Monday, 27 January 2014

Jeremiah: Broken promises of the Lord

For behold, I am sending among you serpents,adders which cannot be charmed,and they shall bite you," says the LORD. (Jeremiah, 8:17)
What is He moaning about now, wondered Seymour Light? 

Like a bleak winter wind, Yahweh's anger, curses and threats keep sounding through the Book of Jeremiah:
 I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
a lair of jackals;
and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation,
without inhabitant.
Thus says the LORD:
The dead bodies of men shall fall
like dung upon the open field,
like sheaves after the reaper,
and none shall gather them. (9:11,22)
Haven’t we heard this enough already, Seymour Light wondered?
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised but yet uncircumcised -- Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert that cut the corners of their hair; for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart." (9:25,26)
Those with stylish haircuts are going to get it in the neck.  Even getting circumcised seems to be not enough to avert the nonstop hail of curses from Yahweh. 

He appears as ever-tormented, as if He had just emerged from some infernal realm:
My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh, the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent;
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
Disaster follows hard on disaster,
the whole land is laid waste.
This is Yahweh speaking not Jeremiah – because it is immediately followed by
For my people are foolish,
they know me not;
they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil,
but how to do good they know not." (4:19-22)
One might expect a god to appear serene just occasionally - but not this one. The Israelites have done something terrible, but what is it?
But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers laboured, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. (3:24)
Whatever could that be? Yahweh’s fiery wrath goes forth as usual:
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
remove the foreskin of your hearts,
O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of the evil of your doings." (43-4)
And this will bring evil and destruction: “for I bring evil from the north,
and great destruction”.(4:6) Jeremiah has finally had enough, and he decides to answer back:” Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you'; whereas the sword has reached their very life.” (4:10)
Pages more about doom follow - the fire, the sword etc – and once more Jeremiah reminds the Lord:,
Then I said: "Ah, Lord GOD, behold, the prophets say to them, `You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.'" (14:12)
Not so, replies Yahweh! Any such good-news tidings were not from Me – they were from false prophets:
And the LORD said to me: "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, `Sword and famine shall not come on this land': By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. (14:13-15)
Jeremiah is told – its just bad news, and you have to bring it!

We finally get a glimpse of what everyone has done wrong:
Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; (7:18)
The people may well have believed that Ishtar or Ashtoreth the Queen of Heaven was more help in making their crops grow, than this irate god of mountains and storms. Very occasionally Yahweh gives some agricultural advice:
Break up your fallow ground,
and sow not among thorns (4:3)
But it’s never very convincing. He’s much more likely to be blasting the entire farm:
 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched. (7:18)
He declares Himself as bringer of awful evil:
 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon this place that the ears of every one who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by burning incense in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents (19:3-4).
For Yahweh to complain about the shedding of the blood of innocents is really going too far, Seymour Light felt. Was that not precisely what he has been doing and training his people to do, in page after page, book after book of the Torah? 

All this doom is too much for Jeremiah, who ends up regretting the day he was born and cursing his own parents:
Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man
who brought the news to my father,
"A son is born to you,"
making him very glad. (20:14)
Yahweh realises that he has not yet cursed the prophets:
 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets:
"Behold, I will feed them with wormwood,
and give them poisoned water to drink;
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
ungodliness has gone forth into all the land."
And what did they do wrong? They have been ‘filling you with vain hopes’ explained the Lord. (23:16)

Earth Gets Re-Cursed
As if all the dire curses unleashed by Yahweh upon Planet Earth in the Book of Isaiah were not enough, it receives more in the Book of Jeremiah. To start with, the morose, homicidal God intends:
"Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, says the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these nations round about; I will utterly destroy them, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting reproach. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 
This is retrospective prophecy, written after the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem (586 BCE), made to appear as if Jeremiah were foretelling it. Then, Babylon will receive its due reward for assisting Yahweh - its destruction, of course:
This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste. I will bring upon that land all the words which I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. (25:12-14)
This alludes to Cyrus defeating the Babylonians in 539 BCE, written after it and again masquerading as prophecy. A weird scheme is devised by Yahweh for ruining the nations, with poisoned wine:
Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: "Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword which I am sending among them. So I took the cup from the LORD's hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and princes, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, all his people, etc., etc.
Then you shall say to them, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I am sending among you. And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work evil at the city which is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, says the LORD of hosts.(25:8-13)
How, Seymour Light wondered, can any civilised society hope to prosper, if it accepts these books of non-stop curses, rage, race supremacism & mass murder as sacred texts? 

