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Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Kings 21 to 2 Kings 25

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 21 through 25 mark the end of 2 Kings, and also the end of the Deuteronomistic books (Deuteronomy itself, plus the Deuteronomistic History - Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). Recall that Chapter 17 described the fall of Israel when it was conquered by Assyria. These chapters contain another very significant event - the fall of Judah to Babylon. In contrast to some of the other chapters from Kings, these were actually fairly entertaining, giving a bit more detail on events.

2 Kings, Chapter 21

Chapter 21 described the reign of Manasseh, and boy was it bad in the eyes of the writers. Recall that Manasseh followed immediately after his father, Hezekiah, who was described in the highest terms possible, "there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him." Manasseh, meanwhile, was described in about the worst terms imaginable, "Manasseh misled them to do more evil than the nations had done that the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel." After taking the throne at the young age of 12, Manasseh went on to commit just about every sin against Yahweh you could think of - rebuilding the high places, erecting altars to Baal, making sacred poles, building "altars for all the host of heaven", practicing "soothsaying and augury", consulting with mediums and wizards, making a carved image of Asherah and putting it in the house of the Lord, making "his son pass through fire" (possibly human sacrifice), a vague reference that he "shed very much innocent blood, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another", and a few other ones I missed. This disloyalty infuriated God, "therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such evil that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle." Yahweh went on to describe how he would wipe out Jerusalem and deliver it into the hands of its enemies. But, in what would be surprising if I hadn't read all of the preceding sections of the Bible, Manasseh himself died peacefully - none of the punishments from Yahweh were delivered in his lifetime, despite the fact that he was supposedly the source of the Lord's wrath. This is just one more example of guilt being transferred to others.

Amon was described briefly at the end of the chapter. He continued in his father's evil footsteps, but was assassinated by his servants. The people of Judah stood by Amon's son, Josiah, making him king and killing all those who were involved in the revolt against Amon.

2 Kings, Chapter 22

Chapter 22 was about Josiah's reign, who "did what was right in the sight of the Lord". The description of him started off with him instituting repairs to the house of the Lord. Next came an episode I found pretty interesting. While undertaking the repairs to the temple, the high priest Hilkiah found the book of the law. He gave it tot he secretary, Shaphan, who in turn delivered it to the king, reading it out loud to him. When Josiah heard what was written, he was greatly distraught. He sent his priest and some other servants to "Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us." They went to a prophetess who relayed the word of God to them, that Judah was indeed doomed because "they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods". But because Josiah was penitent, he would be spared punishment, and would "be gathered to your grave in peace".

I find it a little amusing that the most sacred book in Judah, detailing the Law from God and his covenant with the Hebrews, could have been lost, forgotten in some dusty corner of the temple. It almost makes it seem that in reality, this book of scriptures wasn't all that important. But think about this imagining that all these stories are true - the book had been lost for decades or even centuries. Generations of Judeans had been living in ignorance of the Law, through no fault of their own, but through that of some distant ancestor. But despite their ignorance, God was still going to punish them for committing sins that they didn't even realize were sins. This isn't really the modern conception of a benevolent God.

2 Kings, Chapter 23

Josiah went through a period of reformation that sounds even more extreme than Hezekiah's. He read the Law aloud to everyone in the city, renewing the covenant with the Lord. He removed from the temple everything that wasn't supposed to be there - "vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven" and destroyed them. He deposed all the "idolatrous priests", "broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes", "burned the chariots of the sun with fire", desecrated the high places, etc. He re-instituted the Passover, which apparently hadn't been celebrated since the days of the Judges. He was described in even better terms than Hezekiah, "Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him." But these reforms weren't enough appease God and undo the damage done by Manasseh, "Still the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him."

Josiah's reign came to an end when he was killed by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, in contradiction to the prophecy from the previous chapter. After Josiah's death, the people of Judah anointed his son Jehoahaz to be king, but Pharaoh Neco had other ideas. He confined Jehoahaz, and made Josiah's other son, Eliakim, king instead. And just for good measure, he made Eliakim change his name to Jehoiakim (Jehoiakim also did evil in the sight of the Lord). At this point, it appears that Judah was no longer independent, but a vassal to Egypt, paying silver and gold to the Pharaoh.

2 Kings, Chapter 24

The start of Chapter 24 doesn't describe events in as clear of a manner as it could have, but King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had taken over much of the land that had belonged to the king of Egypt. This included Judah, and so Judah became a vassal to Babylon. This only lasted for a little while before Jehoiakim rebelled. But after attempting this rebellion, "The Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites" to wipe out Judah. Just a few verses later, it was reiterated that this was because of "the sins of Manasseh". The chapter also stated explicitly that "the Lord was not willing to pardon" - so much for Yahweh being a god of forgiveness. But the bands of raiders didn't actually wipe out Judah - Jehoiakim died peacefully and was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin, who also did evil in the sight of the Lord.

Only three months into Jehoiachin's reign, Babylon besieged Jerusalem. Jehoiachin surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar along with his mother and servants, and they were held prisoner. All the treasures from the house of the Lord were carried off, and all but the poorest residents of the city were taken away. Babylon sent new settlers into the land, and Nebuchadnezzar set up Jehoiachin's uncle, Mattaniah, as the king, changing his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah also did evil in the sight of the Lord.

The final sentence of the chapter noted that Zedekiah began a revolt against Nebuchadnezzar.

2 Kings, Chapter 25

Nebuchadnezzar led a siege against Jerusalem. When the city had run out of food, King Zedekiah tried to make a breach in the wall to escape, but he was pursued and captured. His sons were killed in front of his own eyes, before his eyes were gouged out and he was taken as a prisoner to Babylon. The subsequent treatment of Jerusalem was similar to what had been described in the previous chapter, but carried even further - the remaining treasures from the house of the Lord were taken back to Babylon, all the residents except the very poorest were either carried off to Babylon, or executed if they had been particularly close to the king or influential, the buildings of the city were burned down, the city walls were leveled, etc. A man named Gedaliah was appointed as the new governor over Judah, but less than a year later, a group loyal to the old royal family assassinated Gedaliah and those near him (both Chaldeans and Judeans). After the assassination, all of the people fled to Egypt out of fear of retribution. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out, this brought the grand narrative full circle - from the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the promised land, the unified monarchy, the divided kingdoms, and now, finally, back to Egypt again.

The final verses ended in a somewhat promising manner - 37 years after his exile, King Jehoiachin was released from prison, and given "a seat above the other seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon". He was given new clothes, a daily allowance, and treated generally well. This was a hopeful sign that the line of David wasn't completely annihilated.


So ends the Book of Kings and the Deuteronomistic history. Taking these books as a whole, from Joshua onwards, they're a mix of real history, legend, myth, and fable. Some parts are rather interesting, particularly when enough time is devoted to a specific segment of history to develop a decent narrative. But other parts can become tedious. This was especially true in 2 Kings, where it seemed that the writers were merely including various kings out of obligation. Their coverage was so superficial that there just wasn't time to become interested in their stories, and the narrative jumped so quickly from one king to the next that it was difficult to become interested in the overall narrative.

It is interesting to contemplate reality versus the Bible stories and how they're related. From outside sources, it seems fairly certain that there was no grand Exodus from Egypt and subsequent invasion of the promised land. Rather, Israelite culture arose inside the promised land, as an outgrowth of Canaanite culture. The initial birth of Judaism was rather non-violent, and more henotheistic* than monotheistic. And those tribes interacted with their neighbors, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently. As the fate of the tribes waxed and waned, they invented post-hoc rationalizations invoking their god (or plural gods earlier on). And of course, the stories became embellished and modified over generations until they were finally compiled into the scripture that we still have today. There are substantial aspects of truth to these stories as well, particularly the later kings who were closer in time to when the scripture was compiled. But there's also the filter of the scribes' interpretation. Some kings, such as Omri, whom archaeological evidence indicates was very important, doesn't get all that much coverage in the Bible. And keep in mind that the scribes' theology that this interpretation is based on was not necessarily the predominant theology at the time any of these kings ruled. It would be a bit like fundamental Christians writing the history of the U.S. and presenting every politician in light of their adherence to fundamentalist values, even though fundamentalists are not a majority in this country, and didn't really even exist until midway through our country's history.

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.

* I realize that 'henotheism' may not be a term familiar to everybody. It means believing in the existence of multiple gods, but only worshipping one.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Are the Beatles Overrated?

I've debated whether or not to post this entry because I'm really out of my element here, and some of my wonderings and musings come off sounding more positive than I really feel about them. So, I'll just stress up here that this isn't my area of expertise, and that I'm not nearly as certain as some of what I wrote below would make it seem.

The BeatlesPerhaps my favorite blog website right now is Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. He posts about a variety of interesting topics, largely evolution and religion, and I agree to a large extent with his opinions. However, being one of those free-thinking types, I just can't accept authority unquestioningly. Last week, he posted a couple entries that I just couldn't agree with, Rock and roll is dead, and a follow-up, Match this song, extolling the Beatles as "the greatest rock group ever". Reading through the comments of that second entry was just too much. I had to leave a comment, and I figured I'd pull it out here to finally get this off my chest - the Beatles were good, but overrated.

Anyway, below is the comment I left on Coyne's site. To keep it easier to read, I'm going to denote the start and stop of that comment with '---' instead of using a blockquote tag, and I did add a bit of formatting (bullets) that wasn't in the comment on Coyne's site.


