The Exodus: Did it Really Happen? The Musings of an Egyptologist (Part 2)

“There’s no straightforward archaeological evidence” for the Exodus account, says Egyptologist Bob Brier in his Great Courses lecture series, and from that one might conclude that he will trash it. But he doesn’t. There is internal evidence for it and the internal evidence holds up, he says.

Brier’s not concerned that the external evidence is not there. The Egyptians kept only records of their victories, never their defeats, and the Exodus would for sure have been a defeat for them. “If you read all the battle accounts of all the pharaohs, they won every one. Some of them they just kept winning closer to home, as they retreated.”

He also is not concerned because, even if there had been such records, they would never have survived in damp delta area where all the Hebrew action takes place. Chimes in Thomas Mudloff, another researcher: “Indeed, archaeologically we have virtually nothing of this nature from the Delta. The fact is that the entire area is simply too wet for material of this sort [papyrus] to survive. Anyone familiar with the problems of excavation in the Delta will immediately understand. The ancient ground level is now some twenty feet or more below the modern surface and the water table is so high in the area that most current excavations must employ the constant use of pumps to keep the diggings dry.”

Mudloff also builds upon Brier’s first point—that the Egyptians kept no record of defeats, only victories. In the attempt to account for that, the reason that immediately springs to mind is that of pride. Victors write history down to this day, and whenever they think they can get away with it, they are equally inclined to hide whatever embarrasses them. But there is another factor: that of the Egyptian religious belief that “once anything is written down or spoken it may have the ability to be perpetuated and perhaps repeated, something that is part of the nature of Egyptian religious beliefs. We see examples in the Egyptian’s desire to have their names spoken after death in order to maintain their existence in the afterlife, and so the idea that writing an event down will also make it possible for the event to continue, perhaps recurring at some future point. Surely so catastrophic an event as so many slaves being let go at once would not be something the Egyptians would wish to commemorate.”

Besides, Brier doesn’t think the birth of the Jewish nation would be all that important to anyone else. “Do you think the Hittite king cares about what’s happening in upper Egypt?… Nobody cared.” He compares it to the early stirrings of the American Revolution. Would anyone in the Middle East have cared about it enough to take note of the details? He thinks not.

I’m not so sure about this comparison. According to Rahab, the Exodus was the talk of the town in Jericho: She “went on to say to [the Israelite spies]: ‘I do know that Jehovah will certainly give you the land, and that the fright of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have become disheartened because of you. For we have heard how Jehovah dried up the waters of the Red Sea from before you when you came out of Egypt . . . . When we got to hear it, then our hearts began to melt. . . ’” (Joshua 2:9-11)

But Rahab is one of the little people, telling the fears of the little people that are not necessarily in the official report. Being a little person, she is only a hairbreadth away from being a fictional one, and until her Facebook page is found, most scholars will suppose she is.

So get used to it—there’s little external evidence for the Exodus. (though there is some, as will be seen) That said, Brier looks at the “internal evidence” “Does the story hold together internally?” He examines the details and declares that it does.

One detail he likes (with every such detail, he says: “So that’s pretty good,” as in building a case) is the straw in the bricks. “[Moses and Aaron] go to [Pharaoh] and say, ‘let my people go’—not only that, but it’s what we would call chutzpah, they say we want three days off! To celebrate a festival to our God. And Pharaoh really thinks this is outrageous. ...He says you’re not getting the three days off to celebrate your holiday, and not only that, we are not giving you any straw for your bricks,” the non-Bronx version found at Exodus 5:10.

Bricks in Egypt were made with straw to give it strength. But they were not made that way in Canaan. The factoid points to an authentic account of someone who knew Egypt, not a made-up-later tale from a Canaanite outsider. Brier likes the fact that they worked with bricks, and not the stones that a later writer might suppose from the pyramids and tombs. He likes where they did it, “building cities as storage places for Pharaoh, namely, Pithom and Raamses.” (Exodus 1:11) There were such places and they were storage cities in the days of Ramses II. Brier thinks that Ramses II (Ramses the Great) would have been the pharaoh of the Exodus, assuming that there was one.

He likes how the Hebrews got into their bondage: “In time there arose over Egypt a new king who did not know Joseph. And he proceeded to say to his people: “Look! The people of the sons of Israel are more numerous and mightier than we are. Come on! Let us deal shrewdly with them, for fear they may multiply, and it must turn out that, in case war should befall us, then they certainly will also be added to those who hate us and will fight against us and go up out of the country.” (Exodus 1:8-10)

It fits in well with a previous lecture of his on how Egypt pushed back at Libya, taking captives: “It seems that the Egyptians always minded when foreigners become too numerous. It was okay to have a few, but when they became a large body to be reckoned with they didn’t like that. As for example, remember the Exodus?”

He also likes a detail of Exodus 1:16, in which Pharaoh lays plans to kill off the newborn Hebrew boys. He there instructs the midwives: “When you help the Hebrew women to give birth and you see them on the stool for childbirth, you must put the child to death if it is a son; but if it is a daughter, she must live.”

The Hebrew word for “stool for childbirth” literally means “two stones,” as in ‘a stone under each buttock.’ Egyptians did give birth that way—it can be seen in their hieroglyphs—and it makes more sense than the modern way of lying prone, for it allows for gravity to assist. One source even tells of an old Egyptian put-down of a capricious man as: “He left me like a woman on the bricks.” What kind of a lowlife would do such a thing?

There are even a few who think “watch the two stones” has nothing to do with the birthing stool and everything to do with the testicles of the newborn! If you see them coming down the birth canal, kill the one who has them.

The two midwives mentioned in the Bible, Shifra and Puah, fear God, and so they disobey Pharaoh. In time, Pharaoh wants to know why: “The king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them: ‘Why have you kept the male children alive?’ The midwives said to Pharʹaoh: ‘The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are lively and have already given birth before the midwife can come in to them.’”

Arthur Waskow says that the midwives are very clever here—they placate Pharaoh with a pun that appeals to his prejudices. ‘They’re not civilized like us—they drop them fast, like animals,’ is what he hears. It makes perfect sense to him. And Yahweh rewards the midwives for it, Brier says. He doesn’t use the anglicized ‘Jehovah’ form of God’s name, but neither does he say “The LORD.”

What of the frequent expression that Pharaoh’s “heart was hardened?” “Very Egyptian, very Egyptian,” Bob says. The Egyptians believed that a person thought with his heart. After all, it is the heart that beats faster when someone is excited.

