Tuesday, August 31, 2010

JOSHUA: Chapter 4

Chapter 4
Summary:When the Israelites had all crossed over the Jordan River, God spoke to Joshua telling him to pick out twelve men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. He tells Joshua to have each of the twelve men take out a stone out from where the priests had stood in the Jordan River and carry them to where they will camp that night.

Joshua selected twelve men, one from each tribe, and told them each to go out toward where the ark was out into the middle of the Jordan River, and carry out a stone upon their shoulders. He continues to tell them that when future generations ask about the meaning behind these stones, that they are to answer that they serve as a memorial to the people of Israel of when the waters of the Jordan River were halted as the ark of the covenant passed over the river.

The men did as they were commanded, and each took a stone out of the river and carried them over to where they were camped. Joshua set up twelve stones* and set them in the Jordan River in the spot where the priests were standing next to the ark of the covenant, where the stones stand to this day.

The priests who carried the ark remained standing in the midst of the Jordan River until after the monument of stones was complete and the Israelites had passed through the river. When the Israelites had all passed through the priests carried the ark through the river in the presence of all of the people.

The armed tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had led the way across the river as they had sworn to Moses prior to his death. About 40,000 soldiers had passed over the river into the plains of Jericho prepared for war. On that day God had magnified Joshua in view of all of the people of Israel, and the people feared him, just as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life.

God then told Joshua to command the priests to come up and out of the river bed of the Jordan River. As soon as the priests set foot on dry land, the waters of the Jordan River returned to their place and flowed over the banks as they had before.

The Israelites had crossed the Jordan River on the tenth day of the first month*, and camped in Gilgal, on the eastern border of Jericho. In Gilgal Joshua piled up the twelve stones that had been taken out from the Jordan River. Joshua then told the Israelites that if their children ask about the significance of these stones, that they are to tell them that they are a reminder of when the people of Israel crossed through the Jordan River on dry land, and that God had dried up the waters of the Jordan River - just as he had done to the Red Sea - that all the people of the earth know the mighty hand of God - adding, "that they fear the Lord your God forever."
Notes:1.) It's unclear as to whether Joshua has set up a different set of twelve stones as monument in the river itself, or if this is a possible error that seems to imply that the original twelve stones were both left in the river and at the campsite in Gilgal.

2.) Approximately March 25th by our modern calendar.
Thoughts:Essentially this chapter seems to serve as a "me too" justification for Joshua's position as the leader of the Israelites. Mention Moses and most likely the first thing that comes to mind is Moses parting the Red Sea. This chapter seems to try and attribute the same wondrous feat to Joshua, but lacks the urgency of the original tale found in the book of Exodus.

Unlike Moses's tale, Joshua and his merry men are not being pursued by a mighty army, nor are they desperately facing impending doom having been boxed in by their pursuers and a vast body of water. Instead, Joshua and the Israelites are armed to the hilt ready to invade foreign lands and simply need to get across a river. Quite a different dynamic from Moses's situation, yet the chapter attempts to equate the grandness of this event to the parting of the Red Sea (even going so far as to reference it specifically in Joshua 4:23) in an attempt to bolster Joshua's status to that of Moses. Yet it comes off as lame as if a modern U.S. President were to sail a boat through the Delaware to try and equate himself to George Washington. Joshua then goes one step further by selecting twelve men, one from each tribe of Israel, to build a monument to memorialize this event.

The chapter comes off as a desperate attempt to justify Joshua's place as ruler and confidant to God, and to equate them to that of Moses.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

JOSHUA: Chapter 3

Chapter 3
Summary:Joshua rose early in the morning and lead the Israelites as they left Shittum and came to the Jordan River. Joshua and the people of Israel camped there before they crossed the river.

Three days later the officers went through the camp telling the Israelites that when they see the "ark of the covenant" being carried by the Levites, that they are to leave the camp and follow after the ark, but they are to keep a distance of about two thousand cubits*, and that they are not to come any closer. The officers add that they must follow the ark to know which direction they must travel since they have not passed this way before. Joshua told the Israelites to "sanctify" themselves as God would "do wonders" among them the next day.

Joshua then* commanded the priests carrying the "ark of the covenant" to pick it up and lead the people, and they did as they were commanded.

God then told Joshua that on this day he would "magnify" him in the presence of the Israelites, so that they would know that God will be with Joshua, just as he was with Moses. He tells Joshua to command the priests carrying the "ark of the covenant" to stop at the edge of the Jordan River.

Joshua then gathered the Israelites telling them to come hear the "words of God". He tells them that they will know that the "living God" is amongst them; that he will without fail drive out the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites; and lead the "ark of the covenant" and the Israelites across the Jordan River. Joshua then tells them to select one man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, but neither specifies which tribes (whether the "half tribes" of Ephraim and Manasseh are to be counted in lieu of the Levites) or for what purpose or task these twelve men will serve or perform.

Joshua continues stating that as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests carrying the ark touch the waters of the Jordan River, the water flowing downstream will be "cut off" and pile up in a heap - as if there were an invisible dam stopping the water.

When the time came for the people to pass over the Jordan River, the priests carrying the ark dipped their feet into the brim of the water, which was overflowing due to it being the harvest season. The waters upstream near the city of Adam, near Zaretan, suddenly were "cut off" and the Israelites passed over towards the city of Jericho. The priests carrying the ark, and then the rest of the Israelites, crossed on dry ground until all of the people had passed through the Jordan River.
Notes:1.) Roughly over half a mile (approximately 2953 feet), or 914 meters.
2.) Presumably this is occurring on the following day.
Thoughts:In this chapter Joshua prepares the Israelites to move and finally cross the Jordan River to invade the "promised land". He has the officers of the camp tell the rest of the Israelites that when they see the "ark of the covenant" being carried by the Levite priests, that they are to pack up their things and follow after it - although they are commanded to keep a distance of over half a mile away, and warned not to come any closer than that. Joshua then tells the Israelites to "sanctify" themselves as God would perform "wonders" amongst them the next day.

After Joshua commands the priests to pick up the ark and lead the Israelites toward the Jordan River, God speaks to Joshua and tells him that he will "magnify" Joshua in the presence of the Israelites so that they will see that God favors Joshua just as he favored Moses, and subsequently tells Joshua to command the priests carrying the ark to stop once they reach the edge of the Jordan River.

Similar to how I felt about Moses and Aaron's method of "proving" to the Israelites who God put in charge by way of a contest that could have and would have been ridiculously simple for Moses and Aaron to rig in their favor, my skeptic alarm once again is bothered by the conditions Joshua sets forth.

The book of Joshua is generally ascribed to have been written by Joshua himself. Therefore Joshua writes that God spoke to him saying that he would perform a magic trick in order to show off and prove to the Israelites that Joshua is the rightful successor to Moses. However, the officers of the camp, presumably by order from God and/or Joshua, had warned the Israelites not to come any closer than 2,000 cubits - over half a mile - to the priests carrying the ark and leading the way.
From half a mile away it would be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, to determine how someone accomplished a magic trick or an illusion. Afterward the description of the magic trick is once again penned by Joshua himself, the person who has the most to gain from describing, and most likely embellishing, the magnificence of the trick.

Joshua then stops the priests at the edge of the Jordan River and before performing anything magic, gathers the Israelites to tell them the "words of God". He repeats to them what Moses had promised, that God would drive out the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites; then he instructs each tribe to select a man for an unspecified task or purpose. Finally, he reveals to the Israelites the magic trick they will experience - similar to Moses' famous "miracle" of parting the Red Sea, once the priests step into the river, the water will be "cut off" as though there were an invisible dam stopping the flow of the water.

Sure enough, once the priests dipped their feet into the Jordan River, the waters upstream were "cut off" and the priests and the rest of the Israelites crossed through the river on dry land.

Friday, June 25, 2010

JOSHUA: Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Summary:Joshua sends two spies out of Shittim, telling them to scout out the "promised land", specifically the city of Jericho. When the spies arrived they stayed overnight with a prostitute named Rahab.

Somehow word got out to the king of Jericho that there were Israeli men who came into the city during the night to search out the land. The king sent for Rahab asking her to bring forth the men that entered her house, and informing her that they had come to spy over the land.

Rahab hid the two spies and explained, "The men did come to me, but I did not know from where they came from. When it came time to shut the city gate at nightfall, the men left. I don't know which direction they left in, but if you go quickly you should catch them."

