I’m Pretty Sure Tolkien Wrote Exodus

Oh god. Okay, the Old Testament looks like it’s about to get really boring. I am not going to summarize every single freaking nitpicky commandment about the thread count of the priest’s robes and the altitude of the temple and what not. Otherwise I will never make it to the end of Exodus – and oh, boy, am I ready to be done with Exodus. Except that I know Leviticus awaits me – and then, even worse, Numbers.

God give me strength.

OT: Exodus 35-39

Exodus 35

“THOU SHALT NEVER WEAR GREEN PANTS ON ODD-NUMBERED DATES.”
“Okay yes whatever you say!”

Moses tells all the Israelites about God’s crazed hostage-crisis demands sacred and perfectly just commandments.

Work six days a week but rest on the seventh. If you do any work or even start a fire on the Sabbath, you will be executed.

You are encouraged, though not strictly required, to give God jewels, precious metals, spices, oils, fancy woods and leathers, the hairs of specific animals, and/or yarn in one of God’s preferred colors. In case you’re wondering, it turns out God’s favorite colors are “blue, purple, and deep red” (6). You know, in case you’re struggling with what colors to use for the Christmas sweater you’re knitting for him. I know you like to get a head start on things like that.

If you’re good at building stuff, come build the temple.

Everybody hops to it and starts making and finding stuff to donate. According to whoever is writing this book, people bring all these things as “a spontaneous gift to the LORD” (29), because they clearly had no prompting or external incentives whatsoever.

Then Moses goes on,

Look, God picked these two dudes, Bezalel and Oholiab, to make pretty things for him, and magically gave them special crafty ability.

Exodus 36

Bezalel and Oholiab, and everybody else that God gave special crafty abilities to, use all the “spontaneous gifts” (2) to build the sanctuary.

Then something mildly interesting happens. The workers tell Moses, “We have a problem. People are giving us way too much stuff.” So Moses is like, “Listen up Israelites! Stop donating things, effective immediately.” So people stopped donating things. This is how you know you’re reading fiction: when the hypothetically historical book claims that there was a time when everybody was too generous and communally minded.

Then again, these people are more or less acting under a death threat, so maybe this shouldn’t be seen as charity so much as ransom.

Now we get six paragraphs of details about the construction of the sanctuary, because it is critical that we know that “each curtain was forty-two feet long and six feet wide” (9) and that they were held together by “loops of blue thread” (11) and “fifty gold clasps” (13) and that the tent was covered with “rams’ skins dyed red” (19) and that all the wooden boards in the frame “had two pegs” (22) and that “there were eight boards with their sixteen silver bases” (30) and oh my god kill me now. This is some Tolkien shit. “And then, at approximately 2:42:19 post meridien on the sixth day of the month of Gormaron, Legolas carefully lifted his left horse-leather-boot-clad foot some five or seven inches off the leaf-strewn floor of the Forest of Parnilliad, slid it forward through the heavy and humid afternoon air, and lowered it again, delicately but deliberately crunching the fallen plant matter beneath in order to signal his locomotion to his fellow warrior, the greatest fighter of the Race of Men, Lord Malachorean, called Strong-Bow, by virtue of his noble and fearless victory in the historic Battle of the Foggy Valley, in the Land of Thorliaxedomigor, during the War of Silmarilladingdong, as recorded in the well-known Ballad of the Cerulean Serpent which has long been sung by the Bard of the Lengthy and Scraggly Beard in the taverns of Worcesteradcliffeheathingtonshire…”

Exodus 37-39

SSDC.* Like, literally, these chapters have subheadings like “Constructing the table and lampstand” (37:10-24) and “A listing of the materials used” (38:21-31). Also about half the paragraphs end with “just as the LORD had commanded Moses.” I feel like I’m reading the chalkboard in the classroom where Moses had detention.

Highlights

There is only one chapter left in Exodus!

Lowlights

Blind and unconditional subservience!

*Same Shit Different Chapter

Mostly a Rant on Biblical Contradictions, But Also a Zombie.

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to point out that I added a “Contact Me” page today (you can find it using the toolbar at the top of every page on the site). I know I’ve posted my email on here before, but now it’s always in one place so you don’t have to dig through the archives for it. I’d really love to hear from you, no matter what you have to say, so please don’t hesitate to use it!

NT: Mark 5

Mark 5

I think we’ve just encountered the New Testament’s very first quasi-zombie.

Jesus and his posse travel across the lake, and then…this:

I was going to use a picture of a zombie itself, but they all grossed me out too much. Also, I just find driving terrifying in general, so this image actually scares me more anyway.

As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out of the tombs. This man lived among the tombs, and no one was ever strong enough to restrain him, even with a chain. He had been secured many times with leg irons and chains, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons. No one was tough enough to control him. Night and day in the tombs and the hills, he would howl and cut himself with stones. (2-4)

Freaky.