Yahweh 'Reasons' with Jeremiah

 Jeremiah is instructed to buy an item of clothing: "Go and buy a linen waistcloth, and put it on your loins", (13:1), and does so. After wearing it, he's told to take it off and stuff it into some crack in a rock: "Take the waistcloth which you have bought, which is upon your loins, and arise, go to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a cleft of the rock", which he does. Finally - lo! it it ruined:
And after many days the LORD said to me, "Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the waistcloth which I commanded you to hide there." Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the waistcloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the waistcloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing. 
This gives Yahweh the opportunity to wail and moan yet again against Judah: "Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem."  One can imagine Jeremiah's reply - "You mean I wasted a fine new waistcloth, just to hear more of this!" 

The 'False pen of the Scribes'
But one thing did really impress Seymour Light about Jeremiah:
How can you say, 'We are wise,and the law of the Lord is with us? But behold. the false pen of the Scribes has made it into a lie.' (8:8)
Jeremiah would have been close in time to those 'holy scribblers' who were then ghost-writing the alleged-history texts, retro-constructed as if penned by King David, Moses etc. - the 'false pen of the scribes', indeed! 
How many OT books of deeply-fabricated history does that apply to, he wondered? Maybe the whole god-damn story, starting from looting the Egyptians and ending with them stealing the land from the Caananites - only now in the 21st century has that been definitively refuted, by very thorough archaeology, and by honest, so-called 'minimalist' historians, who are not in the business to endorse their own religion. 'The Hebrews were a native people who had never left in the first place.' (Tiffany p.134) Yes there is a chronology of Israeli kings starting from the 9th century BC, but this was indigenous to Canaan, they had not come from anywhere, had not beseiged cities etc. Herodotus writing his history  in 450 BC never heard of Jews, so they hadn't really done anything in history. They hadn't come out of Egypt. If Jesus said He came to 'bear witness to the truth' (John 18:37) then maybe Christians should try a bit harder to find it, he surmised - instead of accepting these horrible stories of a god of vengeance Who does not give a toss for any other people in the world except His alleged Chosen Ones, ever teaching them how to swindle and cheat.  

Can Christianity survive without those horrible stories, Seymour Light wondered? Real history is indeed now beginning to take shape - without those enchanting illusions!
All the factual evidence we have is that the culture of the Hill Country of Palestine called Israel and Judah remained Canaanite until the Persians came at the end of the sixth century BC. Only in the following century were books about Jewish history written down. The people of Israel, its leaders and heroes are literary fictions or inventions or constructs. Stories about them, their victories, defeats, religious policies are all late concoctions written at the earliest in the Persian period
Some events of the bible are confirmed by external investigation. Some of the kings of Israel and Judah appear in Assyrian records and therefore can be dated. However, given that the history of Israel was only first written in the Persian period, and the Persians had conquered Assyria and Babylonia, and had access to their archives covering hundreds of years, it is more than likely that the scriptural stories of the monarchical period were simply written from the official king lists, inscriptions and diplomatic correspondence of those formerly mighty powers. In short, it is largely historical fiction but set in a realistic historical framework. 
The story of Judaism emerges into real history around 420 BC, when Cyrus the Great orders that the Jerusalem temple be built, sacred to the One God, maker of heaven and earth (Ezra 11:3) -the Persian monotheism. Darius II (423-405 BC) was sent to do this (the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah). Nehemiah arrived to govern Judah in 445 BC, and built the Jerusalem temple in 417 BC. Its normally said that this temple was then 'reconstructed' ie it was first built by King Solomon then OK, but there is no scrap of evidence for the allegedly magnificent reign of Solomon, nor of King David or Saul - zilch. Its not there in the historical record. 

The Conscience of Seymour Light reflected: That phrase of Jeremiah, the false pen of the scribes, reminds me of the thunderous remarks made by Jesus Christ about the Scribes and pharisees': (Matthew 23)
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
That seems like His critique of the 'second law' Deuter-onomy written by the scribes

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