However, Rahab had actually brought the spies up to the roof of her house and hid them underneath the stalks of flax that she had laid upon her roof. So the men went off in pursuit of the spies heading toward the Jordan River. As soon as they left in pursuit the city gate was shut.

Before the spies laid down to rest for the night, Rahab says to them, "I know that God has given you this land, and that your terror has fallen upon us. The inhabitants of this land faint because of you.

"We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when you came out of Egypt, as well as what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted and there remained no courage in any man because of you. The Lord your God is in the heaven above and the earth beneath.

"Therefore, I pray to you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you will show kindness to my father's family, and give me a token of your willingness to do so - that you will spare the lives of my parents, my siblings, and all that they have."

The men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if you do not tell anyone of our business. When the Lord has given us the land, we will deal kindly and truly with you."

She then helped them leave by a rope through her window, as her house was upon the town wall. She then proceeded to tell them to flee to the mountains and hide for three days, to throw off their pursuers, before going on their way.

The men responded by telling her that their promise will not be binding unless she ties a scarlet thread to the window they escaped by. They add that she is to bring her parents and her siblings into her home, as they claim that they will not be responsible for anyone they kill outside of her house. They also add that if she tells anyone about their business, then the deal to spare their lives will be off. Rahab agreed to their terms, and as they left she tied a scarlet thread to the window.

The spies hid in the mountains for three days until their pursuers gave up looking for them. They returned to Joshua and told them the story of what had happened to them.

They also told Joshua, "Truly the Lord has delivered all of this land into our hands. All of the country's inhabitants are even afraid of us!"
Thoughts:In this chapter Joshua sends out two spies to scout out the "promised land" and who wind up spending the night with a prostitute, named Rahab, living in the city of Jericho. Apparently they weren't very discreet about their night with the prostitute, as word eventually got out to the king of Jericho that there were some Israeli men who came into the city to search out the land. Whoops.

The king sent for Rahab and demanded that she bring the men staying with her to him. Rahab admits to the men who came to summon her, that she had in fact seen the spies, however she then lies telling them that she didn't know where they came from, that they had left at nightfall, and that she didn't know which direction they were heading. She then encouraged them to leave by suggesting that if they hurried, then they might catch the spies.

Rahab instead had actually hidden the spies up the roof of her house. After their pursuers leave, she tells the spies that she "knows" that God has given the Israelites this land and that all of the inhabitants have grown to fear the Israelites. She claims to have heard about how God parted the Red Sea 40 years prior, and the brutal killings of King Sihon and King Og, along with every living being in their kingdom, and that due to those stories that her people have been afraid.

So, she bargains with the spies, pleading with them to spare the lives of herself and her family, for not turning them in to her king. The spies agree, but add that she'll have to tie a scarlet thread to her window, that she will have to keep her family in her house while the Israelites slaughter her fellow townsfolk, and that they won't be held responsible if any of her family steps outside and is killed by the marauding horde of Israelites. They also add that if she tells anyone about what they are doing the deal will be off. Rahab agrees and the spies leave by a rope tied to her window, as her house is high upon the city walls.

Obviously this raises a lot of questions. Why is a woman who violates God's laws (she's a prostitute and a liar) being portrayed in a compassionate light, simply for protecting two Israelites - with a lie no less? If the tale presented in Exodus: Chapter 14 is accurate, how could anyone besides the Israelites known about the parting of the Red Sea forty years prior, unless they were told the story by an Israelite to begin with? With the story of the parting of the Red Sea having only having been witnessed by the Israelites (as the entire Egyptian army drowned) wouldn't it seem reasonable that the Israelites might perhaps embellish their own story with supernatural elements to make it sound more grandiose?

However, the most daunting question is why the bible seems to send a contrasting message when it comes to lying. We've already read several times throughout the bible where lying is clearly considered a "sin": the ninth commandment from Exodus: Chapter 20 - "thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor"; Exodus: Chapter 23 "thou shalt not raise a false report" (23:1) and "keep thee away from a false matter" (23:7); Leviticus 19:11 "Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another."; Deuteronomy 5:20 "Neither shalt thou bear false witness."; and much later in the book of Proverbs "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord." (12:22) and "A righteous man hateth lying." (13:5). Yet, later in the book of James, we see that Rahab is actually praised for her lying and deception: "Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?" (James 2:25)

The key to sorting out this apparent contradiction is in defining the term "neighbor". When "neighbor" is defined to simply mean fellow Israelite, or even simply non-enemies of Israel, lying to those that do not qualify as a "neighbor" is probably justified, and in the case of Rahab, considered a righteous act when it serves the cause of the Israelites.

However, allowing Rahab and her family to survive brings up another problem - it directly contradicts God's orders to "utterly destroy" and "show no mercy" to the inhabitants of Canaan. When the Israelites brought back whom they felt were harmless prisoners - women and children - after slaughtering the Midianites, Moses became furious and told them to finish the job - with the exception of any virgin girls, whom the soldiers could "keep for themselves". One could chalk this up as an error in judgment of the spies, if Rahab's "works" were not later justified in the New Testament in the book of James.

The chapter closes out with the spies hiding out in the mountains for three days, by Rahab's suggestion, until their pursuers gave up looking for them. They then returned to Joshua and told him that they were convinced that God had truly given them the "promised land" since the inhabitants had grown afraid of the Israelites.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

JOSHUA: Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Summary:After the death of Moses, God spoke to Joshua, Moses' minister, saying, "Moses, my servant is dead; now therefore arise and cross the Jordan River. You, and all the people of Israel must enter the land that I have given to you.

"Evey place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, I have given to you, as I had promised to Moses. From the wilderness to Lebanon, even unto the Euphrates river. All the land of the Hittites toward the Mediterranean Sea to the east will be your coast.

"No one shall be able to stand before you for as long as you shall live. As I was with Moses, so shall I be with you - I will not fail nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, and divide up the land amongst the people for their inheritance, as I had promised to their forefathers. Be strong and courageous, so that you observe the laws which Moses commanded; do not turn from it either to the right hand or to the left, so that you may prosper wherever you go. Do not merely speak these laws, but meditate upon them day and night, that you may observe to obey them according to all that is written therein; for then you shall be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed - for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Joshua then instructed the people of Israel to prepare themselves to cross the Jordan River, telling them that within three days time, they will possess the "promised land".

He then addresses the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the "half-tribe" of Manasseh reminding them of their promise to Moses in exchange for their land east of the Jordan River. Joshua reminds them that although their wives, children, and cattle may remain in the land that Moses gave them, they themselves are to arm themselves and lead their brethren across the Jordan River; adding that they are not to return until the other tribes have possessed the "promised land". They in return answer that they will do everything they are commanded to do, and will go wherever they are sent; adding that as they had obeyed Moses in the past, they will now obey Joshua, reasoning that God will be with Joshua just as he had been with Moses. They also add that anyone who rebels against Joshua and refuses to obey him will be put to death.
Notes:1.) In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld sent this verse (Joshua 1:9) to American soldiers to "inspire them" during the invasion of Iraq.
Summary:This initial chapter of the book of Joshua simply introduces the change of leadership after Moses' death from Moses to Joshua.

God assures Joshua that he will "be with him" just as he was with Moses, and tells him to prepare the Israelites to invade and conquer Canaan within three days time, obey all of the commandments without alteration, and to be strong and courageous.

Joshua then makes sure that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh will hold up their end of the bargain of leading the armies across the Jordan River and into Canaan in exchange for their land outside of the "promised land". Not only do they reaffirm that they'll hold to their bargain, they also promise to kill anyone who rebels against, or refuses to obey Joshua.

Essentially Joshua has become a dictator over the people of Israel.

Monday, June 21, 2010


The Pentateuch (or the Jewish "Torah") refers to the first five books of the bible which primarily tell the story of Moses - the exception of which being the first book, the book of Genesis, which deals with the creation myth, the great flood myth, and sets the foundation for the story of Abraham and his descendants - primarily his grandson Jacob (later renamed Israel) and his twelve sons becoming the "Twelve Tribes of Israel". All five books are also generally accredited to be authored by Moses according to most Abrahamic faiths, despite Moses' death and burial being described within the last chapter of the last book, Deuteronomy.

