Noah’s Ant Problem

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Ant Problem(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

 

Joshua 7-8: Ai, Ai, Ai!

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Joshua is officially the worst at picking spies. If you ever need to choose someone to spy for you, ask Joshua for his advice and then do the exact opposite. Seriously, this guy has not made a single solid decision since he took over leadership. (Perhaps this is all to reinforce that he really, really, really is the leader because of divine mandate and not because of any personal qualities – because look! Look at how inept he is!)

So Joshua picks a couple of spies to go check out Ai. When they return, they go on and on about how puny and weak Ai is, and swear that only 2,000-3,000 soldiers are needed. When Joshua has doubts, they convince him to send few men because it’s just such a burden to trudge a whole army (plus accompanying families and cattle) all the way up to Ai for a larger assault. Playing it safe within the anchoring the spies have set, Joshua sends a full 3,000 soldiers up to take Ai. Just to reinforce the confidence he has in this mission, he sends them off without any battle plan to speak of beyond “just smash yourselves against the city gates until they give up.”

Predictably, the attack fails and 36 Israelite soldiers are wounded.

But wait! This wasn’t because Joshua and his spies totally underestimated their enemy! This wasn’t because they launched an attack with far too few soldiers! And it certainly had nothing to do with the lack of a battle plan! Obviously, it must be because one among them had sinned, and that person’s sin caused God to turn away from the whole nation.

Thus begins an incredibly creepy chapter in which they essentially draw lots to work through which tribe contains the sinner (Judah), which family (the Zerahites), which household (Zabdi’s household), and, lastly, which individual (Achan). It turns out that Achan had kept some booty (a few shekels, a bar of gold, and a mantle) from Jericho, which had been expressly forbidden. To purge his sin from the Israelite nation, Achan, his children, his cattle and flocks, and all his possessions are taken to the Valley of Achor. There, they are stoned, burned, and then stoned again for good measure. This is how the valley got its name – Achor means “trouble.”

If any of that doesn’t sound like human sacrifice then you might not be paying attention.

If the story sounds familiar, there may be a reason. As David Plotz points out:

The rest of the chapter unfolds like Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery.” (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that “The Lottery” is intentionally modeled on Chapter 7.) Slowly, with an ominous, telescoping rhythm, Joshua seeks the offender.

The whole story is rather strange coming so soon after Deut. 24:16, which is quite clear that “parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents.” It feels like an older story, something from the Exod. 20:5 tradition, that snuck by while our scribe was working a late night.

Of this, Collins says:

The story is presumably older than Deuteronomic law. According to Exod 20:5, the Lord punishes children for the iniquity of their parents even to the third and fourth generation, and this was the traditional idea in Israel, roughly down to the time of the Deuteronomic reform of the Babylonian exile. The doctrine of individual responsibility is an innovation in Deuteronomy 24. It is most strongly articulated in Ezekiel 18. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.102)

There’s some confusion about Achan’s parentage. In Josh. 7:1 and Josh. 7:18, he is Achan son of Carmi. In Josh. 7:24, he is Achan son of Zerah.

The Second Attempt

Achan may be dead, but Joshua is still playing it safe the second time around. Rather than the 3,000 soldiers he sent the first time, he’s now sending a full 30,000 soldiers (to fight a town that only has 12,000 inhabitants, according to Josh. 8:25).

Illustration from the Morgan Bible of the Israelites being repulsed from Ai

Illustration from the Morgan Bible of the Israelites being repulsed from Ai

He’s also going in with a plan. He hides 30,000 men behind the city, ready for an ambush. How one hides such an army is something of a mystery, but let’s just assume that they had cardboard painted “trees” they could each hide behind, and that some lookout from Ai wondered how that forest grew overnight and, hey, did that tree just sneeze?

Meanwhile, Joshua sent 5,000 soldiers to assault the gates as he had in the first, failed attempt. The citizens of Ai, probably thanking their gods for sending them such easy pickings, head off in pursuit. While they chase the decoy army around, the real army marches in through the back door.

