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Live Blogging the Bible: 2 Chronicles

February 8, 2014 5 comments

by Noah Lugeons

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “Live Blogging the Bible” segments, so for that I apologize.  I have to admit that I’m only doing this one because I’m desperately searching for an excuse to do something other than read the damn thing.  The blinds are wiped down, the cat pan is changed, the floors are mopped, the dishes are done and I’m running out of excuses.

I can’t possibly express how horribly boring this book is.  I’ve been told by sources that I trust (perhaps out of desperation) that this is the low-point in the book; that Chronicles is the most boring it gets and that I can read the rest of the bible with the consolation that at least I’m not reading Chronicles again.

Now, consider what I’m saying here.  We’re talking about a book that has managed to have a cumulative 1.8 pages worth of interesting stuff in the last 634.  It’s a book known for long, pointless, repetitive genealogies.  We spent 16 chapters of Exodus learning the dimensions of a tabernacle.  We spent half of Numbers counting Jews.  We spent nearly all of Deuteronomy revisiting the dullest parts of the previous four books.  And Chronicles is boring compared to that.

How does it achieve this almost preternatural level tedium?  To understand that, we have to briefly revisit the books of Samuel and Kings.

Both of these are split into two books in Christian bibles.  This was actually born out of necessity, as the histories recounted in them were so long that if they were contained on a single scroll it would be cumbersome.  Those two books sketch out a supernatural pseudo-history of the kingdom of Israel that is obsessively concerned with cumbersome details like how many nails were in each plank that held the molten sea outside the temple.  And if you wrote either one of those out on a scroll it would be too heavy for the average person to carry.

For four long, excruciating books, we learned about the lineage of Israel’s kings with spasmodic details sprinkled in ranging from the mundane to the miraculous; each schizophrenic biography ending with assurances that there were even more pointless details recorded in the annals of the kings of Judah.

We read one book every three weeks, so for twelve weeks we were reading through this extended and pointless fantasy.  1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings.  And when we finally reached the end, we get to 1 and 2 Chronicles, which just retell the same damn story again, with ever more monotonous details.  So it’s like reading a phone book and then reading the Reader’s Digest version of that same phone book.

Which brings about the obvious question of why the fuck it’s there to begin with.  It adds almost no new information, subtly contradicts the earlier account and makes me want to wash my blinds.  Why the hell did nobody ever make the executive decision to cut this one?

Think about the amount of time and effort that went into copying and recopying the bible back in the pre-Xerox days.  Monks were hand-copying this damn thing day after day and it never occurred to anyone that Chronicles wasn’t worth saving?  For fuck’s sake if you were married to the book count you could have dispatched them with a sentence like “See the four previous books”.

I might be selling the biblical editors short, of course.  It’s entirely possible that they knew exactly what they were doing when they kept this book in.  Perhaps it’s purpose is to dissuade anyone from reading on.  Perhaps it was meant as a firewall to keep readers from completing the book.  After all, if you give up halfway through you could be left with the impression that all the answers they were talking about came at the end.

If You Insist on Reading Along…

February 3, 2014 4 comments

by Noah Lugoens

As of this afternoon, I’m the proud owner of an autographed, first edition copy of The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.  Huge thanks to author Steve Wells and the folks over at Atheists On Air for making it happen.  This is a beautifully bound book, but it’s also the most useful resource I could imagine while we’re constructing our tri-weekly Holy Babble segments.  The book presents the biblical text, but Steve Wells has painstakingly and exhaustively cataloged all the contradictions, sexism, violence and laugh out loud lunacy so even when you start reading in that begat-induced catatonic state, you won’t miss any of the horror or hypocrisy.

Of course, when I got it, I flipped straight to 1 Chronicles, as this is the book of the bible I’ve read most recently.  Sure enough, after only a glance, I was wishing I’d had this work available when we were doing our last “Holy Babble” segment.  At the very least I’d have liked to know that in Wells’ estimation it was the most boring book of the bible (and, in his words, “maybe the most boring book in all of literature”), so I’d know that it wasn’t going to bottom out any deeper.

We’ve said a number of times that on the Holy Babble , we’re reading the bible so you don’t have to.  Despite that intention and our constant caveats about how mind-numbingly boring it is, I know that many of our listeners are reading along.  I don’t necessarily endorse it, but I know that it’s happening.

So if you can’t resist the temptation of multiple chapters of genealogies and psychotic divine vengeance, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of Wells’ book.  I provided an Amazon link once already, but here it is again in case you missed it.  It’s definitely going to be the easiest way to get all you want to get out of the experience, but let’s face it, if you’re spending money buying a bible there’s a good chance you’re paying to support something that you fundamentally oppose.  This gives you an opportunity to put that money in the hands of somebody who definitely won’t use it to accidentally fund child-rape-conspiracy settlements.

