Reading the Bible, Part 3

Fewer babies have been killed recently. Yay for improvements! Letís keep the topics going.

Elijahís Challenge:

This story comes from Chapter 18 of the first book of Kings. The background is that a king named Ahab had been killing Godís prophets and supporting gods from other cultures. The prophet Elijah and another hundred prophets in hiding were the last of Godís supporters while newcomers Baal and Asherah had 450 and 400 prophets, respectively. Coming out of hiding, Elijah issues a challenge: God versus Baal! Both Elijah and Baalís prophets will each prepare a bull sacrifice and whichever god can magically set his bull on fire is the real true god! The people thought that was a good idea. Letís pause right there. They. Thought. That. Was. A. Good. Idea. That really makes me wonder: exactly what had Baal done for those people up to that point in time? Had anyone bothered to test his existence before then? Are people so stupid that theyíll worship anything for no reason besides social pressure? Anyway, Elijah lets the 450 Baal prophets go first. So the Baal prophets chopped up the bull and made a nice little sacrifice. They proceeded to spend several hours jumping around, calling out to Baal for an answer, and cutting themselves with swords, as was their custom. Letís stop right there. Remember that these people are not just some strange outsiders. They represented the majority opinion of Godís own people. And they thought that cutting themselves with a sword would cause a clearly made-up being to appear and set a dead cow on fire. Never, ever forget that this is the level of intelligence youíre dealing with when you think about the writers of the Bible. Yet for thousands of years, billions of people have trusted those ancient Israelites in the foundation of their reality and morality. Thatís insane! Anyway, the story ends with Baal not showing up. God set his bull on fire and won the contest, if you can believe that. Itís funny how itís never been repeated near a video camera.

Racist Exiles:

The Bible gets pretty boring after Elijah. The rest of Kings is like a broken record. Good king likes God. Bad king allows other gods to be worshipped. Somebody tells everybody to pay more attention to God. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And then you get to Chronicles and it retells the exact same stories again. The monotony is only broken when Babylon conquers Israel and takes most of the population away from the Promised Land. Fortunately for Israel, Babylon is then conquered by Persia. The kings of Persia generously allow the Israelites to go home and rebuild. The stories are narrated by the prophet Ezra and the governor Nehemiah. It was nice to get a coherent storyline thatís low on magical nonsense and has a chance of being corroborated with other culturesí written histories. Both Ezra and Nehemiah talk about the troubles of travelling and rebuilding with hostile neighbors, but Israel is ultimately protected by Persia and their own wits. They spend a lot of time talking about how hard it was to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and how they had to post guards and deal with sabotaging neighbors and three Persian kings to get everything done, but then it says the wall was finished in less than two months, so I donít know what all that complaining was about. Anyhow, I was shocked by the unbridled racism of Ezra. In the forty years between when the Israelites were removed from their land to the time that they returned, some of them had marriages and children with people from other cultures. If Ezra had any principles that included love, equality, understanding, or empathy, this would be no problem. Instead, heís the enforcer of rigid tribalism. Ezra is heartbroken by all the race-mixing with the dirty, dirty, dirty pagans. Fortunately, the people have a solution! Everybody decides to send away their non-Israelite wives and children. Wow. I donít think even the Ku Klux Klan would be racist enough to ask a man to abandon his wife and children in the desert. A study guide called The Bible Panorama says ďNo doubt God makes adequate and gracious provision for those women and their children.Ē Again, wow. Only in a world with religion can you rationalize divorcing an innocent spouse and abandoning children as acceptable, much less a good thing. As a husband and a father, I canít imagine doing either. Yet for thousands of years, billions of people have trusted those ancient Israelites in the foundation of their reality and morality. Thatís insane!