Brier likes the name “Moses,” and says that it’s a purely Egyptian name. It means “birth.” It is incorporated into the names of several pharaohs: Ahmose, (“the moon god is born”) Thutmose. (“Thoth is born”) In Greek, the name with its appended suffix becomes Amosis and Thutmosis. Ramesses is similar in pattern: (Re is the one who bore him)

If this Egyptian etymology is correct, it makes an even greater point for authenticity, because the Bible writer doesn’t appear to know that, and he attributes a Hebrew setting to the name, a play on the verb mashah (to draw out [of water]). We read that the weaned infant was brought to Pharaoh’s daughter, “so that he became a son to her; and she proceeded to call his name Moses and to say: ‘It is because I have drawn him out of the water.’” (2:10) The application doesn’t quite fit, say some, for the word construction implies that Moses does the drawing, whereas the text says otherwise, and the only way to solve the difficulty is to ignore it. Moreover, why would Pharaoh’s daughter name the child with Hebrew etymology and not her own? Without intending to, the Bible writer gives added reason to regard the account as genuine.

There is a document, known as the Leiden Papyrus, from the time of Ramses the Great. It contains an instruction to “distribute grain rations to the soldier and to the Apiru who transport stones to the great Pylon of Ramses. Some connect “Apiru” (it means “stateless people”) with the origin of the “Hebrew” that it sounds like. It fits well with Exodus 1:11, “they appointed chiefs of forced labor over [the people of Israel] to oppress them with hard labor, and they built storage cities for Pharaoh, namely, Pithom and Raamses.”

Ramses the Great ruled for 67 years, had about 100 children, of which 52 were sons, and outlived many of them, including his firstborn, Amunhirkepshef. It is his 13th son, Merneptal, who succeeds him as pharoah. Of his early military campaigns, (“he’s going to list the countries that he’s beaten up,” Bob says) Merneptal has recorded in his fifth year that “Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe; Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezar has been captured; Yano’am was made nonexistent; Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” This is the first (and only) mention of “Israel” in ancient Egyptian records.

It is telling how the word “Israel” is written. At the end of every other mention is a hieroglyph of three hills. It means “country.” At the end of “Israel” is the drawing of a man and a woman. It denotes Israel is not yet an established place, not yet a country. It is still a people wandering in the Sinai wilderness? If so, and counting backwards, might Amunhirkepshef be the firstborn of Pharoah who’s death at last twisted his arm to let the Israelites leave Egypt?

Bob doesn’t buy into the Bible number of Israelites leaving Egypt, 600,000–all men—not including families. It’s like the fish tale that gets bigger each time you tell it, he says. He thinks the number is much smaller, maybe by a factor of 1000. Nor does he buy into the Red Sea. It is a mistranslation of “Reed Sea,” (Hebrew: Yam Suph) he says. I am reminded of a tale somewhere in Jehovah’s Witness literature in which a schoolteacher tries “educate” a child away from his faith in the Exodus account by asserting that it was not the Red Sea, it was the “Reed Sea,” and the latter was a marshy area of water probably just “two inches” deep—whereupon the child begins to snicker. When the annoyed teacher demands the reason why, it turns out the child is amused at his teacher thinking the Egyptians could drown in just two inches of water. Maybe he was combining the image with God “taking wheels off their chariots so that they were driving them with difficulty.” (Exodus 14:25) Come on!—how can anyone not smile at that image?

“Suph” means “reed” in Hebrew, and from that fact comes the “Reed Sea” derivation, a place that no longer exists, but some think might be bodies of water replaced by the Suez canal. However, there is also a Hebrew word,“Soph,” which means “destroy,” “end,” or even “storm-wind.” What a fine pun it would be, some have suggested, to let one stand for the other, “suph” for “soph,” since the Egyptian army did indeed come to an violent end in that sea. Besides, King Solomon later builds a fleet of ships “upon the shore of the Red Sea (also Yam Suph) in the land of Edom.” (1 Kings 9;26) He wouldn’t do that if the sea was only two inches deep.

To make a pun not so fine, you can only water down the Exodus account so much before you create problems with Brier’s earlier lecture of Ramses II’s life. His early years were warlike. No battle in history is so well-documented as Ramses fighting the Hittites at Kadesh in his fifth year. It is carved everywhere—Egypt’s version of Washington crossing the Delaware, Bob states. Afterwards, Ramses relocates from Memphis to more strategically located Pi-Ramses to the north, because he means to return and pummel the Hittites, perhaps yearly.

Yet, he later experiences a “midlife crisis,” as Brier puts it more than once. He signs a peace treaty with the Hittites, very much to their benefit since they were also battling the Assyrians, but for Egypt, making peace was unheard of and seemingly unnecessary. The treaty may be the first one recorded in history. A temple wall inscription says Hittite and Egyptian soldiers “ate and drank face to face, not fighting.” Bob declares it nothing short of “amazing—Hittites were one of Egypt’s nine traditional enemies.”

Thereafter, Brier states, Ramses II becomes “a more sedentary pharaoh,” who turns to supervising tomb building, his last forty years so different from “the glorious beginning” of his reign. Ramses “didn’t seem to have any fight left in him,” says Bob. “Why did Ramses have a midlife crisis?” Bob Brier ends a lecture with this cliffhanger: “The Exodus, as we shall see in the next lecture, may have had something to do with it.”

Well, it wouldn’t have had something to do with it if the Exodus was some penny ante affair involving just a few hundred fleeing people, and chariots that bog down in the two-inch mud trying to catch them. No, a “midlife crisis” only ensues if it was a spectacular event involving thousands of Israelites and the mass destruction of Pharaoh’s troops.

Does Bob not realize the non-sequitur he sets up? Or does he realize it very well, but also realizes that he puts his status as learned Egyptologist at risk by siding too openly with the Bible account, and so he avoids speculating on the available facts (as he doesn’t elsewhere)? Dunno. Still, I appreciate that the Egyptian record allows very well for the Exodus account to be reality, even if it doesn’t nail down the point. Given what archeologists have uncovered thus far, you could hardly expect it to.

(Thomas F. Mudloff is the author of Hieroglyphs for Travelers)

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The Personification of God—Part 3

Q: “So I find it difficult to see how that kind of personification [accounts of Jehovah’s anger, jealousy, warfare & so forth] reaches the heart of a Christian.....or any decent human being living today.” (See thread that begins with Part 1)

Well, you can always say it’s Genesis—it is the writing of people immersed in life thousands of years ago. You can compare it with other writings of the time. What should stick is the descriptions of God’s love for his people—even when they are giving Him a run for His money (and he has it all—“if I were hungry, I would not tell it to you,” he says at Ps 50:12). Remember, the particular sin that gets his dander up here is pretty severe—that of so quickly worshipping the golden calf that they have made themselves—so quickly forgetting his commandments on idolatry and all that he has done for them. I think the many expressions of his love is what should remain, all the more so because I see it no where else in those times.

