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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teach the Controversy! (except when I don't agree with it) - CSCOPE and the Second Amendment

CSCOPEYou know those types of people who doubt evolution and are always trying to get alternative viewpoints put into schools? They'll say to Teach the controversy, or to examine "all sides of scientific evidence". Well, in my recent research into the manufactured CSCOPE controversy, I came across this page:

RedHotConservative.com - 2nd AMENDMENT a COLLECTIVE RIGHT?

The writer highlighted a couple sections from a CSCOPE lesson plan.


and another:

The collective right's advocates believed that the Second Amendment did not apply to individuals; rather it recognized the right of a state to arm its militia. It recognized limited individual rights only when it was excercised by members of a functioning, organized militia while actively participating in the militia's activities.

The CSCOPE plan went on to explain the point of view of the proponents of individual's rights, and pointed out that the most recent Supreme Court decisions on the issue have favored the individual's rights interpretation. In fact, this is a pretty well balanced lesson. The debate of individual vs. collective interpretation of the Second Amendment is an old one. Just go read the Wikipedia article. It discusses older cases brought before the Supreme Court, such as United States v. Cruikshank, Presser v. Illinois, and Miller v. Texas, which interpreted the Second Amendment more as a collective right, and allowed state governments to restrict gun ownership. It wasn't until relatively recently, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Supreme Court finally and explicitly interpreted the Second Amendment as an individual right.

But apparently, even discussing this ongoing national debate is crossing the line.

In a High School lesson the kids are instructed to discuss whether the 2nd Amendment should be a collective or individual right. In TEXAS you may ask???? (UNFORTUNATELY YES) I call this INDOCTRINATION!

I know it's not terribly surprising, but just keep this in mind the next time you hear someone calling for debating all sides of the evolution debate. And also keep it in mind when you hear someone deriding CSCOPE for being some conspiracy to indoctrinate our children.

Previous CSCOPE Entries:

Monday, April 29, 2013

More on CSCOPE - Promoting Communist China?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the brewing CSCOPE controversy in an entry, CSCOPE Conspiracy?. For a bit of background, CSCOPE describes itself as "a customizable, online curriculum management system aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)." It basically consists of material to help teachers cover the required curriculum. But since everything seems to be politicized these days, CSCOPE is now getting pulled into the culture wars. Right wing critics of CSCOPE are leveling all sorts of charges against the system, such as claiming that it criticizes Christianity and that it promotes communism.

Since my post a few weeks ago, I've begun noticing these signs popping up all over Wichita Falls.

CSCOPE Protest Sign
Image Source: RedHotConservative.com*

So, I decided to take another look at this story. In my last entry, I examined one claim against CSCOPE - that it was denigrating Christianity by calling it a cult and claiming that early Christians participated in cannibalism and incest. Needless to say, reality didn't match up with the right wing claim.

Today, I typed CSCOPE into my google search box and followed a link to see another claimed criticism of the system. This time, the link was this one.
The Blaze - Want to See What CSCOPE and Common Core (Even Homeschooling) Lessons Look Like? These Parents Opened Up to TheBlaze

The writer of this article seemed mostly concerned with how CSCOPE discussed China, and supposedly promoted communism over capitalism. Here's a claim from that article.

"They make kids watch a video that makes capitalism look bad and Communist China look good. It's absolutely unbelievable."

Below are several screenshots of the program, "China Rises," along with a video that Card was able to record and save for his own records.

So, what does the screenshot say in support of Communism?

In 25 years, China has achieved the most rapid economic advance in such a short time of any nation in history. How? By scrapping its devotion to collectivism and embracing private enterprise with the zeal of 19th-century robber barons. But is China's success riding on the backs of the poor?

That's a pretty strange endorsement of communism. Here's an excerpt from another screenshot on that page.

Yet economic reform continued in China and continues today. The communist concept of sharing the work and the wealth - collectivism - has fallen by the wayside, and private enterprise has taken the helm of China's economy.

The actual screenshots from CSCOPE in the article are contradicting the text within the article. The CSCOPE lesson is claiming that China's switch to free market capitalism is what's fueling its economic growth.

The next complaint in the article was about 'cruelties' under capitalism.

Card notes that the video preview made available under the "Getting Rich" sub-section of the site talks about capitalism's "cruelties" as it shows a man whose [sic] lost his hand in a machine.

I haven't yet watched the video, but this doesn't sound like an indictment of capitalism. Given the mention of 'robber barons' in the one excerpt, it sounds like a look at how China is transitioning to capitalism, going through some of the same birth pangs as the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution, when lack of regulations led to bad working environments and actual armed uprisings like the Ludlow Massacre.

So, that's another criticism of CSCOPE examined and found wanting. If I have the time and motivation, I may try looking into more of these criticisms in follow-up entries.

More Info:

*Note that the article on that RedHotConservative.com site is a verbatim copy of the article on Times Record News without even citing it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Ruth 1 to Ruth 4

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).

BibleRuth is by far the shortest of the Biblical books that I've read so far - just 4 chapters long. It's also the shortest of the Historical Books, but not the shortest book of the Bible, or even of the Old Testament.

Ruth, Chapter 1

In a time of famine, Elimelech left Bethlehem in Judah to go live in Moab. He took his wife, Naomi, and their two sons. After a time, Elimelech died, and his sons married Moabites. But after about 10 years, the sons died, too, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, on their own. After hearing that the famine in Israel had ended, Naomi decided to return, but first she tried to send Orpah and Ruth back to their own mothers. Orpah left, but Ruth refused to leave her. There's a fairly well known passage from this section with a nice sentiment, where Ruth expressed her loyalty to Naomi.

Where you go, I will go;
   where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
   and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die--
   there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
   and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!'

Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, "the whole town was stirred because of them". Naomi asked the people to begin calling her Mara, instead - meaning 'bitter', as opposed to her previous name which means 'pleasant'.

Ruth, Chapter 2

To feed themselves, Ruth went to glean from the fields - gathering some of the grain left behind by the reapers. She just happened to go to the field that belonged to Boaz, a relative of Ruth's. She caught Boaz's eye, and he told her to stay in his fields with his young women, while at the same time he told his servants to keep an eye on her and provide her with extra grain. He even invited her to eat lunch with him. At the end of the day, she returned to Naomi with plenty of food and told her of the day's goings on.

Ruth, Chapter 3

Naomi instructed Ruth to clean herself up, put on her best clothes, and approach Boaz at the threshing floor, but only after he'd eaten and drank. When he went to lie down, she was to "go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do." Now, there's a little bit of a question as to what that's supposed to mean. 'Feet' was sometimes used as a euphemism for 'genitals' in the Bible, so some people might interpret those instructions in a sexual light. However, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), at least, these words were to be taken at face value, since Ruth and Boaz followed all the appropriate customs in the rest of the book and wouldn't have committed such a sin here. Anyway, Ruth followed Naomi's advice, and when Boaz took notice, she asked him to "spread your cloak over your servant", an expression of marriage. Boaz agreed, but there was a closer next-of-kin who he would have to talk to, first.

Ruth, Chapter 4

The next day, Boaz met the other next-of-kin at the town gate to discuss the matter. The other next-of-kin was unwilling to marry Ruth, because "I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it."

Next came a passage that reminded me a bit of Grandpa Simpson telling a story.

7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, one party took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, 'Acquire it for yourself', he took off his sandal.

So, Boaz and Ruth were married and had a son, Obed (though following custom, the son was given the name of Ruth's dead husband). The final few verses were genealogy, from Perez through a few generations to Obed, and then to Jesse, and then to David. I've read that these last few verses were probably tacked on, possibly in an attempt to legitimize David's claim to kingship (whose story will be told in upcoming books).


There's really not much to write about the book of Ruth. It was a short story about only a few characters. It's most likely allegorical, as the names of almost all the characters translate to something meaningful for the story (Elimelech - "My God is King", Naomi - "Pleasing", Mahlon - "Sickness", Chilion - "Wasting", Mara - "Bitter"). Perhaps the most significant lesson taken from it is that non-Jews can convert to Judaism and become full standing members of the community.

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, April 25, 2013

Response to Anti-Liberal E-mail - Linus Gets It

Libtards First PanelI need to quit taking the bait so easily. Somebody sent me another political e-mail that I couldn't resist responding to. This one wasn't nearly as high brow as the typical right wing rant. It consisted of 3 strips of the comic, Libtards (the name in and of itself lets you know the level of discourse to expect). This comic rips off the Peanuts, and in the strips I saw, at least, consisted of political conversations between Linus and Lucy, with Lucy representing the liberal and Linus representing the conservative. I'm not going to repost the comics here, but I will provide links if you want to read them for yourself.

Libtards Strip 1
The first strip started with Lucy saying, "I voted for Obama because he's black," followed by Linus listing all the supposed problems caused by Obama.

Voted for Obama because he's black Only a small minority of people voted for Obama strictly because he's black - probably about the same number of people who voted for McCain/Romney strictly because they're white.
Deficit Obama took office during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Deficit spending is exactly what the government's supposed to do in that situation to stimulate the economy and get things back on track. So, you can't have it both ways. Either the economy is recovered and we can stop deficit spending, or the economy is still hurting and requires deficit spending from the government.
NY Times - Judging Stimulus by Job Data Reveals Success

Let's also not forget that government spending as a percentage of GDP has been steadily decreasing since Obama's first year in office.

