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...