31 January 2010

January in review

We are one month in, about a twelfth of the way through the Bible. We have finished Genesis, we are a good way into Exodus, and we are about a twelfth of the way through each of Psalms and Proverbs.

The first part of Genesis contained some good myths. Some of them, like the first creation account gave lovely explanations of how our world came to be. Others, like the flood, make a mockery of the idea that God loves us. However, none of these myths have lasting explanatory power in light of our knowledge about reality.

The stories of the patriarchs and of Joseph and his brothers entertained me. They make great stories! Lots of complex human emotions and flaws and interesting plots. However, as God's perfect word, they contain many flaws. The stories lack internal consistency, and they often repeat elements.

Exodus so far shows God to be a horrible monster. God commits thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of murders to get Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave the country. But this killing is not necessary. God himself hardens Pharaoh's heart so that he can show his power by inflicting more torture on the Egyptians.

The Book of Matthew is interesting mostly in the picture it gives us of Jesus. He likes to heal people, and he has quite a temper. Thus far into the Bible, I am skeptical of the claim that Jesus loves humanity. Yeah, he heals people and provides miraculous bread, but these could all be interpreted as opportunities to demonstrate his power. The fact that he only heals people who have enough faith in him also makes you wonder whether his goal is really to heal or to show what he can do.

The Psalms have spent a lot of time talking about suffering and wanting relief. They emphasize God's power and God's anger against his enemies. Only rarely, as in Psalm 23, do we see an unambiguous description of God as loving.

The two themes I remember from Proverbs are avoid evil people and avoid immoral women. Also, evil people always lie and cheat and plot. Combine this with the sentiment given elsewhere that anyone who does not follow God is evil, and it is easier to understand why Christians think atheists must be evil people plotting to destroy humanity (muah ha ha!).

Yeah, so far, not that impressed.

Jan 31

Reference links:

Old Testament
the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud waiting was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had died.
This act of horror needs no additional comment.

After that, Pharaoh kicked the people of Israel out of Egypt. He asks Aaron and Moses to bless him as they leave. Even if the God of the Israelites is a genocidal monster, he is still a powerful being.

We also get a couple descriptions of how the Israelites should observe Passover, including three or four repetitions of the command not to eat yeast during that time. I guess that part was important.

Inspired by commenter big-bad-al, it's math time!
  • Number of men to leave Egypt with Moses and Aaron: 600,000 (Exodus 12)
  • Time the Israelites had been in Egypt: 430 years
  • Genealogy of Moses and Aaron: Levi (137 at death), Kohath (133 at death), Amram (137 at death) (Exodus 6)
  • Ages of Moses and Aaron when they started making demands from Pharaoh: 80 and 83 respectively (Exodus 7)
  • Number of Israelite men to originally go to Egypt: 70 (Genesis 46)
So, first, let's look at the claim that that the Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt.
  • Levi must have been at least 40 when he came to Egypt. 
    • Levi was Joseph's older brother
    • Joseph was 30 when he started serving Pharaoh, and it was 9 more years before his family came to Egypt (seven years of plenty plus the first two years of famine)
    • Plus Levi is older than Joseph. There are 7 brothers between them.
    • He was probably more like 50 since there were 7 brothers (by several mothers) between Levi and Joseph.
  • If Kohath was born in Egypt, he could have been born at most 97 years after the Israelites came to Egypt
    • Assuming Levi came to Egypt at age 40 and had Kohath when he died at age 137
  • Thus, the time between Levi coming to Egypt and the exodus was at most 97 + 133 + 137 + 80 years = 447 years. We are okay so far.
  • Of course, that's making the unlikely assumption that all the men had the relevant child at the end of their life. Remember, Abraham was laughably old when he had Isaac at age 100.
  • But oops!  We're being too optimistic. According to Genesis 46, Kohath was one of the 70 who went to Egypt with Jacob.
  • Assuming he was an infant, that makes for a maximum of 133 + 137 + 80 = 350 years between the Israelites coming to Egypt and the exodus. 80 years short of the needed 430.
Now let's look at the population growth.
  • To get from 70 men to 600,000 would require the population to double about 13 times, or about every 33 years.
  • How many male children would each man have had to had survive to adulthood to achieve that? Well, it depends on the number of generations.
    • 3 generations: 20.5, 4 generations: 9.6, 5 generations: 6.1, 6 generations: 4.5
  • Now, if we factor in the fact that about half the children a women has are children and a 40% child mortality rate, we get that each woman must have had this many children:
    • 3 generations: ~70, 4 generations: ~32, 5 generations: ~20, 6 generations: ~15
  • Does this seem reasonable? Well, it depends on how strictly you interpret God's proclamation to Abraham "In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here" and what you consider a generation.

New Testament

Jesus' disciples find a colt of a donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem. This supposedly fulfills another prophecy.
Tell the people of Jerusalem,
"Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey's colt"
This comes from Zechariah 9:9. Let's look at the original.
Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.
Interesting omission, leaving out the "righteous and victorious" part. It also does not reflect well on this prophecy that the original context has the king coming after a series of military victories.

Jesus then kicks the money changers and sellers of sacrifice animals out of the temple and starts healing from the temple. Today we also read about Jesus cursing a fig tree. See, Jesus was hungry, but this fig tree did not have any figs. So he cursed it and it withered up in front of him. This shows Jesus' power, but it also shows the temper we have seen flare up many times in the Book of Matthew.

Psalms and Proverbs

The psalmist continues to have troubles and continues to want to be delivered from them. The proverbs teach us that wicked people are constant liars who plot evil and constantly stir up trouble.

30 January 2010

Jan 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read about plagues eight and nine and the preparation for plague ten. If you are interested in comparing the plagues, I recommend you take a glance at this table of the plagues on Wikipedia. For each plague, it tells, amongst other things, whether there was a warning (yes on 7/10), whether or not the Israelites were spared (yes on 5/10), and who hardened Pharaoh's heart (God 4/10, passive voice 4/10, Pharaoh 2/10).