Federal Spending
(Source: JaredBernsteinBlog.com)

(In my opinion, this is a fault with the Obama administration - stimulus spending has been too small, explaining the slower than hoped recovery. The current sequestration is going to hurt the recovery even more.)
Unemployment Unemployment has been improving since the worst of the Recession.

U.S. Unemployment Rate
(Source: TradingEconomics.com)
Benghazi I agree that this is a problem, but also one that's been blown out of proportion.
Think Progress - What Everyone Should Know About The Benghazi Attack
Gas prices Gas prices showed a fairly steady rise from 2003 to 2008 under Bush. Then there was a sudden drop, after which prices relatively quickly rebounded to what they'd been previously, but have held fairly steady for the past two years without further increase. So, even assuming any president had much control over gas prices, I don't see where Obama's done a bad job.

Gas Price History
(Source: GasBuddy.com)
Immigration crisis Illegal immigration peaked in 2007 and has been decreasing since then.
CBS News - Illegal immigration to U.S. drops after rising for decade
Solyndra What about it? There were nearly 40 projects in that loan guarantee program. Most of the projects were successful. Solyndra wasn't. I wouldn't expect every project in such a program to be successful.
Think Progress - Five Things You Should Know About Solyndra During The 2012 Campaign
National credit rating Maybe you could blame Obama for not showing enough leadership here, but the downgrade was clearly due to the GOP in congress, and the way they played chicken with our country's economy and reputation.
Think Progress - The Downgrade Trifecta: S&P Slams Third GOP Debt Stance For Jeopardizing U.S. Credit

Libtards Strip 2
The second strip started with Lucy saying, "I am pro-choice!", followed by Linus listing all the things our tyrannical government prohibits.

Can I choose to smoke? Yes.  Cigarettes are still legal.
Can I choose a large soda? Other than one local government (NYC), everyone has always been able to buy large sodas.
Can I choose to own a gun? Yes.  Even the recently failed gun control laws were only trying to institute universal background checks, limit clip capacity, and limit one particular type of firearm (assault rifles).  A few years ago, Obama even signed into law a bill that allows people to take firearms into national parks.
NBC News - New law allows loaded guns in national parks
Can I choose an incandescent bulb? First of all, it depends.  Some states are phasing out incandescent bulbs.  Federal laws are only mandating new efficiency standards (albeit, ones that will be hard for current incandescent bulbs to meet).
Wikipedia - Phase-out of incandescent light bulbs: United States

But more importantly, Lucy was right in this comic.  Our energy use is too high.  Global warming is a real threat that we must face, and switching to more efficient light bulbs seems like a small price to pay to help reduce our carbon output.
Can I choose low-cost coal? Again, Lucy is right.  According to Wikipedia, "Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it was responsible for 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year..."  How selfish do you have to be to want to continue using so much coal simply because it gives you a little cheaper electricity, when you're passing off all the problems of global warming to future generations?  Our nation should be transitioning to cleaner power sources.
Wikipedia - Coal power in the United States
Can I choose to honor God? Yes.  You just can't use tax-payer money to do so.  Granted, there are mostly local cases where someone doesn't understand the law, but no widespread attempt at suppressing religion.  In fact, the problem's mostly the opposite - people abusing their positions to use taxpayer money to push sectarian beliefs and not respecting the Establishment Clause.  (When's the last time you heard a politician end a speech without saying "and God bless America"?)
ACLU - ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression
Americans United

Oh, just for the hell of it, let's turn this around and ask a few hypothetical questions to Republicans.

Can I burn an inanimate object like a flag? Not if we had our way.  Even though it causes no actual harm to anybody, it seems disrespectful.
Fox News - Houses Passes Ban on U.S. Flag-Burning
Can I marry whoever I want? No.  Even though marriage has been an ever changing institution, from polygamy (even in the Bible) to arranged marriages to no inter-racial marriages just a few decades ago, we're going to pretend that 'traditional marriage' is something real and outlaw the marriages we don't agree with.  And we'll even try to get an amendment passed to the Constitution that takes away freedom.
Star Tribune - Marriage Amendment
What about in my heterosexual marriage?  Can we do things a little 'wild and crazy' in the bedroom? Nope.  Missionary style only - at least in 13 states.
Huffington Post - Why Do Virginia, 13 Other States Want To Keep Their Anti-Sodomy Laws A Decade After SCOTUS Ban?
Can I hook up with a girl from a bar?  Shack up with my long term girlfriend? Not in Virginia.
Sodomy.org - Virginia's Sodomy Law
Can I smoke a little pot? No.  Drugs are immoral (even if marijuana and several other illicit drugs are less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol).
Wikipedia - Substance abuse
Can I buy a bottle of fine scotch whiskey on a Sunday afternoon? No.  And you can't go car-shopping, either.
Wikipedia - Blue law
Can I vote? Going against 200 years of tradition - not unless you have a driver's license, even though voter fraud is a non-existent problem.
Mother Jones - UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud

And if we think you're going to vote against us, we'll do what we can to make it harder for you to vote.
Think Progress - Florida Republicans Admit Voter Suppression Was The Goal Of New Election Laws
CommonDreams.org - Land of the Free? Home of the Brave? Only When It's Convenient

Libtards Strip 3
Here's the third and final strip from the e-mail. This one began with Lucy claiming, "Republicans are racist, sexist, homophobic, gun-toting religious fanatics," with Linus pointing out that liberals support Muslims who share all those same traits.

Okay, he has a bit of a point, there. Too many liberals, going too far in trying to be tolerant and multicultural, accept the negative aspects of some cultures.
SamHarris.org - Dear Fellow Liberal: An Exchange with Glenn Greenwald

But it's important to remember that there's a lot of diversity among Muslims just like Christians. Just like you shouldn't try to tar all of Christianity because of the KKK, Hutaree, the Army of God, modern day witch hunts, or the like, you shouldn't try to tar all of Islam because of Muslim extremists. In fact, this is a large part of the reason why many liberals are so quick to defend Muslims - because there is real discrimination against them.
Wikipedia - Christian terrorism
Wikipedia - Army of God (United States)
Guardian - Children are targets of Nigerian witch hunt
Think Progress - Fox News Reignites Islamophobic Campaign Against The 'Ground Zero Mosque'

So, this was just more of the same that I've come to expect from right-wing e-mail forwards - straw men and distortions of the truth, though in a much cruder format than I'm used to seeing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wichita Falls - Pray for Rain

Take a look at what's been popping up all over the city of Wichita Falls, Texas.

Pray for Rain Sign

Pray for Rain

The bottom of the sign is a reference to 1 Thessalonians 5:17, which states simply, "pray without ceasing".

Perhaps a little background information is in order. Wichita Falls has a serious problem:

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook

Wichita Falls is located just a little to the east of the dark spot in north central Texas - not in the absolute worst of it, but still in D3 Drought. Our reservoir levels are the lowest they've been in decades, and the drought forecast doesn't look like we're getting relief any time soon.

I know that in times like this, people feel helpless and look for anything they can do to try to make things better. And there's nothing particularly horrible about these signs. There's just something about them that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's the fact that they're everywhere, and that all the money people have been paying for signs could have gone into something more productive. Maybe it's the idea that a god would be so capricious as to cause a drought until some prayer quota's been met, at which point he'd finally send some relief. Maybe it's the fact that people in the 21st century are still doing the equivalent of a rain dance to the gods. Maybe I'm just becoming too curmudgeonly.

Oh well, live and let live. If putting up signs in their yards makes people feel better, who am I to complain too much about it.

More Info:

Image Sources: Wikimedia, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Judges 11 to Judges 21

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).

BibleChapters 11 through 21 comprise the second half of the book of Judges. These chapters contain some stories that are more recognizable, such as Samson and Delilah.

The judges in these books display some rather questionable morality. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) notes that much of that is to intentionally present the judges in a bad light, as a kind of precursor to coming books, laying the foundation to make the case that monarchy will be good for Israel. This may be the case, but there are still aspects of God's involvement in the stories that are troubling.

Judges, Chapter 11

I closed last week's review with the Israelites on the verge of war with the Ammonites, but without anyone to lead them. This chapter described the leader, Jephthah. He was the son of a prostitute. Once his half-brothers were old enough, they drove him away to keep their inheritances larger. Jephthah ended up in the land of Tob and became a leader of a group of outlaws. With the coming war, the Israelite leaders approached Jephthah and asked for him to lead the army. Jephthah agreed under the condition that he would be the head of Israel, not just the army, and the Israelite elders agreed to his condition.

Jephthah began by trying to negotiate with the Ammonites, claiming that the land had never belonged to them. Unfortunately, the negotiations didn't work, and the war came. Next came a very disturbing aspect of the story. Jephthah made an oath with the Lord, "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord's, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering." He was offering a human-sacrifice in exchange for victory! So, "the Lord gave them into his hand." Upon Jephthah return to his house, the first person out of the door to greet him was his daughter. But since he'd made an oath, it couldn't be broken. After giving her two months to wander the wilderness grieving for her fate, "she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made."

