My Mum's Ancient Family Bible

My Mum's Ancient Family Bible
Kept in the garage of all places for so many years, it's finally been put to good use.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Small Yet Intimate Massacre (Exodus 32)

While Moses is up on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights listening to God's demands for ostentatious furnishings, the people are getting restless. Where's God? We wanna worship him! He's not here. Gotta worship something!

Aaron spearheads the initiative to melt down the gold hoop earrings worn by mostly everybody ("Oh no, you did-n't) and fashion them into a golden calf. That makes sense. When Moses returns from the mountain and sees his people having a MASSIVE DANCE PARTY around this new idol, he is righteously pissed and smashes the tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written.

I'm sure his people get the point; they've been busted. But Moses is the kind of guy who likes to hammer home the point (just like God - no wonder they get along famously). So he burns the golden calf, grinds it into a fine powder, mixes it with water and makes everybody drink it! That is really mean. It sounds like something a disturbed mother with Munchausen syndrome by proxy would do.

Now here's the best part. Basically, Moses says something to the effect of, "If you're with us, you're against us". Some of his people (specifically, the sons of Levi) come over to his side and he tells them, "Put  every man his sword on his side, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour" (Exo 32:27). Kill everybody! And they do! They kill three thousand people! God will neither stand for this business with the golden calf nor for this DANCING.

This is ridiculous. Moses spent all that time and energy hauling their asses from Egypt just to slaughter the majority of them.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to Get into the Fat-Burning Zone During an Animal Sacrifice (Exodus 29-31)

God is not easy-going by any stretch of the imagination. He is as detail-oriented as a wedding planner and as exacting as Martha Stewart.

Exodus 29 consists of instructions on how to properly carry out an animal sacrifice. It's like a complicated French recipe. You've got to get a young bull and two unblemished rams (preferably hormone-free). You've got to throw their blood around like you're Jackson Pollock. You've got to separate the fat that covers their entrails. You've got to cut out their organs and cut their limbs into pieces. You've got to burn everything upon the altar. According to God, "it is a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the Lord" (Exo 29:18). I doubt that.

Exodus 30 is mostly about incense. God has in mind a delightful potpourri of the following: "...liquid myrrh... sweet-smelling cinnamon... aromatic cane... cassia... olive oil..." (Exo 30:23). I think my Mum uses the same stuff around Christmas time to make the house "welcoming," as she puts it. If it doesn't smell like that then I imagine it would smell like the entire contents of one of those stores you see in cheap malls that only sell knock-off perfume.

There's one really strict rule that comes out of Exodus 31: "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death" (Exo 31:15). Man, he is not kidding. This is one rule in the Bible that I really dig. It's so French (in France the sabbath is called "the entire month of August"). My only question is, is there a difference between sloth and rest? Hopefully not.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

They're All Going to Laugh at You (Exodus 24-28)

Wow. This was hard to get through.

So Moses has delivered to his people a slew of rules, some sensible, some just plain weird. Their response is to answer Moses in one voice, "All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exo 24:3). I wonder if they were playing that improv game "One Voice" and if they sounded accordingly drawn-out and slightly deaf. Fun to imagine.

In celebration, Moses decides to make a sacrifice to God. He takes the blood from the animal and throws half of it over the altar and the other half of it all over his people. Opah! This is right out of Carrie. His people must have been horrified. Why didn't everyone freak out? That's not normal. Not even for the Bible. One guy in the back probably muttered, "Just go with it," under his breath.

God calls Moses up to Mount Sinai again so he can give him the Ten Commandments in the form of stone tablets. Finally. He probably didn't want to commit them to stone until he was sure everyone was on board. It's hard to do rough drafts on stone. I hope Moses packed an overnight bag because God keeps him there on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (all-inclusive). In that amount of time he goes on and on about all this stuff he wants, like a fancy ark (see Raiders of the Lost Ark). There's an incredible amount of detail here and it's where my eyes began to glaze over. For example, he starts harping on some special lampstand he wants: "And you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its capitals, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it; and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almonds, each with capital and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almonds, each with capital and flower, on the other branch- so for the six branches going out of the lampstand..." (Exo 25:31-33). And it keeps going on like that for pages!

It's almost like God has a major Bridezilla moment. At first the bride's like, "Oh, it doesn't matter how things look, as long as all the people I love are there on my special day," and then she morphs into, "I want this and I want this and I want this and if everything's not perfect and exactly the way I want it then I'm going to decapitate someone".  I can just picture Moses holding a clipboard like an emotionally-battered maid of honour going "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Got it. Really? Okay. Yep. Got it".

It's so weird to me how ostentatious God wants everything to be. He even wants his priests to wear bedazzled breast plates. He calls them "breastpiece[s] of judgement". They're also supposed to wear long robes, turbans, and ephods (whatever those are). I would have gone to church more often as a teenager if the priests were made to look like Jake Gyllenhal in the Prince of Persia. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

An Eye for an Eye and Other Great Rules to Live By (Exodus 21-23)

After God drops the Ten Commandments on the Israelites he plunges into a expansive discourse on what's right and what's wrong. And a lot of it has to do with how to treat your slaves.