I discussed God and his hardening of Pharaoh's heart yesterday, but I must point out what God says today in preparation for the plague of locusts.
I have made [Pharaoh] and his officials stubborn so I can display my miraculous signs among them. I've also done it so you can tell your children and grandchildren about how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and about the signs I displayed among them -- and so you will know that I am the Lord.
All of this death and destruction, all of this carnage, happens because God wants to make a mockery of the Egyptians. I have to say that as someone who does not assume a priori that this God is a loving God this sounds disgusting. Positively, undeniably disgusting.

Pharaoh almost gives in to the threat of the locusts. He says that he will let the men of Israel go and worship but not the women or children, and he will not let them take the livestock. Clearly, Moses' lie about just wanting to go worship appears as obvious to Pharaoh as it does to those of us who read the account of Moses' initial exchange with God. Because Pharaoh will not agree to letting all the Israelites go, God calls locusts down upon the land.

Pharaoh begs Moses to take the locusts away. Moses does so. Pharaoh goes back on his promise to let the Israelites go, and so we get the ninth plague: the plague of darkness. God covered Egypt with "a darkness so thick you can feel it."  To get rid of the darkness, Pharaoh offered to let all the Israelites go worship their God, but would not allow them to take any animals. Moses does not accept that.

God and Moses plot the final plague. The plan was for this plague to cause the Egyptians to be happy to get rid of the Israelites. Moses told the people of Israel to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver. The Egyptians would give it because
the Lord had caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the people of Israel. And Moses was considered a very great man in the land of Egypt, respected by Pharaoh's officials and the Egyptian people alike.
I  wonder if something was lost in translation here. I cannot believe that the Egyptians looked favorably upon the people of Israel. Fear or awe I would buy, but favor? Not likely.

God says that he will kill the firstborn of every family "Even the firstborn of all the livestock." Very odd that will kill the firstborn of all the livestock given that all the livestock were supposedly killed in the fifth plague. From Exodus 9:6
And the Lord did just as he had said. The next morning all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but the Israelites didn’t lose a single animal. 
Preparation for this slaughter gave rise to the tradition of Passover. Each family was to kill an animal and smear its blood on the door of their home to indicate to God that he should kill no one in that home. I guess the purpose of this must be to make sure that the Israelites are obedient. Certainly God would not need the blood to know which homes belonged to the Israelites.

New Testament

Today's reading contains the parable of the vineyard workers. A landowner goes out in the morning and hires a bunch of people to work in his field. He does the same thing again throughout the day. At the end of the day, he pays all the men a full day's wage regardless of how long they worked. Now, as an analogy to heavenly rewards, I am sure this provides all sorts of insight and comfort (does not matter how long you have been a believer as long as you came when you were called, blah blah etc.).

However, from an economic perspective, it makes not one bit of sense; the analogy only works if you assume there is only one ultimate pay day. It is not a sustainable economic position. As the landowner points out, he can legally choose to pay all workers the same amount regardless of how long they work, but it his scheme will quickly destroy moral. Workers will try to get hired at the end of the day, or they will not work as hard during the day knowing that they get the full days wages anyway. One thing I am learning as I read the Bible: do not go to it for management advice.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is another where David asks God not to let his enemies conquer him. It has a good line though.
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love
Given the slaughter the current Exodus readings contain, it certainly seems like God need to be reminded of his compassion and love. Beyond repeated claims in the Psalms that God does have unfailing love, have we seen God's love so far? For particular individuals perhaps, but not in any general sense. Unless you say that God showed his "love" by not killing all of humanity in the flood, just most of it.

In Proverbs we learn to
Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.
Learn from their ways and become wise!
Though they have no prince
or governor or ruler to make them work,
they labor hard all summer,
gathering food for the winter.
Now I will admit to some confusion. In Matthew 6 Jesus said,
That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
So which should I be like, the industrious ants or the carefree and trusting birds? Maybe I should just be human, able to balance work and pleasure as appropriate. Able to prepare for winter without forgoing the joy of summer.

29 January 2010

Jan 29

Reference links:

Old Testament

Plagues, plagues, nothing but plagues. At least there are lots of good pictures to show the vast amounts of human suffering that a supposedly loving God was willing to subject the Egyptian people to (and certainly some of them were innocent of evil against the Hebrews).

First, frogs. I am sure a plague of frogs would cause a lot of damage, but I cannot help but giggle at the description.
I will send a plague of frogs across your entire land. The Nile River will swarm with frogs. They will come up out of the river and into your palace, even into your bedroom and onto your bed! They will enter the houses of your officials and your people. They will even jump into your ovens and your kneading bowls. Frogs will jump on you, your people, and all your officials.
After frogs, God plagues Egypt with gnats. All of the dust in the land was turned to gnats. At this point, in addition to the very serious problem of gnats, the Egyptians are probably experiencing significant structural stability problems; a sizable chunk of the ground in a desert country could be considered dust. The plague of gnats also has the distinction of being the first plague Pharaoh's magicians cannot duplicate. This leads them to say that this event must be from God. The magicians have a pretty high opinion of their skills if they figure that anything they cannot do must be God's doing.

Next, flies. To show his power, this time God spares the region of Goshen where the Hebrews live. Yes, this time. Apparently the first few plagues afflicted the people of Israel as well as the people of Egypt. The people of Israel probably hated Moses even more after that.

After that, God sends a deadly plague against all of the Egyptian's livestock and killed it all. Next God sends a plague of festering boils. But Pharaoh still will not relent. However, this time we learn a bit more about the nature of Pharaoh's intransigence:
But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and just as the Lord had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen.
Why would the Lord do that?
By now I [the Lord] could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose -- to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.
The plagues are a power trip. He could have just done something to enable the Hebrews to leave Egypt (something equally violent, I am sure, but less sadistically drawn out). Instead, he wants his reputation as a cruel and powerful being to spread throughout the earth. I guess it has, but somehow people have been fooled into thinking that his violent murderous ways are "good" and "love".

