Monday, April 22, 2013

The Philistines

The Philistines are mentioned in several books of the Bible as being the nemesis of the Israelites. There were huge battles and casualties listed in the thousands but I was mystified... who were the Philistines?
So I looked up "Philistine" in my online dictionary because I'm lazy and I didn't want to lug the unabridged (and hence, huge) dictionary up the stairs. One of the definitions was this: "A person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them."
Really? The Israelites were fighting wars against people who are just lacking in taste? That doesn't seem to me to be much of a reason to fight a war. 
I also found out that the Philistines were an ancient people who lived in Philistia. Really? That's not too informative. I also found out that the Philistines no longer exist. Apparently, they are extinct so there are no books telling the dramatic tales of the Philistines from the Philistine perspective.
I found a good deal of information about the Philistines from this website. So, here are some details about the Philistines. They may have come from Crete in the Aegean Sea. They were considered to be sea people. They had enormous sea battles with the Egyptians. In fact, the Philistines were also known to have been very warlike. They were aggressive, like the Klingons in Star Trek, who went into battle announcing, "Today is a good day to die."
The Philistines seemed invincible because they were able to produce swords and all sorts of weapons in great quantities. They were technologically ahead of the Israelites. The Philistines, when not fighting with the Israelites, helped out the Israelites by sharpening their farm tools. Apparently, the Israelites didn't know how to do that.
I also found out that the Philistines were very musical and they celebrated many occurrences of their lives with song.They also celebrated with copious amounts of alcohol. They were culturally more advanced than the Israelites. They were, however, pagans.  So the definition of Philistine as uncultured boor is inaccurate.
But God did not favor the Philistines because they were pagans...
And they are all gone...
without leaving behind any of their folk tales...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Bible's Superman!

Samson was very strong, but he had one weakness. If he had his hair cut, he would lose his strength. He was very much like Achilles, who was very strong and who also had a weakness (his heel). Then there was Superman. He too was very strong, until he was exposed to Kryptonite. Samson was to be a Nazirite. A Nazirite is not a priest but is someone who makes a special vow, under certain conditions. He is not to consume grapes in any form, including wine, touch a corpse, or cut his hair.

Samson was so strong that he could tear apart an attacking lion with his bare hands. He could be tied up with the strongest rope and escape by breaking the rope as if it were thread.

Unfortunately, Samson was also very naive, especially when it came to women. He was attracted to women who wanted to take advantage of him and use him, probably because of his enormous strength. He had disastrous relations with two women. The first was identified only as a Philistine woman. She was not named. Samson decided to marry her, over the objections of his parents. He probably should have listened to his parents. This lady was not a good match for Samson. She kept trying to get information out of Samson but failed. However, I am not certain that the marriage ever happened.

Well, Samson's second time around in the area of romance turned out to be an even bigger disaster. He fell in love with Delilah. Unfortunately, Delilah was bribed by the Philistines to find out Samson's secret: what would take away his super powers? Samson thought that Delilah was just teasing him when she kept asking him for the secret. Maybe he thought that her goal was something X rated and between the two of them. Who knows? Anyway, Delilah tied Samson up with ropes, which he broke. She braided his hair and tied the braids together, but he was able to remove those without difficulty. But, eventually, Delilah sweet talked Samson into telling her his secret. She had servants shave Samson's head while he was asleep. He became weak immediately and lost his status as a Nazirite because his vow was considered broken, even if it had not been broken voluntarily.

The Philistines wanted revenge because Samson had killed many Philistines. In fact, he struck down 1,000 men with a donkey's jawbone. That was his weapon of choice because he was strong enough to make that jawbone into a deadly weapon.  Anyway, the Philistines did get their revenge. They put Samson into prison and forced him to grind grain. And they put out Samson's eyes, so he was blind.

Samson's fate was tragic but, eventually, his hair grew back and he regained his strength but not his eyesight. He managed to get out of prison to go to the Philistines' temple. There, he leaned on the pillars until they broke, causing the entire building to be structurally unsound. The building then collapsed, killing everyone inside it, including Samson.

After Delilah got her servant to shave Samson's head, she is never mentioned again.

Here is a picture of Delilah cutting Samson's hair: Samson gets an unwanted haircut

The story of Samson and Delilah is very dramatic. In fact, Camille Saint Saens wrote an opera based on this tale. One of the more unusual things about this opera is that the leading lady is a mezzo soprano, not a soprano, although the strong Samson is played by a tenor. Because I am a mezzo soprano, I like the idea of a mezzo soprano leading lady.

More tales later!