I know this story is supposedly to put Jephthah in a bad light, but God allowed it all to happen, and even kept his end of the oath that resulted in the daughter being sacrificed. He could have appeared like he did to Moses to stop the sacrifice, or even just let Jephthah fail.

Judges, Chapter 12

After the defeat of the Ammonites, the Israelites had some inter-tribal warfare. Jephthah and the men of Gilead fought against the Ephraimites. Jephthah and his men took a ford in the region, and killed any Emphraimites who tried to cross it. "Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time."

Jepthah was judge over Israel for six years before his death. This chapter closed with a list of the three judges who followed Jephthah.

Judges, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 introduced the story of Samson. It began in the same way as so many chapters of this book, "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord", so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines for 40 years. But then, the angel of the Lord came to visit the unnamed wife of Manoah, and told her that she was going to have a son. He instructed her to "drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death." And if you recall the description of nazirites from Numbers, it meant that Samson was never to cut his hair.

The woman told her husband of the visit, who prayed to God for more guidance. So God sent the angel a second time, still going to visit the woman first, who had to go get her husband to be part of the conversation. After offering the angel food, the angel insisted that it be offered as a burnt offering, and "the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on."

There was one other interesting aspect from this chapter - the importance of names. When Manoah asked the angel for his name, the angel refused to give it to him.

Judges, Chapter 14

Chapter 14 contains a bit of an odd story. Once Samson was older, he decided he wanted a Philistine woman for a wife. His parents were troubled by this, but apparently, "this was from the Lord; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines."

One day, as Samson was walking near a vineyard by himself, he was attacked by a lion, and "The spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as one might tear apart a kid." But he didn't tell anyone about it. Then he went on to meet a woman, and "After a while he returned to marry her". On that trip, he saw the body of the lion, which had become inhabited by bees. So, Samson took the honey from inside the carcass, eating some of it for himself, and taking some of it back to his parents. But he didn't tell anybody where the honey came from.

So, a feast was prepared for the wedding, and as was apparently the custom (per the NOAB), Samson posed a riddle to the guests. The stakes were "thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments". If they solved the riddle, Samson would owe them, but if they couldn't then they would owe Samson. But Samson's riddle wasn't a fair one. It was based on the events with the lion and the honey, not something that anybody else could figure out, "Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet."

The guests of course couldn't solve the riddle, so they convinced Samson's wife to coax the answer out of him. After "she nagged him" for seven days, he finally broke and told her the answer, which she passed on to the guests, who then won the bet. Samson was furious, "If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle." And immediately following that, "the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle." And with that, he stormed away from the town, so his wife was given to another man, thinking Samson was gone for good.

Just like Jephthah's story was supposed to make him look bad, the NOAB says that this was supposed to make Samson look bad. But he only killed all those townspeople after "the spirit of the Lord rushed on him". It was God who enabled the killing.

Judges, Chapter 15

A while later, Samson went back to visit his wife, only to find out that she'd been given to another man. And of course, he was furious. So, he attached some foxes tail to tail, put a torch "between each pair of tails", then lit the torches and let the foxes free. They ran through the fields of the Philistines, setting all their crops ablaze. When the Philistines learned Samson had done it in revenge, they went to Samson's wife and her father, and burned them. Samson went on a killing spree, striking down many Philistines before going off to live on his own.

In retaliation, the Philistines went to Judah and punished the people there, so that the people of Judah would deliver Samson. Samson allowed the people of Judah to bind him, so long as they weren't going to attack him themselves. As soon as he was delivered to the Philistines, he broke his bonds and attacked. This is where the infamous story of the jawbone takes place. Judah picked up "a fresh jawbone of a donkey", and killed a thousand Philistines with it.

After the fighting was over and Samson was parched with thirst, he called out to God to not let him die of thirst, "so God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi", providing Samson with water.

Judges, Chapter 16

Next came a short story involving Samson and a prostitute. While visiting a prostitute in Gaza, the people learned of his presence, and decided to attack him come first light. But Samson arose at midnight, and then in an image that's almost cartoonish, he "took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron."

After that, Samson finally fell in love with Delilah. She was bribed by Philistine leaders to learn the secret of his strength, so she repeatedly tried to get him to admit it to her. On multiple occasions, he gave her a false answer, and that very night she would try to subdue him with whatever false answer he had given her, while Philistine soldiers lay in wait in the next room, only to learn she'd been fooled when he awoke and broke the bonds. You'd think that after waking up bound a few times, Samson would have become suspicious, but he eventually told Delilah the true source of his strength - his uncut hair. So that night, when he fell asleep with his head in her lap, she called in a man to cut his hair, and Samson lost his strength. The Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes, after which they bound him and took him to Gaza. In Gaza, he was put to work grinding at the mill in the prison. But we were given a ray of hope - his hair had begun to grow again.

The Philistine leaders gathered for a celebration and to offer a sacrifice to their god, Dagon. They called out Samson from the prison to humiliate him by making him perform for them. Samson prayed to God one last time, asking God to "remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes." With that, he pushed on the pillars between which he was standing, making the whole building collapse, killing everyone within it, "So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life."

In the last line of the chapter, we learn that Samson had judged Israel for 20 years.

Judges, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 introduces us to Micah, a man from the hill country of Ephraim. The chapter started with him admitting to his mother that he'd taken 1100 pieces of silver from her and returning it. In turn, she took a portion of that silver to make an idol, which she kept in Micah's house. In addition, "Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim" and then made his son a priest.

One day, a young Levite who had been living in Bethlehem in Judah left the town to strike out on his own. He met Micah, and Micah asked the young Levite to stay with him as a priest, and to be like a father to him.

Judges, Chapter 18

Now the Danites still hadn't been allotted their territory, so they sent five scouts out looking for a suitable location. They came upon Micah's house, and recognized the young Levite. They received his blessing on their quest before continuing on. Next, they came upon Laish. The description the Bible gave is a little unsettling in that it really illustrates the warlike nature of the Israelites, "they observed the people who were there living securely, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth, and possessing wealth."

So, the scouts returned to their tribe and gathered an army to conquer Laish. On the way, they went to the home of Micah, and convinced the young Levite to go with them, even stealing the idol, ephod, and teraphim. The young Levite tried to protest some, but they told him to "Keep quiet! Put your hand over your mouth..." A little way onward, Micah caught up to them and confronted them, but the Danites threatened Micah and he returned to his house empty handed.

In the end, the Danites conquered Laish, killing everyone in the city and taking the land for themselves, and putting up the idols in the city.

Judges, Chapter 19

Chapter 19 began a somewhat gruesome story. A Levite living in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. One day, she became angry with him and returned to her father's house. After a few months, the man went to win her back. There was a bit of an odd side story, where the man kept trying to leave, but the girl's father kept giving him food and drink and convincing him to spend another night. But eventually, on the fifth day, they left.

They made their way to a town named Gibeah, and waited in the town square until an old man invited them to stay at his house. Then, the story became reminiscent of Sodom. The men of the town came to the house and demanded to have the man so that "we may have intercourse with him". And like in that other story, the men trapped inside the house tried to appease the men trapped outside the house by offering them "my virgin daughter and his concubine", but the men of the town still wanted the Levite. But here is where the story went its own way. Instead of a miraculous rescue by angels, the Levite pushed his concubine out the door. The men raped and abused the concubine. In the morning, she fell at the door of the house, and when the man tried to rouse her, he discovered that she had been killed.

So, he took her body, threw it on a donkey, and took it back to his home. Then "he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel." Along with the body parts, he sent a message to form a counsel, since nothing like that had ever before happened in Israel.

Judges, Chapter 20

The people of Israel gathered to decide what was to be done. They sent emissaries throughout the tribe of Benjamin, demanding the men who had committed the crime so that they could be put to death. The Benjaminites refused to hand them over, so both sides formed up armies for battle. The non-Benjaminite Israelites went to the Ark of the Covenant to ask God what to do, and God told them to go out to battle. Two days in a row, the Benjaminites inflicted major casualties on the rest of Israel. Both nights, the Israelites returned to the Ark, and both times God told them to go back out to battle. But on the second night, God gave the Israelites further instructions on their tactics. On the third day, the main body of Israel was finally victorious, and killed all of the Benjaminites, including the women and children, except for a small group of men who escaped.

Judges, Chapter 21

The Israelites had made a vow that none of their daughters would marry the Benjaminites. But now that there were no female Benjaminites left alive, they lamented the fact that one of the tribes of Israel would go extinct. So they took a roll, and realized that no one from Jabesh-gilead had been at Mizpah when the vow was made. So 12,000 soldiers were sent to Jabesh-gilead, and commanded to "put the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead to the sword, including the women and the little ones". Only virgin girls were to be captured alive. These young girls were taken to the band of Benjaminite survivors, so that they could have wives. But their weren't enough girls to go around.

The Israelites found a loophole. The men from Benjamin who still didn't have wives were to go to Shiloh while they were having a festival, and hide in wait in the vineyards. When unsuspecting girls came by, the Benjaminites would kidnap them. That way, the girls weren't captured in battle, which apparently would have caused more war. But the Israelites also had broken their vow by giving their daughters to the Benjaminites. So, the Benjaminites kidnapped enough girls to keep their tribe going.