Oh yeah, and God sent a bunch of hail which left all of Egypt in ruins and killed everything and everyone that was out in it. But Pharaoh still refused to change his mind.

Another thing I noticed: each time Moses asks Pharaoh to let them go, he asks the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go temporarily so that they can worship God in the wilderness. However, we know from Moses' earlier conversation with God in the burning bush that really the goal is to get the Hebrew people back into the land of Canaan. Rather deceptive of Moses, in my opinion.

New Testament

Jesus blesses children. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to people who are like children. It's hard for rich people to get into heaven because they do not want to give up their stuff. The twelve disciples will judge the twelve tribes of Israel in heaven.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy in the Psalms today. Proverbs teaches us not to guarantee a friend or stranger's debt. If you find your self in such a situation,
Now swallow your pride;
go and beg to have your name erased.

Don't put it off; do it now!
Don't rest until you do.

Save yourself like a gazelle escaping from a hunter,
like a bird fleeing from a net.
Good advice. Money lending between friends can be a huge source of problems. Better to just give what you can in ways that you do not expect to have repaid (whether that be a gift of money or other forms of help).

28 January 2010

Jan 28

Reference links:

Old Testament

Yesterday, Moses tried to get Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go worship their God, failed, and got everyone angry at him. Today, Moses points that out to God. God goes on about how he is the God of the people of Israel and remembers his covenant. God's tone suggests he might be getting impatient with Moses.
You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them.
Of course, my reading may be biased. I always read the phrase "well aware" in a tone that implies frustration

Moses and Aaron meet with the people of Israel again, but they no longer want to listen. According to the text
They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.
Another way to read this: the people of Israel know that Moses and Aaron's interference increased their workload once. This makes them reluctant to listen to the two of them again.

Genealogy break! We get the genealogy of some of the clans of Israel. Nothing too exciting, but we do learn that Levi lived to be 137, his son Kohath lived to be 133, and Kohath's son and Moses' father Amram lived to be 137. Also of note is that Moses is the great grandson of Levi and Moses' mother was his father's aunt.

Moses and Aaron go and show Pharaoh their stuff. First, Aaron turns his staff into a snake (one is led to wonder why he did not try that trick in the first meeting given that God had already given Moses the ability to do so). However, Pharaoh scoffs at the trick because his magicians come and do the same thing with their staffs (and Aaron's snake eats up theirs). I could accept that God gave Moses and Aaron the ability to turn their staffs into snakes. However, this story claims that the Egyptian magicians were capable of the same thing. Since I do not believe that people can go around turning staffs into snakes, this story makes me think more that the Biblical author and audience were superstitious (by modern standards). This, in turn, makes me that much more skeptical of any of the other miraculous events described.

Moses and Aaron's next turn the water of the Nile to blood. Real blood, or, at least, something toxic enough to kill all the fish. And not just the water in the Nile, God told Moses to tell Aaron to
Turn all the water to blood. Everywhere in Egypt the water will turn to blood, even the water stored in wooden bowls and stone pots.
However, the Pharaoh was not impressed. His own magicians did the same thing (one wonders where they got the water since Aaron was supposed to have turned all of it to blood). We then read that,
Pharaoh returned to his palace and put the whole thing out of his mind.
Really? Really?!? All of the water in his country has been turned into toxic, reeking blood, and Pharaoh just goes back to his palace and forgets about it? Even if he does not care about the people of Egypt, he almost certainly has a sense of self preservation and would be worried that he no longer has any water to drink.

New Testament

People should be forgiving because God forgives us even more. A man should not be allowed to divorce his wife unless she has committed adultery. Also, people should avoid marriage if they can
Jesus' disciples then said to him, "If this is the case, it is better not to marry!"

"Not everyone can accept this statement," Jesus said. "Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can. [emphasis mine]
And I would guess that a lot more Christians could accept not being married than do accept it.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is a famous one. It also is the first thing I have read in the Bible makes it an attractive basis for a belief system. It the whole Bible had the tone of this psalm, then I would be a lot less inclined to dismiss the Bible as a primitive collection of myths and history.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by annointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
This psalm also highlights the fact that that the New Living Translation sucks when it comes to Biblical poetry. The translation has greater accuracy than the King James version, and it is more comprehensible to modern readers, but
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid 
 has nothing on
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

27 January 2010

Jan 27

Reference links:

Old Testament

As I was washing dishes this evening, I realized how odd it is that none of the Pharaohs that the Hebrews interact with are named. They are always referred to as "Pharaoh" or "king of Egypt". Given that Egypt is well documented for an ancient society, the stories in Egypt would be more believable if the Pharaohs were named.

Moses, being a sensible man, realizes that he cannot expect the people of Israel to believe that he is speaking for God just because he says so. Whatever his personal experience might have been, he cannot transfer that experience to other people. He makes this point to God, and God gives him the ability to turn his staff into a snake, make his hand diseased and healed again, and turn water of the Nile into blood.

Moses next protests that he cannot speak well. God has an answer for that,
Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.
Some early Biblical descriptions of God make him responsible for misfortune as well as good; this passage supports that view, at least with respect to some types of misfortune. Whether you take this physically (God makes people blind) or metaphorically (God keeps people from understanding), this passage seems at odds with the idea of a God of love. That said, a God responsible for both good and evil is more consistent withthe view of God as omnipotent and the creator of all.

In any case, God agrees to let Moses get help from his brother Aaron. Given that Pharaoh declared that all Hebrew boys should be murdered at birth, I wonder where Aaron came from. What he born before the decree? After it was lifted? Did Moses' mother hide a second child? Was Aaron actually Moses' brother-in-law? No clue.

