Saturday, 25 June 2016

Chapter 19: The Fall of Sodom and Gomorrah

This chapter has significance in all Judaeo-Christian religions because of the reference to homosexuality, and that it is an “abomination” to the extent that God destroyed these cities as a result of this verse: 
Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. Genesis 19: 5-6
The angels who had appeared to Abraham, travelled to Sodom, arriving at Lot’s house in the evening. Lot is hospitable, offers them a place to stay for the night. They refuse the offer, saying they’ll sleep in the street, but he insists and they accept his invitation to have a meal and stay the night (verse 3).

The men of Sodom surround the house, demanding that he send them out “that we many know them”. Lot offers his daughters instead. 

When the men insist that they want the visitors, Lot goes out to reason with them, but the angels pull him back, and smite the men of Sodom with blindness (verse 11).

The angels ask Lot about his family, sons, daughters, sons-in-law, saying that they should be sent from the city, because God has sent them to destroy it.  In the morning, the angels insist that Lot and his family leave the city, telling him to “escape for thy life, look not behind thee, neither stay in the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thy be consumed.” (verse 17).

Lot pleads with the angels to allow him to escape to the “small city” which is called “Zoar”. The angels agree that he should escape there while they destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, raining down “brimstone and fire” on them (verses 18-25).

Lot’s wife looks back to see the destruction, and is turned into a pillar of salt (verse 26).

Abraham wakes up to see the destruction happening to the “cities of the plain” while God sends Lot away from Zoar to hide in the mountains, with his two remaining daughters.

In the following verses, 31 to 38, the writer explains the origins of the Moabites and the Ammonites. The two daughters cause their father, Lot, to become drunk. They seduce him in order to have children because they believe that all the eligible young men in their little world have been killed.
There are three purposes in this mythology being included in the Old Testament. The first is the obvious one: the condemnation of homosexuality. The phenomenon of homosexuality must have been fairly common among the people of Canaan, perhaps all civilisations noticed the behaviour among their members, however, only the people who claim to be descended from Abraham make a fuss about it. That they do this, says more about their obsession with sex, than it does about same gender sexual attraction. See the Wikipedia article linked to here.

The Greeks were at ease about both homosexuality and nudity, and the Romans, although they were a little more conservative in their public sexual behaviour, nevertheless had several famous characters who were gay. See full quote here.

As has been frequently noted, the ancient Greeks did not have terms or concepts that correspond to the contemporary dichotomy of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’. There is a wealth of material from ancient Greece pertinent to issues of sexuality, ranging from dialogues of Plato, such as the Symposium, to plays by Aristophanes, and Greek artwork and vases…Probably the most frequent assumption of sexual orientation is that persons can respond erotically to beauty in either sex… For example, Alexander the Great and the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, were known for their exclusive interest in boys and other men. Such persons, however, are generally portrayed as the exception… 

From the Wikipedia article on homosexuality in Rome, there is the following:

It was expected and socially acceptable for a freeborn Roman man to want sex with both female and male partners, as long as he took the penetrative role. The morality of the behavior depended on the social standing of the partner, not gender per se. Both women and young men were considered normal objects of desire, but outside marriage a man was supposed to act on his desires only with slaves, prostitutes (who were often slaves), and the infames (people with little or no social standing). Gender did not determine whether a sexual partner was acceptable, as long as a man's enjoyment did not encroach on another man's integrity. It was immoral to have sex with another freeborn man's wife, his marriageable daughter, his underage son, or with the man himself; sexual use of another man's slave was subject to the owner's permission…In the Imperial era, anxieties about the loss of political liberty and the subordination of the citizen to the emperor were expressed by a perceived increase in voluntary passive homosexual behavior among free men, accompanied by a documentable increase in the execution and corporal punishment of citizens. 
The people of the Old Testament even included prohibition of it in their laws, with extreme punishment for the behaviour, as may be seen from the laws of Leviticus (18:22), and the fact that until the 21st century, homosexual acts were, and in some cases still are, a crime.

The mythology of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah seems to have been placed in Genesis to lay the foundation for the condemnation of the behaviour. There is another example of this subject in further mythology, notably in Judges 19.

The next reason for the story is to place the historical origins of the Ammonites and the Moabites, and the third one to point out that they were descended from the incestuous coupling of Lot and his daughters, and thereby to lay the foundation for the laws that prohibit father and daughter incest, again in Leviticus (18: 6-29).