Are there any other ancient religious systems that incorporate love? Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, any of the ancient philosophies and myths. Often there is emphasis on ethics and doing what is right, but on love? Not that I am aware of. Not too long ago I finished a Great Courses lecture series on Greek mythology. The gods of mythology don’t love humans—they are indifferent to them, the professor pointed out, notwithstanding that now and again some god gets the hots for a particular bombshell of a woman, and they do tend to be fond of whatever halflings they have conceived with them, but love for humans in general? No. They “find them useful,” the professor kept saying. They like the sacrifices offered, but there is no love in return. As near as I can tell, love (not lust) is uniquely a trait of Jehovah, even if it is a (blisteringly) “tough love” at times.

Maybe the way in which human traits and even emotions are attributed to God as presented in the Bible for our edification, even though whe all know he doesn’t have the physical appendages of humans, and presumably, the emotional ones—Maybe it can be likened to one of those campaign messages: “My name is God, and I approve this message.” That way the message stands as from God even though it reflects the limitations of the writers. Jehovah is “running for office” of sorts. He is running for the office of our approval—that we will choose him over that scoundrel who is running on the Satan ticket. Of course, he doesn’t have to run for office. He doesn’t have to condescend to have any interaction with humans at all. But he does—he indicated immediately after Adam’s transgression that he would—going so far as to give his son a ransom for our buyback.

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The Personification of God—Part 2

In the personification of God—giving him hands, a face, eyes, ears, and so forth—and even extending it to the emotions of a family that people can identify with (See Part 1), can one oversimplify Jehovah to the point that it is a turn-off to modern people?
 

Q: “The problem happens when this kind of personification that worked for people thousands of years ago, no longer works for people in our days.”

I think the trick is to make it work. The prime reason NOT to make it work is to give in to the feeling that we are above such “primitive” narrative, that we are more sophisticated, that our predecessors may have been stupid but not us, that we are not to be talked down to as though we were children. 

But we are children. Certainly we are in the eyes of God, but even in the eyes of those not completely drunk on the Kool-Aid of human independence from God’s direction, we are children. Look at how people snipe at each other on social media. Look at how they do it on TV. Look at how they do it on “the news.” They are adults when they do that? No, they are children. Look at the mess of a world they have collectively built and the relatively petty matters they elevate to monumental importance. They are children.

So a bit of humility is in order. You don’t puff yourself up as though you are the smartest people who have ever lived, when you may well be the dumbest. “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes but has not been cleansed from its filth,” reads Proverbs 30:12. You don’t let the fact that you can make iPads and Teslas blind you to the “alternative fact” that you still can’t answer any of the deep questions of life—as Vermont Royster put it  “In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in the universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.”

Some of the best lines, to my mind, are still to be found in the Truth book of the late 60s: “True, there has been progress in a materialistic way. But is it really progress when men send rockets to the moon, and yet cannot live together in peace on earth?”

Some people think it is. Let them be separated out if they will be so spiritually dense.

I think the language of the Bible simply serves to separate people—to cause them to reveal what is in their heart. Yesterday our Zoom group discussed the daily text: “Whoever trusts in his own heart is stupid”—(Proverbs 28:26), and the focus was on weighing in on matters when we don’t have all the facts. Why would anyone do that?—and yet we do it all the time. These days the TV positively encourages us to do that, presenting a single scene or a single line repeatedly and without context, causing viewers to form instant verdicts.

I can recall Watchtower articles to the effect that when you hear a bad report about a trusted friend, you are inclined to say: “Well, I wasn’t there. Maybe there are things I don’t know.” How that plays out in the morass of current world news I haven’t a clue—apply it however you like—but it certainly is apropos when considering Bible accounts thousands of years old.

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“New Light” - The Writing on the Tablets of Moses—How Many Items on Each Side?

Moses descended from the mountain with the two tablets—the ones containing the Ten Commandments of Exodus chapter 20—but there was a difference this time around. This time around the tablets were depicted in Watchtower artwork each with three items per tablet. It is in the meeting workbook for August 2020. Previous artwork has depicted them with five each. What gives?

Well, someone figured out that since the writing is said to be on both sides of the tablets, if you put all ten on the front, what would remain for the back? Says Exodus 32:15: “Moses then turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hand. The tablets were inscribed on both sides; they were written on the front and on the back.” So in this latest depiction, there are three items on the front of each, and presumably two on the back of each.

Is this “new light” or what? It wasn’t presented that way. No one made a big deal over it. To my knowledge, no one even noticed it. I certainly didn’t. But about two weeks after the meeting that revolved around Exodus chapters 19 and 20, some sharpie did. Sure. It’s kind of interesting. What reason would there be not to get the details right?

The soreheads didn’t see it that way—the ones who go out of their way to harp on every picky little thing. “Oh dear is it really important though?” said one such dodo with a particularly annoying style. “We know they had the exact information from God, that's more than we get.”

I wasn’t in the mood. I followed up with: “Oh my, no. Oh dear. God could have just shot him an email and it would have made the same dif. Why people waste their time striving to learn things I’ll never know.”

Another muttered: “And it took Jehovah over 100 years to relay this truth to them...sheesh!”

What is this idiocy? It is the most childish view that these louts have—as though anything spiritual should have been known from the get-go.

When Columbus sailed the oceans blue and discovered America, Queen Isabella said: “And it only took you 1492 years to find it...sheesh!”

When Einstein revealed that E=mc2, the science community said: “And it only took you 6000 years to find it....sheesh!”

Ludicrous examples. But these immature characters expect it to be just that way with respect to spiritual things—that Santa should deliver all the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve, and he had better not drag his rear end and be tardy with any of them. The idea of research is abhorant to them—everything ought be handed them on a platter.

These yo-yos deserve each other.

Besides, one chum of mine who used to work in the art room back in the day said he noticed it long ago—with 5 on each side, what would remain for the reverse? But he said, “Who cares? For all we know there was five on the reverse, too, so both tablets could be read from front or back.”

 

 

 

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If You Can Control the Battle With Your Hands Like a Traffic Signal, Don’t You Think People Would Get the Point?

‪They complained against Moses, and Moses said they were really complaining against God‬

‪Q: How to get it through thick heads that God is really working through Moses?‬

‪A: “As long as Moses kept his hands lifted up, the Israelites prevailed, but as soon as he would let down his hands the Amalekites prevailed. When the hands of Moses were heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands, so that his hands remained steady until the sun set.” (Exodus 17:11-12)

It has to be one of the most vivid object lessons of all time. Moses raises and lower his arms to control battle as though a traffic cop. Why do I think of the Dr. Seuss book ‘Go Dog Go?’ It took those Israelites no time at all to dismiss passing through the Red Sea as “just one of those things.” Maybe it’s because Moses was not the blustering blowhard of Hollywood devising, but like Numbers 12:3 says, “the meekest of all the men on the face of the earth,” not exactly bland, but not the swaggering packaged charisma that folks unquestioningly follow?

Did the object lesson work? Maybe I will start collecting such experiences, seeing that we have entered Exodus in our scheduled weekly reading. I think they cool off in Leviticus but pick up again in Numbers—the Israelites constant bellyaching with Moses, not realizing that it was really with God they were finding fault.

