Friday, 20 August 2010

From the Old Testament to the New

Before I talk about the New Testament, I’d like to comment on my impressions of the Old Testament.


In the prologue to The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Asher Silberman say:
The world in which the Bible was created was not a mythic realm of great cities and saintly heroes, but a tiny, down-to-earth kingdom where people struggled for their future against the all-too-human fears of war, poverty, injustice, disease, famine, and drought. The historical saga … was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of the human imagination. It was first conceived...during the span of two or three generations, about twenty-six hundred years ago. Its birthplace was the kingdom of Judah, a sparsely settled region of shepherds and farmers… [T]he built-up area of Jerusalem in the seventh century BCE covered an area of no more than one hundred and fifty acres, about half the size of the present Old City of Jerusalem...Few other cities in any historical eras have been so tensely self-conscious of their history, identity, destiny and direct relationship with [their] God.
If Athens, or Thebes in Egypt, or even Babylon had written down the history of their people with all the mythology woven into everything in the history, including the law, and if that writing had been disseminated to their subjects as ‘fact’ during the era before the current one, is it possible that the religions of the world today would be centred around Zeus, Ra or Ashur? It was that the Jews wrote their history the way they had it told to them, and that they believed the mythology, that paved the way for the new reliigons of Christianity and Islam to be born. 


As they wrote that history, they also recorded the laws they borrowed (as they had the mythology) of the people around them. They noticed that the laws brought order into what could only be described as the chaos of a society not previously governed by laws. They then ascribed the order, not to the laws themselves, but to the approval of the deity they worshipped. They made him the source of the laws, and the order, the evidence of his approval of their compliance. Whenever there was disobedience to the law, rather than see the disobedience as the cause of chaos, they used the chaos as evidence of his displeasure. 


Those laws are still the basis of all legal systems today. Society still frowns on lying in Court, stealing and murder, but skeptics question whether the laws are against the basic morality that is ingrained into our humanity. Or are they taught to us? I leave the answer to that question to philosophers and psychologists.


Which brings me to the laws themselves. 


In Judaism, there are 613 Mitzvot , or laws that all Jews have to obey. Christians have adopted only ten of them, the ones that comply to the basic rules of loving God, and your neighbours and not doing anything that you don’t want done to you. 


As I said earlier, and I shall repeat this again when I comment on the Epistles in the New Testament, this law is unchanging. Therefore if one believes in God and wants to avoid “wonderful plagues,” one should abide by all these laws, including the ones listed below.
Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
Deuteronomy 27:26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them…
Deuteronomy 28:58-39 If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD;
Then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance.
Deuteronomy 12:2 Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.
This includes the death penalty for any of the following offences:


Adultery (Lev 20:10-12
Premarital sex. (Deut 22:20-21)
Sex with a woman engaged to another man (Deut 22:23-24)
Sex with the daughter of a priest (she is burned) (Lev 21:9)
Raping an engaged woman (She is punishable too). (Deut 22:25)
Bestiality (both man and beast die). (Lev 20:15)
Having sex with your father’s wife (Lev 20:20).
Marrying a woman who is not a virgin (woman dies) 
Having sex with your daughter in law. (Lev 20:30)
Incest. (Lev 20:17)
Male homosexuality (Lev 20:13).
Marrying a woman and her daughter. (Lev 20:14)
Worshiping idols (Ex 22:20, Lev 20:1-5, Deut 17:2-7)
Blasphemy (Lev 24:14-16,23)
Breaking the Sabbath (Ex 31:14, Numb 15:32-36)
Practicing magic (Ex 22:18)
Being a medium or spiritualist. (stoning) (Lev 20:27)
Trying to convert people to another religion. (stoning) (Deut 13:1-11, 18:20)
Apostasy (Deut 13:12-15)
Giving one of your descents to Molech (human sacrifice) (Lev 20:2)
Non-priests going near the tabernacle when it is being moved. (Numb 1:51)
Being a false prophet. (Deut 132:5, Deut 18:20, Zech 13:2-3)
Striking your parents (Ex 21:15)
Cursing your parents (Ex 21:17, Lev 20:9)
Being a stubborn and rebellious son. (Deut 21:18-21)
Murder. (except for murdering a slave) (Gen 9:6, Ex 21:12, Numb 35:16-21). 
Kidnapping and selling a man. (Ex 21:16)
Perjury (in certain cases) (Deut 19:15 - 21).
Ignoring the verdict of a judge (or a priest) (Deut 17:8-13)
Not penning up a known dangerous bull. (Ex 21:29) 
Possible grounds for execution:
A male who is not circumcised. (Genesis 17:14)
Eating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Exodus 12:15)
Manufacturing anointing oil. (Exodus 30:33)
Engaging in ritual animal sacrifices other than at the temple. (Leviticus 17:1-9)
Sexual activity with a woman who is menstruating: (Leviticus 20:18)
Consuming blood. (Leviticus 17:10)
Eating peace offerings while ritually unclean: (Leviticus 7:20)
Waiting too long before consuming sacrifices: (Leviticus 19:5-8)
Going to the temple in an unclean state: (Numbers 19:13)


However, we are are only too familiar with what obedience to these laws, especially the ones mentioned above, has caused in countries where Sharia Law is practiced, so perhaps it is a good thing that the writers of the New Testament chose to abadon these. 


What did I learn from my reading of the Old Testament? 


I most certainly did not experience an epiphany that would take me back to the religion of my ancestors. 


I became even more convinced that the history was written by people who had suffered some sort of catastrophe. Reading Finkelstein and Silberman’s book confirmed what I had always believed about the people who wrote it. I'd always thought that they were an insular people who had very little experience of the lives of their neighbours, other than the stories that had been handed down from the general mythology of the area. 


I came to the conclusion that it was not written before the exile. Being removed from what they thought to have been a great city, i.e. pre-exile Jerusalem to the magnificence of ancient Babylon, would have been enough reason to record their history, in case it was lost, and especially as they watched their children becoming assimilated into Babylonian culture. 


The saddest part of the religion that emerged from Jerusalem is the guilt. I am grieved that Jews see the progroms that lead to the Holocaust as their own fault, and that they see their neighbours as modern day “Philistines” to be smote, before they will be allowed to achieve a new Zion, by a God who, with Bronze Age callousness, will stand by and watch innocent people being slaughtered.


