address a few of the specifics from above.

Talk Origins - Problems with a Global Flood

This is probably one of the best online resources on the subject. Just to show what it covers, here's the index from the page:

1. Building the Ark
2. Gathering the Animals
3. Fitting the Animals Aboard
4. Caring for the Animals
5. The Flood Itself
6. Implications of a Flood
7. Producing the Geological Record
8. Species Survival and Post-Flood Ecology
9. Species Distribution and Diversity
10. Historical Aspects
11. Logical, Philosophical, and Theological Points

The first two of those points are only covered briefly, but the rest are covered pretty well. It's not a book length thesis, but it's enough detail to show the implausibility of it all.

Here are a few short excerpts.

What is a kind? Creationists themselves can't decide on an answer to this question; they propose criteria ranging from species to order, and I have even seen an entire kingdom (bacteria) suggested as a single kind.
Were dinosaurs and other extinct animals on the ark? According to the Bible, Noah took samples of all animals alive at the time of the Flood. If, as creationists claim, all fossil-bearing strata were deposited by the Flood, then all the animals which became fossils were alive then. Therefore all extinct land animals had representatives aboard the ark.
Fresh foods. Many animals require their food to be fresh. Many snakes, for example, will eat only live foods (or at least warm and moving). Parasitoid wasps only attack living prey. Most spiders locate their prey by the vibrations it produces. Most herbivorous insects require fresh food. Aphids, in fact, are physically incapable of sucking from wilted leaves.

Talk Origins - Review of John Woodmorappe's "Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study"

This article is a review / refutation of a creationist book attempting to show that the flood myth was plausible. By being a direct response to creationist arguments, it shows just how strained those arguments are. Here are a few excerpts from this page.

Woodmorappe attempts to solve the feeding and care problems by comparing the ark to modern mass production farming methods. But there is no justification given to approaching the problem in this fashion. It is not clear that solutions applicable to the care of 8,000 hogs, requiring the same food, water and space, can be applied to 8,000 different animals each requiring a different set of food, water and environmental conditions. Every care and feeding problem is attacked by this approach. And yet he suggests that some of the snakes can be coaxed into eating inert food by stuffing snake skins with meat. He notes that pandas can survive on diets lacking bamboo, but a check of the references shows that the replacement diet is more time-consuming to create than bamboo. This type of feeding is precisely why so many have wondered whether Noah and company had sufficient time to feed thousands of animals.
Woodmorappe states (p. 27) that the urine could be drained overboard by gravity. He does not tell how this is possible from the lowest floor level which was below the water line. At one point he suggests that the animals could be trained to urinate and defecate upon command while someone holds a bucket behind the animal. Assuming that this can be accomplished for the largest quarter of the animals and that they need to be serviced three times per day, each person must service 125 animals per hour, 2 animals a minute. What a fun job that must have been.
Animals outside of the ark were supposed to have survived in pockets of floodwater suitable to their requirements (whatever those requirements were). He appeals to gradual acclimatization of amphibians and fish to the salinity of the flood waters. But exactly how a global flood was able to gradually occur is unexplained. He has plankton be buried and then re-excavated to survive the flood.

EvoWiki - Noah's Ark

This was a short entry looking at the displacement of the ark, and whether it would have even been possible for it to carry what creationists claim. They even generously granted the assumptions of the creationist, John Woodmorappe, about a reduced species count on the ark (allowing many animals to have somehow survived without being on the ark, and necessitating a type of 'hyper' evolution after the flood waters receded to generate the current biodiversity), and the food requirements of those animals. Here's the takeaway.

Exactly how does a vessel whose displacement must have been less than 45,000 tons, manage to carry cargo and animals whose aggregate weight is more than 70,000 tons?

As a side note to the above, here's a discussion of the largest wooden ship, which included a link to the following picture:

Solano Ferry vs. Wyoming (Big Wooden Ships)

Those ships were some of the biggest wooden ships every built, and they were only on the order of 5,000 tons. And they had the advantage of modern materials like steel in addition to the wood.

ReligiousTolerance.org - Noah's ark and the flood: Comparison of the Babylonian and Noachian flood stories

This article describes how similar the Noah's Ark story is to another Mesopotamian flood myth. Here's the introduction, describing the other flood myth.

The Chaldean Flood Tablets from the city of Ur in what is now Southern Iraq contain a story that describes how the Bablylonian god Enlil had been bothered by the incessant noise generated by humans. He convinced the other gods to completely exterminate every person on Earth as well as land animals and birds with a great flood. One of the gods, Ea, went against the decision of the rest of the gods, and told Ut-Napishtim to build an ark to save a few humans, and some animals.

How Stuff Works - Could Noah's ark really have happened?

This is a little less specialized site than most of those linked above. But they still point out the obvious.

Before we dive into the question of whether Noah and his ark existed, let's first ask if there's any evidence of ancient worldwide flooding. Scientifically speaking, such a flood would be impossible. It would take more than five times the amount of water in the oceans and atmosphere to submerge the earth up to its mountaintops. And if that amount of water entered the atmosphere, the resulting pressure would crush people's lungs.

