Monday, 3 February 2014

Exodus: the Unlikely Tale

Prelude: Joseph arrives in Egypt

The Book of Genesis had told how the Pharaoh had generously welcomed Joseph and his brothers, to dwell in the land of Egypt, when they were starving:
 Pharaoh said to his brothers, "What is your occupation?" And they said to Pharaoh, "Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were." They said to Pharaoh, "We have come to sojourn in the land; for there is no pasture for your servants' flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan; and now, we pray you, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen." Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land  (Gen 47:1-4)
Coming from famine-struck Canaan, they were hoping to settle down in Egypt. The pharaoh kindly offers them his best land to settle in - and in return only requests one cushy job, that they look after his cattle: "and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my cattle." 
Thus rescued from starvation by the great generosity of the Pharaoh, they settle in his best land (Gen 47:11) – the books of Genesis and Exodus thus appear as a story, the first story, of how to screw over a host-nation. God's chosen people are rescued from starvation and offered the best land to dwell in  -in return, with bitter ingratitude, their God finally provides a hail of ghastly curses and mass-murder, to ‘despoil the Egyptians,’ as we'll now see.
                      'Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend'   King Lear

 The Exodus story begins with the Israelites as slaves in Egypt (which is completely absent from the very detailed historical records of Egypt[1]):
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they made the people of Israel serve with rigor, and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field;Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives ... "When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live. (Exodus 1:12-16)
It's not explained how they have come to be in bondage, whereas initally they were honoured guests. Hebrews in Egypt are multiplying, and Egyptians are ‘in dread’ of them. The unlikely instruction is given to ‘midwives’ by the King, to murder every male Hebrew child. The midwives' riposte is quite a laugh:
So the king of Egypt called the midwives, and said to them, "Why have you done this, and let the male children live?" The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them.
Sure, they just pop out quickly, before the midwives can arrive to kill them. Despite being ‘in dread’ of the Hebrews, the Pharaoh commands that  "Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile.”

Loot thy Neighbour

Moses appears and has a dialogue with God about how to lead out his people from Egypt. The latter explains His technique of theft:
 When you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbour, and of her who sojourns in her house, jewellery of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; thus you shall despoil the Egyptians. 
We are left wondering how the Hebrews are to ‘despoil’ the Egyptians, by relieving their neighbours of household gold and jewellery – but, all will be revealed. God explains to Moses His plan for plagues:
"When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. (4:21)
The aim is not primarily to get ‘Israelites’ out of Egypt, but rather to force the Pharaoh not to agree to it. The Deity instructing Moses here claims to be ‘God Almighty’ (6:2)
    The first plague begins, and all the Nile turns to blood and the fish die etc – and the magicians of Egypt claim to be able to duplicate this effect!
But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh's heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the LORD had said.
A second plague was unleashed, of frogs everywhere, and again the magicians of Egypt claim they can duplicate this effect! (8:7)
But the magicians did the same by their secret arts, and brought frogs upon the land of Egypt. 
So far, this is looking like a contest between rival groups of black magicians – but, hang on. Gnats appear everywhere as the third plague, and this time the magicians of Egypt cannot duplicate the effect:
 The magicians tried by their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. And the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." 
– which apparently shows this to be ‘the finger of God.’

What god might that be, wondered Seymour Light?

The Hebrews are to be given a special plot of Egypt to live in called Goshen, so they do not experience the awful plagues. (8:22)  Either they were 'in bondage' to Egypt or they were not, reflected Seymour Light. If they were they could not have suddenly acquired their own patch of real estate. Whoever fabricated this low-credibility story had no inkling whatever of the glory that was Egypt, with its pyramids and grand edifices. No name of any pharaoh is mentioned, because whoever was writing long after the alleged events had no idea of these. 

As God keeps hardening the heart of the Pharaoh in order to prevent him from letting the Israelites go, frightful hail and rains fall, and the Pharaoh repents. But even then, God makes him un-repent - after all, one wouldn’t want to miss the  plague of locusts:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your son's son how I have made sport of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them; that you may know that I am the LORD.
The deity wants to ‘make sport of the Egyptians,’ that's the motive.  As the last, cataclysmic punishment approaches, this is a good time to remind the Israelites about relieving their neighbours of family gold and silver: (11:2)
Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbour and every woman of her neighbour, jewellery of silver and of gold.

