Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ruth: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

In the days when Judges ruled Israel, before there was a king, there was a famine in the land.  An Israelite man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons moved to Moab, a neighboring kingdom, hoping to survive the famine.

The two sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth.  Then Elimelech and his sons died, and Naomi was left with only her two daughters-in-law.  By this time, the famine in Israel had ended, so Naomi returned home.  Ruth was kind and compassionate, and decided to accompany her mother-in-law.    She could see that Naomi was grieving, and that she had little chance of financial or social security.  So Naomi and Ruth lived together in Bethlehem.

There was a law in Israel that said that poor people and immigrants were allowed to pick up the leftover food from other people’s fields.  So Ruth went to this guy Boaz’s field and picked some food.  Boaz had compassion on Ruth and gave her extra food.

After a brief courtship, Boaz and Ruth got married.  Because Israel was an essentially patriarchal society, this marriage allowed for financial and social security for both Ruth and Naomi.  Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed, who became the grandfather of Israel’s most famous king, David.

The book of Ruth seems to be emphasizing the fact that even Israel’s greatest kings had a mixed ancestry.  The tone of the book is much more gentle, compassionate, and inclusive than the bloody battles of Joshua and Judges.  Ruth is a brief moment of peace amidst a very turbulent story.

"Ruth and Boaz" by David Wilkie Winfield

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Judges: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Judges is the seventh book of the Bible.

The book of Judges is about what happened to Israel after they had taken possession of the Promised Land.  Basically, they fell into this pattern of serving other gods, getting conquered, and then being delivered by a “Judge,” a kind of holy hero.

When Israel began serving the local Canaanite god Baal, God allowed them to be conquered by Mesopotamia (a kingdom to the north), and Israel became their servants for eight years.  Then God raised up the first judge, Othniel, the younger brother of Caleb, and he delivered Israel from the Mesopotamians.

Israel was obedient for forty years, but then they began to disobey God, so they were conquered by Moab, and became servants for eighteen years.  Then God raised up the second judge, Ehud, who was left-handed.  Ehud visited the king of Moab (who was very fat) and said, “I have a message from God for you,” and then he plunged his sword deep into the fat belly of the king of Moab, spilling guts and shit everywhere.  Then Ehud led Israel, and they defeated Moab, and had peace for eighty years.

"Ehud Kills Eglon (King of Moab)" by Ford Madox Brown

The Philistines then conquered Israel, and God raised up the next judge, Shamgar, who single-handedly killed six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad, and delivered his people.

Israel again began to disobey God, so they were conquered by a Canaanite king called Jabin.  At this time, there was a female judge/prophetess in Israel named Deborah.  She was very wise, and people would visit her for counsel.  Deborah and a guy named Barak led an attack on Jabin’s forces, and defeated them.  The commander of Jabin’s army was a guy named Sisera.  He fled the battle and took refuge in the tent of a woman named Jael.  While Sisera was sleeping, Jael drove a tent peg into his temple, killing him.  Thus, Israel was delivered from Jabin, king of Canaan.  After their victory, Deborah and Barak sang a song.

"Jael Killing Sisera" by Felice Ficherelli

The land of Israel had peace for forty years, but then (surprise, surprise) Israel began to disobey God, and the Midianites began to oppress them by destroying their crops and livestock.  The Israelites were so destitute and desperate that they started living in caves.  So God raised up the next judge, whose name was Gideon.  Gideon was an unlikely hero, from a small tribe, and the youngest of his family.  One day, while he was working, an angel visited him, saying, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”  This caught Gideon off guard.  He was not a valiant warrior.  God gave Gideon a few signs that He was for real, and told Gideon to destroy the altar to Baal in his town, so Gideon did.  This pissed off the people of the town, who wanted to kill Gideon.  But Gideon’s father stood up for his son, basically saying, “If Baal is really God, can’t he fend for himself?”  Then Gideon raised a small force of 300 warriors, and they attacked the Midianites, and won!

"Battle of Gideon Against the Midianites" by Nicolas Poussin

The Israelites were so happy with Gideon that they wanted to make him king, but he refused, saying, “The Lord shall rule over you.”  Instead, Gideon asked for a bunch of earrings, which he melted down and made an idol, which made no sense.  Israel had peace for forty years.  

After Gideon’s death, his son Abimelech conspired to make himself king of Israel.  He killed all his brothers, and basically proclaimed himself king, but his reign only lasted three years.  He was killed suddenly when a woman dropped a millstone on his head.  Good riddance.