I am also saddened that so many people who follow the religion of Islam, accept this Bronze Age attitude, and law, as applicable in an age where the rest of us believe that all people are born equal.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Does the Old Testament incite genocide?

Haggai

Haggai says :
1:15 In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
Abib, the Passover month, i.e. April is the first month, therefore this is September 24, 520 BCE. Haggai is in constant discussions with God about the rebuilding of the temple which is to be greater than the former one.
2:18 Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it. 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you. 20 And again the word of the Lord came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying, 21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; 22 And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.23 In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the Lord, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts.
Zachariah 

He also talks of 70 years in exile.
From Wikipedia:
According to the history recorded in the Hebrew bible, there were three deportations of Jews to Babylon, the first in 597 BCE involving king Jeconiah and his court and many others, a second in 587 BCE of the next king, Zedekiah, and the rest of the people, and a final deportation at an unspecified time after this (possibly 582 BCE) following the assassination of Gedaliah, the Babylonian governor. The exile ended in 538 BCE with the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who gave the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.
That’s from the first exile 597 to the return in 538, 59 years. Why haven’t the rabbis corrected this error?

He has visions of angels telling him how to rebuild the temple and that God will choose Judah and Jerusalem as his people, and that the priests of his temple will come from Joshua’s branch of the family. 
And again, promises of greatness and smiting of enemies.

Malachi
11 For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.
4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts. 4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

These last words of the Old Testament are the evidence that God is unchanging, thus the God of the Old Testament is the God that has to be worshipped and that his law is the law of Moses his servant. All of them.

I've now reached the end of the Old Testament for the purposes of this blog. Before I post lists of the laws that this unchanging 'God' supposedly inspired the writers of this collection of books to compile, I'd like to comment on the effect that this 'book' has had on humankind since the people of what we now call "Israel" first wrote it down.

To a degree it laid down some very interesting and logical guidelines about interbreeding with family members, lying, stealing, murder, family and civic organisation, and the control of large numbers of people.

Also it provided the rules for what and what not to eat, for people living in a desert without refrigeration. Certainly, if you're living in the desert and you keep meat for longer than three days before you eat it, you will become very ill indeed, and probably die. So yes, the dietary laws make sense, in the first millennium BCE though, not in 21st century New York, London or Johannesburg and even in the remotest parts of the world where electricity and freezers are accessible. Today, we have the facility to preserve our food in a way that it won't become contaminated, and thus cooking meat and milk together won't cause digestive problems. I don't intend to enter into a long discussion about dietary habits and restrictions. I merely want to point out that we should employ logic about the rules dictated by a law written for and by Bronze Age desert dwellers.

Humankind will never stop wars and xenophobia as long as we continue to sell this anthology as the "Good Book."  

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

More dire prophecies from Micah, Nahum and co.

Micah

These prophecies seem to have been written before the exile. Of course they could be seen as prophecies of the future after the Babylonians.

All their prophecies show fear. They foresee punishment for their sins when the empire-builders seem to be getting stronger. God is foresaking them. There's nothing quite like unanswered prayers to make people feel guilty.

And then there’s this:
Chapter 4:1 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. 2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
It shows typical human nature: when there is hope, prayers will be answered; success is seen as a sign of greater things to come. Humans are optimists if nothing else. One small success is seen as a portent of greatness. This is no less so with the Jews. When Sennacherib’s army was struck with the ‘plague,’ and again when they returned to Jerusalem, they undoubtedly saw it as a sign that they would be greater than any other nation ever before and that the whole world would bow to them.

Nahum
Chapter 1:3 The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked…
I have to smile at this. This is the same god that thinks nothing about opening up the ground and swallowing people because they’re afraid, or allowing children to be stoned to death because their father took some loot in a raid?

The platitudes begin:
1:7 The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.
A god who smites hundreds of thousands of people so his “chosen” people have a place to settle. Then 500 years later, he invites all the people he smote previously to join the new religion created after he allowed himself to torture and murder his own incarnation.

Nahum foretells the fall of Nineveh, from Encyclopedia Brittanica:
Fourteen years after the death of Ashurbanipal, however, Nineveh suffered a defeat from which it never recovered. Extensive traces of ash, representing the sack of the city by Babylonians, Scythians, and Medes in 612 BCE, have been found in many parts of the Acropolis. After 612 BCE the city ceased to be important, although there are some Seleucid and Greek remains.
I don’t understand why Nahum and the fall of Nineveh, which happened a hundred years before the return to Jerusalem, has any bearing on that event. Unless the fall of Nineveh is some sort of metaphor for the ultimate conquering of Persia by the Greeks?

Habukkuk

More prophecies about the Chaldeans and pleading to be saved from the terror that will eventually engulf them. Definitely, this seems to be about the rise of Alexander.

Zephaniah

Also more warnings of dire punishments coming down on the “children of Israel” because of their wickedness, but then a promise of greatness:
3:20 At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord.
I suggest that the prophecies were written after the return to Jerusalem, as an attempt to produce evidence that the disaster was foreseen.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Jonah and the 'whale"

Obadiah

A warning that the “children of Israel” will be great again:
20 And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south. 21 And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord's.
Jonah

Jonah hears that he is to go to Nineveh to speak about its wickedness. Instead he boards a ship going to Tarshish. If Nineveh (now Mosul) is still in existence, then the story of Jonah is set before 612 BCE when Nineveh was destroyed, never to recover its former glory. I don't understand why this city is used, unless the story was one 'borrowed' from Babylonian mythology and then added in its entirety.
Nineveh's greatness was short-lived. Around 630 BC the Assyrian empire began to show signs of weakness, and Nineveh was attacked by the Medes, who about 625 BC, in a coalition with the Babylonians, Scythians and Elamites, again attacked it. Nineveh fell in 612 BC, and was razed to the ground. The people in the city who could not escape to the last Assyrian strongholds in the west, were either massacred or deported. Many unburied skeletons were found by the archaeologists at the site. The Assyrian empire then came to an end, the Medes and Babylonians dividing its provinces between them.
Following the defeat in 612 BC, the site remained largely unoccupied for centuries until the Sassanian period, although Assyrians continue to live in the surrounding area to this day. The city is mentioned again in the Battle of Nineveh in 627 AD, which was fought between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire of Persia near the ancient city. From the Arab conquest 637 AD until modern time the city of Mosul on the opposite bank of the river Tigris became the successor of ancient Nineveh.
Nineveh fell in 612 BC, and was razed to the ground. The people in the city who could not escape to the last Assyrian strongholds in the west, were either massacred or deported. Many unburied skeletons were found by the archaeologists at the site. The Assyrian empire then came to an end, the Medes and Babylonians dividing its provinces between them.(From Wikipedia).
God sends a storm, scaring the people on board, except Jonah, who is asleep on the deck. The ‘shipmaster’ tells him to wake up and to call on his god to help them, after his god is identified as the source of the storm. He tells them to toss him into the sea.