For example, if a Hebrew buys a Hebrew slave then that slave is to serve for six years and be set free when the seventh year rolls around. If, in that six years, the slave happens to acquire a wife and family then he can't expect them to go with him. That's asking to much. If he's sassy enough to ask for their freedom then, "his master shall bring him to the door of the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life" (Exo 21:6). So he gets his ear pierced. Just one?

Now the famous passage in which the "eye for an eye" rule is found has a much different context than I originally thought. Basically, it applies to anyone who does harm to a pregnant woman. It reads as follows: "When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Exo 21:22-24). This is all well and good, but if I were God, I'd probably start with the importance of giving up your seat on the bus to a pregnant lady or a possible pregnant lady who might just be apple-shaped.

I learned a new word in Exodus 22 - bloodguilt. I love this word. It describes the uh-oh feeling you get after you've killed or seriously hurt someone, unless you're a sociopath.

Exodus 22 outlines what happens if you deflower a virgin. Basically, you're supposed to buy the cow. If that's not what daddy wants then you just pay the equivalent of a dowry. Probably a couple of goats. Easy.

If you have sex with an animal then you're supposed to be put to death; however, if the animal happened to accept a small gift in the form of peanut butter then you're off the hook.

Exodus 23 has one really weird rule: "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk" (Exo 23:19). Would that even be appetizing? That is gross and gives me the same kind of gross feeling I get when I hear chickens are sometimes fed pieces of other chickens in factory farms. Gross.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Top Ten List (i.e., the Commandments) (Exodus 19-20)

The people of Israel are in the wilderness of Sinai near a huge mountain. God wants Moses to remind his people of all the cool stuff he's done for them so they can get on board with obeying him in everything: "You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself" (Exo 19:4). I don't remember anything about eagle rides. You made that one up, God. And the rest of it sounds like a threat.

Moses tells his people to clean up real nice because they're going to get a visit from God pretty soon. I guess it's kind of like the day before the big game becuase they're not supposed to have sex: "Be ready by the third day; do not go near a woman" (Exo 19:15). Fair enough.

They're not supposed to go near the mountain either. God makes Moses cordon it off like a crime scene. As if that wasn't enough, he encircles it with a ring of fire and tons of smoke. Overkill. Moses and his brother Aaron are allowed to come up so they can hear his new rules and pass them along to their people. These are the ten commandments, of course.

This scene is much duller than as depicted in the Charlton Heston movie. The ten commandents are dictated quite matter-of-factly to Moses and Aaron, like a business memo. They are:

1) Don't worship other gods
2) Don't worship little statues and trinkets
3) Don't use the name of the Lord in a swear
4) Don't do anything on the sabbath (does brunch count?)
5) Don't be shitty to your parents
6) Don't kill
7) Don't screw other people if you're married
8) Don't pinch stuff
9) Don't fib
10) Don't be jealous

The tenth commandment is pretty specific. You shouldn't be jealous of your neighbour's house, his hot wife, his "manservant" or "maidservant" (so... servants?), his ox, his ass, or - I think it's safe to say - his shapely, defined calves.

On top of all this, God wants an altar built for him so there can be sacrifices galore (so many sacrifices... the differences between Hebrews and Aztecs are rapidly diminishing for me). It's gotta be made of earth, preferably and - oh - no high steps leading up to it. God's worried about all his people flashing their junk to the people behind them in the line: "And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it" (Exo 20:26). This is before underwear.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink (Exodus 17-18)

The people are pissed. And rightly so. Moses has taken them on a lengthy march, forced them to watch an Egyptian genocide, and now has failed to supply them with drinking water. He obviously hasn't done much entertaining in his life. After all that spicy-sweet manna, I imagine that the people are parched. Moses is hot under the collar, worried that he's gonna get stoned.

Something that I quite like here is that the people are openly questioning of God. They ask Moses, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" (Exo 17:3). Fair question. So what does God do? He proves his existence. He gets Moses to rap on a stone with his rod and water comes gushing out. Magic. Too bad it doesn't work like that anymore.

I'd be lying if I said that I've paid rapt attention to every single word that I've read in the Bible thus far. That said, I'm pretty sure that I've never even heard of someone by the name of Amalek... ? Anyways, this random guy Amalek turns up and does battle with the people of Israel. Okay. This seems to be the equivalent of planting a car chase in the middle of a romantic comedy to ramp things up for the audience. Amalek eventually gets "mowed down" with a sword (Exo 17:13). This is a good thing.

Moses goes on a bit of a power trip. I guess it goes to his head that he's the "water guy". He starts budding into people's business and trying to settle their disputes, becoming a de facto judge and jury. He holds court for hours at a time (just like Tyra Banks). His father-in-law tells him, (in that blunt way that only an in-law can) "What you are doing is not good" (Exo 18:17). His father-in-law's name, by the way, is Jethro, a name which I'm sure is on the top ten baby names list for hipsters.

