28 February 2010

February in review

2 months in, and we are about 15% of the way done. This month we read through the rest of Exodus and a good bit of Leviticus in the Old Testament and finished Matthew and got a good way through Mark in the New Testament. Leviticus has been surprisingly entertaining, but rather repetitive. In fact, the aspect of the readings which made this month most difficult was their repetitive nature. Leviticus often repeated itself and Exodus. Mark feels very repetitive, which makes sense given that Mark is believed to be one of the sources used by the author of Matthew.

As I mentioned, Leviticus has been surprisingly entertaining. Some of the laws are interesting. Some parts are entertaining. Reading these laws also shows the lack of feasibility of claims that the U.S. system of laws and justice builds off of the Biblical law. Most of the law in Leviticus is based on identifying and maintaining ritual purity. The bits that are reflected in our modern moral and legal beliefs are the claims that are so general as to not really be specific to the Biblical moral code (don't murder, don't steal, etc.).

I continue to fail to see examples of God or Jesus' love for humanity in the Bible. The few claims of that natures we see are weak. Jesus heals some people (but only if they are faithful enough), the psalmists claim that God is loving (usually in the form "God, I know you love me, so why do you let me suffer").

Proverbs was better this month. Less about immoral women and wicked people, and more good advice. Better, but still sometimes terrible, like the proverbs that imply that wealth can be used as an indicator of someone's worth).

Feb 28

Reference links:
Old Testament

Really dull day today. We read a little bit more about offerings (defects are bad), and then we read about a number of festivals that God wants the Israelites to observe. The most entertaining of these festivals is the one labeled "The Festival of Shelters", which I believe is Sukkot (סוכות).
For seven days you must live outside in little shelters. All native-born Israelites must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt.
I want to spend a week living in a little shelter that I build out of branches! Although, given that I do not live in a climate anything Israel's, the weather in late September to late October might make this rather disagreeable. (Based on my experience, however, this would be delightful in Israel even in November!)

New Testament

Jesus had trouble getting time without the crowds.
Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn't want anyone to know he was there, for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them.
At least in the days before mass communication, it was easier to hide your location.

Jesus teaches his disciples that to be the greatest in the Kingdom they must be the servant to everyone else. They must be like a little child. We also read Mark's version of Jesus' hopefully symbolic self mutilation instructions,
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It's better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It's better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It's better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.
Jesus does not approve of divorce. God only allowed it in the Mosaic law because the people of the time could not handle not being able to divorce their wives at all. (Must resist making comment about the U.S. legal system and the sanctity of marriage.)

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm: God is awesome because he destroyed the enemies of the ancient Israelites. Yay for God led genocide?

And Proverbs contains an injunction that God may very well have been meant for bloggers:
Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. 

27 February 2010

Feb 27

Reference links:

Old Testament

Leviticus repeats itself, again. The Israelites must distinguish between clean and unclean animals and they must put men and women who act as mediums to death. I think this is the third time the author of Leviticus has mentioned those things.

The next injunction does a much better job of showing how repetition can work well. Earlier, in Leviticus 10:6, Moses had instructed Aaron and his sons not to mourn as was traditional after God murdered Nadab and Abihu. Today's reading repeats those prohibitions, but expands them into general priestly mourning practices. This use of repetition is much more interesting than other, more boring uses. The first repetition contains less detail than the later repetition. Because of this, the second repetition reinforces the teachings of the first repetition while still keeping it interesting with the introduction of new material. As for what the teachings are:
A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean by touching the dead boy body [oops] of a relative. The only exceptions are his closest relatives ... The priests must not shave their heads or trim their beards or cut their bodies. They must be set apart as holy to their God and must never bring shame on the name of God.
A priest can only marry a virgin. Prostitutes, widows, and divorced women may dishonor the descendants of the priest.

God hates imperfections.
No one who has a defect qualifies [to be a priest], whether he is blind, lame, disfigured, deformed, or has a broken foot or arm, or is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or has a defective eye, or skin sores or scabs, or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron who has a defect may approach the altar to present special gifts to the Lord.
Clearly, this God of Leviticus is not the same God who cares more for what is in your heart than for outward appearances.

New Testament

Jesus, Moses, and Elijah meet at the top of a hill. Nope, it's not the start of the bad joke. In today's reading, Jesus levels up to shiny Jesus and chats with Moses and Elijah. Peter claims he wants to build shelters for them, but supposedly that is just because he had nothing better to say. Before anyone could act on that, God spoke from the clouds calling Jesus his son, and Elijah and Moses disappeared.

While Jesus was talking to dead people, the rest of the disciples were failing to heal a boy possessed by demons. Jesus gets annoyed at... someone. The text makes it unclear whether his annoyance targets the religious teachers, the disciples, or the crowd generally. In any case, he exclaims,
You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?
I know I quoted this the last time we read this story, but it just does such a good job of summing up a common attitude Jesus seems to take toward those around him.

Jesus heals the boy, but only after the chastising the father for expressing some doubt. You have to feel sorry for the father. Demons possess his son. He has brought his son to a man with a reputation for driving out demons. His disciples, who also have been given the power to drive out demons, fail to drive out this one. Then Jesus questions the man's ever so slight doubt as to whether or not Jesus can drive out the demon. At least his son was healed at the end of it all.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm: God, you're so great! So why do you neglect me?

I kind of like today's proverb, since it implies that you should not hide you feelings, even if they are negative, while also cautioning against letting that negativity lead to false claims:
Hiding hatred makes you a liar;
slandering others makes you a fool.

