Monday, February 1, 2010

Divine Transformation

When I started writing my blog I gave "Warning warning, Danger danger" notes at the top of my posts to denote religious content.  Given that I have begun to write every second post on a religious topic I think that those sorts of warnings are unnecessary and distracting while serving no real purpose.  Some people have even suggested that it may be insulting to the reader to assume they need such warnings, though I am not sure that I buy that.  Regardless my intent going forward is to remove all warning labels and even to push further into controversial territory.  I hope to drop the walls a little bit more and let my thoughts pour onto the screen.

Over the weekend and today I have been reading Leviticus and Numbers chapters in the Bible.  The stark differences between Genesis and the following chapters is really starting to become more clear now;  God has changed from a Omnipotent Creator to a Tough Guy over these pages.  It feels very much like the Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers chapters would make more sense if the deity in them was not the same deity as the beginning of the Bible.  The God of these chapters is jealous, cruel and extremely interested in the minutia of running a civilization.  He feels much more like a human emperor that is unbelievably powerful yet still distinctly personal.

The God of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers (ELN) is very concerned with unclean things.  He is very worried about men not cutting off their foreskins, women bleeding during menstruation and animals being without blemish.  There are immense quantities of instructions about dealing with unclean animals, insects and food and yet no real acknowledgement given of the premise that God created all of these things as they are.  It is as if God - ELN was written up as a personal God of the Israelites who was incredibly interested in how they ran their everyday lives and was happy to massacre their enemies for them without thought given at all to the creation myth.  The jarring difference between the two Gods pictured here makes it seem like the stories were written separately by people who had dramatically different views on the nature of the singular deity but were stitched together later regardless of the inconsistencies.

I also find amusing the way that details of the events at the time were recorded.  Numbers 7:78 records the specific sacrifices brought by Ahira son of Enan including the sheckel value of each of the gold or silver items he brought.  Needless to say Ahira son of Enan never appears in the Bible again.  A few pages later the people cry out for meat (possibly because they have to sacrifice enormous quantities of livestock constantly) so God brings quails in from the sea and stacks them two cubits deep all around the Israelites.  The Israelites eat the quail, which enrages God so he strikes them with 'a very great plague' and they name that place for all the people they have to bury there.  You might think that God providing sustenance in such a magical way, becoming enraged at the eating of said sustenance and then plaguing the people would be a big deal, but the space devoted to that whole event was the same as the space devoted to chronicling the sacrifice of Ahira son of Enan.

If you disobey this God he might:

Curse you with childlessness
Curse your family with childlessness
Curse your servants, slaves, household, clan, friends or nation with childlessness
Strike you blind
Turn you into a pillar of salt
Cover you in boils
Cast you out of your nation
Instantly slay you
Cause others to slay you
Rain fire on your city to destroy you
Summon plagues to randomly kill people
Bring swarms of insects to eat your crops
Slay your livestock

But one thing he won't do is curse you to eternal torment.  In this part of the Bible hell is not a thing at all, once you are dead you are quite done.  I am very curious to see how much eternal torment/reward shows up in the Bible because it is such a central feature of religions these days.  In the Old Testament it just isn't there... although God is more than happy to inflict hideous torments on people he stops at the grave.  That is, unless you count the fact that he will curse your family up to the fourth generation for things you have done.  You may have passed beyond his jurisdiction, but your offspring have not, and inheritance is of critical importance to the God of ELN.

1 comment:

  1. I've always found that God to be very inconsistent with the idea of monotheism. It seems that in order to be a jealous God, there has to be something to be jealous of, does it not? Being the God of the Israelites leaves a lot of room for other Gods of other peoples to exist. It's just that this God is better than those other Gods, and overpowers them so that his people can overpower their followers.

    This, of course, is much more consistent with the thinking of a couple thousand years ago than modern day monotheism is. People all over had various gods and everyone accepted that other people had different gods. The innovation of this God of the old testament was not being the only God, but being a God who would really kill the crap out of people who showed deference to other Gods. I'm not saying that the idea that God is the only god and there are no others isn't present in those books, frankly I've only read scattered bits of them and can't speak to the matter. I just think a lot of what I have read can really be read either way and makes more sense for the time it was written if it is interpreted as God thinking himself the best God, rather than God being the only god there is.