Monday, April 1, 2013

More tales from Judges

I have been reading the book of Judges for about the last week. It is interesting, although, in spots, gruesome. In fact, the book started off in an unpleasant way, when the descendants of Judah and Simeon went to fight against the Canaanites and the Perizzites. In the battle, 10,000 men were killed. Not only that, the Israelites managed to capture the fleeing king, Adoni-Bezek. Apparently, he was a tyrant. He was tortured by having his thumbs and big toes cut off. Oddly enough, he wasn't angry about this gruesome action taken against him. He said that he deserved it because he had cut off the thumbs and big toes of seventy kings that he had subjugated.
And, speaking about the number seventy, there was a guy named Abimelech. This seems to be a common name in the Old Testament. In Genesis, Abram was traveling with his wife, Sarai, when they stopped in Schechem to stay for a while. The king there was Abimelech. Abram was afraid that he would be killed because his wife was so beautiful. To avoid an immediate demise, he told a lie by telling Abimelech that Sarai was his sister. Years later, Isaac, the son of Abraham (formerly known as Abram), told exactly the same lie to Abimelech for exactly the same reason. He was afraid that, if anyone knew that Rebekah was his wife, he would be killed. Rebekah was beautiful. In both instances, disaster struck Abimelech and his people because of Abram's and Isaac's lies.
Well, centuries have passed. This new Abimelech was the son of an Israelite judge, Gideon, and a concubine. Therefore, he was illegitimate. Gideon had been a busy man. He won a battle against the Midianites, with 300 men, who were equipped with trumpets, pitchers, and torches. So, anyway, when Gideon wasn't leading his troops, he was busy with family. He had a number of wives. With those wives, he had seventy sons. He also had Abimelech with a concubine.
When Gideon passed away, Abimelech decided that he wanted to be a king. There was only one problem. Or there were seventy problems. They had more of a legitimate claim on the throne than did Abimelech. So Abimelech decided to get rid of those seventy problems permanently. He killed all of his brothers. Then he became the king. After three years, he was assassinated, and, thus, his kingly days came to a halt.
There are numerous incidents of sibling rivalry in the Bible, but this takes sibling rivalry to a new, disgusting extreme.
One of the more interesting characters in Judges is Deborah. She was married to a man named Lappidoth, but she didn't gain her fame or position because of anything that her husband did. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge. She is the first woman to be mentioned in the Bible in the role of a leader. She was described as a wife and a prophetess. She was not a military leader. When she needed a military leader, she called on Barak. He was called on to destroy the Canaanites. But he refused to go alone, and he insisted that Deborah had to accompany him, and she did so. Nevertheless, Barak's victory against King Hazar (the Canaanite king) was impressive and it led to good times for the Israelites. They experienced forty years of peace, under the leadership of Deborah. She was a quiet woman who served God. She was not mean or dominating. She simply was a wife and a prophetess and a good judge. She was considered to be pious and a woman of great wisdom.
And she was rare... a woman who led her people during a time when women rarely, if ever, held that role.
Check out this link for a picture of Deborah
The painting was made in 1901 by Charles Landelle (1821-1908). He was a French painter, who had a variety of specialties, including "orientalist." Here is more information about Charles Landelle
Next time: Samson and Delila!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Note About Joshua

As I reported yesterday, I was feeling highly disgusted with the detailed descriptions of massacres and total destruction in the book of Joshua. I was wondering how God could order the Israelites to engage in the genocide of the Canaanites. I was also wondering why the Israelites were so willing to comply with this command of God's, when their history would indicate that they were generally a very uncooperative and disobedient bunch. I was appalled and horrified by the senseless violence, which seemed to me to be ethnic cleansing.

Today, I talked with Father Earle about that. He pointed out that the book of Joshua was actually written a number of centuries after the events of the book occurred. In fact, I just took a look at this website: Sun, Stand Still. It gives some interesting information about the book of Joshua. First of all, the book is not objective history. It is not a recording of the facts, as they occurred. The facts, as they occurred, were probably not written at all. They were probably passed down from generation to generation as oral history.

Then, there is the part that is most interesting, at least to me. The book of Joshua was written when the Israelites were once again under the control of a foreign power. They were in exile and they were being oppressed by the Babylonians. They needed encouragement. The stories of God defeating the enemies of the Israelites with hailstones provided an oppressed people with hope that they would not forever be oppressed.

The stories of gruesome massacres, which resulted in the deaths of all living things within a city (men, women, children, babies, animals, and plants), was exaggerated. It may never have occurred, at least not in the way in which the stories were told. The Amorites were not all killed. Many Amorites did survive these nonstop wars.  Here is a little more information.

The book of Joshua is, like the rest of the Bible, a book that expresses faith. In the book of Joshua, it was the faith of a people, who were struggling to claim the land that they had been promised. That the book consists of exaggerated stories is OK. It is called hyperbole, and it is not uncommon for storytellers to engage in that.