This article does discuss a possible historical basis for the legend - local flooding of that particular region.

Here's where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come into play. The two waterways that slice through modern day Iraq served as the main thoroughfares for trade at that time, and were the setting for the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Because both rivers flood each summer, scholars think that Noah's story may be based on that actual event -- a greater than usual flooding of the Tigris or Euphrates. In fact, archeologists have uncovered evidence of such a great flood in Mesopotamia, dating back to around 2900 B.C., that quickly wiped out a number of Sumerian cities.


Well, for an entry I was expecting to be rather short, this grew longer than I expected. I guess it's just that there are so many problems with the Noah's Ark legend. Like I wrote above, it's hard to believe that people take it seriously as a literal story.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Response to E-mail: One Nation Under Wal-Mart?

One Nation Under WalmartOnce gain, I received an e-mail forward that I wanted to respond to. This one had the subject, "To sum up", but looks like a previous incarnation had the title of "Wal-Mart vs. The Morons (NOT A JOKE)". For anyone interested, I've quoted the entire e-mail below the fold.

It began with a set of facts on how big and successful Wal-Mart is. I didn't fact check all the claims, but they look reasonable, and besides, the actual statistics aren't critical to the point the e-mail was trying to make. That point was this:

You may think that I am complaining, but I am really laying the ground work for suggesting that MAYBE we should hire the guys who run Wal-Mart to fix the economy.

It then listed a series of supposedly broken government programs, claiming that the government had had so many years to get the programs running properly, but had failed.

It closed with some general anti-government complaining. I have refutations to a few of those elsewhere on this site, but in this entry, I'm going to focus on the question of whether or not captains of industry are good role models for government.

First of all, keep in mind that industry and government have different roles. Per the Constitution, the intended role of our government is as follows:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I highlighted a couple of those. When TANF (the new name for Welfare after the Clinton era reforms) enrollees have dropped from 12 million to 4 million since 1996 and overall TANF costs have been cut in half at the same time, even though the poverty rate in the U.S. has held fairly constant over that period and income inequality and wealth inequality have both been increasing since the 1970s, I think it's important to remember that government is not there just to ensure the welfare of the wealthy and business owners. It's there to ensure the welfare of everybody in the country.

Industry doesn't have that role. Industry's goal is to turn a profit. Perhaps more kindhearted business owners will treat their employees well, but they're under no obligation to do so. To see just how bad unregulated business can get, consider the early days of the industrial revolution. Pick up any Charles Dickens novel and you'll see the conditions in London at the time. In the U.S., it got so bad for coal miners in West Virginia that they had an armed uprising in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Andrew Carnegie is infamous for his union busting tactics, including the Homestead Strike. The Ludlow Massacre was part of the deadliest strike in U.S. history. And if you want modern examples, just look to the sweatshops in the developing world. History has shown that industry will exploit labor when it can if it means higher profits for the people at the top.

So what about Wal-Mart? They're certainly successful, but they're not without their detractors, either. Here are a couple pages describing alleged business practices of Wal-Mart.

Here's a quote from the second page of that article, by Al Norman of an organization named Sprawl-Busters.

But that's part of the Wal-Mart saturation strategy. They place their stores so close together that they become their own competition. Once everybody else is wiped out, then they're free to thin out their stores. Wal-Mart has 390 empty stores on the market today. This is a company that has changed stores as casually as you and I change shoes.

Here are a couple articles on the wages Wal-Mart pays its employees.

The first of those quoted another article, claiming "as many as 80 percent of workers in Wal-Mart stores using food stamps." The second, while not being the most professional of presentations, at least lists all its information sources. It makes the same case - that Wal-Mart pays its employees wages that are too low for people to survive on, so those employees are forced to take advantage of government programs like food stamps. To quote one passage from that page:

In fact, they could pay ALL of their 1.4 million US employees an extra $5,000 per year and not only pull them out of poverty and above the "low income" line, but still keep over SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS in profits for themselves and their shareholders.

The page claims that, in effect, Wal-Mart is receiving an indirect subsidy from the government, since their employees can only survive by getting taxpayer money. And just keep in mind the previous articles I linked to. By driving other stores out of business, Wal-Mart is one of the few games in town for low-skilled people to get jobs. They don't have the freedom to simply quit and find a different job that pays them better.

Since this reply is already getting a little long, I won't focus on all of the claims of failed government programs. But that first one did jump out at me.

a.. The U.S. Postal Service was established in 1775. You have had 237 years to get it right and it is broke.

As the e-mail stated, the Postal Service has been in operation for over 200 years. I'm not nearly that old to have first-hand experience, but from what I've read, it sounds like it's been operating well over most of that period. In fact, it's really only been recently that it's started to run into problems, in large part due to e-mail and other digital technologies displacing old fashioned paper mail. First class mail dropped 29% from 1998 to 2008. That's a pretty hefty decline. Granted, a law passed by the 2006 Congress forcing the Postal Service to set aside benefits payments for future retirees hasn't helped. But to make a claim that the government hasn't been able to get the Postal Service right even after 200 years is pretty misleading.