A "great fish" swallows him and he lives in the belly of the fish for three days, during which he prays to God to let him go.  God tells him again to go to Nineveh and to do the preaching he was told to do.
Aspidodelone – considered to be one of the Zartan an ancient breed of monstrous sea creatures.
Aspidodelone was believed to be the monster that swallowed the prophet Jonah. The inside of the Aspidodelone is said to be as dark as hell.
Jonah’s prayer:
Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, and said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
He does that and there is much wailing and crying about their sinfulness and the wonder and awe of Jonah. He’s not happy, so he goes out of the city where he builds a booth to hide in. God makes a gourd cover his head to protect him from the sun, but the next morning a worm destroys the gourd. Then he sends a wind to blow hot air into Jonah’s face. This part of the story doesn't really make any sense. Of course it could be all about the 120,000 people who Jonah is supposed to save from being "smote."

What is the point of the Jonah story? Some attempt to prove that God is able to 'smite' 120,000 people. Or that he is able to make a man live "inside the belly" of a whale. We know that this is not possible, if the gastric juices didn't kill him, I'm positive the smell would. There is an excellent documentary about the dissection of a whale (Inside Nature's Giants). If nothing else, this movie shows the improbability of the Jonah story.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The prophets: Hosea, Joel and Amos

These are really all about the same thing, parables dire prophecies  of horrors to come if the "children of Israel" don't about God's laws. Some appear to be warning about the Assyrians, and others the various "empires" that arose from the confrontations between the western Mediterranean and the people of what we call the "Middle East' today.

The rise of Persia, which lead to the wars with the Greeks and eventually the rise of the Roman Empire must have been very frightening to the Bronze Age people living in Canaan. These weren't sophisticated philosophers and world travellers, just very small players in what was becoming an enormous playing field.

Hosea

God tells Hosea to take a ‘whore’ as a wife, who is also the child of a’whoredom’ and he will have a son who he must name Jezreel, then God will kill the house of Israel. Then she has a daughter named Loruhamah because God will show Israel no more mercy. But he will have mercy for Judah.

Then his wife has another son named, Loammi because they are not his people. But the number of the children of Israel shall be as “the sand of the sea” and they will be named the “sons of the living God.” Then the children of Israel and Judah will gather again as one people “for great shall be the day of Jezreel.”

It’s all in parable-speak about the way God will destroy Israel, because she is a “whore.” But that he will again forgive them and reconstitute them.

Then God tells him to get another wife, a friend’s wife, an adulteress, she is to abide with him for many days, during which she shall “not play the harlot.” As a symbol of the ‘children of Israel who were without a king for many days.”  But they will “seek the Lord their God” in the “latter days.”

And here we have the explanation of what is ‘sin’:
4:2 By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood... 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou has rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. 11 Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart. 13...therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.
I always get excited when I see ‘lack of knowledge’ in the Bible, that is until I realise that it means lack of knowledge of the law, and not lack of knowledge in general, which is supposedly a good thing.

The whole book is merely a repetition of what has been said before, yet another writer complaining that God is punishing everybody and using their sinning as an explanation for the social development that causes people to give up superstition and rather embrace reality and progress.

Joel

I have no doubt whatsoever that modern Jews see this as a prophecy of their being returned to the ancient land, when all it was really, was that someone wrote this book, when they heard that they were going home.
Chapter 3: 20 But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. 21 For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion.
Amos

More of the same with the promises of return at the end:
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, Theevil shall not overtake nor prevent us. In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:14 And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and theyshall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plantvineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.15 And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

More about Daniel...

The other ‘presidents’ envied Daniel his position so they told the king that he was praying to his God and not the king, who it is well-known from Persian history was regarded as a god.
6:16 Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. 17 And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel...20 And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? 21 Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.22 My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.
The king gets all emotional about Daniel and in true Old Testament fashion, he ‘smites’ the people for speaking against Daniel, including their children.
24 And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den.
Then they get the king’s name wrong, then right, then wrong again, all this talk about the Persians only proves that this was written later, because Cyrus liberated the Jews, he didn't bother about Daniel's dream, he sent them packing:
25 Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. 26 I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.
 Then they mix it up again:
28 So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Then Daniel repeats the “Revelation-like” vision of the four scary beasts, and the dream is interpreted thus:
7:17 These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. 19 Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet;
It goes on with a prophecy that sounds like it could be about Alexander which puts the writing of the text after the reign of Alexander. The hedonistic lifestyle of the Macedonians who invaded the area in the 330s must have been shocking, especially because Alexander unashamedly lived with lovers of both sexes. This hedonism would undoubtedly have inspired some of the prophets’ more narrow predictions and warnings.
23 Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. 24 And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. 25 And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
Definitely Alexander, and the Jews could’ve seen the division of Alexander’s kingdom,as a fulfilment of this prophecy, thus:
In 321 B.C. Ptolemy took possession and eventually ruled Egypt (the southern part of the empire).
In 317 B.C. Cassander assumed the government of Macedon (Macedonia), the western part of the empire.
In 311 B.C. Seleucus took over Babylon and Syria (the eastern part of the empire).
In 306 B.C. Antigonus declared himself king of Asia Minor (the northern part of the empire). He was slain in battle in 301 B.C. and was succeeded by Lysimachus.

8:3 Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. 4 I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great. 5 And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. 6 And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power. 7 And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. 8 Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.
If this verse is supposed to predict the second coming of Jesus among other things, only six years and roughly three months, nothing terribly exciting took place 6 years later, because Alexander took 10 years to conquer the area from Macedonia to Persia.
14 And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.
Chapter 9 mentions the Messiah, it took a little longer than 7 weeks or even 72 weeks:
25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Chapter 9 again speaks of 70 years that Jerusalem will be desolated. The Jews were in Persia for 59 years.