Did the Israelites engage in ethnic cleansing in their attempts to claim land in Canaan?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Joshua's scorched earth policy

On Monday, I started reading the book of Joshua, and I must say that it is one war after the other. Once the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, they fought and fought and fought. Lots of fighting, lots of killing, lots of destruction. To say that it's not pleasant would be an understatement.
Ready for battle???
There was the battle of Jericho, made well known by the song, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho (sung by the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972).
So the book of Joshua seems to be a combination of military campaigns, land grabs, and the division of the land among the tribes of Israel. It is unclear as to how long these wars took. What is clear is that many people were killed. There were massacres and cities being burned to the ground. The Israelites took all of the valuables away with them. Kings were executed by hanging. In fact, 31 Amorite kings were executed.
So then, after the battles end, the land is divided. Each tribe received land, where that tribe settled and made its home after many years of wandering.
But oh! All of those wars! This stuff was challenging for me to read. It was violent and gruesome. I wondered about all of those people who were killed. Who were they? How did they live? What did they want out of life? What made them happy? What made them sad? Did they sing to their children at bedtime? What did they like to eat? I know nothing about them. In fact, they are depicted as somewhat anonymous and completely expendable.
So I looked for information about the Amorites. I found out that they were nomads, who wandered through areas that were known as Mesopotamia and Canaan. It was from Canaan that the Israelites sought to dispossess the Amorites. Their language would be placed in the northwestern Semitic family of languages. They had a written language, and they wrote in a dialect of Akkadian. They were ruled by kings. The Amorites were described as very tall. The Israelites described the Amorites as being as tall as cedars. Hmmm.
The fighting and fires and massacres make the book of Joshua a difficult book for me to read. I am horrified by the violence and by what I perceive to be a lack of regard for life. But I cannot begin to understand life in Biblical times.
More later.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pandora's Box and Deuteronomy

Pandora was Zeus' daughter. Hephaestus, who was the husband of Aphrodite, made her out of clay because Zeus wanted him to make a woman. She was the first woman made out of clay, according to Greek mythology. Pandora was sent to earth to marry Epimetheus because he was sad and lonely.  
Epimetheus was the brother of Prometheus, who angered Zeus by giving people fire without permission. So Epimetheus got a wife. He must have thought that was a pretty good deal. His wife, however, was a curious girl. She was given a box and was told not to open it. It had a huge lock on it. It must have been a very ornate box. I bet that Pandora thought that the box was full of delicious chocolates! Or maybe not. Did ancient Greeks even have chocolate? I don't know. I think that chocolate came from the western hemisphere. 
Anyway, Pandora let her curiosity get the better of her. She stole the key in the middle of the night and opened the box. Out flew unpleasant stuff. Disease, hate, envy, and all of the evils that afflict the world today. Ugly, ugly stuff came flying out of the world, and that stuff flew away. Pandora was sad because she knew that her violating the rules about the box was going to cause so much pain and heartache. But there was no way for Pandora to catch all of that ugly stuff and stuff it back into the box. 
As Pandora was crying, she hear a tiny voice from the bottom of the box. The tiny voice belonged to Hope. It reminded her that, despite her mistake in opening up the box and unleashing all of the evils of the world, all was not lost as long as Hope remained. It is Hope that tells us that our world can be a better place and that it is within us to make it so. It is Hope that tells us that we don't have to be cruel or violent or warlike.
And, speaking of all of the ills of the world, the Bible talks about them in great detail. In Deuteronomy, the ills of the world are mentioned. They are curses that are inflicted upon a disobedient people. When the people are disobedient to God's commandments by worshiping false idols and committing other violations, they are cursed in many ways. These curses include poverty, hunger, consumption, fever, murder, mildew, sores, dust bowls, poor harvests, infertility, nakedness, cannibalism, plagues.
But hope still remains. It is the hope that people can behave as they were supposed to behave. By following God's commandments and by obeying the word of God, many blessings will come. 
Unfortunately, as I have read in the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch), there are so many commandments and so many rules and regulations. It is hard to keep them all straight, much less follow them to the letter. 
So I wonder. Were people set up for failure with these massive numbers of rules, regulations, and commandments?  Through these books, it was apparent that no one was able to follow all of the rules well. Moses tried hard but he had issues with his temper that caused him to disobey God's command. As a result, he was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. In fact, at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses passed away. He went to the top of the mountain, and he saw the promised land. He was still in good health and his eyesight was clear... but he died. He was 120 years old. At the end of Deuteronomy that there was never again a prophet like Moses.
But really, all of this started with Adam and Eve. They were too curious for their own good, like Pandora. They were told not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were tricked and they ate the fruit. It was too tempting. An ornate box with a huge lock and mystery contents would be too tempting, too.
But there is always hope for our sad and broken world. 
More later...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Biblical Food!

Let's face it. Food is wonderful. I love food. I love big strawberries and delicious sweet cookies and pretty much all food.
Food is something that is discussed in great detail in the Bible, too.

In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve all of the food that they needed to enjoy life in the Garden of Eden. They could pick fruit from every tree but one. That one tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, basically, Adam and Eve were vegans. They were happy, well-nourished, easygoing vegans. They had a nice, relaxed life style. All they had to do was to choose their fruit and eat it. They didn't need to plant a garden or harvest it. They didn't have to chop onions. They didn't have to cook and they didn't have to wash dirty dishes. All they had to do was pick fruit and eat it.