So, this e-mail extolled the virtues of a company that is successful as a business, but that doesn't display the virtues I'd like to see in government. And then in its list of examples of failed government programs, the very first example was misleading. And it completely failed to even list good government programs, like NASA (underfunded as it is), the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, etc. More broadly, I think there's a history of private industry exploiting workers, from the Industrial Revolution on up to Wal-Mart's business practices. While that's good for the bottom line for businesses, it's not the way to run a government that's tasked with promoting the general Welfare.

So, I think it's safe to chalk this up as just another right wing e-mail forward without much substance.

For anyone interested, here is the entire text of the e-mail that prompted this entry. I've cleaned up the formatting just a big.

This is quite interesting. Even if you do not forward it, read it all the way to the end............

Wal-Mart vs. The Morons (NOT A JOKE)


Wal-Mart vs. The Morons

1. Americans spend $36,000,000 at Wal-Mart Every hour of every day.

2. This works out to $20,928 profit every minute!

3. Wal-Mart will sell more from January 1 to St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) than Target sells all year.

4. Wal-Mart is bigger than Home Depot + Kroger + Target +Sears + Costco + K-Mart combined.

5. Wal-Mart employs 1.6 million people, is the world's largest private employer, and most speak English.

6. Wal-Mart is the largest company in the history of the world.

7. Wal-Mart now sells more food than Kroger and Safeway combined, and keep in mind they did this in only fifteen years.

8. During this same period, 31 big supermarket chains sought bankruptcy.

9. Wal-Mart now sells more food than any other store in the world.

10. Wal-Mart has approx 3,900 stores in the USA of which 1,906 are Super Centers; this is 1,000 more than it had five years ago.

11. This year 7.2 billion different purchasing experiences will occur at Wal-Mart stores. (Earth's population is approximately 6.5 Billion.)

12. 90% of all Americans live within fifteen miles of a Wal-Mart.

You may think that I am complaining, but I am really laying the ground work for suggesting that MAYBE we should hire the guys who run Wal-Mart to fix the economy.

This should be read and understood by all Americans Democrats, Republicans, EVERYONE!!

To President Obama and all 535 voting members of the Legislature

It is now official that the majority of you are corrupt and ineffective:

a.. The U.S. Postal Service was established in 1775. You have had 237 years to get it right and it is broke.

b.. Social Security was established in 1935. You have had 77 years to get it right and it is broke.

c.. Fannie Mae was established in 1938. You have had 74 years to get it right and it is broke.

d.. War on Poverty started in 1964. You have had 48 years to get it right; $1 trillion of our money is confiscated each year and transferred to "the poor" and they only want more.

e.. Medicare and Medicaid were established in 1965. You have had 47 years to get it right and they are broke.

f.. Freddie Mac was established in 1970. You have had 42 years to get it right and it is broke.

g.. The Department of Energy was created in 1977 to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. It has ballooned to 16,000 employees with a budget of $24 billion a year and we import more oil than ever before. You had 35 years to get it right and it is an abysmal failure.

You have FAILED in every "government service" you have shoved down our throats while overspending our tax dollars.


Folks, keep this circulating. It is very well stated. Maybe it will end up in the e-mails of some of our "duly elected' (they never read anything) and their staff will clue them in on how Americans feel.


We have lost our minds to "Political Correctness"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We're "broke" & can't help our own Seniors, Veterans, Orphans, Homeless etc.,???????????

In the last months we have provided aid to Haiti , Chile , Japan and Turkey ..And Pakistan ........previous home of Bin Laden. Literally, BILLIONS of DOLLARS!!!

Our retired seniors living on a 'fixed income' receive no extra aid nor do they get any special breaks--nadda beyond shopping discounts...

AND Congress wants to freeze Social Security payments...

You do know that Congress voted themselves a pay raise for 2013??? Google this--it's true!!!

99% of people won't forward this.

I'm one of the 1% -- I Just Did

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Numbers 11 to Numbers 20

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleThis week's entry marks a minor milestone. I have now reviewed 137 verses. Using the Catholic verse count of 1334, that puts me at just over 10% of the way into this project. That still leaves me a way to go, but that's at least a noticeable dent.

These chapters cover a portion of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. The stories aren't very familiar ones. I paid attention in Sunday school and listened to all the Bible readings during mass, but these stories weren't the regular ones that we heard.

Numbers, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 got right into God's wrath with the opening verse, "1 Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated." There are actually two things from that passage that strike me. Most obviously is the cruelty of God. A few of the Israelites complained, and God began indiscriminately killing people in outlying parts of the camp until Moses could calm him down. But more subtly, it was "when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord". It shows that their physical proximity to God is what allowed Him to hear them - not very omniscient.

