The Bible: Kings 1

This book is literally a listing of the various Kings of Israel. This is clearly a summary of events and many of the chapters end with a citation: For more information about King [whatever king this chapter discussed] see The Annals of the Kings of Judah, or The Annals of the Kings of Israel. These are apparently both lost books, with no known copies still in existence.

Anyway, at the start of this book, King David is old enough that it is time (again) for his sons to fight over the succession.

King David’s son Adonijah apparently decided that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission and went ahead and arranged his own coronation. (With Joab’s support, too!) With some prompting from his wife, Bath-sheba, King David immediately arranges for the officially recognized coronation of their son Solomon.

King David dies but not before reminding Solomon of all the betrayals he (David) suffered and all the people he (David) promised not to kill, but reminded Solomon that those promises would not bind him (Solomon). Thus there’s no surprise that Solomon starts off his reign with ordering a variety of deaths (chapter 2). After that, Solomon prays for the wisdom necessary to rule the land, which God grants (chapter 3).*

After some talk about how wise King Solomon now was, there’s a lot of description of the temple he has built to hold the Ark of the Covenant. It was built with much cedar wood (as a gift from King Hiram of Tyre) and gold and brass in a very specific design (chapters 5 thru 7) and then consecrated with much worship and sacrifice** (chapters 8 and 9).

Chapter 10 is about Solomon’s wealth and Chapter 11 is about his virility with his 700 wives and 300 concubines. However, it also talks about how he let some of those wives worship gods who were not the one God and thus he sinned started a pattern of sinful behavior in the line of kings. God decides that in punishment, Solomon’s son would only rule over only one of the tribes of Israel and be king in Jerusalem, while a man named Jeroboam would rule over the remaining ten tribes as king over Israel.

The next eleven chapters (chapters 12 thru 22) list the various kings who ruled and the ways in which they variously offended God and tried to kill one another.

Kings of all Israel:

  • King David
  • (King Adonijah, son of King David – had himself anointed king without his father’s blessings)
  • King Solomon (son of King David) (sinful)
  • King Rehoboam (son of King Solomon)*** remained king of the tribe of Judah

Kings of Judah:

  • King Rehoboam (sinful)
  • King Abijim (son of King Rehoboam) (sinful)
  • King Asa (son of King Abijim) (faithful)
  • King Jehoshaphat (son of King Asa) (faithful?)
  • King Jehoram (son of King Jehoshaphat) (unstated)

Kings of Israel (minus Judah):

  • King Jeroboam (sinful)****
  • King Nadab (son of King Jeroboam) (sinful)
  • King Baasha (having assassinated King Nadab) (sinful)
  • King Elah (son of King Baasha) (unstated)
  • King Zimri (having assassinated King Elah) (sinful)
  • King Omri (having defeated General Tibni the other claimant after King Zimri’s suicide) (even more sinful than Jeroboam!)
  • King Ahab (son of King Omri) (even more sinful than King Omri!)*****
  • King Ahaziah (son of King Ahab) (sinful)

While there’s all sorts of civil unrest within each of Judah and Israel as well as between them, there’s also all sorts of conflict and temporary alliances with the various kings of Syria.

And thus we are through Kings 1 and thus on to Kings 2.

Summary: There have been a lot of kings of Israel and Judah and most of them have been sinful. Most of the sins, however, have had to do with allowing the worship of idols rather than regarding their tendencies towards killing one another.

Moral: There’s a lot of sinning going on here, but punishments for those sins is largely hit or miss.

* Chapter 3 contains the famous story of Solomon’s wisdom in which two mothers are claiming an infant child is theirs. King Solomon orders the baby to be cut in half so that they can each have half. The woman who protests that decision is identified as the actual mother. Given Solomon’s recent history, it’s no surprise that the two women involved absolutely believed that King Solomon would be more than willing to cut a baby in half.

** 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep and goats were sacrificed at the temple over the course of 14 days. This comes to a bit more than 7 animals killed every minute for 14 days. Oof.

*** The people of Israel asked King Rehoboam to be a kinder taskmaster than his father, to which he responded along the lines of: you only thought you had it bad under Solomon. I’ll work you to the bone and whip you till you bleed. They decided not to accept him as their king after all.