The Ammonites and the Moabites, although they are descended from Terah, the ancestor of Abraham, and thereby, from Noah, are not allowed to intermarry with the Hebrews because they are descended from incest. Making them the sons of Lot with his daughters, makes the prohibition valid.
The two states, Ammon and Moab, were historically real (see map on this Wikipedia page)
The chief city of the country [Ammon] was Rabbah or Rabbath Ammon, site of the modern city of Amman, Jordan's capital. Milcom and Molech (who may be one and the same) are named in the Bible as the gods of Ammon. The people of this kingdom are called "Children of Ammon" or “Ammonites.”
 Also note the origins of David:
The Ammonites presented a serious problem to the Pharisees because many marriages with Ammonite (and Moabite) wives had taken place in the days of Nehemiah. The men had married women of the various nations without conversion, which made the children not Jewish [even though they were descended from the same ancestral line]. The legitimacy of David's claim to royalty was disputed on account of his descent from Ruth, the Moabite.
The Moabites, as may be seen from this Wikipedia quote, were also people of the area we now refer to as Jordan. 
Moab… is the historical name for a mountainous strip of land in Jordan. The land lies alongside much of the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The existence of the Kingdom of Moab is attested to by numerous archeological findings,… capital was Dibon. According to the Bible, Moab was often in conflict with its Israelite neighbours to the west.

I do not dispute the existence of the actual lands, or peoples, of the area in which the bible story is set. I merely refute the truth of the historical account, which is obviously a repeating of the oral tradition, handed down through the centuries, until the writers put it down on parchment, calling it the “history of the Jewish people.” This story is no more real history than any other mythological origin story told around campfires in the early days of any civilisation. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Genesis 18: Abraham negotiates with God to save Sodom

And the Lord said, if I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes. Genesis 18:26
Why were three men sent to tell Abraham the good news that Sarah was going to have a child? God has been speaking directly to Abraham, for all of this time, yet to convince Sarah that even though she is post-menopausal, she will bear a child, he sends “messengers”.

The reason for this isn’t clear until chapter 19, when the men are threatened with rape in the city.
After the men had left Sarah to mull over the frightening prospect of bearing a child at her advanced age, Abraham engages with God to haggle about how many “righteous” men it would take to save the city.

The chapter starts off with “the Lord” appeared to him where he sat outside his tent “in the fields of Mamre”. He sees three men, bows to them and calls them “Lord” .

There are threads of numbers that run through the Bible, three men is one of these threads. Adam and Eve had three mentioned sons: Cain, Abel, and Seth. (Genesis 4, Genesis 5) Noah has three sons who are mentioned: Ham, Shem, and Japheth. (Genesis 5:32). In turn, the sons of Noah, also have three main branches of descendants: Ham has Cush, Mizraim, and Canaan who are the ancestors of the non-Jewish people. Terah, Abraham’s father has three children who are the ancestors of the later people: Abraham, Nahor, and their brother Haran, the father of Lot. (Genesis 11:29) Then three men appear to Abraham in this chapter. In Daniel, the three men are Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. (Daniel 3:23).

The use of numerical patterns is significant because it demonstrates mythology. The real world is chaotic, there are no patterns except the ones we make up for ourselves. It is only in fiction that patterns of numbers are used to tell stories. Using this pattern through the narrative merely displays that three was a way for the ancient storytellers to make connections: one character was the ancestor of the unholy people, the second character, the ancestor of the chosen one, and the third, to provide wives, or relatives for the chosen one, but ultimately discarded as a new branch of “unholy” people.

In this case, God appearing to Abraham as three men, and then moving on to Sodom to tempt the people into sodomy, seems strange until these connections are made. It was a way for the writer to weave a story. Abraham travelled to Egypt with Sarah, so that he could obtain a handmaiden to be the mother of Ishmael. Abraham fathers two children, who are the progenitors of the two main groups of people in the Near East during the middle of the first millennium BCE, the Arabs, or Syrians, and the Hebrews. In this chapter the three men are necessary. One would cause only a few men to sin, two, perhaps a few more, but three men would cause a significant number of men to seek to use the men for their pleasure, thus giving the excuse for the destruction of the city.

Finally on the number three, it is also the three attributes of God: omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, as explained in this website

When Sarah laughs, denying that it is possible for her to bear a child, God asks if anything is too hard for him, chastising her, after she denies laughing (verse 14).

As the three men walk away, God questions whether he should tell Abraham of his intent to destroy the city of Sodom.
Genesis 18:17 And the Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do.
He decides that Abraham has a right to know, seeing he is meant to be “great and mighty” and “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”.

As the men turn towards Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asks God to rethink his plan, if he is able to find fifty good men. God agrees to save the city for fifty men. Abraham thinks about it, realises fifty is too many to ask for; they eventually settle on ten righteous men.

To be able to verify whether the two cities actually existed, we have only theology, and the belief that these events took place at a time we now call “The Bronze Age” in Mesopotamia. 
In Mesopotamia, the Bronze Age begins at about 2900 BCE in the late Uruk period, spanning the Early Dynastic period of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, the Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian periods and the period of Kassite hegemony. In Ancient Egypt, the Bronze Age begins in the Protodynastic period, c. 3150 BCE.
There is no empirical evidence for their existence, only supposition and theology on religious websites that support the idea that the devastation was caused by a meteor, 4,000 years ago. 