Then the people began complaining about their food situation - they were getting tired of eating manna and wanted some real meat. Moses got frustrated with the people's constant complaining, and asked God to either help him or put him to death so that he wouldn't have to deal with it anymore. God's response was to gather up the elders, and "take some of the spirit that is on you [Moses] and put it on them [the elders]", so that they could share his burden.

And then it was time for God to deal with the complainers. And he did it in the most petty, vindictive, and violent way you can imagine. First, "a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground." i.e. You want meat, I'll give you meat. Keep in mind that two cubits is roughly three feet. But then, "while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague." He just went ahead and killed them anyway.

Numbers, Chapter 12

This was a short chapter on some squabbling over power. Aaron and his wife, Miriam, confronted Moses over his position. They pointed out that the Lord had spoken through others, so why was Moses over everybody? The Lord heard this, and punished Miriam by turning her "leprous, as white as snow." Fortunately for her, it wasn't a permanent condition, and after seven days of being shut out from the camp, she was allowed back in. Out of respect for her, the camp stayed put until she was able to rejoin.

The sexism in the Bible is so gratuitous that you almost begin to miss seeing it, but notice that only Miriam was punished, not Aaron.

Numbers, Chapter 13

The Israelites sent out a group of spies to get their first look at the promised land, their mission lasting for forty days (of course). The first spies to report told how wonderful the land was, but that it was also inhabited by strong people. The next spies to report, afraid that the Israelites wouldn't be able to conquer the people already living there, gave a negative report of the promised land to cool the people's enthusiasm.

Numbers, Chapter 14

After hearing the negative report, the Israelites were disheartened, and wondered why they'd gone through all the troubles they had if they were just going to be defeated in a new land. They wanted to pick a new leader and return to Egypt. Moses and Aaron of course stayed faithful to God, as did a few others, but the majority were on the verge of revolt. God appeared at the Tent of Meeting, and was about to destroy the Israelites because of their lack of faith. But Moses pleaded with God on their behalf, and finally convinced God to spare them because it would hurt His reputation with the Egyptians and other nations. This isn't an image of God that's so great and mighty that he's above worldly concerns. This is a God who cares what others think of him.

But God wasn't done with the Israelites, yet. For their impertinence, God vowed that all the living Israelites would die in the wilderness, and that it would be their children who would enter the promised land. They would be forced to wander for forty years. Only the handful who remained faithful would be spared that fate. As for the spies who incited the uprising, they were killed by an unspecified plague.

A few Israelites, thinking they could make things right by trying to invade the promised land, were doomed because they went without the ark of the covenant to defend them, and were defeated in battle.

Numbers, Chapter 15

Most of this chapter is details on sacrifices and rituals the Israelites are to perform once they reach the promised land (the ones that don't die in the wilderness). To be honest, there have been many sacrifices specified in what I've read so far, that my eyes begin to glaze over a bit when I get to another batch of them. This one included oxen, rams, lambs, hins of oil and wine, ephahs of choice flour, bulls, and on and on.

The chapter closed with the story of a man who had been caught gathering sticks on the sabbath. The Israelites took him to God to see what was to be done with him, and God replied, "The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp." For gathering sticks.

Lest they forget the Lord's commandments, God directed the Israelites to "make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner" as a reminder.

Numbers, Chapter 16

This chapter contained another story of rebellion. This time, it was "Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi". He challenged Moses's authority on the grounds that "All the congregation are holy, every one of them", so who was Moses to put himself above everybody else? A few other Israelites complained that Moses hadn't really rescued them, but only brought them out of Egypt so that they could die in the wilderness.

Moses directed the dissenters to bring censers with incense to the tent of meeting, where they would allow the Lord to choose who was to lead them. The outcome was predictable. God wanted to kill the entire congregation. Moses bargained with him. And in the end, God only killed the dissenters. For the leaders, "The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households--everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly." Just a few verses earlier it was specified that this included their wives, children, and little ones (note the implication that wives and children were property). For the remainder of the dissenters, "fire came out from the Lord" and burned them all alive. Their censers, now holy from contact with the Lord's fire, were hammered into a covering for the altar.

The following day, the Israelites were on the verge of revolt again. They blamed Moses for the death of Korah and the others. God's wrath was again ignited, and he began another indiscriminate killing spree. Moses had Aaron take a censer, put incense in it, light it from the fire of the altar, and dash into the crowd. This stopped the killing, but only after 14,700 people had died.

Numbers, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 was very short. It was, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), a retelling of a myth common from that area. The heads of each of the tribes brought their staffs to Moses. He put them in the tent of meeting, and the staff of Aaron blossomed overnight, marking Aaron as the chosen one.

Numbers, Chapter 18

This chapter contained instructions to Aaron and his sons. It detailed all the offerings from the people that the priests were allowed to keep for themselves, and those that must still be given to the Lord on the altar. A portion of what the priests kept was to also go to the Levites.

