Saturday, 1 February 2014

Numbers:arithmetic fiddled

Seymour Light had finally come to accept the ethical judgement of Richard Dawkins:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (The God Delusion, p.51)


The Story (continued)
Moses and Aaron camp in front of the tabernacle, where Yahweh dwelt (or visited):
And those to encamp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, having charge of the rites within the sanctuary, whatever had to be done for the people of Israel; and any one else who came near was to be put to death.
The Levites - the priests who had just killed three thousand men, women and children for worshipping an idol, before the people had been told not to (Book of Exodus)  - dwelt nearby. As tax-collectors they performed the ‘redemption’: 
And the LORD said to Moses, "Take the Levites instead of all the first-born among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD.  And for the redemption of the two hundred and seventy-three of the first-born of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels apiece; reckoning by the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel of twenty gerahs, you shall take them, and give the money by which the excess number of them is redeemed to Aaron and his sons."  So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites; from the first-born of the people of Israel he took the money, one thousand three hundred and sixty-five shekels, reckoned by the shekel of the sanctuary; (4:42-49)
A weird logic here appears (early arithmetic?), whereby there were 22 thousand Levites, 22,273 firstborn children counted in a census, so therefore ‘redemption’ money has to be paid on 273 of them. There hovers as an undertone, that the Lord claiming the firstborn as ‘mine’ alluded to their sacrifice – although this does not have to be performed, but remains conditional.

Ethics - from Hell
If a man suspects his wife may have been unfaithful – suspects, mark you - then a dire humiliating and curse-bearing ritual was proscribed:
and if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; then the man shall bring his wife to the priest, and bring the offering required of her, a tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a cereal offering of jealousy, a cereal offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.  And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD; and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and unbind the hair of the woman's head, and place in her hands the cereal offering of remembrance, which is the cereal offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, `If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness, while you were under your husband's authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband's authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then' (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) `the LORD make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell; may this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your body swell and your thigh fall away.' And the woman shall say, `Amen, Amen.' Then the priest shall write these curses in a book, and wash them off into the water of bitterness; and he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. 

This trauma and humiliation is merely for jealousy, with the guilt totally one-way: (5:31) "The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity."

Truly, a God from Hell, Seymour Light reflected to himself.

Complaints in the Desert
And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes; and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried to Moses; and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire abated. So the name of that place was called Tab'erah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them (11:1-3)
Complaining to the Lord was not a good idea. Too late, the Israelites realise that life in Egypt had really been quite comfy –
  the people of Israel also wept again, and said, "O that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic;  but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.
God was cleverly producing manna in the wilderness - and they were ungrateful? “The anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased” The fiery-being of Yahweh had already burnt up ‘some outlying part of the camp,’ but Moses courageously rebukes Yahweh for this anger. A bitterly scornful promise then follows:
Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you, and have wept before him, saying, "Why did we come forth out of Egypt?"
So flocks of dead quails appeared around the camp ‘from the sea,’ – but, Ha! while the Israelites were gathering this food,
While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague. 
There were no more culinary complaints.[1]

An advance team is sent to reconnoitre the ‘promised land’ of Canaan, and reports back that there seems little hope of ‘taking’ it:
We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.(13:28)
The Anak were giants. Once again the Israelites were plunged into despair: “The people wept all night.” God got to hear about this and angrily started threatening to wipe out His chosen people. Moses shrewdly argues against this, “Now if thou dost kill this people as one man…’ then the Canaanites will get to hear about it. Instead, Moses speaks back to God, rather should the people say ‘The LORD is slow to anger’ (14:18) This is flattery by Moses – slow to anger! Yahweh’s temper burnt on a very short fuse. Yahweh agrees to spare them, but they will never see the Promised land – they have to turn back and live the rest of their lives in the wilderness. Once again His rage re-appears, cursing His chosen people unto their doom:
 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the proof these ten times and have not hearkened to my voice, shall see the land which I swore to give to their fathers; and none of those who despised me shall see it. 
For forty years they will have to hang about amongst the bleak desert sands, “until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wildness”:
"How long shall this wicked congregation murmur against me? .. not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell. (14:37-8)
--         His broken promise to His people.

Seymour Light liked O’Brien’s view of this altercation:
Moses’ argument with Yahweh had been extremely subtle: it was that, if Yahweh killed the whole of the Israelite community (and he seemed in no doubt that Yahweh could, and under certain circumstances, would do this) then the inhabitants of Canaan cold not fail to learn of the deed, and would deduce that Yahweh had given up because he was powerless  achieve his objective; powerless to bring his people into a land he had sworn on oath to give them – and the Canaanites would be greatly encouraged. Whether the argument touched Yahweh’s vanity cannot tell, but he agreed to compromise – ad then proceeded to make his usual disciplinary reprisal. The ten dissenters of the reconnaissance team were summarily executed in front of the people! How this was done is not clear. (Genius of the Few, 217)

Fiddling the Numbers

The Book of Numbers kicks off with an impressive bit of arithmetic, whereby a count of military-age males for each of the twelve tribes is correctly added up to give 603,550. Hebrews used letters for numbers in arithmetic, with no zero, and acquired this technique from the Greeks in the Hellenistic period. Thus Seymour Light rather doubted that any Hebrew prior to the second century BC could have done so big a computation, in base-ten arithmetic, especially not in a desert. 
Given as the number to have emerged from Egypt, it would imply a couple of million total populace. Given that seventy or so descendants of Jacob and Abraham entered into Egypt about two or four hundred years earlier - take your choice - as told in Genesis, that number is impossible. there is no trace whatever of their wandering in the Sinai desert ever detected by archaeologists, no hint of any record in Egyptian history, no sign of Hebrews ever having 'invaded' Canaan - but let's just focus on the breeding rate. Humans cannot breed like rabbits. Whoever gave that six hundred thousand number, with the careful bogus arithmetic, must have known it was wholly impossible. This could be the first recorded instance of fiddled, fake arithmetic.     

The land of Canaan was arid and remote, a rocky and mountainous area with little by way of water-supply, i.e. there never was a land flowing with milk and honey.

[1] Well, there was one more later, ‘we loathe this worthless food’ (21:5) and in response ‘the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so many people of Israel died.

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