The book of Genesis is filled with a lot of outlandish and seemingly ridiculous claims (such as "light", "daytime", and "nighttime" being created prior to the creation of the sun; a talking snake that tricks the world's first woman into eating the "forbidden fruit"; the life spans of many people being over 800 to 900 years old; and a 500 year old man who manages to track down and stuff at least one pair of each "kind" of animal onto a wooden boat to survive for nine months while a global flood kills all life upon the earth); lots of stories that are presented as either "good" or "moral" despite being blatantly appalling (such as God committing mass genocide upon the earth with a global flood; a man described as "righteous" who offers up his two virgin daughters to an angry mob for them to be raped; the same "righteous" man allows his daughters to get him drunk after which he proceeds to have sex with them, impregnating them both; and God telling Abraham to commit human sacrifice with his son Isaac, with God stopping him just short of Abe plunging the knife into the boy's chest - just so he could "test" Abraham's loyalty). However, the overall theme of the book is to establish a lineage for the people of Israel for whom the authors intended to appear noble and righteous, which in contrast to modern standards of decency and morality, fails miserably.

The next important theme of the book of Genesis is establishing God's promise to Abraham to build his family into a "great nation", by "promising" him a piece of land that sadly enough people are still fighting over today. The piece of land that God "gives" to Abraham happens to already be occupied by other "heathen nations", so in turn this will justify the forcible taking of this land from people that God doesn't show favor towards. What this actually does is justify stereotyping as well as cultural and ethnic elitism, where ethnicity and a person's culture defines their worth. Despite that the authors attempt to address this very problem with the story of Abraham questioning God's plan to destroy the city of Sodom should there any righteous people found within the city, the problem is that within the real world there aren't such cases of absolutes which are rampant throughout the bible - every enemy nation of the Israelites is treated as if it were "100% wicked" just like we're supposed to believe that the inhabitants of the city of Sodom were. This doesn't even begin to cover other aspects of the problem such as the slaughter of infants, and as we will later see, even animals and livestock belonging to "heathen nations" are to be destroyed for being "defiled".

The book of Exodus introduces us to the character Moses. While briefly telling the story of his birth where he avoids a law of infanticide placed upon male Hebrew infants and how he is then raised by Egyptian royalty, the story then picks up in his adult life where he is appalled by the treatment of Hebrew slaves by the Egyptian people. Upon witnessing an Egyptian soldier strike a Hebrew slave, Moses murders the soldier, hides his body in the sand, and then flees Egypt fearing prosecution for his crime. While he's on the run God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush and tells him that he's been appointed to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt and into the "promised land". Arming Moses - as well as his brother Aaron, who's been chosen to speak for the Israelites - with a bunch of magic tricks, God guides them as they free the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt and then trek across the desert for the next forty years where most of the original generation die off - or are killed by the numerous plagues God thrusts upon them for mostly trivial things like whining about not having enough water to drink.

The underlying theme of the book of Exodus is to demoralize believers into believing that although they are God's chosen people, they are actually unworthy of being so; they are in fact stubborn, disobedient, and whiny and they need the church to lead them. It would be easy to develop an ego in conjunction with the cultural and ethnic elitism that the Pentateuch promotes, so therefore the solution is to crush the individual's self-worth. Beginning with Moses' brother Aaron - the head priest - constructing a golden calf for the Israelites to worship after Moses seemingly went missing atop Mount Sinai for forty days while chatting with God, we begin to see two issues emerge.

The first issue we see is that "holy men" aren't held to the same standards as others. Aaron breaks the second commandment while 3,000 other Israelites are slaughtered; Moses, breaks the eighth commandment ("thou shalt not kill (murder)") without any repercussions; both of Moses' siblings (Aaron and Miriam) complain about Moses breaking one of God's laws, yet God only punishes Miriam (who is stricken with leprosy), absolving Aaron, possibly either because he was a priest, male, or both.

The second issue however is probably the most touted "sin" in the Pentateuch, as well as the first two of the "ten commandments", that a person is not to worship other gods, nor create a "religious idol". These commandments are reinforced more so than any of the other eight (including the commandment to observe the sabbath, which is also repeated many times throughout the Pentateuch) with the punishments being excessively violent and extreme - where in cases where an entire city worships other gods, God commands that every living breathing thing, including livestock, are to be killed and the city is to be burnt to the ground, never to be rebuilt. Why such an excessively violent response, and why is it so overstressed the importance of never seeking after other gods? The most likely explanation is that the supernatural events as depicted in the bible simply either did not happen as the bible depicts them, or that they were not widely witnessed as the bible suggests.

Think about it carefully. If the Israelites did in fact witness all of these spectacular "miracles", plagues, and had seen various masses of people die believing that they were smote by God's wrath, what real motivation would they have to worship "false gods" or idols, which apparently wouldn't display any such supernatural ability? Why was it such a rampant problem of people constantly worshiping "false gods" when there were all these "miraculous" supernatural events caused by God occurring all around them? The simplest explanation is obviously that they either did not witness anything supernatural, or that the story of the exodus was heavily embellished, if not completely fictitious, to begin with. If the Israelites didn't actually witness any supernatural occurrences, or "miracles", then it would put their god belief on a level playing field with any other - simply being a matter of faith, not reason.

When you're dealing with faith based beliefs rather than beliefs based upon evidence, reason, or even personal experience, it is then easy to see why there would be so much concern about the exposure to other faith based belief systems. Both religions would be on an equal footing in regards to what reasoning (or lack thereof) there was to believe. One of the key components to controlling the thoughts of others is to limit their information to the outside world. Even today groups like Amway, Alcoholics Anonymous, and various political groups discourage their members from exposure to any mainstream media that is critical toward the group.

Often times in conjunction with limiting the exposure to the outside world, another tactic of controlling the thoughts of others is to undermine the credibility of or to silence those outside of or those who oppose the group. In the book of Exodus, Moses gives blessings to those who showed no mercy toward their siblings, children, and neighbors by slaughtering them by the thousands, simply because they had worshiped Aaron's golden calf. Later on, after the Israelites sacrificed to other gods at Baal Peor, Moses ordered the leaders of the tribes who worshiped the other gods killed, and their corpses hung up "against the sun". In the same chapter, Moses orders the genocide of the Midianites for tempting the Israelites into worshiping other gods, and when the Israelites slaughter the Midianite men, Moses becomes enraged when he discovers that the women and children were captured and spared. He orders that they should all be killed - except for any girls who are still virgins, whom the soldiers may "keep for themselves".

Although there are several scattered narrative stories in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, overall the main objective of these last three books are to detail the various laws and commandments that the Israelites are to follow - and the deadly punishments that accompany them.

The most common punishment for breaking God's commandments is death by stoning - a brutal method of capital punishment where the condemned is repeatedly hit with stones until they die. Among the "sins" God deems worthy of such a brutal death:Moses attempts to justify these extreme, brutal, violent, and fatal punishments for these predominately non-violent offenses by insisting that such excessive punishments will instill fear into the Israelites, thereby discouraging them from committing such "crimes" in the first place. This is further compounded by some of the ridiculous methods of determining guilt for such "crimes" (such as bloody bedsheets being a "proof" of virginity; or defending your home against an intruder being considered a murder, determined by whether it occurred during the daytime or not).

Again, it begs the question as to why such a seemingly trivial "crime" of worshiping other gods requires such a violent and fatal punishment, and why was it apparently such a widespread concern during an age when God supposedly displayed his supernatural powers regularly.

If the supernatural events described in the Pentateuch didn't actually occur as described the answer becomes simple and obvious - since belief in a god couldn't be backed with reason or evidence, the next best course of action would be to coerce belief and obedience using fear, intimidation, violence, and brutal public execution. Once obedience is secured to a god who apparently only speaks through a select few people, and only "directly" to one person, it begins to make sense why "ordinary people" are also threatened with death for approaching the mountain where Moses apparently communicated with God and prevented from touching or entering the tabernacle to begin with, while those who are in the "inner circle" (the ruling priests and the tribe of Levi) become the sole beneficiaries of the various mandatory animal sacrifices and tithes (religious taxes) imposed upon the "ordinary people".