Joshua stretches out his javelin, reminiscent of Moses needing to keep his hands raised while Joshua fights the Amalekites in Exodus 17. He keeps his javelin in the air until the battle is over. Unlike Moses’s trick, however, Joshua’s has the plausible effect of signalling to the ambushers that it’s time to attack.

The soldiers of Ai realize their mistake when they turn around to see their city burning and belching out 30,000 Israelite soldiers to catch them in an inescapable pincer attack.

It’s all rather mid-2000s historical epic.

Strangely, Bethel sneaks into the narrative once, when the soldiers of Ai rush out in pursuit of the faux-routing army: “There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, who did not go out after Israel” (Josh. 8:17). Bethel is not mentioned again, and there’s no reason given for their soldiers to have joined in.

According to my study Bible: “Many scholars hold that this story is not really an account of the battle for Ai, but for Bethel, since otherwise the book of Joshua contains no account of the capture of this important site” (p.270).

If that’s true and, perhaps, two separate stories were stitched together, it may be that a confused scribe included Bethel’s army in this one passage because his sources said that Bethel was somehow involved, while making the editorial choice of putting the spotlight on Ai.

As for why the shift to Ai may have happened in the first place, it seems that the story may be an attempt to explain a ruin:

Ai has also proven to be a puzzle. Excavations conducted at this site by Joseph Callaway between 1965 and 1975 demonstrated that the mound was unoccupied from 2400 to 1200 B.C. It is possible that it was used as a military outpost by the nearby city of Bethel, which does show evidence of destruction in the thirteenth century, but there was no settlement at Ai such as that described in Joshua. Its name, which means “the ruin,” may have led the Israelites to attach it to Joshua’s list of conquests. (Victor Matthews, Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.47)

Finishing up, the king of Ai is hanged from a tree until evening, then his body is buried under a heap of stones set at the entrance to the city, a memorial that “stands there to this day” (Josh. 8:29).

The Altar

In the middle of all this action, we get a sudden veer left into cultic territory, when Joshua decides to fulfil some stuff that Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy 27.

He builds an altar on Mount Ebal, makes a burnt offering and a peace offering, the writes the law of Moses on the altar stones. That done, the people are divided into two groups – one half to stand before Mount Ebal and the other half to stand before Mount Gerizim. Once they are positioned, Joshua reads out the words of the law, including the blessings and the curses, for all the Israelites and whatever sojourners have decided to follow them can hear (rather odd phrasing given that the Israelites are, themselves, still sojourners).

Of this passage, my study Bible says: “Since this section interrupts the narrative of the conquest (note how naturally 8.29 connects with 9.3), it is probably not original here” (p.273).

As Abbie from Better Than Esdras points out:

You may notice that Josh is a bit behind schedule- God said to do it “on that day you cross the Jordan” but they’ve razed two cities before getting around to this. One possibility is that this is a bad editing job: this story should have been placed earlier in the text. (Another possibility is that I’m simply interpreting “on that day” too literally. Must get around to learning Hebrew!)

While I still have the URL in my pasting clipboard, definitely read Abbie’s post about this episode. She goes into quite a bit of detail comparing the text from Deuteronomy 27 and the passage here in Joshua 8, and it’s all very interesting.

Why do we celebrate Easter?

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A lot of people think of Jesus Christ when they think of Easter, and that’s understandable. If you’re like me, you may live in a predominantly Christian country, so that’s the story you’re most likely to hear about.

But then there’s all sorts of confusing details, like why is the death of Christ celebrated with chocolate? What’s the deal with eggs? Why do we traditionally cause mental scarring in our children by forcing them to sit on the laps of giant pink bunnies while we immortalize their terror in photographs?

These things used to confuse me too, so when I found this video that concisely explained everything, I couldn’t help but to share. So watch and learn, folks!

Joshua 6: The walls of Jericho come tumbling down

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God decides to ease the Israelites into this war business, so he gives them a fairly easy first assignment; they are to take Jericho, but they won’t have to fight for it! Rather, God will do the bulk of the work (barring some magical ritual).

