Jungle Fever (Ezra 7-9)

Ezra, a scribe and a prophet, is tasked by King Artaxerxes of Persia to go to Babylon and collect some goods in the forms of gold and silver mainly. Artaxerxes sends Ezra along with a little note that basically says, “Listen to this guy. He’s for real.” Sort of like when your Mom sent you to Beckers for cigarettes with a note. Ah, Beckers. You could really stretch your dollar there as a kid.

Ezra takes a big team with him to Babylon. As a leader, he’s a real buzzkill because he keeps making everyone go on fasts, which is impractical for a bunch of guys who hauling around precious metals. Maybe he wasn’t aware of the atomic weight of gold. It doesn’t say but I assume that these guys aren’t getting paid much so they at least deserve a hot lunch.

When Ezra gets back into town an interesting issue pops up: mixed marriages. Hmm. Ezra hears that there has been some intermingling of such VASTLY DIFFERENT groups as the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. SCANDAL. Upon receiving this new, he says he “rent [his] garments and [his] mantle, and pulled hair from [his] head and beard, and sat appalled” (Ezr 9:3). UNNECESSARY. Sitting appalled is particularly funny to me since it’s the exact same reaction of my roommates cat whenever we dress him up in costumes.

Maybe it’s just Ezra’s bias, but it would seem that the Bible comes down heavily on mixed marriages. “Therefore, give not your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.” (Ezr 9:12) Hmm. I don’t quite know what to say. Chalk it up to the time period the Bible was written in and ignore it? If yes, why not the rest of its prescriptions?

I have nothing else to add here.

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Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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IHOL, International House of the Lord (Ezra 4-6)

The house of the Lord seems to be the focal point in much of the Bible. How many times can it be rebuilt? And – to get philosophical – is it still the same temple if it’s been so frequently reconstructed that none of its orginal material is present? Is the house of the Lord Neurath’s ship? If you’re unfamiliar, Neurath’s ship is a metaphor that asks that if a mariner has to rebuilt his ship, plank by plank, while at sea, will he still be aboard the same vessel once the last of the original planks is gone. Many modern-day epistemologists say yes. Of course, the metaphor is used in reference to what we know, which is without foundation (original planks) because it’s historically conditioned (new planks). They’re not talking about actual, physical things like temples, ships, wigs, flower arragements or decks of card.

Yes. I’m aware of the fact that it’s Friday night and I’m reading the Bible and talking epistemology. Drag.

Anyways, the Jews want to rebuild the house of the Lord (again) and various kings of Persia thwart them for whatever reason (or no reason at all; I can’t really tell). When Darius ascends to Persia’s throne he gives them the thumbs-up. As a matter of fact, once construction is underway, things get serious. For example, a decree is enacted that states that if anyone interferes with this house of the Lord business then “a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled upon it, and his house shall be made a dunghill” (Ezr 6:11). Harsh. I’m no Antoni Gaudi but in my experience, beams from houses are pretty thick, making impalement one hell of a way to die.

Keep 'em coming.

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 1:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Keep it Together (Ezra 1-3)

I always get mildly excited when I start a new chapter of the Bible, in the hopes that it will be less boring and crammed with names and details than the previous one. The excitment is on par with what I feel when I see that I can get fifty times the Optimum points if I spend over fifty dollars at Shoppers Drug Mart on a Saturday. I often take advantage of these points days and walk out with my arms full of toilet paper which makes me uncomfortable since I don’t like people perceiving me as the kind of person who spends a lot of time in the washroom.

No such luck. The first few chapters of the Book of Ezra are dull, dull, DU-HULL.

These chapters concern Cyrus, king of Persia, who turns out to be kind of a patron of the Jews. I guess he feels bad for them and he helps them rebuild the house of the Lord (again?) and escape from captivity in Babylon. There are no interesting descriptions of how the Jew break free of the chains that Nebuchadnezzar put them in and, in any case, he doesn’t put up much of a protest when they leave. Maybe he’s softened in his old age. But the Bible does list all the families who manage to return to Jerusalem. And it is a long list. LA-ONG.

Anyways, once the house of the Lord is all shined up (again), everybody celebrates big time and “many shouted aloud for joy; so that the people could not distinguish the sound of joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for people shouted with a great shout” (Ezr 3:13). I don’t know. That doesn’t sound good to me. I want joyful shouting to sound like joyful shouting and weeping to sound like weeping and, by extension, screaming to sound like screaming and laughing to sound like laughing. It’s usually not a good thing when any of these get mixed up.