**** King Jeroboam didn’t want his people going to Jerusalem to worship since King Rehoboam remained king of Jerusalem even after Jeroboam took over the remaining ten tribes. Thus, Jeroboam made a bunch of local temples with local priests for his people to worship at and thus horribly offended God. For a while, Jeroboam is the benchmark for the sinfulness of all other kings.

***** King Ahab was so wicked that he gets chapters 17 thru 22 to recount some of his evil deeds which include marrying Jezebel and worshiping Baal. The prophet Elijah comes in here to, first, announce the coming of a drought and, second, to demonstrate the non-existence of Baal. He also arranges the slaughter all 450 of the prophets of Baal, who had been under Jezebel’s protection. Eventually, Ahab was so terrified of a prophesy Elijah made that he rent his clothing, fasted, and wore sackcloth, such that God decided to punish Ahab’s children instead of him.

Next up: Kings 2

The Bible: Samuel 2

It’s been a while since my last Bible post, but I am determined to get through the whole thing, even if there is no way I’ll manage my original finish-it-in-a-year goal. (It seemed so easy at the time!) Anyway:

Apparently the reason why there are two-part books in the bible sometimes (Samuel 1, Samuel 2; with Kings 1, Kings 2 and Chronicles 1, Chronicles 2 to come) is because these books were too long to be written on individual scrolls as they originally were. These books are literally scroll 1 of the text and scroll 2 of the text, separated into two parts for practical convenience rather than from narrative intent. This explanation helps a lot with understanding the naming conventions because by the time we get to Samuel 2, the character Samuel is dead some chapters back.

In Samuel 1, we are introduced to David as the plucky rebel who is gets quite the reputation for defeating enemies and surviving assassination attempts by King Saul, and being generally much beloved by the populace.

In Samuel 2, David is now king and it’s maybe a lesson that plucky rebel types do not necessarily make the best kings. In particular, the king in these circumstances (intermittent civil war and periodic invasions) needs to be fairly ruthless (according to his advisers.) If he’s not willing to kill potentially traitorous friends and family, then his advisers are more than willing to do so in his stead and against his wishes.

At this point we’ve got an emotional king who will dance lasciviously in the streets when he’s happy (chapter 6), rend his clothes and refuse to eat when sad (chapter 12), and willing to send a soldier on a suicide mission so as to marry the widow (chapter 11). He’s supported by Joab, a politically practical and ruthless adviser more than willing to kill people with whom the king has already promised peace. The neighboring kingdoms are understandably wary.

Also, King David’s son Absalom tries to take over, and part of this is sleeping with all of his father’s wives. Urg. There is much conspiring by various individuals on both sides. King David, however, manages to send out his army to fight Absalom’s army while also instructing his army to be gentle with his son.

So King David’s army manages to defeat Absalom’s army and find Absalom* but then sort of wander around wondering what to do about the guy who just lead an unsuccessful rebellion but who their king wants treated gentle. Joab pulls out his daggers and kills Absalom where he hangs (chapter 18). Then Joab rides back to Jerusalem, where King David is in deep mourning for his son Absalom. Joab tells him that David is going to stop that mourning, get up and start celebrating with the returning troops or Joab is going to be leading the next rebellion. King David hops to it (chapter 19).

Anyway, civil unrest and external warfare continues, and King David sings a song of praise for the lord that is particularly questionable given the juxtaposition with actual events.

Plus, in chapter 24, David decides to hold a census, Joab argues that counting the population is an insult to God, and God is so incensed by David’s decision to go ahead that he sends a plague to kill 70, 000 men over the course of three days. David builds a special alter to the Lord and the plague finally stops.

Summary: David makes for a wishy-washy king and there is a bunch of civil unrest.

Moral: I don’t even know.

* Absalom managed to ride his mule under a tree, get his neck caught on a branch, and have his mule wander off without him. He’s just sort of swinging there trying to get down while his father’s army wonders what to do about him. Hahahaha!

Next up: Kings 1

Bible: illustrations

So it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m falling behind in my year schedule for reading the Bible. I will excuse it because a) this has proven to be a remarkably difficult year, and b) the Bible is really amazingly dense.