After Abimelech’s death, there was intermittent peace in Israel, occasionally interrupted by war against the Philistines.  One significant judge during this time was Jephthah, who was the son of a prostitute, and consequently people looked down on him.  However, he was such a valiant warrior that he delivered Israel from their oppressors.  Before one battle, Jephthah made a tragic vow to the Lord.  He said, “If You will let me win this battle, then, when I get home, I will sacrifice whatever comes out of the house to greet me.”  He won the battle, returned home, and it was his only daughter who came out to greet him.  He wept, she wept, and then he sacrificed her.

"Jepththah's Sacrifice" (artist unknown)

After that, there was a brief civil war in Israel, followed by intermittent periods of war and peace.

Years later, when the Philistines were again oppressing Israel, an angel appeared to a barren woman and said that she was going to give birth to a very special child, who was to be dedicated to the Lord.  The boy’s name was Samson.  He never cut his hair, and he never drank alcohol.  He grew up to be super strong.  One time, Samson killed a lion with his bare hands, for example.

Samson tended to be attracted to Philistine women, which made his life complicated.  His wives were always tricking him into revealing secrets, and then passing those secrets along to Philistine leaders.  Meanwhile, Samson was wreaking havoc on the land of the Philistines, burning their crops, killing their warriors.  Once, he killed a thousand men with just a ram’s jaw bone.  Samson was badass.

Once, a Philistine woman named Delilah tricked him, and cut his hair while he was sleeping.  Consequently, Samson lost his strength (his hair being the source of his strength), and the Philistines captured him and gouged his eyes out and put him in prison.  But Samson’s hair slowly grew back, and he got his revenge by destroying a Philistine temple, killing 3,000 people.  Samson, the last judge of Israel, went out with a bang.

"Samson Destroys the Temple" by Marc Chagall

The book of Judges ends with a civil war between several tribes of Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin.  The war was sparked when some Benjamites raped and killed the concubine of a priest.  The priest was so outraged, that he cut up the woman’s body into twelve pieces, and sent the pieces to each tribe, as a witness against Benjamin.  So there was a massive, and bloody civil war, and the tribe of Benjamin was mostly destroyed, except for a few survivors.  

Judges ends with this quote: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  This suggests that, given the volatile place Israel had become, perhaps they needed a king to provide a sense of unity.


Stay tuned to find out if Israel gets a king…

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Joshua: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Joshua is the sixth book of the Bible.

After Moses’ death, the Lord spoke to Joshua (Moses’ successor) and promised him that if Israel kept God’s commandments, He would help them conquer Canaan.

Joshua sent spies across the Jordan river, to check out the city of Jericho and see if it had any weaknesses.  The spies were sheltered by a prostitute named Rahab, who also helped them escape.  Consequently, the spies promised that when Israel destroyed Jericho, her family would be spared.  So the spies returned to Joshua and said, “Jericho is terrified of us.  We can totally take them out.”

So God parted the Jordan river, and the nation of Israel passed into Canaan, and built an altar with the laws written on it.  Joshua then circumcised the new generation of Israelites.  When their penises were healed, they prepared to invade Jericho.

On the eve of the invasion, an angel carrying a sword appeared to Joshua, saying that he commanded the armies of the Lord.

God gave Joshua very specific instructions on how to conquer Jericho.  They had to march around the city every day for seven days.  On the seventh day, the priests blew their trumpets and all the people shouted and the walls of the city came crashing down.  Then the Israeli warriors entered the city and “utterly destroyed everything in the city, both men and women, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.”  Total genocide.  Rahab and her family were spared, however.  After taking some gold and treasure, Israel burned the city to the ground.

"The Walls of Jericho Fallen Down" by Gustave Dore

God was very specific about the things which could be looted from destroyed cities.  A few Israelites took some things they were not allowed to take, so Israel lost its next battle.  When Joshua learned about these looters, he had them stoned and burned.  That satisfied God, and Israel could go on conquering.

The next city they conquered was called Ai.  Israel used a clever two-front ambush strategy (it was God’s idea) to defeat Ai, and killed everyone except the king of Ai, whom they brought alive to Joshua, who hanged him, and then built an altar to the Lord.

"Josuha Burns the Town of Ai" by Gustave Dore

A few cities of Canaan heard about Israel’s conquests, and thought of a clever way to avoid being destroyed.  They dressed as poor wandering beggars and told Joshua they were from far away, and asked for a peace treaty, which Joshua signed.  Joshua soon learned about their deception, and he made them all slaves, instead of killing them.

A coalition of five armies then attacked Israel, and Israel defeated them all.  God helped in this victory by raining down giant rocks from the sky on the five king’s armies.  God also allowed the sun to stand still in the sky, so the battle lasted a bit longer than normal.  After the five armies were defeated, the kings of the armies went and hid in a cave.  Joshua found them, dragged them out and commanded the leaders of Israel to put their feet on the necks of these kings.  Then Joshua hanged the five kings, and threw their bodies back in the cave.

