Passover Revisited

I took some serious heat from one of my friends for my recent Passover article. I also had someone leave a very intelligent comment about it. So herein is where I address both of them and put to rest any thoughts that might center around South Park. Let me address the comment first. Here it is in full:

It’s always interesting to me to step into the moccasins of another person and view life from a perspective different from my own. Religious holidays of any faith possess attributes that most likely package a people’s wonder and sense of inclusion in a universe outside of the mundane. I don’t know your religious or cultural heritage, and thus am unfamiliar with how (or if) you celebrate specific holidays other than my own. My own? I enjoy interacting with the world through a Jewish lens. Judaism is my religion of birth and choice, and the richness of its traditions binds me to a disparate group of people bridging time and geographic location. I would respectfully invite you to visit a blog entry I posted that may let you peek beneath the proverbial Jewish “tent” to give you a taste of Passover’s attraction as one of many people’s favorite holidays. (I have enjoyed sharing my tradition with people of many backgrounds, religions and ethnicities at my own Seder table over the years.). More than your brush with supermarket displays, and other questions you’ve presented, consider the following…the story of the Exodus is one of the longest running tales passed from generation to generation by a people who have withstood millennia of persecution and expulsion from Egypt to Spain, to Hitler’s Final Solution. Yet, this people – these twelve tribes – have survived against all odds, not only existing today, but making contributions to the worlds of science, art, literature, philosophy and humanity. History? Metaphor? Religion? Choose whichever, but know that over anything it is a TRADITION of a people. Happy Easter, Passover, and/or any other tradition that brings YOU joy.

I dispute the notion that religion can be a part of anyone’s birth, but ignoring that, I can understand the point the author is making. I think it boils down to “almost all group traditions look silly or odd to those outside that group,” which is clearly true. Just imagine what someone who knows nothing about football, or sports in general, would think about the Superbowl, or what someone who isn’t a Mason would think of the Mason’s initiation rites. Or to bring it a little closer to home for me, what someone who has no interest in Doctor Who would think of the annual Gallifrey geek-fest.

I can understand that, and I can appreciate the long, unbroken train of tradition that goes back thousands of years and has survived a great deal of difficulty over the centuries. But that said, I still don’t get the whole point of celebrating something that we basically know never happened. The Jews weren’t slaves in Egypt. The Exodus didn’t occur. The great plagues never happened. There wasn’t anyone wandering 40 years in the desert. We know these things are part of Jewish mythology but not something that happened in actual history. To me that makes them something not really worth celebrating. To me it would be like celebrating George Washington’s Cherry Tree Day, a commemoration of the day he told the truth about chopping down a tree.

But, hey, like with anything that’s basically harmless to the larger world, if it makes you happy, do it. I would never tell someone who is Jewish not to celebrate Passover or that they shouldn’t. They can if they want. And I can find it baffling, confusing and a bit silly.

Now onto the comments from my friend. I won’t reprint them here, but basically they boiled down to him finding me smug and ignorant. I don’t detect either of those, but smugness is subjective, so ok, I can’t really refute that. But ignorant? No. Not at all.

In Exodus the following events happen:

God tells Moses to go tell Pharaoh to free the Jews from slavery or else God will punish Pharaoh. Please note that God doesn’t want them to be freed; he just wants them to serve him instead of Pharaoh and promises all sorts of nastiness if this doesn’t happen. (Exodus 8:1 – 8:4)

After the plague of frogs, which is horribly mean to the frogs, Pharaoh decides to let the Jews leave. Then, in what is possibly one of the most unfair moves in the Bible, God forces Pharaoh to change his mind and then punishes him for doing so. Let that sink in for a bit. This is like your boss telling you to get a project done by a certain time, and then changing your passwords so you can’t access the files you need to get it done, then firing you for failing to do your job. This isn’t logical and I don’t see it as anything to celebrate. If anything, this indicates that God is a petty, evil, vindictive bastard and not worthy of worship.

Several more plagues happen and several more times Pharaoh is willing to give in, but God won’t allow this and punishes him for not giving in. In time, we get to the final plague and the various first born children are killed. Killed by God and the reason he gives for this and all his other punishments is that it’s designed to make himself look more mighty. God’s own reason for this is to make everyone amazed at how impressed he is. I didn’t make this up, and I’m certainly not ignorant on the subject. God himself says this is why he does what he does.

You can call out my article on Passover for many things, but I know what I’m talking about. I’ve read Exodus and blogged about these events. So smug I may be, but ignorant I certainly am not.

Finally, South Park, which back last week broadcast an episode called “Jewpacabra“. It was very funny, which is quite unusual for the show. In that episode, Cartman makes all the exact same observations I made. It’s worth noting that I didn’t see the episode until just a day or two ago, so it was after I wrote my article. Nice bit of dovetailing, though.