I've always liked the Beatles well enough. There are a handful of their songs that I really like, and then a bunch of songs that I won't skip when they come up on my playlist. But all this fawning over them is enough to turn my stomach. So, as an antidote, I went googling "Beatles overrated", and found a few entertaining articles. For anyone interested, here they are (I hope this isn't a bannable offense):

Here's an excerpt from the first article:

The blues permeates the most vital contemporary music of the last century like a rich seam of platinum. It runs like blood through the beating heart of just about any music of note outside the classical world. Don't even try and claim a similar legacy for those third-rate, mop-topped hacks. I'll just laugh. Or poke you in the eye with my pen. As if a case could ever be made for, say, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath or even Simon and Garfunkel being, in any way, defined by some shallow, plastic, pop-tarts from the 60s! Go on; try. Yeah, thought so...

And another:

As far as individual musical proficiency goes, it'll take barely a paragraph to pull these fakers from their Ivory Tower and expose the Emperor's New Clothes (excuse the mixed metaphors; that's what they do to me, God damn 'em!). Ringo, you're first up, my man; as a drummer, Mr Starr, as Lennnon himself famously remarked, was not only not the best drummer in the world, he wasn't "...even the best drummer in The B*atles". Sadly, poor old Ringo lacked sufficient talent to even polish John Bonham's cymbals. Or pour Keith Moon's booze. Or even chop Ginger Baker's lines with his sticks.

And here's an excerpt from the second:

The Beatles are what they always were - the safe, money-spinning, housewives' choice. Their albums are easy listening (fine for 50-somethings, but the Beatles were cardigan-wearing duffers in their 20s). Sgt. Pepper, their much-trumpeted "psychedelic" album was as mindbending as an Asda mushroom pie. Give or take Helter Skelter, they never even rocked, really. Next to the Stones, the Who or the Troggs, the Beatles are the low alcohol lager of the 60s.


That first link really is good, and puts the Beatles into perspective (another short excerpt - "The world's first, and still, its most successful, boy band."). They were a good band, and they were and continue to be extremely popular, but I wonder if their true talent and influence on rock music have been greatly exaggerated.

Actually, I'd originally intended for this entry to be pretty short and end with the above paragraph, but this leads into a larger discussion. How influential are any individuals/small group in history, vs. riding the tide of the forces surrounding them? In my field, I can easily bring up the Wright Brothers as an example. They were the first to successfully fly a heavier than air machine. Their insights and achievements were extremely impressive. But honestly, they were only a few years ahead of their time, at most. There was a rather large field of researchers investigating flight, and they were making progress. The Wrights themselves built on the work of previous and contemporary investigators, such as George Cayley, Gustave Eiffel (of Tower fame), Hiram Maxim, Samuel Langley, Octave Chanute, and Otto Lilienthal. And although the Wrights first flew in 1903, they kept their ongoing research largely secretive while attempting to perfect their machines, and in the meantime, others such as Alberto Santos Dumont, Louis Blériot, and Glen Curtiss were getting their own machines aloft. So, even if the Wrights had never decided to try to make a flying machine, the world would still have had airplanes by the late 1900s or early 1910s.

So, what about the Beatles? Well, to start off, they didn't develop in isolation. They started in skiffle, and developed their sound from there along with the other Merseybeat groups. When the British Invasion occurred in the mid 1960s, it was spearheaded by the Beatles, but they were quickly followed by acts such as Dusty Springfield, The Animals, Manfred Mann, The Rolling Stones, The Troggs, Donovan, Them, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, and The Who. Those other acts weren't copying the Beatles. They were contemporaries who had developed their own musical styles at the same time. i.e. While there's always some cross pollination in the art world, the Beatles weren't a huge influence on these other early acts of the British Invasion. In fact, several of those groups were completely outside the Merseybeat genera, with many being influenced much more by pure blues. And those other bands/singers are nothing to sneeze at. It makes you wonder whether music today would be much different had it been The Stones to have led the British Invasion instead of the Beatles. Or, to put it another way, were The Beatles really that influential in the British Invasion, or were they just in the right place at the right time to put a face on a burgeoning music scene that would have exploded no matter what?

Moving past the early years of the British Invasion, I'm not alone in thinking that the Beatles earliest songs weren't their best. Even Wikipedia notes that "From 1965 on, the Beatles produced what many critics consider their finest material, including the innovative and widely influential albums Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), The Beatles (1968) [aka the White Album], and Abbey Road (1969)." But again, the question becomes how much the Beatles were pioneers themselves, versus being part of a larger movement. Aside from those bands mentioned in the previous paragraph, consider what other bands and musicians were acting in the mid '60s developing the Psychedelic rock scene, which would go on to spawn progressive rock, glam rock, hard rock, and heavy metal - The Sonics, The Incredible String Band, The Holy Modal Rounders, The 13th Floor Elevators, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother & The Holding Company (feat Janis Joplin), Donovan, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, etc. So again, the Beatles were just one of the players in an emerging music format, and could actually even be described as very early adopters, following in the footsteps of those earliest psychedelic groups.

Anyway, I'm just a guy who likes listening to music, not a hard core audiophile or music historian. Most of my knowledge of music history is informed by a few articles here and there and Wikipedia, so take my commentary for what it's worth. I still like the Beatles, and I can understand how they did have a big impact in the way music was marketed, and popularizing the notion of singer/songwriters as opposed to just performing music written by professional writers, but it seems to me that their impact on music itself has been exaggerated. As I wrote above, it seems that they were just lucky to be in the right place at the right time to be the face of a new sound being pioneered in England (Merseybeat), and then to be astute enough to adopt new styles as the market shifted. I'm sure music would be somewhat different today if the Fab Four had never picked up guitars, but I'm really not so sure that it would be drastically different.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

P.S. I left out a lot of other musical influences from that era, such as Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, etc. When you consider all the great bands from that era, it's even harder to swallow the over-hyped influence of the Beatles. Again, this isn't to say the Beatles weren't good, just that they've taken on a mythic reputation that doesn't match reality.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Follow Up, Part III: Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution

Archaeopteryx - Berlin SpecimenWell, it appears that my back and forth with R. K. Sepetjian has come to an end. If you'll recall from a few previous entries(Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution, Follow Up, and Follow Up Part II), I caught a case of SIWOTI syndrome after reading a couple entries on the blog, Across the Fruited Plain - Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution and Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata. I left a comment to each of those articles, and after a few weeks with my comments held up in moderation, Sepetjian saw and approved them, and then responded to them. Well, the conversation didn't exactly go the way I would have preferred it to. I wanted to discuss the original topics, mainly evolution. But Sepetjian turned it into a discussion on epistemology, or the nature of knowledge. As I wrote in the last installment of this series, "It wasn't very productive - neither of us did any convincing of the other."

So, I left a comment saying I was no longer interested in going round and round in such an unproductive conversation, which I quoted in full in my last entry. What I found especially amusing is that I predicted what path the conversation would take if it were to continue. In particular, I said:

And you'll keep making arguments of the sort, 'Aha! You admit you don't have absolute certainty, therefore you can't know anything. Whereas I believe in God, and can therefore have absolute certainty.'

And look at what he wrote as a part of his final reply:

I have been doing my best to answer you and in so doing, believe I have demonstrated that my truth claims are unassailable, while yours are unjustifiable.

His final statement in his last response was as follows:

Therefore, if you'll permit one more question: By what objective standard of morality are you appealing to when you express that those things are wrong?

So, once again, the conversation wasn't getting back to evolution, and once again, I was drawn into responding. If you follow this blog at all (which I'm guessing is the only reason anybody would have read this far into this entry), you can probably guess at my response, which included, in part, "I don't think there is an objective morality. Morality is based on values, which are in the realm of the subjective." I went on to mention the Euthypro Dilemma in anticipation of Sepetjian claiming God as the source of objective morality, and gave a couple examples.

But Sepetjian hasn't responded in almost a week, whereas at the peak of our discussion, we were each posting something daily. So, I fear that Sepetjian has grown tired of arguing with me, or sees me as a lost cause, or feels he has better things to do with his time. At this point, I'm not expecting a response on his part, but if he does, I'll be sure to mention it here.

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Kings 11 to 2 Kings 20

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

BibleSo much of what was in these chapters was similar to previous chapters. A king would take the throne, and either do good or evil in the eyes of the Lord. There were wars and battles between Israel, Judah, and their neighbors. And kings would die and their sons would take the throne. It actually became very tedious. So, in an effort to keep this review from getting too boring, I'm going to try to focus on just the unique aspects from each chapter. Rest assured that the Bible was a bit more thorough in its coverage, though still fairly superficial, and still often ending the description of a king with a reference to the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah or the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel.

There was one event of particular importance in these chapters - the collapse of Israel when it was conquered by Assyria.

2 Kings, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 contains something unusual for either of the books of Kings - a queen. When Ahaziah died, his mother, Athaliah, took the throne. But this wasn't just declaring herself queen and everyone saying 'okay'. Rather, she had to "set about to destroy all the royal family" - her own grandchildren - to make sure she had no competitors. But one of her grandsons, Joash, was saved by her daughter (I think), and hidden for six years "in the house of the Lord". Once Joash was old enough to rule, apparently 7 years old, the priest, Jehoiada led a revolt in his name. Athaliah was found in the house of the Lord, but rather than spill her blood there, she was drug out and executed in the king's house.

To make Joash's reign official, especially since the line of descent from David had been broken, Jehoiada made a new "covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord's people; also between the king and the people."

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out that since the redactors of Kings considered Athaliah to be an illegitimate ruler, they didn't give her the same full treatment as all the other kings.

2 Kings, Chapter 12

After mentioning that Jehoash was a decent if not perfect ruler, chapter 12 began a story on repairing the house of the Lord. Apparently, the priests hadn't been using the offerings to maintain the house. So, Jehoash had them start setting aside all the money from offerings to be put towards repairing the building.