"Destruction of the Army of the Amorites" by Gustave Dore

Under the command of Josuha, and with the Lord’s blessing, Israel went on to defeat 31 kings in Canaan, killing everyone and utterly destroying their cities, leaving no survivors.  It was genocide.  It was ethnic cleansing.  It was fucking brutal.

Then Joshua divided up the newly-conquered land among the twelve tribes of Israel.  He also established six “cities of refuge” which were special cities where those accused of manslaughter could flee to, and not be killed.  Though the Levites (priests) did not get an official territory, they did get 48 cities, scattered throughout Canaan.  There was a brief disagreement when a few tribes set up an altar apart from the main altar, but they worked it out.

The book ends with Joshua, as an old man, giving a speech to Israel, whose main theme is “Continue to obey God’s laws, and you will be able to remain in this promised land and prosper.  Disobey God’s laws, and other nations will invade and defeat you.”  Then Joshua died, at the ripe old age of 110.


Stay tuned for more action-packed adventures in Judges: a Book Report!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Deuteronomy: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible.

Not much happens in the book of Deuteronomy, plot-wise, until the very end when (spoiler alert!) Moses dies.  The book is basically a re-telling of the adventures of Israel, as was told in Exodus and Numbers.  Most of the book is written in first person, from the perspective of Moses as he re-counts Israel’s history so far—reminding them of their laws, and encouraging them to stay faithful to God.  If they obey God’s laws, they will take possession of the Promised Land.  If they disobey God’s laws, they will suffer and wander in exile and die.  The book continually emphasizes the covenant (or contingent agreement) between Israel and God.  If they obey, they will prosper.  If they disobey, they will suffer.

Deuteronomy also offers a bit of commentary on the events of Exodus and Numbers, and complicates the admittedly scary picture of God we find there.  God is described as both “a jealous God” and “a compassionate God.”  God is described as, astonishingly, a God of love.  The reason Israel has suffered so much is “Because he loved your fathers, therefore he chose their descendants after them.”  The reason he has smited them so much was to discipline them, as a father disciplines a son.  Deuteronomy is very repetitive, almost like a song or poem whose main theme is “Obey: prosper…Disobey: suffer.”

"Moses Receiving the Law and Reading the Law to the Israelites" anonymous, circa 840

God explains why he is about to let Israel wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan: they are wicked, and have worshipped other gods.  When Israel conquers Canaan, they are to kill everyone, and destroy all their idols and altars.  God is not into religious tolerance.

The God of Deuteronomy is a God of both justice and mercy.  God “executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows his love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”  Israel is also commanded to be both just and merciful.  Laws concerning poverty are actually quite radical.  Every seven years, all debts are to be forgiven.  Consequently, “there shall be no poor among you,” because “you shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and the poor in your land.”

Moses shares some new laws with Israel, to fit their new circumstances.  If (and when) they have a king, he is not to take multiple wives or hoard wealth, so that “his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen.”  In short, Israel’s kings must be humble, and not too wealthy.  Regarding warfare, Israel is to utterly destroy everyone in Canaan.

There are lots of really weird laws too.  Cross-dressing is forbidden, as is castration.  If two men are fighting, and the wife of one man grabs the other guy’s balls, her hand must be cut off.

At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses writes a song, blessing all the tribes of Israel.  Then he ascends a mountain and is allowed to view (but not enter) the Promised Land before he dies, at age 120.  Before his death, Moses names Joshua as his successor.  It is Joshua who will lead Israel on their conquest of Canaan.

"Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar" by James Tissot


Stay tuned for some action-packed warfare in Joshua: a Book Report…

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Numbers: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible.

In the wilderness around Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to take a census of the people of Israel, so he did.  He also organized them into tribal camps, each tribe named after a different son of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Gad, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and Levi.

Moses was specifically asked to count the number of males of fighting age, of warriors, because God was turning them into a massive invading army, so they could conquer the “Promised Land” of Canaan (which was inhabited by other people who weren’t keen on moving).  The Canaanites would have to be killed, and their cities destroyed, with God’s blessing.  Organized for war, the Israelites set out toward their future homeland.

One tribe was exempted from military service—Levi, the tribe of priests who were constantly getting free stuff from the other tribes, and got to retire at age 50.  Based on the massive perks they got, one might wonder if priests wrote these books.

So the Israelites set out for Canaan, and immediately started complaining to Moses that they were sick of eating the same food everyday—the manna from heaven.  They wanted meat.  God got really pissed and started burning the Israelites with fire, but Moses interceded and God stopped burning them.  God was like, “Alright, Israel, you want meat, I’ll give you meat, I’ll give you meat “until it comes our of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.”  So God rained down millions of quails infected with plague, and lots of people got sick and died.