After finishing up his conversation with God, Moses, his wife, and their sons leave Midian for Egypt. On the way something very strange happens.
On the way to Egypt, at a place where Moses and his family had stopped for the night, the Lord confronted him and was about to kill him. But Moses' wife, Zipporah, took a flint knife and circumcised her son. She touched his feet with the foreskin and said, "Now you are a bridegroom of blood to me." (When she said "a bridegroom of blood," she was referring to the circumcision.) After that, the Lord left him alone.
Okay... Apparently God changes his mood as quickly as Jesus (so there is a family resemblance!). Moses had just been talking to God. Now God tries to kill him. Maybe God had a good reason, but it seems extreme. And weird. I would expect that if God tried to kill someone, he would succeed. Also, good call on Zipporah's part figuring out (somehow) that a rapid and probably somewhat imprecise circumcision would appease God.

Aaron and Moses meet up, go to Egypt, convince the elders of Israel they are speaking for God, talk to Pharaoh, Pharaoh refuses to let the people leave to worship God. Then, Pharaoh commits a management snafu. He assumes that since the people have the will to ask for things, they must lack work. Pharaoh gets the great idea of making them find their own straw for their bricks without reducing the number of bricks expected of them. I guess slave drivers cannot be expected to have a great understanding of people management.

New Testament

Today, the disciples ask "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Jesus replies that those who make themselves like a humble child are the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Today, we also read about Jesus' (hopefully metaphorical) recommendation of self mutilation.
What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. It's better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It's better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
A couple of lessons. Believers should avoid things that might tempt them to sin (hopefully you won't take that to mean that you should stop reading my blog!). Also, either your physical body enters heaven or hell, your spiritual body reflects the state of your physical body, or this passage is completely metaphorical.

We also learn today that
if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.
It is not completely clear who Jesus is addressing here. He could just be addressing the disciples. However, the preceding passages seemed to be addressed to believers generally. Furthermore, the passage says "where two or three gather together as my followers" without any qualification. If the passage is referring to all believers, it is problematic. What if different groups of two or three believers get together and ask for contradicting things? How do we to account for all of the things asked for by groups of believers that do not come to pass? This passage specifically says that if the believer agree concerning anything they ask, God will do it for them.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy in today's reading from Psalms. We do have some good lines in Proverbs today. Rather racy.
Drink water from your own well --
share your love only with your wife.
Why spill the water of your springs in the streets,
having sex with just anyone?
You should reserve it for yourselves
Never share it with strangers.

Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you.
Rejoice in the wife of your youth.
She is a loving deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts satisfy you always.
May you always be captivated by her love.
Still, as entertaining as those lines are, I sometimes tired of the way Proverbs seems to always address men.

26 January 2010

Jan 26

Reference links:
Old Testament

Moses murders a man! Moses went to visit his people, and he saw a Egyptian beating a Hebrew man. Moses murdered the man and hid his body in the sand. Next day, Moses visits his people again, and it comes out that people know he had murdered the Egyptian. In response, Moses flees.

He flees to Midian, where he helps protect a group of shepherdess sisters from harassment by the local yokels. Reuel, the father of the girls, invites Moses to stay with them. Moses settles down with the family, and eventually marries Reuel's daughter Zipporah. Not bad for a courtship story, but it lacks the level of detail which makes Jacob's courtship or Isaac's courtship by proxy compelling.

Years later, while Moses tends the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro, he leads the flock to Sinai, "the mountain of God". At Sinai, God talks to Moses from a bush.

Now wait a second, did you see what I tried to pull on you there. First, I say that Moses' father-in-law is Reuel, then I say his name is Jethro. The Bible tries the same thing. In Exodus 2 we see the following references to Reuel.
When the girls returned to Reuel, their father ...
In time, Reuel gave Moses his daughter Zipporah to be his wife .
Then, at the beginning of Exodus 3 we read
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian
For this apparent change of name, the New Living Translation gives the following textual note
Moses' father-in-law went by two names, Jethro and Reuel
That answer fails to satisfy. Wikipedia does a little better,
It has been suggested that Reuel was his proper name, and "Jether" or "Jethro" was his official title (i.e., "excellency").
That is somewhat feasible, but it still seems like something of a stretch. Neither the text itself nor anything that could be referenced seem to be anything indicating that this usage was common.

In any case, back to the bush. The bush is burning, but it is not being consumed. God talks to Moses from the bush. Pretty cool! You notice how back in the day when God wanted to get thing done he did not bother with placing ambiguous messages in your heart? God would chat with Abraham in person, and with Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in dreams. Even when God used symbolic dreams, like with Pharaoh, he was considerate enough to make sure there was someone like Joseph around to interpret them. And today, God talks through a burning bush. One has to wonder why God apparently cannot be so direct now.

God tells Moses that he is aware of the problems in Egypt and has decided to rescue his chosen people and lead them back to the of Canaan, the "land flowing with milk and honey". Moses and God have a bit of an exchange about God's name. Then God tells Moses that the elder's of Israel will accept his message, but Pharaoh will not let the Hebrew people go. God promises to raise his hand against the Egyptians and help the Hebrew people obtain all the wealth of the Egyptians.

New Testament

Jesus goes on about how John the Baptist was Elijah returned. Possibly interesting if you care about whether or not Jesus fulfills Messianic prophecies. Rather dull if you do not.

Then we get onto more exciting things. Jesus' disciples were unable to heal a boy, so he is brought to Jesus. Jesus lectures his disciples about their lack of faith. Apparently, with even a little faith, you can move mountains. We also hear a little about what Jesus thinks of humanity. Contrary to what some of his modern day followers would have you believe, it is not always positive.
You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?
Jesus was not so big on his followers, apparently. Remember, these are people who have faith in him, but just not enough to extract demons or move mountains. So remember, if your faith in Jesus is not strong enough to allow you to move mountains, he may very well be wondering how long he will have to put up with you.

Today, we also read about Jesus' opinion of the Temple tax. The short version is that he and his followers do not have to follow it, but Jesus decides to pay it anyway because Peter had told the tax collectors that they would. Peter finds the money to pay the taxes in the mouth of a fish. Not particularly profound, but I am amused by the idea of getting money from a random fish.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm, psalm 22, is a famous one. In particular, it is the one that Jesus quotes on the cross,
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
It is also the one that is claimed to be a prophecy of Jesus' death on the cross. But we will leave that commentary for when we get to the crucifixion. Even without that association, this psalm is pretty grim.
My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
melting within me.