The chapter closed with a line that was repeated numerous times throughout this book,"In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes."


This book really paints a bad picture of Israelite morality in those days. Granted, as I wrote above, some people see this as laying the foundation to support monarchy in later books, by showing that the people need a strong leader to keep from behaving badly. And for the most part, the communication with Yahweh in this book wasn't as direct as it had been with Moses and Joshua. But God still played a troubling role in many of these stories, giving strength to the people that committed atrocities, or letting battles rage for days before divinely stepping in to give one side the victory.

Like I wrote last week, it's easy to see how this book could be based in reality. It doesn't present a completely idealized image of Israel. There's a lot of inter-tribal warfare and different gods being worshiped. It's almost as if these stories are descended from the early days of Judaism, when the people began to shift to the worship of one god instead of many, and when they began to come together as one nation. Though that's just the way I'm reading this book, and it's also possible that it is an 'idealized' view of Israel, but a rather dystopian view to stress the shortcomings of a society without a monarch.

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, April 17, 2013

Are Evidence and Expertise Bad for Politics?

MicroscopeIf you've followed this blog at all, you'll know that my blog fodder typically comes from e-mails I receive directly, or sometimes from other sources when it's a topic I'm particularly interested in. My point is, I don't go out looking for cranks to rebut, because the Internet is so full of those that there's no way to respond to all of them. I usually stick to stories that have some type of personal connection. However, I just came across an article that I couldn't resist replying to.

A few days ago, there was a debate between Brendan O'Neill and Robin Ince. O'Neill posted a version of his speech on his blog in an entry titled Is science becoming a new religion?. Ince wrote his response to the debate on his blog in an entry titled The Fascism of Knowing Stuff.

O'Neill's article was exasperating. It wasn't so much about science becoming a new religion (an attitude I wouldn't agree with, anyway), but about the intersection of science and politics, and why politics is the worse off for it. His main point was that that democracy should be for the common person (which is largely true), but that expertise and evidence should NOT be that important in making policy decision. I'm not exaggerating. Here is one excerpt from his speech.

When politics and science mix in this way, both of them suffer, I think. We end up with evidence-driven policy and policy-driven science, neither of which is a very good thing.

Let that sink in. He literally said that evidence-driven policy is not a good thing.

Here's what he had to say in the very next paragraph.

Politics suffers because it becomes more rigid. It is hard to have a serious democratic debate about a course of action when that course of action is described as the correct, scientific thing to do. Anyone who challenges it is written off as anti-science, a heretic, a denier. Moral debate dies, or at least suffers badly, when authority becomes increasingly scientific and expert-led.

I'm sorry if reality is too stifling for you, but that is the world we live in. And now matter how much some people might like for this to be true, public debate will not change the nature of reality. For example, no matter how much denialists would like to ignore global climate change, it really is happening and we and future generations are going to have to live with the consequences. There are things we can do now to mitigate those consequences, and this is where the political debate should be, not doubting the science. And of course, science should be used to inform the debate on what to do about climate change, since that is how we can best determine the effects of our actions.

Here's another excerpt criticizing the involvement of experts in politics.

The more politics becomes an experts' pursuit, the less room there is for the public's ideological or passionate or angry or prejudicial views - they are unscientific and to listen to them is to play to populist sentiment, as David Nutt and others say.

And here's one final excerpt. This was one of the first in the article that really caught my eye, but if I'd made it the first in this post, it might have seemed that I was criticizing O'Neall out of context. But with the other quotes I've included above as a reference, there should be no problem believing that O'Neall wrote this as a complaint (although, unfortunately, not true enough).

What we have today is a situation where evidence and expertise are the main drivers of policy.

To be fair, O'Neill did make a few fair points about science becoming corrupted by politics, and politicians cherry-picking data to support their positions, but his overall message could almost have come from an Onion article. I just don't understand this type of anti-intellectualism, nor wanting to free public policy from that pesky evidence.

h/t: Pharyngula

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Judges 1 to Judges 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).

BibleToday marks another minor milestone in this series. It's the 6 month anniversary (mensiversary?) of my first post of the series. I'm just about 1/6 of the way through the Bible - not bad progress, but still a lot left to go. I hope I can keep up my motivation till the end of the series, and not peter out like I've seen other people's attempts to blog the Bible (like Blogging Biblically - a much more humorous take on the Bible than this series). I have to admit that it's getting pretty tedious right now, but maybe later chapters will pick up.

Judges is the next of the Historical Books. It begins just after Joshua's death, and goes through a series of ups and downs for Israel. The Israelites will forget God and get punished for it by being subjugated by neighboring peoples, until God feels sorry for them again and raises up a leader to free them. But once the leader dies, they fall back into their pagan ways, and get punished by God again. In chapters 1 through 10, at least, this pattern repeats over and over. And there aren't really any passages from these chapters that stand out as being particularly well known.

Judges, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 picks up the story of the Israelites immediately following the death of Joshua. They asked the Lord who was going to lead them in their fight against the Canaanites, and God appointed Judah. And of course, they fought and defeated many peoples and cities, sometimes killing everybody. One passage caught my eye - this would definitely be termed cruel and unusual punishment if it were to occur today.

6 Adoni-bezek fled; but they pursued him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Adoni-bezek said, 'Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has paid me back.' They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

There was some repetition from Joshua. Recall the story from chapter 15 of Joshua where Othniel son of Kenaz conquered Kiriath-sepher and in so doing won Caleb's daughter, Achsach, as his wife. That story was repeated again in this chapter, this time apparently after Joshua's death.

The chapter moved on to other tribes, and their conquests against the peoples in the land. However, not all of the conquests were complete. Often times, it was noted that a tribe didn't manage to conquer all of a people, and so they continued to live in the land. However, there was usually an accompanying statement that those peoples were eventually subjected to forced labor once the Israelites became strong enough.

There was one passage that is probably recognizable to most skeptics who are familiar with the Iron Chariots website.

The Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron.

It makes you question the Lord's omnipotence if iron age weapons could stop him. This is also one of the verses that illustrates the translation issues with the New International Version (NIV) and a few other translations. This verse was harmonized by making it read "they were unable to drive the people from the plains", even though the original Hebrew isn't plural there.

Judges, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 began with God scolding the Israelites for not remaining faithful to the covenant, and took away his support in conquering the people's of the Promised Land. In despair, the people wept and made sacrifices to God.

Next the chapter went back to Joshua's death. It was almost like a second start to the book. This was another instance of repeating content from the previous book. To quote myself from last week, "after Joshua's death, Israel served the Lord for as long as the elders survived who had witnessed the works of the Lord." It also repeated the burial of Joshua.

After a few generations had passed, the Israelites abandoned God and began to worship Baal and the Astartes. This angered the Lord, so he punished them. "Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune..." But sometimes God tried to help, raising up "judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them." But the people would only follow the judges while they (the judges) were still alive, and then the people would again abandon Yahweh and go back to worshiping other gods. These verses were all pretty generic, not listing any of the specific judges or conquering peoples. This might have been an interlude, but I suspect it was more of an introduction to the chapters that were to follow.

Judges, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 continued on with the theme from the previous chapter, but got into more detail of "the nations that the Lord left to test all those in Israel..." Actually, there was a statement in this chapter that God left these nations intact specifically so that there could be war, "it was only that successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before." In a similar vein, there was a statement that the wars were simply to test Israel, "They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their ancestors by Moses."

Think about the morality of those statements. War didn't just happen because of the failings of people, or even because one group had acted sinfully and God wanted to punish them. God specifically wanted for there to be wars, and all the attendant suffering and cruelty, just to test the Israelites.

Next came a cycle of Israel abandoning Yahweh for other Gods, then being rescued by a hero, then abandoning Yahweh again. The heros included Othniel son of Kenaz, Ehud son of Gera, and Shamgar son of Anath.

Ehud actually got a bit of an extended story, and he actually behaved rather treacherously. He took a tribute to King Eglon of Moab (the then oppressor of the Israelites), but had strapped a dagger/short sword to his thigh, hidden under his clothes. After delivering the tribute, he told the king that he had a secret message for him, and the king sent everybody out of his chamber. In a scene that could have come from an action movie, Ehud told King Eglon, "I have a message from God for you," and then stabbed the king through the belly. He stabbed so hard (and Eglon was a bit fat), that the sword disappeared inside the king, "and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out." I wonder if that last part is in reference to excrement. Anyway, he left the king to die in his chamber, locking the chamber doors behind him. The kings servants, thinking the king was relieving himself, were too embarrassed to enter the chamber until it was too late and the king was dead, giving Ehud enough time to escape. With the king dead, Ehud led the Israelites in conquering the Moabites.

Judges, Chapter 4

To start the chapter, "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord," and suffered because of it. But the leader of Israel this time was a woman, "Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth". She summoned Barak son of Abinoam to lead an Israelite army against Sisera, the commander of the enemy army. But she warned Barak that he wasn't going to receive glory, "for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." There was the expected battle, the Israelites were victorious, and Sisera fled the battle field. He went to "the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite." Jael invited him inside, and hid him under a rug. After providing him with some milk to drink, she "went softly to him" and hammered a tent peg through his temple "until it went down into the ground". That was the turning point in the war against King Jabin, which the Israelites eventually won.

