This week I finally wrested my way out of the Chronicles, then through a number of short books and the borefest that is Job.
Yes, borefest. I’ll elaborate in a minute.
Let’s start with some more vital statistics. The Second Book of Chronicles actually only had two more chapters when I finished it last week. All the chapters are relatively long, though, so there was no way I could have finished those two before I had to get off the bus.
Anyway, after that comes Ezra, which is called the same in Dutch, followed by Nehemiah (Nehemia in Dutch), Esther (in my Bible spelled Ester, though I’m sure we also have versions where it has the extra h) and then Job (again, the same in Dutch).
I was clearly beyond fed up with the Chronicles, because I have no further notes in the last two chapters. And though I’d hoped that things would get better in Ezra, I soon found myself disappointed. The man Ezra, after whom the book is named, was a teacher in Persia, well versed in the scriptures, and the whole book is all about the command by Kores, king of Persia, to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. No real reason to do so is given, other than that God commanded him to. Which, come to think of it, is enough of an incentive given what a tetchy bastard God’s proven to be so far. While this task is executed, the Israelites doing it are continually obstructed by their enemies.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the extent of the book, but in true Bible fashion this is strung out over ten chapters. The first two are virtually nothing but names (of the people returning to Jerusalem to do the building) and numbers (how many people they represented). Once you get to chapter three you can also add some temple dimensions (aaargh!) and building materials (if I see the words ‘cedar from the Lebanon’ one more time I swear those trees are going the same way as Anastasia Steele’s inner fucking goddess (i.e. straight where the sun don’t shine)).
Anyway, the build is thwarted, then taken up again during the reign of king Darius. Darius gives gold and shit from his treasury and gives the people as much time as they want to do their stuff. Which rather puzzles me, because the Israelites are an enslaved people (or at least they’re strangers in Persia), and there seems to be no tangible benefit to Persia in building this temple to a God they don’t give a shit about. Well, I think they don’t – nothing is really said about what gods the Persians worship.
Some space is wasted in establishing that Ezra is a direct descendant of Aaron (whoop-de-fucking-do), how faithfully they celebrate Passover, and then a whole chapter is dedicated to warning the people not to marry the abominable non-Israelites who surround them. Don’t take their daughters to marry your sons and don’t let your daughters marry their sons, for those who have done so have allowed their holy seed to mingle with the local people and their detestable practices. Ezra does a whole ‘woe is me, woe is us’ before God, and that’s pretty much it for this book. Yay for more Biblical xenophobia.
Onwards to Nehemiah, who was, apparently, a cup-bearer at the court of king Artachsasta of Persia. The book is very similar to Ezra, in that it is all about a bunch of people who return to Jerusalem to rebuild it, despite opposition from people both within Persia and people living around Jerusalem (and frankly, who can blame them?)
It is vaguely different in that this is about rebuilding all of Jerusalem, not just the temple, but it’s just as boring and full of names. Except this time it’s all about who rebuilt which gate, and subsequently defended it from enemies. The most interesting thing in this book I found to be the first mention of Jews as a people, and the fact that it employs first person point of view. Ezra did too, in parts, but Nehemiah is written pretty much entirely in 1st person pov.
(The word ‘jew’ (as I just looked up) apparently derives from Hebrew Yehudi, which indicates a member of the tribe of Judah. Kinda makes sense when you think of it.)
Other than that Nehemiah 9 looks like a summary of the Bible so far (if only the whole Bible was like that! It could be distributed in leaflet format…) in the form of some sort of prayer, and Nehemiah 13 once again blames all the evil of the world on women.
And then we’re on to Esther, which is (to Biblical standards) a breath of fresh air. It’s quite an engaging story (again, to Biblical standards), which isn’t dragged out to eternity with fifty million random names, and it contains what must be the first instance of true karma in the Bible.
So, there was this jewish girl Hadassa, who lived with her foster father Mordekai in Persia, under the rule of king Ahasveros. (Omg! I just checked, and in this online Bible site they call him Xerxes! Wasn’t he the really camp one in 300? This is Spartaaaaaaa! …Ahem.) One day Ahasveros was banqueting, as kings are wont to do, when he had a sudden desire to show off his queen, since she was quite fit. An order was summarily sent to queen Wasti to attend the king in full queenly regalia, but Wasti responded with the queenly equivalent of ‘fuck you and your pervert mates, I’m washing my hair’.
Ahasveros was rather pissed off at this, because a king must not be defied by his queen, so on the advice of his, uh, advisors, Wasti was banished from the king’s sight. Which meant his dignity was restored, but he was now without a queen.What to do?
Well, if you’re a king, what you do is you issue a decree that all the maidens in the kingdom should attend your fortress and get prettied up, so you can pick the fairest of them all. And fuck, I just realised this book has turned into Cinderella.
Anyway, Ahasveros dutifully commanded all the virgins to report to the fortress of Susan, get beautified, then every night one of them would be taken to the king and return the next morning. Ahasveros was clearly a proponent of ‘try before you buy’.