When the Pentateuch is read without the blinders of automatically believing in its veracity just "because it's the bible", it's quite easy to see that quite simply these books serve as a justification for the Israelites sense of elitism and entitlement over other cultures, and as a set of laws to prevent critical thought which would crumble the foundation of faith-based government. The Pentateuch basically says that their god told them that they're the best, that they're descended from a righteous lineage, and therefore they have every right to kill and slaughter any nation who stands in their way in their quest to conquer the land of Canaan - because their god said so.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Like the book of Numbers, it took me quite a few months to get through the book of Deuteronomy, some of which can be attributed to the busyness of the holiday season back when I started this book, as well as events in my personal life, but also partially because commenting on the book of Deuteronomy required a lot of comparing and contrasting to chapters in past books of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the bible), considering that Moses references and repeats a lot of things and events we've already encountered, and often embellishes upon his retelling of them.

The book of Deuteronomy mainly is about Moses laying down the laws (and the extreme punishments) for the Israelites, but can also be looked at as Moses' parting words to them as well. There's not a lot of narrative story in the book of Deuteronomy, and most of it is simply direct quotations of Moses addressing the Israelites, so it can also get rather tedious to read at times as well.

Moses begins his speech to the Israelites in Mid-February forty years after the exodus from Egypt. He primarily repeats to them events covered in Exodus: Chapter 17, Numbers: Chapter 13, and Numbers: Chapter 14. Moses retells various stories from these chapters and changes or embellishes many of the details - from minor details such as who ordered the spies to be sent to search out the land of Canaan, to major discrepancies such as blaming the people of Israel for his own fatal mistake of striking a rock instead of talking to it.

Moses then recounts another story where he insists that the Edomites did in fact allow them to pass through their land on their journey - which directly contradicts the story originally told in Numbers: Chapter 20 where the Edomites mobilized their army preventing them from passing through their land. Moses also insists that they passed through the land of Moab peacefully, which will be contradicted by a passage in the book of Judges. He then starts telling the people about the races of giants that used to live in the land of Moab and Mount Seir until the Edomites and Moabites destroyed them, Moses comparing this to what the Israelites will do to the giants living in Canaan.

Moses then states that it took 38 years to wait for the previous generation of Israelites - who were not allowed to enter the "promised land" - to die off before they could continue on their journey to the land of the Ammonites - who are the incestuous offspring of Lot and his youngest daughter. God tells them not to disturb the Ammonites, because he will not allow the Israelites to take their land since the Ammonites are descendants of Lot, and the land was "given" to them by God. This land too was also originally inhabited by giants before the Ammonites destroyed them and took their land.

He then recounts the story of slaughtering King Sihon and his kingdom with a major difference from the account in Numbers: Chapter 21. Instead of Sihon's destruction being retaliation as it was described in the book of Numbers, Moses now insists it was God's plan to attack and destroy them to instill fear into the surrounding nations.

Moses next describes the massacre against King Og, who was apparently the last of a race of giants in Bashan, and that his bed was apparently 13 feet long by 6 feet wide. He also recounts the story of the tribes of Gad and Reuben, as well as Manasseh, getting their land outside the "promised land" in Gilead; and the appointment of Joshua as his successor, both with different key details from their original treatments in Numbers: Chapter 32 and Numbers: Chapter 27 respectively.

Next Moses tells the Israelites that God's laws are unchangeable - they are not to be added to or subtracted from. He also posits that other nations will be impressed by God's laws, but warns them against creating idols like those "heathen nations" do. He then picks out three "cities of refuge" in the lands that he's given to Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh outside of the "promised land".

Moses retells the "ten commandments" to the people of Israel, and again reminds them that they're not to be added to or subtracted from.

Moses then stresses the importance of obedience and tells the Israelites that they are to love God and his laws, and are to teach them to their children and repeated adnauseum - including by writing them down and tying them to your hand, and writing them on the posts of their houses. He also tells them to fear God and not to tempt him again, like they did when they whined about not having any water in Exodus:Chapter 17.

Moses then turns his attention to how the Israelites are to deal with the seven nations (the Hitites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites) currently living in the "promised land", telling the Israelites to utterly destroy them and to show them no mercy. He adds that they are not to intermarry with the women of these nations, because those women would corrupt the Israelites and cause them to worship other gods. He furthers that they should destroy their religious idols, break their altars, and set fire to their graven images. He again reminds them not to leave any survivors, and that God himself would deliver any last "heathen" to the Israelites should they attempt to flee or hide. Moses explains that God will destroy the "heathen nations" little by little so that the land doesn't become "infested with wild animals".

Moses now tells the Israelites that God making them wander around the desert for forty years wasn't so much a punishment as it was a "test", adding that God deliberately let them go hungry so that he could feed them "manna" - the magical food that God created in Exodus: Chapter 16 (which some theorize might actually be referring to hallucinogenic mushrooms). Moses then boasts about how wonderful the "promised land" will be once they commit genocide against its inhabitants, but warns them not to get too cocky and take credit for anything that they acquire because not giving God credit for their acquisitions will cause them to worship other gods, which in turn will "force" God to destroy them.

While Moses prepares the Israelites to cross the Jordan River and defeat the race of giants living in Canaan, he stresses that God is not helping them win their battles because they are a "righteous" people, but only because the Anakites (the "giants") are instead a "wicked" people. Moses continues to recount every "stubborn" and "unruly" act they've committed against God - worshiping Aaron's golden calf, complaining about the food, complaining about being thirsty, gluttonously dining on quails that God had sent them, and being afraid of the giants living in the "promised land". Basically, Moses is telling them that they're not "righteous" because they whine and complain a lot, and also reminds them that he had to talk God out of committing genocide against them, because he reasons, that it "would have looked bad to the Egyptians".

Moses next retells the story of receiving the stone tablets containing the "ten commandments", and then takes credit for having built the ark of the covenant (as opposed to Bezaleel) while stating that he had to talk God out of killing them all while he stayed atop a mountain for 40 days. He tells the Israelites to fear God and to stop being such a stubborn group of people. He adds that God cannot be reasoned with or bribed, and that he favors the "underdogs" such as orphans, widows, and foreigners - reminding them that they are to be loving towards foreigners, since they themselves were foreigners in Egypt - of course, barring perhaps these foreigners, of whom are better impaled with a spear.

Next Moses tells the Israelites that they should obey God because of all the "great acts" that they've witnessed - despite also acknowledging that so few of them were actually alive and old enough to have witnessed the events forty years prior. He then brags to them about how they won't even need to irrigate their crops once they inhabit the "promised land", and that God himself will tend to the land - but only if they remain obedient, otherwise he'll halt all the rain and let the Israelites starve to death. Moses repeats that the Israelites should write the commandments down on a card and tie the card to their wrists, adding that God will drive out all of the "heathen nations' before them - regardless of their might or size - as long as they remain obedient.

After telling the Israelites that they are to ransack and destroy every last religious remnant belonging to the previous inhabitants of the lands they are invading, Moses then states that once they must build a "sanctuary" for God (in an area of land that God himself will pick out) to pay tithes and perform animal sacrifices at. He adds that if the "promised land" expands to a point where a trip to the "sanctuary" is too far away to travel to, then the Israelites may slaughter animals on their farms, but they are to drain the animal's blood first, as they are not permitted to consume the "life" of an animal. However, Moses adds that any tithes or sacrifices made to God must still be made at the "sanctuary", because sacrificing animals to God elsewhere would be a behavior akin to the "abominable heathen nations" who Moses claims "sacrifice their children by fire".

Moses then turns the discussion to more violent matters when he states that any prophet or "dreamer of dreams" that tries to coax the Israelites into worshiping other gods must be put to death by stoning, adding that if perchance that whatever they're predicting comes true, that it is just God allowing this to "test" the Israelites. Furthermore, anyone regardless of whether they're your brother, or even your children, who tries to tempt you into worshiping other gods must be stoned to death, and you must not show them any pity or mercy while you are mandated to strike the first blow against them. Finally Moses states that if an entire city has been coaxed into worshiping other gods, then every living thing in that city - people and livestock alike - are to be killed by the sword and the city is to be burned to the ground and is never to be rebuilt again.

Moses then tells the Israelites that they are forbidden from "cutting themselves" or shaving their eyebrows in regards to funeral customs, because these apparently are things that the "heathen" nations do, and that the Israelites being a "holy people" should not lower themselves to emulate people that are apparently below them. After recounting again which animals are deemed "clean" and "unclean", Moses tells them that they will have to bring their tithes and firstborn animal sacrifices to the "sanctuary" and to eat them there. If they happen to live too far away to carry the full amount of their tithes to the sanctuary, Moses says that they will be allowed to sell their tithes and to use the money crops and/or animals to sacrifice nearby the "sanctuary" when they arrive there. He also reminds them that they will have to share their feasts with the Levites, of whom own no property, and also that every third year they are to divide up their tithes to give to the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, and the strangers in town.