Daniel prays, and we meet the angel Gabriel, he gets the timeline very wrong, speaking of days, which add up to a year and 3 months roughly. He says:
9:24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. 25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
In the 3rd year of Cyrus’ reign, Daniel has another vision about how there will be 3 kings of Persia, the 4th richer than all the other and he will fight Greece,  (Xerxes). He claims that a ‘mighty’ king will stand up to him but his kingdom will be divided into four.
He speaks about “Michael” a great prince:
12:1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
He asks when this will happen, he is told in roughly three years and four months.
12:11 And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. 12 Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. 13 But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.
This book was definitely written as a post-prophecy of the conquering of the East by Alexander.
All this nonsense is used as a prediction for the Messiah, for his execution, for the end of days, for the second coming, and now we have the Mayan calendar. So many prophecies over more than two millenniums and none of them have happened. My opinion about the whole Book of Daniel is that it was written during the period of the conquest of the Near East by Alexander. That it refers to kings who lived after Babylon, and shows the fear of another invasion is, well to me anyway, real fear that Alexander and his band of lovers were going to bring their evil ways to Jerusalem.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Daniel interprets dreams

I assume this is written by the prophet Daniel, who, as we have seen, mentioned by Ezekiel. It appears to be an attempt to record stories of the exile and to predict its end. As with Isaiah, I shall deal with it in two parts.
1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.
I shall deal with the dates in Daniel later on in this blog.
The third year of Jehoiakim's reign was 606 BCE, at which time Nebuchadnezzar was not yet king of Babylon. It was in 597 BCE that Nebuchadnezzar takes Jerusalem, by then Jehoiakim had died.

In the way of the Bible, very little is said about the events of the fifty-nine year sojourn in Babylon. Only individual incidents are reported.

The king of Judah orders his eunuchs to teach the best of his sons to be able to speak to the king of Babylon in his own language.
1:6 Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7 Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego. 8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Daniel challenges the diet they are fed, saying he will eat only a meagre diet. In ten days he will prove that he is healthier than the people who are eating richer fare, which he does. Surely someone somewhere noticed this, enough to remark on it, so why didn’t they make a law about it?  God allows these four men to be able to interpret dreams and the knowledge of everything they need to know in order to negotiate with the king of Babylon.

Daniel has special favour with the king for all the time that they are there, up to the rise of King Cyrus of the Persians.

In chapter 2 there is a repetition of the Pharoah’s dream story in Exodus. Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar (and Cyrus) dream.

And again, the Hebrew magicians are better at interpreting dreams than the local ones. The king commands that all seers and magicians be put to death, including Daniel and his brothers. So Daniel does a a Joseph trick:

A ‘great image’ with a head of gold, a breast and arms of silver, a belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. A stone comes out of nowhere and smashes the whole lot.

He tells the king he is great, but another kingdom shall arise after his head of gold, and then another and another until the fourth kingdom of iron until finally mixed feet of clay, and the people won’t be mixed as iron does not mix with clay.

The God of heaven will set up the kingdom which shall never be destroyed.

Well, this is nonsense, isn’t it. After the Chaldeans, Assyrians ,and the neo-Babylonians came the Persians who were overrun by the Greeks and then the Romans, who ruled the entire known earth. However in other parts of the world there were other civilizations that the people of the Near East didn’t know about. So no, the kingdom of gold would more likely be the United States rather than the little kingdom of the neo-Babylonians that controlled a relatively small piece of the earth.

However, the king, being as superstitious as Daniel, feels emotional.

He makes an image of gold which everyone is to worship. Of course there’s no evidence that such a thing ever existed then, in Babylon, which was already full of wonderful pieces of art -- but I’ll play along. Everyone who doesn’t worship will be thrown into a “fiery furnace.”

The Jews won’t obey. He orders that Daniel and his brothers be thrown into the fire, but they don’t burn. He gets all emotional about the god again and has another dream.  This time it’s about a tree, with beautiful leaves and abundant leaves. All the birds lived in it and everyone was able to eat the fruit. He saw a being come from the sky to order the tree chopped down and everything about it to be scattered. The stump is left with a band of iron and brass to stay low with the grass of the field around it
Daniel says that the tree is himself who has grown to greatness. He will be driven from his dwelling and he will be made to eat grass with the beasts of the field. He gets emotional again.

Then he forgets again and has a party. While they are drinking, he sees a man’s hand writing on the wall of the king’s palace. He is frightened. He calls for Daniel.. MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
God has finished your kingdom, it will be divided to the Medes and Persians. Belshazzar dies that night.

The Chaldeans try to declare Daniel king, But Darius the Persian takes the kingdom. Then it tells a story about how Daniel was placed in a position of authority among 120 men, as one of three "presidents."

That Daniel and his high status are not mentioned in Persian history, again proves to me that, like Joseph and Moses, he was merely a minor player and the lies around his supernatural abilities were an attempt to prove the greatness of God.

Again the history is wrong.

Thuycidides and Tacitus are prime examples), there are numerous papers written and endless numbers of websites devoted to how Herodotus probably didn’t visit Egypt, or how Thuycidides puts words in the mouths of his orators and how Tacitus was probably a forgery. Yet when it comes to the Bible, this collection of books is sacrosanct. Why? For fear that God will smite anyone who corrects the history? Or, because it is the ‘inerrant’ word of God. If it is inerrant, then why is it full or errors? Or, if it is inspired by God, why didn’t he at least get the names of his enemies right?

I’m not apologising for criticising the incorrect history, and sometimes blatant lies, in this “book.” If I am meant to believe it, and if telling lies is a major offence to the inspiration behind the best-selling book of all time, then why are the writers of the books themselves allowed to fabricate stories?

If Daniel written this down contemporaneously with the events, he would not have put ‘Darius’ as the king’s name, although I am prepared to accept that the names could have been mixed up in the translation. The first king of the Persians was Cyrus. Darius came two generations later. This proves that the book was either written later, and as mentioned in the links above, that it was written to create a history that didn’t exist, although the characters may have, and to validate some other agenda of the people who were assembling the Bible. Or it could simply mean that the names were mixed up.