So, if you ever find yourself trying to siege a city, here’s your recipe for success:

  1. Carry the ark, accompanied by seven priests each blowing ram’s horn trumpets, around the perimeter of the city accompanied by all your soldiers each day for six days straight.
  2. On the seventh day, have them all walk around the perimeter of the city seven times (hopefully your city is small enough for this to be feasible).
  3. At the conclusion of the seventh trip on the seventh day, have the priests blast their horn trumpets, which is a signal for all your people to let out a loud shout.
  4. ???
  5. Profit!

(Presumably, war is exempt from sabbath requirements.)

The Fall  of Jericho, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470-1475

The Fall of Jericho, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470-1475

Joshua adds to these rules that the people are to be completely silent through all of this until the moment of the great shouting on the seventh day. There’s no word if this is to apply to the babies and small children who are following the army along until they have a place to settle.

When the time finally comes and the priests begin blasting their trumpets, Joshua yells to the people to “SHOUT!!!” And then immediately launches into a rather lengthy lecture that includes additional instructions. Perhaps he was a little pre-emptive in ordering the week-long silence and really needed this moment to give these additional instructions. Still, it seems rather poorly timed. I can imagine that the priests were quite out of sorts trying to maintain their trumpet blasts long enough for him to finish.

In any case, his instructions are a repeat of what we got in Deuteronomy 20 – namely, that everyone must die, the city be razed, and all the stuff burned. The only addition is to say that the really nice stuff should be spared and given to God, c/o the priests (Josh. 6:19, Josh. 6:24). I’m sure that got no eye rolls from the people….

The second miracle of this chapter is that they manage to find Rahab and her family alive, despite the fact that their home was built into Jericho’s wall (Josh. 2:15), which all too recently came a-tumbling down. Rahab and her Rahabites are given permission to live among the Israelites.

Closing off the chapter, Joshua curses whatever future person rebuilds Jericho, saying that it will cost him his first-born to lay the foundation and his youngest son to set up the gates. According to Brant Clements, this curse will be revisited when we get to 1 Kings, so we have that to look forward to! He also wonders if it refers to an act of child sacrifice.

Historical Jericho

The image of Jericho as a city large enough for city walls seems to be anachronistic. Take it away, Kenneth C. Davis:

Recent archaeology has tempered the biblical account of the Conquest. In the thirteenth century BCE, the likely date of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, Jericho was an unfortified village. In other words, the familiar account was most likely embroidered upon in later telling. The Jordan River valley in which Jericho lies sites on a major rift, or geological fault zone. One explanation for the river stopping and the walls tumbling is that both events were earthquake-induced. However, there is no archaeological evidence of those tumbled walls at Jericho. (Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.151)

As far as the fault-line stuff, here’s a map to illustrate:

Joshua 6 - Earthquake Zones

It could be that a story of Jericho’s walls crumbling suddenly (due to an earthquake) was later woven into a conquest story.

As far as the “crush, kill, destroy” portion of the conquest, where Joshua commands his soldiers to slaughter everyone in town and burn all their possessions, Collins explains that this is not a command unique to Hebrew scripture/culture:

The custom was known outside Israel. King Mesha of Moab, in the ninth century B.C.E., boasted that he took Nebo from Israel, “slaying all, seven thousand men, boys, women, girls and maidservants, for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh” […] The story of the capture of Jericho is almost certainly fictitious, but this only makes the problem more acute. We are not dealing in Joshua with a factual report of the ways of ancient warfare. Rather, the slaughter of the Canaanites, here and elsewhere, is presented as a theologically correct ideal. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.101)

Moses parts something else

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Non-Sequitur-Moses-Escapes-the-Mall

These never get old. Never.

(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

Joshua 5: Is it worse the second time around?

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Gird your loins because this chapter tries to explain a few place names, and there may be some sympathy pains a-coming.

The crossing of the Jordan was apparently quite a bit more spectacular than it reads (maybe it’s one of those “you had to be there” things), because it’s got the kings of the Amarites and Canaanites shaking in their boots.