None of these Israelites had a problem with God, they probably would have told you. No—they and God were tight. The problem was with that vanilla upstart, who here and there could pull a miracle out of his hat, that claimed to represent him. Always it is that way—the glitch is the divine/human interface.

“Have him raise his hands and I’ll have his guys win, lower his hands and they’ll lose,” God must have said. “That ought to get it through their thick skulls! Oh, and if his hands get tired—raise them up for him. Got it? It’s not him—it’s me! He can’t even hold his hands up!”

Still, all the time they are castigating Moses, not getting the point that it is Jehovah doing the heavy lifting, not he. Yet, if they don’t get the point, you would think they’d be afraid to cross a guy that could control battle by raising or lowering his arms like a traffic signal. No on that count, as well. Moses raised a fine point when he said to Jehovah, as though tearing out his hair: “What shall I do with these people?” They were real pieces of work.

And yet they differ not so much from people today, who can’t be satisfied on any account. Nor do they differ from those in Jesus’ day, whom he likened to children, posing the question:

Now, to what can I compare the people of this day? They are like children sitting in the marketplace. One group shouts to the other, ‘We played wedding music for you, but you wouldn't dance! We sang funeral songs, but you wouldn't cry!' (Matthew 11:16-17, GNT) You can’t satisfy them.

How ridiculous people must look to the one who created them all—ever spurning his  counsel while  ever demonstrating themselves incapable of devising their own—splintering over ever-expanding grounds for division, hashing out at absurd length the most picayune matters and managing to implement nothing beyond patch over patch over patch. Isn’t this another example of lessons so simple that the huffy people think it not worth their time and separate themselves out? “He’s treating us as though we were children!” they harrumph, oblivious to how the collective record of humanity demonstrates they ought to be treated as children.

This thread will grow, I think—maybe I’ll do something with it someday. I’ll be logging all the instances of when they gave Moses a hard time. I’ll have to start by going back a few chapters, since their grumbling over him has already started. It took no time at all for them to dismiss crossing through the Red Sea as “just one of those things.”

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Pharaoh Kept Coming Though he Had Nothing! Just Like Cool Hand Luke, Except He Wasn’t Cool

About the time that Pharaoh asked Moses for a blessing, John said at the mid-week meeting: “He should have thought of that nine plagues ago!”

Take also your flocks and your herds and go, just as you have said. But you must also bless me,”  (Exodus 12:32) he said. Gods don’t usually make this sort of request, and he was viewed as a god back then. Whether he believed it or not is another thing entirely, but he certainly knew he had a good gig going and didn’t do anything to mess it up. He was good at playing the role.

This is the same guy (John, not Pharaoh) that I had gotten into a routine of working with in the ministry—every Wednesday afternoon, usually. Generally we would ride together but then work separately. When we did work together, we would encourage each other with remarks like: “Try not to mess up this door like you did the last one.” He has a easy way about him, and people readily chat with him whether they agree or not. He’s non-threatening.

But Pharaoh, of course, was super-threatening. After the ninth plague he said to Moses: “Get out of my sight! Make sure that you do not try to see my face again, for on the day you see my face, you will die.” (10:28) When he called back Moses after the tenth plague, the latter could have said: “I thought you said you didn’t want to see this mug anymore,” but he didn’t. He was a good sport that way.

Thihi gave the Bible reading the week before last, and I loved the inflection and pausing he put into it—inflecting up into the object, and pausing briefly afterwards. “Go, serve Jehovah your God. But just who will be going?” Pharaoh wanted to know. “Then Moses said: ‘We will go with our young people...our old people...our sons...our daughters...our sheep...and our cattle”—inflection into each, and pause afterwards—all but saying, “and what are you going to do about it?”

Pharaoh blew a gasket at this and kept laying down terms, yielding a little after each plague. Like George Kennedy said of Cool Hand Luke, “He just kept coming at me, even though he had nothing!” The only thing that didn’t match with Pharaoh was that he wasn’t cool. Not even a dog will bark when we leave, Moses told him. My own dog goes livid at the window when someone has the nerve to walk past on the public street. They just keep on walking, but even that minor disturbance would not happen.

They’d leave with a lot of dough, too. By the time the plagues were done, Egyptians would be so sick of seeing them, and so desirous to keep them happy and moving, that they would load them down with goods. “Jehovah gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that they gave them what they asked for, and they plundered the Egyptians,” (Exodus 12:36) as though God had determined that they would be paid for their many years of labor. Nor did they leave alone, but a “vast mixed company” threw in their lot with them. (12:38) Maybe they included Pharaohs’ own servants, who had worked up the courage to urge him, “How long will this man continue to menace us? Send the men away so that they may serve Jehovah their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt has been ruined?” (10:7)

Thihi is coming along well himself. A Burmese man, initially with so-so English skills, I think the nature of his progress was missed by the one studying the Bible with him. “Where do you see yourself going with this?” he had asked Thihi, unfamiliar with teaching those of halting English and the slower pace it requires. As though the question was the biggest ‘Duh’ imaginable, he had answered that he wants to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We have one of those congregations where Sunday afternoon service is not terribly popular (“It’s like pulling teeth!” Miriam said once, trying to get others to join her)—sometimes it would just be my wife and I. Soon Thihi began to be a regular companion with me, but he wasn’t speaking yet, nor was there any hurry to rush the event. I even thought of finding Burmese people in our area (where there is no Burmese group) calling on them with him in tow, and he could chime in at will, even cutting his teeth that way, but then Covid 19 hit and the physical ministry ended. I do see him on the Zoom meeting when the entire congregation meets for service experiences.

There was some talk about how Moses agreed not to show his face anymore to Pharoah. Wasn’t he rash to say that? What would he do when God said to go back with the next plague? It seemed to me that he had indeed been rash—not so much rash as chicken, but God got him out of a spot by announcing his next plague (the tenth) before he had left the room. But someone else uncovered a research note somewhere that said the whole thing was “parenthetical,” whatever that means. I don’t know—you be the judge:

Pharaoh said to him: “Get out of my sight! Make sure that you do not try to see my face again, for on the day you see my face, you will die.” To this Moses said: “Just as you have spoken, I will not try to see your face again.” Then Jehovah said to Moses: “One more plague I am going to bring upon Pharaoh and Egypt. After that he will send you away from here. When he does send you away, he will literally drive you out of here.” (Exodus 10:28-11:1)

When he did drive them out, it is summed up as: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on this night and strike every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from man to beast; and I will execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt.” Every one of those ten plagues struck at something that a god was supposed to be in charge of. The last eight plagues the “magic-practicing priests” were powerless in the face of. But of the first two, they were not powerless. They were able to replicate the plague.

