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

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.

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.

Do Not Cross

OT: Exodus 29-31

Exodus 29

Like this. Guys, I haven't watched Dexter in soooo long. I still haven't finished Season 5. NO SPOILERS.

Here’s how to ordain priests. Dress them up fancy and send them to the temple with some livestock and artisanal breads. There, now they’re ordained. The priests should touch the livestock, then kill them, then throw the blood around, then set the organs on fire. This will be a “purification offering” (14), because purity consists of biohazardous fluid-flinging and the stench of scorched flesh. Also the priest clothes should be hand-me-downs.

God also decrees that the Israelites should sacrifice a lamb every day, along with some wine and a flour-oil mixture (I can only assume that he trying to make a roux for holy gumbo), and he promises to meet them at the tent to speak with them. Then he goes power-tripping: “I will be at home among the Israelites, and I will be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could make a home among them. I am the LORD their God” (45-46).

Exodus 30

God gives a lot of instructions for building an incense altar and warns people not to burn the wrong kind of incense. #priorities

God also decrees that when the census happens, each person counted should donate half a shekel to support the temple upkeep, as a “compensation for their life” (12). If you pay your half shekel, you won’t get divinely plagued. God also specifies that the rich and the poor should all pay exactly the same amount, which I guess is nice since it signifies that the lives of the rich and of the poor are valued equally.

Completely 100% true science fact: this was the first result when I searched "lowercase punishment only" on Google Images. Seriously, try it yourself. I couldn't resist because, as I may have mentioned, I LOVE DEXTER. Also because I think the message on the tie is appropriate for a discussion of Old Testament Yahweh's picky rules and extreme punishments.

God also specifies that a washbasin has to be put in the temple for people to wash themselves before presenting offerings “so that they don’t die” (20). I feel that the prevalence of capital punishment in this society is…excessive.

God gives Moses a special incense recipe and decides that the punishment for anybody who copies the recipe for non-sacred purposes should be shunned by the tribe. Ditto with some special oil.

Exodus 31

God announces that he has chosen two specific Israelites, Bezalel and Oholiab, and given them the skills required to make all the stuff he just gave instruction for. Which kind of make one (well, me) wonder why he didn’t just give them the instructions to begin with instead of using Moses as a middle man.

God reminds Moses that everybody has to keep the Sabbath holy in order to remind themselves of God, or else they will be put to death.

When God is done talking to Moses, he gives him two stone covenant tablets. Finally.

Highlights

Good news – we are done with the interior design/fashion instructions! The golden calf is up next!

Lowlights

So much capital punishment!

Queer Eye for the Straight Priest + READER CHALLENGE!

Dragons? I love dragons! Drinks all around!

Fun fact: I saw a Gutenberg Bible today! I mean, I’ve seen it before, because it lives like a mile from where I do. But this was the first time I actually attempted to sort of read it. A friend from high school was visiting Harvard, so I took him on the obligatory here-are-some-old-things tour, finishing up at Widener Library, where Henry Elkins Widener’s Gutenberg Bible is in a glass case. While we were staring at it, I wondered what part it was opened to. (The Gutenberg Bible is in Latin, which I studied for two years in middle school. I retain just enough of that to make pretty decent guesses at etymology and orthography, and to immaturely tell people “semper ubi sub ubi.” This phrase, incidentally, does not appear in the Bible, so I was rather at a loss.) So I stared at the page for a while, scanning for some words I might know – which was extra difficult because the letters were all fancy and curly and full of themselves. After a lot of squinting, I spotted a “draconem,” a “Judeum,” a “Daniele,” and the phrase “Bel destruxit.” I figured I had enough for Googling, and sure enough, I was not only able to identify the specific passage, but to pretty well read along with it (especially since the friend I’d brought with me knew significantly more Latin than I did, but also not quite enough to read fluently without Google’s help). Apparently the story of Bel and the Dragon is part of an extended version of the Book of Daniel, which not all Christians consider legit. So basically it’s like one of the extra scenes on the special edition of the Return of the King DVD that the hardcore Tolkien aficionados drool over but most people just want to see the cinema version.

I also learned from the story of Bel and the Dragon that there is a prophet named Habakkuk, which I’m pretty sure is the official transliteration of the sound of throwing up.

ANNOUNCEMENT: While doing my usual image-searching routine for this post, I discovered that there is a pub called Bel and the Dragon in Cookham, in Berkshire, England (see the pub sign to the left). I’m not sure if I’ve got any readers over in the UK, but in any case, I am hereby officially announcing the very first Challenge of Biblical Proportions! If you take a picture of yourself at this pub and post a link to it as a comment, I will reward you with 1) everlasting fame and glory, 2) a certificate of accomplishment, and 3) a candy bar. Yes, I will physically mail you a candy bar. It’s your choice whether to eat it or save it for posterity.

I recognize that this is probably never going to happen. But I like the idea of reader challenges, so look out for more! (And if you have any ideas for a future challenge, drop a comment or shoot me an email at BloggingBiblically@gmail.com!)

OT: Exodus 25-28

Exodus 25

God commands Moses to collect gifts for him (God) from the Israelites, which I think stretches the definition of the word “gift.” Although he does give specific instructions about what gifts he wants, so maybe this is actually like the world’s first wedding registry. Where God is getting married to the Israelites.

He also gives very specific instructions about how to build the temple where he will come chill with them, and how to build the Ark of the Covenant, which is basically the box that’s going to hold the tablets with the commandments on them. He also explains how to make a table for food and drink offerings, and a special solid gold lampstand for the temple.

Exodus 26

Next God tells Moses how to make curtains for the temple-tent-thing that will hold the gold lamp and the special table and the box holding the tablets. For all these things, he specifies exact dimensions, what materials to use, how to decorate them, what color everything should be, etc. It’s basically Trading Spaces in book form. Do you remember that show? I remember that show. Maybe it’s even still on. I don’t know. But I really liked Ty, one of the carpenters. He was friendly. I wish he were a character in the Book of Exodus. It could use some more smiling and also some elegant bookcases.

Exodus 27

God explains how to make an altar, and how to make a courtyard for the tent-temple-thing. And he says that all the Israelites for the rest of time will have to provide fresh olive oil to keep the lamp burning constantly.

Exodus 28

God tells Moses that his (God’s) brother Aaron and his (Aaron’s) sons will be his (God’s) priests, and then explains in great detail what kind of clothes they are going to wear. We’re leaving Trading Spaces behind and moving into Queer Eye for the Straight Guy territory here. My favorite part of the specified priests’ clothing is the “chest pendant used for making decisions” (described in verses 15-30). How exactly one uses a chest pendant to make decisions is unclear, but it sounds useful and also extremely realistic and not at all like something that teenage girls might learn how to make out of amethysts and faerie dust in a Silver Ravenwolf book. God gives some more fashion advice, and then explains that “Aaron will wear the robe when he ministers as a priest. Its sound will be heard when he goes into the sanctuary in the LORD’s presence and when he comes out, so that he will not die” (35). Does this imply that God is planning to snipe anybody who enters the church silently? Because if so, I’m pretty sure people have been doing this all wrong. I always feel awkward if I even make a sound setting down my backpack when I go into a church (which, as I’ve mentioned before, I frequently do). I guess from now on I’ll roll in singing.

Nat, if you’re reading this: Don’t worry. I won’t actually do that. Usually.

Highlights

The chest pendant used for making decisions sounds awesome.

Lowlights

I wish I knew how it worked.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.