Next Moses tells the Israelites that every seven years that they are to cancel all debts owed by fellow Hebrews (debts owed by foreigners are still valid). He also warns them that they are never to refuse to lend to an Israelite in need, for it would be a "sin" to refuse. He then recounts the laws of Hebrew slavery from Exodus: Chapter 21 and states that when a Hebrew slave is released from his enslavement, that his master must supply him with a generous helping of crops, wine, and livestock upon his release. Although if the Hebrew slave decides he prefers to remain enslaved, Moses reminds them that the slave can have his ear bored with an awl, branding him a permanent slave for life. He then adds that firstborn animals are to be sacrificed, slaughtered, and eaten at the "sanctuary", unless the animal is defective - then it is be eaten at home, but the animals blood is not to be consumed.

Moses then goes over the rules for celebrating "passover", the "Festival of Weeks", and the "Festival of Tabernacles". He then instructs the people that the tribes must appoint a judge to rule over each city, and also that they are not to plant any trees near "God's altar", nor construct an image that God "hates".

After once again stating that all animal sacrifices need to be free of defects (for they are "abominations",) Moses reminds the Israelites yet again the punishment for anyone worshiping other gods is death by stoning. However, Moses adds that there must be two witnesses to the persons guilt, and that these two shall be the ones to cast the first stones. Moses next states that any case too difficult for a judge must be brought to the priests to decide, and that anyone who won't abide by their verdict is to be put to death, which Moses posits will cause people to keep in line out of fear. Moses then states that kings must be "selected by God", must be an Israelite and not a foreigner, and must not amass excessive amount of wealth or wives.

Moses then notes that because the Levites do not inherit property, that choice parts of the animal sacrifices and the first harvest sacrifices will be given to the Levites to eat. Yet again, Moses warns the Israelites not to worship other gods, nor to sacrifice their children by fire, use divination, become a fortune teller, an enchanter, a witch, a charmer, a spiritual medium, a wizard, or a necromancer. Anyone who does such a thing is an "abomination" to God, and must be put to death. He adds that God will speak to them through prophets, but that anyone falsely claiming to be a prophet must be put to death. Moses states that in order to verify if a prophet is genuine or not is dependent on whether his prophecy comes true.

Moses tells the people that when they arrive in the "promised land" they are to pick out three "cities of refuge" - in addition to the three he already picked out outside of the "promised land" in chapter 4. Moses makes a rather dumb analogy about how to assess a person's guilt on whether they committed murder based upon their past animosities toward another. He adds that if someone ambushes their neighbor and attempts to flee to a "city of refuge", then the city's elders are to deliver the person to the victim's "avenger of blood" for a revenge killing. After briefly commanding that the Israelites are not to cheat their neighbors out of land by moving their boundary markers, he states that there must be a minimum of 2 or 3 witnesses to bring a case against a person's "sin". In addition, Moses also states that anyone who falsely brings a case against another, will receive the punishment of the "sin" they accused the innocent person of - adding that they should not be pitied, and the punishment shall be an "eye for an eye".

After Moses states that any soldier that is engaged but not married, built a house but hasn't lived in it, planted a vineyard but haven't eaten from it, or is simply afraid, is excused from having to enter battle, he lays out his plans for conquering cities outside of the "promised land". First the Israelites are to offer a "peace treaty" - which consists of enslaving the inhabitants of the city - which failing that, they are to kill every male within the city, but the women and young girls may be "kept for themselves"; however when conquering cities within the "promised land", every single breathing thing is to be killed. They are also not allowed to harm any fruit trees.

Moses then states that if the body of a murdered man is found in the fields and his killer is unknown, then taking a heifer that's never been worked in a field, and breaking its neck will somehow absolve the land of Israel from the guilt of the victim's murder. Next, Moses states that if there's a pretty woman amongst the prisoners of war, that after she's grieved for a month, you can have sex with her, making her your wife. However, if you come to find out that later that you don't actually like your new wife, then you can kick her out of your home, but you mustn't sell her into slavery. Next, Moses says that if a man has two wives and favors one over the other, he can't give his birthright to one of his oldest son from his favored wife if his firstborn belongs to the wife he doesn't like. Next, if you have an unruly son, you are to drag him out to the elders of the city, stating that he is a "drunk and a glutton", and then all the males of the city are to stone him to death. If you hang a person, you are not to let the body stay up overnight, as this will "defile" the "promised land".

Moses next states that if a person loses an item - whether it be livestock, donkeys, or clothing - that it is to be returned to its owner. If the owner is not known, the item is to be kept until the owner comes looking for it. Moses then calls transvestites "abominations"; states that if you find a bird's nest that you can keep the eggs and the young, but must leave the mother bird; when building a house you must put up a guardrail on the roof so that no one falls off; forbids sowing a vineyards with other seeds, lest both the fruit and the grapes become "defiled" from doing so; forbids plowing a field with both a donkey and an ox at the same time; forbids wearing a garment with mixed fibers; and commands that the Israelites must make fringes upon their clothes.

Moses then dishes up a bunch of misogynistic laws:
  • If a man suspects that his bride was not a virgin on their wedding night, it's up to the bride's father to provide "tokens of [her] virginity" (blood stained bedsheets) to prove her innocence.
    • If the husband has falsely accused his wife, he is flogged with a whip, must pay his wife's father 100 shekels of silver, and may not divorce his wife.
    • If the father cannot prove his daughter's innocence, she gets dragged out to her father's house, and is stoned to death for "being a whore" and shaming her father's family.
  • If a man (regardless of his own marital status) sleeps with a married woman, they are both to be stoned to death.
  • When a woman is a virgin and engaged, and is raped by a man in the city, they are both to be stoned to death. The man for depriving the husband-to-be of consummating his marriage, and the woman for not screaming loud enough to prevent her own rape.
  • When a woman is a virgin and engaged, and is raped by a man out in the country, then only the rapist is to be stoned to death. Moses reasons that being out in the countryside it would be difficult to determine whether the woman screamed out or not during the rape, so that it must be assumed that she did scream, but that no one had heard her.
  • If a woman is a virgin, yet isn't engaged to be married, and is raped, then the rapist must pay the woman's father 50 shekels of silver, the rapist must marry his victim(!), and he is not allowed to divorce her for he has "devalued" her.
Moses also states that a man is not to marry his father's wife, nor "dishonor his father's bed".

Moses states that the following undesirables are not to enter the "sanctuary": anyone with testicular damage; anyone whose penis has been cut off; a bastard, including his descendants ten generations later; or the Ammonites or Moabites, because they were the races that hired Balaam and his talking donkey to curse the Israelites. He adds that they are not to discriminate against the Edomites or the Egyptians, however. A soldier that has a "wet dream", is to leave camp, wash himself, and not return until sundown. Also a "toilet area" must be set aside outside of camp, and all waste must be buried, for God will not tolerate anything "unclean" in his camp. Moses then states that a runaway slave is not to be returned, nor oppressed. Next Moses states that there are to be no prostitutes among the Israeli women, nor "sodomites" among the men, nor are the proceeds from prostitution - male or female - to be brought into the "sanctuary", for such proceeds are an "abomination" to God. Then Moses states that interest is not to be tacked onto any loans made to am Israelite, but is okay for loans made to foreigners. Moses then warns that if one makes a vow to God, then they are compelled to fulfill it, or they have committed a "sin". Next he tells the Israelites that if they pass by a neighbors vineyard or crops, that they may eat all they want until they are full, but they are not to collect any to bring home with them.