My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
I can count all my bones.
 Sounds miserable.

25 January 2010

Jan 25

Reference links:

Old Testament

End of Genesis and start of Exodus today. Joseph has Jacob embalmed. A great procession is formed and he is taken back to Canaan and buried with his ancestors. One slight oddity, Joseph asks Pharaoh's advisers to ask Pharaoh to let him leave to bury his father. If Joseph is second only to Pharaoh, why does he go through intermediaries?

Joseph dies too at age 110. Finally, someone who lived less than 120 years. Joseph,
lived to see three generations of his son Ephraim, and he lived to see the birth of the children of Manasseh's son Makir, whom he claimed as his own.
Joseph adopted his son's children as his own just like Jacob adopted Joseph's children as his own. Very confusing family relations there. Before he died, Joseph made his family promise to take his bones back with them when they finally left Egypt.

Now for Exodus. First thing to note, from the Wikipedia article,
More than a century of archaeological research has discovered nothing which could support the narrative elements of the book of Exodus - the four centuries sojourn in Egypt, the escape of well over a million Israelites from the Delta, or the three months journey through the wilderness to Sinai. The Egyptian records themselves have no mention of anything recorded in Exodus, the wilderness of the southern Sinai peninsula shows no traces of a mass-migration such as Exodus describes, and virtually all the place-names mentioned, including Goshen (the area within Egypt where the Israelites supposedly lived), the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses, the site of the crossing of the Red Sea, and even Mt Sinai itself, have resisted identification. The archaeology of Palestine has equally failed to substantiate the Bible's account of the invasion of Canaan by the Israelites arriving from Egypt some forty years later - of the 31 cities supposedly conquered by Joshua, only one (Bethel) shows a destruction level that equates to the Biblical narrative, and there is general agreement that the origins of Israel lie within Canaan itself. Even those scholars who hold the Exodus to represent historical truth concede that the most the evidence can suggest is plausibility.
Exodus starts off with an inconsistency (either in translation or in the source). Remember how a couple days ago we learned that Jacob's family came to 70 people, including himself. Today we read,
In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there. [emphasis mine]
A new king comes to power in Egypt. He fears the strength of the people of Israel and so makes them his slaves. However, slavery did not stem the growth of the population, so Pharaoh gave an order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah,
When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.
If the number of people of Israel has really grown enough to be a threat to the people of Egypt, would they really only have two midwives? In any case, the midwives did not comply, so eventually Pharaoh made a law that all newborn Hebrew boys should be thrown into the Nile river. This is another unlikely command. The Nile was the life blood of Egypt. Would a Pharaoh with any sense really command that this river be contaminated with dead bodies?

In any case, one of the babies born is Moses. His mother puts him in a basket in the river and Pharaoh's daughter finds him. The princess sends baby Moses to nurse with his own mother. He is taken back to the princess when he is older.

New Testament

Jesus asks his disciples who he is. Simon Peter says he is the Messiah. Because of this answer, Jesus blesses him and says that he will be the foundation of Jesus' church. In addition, Jesus tells Peter
Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
This is a very odd verse. One way to interpret this would be to say that Peter is being blessed with the ability to say what is right and wrong with a way that is consistent with the decrees of heaven. However, the use of future tense almost makes it sound like Peter, through his decrees, will be changing heaven.

Jesus predicts his death and that he will be raised from the dead. Peter reprimands him for saying such things, and Jesus calls him Satan and accuses him of "seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's." Now, this should probably be interpreted as commentary on human knowledge and God's plans and what not. However, what I find interesting is that just after Jesus praises and blesses Peter, Jesus calls Peter Satan. I think that instead of interpreting the previous passage as Jesus giving Peter authority from God, we should interpret it as Jesus being fond of hyperbole when talking to his followers.

We also read a verse that supports the view that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. Jesus says,
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.
Jesus has not yet come with angels to judge all people. Everyone who was alive at the time of that statement is dead. Jesus was wrong.

Today we also read about how Jesus was transformed into a much shinier version of himself and was chatting with Moses and Elijah. And then,
a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him."
We had a somewhat similar event in Matthew 3,
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy."
Did this happen twice? Or was the author of Matthew just including multiple versions of the same event?

Psalms and Proverbs

Another psalm about war, more images of an angry God. Today's reading from Proverbs is much more interesting. We are warned that
the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
as dangerous as a double-edge sword.
So remember, avoid those immoral women.

24 January 2010

Jan 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

The patriarchs do not like normal, straight forward blessings. In today's reading, Jacob blesses Joseph's sons Manasseh and Ephraim, adopting them as his own children. When he goes to bless the children, he intentionally puts his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger son, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, the older son. Joseph tries to correct his father, but Jacob insists on giving Manasseh the greater blessing.

After completing that blessing, Jacob calls all his sons together and gives them a final blessing and makes prophecies about their future. Jacob outlines the destiny of the tribe of Israel descended from each son, showing how the traits of the tribes derive from the traits of the sons who found them. Knowing that the author of Genesis composed the book long after the time these events occurred, it seems more likely that the traits of the brothers are being filled in from the personalities of the tribes.

Jacob finishes blessing his sons, makes it clear that he wants to be buried in the cave where Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebekah lie. Then he dies.

New Testament

Today, Jesus heals more people and then feeds 4000 more men (plus women and children). This time he used seven loaves and a few fish. He may have shared fish as well as bread, the text is ambiguous. The two stories share many similarities. In both cases, Jesus has been healing people, he discusses the issue of food with the disciples, they possess a small amount of food, Jesus blesses the food, and the food is shared among thousands of people (with leftovers). The redundancy itself does not show that this is the same legend told twice. Jesus may very well have needed to feed crowds multiple times.

The redundancy shows little. However, the disciples reaction the second time surprises me. Despite the fact that Jesus had already fed 5000 with five loaves and two fish, the disciples ask,
Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?
Do they not remember what happened before? Did they think it was some sort of trick and Jesus did not actually perform a miracle? Or maybe, just maybe, one story grew into two slightly different legends, and the author of Matthew decided to include both.

