Monday, 27 January 2014

Ezekiel's nightmare vision

Does a firstborn child need to be sacrificed to God? The book of Micah takes issue with Levite priests on this matter, in a way that suggests it was happening:
“Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers of oil. Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? It hath been told to thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord doth require of thee: only to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” (6:7)
 The practice of child sacrifice does get confirmed in the Book of Ezekiel, to which we now turn. To help us focus on this darkly unhinged text, here is a quote from Douglas Reed:
The book of Ezekiel is the most significant of all the Old Testament books. It is more significant than even Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers because it seems to be the fountainhead from which the dark ideas of those books of the Law first sprang. For instance, the student of the curses enumerated in Deuteronomy is bound to suspect that the deity in whose name they were uttered was of diabolic nature, not divine; the name, “God,” in the sense which has been given to it, cannot be coupled with such menaces. In Ezekiel's book the student finds this suspicion expressly confirmed. Ezekiel puts into the very mouth of God the statement that he had made evil laws in order to inspire misery and fear! This appears in chapter 20 and gives the key to the whole mystery of “the Mosaic Law.” In this passage Ezekiel appears to be answering Jeremiah's attack on the Levites in the matter of sacrificing the firstborn: “And they have built the high places to burn their sons and daughters in the fire; which I commanded not, neither came it into my heart.” .. His retort is concerned only to show that God had so commanded and thus to justify the priesthood; the admission that the commandment was evil is casual and nonchalant, as if this were of no importance: “I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes and keep my judgments, and do them….Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me; they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them…. then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness….Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord.” (20:24-26)


The prophet Ezekiel hears God asking him, to atone for the sins of Israel by lying on his side for 390 days (Chapter 4) and eating bread, which he has to bake using wheat, barley, mile, spelt, beans and lentils and to eat 20 shekels a day of it - but it has to be baked over a fire of human dung. The Lord sadistically explained: ‘Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations whither I will drive them.’ Ezekiel protests at this dietary imposition, and the Lord amends the requirement to cow’s dung instead! 
Such disintegration of coherent, rational thought is a hallmark of this book: replaced instead by primitive, fear-inducing magical logic. Ezekiel is told to shave off his hair:
And of these again you shall take some [his hair] , and cast them into the fire, and burn them in the fire; from there a fire will come forth into all the house of Israel. 
Only a mentally unhinged person believes that burning his own hair will have some far-reaching consequence for others. The text rants on at length about the doom to be visited upon the Hebrews: “Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in the midst of you, and sons shall eat their fathers” (5:10) But, huh, “I will leave some of you alive.” (6:8)

Ezekiel rants on, as if channeling a really bad source:
The word of the LORD came to me: "And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will let loose my anger upon you, and will judge you according to your ways; and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity; but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD: Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. An end has come, the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land; the time has come, the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting upon the mountains. Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways; and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the LORD, who smite. Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come, injustice has blossomed, pride has budded.Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness; none of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. The time has come, the day draws near. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. For the seller shall not return to what he has sold, while they live. For wrath is upon all their multitude; it shall not turn back; and because of his iniquity, none can maintain his life. 
Etc, etc. Of the few survivors of the coming famine and pestilence and the sword: “All hands are feeble, and all knees weak as water. They gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror covers them; shame is upon all faces, and baldness on all their heads.” (7:17) 

What has everyone done wrong? For a start, Yahweh objects to works of art made from gold and silver: “ Their beautiful ornament they used for vainglory, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it;” (7:20) Ezekiel is taken on a tour to see what awful things his fellow-countrymen are up to, eg: “And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD; and behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east.” (8:16) How terrible, some men enjoying a sunrise!

Did the Lord Hire Assassins from outer space?

Ezekiel is, by any standards, a garbled text[1]. Taking it at face value, a re-run of the Passover in Egypt appears as staged in Jerusalem, with planning of mass murder and a bloody mark to indicate those not to be killed. What everyone has done wrong is, as usual, rather obscure:
Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, "Draw near, you executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand." (9:1)
There are some rather ET-ish touches here, with Ezekiel seeing a majestic fourfold craft, and being taken on a journey – which does not here concern us - except maybe to say that ‘He’ here more resembles the ship’s commander-in-chief than Yahweh himself!
And lo, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, every man with his weapon for slaughter in his hand …And the LORD said to him, "Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it." And to the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, "Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go forth." So they went forth, and smote in the city. (9:1-7)
And what exactly have the Hebrews done wrong, what was their great transgression?
Thus says the Lord GOD concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel: They shall eat their bread with fearfulness, and drink water in dismay, because their land will be stripped of all it contains, on account of the violence of all those who dwell in it.  And the inhabited cities shall be laid waste, and the land shall become a desolation; and you shall know that I am the LORD. (12:18)
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Who taught them the Way of Violence, O Yahweh?