Moses next states that if I man doesn't care for his wife, he can kick her out of his home, but if she remarries and later becomes single again - either by divorce or being widowed - that her former husband is not to remarry her because she has been "defiled", and God considers this an "abomination". He adds that a newly-wed husband is not to be sent out to battle, nor given any major responsibilities in his first year of marriage, since it is his duty to "cheer up" his new bride. Moses then states that a person is not to take as collateral the tools which a man uses to earn his living, and condemns kidnapping. Moses next tells the Israelites to heed the laws concerning leprosy and wrongly brings up his sister Miriam as an example - Miriam was stricken with leprosy not because she failed to heed the laws concerning leprosy, but instead as a punishment from God for pointing out Moses' marriage to an Egyptian woman violates God's law. Next, Moses states that when giving out a loan that the recipient and not the person giving the loan is to pick out an item for collateral. Moses next states that it is a "sin" for an employer not to pay his workers promptly, especially if he is poor and in need of the money. Next Moses states that a man is not to be put to death for the "sin" of his ancestors. Moses then states that judgment is not to be skewed against foreigners, orphans, or widows - nor may a person take a widow's garment for collateral - and that people are to leave some surplus crops for them.

Moses next states that if a person has been judged "worthy" of a beating, he is to lie down and be beaten in front of the judge who orders his beating - the amount of lashes he receives is to be in accordance to the severity of his crime and is not to exceed forty lashes. He then states that an ox working in a cornfield is not to be muzzled. Moses then states that when a man's brother leaves behind a widow without any children, the man is to marry his brother's widow and appoint the firstborn child as his dead brother's heir. When a man refuses to marry his brother's widow, the widow is to complain about the man to the elders of the city, who in turn have to try and talk him into marrying her; if he still refuses, the widow gets to remove one of the man's shoes and spit in his face - which from that point on the man's house will be known as 'The house of him that had his shoe removed'. Next he adds that if two men get into a fight, the wife of either man may not grab the testicles of the other man - if she does then she should be shown no pity while her hand is chopped off. After telling the Israelites that they are to be fair in their use of weights and measures, he states that as soon as they are finished fighting the enemies surrounding the promised land, that they are then to commit genocide against the Amalekites as revenge for them attacking the slow, sick, weak, and injured amongst the Israelites - and for not "fearing God".

After telling the Israelites to bring the first of their crops down to the sanctuary in a basket and give them to the priest on duty, Moses gives a long rambling speech about how the Israelites grew into a great nation while being enslaved and mistreated by the Egyptians. He then declares another ceremony, the "Year of Tithing" - where the Israelites are to give their tithes of crops every third year to the Levites, foreigners, widows, and orphans. Yet again, he also reminds the Israelites to be obedient because God has deemed them his chosen people, better than any other nation upon the face of the earth.

Moses then commands the Israelites to construct a monument out of uncut stones, which they are to write God's laws upon once the arrive in the "promised land", adding that no iron tools are to be used in shaping the stones. The monument is to be set upon Mount Ebal along with an altar for the people to sacrifice animals upon. Next Moses then commands that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali are to stand upon Mount Ebal proclaiming curses. Among those he wants to be "cursed": anyone who makes a graven or molten image and tries to hide it; anyone who dishonors his mother or father; anyone who moves his neighbor's property marker, anyone who leads the blind in the wrong direction; anyone who twists judgment against a stranger, orphan, or widow; any man who sleeps with his father's wife; any man who commits bestiality; any man who sleeps with his sister; any man who sleeps with his mother-in-law; anyone who secretly kills his neighbor; anyone who becomes hitman; and anyone who does not obey these laws.

After briefly telling them the nice things that God will bestow upon them if they obey, Moses then states a long list of all the horrific things that God will do to the Israelites if they do not obey him.

Moses then addresses the entire congregation of Israel and tells them that although they witnessed all of the "miracles" and plagues that God unleashed upon the Egyptian people, God apparently has not given them the ability to understand the significance until this day. However only a small fraction of Moses' audience could have possibly been old enough to recall any of the "miracles" in Egypt after God killed off most of the older generation by making them wander around the desert for forty years - which laughably Moses notes that none of their clothes or shoes had worn out during. He adds that the reason the Israelites were not given any wine or hard liquor during their forty year excursion was so that they would know that Yahweh was their god, and that every single one of them - men, wives, children, slaves, servants, and even the stranger in town - must enter a covenant with God, which will establish them as "God's people". Next, Moses once again forbids them from worshiping other gods, stating that in addition to all the curses laid out in the previous chapter, that their names will be "blotted out from under heaven", and that their children and descendants will rise up against them while foreigners will marvel at the punishments God dishes out against the Israelites - that the whole land will be covered in brimstone, similar to the fates of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He then states that "prophecy" belongs only to God, and that those that have been revealed belong to the Israelites - which justifies the condemning and execution of "fortune tellers", "diviners", and "mediums".

Moses states that should God curse the Israelites for worshiping other gods, should the Israelites "return to God" and obey him, then he will again show them compassion and turn the curses around upon their enemies. Moses then tries to state that this coerced obedience is somehow a "choice".

Moses next tells the Israelites that he is 120 years old(!) and that he is forbidden from entering the "promised land", so that soon Joshua will succeed him as their leader. He tells the people that they will soon cross the Jordan River and begin committing genocide against the "heathen nations" living there. Next, he tells the Israelites to be strong and courageous because God will accompany them in battle as he addresses Joshua in front of the congregation. Moses then writes down God's laws and instructs that they should be read every seven years during the "feast of tabernacles" to the entire population of Israel - including strangers that are in town - for as long as they live within the "promised land". God then tells Moses that he shall die soon, and predicts that the Israelites will go "a whoring" after other gods and provoke his anger, so he has Moses write down some song lyrics. After giving the Levites the "book of laws" that he wrote down, he tells them to place them beside the "ark of the covenant", then proceeds to chastise them for being rebellious, stating that they will become even worse after he has died.

Moses teaches the song lyrics to the Israelites and tells them to teach them to their children. God then tells Moses to climb Mount Nebo and gaze upon the land of Canaan, and states that it will be atop the mountain that Moses will die because Moses didn't follow God's directions and therefore "didn't sanctify God" to the Israelites.

Finally, Moses gives his blessings to each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and then ascends Mount Nebo and dies at the age of 120(!). The Israelites wept for thirty days, and it is noted that there "has never been a prophet in Israel since then like Moses, whom God knew face to face".

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Chapter 34
Summary:Moses went up from the plains of Moab and ascended Mount Nebo, at the top of Pisgah across Jericho. God then showed Moses all the land of Gilead given to Dan; the land given to Naphtali; the land of Ephraim and Manasseh; all of the land given to Judah to the utmost of the sea; the southern plain of the valley of Jericho; and the city of palm trees out to Zoar.

God said to him, "This is the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and which I told them I would alsi give to their descendants. I have allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you shall not go over there."

Moses, the servant of God, died there in the land of Moab, according to the God's word. He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, across from Bethpeor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old* when he died, but neither his eyesight nor his strength had diminished.

The people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; as Moses had laid his hands upon him, and the people of Israel hearkened to him, and did as God had commanded Moses.

There has never been a prophet in Israel since then like Moses, whom God knew face to face, with all the signs and wonders which God sent him to do in the land of Egypt to the Pharaoh, and all of his servants, and to all of his land, and in all of his mighty hand, and the great terror which Moses had shown before the eyes of all of Israel.
Notes:1.) This is not a typo. The bible lists Moses' actual age as 120 years old. Although technically not impossible, it is highly unlikely that without the aid of modern medicine (or "miracles") that Moses could have achieved such an advanced age, especially given how mentally and physically active he is claimed to have been at such an age in this chapter as well.
Thoughts:This final chapter in the book of Deuteronomy basically tells the story of Moses' death at the ripe old age of 120 years old - in which it is noted that neither his strength or his eyesight had diminished over the years, which should probably be considered a good thing when his last duty that he was expected to do at 120 years of age before dying was to climb a mountain.

After climbing the mountain God shows Moses the land he is giving to the the tribes of Dan, Naphtali, Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), and Judah, which he could see from the top of the mountain. He tells Moses that this is the "promised land", and that he is not allowed to enter it, before Moses dies atop the mountain. God himself apparently buries Moses in a valley in Moab, but it's noted that no one knows where he is buried.

Considering that the Pentateuch (the Jewish Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament) is supposedly attributed to Moses, it raises the question who supposedly has written this chapter describing Moses' death and mysterious burial, and if this took place only between God and Moses, how was this information known to the author?

The Israelites mourned Moses' death for 30 days, and Joshua took over their leadership as appointed by Moses.

The chapter, the book of Deuteronomy, and the Pentateuch closes out by stating that there has never been a prophet like Moses, who knew God face to face, nor performed the sort of "miracles" like the ones Moses performed in Egypt - which Moses apparently terrified the Israelites with.


