Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Judges: Ethics from the Archfiend

 And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he went down to Ash'kelon and killed thirty men of the town, and took their spoil   (14:19)

Judges is one of the worst, most blood-soaked chronicle of mass-murder in all the OT books. It starts with the sack of Jerusalem -
And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire. (1:8)
We don’t quite gather what it did wrong, to deserve this – but hey, who needs a reason? The remaining local residents become slaves:
When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out…the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became subject to forced labor … the inhabitants of Beth-she'mesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.”

Other nations seek to develop friendly trade relations – but God’s Chosen People worked exclusively via war, treachery, enslavement, debt-enslavement, plunder – a story which continues in the Book of Judges. In vain do we seek through all the OT books, for any honourable means of their earning a living or acquiring wealth.

Message for the King
The theme of how to murder by betrayal of trust echoes through this book. The Israelites have to serve a king called Eglon, of the Moabites. Then a Benjamite ‘deliverer’ Ehud is raised up by the Lord (Chapter 3):
 And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length; and he girded it on his right thigh under his clothes. And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people that carried the tribute. But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, "I have a secret message for you, O king." And he commanded, "Silence." And all his attendants went out from his presence. And Ehud came to him, as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, "I have a message from God for you." And he arose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly; and the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly. (3:20-23)
Presumably the moral of this story, is Don’t trust a Hebrew. Ehud used the trust of the king to kill him when defenceless.

Hebrew Hospitality
Another gruesome regicide is described in the next chapter. A king called Sisera is fleeing after just having lost a war, and arrives at the tent of a woman called Jael. She invites him in with soothing words–
 And Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, "Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear." So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, "Pray, give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty." So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. And he said to her, "Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, `Is any one here?' say, No." But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, till it went down into the ground, as he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. (4:18-22)
The king pays with his life for the mistake of trusting a Hebrew. Jael had no qualms about violating principles of hospitality to kill a defenceless sleeping man in her tent, who had trusted her. She becomes extolled as a 'most blessed' heroine:
"Most blessed of women be Ja'el,
the wife of Heber the Ken'ite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
He asked water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
She put her hand to the tent peg
and her right hand to the workmen's mallet;
she struck Sis'era a blow,
she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple. (5:24-6)
How strange, Seymour Light reflected, that these infernal chronicles should be here, visible in the light of day, in the sacred Book of the West.

Daddy comes Home
Next, we come to the moving tale of child-sacrifice by Jepthath, burning his adoring young virgin daughter as sacrifice to Yahweh: “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, "If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORD's, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering." (11:30)

Yahweh accepts the deal, and helps Jepthah to ‘smite’ ‘twenty cities’ with ‘a very great slaughter’ (11:33)

On returning home, the first thing he sees is, predictably enough, his young daughter coming out to welcome him home.

So therefore she has to be burnt.

She is burnt.

Presumably the moral here is, Be careful welcoming your daddy home, if he’s a Hebrew.

 Chopping up One's Wife
 Lot offered up his virgin daughter to be gang-raped by a bunch of strangers, and in a rather similar text we hear of the adventures of a Levite priest in chapter 19. He and his wide/concubine sojourn in the land of the Benjamites where they find hospitality for the night:

As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, base fellows, beset the house round about, beating on the door; and they said to the old man, the master of the house, "Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him." And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, "No, my brethren, do not act so wickedly; seeing that this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do with them what seems good to you; but against this man do not do so vile a thing." But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them; and they knew her, and abused her all night until the morning.Judges (19:23-4).
So the master of the house offers his virgin daughter to be gang-raped all night by strangers. For the ethics, we quote Dawkins: "Again the mysoginistic ethos comes through loud and clear. I find the phrase 'humble ye them' particularly chilling" (The God Delusion p.273).  Note the phrase ravish them and "do with them what seems good to you" ('humble ye them' in the translation Dawkins used, we're on the Revised Standard Version) - a carte-blanche for sex-perverts. This deal was not accepted, so the Levite then offers his wife as well ('So the man seized his concubine...').  

The wife/concubine dies:
And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, "Get up, let us be going." But there was no answer. Then he put her upon the ass; and the man rose up and went away to his home.And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and laying hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. (Judges 19:27-29)
The Levite priest's heartless response to seeing his wife dead on his doorstep is just to say "Get up", then toss her corpse over his donkey, then chop up her still-warm corpse when he gets home.This is sadism - and necrophilia.

A strange and rather infernal postal service then delivers the bloody bits of her hacked-up body to eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel. Rather like, Seymour Light reflected, Jack the Ripper sent a chopped-up bit of liver of one of his victims to Scotland Yard. These at once cause the tribes of Israel to assemble, ready for war. The Levite then speaks to them the treacherously deceptive words: 
And the men of Gib'e-ah rose against me, and beset the house round about me by night; they meant to kill me, and they ravished my concubine, and she is dead. 
No, that was not the story. But, it's good enough the start a war, and the chapter culminated with a huge and pointless bloody carnage. 

The Marquis de Sade would have been proud of this story.

Wiping out the Benjamites
The war wipes out the Benjamites, one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The tribes that assemble demand that the 'base fellows' who had done this deed be handed over to them to be put to death. Not getting these, the Benjamites are almost all slaughtered and their towns set ablaze. Then, the tribes weep because one of their tribes has been wiped out!
And they said, "O LORD, the God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel, that there should be today one tribe lacking in Israel?" (21:3)
This could make quite a good comedy, Seymour Light reflected: God replies, 'There is  one tribe lacking because you just killed them all!'

Can they breed back the tribe, from the few males remaining? A stumbling-block here is a curse the Hebrews have just uttered - 'For the people of Israel had sworn, "Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin."' (21:18) - which cannot be unsaid. A need for breeding femaes thereby arises, which provides a fine opportunity for yet another bloodbath.

The Archfiend from Hell always seems to like stories where Hebrew fingers check out if girls are virgins, and if so spare their lives. The tribe of Jabesh-Gilead had neglected to turn up at the last tribal meeting (21: 8), so naturally it had to be wiped out (yawn, this doesn't stop...) - except for the virgins:

So the congregation sent thither twelve thousand of their bravest men, and commanded them, "Go and smite the inhabitants of Ja'besh-gil'ead with the edge of the sword; also the women and the little ones.

How brave those warriors must have been, to slaughter 'the women and little ones.' 

Four hundred virgins were thereby obtained, 'and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh.' The few Benjamite males were then told: 'if the daughters if Shiloh come out to dance in the dances' (21:21) they are fair game for rape. There is the usual rape = marriage equation. When the relatives of these women object to the mass rape, the slimy, devious words can be spoken:  

And when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, `Grant them graciously to us; because we did not take for each man of them his wife in battle, neither did you give them to them, else you would now be guilty.'" And the Benjaminites did so, and took their wives, according to their number, from the dancers whom they carried off;
This Book began with a Benjamite rescuing the tribes of Israel, then ends with the Benjamite extermination by the tribes of Israel. At each step a love of bloody violence appears as a motive.

Thank God  none of this really happened, reflected Seymour Light. 

The Conscience of Seymour Light objected, saying:  Hmm, this doesn't sound like the Wiki account of Judges, as being about "divinely inspired leaders whose direct knowledge of Yahweh allows them to act as champions for the Israelites from oppression by foreign rulers, and models of wise and faithful behaviour required of them by their god Yahweh."



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