While it would be nice to think that having two women involved in an Israelite victory was a sign of some respect to women, Wikipedia notes that it might be "a further sign that Yahweh ultimately is responsible for the victory" and that allowing Sisera to be killed by a woman was "the ultimate degradation".

Judges, Chapter 5

Chapter 5 consisted almost entirely of the Song of Deborah. This was a victory hymn commemorating the Israelites' victory over the Canaanites. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), this song probably pre-dated the text in the preceding chapter. There were also several discrepancies between the song and the prose, such as the tribes that participated and the details of Sisera's death. The glorification of violence, while par for the course for the Bible, was also rather graphic.

She put her hand to the tent-peg
   and her right hand to the workmen's mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
  she crushed his head,
  she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 He sank, he fell,
  he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
  where he sank, there he fell dead.

Judges, Chapter 6

Again, "The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord," and this time were turned over to Midian. The angel of the Lord came and sat under a tree where Gideon was beating out wheat to hide in a wine press. The angel told Gideon that he (Gideon) was to lead the Israelites against the Midianites. After questioning why God had abandoned them, Gideon next wondered how he was going to be the one to lead them, "My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." But Gideon was reassured that the Lord would be with him.

Gideon asked the angel to wait while he prepared a present, but also that he would like to see a sign that the angel was who he said he was. So Gideon prepared a meal for the angel and brought it out to him. The angel directed him to dump out the broth, and put the solid food on a rock. The angel touched the food with his staff, whereupon it burst into flames, and the angel disappeared.

At the Lord's command, Gideon pulled down the altar to Baal that his father had made, and cut down the adjacent sacred pole. Then he sacrificed a bull, burning it with the wood from the pole. Out of fear for his own safety, Gideon did all this at night. In the morning, when the people saw what had happened, they were furious and ready to kill Gideon, but Gideon's father came to his aid, threatening to kill anyone who defended Baal. He also made a statement that's a bit ironic, "If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down." Would that all religious people let their gods contend for themselves.

An army gathered to Gideon, but he wasn't done testing God just yet. He asked for two more proofs. Fist, he let a fleece out overnight, asking God for a sign by making only the fleece wet with dew, but not the adjacent ground. After this test, he asked for another the next night, by making only the ground wet, but leaving the fleece dry.

Judges, Chapter 7

Now Gideon was in a position to conquer the Midianites, but he had too large of a following. If he was victorious, the Israelites would think they had been successful on their own, and not give the credit to God. So, God had Gideon thin out his ranks. First, he sent home every man that was fearful of the upcoming battle, but there were still too many. So he took them down to the water, and all those that "lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps" were separated from those that drank with their hands. There were only 300 who had drank like dogs, so they became Gideon's private force.

Gideon was still afraid to attack, so, at the Lord's command, he snuck down to the Midianite camp, and overheard a conversation between two soldiers. One had had a dream foretelling the victory of Gideon (though using symbols like a cake of barley bread). With this knowledge, Gideon finally had the courage he needed, and led his force in a sneak attack in the middle of the night. The Midianites fled, and then all of the Israelites chased them down. After the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, had been killed, their heads were taken to Gideon.

Judges, Chapter 8

The Ephraimites were at first upset with Gideon for attacking on his own, but he soothed their anger by pointing out that they had had the honor of killing Oreb and Zeeb.

But the fighting wasn't over. Gideon and his private force were still chasing down some of the enemy. When they arrived in the city of Succoth, they asked for bread. But the people of Succoth refused, "Do you already have in your possession the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna, that we should give bread to your army?" Gideon threatened them, "I will trample your flesh on the thorns of the wilderness and on briers," and moved on. He received the same treatment in Penuel, and threatened them with knocking down their tower once he had caught Zebah and Zalmunna.

Before too long, Gideon did capture Zebah and Zalmunna. On his return trip, he caught a young man from Succoth, and interrogated him to learn the names of the city's officials and elders - 77 people. With that knowledge, he carried through with his threats, "he took the elders of the city and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them he trampled the people of Succoth. 17 He also broke down the tower of Penuel, and killed the men of the city."

There was a bit of an odd story when it came time to kill Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon told his firstborn son to kill them, but the son was still a boy and too afraid to draw his sword. So Gideon went and killed them himself.

With some of the gold from his conquests, Gideon made an ephod that he put on display in his town, "and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family," though not much else was said of it. Gibeon had many wives and 70 sons, plus another son, Abimelech, from his concubine.

Once Gideon died, Israel again abandoned the Lord.

Judges, Chapter 9

Abimelech had ambitions to be king. So, he went to his mother's kinfolk to gain their support, and "killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone". Only Gideon's youngest son, Jotham, survived by hiding. Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim, and gave a speech, calling down a curse on Abimelech. Immediately after, Jotham went into hiding out of fear of his brother.

Abimelech ruled for three years before the Lord "sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem". So, there was a new series of battles, this time between Abimelech and Gaal son of Ebed. After winning several battles, Abimelech finally met his end in the siege of a tower. A woman threw down a rock that crushed his skull. Rather than suffer the indignity of dying by the hand of a woman, Abimelech had one of his own men "thrust him through". So, after unknowingly enacting God's punishment on the people of Shechem, Abimelech received his own punishment.

Judges, Chapter 10

Two more judges were briefly mentioned, Tola son of Puah son of Dodo and Jair the Gileadite, before moving on to another story. "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, worshiping the Baals and the Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines." And as before, God punished the people for it, but eventually began to feel pity for them. The Israelites "put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the Lord; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer."

The chapter closed with a gathering of armies in preparation for a battle, and the Israelites wondering who was going to rise up to lead them. But since I'm only reading ten chapters per week, the rest of the story will have to wait until next time.


This book is a bit tedious. It's the same cycle over and over. Israelites do evil in the sight of the Lord, he punishes them, eventually feels pity for them, gives them a leader to restore them, and then the Israelites abandon him again. I'm not sure how historically accurate these chapters are. I don't suspect that they're terribly accurate, but I can see them being based on real events. I mean, just about any nation is going to have its ups and downs - winning some wars, and losing others. When you're looking to the gods to justify outcomes of events, its easy to see how people would blame losses on sins, and credit victories to faithfulness. But I suspect these stories are from before there was a unified nation of Israel. I would guess that they're based more on tribal warfare.

At any rate, the actions of God's chosen heroes are remarkably violent, and not exactly the type of behavior that should be expected from noble military leaders.

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, April 11, 2013

CSCOPE Conspiracy?

CSCOPEI subscribe to the Texas Freedom Network's e-mail list. I just got one warning of an upcoming fight in the making.

A witch hunt organized by far-right activists and pressure groups has created a new venue for the State Board of Education (SBOE) to politicize what Texas students learn in their classrooms. This spring a committee of SBOE members and educators will initiate a review of CSCOPE, a curriculum management system used in hundreds of Texas public and parochial schools.

For a good background of this case, go read the article, TFN's Kathy Miller: Politics Trump Common Sense in the Far Right's Manufactured CSCOPE 'Controversy'. The article lists some of the good and bad things about CSCOPE, and explained how CSCOPE officials had already agreed to institute many reforms after a hearing before the state Senate Education Committee.

The article also mentioned some of the more outrageous charges that have been leveled against the system. However, it didn't provide extensive quotes or list sources, so I thought I'd look into it a bit myself. I did a google search for CSCOPE, and followed one of the first results to a site called Texas CSCOPE Review. I skimmed through their home page a bit to find an example of what they considered to be a bad lesson from CSCOPE, and the first link I clicked on was to CSCOPE: Anti-Christian Authors. The writer of the article was unhappy that one of the CSCOPE lessons directed students to read an article on the BBC website, Christianity and the Roman Empire. Here's an excerpt from the Texas CSCOPE Review article.

Throughout the article, Christians are referred to as a cult. Following is an exert from the article:
"Contemporary pagan and Christian sources preserve other accusations leveled against the Christians. These included charges of incest and cannibalism, probably resulting from garbled accounts of the rites which Christians celebrated in necessary secrecy, being the agape (the 'love-feast') and the Eucharist (partaking of the body and blood of Christ). "

And then from later in the article:

I have not seen a TEKS that describes Christianity as a cult or Christians as cannibals, must [sic] less incestuous.

Why are our state education agencies presenting Christianity as a cult and worse?

My goodness. Is the writer for Texas CSCOPE Review that ignorant? If you go read that BBC article (it's pretty good), you'll see that it uses cult in the traditional sense, as Merriam-Webster would put it, of "a system of religious beliefs and ritual". The article referred to several cults from the ancient Roman world, with Christianity just being one of those. It's also surprising that the Texas CSCOPE Review could so misinterpret what was being said about the charges against Christians. The BBC article specifically said that they probably resulted "from garbled accounts of the rites which Christians celebrated in necessary secrecy". The BBC wasn't confirming the charges, but rather showing the type of outlandish charges that were used to justify persecution of Christians.