"A Plague Inflicted on Israel While Eating the Quails" by Gerard Hoet

Then Moses’ brother and sister (Aaron and Miriam) started complaining about Moses’s wife, so God punished Miriam with leprosy, and she had to live alone outside the camp for a while.  God did not punish Aaron.  Sexism?

When Israel neared Canaan, God told Moses to send out spies to see what the land was like, and if there were any weaknesses.  Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, gave a good report, basically saying, “This land is awesome.  We can totally conquer it.”  But the other spies were less confident, so the people started complaining again.  They were afraid, and actually wanted to go back to Egypt, and they tried to stone Josuha and Caleb.  

How did God react to this?  He got pissed, and intended to smite his people with pestilence and wipe them out.  Again, Moses reasoned with God, basically saying, “Look, God, I know you’re angry.  But if you kill these people who you went to all that trouble to liberate, the other nations will think you are weak.”  God, who was very concerned with his reputation, decided not to kill his people.  Instead, God said that none of the people he liberated would enter the promised land.  Instead, he said, “Your corpses shall fall in the wilderness.”  The nation of Israel would have to wait 40 years, until an entire generation had died out, before entering the promised land.  That way, God got his revenge on his people, kept his promise to them,  AND kept his reputation as a God with whom you did not want to fuck.  Meanwhile, an entire generation of former slaves would have to wander in exile and die.

As one might imagine, this did not go over well with the Israelites.  Some of them were like, fuck this, let’s just go ahead and invade Canaan anyway.  So they attacked the Amalekites…and got their asses kicked.  Israel needed God to win wars.  They were just going to have to wait until he was less angry, and they were more dead.

While they were wandering and waiting, God thought it was a good time to give some more laws, and do some fashion design.  He commanded all the men to wear tassels on their shirts.  What could the men do?  If God wanted tassels, they had to wear tassels.

At this point, some of the Israelites got fed up with Moses and God and all these plagues and fire and tassels.  They rebelled and tried to form their own group.  God responded to this by opening up the ground and swallowing all the rebels, killing them.  This made more people mad, and they complained, and that made God mad, and so He sent another plague, killing over 14,000 people.  Whether they liked it or not, Israel was stuck with this God.  

The Israelites came to a place called Meribah and ran out of water again, and complained again.  God allowed water to come out of a rock, but there was a cost.  Moses himself would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  

"Moses Draws Water from the Rock" by Francois Perrier

Israel continued wandering, and got attacked by the king of Arad, and God helped them win, and utterly destroy their cities.

Again, Israel ran out of food and water, and complained, so God killed a bunch of them with fiery serpents.  God was always thinking of new and creative ways to kill his chosen people.

Israel went on to defeat more peoples, the Amorites and the people of Bashan.  As per God’s orders, they killed everyone in the land, leaving no survivors.  it was total genocide.

The king of Moab heard about Israel’s genocidal slaughterfests, and he was terrified for his people.  Israel was dangerous, and their God was super powerful and not shy about genocide.  So the king of Moab sent for a famous prophet named Balaam, hoping this prophet could bless Moab and get them some divine protection.  But God spoke to Balaam and told him not to curse Israel, so Balaam agreed.  God was a little mad at Balaam for even considering cursing Israel so, while Balaam was traveling, God blocked his way with an angel, and Balaam’s donkey got spooked and fell on him.  God allowed the donkey to speak to Balaam, and express his anger.

"Balaam and the Angel" by Michel Wolgemut

Then Balaam went to the king of Moab and, instead of cursing Israel, actually blessed them, and offered some dire predictions for the inhabitants of Canaan:

“Behold, a people [Israel] rises like a lioness,
And as a lion it lifts itself;
It shall not lie down until it devours the prey,
And drinks the blood of the slain.”

The king of Moab was, needless to say, quite unhappy with Balaam and his prophecies.

But, instead of killing the Moabites, the Israelites had sex with them and even started worshipping their gods.  Bad decision, Israelites.  God sent another plague, killing 24,000 people.

Some time passed, God gave more laws, Israel wandered more, slaughtered the Midianites and took their virgins as booty, Moses took another census, etc.  Finally, Israel arrived at the border of the Promised Land, and God told them to prepare to inflict some serious genocide.


Stay tuned for further adventures of Israel, God, and the Canaanites with Deuteronomy: a Book Report.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Anti-Club Playlist 7/11/14

On Friday nights I spin records and hard drives at a bar in Downtown Fullerton called Mulberry St. with my friend Phil, and sometimes other guests.  Last week, my friend Katy hopped on for a bit.  Here's the playlist we ended up with, with album artwork.  Click the song to listen to it.




























































































See you every Friday at Mulberry St. in lovely downtown Fullerton!  We start around 11pm and go til closing.