Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hubris, Breasts and Madness

Well, I have plowed through Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon and Isaiah.  144 more pages to go to complete the Bible project.  These three sections of the Bible are not at all similar to one another, but I did find some interesting things there.

Ecclesiastes basically focuses around the king of Israel giving us strange, meandering insight into his philosophy, history and his visions.  It starts off with an absolutely marvelous quote:

"I said to myself, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.""

So the author first sets out to assure us that he is wise beyond all others and then sets out to talk about how wisdom is futile and life is essentially pointless, advocating that we all seek temporary pleasures such as food, conversation, etc.  The fact that this is entirely in contradiction to virtually all other instructions in the Bible is undeniable but given that the author has assured us of his unparalleled wisdom, who are we to doubt?

The Song of Solomon is basically a love song or series of love songs.  It has little of real interest to me aside from the continued compliments directed at women's breasts.  I find that intriguing because if that sort of thing were common and acceptable in the culture of the time it would be starkly different from today.  Imagine this:

Wow, you have such beautiful eyes.   <-Likely to get a good reaction
Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.  <-As likely to get you slapped as smiled at

Yet this is by modern standards, and by the standards of the Bible it would seem that compliments on a woman's navel, thighs or breasts in a love song are no problem.  Nothing wrong here, just interesting.

Isaiah is more of the classic Old Testament violence.  It isn't a history though, but rather frothing, desperate exhortations to people to do as the author commands or God will get mad and kick their asses.  A typical exchange goes like this:

The people of Israel ignore God's commandments and statutes.  God commands the Assyrians to attack and the Israelites are killed by the sword, their little ones are dashed to death in front of them and their wives are ravished.  Next the Assyrians express the idea that they are the ones who did these things.  God becomes angry with them because they were just the sword that he wielded so he causes the Israelites to rise up and massacre the Assyrians, dash their little ones to pieces in front of them and ravish their wives.

Once the Assyrians attack, destroying 12 fortified cities.  The Israelite king begs for help so God promises to send the Assyrians home.  Instead though he just kills 185,000 of them overnight.

Unlike in previous sections where at least stories were being told and things seemed remotely organized Isaiah is just a mess.  The organization is nonexistent, the themes wildly fluctuating and it is constantly self contradictory.  It is obviously the writings of a fanatical madman which have been badly preserved, mistranslated and revised over a few thousand years.  If you want material for a fire and brimstone sermon Isaiah is wonderful, but other than that it is really just a waste of time.

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