Monday, January 24, 2011

BaManna Bread (Exodus 15-16)

Did you know that the Bible has songs in it? Oh, indeed it does. At the beginning of Exodus 15, Moses and his people sing the following to the Lord:

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. (Exo 15:1)

...and a little later...

Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea;
and his picked officers are sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods cover them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.
Thy right hand, O LORD, glorious in power,
thy right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. (Exo 15:4-6)

That is catchy! Kind of like a battle hymn. I like it: it's as violent as the Marseillaise and would not be out of place in communist China (all the music I listen to fits this description).

Well, I'm sure it helped to pass the time as Moses marched his people into the wilderness (great plan), only to find that there was no food there. Not to worry - God rains down loaves and loaves of bread (called manna) on them. Manna "was like coriander see, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey" (Exo 16:31). Sounds... gross.

Everyone is supposed to take two omers of bread (just for clarification, an omer is the tenth part of an epaph) but not on the Sabbath, obviously. So they get twice as much unpalatable manna on the sixth day of the week. Like a cheap restaurant chain, I think God is filling them up on bread so they don't notice that their main courses are puny... or non-existent.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Heartwarming Story Behind Passover (Exodus 12-14)

I might not be totally up on my Judaism but I do believe that Passover is the most important of the Jewish holidays. I've gathered from the Jewish people that I know that it involves spending an unacceptable amount of time with your family and eating things like milk, honey and bland, tasteless crackers (the kind you might eat if you had the stomach flu).

In Exodus 9, God tells the Israelites that their calendar starts like, NOW, and they should kick-start the new year by gorging themselves on lamb (gorging is generally how I wind down my year). They should roast it, head and all, and take some of the blood and mark their doorposts with it. They should do this so God can tell their houses apart from those of the Egyptians and "pass over" them when he goes on his killing spree of first-borns. "I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast" (Exo 12:12). This is where the term "Passover" comes from.

It's weird to me that God not only smites all first-born human children but also all first-born beasts. In the Bible, it specifically mentions cattle (again, a huge waste of beef) but I've got to assume that pets are included, too. It's so much sadder when animals die - remember that part in Gorillas in the Mist when the poachers decapitate Digit, the favourite male silverback of Dian Fossey (played by Sigourney Weaver)? I watched that movie non-stop when I was a kid and always cried when Fossey breaks down and is like, "They took his head! They took his head!" while her guide Sembagare holds her and cries silently (the only way I've ever seen black men cry in movies).

After I read this bit, I was hoping that I'd find out the deal behind the unleavened bread. No deal, unfortunately. God tells the Israelites that they have to eat unleavened bread for the first seven days of Passover and if they do eat leavened bread then they'll be cut of from Israel. And he's intense about it. He repeats this rule almost verbatim in the same passage.

Following the first-born slaughter, the Israelites are led out of Egypt by Moses and Aaron and of course, the Pharaoh changes his mind and goes in hot pursuit of them. In the form of a "pillar of cloud" or, in modern vernacular, a "smoke monster," God leads the whole lot of them toward the Red Sea. We know what's about to go down. God gives Moses the power to part the Red Sea but -- and I don't know if it's ever really emphasized -- also the power to make it all come crashing down, killing all the Egyptians, which he makes good use of. And so the heartwarming story of Passover ends: "Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead along the seashore" (Exo 14:30). Amazing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

For the Last Time: Let My People Go Already (Exodus 9-11)

If you've been keeping score then you know God has unleashed a wave of plagues upon the Pharaoh's lands:

1) Bloody Nile
2) Frogs
3) Gnats (I missed this in my last post; I thought gnats and flies were one in the same)
4) Flies

However, the Pharaoh is still suffering from a "hardened heart" and stubbornly refuses to let the Hebrews go. Man, his emotions are really locked up. You'd think he was a male comedian in his late 20s to early 30s.

So God sends another plague his way; this time he kills all the cattle, which is a huge waste of beef. Those cows were probably all grass-fed, too. That doesn't work so God gives all the Egyptians disgusting boils. I wasn't sure exactly what a boil was so I looked it up: it's pus and dead tissue locating deep within the skin. Kind of like a mega-zit. There must have been a few teenaged Egyptians who didn't even notice that particular plague happened. Oh, and a cluster of boils is called a carbuncle. Interesting.

If I were the Pharaoh, the boils would have got me. But I'm very vain. But the boils don't work. So God rains down upon the Pharaoh's lands with hail, thunder and even a little fire (for effect). That doesn't work either. How about... locusts? They're pretty gross. No? Okay. Eternal darkness? This finally does the trick. So now the list of plagues looks like this:

1) Bloody Nile
2) Frogs
3) Gnats
4) Flies
5) Wasted Beef
6) Mega-Zits
7) A Spectacular Light Show
8) Locusts
9) Scary Darkness

The Pharaoh freaks out on Moses, saying: "Get away from me; take heed to yourself; never see my face again; for in the day you see my face you shall die" (Exo 10:28). This sounds like a bad break-up ("I never want to see your stupid face again!"). Maybe it is. Who knows? We never really get to hear the Pharaoh's side of the story.