King Hazael of Aram set his sights on attacking Jerusalem, so Jehoash appeased him with all the votive gifts from his ancestors, "as well as his own votive gifts, all the gold that was found in the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king's house".

The NOAB has been pointing out many inconsistencies and contradictions between Kings and Chronicles. I haven't been including all of those in these entries, but the end of Chapter 12 contains one to use as an example. In fact, this one also illustrates a problem in determining the 'original' version of the stories. The NRSV comittee chose to translate verse 21 as saying that "Jozacar son of Shimeath and Jehozabad son of Shomer" were the two servants who killed Joash, and presented it as a conspiracy. According to the NOAB, two different early copies of this book conflict on the names of the conspirators - the LXX uses the names that were given here, while the MT gave the name Johazabad for both conspirators. 2 Chronicles 24 gives a slightly different account of Joash's death. It lists the killers as "Zabad son of Shimeath the Ammonite, and Jehozabad son of Shimrith the Moabite", giving yet a third name for the first killer, and also claiming that they killed him in retaliation for the death of one of the sons of Jehoiada.

2 Kings, Chapter 13

King Jehoahaz became king of Israel. And while he originally angered God into causing Israel to fall into the hands of invading kings, King Jehoahaz finally "entreated the Lord", and once God "saw the oppression of Israel", he finally rescued them from Aram. But, since they continued to sin, God let the King of Aram destroy the remnant of Jehoahaz's army. This whole story is just odd - from punishing to saving to punishing again. God's not very consistent.

Next came a story I found amusing. When Elisha was about to die, the latest King Joash of Israel went to visit him on his deathbed. He was worried about the strength of Israel's army, so Elisha told him to take a bow and arrow and to shoot an arrow out the window, at which point Elisha said, "The Lord's arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!" Next, he told Joash to strike the ground with some arrows. Joash did this three times then stopped, which was apparently the wrong thing to do, "Then the man of God was angry with him, and said, 'You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.' " What if he had struck the ground 100 times? Would Israel have become invulnerable?

After Elisha died and was buried, a bizarre miracle occurred. Another dead man was thrown into Elisha's grave, and upon touching Elisha's bones, the man came back to life. It seems much more like magic than any type of intentional power.

2 Kings, Chapter 14

After Joash of Judah had been killed, his son, Amaziah took the throne. And the first thing he did was to kill the men who had killed his father. But, in a rare bit of restraint thus far, "he did not put to death the children of the murderers; according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, 'The parents shall not be put to death for the children, or the children be put to death for the parents; but all shall be put to death for their own sins.' " It was a bit incongruous, though, to see this here when so many other places in this book children were being punished for their parents, even by God himself.

The remainder of the chapter was more of the same that I described in the introduction to this week's entry.

2 Kings, Chapter 15

Chapter 15 was yet more of the same - fighting, conspiring, assassinations, plundering, etc.

2 Kings, Chapter 16

King Ahaz son of Jotham of Judah became king, but did evil. This chapter did mention an interesting practice, "He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel."

Upon return from a visit to Damascus, Ahaz directed the priest, Uriah, to copy the altar he'd seen there, and had the original bronze altar moved. Of course, he performed all manner of offerings on the new altar, including dashing blood on it. He intended to use the new altar for offerings, while the old "bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by." He further remodeled the house of the Lord, changing many of the objects that God himself had given exact directions on how to make. I can very easily imagine something like this happening in reality, and the priests being very upset at the lack of respect for tradition, and writing a bad role for Ahaz in the history books.

2 Kings, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 actually contained a very big event - the fall of Israel. King Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel, and while he did evil in the sight of the Lord, it was "yet not like the kings of Israel who were before him." King Shalmaneser of Assyria forced Hoshea to become a vassal, but Hoshea tried to contact King So of Egypt for help. When Shalmaneser learned of Hoshea's treachery, he captured and imprisoned him. Then, he invaded Israel, eventually conquered it, and "carried the Israelites away to Assyria."

Next came a long list of all the sins committed by Israel, and why God had allowed them to be conquered. It all came down to not staying faithful to God's commandments and worshiping other gods.

The king of Assyria sent settlers to colonize the newly conquered land, but they didn't worship Yahweh, so "the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them." When the king learned that his people were being attacked because "they do not know the law of the god of the land", he sent an Israelite priest to teach them the law. But they didn't completely abandon their old practices, "they worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. To this day they continue to practice their former customs." There was a bit of repetition (perhaps a remnant from combining multiple sources), with the end of the chapter closing similarly, "So these nations worshiped the Lord, but also served their carved images; to this day their children and their children's children continue to do as their ancestors did."

This particular passage probably presents God in the smallest role of any passage I've read so far. For supposedly being the creator of the entire universe, he's awfully concerned about one particular plot of land. Why was God not concerned about how the Assyrians worshiped until they moved into the promised land? It seems to be presenting Yahweh as a local god ruling over that region, not a universal god ruling over everything. Tied in with the end of Chapter 3, where a sacrifice to Chemosh was enough to stop an Israelite invasion, this really does seem to indicate that the writers of Kings were henotheistic rather than monotheistic.

2 Kings, Chapter 18

Chapter 18 started off with King Hezekiah of Judah beginning his reign. He was described as doing "right in the sight of the Lord", finally taking down the high places, breaking down pillars and sacred poles, and even cutting up the bronze snake Moses had made since people had even been making offerings to it.

After a brief digression into describing the fall of Israel (perhaps yet another remnant from combining sources), the chapter described how King Sennacherib of Assyria began capturing cities of Judah. Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib by sending him gold and silver, even using the gold that overlaid various objects in the temple. But Sennacherib still sent emissaries to Jerusalem to deliver a message that he was planning to attack. It seems that the purpose of the emissaries was to scare the people of Jerusalem, possibly so that they'd surrender or dessert. The threat was of the sort you'd expect - look how powerful the king is, none of the other nations' gods have saved them, don't listen to your own king, etc.

2 Kings, Chapter 19

When the threats from Sennacherib's emissaries were relayed to Hezekia, "he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord." Then, he prayed to God and sent for the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah relayed a message from God that everything would turn out okay for Judah.

After a mention of some fighting between the king of Assyria and Libnah, Hezekiah again sent messengers to Hezekiah, with a shorter version of the message his emissaries had delivered in person in the previous chapter. Again, Hezekiah prayed to God, though a longer prayer this time, and again Isaiah responded with a message from God assuring Hezekiah that Judah would be victorious, only it was a much longer response this time, and in verse. If I had to guess, I'd wager that these are really two different versions of the same story but from different sources being combined into one story here, depicting it as two separate events.

God fulfilled his promise, "That very night the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies." Sennacherib went back to Nineveh, and was later murdered "as he was worshiping in the house of his god Nisroch".

2 Kings, Chapter 20

Hezekiah was on his deathbed, and Isaiah visited him to deliver a message from God,"Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover." But Hezekiah wept and pled with the Lord, and so God changed his mind. He sent Isaiah back to deliver a new message, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; indeed, I will heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord." God also promised an additional 15 years of life for Hezekiah, and deliverance from the King of Assyria. When Hezekiah asked Isaiah for a sign that this was true, Isaiah told him to watch the shadows, "the shadow has now advanced ten intervals; shall it retreat ten intervals?" When Isaiah cried out to the Lord, the shadow miraculously retreated.

The king of Babylon sent envoys to Hezekiah, and Hezekiah showed them all that he had. Isaiah relayed another prophecy, that the Babylonians would eventually carry everything from Hezekiah's house, but Hezekiah was relieved that it wouldn't happen in his lifetime.


I don't have anything new to say in this conclusion that I haven't already said in my conclusions to my previous entries on both books of Kings. It is interesting to think that these stories may be based on real events, but there's also the inevitable embellishment you have to look past to try to imagine what the reality might have been.

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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Atheist Chaplains, or Another Case of Christians Not Being the Ones Discriminated Against

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI was having a conversation with someone the other day, and the topic turned to the types of things I discuss on this blog. I made a comment along the lines of, 'It's not as if Christians are a persecuted minority in this country', and the other person responded that 'No, they're a persecuted majority'. From my interactions, it seems that this is a relatively common perception. As an example, here's an article from Townhall Magazine, Persecution of Christians ... in America. Granted, there are examples of Christians being mistreated, but these mainly seem to be isolated cases. For another set of examples, look to the ACLU's ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression. Those are mostly local school boards, city governments, or bureaucrats misunderstanding the law.

For an example of a group being discriminated against by not just local government, but the United States House of Representatives, consider the recent case of the ban on atheist chaplains in the military.

Currently, there are around 2800 chaplains in the military. These chaplains are all specifically for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews (and maybe a few more religions, I'm not sure). However, there are no specifically secular chaplains, even though around 20% of those in the military have no particular religious affiliation, and around 1% are specifically atheist/agnostic. So, some atheist organizations were pushing to get a few secular chaplains to support the non-religious in the military. One congressional member tried to create the post in an amendment to the defense appropriations bill, but it was voted down. Not content with merely voting it down, the opponents came back with a separate amendment requiring chaplains to be associated with a specific religious institution - an attempt to effectively ban atheist and secular chaplains. And that amendment had no trouble passing - 253 to 173 (with only 2 Republicans voting against the amendment).

The guy who sponsored the amendment called atheist chaplains an oxymoron, insisting that chaplains are there to perform religious duties. But, in practice, the religious aspects of their post only constitute a small portion of it. As one of the commenters in the link below put it:

Military Chaplains do a lot more than hold church services and prayer meetings. They counsel guys that are going through a lot of hard stuff. Anyone who has served in the military knows this. If a soldier isn't a Christian, he may not feel comfortable talking to a Christian Chaplain about his issues, and there are a lot of guys out there committing suicide without having seen a Chaplain. Whatever we can do to prevent these needless deaths, even if you guys think it's "stupid" or an "oxymoron" is fine by me.

