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?
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!