At last the Hebrews are let go (if you love something, set it free, Pharaoh). And just to seal the deal God kills all the first-born Egyptian children. Really, the moment for this had already passed but I think God really just wanted to get this one in:

10) Lots of Dead Children


Friday, January 21, 2011

Puh-lagues? Puh-lease! (Exodus 5-8)

Correction: I think in my last post I said that Aaron was Moses' son but he's actually his younger, hotter brother.

It's time for Moses to change tactics. Constantly telling the Pharaoh to let his people go is just not working. No wonder. The Pharaoh has no idea who the Lord is since he's from a culture that worships cats (and rightly so). Moses' nagging pisses off the Pharaoh so much that he decides to force his Hebrew slaves to work even harder making bricks.

This is bad. Moses turns to God for an alternative solution. And God is like, "No problem. I've got one: Just tell the Pharaoh to let my people go". Wait - what? Do you know what the definition of insanity is? It's doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.

Moses feels he's just not being listened to, and he isn't: "Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, who am a man of uncircumcised lips?" (Exo 6:12). This is a horrible sounding sentence and frankly, I don't know what it means. I've been sitting here now for a few minutes trying to conjure up a killer female circumcision joke but I've just realized that "female circumcision" and "joke" typically don't go together.

Finally, God "gets" it and suggests that Moses try one of his party tricks to wow the crowd. So Moses chucks a rod down on the ground and it turns into a snake. But - wait. The Pharaoh calls up his bevvy of sorcerers and they duplicate the same trick. Moses must have felt like a big idiot. So Aaron casts his rod over the Nile and it turns to blood, which kills all the fish. What a waste. But at least now they have the Pharaoh's attention.

Next God sends a plague of frogs to Egypt which "shall come into your house, and into your bedchamber and on your bed, and into the houses of your servants and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls..." (Exo 8:3). No! Not the kneading bowls! But I love delicious bread! This plague of frogs is meant to scare but the Pharaoh's sorcerers bring forth even more frogs using their Harry Potter-esque "secret arts".

This is getting out of hand. The Pharaoh is like, "Enough with the frogs - their tiny carcasses are stinking up the joint". But to drive the point home, God zaps him with a whole bunch of flies. Interestingly, the sorcerers can't figure out the spell for flies (which, you would think would be less challenging than frogs) and the Pharaoh finds himself at God's mercy because flies are really, really annoying unless you have one of those Tilley hats with corks dangling from the brim.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Burning Bush and Other STIs (Exodus 3-4)

When we last left off, Moses had high-tailed it out of the Pharaoh's lands. He winds up in the wilderness somewhere west of there and sees God in a burning bush. God has appeared several times already in human guise but I suppose he thought it was getting a tad old.

God the Bush tells Moses that he's upset my the oppression of his people by the Egyptians and he wants him to take them out of there. Moses is to be God's representative. He asks, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?" what shall I say to them?" (Exo 3:13). God replies rather sassily -- and this is in fact in caps lock in the Bible -- "I AM WHO I AM" (Exo 3:14). To me, this sounds like the title of a song by Brandi or Monica. More specifically, the kind of song that perhaps has parentheses: "I AM (who I AM). I should be a music producer.

Moses points out an obvious problem: what if his people don't believe him and think he's some sort of charlatan? God's solution is to give him three cool magic tricks that he can whip out whenever he likes. These are:

1) He can turn a rod into a snake by chucking it on the ground
2) He can make his hand have leprosy by putting it down his shirt and then pulling it out
3) He can pour water from the Nile onto the ground and turn it into blood

Neato! Do it again, mister!

God does things in a very round-about way, I must say. He tells Moses to go the Pharaoh and demand that he let his people go; however, he plans on "harden[ing] his heart" so that the Pharaoh won't listen to Moses (Exo 4:21). He's creating conflict for no good reason. I don't understand the next thing that happens either: God tries to kill somebody, but it's unclear who - I think it's Aaron, Moses' son. Moses' wife Zipporah steps in and saves the day by circumcising Aaron on the spot, which makes him invincible...? She says to Aaron, "You are a bridegroom of blood". This is something that should be scrawled across a banner and hung at every briss. It's cheery.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sand is Not a Good Place to Hide a Body (Exodus 1-2)

If the Book of Genesis was like Remains of the Day (i.e., boring), I'm hoping that Exodus is like Commando (i.e., exciting). That movie with Charlton Heston promised a lot.