And I know some people might say those soldiers have the options of counselors and psychologists, but there's still a big stigma with those. More importantly, it goes down in the soldier's record if they see a psychologist, whereas a visit to a chaplain is off the record, making it more likely for a soldier to talk with them.

Don't get me wrong. Atheists don't have it terribly bad in the U.S. For one, it's not outwardly apparent, so even living in one of the reddest areas in a very red state, I've never felt the type of personal harassment that a victim of 'stop and frisk' would experience. But I'm also careful not to be very vocal about my atheism in the wrong crowds. Years ago when my daughter was younger, she made the mistake of simply telling another kid at daycamp that she didn't think you needed to believe in God to be a good person, and she ended up being teased by a bunch of other kids for the rest of the day. My main point is that I'm tired of the false narrative of Christians being the ones persecuted in this country.

More Info:

Other than the headline and opening paragraph, this is a pretty even handed article:

This issue has been covered extensively in verse by the Digital Cuttlefish, going back to before the above mentioned law was even proposed. Go check out some of his posts for more info:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Follow Up, Part II: Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution

Archaeopteryx - Berlin SpecimenAs I wrote in my last entry, Follow Up: Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution, a little less than two months ago, I left a couple comments on the blog, Across the Fruited Plain, in the entries, Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution and Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata. It took a little while for the owner of the blog to approve my comments, but he finally did, and we got into a little back and forth. As I wrote in my previous entry, I was worried that the conversation would degrade into one on the nature of knowledge, not his original topic of evolution. And while I even wrote, "If he goes back into all the post-modern mumbo jumbo, I don't think I'll have the stomach to keep the conversation going," he managed to suck me into the conversation. It wasn't very productive - neither of us did any convincing of the other. However, it is rather enlightening into the mindset of a creationist. So, rather than waste more time in a pointless discussion, I left one final comment with the following conclusion.

Anyway, I'm done discussing epistemology. If you want to leave one more response to get in the last word, you're welcome to it. But I don't see this as a fruitful discussion. I'll keep on making arguments of the sort, 'In nearly all cases, absolute certainty is not possible, but we can still still have a very high degree of confidence in various claims, and the pragmatic approach to life is to not worry about the most outlandish, unlikely claims. We can always be mistaken, and your claim to absolute knowledge through Yahweh is just one example of people being mistaken in their beliefs.' And you'll keep making arguments of the sort, 'Aha! You admit you don't have absolute certainty, therefore you can't know anything. Whereas I believe in God, and can therefore have absolute certainty.' It'll just be longer, use more examples, longer words, and maybe even a bit more Latin, but the conversation won't go anywhere. It's fruitless.

If you do want to continue a conversation, I'd be happy to discuss the original topic of this blog post - birds, dinosaurs, and evolution. Even if you think I lack the epistemological basis to 'know' things, you believe that you don't have that handicap. So, unless you're going to imply that I really am living in the Matrix and this world isn't real, you at least should accept that the real world exists, and that the fossil and other evidence I'm trying to show you exists. So, you should be able to comment on your interpretations of that evidence. Otherwise, it seems like you're trying to evade the conversation.

And, just as a reminder, the questions I posted on your other entry, Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata, still stand. You made several claims about evolutionary biology, geology, paleontology, etc. So, ignoring my supposed inability to 'know' things, what is your interpretation of the objections I posted? Do you have any evidence-based arguments against what I wrote, or are you just going to go back to arguing the nature of evidence and imply that my worldview doesn't allow me to know anything, thereby avoiding my questions?

If the conversation does progress to something productive, I'll probably make note of it here.

As an aside, I'm going to miss my Friday Bible Blogging entry this week. I've been a bit sick all week, and I just lacked the energy and conviction to read through another ten chapters of the Bible. It's already a bit of a chore even when I've feeling completely healthy. This conversation on the other blog, while a bit exasperating, was easy enough to keep up with without much thought or spending too much time on it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Follow Up: Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution

Archaeopteryx - Berlin SpecimenA little less than two months ago, I left a couple comments on the blog, Across the Fruited Plain, in the entries, Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution and Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata. After about a week with my comments being held up in moderation, I decided to post them on this site in the entry, Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution. As I wrote in that entry, "Despite it not being a particularly active blog, I caught a case of SIWOTI syndrome and couldn't resist commenting."

Well, the writer of the blog has finally approved my comments and left a couple responses of his own. Unfortunately, so far, the discussion hasn't been particularly productive. In my first comment to his entry on fossil evidence for evolution, I was trying to correct his misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the science. Here's his initial response, in full.

Hello Jeff!

Thank you for your message.
You have made many knowledge claims, but since we do not know each other and I don't know what your epistemological groundings are, my question is, can you be wrong about everything you claim to know?

If you follow this blog at all, you can probably guess at my answer. I started off by saying that "Of course I could be wrong," and then gave a brief explanation of the sort I've made numerous times on this blog - that absolute certainty is impossible, but we can have varying levels of confidence in different ideas (for an example, see my essay, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge, or the related, but not quite as relevant, Confidence in Historical Knowledge)

His followup began in a very unpromising manner, "Therefore, if you could be wrong about everything you claim to know, then it follows that you do not know anything." It then went on from there with different variations on the theme that I've somehow admitted that knowledge is impossible because certainty is impossible.

My next reply wasn't as polite as perhaps it could have been (I lead off by asking, "Are you being obtuse on purpose?"), but it was mostly constructive and civil. I basically said that I wasn't going to get drawn into a discussion on epistemology when his own post was originally about evidence for evolution, and then reiterated my original points.

He also responded briefly to my comment on the bird entry, with a portion of his response wondering "how two creatures, who could not be more biologically different, are directly linked spontaneously through Macro Evolution". I responded with a comment listing the common features of dinosaurs and birds, but I now notice that that comment of mine is held up in moderation. Hopefully he'll approve it relatively soon.

I'll see how the conversation goes. I'm hoping he'll stay on topic with his original posts and discuss evidence for evolution. If he goes back into all the post-modern mumbo jumbo, I don't think I'll have the stomach to keep the conversation going.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Kings 1 to 2 Kings 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).

BibleAs I stated in the introduction to my first entry dealing with 1 Kings, 1 and 2 Kings were originally a single book, so 2 Kings is merely a continuation of 1 Kings. The characters and stories in the first 10 chapters of 2 Kings aren't particularly well-known, outside of a few more stories with Elijah and his successor, Elisha. On a gruesome note, there is human sacrifice and cannibalism, but it's mostly just stories of kings fighting each other and the politics involved.

2 Kings, Chapter 1

After a single verse that stated, "After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel", there was a story concerning Ahaziah, then king of Israel. He "had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber", and was stuck in bed injured severely. He wanted to send messengers to ask the prophets of Baal-zebub if he would recover, but God sent Elijah to intercept the messengers, and tell them that Ahaziah was going to die. When the messengers returned to Ahaziah with Elijah's prophecy, Ahaziah sent "a captain of fifty with his fifty men" to bring back Elijah to him, but Elijah caled on God, and "fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty". A second command and his men met a similar fate. When the king sent a third set of troops, the commander got on his knees and pled with Elijah. This time, Elijah went along with the captain, and repeated his prophecy in person to the king, and the king subsequently died. Since Ahazia had no sons, his brother, Jehoram, succeeded him.

It's interesting to note the name of the Moabite god. In reality, it was probably Baal-zebul, but the writer of this passage was playing a rather juvenile joke by changing it to Baal-zebub which translates literally as "lord of the flies".

There were several contradictions in these chapters concerning when kings took the throne. Fo example, in verse 17 of this chapter, Jehoram became king in the second year of King Jehoram, while in chapter 3, verse 1, it was the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat of Judah.

2 Kings, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 covered the death of Elijah, and literally passing on the mantle to Elisha. The chapter began with Elijah telling Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel," and Elisha replying, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." They got to Bethel, and the prophets there asked Elisha if he knew that the Lord was about to take Elijah. Elisha responded, "Yes, I know; keep silent." This was repeated again for Jericho, and then partially repeated a third time to go to the Jordan. This time, there were 50 other prophets following along. In an act reminiscent of Moses, Elijah took his mantle (a cape or cloak), rolled it up and stuck it in the water, and the water parted, allowing him and Elisha to cross.

Once across the Jordan, Elijah offered a final request to Elisha, and Elisha asked for "a double share of your spirit." Elijah told him it would be hard, but that he'd do it so long as Elisha saw Elijah being taken away. Then, a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire came down and separated them, and Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind.

Elisha picked up Elijah's mantle, went back to the Jordan, and parted the waters himself. The 50 other prophets who had followed them to the Jordan insisted on sending out a search party for Elijah, but obviously, he was nowhere to be found.

There was a minor miracle from Elisha - throwing salt into a well, turning the water into pure water.

There was another miracle that's rather infamous among skeptics. A group of young boys came to make fun of Elisha, shouting "Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!" For that bit of youthful mischief, Elisha "cursed them in the name of the Lord", and two bears came to maul them, killing 42 of the boys.

According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), 42 was a number commonly associated with death in that region, from this passage, to Jehu killing 42 people in Chapter 10, to there being 42 judges of the dead in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

2 Kings, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 was back to describing kings. Let me just make a note here that it can get a bit confusing following all these names when many of them sound similar to someone not familiar with ancient Hebrew names. Even worse, the names aren't exclusive. For example, there's a Jehoram son of Ahab who was a king of Israel, and Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat who was a king of Judah. On top of that, some kings were referred to by multiple names, e.g. Jehoram/Joram of Israel. And as I described last week, the narrative jumps so quickly from one king to the next that it's hard to keep up.