Ultimately, believe what you want to. But understand that the Passover story, like basically everything involving religion, has no basis in history and lacks even the tiniest bit of evidence. In the special case of the Passover story, it’s also worth understanding that God, throughout it, acts like an evil monster who lacks even the tiniest bit of sanity. This is not a being to be loved and worshiped; it is a being to be run away from very, very fast.


Badger’s Bible Project – Ruth

Yes, kids, for the first time we get an entire book of the Bible in one post! How exciting! Of course the entire “book” is only three pages, but there you are.

I will say at the outset that this book surprised me. There’s no god, there’s no angels, there’s no genocide, there’s no smiting. There’s just a lonely, middle-aged woman and her daughter-in-law trying to make a life for themselves, and that’s far more interesting, inspiring and heartwarming than anything I’ve read so far (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much).

We begin with Naomi, a woman who lives in Moab. She’s married and has two adult sons (Mahlon and Chillion), who have married women named Ruth and Oprah. So, apparently the divine Ms. O is older than we’d all suspected. Anyhow, Naomi’s husband dies (Ruth 1:3), and then this:

“Then both Mahlon and Chillion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband” – Ruth 1:5

How unpleasant, and though that’s not something most of us have experienced, I think we can all empathize. What a horrible thing that must be to go through, especially since, as there’s no mention of grandchildren, the sons probably died fairly young. From what I can piece together from my somewhat fragmentary knowledge of ancient Jewish marriages, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the sons were in their mid-teens at the time of their deaths, which would be really horrible for their mother.

So Naomi, having lost her two children and her husband, now decides it’s time to leave Moab and return home. She still has her dead sons’ widows hanging around, and doesn’t want them to feel obligated, so she tells Ruth and Oprah that they are welcome to get on with their lives. Oprah agrees, but Ruth doesn’t.

“But Ruth said:
‘Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your god, my god.
Where you die, I will die,
And there be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.'” – Ruth 1:16 – 17

Well, it’s a bit emo and a bit co-dependent, but frankly it’s also kind of lovely. It seems like it’s Ruth saying that she’s with Naomi through thick or thin, even if it means living in a strange land, with new people and worshiping a new god. But is there something else? I don’t know about you, but my third thought upon reading this was, “Lesbians!” Turns out I’m not the only one. I doubt this is meant to be the case. I think it’s just the sort of weird, flowery language of ancient Hebrew by way of Greek and early modern English, but I won’t say it’s outside the realm of possibility. Of course for this to be an accurate view, you have to overlook Ruth spending much of the rest of the book falling in love with a man.

Anyhow, Naomi and Ruth arrive back at Naomi’s hometown where people are pleased to see her, but she seems understandably bitter.

“But she said to them, ‘Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
“‘I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?'” – Ruth 1:20 – 21

Couple of things here. First off, according to my Bible, the name “Mara” means “bitter”, which was a surprise since I thought it meant “unconvincing snake thing“. Second, yeah, I bet she’s bitter! Her husband and sons are both dead, and she’s too old to have any more (Ruth 1:11). I can well understand her bitterness.

Anyhow, it seems that they arrived at her hometown, Bethlehem, just in time for the local barely harvest. Ruth heads out to glean some of the heads of grain from the fields owned by a man named Boaz. He sees her working, and seems quite taken by her, though he starts by referring to her as “my daughter” (Ruth 2:8), which is kind of creepy given what happens later. I assume it’s just a reasonably subtle way of showing that he’s quite a bit older than she is.

He then starts being nice to her, and she’s confused about this, and asks him why.

“And Boaz answered and said to her, ‘It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before.
“‘The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given to you by the lord god of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.'” – Ruth 2:11 – 12

Now that’s something that I like. He recognizes that he’s standing before a good and decent woman who made real sacrifices to care for someone who wasn’t a part of her blood family. I like that. I like that a lot.

Ruth likes it, too, and seems to be developing an interesting Boaz, who then does this:

“And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, ‘Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.
“‘Also let grain from the bunches fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.'” – Ruth 2:15 – 16

So everyone seems happy at this state of affairs, including Naomi, who is very aware that Boaz, who is a relative of hers (Ruth 2:20), might be helpful to them in restoring some stability. She actively encourages Ruth to pursue him, saying:

“‘Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor: but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.
“‘Then it shall be, when he lies down, taht you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.'” – Ruth 3:3 – 4

Ruth does this, and Boaz seems quite taken by her behavior. He even makes it clear to all and sundry that in fact nothing happened between them. I kind of like that idea. I find the notion of preserving a woman’s virtue to be very quaint and not out of place here.

Things kind of go from there. Boaz wants to marry her, but knows there’s someone else ahead of him (according to the law), who gets first dibs. He sorts this out by making the other man an offer he won’t accept and then the other man makes Boaz an offer he can’t refuse. The two marry and, unusually for a Bible story, everyone lives happily ever after.