26 February 2010

Feb 26

Super quick post today, because it's movie night with friends. =)

Reference links:
Old Testament

Oooh, big list of things the Israelites were not allowed to do. A lot of it repeats what we have heard already. But there are some interesting bits. I like this one:
When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop -- do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Lave them for the poor and foreigners living among you.
Leaving parts of the harvest for the poor is one good side effect of this command. Another one, perhaps the more important one, is the effect it has on the attitude of the farmer. It encourages an attitude of not squeezing every drop out of their resources. It encourages an attitude of not going for profit maximization. Economic reasoning, without the wisdom of compassion, leads to corruption and, eventually, failure. (Like with today's economic crisis. Wait, I'm still not talking about modern issues on this blog.)

Another interesting injunction that could conceivably be used to reflect upon modern matters that I am not discussing is
Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay. 
We also learn in today's reading that God does not like mixing things. The Israelites shall not mate different kinds of animals, plant multiple kinds of seeds in a field, or wear clothing woven from different kinds of thread.

Apparently, dishonoring parents is a capital offense. As are various sexual practices. One sexual practice that leads to banishment, but not death, is having sex with a woman during her period.
If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her menstrual period, both of them must be cut off from the community, for together they have exposed the source of her blood flow.
This seems inconsistent with Leviticus 15:24 which says,
If a man has sexual intercourse with her and her blood touches him, her menstrual impurity will be transmitted to him. He will remain unclean for seven days, and any bed on which he lies will be unclean.
Maybe the banishment is temporary? Maybe it is permanent but, by the way, the man is unclean for a week?

New Testament

I mentioned the other day that Jesus should not lose his temper at the Pharisees. I still think that. However, they must have been annoying to deal with.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.
Now, I do think it was reasonable to not believe Jesus' claims unless he backed them up. That said, who would want to bother showing such a thing to people who came by specifically to argue?

Today's reading also shows just how stupid the disciples could be. Ignore, for a moment, that the disciples are supposed to be hard of heart. Ignore that they do not understand Jesus' true nature. Today's reading shows them to be just plain stupid.
But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food. They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, "Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod."

At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn't brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, "Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don't you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? 'You have eyes -- can't you see? You have ears -- can't you hear?' Don't you remember anything at all? When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?"

"Twelve," they said.

"Don't you understand yet?" he asked them.
If nothing else, Jesus has demonstrated that he can perform miracles with food. To not remember that is not hard heartedness. It's just plain dumb.

Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus starts talking about his upcoming death. Peter reprimands him for this. Jesus tells Peter, "Get away from me, Satan!" Again, I think Jesus overreacts here. So far, Jesus really does not come across as a particularly even headed.

Psalms and Proverbs

Another psalm filled with praise. Also, accepting discipline is good, ignoring it is will cause you to be bad.

25 February 2010

Feb 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading talks about actions bad enough to earn banishment from the community. These include drinking or eating blood and various types of forbidden sexual relationships. What I found interesting, however, what that the primary reasons given for why these things are bad had to do with controlling the Israelite community and separating from the communities around them. I am feeling kind of lazy tonight, so I'll just quote the passages that stuck out to me.
If any native Israelite sacrifices a bull or a lamb or a goat anywhere inside or outside the camp instead of bringing it to the entrance of the Tabernacle to present it as an offering to the Lord, that person will be as guilty as a murderer. Such a person has shed blood and will be cut off from the community. The purpose of this rule is to stop the Israelites from sacrificing animals in the open fields. It will ensure that they bring their sacrifices to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle, so he can present them to the Lord as peace offerings. Then the priest will be able to splatter the blood against the Lord's altar at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and he will burn the fat as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. The people must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord by offering sacrifices to the goat idols [maybe this is why God hates goats?].
And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood of the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. [This passage provides an interesting on Jesus' death. It justifies the validity of the sacrifice as purifying, adds power to the idea of drinking Jesus' blood, but also make that idea even more repulsive.]
Another, relating to sexual practices shows that part of the motivation in banning them is to differentiate the Israelites from other people.
I am the Lord your God. So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate this way of life. You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord you God. If you obey my decrees and regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord.
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for the people I am driving out before you have defiled themselves in these ways. Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out. You must obey all my decrees and regulations. You must not commit any of these detestable sins.

All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now. [Okay, this passage is not particularly relevant, I just like the imagery of the land vomiting people out.]
In the middle of the restrictions on sexual practices, there is a random tidbit on child sacrifice.
Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the Lord.
God forbids child sacrifice (or certain kinds of child sacrifice, it's unclear) because it would bring shame on God? Not because, oh, I don't know, murdering children is bad? Again, I have a hard time seeing how this God a God of Love.

New Testament

More repeats. Jesus heals the daughter of a Gentile woman because she has faith in him. The interesting aspect of this story is Jesus' initial hesitation.
Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, Jesus told her, "First I should feed the children -- my own family, the Jews. It isn't right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs."
Really? This was his excuse? The woman is there. She has faith. He does not even have to visit the child to heal her. Yet Jesus implies that it would be taking something away from the Jews to heal this child. Did he have a limited quota of healings he was allowed to perform? Maybe he was just faking hesitation to test the woman's faith?

Jesus also heals a deaf man with a speech impediment using some spit. Was the spit really necessary? Jesus feeds four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish (again).

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy.

24 February 2010


This video has been making the rounds because it's insightful and entertaining.

Feb 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading describes the handling of discharges of bodily fluids. Excited yet? Bodily discharge makes one ceremonially unclean. This includes semen (for men), menstrual blood (for women), and random fluids leaking out of the body. Anyone who has a discharge seems to be unclean for the duration of the discharge plus, in most cases, another day. Anyone who touches something that was discharged upon is also considered unclean for a day and must wash. If the discharge was abnormal, a sacrifice must be offered once it has ended. Sex makes you ceremonially unclean for a day, and you must bathe afterward.