It turns out this is actually a variation of the suicidal demon pigs story from Matthew 8, except the description above makes this one a lot more exciting. Oh, and also, there are two possessed men in the Matthew version, but only one in the Mark version. Oops! I’m sure I won’t catch nearly all of these kinds of errors because (1) I’m reading the book over the course of a year or two, and (2) I’m not an autistic savant. But if you enjoy this sort of thing, check out this infographic on contradictions within the Bible, which I have probably shared before and forgotten about because of reason 2.

Now, before you chide me for missing the forest for the trees, I want to say something about the whole issue of Bible contradictions. I’ve been in discussions in the past where I and other atheists have mentioned one Bible contradiction/error or another, and Christians have stopped us and protested that we were nitpicking, straw-manning, or otherwise arguing dishonestly because those kinds of things don’t really matter. What matters, according to this line of reasoning, is the Bible’s central message, not the extraneous details. As long as it’s consistent about God and the path to salvation, you shouldn’t be bothered by apparent inconsistencies in the number of demons Jesus cast out on a given day or exactly where he met a particular disciple and so on.

I have some serious problems with this approach to the Bible.

For one thing, for a book that is supposed to be about the forest and not the trees – if it’s all about the big picture and the details don’t matter – the Bible has got a hell of a lot of trees. I haven’t even gotten to Leviticus and Numbers yet, but I’ve heard horror stories about the pages and pages of drivel about how to spread oil on your offerings and how many people were in each tribe and so on. And Genesis was bad enough with all the begatting. If that’s all irrelevant to my salvation and I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about it, why include it at all? Moreover, even if there was no pressing reason why all the little details of the stories in the Bible had to be correct, there certainly isn’t any good reason why so many should be wrong, is there? You’d think, when the stakes are this high, the least God could do is spring for a decent copy editor.

Second, a lot of the contradictions in the Bible do seem to matter to the big picture – that is, they change the story in significant ways that alter its overall meaning. One example of this is Judas’s death. We already read Matthew’s account of it, where Judas throws away the money he was paid for betraying Jesus, and then hangs himself. We haven’t gotten to Acts yet on this blog, but – spoiler alert – in that version, Judas uses the money to buy a field, and then falls down in his own field and his intestines spill out. A former Pentecostal Christian has explained the importance of this contradiction, and how it shook his own faith, quite well in this video. (This 10-minute video is part of a longer series on his deconversion process, but that link will take you directly to the Judas bit, which is only three minutes long.) Basically, as far as I can tell, this story is either about remorse, or greed and punishment: either Judas threw the money away (demonstrating remorse) and then hung himself (more remorse), or he used the money to buy a field (materialism, greed, non-remorse) and then was struck down by God in an explosion of intestines (punishment by God’s wrath). It seems to me that the question of whether Judas committed remorseful suicide or was executed by God is extremely relevant to the overall meaning of the story. The “big picture” changes noticeably when you alter the pixels that much.

Finally, I do think the mere existence of contradictions should be troubling in a book that is supposedly divinely inspired. Obviously a single contradiction, however minor, completely annihilates the idea of biblical literalism. But it should bring even more liberal conceptions of biblical inerrancy into question, too. I know there are many liberal Christians who believe that the Bible was written by humans, in pieces, over a long period of time, was shaped by the cultural contexts in which it was created, and so on. But they still believe that it is, in some meaningful sense, “the word of God,” or says something meaningful about God; otherwise they wouldn’t call themselves Christians, right? Maybe I’m just not understanding this idea correctly – I have to admit that I have always had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around it – but it seems to me that if God was involved in any way in the creation of the Bible, he could have done something to prevent it from being so error-ridden. I just really think you have to work a lot harder to defend your case that this book should be taken seriously when it is full of holes and patches like this. In any case, if the trees that are distracting me from the beautiful and divine forest are actually irreconcilable contradictions that call into question the God-inspired-ness of the whole book, then the trees become extremely important since they show that there actually is no forest to bother with, so we can all stop trying to squint and find it.

Anyway. Jesus asks the demon in the possessed guy what its name is, and the guy answers, “Legion is my name, because we are many” (9). That’s kind of cool – I didn’t know that came from the Bible. Anyway, you know what happens next; the demons leave the man only to possess the pigs, who run into the lake and drown. People hear about this and are impressed, but some ask Jesus to leave their neighborhood. Not sure why – maybe because they know the Pharisees and ruling classes and so on won’t like what he’s up to? The de-possessed man asks to join Jesus as a disciple, but Jesus tells him to go home and spread the word about how God cured him and showed mercy on him.