Exodus 1 starts off by describing the plight of the Hebrews under the rule of the Egyptians. The Egyptians are concerned that the Hebrews will multiply rapidly like gremlins so they decide to "deal shrewdly" with them (Exo 1:10) and work them to the bone. Specifically, they get them to build things like "store-cities" (strip malls?). Their tactic fails; for whatever reason, all that hard work horns up the Hebrews like they're Irish Catholics and they start having babies like crazy.

The Egyptians deal with this population explosion by killing every male child (and, like China, rigorously training every female child in either gymnastics or ping-pong). Some of the midwives take issue with this rule and let some slip through the cracks, saying that Hebrew women pop out their babies so fast that the midwives can't get their in time. The Bible. So obviously written by men.

One particular male child avoids death because he's placed in a basket and sent down the Nile in the hopes that someone kind enough will find him and raise him (it's Moses, in case you haven't guessed). He's discovered by the Pharaoh's daughter and is welcomed into the family in the vein of the Jolie-Pitts.

So Moses grows up acutely aware he's an outsider and sympathetic to the burdens of his own people, the Hebrews. One day he's out and about and he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. So he does the logical thing and kills the Egyptian and then hides his body in the sand. Oblivious to the fact that settling disputes is not his forte, the next day he buds into a fight between two Hebrew men. One of them says to him, "Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" (Exo 2:14). Uh-oh. The gig is up (is it gig or jig?). Moses goes into hiding.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I'm a Slave 4 U (Genesis 46-50)

Before I wind down the Book of Genesis, I think that I should mention some of the things in it that are presented as perfectly acceptable:

General Trickery
Making People Slaves
Passing Out Naked in Front of Your Tent
Killing Lots and Lots of People
Handing Your Daughter Over for Gang Rape

I know the Old Testament doesn't have the warm and fuzzy reputation of the New, but c'mon. What is most confusing to me about using the Bible as a moral reference is that it is completey unclear which lessons we're supposed to draw on.

Okay. Genesis 46 picks up with Joseph, who has recently been reunited with his brothers and father. Unfortunately, they're shepherds and it's the middle of a famine. Shepherding skills are about as useful as a bag of dust right about now. Anyway, this was set up to be a big crisis but it's not even a big deal because they're sent off to the more fertile land of Goshen, which leaves me wondering why everyone doesn't go there if it's better. I don't know. Perhaps Egyptians are a listless people who enjoy complaining.

As previously established, Joseph is in charge of selling grain. When the people run out of money he takes their cattle. When the people run out of cattle he takes their fields. And finally, when the people run out of fields he makes them slaves. What a great guy. All this profits the Pharaoh, on whom Joseph must have some sort of a man-crush.

Israel, Joseph's father, gives a big, long speech on his deathbed about his twelve sons and what different fates will find them. There are clearly favourites. Personally, I'd want to be Asher: "Asher's food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties" (Gen 49: 20). I interpret this to mean that he'll become some sort of superior pastry chef or chocolatier. It's probably more important to note that the descendents of his twelve sons comprise the tribes of Israel.

Genesis 50 ends with Joseph forgiving his brothers for their previous transgressions against him (I thought we were already past that?). He says, "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good..." (Gen 50:20). This seems very Eat, Pray, Love to me. You know, everyone's a teacher to you and you're on a journey and you wouldn't be who you are today if it weren't for... blah, blah, blah.

I love that book/movie.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fat Ass of the Land (Genesis 43-46)

I don't understand Joseph. I think he must have a touch of narcissism in him. He should just tell his brothers that he's their long-lost brother and not force them to go through the rigmarole of figuring it out for themselves.

Genesis 43 is a bit of a snooze. The brothers head back home unsure of what to do (you'll recall that Joseph had asked them to bring them their youngest brother - himself). Israel decides that they should return to him with tons of gifts, which is a very (negligent) Dad thing to do in a bad situation. My own father could always smooth things over with a new Jem doll. It was truly outrageous.  

Israel suggests a fine sack of balm, honey, gum, myrrh and nuts (Gum and Nuts - Together at Last!). These seem like shitty gifts to me, but I only really like getting gift cards to the Bay. So the brothers head back and are invited to lunch with Joseph. He makes a big show about asking about their father which I guess is supposed to tip them off. It doesn't. Joseph must be having an extra emotional week because he excuses himself in order to go cry in private. He then returns and says, "Let food be served," (Gen 43:31) like an abused housewife with perfectionist tendencies.

Joseph sends his brothers away (again). He plants a silver cup on one of them and then gets his steward to bring them back on the accusation of stealing. What the fuck. I can't believe Andrew Lloyd Webber made a musical based on this guy; he's a giant douche.

Eventually, it's too much to bear for Joseph and he finally reveals himself. He promises to take care of his family during the famine. The Pharaoh is on board for this and says they can have "the fat of the land" of Egypt (Gen 45:18). Now we know where that expression comes from. Joseph sends his brothers away (yes, again) to get their father. If it were me, I'd be pissed unless I had the equivalent of a Metropass and even then, I'd still be slightly pissed. The reunion makes Joseph cry more which is weird because he could have made this whole thing happen a lot sooner.