Mass circumcision

Even though we had all that talk earlier about going on the march in three days’ time, God decides that now is the time to stop and have Joshua circumcise everyone (personally?). The wording is rather unfortunate, as he tells Joshua to do it “again the second time” (Josh. 5:2). Oh myyyy…. what was left?

Modern representation of relief in the 6th Dynasty tomb of the royal architect Ankh-ma-hor at Saqqara

Modern representation of relief in the 6th Dynasty tomb of the royal architect Ankh-ma-hor at Saqqara

But no, it seems that it’s referring to a second generation, rather than a second hacking, as the text later explains that the Israelites who had come out of Egypt were all circumcised, but that circumcisions hadn’t been happening while they were in the wilderness.

There’s no reason given for this neglect. It seems to just be a rather forced explanation to tie some local tradition into the larger narrative. And, indeed, the story seems to be a way to explain how Gibeath-haaraloth (“Hill of the Foreskins”) got its name.

Now, as we all learned back in Genesis 34 when Jacob’s sons defeat the Shechemites by tricking them into circumcising themselves so that they’d be unable to fight when attacked, a mass circumcision ritual is a pretty silly way to inaugurate a military campaign.

Throwing that whole “we leave in three days” thing complete out the window, the army now has to wait around until everyone has had a chance to heal.

While we wait, we get the story of how Gilgal gets its name. It is named, says God, because the day of mass circumcision marks when he “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Josh. 5:9).

My study Bible objects: “The Hebrew verb meaning rolled away is from the same root as Gilgal, but the etymology is far-fetched; the true meaning of Gilgal is ‘circle [of stones]‘” (p.268). In other words a megalith. It seems to me that the name must have more to do with the stones Joshua supposedly put up in Joshua 4, rather than with any rolling away of reproach.

But even if we take the explanation at face value, what is this reproach? Was this reproach earned in Egypt? When the people were supposedly suffering as slaves? Or is God still going on about the wilderness rebellions?

To close off the pre-campaign ceremonies, they celebrate Passover in Gilgal. They then do some foraging for food and, once they eat it, the manna stops coming. Now that they are in the Promised Land, they’ll have to let it sustain them rather than depending on breadsnow.

The Commander

To close off the chapter, we get what appears to be a fragment of a story – Joshua meets a strange man with a drawn sword. Rather than just shooting first, he asks the stranger whether he is friend or foe. The stranger answers that he’s come to be the commander of God’s army.

Joshua falls on his face “and worshipped” (Josh. 5:14). We’ve had no face-falling for a whole book, so it’s great to see it again! As for the worshipping, is that idolatry? The man is there to command God’s army, which suggests that he isn’t God. Is Joshua worshipping him when he falls on his face, or is he just worshipping in general?

In either case, the stranger tells Joshua to remove his shoes, “for the place where you stand is holy” (Josh. 5:15). This is almost exactly what God said to Moses in Exodus 3, which either means that the authors of Joshua are trying very hard to argue that Joshua really (no, really!) is a legitimate successor to Moses, or that both started off as regional variations of the same founding character.

Then the story just ends, and the Commander is never seen again. Presumably, the original story featured some command or divine advice, perhaps even a call like Moses received from the burning bush, but this – if it ever existed – has been lost.

Joshua 3-4: Throwing rocks in the water

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Likely itching at the sandals, the Israelites finally move out from Shittim and camp on the banks of the Jordan River to wait out the final three days before the conquest is officially slated to begin.

At Joshua’s request, the officers tell the soldiers to keep an eye out for the ark; when Aslan – I mean the ark – is on the move, they must follow. But they must also practice good road safety and travel a minimum of 2,000 cubits behind, just in case the ark needs to hit the brakes.

While they wait, they must sanctify themselves. It’s quite clear that this is to be a holy war, not just an invasion.

Crossing the Jordan River, by Christoph Unterberger, 1780s.

Crossing the Jordan River, by Christoph Unterberger, 1780s.

