Refuge of the Damned (Joshua 15-20)

These chapters stick to which tribes inherited what land, and are of course, very boring.

In Joshua 20, however, a reoccurring idea… reoccurs. This is the idea that if you kill someone unwittingly, you are permitted to run away and take sanctuary in a nearby town to avoid anyone trying to take revenge on you. The Israelites set aside Kadesh in Galilee for such a purpose, probably because it could be described as “cosy” and “rustic”.

Today we call it manslaughter when someone kills someone else unwittingly. I was thinking: if we lived by biblical standards, what would be the place we’d effectively banish people to in these cases?

This place is called Coffee Time.

Or as I’ve always called it, the Refuge of the Damned.

Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 2:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Plain Ol’ Bad Writing (Joshua 12-14)

These chapters were trying. Not as bad as Genesis (so-and-so begot so-and-so), but bad.

Joshua 12 is a long list of all the different people that the Israelites slaughtered to get the special land that God promised them. It’s all just desert out there, isn’t it?

Joshua 13 kicks off with a sparkling example of good writing: “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years…” (Jos 13:1). Maybe they were trying to reach a certain word count. I’ve seen that before. I was a battleaxe of a TA a few years back and developed an acute sensitivity to bad writing, having marked one too many philosophy papers using the following introductory sentence: “Since the dawn of time, man has sought to answer the question of…”.

No word of a lie, I once marked a paper on empiricism versus rationalism that relied way too heavily on examples from the movie the Matrix. I think this kid believed the matrix was real because he ended his paper by saying something along the lines of “if you don’t believe me then check out this wicked website http://www.thematrixisreal.com”. Oh, and it was handwritten in pencil on lined paper. I wanted to fail this kid so bad but the limpdick of a professor thought I was being too critical. Really? What happened to standards? This is why bad writing is as rampant as herpes.

Here is a personal hero of mine:

Joshua 13 parcels out the different lands that the different tribes inherit. It’s about as exciting as the reading of a will if you’re the third cousin of the deceased and stand to inherit little more than commemorative plates. The funniest bit in all of this is that for some reason, the tribe of Levi gets nada because “the Lord God is their inheritance, as he said to them” (Jos 14:33). That’s a raw deal.

Despite his best efforts, Joshua actually gets criticized by God for not taking over enough land. From what I remember (through my ever-present haze of Shiraz), the only thing Joshua did was kill people and take over land. It’s like when you were a kid and you brought home your math test on which you scored 95% and your Dad was like, “Where’s the other 5%?”.

Maybe it was just one of those “Dad jokes” I couldn’t appreciate.

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 7:48 pm  Comments (1)  
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Making an Example (Joshua 10-11)

Joshua is a real asshole. He’s kind of like that new boss who feels that everyone’s been slacking up until this point and it’s time to clean house. In my experience, new bosses give you a lot more meaningless work to do and impress upon you the need to socialize with your co-workers by going somewhere depressing for cheap margharitas on a week night.

Obviously, the Israelites are scaring the shit out of their neighbours (by killing a lot of people). So five kings from around town get together and try to overthrow them. This is a bad idea, since God is clearly on the side of the Israelites and fixes every single battle. They lose. Natch. Whoever isn’t killed by the Israelites’ sword is killed by the tons of stones that God hails down on the battlefield.

Joshua punishes the five kings by confining them to a cave. After starving them for while (no last meal?), he gets some of his men to kill them by stepping on their necks and crushing them. What a way to go. “Do not be afraid or dismayed,” Joshua says to the neck-crushers, “be strong and of good courage; for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” (Jos 10:23). Powerful words.

The idea of a last meal is fascinating to me. I looked up some information on last meals and found some of the following tidbits:

– Florida inmates on death row have a twenty dollar limit (cheap)

– Timothy McVeigh ate an ice cream sundae as his last meal (chilling)

– Victor Feguer asked for a single olive (chic)

Everytime I have a stand-out meal I wonder if that’s what I would pick as my last meal if I were on death row. This is what my menu would look like (thankfully, I’m not a Florida resident):

– naan

– oily eggplant

– beef tenderloin

– mushroom orechiette with cheddar cheese (aged four years)

– shrimp wrapped in bacon

– an entire chocolate cheesecake

– Viva Puffs (the remind me of the cottage)

– bottle of Malbec

Published in: on April 26, 2011 at 1:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Run Away! Run Away! (Joshua 8-9)

Well, it’s Easter so I’m at my parents’ house using their alarmingly slow computer. It’s taken me approximately fifteen minutes to turn it on and get to this page. Pretty amazing. I almost could have etched this post in stone by now.