Jehoram of Israel was noted as better than his parents, since he tore down the pillar of Baal, but that he still "clung to the sin of Jeroboam", worshipping at the high places. Soon after he became king, King Mesha of Moab rebelled against Israel, so Jehoram gathered troops to march against him. He got King Jehoshaphat of Judah to fight alongside him. Unfortunately, after seven days of marching, they were out of water and couldn't find any more to drink. In desperation, they summoned Elisha. Elisha made a strange request, asking for a musician. While the musician was playing, "the power of the Lord came on him", and Elisha was able to deliver God's words. God would provide them with water, but then they were supposed to utterly destroy Moab and its inhabitants. The next morning, water flowed to them, pooling up in the countryside. The Moabites, seeing the water in the light of the sunrise, thought it was blood, and that the Israelites had turned on each other in the night. They rushed into the camp expecting to plunder it, only to be attacked by the Israelites.

The Israelites did as God had commanded, chopping down trees, stopping up wells, and in general razing the land. In desperation, the Moabite king took his firstborn son, "and offered him as a burnt-offering on the wall". And with that, "great wrath came upon Israel", so they quit fighting and returned home. It's striking that a human sacrifice would be so effective. This was probably a holdover from polytheism, and the Moabite's god, Chemosh, coming to their rescue due to such a valuable sacrifice.

2 Kings, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 was a series of miracles performed by Elisha. The first was for a poor widow who was on the verge of losing her children to a creditor (i.e. into slavery). The only possession of any value she had left was a jar of oil. So, Elisha instructed her to collect jars and vessels from her neighbors, go home, shut the door behind them, and start pouring oil into the vessels. Lo and behold, her single jar filled all the vessels she'd gathered, and she was able to sell the oil to pay her debts.

The second miracle was telling a woman who seemed to be a friend of his (he stayed with her while traveling) that even though her husband was old, that she would conceive and bear him a son, which of course came true. An interesting side note on this family is that Elisha used his servant, Gehazi, as an interpreter to talk to them.

Some time later, when the boy had grown up some, he died rather suddenly after developing a headache working the fields. The mother had him put on the bed where Elisha stayed when he visited, and then sent for Elisha. Gehazi went ahead of Elisha, but could do nothing. When Elisha arrived, he prayed for the boy, then "he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands" - apparently transferring some of his own vital spirit to the boy, and then the boy sneezed seven times and revived.

The fourth miracle was throwing some flower into a pot of stew that had been cooked with poison gourds, making the stew safe to eat.

The fifth miracle occurred when a man came to Elisha with "twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain". Elisha had him feed 100 people with those meager supplies, and there were even leftovers. This seems to be the inspiration for the New Testament story with Jesus feeding people with the bread and fish.

2 Kings, Chapter 5

The commander of the Aramean army, Naaman, had some sort of skin disease - translated as leprosy, but not actually leprosy. Elisha's reputation was known far and wide, so the king of Aram sent Naaman to the king of Israel, along with a letter asking the Israelites to cure Naaman. The Israelite king at first thought it was a setup, a pretext for war when the disease couldn't be cured, but Elisha heard what was going on and sent for Naaman. He told Naaman to bathe in the Jordan seven times, and he would be cured. Naaman was at first insulted, thinking Elisha was blowing him off ("Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?"), but his servants convinced him to follow Elisha's advice, and Naaman was cured of his disease. This convinced him in the truth of Yahweh, and he became a convert. He only asked for forgiveness since he would have to go through the motions of worshiping Rimmon with his king back in Aram. (This is another example of a juvenile word play. According to the NOAB, the god's name was probably Ramanu - "the Thunderer". But here it was changed to something that sounded like the Hebrew word for pomegranate.)

Although Naaman wanted to give Elisha valuable gifts in exchange for this miracle, Elisha refused. However, as Naaman was leaving, Elisha's servant, Gehazi, saw an opportunity to make some money. He caught up to Naaman, and told him a lie about two prophets having just shown up, and Elisha wanted the gifts for them. Naaman gladly gave Gehazi the gifts, but Elisha knew what happened (psychic powers), and he told Gehazi that he was going to be punished, "Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants for ever." And again, this punishment is on his descendants as well as him.

2 Kings, Chapter 6

Elisha performed another miracle. While his group of prophets were cutting down trees to build a new dwelling place for them, one dropped his axe head in the water, and it was borrowed from somebody else. So Elisha threw a stick in the water, and the iron axe head floated up to the top, where it could be retrieved.

Next came a story with the king of Aram. Elisha knew exactly where the king was going to camp with his troops (psychic powers, again), and passed the information on to the Israelites. The Aramean king at first suspected a leak from his trusted commanders, but they told him about Elisha. So, the king decided to capture Elisha. He sent an army at night to surround Dothan, the city where Elisha was at the time. In the morning, one of Elisha's attendants was the first to see the army, and went to Elisha to see what they were going to do. To calm the man, Elisha prayed to God to open the man's eyes, "and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." The writers of Kings really did believe in the heavenly host as God's literal army.

To save the city, Elisha performed a miracle that reminded me of Star Wars. He prayed to God to "Strike this people, please, with blindness." Then, he went and spoke to them, "This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek." ("These aren't the droids you're looking for.") So he led them to Samaria, into the hands of the king of Israel. But Elisha wouldn't let the king slaughter them. He was to leave them alive, so that they could return to their homeland and let others know what had happened.

The latter part of the chapter began a story that would be continued in Chapter 7. King Ben-hadad of Aram had laid siege to the Israelite capital, Samaria. During the siege, a woman approached the king of Israel so that he could settle a dispute for her. Her and another woman had made a deal. The other woman had suggested to "Give up your son; we will eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow." Well, after eating the one lady's son on the first day, the other lady hid her son on the second day so that he could be spared. Interestingly, this wasn't seen as murder, since the lady wasn't afraid to approach the king with her story, and the king didn't sentence her to death as a murderer. Rather, he was mad at Elisha for the state to which the capital had sunk, and vowed to cut off Elisha's head. Elisha, being the psychic he was, knew that the king had sent men to capture him. So, he had his doors shut up tight, and talked to the soldiers and the king through the door. The king initiated the conversation, asking why he should still trust in the Lord when things had come to this.

2 Kings, Chapter 7

Elisha responded to the king that by the same time tomorrow, there would be so much food that it would be selling for cheap. The captain of the guard doubted Elisha, so Elisha told him, "You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it."

During the night, God made the Arameans to hear the sound of an approaching army, which they believed to be the Egyptians and Hittites, so they fled their camp in fear. The next morning, four Israelite lepers who had been living outside the city walls, decided to desert to the Arameans, since their chance of survival was no better where they were. They were the first to find the empty camp, and after taking some food, silver, gold, and clothing for themselves, they went and told the city. The Israelites at first thought it was a trap - a ploy to get them to leave the city. So a couple horsemen were sent out to check for the army, and determined that they really had fled. So, the people of the city rushed out to plunder the camp. The captain who had doubted Elisha was trampled in the rush, fulfilling Elisha's prophecy towards him.

2 Kings, Chapter 8

There was a small story in relation to the woman from Chapter 4. In anticipation of an upcoming famine, Elisha sent her away to the Philistines. When she returned after seven years, she had to go to the king to ask for her property back. After telling the king some stories about Elisha, he gave her her property.

Elisha went to go visit King Ben-hadad of Aram when the king was ill. Hazael met with Elisha, and Elisha told him to tell the king that he would recover, even though Elisha knew the king was going to die. He stared at Hazael for a while and then began to weep. When questioned on why, he said it was because he knew all the horrors Hazael would inflict on Israel. Hazael went and told the king what Elisha had told him to tell him, that he would recover. But then came a verse that could be interpreted two different ways, "But the next day he took the bed-cover and dipped it in water and spread it over the king's face, until he died. And Hazael succeeded him." Did Hazael suffocate the king, or was he putting cold compresses on him to ease his fever?

Next came a brief description of King Joram of Judah. He became king, but did evil in the sight of the Lord. Edom revolted during his reign, and even though he took an army to confront them, he had to retreat back to Judah.

When Joram of Judah died, his son, Ahaziah, succeeded him. Ahaziah was actually a son-in-law to Ahab of Israel. Ahaziah fought alongside king Joram of Israel against Hazael. Joram was injured in the battle, so Ahaziah went with him to recuperate in Jezreel.

2 Kings, Chapter 9

Now it was time to put an end to Ahab's lineage, for all the evil Ahab had done. Elisha sent a prophet to anoint Jehu as the king of Israel. When the prophet anointed Jehu, he also gave him a message from God that he was to utterly destroy the house of Ahab. After reluctantly telling the other officers what the prophet had told him, the officers declared Jehu to be the king.

Jehu went to Jezreel to confront Joram, son of Ahab. After sending out two messengers who fell in behind Jehu, Joram and Ahaziah got in their own chariots to go meet Jehu. After trying to talk to Jehu and realizing that he was out for blood, Joram tried to flee, but Jehu shot him in the back and killed him. Jehu had Joram's body thrown on the ground on the plot formerly belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite, in punishment for having stolen the land (1 Kings 21). Jehu then told some of his soldiers to shoot Ahaziah. Ahaziah was mortally wounded, but managed to make it to Megiddo before dying, after which he was buried properly.