Live Blogging the Bible: Joshua 2

August 26, 2013 3 comments

by Noah Lugeons

On the one hand, I’m happy to finally meet a women in the bible who doesn’t fuck anything up, get raped, get turned into a leper or perform any defensive penis surgery.  On the other hand, she’s a prostitute that sells out her own hometown to a couple of strangers because she’s afraid of them.

Meet Rahab, everyone, somebody who would probably, in retrospect, wish they’d left her profession out of the bible.  No before we get into the non-heroic actions of this biblical hero, I’d like to draw attention to an element of the story that never occurred to me until I actually read it.  We all know the story, of course, but for those who don’t recognize the name, this is the story leading to the fall of Jericho.  Joshua sends a couple of spies to scope out the city and when the king here’s of their presence, he sends his men to find them and kill them.

Rahab the friendly prostitute elects to hide the men, lie about their whereabouts, mislead the royal guard and assist them in their escape.  In exchange, she asks that they spare the life of their family.  And to the credit of the women and baby and elderly people murdering Israelites, they keep their promise.

So lets start at the beginning, shall we?  Joshua sends a couple of spies into Jericho to check out the cities defenses.  So where do they go?  Straight to a whorehouse!  This part is usually glazed over and I’m sure most Christians and Jews think that they just took refuge in a whore’s house when the kings men came after them, but that is clearly not the case.  The king sent men to this whorehouse because he heard the spies were at the whorehouse.  Straight from god:

Then Joshua, son of Nun, sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies saying “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”  So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there.

That’s the opening line of the story.  It’s not until after that the king hears about their presence.  Joshua sent two spies to check out the town and they decided to check out Rahab’s vagina first.

But that’s not the point.  It’s just damn funny when you contrast it to the way these fundies feel about vaginas.

So the king sends his men, Rahab hides them in the roof of her house, misdirects the soldiers and sends them on their way.  The spies go back and report everything to Joshua, then they have some dinner, cross the Jordan, circumcise themselves, observe passover and then attack the city.  We might get into the pre-battle circumcision in a later article, but for now I’m just going to say I don’t recommend it as a military strategy.  The reason I bring it up is that a bunch of shit happens between Rahab discovering that her hometown was about to be massacred and the actual massacre.

She had plenty of time to warn people.  She had plenty of time to encourage her close friends to get the fuck out of Dodge.  She had plenty of time to tell the king so that the city could be ready to defend the attack.  But even failing all this, she also had a house that was a recognized sanctuary.  The spies told her anybody in the house would not be killed, but anyone outside it would.

I’d like to think that if I was in that situation, you’d open my door after the battle and it would be packed like a fucking clown car.  But we fast forward to chapter 6 and the only people in the house are her family.  Really?  Not one person outside the Rahab bloodline was worth sparing there?

I guess I shouldn’t complain.  It’s one of the few acts in this book that isn’t horrible on every level.  As bad as aiding in the genocide of your home town is, it’s the least reprehensible thing anybody’s done in the book of Joshua so far.

Don’t Try This at Home

August 6, 2013 3 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I didn’t think we needed the disclaimer at the beginning of the Holy Babble segment.  I thought our commentary would leave little question that the bible is a horrible, tedious, frustrating, dull, insipid book and that nobody should ever voluntarily subject themselves to it.  But apparently we didn’t make it quite clear enough.

A friend of mine and recent convert to the show told me the other day that we’d convinced him to buy a bible and give it a try.

I was flabbergasted by the statement.  I don’t know what we said that would have “convinced” him, as I tried to make it clear that we were living in a constant state of regretting this commitment.  I told him that despite all the laughs and good times we might seem to be having during the segment is an act.

But he was determined.  He didn’t know there was a talking donkey in the bible until he heard our Numbers segment and he wanted to know what other Disney characters were going to show up.  He pointed to the diatribe I did about how few Christians actually read the bible and while he isn’t a religious person himself, he was raised Catholic and had somehow missed the whole bible thing during his upbringing.

And while I applaud him in this effort, I certainly don’t recommend it.  There are so many better ways one could spend their time, so many books far more worth a read, so many pursuits that would leave a person less inspired to beat their head against a solid object.  So let me try to make this clear: We’re reading the bible so you don’t have to.  If you want to read along at home, that’s fine, but I recommend a helmet for the sake of safety.

Live Blogging the Bible: Deuteronomy 12:31

July 17, 2013 77 comments

by Noah Lugeons

God loves a good genocide.

I can’t help but feel like they’re going out of their way to make this god character an asshole so that it’ll be more cathartic when he’s redeemed, but I’ve gotta be honest, even with 61 books to do it, I’m not sure if there’s any way they can make me like this guy.

So in chapter 12 god reminds us why we can’t realistically entertain the “moral guide” notion of the bible by spelling out all the good reasons to thoroughly destroy every member and memory of the cities they’re all about to ravage.  This is late in the chapter after a thrilling and detailed reminiscence about proper meat-eating etiquette.