“[Aaron] lifted up the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile River before the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, and all the water that was in the river was turned into blood... Nevertheless, the magic-practicing priests of Egypt did the same thing with their secret arts...” (7:20-22)

And

Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs began to come up and to cover the land of Egypt.  7 However, the magic-practicing priests did the same thing by their secret arts, and they too made the frogs come up over the land of Egypt.  (8:6-7)

“Yeah, it’s just like Satan,” someone muttered at the mid-week meeting. “He can’t fix anything. He can only screw it up worse!

 

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The Bridegroom of Blood and Rizpah—Verses to Trip up a Scoundrel

When I wrote the post about deciphering the bridegroom of blood, I didn’t know that those verses were on the program. Thus, it might have seemed that I was making some snarky remark about whatever had been written. I wasn’t. 

My post wasn’t really about Zipporah and Moses, anyway—that is but a side point. The real point is that passages like Exodus 4:24-26 are very hard to explain to people...

Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met him and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision”

...and that one effect of them existing is that they serve to separate persons conscious of their spiritual need from persons who are not. It is as though a forerunner of ‘separating the sheep from the goats.’

Ida mentioned an ‘apostate’ in her family who was impressed with the Dawkins book, The God Delusion, someone who “was inquisitive in all the wrong ways and too smart for his own boots.” These characters get separated out by such passages, and the others mentioned in the post, like the one of God ‘making’ the blind one (Exodus 4:11) and the one of Jesus’ flesh and blood—true food and drink (John 6:55). The ones too “smart for their own boots“ (my wife says it is their pants they are too smart for) either are excited that they now have a chance to prove their intellect by explaining what it tells us about some technical point that is not spiritual and doesn’t really matter, anyway. Or, they are put off by it, declaring it ‘ridiculous’ and ‘not worth their time’—and you almost wonder if it is deliberate on God’s part to trip them up this way. I think it is. 

I take such ‘bridegroom of blood’ verses, and for the most part I shelve them. I play around with them a little bit, but if you take them too seriously they become like that pebble in your shoe that begins to drive you nuts. Yeah—it could mean a lot of things, and there is not enough detail to know. Besides, they are essentially trivia, something that doesn’t interest me all that much, even Bible trivia. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t. If there is not enough to go on, I make a few stabs at it, glean or salvage what I can, and move on.

It’s far more interesting to me how people are separated out over such passages—and it is roughly according to their heart. I used to illustrate it with a secular parallel: “When Trump tweets that North Korea has launched its nuclear missels, people of common sense will run for the hills. People of critical thinking will run to their keyboards to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right.”

Unfortunately, the secular situation has grown so toxic that I can barely use that illustration anymore, though I love it. Trump has been under non-stop attack since he began, he has a sizable ego, a background unlike any politician, a crazy set of hurdles to leap, and he has taken to acting so erratically that you don’t know if he is losing it or deliberately goading his enemies—the list of which grows ever longer with each erratic tweet. I don’t even pretend to know what is going on anymore. Heckuva system for running a country, though.

Rizpah offers another example of how sometimes we try to sanitize verses, whereas I almost think it would be better to say, “Hoo, boy!” and move on. Instead, we almost act as though ones like her are as modern-day Witnesses transposed to a different setting, with concerns intact about dress & grooming, and turning in service time. 

With Rizpah, it’s a worse mess than with Zipporah:

“...the daughter of Saul whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite.  Then he handed them over to the Gibeonites, and they hung their dead bodies on the mountain before Jehovah. All seven of them died together; they were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the start of the barley harvest.  Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out on the rock from the start of harvest until rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies; she did not allow the birds of the heavens to land on them by day nor the wild beasts of the field to come near by night. David was told what Saul’s concubine Rizpah the...”

When this was in our CLAM program, the comment was that Rizpah’s great love for God was such that she would not allow the hung bodies to be devoured by the birds overnight because she had such high regard for his law—as though any other woman would have no problem letting the birds devour the remains of her sons. She probably went insane, is my take, and whether she had regard for the law or not hardly seems the point. 

Now, it turns out that I amazed everyone by knowing all about Rizpah—an obscure character that no one else had ever heard of. The reason for this is that there is a book called Rizpah, by Charles Israel, that I read shortly after coming into the truth. The remarkable thing is that it made Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines, the pivotal character, and told everything though her eyes. And in her eyes, Saul was the hero, David the usurper, and “the dishonest scribes” had rewritten history to reverse what had really taken place. 

All the events in Bible narrative were covered. What was remarkable is that it all made perfect sense as she told it—events could be seen from that point of view. I’ll have to read the book again to see if I still feel that way—it’s sitting on my shelf now—I just got it from eBay. But it was the first in a series of impressions—sometimes they have grown weaker and sometimes stronger—that things can be presented another way, and that we choose the way we look at them because we choose a view that leads somewhere—if you choose Rizpah’s view, all you are left with are endless beefs about how things ‘should’ have been.

For me, this carries over as to how we view ‘apostates.’ Things can be seen from their point of view, but we choose ours because it leads somewhere. We avoid theirs because it doesn’t. Or rather it does, just like Rizpah’s views, but it leads to places we do not want to go because of heart. They do want to go where they go, again because of heart. Head has little to do with it—it is just employed to devise a convincing rationale for what the heart has already chosen.

Our choice: matters of life being decided by Jehovah’s standards. Their choice: “The way of Jehovah is not adjusted right,” and thus they choose man’s rule (we do, too, have the wisdom to direct our own step!—and even if we don’t, no one’s telling us what to do!) or they choose ‘Jehovah-lite’—(let’s not worry about us being a people for his name. Let’s redefine it as he being a God for our name). In either case, the head is charged to spin no end of arguments to “make it so,” as Picard would say.

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Amazing New Parchment Brings to Life Details of Exodus 8!

They are wicked smart over there at the Whitepebble Biblical Institute. Dumb people need not apply. Try hard to hide that fact as Wilhelm Whitepebble scrutinizes your job application, because he doesn’t miss much.

A normal day finds him at his desk, elbow-deep in ancient manuscripts, dislodging secrets from them that they yield to no one else. But once in a while he smells a rat. He suspects that verses are missing, just as his great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather did with the Book of Mark—it simply ends too abruptly—and wrote a squirrelly little conclusion himself involving handling snakes and drinking poison.

The current passage that Whitepebble finds curiously incomplete is that of the eighth chapter of Exodus, in which Moses calls forth frogs to plague the land of Egypt and then the magic-practicing priests do the same. “Something is missing,” Wilhelm furrows his brow, “but what?”

Whenever Whitepebble is hot on the scent, he goes out to the dry dessert where parchments are preserved for thousands of years. Sure enough, after poking around a bit, he found one—and it does indeed offer a fascinating footnote to the historical record. It introduces a character found in no other Bible verse—Samthesham Sfinx.

Here is the passage of Exodus 8:1-8 , now revealed as incomplete, that first caught Wilhelm Whitepebble’s attention:

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneadingtroughs: And the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.