I tend to not be very cynical. Even though I doubt much of what's in the Bible, I tend to think that it's mostly a result of myths expanding as they were retold over the generations. But out of what I've read so far, this chapter was the one that seemed most likely to have been written for less than noble purposes. I could just imagine a group of priests getting together to write these verses, guaranteeing that they would always have plenty to live off of.

Numbers, Chapter 19

The Lord gave Moses and Aaron a new statute. They were to sacrifice and burn a red heifer, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson material. Then they were to gather the ashes to keep them "for the water for cleansing." The ashes would be mixed with running water, and used to purify anybody who had come in contact with a corpse, a bone, a grave, or basically anything associated with a dead person. The mix could also be used on tents and other objects that had been associated with a person's death.

Numbers, Chapter 20

After briefly mentioning Miriam's death, these verses repeated some of the same events as from Exodus, perhaps coming from a slightly different tradition. This included Moses striking a rock to bring out water. There was also a passage where the king of Edom refused to allow the Israelites to pass through his land.

At the end of the chapter, God informed Moses and Aaron that Aaron wasn't going to be allowed into the promised land "because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah." God had Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's son, Eleazar, climb to the top of Mount Hor. There, in the sight of all the people, Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments and put them on Eleazar, after which Aaron died on top of the mountain.


I made a note after reading Leviticus that it really presented God in a bad light. But these chapters from Numbers really show a cruel, petty, capricious, and violent deity.

I mentioned in my discussion of Chapter 18 that those verses seemed like they could have been written by a group of priests wanting to legitimize their power. I didn't mention it above, but the chapters on conflicts over leadership struck me in a similar way. It was implying that people shouldn't question the power structure, because it was the way God intended it. I can just imagine how this mindset could be used as a tool for oppression, for example, propping up the divine right of kings to rule over countries.

There was something else I was struck by reading these chapters. I mentioned something similar in my review of Left Behind. The characters in these stories just didn't behave like you would expect real people to behave. In real life, people question religion and priests because, to be frank, there's no evidence to support religion's claims. But in these stories, God is living among the people, making his presence known daily, and inflicting punishments on a fairly regular basis. How many miraculous punishments would it take to convince somebody to quit pissing off the pillar of fire hanging out in the middle of the camp?

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy Fastnacht Day, 2013

Fastnacht Day is once again upon us. My daughter and I will be busy making fastnachts tomorrow morning in celebration. Since I don't have anything new to say from previous years, I'll just rework last year's entry a bit.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia CommonsDepending on where you are in the world, you may call tomorrow something else, like Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. But from where I'm from in Pennsylvania, it's called Fastnacht Day (here's a link to the not-so-thorough Wikipedia article). Traditionally, you make potato based donuts, called fastnachts, supposedly as a way to empty your larder of all the fatty, sugary foods in preparation for the Lenten fast. My elementary school even used to give out donuts with the lunches on this day. So, in celebration of Fastnacht Day, here's my family's recipe for making them:

You're supposed to wake up early to make the fastnachts on Tuesday morning (they're freshest that way), but a few times I've made them the night before, and they're still okay. They keep pretty well in a brown paper lunch bag. I also like to put a little bit of powdered sugar into a ziploc bag, and a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon into another one, to coat the fastnachts just before eating them.

To see just how popular fastnachts are back up in Pennsylvania, go have a look at this article, Fastnacht reminder -- order yours before Tuesday, with a photo showing some of the 2800 fastnachts that a local church made, or this article, Frying fastnachts for pre-Lenten splurge, about a fire company that's making 42,000 of them for a rundraiser. Here's an article from a couple years ago, Pre-Lenten fastnachts a traditional treat, describing how bakeries in Hagerstown started baking on Sunday night to meet Tuesday's demand.

A guy I worked with from Chicago mentioned a similar tradition up there - paczkis, from the Polish immigrants. But instead of a hole in the middle like my family's fastnachts (not all fastnachts have the hole), they have a filling, usually jelly or creme. I guess lots of groups have invented traditions to allow indulgence before a 40 day fast.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Update 2013-03-12: I took a few pictures while we were making the fastnachts this morning. The first is my daughter rolling out the dough to cut more fastnachts, the second is the first batch frying up in the pan, and the third is the completed fastnachts. Note that we doubled the recipe, so that's twice as much as what you'd normally get. But we all three (my wife, daughter, and I) take them in with us to work/school to share them, so the double batch still goes quick.

Alex Rolling Out the Fastnacht Dough Frying the Fastnachts The Completed Fastnachts - Two Batches Worth

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Numbers 1 to Numbers 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleThis week I start on my fourth book of the Bible, Numbers. While Numbers cover a portion of the Jewish legend that people are somewhat familiar with - wandering the desert for 40 years - it's not the same type of instantly recognizable stories like those found in Genesis or Exodus. Numbers takes its name from a series of censuses that were supposedly conducted and recorded in this book.