Passover: the Killer-God in Action

In the first month of the year (12:2)
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,"This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
each Hebrew household needs a lamb to slaughter, and on the 14th day (i.e. Full Moon) its blood has to be daubed over the house lintel – “It is the Lord’s passover”  - and the murderous low-flying God will spare their children on that Passover night. NB no detail is here given of how this homicidal God bumped off the little children in their cots, overnight.

This, Seymour Light reflected, was weirdly fulfilled much later, when the Prince of Peace was crucified on the Passover full Moon on Friday, 3rd April 33 AD, the first full Moon after the Equinox: this Exodus text defines it in this manner. (Seymour Light was puzzled that Jews today began their year on the New Moon nearest the Autumn Equinox, when this Exodus text clearly defines it as the springtime month) Dire Pauline theology passed dimly through his memory, as to how the Lamb of God had somehow atoned or rescued believers by His death, making the analogy with this ‘passover’ Full Moon when this nightmare god chose to slaughter innocent children, to ‘make sport with the Egyptians.’
It was such a bloody religion, Seymour Light reflected:
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.  “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.”
The bloody horror of the mass murder of innocent children had to remembered ‘forever’ -  nay, celebrated and honored. 

What kind of religion was this, Seymour Light reflected? Had any other people ever even imagined a brutal killer-god like this one?

The Egyptians finally let the people of Israel take all the gold and silver and clothing they ask for (12:36) – an offer they couldn’t refuse, so to speak. Let’s recall that none of this actually happened, it’s just a story from someone’s hellish imagination – and for which God will forever after ask the Israelites to feel gratitude. ‘Thus they despoiled the Egyptians.’ (12:36) I wouldn’t invite these people to my party, reflected Seymour Light.

Helpful rules appear here about who may ‘celebrate’ Passover, eg
            “…every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him.” (12:43)

The Redemption - Paid in Shekels

Once the Israelites have escaped from Egypt, the Lord instructs:
Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine… you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstlings of your cattle that are males shall be the LORD's. Every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem. (Exodus, 13:1,12-13)
Redemption here is a payment. A first-born ass can be ‘redeemed’ with a lamb – or if not ‘you shall break its neck’. ‘Redeem’ here means, 'avoid the slaughter of’ or else what does it mean? Later on we will discover, that the first born sons may be ‘redeemed’ by paying a tithe to the priesthood – who are presumably writing this text in the first place – many centuries (Yes, Seymour Light nodded his head) many centuries after you have been told it was written.

Seymour Light consulted Douglas Reed’s weighty The Controversy of Zion, in order to get a right perspective here, on the chains of enslavement being forged:
The picture of blood-bespattered priests, thus given, is worth contemplation. Even at this distance of time the question prompts itself: why was this insistent emphasis laid on blood-sacrifice in the books of the Law which the Levites produced. The answer seems to lie in the sect's uncanny genius for instilling fear by terror; for the very mention of “blood,” in such contexts, made the faithful or superstitious Judahite tremble for his own son! It is all spelt out in Exodus, this claim of the fanatical priests to the firstborn of their followers: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.” According to the passage earlier quoted from Micah, this practice of sacrificing the human firstborn long continued, and the sight of the bloodied Levite must have had a terrible significance for the humble tribesman, for in the words attributed to God, quoted above, the firstborn “of man and of beast” are coupled. This significance remained long after the priesthood (in a most ingenious way which will later be described) contrived to discontinue human sacrifice while retaining the prerogative. Even then the blood which was sprinkled on the priest, though it was an animal's, was to the congregation still symbolically that of their own offspring!
Again and again blood gets spattered over white-robed priests and the congregation, to make everyone feel ‘holy.’ The act of redemption is later explained as achievable by giving so many shekels to the priest. And we will address in due time, the issue of sacrificing the human firstborn – yes, alas, we will be coming to that – as might not be quite what you have heard from the pulpit.