So the last two chapters saw Joshua sack the city of Jericho. Now he’s after Hai. This time he decides to have little fun (it’s all so easy with God on your side after all) and lay an ambush. He sends a bunch of his men out to Hai, which draws out the enemy, and then has them turn and run away screaming in feigned fear like women (or so I imagine). As the tactically-challenged enemy chases them down, a bunch of other men burn the city down. Good work, boys. The king of Hai is subjected to being held in a gibbet, which I learned is a T-shaped structure used for public hanging. After he gives up the ghost, his body is thrown on a pile of stones outside the city as if to say, “Proper.”

A lot of people have died on Joshua’s watch. A lot. The Gabonites are wise to this and dress up like they’re travellers from afar (probably using wiry mustaches) and try to convince the Israelites to let them serve them (instead of kill them, which is what they’d do if they knew that they were from neighbouring lands). This doesn’t fool Joshua and he pulls a lame power trip by saying, “Yeah, well, since you lied to us, you have to serve us now,” to which the Gabonites reply, “Okay, that’s what we were going for anyways.” The Gabonites get to chop wood and carry water as their main chores, becoming much more muscle-y and attractive in the process, I’m sure. Take that.

Published in: on April 25, 2011 at 12:09 am  Comments (2)  
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Mixed Messages (Joshua 6-7)

So many mixed messages (story of my life, right ladies?). I honestly don’t know how anyone drawing on the Old Testament for moral guidance is able to come up with cogent rules for conduct.

In Joshua 6, the Israelites take over the city of Jericho, their long-awaited promised land. They go about it ceremoniously, parading around with seven trumpets and seven sets of rams’ horns and seven priests. It’s sort of like that little dance that football players do after a touch-down (note: this is the extent of my knowledge of football). Then they kill everyone in Jericho that’s not them, including harmless old people, little babies and sadly, edible animals. Shame.

The one person the Israelites let live is Rahab, the harlot who housed the spies who where checking out the land. This contradicts a familiar narrative: sluts die first, no? If I may be so bold as to extract a lesson from the Old Testament, it’s that sluts aren’t so bad and maybe – just maybe – they are the ones who shall inherit the earth.

Sometime during this process of razing Jericho, a certain corrupt portion of the Israelites swipe a few valuables and hide them. God gets really mad and the next time the Israelites come face to face with one of their enemies (this time the Amorites,) they lose the battle. Hilariously, only thirty-six out of the three thousand who went to battle die, which really isn’t that bad at all, given that God’s chosen people are responsible for a death tally that’s got to be in the hundreds of thousands by now (but who’s counting?). Joshua, for one, doesn’t cope well at all: “Then Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust upon their heads” (Jos 7:8). I’ve tried a lot of things in times of stress – eating to the point of sickness being a personal favourite – but I’ve never found tearing my clothes off my body and throwing dust on my head to be helpful.

Anyways, the culprits are found and they’re promptly stoned. And then they’re burned. And then they’re stoned again. Literally. This makes God happy again.

Published in: on April 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Crossing the Jordan (Knight) (Joshua 3-5)

All this talk about crossing the Jordan river and entering the promised land keeps reminding me of Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block (who later transformed themselves into the virtually unrecognizable NKOTB). I remember intensely liking Jordan at age ten. Most of the girls in my class liked Joey but I thought he looked kind of like a girl, which is common for teen heartthrobs according to a great book by Naomi Wolff entitled Promiscuities. Psychologists hypothesize that teen heartthrobs tend to look like girls because at a young age, girls are not mentally or emotionally prepared for sexual encounters with manly men (obviously). Things like chest hair scare them off. And if you think of it, what ten year-old had a poster of Burt Reynolds hanging on her closet door? I consider my youthful liking of Jordan Knight an indication that I was something of a Kim Cattrall in my Grade 4 class. Of course, that burgeoning sexuality came to a grinding halt when I moved to Cobourg and couldn’t get my lady boner up for homophobic, semi-literate hockey players.

Anyways, I’m supposed to be talking about the Bible. Joshua leads his people across the Jordan river, which God dries up, repeating what Moses did with the Red Sea but in a way less spectacular fashion. Joshua comes up with this lame ceremony involving twelve stones representing the twelve tribes and lays them down by the riverbed after the crossing. C’mon. If you’re celebrating something, you’ve got to provide snacks. I was at Goodlife today. They’re always putting out plates of sandwiches and fruit to celebrate something. Today there were some sausages cut up and speared with toothpicks that I got pretty excited about.

Joshua names their campsite Gilgal and gets to circumcising since they’ve been travelling for a while and have missed a few circumcisions. It is kind of a hard procedure to perform on foot.

Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 2:19 am  Comments (2)  
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Good Riddance (Deuteronomy 33-34, Joshua 1-2)

Having gone out on a song (broadway-style), Moses somewhat unceremoniously goes up Mount Nebo (which has a very nice panoramic view of the land that he won’t be around to see his people inherit) and dies. I assumed he was in rough shape, being one hundred and twenty years old, but not so because “his eye was not dim; nor his natural force [semen] abated” (Deu 34:7). God thought he’d just shake up management, I guess. “We’re restructuring”.