Chapter 33
Summary:Moses, "the man of God", gave the people of Israel a blessing before his death:
"The Lord came from Mount Sinai, and rose up from Mount Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints - from his right hand went a fiery law for them.

"He loved his people; all of his saints are in his hand, following in his footsteps, every one of them receiving his words. Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob. He was king in Jeshurun*, when the leaders of the people and of the tribes of Israel were gathered together.

"Let the tribe of Reuben live, and not die; and let his men not be few."
He then blessed the tribe of Judah, saying:
"Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people - let his hands be sufficient for him, and help defend him from his enemies."
Of the Levites, Moses said:
"Let the Thummim and the Urim be with these holy ones, whom you tested at Massah, and with whom you strove against at the waters of Meribah. They spared not even their father, mother, siblings, nor their children; instead, they kept their word and your covenant. They shall teach Jacob your judgments, and your law to Israel. They shall place incense before you and burnt animal sacrifices upon your altar. Lord, bless them, their skills, and the work of their hands. Smite through the loins those who rise against them, and do not allow those who hate them to rise again."
Of Benjamin he said:
"The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover them all day long, and they shall dwell between his shoulders."
Of Joseph he said:
"May the Lord bless their land, from the precious dew from the sky, to the deep waters beneath; for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon; for the choice materials of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills; for the precious things of the earth and its fulness; and for the good will of the Lord who dwelt in the burning bush - let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, the crown upon his head that separated him from his brothers. His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns - with them he shall gore his enemies to the end of the earth - they are the tens of thousands of Ephraim, and the thousands of Manasseh."
Of Zebulun and Issachar he said:
"Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and you Issachar, in your tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness - for they shall feast upon the abundance of the seas, and of the treasures hidden in the sand."
Of Gad he said:
Blessed be he that enlarges Gad's land - he dwells there like a lion, and tears the arm with the crown of his head. He chose the best land for himself, because he was seated as the lawgiver. He lead the people and executed the justice of the Lord, and his judgments with Israel."
Of Dan he said:
"Dan is a lion's cub - he shall leap from Bashan."
Of Naphtali he said:
Naphtali is satisfied with his favor and blessing from the Lord. They will possess the land in the south west."
Of Asher he said:
Let Asher be blessed with many children and be favored by the other tribes, and let him dip his feet in oil.

"The bolts of your gates shall be of iron and brass; and your strength shall equal your days.

"There is none like the God of Jeshurun*, who descends from the heaven to help you from his majesty in the sky. The eternal God is your refuge, underneath his everlasting arms. He shall thrust out your enemies before you and shall say 'Destroy them.'

"Israel shall dwell safely alone - the fountain of Jacob shall prosper in a land of corn and wine; and the heavens will drop dew. You should be happy, Israel, for who else is like you? People saved by the Lord, by the shield of his help and the sword of his excellency. Your enemies will be found to be wrong, and you shall tread upon their highest places"
Notes:1.)As noted in the previous chapter, "Jeshurun" is an alternate poetic equivalent for "Israel". It can mean the people of Israel (as it is used here), the land of Israel, or as an alternate name for Jacob/Israel.
Thoughts:This chapter sort of reads out like a will for the twelve (or thirteen, depending on how you're counting) tribes of Israel, with Moses giving each of them a final blessing before he prepares to die.

Some of the tribes, such as Reuben, who gets the first blessing, are short and to the point - he blesses the tribe of Reuben "to live, and not die" and for their numbers to not be few; and the blessing which follows that for the tribe of Judah goes similarly - to bless their handiwork and to help defend them from their enemies. Whereas Moses rambles on much longer with his blessing for other more important tribes like the tribe of Levi.

When giving his blessing for the tribe of Levi, Moses again mentions the Thummim and the Urim - two stones that basically serve as a sort of Magic 8-ball to answer "yes" or "no" questions, that we first encountered in Leviticus: Chapter 8. I've discussed my numerous problems with these Magic 8-Ball stones in my commentary for both Leviticus: Chapter 8 and Numbers: Chapter 27, so I don't feel that I need to go into further detail here.

Continuing on with his blessing for the Levites, he references God "testing them" at Massah (which the name is said to mean "tempting God to kill us all") when the Israelites were whining for water and almost stoned Moses to death until he drew water from a rock, and the second time that they complained about not having any water where Moses struck the rock like he had done before instead of "speaking to it". He then commends the Levites for not even sparing their own families - parents, siblings, and children - when they were ordered to slaughter them to prove their allegiance to God. He states that they are the ones chosen to teach the people God's laws and judgments, burn incense, and sacrifice animals upon the altar of the sanctuary. He asks God to bless them in their works and deeds, and to "smite through the loins" anyone who opposes the Levites, and to ensure that such people aren't allowed to "rise again".

Although Moses states that the tribe of Benjamin is "beloved" to God, they only get a short blessing asking God to keep them safe.

Next Moses blesses the "half tribes" of Ephraim and Manasseh under the blanket of the single tribe of Joseph. Because the Levites are included in these blessings, the half tribes must be counted as the single tribe of Joseph to preserve the bible's obsession with the significance of number twelve. When the tribe of Levi is omitted from a count or census, such as when they are prohibited from possessing land in Canaan, the "half tribes" are treated separately as if they were "full tribes". Moses asks God to bless the land of the two "half tribes", as well as everything contained and that grows within it. One odd thing Moses mentions in his list of things are "precious things put forth by the moon", which the only possible thing that I'm aware of that this might be would be mushrooms. This is interesting in light of the role that hallucinogenic mushrooms have played in many early religions - some have even theorized that manna may actually have been describing psilocybe mushrooms. The use of hallucinogenic mushrooms by the Israelites could certainly better explain some of the more bizarre occurrences such as God's appearance as a burning bush (which is also coincidentally mentioned in this blessing) or the intense fear of the Israelites due to God's appearance as a smoking, lightning encrusted, mountain top. Moses asks that the tribes of Joseph are blessed due to the "crown" that separates them from the other eleven tribes, reasoning that the glory of Joseph is like a firstborn bull, and that his "horns are like those of a unicorn(!)" that will gore the enemies of Israel to the ends of the earth, for there are tens of thousands of people belonging to the tribe of Ephraim (32,500 according to the census taken in Numbers: 26), and thousands of people belonging to the tribe of Manasseh (52,700 according to the census taken in Numbers: 26). Even though the tribe of Manasseh outnumbers the tribe of Ephraim in the previous census, Moses seems to imply the opposite here.

The tribes of Zebulun and Issachar get a combined blessing, where Moses asks God to bless them in their outdoor activities of camping and hunting.

For the tribe of Gad, Moses asks God to enlarge their land, and states that they had picked out the best land for themselves since they were "seated as the lawgiver", meaning that they had been selected to enforce criminal punishments.

The tribe of Dan gets the briefest blessing with Moses simply stating that they are "a lion's cub - and [they] shall leap from Bashan".

The tribe of Naphtali gets the most boring blessing stating that they're basically happy with what they've got and will inhabit the south west portion of the "promised land".

Finally, Moses blesses the tribe of Asher by asking God for them to be blessed with fertility, to be favored by the other tribes, and for them to wash their feet in oil.

Moses then states that the defense of the Israelites shall be strong, and that their strength will last through their lifetimes. He adds that God will help them in battle, bringing their enemies before them to destroy. Moses states that they will be safe and unbothered in their dwellings, and will prosper in crops. He finishes off stating that the enemies of Israel will be proven wrong, and that the Israelites will dominate over them.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Chapter 32
Summary:(Note: Because of the way this chapter is written - with the majority of the verses being song lyrics - I'm going to change up my approach to summarizing this chapter by leaving the verses in their original King James translation, and then commenting every so often between them, with my comments written in italics.)

Moses recites the lyrics to God's song:

 1Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

 2My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:

 3Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.
These first three verses basically see Moses setting up metaphors implying that these lyrics will hit the listener like rain and dew hits the grass, and that they are intended to explain how "great" God is.

 4He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
Moses is claiming here that both God and all of his works are "perfect", that he is a god of truth, and that he is without "sin".

 5They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation.