When Jehu entered Jezreel, Jezebel "painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window." This was, apparently, the custom of prostitutes - not exactly a flattering portrayal of an ex-queen. Jehu called out to see who would follow him, and some of the eunuchs who were Jezebel's servants threw her out the window in a rather graphic passage, "So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her." Jehu, acting almost barbaric, went in to eat and drink before even worrying about her body, then told his followers to "See to that cursed woman and bury her; for she is a king's daughter," as if her father was the only reason she was worth worrying about. But by that time it was too late - the dogs had eaten most of her, and "they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands."

2 Kings, Chapter 10

Ahab had seventy sons still alive. Jehu sent letters to "the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, and to the guardians of the sons of Ahab", telling them to pick the son who would be next ruler, so that he could confront him. (There's actually a bit of a discontinuity here - why send letters to people in Jezreel when Jehu was in Jezreel himself?) But the elders and leaders were all afraid of Jehu, and responded as such. So, Jehu responded in a rather barbaric way, "If you are on my side, and if you are ready to obey me, take the heads of your master's sons and come to me at Jezreel tomorrow at this time." Which they did, and Jehu piled the heads in two heaps outside the city gate. But then, he used the very acts they'd done under his demand against them. He admitted to being guilty to killing the king, "but who struck down all these?" So, he killed "all who were left of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his leaders, close friends, and priests, until he left him no survivor."

On Jehu's way to Samaria, he met a party of Ahaziah's relatives, who were on their way to meet the king (obviously not knowing what had just happened). Jehu had them captured alive, then taken to the pit of Beth-eked to be killed, "forty-two in all; he spared none of them."

From there, Jehu met up with Jehonadab son of Rechab, who agreed to follow him. So they went on to Samaria, and killed everyone left there who was still faithful to Ahab.

Next, Jehu called together all the prophets of Baal, promising "a great sacrifice to offer to Baal". But once they were all brought together in the temple, Jehu had his soldiers slaughter all of them. Then, he burned the pillar of Baal, destroyed the temple, and had the site turned into a latrine.

And how was Jehu treated for all this slaughter and deceit? He was rewarded by God himself, "The Lord said to Jehu, 'Because you have done well in carrying out what I consider right, and in accordance with all that was in my heart have dealt with the house of Ahab, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.'"

Unfortunately, Jehu wasn't perfect, and continued to worship the golden calves at the high places. Still, Jehu died peacefully, and was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz.


The footnotes in the NOAB mention multiple stelae that deal with some of the kings described in these chapters. So, there is pretty good evidence that these kings existed, meaning that much of these stories are probably based on real events. However, the stelae don't always agree with the Bible stories, or include information not included in the Bible, so these stories still have to be read with a bit of skepticism. But this leads back to something I wrote last week. I can understand how these events happened, and then the God parts were added in later as post hoc rationalizations. And considering how much time passed between when the actual historical events happened and when the final compilation of Kings was put together, and by who put it together, it's easy to imagine details being changed to fit the redactors' agenda. It's a bit like the far right wing in today's America trying to re-frame the founding of America, casting it as founded on Christian values rather than Enlightenment ideals (see my entry, Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone, for a discussion of this modern day myth). They're incorporating a lot of real history into their narrative, but much of that is cherry picking, leaving out the facts that argue against them, not to mention adding in a bit of myth. It's easy to imagine a similar thing happening a couple thousand years ago.

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.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for July 2013

Top 10 ListAnother month has come and gone, so like I normally do, it's time to look at the server logs to see what pages were most popular last month. Every page that made the list had made it at least once before, so no big surprises. I was happy to see my blog entry, Friday Bible Blogging - Joshua 1 to Joshua 10 make the list for the second time. I know that the Bible blogging entries are never going to be hugely popular, but they take a lot of time to put together, so it's nice to see people reading them. I've also noticed my Autogyro History & Theory page slipping further in the rankings. It used to be far and away the most popular page on this site, but starting in May of last year, it began trading the top spot with blog entries, particularly A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes. May of this year was the first time it slipped lower than second, and then this past month, it was down all the way to fourth. It's not that the Autogyro History & Theory page is becoming less popular. Really, it's held fairly steady since I began keeping track of these things, and in fact, received its most monthly hits in January of this year. Rather, my blog entries have been steadily increasing in popularity.

As far as overall traffic, like I've written in the past several of these updates, it depends on what stats, in particular, you're looking at. In general, traffic has been on par with what it's been for the past several months, though down just a bit from last month.

So, here are the top 10 pages from this site from last month.

Top 10 for July 2013

  1. Blog - Texas Board of Education - Bad Results for Science Standards
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  4. Autogyro History & Theory
  5. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  6. Blog - Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  7. Blog - Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam
  8. Blog - Creation Museum/2nd Law of Thermodynamics
  9. Blog - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  10. Blog - Friday Bible Blogging - Joshua 1 to Joshua 10

Monday, August 5, 2013

Response to Another E-mail on U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

UN Flag LogoI've received another e-mail that's prompted a response on my part (the full text of the e-mail is available below the fold). This e-mail had to do with the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, and the recent vote in the Senate on an amendment to a budget resolution to try to prevent the U.S. from entering into that treaty.

I've heard of the Arms Trade Treaty previously, and blogged about it in the entry, Response to Article on U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. As in that previous article, this e-mail was trying to paint the treaty as a U.N. / Obama attempt to take away Americans' right to own guns. Here's a paragraph from this most recent e-mail.

The U.N. Small Arms Treaty, which has been championed by the Obama Administration, would have effectively placed a global ban on the import and export of small firearms. The ban would have affected all private gun owners in the U.S., and had language that would have implemented an international gun registry on all private guns and ammo.

So, how true is all this, and what is the treaty really about? You can follow the link below to see how the UN describes the treaty in their own words.
United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs - The Arms Trade Treaty

Here's the opening paragraph from that page:

On 2 April 2013, the General Assembly adopted the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. The treaty will foster peace and security by putting a stop to destabilising arms flows to conflict regions. It will prevent human rights abusers and violators of the law of war from being supplied with arms. And it will help keep warlords, pirates, and gangs from acquiring these deadly tools.

That sounds noble enough, but from looking into this treaty previously, I knew there were potential issues that the U.S. was concerned about with its earlier drafts. You can go to the State Department's website to read what they have to say about the treaty, and the aspects that they pushed for to make sure that the treaty didn't infringe upon U.S. sovereignty or the rights of our citizens.
United States Department of State - Arms Trade Treaty

In particular, here is a list of key points from that page that the U.S. insisted upon.

  • The Second Amendment to the Constitution must be upheld.
    • There will be no restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution.
    • There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law.
  • The U.S. will oppose provisions inconsistent with existing U.S. law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export, or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.
  • The international arms trade is a legitimate commercial activity, and otherwise lawful commercial trade in arms must not be unduly hindered.
  • There will be no requirement for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives.
  • There will be no lowering of current international standards.
  • Existing nonproliferation and export control regimes must not be undermined.
  • The ATT negotiations must have consensus decision making to allow us to protect U.S. equities.
  • There will be no mandate for an international body to enforce an ATT.

That sounds pretty reassuring, but I know not everybody trusts everything the government says. So, below is a link to a paper published by a reputable third party, The American Bar Association. They took a close look at the treaty to determine whether or not it would infringe upon Americans' Second Amendment rights.
Document Cloud - American Bar Association Center for Human Rights White Paper

Here were the opening three paragraphs of that paper, with a couple key phrases put in bold by me:

This White Paper discusses whether the July 26, 2012, President's draft of the Arms Trade Treaty ("the proposed ATT") conflicts with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. As detailed below, it concludes that the proposed ATT is consistent with the Second Amendment, as that provision has been construed to date by the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, of the United States.

The proposed ATT would obligate the United States to block the transfer of conventional arms across U.S. borders where certain conditions are met. In particular, the proposed ATT would obligate the United States to block both exports and imports of covered arms across its borders whenever those transfers pose an overriding risk of causing certain adverse consequences, including: serious human rights abuse, war crimes, or terrorist acts.

As currently drafted, the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms. Given that existing statutes regulating the import and export of such weapons have withstood constitutional scrutiny in the U.S. courts for decades, it is unlikely that the proposed treaty would compromise Second Amendment rights. Even if a court found that future acts of the President or Congress in implementing the Arms Trade Treaty did not comply with the Second Amendment, such acts or the Treaty itself would be void.

So, we have the UN saying that the treaty is meant to stop human rights abuses, the State Department saying they insisted upon preservation of Americans' Second Amendment rights before considering the treaty, and a respected third party, the American Bar Association, verifying that the treaty won't affect our Second Amendment rights. The opposition to this treaty sounds like fear mongering on the part of various right wing organizations.

Here are a few more links, from an admittedly left leaning source, to provide a counter point to all the right leaning stories I'm sure many of you have seen already:

It's also interesting to note that only three countries voted against the treaty - North Korea, Iran, and Syria - not exactly the countries you want to be grouped with.

As far as final approval of the treaty, it still has to go through the formal approval process with the President and the Senate. This recent vote by the Senate was merely symbolic, and doesn't actually mean anything.

Now, the State Department still needs to closely review the treaty and make sure that everything in the final version is okay, but the current opposition seems so irrational. It's based on a fear that by all indications doesn't match with reality.

The e-mail I received said to take careful note of who voted in opposition to the amendment, i.e. those in favor of at least considering the treaty. I would agree - they were the only sensible politicians in the Senate. And I would add that you should also note who voted in opposition to the treaty - the ones obstructing progress in the world. Unsurprisingly given the current political environment, the vote fell nearly along party lines. Not a single Republican opposed the anti-treaty amendment, and only a few Democrats supported it. Given the purpose of the treaty to try to stop human rights abuses, and the fact that the U.N., the U.S. State Department, and the American Bar Association have all stated that it will not affect Americans' right to own guns, you have to wonder just what the opposition is thinking. Even if the treaty turned out to have provisions that would attempt to limit our gun ownership rights, it would be superseded by the Constitution, so there's really no danger at all. Why would they out of hand oppose a treaty with such noble goals? Is political showmanship more important to these people than are the victims of tyrannical regimes and terrorists?

