Friday Bible Blogging Archive

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Numbers 21 to Numbers 30

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 21

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 22

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 23

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

Numbers, Chapter 24

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 25

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 26

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 27

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 28

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

Numbers, Chapter 29

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

Numbers, Chapter 30

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


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

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Numbers 11 to Numbers 20

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 11

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 12

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 13

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

Numbers, Chapter 14

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 15

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 16

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

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 17

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

Numbers, Chapter 18

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 19

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

Numbers, Chapter 20

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Numbers 1 to Numbers 10

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 1

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 2

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

Numbers, Chapter 3

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

Numbers, Chapter 4

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

Numbers, Chapter 5

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 6

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

Numbers, Chapter 7

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

Numbers, Chapter 8

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

Numbers, Chapter 9

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

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

Numbers, Chapter 10

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

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


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

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

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Leviticus 21 to Leviticus 27

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

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

Leviticus, Chapter 21

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

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

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

Leviticus, Chapter 22

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

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

Leviticus, Chapter 23

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

Leviticus, Chapter 24

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

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

Leviticus, Chapter 25

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

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

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

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

Leviticus, Chapter 26

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

Leviticus, Chapter 27

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

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


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

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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Leviticus 11 to Leviticus 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).

BibleOkay, I know this is Monday, which doesn't exactly fit with the title of this series, but I got a bit busy last week.

Chapters 11 through 20 of Leviticus continue on with more rules. Chapters 11 through 16 continue with what, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible and other sources, is most likely from the Priestly sources. Chapter 17 switched to the Holiness code, most likely added by later scribes (as opposed to coming from another independent source).

Leviticus, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 started off the major dietary rules of the Bible. Although there were a few previously, these get into what most people think of when they think of Kosher foods. For example, "Any animal that has divided hoofs and is cloven-footed and chews the cud--such you may eat," or, "The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cloven-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you."

This chapter included a few passages that get quoted often by skeptics because of their incorrect descriptions of animals, such as this one saying that hares chew cud, "The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you," and this one describing four legged insects, "All winged insects that walk upon all fours are detestable to you."

It wasn't just about which animals were okay to eat or not. Even touching the carcass of an unclean animal made a person unclean until the evening. Also, different objects (clothes, pots, ovens) were able to be contaminated by contact with unclean carcasses. Some of these were allowed to be purified through rituals. Others were ruined and had to be discarded

Leviticus, Chapter 12

This was a very short chapter (only 8 verses) dealing with a woman's uncleanliness after childbirth, how long she was unclean, and the animals she was to offer at the end of that period. Interestingly this chapter states that a woman is unclean for two weeks after giving birth to a girl, but only one week after giving birth to a boy. Just one more example of the Bible reflecting the sexism of its times.

Leviticus, Chapter 13

The majority of this chapter dealt with skin diseases. Although these are often translate as leprosy, the NRSV has a footnote saying that the precise meaning of the term is unclear, and that it probably refers to a variety of diseases.

The first 44 verses basically deal with diagnosis. There's a fairly generalized form that these verses followed. Once the symptoms are noticed, the person is to go to the priest to be examined. For a few cases, a diagnosis could be made on the spot, but more generally, the priest would re-examine the person after a specified period to see how the symptoms had progressed, and then pronounce a diagnosis. Sometimes, depending on the course of the disease, there might be an additional waiting period.

Chapters 45 and 46 told what a person was to do once diagnosed with a leprous disease. It seems pretty extreme by modern standards, "45 The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."

The remainder of the chapter dealt with leprous diseases of fabrics. This, then, was most likely about mildew and mold. In some cases, the fabric could be washed, and if the leprous disease didn't spread, then the article was okay. However, anything that was pronounced to have a leprous disease had to be burned.

Leviticus, Chapter 14

The first half of this chapter was on the rituals to be performed once a person with a leprous disease has been healed. The first ritual involves "two living clean birds and cedar wood and crimson yarn and hyssop". Only one of the birds is actually killed. The other is dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird before being set free. After bathing, washing his clothes, and shaving all his hair, the newly cured person can reenter the camp, but still can't move back into his tent for seven days.

Once the seven days are up, there are more rituals. On the seventh day, the person is to shave all of their hair, "head, beard, eyebrows", bathe, and wash his clothes again. On the eighth day, there are more offerings. This time, there are two male lambs, neither of which escapes being sacrificed. There are also grain offerings and oil. The details of these offerings are pretty specific, including which hand to pour what into. There was also a repeat of something I noticed last week, putting oil on the right ear lob, right thumb, and right big toe. There was an alternative version of these sacrifices if the person couldn't afford two lambs.

The remainder of the chapter dealt with leprous diseases of houses and buildings, for once the Hebrews arrived in the promised land. Like for fabrics, this presumably meant mold and mildew. In some cases, a building could be immediately diagnosed. If it was pronounced to be infected with leprous diseases, it was to be torn down and taken to an unclean place outside the city. Other times, people would have to move out of the house for a period of time until the priest could re-examine it. If the house became healed, there was a very similar ritual to when a person became healed, with birds, cedar, hyssop, and crimson yarn. And just like in that ritual, one of the birds was dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird before being released.