However, I just ran across some pretty awesome biblical artwork that I want to share:

Photographer James C. Lewis noticed that while the bible is set in the Middle East and Africa, most of the illustrations of the people involved look really northern European. So he decided to fix that:

What Would Characters From The Bible Really Look Like? Here’s One Photographer’s Idea (The Huffington Post article shows 10 of the photographs)

An antidote to lily-white Bible characters (The Church Times article shows 14 of the photographs)

A Tumblr post (shows 51 of the photographs)

I’ll also take this opportunity (despite not having gotten anywhere near the New Testament yet) to reflect back on a really gorgeous painting by Janet McKenzie, “Jesus of the People”, which won the 1999 National Catholic Reporter’s competition for a new image of Jesus, judged Sister Wendy Beckett.

The Bible: Samuel 1

With all the horrible things that happen in the bible, it’s been easy to forget how funny it is sometimes. I find myself chortling a bit.

In chapter 3, young Samuel is dedicated to the temple and is very devoted in his duties to the elderly priest Eli. Samuel is still quite young when God first reaches out to make him a prophet.

One night, God calls to him: “Samuel.”

And Samuel leaps out of bed and to Eli’s bedside: “I am here! You have summoned me!”

And Elis says, “No, I didn’t. Go back to bed and get some sleep.”

So Samuel goes back to bed, but then God calls out to him again, “Samuel.”

And Samuel leaps up and to Eli’s side, and once more Eli sends him back to bed.

The third time, though, God calls, Samuel goes to Eli, Eli (who is in his nineties at this point and dealing with an eager young devotee “realizes” what must be happening and tells Samuel: “It must be God calling you. So next time you hear someone call your name, stay in bed, and say, “I hear you, Lord! I am listening.” And then you can tell me all about it in the morning.”

😀

This works admirably.

And so God talks to Samuel and tells him that something big is going to happen soon.

The Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” — Samuel 3:11

“… make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” That just… hee! There are bound to be some parts of the bible that get a bit mixed up in translation, but there’s only so far off it can be.

😀

In chapter 8, the people of Israel offend God by asking for a king. Samuel is an elderly priest by this point, and tries to convince them against this (his arguments come down to the idea that God is their king and is offended that they would want anyone else; their arguments come from wanting an actual physical person who can do people things like interact with people who are not the head priest.) God is offended, but does the passive aggressive thing where he’s, like, oh, I’ll show you, I’ll give you what you’ve asked for and then you’ll see how wrong it all goes!

So this does not speak well of the future king, and you’ll notice that while the people are demanding a king, none of them are exactly volunteering for the position. And thus along comes Saul, in chapter 9, who’s searching for a pair of goats who wandered away from the herd. In chapter 10, Samuel waylays poor Saul, strong arms him into having dinner with him, and then anoints him the new king of Israel.

Afterwards Saul sneaks off, gets his goats, and returns home hoping to never speak of these events again.

😀

It doesn’t really work, though, and in chapter 11, Saul is forced to take up the kingship in a more practical sense, ie, raising an army and defeating the enemies of Israel.

Chapter 14 is pretty hilarious too, not so much intrinsically as because I recognize the storyline from Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure, right down to it being Prince Jonathan who disobeys his father the king to cross a battle line. I’m not sure if it would be funnier if it was pure coincidence or if Pierce was inspired by this.

😀

Anyway, there are more battles after that and much hewing of various people, and David the shepherd is introduced and has his infamous battle with Goliath in chapter 17.

Then seriously, the rest of the book starts reading like a somewhat more developed version of Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner. David gains much renown and Saul becomes jealous and tries to kill him. But David is too clever to be caught and is always running away just out of reach, and occasionally counting coup back on Saul but never makes a serious attack.

Samuel dies at the beginning of chapter 25 (out of 31) of Samuel 1, which is particularly odd because there’s whole second book of Samuel. But the death of Samuel does not stop the somewhat ludicrous chases and ambushes attempted by Saul on David.

There’s still battles against external enemies though (ie, the original inhabitants of the land) and thus both Saul and his armies and David and his roving band of dissidents are having battles with other people. Ultimately, though, David is favored by God and is victorious; Saul is the poor schmuck who was coerced into fulfilling the role of king and thus offending God even in his obedience to God, and thus dies along with all of his sons. (Poor Prince Jonathan!)

And with the death of Samuel ages ago, and Saul more recently, apparently Samuel 2 will be all about David?