Jesus crosses the river again and gets ready to heal some more people. Jairus, a big shot at the local synagogue, begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus agrees, but while he’s en route to the house, a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years (which startled me all over again even though I already read about it in Matthew) comes up to him and heals herself by touching his clothes. Which reminds me: this story inspired a great song by Sam Cooke, which is redundant, because all songs by Sam Cooke are great. Legend has it that Sam and his producer were on their way to a recording session when the producer realized Sam wasn’t exactly prepared with something to record. Before he could freak out, Sam was like, “Chill out. Just hand me the Bible.” His producer immediately produced a Bible, because this was the fifties and I guess everybody just had a Bible with them all the time in case Communists attacked or something. Sam flipped through, found this story, and made up a kick-ass song on the spot, because he’s Sam Cooke and that’s how he rolls. Or rolled, rather, until some crazy bitch shot him. That whole debacle still upsets me, so I’m going to calm down with a nice uplifting gospel song.

Anyway Jesus tells the bleedy woman that her faith has healed her yay.

Meanwhile, some messengers from Jairus’s house find him and tell him it’s too late: his daughter has already died. They suggest he let Jesus go since there’s nothing he can do anymore, but Jesus is like “No it’s cool, I got this.” He goes to the house with just three of his disciples and finds it full of crying people. He says the girl is just sleeping, not dead, and the people switch from crying to laughing at him. He kicks them all out of the house, then takes the girl’s hand and whispers some magic spell that means “Young woman, get up,” in some language or other (41). And hey presto, she’s alive and walking around again! Jesus tells the disciples and the girl’s parents not to tell anybody about what happened.

Of course, this is a little different from how Matthew told us it all went down. For example, in Matthew’s account, the girl has already died when her father comes to seek Jesus’s help, so he asks him to resurrect her. And in that version, Jesus doesn’t demand silence about the resurrection; in fact, “News about this spread throughout that whole region” (Matthew 9:26). Ah, well. Forest for the trees, right? *twitch*

Highlights

Sam Cooke.

Lowlights

See above rant.

Shiny Happy People Holding Tablets

OT: Exodus 34; Psalms 24-25

Exodus 34

God tells Moses to make two new stone tablets like the ones that he smashed on the ground in a puerile rage a couple of chapters ago, and promises to write on them again in his own special divine handwriting. After that, Moses is to come up to the top of Mount Sinai, alone. And God means really alone. In fact, Moses is responsible for ensuring that not a single person is anywhere on the entire mountain. There can’t even be livestock grazing at the base of the mountain. But Moses does what God says because he’s totally whipped.

When he gets to the summit, God comes down and “proclaims the name, ‘The LORD’” (5). I’m curious what the Hebrew is here. I think one of the Jewish names for God, “Hashem,” literally just means “the name,” and another, “Adonai,” means “the lord.” So I’m guessing the Hebrew here says that God come down and proclaims Hashem, “Adonai.” But that’s weird (if it’s even correct) because, of course, Adonai isn’t supposed to be God’s name – it’s Yahweh, isn’t it? It’s clear that whatever is going on here, names – and especially The Name – are important. God’s name is so important, in fact, that observant Jews don’t even like to have the word “God” written in full on anything that might be destroyed; they write “G-d” instead. Some even use this elision in emails, even though we all know those can’t really be destroyed because the internet never forgets. But I guess there’s the off-chance someone might print it out and then throw it away? When I visited temple with my Jewish friends as a child, I remember them all rushing to kiss the laminated prayer sheets whenever they accidentally fell on the ground. And that’s just for things that say “God,” which is more of a title than a name, kind of like “the Lord.” I can’t really wrap my head around why God’s name is so important – and, if it’s so important, why it can’t be used frequently. Why do we call call him God or the Lord so much more often than we call him Yahweh if his name is such a big deal? Is his name reserved for special occasions in order to make it more special? Like a dress you only wear once? Speaking of which, I am constantly trying to find an excuse to wear my prom dress again, because I really object in principle to the idea of a dress you only wear once. So if you plan on throwing a party or a brunch or a 30 Rock viewing party where the dress code encompasses floor-length full-skirted strapless yellow polka dot ballgowns, hit me up.

After proclaiming his name (or not), God “passes in front of” Moses (which, as Eli pointed out in a comment on my last post, could mean any number of things), then recites a little laudatory poem about himself. Maybe God is “full of great loyalty and faithfulness” (7), but can he be a shark?

I don’t think so. But Moses is impressed anyway, and grovels before God and begs him to come along on the trip to Israel, despite the fact that he has already agreed like twice to do exactly that.

The Amorites worshiping at their sacred poles

God decides to restore his covenant with Israel, which I think was broken when they all wandered off to worship a metal cow. He promises that “I will do an awesome thing with you,” which just makes me feel vaguely dirty. He reminds Moses that he’s going to annihilate a handful of other tribes for no stated reason, and says the Israelites will have to destroy their altars and their pillars and their “sacred poles” (13). He also warns that they must not “prostitute themselves” to the other tribes’ gods, or let their children intermarry for fear that they might do the same.