Leviticus, Chapter 15

This chapter dealt with emissions of bodily fluids, and how this made the person unclean. For example, "When any man has a discharge from his member, his discharge makes him ceremonially unclean." Anyone or anything who came into contact with that man while he was still unclean also became unclean. Once cleansed and after waiting seven days, the man would finally be clean again, upon which he offered two turtle-doves or pigeons to be sacrificed.

If a man has a discharge of semen, he is unclean, but also "Everything made of cloth or of skin on which the semen falls shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the evening." This brought up a picture of those investigators going into hotel rooms with UV lights. If the man ejaculated into a woman, then they both need to bath and are unclean until evening.

When a woman is on her period, the uncleanliness is basically the same as when a man "has a discharge from his member". Anything or anyone who touches her also becomes unclean. It is assumed that her period will last no longer than seven days. If it lasts longer, she'll be unclean for seven days from when it finally stops, plus she'll have to offer two turtle-doves or pigeons to be sacrificed.

Leviticus, Chapter 16

For the most part, this chapter dealt with rules for priests. Like I've written before, the stakes were much higher for priests back then. If they didn't follow the Lord's rules exactly, they would die. These were rather detailed instructions to the priests on on what to wear, when to bathe, animals to sacrifice (there were a lot), and other rituals.

There was one passage in particular that caught my eye. Aaron was to take two goats to the tent of meeting. Then, he was to cast lots to determine their fates. When God is but feet away, casting lots seems an odd way to determine his will. Once the lots were cast, one of the goats was to be sacrificed as a sin offering. But the other one, "the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, so that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel." Is Azazel a demon, angel, or another god?

Later on was another description of a scape goat, where the priest would "confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task." This seems a rather arbitrary way to forgive sins.

The final verses prescribed a statute that was supposed to last forever, "In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month," everybody was to fast and do no work at all, for it was a day of atonement. The priests were given specific atonement tasks for the day, as well.

Leviticus, Chapter 17

This chapter is supposedly the start of the Holiness Code (H). This first H chapter was rather short and dealt with regulations on animal sacrifice. It prohibited any slaughterings or sacrifices of animals without taking the animal to the tent of meeting. This was apparently "so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves." This rule must have been intended for when the Israelites were still wandering the desert. There's no way it would work logistically one people begin to spread out.

There was also a repeat of the prohibition against consuming blood, and a directive to drain all the blood from an animal before eating it. At least there was som reasoning offered, "For the life of every creature--its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off."

Leviticus, Chapter 18

This chapter was a detailed list of things not to do, that supposedly the Canaanites had been doing. It started with a long list of people whose nakedness you can't uncover. For example, "You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, begotten by your father, since she is your sister."

This chapter contains a verse oft quoted by today's bigots, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." This was right before a verse prohibiting bestiality.

One rule seemed out of place, like it was inserted in between the sexual prohibitions, "You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord." Unsurprisingly, there's no evidence that the Canaanites actually practiced child sacrifice.

Verse 26 made it clear that these prohibitions were not just for the Hebrews, but also for the aliens who resided among them.

Leviticus, Chapter 19

More rules, mostly unrelated to each other. Many of these were repetitious of rules that had already been given (some even echoing the Ten Commandments). There were a few that stood out for being good, such as, "9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God," and, "15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour."

There were also a few that seem odd by modern standards, such as, "27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord," and, "31 Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God."

There was also a rule that any Christian would recognize, "18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord."

Leviticus, Chapter 20

This chapter started with another mention of Molech. But not only was it a prohibition against child sacrifice, but also a threat to the Israelites that the Lord would punish them if they themselves didn't put to death the people who had practiced child sacrifice. Next were a few verses against mediums and wizards, then a repeat of, "All who curse father or mother shall be put to death".

Next came a list of sexual crimes that were to be punished with death. These included adultery, lying with your father's wife, homosexuality, etc. Although the methods of execution weren't detailed in most cases, this one seemed particularly cruel, "If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you."

Next came a list of sexual crimes that apparently weren't as severe, since the punishments didn't include death.

Verses 22 through 26 were general language about following the Lord's commandments.

The final verse of the chapter mentioned mediums and wizards again, this time saying that they should be stoned to death.


I know I let my review of these chapters grow a little longer than most of these entries, but there were so many rules that I wanted to point out. Leviticus is, after all, one of the main sources of The Law. And although there were some good points, reading through these chapters makes it's pretty clear that these aren't the best sources of morality. Aside from the barbaric practice of animal sacrifice, some of the rules are simply arbitrary with no moral reasoning behind them, some allowances and prohibitions are out of line with decent moral guidelines, and many of the punishments are way too extreme for the crime, sometimes too extreme for any crime. These chapters also reveal a different mindset from the modern day. Sin and uncleanliness aren't merely symbolic or affecting only the guilty - they can contaminate anything that comes into contact with them.

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.


Selling Out