I know that fact checking one claim isn't very rigorous, but when it was the very first claim of an organization that I encountered, it doesn't bode well for that organization's reputation. And given most of the sources I've heard of denouncing CSCOPE are troubled by its 'liberal bias', and that its critics include the likes of Glen Beck, its probably pretty safe to bet that those particular criticisms don't have much merit.

Of course, this isn't to say that the program's perfect and couldn't use improvement, but let's give them a chance to institute the reforms that came out of the state Senate Education Committee hearing before starting a witch hunt.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win

Rabbi Steven PruzanskyA friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail forward. The subject line was, "Perspective of a Rabbi!". It was copied and pasted from an op-ed in the Israel Nation News, Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win, written by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky.

Like I so often do, I decided to write a response to my friend. I'd originally intended to keep the response shorter, but I just couldn't help myself. Every time I looked at the guy's article, I saw something else wrong with it. I eventually had to just stop going back to it, or my reply would have been even longer.

To given a sense of the article, here's an excerpt from a few paragraphs in.

Romney lost because the conservative virtues - the traditional American virtues - of liberty, hard work, free enterprise, private initiative and aspirations to moral greatness - no longer inspire or animate a majority of the electorate. The notion of the "Reagan Democrat" is one cliché that should be permanently retired.

Here's another excerpt that summed up much of the rabbi's argument.

The defining moment of the whole campaign was the revelation (by the amoral Obama team) of the secretly-recorded video in which Romney acknowledged the difficulty of winning an election in which "47% of the people" start off against him because they pay no taxes and just receive money - "free stuff" - from the government. Almost half of the population has no skin in the game - they don't care about high taxes, promoting business, or creating jobs, nor do they care that the money for their free stuff is being borrowed from their children and from the Chinese. They just want the free stuff that comes their way at someone else's expense. In the end, that 47% leaves very little margin for error for any Republican, and does not bode well for the future.

I agree with one part of the e-mail, that the leaked video of Romney was a defining moment in the election. But of course, I disagree with the writer's take. Here's a good article with stats on taxes paid in the U.S.

It's true that about 47% of people don't pay federal income tax. However, the vast majority of those people either pay federal payroll taxes or are retired elderly. To quote the article:

That leaves 6.9 percent of households which are non-elderly and have incomes less than $20,000 per year and aren't paying the payroll tax. These poorer households pay neither income taxes nor payroll taxes. Perhaps Romney thinks that they should all pay more in federal taxes. It's hard to say. But this is also a much smaller fraction of Americans.

There's also the small fact that federal income tax and federal payroll taxes aren't the only taxes that people pay. To quote another portion of that article.

Meanwhile, just as a reminder, the vast majority of Americans still pay state and local taxes -- in fact, these taxes tend to be more regressive. When you add up all the different types of taxes, most income groups in the United States tend to pay an amount that's roughly commensurate with their share of the national income.

If Romney actually believed his statements on the 47%, he was ignorant and out of touch. If he didn't believe it but still said it, he was dishonest and simply pandering in an attempt to win votes. Either way, writing off nearly half the country as lazy freeloaders, claiming "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives", definitely hurt his election chances, as it should have.

Actually, to discuss the economic state of the country just a bit more, I'd point out income inequality and wealth inequality. Both are increasing. In other words, even though the richest Americans already have a hugely disproportionate share of the wealth, that share keeps getting bigger. This is exactly opposite of what you would expect if the government were some type of bureaucratic Robin Hood, taxing the rich to give undue handouts to the poor.

Much of the rest of the article was based on that false idea that America has become a land of handouts, so I won't bother responding point by point. However, there were a few more statements I just couldn't resist commenting on. First was the idea that Romney was above running negative campaign ads. Just ask Newt Gingrich.

And I find it a little funny that he would bring up "The 'Occupy' riots" (as if they were riots), without even mentioning the Tea Party and their spitting on senators, toting guns at 'peaceful' protests, vandalizing the property of their opponents, and issuing threats of violence to politicians.

He mentioned the "economies that are collapsing today in Europe", as if the reason they're having trouble is because of liberal economic policies. In fact, they're having so much trouble recovering from the recession because they've abandoned Keynesian economic policies.

The first article noted:

Despite clear warnings that austerity isn't boosting growth, some of the continent's largest economies remain committed to deficit reduction. The United Kingdom, now on the precipice of its third recession in four years, has indicated that it will continue efforts to reduce the deficit, even as it has fallen far short of its past goals... The United States took a different approach to recovery, boosting the economy with President Obama's stimulus plan in 2009 and putting itself on a better path for growth than Europe has experienced. But it too has since embraced austerity.

The second article pointed out how bad the current situation is in the U.S.

In fact, the reduction in growth of spending under Obama is unprecedented in the last half-century, and government spending under Obama is growing at the slowest rate since Dwight Eisenhower was president... This reduction in spending, however, is not necessarily a good thing. This chart, flagged by Brian Beutler, highlights how perilous rapid fiscal contraction can be. As Investor's Business Daily notes, "The federal budget deficit has never fallen as fast as it's falling now without a coincident recession."

Since he complained that voters are unintelligent, I figured it would be amusing to point out this study.

To quote the article, "For example, among the American sample, those who identify themselves as "very liberal" in early adulthood have a mean childhood IQ of 106.4, whereas those who identify themselves as "very conservative" in early adulthood have a mean childhood IQ of 94.8."

And just to dig the knife a little deeper, even though it's not directly related to the article, but since I knew my friend is a fan of Fox News, I included two more studies.

To quote the first article, "According to a new study by Farleigh Dickinson University, Fox viewers are the least knowledgeable audience of any outlet, and they know even less about politics and current events than people who watch no news at all." To quote the second article, "the report found, among other things, 'regular viewers of the Fox News Channel, which tilts to the right in prime time, were significantly more likely to believe untruths about the Democratic health care overhaul, climate change and other subjects.' "

Finally, this statement from the article was just completely beyond the pale.

...the new immigrants to the US are primarily from the Third World and do not share the traditional American values that attracted immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Really? How xenophobic can you get? Even the majority of illegal immigrants snuck into this country so that they could find jobs. Or is hard work no longer a traditional American value?

The article was pretty over the top, but I made it through the whole thing. Guys like this are part of the problem with American politics. Instead of accepting that Americans honestly judged the candidates for president and came to the conclusion that they thought Obama was a better choice (the lesser of two evils for many of us), they denigrate their fellow Americans, ignore the many problems with Romney, and invent nonsense reasons for why he lost.

Image Source: El Paso Inc.

As a side note, I just found this article in Haaretz, U.S. rabbi faces dissent for slamming Obama. Apparently, many members of Rabbi Pruzansky's congregation are none too happy with his views and this article.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Joshua 11 to Joshua 24

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).

BibleChapters 11 through 24 are the final verses of Joshua. They finish up with the conquest of the Promised Land, then get into a lot of detail on how the land was divided between all the different tribes of Israel, before describing the death of Joshua.

Joshua, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 begins the Northern Campaign. Like in the previous campaign, the kings of this region banded together to form an alliance against the Israelites. This time, they were specifically said to have "many horses and chariots". The wording in the notes of the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) was actually pretty funny on this. It called them "dreaded horses and chariots". But with God on their side, it didn't matter. The Israelites "struck them down, until they had left no one remaining. 9 And Joshua did to them as the Lord commanded him; he hamstrung their horses, and burned their chariots with fire."

Next the Israelites slaughtered all the inhabitants of another city, Hazor, and burned the city to the ground. The book then mentioned that the Israelites conquered several more cities, killing all the inhabitants, but that they didn't burn down any more "of the towns that stood on mounds", just Hazor. And in these cities, they kept their spoils of war as booty.

The Israelites next moved on to another region and conquered yet more towns. The duration of these battles wasn't specified exactly, but "Joshua made war a long time with all those kings." This time, there was an explicit reference that "it was the Lord's doing to harden their hearts", keeping them from surrendering peacefully.

Then it was on to another region, conquering the Anakim. This included a statement that the people weren't conquered completely - just the portion of their lands in what had been promised to the Israelites, "None of the Anakim was left in the land of the Israelites; some remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod."

The last verse of the chapter stated that "the land had rest from war," bringing Joshua's final campaign to a close.

Joshua, Chapter 12

Chapter 12 was a list of Israel's conquests. It began with peoples east of the Jordan that Moses had conquered, and continued on to west of the Jordan and Joshua's victories. The way the list was worded was a bit odd. Here's an example.

9 the king of Jericho
the king of Ai, which is next to Bethel
10 the king of Jerusalem
the king of Hebron

Joshua, Chapter 13

This chapter began with God telling Jacob just how much more fighting remained to be done. This was, I believe, the first mention that the conquest of the Promised Land hadn't been complete. After listing all the peoples who would have to be conquered, and God promising that he would still aid the Israelites, Joshua was commanded to divide the land.

Now came a long, rather boring, detailing of all the lands of all the different tribes. This would go on for several more chapters. For the most part, it listed the cities that belonged to each tribe, along with a detailed description of the borders of their territory. However, different tribes received different levels of detail, with Judah getting the most attention. A few tribes had incomplete details of their borders, and a few were only addressed with a list of their cities.