Yahweh is angry at people who ‘see delusive visions [n]or practice divination’ , and those who ‘prophesy out of their own minds’ - Ezekiel’s darkly psychotic vision being the only one allowed. (Ch.13) Also, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature.” (13:18) Lady, you didn’t just make him a wristband, did you? If so, you’d better come with us.

And yet, one gets a strange glimpse in chapter 18 of some benevolent deity - as a brief, transient voice.
The dark climax of Ezekiel’s story comes in Chapter 20, where Yahweh re-remembers the promises He made (and broke) to the Israelites:
But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness; they did not walk in my statutes but rejected my ordinances, by whose observance man shall live; and my sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands, because they rejected my ordinances and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make a full end of them in the wilderness. 
How had they profaned the Sabbaths? To what ‘idols’ could they have had access in the middle of a desert? 

Child Sacrifice

“Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD. (20:25-6) 
The very being of the God-from-Hell is here made known, reflected Seymour Light. If we accept this text at face value, Yahweh is traumatising His chosen people, by pressuring them to perform child-sacrifice - no, by claiming to have made them do it! He wanted the horror!
He soon changes His mind, as if shocked by what He had just said:  “When you offer your gifts and sacrifice your sons by fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day.” (20:31) That is a matter-of-fact statement that the Hebrews were sacrificing their firstborn sons through the fire.

This being the primary definition of black magic, reflected Seymour Light.

The text then rants on glorifying sudden death by the sword:
A sword, a sword is sharpened And also polished Sharpened for slaughter Polished to flash like lightning…Cut sharply to right and left where your edge is directed…A sword, a sword is drawn for the slaughter, it is polished to glitter and to flash like lightning – while they see false visions, while they divine lies..I will deliver you into the hands of brutal men, skilful to destroy.
Etc, etc. (Ch. 21). Anyone with 'false vision' needs to be slaughtered! Yahweh appears pleased at the brutal, killer thugs at His disposal.

Looking ahead, Ezekiel sees a glorious, blood-drinking future, plus speaking to the birds! Human flesh will be eaten and participants become drunk upon human blood:
As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field, Assemble and come, gather from all sides to the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast upon the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth -- of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you. (39:17-19)
Moloch, O Moloch!

Yahweh seeks a consort

Jerusalem was his bride, Yahweh claims, why He had made her beautiful and decorated her (‘I put a ring on your nose’ (16:12)). But alas, she misbehaved: “You took some of your garments, and made for yourself gaily decked shrines, and on them played the harlot” and also “You also took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men.” Surely not! But, it gets worse: “And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured” God had children via Jerusalem, and these were sacrificed?? Metaphors are here rather jumbled. Typically (and tediously) a short paragraph on how beautiful she had become, with Yahweh’s help, is followed by a long tirade about what she did wrong. She is a ‘brazen harlot’ etc., and, inevitably ‘I will satisfy my fury upon you.’ (16:41) She has sisters “who loathed their husbands and their children” (Ha!) one of them being ‘your sister Sodom’ who was too haughty – but, Sodom is not here accused of you-know-what.

Later on Yahweh fancied both Oho’lah (Ch. 23) and her sister Ohol’ibah, despite them having ‘played the harlot in Egypt’ when (get this) ‘their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled.’ ‘They became mine,’ Yahweh avers, and bore Him sons and daughters. So, what happened to them? But, Oho’lah liked the Assyrian warriors ‘clothed in purple, governors and commanders, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses.’ (23:6) Can one blame her, Seymour Light reflected, for preferring those dashing young men on horses to a morose, wrinkly old god - who might not even have a physical form? Yahweh rants on about the men these sisters fancy, Egyptian and Chaldean, and eventually turns away from both of them. He recalls how Ohol’ibah ‘doted upon her paramours there [in Egypt] whose members were like those of asses, and whose issue was like that of horses.’ (23:20). Thus a rejected god whines - obscenely! - about lovers preferred to Him.
Someone should do a painting, Seymour Light reflected, of Yahweh in bed with Oho’lah and Ohol’ibah, entitled ‘Yahweh’s dream.’

Seymour Light marveled that Western civilization had managed to survive for so long, with such ghastly made-up stories in its Holy Book. 

Note: The Ezekiel text has been patched together, with some rather wonderful and presumably earlier account of visions and (apparently) a space-tour, see The Spaceships of Ezekiel J. Blumrich, 1974 and Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken. This accords with Douglas Reed’s thesis that the texts here reviewed were added on to these, in the final written-out Ezekiel text, in order to ensure that they were kept.

[1] ‘Torrey, 1930, regards the whole book as a pseudoepigraph, composed c.230 BC, fictionally ascribed to the time of Manasses by its original author and transformed into a post-exilic work by a redactor.’ Quoted in Blumrich, 122. 

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