Summary: This is kind of a somewhat black slapstick comedy of war and religion and conflict. Samuel is an adorable kid, Saul just wanted to get his goats, and David is the Road Runner.

Moral: Stay away from priests: they can con you into getting a bit too close to God.

Next up: Samuel 2

The Bible: Ruth

This is an extremely short book, only four chapters long. In some ways it reminded me of the Book of Job, since it’s a single story with more developed individual characters. For the first time, this is really a more focused story about family love and loyalty; goodness on the scale of individuals.

It was a much appreciated palate cleanser from the previous few books.

In this story, Naomi was a married woman with two adult sons who had each married. Over time, though, both her husband and her two sons died. While she directs both of her daughters-in-law to return to their families as being better able to care for the widowed women, one of them, Ruth, insisted on staying with Naomi.

Where you go, I will go: where you lodge; I will lodge; your people shall be my people; and your God my God — Ruth 1:16

I had known this quote, of course, but it had always seemed the epitome of romantic and I’d assumed it was spoken by a woman to her husband or lover. I’m actually rather pleased to discover that it is spoken by the widowed Ruth to her mother-in-law. This isn’t about marriage, it’s about found family.

Naomi returns to her homeland accompanied by Ruth but are poor beggers. They work together to identify and then seduce for Ruth a new husband, so that Naomi can have an heir and Ruth can have a household. And they succeed in finding a nice older man who is both wealthy and kind (and flattered at being approached by a younger woman.)

And they all live happily after.

It was nice.

Summary: Widowed Ruth follows her mother-in-law Naomi home to a strange land and, with Naomi’s assistance, finds a kind and wealthy second husband to take care of them both.

Moral: Loyalty and kindness can pay off in a happy ending.

Next up: Samuel 1

The Bible: Judges

So in Deuteronomy I complained about how Moses gave this lecture about how the people of Israel would betray the Lord and be punished for their sins, etc, and it really irritated me. Well, here’s the start of all the crap that’s going to happen to them, and sure enough it’s pretty thoroughly their own fault. Once more, I am reminded of Game of Thrones (a show that I actually don’t watch, but keep up-to-date on via summaries) in the way a bunch of unpleasant people wander around doing awful things to one another.

Plus, this should probably have an NC-17 rating, and more likely just be banned, because it is gruesome. And while previous books have been all pro-genocide, this one is pretty pro-rape.

Four nations* were left alive in order to provide a lesson in warfare to the generations of Israelites, and thus we have a timeline made up of conquerings and rebellions, covering the various “Judges” of Israel. There is no particular explanation of how a Judge is chosen or found, and very little information on some of them. (Footnotes mark the six who actually got stories.)

Bad guy: King Cushanrishathaim of Aram-naharaim conquered for 8 years
Judge: Othniel son of Kenaz judged for 40 years
Bad guy: Eglon of Moab conquered for 18 years
Judge: Ehud son of Gera, the Benjamite judged for 80 years**
Judge: Shamgar son of Anath judged (killed 600 Philistines)
Bad guy: King Jabin of Canaan conquered for 20 years
Judge: Deborah wife of Lappidoth judged for 40 years***
Bad guy (nation): Midian conquered for 7 years
Judge: Gideon, called Jerubbaal, son of Joash judged for 40 years****
(Judge? Bad guy?): Abimelech son of Jerubbaal, conquered? judged? for 3 years+
Judge: Tola son of Puah son of Dodo judged for 23 years
Judge: Jair the Gileadite judged for 22 years
Bad guy (nation): Philistines and Ammonites conquered for 18 years
Judge: Jephthah the Gileadite, bastard son of Gilead judged for 6 years ++
Judge: Ibzan of Bethlehem judged for 7 years
Judge: Elon the Zebulunite judged for 10 years
Judge: Abdon son of Hillel judged for 8 years
Bad guy: Philistines conquered for 40 years
Judge: Samson judged for 20 years +++

After Samson we trail off away from judges and get a random story about Micah who gets wealthy in chapter 17 and then gets it stolen away from him by a bunch of other Israelites in chapter 18.