He’s got some other rules, too. Don’t make any more scrap metal deities. Remember to observe Passover. All the firstborn males belong to God, including both livestock and humans; they have to be ransomed. (God is half kidnapper and half small-child-calling-dibs-on-everything-before-anybody-else-can-claim-it.) Nobody should show up for a chat with God without bringing a present. Everyone should work six days a week and rest on the seventh. All the Israelite men must “appear three times a year before the LORD God” (23) – does that mean they only have to go to temple once every four months? Or do they go to the temple every week on the Sabbath, like people do now, and make some other kind of special “appearance” before God three times a year? God also lists some other mandatory holidays and some more rules about sacrifices.

“Please don’t boil us!”

And, finally, he delivers the rather alarming command, “Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (26). Was that a common practice back in Biblical times? Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions here, but wouldn’t it be difficult to even amass enough milk to boil a whole goat in, even a small one? More relevantly, I think this command is the source of the kosher rules about not eating meat and dairy at the same time, even though, if you will recall, Abraham served God’s own angels a meal that included meat and butter.

God tells Moses to transcribe “the ten words” of the covenant on the tablets (28). I’m not sure what the ten words are. I mean, I always thought the thing Moses brought down on the tablets was the ten commandments, but there’s no way each one can be expressed in one word. And I’m sure all the commands just given above can’t be condensed into ten words either. Does “word” mean something counter-intuitive here?

After not eating or drinking at all for forty days and forty nights, Moses is long since dead of dehydration and starvation. Just kidding, this is the Bible! Instead of him dying, his face just became unusually shiny. So shiny, in fact, that when he came down from Mount Sinai, all his friends were so weirded out by his shiny, shiny face that he started wearing a veil to keep it under control. Moses told them everything that had happened on the mountain. And from then on, he took the veil off whenever he needed to chat with God, and put it back on when he came back to the tribe looking all shiny-faced and creepy.

Psalm 24

Everything in the world belongs to God because he made it all. Who can go to God’s house and hang out with him? Only someone clean and pure and honest. Those people are blessed. That’s the way it works for “the generation that seeks him” (6). Giant ancient doors, open to let God in, who is powerful and glorious!

[I wonder why the psalmist only refers to one generation of God-seekers?]

Psalm 25

God, I trust you with my life. Don’t screw me over! Instead, shame the traitors. Teach me your ways and truth because you are my savior. Remember your eternal compassion and forget my past crimes. Try to focus on my good parts. God is good. He guides the weak and the sinners to justice. Things are great for people who obey him. God, to keep up your own reputation as a good dude, forgive my mistakes! God will guide those who honor him, and they will live well, and their descendants will be rich. God takes care of his peeps. He’s my homie and he’s got my back. God, I’m lonely and unhappy so pity me. Shit keeps getting realer, so forgive me and fix everything! Look how many people want to fuck with me! Save me because I believe in you! And “save Israel from all its troubles” (22)!

Highlights

God gets a handful of animal welfare points for attempting to prevent cruelty to baby goats…

Lowlights

…but he loses them for continuing to blather about animal sacrifice. And he specifies that if you cannot ransom a firstborn male donkey, you must break its neck. Horrific.

Love Shack

Oh my god you guys the wifi in my apartment is the worst. I’m sorry it took me to the end of the day to get this up, but I kept working on it for a few minutes at a time and then trying to download a photo and then being cruelly denied and then leaving in a huff to listen to the NPR Sunday Puzzle and allow Will Shortz’s soothing voice to heal my psychological wounds. I would like to write these at 1369 Coffeehouse from now on (which would be great because the 45-minute limit on free wifi would force me to manage my blogging time better), but I can’t right now because I’m fasting for Ramadan. I know, I know. I’m the strangest atheist. Whatever. I warned you guys up front that I fucking love church. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Oh yeah, also I read some Bible today. Here it is.

OT: Exodus 33; Psalm 23

Exodus 33

God tells Moses to take the Israelites to the Promised Land, and ominously pledges to “drive out” (2) six other tribes for unspecified reasons. But God won’t accompany his favorite tribe on their road trip, because they are “a stubborn people” and so he would “destroy” them before they ever made it to their destination (4). Seems harsh, but then again, I’ve shared a car with my grandmother from Massachusetts to Virginia, so I can’t help sympathizing with God here. Although I can’t say I get the part where he inexplicably demands that the Israelites all remove their jewelry* before the journey.

Did they have to remove their shoes too?

Moses set up a special tent where people could go to ask God for advice. It’s unclear whether or not everyone else got a response, but when Moses visited the tent, God would show up and talk to Moses “face-to-face” while a tornado blocked the door (9-11). Oh, and apparently Joshua, Moses’s assistant, never ever left the tent, for some reason.

Why is this book so full of unnecessary and unexplained details?