Meanwhile, God hands Joshua the keys, telling him that he has the authority to tell the priests where to go. It feels like this points to monarchic involvement (perhaps commissioning or patronizing) in the composition of Joshua. It’s like for all that the Deuteronomic History we’ve read so far as consolidated power in Levitical hands and warned the future monarchy against getting grabby, we’ve also seen little reminders like these that the king is still king.

Because God just can’t see a river without seeing an opportunity for a little peacocking, he makes the Israelites stand on the shores of the Jordan and watch while the Levites step into the river with the ark. The river’s flow miraculously stops, and “the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap” (Josh. 3:16). Downriver, the flow was cut off entirely (yet another of Joshua’s lovely narrative details – I’m really enjoying this book much more than the slog we’ve been having since Genesis ended!).

This is clearly a repetition of the Red Sea parting, linking Joshua to Moses and indicating a continuity of leadership. Numbers had mentions of Joshua continuing after Moses, but I get the impression that Deuteronomy and Joshua have really been thumping the point, making me wonder if perhaps there was an alternative successor that the Deuteronomic History authors were competing against. Anyone know if there’s something to this?

It would never have occurred to me to look into the actual depth of the Jordan, but David Plotz mentioned it in his post: “I know what those of you who have been to Israel are thinking: The Jordan “river” is about as deep my bathtub, and not much wider! But the book specifies that the crossing was at flood stage, when the river is somewhat more intimidating.”

Tim Bulkeley also commented on how unimpressive the Jordan River is today, and warns his listeners against using today’s river to imagine what Joshua’s army would have encountered. It would have had a very variable flow in ancient times. And, “even today the Jordan valley has (in places) dense bush, making it a strange and dangerous place for people more used to dry pastureland.”

Joshua’s stones

40,000 soldiers cross with the ark.

At some point during this time, something happens involving twelve stones. Unfortunately for literalists, what happens is a little fuzzy.

Joshua calls for one representative from each tribe to collect one rock each from the river bed (while it’s still exposed) and bring them to their first camp-site in the Promised Land – in Gilgal. Joshua also places twelve stones into the riverbed (replacing the ones taken?) which the book’s author(s) claim are still there to their day. But then Joshua brings the twelve stones to Gilgal and sets them up there, so that they clearly can’t still be in the river.

It seems that two, or possibly three, separate narratives got shoved in together.

J.R. Porter writes:

The character of the Gilgal legend indicates that it was a pre-Israelite holy place, probably the site of a Canaanite festival, which re-enacted the victory of a deity over the forces of chaos, as in the stories of the gods Baal and Marduk. The events at the Jordan and at Gilgal may well be the real source of the tradition of Israel’s crossing of the sea. (The new Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.63)

In other words, it’s possible that this episode wasn’t added to link Joshua onto Moses’s authority, but rather that Moses was given his crossing to link him to this holy site.

I wrote in What’s the deal with Joshua that his appearances in Exodus and Numbers feel very forced, like he was stitched in to lend legitimacy to his future appearance as Moses’ successor. Now, I wonder if he wasn’t at one time a competing Moses figure (which would explain his presence on the mountain in Exodus 24 while Moses is receiving the commandments, his presence with Moses again during a revelation in Exodus 32, and his association with the tent of meeting in Exodus 33).

Pure conjecture on my part, but I wonder if Joshua wasn’t at one time a competing forefather figure who lost out to the far larger Moses camp. Yet, he had achieved enough of a following to remain in the oral narrative canon, eventually becoming a successor rather than competitor.

 

Noah’s Arc

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Noah-the-compass

One more reason why spelling is important!

(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

Joshua 2: A fortuitous distraction

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In his first act as the big cheese of the Israelite people, Joshua sends out two spies to get a feel for the territory, instructing them to pay special attention to Jericho. Unfortunately, Joshua experiences a bit of the first timer’s misfire, picking quite possibly the most ludicrously unqualified of all the possible spies available to him. Thankfully, he also has a fair bit of beginner’s luck, as we shall soon see.