Then comes the really rape-tastic story of the Benjamites (chapters 19-21), which starts out reminiscent of Lot’s situation in Genesis 19, where he offers his daughters to a mob in Sodom in place of his angelic visitors. Except that in Genesis, Lot’s daughters were not accepted as suitable replacement, while in Judges a mob of Benjamites do wind up accepting a Levite’s concubine in his stead. So they gang rape the concubine to death. In the morning, the Levite cuts his dead concubine into 12 parts and sends the parts to the different tribes of Israel to call up an army. The Benjamites refuse to give up to justice the actual participants in the gang rape and thus a series of remarkably even battles takes place, with the Benjamites eventually losing to the extent that their entire tribe was killed with the exception of 600 soldiers who fled into a particularly inhospitable area. Victory was declared but then they had the problem of 600 males left in the tribe of Benjamin and no women and all the other tribes of Israel had sworn not to give any wives to Benjamin but were also unwilling to just let them die out.

The army that had just slaughtered all the women and children of the Benjamites figured out that they could fix this by invading a Canaanite town, killing all the males and the adult females and delivering the young females to the remaining Benjamites to be their wives. This plan provided 400 young girls to “marry” but wasn’t enough to give each Benjamite soldier a wife of his own. So the army told the remaining Benjamites to just kidnap sufficient girls from the religious celebration happening Shiloh, north of Bethel, and then explain to their unhappy fathers and brothers that at least the oath not to give wives to the Benjamites hadn’t been broken, because the Benjamites had taken the wives by force.

So everything worked out?

Blech.

 

Summary: There were a bunch of people who weren’t as great as Moses or Joshua, but still somehow acquired the title of “Judge.” Occasionally they did stuff (ie, killed people.) Some other people did a lot of raping and sometimes it was bad and other times it was good.

Moral: Hahahahahahaha! “Moral,” you say. Hahahaha! The very last verse in the book is:

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. — Judges 21:25


* Philistines, Cananites, Sidonians, Hivites (Judges 3:1-4)


** The Moabite king he killed was so fat that Ehud left the sword in his body, hidden by the layers on fat, as he wandered out past the servants after his assassination of their king.


*** Deborah gets a song in addition to a rather convoluted story of manipulations.


**** Gideon makes God prove himself and then raises an army of some 20,000 people, but God decides that it’s too even a battle to really show God’s might, so has Gideon send 19,700 of them away, keeping only the soldiers who lap up water from the river like dogs.


+ It didn’t even seem clear to the narrator whether this guy was a good guy or a bad guy. He’s the son of Gideon, a previous judge, but he also killed his 70 brothers in order to inherit and winds up getting cursed and dying.


++ First occasion of human sacrifice: Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering.


+++ Samson gets four whole chapters (13-16) and is an idiot and an ass. Among other things, he makes a bet that he can’t afford, and when he loses, he goes out and kills some local townspeople to take their stuff so he can pay off his bet. And, of course, there’s the famous story of him and his hair and his wife Delilah who cuts it off to weaken him. Four times (4 times!) Delilah asks Samson what will weaken him, and then does it, and calls his enemies in. The first three times, Samson lies to her, breaks his bindings and kills his enemies. The fourth time he decided to tell the truth???

 

 

Next up: Ruth

The Bible: Joshua

I had not expected reading the bible to be such a strong argument for atheism. I can certainly understand why there was such a long time when priests prevented their congregations from reading it themselves and insisted that a priest had to interpret it for them. Because this is just sort of miserable.

Current events are not helping, given:

Generally speaking my faith in humanity is at a definite low point right now, and Joshua did not help at all.

The Book of Joshua

Joshua is a warlord. This book starts off with the details of the battles Joshua led as the Israelite army crosses the Jordan and starts to take over the land.

After the first few battles, though, the descriptions change to just lists. Here are all the cities who were invaded and the people who were killed, because there were too many to describe.

The third and largest part of this book gives detailed descriptions of how exactly the conquered land is divided among the people of Israel.

There’s also a call-out to the magician Balaam, mentioned in Numbers. In Numbers, he was hired to curse the Israel people but blessed them instead, and then gave a speech about the greatness and virtue of God. (It made me laugh.) Well, in Joshua, the army of Israel killed him. “Along with the rest of those put to death, the Israelites also put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination.” (Joshua 13:22)

Since the rest of my description is rather long, I’m going to put the rest under a cut: Continue reading