Chapter 13 addressed the tribes that had gotten their inheritance directly from Moses, east of the Jordan before the Israelites conquered the promised land, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The chapter also described that the Levites weren't to receive any land as inheritance since "the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance".

Joshua, Chapter 14

Chapter 14 got into how the Promised Land was divided. The division was to be done by lots, assuming that God would control how the lots fell. But first, Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, one of the heroes who remained faithful to the Lord in the spy episode, received his special inheritance. He received Jephunneh, knowing that he would drive out the Anakim with God's help.

Joshua, Chapter 15

The first part of Chapter 15 described Judah's territory in detail, and then it was back to Caleb. He conquered a few towns on his own, but then for Kiriath-sepher, he made a bargain that whoever conquered it would receive his daughter, Achsach, as a wife. Othniel son of Kenaz conquered the city and got the girl. To make Achsach a bit of a hero herself, she asked her father for springs (the water type) as a present. It's so common in the Bible that it almost goes unnoticed, but note that before she was married, Caleb had complete ownership of his daughter, and could offer her to whoever he wanted, without having to get her consent.

The chapter was then back to Judah's inheritance, this time giving a long list of their cities.

Joshua, Chapter 16

This chapter covered the inheritances of the Josephites and Ephraimites, in far less detail than was given to Judah in the previous chapter.

Joshua, Chapter 17

This chapter covered the tribes of Manasseh and Joseph. There were a couple stories in addition to the details of the inheritances. One of the male descendants of Manasseh had no sons, only daughters, and so they approached the leaders to remind them of God's promise that they should also receive an inheritance, which they did.

The tribe of Joseph approached the leaders, and said that because their tribe was so numerous, that they deserved a larger inheritance. So, they were given both plains and hill country. They were going to have to "drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong."

Joshua, Chapter 18

There were still seven tribes who hadn't received an inheritance. Each was to provide three men to scout out the land, taking notes of all that was there "with a view to their inheritances". After they returned, lots were cast to divide the land. Note that these were lands that hadn't yet been conquered, so the inheritance was promise for the future. Joshua even issued an admonition, stating "How long will you be slack about going in and taking possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you?"

The remainder of the chapter described the inheritance of Benjamin in some detail.

Joshua, Chapter 19

The remaining tribes received their inheritances, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. None of these descriptions were very detailed.

Next came the inheritance of Joshua himself, the town of Tinmath-serah, which he rebuilt.

And with that, the inheritances were complete.

Joshua, Chapter 20

There was still some work to do on dividing the land, however. First came the cities of refuge (where people who had killed someone unintentionally could flee to be safe from the "avenger of blood").

Joshua, Chapter 21

Next came the towns for the Levites. Each of the tribes had to give up some towns for the Levites to live in. However, even though the Levites received 48 towns, they weren't divided evenly among the 12 tribes. This chapter was actually rather detailed in listing all the towns, which Levites in particular received each town, and which tribe was giving the town to the Levites. Now, the division of the land was pretty much complete.

Joshua, Chapter 22

The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who had their inheritance east of the Jordan, and who had been made to promise to fight alongside the rest of the Israelites in the conquest of the promised land, were told that they had fulfilled their duties, and that they could return to their lands and families.

These tribes decided to build an altar alongside the Jordan, on the Israelite side. The other tribes were furious, thinking that Reubenites et al were abandoning Yahweh and setting up the altar to worship other gods. I guess this must be coming from the tradition in Deuteronomy that centralized worship, as opposed to the traditions where Israelites built altars where it seemed appropriate. At any rate, the people of Israel gathered an Army to attack the eastern tribes, thinking that their wayward ways would attract God's wrath. But the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said that they'd built the altar as a monument, to show that they were united with the rest of Israel, even though they were east of the Jordan. They didn't intend to use it as an actual altar. This explanation soothed the Israelites, and nobody fought anybody.

Joshua, Chapter 23

After a long time had passed, Joshua had grown old and was nearing the end of his days. He summoned all the leaders of Israel to give them some final words. He assured them that God would fulfill his promise and that eventually all of the Promised Land would be conquered. He reminded them of all the good God had done for them, and told them to remain faithful to God and to follow his Law.

He warned them not to intermarry with the still remaining inhabitants of the Promised Land, lest they become "a snare and a trap for you". This type of xenophobia has obviously been a hallmark of much of the Bible so far, calling for the complete extermination of enemies. It's just a bit odd to see it like this, not even allowing intermarriage during a time of peace.

There was also a short warming not to "serve other gods and bow down to them".

Joshua, Chapter 24

Joshua again summoned all the leaders. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a different story, or if it comes from a different tradition of the same story (I suspect the latter). This time, he summarized in more detail all that the Lord had done, starting with Abraham. The book said that Abraham, his brother, and his father had originally served other gods before Yahweh called Abraham. Joshua continued on through to the conquering of the Promised Land, reminding the Israelites that it was God who was responsible for the conquest.

Joshua gave the Israelites one last chance on whether or not to serve Yahweh, with a line that most people will probably recognize, "Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Of course, the Israelites chose Yahweh. They were told to "put away the foreign gods that are among you" and to serve God. Joshua set up statues and a monument to commemorate the occasion.

After everyone had returned to their lands, Joshua died, at the age of 110, and was buried on his land.

There followed three short appendices. First, it was noted that after Joshua's death, Israel served the Lord for as long as the elders survived who had witnessed the works of the Lord. Then, the bones of Joseph, which had been brought all the way from Egypt, "were buried at Shechem, in the portion of ground that Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor". Finally, Eleazar son of Aaron and was buried at Gibeah. The NOAB mentioned that concluding Joshua with the death of a priest was probably due to the priestly influence.


The book of Joshua contained all the questionable morality (to put it charitably) I've come to expect from the Bible, but at least, like I wrote last week, it got back into a narrative for a little while. The descriptions of all of the inheritances were rather boring, but to be honest, I just skimmed through those.

The book struck me as legendary or mythical. It seemed like a way to describe how the different peoples of Israel came to have the particular lands they did. It wasn't just historical contingency (like probably happened in reality), but the result of divine intervention - God's will.

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, April 3, 2013

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for March 2013

Top 10 ListAnother month gone by, and another chance to check the server logs. All but one of the pages had made the list before. The page that made it for the first time was Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part III.

As far as overall traffic, I'd been keeping track of that using AWStat's Unique Visitors value. I never looked real closely at it before, but now that I do, I see it doesn't correlate just real well with other measures of traffic. For example, compared to January, last month only had 93% of the unique visitors, but 102% the number of visits, 115% the number of pages, and 103% the number of hits. Plus, my bandwidth last month was the highest I've ever had.

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

Top 10 for March 2013

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Autogyro History & Theory
  3. Blog - Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas
  4. Blog - Texas Board of Education - Bad Results for Science Standards
  5. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  6. Blog - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  7. Blog - Is It Weird to Use 'Dear' in Formal Letters?
  8. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part III
  9. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  10. Factoids Debunked & Verified

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Website Update - NRSV Bible Chapter Listing

BibleI've put a new page on the static portion of tihs site - Bible Verse Listing - New Revised Standard Version. It provides links to all the chapters on the NRSV hosted by the Oremus Bible Browser. The Oremus Bible Browswer is a very useful site that presents the NRSV in a very readable format. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the easiest navigation. I'd found a few sites that had provided links to the different chapters, such as GodWeb. However, none of those sites that I found included the Apocrypha in their listing. BibleStudyTools.com also has the NRSV, but their formatting isn't as readable as Oremus, and they don't have the Apocrypha, either (though that site does have some really handy tools). So, I took it on myself to create a listing that lists all of the books of the Bible. I checked it fairly thoroughly, but not every link. If you find any problems, please let me know. Otherwise, I hope this is useful for people wanting to read the NRSV.

There are other translations of the Bible available. BibleGateway.com has many of them available, and their navigation is superb. But they don't have the NRSV, and for a variety of reasons, that's the translation I prefer to read. For a discussion of why, read my entry, Friday Bible Blogging - Introduction and Picking a Translation.

Friday Bible Blogging - Joshua 1 to Joshua 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).

BibleI apologize that my Friday Bible Blogging entry is being posted on a Tuesday, but I've been rather busy. This is only the second time I've missed the schedule, but I expect it won't be the last.

This week's entry covers the first 10 chapters of Joshua, including the famous story of Jericho and the collapse of its walls.

Joshua is the first of the Historical Books. Although, as I discussed some in a previous entry, the traditional groupings of books probably aren't the original groupings. The first four books of the Pentateuch were probably one collection, while Deuteronomy probably served as an introduction to a more extended historical account. But since the main subject of Deuteronomy was Moses and the Law, when these two collections were brought together, Deuteronomy was grouped with the other books that dealt with Moses, probably with a bit of rearrangement to move the death of Moses to the end of Deuteronomy. So, while Joshua is the first in the now traditional grouping of the Historical Books, it probably wasn't to begin with.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) cautions against reading the Historical Books as actual history. Actually, I'll quote a bit of their introduction to Joshua.