I found that this Bible story was quite decent and enjoyable, once I got past the dense language. At it’s heart it’s about family and love and that’s something that hasn’t generally existed in the Bible in a positive way. It’s also interesting to see that Ruth was able to be accepted as a convert to Judaism, because it’s my understand that that sort of thing was fairly rare back in the day and can cause problems even now.

We end the book on the birth of child to Ruth and Boaz; a child that Naomi helps mother like he was her own.

“Also the neighbor woman gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” – Ruth 4:17

Hmmm…Is that perhaps the David, of whom even I, an atheist, have heard? Perhaps. Tune in next time for the first part of the First Book of Samuel, the first Biblical book to have an official sequel!

Badger’s Bible Project – Judges 13:1 – 21:25

Well, yeah. It’s been a while. But good things are worth waiting for, right? Let’s finish up Judges with the story of one of the Bible’s really big-time low-watt bulbs, Samson. Let’s begin at the beginning.

“Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord…” – Judges 13:1

So, Tuesday. It doesn’t specify, from what I can tell, exactly what they did, but it was probably something awful. Then again, given how incredibly evil God is in this book, it’s entirely possible someone sneezed on the Sabbath or something.

Anyhow, it seems that there’s this barren woman who wants to have a baby. An angel comes to her and tells her to expect one soon and to forgo wine during the time she’s pregnant. He also tells her that when the baby boy is born, she should make sure to never cut his hair. Then as he’s leaving, people ask him his name.

“And the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?'” – Judges 13:18

Oh, goodie. The Bible is back to not making any sense. I think this is some reference to the stupid concept that names have power, but I’m not absolutely certain. It’s also just a bizarre way of phrasing things.

Anyhow, Samson is born and proves to be…well, many things, but heroic isn’t one of them. Let’s start with his fascination for foreign women, something God has been against.

“So he went up and told his father and mother saying, ‘I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now, therefore, get her for me as a wife.’
“Then his father and mother said to him, ‘Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ And Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she pleases me well.'” – Judges 14:2 – 3

I love the flow of logic here. “I have seen this woman, therefore get her to marry me.” Charming. I also find the whole, “What, you’re too good to marry a nice Jewish girl?” thing to be vaguely amusing.

Not Samson, but would you have believed it if I told you it was?

Things get weird from here. First, while on the way to the wedding, Samson kills a lion with his bare hands. Shades of Heracles, there, which really makes me wonder which story came first. I understand there’s also some overlap with the story of Enkidu, which certainly predates much of the Bible. This is just a guess, but I do find myself wondering if the Jews picked up in that story while in Babylon and that’s how Samson came to be? An influence is certainly possible, and I’m not alone in thinking this.

Anyhow, Samson decides to try and show that he’s smart in addition to strong, and tells a riddle to some of the wedding guests. They spend several days agonizing over it, then finally threaten to kill his wife if she doesn’t find out what the answer is. She finds out, passes it on to them, they solve it, he thinks they screwed his wife in order to get the information (’cause women are totally like that), and then kills thirty people. Charming.

This leads to a series of back-and-forth retaliations, where Samson does something, the other side does something (including a bizarre scene where he ties burning branches to the tails of three-hundred foxes so they will set things afire for him. Something I swear I read about in Greek mythology), and bodies pile up. Eventually Samson takes the jawbone of the donkey and uses it to kill a thousand men. Sturdy bone, that. Also, I imagine that would be very thirsty work, especially in a desert climate.

“Then [Samson] became very thirsty…” – Judges 15:18


Samson has ditched his old wife and has a new one. But, well, men are men, and he winds up sleeping with a woman named Delilah. The Philistines are very pleased about this and set her upon a task: find out the source of Samson’s strength.

“So Delilah said to Samson, ‘Please tell me where your great strength lies, and with what you may be bound to afflict you.'” – Judges 16:6

Ah, well, naturally if I were Samson I’d be suspicious of this request and lie, just to see what happens next. Indeed, that’s what he does.

“And Samson said to her, ‘If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried, then I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
“So the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried, and she bound him with them.
“Now men were lying in wait, staying with her in the room. And she said to him, ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he broke the bowstrings as a strand of yarn breaks when it touches fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.” – Judges 16:7 – 9

Well, Delilah is clearly screwed. Given what we’ve seen of Samson so far, it’s logical to assume he kills her, then wipes out her entire nation. Strangely, this is not what happens. From what I can tell, he doesn’t punish her at all.

“Then Delilah said to Samson, ‘Look, you have mocked me and told me lies. Now, please tell me what you may be bound with.’
“So he said to her, ‘If they bind me securely with new ropes that have never been used, then I shall become weak, and be like any other man.’
“Therefore Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them, then said to him, ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And men were lying in wait, staying in the room. But he broke them off his arms like a thread.” – Judges 16:10 – 12

Ok, I think I’ve figured out his little game. Clearly Samson is aware that she’s trying to betray him and is having fun pretending he doesn’t know. Bit of a dick move, but ok. Let’s see what happens next.