Numbers, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 starts right off with the Lord commanding the Israelites to conduct a census, "Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; 3 from twenty years old and upwards, everyone in Israel able to go to war." Note that it was only males who were to be counted. Then came a list of the representatives from each tribe to help with the census, then the results of the census itself from eleven tribes (the Levites weren't counted). It was tedious, with the wording being nearly identical for each tribe, with just the names and numbers changed. The result of the census - "from twenty years old and upwards, everyone able to go to war in Israel-- 46 their whole number was six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty." Even the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) called that number impossible.

The chapter closed with instructions to the Levites on taking care of the tabernacle. They were supposed to set up their tents surrounding the tabernacle to keep the rest of the Israelites away, "so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the Israelites". Any one who got close was supposed to be put to death.

Numbers, Chapter 2

This chapter gave instructions on where each of the tribes were supposed to set up their individual camps in the context of the grand encampment. The tabernacle went in the center, surrounded by the Levites, with the other tribes set up around them. There were also specific instructions on what order the tribes were supposed to go in when the camp moved from one location to another.

Numbers, Chapter 3

This chapter dealt mostly with the Levites - how they were to help Aaron and his descendents, particularly at the tent of meeting and the tabernacle, but not as priests themselves. God referred back to his claim of all the firstborn that he made in Exodus, "I hereby accept the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn that open the womb among the Israelites. The Levites shall be mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine; when I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both human and animal; they shall be mine. I am the Lord." Next was a breakdown of all the clans of the Levites and their duties to perform. The Kohathites were given the most important task, being responsible for the ark. Then it was back to the claim on the first born. All the firstborn male Israelites over a month old were tallied. There were 22,273 of them - 273 more of them than total Levite males. So, most of them were redeemed one for one by the Levites, but 273 had to pay 5 shekels apiece. It makes you wonder how they figured out who were the ones who had to pay.

Numbers, Chapter 4

This chapter contained more detail on the tasks assigned to each of the clans of the Levites. It got pretty detailed, down to table cloths and utensils. The Kohathites were warned that even though it was their task to work in the most holy section of the tabernacle and to carry the most sacred objects, they were never to look at the objects or touch them, lest they would die. Just to be clear, Aaron and the priests would cover the objects before the camp set out again, so that the Kohathites could carry them by the handles without actually looking at them.

Numbers, Chapter 5

This chapter started with a few miscellaneous rules. First were instructions to keep outside the camp all lepers, anyone who had a discharge, or who became unclean by touching a corpse. The were instructions on how to make restitution when one person had done someone else wrong (of course, it involved an animal sacrifice).

The majority of the chapter dealt with a ritual to be performed if a husband suspected his wife of cheating. He took her to the priest, who performed the ritual inside the tabernacle. It included mixing into water dust from the floor of the tabernacle and the rinsed off ink that had been used to write a curse, and making the woman drink it. If she was innocent, nothing would happen, but if she was guilty, she would miscarry if she was pregnant and become barren. According to the NOAB, while some people see this is a trial by ordeal, others don't think it was especially dangerous to the woman, and that the Israelites trusted God to enact any punishments. Seen from a modern perspective, it makes you feel bad for innocent women who just happened to miscarry after this ritual. And the whole thing just comes off as remarkably sexist - numerous times the it's said that the woman is under the husband's authority. And its telling that the ritual is only for a woman. There wasn't a similar ritual for men, and in fact, men were allowed to have multiple wives.

Numbers, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 was all about nazirites. These were people who took a special vow, and had to follow numerous rules to keep that vow. They weren't allowed to cut their hair, nor go near corpses (even their family), and there were special rituals and sacrifices they had to perform. There doesn't appear to be a lot of consensus among modern scholars as to just exactly what the role of nazirites was.

Numbers, Chapter 7

Once the tabernacle was completed and consecrated, the tribes all brought their offerings. It was the exact same offering every day for twelve days straight, from pretty much the same groups named in the census. In the end, there were the 12 wagons the offerings were delivered with, 12 silver plates, 12 silver basins, 12 gold dishes, bulls, rams, lamps, goats, grain offerings, and more.

Numbers, Chapter 8

This was a pretty short chapter. The first part dealt with details on how to setup the lamps in the tabernacle. The rest of the chapter was on cleansing the Levites to make the worthy to serve the Lord. There were animal sacrifices, grain offerings, and rituals. There was one statement that caught my eye (though similar to previous statements), "Moreover, I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites, to do the service for the Israelites at the tent of meeting, and to make atonement for the Israelites, in order that there may be no plague among the Israelites for coming too close to the sanctuary." The presence of God was a dangerous thing in the Old Testament.

Numbers, Chapter 9

The Lord commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Passover. There were a couple clarifications to previous rules concerning the celebration. People who were unclean at the appointed time were allowed to keep the Passover a month later. And people who were journeying were not required to celebrate the Passover.

The last several verses of the chapter repeated a description of the routine that the Israelites would follow while wandering the desert. The Lord would appear as a cloud of fire. When he remained over the tabernacle, they would stay camped there, sometimes for a single day, sometimes for months. When he left the tent, the Israelites would pack up camp and follow him.