Selling your Daughter for Sex

Seymour Light was by no means sceptical about some degree of ET involvement in the story here, where the awesome ‘cloud by day and pillar of fire by night’ appears, to guide the Israelites on their sojourn – as a memory of 2nd millennium BC events endured, remembered as sacred by the people, in this text written down long after. Prior to the crossing of the Red sea, Yahweh once more explains his motive:
And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.
He intends to ‘get glory’ by the spectacular mass murder involved. Those writing this story gave no motive for the Egyptian army to wish to chase the Hebrews – when they would have been devoutly grateful for their departure.

Three months later Moses gets to receive the Ten Commandments, when a lot of special electric-fiery effects appear in the story:
 Take heed that you do not go up into the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death … no hand shall touch him … whether beast or man, he shall not live. (19:13)
This was no god of light, but rather: "And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was" (20:21)

On the very same page as the Ten Commandments, Yahweh explains about how to buy and sell slaves – especially one’s own daughter:
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed.
Selling your daughter for sex, with a refund guarantee - if satisfaction is not obtained! Yahweh also explained how you can beat up your own slave without punishment (this immediately follows the Ten Commandments):
When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished; for the slave is his money.
There follows the categories of people to be killed “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” – (22:18) and "Whoever sacrifices to any god, save to the LORD only, shall be utterly destroyed.” The trashing of anyone else’s religion is a recurrent theme.  But, having said that, a weird twinge of benevolence appears later in Chapter 22, as if memory of some benevolent deity were endeavouring to make itself heard.

Seymour Light pinched himself, to remind himself that he was reading ‘The Holy Bible.’ This was the anti-god from Hell, why do people want this stuff on their bookshelves?
Seeing God

Moses sloshed basins of blood around (24:6-8), yes he knew how to please God:
And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words." 
The contract was struck - with loads of blood - then Moses and Aaron go up the mountain, to see God. He offers them a snack before they continued up the mountain:
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abi'hu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
Rather like meeting Darth Vader, they are just relived that He didn't try to kill them.
Here Seymour Light reflected, that the Torah stories were totally materialistic: there is no after-life, the blessings offered by Yahweh in return for obedience are all material, as are all the curses (in far longer lists than the blessings), and the point of all of the obedience, burnt offerings etc was not virtue or salvation, but that they would obtain the land – it was a material promise, a material contract. And God was constantly defining Himself in material terms, as a being who could see and taste etc*, who gave advice in battle, often thru some sort of intercom system, and at one point moans because the Hebrews want their own king, claiming, won’t he do? He is constantly demanding sacrifice offerings like evening snacks, with huge detail over their cuisine, admiring the odour of the burnt offerings and wine … Indeed Seymour Light occasionally  wondered (but could not decide) about the argument put forward in that classic work, The Genius of the Few by O’Brian, that Yahweh was some sort of large wrinkly Annunaki-type being, who flew in his ‘cloud by day, pillar of fire by night’, and came down when required into the Tent of Meeting where it was often alleged that He dwelt.
Yahweh was ‘bellicose and vindictive’ O’Brien found. (p.175), adding: “With Yahweh by your side, violence is never more than a hand’s breadth away!” (p.190)