Unfortunately, Eve was easily led astray by a serpent. She was talked into eating the forbidden fruit. It seems that food was her downfall. Eve talked Adam into eating the forbidden fruit as well. It didn't take much. Eve gave Adam the fruit and he ate it.

So much for their easy going, happy vegan lifestyle. God didn't take long in figuring out that Adam and Eve broke the rules by eating forbidden fruit. He sent Adam and Eve away from the Garden of Eden and he let them know that life would not be quite as much fun anymore. They had to grow their own food. Unfortunately, God also cursed the soil.

So Adam and Eve worked hard and became parents and they lived and died.

Getting food to grow from the ground became work for generations to come... until after the flood. God told Noah that he would neither destroy all living things nor curse the earth again. He created a covenant with Noah and with all living creatures about that. The sign of the covenant is the rainbow.

But God broke the relationships between humans and animals. He gave all beasts of the earth to humans as food. And so, wild animals became afraid of people. Until that point, people did not eat meat. They just ate the vegetation that they were able to grow in the cursed ground.

Food was an important thing in the Bible. It was an issue between the dueling twins, Jacob and Esau. One day, Esau was out hunting and he returned, famished. Jacob offered Esau a bowl of red stew in exchange for his birthright. Esau was entitled to the birthright (a double share of his an inheritance) but he, apparently, wanted stew more than he wanted the birthright. Later, Jacob tricked his father. He pretended to be his brother and he served Isaac a plate of food that was supposed to be delicious game.  Supposedly, Esau had killed this game on a hunting trip. Actually, it was a domesticated animal that Jacob's mother, Rebekah, had cooked. Isaac was blind so he had no clue that he was giving a blessing to the wrong son. When Esau brought food to his father, he discovered that there was no blessing left for him.

Skip forward a few generations or more. Joseph, who had been sold as a slave to the Egyptians, found in food the answer to his problems. After Joseph's older brothers (actually, they were all half-brothers) sold Joseph to a bunch of Ishmaelites, he ended up in Egypt as a slave. His master's wife tried to get him to have an affair with her, but he rejected her advances. Apparently, she didn't take well to the rejection and she told her husband that Joseph tried to take advantage of her. Joseph ended up in jail! Poor Joseph! He was locked up for a long time, but God was with him so he ended up by running the jail. He just couldn't leave. Joseph was an interpreter of dreams. He interpreted the dreams of other prisoners. Eventually, he interpreted the Pharaoh's nightmare. There would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Because he did this, Joseph was not only released from jail, he was appointed to a high position in the Pharaoh's government. He got perks, too. Good clothing, a nice chariot... and, of course, good food. Joseph made sure that enough food was put aside from the years of plenty so that no one would starve during the years of famine. And it worked, too. The crops were bad but no one died of starvation.

OK. So fast forward about 400 years or so. The Israelites left Egypt and the mean Pharaoh (the one who knew nothing about Joseph) behind. They left a whole bunch of the charioteers at the bottom of the river, where they drowned, chasing the Israelites. The Israelites found themselves with Moses in the desert. No food. They started whining about that and waxing nostalgic about their lives in Egypt. God gave the Israelites manna and quails. At another place, the Israelites whined about no water. So God gave the Israelites water from a rock.

Eventually, in Leviticus, God let Moses know what meats people could eat and which meats were considered unclean. Here are meats that are OK to eat: animals that have cloven hooves and chew cud. These animals are considered unclean and are not to be eaten: camel, rock hydrox, hare, and swine. Here are fish that are OK to eat. They must be from the sea or a river and they must have fins and scales. No lobster or shrimp! Only certain birds are OK for consumption. These are unspecified in both Leviticus and in Deuteronomy, where the listing of clean versus unclean foods is mentioned yet again. Birds of prey, such as vultures and eagles, are not considered clean

Oh, and it is OK to eat certain insects. You can eat grasshoppers and locusts. But don't eat bees, ants, and butterflies. The Bible didn't mention butterflies but I am sure that they were not meant to go on the dinner plate. I don't know if I'd like to eat locusts but John the Baptist ate them, along with wild honey.

It is also against the rules to boil a lamb in his mother's milk.

Here is more information about what it means to maintain a kosher diet.

Jesus made sure that people got food. Once, he made sure that 5,000 people were fed, and another time, 4,o00 were fed. There wasn't much food available... just a few loaves and fishes, but everyone had enough to eat and there were leftovers. Loaves and fishes sound more appetizing than locusts.

More later...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Your Gift from Numbers

Tucked in the Book of Numbers is this delightful gem of blessing and love to all of us from God:

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be merciful to you; the Lord lift up his countenance to you and give you peace."

In times of difficulty or sadness, remember that you are blessed. In times of happiness, don't forget that you are blessed.

Here are these words put to music.