Acceptable – joyful shouting + laughing

Not Acceptable – joyful shouting + screaming OR weeping + screaming OR joyful shouting + screaming

Weeping and screaming together is especially bad. When I cry – and I don’t that often in my waking life (that’s another story) – I always hope to look like Jackie Kennedy at JFK’s funeral: poised, with a single tear streaking my face. Clearly emotional but keeping it together.

Break-ups are the worst.

Published in: on October 26, 2011 at 2:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Leftovers (Chronicles 2 34-36)

After a cavalcade of crappy kings, Josiah takes over Judah when he’s eight years old. Child pageants had given him the confidence required to rule effectively.

During renos on the house of the Lord (renos: do they ever end?), Hilkiah, the high priest, stumbles across the book of laws that God had gifted to Moses. He passes it on to Shaphan, the king’s secretary, to read to the king who “rent[s] his clothes” when he realizes that his people aren’t abiding by the laws. Renting one’s clothes seems to be the only available reaction to disturbing news. No one has fainted or peed their pants, not even once. Too bad.

Josiah decides to make a new convenant with God, like hippies who force all their friends and family over to watch them reaffirm their marriage vows and eat weird salads after. He throws a big shin-dig for passover with way too much food (i.e., he orders the sacrifice of thirty thousand lambs). No doubt there were countless of repetitions of the following rigmarole:

“You have to take some leftovers home with you”

“No, no, no. We couldn’t”

“You have to. Here. Just take a little something”

“What about the tupperware?”

“Forget the tupperware. It’s old. Keep it”

“Really. I don’t want your gross food. It’s going to sit in the fridge for 4-5 days and then when I remember it’s still there, I’m going to throw it out”

“I’m forcing this food upon you because I’m an emotional over-eater and I can’t be surrounded by it. Take the fucking food”

Some of that dialogue was internal. Anyways, Josiah is an okay king but his undoing is he doesn’t know how to mind his own business. For no reason, he decides to interfere with a battle between Neco, king of Egypt and an unnamed opponent. He’s so intent on participating in the battle that he even disguises himself. What an idiot. He gets shot with lots of arrows and dies.

Here is the next string o’ kings: Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. To keep this short and sweet, all I’ll mention is that they’re all crappy and they all run into trouble with the Babylonian king who conquers them, takes their fancy things and makes a lot of their subjects slaves. Now, on to the Book of Ezra because I’m so done with Chronicles.

Look good? It IS!

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 2:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Can’t See the Lord for the Trees (Chronicles 2 31-33)

In Chapter 31 Hezekiah goes on a rampage. He was due for one. He tears down all places of worship devoted to other gods, including the Asherim, which are just circles of trees. Seems a tad unnecessary since you could probably repurpose those trees for fun stuff like treehouses and hanging laundry to dry.

After that episode, Hezekiah divides up all the priests according to the jobs they do (and won’t do – get it?). He also contributes a bunch of his own stuff for a variety of burnt offerings, some of which are for the new moons. New moons? Sounds vaguely pagan. I know this because I used to consider my religion to be Wicca when I was sixteen. What I liked about Wicca – what I still like about Wicca – is that it has this real bitch-slap of a karmic rule: whatever you do comes back to you times three. In Hinduism, it just comes back to you but in Wicca, it comes back to you times three. Makes you think about all the times you were too lazy to recycle.

Anyways, Senneacherib, king of Assyria invades Judah next. Hezekiah tells his forces not to worry about those huge, hulking, hoarding Assyrians because the Lord is on their side. Whatever. That wouldn’t calm my nerves. In all honesty, every single time I go to Wonderland I bring an extra pair of underwear because I’m convinced that it will be too much and I’ll wet myself. Hezekiah’s eventual victory has more to do with the fact that he’s smart enough to cut off the Assyrians’ water supply, not God.

After Hezekiah kicks it, his son Mannaseh, who is twelve years old, takes over. That’s a great idea. Of course, it’s a hot mess, with Mannaseh bringing back all the idolatrous worship of other gods and cavorting about with mediums and wizards. Plus, he does a little soothsaying of his own on the side. Scandalous. A soothsayer has always been one of my backup costume ideas for Halloween since all it involves is a billowy robe and a bad attitude. What’s more, if you’re bloated from eating too much dairy or something then you can hide your bloat and NOT hide the fact that you feel badly about yourself by expressing general negativity. Win-win.