Levites: the Killer-Priests
On coming down with the Ten Commandments written by God on both sides of the tablets, Moses finds that the people have melted down their gold to make an engraved image – contravening the Third Commandment they were about to be given! That was asking for trouble. Contravening the Seventh Commandment he was bringing down from the mountain, Moses assembled the Levite priesthood and had them slay three thousand men as punishment! This Levite priesthood here appear as the only ones who have swords, for there is no resistance:
then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me." And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel, `Put every man his sword on his side, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.'" And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. And Moses said, "Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, that he may bestow a blessing upon you this day."
The killer-god blesses this mass-murder act - with no hint of incompatibility with the Seventh Commandment He had just written on the stone.
As that perceptive atheist Richard Dawkins wrote, one might have hoped that this killing ‘would have been enough to assuage God’s jealous sulk. But no, God wasn’t finished yet. In the last verse of this terrible chapter his parting shot was to send a plague upon what was left of the people ‘because they made a calf, which Aaron made.’’ (the God Delusion, p.277) Seymour Light admired the moral judgement of Dawkins -
God’s monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god resembles nothing so much as sexual jealousy of the worst kind, and again it should strike a modern moralist as far from a good role-model (Ibid, p276)
however he could not go along with the simplistic view that no such Being had ever existed. Too much horror had come from this deity, for it to be merely a figment of anyone’s imagination. Who could ever dream up so hellish a god?
Seymour Light was impressed by Aaron’s ability to construct a furnace reaching a thousand degrees centigrade in the middle of a desert, in order to melt gold (32:4) – and even more by the remarkable alchemic ability of Moses to unmake Aaron’s golden calf, dissolving it and turning it into drinkable, colloidal gold! (32:30)
The Fifth Commandment then gets revamped as a death-curse:
You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; every one who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. (31:14)
Originally it had been a blessing - but, hey, that was on the original tablets that Moses had smashed in anger! (20:8) Seymour Light here recalled the piteous story of an old man caught gathering firewood, ignorant that it was the sabbath day – and, by the way, this is the invention of the seven-day week, this is how it began! The Hebrews ask God what to do with the old man, and God replies, stone him to death - and lo, they stoned him to death (Numbers, 15).
Again Seymour Light had to admire the moral judgement of the atheist Dawkins:
What shocks me today about such stories is not that they really happened. They probably didn’t. What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh – and, even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) onto rest of us. (Ibid, p.282)
At last someone was correctly evaluating the Judaeo-Christian god Yahweh. This surely has to be a milestone in morality and a real augury of hope for Homo Sap., he felt.

It was slowly dawning upon the Hebrews that being ‘rescued’ by this Deity from Egypt may not have been such a great idea. Yahweh, whose rage resembled an ever-simmering volcano, turned out to be unappeased by the thousands he had just slaughtered, followed by a plague - and to his ‘chosen people’ vowed, of the Promised Land: ‘To your descendants I will give it’ (33:1) – the promise is broken, for which they had left Egypt! They will all have to die in the desert! Only their children get to enter this promised land, ‘flowing with milk and honey.’

Serve them right for trusting Yahweh, Seymour Light reflected.    

Later on, we get detail about how to make and consecrate the Ark of the Covenant,  (29:21)
Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram, and take part of its blood and put it upon the tip of the right ear of Aaron and upon the tips of the right ears of his sons, and upon the thumbs of their right hands, and upon the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the altar round about. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it upon Aaron and his garments, and upon his sons and his sons' garments with him; and he and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons' garments with him. 
The alter is splattered with blood as usual, the priests are splattered with blood – ever so holy, Seymour Light reflected. Further enigmatic comments follow about the physical or quasi-physical nature of Yahweh, maybe not the sort of thing anyone would make up. Moses asks if he may see Yahweh, and the reply is:
"You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live." And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen." 
As if Yahweh would be passing by in some sort of craft somewhere up the mountain, and Moses was permitted only to see its rear.
Moses was advised of the various local tribes due to have their land stolen: “I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites,” plus destruction of their places of worship: “You shall tear down their altars, and break their pillars, and cut down their Ashe'rim” (34:13) These Middle-Eastern goddess-worshipping peoples had been living - or so Merlin Stone argued, in her The Paradise Papers, When God was a Woman, 1976 - in ecological peace and harmony. ‘For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders’ (34:24). Reflected Seymour Light, this deity behaved as if totally exempt from the Commandments just given, not to steal or kill.

This was bad news for Planet Earth, reflected Seymour Light: the Predator had arrived.

* Deuteronomy 4:27: "And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of men's hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell" - rather implying that Yahweh was able to see,eat etc.

Books Referred to
O'Brien, Christian, The Genius of the Few The story of those who founded the garden in Eden,  1999.
Richard Dawkins, The God delusion 
Tiffany, John  Fountain of Fairytales, a Scholarly romp through the Old Testament,  2013
Douglas Reed, The Controversy of Zion (online)
Merlin Stone, The Paradise Papers When God was a Woman, 1976.
Karen Armstrong The Bible The Biography   2007

[1] ‘The Scholarly consensus is that the story of the Exodus is not historical’ Karen Armstrong, The Bible, The Bibliography, 2007,15.

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