Numbers, Chapter 10

At the beginning of Chapter 10, the Lord gave the Israelites instructions to make two silver trumpets to use to signal various occasions. One trumpet being blown signaled an assembly of the Israelite leaders. Both trumpets meant it was time to break camp and set out on a journey. The horns were also to be used before going into battle "so that you may be remembered before the Lord your God and be saved from your enemies", as if God needed reminding. There were also to be used for celebrations

In verse 11, they broke camp for the first time after arriving at Mt. Sinai. Everybody followed their roles that they had been instructed in. Moses also convinced his father-in-law to travel with them, since his father-in-law knew the wilderness and would be able to help them on their journeys.


So far, Numbers has been mostly rules and lists of people and objects. At least there was a little bit of a continuation of the narrative.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review - The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb was very interesting. As the title states, it was the complete Book of Genesis illustrated as a graphic novel by the noted artist, R. Crumb. Crumb took a bit of artistic license in creating his own translation, but it was basically a synthesis of the translations of Robert Alter and the King James bible, and stayed true to what most people would recognize as Biblical passages.

I won't use this space to comment on the actual Book of Gensis. If you're interested in my take on that, read some of the entries in my Friday Bible Blogging series. Rather, I'll comment on Crumb's work. The actual text of Genesis isn't particularly detailed, so to illustrate the entire book took a bit of interpretation on Crumb's part. For example, how did God go about creating everything ex nihlo? What were the tones and expressions people used when speaking? What did all those people look like (particularly the long begat sections)? Seeing Crumb's illustrations along with the text added a new dimension to the stories (though of course, a new dimension that can color your interpretation).

Since this is a graphic novel and thus the pictures are hugely important, here's one example of an illustration from the book, from the massacre of Noah's flood (note that I took a photo of the book with my phone, then touched it up on a computer, but there's only so much touch up I could do).

Noah's Flood from The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

And here's another, from when Jacob stole Esau's blessing from their father, Isaac (the distortion from the camera and the page not being flat are more pronounced in this picture).

Esau's Stolen Blessing from The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

I know that I had read some people making a big deal of the entire book being illustrated, including some of the more risque parts like Noah having sex with his daughters, but rest assured that this isn't pornography. There was cartoon nudity, but nothing I'd have a problem with my teenage daughter seeing.

At the end of the book, there was a commentary section, where Crumb wrote a paragraph or two on each of the chapters. Crumb's no professional Biblical scholar, but this section was interesting, none the less. He brought up an idea I hadn't heard before. I mentioned it already in the entry, Friday Bible Blogging - Genesis 11 to Genesis 20, so I'll just repeat what I wrote there, "when I read the notes in the back of The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, I learned of an interesting if somewhat questionable interpretation of this story and of Sarah's barrenness. As put forth by Savina J. Teubal in her book, Sarah The Priestess, these are vestiges of a prior tradition. Sarah was a priestess in a matriarchal tradition. She was childless not because of infertility, but because priestesses were barred from having children. Further, her marriages with the kings they visited with were a type of hieros gamos, or sacred marriage. According to Teubal, these stories were modified as authority was transferred to a patriarchal tradition. You can read more about that theory, along with other interpretations, at My Jewish Learning - Sarah in the Bible."

If you have the time, this is an interesting way to read the Book of Genesis.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for January 2013

Top 10 ListThe first month of the new year is over, so it's time for me to check the server logs to see how things went on this website. My Autogyro History & Theory page got a bit more traffic than normal, keeping it ahead of the MBT Shoes blog entry which also got a bit more traffic than normal. Every page that made the list had made it before, but one of them, Rotorcraft Speed Limitations, had only made it one time previously way back in December of 2007.

Overall traffic has been steadily increasing since August of last year, when the site had lower traffic than any month from the previous two years. It's now back into the range consistent with what it's been for the past couple years.

Here were the top 10 most popular pages on this site last month.

Top 10 for January 2013

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  4. Blog - Texas Board of Education - Bad Results for Science Standards
  5. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  6. Rotorcraft Speed Limitations
  7. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  8. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  9. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  10. Blog - Creation Museum/2nd Law of Thermodynamics

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Leviticus 21 to Leviticus 27

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleThis week's entry covers the final seven chapters of Leviticus, Chapters 21 through 27. For the most part, these chapters are just more rules and regulations.

Leviticus, Chapter 21

This chapter contains rules for the priests, mostly concerned with not defiling themselves. These included rules you might expect, like not marrying prostitutes, not disheveling his hair, and not going near corpses (even those of his parents), but others that seem a bit more arbitrary. For example, they're not allowed to "shave off the edges of their beards". There was a short section on who they were allowed to marry, and of course, they're only allowed to marry virgins. Widows or divorced women? They're tainted goods. There was no mention of whether or not the priests are allowed to re-marry or have multiple wives, though.

There was one passage with a particularly cruel and harsh punishment, "When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death."