Beware the aisles of dairy.

Published in: on October 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hope You Like Lamb (Chronicles 2 30)

Hezekiah decides to throw a big party for Passover and invite all of Israel and Judah to celebrate in the house of the Lord. He sends out a lengthy proclamation that is essentially a threat. In it, he implores the invitees: “Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord… that his fierce anger may turn away from you” (Chr 2 30:8). Not exactly straight out of Emily Post’s Etiquette. Well, can I bring anything? How about a fruit platter?  

Lamb, apparently, is the only thing on the menu next to gross, tasteless unleavened bread. I wouldn’t mind that, personally, since lamb falls under the category of “Meats I Never Cook Myself and Shall Always Order if on the Menu”. What’s more problematic is that many of the guests did not sanctify themselves and therefore special arrangements have to be made. Showing up unsanctified to a feast is the biblical equivalent of being that annoying vegan in a restaurant who makes the server go back to the kitchen seventeen times to check on the ingredients in the mayonnaise in their wrap. If it’s real mayonnaise then I can’t have it because it probably has egg but if it’s second-rate mayonnaise then it’s probably canola-oil based and I can have it… can you check with the kitchen to see if your restaurant uses second-rate vegan mayonnaise? Thanks so much! I can make fun of vegans in this way because I used to be one (for eleven [wasted] years).

Because some of the guests are unsanctified upon arrival the Levites (also known as slaves) have to kill extra lambs. What a pain. Surpisingly, the Passover party is a big hit despite the limited menu and Hezekiah keeps it going for an extra seven days. Seven DAYS! This amazes me since I always give myself a little pat on the back everytime I make it past midnight at a party. That’s why I could never live in Montreal. I went to visit my friend Kelly there and couldn’t get over the fact that people only started rolling in at eleven o’clock. But that time I was nearly done. Heavens – I had already had ONE FULL GLASS OF RED WINE.

The only thing silencing this lamb is its own deliciousness.

Published in: on October 19, 2011 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Don’t Fill Up on Breadsticks (Chronicles 2 28-29)

I seem to have detected a pattern in Chronicles. One king does not do “what is right in the eyes of the Lord” and then another does. One good. One bad. It’s very predictable but not in a satisfying, Olive Garden kind of way.

Ahaz is bad. Among his transgressions is making molten images of Baal. So God sicks the Syrians upon Judah and tons of people get killed or captured. Ahaz has to go running to the king of Assyria and pay tribute to him in order to get his help, which he doesn’t because his tribute wasn’t showy enough or something.

Hezekiah is next in line. He’s good. He pretties up the house of the Lord (although he outsources much of the grunt work to the Levites). Since the house of the Lord is not only physically dirty but metaphorically and morally dirty, numerous cleansing rituals have to take place: “They gathered their bretheren, and sanctified themselves, and went in as the king had commanded, by the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord. The priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and they brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord; and the Levites took it and carried it out to the brook Kidron” (Chr 2 29:15-16).

As someone who enjoys cleaning, I have to say there is something very rewarding about actually seeing the dirt that you’ve nabbed. This is the main reason why the Swiffer is such a successful product. And those Biore strips that you put across the bridge of your nose and then peel off to reveal all the blackheads they’ve ripped out of your face. Unlike the priests in the passage above, I usually don’t clean myself before cleaning although I can understand the reasoning behind this. Usually I like to clean post-workout. I feel that this is maximally efficient. One – I won’t get any sweatier than I already am and Two – I’ll need to shower anyways and I think this is an especially good thing after touching my toilet.

TGIF.

Published in: on October 14, 2011 at 2:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Is It Because I Have Leprosy? (Chronicles 2 24-27)

Joash decides it’s time to spruce up the house of the Lord. Frankly, when isn’t it time to spruce up the house of the Lord? The rulers of Judah are like my mother, who cyclically redecorates: when all the rooms have been decorated then it’s time to start the process over again with the first room (so long peach bathroom!). Constant redecortating requires funds so Joash gets some of his cronies to do his dirty work and go out and collect some money in a big wooden chest. All this is under the supervision of his main priest, Jehoiada.