The first one is a composition by John Rutter, sung by the men and boys of Westminster Abbey:

Westminster Abbey Choir of Men and Boys

Here is Peter Lutkin's version, with the Stanislaus Chamber Singers:
Stanislaus Chamber Singers

This one is in Hebrew and English! The singer's name is Susanna.
Susanna's sung blessing

Monday, March 4, 2013

Slogging through Leviticus and Numbers

Well, I said in an earlier post that I would write about the New Testament in my next post. OK. So, I lied. I'm going to hold off on that until I've read all four Gospels. Right now, I am about halfway through the Gospel of Luke.

The Bible reading program that I'm on involves reading the Bible six days a week: three chapters of the Old Testament, one psalm, and one chapter of the New Testament.

Anyway, today, I started reading Deuteronomy. Moses is still trying to deal with the Israelites, which is sort of like herding cats. The Israelites are uncooperative, and they spend a lot of time complaining. They believe that they are in terrible peril on a regular basis and they spend a lot of time reminiscing nostalgically about the good old days when they were slaves in Egypt. Of course, nostalgia is an interesting thing. It can make a truly bad experience seem wonderful, especially after several years have passed, and the unpleasant reality has waned away. Several times, the Israelites talk about returning to Egypt. Why? I don't have a clue. But they don't have much confidence in Moses or in God. At times, they go beyond mere complaining to building and worshiping idols. God, through Moses, had warned the Israelites that he would not tolerate them worshiping idols and graven images but... once again... the herding cats image...

So God becomes mad at the Israelites and he punishes them harshly for their disobedience and their ungrateful attitudes. He sends them plagues. Some of them die abruptly and others are swallowed by the earth. It must have been an enormous sinkhole.

When the Israelites aren't whining and worshiping false idols and planning on returning to all of the fun times in Egypt, they fight wars... one war after another. Ugh! Lots of killing. Not too pleasant. It isn't good for their plan to become as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sands on the beach. In the book of Numbers, the Israelites are counted in two censuses. Well, not all Israelites. The women and children are not counted. The twelve tribes of Israel are counted, but the only ones who are counted are the men, ages 20 and over, who could be soldiers in the army. The Levites are counted separately. They are the priestly clan. They aren't going to be soldiers. Only the male Levites are counted, however. But the little boys, age one month and older, are counted, along with the men. Some of the tribes had a dramatic decline in population between the first and second censuses. The tribe of Simeon saw the most dramatic decline in population. They went from 59,300 men to 22,200, a lost of 37,100 men, which accounted for more than half of their adult male population. On the other hand, the tribe of Manasseh, saw an increase in population. They went from 32,200 to 52,700, an increase of 11,900. But, in terms of total population, the Israelites lost 1,993 males (this includes the Levites).

Can you tell that my dad was a demographer? I learned a lot from him about population trends. I can say that wars and getting swallowed up by the earth does not encourage a nation to be fruitful and multiply.

Yet, other nations were afraid of the Israelites because of their large numbers.

As mentioned earlier, the Israelites were not very well behaved. God sent down, though Moses, massive numbers of rules and regulations, covering every situation possible, from what foods people could eat to how they were to what sort of offerings were acceptable in the temple to how the vestments for the priests were to be made. These rules were very detailed and they didn't offer much room for interpretation. Violating these rules could result in serious penalties.

At any rate, I will learn more about the laws and the rules because they are explained in more detail in Deuteronomy.

More later...

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bible as Instruction Manual

Today, I finished reading Exodus. It was a big adventure for the most part. Moses led his people out of Egypt, where they were being oppressed. He got them across the Red Sea without losing a single one. The Egyptians chased Moses and the Israelites but the Egyptians and their chariots and charioteers drowned in the rushing waters.
Unfortunately, escaping from Egypt turned out to be the easy part of the adventure. There were still many difficulties that lay ahead. The Israelites still faced the prospects that they could die of hunger and thirst. God took care of them and provided them with everything that they needed. The Israelites complained incessantly and even waxed nostalgic about their lives in Egypt, where they had plenty of food, which they needed, because they were being worked to death. Like most nostalgic people, they seemed to have forgotten the worked to death part.
Despite getting manna from heaven and quails to eat and despite the fact that Moses was able to get water from a rock, the Israelites were still cranky. Moses was frustrated. If there had been substitute teachers at the time, they would have been treated in much that same way that Moses was.
Moses went to talk to God, who was behind a pillar of cloud. The Israelites could see the cloud but they were afraid and they wouldn't go anywhere near it. So Moses left and spent a long time away. The Israelites thought that Moses had abandoned them and was never coming back. They forced Moses' brother Aaron to make a deity for them out of gold. Aaron made a golden calf. He melted down all of the women's jewelry. For some reason, there is no record of the women complaining about the fact that their jewelry was confiscated for this dubious enterprise.  When Moses finally returned, he discovered that the Israelites were having a wild party in celebration of their golden calf. Moses was carrying the tablets with the Ten Commandments. The spectacle that awaited him made him mad and he threw down the tablets, causing them to break. Then he grabbed the offending idol and pulverized it.
After the golden calf was destroyed, an enormous battle ensued. It quickly turned into a full-scale civil war, with Israelites killing each other. Brother killed brother and friend killed friend. When it was over, three thousand Israelites were dead. It was very gruesome but it made me wonder: how many Israelites were wandering through the desert? It must have been an enormous number of people. Of course, the Pharaoh was panicky because he perceived the Israelites as mating and reproducing like rabbits.
Well, after this whole sorry episode with the golden calf and the destroyed tablets, Moses went back to God, who was behind the pillar of cloud, as mentioned previously. God was behind the pillar of cloud so that Moses would be unable to see his face because no one could see the face of God and live. God gave Moses new tablets. He also gave Moses a lot of rules and regulations. There were rules for maintaining the Sabbath and for altars and for vestments for priests. There were rules for feasts and fasts. Everything is written very clearly, with a great deal of detail. It is an excellent instructional manual. I will readily admit that this part of the Bible is a bit dry and less than exciting.
But I continue reading and learning.
Tomorrow, I start Leviticus.
I am also reading the New Testament, so, the next time I post, I'll probably discuss the Gospels.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Life in the Desert