“[vs 5] And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. [vs 6]And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt. [vs 7] But the magic practice ing prests did so with their enchantments, and [also] brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt. [vs 8] Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do.”

Scholars, especially the scholars that are not fussy, are much enthused with Whitepebble’s new find, and it is currently housed in the central museum of some little town whose name I forget, where it has been dubbed the whitepebble hogwaticulus manuscript. Manifestly, it calls for a new numbering system, as it extends both the present verse 6 and 7, and makes them of unwieldy length:

“vs 5] And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. [vs 6]And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.

Now, there was dwelling in the land of Egypt a crude man named Samthesham Sfinx, a man harsh in his ways, and uncouth, who was nevertheless a man who put trust in the gods of Egypt. As the frogs came into his house, covering all that was his, and from the kitchen his wife started to let him hear about it, he said, “Not a problem. Don’t we have magic-practicing priests? They’ll get rid of them.”

[vs 7] And then magic practicing priests did likewise with their enchantments, and also brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt. Sam, who had been looking forward to their exodus, found that the frogs had doubled in his home, and his wife shrieked something fierce. And so Sam, earthly man that he was, said to Moses and the magic-practicing priests, “Hey, anytime you guys want to take your pissing contest elsewhere, that will be perfectly fine by me!”

[vs 8] Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do.”

You have to see this amazing parchment, which reveals that rank and file Egyptians of that time entertained an ‘enough-is-enough’ policy regarding frogs. Shoot me a text should you decide to go visit, and I’ll rummage through my notes. I’m pretty sure I’ve still retained where the place is, assuming that my wife hasn’t thrown it away during one of her housecleaning expeditions. It may even be in my glove box. She usually misses that.

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Figuring Out the ‘Bridegroom of Blood’ - Part 2

After I wrote my original post on that tricky ‘Bridegroom of Blood’ set of verses, posted it, and linked to it on Twitter, their were unintended consequences. You must admit that commenting on that passage in Exodus is not exactly a piece of cake: 

“Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met him and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

My post was light in tone. Afterwards someone recalled how at his meeting “one of elders rather swaggered his way through the answer as if it was a slam-dunk.“

This was my first clue that the passage had been on the program. Maybe I was being seen as flippant toward the ‘official’ version, whatever that might be, and if I could do it, he could do it. Another had picked up on the light tone and one-upped it, suggesting that when he met Moses in the resurrection to ask “And this ‘bridegroom of blood’ stuff, what’s that all about?” maybe Moses would say: “Oh, that.  Well it was late when I wrote that, and the grape juice I had been drinking had been sitting around a while, and I guess it must have fermented. . . .“

I began to worry that I was the unwitting head of an insurrection. So I tweeted that I didn’t know what the official version was, and that I had posted what I did without knowing it was even on the program. This brought a clarification from that first brother that he hadn’t meant to mean-mouth anybody, and that he actually holds that elder in high regard.

A little more back and forth, and then BW Schultz points out that the “Insight book explains the "bridegroom of blood" phrasing. I'm surprised few have looked. the explanation found there was first published in a WT in the 1940s.” (Translation: It would be nice if you did a little research before shooting your mouth off.)

So i went to the Insight book (eventually) to read that they don’t really know what the passage means, since “The literal reading of the ancient Hebrew in this passage is veiled in the idioms used nearly 3,500 years ago.”

Consequently, scholars are all over the board as they “attempt to settle questions as to whether it was Moses’ or the child’s life that was threatened, whether Zipporah touched the feet of Moses or the feet of the child or the feet of the angel with the foreskin,” and “why Zipporah said (and to whom she said), “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.” In other words, there is not a single thing that is not up in the air!

Then the Insight book offered up its own version, and it is this version alone that made it into the CLAM program, giving the impression that they really do know—and that, no doubt, accounts for the elder who is said to have “swaggered his way through it”—he ‘read the answer’ in a manner that suggested he didn’t understand it himself.

So when our meeting came, I waited to see if anyone raised their blue Zoom hand, and nobody did. So I raised mine, and said I had read the Insight book that pointed out how nobody really knew, but that the brothers had offered up an educated guess, which was why the passage abounded with words like “possibly,” “seems,” and “appears.” I knew I was untouchable because I had referred to the Insight Book, and probably no one else had read it, having just read the paragraph quoted in the Research Guide. 

I’m done with the hard stuff. I’m going back to taking notes like the tots do, tallying up words to show that I am paying attention:

”Jehovah”  lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll ll

”Jesus” lllll lllll lllll lllll l

”Brother, you’ll have to unmute yourself” lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll llll

.....See Part 3 of “Bridegroom of Blood”

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The Devil and Dennis Christensen

Dennis Christensen was to be released after serving 3 years of his sentence—there is a formula in Russia for counting each day of pre-trial detention as 1.5 days of actual time—but the Ministry of Justice has appealed. He is now in a special holding cell. He was guilty of ‘misconduct’ during his term, the MOJ charges.

He had organized an English class for fellow inmates—how bad can his ‘misconduct’ be? They are trying to break him, Watchtower HQ says, and everyone with a brain in their head knows it is so. His ‘misconduct’ was not renouncing his faith.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard of his early release. Two days later, I saw that I was right not to believe it. The reason I could not believe it is that it flew in the face of recent Russian escalation of efforts to stamp out the faith. The stiffest prison term yet had just been imposed upon sixty-one-year-old Gennady Shepakovsky. Is he not a little old for such harshness, especially when his “crime” is no more than worshipping God per the tenets of his faith? The judge of the case suggested that Jehovah’s Witnesses (there are 175,000 of them!) go to a country where their faith is “more needed.” I thought of how the prophet Amos was told exactly that by rebellious servants of the king:

Off with you, seer, flee to the land of Judah and there earn your bread by prophesying! But never again prophesy in Bethel for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.” It is exactly how an anti-God world responds to hearing his words.

This comes directly on the heels of the MOJ appealing its own victorious verdict against another Witness because the sentence imposed was insufficiently harsh. This comes directly on the heels of another Witness having his citizenship revoked.

These penalties are unheard of—even a crime-boss does not have his citizenship revoked—the Ministry of Justice comes across as unhinged in its hatred of a faith—for that’s all these ones are—members of a faith—and everyone of sense knows it. Russian enemies are fighting Christianity, for none of these convicted ones are guilty of anything other than being Christian—and the most exemplary of Christians at that: Christians who will not kill, Christians who will not steal, lie, fall into sloth, do drugs, abuse alcohol, Christians who do more than their share to contribute to the common good.

It is possible to overplay one’s hand and in so doing provide a glimpse into a deeper reality. There is no human explanation that makes sense for such over-the-top ill-treatment. Therefore, it dawns upon some to look for a super-human explanation. At the Kingdom Hall, a weekly segment for 2 or 3 years running has been a consideration of the book, Jesus’ Life and Ministry, detailing events of his life in chronological order. Last night, his post-Passover final meeting with his disciples came up for examination. Was it to be always easy sailing for those who would stick with him?

Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he has offered a sacred service to God”​—Jesus’ words of John 16:1-2 were reviewed. See why Dennis is not unprepared? He has been fortified with these words all his of his life.

He has also been fortified by Revelation 2:10: “Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.” It is also to be mentioned John 15: 19-21: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world...for this reason the world hates you. Keep in mind the word I said to you: A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me [Jesus], they will also persecute you; if they have observed my word, they will also observe yours. But they will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know the One who sent me.”

So Dennis is not unprepared. He is bummed, no doubt—how could anyone not be? but probably not unprepared. He knows who he is battling, and it is not men. If I didn’t believe his early release, he probably didn’t, either—“not until it is in the bag,” he would have said. He knows he is up against the Devil, standing up as a test case almost like that of Job. The humans don’t matter—if one of them forgets his/her lines or has a change of heart, he is replaced by someone true to the wicked cause of a play that has not only continued from Jesus’ time but is coming to a head. A friend who has traveled to Russia tells me that the brothers there are cautious—but they have always had to be cautious. They find satisfaction in knowing that their resolute stand answers the taunts of the Wicked One before the entire world.

Of course, Dennis had no way of knowing that he would be the test case—no doubt he does not like that. Or maybe he does. You never know. Some Witness survivors of the Holocaust are on record as saying that they would not have traded away their experience if they could, for it gave them opportunity to give answer to the Devil before the world. They mirror the attitude of certain first-century Christians who, upon release from abusive treatment, went out “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of [Jesus’] name. (Acts 5:41)

Is it a coincidence that the weekly Bible reading schedule that Witnesses adhere to has rolled around to Exodus chapter 5, about how Moses’s first foray to Pharaoh initially went badly for the Israelites?

Afterward, Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel says, ‘Send my people away so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’”... “The king of Egypt replied to them: ‘Why is it...that you are taking the people away from their work?’... That same day, Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters and their foremen: “You must no longer give straw to the people to make bricks. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.... Make them work harder, and keep them busy so that they will not pay attention to lies.” (Exodus 5: 1-9)

“Hmm. Is there anything today that corresponds to supposedly good news being turned on its head like in Moses’s time and unexpectedly made harsh news?” I asked myself, and then I read about Dennis being shoved back into the slammer. The events even parallel in how the faithless ones back then charged that Moses had made a hash of his assignment and should have left matters alone—just as faithless ones today have charged that the Witness organization reads the situation wrongly and makes it worse for the Russian Witnesses. “They’re no Moses!” the villains will say. Maybe not, but in this case the developments could not have paralleled those of Moses more closely. In fact, the modern Russian brothers put the Israelites to shame, for the latter did blame Moses for their problems. “May Jehovah look upon you and judge, since you have made Pharaoh and his servants despise us and you have put a sword in their hand to kill us,” they accused the one assigned to deliver them. (vs 21)

“There’s something happening here—what it is ain’t exactly clear,” sings the Buffalo Springfield—50 years too soon and on the wrong stage. The fog is dissipating fast. Russia becomes the most visible nation to fight against God. “The kings of the earth take their stand, and high officials gather together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one” (Psalm 2:2), and Russia acts as though wanting to lead the charge. You never know when a given king will read ahead and decline to play the game, for the ending bodes ill for them: “Ask of me, and I will give nations as your inheritance,” God says to his son, “and the ends of the earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron scepter, and you will smash them like a piece of pottery.” So far, though, most are adhering to script.

Matters are coming to a head—you can smell it. Is it reasonable to insist that Exodus 5 finds a parallel in today’s Russian events? No. But it’s reasonable to suggest it—just as it was reasonable to suggest that the then-scheduled Bible reading of the Assyrian army assaulting Jerusalem prepared the hearts of Russian brothers who were facing immanent ban of their organization in 2017.

Is it reasonable to look at these parallels? It hardly matters. Reason has had its day in the sun. It has been weighed in the scales and found wanting. The point of 2 Timothy 3: 1-5 is that in the last days people would forget all about reason—and a host of other stabilizing qualities. Does it seem that reason is the order of the day in light of the Covid 19 epidemic, as punctuated by protests escalating to riots, as a black man’s death at the hands of police stokes mayhem around the world? Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the few—at least in my American home—who without fuss don masks. Normal meetings and methods of ministry are suspended, and it is almost as though ones are retreating to interior rooms until the denunciation passes. Anger, not reason, becomes the order of the day, and it is not so foolish to lie low during that time.

The world is not friendly to Christian values. The persecution that Jesus guaranteed would visit his followers is not to be averted. But what can be guaranteed, as Paul said to Agrippa, is that this thing will “not be done in a corner.” It will receive maximum publicity so that whoever is of good heart will be moved by it. This the Witness organization has done and continues to do.

F2E68996-3C00-4677-A35C-8F0777394BCD

...This post will soon be appended to the free ebook: Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses write Russia. The book is in ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ version—the only difference being that in ‘safe’ version, all quotes from Watchtower publications are redacted. Even if is the New World Translation quoting Jesus on how we must love our enemies. “Redacted for reader safety,” it will say.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Figuring Out the ‘Bridegroom of Blood’

Whoa! What a mess! Better defuse this one. It’s right there in our assigned Bible reading this week:

Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met [Moses] and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: ‘It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.’  So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

What in the world is that all about? I hate to say it—maybe it betrays a weakness on my part—but I cannot rely on the brothers to clear this up. Too often, it seems to me, they go after such verses determined to ‘clean them up’—‘put a smiley face on it’—and....um...it’s really not that easy to do, is it? That’s how they—and nearly all other Bible-believers—go on and on about how Dinah was raped because she hung out with the wrong crowd, and appear not to notice the rather huge elephant in the room—her brothers slaughtered the whole tribe in retribution! Oh, I guess the fact that Jacob rebuked them counts for something, but even so....

It’s like when the she-bears come out of the woods and devour the 42 children making fun of Elijah—“Go up, you baldhead!” they shout with glee but they stop shouting it as the bears were making child-sandwiches out of them (2 Kings 2:23-24). You can—as our people have done, lecture on how those parent should have better trained their “juvenile delinquent” offspring, and then (this they have not done—but it is the kind of thing that appears sometimes) maybe will even go off on a tangent about how the Bible is accurate because it doesn’t say ‘about 40’—it says 42–and thus it reflects getting the details straight, the mark an historian, and not a fairy tale which would content itself with ‘about 40’—but—well, that doesn’t quite smooth it over for everyone, does it? As far as I concerned, about the best you can do with those verses is to assign them to a bald brother who will tap his shiny dome as though he is a protected species and suggest that you’d better not give him any grief. I did try—I really did—to put a smiley face on this one, or at least a plausible one, building off a vaguely parallel contemporary report, and I am rather pleased with the result, but let me tell you: it ain’t easy reconciling cultures thousands of years apart.