These bungling spies head out from the Israelite camp and seem, almost immediately, to end up in the home of a prostitute. To be fair, they’ve been hanging out in the wilderness their entire lives, but still. There’s no word that they even attempted to do as Joshua instructed.

My poor study Bible, apparently trying to provide a more flattering excuse for the spies’ priorities, includes a note saying that the spies chose to approach Rahab because, as a prostitute, strange men coming to her house would have been less conspicuous (p.264). Nice try, editors!

As Abbie from Better Than Esdras points out, that’s not even the worst of their blundering, because Jericho’s king hears of their presence in the city almost immediately.

Which is where the beginner’s luck comes in. Rahab, the prostitute, just so happens to be on the Israelites’ side, so, in an episode worth of Don Juan, she hides the spies among the flax stalks on her roof when the king’s guards come a’knocking.

She tells the guards that the spies had been there (but that she hadn’t known they were spies), but had already left. The guards, on her instruction, rush out to find the two spies.

Back on the roof

Back with the spies, Rahab explains that word of God’s power displays among the Egyptians and Amorites travelled much faster than the Israelites did, so some plural “we” heard of them and “our hearts melted” (Josh. 2:11). It’s not indicated whether she’s referring exclusively to her own family, or more broadly to the residents of Jericho, or even to the residents of Palestine.

Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua, 17th century

Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua, 17th century

In any case, she makes them swear that they will spare her and her family in exchange for her having sent the guards away. Interestingly, her family members are listed as her father, her mother, her brothers, her sisters, and all their households. It would seem that she is unmarried and, perhaps also, living with her parents. At first, this made me wonder how old she is supposed to be. Then I wondered if this means that her parents are complicit/involved in her prostitution.

The spies agree to her terms, telling her to tie a red cord in her window and gather her whole family together in her house. Following her advice, they will hide in the hills for three days until the guards give up, and then head back to Joshua.

Conveniently, Rahab’s home has been built into Jericho’s wall, so she tosses a rope out the window and the spies are able to make their escape.

Final notes

The red cord that the spies tell Rahab to tie in her window may be a way to connect her to the last prostitute heroine we saw, Tamar:

Remember Tamar, the woman who pretended to be a prostitute with Judah back in Genesis? When her twins were born, a red cord was tied around the hand of one, Zerah. That cord provides a symbolic connection to the red cord Rahab dangles out her window. (Kenneth C. Davis, Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.150)

I also saw a connection between the red cord in the window and the lamb’s blood the Israelites were to paint onto their door frames during the Passover.

With regards to prostitution, Brant Clements points out that we’ve seen no moral judgement on men who’ve bought the services of prostitutes:

It is interesting, at the least, to notice that Israelite men consort with prostitutes and no moral judgment is pronounced upon them in the text. When Judah slept with Tamar (Genesis 38) he was not judged for patronizing a sex worker, but for withholding his son Shelah from his widowed daughter-in-law.

Prostitution in general seems to get something of a pass as far as sexual morality goes. There’s the prohibition on Israelites (of any gender) becoming cultic prostitutes in Deut. 23:17-18, but that’s all I can think of. Meanwhile, in both narratives featuring actual prostitutes (or, at least, acting in such a capacity for a single client in Tamar’s case), the women are pictured as heroines and rewarded.

In other words, there seems to be no connection between prostitution and any sort of moral degeneracy. I didn’t expect to find this attitude at all, though I suppose I shouldn’t be as surprised as I have been. While a woman clearly isn’t allowed to lie about her virginity (as evidenced in Deut. 22:13-21), lack of virginity itself doesn’t seem to disqualify a woman from having positive reputation – as we see in discussions about remarriage after divorce, or the requirement that women marry their sexual partners (so long as the sexual encounter doesn’t meet Deuteronomy’s criteria for rape, as explained later in Deut. 22).