The reason for all of this fuss about purity and discharges is because, according to God,
This is how you will guard the people of Israel from ceremonial uncleanness. Otherwise they would die, for their impurity would defile my Tabernacle that stands among them.
Based on the experiences of Nadab and Abihu, I think that we can interpret this as a threat that God will murder anyone who comes near him in an impure state. Now, I think God is perfectly reasonable to ask people to be ceremonially clean in his presence. However, I think murdering those who are not is taking it a bit far.

Then the reading contains some information about the Day of Atonement when Aaron can enter the Most Holy Place (assuming he wears the proper clothing and makes the proper sacrifices). Part of this process involved designating a scapegoat.
When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat's head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people's sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people's sins upon itself into a desolate land.
Poor goat (although the one in the painting I found does look terrifying).

New Testament

In interesting contrast to our recent readings from Leviticus, today we read what Jesus has to say about purity. But first, we see that Jesus has a tendency to over react to simple questions.
So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, "Why don't your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony."

Jesus replied, "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you [plus a fair bit more ranting]" 
Now, I know Jesus and the Pharisees have a bad history and, if we take Jesus' word for it, they were being hypocritical, but does he really think this is a productive way to engage them? I have a temper and lose it regularly, so I can reassure you (and Jesus) that losing one's temper generally is the worst response to a situation like this.

In any case, after ranting for awhile, Jesus finally gives the teaching on purity.
It's not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart. ... It's It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.
Given the context, it is reasonable to interpret this saying as implying that the old requirements of purity have been meaningless because they had lost their symbolic representation of inner purity in contemporary Jewish teaching. However, such an interpretation becomes harder to accept after reading in Leviticus today that God will kill anyone who comes near him when they are ceremonially unclean. If God is willing to murder, I think the impurity bestowed by consumption involved more than just symbolism.

That said, I agree with Jesus here. I am just not sure that the God of the Israelites would agree with him.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing new or noteworthy in todays Psalms or Proverbs readings.

23 February 2010

Feb 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

All about skin diseases and mildew again today. In particular, an ancient Israelite, upon having their skin disease heal, could undergo a purification ceremony which, of course, involved sacrificing some animals:
If the priest finds that someone has been healed of a serious skin disease, he will perform a purification ceremony, using two live birds that are ceremonially clean, a stick of cedar, some scarlet yarn, and a hyssop branch. The priest will order that one bird be slaughtered over a clay pot filled with fresh water. He will take the live bird, the cedar stick, the scarlet yarn, and the hyssop branch, and dip them into the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over fresh water. The priest will then sprinkle the blood of the dead bird seven times on the person being purified of the skin disease. When the priest has purified the person, he will release the live bird in the open field to fly away.
At least only one of the birds is killed? Unlike the quarantining and inspections, this part seems to only have ceremonial value. The process of washing oneself and waiting before reentering the camp seems much more useful.

New Testament

We get a repeat of the story where Jesus feeds 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. In this version, we finally learn that the fish were shared with all of the people:
Jesus took the fies loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share.
After all this commotion, Jesus asks for some time alone to pray. Later that night, and Jesus walks on water to calm the story and rescue the disciples from the wind and waves. The disciples
were totally amazed, for they still didn't understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.
What we do not have in this version is an account of Jesus calling Peter to him. That version of the story, where Peter's faith allows him to take some steps on water before sinking seems almost inconsistent in intent with this version, where the disciples are described as too hard hearted to understand the miracle.

Psalms and Proverbs

Same old, same old: God rescues people from despair. People will be amazed by what God has done, and those who are favored by the Lord feel joy. We do get one interesting verse though:
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand --
you don't require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Now, given that we are in the midst of Leviticus for our Old Testament reading, I can say, with certainty, that someone is confused here. In Leviticus, God seems to take plenty of delight in sacrifices and offerings and seems to demand them with great regularity. This psalm directly contradicts that image of God. Ooops.

One of two verses in today's Proverbs reading has some useful advice:
Hatred stirs up quarrels,
but love makes up for all offenses.
I am not sure I would go so far as to say that love makes up for all offences, but it can help a lot.

22 February 2010

Feb 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Leviticus boring? No! Leviticus is hilarious! Take today's reading, for example, in between all of the advice about skin diseases and infections we get this gem,
if [a man] loses hair on his forehead, he simply has a bald forehead
I am still giggling over that one. And then there's this,
Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'
That said, I do not think I would want to be on the Ancient Israeli health care plan. It seems to be more concerned with keeping infections out of the community at large than helping the infected individual. That is, of course, better than nothing, but thank the God I do not believe in for modern medicine.

New Testament

More familiar stories: The people in Jesus' hometown reject him. Jesus sends out the twelve disciples to heal and teach and cast out evil spirits. Herod Antipas kills John the Baptist because his daughter dances well.

Psalms and Proverbs
I am silent before you; I won't say a word,
for my punishment is from you.
But please stop striking me!
I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.
When you discipline us for our sins,
you consume like a moth what is precious to us.
Each of us is but a breath.

Hear my prayer, O Lord!
Listen to my cries for help!
Don't ignore my tears.
For I am your guest --
a traveler passing through,
as my ancestors were before me.
Leave me alone so I can smile again
before I am gone and exist no more.
David's psalms vacillate widely in message. One aspect of the message that is neglected by popular quotation is the despair of many of the psalms. David declares repeatedly that he is blessed by God, but just as often, he laments God's apparent neglect. In today's reading, David goes even further and asks for God to just leave him alone. I am sure Job would be sympathetic.

21 February 2010

Feb 21

Oh Lord, don't rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because off my sins. -- Psalm 38:1-3

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we learn about unclean animals! Eating or touching the dead carcass of unclean animals does not earn the punishment of being put to death or banished from the community. Instead, the pattern seems to be that those who eat or touch such things become defiled and must clean themselves and avoid interaction with sanctified items for a period of time.