Moses must have seemed scary when he lifted his rod and it turned into a serpent. He must have seemed unusually powerful when he lifted his rod and the Red Sea parted. He brought back the Ten Commandments from God.

But there was just one problem. His people had short attention spans. After they were out of Egypt and on the other side of the Red Sea, they discovered that they didn't have enough food. All of a sudden, they were nostalgic for their former lives in Egypt. They had food in Egypt. OK. So they were slaves, but they were well fed, happy slaves. Really? Sometimes, nostalgia provides a bizarrely false image of the past.

The former well fed slaves experienced a miracle. They received bread from heaven and meat (quail). The food must have been delicious. It was called manna and it was white like coriander seed. It looked like wafers made with honey. They were able to store a great deal of the manna. It lasted for years.

These nomadic people kept traveling because they were walking to the promised land. They didn't have a compass and they walked in circles. Before long, they found themselves in a place where there was no water. Since human beings cannot survive long without water, these people were not doing well. Once again, they blamed Moses. They said that he led them into a certain death. Dying of thirst would not be a good way to go. Moses got an earful. He spoke to God about the complaints. He said that the people were ready to stone him. That would be a sad fate for Moses. God told Moses to strike a rock with his rod and water would come out of it. Sure enough, that was what happened, and the Israelites decided that Moses wasn't such a bad guy after all.

But Moses was a tired guy. It seems that he had to judge every last dispute and that he never got a moment's rest. That changed when his father in law, Jethro, arrived. He let Moses know that he had to work on delegating authority. Jethro gave Moses a system for delegating authority. Apparently, it worked. And that was a good thing because it wasn't like Moses could just go off for a nice vacation.

More on Moses later!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I will readily admit that, when I first started reading Exodus, I was not especially enamored with Moses. The tale of his early childhood certainly was dramatic. His mother hid him so that he wouldn't get killed by the Pharaoh's minions. After Joseph and his brothers passed away, a new pharaoh came along. Well, the new Pharaoh discovered that the Israelites were mating and were reproducing like rabbits, and he got a little panicky that his people would soon be outnumbered. He told the midwives to kill the Israelite babies shortly after they were born. So the Israelite ladies gave birth to their babies without the assistance of midwives. At this point, the minions were called in to do in the baby boys.

Well, Moses' mother didn't want her son to be a statistic so she hid her son and then put him into a basket and sent him down the river, where he was rescued by the Pharaoh's sister, who saw him as a cute little thing. So she adopted him and, oddly enough, got his mother to be his wet nurse.

Moses' upbringing wasn't really described but, at some point, Moses' temper got him into trouble because he killed an Egyptian who was tormenting an Israelite. The Israelites weren't especially pleased with Moses' actions, either. Needless to say, Moses had to leave Egypt rather abruptly. He went to the desert and started a new life. He married and became a father. He spent many years away from Egypt. He grew up but not completely. When God called on him to go back to Egypt and free his people from the Pharaoh's oppression, Moses tried to get out of the task. He claimed that he was slow of speech and unable to do what was requested of him. His brother Aaron was better at that sort of stuff. Pick Aaron! Not me!

So Moses and Aaron went to Egypt... and, at this point, the story got exciting. Moses and Aaron let the Pharaoh know that bad plagues awaited him if he did not let the Israelites go. Unfortunately, God caused the Pharaoh's heart to harden, despite infestations of flies and frogs and locusts, attacks of boils, rivers of polluting blood, and other unpleasantness.

The story has become a battle of wills... Moses and Aaron vs. the Pharaoh of Egypt. It's got heroes and villains and action and adventure. As in most stories and strife and conflict, it seems that the ordinary people get the worst of the situation. In this case, it's the Egyptians. They struggle and suffer, mainly because of the poor decisions made by the Pharaoh, who comes across as more in love with power than with his own people.