Genesis 46 ends on a lame cliffhanger: Joseph's family has moved to Egypt, only to find out that their livelihood as shepherds is an abomination there. More sitcom-y writing in the Bible.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Origin of Mad Cow Disease (Genesis 41-42)

It's two years later and the Pharaoh has an unsettling dream. He dreams that seven "sleek and fat" cows emerge out of the Nile and are eaten by seven other "gaunt and thin" cows (Gen 41:2-3). Gross. Joseph has built up a reputation as a dream interpreter (kind of new age-y for the Bible, methinks) and is called in to give his expert opinion. He says that the people in Egypt and surrounding areas can expect seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Yeah - I guess that was pretty obvious. The Pharaoh is so pleased with Joseph's interpretation that he gives him a cool new nickname: Zaphenathpaneah. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

The Pharaoh decides to pass the buck to Joseph and make him in charge of storing grain and meting it out when the famine hits. It does and eventually Joseph's shitty brothers show up looking to buy some. They don't recognize him so he decides to pull a bit of a power trip. He holds one of them hostage (Simeon) and tells them he won't let him go until they return with their youngest brother (himself). However, he gives them all the grain they want for free. Mixed messages.

I don't really know what Joseph expects to get out of this scenario. Maybe he just wants them to realize that he's their brother and he's still alive. Why not just tell them? After all, he's much better off than they are: grain guy, dream interpreter, and pal to the Pharaoh. Even if you've been treated badly by someone, it always feels pretty great to run into them after you've got an awesome new job or lost a bunch of weight or got extensions or something. If your life is decidedly better than that someone's, it's easy to say, "Oh, it's all water under the bridge".

Anyway, the brothers scramble home wondering what the hell to do. Reuben, the only one who ever spoke up on Joseph's behalf, makes a bizarre promise to their father, Israel: "Slay my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you" (Gen 42:37). Quite drastic, I think, and a tad sitcom-y, too. It seems to set up a completely unnecessary conflict.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mrs. Robinson (Genesis 39-40)

Genesis 39 returns to the whereabouts of Joseph. The Ismaelites take him down to Egypt where he's purchased by an Egyptian guy who makes him overseer of his house. The unfortunate thing is that the Egyptian guy's wife is hot for Joseph and a pretty persistent woman to boot. She keeps asking him to have sex with her and he keeps refusing her. One day she rips part of his clothing off and he runs away. This might be the first time a cougar makes an appearance in the Bible.

When she shows this piece of clothing to her husband she lies and says that Joseph tried to rape her. The Egyptian guy gets mad and throws Joseph in jail. Apparently, Joseph has some sort of inherent knack for organizing people because he jailkeeper puts Joseph in charge of the other prisons. If he lived today he'd probably a wedding planner.

While in jail, Joseph meets guys that, up until that point, worked for the Pharaoh: the chief butler and chief baker. The butler has this dream and gets Joseph to interpret it. I guess Joseph can do pretty much anything because "the Lord [is] with him" (Gen 39:1). Joseph interprets the dream to mean that the chief butler will be restored to his old office, which he is, but he fails to mention that the baker would also be hanged. I guess that wasn't noteworthy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Harlotry is a Word (Genesis 38)

I last left off describing how Joseph gets screwed by his brothers. I should have mentioned that one of them, Judah, was actually against it and spoke up on his behalf. No matter. Genesis 38 turns to Judah and some of the weird stuff that goes on between him and the ladies.

Judah goes off the beaten path and marries this woman named Shua, who bears him three sons. The firstborn is called Er, which sounds like something hipster parents would come up with. The other two sons  are called Onan and Shelah (confusing for everyone). Er was "wicked in the sight of the Lord" (Gen 38:7) so the Lord slew him. Lack of specificity is an issue in the Bible. Judah encourages Onan to do his brotherly duty and have sex with Er's wife, Tamar. For some reason, Onan is against impregnating his dead brother's wife and decides to pull out. And wouldn't you know it - the Lord doesn't like all this perfectly useful semen being wasted and slays Onan, too. This is the first time I've come across the word "semen" in the Bible.

Tamar is an odd duck because she gets it into her head that it'd be a fun prank to disguise herself and have sex with Judah. When he encounters her, Judah thinks that she's a harlot because her face is covered and he trades sex with her for his signet (a seal), cord and staff. I don't know what use this stuff is to her. Anyway, she gets pregnant and three months later Judah is told, "Tamar, your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; and moreover she is with child by harlotry" (Gen 38:24). When he realizes that she's pregnant by him his initial reaction is to burn her but then he feels bad that he didn't give her to his youngest son Shelah (which I guess would have been the proper thing to do). He probably didn't think of Shelah because he has a girl's name. Tamar has twins: one is named Zerah and the other (ethnic) one, Perez.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One of the Colours in the Coat of Many Colours is Blood (Genesis 36-38)

Man, do women ever get a raw deal in the Bible. This is the best: Israel's (Jacob's) family is on the move again (again?!) and Rachel goes into "hard labour," (Gen 35:16) which implies that there is an alternative "easy labour" to be had. Rachel is a little distressed to say the least but the midwife has some comforting words for her: "Fear not; for now you will have another son" (Gen 35:17). It's fine that she might die or rip herself open between her vagina and anus during labour because she'll be gifting another male to the world. And... she dies. Israel is sad but cheers himself up by getting with his father's concubine.