...the names of Daniel's three friends seem to have been discovered in a contemporary listing of 50 Babylonian officials. The clearest reference is to Hananiah (Babylonian name: Shadrach), who is listed as Hananu, "chief of the royal merchants." Read about the defence of the authenticity of Daniel here.
6:1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes [satraps], which should be over the whole kingdom; 2 And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first...

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ezekiel prophesying in Babylon

Ezekiel sees a vision of four-headed monsters, while he is walking by the river in Babylon, (These four-headed monsters also appear in Daniel’s dreams and in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament).

He hears a voice; the voice tells him to go to the people and speak to them from the book that is passed into his hands. Then very strangely, he is told to eat the book.

I’m not surprised that people believe they are “filled with the spirit” when they read this nonsense. He is told that they will understand his words and he will know what to say to them; they are hard people, but he must speak to them.

He protests that he is one of the good guys.
This verse seems a little odd:
4:15 Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.
He is then told to do some magic with his hair, symbolising the following:
5:7 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye multiplied more than the nations that are round about you, and have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept my judgments, neither have done according to the judgments of the nations that are round about you; ... I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations. 9 And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations. 10 Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds…., because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity. 12 A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. 13 Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the Lord have spoken it in my zeal, when I have accomplished my fury in them.
He threatens the land, mentioning Noah, Daniel and Job, which is proof that this was written during or after Daniel’s lifetime, possibly after, because Job and Noah are both dead:
14:14 Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God. 16 Though these three men were in it, as I live, ...they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate. 20 Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness. 23 And they shall comfort you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord God.
It’s all harsh and unforgiving. All souls belong to God and the soul that sins, shall die. If a man is just, and obeys the law, does not worship idols, sleep with his neighbour’s wife or a “menstrous” woman, does not oppress anyone, repays his debts, is not violent, shares his food, and clothing, does not extort money, makes fair judgments, he shall live. However, such a man’s son, if he obeys the law, won’t die. Thus the “sins of the father” rule doesn’t apply any longer.
18:20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. 21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
The rest of the chapter defines that these are souls, not people. So the idea of a ‘soul’ is introduced.
Chapter 23 likens the behaviour of Israel and Judah to two ‘whores’ who sold themselves to their neighbours a little graphically, and who are now slaves of their neighbours.
He threatens terrible punishment to all the neighbours of the Jews, including the Philistines, the people of Tyre and the Egyptians. It speaks of Libya, Lydia and Ethiopia in the same sentence, and there is no satisfactory explanation for where “Chub’ was? He predicts the downfall of places that didn’t fall,
26 And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them among the countries; and they shall know that I am the Lord.
This didn’t happen did it? Twenty centuries later, Egypt still exists, as does Libya and some of the other places he was going to wipe off the face of the earth. You’d think that an all-knowing, all-seeing God would know that. Why didn’t he tell the Jews not to go into Europe because they would be attacked in the 20th century? These predictions of God’s are a little odd because like Nostradamus, they are all nonsense and only understood in hindsight; mostly with “that didn’t happen!”

I wonder how God didn’t know that the Philistines would invent a prophet to rival Jesus, seeing he was into predicting the future?
31:18...yet shalt thou be brought down with the trees of Eden unto the nether parts of the earth: thou shalt lie in the midst of the uncircumcised with them that be slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, saith the Lord God.
This also didn’t happen. Again there are the promises of wealth, and spreading of seed throughout the earth, on condition that they obey the law.

There is violence predicted for everyone, including Gog and Magog, that I can’t find any satisfactory explanations for. They range from a grandson of Noah, and unnamed people from the North to mythological figures from some obscure folktales, I’ll accept in the way of rational thinking that they were merely some names that the writers of this book heard from some mythology, so they included the names merely to instill the fear of God’s wrath on everyone, including people who didn’t exist.
Then there is more chest-thumping. More threats to Meshech and Tubal, now thought to be threats against the people of Russia:

It carries on in this way through all the years of the exile. I can’t decide if this was written as a diary of the exile and the appearance of various ‘people’ in the fifty-nine year period of the exile, or if it was a continuous diary, written as each of the new players in the political area appeared. Persia appeared in the eleventh year of the captivity:
27:10 They of Persia and of Lud and of Phut were in thine army, thy men of war: they hanged the shield and helmet in thee; they set forth thy comeliness
A few chapters are devoted to the instructions for the rebuilding of the temple and the offerings that are to be made, as with the previous instructions given to Moses about how the priests are to behave and to dress, and how the inheritance is again to be divided among the descendants of the original tribes.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Lamentations...was it their own fault?

According to tradition, this was written by the prophet Jeremiah. Lamentations is one of the more sacred pieces of writing to Orthodox Judaism.

It is said that Jeremiah retired to a cavern outside the Damascus gate, where he wrote this book. That cavern is still pointed out by tour guides.
 "In the face of a rocky hill, on the western side of the city, the local belief has placed 'the grotto of Jeremiah.' There, in that fixed attitude of grief which Michelangelo has immortalized, the prophet may well be supposed to have mourned the fall of his country" (Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, History of the Jewish Church).

To understand the significance of this work, it is necessary to understand it in the context of conservative Judaism:

I can understand the sadness of the displaced people. In the shadow of the horrors that have been inflicted on Jewish people, by the religions who have taken their religion as the basis of their own, I do not feel qualified to comment on the sadness expressed by this short book of the Bible.

I prefer to simply leave it be, with merely the comment that the god that inflicted the sort of punishment that Jewish people have experienced, and then blamed the punishment on them, is not worthy of being worshipped.
Lamentations 2:5 The LORD was as an enemy he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation. 
Lamentations 3 38-39  Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?    
Orthodox Jews fervently believe that they spent 400 years in Egypt, in captivity. They also believe that they were exiled to Babylon and that the great first temple of Solomon was destroyed because of their own 'sins.' Then when the Romans dispersed them, and eventually Islam took over their most sacred places, it was, to them, complete proof that no matter how pious they were, God will continue to punish them until Solomon’s temple, as they believe it to have been, is rebuilt and only the Jewish people occupy the Levant.