Jesus gets annoyed at the Pharisees and Sadducees for wanting a miraculous sign to prove his authority. On the one hand, you have to have sympathy for Jesus' annoyance; he has been performing miracles left and right (well, if the accounts of his own followers are to be believed). On the other hand, Jesus claims authority from God. You bet that I would demand some pretty good evidence before believing that of anyone. Of course, some would say that is why I am destined for hell.

Psalms and Proverbs

The psalms fascinate me. They contain so many verses that are familiar in a context that is completely unfamiliar.
In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.

May he send you help from his santuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.

May he remember all your gifts
and look favorably on your burnt offerings
I believe I have seen the first before two lines quoted reasonably often, probably on greeting cards or something. But we never hear the rest about Jerusalem and burnt offerings. There is nothing wrong with those verses, but like much of the Bible, they just are no longer relevant outside of their historical context.

Some decent advice in todays Proverbs reading.
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
Avoid all perverse talk;
stay away from corrupt speech.

Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feed;
stay on the safe path.
Don't get sidetracked;
keep your feed from following evil.
I do believe that what we hear and say influences us and what we say reflects our true beliefs. A single event may not mean much (there have even been jokes making fun of women that I have laughed at). However, when we hear or say "perverse" things regularly, I believe they do influence on what we believe in our hearts.

I also agree that most of us could benefit from more focus in our lives. Not to keep us from evil, I do not agree with the Biblical view that evil lurks around every corner. But we need focus to keep from getting distracted from our goals.

That said, you can also take such focus too far. If you never take a glance to the side, if you never take a risk or try another path, you may lose out on life changing opportunities.

23 January 2010

Jan 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

Jacob and his family go to Egypt. God talks to Jacob again, saying
I will go with you down to Egypt
All the English translations on Bible Gateway share the sense that God is going with the Jacob to Egypt. If you are on the lookout for indications that the Biblical God started out as a tribal God who morphed into a universal God overtime, this passage sticks out. I would expect a universal God to say "I will be with you in Egypt", not "I will go with you down to Egypt".

Another long genealogy. We learn that two of Benjamin's sons were Muppim and Huppim. I wonder if kids then made fun of siblings with rhyming names like they would today. Also, the text seems to make a big deal out of the fact that Jacob's family numbered 70 in Egypt, so, for the record, Jacob, his sons, and their children came to 70 people.

The famine continues, and food becomes more scare. I was wrong a few days ago when I  believed that Joseph was giving grain to the people of Egypt and selling it to people from foreign lands. Today we learn that Joseph had been selling the grain to both the people of Egypt and the people of Canaan.
By selling grain to the people, Joseph eventually collected all the money in Egypt and Canaan, and he put the money is Pharaoh's treasury.
Once the people had no more money, they give Joseph their livestock, and he eventually makes them Pharaoh's slaves.
So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. All the Egyptians sold him their fields because the famine was so severe, and soon all the land belonged to Pharaoh. As for the people, he made them all slaves, from one end of Egypt to the other. The only land he did not buy was the land belonging to the priests.
However, we also learn that the slavery was really more like serfdom. Joseph would provide them with grain to plant and eat and they would provide 1/5 of their crop back to Pharaoh. Still not a great thing for Joseph to do, but better than what modern minds assume when they hear the world "slavery".

Joseph's family is doing just fine. They acquire property and grow in numbers. I guess it helps to be the family of the man who is second only to Pharaoh. Jacob is still living, and we learn that he will live to be 147 years old and die in Egypt. Getting closer to 120, but still not there yet. Jacob makes Joseph promise to bury Jacob in the land of Canaan with his ancestors.

New Testament

The Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples do not participate in the tradition of ceremonial hand washing before eating. Jesus starts going on about inner purity verses outer purity. However, what is not made clear is whether or not Jesus' disciples wash their hands at all before eating. I sure hope so.

Good hygiene aside, we have another supposed fulfilled prophecy. Jesus claims that the hypocrisy of the Pharisees fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah:
These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.
This fulfilled prophecy fares better than most, but still does not do great. In context (Isaiah 29:13), the statement is part of an actual prophecy. However, fulfilling this prophecy fails to impress. It is too general. You could say that it applied to some modern Christian denominations and be just as close (which group you think it should be applied to will, of course, depend on which group you are a part of).

Today a Gentile woman asks Jesus for help. They have the following exchange.
Jesus said to the woman, "I was sent only to help God's lost sheep -- the people of Israel."

But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, "Lord, help me!"

Jesus responded, "It isn't right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs."

She replied, "That's true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters' table."

"Dear woman," Jesus said to her, "your faith is great. Your request is granted. And her daughter was instantly healed.
What is going on here? Does Jesus really believe that he has been sent to only help Jews? Was the Roman officer he helped in Matthew 8 a Jew? Did Jesus change his mind on helping non-Jews because of this woman? If so, what are the theological consequences of God incarnate changing his mind? Was Jesus testing the woman's faith, planning on healing her daughter the whole time? This passage is very confusing.

Psalms and Proverbs
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.

Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.

They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
The skies certainly put one in touch with the numinous, and this is something we can all experience. I cannot fault who conclude from this feeling of the transcendent that there must exist some sort of being greater than ourselves. However, not everyone has those feelings, and those feelings are certainly not sufficient to help one conclude which, if any, of the versions of God is the true one.

Here are a couple of passages from today's psalm that will seem quite hilarious once we get to Leviticus.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
giving insight for living.
The laws of the Lord are true;
each one is fair.
Today's reading from Proverbs implies that the world that can be divided into the "righteous" and  the "wicked". You are, of course, supposed to avoid doing as the wicked do.
For evil people can't sleep until they've done their evil deed for the day.
They can't rest until they've caused someone to stumble.
The proverbs certainly seem to reinforce the belief held by some modern Christians that anyone who is not a Christian is evil and is actively working against Christianity (which is synonymous with good).