God’s explaining why you shouldn’t worship any other gods or even know about how other people worship, which he reminds us of no fewer than infinity times in the book of Deuteronomy.  And in an apparent effort to soften the blow of killing women and children, livestock and slaves, then burning homes, buildings, temples, possessions, clothes and any remnant of a civilization to the ground, Moses takes a minute to remind us just how horrible these societies are:

You must not [worship their gods] because every abhorrent thing they have done for their gods.  They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

My first thought was of Abraham taking ol’ Isaac for a midnight stroll so the actual depth of the irony of this passage took me a second to process.  God’s in the middle of telling them to kill all of these heathens, even the children.  Their god is telling them that they have to burn their enemy’s children because their enemies would burn their children for their god.

But it’s totally still divinely inspired, though…

Live Blogging the Bible: Deuteronomy 10:21

July 16, 2013 1 comment

by Noah Lugeons

Deuteronomy is boring compared to the other books of the bible.

That’s like saying someone is fat by sumo standards; ugly for a game show contestant; stupid for a CNN anchor.  This thing is painfully, brutally, nut-crunchingly boring.

The book consists of three speeches that Moses gives and they have the feel of speeches you would give if there was no clock running on your last words.  It has all the intrigue of a filibuster.  It’s like reading about people studying people watching paint dry.

And if anything, I’m overselling the intrigue.

So when I say that I found verse 10:21 interesting, I feel that I should begin by qualifying the broad spectrum of relative application of the word interesting one must employ to apply it to something in Deuteronomy.  We’re in the first act of Moses’ second speech where he’s rehashing the rehashing we were doing earlier and he’s reminding all the Israelites just what a bad mother fucker god is.

So he drops this line:

He is your praise; he is your god, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.

This is not the first time Moses appeals to empirical evidence to convince people of his holiness.  God was more than happy to devour houses in Numbers or send gnats and flies in Exodus or make rocks bleed Aquafina in Leviticus whenever anybody started doubting his royal godness.  Granted, he would then curse them, plague them and bury them in pheasants or something, but he wasn’t shy about appearing as a mountain of fire or wandering around the encampments in cloud form.

Clearly, then, god understands that we need to see some proof.

It seems reasonable to me to ask why it was reasonable for this one minuscule sliver of humanity to demand proof from god, but now that we have cameras and science and a million ways to verify the miraculousness of a miracle, god can’t be bothered.  It’s somehow beneath him.  Now that it’s easier than ever to communicate with the whole world at once.  Now that it’s easier than ever to prove himself in a way that would satisfy even the most skeptical among us.

The standard retort of the theist is that god wants us to have faith, but that doesn’t sound like the genocidal ass-stain I know and love from the bible.  He was all about flexing his muscle.  What, did he mature?  Was he imperfect back then and then grew up?  Hard to imagine a timeless being maturing significantly in the eye-blink of human existence, but it seems like the strongest thread they have to hold onto.

Anyway, back to work.  Somehow we’ve still gotta figure out how to do a segment about a book that does nothing but rehash shit we’ve already made fun of. 

Live Blogging the Bible: Numbers 15:32-36

June 26, 2013 1 comment

by Noah Lugeons

My normal methodology for the “Live Blogging the Bible” series is to jot things down whenever something strikes me as unusually brutal, illogical or inconsistent.  That’s why I didn’t wind up writing anything about Leviticus: There was no part that was any more brutal, illogical or inconsistent than any other part.

But in Numbers the blog-worthy segments basically speak for themselves.  The book is largely filled with boring censuses and details of various sacrifices, but there are a few segments that just leap out of the page and say, “What the fuck am I doing here.”

Obviously, 15:32-36 is such a passage.  But to truly understand how jarring this part is, let me start by giving you the parentheses.  Immediately before this, we just spent 31 verses repeating shit we heard before about sacrifices and offerings.  Immediately after this, god expresses a fondness for tassels.

And what strange occurrence rests between these two relatively benign snippets?  Why, the brutal murder of some stranger the Jews drug in from the forest.  It would seem that this treacherous bastard had the audacity to pick up sticks on the Sabbath.  So they stoned him to death.

Yeah, you read that right.  He picked up sticks.  I’m not exaggerating the triviality of this.  The charges against him read, in full:

…a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day.

So they drag this poor, hapless (and now firewood-less) guy before Moses and because of the unique nature of his offense, Moses checks with God and asks what should be done with this heathen.  And god’s prescription is for everyone to gather together and throw rocks at him until he dies.

And oh yeah, he likes tassels.  I shit you not, the gear shift into the next paragraph is exactly this (NSRV):

Numbers 15:36

The whole congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Numbers 15:37&38

The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner.

Which is, I believe, God talk for “Squirrel!”