All the persecution that happened to them, they see entirely as God’s punishment for their sins and their continued sinning.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Dire warnings in Jeremiah

The book of Jeremiah supposedly written before the exile and during the time when the Assyrians were sacking cities all over the Near East. My skepticism says that it was written in hindsight rather than a prophecy, or that it was written before Isaish’s book (and that the book named Isaiah was not written by Isaiah in the 7th century BCE but in the 6th century during their exile).

It is written as a book of prophecy of God’s anger at the lives his people have chosen that the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin have established their own capital at Jerusalem, while the other ten have become integrated with the people around them, adopting their lifestyles and worshipping their gods.

He claims that God chastises Josiah (649-609 BCE) that Israel and that she “her treacherous sister Judah” have become idolators and ‘backsliders.
2:4 Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel:
Jeremiah is to go to Israel and tell them to God and leave their ‘evil’ ways.  This is a clear indication that it was written before Sennacherib had abducted the people of ‘Israel.” 
God tells him that the two nations should unite again. Samaria, the capital of Israel be abandoned, or “Gentiles from the North,” will destroy them, and God, in his anger, will allow them to be destroyed.
Note these verses referring to other gods worshipped by the people of Judah.

Why I find this interesting is that the people who wrote the Old Testament recognise the existence of other gods, in the pantheon that contains their god. They don’t preach that heaven contains only one god, and that one God is the only one that exists, they say that he is the true god, but not the only one.
7:18 The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger. 19 Do they provoke me to anger? saith the Lord: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? 20 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.
This is the natural progression of society. People settle down, religion and one as restrictive as this one, simply doesn’t keep up. This book is merely the ranting of someone who is stuck in the old ways, having seen the changes happening around them, blaming the people for their breaking away from the old ways, for the political changes that are a result of the political activities of their neighbours.

They are condemned to be carried away to captivity because they refuse to return to God:
5:21 Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not: 22 Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it? 23 But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. 24 Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest. 25 Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you. 
6:12 And their houses shall be turned unto others, with their fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord.
This verse says to me that the prophecy was written after the fall of Samaria, when the people of the state of “Israel” had already been exiled:
7:15 And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim. 16 Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.
Jeremiah is put in the stocks for his negative evangelising, he tells them they will fall by the sword and be taken to Babylon. 
Zedekiah (ca 597) is king of Judah when Nebuchadrezzar besieges Jerusalem. God tells Jeremiah to tell them that he is going to hand them over the to Assyrians and the Chaldeans, as punishment.

God tells Jeremiah that he is ending them to Babylon as punishment but he will also return them; but they will serve Babylon for 70 years. This is wrong, the first deportation was in 597, the second in 587 and another one around 582. They returned to Jerusalem in 538, a total of 59 years from the first exile. God surely doesn’t make mistakes? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_captivity  He punishes them for disobeying his laws. When they apologise he doesn’t care, but then he cuts short their sentence by 11 years.

He says he will cut down the Persians but he doesn’t, their empire gets even bigger. Also they send them home out of goodwill and not because God chose to send them.

The people remaining in Judah want to go to Egypt. God tells them not to go because they will be the slaves of Nebuchadnezzar.
By the year 540 BC, Cyrus captured Elam (Susiana) and its capital, Susa.[43] The Nabonidus Chronicle records that, prior to the battle(s), Nabonidus had ordered cult statues from outlying Babylonian cities to be brought into the capital, suggesting that the conflict had begun possibly in the winter of 540 BC. Near the beginning of October, Cyrus fought the Battle of Opis in or near the strategic riverside city of Opis on the Tigris, north of Babylon. The Babylonian army was routed, and on October 10, Sippar was seized without a battle, with little to no resistance from the populace. It is probable that Cyrus engaged in negotiations with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation. Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in years.
Two days later, on October 7 (proleptic Gregorian calendar), Gubaru's troops entered Babylon, again without any resistance from the Babylonian armies, and detained Nabonidus.[48] Herodotus explains that to accomplish this feat, the Persians diverted the Euphrates river into a canal so that the water level dropped "to the height of the middle of a man's thigh", which allowed the invading forces to march directly through the river bed to enter at night. On October 29, Cyrus himself entered the city of Babylon and detained Nabonidus.
Prior to Cyrus's invasion of Babylon, the Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered many kingdoms. In addition to Babylonia itself, Cyrus probably incorporated its subnational entities into his Empire, including Syria, Judea, and Arabia Petraea, although there is no direct evidence of this fact.
The two books of Isaiah and Jeremiah are confusing. Traditionalist and believers in the Old Testament hold that they were written before the exile. My opinion is, and especially because Lamentations is obviously written as a response to their grief at being exiled, that they were written at the time of great turmoil in Judah. The Assyrians had conquered most of the area. They had already succeeded in destroying the Kingdom of Israel. They were seeking to detroy the Kingdom of Judah, but did not succeed. And some of the chapters were possibly written during the exile.

Why are they important? Beause they are the basis of the prophecies for Jesus. If Isaiah is accepted as having been written ‘before the fact’ then Isaish is indeed a prophet. If they are written during and ‘after the fact’ then they are merely an indication of the sort of stress under which the people of Judah were under during the siege by Assyria in the first instance, which explains Jeremiah’s extreme language about “repent or die.” Isaiah then, may also be seen as prophecy, not of a messiah, but of a king, in the style of Hezekiah, who will return then to the old religion and who will smite their enemies and help them to rebuild their city and their state. This then removes Jesus’ arrival as having been prohecised and reduces him to a mere individual.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Prophecies of Isaiah - Part II

Another definite prediction, Alexander tried to take Tyre in 332, it was still standing long after 70 years had passed:
23:17 And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.
There are threats of “emptying the earth” which didn’t happen. Also about the earth being “clean dissolved” the moon “confounded” the “sun ashamed.” Lots of fear-mongering there.

There’s a long song of praise and then more violence:
21 For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.
All just threats and counter-threats and promises of wealth and great power and honour and respect and ruling and happiness. It seems to me that all this talk of doom and gloom was written in the atmosphere of the culture of the time.

36:1 in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them. 
Further on Hezekiah, the king spoken of in Chapter 36:1, Sennacherib ruled Assyria 704 – 681 BC. All this verse does is confirm the time of the rule of Hezekiah and that the Jews in Babylon were hoping for a new king who would save them, the way that Hezekiah had saved them before when he ‘smote’ the Assyrians with a plague sent by God.