You can read the Wikipedia article if you want a full list of the animals considered clean and unclean, a discussion of how these restrictions translate into modern kosher diets, and a discussion of mistakes in classifying animals. The high level points are
  • Animals that have completely split hooves and chew their cud are clean. Animals with split hooves that are not evenly divided or that do not chew their cud are unclean. This includes all animals that have paws and all animals that scurry along the ground.
  • Marine animals must have fins and scales are considered clean. 
  • Specific types of birds are unclean, but we are not given a general rule.
  • Winged insects that walk along the ground are unclean with some exceptions; it is unclear whether the exception is all winged insects that walk along the ground and have jointed legs that allow them to jump or just the specific ones listed.
Women are ceremonially unclean after giving birth. 7 days for a boy and two weeks for a girl. After birth, a woman must wait 33 days (boy) or 66 days (girl) to be considered purified from the bleeding that accompanied the birth. I believe it was in Anita Diamant's The Red Tent: A Novel where I first heard the idea that the separation of women after childbirth could very well have been welcomed as a sort of maternal leave. Whether or not that was the original intent of the purity laws, I think it not unlikely that women did actually appreciate having time to rest and recover after the birth of a child.

New Testament

In today's reading, Jesus performs two healings for followers who have faith. The Gospel of Matthew provides more details for both of these healings than the Gospel of Mark did.

Jairus, the leader of the local synagogue, asked Jesus to heal his daughter. Before Jesus could go, the daughter died. Jesus went to Jairus' home despite that and raised her from the dead.

On the way, a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched Jesus' cloak and was healed. In Matthew, it is unclear how Jesus notices the woman in the midst of a crowd. In Mark we read,
Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him
I have played enough role playing games to know that the proper response to such a statement is to start wondering about Jesus as a character in such a game. He's definitely your healer, although it sounds like if you level him up enough he will be able to summon armies of angels, so you should not completely neglect his combat skills.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm David reverts to asking God to stop torturing and neglecting him. Some of the verses make it sound like David is ill and believes God sent his sickness as punishment.

I will have to admit that today's first verse from Proverbs reminded me of some denominations of Christianity, and not in a good way:
The wise are glad to be instructed,
but babbling fools fall flat on their faces.

20 February 2010

Feb 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

Do you have the general process of animal sacrifice memorized yet? If not, you get another chance today! For the sin offering: put blood on the horns of the altar, pour out the rest at the base, burn the fat, kidneys, and long lobe of the liver. Burn the rest outside. For the burnt offering: spatter bloods against the sides of the altar. Burn the pieces of the animal and be sure to wash the internal organs and the legs. For the peace offering: splatter the blood against the sides of the altar. Take all the fat, the kidneys, and the long lobe of the liver and burn all these things on top of the breasts.

This round of sacrifices serves the purpose of purifying the people before God interacts with them directly.
Fire blazed forth from the Lord's presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. 
Awesome! Who doesn't like fire? Well, it appears that God is at least picky about what kind of fire is burned in his presence:
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkled incense over them. In this way, they disobeyed the Lord by burning before him the wrong kind of fire, different than he commanded. So fire blazed forth from the Lord's presence and burned them up, and they died there before the Lord.
Ugh, once again we see that the Biblical God is a primitive, evil, control freak. Aaron stands there in stunned silence while Moses blathers on about God's holiness. Moses then tells Aaron and his remaining sons that if they mourn for the lost brothers, they will also die and God will strike at the whole community of Israel.

New Testament

More parables today. In most of the parables that involve farmers and seeds, it seems like we are supposed to take the farmer to be God/Jesus. Today we read a parable where such an interpretation is not obvious:
The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he's asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. As soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.
This parable supports my standard interpretation in so far as it is the farmer who performs the harvest and plants the seed. However, the bits about the farmer not understanding how the seed grows into plants do not seem consistent with that interpretation. If the parable is supposed to be about spiritual growth and the farmer is supposed to be oneself, the bits about sleeping and lack of understanding make more sense, but the bits about planting and harvesting make less sense. Overall though, the second interpretation makes more sense.

Jesus demonstrates his power to calm storms and freaks out the disciples. I think it is kind of funny that the disciples accept healings as miraculous but acceptable, but affecting the weather leaves them "absolutely terrified". I would think after seeing the former, the later would be surprising but not that surprising.

Jesus drives the demons into the pigs. In Matthew 8:28-34 Jesus drove demons out of two men. In Mark, there is only one man possessed by many demons. The interaction between the demon possessed man and Jesus is interesting enough that I want to quote it at length:
When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him.With a shriek he screamed, "Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don't torture me!" For Jesus had already said to the spirit, "Come out of the man, you evil spirit."

Then Jesus demanded, "What is your name?"

And he replied, "My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man." Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.

There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside neraby. "Send us into those pigs," the spirits begged. "Let us enter them."

So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned into the water.
The demons clearly seem to fear Jesus and his power. What is more interesting is that Jesus seems to be willing to listen to their pleas and send them into the pigs instead of sending them wherever he would have sent them otherwise. Also interesting, what happened to the demons after they drowned the pigs they were possessing? Did they just go on to possess someone/something else? Did Jesus even care? Based on this story, it seems to me that Jesus' main objection to demons is that they reveal that he is the son of God. He does not really care about preventing them from hurting people or causing damage.

Psalms and Proverbs

More of the same from both Psalms and Proverbs. Both can be summarized by two verses from today's reading from Psalms:
Look at those who are honest and good,
for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace.
But the rebellious will be destroyed;
they have not future.
All of this talk of wickedness leaves me confused though. Some parts of the Bible obviously condemn me as wicked. I do not believe in God, I commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit whenever I feel like it, I have not made God's law my own, I do not put my hope in the Lord. According to many of the psalms and proverbs, I should, therefore, be doing a lot of things I do not do. I do not "wait in ambush for the godly, looking for an excuse to kill them." I do not have violent intentions. I do not think evil thoughts all the time. So, am I wicked or not? I am very confused.