22 January 2010

Jan 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Joseph seems to want to mess with his brothers' minds. Yesterday, he gave them a great feast. Today, he sends them back home without revealing his identity. Instead, he once again puts the brothers' money back in their sacks. Additionally, he has his silver cup added to Benjamin's sack. After the brothers have left, he sends his palace manager after them to accuse them of stealing the cup. They return to Joseph's palace, believing Joseph will make Benjamin his slave. Joseph spends awhile berating them. Eventually, Judah makes an impassioned plea asking that he be made a slave instead of Benjamin. At this, Joseph finally gives in to his emotions and reveals himself to his brothers. They are amazed.

Now, at this point, everyone seems happy, and Joseph invites his whole family to come live with him in Egypt. I wonder if Joseph's brothers were really as happy about the whole situation as they seemed to be. Joseph acted like a jerk toward them when they came to Egypt. They are starving and now know that the famine is predicted to last five more years. Furthermore, they see that Joseph is in a position of great prosperity and power. I think that no matter how big of a jerk he had been, they would have no choice but to pretend to be happy.

Also, today's text has another odd redundancy. Joseph invites his family to come live in Egypt with him. A few passages later, Pharaoh also extends the invitation. The text makes it seem like Pharaoh extended this independently of Joseph's. Not a glaring redundancy like some of the other ones we have seen, but it was enough to make me pause while reading.

New Testament

Jesus feeds 5000 men plus an unspecified number of women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. Actually, contrary to common belief, he only feeds them the bread.
Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people.
Maybe cooking the fish was too much effort? Maybe Jesus wanted the fish all for himself?

Today must be miracle day in the readings because the night after distributing the bread, Jesus sends his disciples off in a boat while he prays. A storm comes up and he comes to the disciples walking, as we all know, on the water. He calls Peter to him and Peter comes until he gets scared and starts sinking.

I feel like I ought to have something skeptical to say about these miracles. However, I do not really mind the accounts of miracles performed by Jesus. I do not think the accounts are true, but I am willing to concede that if the Bible were a reliable source of information, I would be willing to give it the benefit of the doubt to claims that an individual performed miracles.

Instead, the skeptical side of me comes up when I read the passages that show that the Bible is not a reliable source of information. And such passages abound. The Bible makes incorrect claims about the world and our scientific knowledge (an olive tree could form leaves shortly after being deeply submerged, the earth was created before the sun). The Bible makes claims that are unlikely or that fail to be internally consistent (Noah was able to gather all the world's creatures into an ark, the long life spans before the flood, inconsistent versions of the same event, two creation stories). These passages show that the Bible is not a good source of information, and that is why I reject the descriptions of Jesus' miracles, not because of an a priori assumption that the miraculous occurrences are impossible.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is about how David destroyed his enemies. Good for him? David does provide us with a couple of good lines.
I ground them as fine as dust in the wind.
I swept them into the gutter like dirt.
It is not such a great sentiment, but it is a great description of complete destruction where the conqueror feels nothing but disdain for the conquered. Today's reading from the psalms also has a couple of lines that I am guessing certain vindictive types of Christians find great joy in:
He is the God who pays back those who harm me;
he subdues the nations under me.
There are certainly those who give more weight to this vengeful, violent God than to the idea that God is Love.   Of course, they have something going for them. So far the vengeful God seems to have more Biblical support than a God of love (but a tribal God of limited power seems to have the most Biblical support of all).

21 January 2010

Jan 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

Having imprisoned his brothers for three days, Joseph releases them on the condition that they return with Benjamin and leave behind Simeon. Joseph sells the brothers grain and they leave for home, minus Simeon. Without their knowledge, he has their payment for the grain returned to their sacks. As far as I can figure, Joseph does this just to mess with his brothers' heads. Any better ideas?

Some textual analysis. Scholars currently believe that Genesis came from multiple sources, although there is disagreement as to the nature of those sources.  Sometimes the different texts are stitched together well enough that a reader reading a translation and not paying super close attention will not notice the seams. In today's reading, we see a seam.

The text has two versions of how Joseph's brothers discover that he returned their money to them. The first version has them find it on their way home:
When they stopped for the night and one of them opened his sack to get grain  for his donkey, he found his money in the top of his sack. "Look!" he exclaimed to his brothers. "My money has been returned; it's here in my sack!" Then their hearts sank. Trembling, they said to each other, "What had God done to us?"
The second version has them find it after they return home and have told their father what happened in Egypt:
As they emptied out their sacks, there in each man's sack was the bag of money he had paid for the grain! The brothers and their father were terrified when they saw the bags of money.
It is possible that after one brother found the money in the first sack, the rest of the brothers did not bother to look in their own sack. Thus, when they found even more returned money, they were even more terrified. But that does not seem plausible. Furthermore, the brothers had been telling their father about the trip just before the second discovery. They did not mention their first discovery at the time. Assuming that these are just two inconsistent tellings of the same discovery provides a simpler explanation.

In any case, upon seeing the money, Jacob assumes Simeon must remain a prisoner forever. He refuses to let them take Benjamin back to Egypt. But the famine continues and eventually the men have to go to Egypt again to avoid starvation. They bring Benjamin, goods of the land, and twice the money they paid before (so they can return that which had been returned to them).

Joseph calls the brothers to his own home. They fear that
he will seize [them], make [them] slaves, and take [their] donkeys
I found this statement hilarious. They will be seized, made slaves, and have their donkeys taken. I personally would not bother worrying about the donkeys at that point.

Instead, Joseph prepares a feast for him. But he has not yet revealed himself.

New Testament

One more parable in today's reading: the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net. After pulling up the net full of different fish, the good fish are kept and the bad fish discarded. Once again, this parable supports a view that whether or not one will be saved depends on some unchangeable essence of your self. An individual does not have any influence on the outcome.