Anyways, the house of the Lord is in tip-top shape for a few years and then Jehoiada dies and everything goes to pot. Jehoiada’s son Zechariah gets pissy about this and tells everybody off. He is promptly stoned. To make matters worse, the Syrians invade and kill Joash by conspiring with some of his servants. When his son Amaziah comes to power, he dispatches with those servants but not, notably, the children of those servants. This marks a huge step forward in moral reasoning. It’s like this: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, or the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall die for his own sin” (Chr 2 24:4). Not exactly turn-the-other-cheek but progressive nonetheless.

Amaziah goes to war a lot. The biggest battle is one with Joah, king of Israel (not the one mentioned above), who creams him (haven’t heard that expression in a while, have you?). After Amaziah dies an ignoble death, his son Uzziah becomes king of Judah. He makes a major faux pas by burning incense in the house of the Lord. Apparently, only priests – the sons of Aaron – are supposed to do that. Uh-oh. Some priest reproaches him for it and he’s like, “whatever,” so God gives him leprosy on his forehead on the spot. BLAMMO! His son Jotham takes over for him because lepers have a difficult time being accepted as authority figures. Just like those chubby trainers you see in Goodlife. I’m not buying a package of ten – are you?

It's serious.

 

 

Published in: on October 11, 2011 at 2:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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The First Case of IBS (Chronicles 2 21-23)

When Jehoshaphat dies, Judah falls into the hands of his eldest son, Jehoram, who starts off on the wrong foot by murdering all his brothers and a few princes of Israel to boot. As expected, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Chr 2 21:6). That’s encouraging the worship of other gods in the main.

Elijah, a prophet, warns Jehoram of what’s to come: “…the Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day” (Chr 2 21:14-15). This passage inspired the popular church hymn “Day By Day”.

Elijah wasn’t kidding. Jehoram loses all that he has and suffers what I assume to be a frustrating combination of constipation and the runs for two years before his intestines fall out. It’s an ignoble death, to say the least.

I noticed a strange contradiction in the Bible. It says that all of Jehoram’s son die save his youngest, Jehoahaz. But a couple of paragraphs later it says that another son of his, Ahaziah, takes over for him when he dies. I guess there wasn’t too much fact-checking going on when the Bible was being written.

Ahaziah dies an untimely death by the hand of someone named Jehu and his infant son, Joash, has to be hidden for a while. In the meantime, Ahaziah’s mother – a WOMAN – reigns over Judah. This is new. Not much is said about what kind of job she did but it couldn’t have been a stellar one since a priest orders that she be mowed down with a sword just outside of the house of the Lord. Not inside. That would be gauche.

Damn glass ceiling.

Sometimes there's nothing casual about "business casual".

Published in: on October 5, 2011 at 12:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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You’re Using the Secret, Marge! (Chronicles 2 19-20)

Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, has safely returned to Jerusalem only to be blind-sided with a trick question by Jehu: “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” (Chr 2 19:2). Hmm. Let me think about that one. “No?” Jehoshaphat – 1. Jehu – 0. Jehu, a sore loser, spends the subsquent two paragraphs chewing Jehoshaphat out and telling him what a bad leader he is (jealous?).

In Chapter 19 of Chronicles 2, Jehoshaphat has to deal with enemy forces trying to invade. The Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites all unite against him. He decides to ready himself by going on a fast that all his people must also do. This is a bad idea, from a sports performance perspective. He gathers all his people together on the eve of the battle and the Spirit of the Lord enters a guy named Jahaziel who tells him, “Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s… You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf” (Chr 2 19:15-17). Oh – okay. Basically, the Spirit’s advice is this: “Show up deconditioned and woozy from lack of protein and just stand there and let it all happen”.

This sort of reminds me of the Secret, which is like praying in modern garb. As in praying, using the Secret involves wishing for something (if you’re using the Secret are you… secreting?). If you get the thing you wished for then the Secret works; if you don’t then it wasn’t meant to be and the Secret still works. Genius.

Anyway, there isn’t much of a battle at all. Jehoshaphat’s men move toward the invaders and find them all dead so it’s all pretty anti-climatic. It would have been cool if the Spirt of the Lord did something like make all the invaders attack themselves like when your older brother would take your hand and make you hit your own face (“Stop hitting yourself!”). I don’t have any siblings but this is immediately what comes to mind for me when I hear “older/big brother”.  At the end of the day, Jehoshaphat’s men pick over their bodies for valuables. There’s a passage that details all the goodies that they find which leads me to think that the Bible approves of grave robbing in certain contexts.

I'm using the Secret to lose 3lbs.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 1:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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