19 February 2010

Feb 19

Reference links:

Old Testament

Today's reading informs us that a portion of each peace offering belongs to the priests. The phrasing of this rule supports the view that Leviticus was written long after the time of Moses (emphasis mine):
The special gifts presented to the Lord have been reserved for Aaron and his descendants from the time they were set apart to serve the Lord as priests. On the day they were anointed, the Lord commanded the Israelites to give these portions to the priests as their permanent share from generation to generation.
This passage occurs before the passage in Leviticus where Aaron and his sons are anointed (2 paragraphs before, in fact). The whole community assembled at the Tabernacle entrance for the anointing. Given the alleged adult male population of 600,000, this must have been an incredibly dull event for everyone but the few people who were close to the entrance.

Moses anoints Aaron and his sons. This is the same anointing that was described previously in Exodus 29.

New Testament

As the common source for Matthew and Luke, Mark contains many stories that are redundant with what we have already read. This can make it challenging to find something new to say.

Today we reread the story of how Jesus rejects his real mother and brothers in favor of those who do God's will. The author of Mark puts this story in a more interesting context. In yesterday's reading, we read,
When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. "He’s out of his mind," they said.
Jesus was rejecting his family after they called him mad. Obviously, there were strains in the family relationships. This story also puts Mary in an interesting light. She is obviously much more conflicted about Jesus' claims to be the Messiah than popular portrayals of her indicate.

Another repeat is the parable of the farmer sowing seeds. Most of the seed does not yield fruit. It is eaten by crows or withers because of shallow roots, or choked by weeds. The disciples are confused by this parable and ask Jesus to explain it. The parable is supposedly confusing to fulfill a prophecy:
When they see what I do,
they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
and be forgiven.
I already discussed how this is completely different than the original Hebrew. But Mark introduces some more interest. First, it differs from the fragment in Matthew. Second, it makes no sense! In particular, I cannot think of a reasonable way to interpret the phrase "Otherwise, they will" in the context of the rest of the passage.

I am amused by what Jesus says about the disciples' lack of understanding:
If you can't understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables.
I read that as, "Come on guys, this one is easy. If you cannot understand this one, there is no way you'll get the rest."

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's reading from Psalms continues the blame-the-victim theme from yesterday. This idea seems to run counter to the other Psalms where the psalmist complains about how the wicked prosper and the godly suffer.
Day by day the Lord takes care of the innocent,
and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever.
They will not be disgraced in hard times;
even in famine they will have more than enough.

But the wicked will die.
The Lord's enemies are like flowers in a field --
they will disappear like smoke.

The wicked borrow and never repay, [no we don't!]
but the godly are generous givers.


Once I was young, and now I am old.
Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned
or their children begging for bread.
Only one verse from Proverbs today. I guess that is what they need to do to get it to span a year.

18 February 2010

Feb 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

More details about sacrifices: when to make them and how to make them properly. Sins that require a guilt offering include cheating in a deal, stealing, committing fraud, lying about lost property that was found, and lying while swearing to tell the truth. For all of these, the guilty party must return anything gained as a consequence of the crime plus an additional 20% and offer a guilt offering on the same day. Punishments are harsher for those who violate the purity laws of the community. Anyone who eats meat from a peace offering while they are ceremonially unclean or who eats blood ever will be cut off from the community.

This reading inspires interesting ideas about punishment in a nomadic tribe like that of the Israelites. Without permanent settlements, there seem to be two options for dealing with trouble makers: forgive them quickly or get rid of them completely. A group on the go would not find imprisonment practical.

New Testament

Crowds keep following Jesus because his fame has spread.
They came from all over Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.
Jesus was a star. He kind of acted like one.
Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him.
He and his disciples seem to show little concern for the members of the crowd who were probably crushing each other. As long as Jesus can get away in his boat, it is all okay.

Jesus chooses 12 of his disciples as apostles. These 12 would have the special privilege of accompanying him and he would give them the authority to cast out demons.  The teachers of the religious law accuse Jesus of working by Satan's power when he casts out demons. Jesus says this is silly because Satan would be fighting against himself if he allowed his power to be used to cast out demons.

However, if we believe the story about the pigs related in Matthew (and possibly again later?), then Jesus' casting out of demons may not actually be as unambiguously against Satan as today's text wants us to believe. In that story, Jesus casts the demons out of two men and sends them into a herd of pigs. The pigs go mad and plunge to their death (and, as far as we know, Jesus did not even apologize). This story makes it clear that casting out demons is not always the same thing as  working against Satan.

We also learn today that according to Jesus,
all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.
The phrasing here is odd. It says that "all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven" but those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit "will never be forgiven". Is this implying that there are some sins that God/Jesus could choose to forgive (and, in the process save a person from eternal suffering and torture) but will not? Or am I putting too much emphasis on this translation's word choice?

Also, by these standards, I will never be forgiven. Ooops.

Psalms and Proverbs

Good advice from today's reading in Psalms (mixed into the standard fare of "God will punish the wicked and reward the good")
Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper --
it only leads to harm.
On the other hand, today's Proverbs reading encourages negative attitudes toward those who are suffering and needy:
The Lord will not let the godly go hungry,
but he refuses to satisfy the craving of the wicked.
Lazy people are soon poor;
hard workers get rich.
As organizations from all over the nation that fight poverty and hunger and homelessness know, the sources of poverty cannot be simplified down to someone being lazy. The sources of hunger cannot be simplified to someone being ungodly. Attitudes like those expressed in the above Proverbs only make it harder for those in difficult circumstances to find their way out of them again.