David Plotz wondered why so many of the women who get narrative time are prostitutes (or, at least, having sexual encounters outside of the marriage bed – a definition expanded to include Dinah from Genesis 34). He theorizes:

I have a rudimentary theory about this. In many tribal cultures, women have been essentially banished from the public sphere in order to control their virtue. We see this in strict Islamic cultures today, where women are punished for speaking to men besides their husbands and relatives. Throughout the Bible, the Israelites have been obsessed with controlling the sexual behavior of their girls and women—this is why there are so many darn laws about female purity, sexual misbehavior, and intermarriage. The Israelite women seem to have played no role in public life. Except for Moses’ sister Miriam (and, in passing, Noa and her sisters), there hasn’t been a single woman since the Exodus who’s had any kind of public responsibility. So, why do we read about prostitutes? Perhaps because prostitutes were the only women involved in the Israelites’ public life.

The last interesting facet of Rahab’s story is that she is rewarded for lying. I’ve frequently heard of the missionary tactic used by Ray Comfort where the missionee is asked “Have you ever told a lie?” If the answer is yes, the missionee is declared a bad person worthy of hell (and, therefore, in need of divine mercy, Christ’s sacrifice, and all the rest of the spiel).

This is certainly backed throughout our reading: Exodus 20:16, Exodus 23:1-7, Leviticus 6:2-4, Leviticus 19:11, and Deuteronomy 5:20. Nowhere is there any mention of mitigating factors. Nowhere is the “Anne Frank is hiding in your attic and the Nazis are at your door” thought-experiment invoked.

And yet when we see characters lie in the narrative, they are almost invariably on the Goodie side. Whether it’s Jacob tricking his brother out of his inheritance (Genesis 27), or the midwives lying to the authorities to save the Israelite babies (Exodus 1:18-20), or Rahab lying to save the Israelite spies.

This is precisely why, if we’re going to be talking about biblical morality, we cannot employ the “clobber-text” method. If we look only at the rules and not the narrative, we do not get to see the complete picture, because while the rules may be defined and, often, very stark, the narratives fill in the missing nuance.

In other words, Ray Comfort is wrong. Lying, alone, is not a sin condemned by God. Over and over again, God is pleased with lying, he even commands it (as in Exodus 12 where he gets the Israelites out of Egypt under a false pretext).

I really enjoyed Rahab’s narrative. It’s full of narrative details (the house built into the wall to facilitate the spies’ escape, the red thread, the hiding of the spies in the flax, etc.) the likes of which we haven’t seen since Genesis!

Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth (First Thoughts)

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I mentioned that I was helping to organize a debate between mythicist Richard Carrier and historicist Zeba Crook. Well, it finally happened!

Crook was delightful, as always. I hadn’t heard Carrier speak before, but he was quite good as well. A little snarky at times (though far less so than in his blog), but the material was interesting enough to get through that.

Jesus of Nazareth

One of my pet peeves in debates, generally, is that the person who machine-gun fires the most nonsense tends to come out looking like the winner. To get around that, we the speakers share their notes ahead of time. The result was absolutely perfect, exactly what I wanted to see! Even better, in fact! Both speakers seemed to work together to lay the groundwork for the subject, and then both were fully prepared (with slides!) to address their “opponent’s” arguments during the rebuttal section.

The chemistry between the two speakers was very friendly, very respectful. They both seemed to approach the question from the idea that there isn’t a whole lot of evidence to work with and that it’s a legitimate debate to have, simply differing on which data points to give more weight to and how to interpret their meaning. Coming out of it, I have a lot more respect for the mythicist position (Carrier’s form of it, anyway – even he admitted that the bulk of the position’s proponents are dogmatic to an extreme. I believe the word used was “crazy”).

Unfortunately, I was doing the time-keeping, so I wasn’t able to take notes. There was a lot of evidence presented, on both side, that I’d like to be able to evaluate when I have the sources (and time) at my disposable. Thankfully, the AtheismTV team was there to film the debate, and should be posting the footage to their YouTube channel within the next couple weeks. I’ll post it as soon as I see it.

It was all round a magnificent event. I had so much fun that it took eons to fall asleep when I got home, I just just too buzzed from all the excitement.

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