More Info:

For those interested, here is the full text of the e-mail I received. As normal, I did a little cleaning up with the formatting, but tried to stay fairly faithful to the original e-mail.

Subject: Fwd: Close call-= for UN ARMS TREATY Send this list around so every one will know who to vote against [ out of office] next election. Print it out and take it to work and show it to every one you know. These Politicans are against our way of life in America. They are just Plain EVIL... Remember guns don't kill, its People with evil in there hearts or those that can't control themselves...


Date: July 22, 2013
Subject: Fwd: Close call

Look who is first on the list. *even RINO Republicans

Received this from a friend.


Thought you might like to know how your senator vote Makes you wonder who you will vote for next election!

Extremely important to know.

Over the past weekend, we came four votes away from the US Senate giving our Constitutional rights over to the United Nations. In a 53-46 vote, the senate narrowly passed a measure that will stop the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.

The Statement of Purpose from the Bill reads:

"To uphold Second Amendment rights and prevent the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty."

The U.N. Small Arms Treaty, which has been championed by the Obama Administration, would have effectively placed a global ban on the import and export of small firearms. The ban would have affected all private gun owners in the U.S., and had language that would have implemented an international gun registry on all private guns and ammo.

Astonishingly, 46 out of our 100 United States Senators were willing to give away our Constitutional rights to a foreign power.

Here are the 46 senators that voted to give your rights to the U.N.

Baldwin (D-WI)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bennett (D-CO)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Coons (D-DE)
Cowan (D-MA)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Harkin (D-IA)
Hirono (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kaine (D-VA)
King (I-ME)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murphy (D-CT)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schatz (D-HI)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Warner (D-VA)
Warren (D-MA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)

People: This needs to go viral. These Senators voted to let the UN take OUR guns. They need to lose their next election. We have been betrayed. 46 Senators Voted to Give your 2nd Amendment Constitutional Rights to the U.N.

Please send this to SOMEONE!

Did you notice all were democrats? I also noticed two independents, one from Vermont and one from Maine.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Kings 11 to 1 Kings 22

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 22 are the end of 1 Kings. They contain the death of Solomon, the breakup of the unified kingdom, and a succession of kings of Israel and Judah. After Solomon, probably the most well known character from these chapters is Elijah.

This review is a little longer than normal, but there are many interesting aspects to these chapters, most of which aren't particularly well-known.

1 Kings, Chapter 11

In previous chapters, there were hints that Solomon wasn't a perfect king - the lists of all his wealth and possessions hinting at his pride. For example, Deuteronomy 17:16 explicitly stated that a king wasn't supposed to "acquire many horses for himself", yet 1 Kings 4:26 stated that Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses. But here in Chapter 11, Solomon did something really bad in the Lord's eyes - he took foreign wives. God had forbidden this because he knew that "they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods". And it wasn't just a few wives, "Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines..." Solomon did just as the Lord had warned against, and built temples for all his wives to be able to worship their gods, and even began to follow them himself, including "Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites".

God was so mad at Solomon that he vowed to take the kingdom away from Solomon, sort of. For David's sake, God wasn't going to break up the kingdom in Solomon's lifetime, but was instead going to put the punishment on Solomon's son. Further, God was still going to leave David's line in charge of one tribe and Jerusalem. This is just one more example of the transfer of guilt from one person to another.

Because of Solomon's sins, God raised up multiple adversaries against him, described in various levels of detail in this chapter. These included Hadad the Edomite, Rezon son of Eliada, and Jeroboam son of Nebat. Jeroboam received the most attention. He was a trusted servant of Solomon. One day, the prophet, Ahijah, approached him, and told him that the Lord had chosen him to be the next king of Israel. To symbolize this, Ahijah tore up his garment into 12 pieces, giving 10 to Jeroboam representing the tribes he was going to rule (apparently, one of the tribes had been lost by that point). When Solomon learned of this, he tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt for refuge.

Towards the end of the chapter, there was a verse that will be repeated nearly the same way for the other kings, only citing a different book, "Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, all that he did as well as his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon?" It seems that there were more sources for the people of the time to draw on regarding Israelite history.

At the very end of the chapter, Solomon died, and was succeeded by his son, Rehoboam.

1 Kings, Chapter 12

When Rehoboam took the throne, the people of Israel told him that "Your father made our yoke heavy", and asked him to lighten it. He asked for three days to consider their request. The older men of his counsel told him to grant the request of his people, while the younger ones he'd grown up with told him to make their burden even heavier. They even told him to tell the people, "My little finger is thicker than my father's loins," where 'little finger' is a euphemism for his penis. In other words, this younger generation with Rehoboam was trying to be macho and show their strength.

In the end, "the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word", and he followed the advice of the younger generation. The people rebelled under the leadership of Jeroboam, and Israel was split into two kingdoms. Note that God made the events turn out the way they did. God made Jeroboam act the way he did so that Jeroboam could be punished for Solomon's sins.

Jeroboam, unfortunately, didn't follow in the ways of the Lord. He built two golden calves for the people to worship, and began to appoint priests from among the people, not the Levite tribe as God had commanded. He even made his own festival.

1 Kings, Chapter 13

While Jeroboam was at one of the altars he built to offer incense, a prophet came up to him and warned him of his destruction and that of his altars, hinting at human sacrifice, "he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who offer incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you." Jeroboam pointed at the prophet and told his guards to seize him, but his hand withered up. The altar was torn down with little detail given on how it came to pass, and then Jeroboam asked the prophet to pray for him to heal his hand. The prophet complied, the hand was healed, and Jeroboam invited the prophet to eat with him as thanks. The prophet refused, because God had commanded him not to eat or drink there, nor return by the way he had come (a somewhat odd command). As the prophet was returning home, another prophet went to meet him, and invited him back to his house to eat. The first prophet refused based on the Lord's command, but the second prophet then lied to him, and said that an angel had commanded him to invite the first prophet back to his house to eat. Being deceived and thinking he was following God's will, the first prophet went with the second. But while they were eating, God told the first prophet that he'd broken the Lord's command and would be killed for it, without being buried at his family's tomb. And as the first prophet was riding away on a donkey, a lion attacked and killed him, but stood over the body without eating it. The second prophet, on hearing what had happened, went and got the body, and had it buried, with instructions to bury himself alongside the first prophet once he himself died.

There will be another passage later dealing with a similar theme, but assuming that all of this mythology were true, it calls into question how to know the Lord's will. Apparently, God speaks through prophets, but even a prophet can lie and say something that didn't come from God. And God, being the stickler for obedience that he is, will punish you harshly for following a false prophet, even if your intentions were good.

The final verse of the chapter simply reinforced that Jeroboam was still doing evil, worshipping in the "high places", and letting anyone who felt the calling be a priest.

1 Kings, Chapter 14

Jeroboam's son, Abijah, became sick, so Jeroboam sent sent his wife to the prophet, Ahijah, for advice. She went disguised, but God told Ahijah to expect her. Ahijah passed on the word of God to her - that her son would die as soon as she returned home, and that Jeroboam's line would be utterly destroyed, " I will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free, in Israel and will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city, the dogs shall eat; and anyone who dies in the open country, the birds of the air shall eat; for the Lord has spoken." Further, all of Israel would be scattered because of the sins they had committed due to Jeroboam.

Once Jeroboam's wife returned home, her son did die as foretold. But nothing else particularly bad was noted to have happened to Jeroboam. The writer referenced "the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel" to read more of Jeroboam's exploits, then noted that he died peacefully. Note again the collective guilt. Jeroboam and that generation of Israel weren't being punished particularly harshly for their sins. That was going to fall on their descendants.

Now it was back to Solomon's son, Rehoboam. He was similarly leading Judah astray, building "high places, pillars, and sacred poles", and even allowing male temple prostitutes. There was a brief passage describing how King Shishak of Egypt had plundered much of Jerusalem's treasures, forcing them to remake Solomon's gold shields out of bronze, instead. The writers noted that Rehoboam and Jeroboam fought continuously during their lifetimes, and then described how Rehoboam had also died peacefully.

1 Kings, Chapter 15

To be honest, this chapter began to get tedious. It was more listing different kings of Judah and Israel, how some did evil in the sight of the Lord, and others acted more righteously, and who they fought with, and who invaded who, and who was being punished by God because of their own sins or the sins of their ancestors, and how you could read further about them in either the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah or the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel. All the descriptions were so brief that you never had a chance to get caught up in a story before it was on to the next one. Anyway, there was Abijam of Judah, who did evil, his son Asa, who did good, Baasha of Israel, who did evil and also set up a temporary blockade against Judah, and Nadab son of Jeroboam, who did evil, not to mention a few foreign kings.

One aspect tied in with a previous chapter. Baasha became king of Israel by killing Nadab, and then killing all of the house of Jeroboam, fulfilling God's threat against Jeroboam.