Notably, Isaiah and Micah prophesied during his reign. Hezekiah enacted sweeping religious reforms, during which he removed non-Yahwistic elements from the Jerusalem temple.

I disagree based on the following verses. According to history, Sennacherib was unable to sack Jerusalem the way he did some smaller towns in Judah. We know, today, that Jerusalem and, in fact, the entire state of Judah was a very small player on the field of Ancient History. Either "Isaiah" was talking about the other towns in Judah or this was written during the long exile n Babylon, a century, later. Jerusalem did not fall to the Assyrians:
5:8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.
5:13 Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.
5:25 Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Here he speaks of the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib:
37:36 Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: (185,000) and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 38 And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.
Here is Sennacherib’s account (he was as big a braggart as the people in the Bible). The problem is that he didn't take Judah, he took Israel to Nineveh, he retreated when his army was struck by plague:
Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took 46 of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape... Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, and diverse treasures, a rich and immense booty... All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government.
Logically, if the Jews on the one hand and the Assyrians on the other had each ‘smote’ 180,000 people, there would be some evidence of the slaying of almost half a million people somewhere near that battlefield. Herodotus (Book 2:141) speaks of it as an Egyptian disaster, not a Judaean one.

This prediction is all about Judah being allowed to revive their culture:
66:22 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. 23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. 24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
When reading words written in ancient times, it is necessary to put it in context in the way that we would put a prediction written today in context. If someone wrote a report about the Holocaust during the period that the Nazis were exterminating Jews, for instance and they predicted that the war would end and that Jews would rise again, it merely means at the end of that particular era. Most historians accept that. Assigning a prediction to a future that is half a millennium or even two milleniums away is a little too much thumb-sucking and not terribly scientific. Besides the Jews were concerned about their immediate problems not some event that would happen long after they had safely settled their current fears. Isaiah is about the problems of the 8th century BCE and not the first century of the Current Era.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Prophecies of Isaiah - Part I

God promises him a sign:
7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
8:1 Moreover the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.
He takes witnesses to record the event.
8:3 And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. 4 For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria. 8 And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.
9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
This prophecy, is about Isaiah's son, not some predicted child to be born in the future. Also I don't see a reference to virgin birth there. Also Isaiah's son didn't do anything for Judah, Hezekiah was the king that did some restructuring. It seems that if people want to look for a messiah's prophecy, they'll find one, especially it if's poetic.

During the 9th century, according to tradition, the confederation of people who saw themselves as descending from one ancestor, Jacob, began to break away from the cohesive identity. The northern tribes under Jeroboam and the capital at Samaria were, according to archeology, always wealthier than the the southern ones, Judah and the few remaining members of Benjamin, under Rehoboam. Whether David, Solomon and their descendents existed, is also questioned. Their wealth is certainly disputed by the scientific evidence. In The Bible UnearthedFinkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil A:

Finkelstein and Silberman posit that Judah was a small isolated kingdom until the Assyrians conquered Israel in 720 BC. Many refugees flooded into Judah which then developed complex state institutions. There was a need to unite all the Israelites together. Thus a united history was created with a united kingdom. The patriarchal narratives attempt to redefine the unity of Israel. Abraham builds altars at Shechem and Bethel, the two most important cult centers of the northern kingdom, and Hebron in the south. Abraham functions as a unifier of both northern and southern traditions. 
In 722 the Assyrians took Samaria, under Sargon II, making Israel an Assyrian province while Judah’s religious conformity fluctuated. It could have been this that created the uncertainty that led to the search for a deliverer from the threat of Assyria and the prediction of the birth of Hezekiah (ca 715-696).
11:1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove withequity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
The prophecy goes on how in the time of this child born of Jesse’s line, there will be peace and an ending of carnivores chasing their prey. This is some wishful thinking about the Jews eradicating the Assyrians. I know that Christians believe that Jesus was this child who was predicted, but, maybe I'm too pedantic, but if I was going to worship someone, and they claimed to be of a certain bloodline, I would want at least that assertion to be true. Mary was not of David and Jesse's bloodline, and even if Joseph was, he was not Jesus' father, according to what Gabriel told Mary anyway. I think that Christians should perhaps rethink claiming this text as proof that his birth was foretold.

It also says that in the time of this child, all the people of Israel will be gathered “from the four corners of the earth.”  And there is more evidence of their fear:
13:22 And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near tocome, and her days shall not be prolonged.
And there is talk of Hell, and Lucifer. They blame their wickedness for what they believe will happen to them:
14:9 Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
There’s a prediction with an exact time:
16:14 But now the Lord hath spoken, saying, Within three years, as the years of an hireling, and the glory of Moab shall be contemned, with all that great multitude; and the remnant shall be very small and feeble.
This sounds a little like apocalyptic prophesying which isn’t very difficult. Bad things always happen. As I pointed out in my previous post about the book of Isaiah, it was written when they were already in captivity. It is possible that this was right at the beginning, when they were still overwhelmed by the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem, and all the dire predictions and prophecies applied to their return and a deliverer who would see to, not only their return but also the destruction of all of their enemies.

Predictions of the downfall of Egypt:
19:4 And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts. To give them hope and to encourage their obedience to the law, Isaiah says  there  will be 'altars' in Egypt. Well, of course, if people attempt to flee captivity by going to Egypt, they will build altars:
19 In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.
23 In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.
Judah never ruled Egypt, the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans did rule there.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Isaish and the history of the Levant

A brief summary of the history of the Near East is worth looking at before examining the prophecies of Isaiah, which, more than likely, were written during, or even after the exile, and thus were not prophecies but history.

Egypt and the Near East had been invaded by ‘People who came from the Sea’ and who upset the status quo that had existed since people first settled on the Fertile Plain. There had previously been local skirmishes and even wars, sometimes one group of people was stronger than the other, but even during the overlordship of Egypt, the world had not yet experienced empire-building on the scale that the Assyrians, and then the Persians were about to inflict on them.