17 February 2010

Feb 17

The high priest will then take some of the bull's blood into the Tabernacle, dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord in front of the inner curtain. He will then put some of the blood on the horns of the altar for fragrant incense that stands in the Lord's presence inside the Tabernacle. -- Leviticus 4:16-18

Reference links:
Old Testament

Yesterday we learned about burnt offerings and peace offerings. Today we learn about sin offerings. If the high priest or the entire Israelite community sins, even without realizing it, a young bull without blemish must be offered. When other people sin they offer various goats. The interesting thing about sin offerings is that the one who sins must lay their hand on the sacrifice's head before the animal is killed. This, I suppose, represents a transference of the sin from the person to the animal. I wonder whether this was originally thought to symbolic or actual transfer of guilt.

A sin offering of a female sheep or goat are required for refusing to testify, touching something that is unclean, and making foolish vows. Two turtledoves or pigeons can be substituted by those who cannot afford a sheep or goat. If you cannot afford that, grain can be substituted. Before we saw that Mosaic law incorporated the idea of punishment being related to the damage caused rather than punishing based on intent. Today we see the idea of punishment being proportional to the means of the one being punished. This concept of punishment seems much more subtle than that held by modern mainstream America. Today's reading also emphasizes the point that punishment cannot be avoided just because the guilty one did not know they were committing a crime.

For defiling the Lord's sacred property the punishment is a ram with no defects and payment for the damaged property plus 20 percent. Once this payment has been made, the defiler is forgiven. Forgiveness is another concept we have lost track of in modern American ideas about punishment.

New Testament

Jesus calls Levi (Matthew) to be one of his disciples.
Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus' followers.)
The Pharisees were baffled by this, but Jesus said,
Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.
This passage and other like it help illuminate an attitude I come across more often than I like. There are some Christians who give lip service to the idea that they are terrible sinners but show by their action and attitudes that they really believe they are better than everyone else. I have often wondered why they insist that they are sinners when they clearly do not believe it in their heart. Passages like this give a potential reason why: they think it brings them closer to Jesus. Ironically, this kind of public posturing really makes them more like the Pharisees than the sinners Jesus was dining with.

Today's reading repeats the story about Jesus and his disciples breaking off and eating grain in a field on the Sabbath. The Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking the law and Jesus responds by relating a story about how David ate sacred loaves of bread once. What struck me about the story this time is that the Pharisees were there to see this. What were the Pharisees doing? Following Jesus around? Even in grain fields on the Sabbath? Seems rather silly.

Jesus does make an interesting statement as part of his response:
The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
We really do all need a regular day of rest to separate ourselves from our daily concerns and focus on the big picture.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's reading from the Psalms once again emphasize that everything the wicked do is evil and deceitful. They spend all of their times hatching evil plans. Once again, I am struct by the degree to which the Psalms draw caricatures of evil people. I believe few, if any, evil people have every been as constantly evil as the wicked are said to be the Psalms and yet these verses clearly impact how all atheists are perceived (since atheists are automatically assumed to be wicked, also, I believe, based on passages in Psalms and/or Proverbs).

Today's section of Proverbs starts the "Proverbs of Solomon" (who we will later learn was a wise king of Israel and son of King David and a wife he won by less than honorable means).

16 February 2010

Feb 16

How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing? Rescue me from their fierce attacks. Protect my life from these lions! Then I will thank you in front of the great assembly. I will praise you before all the people. -- Psalm 35:17-18
Reference links:
Old Testament

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Leviticus:
Leviticus contains laws and priestly rituals, but in a wider sense is about the working out of God's covenant with Israel set out in Genesis and Exodus – what is seen in the Torah as the consequences of entering into a special relationship with God (specifically, Yahweh). These consequences are set out in terms of community relationships and behaviour.
It also notes that, like the other books of the Torah, tradition ascribes authorship to Moses but modern scholarship attributes the book to an unknown priest or priests. Overall, Leviticus defines what sets the Israelites apart as the people of God. This puts it in a peculiar relationship with Christian belief. Christians consider some of the laws in Leviticus to be explicitly cancelled by Jesus, some implicitly cancelled, and some to still be valid. Decisions about which laws belong in the second and third categories vary widely.  Oddly enough, in my observation, this variation seems to split along contentious contemporary issues.

The end of Exodus described the completion of the Tabernacle. The framing for Leviticus is that God continues to talk to Moses from the Tabernacle. He gives Moses more instructions about God's covenant with Israel.

Today's reading focuses on various types of offerings. Animals given for burnt offering must be males without defect and prepared properly. The smell of their burning pleases the Lord.

Birds presented as burnt offerings get the following treatment:
The priest will take the bird to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar. But first he must drain its blood against the side of the altar. The priest must also remove the crop and the feathers and throw them in the ashes on the east side of the altar. Then, grasping the bird by its wings, the priest will tear the bird open, but without tearing it apart.
Suppose you were to make a movie of a re-enactment of this scene. The priest, spattered with the blood of sacrificial animals, wrings the neck of a turtledove and tears it open, all with his bear hands. He then burns it, exclaiming upon how the scent is pleasing to his God. I wonder if most Christians would believe you if you told them this was part of their religious heritage.

God also accepts grain offerings. Whether raw, baked, or fried, God likes grain offerings to be presented with olive oil but no yeast or honey. The prohibition against yeast in offerings I can understand as hearkening back to the exodus from Egypt, but why no honey?

An animal sacrificed as a burnt offering has its whole body burned. An animal presented as a peace offering may be male or female, but still must have no defects. The priests only burn part of the animal on the altar. All animal sacrifices involve lots of spattering of blood on the altar. It was definitely not a sanitary affair.