1 Kings, Chapter 16

This chapter continued on like the previous one, but showed Israel falling into chaos. When Baasha died, his son Elah became king. But after ruling for only two years, one of his officers, Zimri, killed him to take the throne for himself, killing all of the house of Baasha for good measure, and fulfilling a threat of God against Baasha. When the rest of the army learned what happened, they appointed the commander of the whole army, Omri, to be king of Israel. They besieged the capital city of Tirzah. And Zimri, rather than be captured, burned down the palace on top of himself, just seven days after his coup. Then followed a civil war, described in just a couple verses, where Omri's forces were victorious. But with Omri's victory came 22 years of relative stability, even if "Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him." Note that this hyperbolic claim was used on just about every king who did evil. When Omri died, his son Ahab took the throne, went and married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of the Sidonians, and began worshiping Baal.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) noted a few interesting aspects in this chapter. First, it stated that even though Omri was only briefly mentioned in the Bible, archaeological evidence indicates that he was quite influential. Many artifacts from the Assyrians refer to the the "House of Omri". It also noted that 'Baal' was not an actual name of a god, but a title, similar to 'Lord'.

The final verses of this chapter described Hiel of Bethel rebuilding Jericho in a somewhat ambiguous manner that could be interpreted either as human sacrifice or a curse, "he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua son of Nun."

1 Kings, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 introduced Elijah, who would be transformed in the Medieval period into the prototype of the Wandering Jew (see Jewish Encyclopedia). He delivered a prophecy to Ahab, "As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." At God's command, Elijah went into hiding in the wilderness at the Wadi Cherith. He drank from the wadi, and ate bread and meat that were delivered to him by ravens. This being fed by birds seemed particularly mythical.

When the wadi dried up, he moved on to Zarephath, where he gained the help of a widow. Through a miracle of God, even though she was poor and had very little, while Elijah was there, her jar of meal and jug of oil both stayed full. Her son became very sick, "so severe that there was no breath left in him." Elijah prayed for him, performed a sort of ritual where "he stretched himself upon the child three times", and asked God to restore the child's life. God listened, and the child revived. The NOAB pointed out verse 22, "The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah", and how important Elijah's voice was in this miracle.

1 Kings, Chapter 18

Chapter 18 introduced a new character, Obadiah, a servant of Ahab. However, Obadiah was faithful to God. When Ahab's wife, Jezebel, was having Yahweh's prophets killed, Obadiah rescued 100 of them, hiding them in two different caves.

In the third year of the drought, God command Elijah to return to Ahab with the news that rain would be coming again. On the way, he met with Obadiah, and had Obadiah go get the king. At first, Obadiah was a little reluctant, given Ahab's hatred of Elijah, and expecting that Elijah would disappear before they got back, but Elijah assured Obadiah that he wouldn't flee.

When the king met with Elijah, Elijah had him gather up the "the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah". They assembled on Mount Carmel, and Elijah issued a challenge. They prepared two large piles of wood, and slaughtered two bulls and had the pieces put on the piles. First, Baal's prophets would have their chance to call on their God, to set their pile alight and take their sacrifice. They called on Baal all morning, but nothing happened. Then, "At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, 'Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.'" According to the NOAB, the statement 'he has wandered away' was actually a euphemism for urinating, so it was even a little more derogatory than the literal translation (somewhat humorously, the NOAB noted it as a euphemism for 'relieving himself', itself a euphemism). The prophets began to cut themselves as was apparently their custom, but still nothing happened.

Next, it was Elijah's turn. He gave fairly detailed instructions to the people, to dig a trench around his altar, then he prepared the wood and the bull, then water was dumped on the pile three times until it also filled the trench. After Elijah said one more prayer, "the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench," and the people knew the Lord was God.

(As a side note, I recall seeing something on TV about this miracle, where someone tried to recreate it. By first soaking the wood in a certain chemical that would probably have been known at the time, they were able to get it to start on fire by dumping water on it. I can't seem to find a link right now, but if I do, I'll come back and post it here.)

In a massacre (but a holy one), Elijah told the people to seize all the prophets of Baal, and had them all killed.

Now, the rain finally came. It started as a small cloud on the horizon that grew and grew until heavy rains fell. Elijah pointed out the small cloud to Ahab, and told him to go down Mt. Carmel before he was hindered by the rains, "But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel." This is almost a silly miracle - Elijah ran through the rain faster than Ahab's chariots. It would have been more impressive had he flown, or even better, just been magically transported. But the image of a prophet in robes running through a thunderstorm at superhuman spees just isn't very awe-inspiring.

1 Kings, Chapter 19

When Jezebel learned what had happened, she threatened Elijah in a manner common throughout this book, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." So, afraid for his life, Elijah was again on the run. At first, he asked God for the peace of death, but God sent an angel to deliver him food and keep him alive. Then he wandered for forty days and forty nights, ending up at Horeb (Sinai), reminiscent of Moses. God came to Elijah there, and they had a discussion. God told Elija to anoint Hazael as king over Aram, and Jehu and Elisha as prophets who would carry on ihs work, killing all those unfaithful to God.

Elijah found Elisha plowing with 12 oxen (apparently representing the 12 tribes), so they slaughtered the oxen, boiled them, shared the meat with the people, and then Elisha became Elijah's servant.

1 Kings, Chapter 20

This chapter was all about fighting between King Ben-hadad of Aram and King Ahab of Israel. It started with posturing between the two, and Ben-hadad demanding tribute from Ahab. When it came time to battle, God sent a prophet to Ahab, assuring him that he would be successful, and giving him instructions on how to carry out the attack (recall that Ahab was one of the kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord). Of course, with God on their side, the Israelites were successful, but Ben-hadad escaped.

Ben-hadad's advisers said that the problem was that they had fought in the hills, and that the Israelite "gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they." So there was another battle, and again the Israelites were victorious. Ben-hadad escaped into hiding. His servants convinced him to ask Ahab to spare his life, since "the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings". Ahab did spare Ben-hadad's life, and they even formed a treaty. But of course, this mercy angered God, so he sent a prophet to tell Ahab that he was doomed, "your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people."

1 Kings, Chapter 21

A man named Naboth had a plot of land that Ahab wanted, but no matter what Ahab offered, the man wouldn't give it up. So, Jezebel sent letters under the king's name to "the elders and the nobles" to have a feast where Naboth was invited, but then to have Naboth falsely accused and stoned to death. With Naboth out of the way, Ahab was able to get the land. God was angered, and sent Elijah to Ahab with a grim prophecy foretelling his destruction and that of his house. Two particularly graphic portions were, "In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood," and "The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel."

When Ahab heard all this, he humbled himself before God, tearing his clothes and wearing sackcloth. So, the Lord had some mercy on Ahab, but passed the punishment on to his descendants, "I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster on his house."

1 Kings, Chapter 22

King Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Israel decided to join forces against Aram. Interestingly, throughout this whole story, the king of Israel is referred to as "the king of Isreal", never by name, so it very likely originated independently of the stories surrounding it. The king of Israel summoned his 400 prophets, who all foretold of a victory. Jehoshaphat pushed the king, and found there was another prophet, Micaiah, who seldom prophesized anything favorable. But Johoshaphat pushed some more, and Micaiah was summoned. At first, Micaiah gave a favorable prophesy, but the king said, "How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?" So then, Micaiah delivered the full prophecy. He saw God on his thrown, surrounded by his host. And God asked them, "Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?" Finally, one spirit approached God, and said that he would go out as a lying spirit, causing the prophets to speak falsely.

This passage is interesting for a few reasons. One, God isn't omniscient. He's having a council, because he doesn't yet know how to carry out his plan fully. Second, it shows God as a bit dishonest. He's intentionally misleading the king, so that the king will march into God's trap. If someone did accept this whole mythology, how would you know whether or not to trust a prophecy, since God himself sometimes sent angels to mislead the prophets?

The misled prophets were understandably upset with Micaiah, and one even slapped him. But Micaiah stood by his prophecy. The king had him locked up until after the battle was over, but it all turned out as Micaiah had foretold, and the king, now finally identified as Ahab, was killed in battle, bleeding out in his chariot after being shot with an arrow. A short time later, "They washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria; the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the Lord that he had spoken."

There was a brief mention of Jehoshaphat making a fleet of ships that were shipwrecked, before he died peacefully and was succeeded by his son, Jehoram. Ahab was succeeded by his son, Ahaziah, who did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baal.


I know I mentioned once before that I was going to try to keep these reviews shorter, but there was so much in these chapters that I found interesting and couldn't resist writing about - human sacrifice, God intentionally misleading Israel, his petty cruelness, graphic violence, amusing euphemisms, silly miracles, fairy-tale methods of survival, etc.

1 Kings was a bit of a mixed bag. There were portions, especially in the first half, that went in depth into particular characters, so that you actually did get caught up in the story and wanted to read more. But other portions became tedious, seemingly listing kings only out of an obligation to mention all of them.

One of the things that struck me most in reading these chapters was the transfer of guilt. Many times, God would punish descendants for the sins of their fathers, sometimes even making the descendants sin to provide more justification for the punishment (so much for free will being an excuse for why bad things happen to good people). It's a pretty horrible moral stance to punish children for the parents' deeds, even if here it was more mythical than real.

It appears that there is some real history in these chapters, and that many of the kings actually existed. This provides, perhaps, a more realistic explanation for these delayed punishments. Maybe events were just playing out in ancient Israel, but the people were looking for religious explanations in everything that happened. So, when a king did what the priests didn't agree with, there had to be some type of punishment, and if it didn't happen in the king's lifetime, but then something bad happened to his son or grandson, then that generation of priests could point to it as a delayed punishment.

Related to the above paragraph, I also wonder what Israel was like in the times described by these chapters. It sounds almost cosmopolitan - forming alliances with different countries, bringing in immigrants and customs from those countries, and allowing a fair amount of religious freedom with different gods and goddesses being worshiped. But on the other hand, I wonder just how reliable these writings are. Knowing that Judaism developed from polytheism, do these kings represent a turn to religious tolerance and turning to different gods, or is it merely a vestige of Judaism's polytheistic origins? Or is it all just completely legendary?

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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