Isaiah claims that God laments the wickedness of Israel, begging them to give up their evil ways and to return to him and his worship. He even negotiates with them offering them forgiveness:
1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
1:27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
The theory regarding the Sea Peoples is that they were from the western and southern coasts of Turkey and its neighbouring islands. That they came by sea indicates a familiarity with the Mediterrranean, and it is probable that they were escaping some natural disaster that struck them in their previous homes. It coincided with a movement of Indo-Europeans into ‘Canaan’ and the Fertile Plain as well as into Greece, an event which destroyed the peaceful Minoan and Myceaean civilisations. We know about the destructions of Cnossus and Mycenae, possibly as a reasult of an earthquake and tsunami. Thus, that the people of the area we call the Middle-east today were afraid, is perfectly understandable.

The Sea People overran the western Mediterranean coast and spread down as far as Egypt, where the whole culture of Egyptian history was drowned under an Intermediate period where it was ruled by strangers.

The Israelites and Judah saw it as God’s wrath, given the draconian punishments promised to them by God, this is also understandable.

The whole of Isaiah is given over to bemoaning the fate of Israel. It is understandable that people believe in the greatness of the tribes of ‘Israel’ and the greatness of both their cities and their victories against there enemies, because the history falls into the political ‘vacuum’ created by these invaders and the emergence of the Assyrians.

After the Sea People had destroyed the cities of the Hittites, what was left of the Hurrians and everyone else on the eastern coat of the Mediterranean: the Aramaeans lived in the north, the Israelites in the south and the Phoenicians on the coast were all changed by their invasion. The area was ruled by the Egyptians until this invasion, hence the knowledge of Egyptian culture and the writing of the first books being influenced by them. After 900, Assyria expanded and took over what Egypt had left behind.
Archaeological evidence for this period is found at Ras Shamra (Ugarit)  and at Alalakh (Antioch) and Egyptian and Assyrian documents refer to the Phoenicians.

None of these have evidence of great Jewish settlements. The only evidence there is, is the existence of the the small settlement that may have contained the first temple of Solomon, destroyed in the 6th century by Nebuchanezzar. Excavating the present site of the remaining wall and the Dome of the Rock mosque is forbidden, so it is impossible to prove or disprove Solomon’s temple.

The Bible Unearthed gives a review of the archaeological evidence for the history as recorded in the Old Testament. It is worth reading for anyone interested in the stories as told by the writers in that collection of books.

The prophecies of dire things to come: children as princes, and babies ruling. “Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen,” all refer to the rise of the infant civilization of the Assyrians:
3:12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. 17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
4:1 And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach. 4 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.
He says that God says the people went into captivity (this is the captivity by the Babylonian king) because of their wickedness.

He has a vision of God sitting on a throne surrounded by angels who sing about God’s greatness. He bewails his uncleanness and that he lives among the unclean. And that he refers to the captivity in the past tense, proves that this is not prophecy but was written “after the fact.”

One of the angels takes a live coal which he puts on his lips, telling him that he is purged of his sin. He then offers to be the one to take the message to the people.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon

It says that Ecclesiastes is written by David the “Preacher.”

It is merely ‘David’ writing an autobiography with sage advice for his readers.

He obviously regrets some of the silly things he did in his youth and he advocates taking life seriously and preparing for the future.

Edit 30 October 2015:
This book of the King James version of the Old Testament must not be conflated with the Book of Ecclesiasticus which is contained in the Apocrypha, the set of books that were excluded from the final version. This book contains more of the triteness of Ecclesiastes, which is why I, and I am sure other writers have become confused. For example:
Ecclesiastes. 25:13 Give me any plague, but the plague of the heart and any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman.  
Ecclesiastes. 25:22 Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.  
Ecclesiastes. 25 26; If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh, and give her a bill of divorce, and let her go.  
Ecclesiastes. 26:9-10 The whoredom of a woman may be known in her haughty looks and eyelids. If thy daughter be shameless, keep her in straitly, lest she abuse herself through overmuch liberty.  
Ecclesiastes. 26:14-15 A silent and loving woman is a gift of the Lord and there is nothing so much worth as a mind well instructed. A shamefaced and faithful woman is a double grace, and her continent mind cannot be valued.  
Ecclesiastes.26:25  A shameless woman shall be counted as a dog; but she that is shamefaced will fear the Lord.
Ecclesiastes. 42:13-14 For from garments cometh a moth, and from women wickedness. Better is the churlishness of a man than a courteous woman, a woman, I say, which bringeth shame and reproach.  
See comments below for the post that brought this error to my attention.

Song of Solomon appears written in the throes of a love affair, sometimes it seems that the writer is speaking to a male lover and at others to a female.

It seems to be the words of Solomon, (we know that he had vast numbers of women) but, living in the more liberal 21st century, is it possible that he also had male lovers. It wouldn’t have been unusual considering the time, even though God declared it to be an abomination, or are the the words of one of his women.

It is a little erotic and even quite stirring, not an unpleasant read at all. It demonstrates that life in ancient Jerusalem wasn’t only all about religion and God’s wrath, or that Solomon was more of a lover than a fighter:
Song of Solomon 7:11-13 Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth there will I give thee my loves. The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved. 

Friday, 6 August 2010

Proverbs, basic overused philosophy...

This contains all the trite sayings we’ve had handed down to us by teachers, parents and naturally, ministers of religion. Where did they come from? There are comments at the beginning of some of the chapters that various kings wrote them, although they are commonly thought to be the wisdom of Solomon. To me, they seem to be the result of interaction with Greek philosophy. Sometimes the language of the King James Version makes them sound especially profound. I'm amused that there is much said about virtuous women and children, but nothing about virtuous, or otherwise, men.

Here are some examples:

This reminds of some similar wisdom from the New Testament.
6:6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: 7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, 8 Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
On wisdom. It is obvious that the wisdom and learning promoted is not secular learning, but learning of the law of Moses and the history of Egypt.
3:13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. ...19 The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.
3:5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  
On good women but nothing about good men:
5:18 Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. 19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.
12:4 A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.
18:22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour o fthe Lord.
31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
On bad women (the Old Testament has a lot to say about bad women but nothing about good men):
6:24 To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. 25 Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids. 26 For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life. 27 Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? 28 Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?
9:13 A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing. 14 For she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, 15 To call passengers who go right on their ways: 16 Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, 17 Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. 18 But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.
There is much repetition of the same thing, just expressed differently. These seem to me to relate to the laws again:
3:12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
5:16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
20 My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
5:29 So he that goeth in to his neighbour's wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. 30 Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; 
General triteness:
12:23 A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.
15:11 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Children and discipline:
23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. 14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.