“Delilah said to Samson, ‘Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me what you may be bound with.’ And he said to her, ‘If you weave the locks of my head into the web of the loom-‘
“So she wove it tightly with the batten of the loom, and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep, and pulled the batten out of the web from the loom.” – Judges 16:13 – 14

Wow. Delilah is either really persistent or really stupid. Either way, she must be great fun in the sack, or I don’t see why Samson would continue to hang around with her. I also find it odd that at no point does it mention him killing the men who were lying in wait for him.

Anyhow, Delilah decides to give it one last try.

“Then she said to him, ‘How can you say, “I love you,” when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and have not told me where your great strength lies.’
“And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, that his soul was vexed to death,
“that he told her all his heart, and said to her, ‘No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall be weak, like any other man.” – Judges 16:15 – 18

Wow. Just…wow. I’m really confused here. Let’s consider this:

1. Samson knows Delilah is out to betray him to the Philistines
2. He gets great amusement from telling her lies about his powers, and her efforts to remove them
3. After she bugs him enough, he finally tells her the truth

The only way this makes sense to me is if he doesn’t put two and two together, and thinks that all these nightly attacks are a sheer coincidence. But if that’s the case, he’s possibly the stupidest man who ever lived.

Anyhow, not surprisingly, Delilah gives Samson a shave and a haircut (two shekels!), and the Philistines come along, blind him, tie him up and great ready to sacrifice him to their god, Dagon. But then they delay and delay, and his hair has time to grow back. In the end, he winds up bringing down their temple on top of himself and everyone else, killing three-thousand people. Thus ends the story of Samson.

I know this sounds like me being snarky, but seriously, nothing about Samson or his story makes any sense. Why did he not kill Delilah, or at least send her away, after the first attack? Why did he keep stringing her along? Was she that great in bed? If so, couldn’t he find someone else who would be at least close to as good but wouldn’t try to betray him on a nightly basis? Failing all that, when she starts nagging him daily, why didn’t he just send her away then? And finally, why the fuck did he finally tell her what his weakness was? I could understand this story if it were some sort of parable against hubris (careful, Icarus), or some exhalation to keep it in your tunic, but there’s no clear moral here that I can get at all.

I had been under the vague impression, before reading this, that the story was about Delilah the crafty woman who is able to seduce men to her will. But frankly she’s just about as stupid as Samson, and there’s nothing clever in a: asking straight out three times, and b: then whining until you get the right answers.

Samson doesn’t even seem like some hero to God. He marries outside the faith, and the only time he seems interested in God is when he wants to kill everyone else in the temple before they kill him. There is nothing good, decent or admirable about this man and I truly do not understand the point of him or his story.

The rest of the book seems to concern some weird little thing about Micah and some temple to other gods, and then we get an odd story about a Levite and his concubine. It seems that while they’re visiting a neighboring town, something very unpleasant happens.

“As they were enjoying themselves, suddenly certain men of the city, perverted men, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house, that we may know him carnally!’
“But the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my brethren! I beg you, do not act so wickedly! Seeing this man has come into my house, do not commit this outrage.
“‘Look, here’s is my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine; let me bring them out now. Humble them, and do with them as you please; but to the man do not do such a vile thing!’
“But the men would not heed him. So the man took his concubine and brought her out to them. And they knew her and abused her all the night until morning; and when the day began to break, they let her go.” – Judges 19:22 – 25

Well, wow. Shades of Sodom and Gomorrah, eh? I can conclude from these stories that apparently gangs of men were prowling the Levant looking for people to rape back in the day, and that throwing your virgin daughter to them was a good, noble idea.

Things get worse from there. It turns out the concubine dies from her injuries, and the man cuts her body into twelve parts, then sends them out through the territory. This naturally leads to a war, where it turns out southpaws are special.

“Among all his people were seven hundred select men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss.” – Judges 20:16

Nice! It seems like being left-handed was, for some reason, something good when you’re trying to use a sling. I have no idea why this would be the case, but that’s quite neat. Of course, it doesn’t explain why, through the centuries, being left-handed was regarded as a terrible, horrible, evil thing that needed to be beaten out of children. Perhaps a Catholic can explain this to me?

That’s largely it for the book. There’s some bits about the war, but nothing terribly interesting. Frankly, Judges peaks with the story of Samson and goes downhill from there. And I still don’t get why he’s in the story as anything other than a villain.

Next time, the book of Ruth! Yes, a book about a woman. I’ve no doubt this won’t be blood soaked or unpleasant in any way.

Yet More Religious Evil

You may have heard about a story recently where a little girl in the Middle East was on her way to school and a bunch of religious extremists, who make up a whopping 10% of the population of this girl’s country, attacked her verbally, spit on her, called her a whore, etc. Why? Well, she was wearing short sleeves. These are the same fanatics who believe there should be separate sidewalks for males and females. This isn’t even just confined to their country. No, these wackaloons have managed to export their insanity to the United States and have basically taken over a town in New York.