There is no evidence whatsoever that shows that Abraham and Sarah were real people who lived to be centenarians before they had a child. The feasibility of such a medical marvel is extremely unlikely. This goes for their ancestors too. The longevity is necessary for the whole mythical history to have value. Possibly they were real people, possibly there was a couple who had a child late in life, possibly this did happen at a time that a meteor shower struck a now-unidentifiable city, possibly, on a small scale there may be some fact behind the myth, but it remains a myth. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Abram receives a new name and a law

We saw in chapter 9 that two laws were handed to Noah on his emergence from the ark: one that he may not “eat” blood, and two, that murder must be avenged. 
Genesis 9:4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall yet not eat.Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…
Chapter 17 has two main themes, one that Abram shall henceforth be called “Abraham”, 
Genesis 17:5 …for a father of many nations have I made thee.
The second theme is the introduction of the third law, that of circumcision.
Genesis 17:11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
Abram is ninety-nine years old when God appears to him, telling him he is perfect, and that he seeks to make a covenant with him so that he may be multiplied. He then goes on to rename Sarai, naming her Sarah, and that she will bear a son, and be a “mother of nations”.

Abraham falls about laughing, saying that Sarah is ninety years old. He tells God to let Ishmael be the father of nations (verses 17-18). God says that Sarah will indeed bear a son, they will call him “Isaac”, and that he will establish a covenant with him. 

As for Ishmael, he will be fruitful and exceedingly blessed. He will beget twelve princes and will create a great nation, through God. But the covenant will be with Isaac who will be born within the next year. He leaves Abraham to get on with circumcising every man in his household.

Sixth Dynasty (2345–2181 BCE) tomb artwork in Egypt has been thought to be the oldest documentary evidence of circumcision, the most ancient depiction being a bas-relief from the necropolis at Saqqara (c. 2400 BCE) with the inscriptions reading: "The ointment is to make it acceptable." and "Hold him so that he does not fall”. In the oldest written account, by an Egyptian named Uha, in the 23rd century BCE, he describes a mass circumcision and boasts of his ability to stoically endure the pain: "When I was circumcised, together with one hundred and twenty men...there was none thereof who hit out, there was none thereof who was hit, and there was none thereof who scratched and there was none thereof who was scratched.”Also…Herodotus [Herodotus, Histories, Book 2:104, p121], writing in the 5th century BCE, wrote that the Egyptians "practise circumcision for the sake of cleanliness, considering it better to be cleanly than comely.”…Herodotus reported that circumcision is only practiced by the Egyptians, Colchians, Ethiopians, Phoenicians, the 'Syrians of Palestine', and “the Syrians who dwell about the rivers Thermodon and Parthenius, as well as their neighbours the Macronians and Macrones". He also reports, however, that "the Phoenicians, when they come to have commerce with the Greeks, cease to follow the Egyptians in this custom, and allow their children to remain uncircumcised. If there had been wholesale circumcision among the people of Canaan, there would also be extra-biblical evidence for it. None of the other city-states mention it in their mythology.
From the historical point of view, in Judaism, Wikipedia says,

In Egypt, only the priestly caste retained circumcision, and by the 2nd century, the only circumcising groups in the Roman Empire were Jews, Jewish Christians, Egyptian priests, and the Nabatean Arabs. Circumcision was sufficiently rare among non-Jews that being circumcised was considered conclusive evidence of Judaism (or Early Christianity and others derogatorily called Judaizers) in Roman courts—Suetonius in Domitian 12.2 described a court proceeding in which a ninety-year-old man was stripped naked before the court to determine whether he was evading the head tax placed on Jews and Judaizers…Later during the Talmudic period (500–625 CE) a third step, known as Metzitzah, began to be practiced. In this step the mohel would suck the blood from the circumcision wound with his mouth to remove what was believed to be bad excess blood. As it actually increases the likelihood of infections such as tuberculosis and venereal diseases, modern day mohels use a glass tube placed over the infant's penis for suction of the blood. In many Jewish ritual circumcisions this step of Metzitzah has been eliminated. [cf Wikipedia link in footnote 98.]
Until fairly recently, in the western world, circumcision was normal for people who were not necessarily Jewish. The trend to have it done as a custom for aesthetic purposes is disappearing with new evidence showing that it removes sensitivity, and although it may reduce some risk of cervical cancer in the partners of circumcised men, the evidence is not conclusive.
It is uncertain whether male circumcision reduces the risks of penile human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the man and of cervical cancer in his female partner…studies have suggested that circumcision may reduce the risk of penile cancer, urinary tract infections, and common sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Little is known, however, about the effect of male circumcision on the risk of acquiring human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV causes genital warts in men and women, and it has been linked to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women worldwide, and up to 99 percent of all cases may be attributed to infection by oncogenic HPV genotypes.
Time Magazine reported, in 2013, that circumcision rates in the United States are dropping:
In 1979, close to two-thirds of boys in the West underwent a hospital circumcision after birth, but by 2010 that percentage dropped to around 58%.

It seems that, for purely aesthetic reasons, or whatever the reasons were in the Near East during the first millennium BCE, there is no need to mutilate young children. The decision to do it, should left to the individual to decided, for himself. As for the Hebrews having instituted the practice, it’s mythology. By the time they started doing it, it was fairly common practice among semitic people.