Saturday, October 3, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 25

Chapter 25
Summary:While the people of Israel were camped in the land of Shittim, they began to "commit whoredom" with the daughters of Moab. The Moabites invited the Israelites to their sacrifices to their gods, and the Israelites feasted with them and bowed down to their gods. The Israelites had "joined themselves unto Baalpeor", and the anger of God was kindled against the people of Israel.

God tells Moses to execute the leaders of the Israelite tribes and to hang their corpses up "before the Lord against the sun", so that God's anger will be diverted away from the people of Israel. Moses ordered the judges to slay "every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor".

One of the Israelite men however snuck in a Midianite woman, "in sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel", who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle.

When Phinehas (Eleazar's son, and Aaron's grandson) saw this, he grabbed a javelin and rushed into the man's tent. He barged into the man's tent and thrust the javelin through him, and through the belly of the Midianite woman.

God's plague was then stopped, after the deaths of 24,000 Israelites.

God tells Moses that Phinehas had turned God's anger away from the people of Israel, explaining that Phinehas' zealous slaying of the Israelite and his Midianite wife showed that he was as angry as God was, and that this deed was the reason why God stopped killing the Israelites.

God continues, stating that he shall give unto Phinehas his "covenant of peace", rewarding Phinehas for his zealous slaying which made atonement for the Israelites. Phinehas and his descendants are rewarded with an everlasting priesthood.

The name of the Israelite that Phinehas killed was Zimri - son of Salu, a prince of a chief house amongst the tribe of Simeon; the woman who was slain with him was named Cozbi, who was the daughter of a Midianite prince named Zur.

God tells Moses to "vex the Midianites" and to destroy them, because they are destroying Israel with their wiles, where they had "beguiled" them in the "matter of Peor" and in the "matter of Cozbi".
Notes:1.) "Baalpeor" is a portemanteau of the title "baal" (a Semitic title meaning "master" or "lord") and "Peor" (after the location of Mount Peor), loosely meaning "the god of Mount Peor".
Thoughts:This brief and extremely violent chapter of the book of Numbers is interesting in the context of the chapter it proceeds.

In the previous chapter the prophetic Balaam stood atop Mount Peor looking over the Israeli camp, marveling at their organization, and blesses them in the name of God due to their righteousness, and prophesying the destruction of Moab.

This chapter however shows the Israelites at the base of Mount Peor feasting with the Moabites, sleeping with Moabite women, and sacrificing and worshiping their gods.

Of course, God is violently angered over this behavior, so he tells Moses to go round up the tribe leaders and execute them, and to set an example he commands Moses to hang their corpses up in the daylight for all to see - this, God explains, will divert his anger away from the people of Israel. Moses orders the judges of Israel to kill any and everyone who was sacrificing and worshiping the god of Mount Peor (Baalpeor).

One of the Israelites however snuck in a Midianite woman into the Israeli camp site, in plain view of Moses and the entire congregation of Israel.

Aaron's grandson (Eleazar's son) Phinehas saw this, grabbed a spear, rushed into the man's tent and impaled both the Israelite and the Midianite woman with his spear. (It is thought that the two were in the act of copulation when Phinehas killed them.)

Before we continue, we have to address two problems: first, the beginning of this chapter deals with the Israelites "committing whoredom" with the Moabites, the rest of the chapter then abruptly shifts its attention to the Midianites. Secondly, Phinehas slays an Israelite man (who is later identified as Zimri) and his Midianite wife Cozbi, for the apparent reason that she is simply a Midianite woman. The problem with this reasoning, is that Moses' wife Zipporah is also a Midianite - as is Moses' father-in-law Reuel/Jethro (and his possible brother-in-law Hobab).

Simply slaying Zimri and Cozbi for Cozbi's Midianite heritage doesn't make sense and is obviously hypocritical in light of Moses' own Midianite wife and in-laws.

Biblical scholars theorize that this chapter originated from two different source materials woven together (which also explains the baffling mention of a plague being stopped after Cozbi and Zimri's slaying, which isn't mentioned prior) in a rather complex theory called the "Documentary hypothesis", in which the Torah (or the first five books of the Old Testament) was assembled from several independent yet parallel sources.

Phinehas' slaying of Zimri and Cozbi pleases God and he puts a halt to a plague he had brought upon the Israelites - but not before 24,000 Israelites succumbed and died from it.

God tells Moses that he's happy with Phinehas' handiwork because it apparently proved that Phinehas was just as ticked off and angry as God was. He states that Phinehas' murdering rampage of Zimri and Cozbi made atonement for the "sins" of Israel and rewards Phinehas with a promotion in the priesthood.

Let's review this again: Zimri sneaks a Midianite girl into the Israeli camp, this angers Phinehas (despite the fact that his uncle Moses is also married to a Midianite woman), Phinehas violently murders them both - impaling them with a spear while they're supposedly having sex, God is pleased enough to stop killing people - after killing a whopping 24,000 Israelites himself, and he then gives Phinehas his seal of approval and a promotion at his job.

Zimri's crime apparently being taking a wife from outside his race of people (something Moses has done himself with the same foreign tribe - the Midianites) and murdering them both violently with a spear is the right course of action and punishment to take?

After Phinehas kills them both, the bible finally gives us the names of Zimri (the son of Salu, a Simeon prince) and Cozbi (the daughter of a Midianite prince named Zur).

God then tells Moses to "vex" the Midianites and utterly destroy them all, since their women are corrupting the Israelite men - totally ignoring the fact that Moses also has a Midianite wife and Midianite offspring. God claims that the Midianite women led to the "matter at Peor" (which was the Moabite women) and the "matter of Cozbi".

Once again, the God plays the misogyny card and blames the Midianite women for what ultimately should be "sins" of the Israelite men. The Israelites are bound by God's commandments not to worship other gods or idols, yet God implies that it's actually the fault of the Midianite women - as if the Israelite men simply have no mind of their own and are somehow not able to resist the temptations of Midianite women.

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