I really have nothing to say about this, beyond the fact that if your religious beliefs allow you to think that it’s ok to call little girls whores because they are wearing short sleeves, then you and your religious beliefs are fucked-up beyond all sanity.

Badger’s Bible Project – Judges 9:1 – 12:15

Well, I bet you thought you’d never see one of these again! What can I say? I spent the day working on my Judaism homework for my religions class and got inspired. So here we are. And for the record, the hard part of these is not writing. It’s actually having to read the Bible, the worst, most obnoxious book I’ve ever read, and I’ve read Anthem.

This portion of Judges begins with the rise of Abimelech. Now he’s an unsavory character who decides he wants to take the throne. He does this by wading through the sort of rivers of blood we’ve come to expect from the Bible. He kills all of his brothers (seventy of them), bar one, a fellow named Jotham who is able to hide from the wrath of Abimelech. He tries to warn the people that supporting Abimelech is a somewhat bad idea. They ignore him and make Abimelech king.

Abimelech is clearly a wicked, evil man. Naturally God won’t allow him to remain on the throne that represents his kingdom on Earth, no sir! This is a man who killed his own family to get to the top. If this were a crappy fantasy novel he’d be known as Abimelech Kinslayer, or something equally pretentious and stupid. So of course God doesn’t want this man ruling and decides to do something about it right quick!

“After Abimelech had reigned over Israel for three years…” – Judges 9:22

Ok, so perhaps God’s eye was on the sparrow at the time.

Anyhow, God finally acts against Abimelech and of course a war ensues. Naturally. Abimelech behaves like you’d expect. He goes around raping and pillaging, slaughtering civilians and butchering entire populations. That shows he a bad guy. Unlike, say, Joshua who went around raping and pillaging, slaughtering civilians and butchering entire populations but did so because God wanted him to. That’s how you know he was moral!

He's not quite dead!

Eventually a woman fatally wounds Abimelech who has one of his toadies off him so that no one will say he was killed by a woman. Which of course everyone does. Whatever. Anyhow, here’s the moral we’re supposed to learn from this:

“Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers.” – Judges 9:56

Excuse me? Excuse me?! God repays this wickedness by allowing this man to be on the throne for three years, then lets him go on a killing rampage through the Levant, and this is is some sort of punishment against Abimelech?! I’m very confused here. Surely this would be more of a punishment against the several thousand people he had killed? That also ignores the fact that the sin Abimelech committed wasn’t against the people or against his seventy brothers, but rather against Abimelech’s father. Gotta love Bible morality.

Anyhow, moving on we come to a jolly story about a fellow named Jephthah. Yeah, there’s a name that doesn’t have it’s teeth in. He’s born of a harlot, from what I can tell, l but goes on to great things, eventually becoming a great military leader. At one point he decides to make a promise to assure victory for his side.

“And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If you will indeed deliver the peoples of Ammon into my hands,
“then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” – Judges 11:30 – 31

Well, there’s no way that could possibly backfire. So let’s see what happens, shall we?, when Mr J comes back home.

Jephthah, about to have a very awkward conversation.

“When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timberells and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her had neither son nor daughter.
“And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it!'” – Judges 11:34 – 35

Well, what the hell was this idiot expecting? Was he keeping chickens in his house, and expecting one of those to come out joyously greeting him? Cows, maybe? Most likely he had slaves, and perhaps expected one of them to come running to say hello, which is a pretty grim thought all on its own. Instead out comes his only child and his reaction is not, “Oh, crap! You have to die, you poor child! My heart weeps for you!” Instead its “Well, my life sucks!” What a prick. A stupid, bloodthirsty, prick.

As for his daughter? Well, her reaction is interesting.

“So she said to him, ‘My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.’
“Then she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me; let me wander alone for two months, that I might go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.’
“So he said, ‘Go.’ And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.” – Judges 11:36 – 38

“Bewailed her virginity”?! What the fuck?! Her own father is about to butcher her for God and her first thought is, “Well, I guess I’m not going to be getting laid now.” I mean, look, I like sex an awful lot, but I think in that case my least reaction would be “I don’t want to die a virgin”. I think it would be “A two month head start? Hot damn! How far is it to China?” And seriously, if I was that concerned that I wasn’t going to get laid, I’d find the nearest Israelite shepherd boy and take him to the Promised Land. It reminds me of something Pauline Kael once wrote about the potential virgin sacrifice in Dragonslayer, where she wondered why the young maiden in question didn’t work with the hero to get herself disqualified on technical grounds.

But this girl is apparently as stupid as her father, for rather than fucking the nearest shepherd boy and making for China, she instead goes back home to be murdered. Possibly she’s hoping that God will pull a divine “You been punk’d!” as he did with Abraham and Isaac. If so, she’s seriously out of luck as he father lives up to his promise and murders her for God.

Well, how delightful.