Also, the Israelites are not allowed to eat any fat or blood. Is anyone reading knowledgeable enough about Jewish dietary law to provide more enlightenment about the prohibition against eating fat? Does it apply only to large, separable chunks of fat? Does it also apply to marbled fat?

New Testament

Jesus, James, and John visit the home of Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew. While there, Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law and many demon possessed people. Not surprisingly, since Mark is thought to be a source for Matthew, this is consistent with the story in Matthew. In fact, I have a feeling there is going to be a lot of redundancy as we go through the gospels.

It is interesting to compare stories across the gospels. In Matthew, the story of Jesus healing the leper was short (Matthew 8:1-4):
Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”
In Mark, we get all that, but additionally learn that Jesus sternly warned the man not to tell and that the man went and told people anyway. This caused people to follow Jesus all over,
and he couldn't publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him. 
We also get more details about the paralyzed man Jesus healed in Matthew 9:2-8. Jesus was being mobbed by a crowd at a home he was visiting. Some clever folks wanted to get a paralyzed man to him, so they lowered the man on a mat through a hole in the ceiling. That makes for a much better story.

Psalms and Proverbs

Apparently, Folly is also a woman. A brash woman.

15 February 2010

Feb 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

We finish Exodus today! More repeats as we get another description of the priest's clothing: the ephod, chest piece, robes, and hat. After that Moses inspects everything and blesses it.

Now that all the pieces are complete Moses puts the Tabernacle together, and we get a repeat of where everything belongs. The text makes it sound like Moses put it all together alone. He probably did not (some of the pieces would have been impossible for one man to move alone), but the idea is still entertaining.
Moses erected the Tabernacle by setting down its bases, inserting the frames, attaching the crossbars, and setting up the posts. Then he spread the coverings over the Tabernacle framework and put on the protective layers, just as the Lord had commanded him. ... [more setup details] ... Then he hung the curtains forming the courtyard around the Tabernacle and the altar. And he set up the curtain at the entrance of the courtyard. So at last Moses finished the work.
Once everything is set up,
the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 
It is interesting that Moses could not enter the Tabernacle when the glory of God filled it. Earlier, in Exodus 33, we ready how God, in the form of a cloud, would hover at the entrance to the tent of meeting and talk with Moses. I guess Moses could interact with God's cloud, but not be immersed in it?

In any case, the cloud served as a signal to the Israelites which helped them determine when they could travel. They traveled, following the cloud, whenever it lifted from the Tabernacle. When it stayed settled on the Tabernacle, they would not travel.

And that's the end of Exodus.

New Testament

The book of Mark gets off to a quick start! But first, some background. According to Wikipedia:
The Gospel of Mark ... is the second of the four Canonical Gospels in the New Testament, but is believed by most contemporary scholars to be the first gospel written, on which the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke, were partially based.
This belief is based partially on the fact that Matthew and Luke agree with Mark on the details mentioned in Mark, but they disagree with each other on the details not mentioned in Mark. Having only started Mark and not yet got to Luke, I cannot assess that yet.

The Gospel of Mark was traditionally believed to not necessarily be strictly ordered, despite the narrative structure. Instead, an anonymous author traditionally identified as Mark, a cousin of Barnabas and/or a disciple of Peter, is said to have written the document to preserve the well known sayings and doings of Jesus.

Both the beginning and end of Mark are abrupt. The beginning starts with Jesus' baptism and ministry; it contains no nativity. What is traditionally believed to be the ending of Mark is now believed to be an addition by a later author. The original ending (Mark 16:8) is rather abrupt. Both at the beginning and the end, it is unknown whether this abruptness is intentional or the result of the original being lost.

We begin with a supposed fulfilled prophecy:
It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

"Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare you way.
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
'Prepare the way for the Lord's coming!
Clear the road for him!'"
This prophecy is fairly reasonably in context, if only because the context is so vague it could refer to anything. The problem is that the context is not the context the author of Mark seems to think it is. According to the footnote, this is not even one quote. The first two lines are identified as being from Malachi 3:1. The last three are identified as being from Isiah 40:3! Once again, the Bible builds up the case for it not being the unerring word of God by showing failures of later books to correctly quote earlier books.

The text identifies John the Baptist as the messenger and Jesus as the one who would be coming. John baptizes Jesus. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus from the heavens, and a voice declares Jesus to be the voice's son (the voice, presumably, is God's).

John was arrested and Jesus started preaching in Galilee. He finds his first disciples, all fishermen (Simon, Andrew, James, John). He teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum and cast out an evil spirit. The audience thought this was awesome.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note in Psalms. Some nice lines from Proverbs.
If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit.
If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.

14 February 2010

Feb 14

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading is another recap episode. We get a detailed description of the building of the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lamp stand, incense altar, washbasin, and courtyard curtains.

Useless but entertaining trivia: The Bible conveniently summarizes the materials used to craft all of this.
  • 2193 pounds of gold, donated by the people. At current prices of about 1000 per ounce, this is worth $35 million.
  • 7545 pounds of silver, received from the census tax. The census counted the population of Israel at 603,550 men over 20 (because those are the only people who count). At current prices of about $15 per ounce, this is worth $1.8 million.
  • 5310 pounds of bronze, at least some of which was from the bronze mirrors of the women. I couldn't find current prices, but the values I found mostly hovered around $1.50 per pound. At that rate, this is worth about $8000.

New Testament

We finally finish the Book of Matthew! Maybe in the next gospel we will get to see that overwhelmingly obvious love for all of us that is supposed to be scattered all over the Bible.

But before we get there, we have to finish today's reading. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (wouldn't you hate to be "the other Mary"?) visit Jesus' tomb only to find an angel had rolled away the rock protecting the entrance and Jesus missing. The angel tells the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. They went to tell the disciples what had happened. On the way, they met Jesus and worshiped him.