In today's reading, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. He taught and performed miracles in the synagogue. The people were amazed, but then scoffed saying,
He's just the carpenter's son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers -- James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things? And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.
In response, Jesus says
"A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family. "
Jesus makes a good point that often those who know you best who make the worst judgments. They tend to overstate your accomplishments or fail to give them the weight they are due. We also learn  that Jesus had brothers and sisters. This seems like something of a sticking point for the Catholic belief that Mary always remained a virgin. (Do Catholics still believe that?)

Today's reading describes the death of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, had him killed. Herod Antipas and his wife, Herodias, rather disliked John because he said their marriage is invalid, but Herod did not want to kill John because he feared the response of the people. One night, he promises his daughter anything she wants after she performed a particularly pleasing dance at a party. Her mother persuades her to ask for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Not wanting to go back on his promise, Herod gives in and has John beheaded and his head delivered. Eww.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is a continuation of yesterday's. It will be continued tomorrow. Something about these lines captures my imagination:
He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
As for the rest, the psalmist says more of the same old same old: he has been faithful to God and that is why God is faithful to him.

In today's proverbs reading, like in yesterday's reading, we read more about the importance of getting wisdom. I got it. Can we move on to actual wisdom now?

20 January 2010

Jan 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

Yesterday, Pharaoh dreamed of seven healthy cows being eaten by seven sickly cows and seven full heads of wheat being consumed by seven scrawny one. Not surprisingly, Joseph interprets these dreams. Joseph tells Pharaoh that the dreams mean that Egypt will have seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. Joseph tells Pharaoh he should find someone to manage the collection of food during the years of prosperity. Again not surprisingly, Pharaoh decides that Joseph fits the bill perfectly. Apparently, being able to interpret dreams qualifies you for managing a kingdom.

Pharaoh makes Joseph second only to himself, and Joseph takes care of collecting grain in the good years. In the meantime, he lives a pretty good life. Amongst other things, Pharaoh gives Joseph a wife, Asenath daughter of Potiphera. Just in case you are confused, Potiphera is not the same person as Potiphar, Pharaoh's captain of the guard and Joseph's former employer.

As predicted, seven years of plenty are followed by seven years of famine. Fortunately for the people of Egypt, Joseph opens the storehouse to give grain to the Egyptians and sell it to people from surrounding countries. Here we get a interesting bit of perspective. The author of Genesis says,
And people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe around the world.
Like with the idea of a world wide flood (Genesis 7) or the idea that the devil could  take Jesus to a high mountain and see all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4), this passage shows that the Biblical authors did not have a very good idea of the size of the earth and all of the kingdoms it contained.

The famine reaches Joseph's family. Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to get grain. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize them. He accuses them of being spies and forces them to bring back Benjamin, the youngest brother and the only one who had not gone on the trip. Joseph throws them in prison for three days. And then, another cliff hanger!

I do have to say that I like this part of Genesis because it reads like a story. Much more interesting than many parts of the Bible.

New Testament

Today is the day of parables in the new testament.

Parable of the wheat and weeds: A farmer plants seeds. In the night, an enemy plants weeds with the seeds. The farmers say the weeds should stay until harvest time. When they have grown up, they will be harvested. The weeds will be burned and the wheat stored away.

According to Jesus, he is the farmer, the good seeds are the people who will go to heaven. The enemy is the devil, the bad seeds are those who will go to hell. One lesson to take from this is that those who are not going to heaven are bad from the outset. A weed is always a weed and has no chance to grow into wheat.

    Parable of the mustard seed: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. A mustard seed is smaller than other seeds. It grows into a plant large enough for birds to build nests in. How can we interpret this? At a individual level, it could mean that a little bit of faith will grow into great rewards in heaven. Or maybe it is meant to be taken on an institutional level. The small religion Jesus was "planting" would grow into a large one.
      Parable of the yeast: It only takes a little yeast to permeate bread.  This seems to yield similar interpretations to the mustard seed.

          Parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl: A dude finds a treasure in a field and sells everything he owns to buy the field. A merchant is searching for pearls and finds one of great value and so sells everything he buys to get it. We learn that it is worth giving up all you have for something of greater value.  The implication here is that the ultimate reward is Heaven. However, the difference between the Kingdom of Heaven and a perfect pearl or a hidden treasure is that you can evaluate the worth of the latter two to see whether or not they are worth the sacrifice. You cannot even verify that the Kingdom of Heaven is real.
            By telling all of these parables, Jesus supposedly fulfills the prophecy
            I will speak to you in parables.
            I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.
            Two problems with this supposed fulfilled prophecy. First, it is from a psalm (psalms are not prophecies). In context:
            O my people, listen to my instructions.
            Open your ears to what I am saying,
            for I will speak to you in a parable.
            I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
            stories we have heard and known,
            stories our ancestors handed down to us.
            Granting that "hidden lessons from our past" is kind of like "things hidden since the creation of the world", the psalm still implies that the the parables will be new lessons from old, well known stories. I have never heard that the parables Jesus tells in the new testament are based on traditional stories.

            The second problem is that if Jesus was going to go to the effort to explain "things hidden since the creation of the world", he could have included some more impressive things. Some indication of the deep truths of astronomy or physics or biology perhaps. We do not need a text book, but something would have been nice.

            Psalms and Proverbs

            Today's psalm has a very anthropomorphic description of God. I will give it an easier time here than I would elsewhere since the psalms are poetry, but it is still interesting. Imagine the following verses to be read in a big, dramatic voice.
            Smoke poured from his nostrils;
            fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
            Glowing coals blazed forth from him.

            He opened the heavens and came down;
            dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.

            Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew,
            souring on the wings of the wind.

            He shrouded himself in darkness,
            veiling his approach with dark rain clouds.

            Thick clouds shielded the brightness around him
            and rained down hail and burning coals.

            The Lord thundered form heaven;
            the voice of the Most High resounded
            amid the hail and burning coals.

            He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies;
            his lightening flashed and they were greatly confused.
            I  will also note that this is the same psalm that also contains the fairly well quoted verse, "The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower" (KJV). Funny how that part is quoted buy the part about shooting arrows and smoking nostrils is left out.