This raises the question of exactly why God let him go through with it. Perhaps God wanted to teach Jephthah a lesson about making unwise promises? Perhaps he really wanted the girl dead? Perhaps he just didn’t care? No matter what his reason, the fact that he let it happen adds further evidence to the fact that, as far as fictional characters go, God is about one of the most evil there is, especially since he knew what Mr J would see upon returning home (omniscient, remember?). But he let it happen anyhow. What a charmer.

But lest you think we’re done with Jephthah, think again. He goes back on the road, killing as he goes. Eventually he runs afoul of a group called the Ephramites. When they try to escape from him he sets up a simple little trap. Anyone who can successfully say the word “Shibboleth” is clearly not an Ephramite, as they pronounce it as “Sibboleth”. Indeed. Now it could just be me, but let’s say I’m an Ephramite and I see my friends going forth and trying to say “Shibboleth” and screwing it up. I think I’d spend the next several days learning how to make the “sh” sound. Maybe some of them do that and get through, but most of them don’t. How many?

Forty-two thousand.

Careless talk may indeed cost lives, but it’s pretty clear that even a basic speech impediment, while it might make for great cinema, can be fatal as well.

Next time! We finish up this horrible book with the story of the Bible’s biggest moron, Samson!

Badger’s Bible Project – Judges 6:1 – 8:35

Yes, yes. I know it’s been about six months since the last time I wrote one of these. Here’s the problem: writing about the Bible requires reading the Bible. I’m a decent, caring, and above all moral individual. Reading a book that runs completely counter to all those things and having the book and people who read it tell me that’s how the world should be, is a horrible thing. It’s very draining and very hard to do. Nevertheless, I have committed to doing it and will continue to do so, even if I don’t do it as often as some people might like.

That said, on with the show!

We catch up to the story with the arrival of Gideon, the next one of the great judges of the Bible. He’s introduced in chapter six, which begins with what we’ve all come to expect:

The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord… – Judges 6:1

Yep, big shock there. Yet again the Jews are falling away from God. This seems to be the default state of existence for them in the Bible.

Gideon, in a rare non-blood-soaked moment.

Anyhow, the Israelites are being oppressed. God decides it’s time to act, so he sends an angel to chat with a fellow named Gideon (a man who will leave his mark on the world). The angel gives the usual, “The Force Lord is strong with you!”, but Gideon ain’t having with that.

Gideon said to him, “O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” – Judges 6:13

Seems logical to me. The angel’s reply basically boils down to, “Look, trust me, dude.” Gideon argues a bit more and then decides to put God to the test, asking for a sign that shows it’s really God who wants him to do things (6:17). Now it could just be me, but if an angel turns up and starts saying, “Yo, God wants you to do rizzle in the hizzle,” I’m going to assume the angel was actually sent by God. I mean, were there an overabundance of angels going around working for other gods, or pranking people by saying, “Hey, God wants you to do a mission for him… just kidding!” The skepticism on the part of Gideon is understandable to a point, but he carries it way too far.

Anyhow, God passes Gideon’s little test, which is some weird cook-off type of deal (a precursor to Iron Chef: Kosher Edition perhaps). Gideon is so impressed he builds an altar in the area where it happened and in what I can only assume is a moment of severe irony calls it “The Lord is Peace” (6:21). Yes, apparently that’s a place name. It’s fun when names get translated into English, isn’t it? One of my friends likes to mock San Salvador in El Salvador, pointing out that when being talked about in English, we should refer to it as “Saint Savior, the Savior”.

The next thing Gideon does to verify God’s really on the level with him is some weird test involving wool and dew (6:37). God pass with flying colors and Gideon appears to accept things are as he’s told they are. That squared away, we move on to the slaughter, but not without another very weird scene where our hero tries to decide which people are going to go with him to fight against the enemy.

So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with this tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself: likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” – Judges 75

What. The. Hell? So basically if you cup water into your palm and drink it down like, you know, normal people, you don’t get to go to war. But if you get down like a dog and have a drink you do? This is very confusing. It’s made even more confusing by the fact that apparently there’s different translations of this. In one version people who drink like dogs go to fight and in another people who don’t go to fight. It doesn’t make any sense either way, and one would think the Bible could come up with a better way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Regardless of how the men get picked, we still end up with 300 who go off to fight an enemy. Presumably Xerxes. The enemy is, of course, beaten soundly through cunning tactics and sound military leadership. Actually, I tell a lie. It’s done by blowing trumpets and shouting.

Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitches, and torches inside the pitchers.
And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do.
“When I blow the trumpet, I all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole campe and say, ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!'” – Judges 7:16 – 18

Shades of Jericho, what? I’m very confused by this. I suppose this is supposed to represent the hand of God at work, but why doesn’t God just reach down and level the city, smoting them mightily? Why have Gideon and his Merry Troubadours do the music thing? Oh, well. Either way the city falls and therein is a great wailing and gnashing of teeth as the people of the city are killed. Their leaders, however, escape and Gideon and his men set off in hot pursuit. Soon they find their chase stopped by the leaders of Succoth, an Israelite city, who want no part of his insanity and refuse to give food to him and his army.