Anyway, at one of their littltête-à-têtes têtes-à-tête têtes-à-têtes conversations, Moses is like, “Look, God. You keep telling me to take these people somewhere but I don’t even know where I’m going or who will guide us.” And God is like, “Ok, I’ll go with you.” [Then what was all the business with the refusing to go and the jewelry removal?] Then comes my favorite part of this boring chapter, where Moses goes on haranguing God without listening at all to what he just said, continuing to demand what he has already agreed to, because Moses and God are an old married couple. Moses is like, “If you don’t go, how can we even go at all? Nobody will know we are special unless you are there to tell them!” And then God says [verbatim], “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name” (17). Whaaa? I’ve already said how problematic I think it is for God to arbitrarily give one person or group his “special approval” or to have a “chosen people,” but it’s even weirder to think that there might be some people in the world whom he doesn’t know by name. Again, I’m sorry, but doesn’t this completely annihilate his hypothetical omniscience? Seriously, how do people rationalize this?

Then things get a little kinky when Moses begs God to “Please show me your glorious presence” (18), bringing their relationship from old married couple to awkward hormone-soaked teenager status. God gets all coy with Moses, and is like, “Ok, I’ll walk past you and flaunt my glorious presence. But I’ll put you behind a rock, so you can’t see me. But there will be a chink in the rock, so you can see me. But I’ll cover the rock with my hand, so you can’t see me. But then I’ll take my hand away at the last second, so you can see me – except I won’t take my hand away until I’ve passed you, so all you’ll be able to see is my back.” God justifies this convoluted plan by explaining that “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live” (20), which sounds suspiciously like a rule he made up just now for fun, and is difficult to reconcile with the claim made just a few verses before that he and Moses have been speaking “face-to-face” (11) in their little Love Shack tent.

* There couldn’t have been much jewelry to remove anyway since Aaron already melted all the gold down to make the calf in the last chapter. Just saying.

Psalm 23

Okay, I’m sorry, I can’t do the Common English Bible on this one. I saw “my cup is so full it spills over!” and I knew this wasn’t going to work. I’ve got to go with the good old KJV here.

This is, justifiably, the most famous psalm. It’s less whiny, more celebratory, and just prettier than any of the others I’ve read so far. I’m not even going to try to cutely summarize it. I’ll let it speak for itself.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Highlights

Weirdly enough, the psalm is actually the best part of today’s OT portion. It speaks to one of the qualities we most wish we had in a god: protection. The God of Psalm 23 provides for you, he leads you where you need to go, he always wants what’s best for you, he showers you in blessings, he defends you from harm. He is your home. It’s a beautiful specimen of wishful thinking. And, if you like, it illustrates what we need from ourselves and from each other in a godless world. If there is no house of the LORD to dwell in, we must build our own home, fill our own cups, and find our own route to the green pastures and the still waters. We must be the gods we wish we had.

Lowlights

Psalm 23 also gets today’s lowlight, because it reminded me of my AP Chemistry exam, which was definitely a lowlight of high school. Just in case that connection isn’t crystal clear, allow me to explain: When I arrived at the school where I would be taking the exam, I realized that I had left my calculator at home. I didn’t have time to go back for it, and I panicked double hard since chemistry was already my worst subject. I was in acute distress, facing certain failure, when I spotted one of the only people I knew in this entire school walking through the halls between classes. When I told him of my plight – looking for commiseration, not solutions – he immediately handed me his calculator and walked off to his next class. To express my deep and abiding gratitude, I wrote him this poem, which I just dug up from the bowels of my Facebook notes.

TEDDY is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to do well on my chemistry test: He leadeth me through the free response section.

He restoreth my calculator: He leadeth me in the paths of accuracy for his awesomeness’ sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of failure, I will fear no stoichiometry: for Thy calculator is with me; its exponents and its logarithms they comfort me.

Thou preparest a solution for me in the presence of acids and bases: Thou anointest my head with relief; my answer booklet runneth over.

Surely 4s and 5s shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will totally owe TEDDY for ever.

So…yeah, that happened.

NT: Mark 4

Mark 4

Jesus stands in a boat and tells parables to a crowd of followers on the shore. He tells the parable of the soils again. When people are like “dude WTF,” Jesus is like, “No it’s cool. You guys can grok what I’m saying because God gave you the secret of his kingdom, but lame outsiders won’t understand what we’re talking about because it’s in a cool secret code.” Not sure what the secret of the kingdom is, or why Jesus doesn’t realize that even the in-crowd doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. Anyway, he explains why he’s preventing outsiders from understanding his lessons: “This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven” (12). I believe, in professional circles, this technique is known as “stacking the deck.” Alternatively, “douchebaggery.” (It depends which professional circle you’re in.)

Jesus explains the parable the same way as recounted in Matthew 13 – it’s about all the different pitfalls that can stop someone from being saved after hearing the word. He promises that all will be revealed in time, and that “God will evaluate you with the same standard you use to evaluate others” (24).

He tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven that I don’t think we’ve heard before: it’s like when someone scatters seeds on soil, then goes off to sleep and ignores them, and the neglected seeds grow to maturity, and then the farmer reaps them at harvest. Can anyone explain that one to me? I guess I’m one of the uncool kids that Jesus doesn’t want to understand his amazing lessons.