Isaac dies, aged one hundred and eighty years old, and his sons bury him. No mention of any sort of wake or assorted cold-cut platter.

Genesis 36 contained way too many names for me to regurgitate. It names the descendents of Esau. Boring. Let's push on.

Things start cooking again in Genesis 37 when Joseph, from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, arrives on the scene. Joseph, aged sixteen at this point in the story, is Israel's son and definitely his father's favourite. Israel makes no secret of this and gives him a robe with long sleeves (which all teenaged boys love). Joseph's brothers are jealous of him but Joseph doesn't really pick up on this because he keeps bragging about some dream about wheat sheaves that supposedly symbolizes that he'll rule over them one day. So they decide to kill him and throw him into a pit. I should mention that everyone's on board for this except for one of the brothers, Rueben.

They almost do kill him but a caravan of Ishmaelites comes along and they decide to sell him to them instead for twenty shekels. I tried to look up what a shekel was but since I don't know if the coins were gold or silver, I can't tell how much twenty is worth. It's possible that the shekels weren't coins at all but a measure of barley. Interesting.

Joseph's brothers took his robe before they sold him and what they do with it is dip it in goat blood so that when they show it to Israel he thinks his son is dead, specifically killed by a wild beast. All this over a stupid robe.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Statuatory "Humbling" (Genesis 32-34)

Finally I've come across one of the things in the Bible that I've been looking forward to: bizarre dietary restrictions (and reasons for). In Genesis 32, Jacob is returning to his brother Esau to be his servant (you'll recall that Esau is his people's leader because he tricked his blind father into naming him his successor). At some point in the journey, Jacob sends his wife, children and servants ahead of him, and all of a sudden, this guy appears and starts to wrestle with him: "And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day" (Gen 32:24). There's no more context here than what's in the Bible. Amazing. The guy realizes (after many hours) that he will not win the spontaneous wrestling match that he initiated so he does the standard thing and touches the "hollow of his [Jacob's] thigh," which I'm guessing is just south of the groin proper. "Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh, because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh on the sinew of the hip" (Gen 32:32). Jacob believes that this guy was actually God in human form (which I'm realizing is all over the Old Testament) but then again, that might just be what he has to tell himself to make it less homoerotic in his mind.

Another thing that's all over the Old Testament is the number seven, and I wonder why. When Jacob meets Esau in Genesis 33, he bows to him seven times, which seems like overkill to me.

Jacob and Esau find themselves in the city of Shechem (in Canaan). Dinah, one of Jacob's daughters through Leah wanders off somewhere and is spotted by Shechem himself who takes a shine to her and - as the Bible puts it - humbles her. What a spectacular euphemism. I'm starting to wonder if there is an equivalent word for rape in the Bible's original language. I'm guessing no. What's happened to Dinah is pretty awkward for everyone so Shechem's father Hamor tries to smooth things over by talking some bullshit about how his son's soul longed for hers and that they should just go ahead and get married. Jacob's objection to this proposition has little to do with the fact that Shechem is a rapist and everything to do with his uncircumcised penis. So as long as he gets circumcised, Shechem can marry Dinah and the families can be united. Great. 

Surprisingly, Dinah's brothers stick up for her after she's forced to marry her rapist (why not before?). They go into the city of Shechem with their swords drawn and kill all the males. All of them, including Shechem and Hamor. And they also swipe a bunch of stuff. Must be nice to have brothers who'll do that for you.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Makin' Babies, Makin' Covenants (Genesis 31)

I wish the print were bigger. I prefer reading books that have lots of pages and big print. Then you can sit back after you've read for a bit and see what fine progress you've made.

I do not get that feeling with the Bible.


Okay, so Laban is pissed that Jacob took off with his two daughters, grandkids and a whole wackload of his flock. He pursues him for seven days (there's that number again) with a bunch of his cronies and eventually catches up with him. They have a big, long, boring argument. It also comes out that Jacob took Laban's household gods. This is the first time polytheism is mentioned, and I wonder how God feels about it. He is silent on the issue for now. I'd like to know what gods were popular then. I'll look that up.