In steps Joshua. He seems to be trying a little too hard and comes off as a bossypants. His first initiative is to send out spies to peruse the land God has been promising the Israelites (for like, ever). So he sends out these two jokers who wind up staying at a harlot’s house (“I swear all the inns were full!”). Turns out that she’s a pretty wily harlot, fortunately, because the king of Jericho comes searching for them (for trespassing?). The harlot hides them on the roof of her house – which would seem pretty conspicuous until she covers them with stalks of flax. Very smart. She’s probably harlot-ing to put herself through college.

I wanted to know the difference between a harlot and a whore, so I looked it up. A whore takes money; a harlot can, too, or is just promiscous and does it for free. So perhaps a harlot is a sporadically enterprising slut. Hmm.

These bumbling spies continue to be pursued as they check out their new digs. They use the harlot’s house as a safehouse and she – this is all her  – devises a way for them to get in and out in a clandestine manner. She ties a scarlet (no symbolism there) cord to her window for them to make use of. When the job’s done, they return to Joshua and hilariously try to sell him on the idea that they scared the shit out of everyone there: “Truly the Lord has given all the land in our hands; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land are faint-hearted because of us.” (Jos 2:24). Whatever, guys.

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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You Say Party! God Says Die! (Deuteronomy 30-32)

God’s got some exciting news for Moses: it’s time for him to die. God wants Joshua (who is much more “with it”) to take over leading the Hebrews. Out with the old, in with the new, as the saying goes. Moses, after all, is pushing one hundred and twenty years old and probably keeps telling people the same old boring stories.

To smooth things over, God suggests a sing-a-long. Oh, yes. God imparts a really verbose, drawn-out song to Moses that he should use to bless his people before his death. To give them a pre-show before the main event. There’s no sheet music in the Bible but judging by the amount of pages the song covers, I can imagine that it’s about the same length and cadence of a typical Tori Amos tune. Remember how long her cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit was? It was like, twenty-two minutes long. In case it’s not as fresh in your memory as it is mine, here it is:

Kudos to you if you made it through the whole song. It is painful, painful. I forgot that Tori Amos starts almost every one of her songs with a sharp intake of breath, as if she’s given herself a paper cut. That said, I still adore “Cornflake Girl”.

Anyways, the song that God wants Moses to sing contains tons of threats if the Hebrews don’t obey his commandments and refers to God as – no kidding – “the Rock”. For example: “The Rock, his work is perfect/for all his ways are justice” (Deu 32:4). Have you ever tried to give yourself a nickname? It doesn’t usually work. In high school, I pushed pretty hard for “Tank” because I was suffering from a female version of the Napoleon complex. I was really the only one who ever used it.

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Negative Reinforcement (Deuteronomy 27-29)

God decides it’s time for a rehashing of the Ten Commandments. For variety’s sake, he puts a more negative spin on them. For example: “Cursed be he who dishonors his father or his mother” (Deu 27:16). The orginal phrasing, “Thou shalt not…,” is like saying “Don’t do that, please” and this “Cursed be he…” business is like saying “Fuck you if you do that”. Harsh. This would never work on me; I always thought it was funny when I was a kid and a teacher would get REALLY mad and scream in an effort to control an uruly classroom. I remember a certain French teacher – Monsieur Desjardins – screaming and throwing a stapler across the room. Admittedly, French teachers in Ontario do not have an easy time and are literally driven to madness by Grade 8 students who, after years of core French, still only knew how to say “Je m’appelle Stefan (De Pinto)”. Man, that kid was dense.

God also throws this into the mix: “Cursed be he who misleads a blind man on the road” (Deu 27:18). Cursed be that guy for sure; he’s an asshole.

God mentions the good stuff that could happen to his people if they stick to his commandments. Stuff like having the “fruit of your body” be blessed. But it’s contained in a single paragraph in Deuteronomy 28. When it comes to the bad stuff that could happend, God goes on and on for pages. This much negative reinforcement goes against everything I’ve gleaned from reality television about dog training and child rearing (which isn’t much but I’m always in favour of holding strong, yet unsupported opinions).

Here’s some of the bad stuff that could happen:

– consumption

– fever

– inflammation

– drought

– mildew (OH NO!)

– blasting (it doesn’t say what kind)

– boils

– itchiness

– “…your ass shall be violently be taken away before your face…” (Deu 28:31)

– someone will have sex with your wife that isn’t you

– rain that isn’t rain but actually a kind of powder (haven’t heard of this one before – way to stay fresh, G)

– you’ll be forced to eat your own children (dark)

– a nation of stern countenance will rise up and overtake you (probably China)