The final verses were all about how no one with "a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God." That included blindness, lameness, broken bones, mutilated faces, crushed testicles, etc. "But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them." Think about all the disabled veterans that we regard as heroes, who gave a huge sacrifice in defense of democracy and freedom. They're not worthy to perform normal priestly duties because they're not pretty enough for Yahweh.

Leviticus, Chapter 22

The first half of this chapter detailed who was allowed to eat the portion of sacrifices set aside for the priests. Only clean priests were allowed to partake. Unclean priests were forbidden from eating of that food until they had purified themselves, lest "that person shall be cut off from my presence", or so that "they may not incur guilt and die in the sanctuary for having profaned it". Additionally, no lay people or servants were allowed to eat from the donations. However, purchased slaves of the priests were allowed to, as well as widowed or divorced daughters of the priests.

The rest of the chapter was rules on animals to be sacrificed. It was a lot of detailed on what constituted blemishes making the animal unworthy. There was also a prohibition from sacrificing newborn animals younger than eight days old, or killing an animal and its offspring on the same day.

Leviticus, Chapter 23

This chapter contained instructions on "appointed festivals of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations", what days to celebrate and how to celebrate them. These included the passover-offering, festival of unleavened bread, first fruits of the harvest, a day of atonement, the festival of booths, and the festival of the Lord. These could last anywhere from a day to weeks, and were accompanied by appropriate sacrifices and offerings, with sabbath days thrown in as well. There were also the normal threats to obey the Lord's commandments lest the people be punished.

Leviticus, Chapter 24

The first third of this chapter was just more instructions on offerings - oil for the lamps in the tent of meeting, bread offerings, and frankincense.

The remainder of the chapter told the story of a man of mixed heritage, with an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, who blasphemed the name of the Lord. The Israelites weren't sure what to do with him, so Moses asked God directly, and got the following reply, "One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death." After a few more eye for an eye statements, the Israelites took the man out and stoned him to death.

Leviticus, Chapter 25

This chapter described two cycles. The first was a sabbath for the land every seven years. The people were not to work the land at all, giving it a complete rest. They were only allowed to eat what they'd stockpiled from previous years, or what the land produced on its own.

The second cycle occurred every "seven times seven years", and was known as a jubilee year. There were many rules associated with the jubilee (this was a rather long chapter), but the basic gist was that "And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family." Debts were settled. Land was returned to the original owners. Indentured servants were set free.

One thing I found odd from this was the writers' conception of property rights. If you sold somebody property, they returned it to you in the jubilee year. It was more like leasing than buying. And I wonder how something like this would have worked in the long term. What happened when people died, especially those with no sons. Did the land pass to the priests?

I haven't been pointing out all the contradictions and inconsistencies in these reviews, even though the New Oxford Annotated Bible I'm reading has noted many of them. Like I wrote in the introduction, I was trying to keep these reviews from becoming too long and detailed. But this chapter contained one that stood out to me. In one of my previous entries, I mentioned how a Hebrew slave could become a slave for life by committing to it and having their ear punched through with an awl. Here, in the description of the jubilee, those indentured servants were set free.

Leviticus, Chapter 26

Chapter 26 was mostly a series of threats. It started off with promises of all the good the Lord would doe if the Israelites obeyed him, starting off, "3 If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, 4 I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit," and continuing on through verse 13. But at verse 14, things turned sour, "14 But if you will not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and abhor my ordinances, so that you will not observe all my commandments, and you break my covenant, 16 I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away," continuing on through verse 20. And then it got worse, "21 If you continue hostile to me, and will not obey me, I will continue to plague you sevenfold for your sins." It went on through two more worsening threats. And as with other parts of the Bible, these threads had the concept of collective guilt, "39 And those of you who survive shall languish in the land of your enemies because of their iniquities; also they shall languish because of the iniquities of their ancestors." After that, God said that if the Israelites would finally come around and "confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors", that he would remember his covenant and forgive them.

Leviticus, Chapter 27

The final chapter of Leviticus closed with a collection of miscellaneous rules on offerings and consecrations, from vows "to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being", to animals, to houses, to landholdings, to firstlings of animals, to tithes.

The most noteworthy aspect of this chapter was the first part, concerning the "equivalent for a human being". It was broken down by age, and then again by gender. For example, "3 the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. 4 If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels." In every case, a female was worth significantly less than a male.


One more book down. After reading Leviticus, I have to say that I'm glad that many of the stories written in the Bible are just myths with only grains of truth, and that I'm especially glad that Yahweh isn't real. Perhaps more than any other book so far, Leviticus reveals a cruel, capricious god, from the harsh and cruel punishments demanded to be given to people (sometimes for 'crimes' that shouldn't even be considered wrong), to the callous treatment of lepers and the disabled, to the barbaric practices of animal sacrifice. I don't understand how people can read a book like this, and still call Yahweh a loving god. In fact, if you accept Leviticus, it makes theodicy superfluous - there's no need to solve the problem of evil if you don't assume omnibenevolence.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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