Mordekai, smelling opportunity, commanded his foster daughter to go to the palace and gain the favour of the king. Now, from my childhood memory I recall that her name was Hadassa, and when she became queen she was renamed Esther, but in the Bible her original name is only mentioned once, as an aside. Whichever it is, Esther clearly pleased Ahasveros and became his new queen, but Mordekai told her not to reveal that she was jewish, since the jews were not very popular in Persia. Still, all was well at the Palace, and Mordekai even managed to thwart an assassination attempt (he overheard the plotters, warned Esther, who in turn warned the king).
Then the king got himself a new henchman/vizier/right hand man dude (it’s not particularly clear what he is) called Haman, who despised jews and especially Mordekai, because the latter didn’t bow down to him when he walked past. Talk about petty. So in a move of extreme dickishness Haman got the king to issue a decree to kill all jews in the whole country, because it wasn’t enough for Haman just to kill Mordekai.
Esther, hearing of this, asked the king over for a banquet, intending to plea for the life of her people. She also invited Haman, so she could accuse the culprit in his presence. Haman, meanwhile, feeling rather smug, had a fifty-foot pole erected in his garden, ready for Mordekai to be impaled on it.
Then, in a random act of karma, the king couldn’t sleep one night and asked to be read from the chronicles of the realm. In there it was described how the assassination attempt was thwarted, and the king asked whether the person who warned him (i.e. Mordekai) had ever been rewarded. He hadn’t, so the next morning the king asked Haman what one ought to do to the man who wished to honour the king. Haman, thinking that man would be himself, thought up some grand honour, then had to gnash his teeth when all of that was given to Mordekai. To top that off, at Esther’s banquet, she accused Haman of wishing to eradicate her entire people (which was true, of course), and Haman was impaled upon his own pole. Finally someone who gets what he deserves!
Unfortunately, the order to kill all jews was a royal decree, and not even the king can recall his own decrees. So he issued another decree, which was that the jews would be allowed to defend themselves when they came to kill them. This resulted in two days of slaughter, which I thought was a bit excessive, but hey. On the whole a pretty decent Bible book.
And then I got to Job. Oh dear lord…
I remembered Job as sort of interesting, in an ‘omg this pisses me off’ kinda way, but I clearly didn’t remember it right. Let me recap the story first.
God calls his sons to him, and among them is Satan. God asks him ‘where have you been?’ and Satan answers ‘oh, here and there, all over the earth’. God then asks ‘ah, and have you seen my servant Job? No one is as faithful and God-fearing as him!’ To which Satan answers, ‘of course he is, you’ve given him fucktons of cattle, camels, cows and other shit, he’s got seven sons and three daughters and lots of other stuff – of course he’s going to praise you! Take it all away and he’ll curse you.’
And what does God do? He says ‘fine, I’ll prove to you how faithful Job is. Take everything he has away, but don’t touch the man.’ So all his cattle is stolen or consumed by fire from the heavens, and his children are all killed when the house collapses on them.
Job, still faithful, says ‘the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, praise be the name of the Lord’. So Satan ups the ante by saying ‘eh, he’s still healthy, so of course he praises you.’ So God says ‘fine, do what you want, just don’t kill him.’ Then Satan strikes Job with terrible boils and sores, and Job sits down on the ash heap and scratches himself with a pottery shard. Still he refuses to renounce God, so God has won the bet, and he returns all Job’s possessions twofold, gives him ten new children and Job lives happily ever after for another 140 years.
I’m not going to elaborate on just how much of a shit thing it was to do all this, because I’ve done enough ranting already over the past weeks. I’ll rant about something else instead: all but the last sentence of that summary of the story happens in the first two chapters of Job. Yet Job in its entirety is 42 chapters. So what is the rest?
Well, in chapter 3 Job is visited by his three friends, who proceed to tell him that he must have sinned very badly, for God to have struck him down like that. Job responds by saying ‘woe is me, I’m really depressed, but I can’t question God and God is good’. His friends insist that he must have sinned, and Job insists that he hasn’t, and can’t they say something useful to him?
AND THAT GOES ON FOR FORTY FUCKING CHAPTERS! Forty. Fucking. Chapters of ‘you’re a sinner – am not – are too – am not – are too!’
Owait, no, there’s about two chapters of God showing up in a whirlwind and saying ‘who are you to judge me, puny humans! Was it you who created heaven and earth and all the people and all the animals and the thunder and the hippo (first of all animals, apparently) and the crocodile* and all the other shit?! No, it was me! Kneel before me, puny hum…
Sorry, I started to channel Loki there.
(*According to God, the crocodile has double-plated armour, makes light shine by sneezing, shoots torches from its mouth, sets coals on fire by breathing on them and has innards made of stone. I’m rather confused about what type of crocodile this is, but I’m glad it appears to be extinct.)
So anyway, you can see the full story of Job in awesome Lego. And the Lego version also showed me something which I’d completely missed in my reading – God never actually cures him. Or if he did, it’s not said that he did. Let’s assume he didn’t, which means that Job lived another 140 fucking years while covered in festering, itching sores. Nice reward for your most faithful servant, God!
Next week: Psalms. I’m going to need more than coffee for this…