After retelling the mustard seed story again, along with a bunch of other unspecified parables, Jesus and his posse leave for the other side of the lake. On the way, there’s a storm, and while people are freaking out, Jesus is asleep. His followers wake him up and are like “um news flash we are drowning, so if you are planning on giving a shit, now’s the time.” Jesus magically ends the storm with his Jesus-powers and then scolds his crew for not having faith. Everybody is like “whoaaaa who IS this guy?!”

Highlights

I like Mark 4:24 (and the other instances where the same thought appears – I know we encountered it in Matthew at least once).

A big part of why I like it is that it inspired the title of a Shakespeare play. The KJV goes something like “For what measure ye mete, it shall be meted to ye again.” And my expert opinion is that Measure for Measure is probably Bill’s most underrated play. So…go read it.

But I also just like it because of how it echoes the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s just too bad God operates outside the rule.

Lowlights

I don’t know why it’s so important to Jesus to selectively hide important salvation information from certain people. How cliquey of him.

In Which I Return Triumphantly…Again

Dudes.

Starting a daily blog is a horrible idea. If you’re thinking about doing it, don’t. It will only make you feel bad about yourself.

Actually, it might work out alright as long as you are not planning to also write a thesis…

and turn it into a word cloud

…make limoncello in your closet…

…graduate from college…

…find a job…

…find an apartment and find terrifying things in the kitchen cabinets while moving in…

…get a car and try to remember how to parallel park…

Her name is Sofia Vercara.

…go to Korea (mostly the bottom one but also briefly the top one)…

Because the border runs through the middle of this UN meeting room in the demilitarized zone, I am technically in North Korea here.

…and teach bartenders in Seoul how to make Irish Car Bombs…

…in the midst of your daily blogging. In retrospect, that was not the best plan.

BUT.

I think (think! hope! pray? …nah) that things are finally settling down now. Boyfriend and I have more or less settled into our new place. I’ve got a regular(ish) work schedule. I’m done explaining tacky drinks to non-English-speaking bartenders. So I think it’s time to resume my biblical education, and – if you haven’t abandoned me in disgust – to bring you along for the rest of the ride.

I will totally understand if you don’t believe me. I know I’ve led you on before. And I know the boat has sailed on finishing this project in a year. But I’m still committed to reading the whole Bible as soon as possible, and to documenting every step of that process and illustrating it with inane pictures I find online. If you’re still on board with that plan, I think we can make this work.

The fun resumes tomorrow (Monday, July 23)!

Déjà Lu

OT: Psalms 18-22

Psalm 18

[This is David talking after God saved him from Saul.] God is awesome. He’s my rock. I was about to die but I asked him for help and he heard and saved me. His anger caused an earthquake. [And then, um, God became a dragon?] “Smoke went up from God’s nostrils; out of his mouth came a devouring fire; flaming coals blazed out in front of him!” (8). Smaug-God dispersed my enemies with arrows and lightning. God saved me and rewarded me for my righteousness, because I’ve followed all his rules. God, you are nice to good people and mean to bad people. You’re perfect. Nobody but God is divine. God makes me strong. God helped me annihilate my enemies. “I crushed them like dust blown away by the wind; I threw them out like mud dumped in the streets” (42). Thanks to God, “foreigners grovel before me” (44). Yay for God who “delivered me from violent people” (48) but then helped me kill them!

Psalm 19

“Heaven is declaring God’s glory” (1). Each day tells the next day about God’s awesomeness, and spreads the news worldwide. God built a tent for the sun. “The sun is like a groom coming out of his honeymoon suite” (5). It runs across the sky and heats everything. God is a perfect teacher, whose commands make people wiser and happier and healthier. His judgment is true. God’s laws are worth more than gold. God, please forgive any sins I have unknowingly committed, and prevent me from willful disobedience. I hope my words and thoughts please you, God.

Psalm 20

I hope God helps you when you’re in trouble. Let God protect you, remember your offerings, and make your dreams come true. Then we’ll celebrate. I know God saves his favorite people. Some people trust worldly things, and they will collapse, but we who trust God will stand strong. God save the king and give us what we want!

Psalm 21

God, the king is glad that you gave him what he asked for. You gave him life, glory, and happiness. Because he trusts you, he won’t fall. God, you will capture all your enemies, and “you will light them up like an oven on fire. God will eat them whole in his anger; fire will devour them” (9). You’ll kill their children, too, for good measure. They tried to hurt you, so you will shoot arrows into their faces. Yay for God’s strength!

Psalm 22

God, why have you left me alone? I cry out but you don’t answer. You’re holy and my ancestors trusted you and you helped them. People hate me and tease me for trusting you. “I was thrown on you at birth; you’ve been my God since I was in my mother’s womb” (10). A bunch of evil people surround me, threatening me, and I’m terrified. My strength is gone, my mouth is dry, and you’ve left me to die. They watch me and divvy up my clothes. God, come save me! Oh good, you’ve finally answered me! Now I’ll celebrate you and make others honor you because you listened to my cries for help. Let all the sufferers find God and praise him! Everyone will worship you because you are the only ruler. The strong and the weak all serve you, and people who aren’t alive yet will serve you too and tell their children how great you are.