Apologists hold up the empty tomb as clear proof that the resurrection really happened. They often overlook the obvious possibilities that the whole incident was fabricated or that the body was stolen. The author of Matthew shows slightly more awareness of the second possibility:
some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, "You must say, 'Jesus' disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.' If the governor hears about it, we'll stand up for you so you won't get in trouble. So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.
Good attempt, but it fails to cast any real doubt on the suspicion that maybe Jesus' body was just stolen.

The Book of Matthew closes with Jesus meeting with the disciples and telling them,
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. An be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
This is another one of those passages that was used to justify a lot of trouble historically. Although, for example, the mass murder of Native Americans in the US was really about territory and power, this type of religious rhetoric was certainly used as justification.

Psalms and Proverbs

Aw shucks, I guess I will never obtain wisdom.
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.
Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. 

13 February 2010

Feb 13

Reference links:
Old Testament

Nothing of interest today. Today's reading contains a detailed description of the building of the Tabernacle and describes how the people of Israel were so generous they donated more than enough supplies for everything. This pretty much repeats the earlier description of what the Tabernacle should be like.

New Testament

We finally get to the crucifixion, and I have nothing interesting to say about it. Plus, I am feeling snarky. Moral of the story: do not stay up late bowling with friends. =)

The Roman soldiers force some dude named Simon to carry Jesus' cross for awhile. This is surprising, because the standard story I hear is that Simon volunteered to carry Jesus' cross because he was faithful or something. Maybe we will read that version in one of the other gospels.

The people passing by mock Jesus as he is tortured to death (at least, I consider crucifixion a form of torture). Then Jesus dies.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o'clock. At about three o'clock, Jesus called out with a loud void, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"which means "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
If Jesus is wholly one with God in some supposedly intentionally confusing trinity, what does it mean when Jesus asks why God has abandoned him?

Jesus' death causes quite a commotion.
Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus' resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.
It seems odd that no surviving records outside the Bible corroborate this claim. If I were like those people who say evolution could not have happened because we have not found all transitional forms, then I would be forced to conclude that these things probably did not happen at Jesus' death because there is not 100% certain evidence for them. Oh wait! No I wouldn't, because then I would assume the Bible is special.

Jesus gets buried by Joseph of Arimathea, and the priests decide to put a guard at the tomb to make sure Jesus' body is not stolen by his followers.

Psalms and Proverbs

Finally, we get to some wisdom in Proverbs, and it is actually pretty good.
Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.
Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
So don't bother correcting mockers;
they will only hate you.
But correct the wise,
and they will love you.

12 February 2010

Feb 12

Reference links:
Old Testament

It seems the point of Moses getting upset and smashing God's tablets was to give the Biblical author a chance to repeat himself (although Moses has to chisel it out this time instead of God just writing it out for him; no wonder it took forty days). Selective repetition emphasizes certain points, so let's see what points God/the Biblical author thought were worth emphasizing.

God describes himself. Remember, this is the God who would have killed all of Israel for worshiping the golden calf if Moses had not reminded him of his promises to the patriarchs. This is the God who murdered and tortured Egyptians just to show his own power. Here is how he describes himself:
Yahweh! The Lord!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfullness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected --
even children in the third and fourth generations.
The last four lines are consistent with the God we have seen so far. The rest does not seem as fitting. Also, if God lavishes love for a thousand generations and lays sin upon children for three or four, are the children of a sinner who is the grandchild of a faithful follower loved or punished?

God also considers it worthwhile to repeat that the Israelites should under no conditions make treaties with the people who live in the land they will soon be conquering. Instead, they are supposed to destroy all marks of the foreign religions. I am not sure the God of the Bible would be happy with the people who allow other faiths to have buildings of worship in their communities.

As for the rest: Celebrate some festivals; give God the firstborn animals and children; keep the sabbath; do not combine blood and yeast in offerings; do not cook young goats in the milk of their mothers. Not quite as interesting as the first couple repetitions.

After this Moses goes back down to the people. He glows brightly with the glory of God and covers his face. Shiny!

New Testament

Pilate gave the Jews a chance to release one prisoner, as was traditional. Prompted by the priests who had had Jesus arrested, the crowds chose a notorious prisoner, Barabbas. So the people who the priests feared would rise up in rebellion if they acted against Jesus earlier were able to persuade the people to act against him so quickly?

Yesterday, the Israelites were portrayed as extremely changeable; they went from worshiping God to worshiping a golden calf just because the calf was there. Today, we see that the crowds that are equally changeable. I would say that the crowds are swayed with unrealistic ease, but then I remember what crowds are like today and think maybe the people in the time of Moses and in the time of Jesus were no more or less changeable than the people now.

Pilate's wife tries to persuade him to release Jesus because she dreamed that he was innocent (what would people say if the spouses of modern politicians tried to use their dreams to influence public policy?). Pilate tries to get the crowd to release Jesus, but the crowd says to crucify him and agrees to take responsibility for his death. I am not good with history, but I believe that this is one of those passages that has been wrongly used to justify antisemitism in the past. Even if this story were true and if the people could take on responsibility for Jesus death by declaring it, one could hardly say a crowd that had gathered one day in Jerusalem had the power to bind all of the Jewish people.

And then some Roman soldiers make fun of Jesus. It makes me glad we live in a society where such behavior is considered unacceptable (unless you're a guard watching suspected terrorists wait, I do not talk about current events on this blog).

Psalms and Proverbs

Psalms continues with the theme that God watches over those who are faithful to him. For two of the lines in today's reading, I will give a half point to those who believe that everyone will be saved:
He made their hearts,
so he understands everything they do.
The verse does not explicitly support the universal salvation viewpoint, but it could be used to supplement such an argument.

Proverbs contains more prelude to discussing wisdom. Believers in pseudoscience should take this verse to heart:
Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live;
learn to use good judgment.