So Gideon said, “For this cause, when the Lord has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tea your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!” – Judges 8:7

Basically, “You fucks! Once I’m done with these other guys, I’m returning for you!” Lovely. Great sense of diplomacy. This is why the Bible is not called, “The Holy Bible: How to Make Friends and Influence People”. Not surprisingly he lives up to his threat and once he’s offed the bad guys comes back to kill his neighbors. Nice!

Next we come to a really creepy scene where Gideon wants his oldest son, Jether, to kill a prisoner.

And he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the youth would not draw his sword; for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. – Judges 8:20

A couple years back I saw a video. It was probably shot in the hills of Afghanistan and it featured a smiling, dimple-cheeked boy of about twelve. Lots of older men were around him and it had a rather festive air of some sort of initiation rite. Turned out that was exactly the case, as the boy was brought to a man who was tied down the ground and struggling. Following instructions the boy took a knife and sawed the man’s head off. All the men cheered as the boy held aloft the head of the man he’d just brutally murdered. You can read about it here, and some basic searching will turn up stills and the actual video itself. Now I’d thought this was some sort of weird extremist Muslim thing. Nope, turns out they’re just reenacting what they thought the outcome of this Bible story should’ve been. Talk about your Children’s Crusade. Hey, Sunday school teachers! Share this one with your class!

Moving along we find that Jether was just the first of seventy sons that Gideon had by seventy wives (8:30). I could be wrong here, but I seem to remember that to the ancients of the Levant seventy was a mystical number, which would explain this oddness. And then finally we get a preview of upcoming events that seems strangely similar to what’s gone before…

Thus the children of Israel did not remembrance the Lord their god, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side… – Judges 8:34

File this one under “trouble ahead”.

Next time see what happens when you have a hereditary monarchy and seventy sons vying for the crown! Also, meet the world’s most famous barber, Delilah!

Badger’s Bible Project – Judges 1:1 – 5:31

Welcome to the next part of my Bible Project, covering the first few chapters of Judges!

This is an odd book so far. It introduces the concept of the judges, features a couple Tarantino-style scenes and brings us lots more appalling behavior on the part of God and the so-called “good” people of the Bible.

The book begins in the aftermath of the genocidal campaign waged by Joshua against the Canaanites. He didn’t finish the job, so it’s up to Judah to lead the charge against the perfectly innocent, blameless civilian populations of Canaan who made the mistake of worshiping the wrong god. I wonder if he’ll show more restraint than Joshua?

And Judah went with his brother Simeon, and they attacked the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah. – Judges 1:17

Guh. I wish that surprised me. Also, for those of you who, like me, missed the first time the word “Hormah” was used (Numbers 21:2 – 3), you’ll be pleased to know that it means oh, all sorts of bad things.

Now we come to one of the stranger parts of the Bible so far.

This image and more available at! Seriously!

So the Lord was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:19

I wrote an entire blog article about this verse back when I first started this site. It’s a weird verse no matter how you slice it. It says that the army of God was defeated because the enemy had iron chariots. So, what, God can’t overcome iron?

Even now, almost two years after I wrote that article, I still don’t get it. Like I said in my article, it’s clearly a case where the Jews, who were probably using bronze weapons, were outmatched by an enemy who knew how to forge iron. Fine and dandy. They faced someone who had better weapons than they did and lost. That makes sense from a military angle.

But it doesn’t make sense from a theological angle. Is God omnipotent? Then his army should’ve walked past the chariots without any problem. Is God the only god? Then no one should be able to outmatch him or do anything to impede his will, right?

There’s one explanation that makes sense in many ways which is that God isn’t the only god around. That perhaps Baal and some of the other gods mentioned in the Bible were real and not just false gods.

Speaking of other gods…

Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gigal to Bochm, and said, “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you.
‘And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. Why have you done this?
“Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you. – Judges 2:1 – 3

Wow, the Israelites have fallen away from God. Again. Water is wet, rocks are hard… yeah.

Anyhow, it sounds as though the Jews have started practicing some form of religious tolerance by not tearing down the altars in the lands they’ve invaded. God doesn’t cotton much to this and so he says, “From now on, you’re on your own when attacking the enemy! Have fun!”

I must say, I really don’t understand why the Jews would be falling away from God so much. He’s not exactly the god of nothing at this point in the story. He’s up and wandering around a lot, showing off actual miracles, dispatching angels, etc. One would think people wouldn’t need to believe, they’d just know he exists because they’d see direct evidence. Once they know that, why would they ever follow any other gods?

But apparently that’s exactly what some of the Jews began to do, converting over to the Canaanite faith and worshiping other gods.

Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals;
and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them, and they provoked the Lord to anger.
They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel. So he delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and he sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. – Judges 2:11 – 14

Ok, so. Let’s make sure I understand this. Some of the Israelites started to worship other gods. It doesn’t say that they aren’t still worshiping God, but it does make it clear they’ve started to worship Baal (a Canaanite god or various other things, depending) and Ashtoreth (a Canaanite goddess known to many as Astarte). Please note: the Bible doesn’t say at this point that Baal and Ashtoreth aren’t legitimate gods, they just aren’t the God of the Bible.

Which brings us to another point. Which god is God? I’m currently reading The Evolution of God and I’m at a part where the author is talking about El and Yahweh, two Canaanite deities who some believe were later merged together to form what the Bible describes as God, and a god that even features elements of Baal. The author also expresses the notion that, far from being outside invaders, the early Jews were, in fact, Canaanites themselves, but ones from a different group from other Canaanites.

From a historical standpoint, this makes a great deal of sense to me. We know there’s no record of the Jews having been slaves in Egypt. We also know there’s no historical record of the Exodus. So the idea that the early Israelites might’ve just been displaced Canaanites makes quite a bit of sense.

Anyhow, this is an issue worthy of its own blog article, so I’ll have to write up one later. For now, moving on!

Next we come to a bit where God makes it plain that he’s done doing favors for the Israelites.

Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and he said, “Because this nation has transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded my voice,
“I will also no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died,
“so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord to talk in them as their fathers kept them, or not. – Judges 2:20 – 22

Here this seems to be an explanation for why bad things are happening to people. It’s because God got pissy, threw a tantrum and stormed off, leaving the Israelites to their fate. Theodicy, I suppose. Of course it could also just be a retcon by the Jews of the time to explain why suddenly they were having setbacks.

Bad things happen to the Israelites and the next thing you know, they’re under the thumb of Eglon, king of the Moabites. This leads to a great wailing and gnashing of the teeth by the Jews, so God raises up a Judge to go deal with the problem.

Judges, from what I can tell, are not judges in the legal sense, but rather they are more like generals, or the sort of Judges one might’ve seen in Final Fantasy XII. They seem to basically be generals mixed in with priests.

The Judge that God sends to deal with Elgon is a chap named Ehud who is, among other things, left-handed. Go, southpaws!

So God dispatches Ehud and brings the Bible a vaguely Tarantino moment.

So Ehud came to [Elgon] (now he was sitting upstairs in his cool private chamber). Then Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” So he arose from his seat.
Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.
Even the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out. – Judges 3:20 – 22

Well. Uhm. Yeah. Almost like, “Don Corleone has a message for you,” eh? I mean, yipe! The Bible is seldom this gruesome or, it must be said, this interesting, though I notice we’re still torturing grammar. When “he” and “his” are used up there, it is sometimes unclear as to who is being talked about; the king or Ehud.

Anyhow, Ehud makes his escape.

Then Ehud went out through the porch and shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
When he had gone out, Elgon’s servants came to look, and to their surprise, the doors of the upper room were locked. So they said, “He is probably attending to his needs in the cool chamber.”
So they waited until they were embarrassed and still he had not opened the doors of the upper room. Therefore the took the key and opened them. And there was their master, fallen dead on the floor. – Judges 3:23 – 25

Goodness. Sounds rather like how Catherine the Great had died. She suffered from a stroke while sitting on the toilet and her servants dallied around for quite some time before going in to check on her. Messy.

Now we come to the story of Deborah and Barak. Deborah was one of the Judges, and good on her for accomplishing that! Not too many women rose up to such positions, I am sure.

There’s also a story centering around the hunt for a general named Sisera. He commands the army of Jabin, an enemy of Israel. Deborah sends Barak and some others off to battle with hopes of finding and killing Sisera. This works less-well than they had hoped and Sisera gets away.

Or does he?

However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Herber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Herber the Kanite.
And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket.
Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened up a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him.
And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say, ‘No.'” – Judges 4:17 – 20

Hmmm. Well, ok, maybe he did get away clean. He found a friendly woman who is hiding him and giving him milk, though he requested water. That seems a little odd. Actually, something about the whole scene seems a bit odd. Let’s push on and see what happens next.

Then Jael, Herber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
And then, as Barak perused Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man whom you seek.” And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple. – Judges 4:21 – 22

… holy crap. I mean, wow. That’s even worse than Ehud offing the king. What a gruesome story! We can call her Jael the General Slayer.

Needless to say the Israelites wind up beating the crap out of the enemy and then we have something called the Song of Deborah and Barak and then that’s it for this part of the Bible.

So, thus far Judges is not impressing me. There’s still a lot of evil being carried out by the supposed good guys, and a lot of conquest and nastiness. Still, I gotta admit I like the quotable lines (“I have a message for you from God”, and “Come, I will show you the man whom you seek”). Plus the narrative is at least better than Joshua.

Next time on my Bible Project, we meet Gideon who proves that skepticism is alive and well in the Bronze Age!