After this big, long, boring arugument, Jacob and Lavan decide to make a covenant. Witness to the covenent is a pile of stones. Laban says, "We need a witness," and Jacob's like, "How about this stone?" and Laban's like, "I'll do you one better; how about a pile of stones?". Hmm. I don't really see the sense in a pile of stones being a legal witness. Seem odd, and I've certainly never seen it in a court of law. And what's wrong with the guys Laban brought along? Why can't they be witnesses? The Bible is full of mystery.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Big Love (Genesis 28-30)

Jacob sets off to find a wife (anyone will do, as long as she's not a Hittite) and encounters Rachel, who he immediately falls in love with. He strikes a deal with her father, Laban, that he'll serve him for seven years and after that amount of time, he'll get his daughter. Seven years. That's a pretty raw deal. Jacob's bartering skills couldn't have been very good. If you were Laban, you could really milk that.

When seven years is up, Jacob eagerly awaits the wedding night. After the feast, his bride is sent to him and he "go[es] into her" (Gen 29:21). I guess because it's dark he doesn't notice that Rachel's older and near-sighted sister Leah is given to him instead. In the morning he's pretty pissed. Laban screws him over for another seven years of labour, at the end of which he can take Rachel as a second wife. Hmm. Darkness and blindness are proving to be useful plot devices in the Bible.

Rachel is Jacob's true love so God, being God, decides to mess with that by making her barren and making Leah fecund to the max. Leah has something like six sons. Rachel, feeling inadequate, gives Jacob her maid to have a son by (to make up for her barrennes???). Then Leah gives Jacob her maid! He's up to his knees with women. Rachel is probably going mental by now and begs God for a bun in the oven, which he begrudgingly grants. Once she gives birth to Joseph, Jacob decides that he and his family should get the hell out of there so he doesn't have to do any more chores for stupid Laban.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Playing Favourites (Genesis 25-27)

Man, I hope this process speeds up. I just realized I've only just passed the half-way point for the Book of Genesis. Maybe things will speed up when I hit Leviticus, which I hear is mostly crazy pronouncements anyways.

At the outset of chapter 25 of the Book of Genesis, Abraham decides to take a whole bunch of concubines in his old age. Good for him. He dies with a big smile on his face and is buried next to his dead wife Sarah.  I guess infidelity becomes a sin only after it gets inscribed on Moses' stone tablets.

Trouble is a-brewin' in Rebekkah's womb: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen 25:23). Uh-oh. Sounds like another case of sibling rivalry. We've seen that before. Two sons are born, Esau and Jacob (isn't sibling rivalry so much worse with girls?). Esau is the jock-type, a good hunter and is his father's favourite; Jacob is quiet, bookish and prefers to spend his time indoors (well, in tents) and is his mother's favourite. Apparently, only one of them can be blessed by their father to be ruler of their people. In old age, Isaac loses his sight and Rebekkah hatches a plan (always the women being mischevious) to fool him into giving the blessing to Jacob. Jacob is not convinced of this plan because he's pretty hairy and he's afraid Isaac will feel his chest rug or something like that and figure it out. While Esau is out hunting some savoury food for his old Dad, Jacob sneaks in and manages to fool him (although I would expect perhaps a deeper voice to go along with the hirsuteness...?). Needless to say, Esau is pissed and intends to kill Jacob, who flees. Rebekkah is greatly concerned that he'll wind up marrying one of those Hittite women while he's off on his own. I guess there's a bit of racism there. I hear there's plenty more of that to come.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jokes! I Wasn't Really Going to Let You Kill Your Son (Genesis 19-24)

I'm surprised. In this part of the Bible, God backs up a woman. Since it's been a few years since Sarah's delivered a son, she decides that there's no need for Hagar and Ishmael to keep kicking around. So she goes on a bit of a power trip and tells Abraham to cast the two out. He's hesitant but then - from the heavens - "Do as your wife tells you" (Gen 19:12). Get out! God tells Abraham to listen to a woman. And soon thereafter Hagar and Ishmael are out of the picture.

This next bit is pretty well-known. God asks Abraham to sacrifice as a burnt offering his only son, Isaac, to prove his loyalty. Abraham somehow gets Isaac to come along for the journey to the mountains of Moriah (maybe he tells him he's going to Disneyland). Isaac is looking around and he's seeing all the necessary accoutrements for the sacrifice (wood, knife, etc) and he's like, "Where's the lamb?" And Abraham is like, "Uh, God's going to bring it soon," which makes no sense because why ask for a sacrifice of something you're going to provide yourself? Anyways, Abraham raises his knife to kill Isaac and God is like, "Jokes!"

So God was just testing Abraham. This is supposed to be a good lesson about faith in God, but frankly, I don't see it. Is blind obedience a good thing? I don't know - ask someone who lived in German in the 30s and 40s.

A few years later, Isaac is old enough to require a wife. Abraham sends out one of his slaves to go "get" one from among his people. The slave is none too bright because his method is to park his camel and then say to any passing woman, "Pray, give me a little water from your jar to drink". The first woman who replies, "Drink, and I will draw for your camel also," is the lucky lady (Gen 24:43-44). It's like they're spies speaking in code. Aren't there matchmakers? Well, as it turns out, a woman named Rebekkah gives the right reply (which maybe is a lesson about kindness to animals?). Isaac takes a shine to her, so the slave did a pretty good job after all.