Highlights

There’s one part in psalm 22 when David announces, for no apparent reason, “I can count all my bones!” (17)

Lowlights

Everything else. But also, the hypocrisy of thanking God for saving you from “violent people” and then killing them brutally. Also, David’s imperialist tendencies, where he wants to make foreigners grovel before him. By the way, David seems to get himself into trouble a lot. He constantly talks about being surrounded by his enemies and despairing and then being saved by God. Are all these psalms retelling of one battle, or is he just a terrible soldier who constantly needs to be rescued from death? Also, I dislike the hereditary nature of religion described in psalm 22. Children shouldn’t have people choose their beliefs for them, let alone fetuses. Oh, also, there’s that part where God eats people alive.

NT: Mark 2-3

Mark 2

Jesus goes back to Capernaum, and people flock to hear him. Some bring in a paralyzed man – because they can’t carry him through the crowd, they bust open a hole in the roof and lower him into the room where Jesus is speaking. Jesus is impressed with their creative problem-solving, so he tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. The legal experts in the room start mumbling and saying that Jesus is blaspheming because “only the one God can forgive sins” (7). Jesus basically tells them they’re stupid, and says, “Well, it’s easier to forgive sins than to make paralytics walk. Now you’ll know that the Human One can forgive sins!” Then he tells the paralyzed man to take his mat and walk home, which he does, amazing everyone.

This is what Levi said to Jesus later.

Jesus goes out and walks around teaching people some more. He sees Levi, a tax-collector, and tells him to follow him. So Levi follows Jesus…to Levi’s own house, where Jesus has invited himself over for lunch. Awkward. Jesus and his disciples eat with a bunch of tax-collectors and sinners. The legal experts are like, “Hey disciples! If Jesus is so cool, why is he hanging out with sinners? Huh!?” Jesus is like, “Dumbasses, sick people need doctors, not healthy people. I’m here for the sinners, not the righteous.”

Some people ask Jesus why John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but he doesn’t. Jesus says wedding guests can’t fast while the groom is still around, but soon the groom will leave and then they will fast. Then Jesus goes back to two metaphors I still don’t really understand: don’t sew a new patch on old clothes, and don’t pour new wine into old wineskins.

Jesus and his disciples walk through the fields picking wheat on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees freak out. Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.

Mark 3

Jesus goes to the synagogue, where there is a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees are looking for an excuse to arrest Jesus, so they watch to see if he will break Sabbath law by healing the man. But didn’t they just see Jesus breaking Sabbath law by picking wheat…? Anyway, Jesus asks them whether it’s legal to save lives or kill on the Sabbath, but they don’t answer. Jesus is angry and “deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts” (5). He heals the man’s hand and the Pharisees go to Herod’s supporters to plot Jesus’s death.

Jesus goes back to the lake and, as usual, people come from all over to see him and be healed, so he asks his followers to get a boat ready for him so he isn’t trampled to death. When evil spirits see him, “they fall down at his feet and shout, ‘You are God’s Son!’” (11) and then Jesus is like “shhhh don’t reveal my identity!” Which is odd since he keeps healing people and walking on water and shit. Also, why would evil spirits listen to his orders? Although the text ambiguously says that Jesus tells “them” not to say who he is, and it’s unclear whether “them” refers to the evil spirits, the people trying to be healed, or the disciples. In any case, his secrecy is weird since he hasn’t exactly kept his magic powers on the DL.

Jesus goes up a mountain and appoints twelve apostles to go preach on his behalf and gives them the power to throw out demons. Also he gives cool nicknames to some of them. He picks Simon, but calls him Peter. He picks James and John, but calls them the Sons of Thunder. He also picks Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, a different James, Thaddaeus, a different Simon, and Judas Iscariot, but they don’t get cool nicknames.

Jesus and his followers go into a house to eat but the crowds make it impossible. Jesus’s family comes and says he’s out of his mind and tries to “take control of him” (21). By Jesus’s family do we mean Mary and Joseph? Wouldn’t they know that he’s the son of God because of all the angel messengers and the immaculate conception and all that? So why would they ruin his plans by trying to have him committed? Anyway, the legal experts say he’s possessed by the devil and that’s how he throws out demons. Jesus is like, “Idiots. How could the devil throw himself out? A house divided will fall. If Satan fights himself, he’s screwed. I promise that humans will be forgiven for every possible kind of sin except insulting the Holy Spirit.”

His mother and brothers arrive. When Jesus hears that they’re outside waiting for him, he’s like, “What do you mean, my family is outside? My family is in here! All of you who obey God are my family.” Awwwww.

Highlights

I am a fan of the “humanity is one big family” trope (although obviously I wouldn’t make membership contingent on worship).