 6Do ye thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?
Moses is implying here that the Israelites have corrupted themselves and are no longer "God's children", but instead have corrupted themselves. Moses calls them foolish and unwise for doing so, considering that God brought them here from out of their Egyptian slavery and made them into the mighty nation that they became.

 7Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.

 8When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
Moses tells people to "remember" the stories of the "days of old", by asking their elders to recount the stories to them. Moses claims that when God (the Most High) divided up the people of the world (the sons of Adam) into their separate nations (presumably after the Tower of Babel incident) that he set the borders of these nation in accordance to the population of the people of Israel. This seems suspect considering that the entire population of "Israel" at the time of their migration to Egypt - an already well established nation - was 70.

 9For the LORD's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

 10He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
It is important that a distinction should be made between Jacob/Israel the person and Jacob/Israel the people. While Jacob/Israel himself found favor with God, God wanted to destroy the people of Israel not just once, not just twice, not just three times, but distinctly four times so far in our story so far alone - which Moses had to talk God out of each time. Although perhaps Jacob himself, along with Moses, may have been, the people of Israel were hardly the "apple of [God's] eye".

 11As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:

 12So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.
Although it may be arguable that outside of the various mass killings, plagues, and violent anger towards the Israelites that God did take care of them somewhat, it would be impossible for the Israelites to be certain that God alone - without the aid of other "strange gods" - lead them, aside from taking Moses' word for it. According to the story found in Exodus: Chapter 20, the Israelites begged Moses to not have God speak to them directly, fearing that the voice of God would kill them.

 13He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock;

 14Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.

 15But Jeshurun* waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
These three verses are prophetic, where Moses tells how God will provide the Israelites with all a wealth of good food, meats, and wines, but that the Israelites (referred to by an unusual poetic variant, "Jeshurun") would simply become gluttonous and forsake God's generosity and their own "salvation". It's unclear whether this might be a case of self-fulfilling prophecy; whether God is simply stating predestination, which is not alterable, and thereby negating what many believers claim as people having free-will; or whether God might be manipulating the Israelites into behaving this way.

 16They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.

 17They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
Moses again places heavy emphasis on the "sin" of worshiping other gods being a justification out of jealousy for the extremities of God's violence against the Israelites. Curiously this also marks the second occurrence of the term "devil", this time in reference to the "other gods" the Israelites have turned to. Moses also adds that these will be gods that the Israelites have never encountered before, and ones that have been newly invented.

 18Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.

 19And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.
Moses states here that the Israelites (by worshiping other gods) will become ungrateful to the god that supposedly "created them", and that they in turn will provoke God into detesting them.

 20And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.

 21They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
Moses states that God's punishment to the Israelites for making him jealous of their new gods will be to take away his blessings to the Israelites, and will make the Israelites themselves jealous by giving those blessings to other nations who are not "God's people", which will provoke their own anger.

When we examine what's being said in these verses a lot closer, we realize that what is most likely really going on here is psychological manipulation to further vilify the religions of other cultures. Broken down, we see that in order for the Israelites to receive God's blessings they have to jump through all sorts of hoops: they have to meticulously follow and obey numerous and complex commandments, rules, animal sacrifices, and laws to appease God or else they will be killed or excommunicated. Whereas the only thing that the enemies of the Israelites have to do to receive these same blessings are to get the Israelites to worship "idols" - whether they are their own or they encourage the Israelites to create their own. The enemy nations don't have to follow any of God's complex rules and regulations to benefit from God's blessings, all they have to do is lead the Israelites to worship other gods - ANY gods.

Imagine you were given a mansion to live in rent free, but in order to live there you had to do all sorts of complex tasks, follow strict rules, and follow your landlord's religion. If you fail at these tasks your landlord will give your mansion away to your neighbors, who can live there without having to follow all of the strict rules that you have to abide by. When your neighbor stops by with his copy of the "Book of Mormon" - even if he might have no idea about your landlord's rules - you're apt to act out even more defensively, angrily, and perhaps violently, out of fear of your neighbor's motives. Clearly you're being psychologically manipulated regardless of whether whether your landlord's or your neighbor's intentions are meant in good will or not.

 22For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.

 23I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them.

 24They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.

 25The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs.
Now God also dishes out the nasty stuff. Not only will he give his blessings to your enemies, but his anger will be so intense, that he will consume the "promised land" with fire, shoot the people with arrows, starve them, burn them, have wild animals tear them apart, and have poisonous snakes bite them. He will not spare any children (neither male nor young virgin girls), babies who are still nursing, or the elderly; despite the fact they're probably not able to properly convince the able adults not to worship other gods, leaving them helpless to their own destruction - not to mention that babies have no protection against their own destruction at God's hands.

Also interesting of note is that this is the first mention of "hell" in the bible.

 26I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men:

 27Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the LORD hath not done all this.
God now appears to have second thoughts about scattering the Israelites all over to distant lands, thinking that the enemy nations might believe that they destroyed Israel by their own might, and denying that God had anything to do with it.

28For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.

 29O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!

 30How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?

 31For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.

 32For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter:

 33Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
God "reasons" that the enemies of Israel are "unwise" for thinking that they themselves could drive out an army of 1,000 Israelites with a single one of their soldiers, or that an army of 10,000 Israelites with two of their soldiers, without realizing that God was punishing the Israelites; positing that even they know that their gods aren't genuine like Yahweh, the god of the Israelites. God reasons that this should be evident because their vineyards are the "vine of Sodom" and that their "fields of Gomorrah" produce sour and poisonous grapes, their wine is the "poison of dragons" and the "venom of [snakes]". Therefore, apparently if you can't harvest edible grapes, it serves to reason that your gods are false.

34Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?

 35To me belongeth vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
God now states that the people of Israel will always be "among [his] treasures", and that he will have vengeance and retribution against the enemies of Israel, and that their good fortune will run out in due time.

36For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
Once God sees that the Israelites have been "beaten up" enough, he'll repent himself.

37And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted,

 38Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection.
In these two verses God taunts the enemies of Israel by asking them "where are your gods now?"

39See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.

 40For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.

 41If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.

 42I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.

 43Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
God claims that he is the only "real god", that he is the arbiter of life and death, and the one who wounds and heals, and that none can do what he can do. God continues, saying that he is eternal, and lifts his "sword" in judgment, delivering vengeance to his enemies and repaying those who oppose him. God says that his arrows with be bloodthirsty, his sword will devour flesh, fueled by the blood of the slain and captive Israelites becoming the beginning of God's revenge upon their enemies. God finishes out by stating that he will avenge the Israelites and have revenge on their enemies - showing mercy to the "promised land" and the Israelites.

Moses and "Hoshea"*, the son of Nun, recited these lyrics to the people of Israel.

Moses finished speaking to the people of Israel telling them:
"Take these words that I testify to you today to heart, and teach them to your children, for them to obey all the words of these laws. It is not vain for you to do this, because it will prolong your days in the land when you cross the Jordan River to possess it."
God spoke to Moses that same day telling him:
Go up into the mountain of Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab across from Jericho; and gaze upon the land of Canaan which I gave to the people of Israel as a possession. You will die up in the mountain and will be join your ancestors, just as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor. Because you trespassed against me in front of the people of Israel, at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin. Because you didn't sanctify me in the midst of the people of Israel, you will be allowed to see the land spread out before you, but you will not enter the land which I give to the people of Israel."
Notes:1.) "Jeshurun" is an alternate poetic equivalent for "Israel". It can mean the people of Israel (as it is used here), the land of Israel, or as an alternate name for Jacob/Israel.
2.) "Hoshea" is yet another spelling of "Joshua", similar to "Oshea" as seen in Numbers: Chapter 13 prior to Moses renaming him "Jehoshua", or Joshua. It's unclear why this form of Joshua's name is used here, but it might possibly be further evidence for the documentary hypothesis.
Thoughts:After Moses (and Joshua, or is it Hoshea?) recite the song lyrics to God's #1 hit single to the Israelites, he tells the people to take the lyrics to heart, and to ensure that they teach them to their children - adding that it's not "vain" for them to do so, since it will prolong their lives in the "promised land"

Next God tells Moses to climb Mount Nebo and to take a good look at the land of Canaan - the "promised land" - since he won't be allowed to enter it. He tells Moses that he will die upon the mountain, in a similar fashion to his brother Aaron, due to both of them messing up that whole striking a rock instead of speaking to it that somehow didn't "sanctify" God in the presence of the people of Israel.