Anyway... more later...
The Exodus of the 19th century... slaves running from bondage in the American south to freedom in Canada. This monument, called Freedom Crossing, is in Lewiston, New York. The slaves crossed the river at night to avoid being grabbed by slave catchers. The other side of the Niagara River is Canada.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sibling Rivalry

Here is a picture that I found of Jacob and Joseph at this website (take a look; it's a really nice website)
If you have brothers or sisters, you'll find that, no matter what your age may be, there will always be rivalry. You're just not going to get along all of the time. People don't choose their relatives, after all. Thus, there are bound to be personality clashes and arguments. Family members know you well and they know how to push your buttons. And you know how to push their buttons and irritate them, just as they irritate you.
I have three sisters and we don't always get along perfectly. We are a regular human family, after all, not a sit com family, in which all communication challenges and disagreements are cleared up in half an hour, minus all of the time taken up by commercials (which, these days, is a tremendous amount of time). We communicate poorly at times and we make inaccurate assumptions about one another. Sometimes, our expectations of one another are unrealistic. But my sisters and I don't stay angry forever. We squabble, but we apologize and forgive and we let the source of irritation go (until the next time!!!).
OK. Well, in the Bible, there are so many examples of sibling rivalry. The feuding between brothers seems to lead to nothing but disaster. They don't seem to have the concept of forgive and forget. They truly let their battles and their jealousy get out of hand. It started off with Cain killing his brother Abel. Cain was jealous of Abel so he killed him. Cain was punished because he killed Abel and then tried to cover up the crime by asking God if he was his brother's keeper. Cain ended up by being a wanderer. God put a mark on his forehead so that he would not get killed by "hostile people." The hostile people, by the way, are never identified. They're just hostile.
Another example of sibling rivalry occurred much later. The first twins mentioned in Genesis were Esau and Jacob. They actually began feuding while still in the womb, which distressed their mother, Rebekah. The boys were very precocious. Since they hadn't been born yet, they had no social skills. Their mother was thrilled to have children. They were an answer to twenty years of prayers on the part of their father. Rebekah had to wait a long time to get pregnant because, like other women in the Bible, she had fertility issues. When Esau and Jacob were born, it was obvious that they were fraternal and not identical twins. They looked very different from each other and they had very different personalities. Their parents did very little to stop the rivalry. Rebekah favored Jacob and Isaac favored Esau. Jacob was able to trick his father into giving him the blessing reserved for the older son. Apparently, neither brother learned any social skills. Even though Jacob and Esau were twins, Esau was born first and, thus, was the older brother. This ensured that the rivalry would continue for years and years. Neither brother was willing to "kiss and make up." They did, however, separate and they focused on their own lives.
So, fast forward a number of years. Jacob was sent off to spend a few days with his uncle Laban. He never left. After working for Laban for a long time, he ended up by marrying Laban's two daughter, Rachel and Leah. Jacob was a busy man, with two wives (sisters Rachel and Leah) and two mistresses, both servants in the home of Jacob's father in law. Jacob had twelve sons and at least one daughter (Dinah). Jacob was not shy about showing his sons and the world that Joseph was his favorite. He gave Joseph a colorful coat. That made the brothers angry. Joseph was the son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel. Poor Rachel later died while giving birth to her other son, Benjamin. Jacob had all of his other children with Leah and with the two maid servants. Rachel had fertility issues, like Rebekah and Sarah and other women in the Bible.
Anyway, the brothers conspired against Joseph. They wanted to kill him but, instead, sold him into slavery and then told their father that Joseph was deceased, killed by a wild animal. That made Jacob cry.
Joseph ended up in Egypt and had all sorts of adventures. He ended up in jail because his owner's wife wanted to have an affair with him and he refused and she got her revenge. Well, Joseph's talents as interpreter of dreams eventually saved him. He told the Pharaoh that the disturbing dream that he had meant that there would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine and that the only way to keep everyone from dying was to collect food during the seven years of plenty and save it so that people would be able to eat when the famine struck. The pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he made him a big shot with a signet ring and a gold chain around his neck and a chariot and a lovely Egyptian wife.
During the famine, the brothers went to Egypt to buy food because they heard that food was available for sale.
Lots happened and, to make a long story short, the brothers discovered that Joseph was still alive, and the family was reunited. The discovery was made because Joseph decided to test his brothers. He had Benjamin framed for a theft that never actually occurred. Judah spoke out on behalf of his youngest brother. Judah acknowledged that he and his brothers had done a terrible thing to their brother, Joseph, whom they believed to be deceased. They begged Joseph, whom they didn't yet know was Joseph, to show mercy to Benjamin. In this story, the brothers were able to let go of jealousy and animosity and were able to accept responsibility for their bad behavior. At this point, Joseph let them know that he was not dead, that he was their long-lost brother.
I'm still reading this adventure so I'll write more about it by the end of the week.
Only two days left for Genesis!
Oh, and Andrew Lloyd Webber made a really fun show from this story, called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I've seen it, in different locations, three times. It's very entertaining and the music is fun. Watch it, if you get a chance!
More later!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Trust and Faith