Lowlights

You know, this book is unnecessarily repetitive. We haven’t really heard anything new in this installment. Mark is just telling us what Matthew already did, and David is just writing more psalms that sound exactly like the other ones. It’s getting boring and I am running out of funny to make it interesting. =(

From College to Calves

Things I Have Done Since My Last Post

1. FINISHED COLLEGE.

A. Wrote a paper
B. Wrote another paper
C. Wrote another another paper
D. Took an exam
E. Hopefully did not fail at any of those things

2. Won an award for “outstanding contributions to intercultural and race relations at Harvard College” – unexpected, but fun!

A. Ate a delicious eggplant cheese thing at the award dinner
B. Wrote one of my papers on the bus to and from the award dinner (see item 1A).

3. Sold a bunch of my stuff

A. Packed some of it up and put it into dorm storage for the students who bought it to claim when they come back in the fall
B. Left a lot of it lying around my room waiting to be packed up
C. Lost a microwave that I sold to somebody…awkward. Oh, speaking of which…

4. Organized a totally unnecessary film series for one of my classes

A. Hopefully obtained some kind of unofficial extra credit to make up for not really studying for final exam
B. Lost my microwave, which I generously carried all the way to the Yard (aka a long way from my dorm) so students could have freshly popped popcorn for the movies
C. By “I lost it” I mean “somebody stole it from the classroom where the movie screenings were”
D. Attempted to relocate microwave
E. Despaired
F. Entered denial stage (ongoing)
G. Will eventually tell the girl I sold it to that I lost it and will sadly refund her money (pending)

5. Continued to possess a lot of stuff after selling some of it

A. Got really angsty over what to do with ticket stubs, birthday cards, posters, and photos (ongoing)
B. Packed a tiny amount of my stuff up
C. Flung the rest of it around the floor so it would feel like I was making progress
D. Brought one suitcasefull of stuff to boyfriend’s apartment so it would feel like I had started moving

6. Walked 24 miles in one day, that day being yesterday

A. Raised money for hunger relief by doing so!
B. Felt really cool (see item 6A)
C. Felt like dying (see item 6)
D. Felt like this

7. RETURNED TRIUMPHANTLY TO MY BIBLE BLOG (ongoing)

OT: Exodus 32

Exodus 32

The Israelites wonder what is taking Moses so long up on the mountain. Eventually they get impatient and tell Aaron to make them some new gods that won’t lead them on and then break their hearts. Ohhhhhh snap – shit is about to get real in the kosher grocery store parking lot.

I think the almost-tastefully-cropped hand placement adds a certain je ne sais quois to this piece.

Aaron decides it’s time for some creative problem-solving. He tells everyone to give him all their gold jewelry, which he melts down and molds into a bull calf. The Israelites, who apparently cannot count, say, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (4) Aaron rolls with it: he builds an altar for the calf, and declares a festival day in honor of the calf-god, and people make sacrifices and celebrate.

God warns Moses that his peeps “are ruining everything” (7), because God is an eight-year-old whose parents are doing something embarrassing at his birthday party. God tells Moses to get out of the way so his “fury” can “burn and devour” the Israelites (10). Moses tells God to chill the fuck out, and reminds him of his promises to many of the Israelites about giving them lots of descendants. And then – get this – “the LORD changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people” (14).

So, let’s tally up for a second. God has…

  1. Forgotten promises he made
  2. Changed his mind
  3. Made false promises

So where exactly do people get the idea that God is omniscient or omnipotent? Oh, and also…

4. Threatened to kill everyone

…And he’s perfectly benevolent, too? Give me a break.

Anyway, Moses goes down the mountain and brings the two covenant tablets with him, which apparently were written in “God’s own writing” (16). I wonder what his handwriting looks like?

Moses gets back to the camp and sees the calf-worshiping festival party, and flips out. He smashes the tablets with God’s actual handwriting on them on the ground in a rage, burns and pulverizes the calf and makes people drink its remnants in water. He yells at Aaron for sinning. Aaron is like “but the people were out of control!” and Moses is like “yeah because you LET them get out of control!”

So then, for very unclear reasons, Moses orders a genocide. Yes, really. He makes all the Levites (are those the same as the Israelites? Or a subset? I forget) gather round and arm themselves, then he sends them off with the command to “kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor!” (27). They do it, killing three thousand people. Which, for comparison, is approximately the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. So let nobody say Islam has a monopoly on jihad, religious violence, or scripturally condoned terrorism. Best of all, when the killers return, Moses tells them that each one has gained a special blessing from god for his noble actions.

Excuse me while I vomit.

Moses reminds his whole tribe what sinners they are, and goes back to God to ask for leniency. Instead of really answering him, God sends Moses away with an angel to an undisclosed location, promises to judge sinners at the end of times, and sends a plague on the calf-worshipers.

I’m literally falling asleep at my desk, so stay tuned for more tomorrow! Probably starting with a psalm, because I haven’t slogged through one of those in forever.

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