Don’t think it need be thousands of years, and don’t think it need be the Bible. “Here, I thought you might like this,” researcher B.W. Shultz tweets to me, as though he were flicking a spec of dandruff off his shoulder. It is an ebook from 1884: Rochester—A Story Historical, and it upends everything I thought I knew about my home, upstate New York! It turns out that the first settler in what became Rochester, Ebenezer Allan, was a scoundrel. He was a barbarous ne’er do well. He was a drunken lout. He’d pair up with Mary Jemison’s (the white woman on the Genesee) no-good son—the one who shoved around his mom whenever he’d consumed too much firewater, which was a frequent occurrence—and raise all manner of hell.

Now—it’s a little hard, when you are holding up your city as a shining example to the world, to come to grips with how its first settler was a dirtbag. But a certain town historian tries—she tries mightily. She seizes on the fact that he was not a lowlife in every way—he actually could work hard when he wanted to and he did run some diplomatic missions that did benefit, even if accidentally, persons other than himself. She gushes on of how he “found happiness” after taking on yet another wife, and does not mention how with a former one, he had guys paddle her on a canoe to the falls and bail out so that she would go over and not they—for is that not but a trifle in the overall tale of a man’s finding happiness? The poor woman—she swum to shore and then went to beg the jerk’s forgiveness! Our historian is determined to plaster lipstick on a rather hideous pig, and she works up to the hope that “If history colors him a little testy at times, perhaps it needs to reflect opon the primitive conditions of that era and be a little more understanding of, and charitable to, Mr. Allan.” Elsewhere, she genuflects to him as “one of the frontier's greatest romantic rogues.”

So with that established—that outrageous histories abound and the temptation to clean them up is not unique to Bible students, let’s try to clean up this mess at Exodus, knowing that the critical thinker may not be satisfied with our effort—perhaps even cynically ad-libbing “At least they gave attention to their dress and grooming”—with whatever spin the Watchtower puts on those verses. It’s hard to know where to start, but we could acknowledge that Abraham decreed circumcision for his offspring as a sign of a special relationship with God, that Moses “knew or should have known” that, and that Moses accordingly should have seen to it that his son was circumcised. Maybe it didn’t occur to him, because Issac and Jacob deliberately set out to find and marry one of their own, whereas he, Moses, had to hotfoot it out of Egypt and take whoever he could get—believer or not. “Here, you can have my daughter,” Midian says—and that’s the way marriages were commonly done—women were used to build alliances. It’s not exactly the world of today, is it? That’s how royalty might end up with hundreds of wives, and have to put them in a harem—a lonely existence for women: men gave their daughters to form alliances and otherwise get in good with the king.

“He probably didn’t circumcise him because he was a man just like you, and he was oblivious to what everyone else knew he should be doing,” says my wife, as she glances at the back lawn, the grass now as high as an elephant’s eye. She may be on to something. At any rate, you don’t mess with Jehovah. It was Zipporah who guessed what the problem might be, as Moses was thinking “Why is this angel messing with me?—I’m the good guy!” and it was she who did something about it, taking responsibility for it, though it hardly seems her fault. I won’t go so far as to say that she said, similar to Abigail, “Please, my Lord. You know how it is with Moses. He has his head in the clouds always. He’s so spiritually minded, he’s no earthly good.” No. I won’t say it. You don’t think I know what happened to Koran, Dathan, and Abiram?

Thus, all that remains is to explain away her words: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” I’m not touching it—I’ve done enough—other than to observe that blood was something thought sacred back then—today it just sounds gory and calls to mind a Freddy Krueger movie—and in some way she is acknowledging the sacredness of bonds that we are oblivious to today. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have given it on the altar for you to make atonement for yourselves, because it is the blood that makes atonement by means of the life in it,” the Torah says, as we scratch our heads at something that we know we probably should know more about but don’t.

So we can clean that one up, more or less, at least enough to carry on. But what is it doing there in the first place—the outrageous passage? Is it just there to trip us up? The question is better asked by going to a less-weird, but still not what we would expect, passage—that of Moses trying to wheedle out of an assignment:

“Moses now said to Jehovah: “Pardon me, Jehovah, but I have never been a fluent speaker, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  Jehovah said to him: “Who made a mouth for man, or who makes them speechless, deaf, clear-sighted, or blind? Is it not I, Jehovah?  So go now, and I will be with you as you speak, and I will teach you what you should say.”  (Exodus 4:10-12) Really? He makes them “speechless, deaf, or blind?”

Let’s see what the brothers toss our way in the Research Guide. On those verses, there is a link to the 3/15/04 Watchtower, that says: “Although Jehovah has on occasion caused blindness and muteness, he is not responsible for every case of such disabilities. (Genesis 19:11; Luke 1:20-22, 62-64) These are the result of inherited sin. (Job 14:4; Romans 5:12) Since God has allowed this situation to exist, however, he could speak of himself as ‘appointing’ the speechless, the deaf, and the blind.”

Okay. I can roll with that. If you look at the greater picture, and those other verses, it certainly seems that it is that way. However—why not word it more precisely there in Exodus to begin with, and save everyone the trouble? Is God trying to mess with us? My guess is that he is. Recall the illustration of the secretary composing a letter for the boss. It is said to be the boss’s letter, but he didn’t actually write it—the secretary did. And it turns out that the secretary, in Exodus case, is like all humans—the treasure is carried in ‘earthen vessels.’ And God rolls with it: “Oh, wow—that ought to mess them up!” he whistles, as he surveys the work of the secretary. “Let’s see what they do with that one!”

Call it “testing” people if you like. God does it. It has a way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Nowhere is it more apparent than with Jesus telling how persons must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to be saved. (John 6:52) “This is outrageous!” all the huffy ones say. “Who can make sense out of this? My time is too important for this nonsense!” and they stomp off before they can hear God say, “Who gave you any time at all, you pompous buffoon, so that you can carry on about how important it is?” Jesus’ disciples, of course, couldn’t figure it out either, but awareness of their own spiritual need was sufficient for them to stick around and find out.

So it is with the “bridegroom of blood” passage. Leave it where it is. Let the learned ones say, “This just shows that there are many sources of ancient history competing for the final word, and that they all want to stick in their two cents, and the reason it doesn’t make any sense is that they were all fighting their own turf wars and advancing their own opinions, and it all got jumbled up together, and I know it was that way in that world back then, because it is that way in the educated world in which I hang out, and I have never seen it any other way, so it must be there is none.” Meanwhile, the regular people will say of the passage, “Huh!” make a mental note to research it someday that will probably never come, and go on to consider with benefit the meat of the chapter.

See Part 2.

 

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