So, today, I'm going to write about trust and faith. There are various activities that people in groups can do to develop and to build trust. These include things such as being led around on somewhat difficult terrain blindfolded (sometimes the leading is just verbal, as the person is told where to step and where not to), falling backwards and trusting that someone will catch you, and other exercises. Here is a website that describes a variety of Trust Exercises.
Basically, however, we live on faith, as well as on trust. A person who completely lacks both won't be able to function very well. We have to trust that our houses are structurally sound so that when we get up in the morning, the house won't collapse. When we cook, we have to trust that our kitchens won't catch on fire. We drink water from the tap and trust that the water is safe enough for us to drink. When we go out of the house, we trust that our cars are safe, if we are driving, or that we will be safe from cars and from other dangers if we are walking. We don't spend all of our time fearing that we will be caught in a tornado, and earthquake, or a typhoon. We trust that we will be given sufficient warning of dangerous conditions so that we can avoid putting ourselves at unnecessary risk.
When I go on long walks with groups of people, I have faith that I will get along with my walking companions and that I will walk in safe places and won't get hit by cars or attacked by strangers. I don't worry about where I will sleep at night or if I will have enough food to eat. 
But when we lack trust and we lack faith, we become scared and we act from fear. We may tell lies because we are afraid of what might happen if we tell the truth. We may act in ways that harm others and are even contrary to our own needs because we are afraid to trust.
One of the things that I have noticed in my reading of Genesis is the issue of lack of trust and weak faith. In chapter 12, Abram (who later became Abraham) and his wife Sarai (who later became Sarah) were fleeing from famine and they traveled to Egypt. For some reason, Abram was afraid to tell anyone that Sarai, a beautiful woman, was his wife. So he claimed that Sarai was his sister. When the truth was found out, the couple had to leave Egypt. In fact, Egypt suffered from a variety of plagues because of Abram's lie. In chapter 20, Abraham and Sarah traveled to the land of the Gerarites and were the guests of the king, Abimelech, king of the Philistines. Abraham was ruled by his fear. He believed that the people would kill him if it were found out that Sarah was his wife. Once again, he told people that Sarah was his sister. And, again, the truth came out with disastrous consequences.
Years, later, Abraham's son, Isaac, was traveling with his wife, Rebekah. They too ended up in the land of the Gerarites and became guests of Abimelech. The tale is told in chapter 26. Isaac believes that the men of Gerar will kill him if it becomes known that the lovely Rebekah is his wife. Because he is afraid, he tell exactly the same lie that his father told. Rebekah is his sister, he says. Eventually, however, the truth comes out and Abimelech warns everyone not to molest either Isaac or Rebekah.
Rebekah, on the other hand, showed a great deal of trust when she met the servant of Abraham at a well. This tale was told in chapter 24. Abraham had sent his servant to Rebekah's town to find a wife for Isaac. Apparently, the servant was one heck of a matchmaker. He waited by the well and along came Rebekah. He asked her for some water. Not only did she provide water for him, she provided water for his ten camels! He gave her a golden nose ring and golden bracelets as a sign of his gratitude. He went to the home of Rebekah's family and told them about the proposed marriage of Rebekah and Isaac. Rebekah did not know Isaac at all. Yet she willingly went with Abraham's (unnamed) servant and she married Isaac. They immediately fell in love and had a happy marriage.
Below is a painting of Rebekah at the well. The painting is hanging at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Rebecca at the Well, 1580/1585
Samuel H. Kress Collection

Friday, January 11, 2013

Alice's Bible Challenge!

Father Earle King, the pastor of Saint Martin in the Fields Church here in Grand Island, said that he was going to read through the entire Bible in one year and he said that anybody who wanted to do the same could join him. He distributed a list of readings for the year. I thought that it would be interesting, so I picked up the list.
On December 31st, I began my program of daily Bible readings. It didn't take long before I realized that spending a year reading the Bible would be a great adventure! We have three readings per day. The first is from the Old Testament. The second is a psalm. The third is from the New Testament.
So... I have been reading for close to two weeks now. I have to say that Genesis is quite entertaining. It is better than any soap opera that you could watch on TV. It is full of interesting characters who do all sorts of stuff that often times is not in their best interests.
Genesis is truly the book of beginnings. It starts with the earth being nothing but a dark, formless place. God created everything: the sun, the moon, the stars, the grass, the trees, the water, the animals, the plants, the people! He created everything out of nothing and he made humans to be the stewards of His beautiful creation.
When I take walks, I try to be mindful of God's beautiful creation. I try to look at everything around me and to see beauty because nature truly is a gift.
And, speaking about creation, as an artist, I can reproduce what I see and interpret what I see in two dimensional or three dimensional form. But, as a human, I cannot create anything new.
So... more stories later, connected with my Great Biblical Adventure.
Oh... and by the way, the Bible that I chose to read is  The Orthodox Study Bible. It is a wonderful Bible and it is beautifully illustrated. I definitely recommend this Bible to you if you are looking for a Bible to read.