Friday, 31 January 2014

'To Utterly Destroy': from Numbers to Samuel 1

 To quote Douglas Reed: "Among these “statutes and judgments” as the Levites finally edited them appeared, repeatedly, the commands, “utterly destroy,” “pull down,” “root out.” Judah was destined to produce a nation dedicated to destruction." The Archfiend here instructs His chosen people concerning arts of mass murder and destruction, keynotes of His religion. Jehovah was 'the god of racialism, hatred and revenge' (Reed) 
We here compare two stories on this theme, in the books of Numbers and Samuel.

Wiping out the Midianites
Prior to entering ‘the Promised Land,’ the Israelites (in the Book of Numbers) found themselves encamped among friendly Moabites and Midianites. They fraternised unduly with the locals, and were reported to have bowed down to local ‘gods’ during a feast. Yahweh got to hear of the situation, and spelled out His horrendous verdict:
and the LORD said to Moses, "Take all heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord in the Sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel." (25:3-5)
That didn’t in the event happen, because a chance event distracted Yahweh:
And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting. When Phineas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation, and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room, and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through her body. Thus the plague was stayed from the people of Israel.  
Considering that Moses had had a Midianite wife, Zipporah, one might have supposed that such coupling was OK – but, this sudden murder of two young lovers pleased Yahweh, making further sacrifices unnecessary. Commented O’Brien,  
This act by Phineas so delighted Yahweh that he gave Phineas, and his descendants, the priesthood in perpetuity for being the only one with the same zeal as Yahweh.We cannot understand why Jewish psychologists have not commented on this aspect of the Yahweh personality. Such quick changes in a mood from blind, unreasoning anger to calm, pleasing action, are well known among students of severe mental disorders. And the fact that it took another bloody act to distract Yahweh from his impaling orders must be significant. (226)
This barbaric act somehow reminds Yahweh of a gripe he has against the Midianites and Moses is instructed to ‘avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites.’ (31:2) So they are wiped out,  their cities burnt down, etc. (31:10), however there is a problem:  Israelite army returns with too many captives. Much booty is brought to Moses but he isn’t pleased. “And Moses was angry with the officers of the army.”

Why was that? He rebuked them: “Have you let all the women live?” Then he instructed:
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. 
This is Moses’ direction, not Yahweh’s. Have the diabolical ethics of the God he has served for so long at last begun to rub off on him? Moses’ children were racially mixed, a mix of Hebrew-Midianite.’ Much of the gold and shekels plundered from the Midianite cities get “offered to the Lord” i.e given to the priests.

To avoid such distressing situations in the future, Yahweh directs that land-theft and city eradication will have to be performed more thoroughly:
 "Say to the people of Israel, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and settle in it … But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as pricks in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them." 
Phew, this is real ‘do-unto-others-before-they-do-unto-you’ ethics, Seymour Light reflected. The Predator teaches his minions!

Moses' Identity Disintegrates
The unfortunate Midianites, so far as one can tell from the biblical account, were the victims of genocide in their own county. (Richard Dawkins, 278)
 Moses was the great Hero-figure of the Old Testament, his story being told in Exodus. He flees from Egypt to dwell with the Midianites, staying with the high priest there, called Jethro:
And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zippo'rah.  (Exodus, 2:21)
He married the daughter of the high priest of the Midianites. Their hospitality has rescued him, maybe rescued his life. Moses gets to see God in the Burning Bush while tending Jethro's flocks.

And then, after all that, the Book of Numbers has him order that these same Midianites be wiped out – for no reason. He complains that the Genocide was not quite total - 'kill every male among the little ones', they have to go back and kill off remaining non-virgin women! No doubt audiences enjoyed being told the story, of how Hebrew fingers checked out which women were virgins, as to whether thy lived or died. So 'Numbers' turns Moses into a complete monster, a true servant of the Archfiend!


Samuel Wipes out the Amalek

The people ask Samuel to appoint a king, and Yahweh tries to dissuade them, on the grounds that, can he not be their king? (8:7)* But they do want one, and so Yahweh chooses a tall young man called Saul as their king. He’s a good killer-warrior which seems to be all that is required:
When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, 'he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines; wherever he turned he put them to the worse. And he did valiantly, and smote the Amal'ekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.'
Next he is told to wipe out the Amalek:
And Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, `I will punish what Am'alek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt.  Now go and smite Am'alek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. 
and does so, more or less. But, Yahweh then gripes that this was not the ‘utter destruction’ he had ordered – were not sheep and cattle still alive, and, worse, had not one of the enemy kings, Agag, been taken prisoner? He demands that Saul be removed as king, because he had failed in the ‘utter destruction’ mission! Samuel the prophet is upset and ‘cried to the Lord all night’ (15:11) but to no avail. In vain did Saul plead, ‘I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites’ and only brought sheep ‘to sacrifice to the Lord your God.’ Vainly trying to make amends he chopped up his hostage King - ‘And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal’ – but to no avail, the arch-sadist Yahweh has judged this as a failure of mission.

There is a sequel to this story, as the wiped-out Amalekites return from the dead, only to be slain once more by king David (Samuel 1, 27:9), who left neither man nor woman alive amongst them. Then, these undead Amalekites attack David once again! (Samuel 1, 30:1-17)

Here is Douglas Reed:'s take on the moral of this story:
Samuel chose a young Benjaminite peasant, Saul, who had made some name in tribal warfare and, presumably, was thought likely to be tractable…The unified kingdom of Israel then began; in truth it survived but this one reign, Saul's. In Saul's fate (or in the account given of it in the later Scriptures) the ominous nature of Judaism, as it was to be given shape, may be discerned. He was commanded to begin the holy war by attacking the Amalekites “and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” He destroyed “man and woman, infant and suckling,” but spared King-Agag and the best of the sheep, oxen, yearlings and lambs. For this he was excommunicated by Samuel, who secretly chose one David, of Judah, to be Saul's successor. Thereafter Saul vainly strove by zeal in “utter destruction” to appease the Levites, and then by attempting David's life to save his throne. At last he killed himself.Possibly none of this happened; it is the account given in the Book of Samuel, which the Levites produced centuries later. Whether it is true or allegorical, the importance lies in the plain implication: Jehovah demanded literal obedience when he commanded “utter destruction,” and mercy or pity were capital offences. This lesson is driven home in many other depictments of events which were possibly historical and possibly imaginary.
Seymour Light reflected on Yahweh glorifying Phineas and giving him special privileges because he had sadistically killed the two innocent and defenceless Midianite lovers -

Therefore say, `Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; and it shall be to him, and to his descendants after him, the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, (25:13)
This reminded him of the Cain story in Genesis. Cain murders his brother Abel, and is driven out of Paradise, but the Lord puts a 'mark of Cain' upon him which prevents anyone from killing him - i.e., he gets special protection!

Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. (Gen 4:15)

People generally think the 'Mark of Cain' is some stigma for being a murderer, whereas to be frank Yahweh usually approves of killers - this 'mark' is special divine protection given to Cain!

* The Book of Samuel has Yahweh no longer claiming a physical presence, but contactable by the seer Samuel: ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.’ (3:1). On the other hand, Yahweh wanting to be king in this book does sound rather 'physical!' He is constantly giving war-advice as if He were round the corner somewhere and was advising via an intercom system, and still specifying great culinary detail for all the burnt-offering sacrifices He requires.

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