The book should not be read as straightforward history - it telescopes and simplifies what was a long and complex process of occupation of the land by the Israelite tribes. Some details are lacking (e.g. how the Israelites came into possession of Shechem, 8.30-35), while the other events narrated in the book are selectively arranged to heighten the book's message. Thus the book's presentation of reality does not necessarily reflect the course of events. For example, a main theme of the book is a swift and complete conquest of the land, while most archaeological evidence suggests its gradual settlement. Consequently, archaeological excavations, together with sociological and anthropological analyses, must be used to understand the early history of Israel in the land.

Joshua, Chapter 1

With the death of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy, it's now time for Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan. The first chapter was mostly an introduction - repeating the promise of giving the Israelites the land, telling them to be 'strong and courageous', to follow the Law and be faithful to God, etc. Joshua went to all the 'officers of the people' and commanded them to be ready to march in three days, with the three days possibly being of some ritual significance. He also reminded the tribes who had taken land east of the Jordan for their cattle that they had promised to fight alongside the rest of the Israelites.

Joshua, Chapter 2

Joshua sent two spies ahead to Jericho. For some reason, they decided to visit with a prostitute in the city, Rahab (though the text doesn't describe whether or not they used her services). When soldiers of Jericho came looking for the two Israelites, Rahab sent them on a wild goose chase outside the city while she hid the Israelites on her roof. She later explained to the Israelites that all the inhabitants of Jericho were terrified of the Hebrews after hearing of what they'd done to other cities. In exchange for her kindness, the two spies promised to spare her when Jericho was attacked, under the condition that she hang a crimson cord from her window, and that she keep all her family inside her house during the attack. After that, Rahab let the two men out her window to escape the city (she lived on the wall).

Joshua, Chapter 3

It was finally time for the people to cross the Jordan. The priests were to lead the way carrying the Ark of the Covenant, with the people following at least 2,000 cubits behind. The Jordan River was flooded at the time, but as soon as the priests' feet touched the water, the waters upstream "stood still", reminiscent of Moses and the Red Sea. The priests stood on dry ground in the middle of the river bed while all of Israel crossed over.

Joshua, Chapter 4

The Lord told Joshua to pick a man from each tribe to take a stone from where the priests were standing and to carry it to where they would camp that night, and to arrange them in a monument for future generations. At the same time, Joshua arranged twelve stones around where the priests were standing, as a future underwater monument. Once everyone else had finished crossing and all the work was done with the stones, the priests themselves left the river and the water began flowing again.

This chapter was kind of choppy. It bounced back and forth quite a bit, repeating similar actions. According to the NOAB, this is most likely due to blending several different versions of the story.

Joshua, Chapter 5

The beginning of Chapter 5 was a conclusion to the story from the previous chapter. All the kings of the area were disheartened and afraid of Israel after hearing of the miracle at the Jordan.

After that came a new declaration from God to circumcise all the Israelite males with flint knives. Apparently, none of the males of the new generation after leaving Egypt had been circumcised. It seems this must be coming from a different tradition from earlier books, since I thought previous passages such as Leviticus 12 made it clear that all males were to be circumcised. The Israelites stayed at their camp long enough for the males to heal and then to celebrate Passover.

The end of a chapter has an interesting passage that marks the beginning of the 'Central Campaign' in conquering the promised land. To me, these few verses in Chapter 5 seem like an insertion of a fragment from another version of Joshua's story. The start of the story is part of what makes it seem different, "Once when Joshua was near Jericho..." It told of Joshua being visited by the "commander of the army of the Lord", all decked out in armor and with a sword. However, after introducing himself and telling Joshua to remove his sandals since he was on sacred ground, there was no more mention of this character.

Joshua, Chapter 6

This is the famous story of Jericho. There was a lot of repetition of the number, seven. For the first six days, the army of Israel was to be led by "seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark" walking around Jericho. On the seventh day, they were to walk around seven times. Then, all the men of the army were to shout out at Joshua's command. The Israelites followed these commands, and once the army had shouted, the walls of Jericho fell. The Israelites promptly attacked and massacred every living thing in the city, "both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys", save for the prostitute, Rahab, and her family. The Israelites were warned not to take "any of the devoted things", lest they corrupt the Israelite camp, bringing down God's wrath.

There was a passage that showed God to be remarkably worldly, "19 But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.' " It makes you wonder why God would want precious metals.

At the end of the Chapter, Joshua cursed anyone who would try to rebuild Jericho. I don't know if the Bible will mention anyone being punished by this curse, but of course, Jericho exists and is populated today.

According to the NRSV, Jericho was probably an unfortified village during the 13th century BC when this story was supposed to have taken place. According to Wikipedia, the history of walls at Jericho is a bit complicated. There is evidence of a series of walls at the site, some probably having been destroyed by earthquakes, others by invaders. The village at that site had a wall as early as the Neolithic, but the article quoted a "statement by [Carl] Watzinger that 'in the time of Joshua, Jericho was a heap of ruins, on which stood perhaps a few isolated huts'."

Joshua, Chapter 7

Chapter seven started by informing the reader that one of the Israelites had broken the command not to take any 'devoted things', so that "the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites." This set up what was to follow. A few spies went to scout out the city of Ai. It was small, and they figured it would only take two or three thousand men to capture it. But since God was angry, when the force attacked Ai, the soldiers of Ai were victorious, killing some of the Israelites.

After Joshua questioned why God would allow such a thing to happen, God informed Joshua of the man who had broken the rules. To atone for this, the people were to sanctify themselves, and then, with the Lord's help, the guilty man would be found, "And the one who is taken as having the devoted things shall be burned with fire, together with all that he has, for having transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and for having done an outrageous thing in Israel."

So the next day, apparently by casting lots, the guilty party was narrowed down by tribe, then clan, then family, then household, then finally the guilty man. He was made to confess, and once the stolen goods were found in his tent, he and his possessions, "the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, with his sons and daughters, with his oxen, donkeys, and sheep, and his tent and all that he had" were taken out to a valley. Then, "all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, 26 and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day."

This story is so cruel on several levels. First is the extreme punishment out of proportion to the offense. Then is the fact that all of Israel was punished for one man's actions. Then was the fact that the entire man's family, including children, was put to death for his crime, not to mention that his children were considered his property.

Joshua, Chapter 8

Now that the corrupting influence had been purged from their presence, God was back to supporting the Israelites. They attacked Ai again, this time with God's blessing, and utterly destroyed it. God instructed them on the tactics to use, luring the soldiers out with a small force, and then ambushing them with a larger army. While Ai's forces were thus occupied, more Israelite troops invaded the now defenseless city and set it ablaze. The Israelites killed all of the inhabitants and soldiers of Ai except for the king, who was brought back to Joshua to be hanged on a tree until evening.

After the defeat of Ai, the Israelites built an altar on Mount Ebal, performed all the usual sacrifices, then made the stones with the Law written on them as Moses had commanded. Then the people were blessed by the priests holding the Ark of the Covenant, and then the people were all treated to a recitation of the entire Law. And so came to an end the Central Campaign.

There was another parallel to Moses in this chapter. Just as Moses held his hands aloft when the Israelites fought Amalek and his people, Joshua held his sword aloft during the entire battle against Ai.

Joshua, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is the beginning of the Southern Campaign. When most of the kings of the area heard of what had happened, they formed an alliance to defend themselves against Israel. The Gibeonites, however, took a different approach. Since they knew that the Israelites were slaughtering all the inhabitants of the promised land, but not from areas outside that, they sent a delegation disguised to look like it had traveled from afar. They had old, worn out clothes, moldy supplies, mended wineskins, etc. They convinced the Israelites to make a treaty and swear an oath to them. Once the Israelites learned the truth, they knew there was little they could do because of the oath. So, they spared the Gibeonites' lives, but made them "hewers of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation," a position they apparently still held when the book was written.

Joshua, Chapter 10

The other kings of the area decided to attack Gibeon. Joshua and the Israelites came to Gibeon's aid, scattering the enemy forces. As the enemy was fleeing, God took a personal role in killing them, "the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword." To give themselves more time to kill their enemies, Joshua commanded the very sun and moon to stand still.

In the midst of all this killing, the enemy kings all hid together in a cave. The kings were discovered, and a large stone was rolled against the entrance of the cave to trap them. Once the Israelites had slaughtered as many of the enemy as the could, they came back to take care of the kings. Joshua called together all the Israelites, and "said to the chiefs of the warriors who had gone with him, 'Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.' Then they came near and put their feet on their necks." After that, the kings were killed, and their bodies hung from trees. At nightfall, their bodies were taken down, thrown into the cave where they had hidden, and sealed there.

This scene is so brutal that it's almost literally sickening. It makes you glad it's most likely fictitious. Unfortunately, actions like these were common enough in that era, and I'm sure too many people had to suffer similar fates.

Next came brief descriptions of more towns that Joshua and the Israelites conquered, killing every last man, woman, and child. These cities included, Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish (and the people of Gezer who came to its defense), Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. With this, the Southern Campaign came to an end.


After Deuteronomy, Joshua is a nice change. It gets back to the narrative, and is much more interesting to read. Unfortunately, like so much of the Bible that I've read so far, it's full of brutality and cruelty. Like I wrote above, I'm glad most of the story isn't true. It's just sad to think that these behaviors and treatments were common in that era.

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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