Bible Project Part 4 – Numbers 6 to Deuteronomy 24

Part four of my project, and I’m still within the Pentateuch. Unsurprising, I suppose, since these five books make up a good part of the Old Testament. To illustrate, Genesis starts on page 9 of my Bible, and Deuteronomy finishes on page 182. The Old Testament finishes on page 792, so the Pentateuch covers 23% of the whole.

When I finished last week we had just counted the important people (read: men) of the Israelite people, so let’s venture further into Numbers this week.

I mentioned last week that the Bible assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the reader, such as what certain place-names mean and who people are, but certain concepts are also assumed as general knowledge. Numbers 6, for instance, outlines the rules to follow if you want to be a ‘nazirene’, but nowhere is it explained what a nazirene actually is. Apparently being a nazirene just means that you have devoted your life to God, but fuck knows why this can’t be explained first. The Bible can be annoying like that.

The Bible is also very annoying in its repetitiveness. Numbers 7 lists the sacrificial gifts made by all twelve Israelite tribes. They do this on twelve consecutive days, but they all sacrifice exactly the same things. So rather than just saying ‘all tribes each sacrificed blah and blah and seventeen million perfectly healthy animals’ they repeat it all twelve times. And then they go ‘so that meant that in total they offered blah and blah and twenty trillion healthy animals’. Yes! I know! I just fucking read about it!

And then in Numbers 11 the people complain that they have no meat. Maybe you should stop sacrificing it all then! But no, the one thing that becomes abundantly clear throughout everything I read is that the Israelites are idiots, and God is alternately a fickle, vindictive bastard and a complete pushover. The people complain that the desert is so dry and has no food, so God makes it rain food and makes water come from rocks. Then they come to the Promised Land and the people complain that the people already living there are too big and strong. And so it goes on and on and on. And God only has to turn his back for two fucking seconds and they’re already worshipping other Gods.

Oh, you want evidence of the fickleness? Just read Numbers 22. The Israelites are about to conquer the land Canaan, so the people living there are understandably worried. One of their kings, Balak, goes to a local seer/prophet/wise dude, Bileam, to ask him to curse the Israelites so they won’t beat him. Bileam, however, appears to be a non-Israelite with a direct line to God, who tells him nu-uh, they’re my people so you can’t curse them. Balak insists, so Bileam asks God what he should do. God then tells him to go with the messenger to Balak, but once he’s there he’ll only be able to say the words that God puts in his mouth.

Bileam dutifully hops onto his donkey to travel to Balak, but then God gets angry because he went with the messengers! Dude, you fucking told him to do so yourself! But no, he places an angel on the road to bar his way, except Bileam doesn’t see it, only his donkey does. The poor donkey tries to avoid the angel, and as a reward Bileam thrashes her to within an inch of her life for not doing what he wants her to do.

Eventually Bileam reaches Balak, but rather than cursing the Israelites he blesses them. Job well done, you think, but no, when the Israelites then execute their sanctioned genocide, Bileam is killed as well. Such is God’s gratitude.

Most of the rest of Numbers is more laws on what to sacrifice and how and how often. Two sheep! Per day! And then two bulls and another seven sheep every month!

Numbers ends after chapter 36, after which we’re into Deuteronomy (Deuteronomium in Dutch). The name comes from Greek Δευτερονόμιον, which means ‘second law’. It is actually a mistranslation of the Hebrew, where ‘a copy of this law’ was translated as ‘this second law’.

I was rather expecting Moses to die at the start of Deuteronomy, but no, he spends pretty much the entire book reminiscing about all the stuff that happened and reiterating all the laws people must adhere to. I must say it was actually one of the most readable parts of the Bible so far, without too much obscure language and weird terminology.

Things I found interesting: the Israelites are stupid yet again by worshipping other Gods (don’t they ever learn?I?) in Deuteronomy 4.

Deuteronomy 7 explicitly states that all the people currently living in the land Canaan must be eradicated down to the last man, woman and animal. Am I the only one who finds this slightly ironic?

The next lot of chapters basically repeat all the stuff that was already said in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. My next note isn’t until Deuteronomy 21 and just says ‘legitimate rape’. Checking the chapter in question refreshed my memory – this is about capturing women from the people you’re fighting against. If you are victorious in battle and see among their women one you like the look of, then you can just take her and make her (one of) your wife (wives). If you get bored of her you can send her away, but you can’t sell her, because you forced her. Small comfort for the woman, I’m sure.

Deuteronomy specifically forbids men from wearing women’s clothes and vice versa, which is something I never realised was actually in the Bible. Still, anyone trying to quote this at me will still have to explain why they eat bacon and ham.

Even more interesting: Deuteronomy 24 outlines the law around divorce. It appears to have been quite a common thing back then, so why was the church so adamant that divorce was abhorrent? I’ll never understand religion…

Short entry this week, but there really wasn’t that much new in Deuteronomy to comment on.

Next week I’ll move on to Joshua and the Judges.

<– Back to Part Three                                                                         On to Part Five –>

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