The Gem I Learned is That Jacob Married Into a Family of Shysters

Jacob protested: “Hey! I was betrothed to marry Rachel, and you foisted Leah upon me! What gives?”

“You’re not much for reading the fine print, are you?” said Laban. “It’s in paragraph 242: “It is not our custom here to give the younger woman before the firstborn.” (Genesis 29:26) “You knew or should have known this.”

There was a part of me that when they came to that meeting question of what ‘gem’ I had picked up from Genesis 29 & 30 wanted to say that Jacob had married into a ‘gem’ of a family—a real bunch of shysters. And to think he slept with Leah, supposing it was Rachel? C’mon! How can that be?

The research guide explains how that can be. Speaking of bride customs of the time: “First she would bathe herself and rub herself with perfumed oil....she put on breastbands and a white robe, often richly embroidered...decked herself with ornaments and jewels...then covered herself with a light garment, a form of veil, that extended from head to foot.”

She must have looked like a Christmas tree! And then take her into a dark tent—she keeps her mouth shut, and Jacob isn’t in a chatty mood himself, and yeah—I can see how it could happen.

If Jacob married into a family of shysters—well, it serves him right, for he was somewhat of a shyster himself. Wasn’t he? It is not even a separate family, for they are relatives, and not all that distant.

He had been opportunistic with his dumbbell brother Esau, snatching the birthright when Esau was hungry and couldn’t offhand see the relevance of it—he was hungry NOW and the birthright represented some nebulous benefits for LATER: “And Esau continued: “Here I am about to die! What use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32)

Pop was not all that much different, so it would seem. He favored Esau, and why? “And Isaac loved Esau because it meant game in his mouth.” (Genesis.25:28) As for Jacob’s mom: “Rebekah loved Jacob.” She loved him so much that she told him how to pull a fast one on her husband—she knew that if you put food into his belly you could talk him into anything—to secure the blessing for himself, just like he had secured the birthright.

Laban got seven years of work out of Jacob. It was the bridal price apparently. Bridal price was customary and Jacob didn’t come with the means to pay it, so he agreed to the seven years, and “but in his eyes they were like just a few days because of his love for her.” (Genesis 29:20) My wife likes that verse.

He gets ANOTHER seven years out of him in order to work off his debt for Rachel. At least he delivered that second daughter pronto and didn’t make Jacob hold off for another seven years—I mean, there are limits. “Celebrate the week of this woman [Leah]. After that you will also be given this other woman in exchange for serving me seven more years,” says the wheeler-dealer. [By the way, is it only me who feels for poor Leah?]

So you don’t feel too sorry when Jacob outmaneuvers the conniver through a process so convoluted that I can’t begin to get my head around it to increase his own flock of sheep at Laban’s expense:

Jacob then took freshly cut staffs of the storax, almond, and plane trees, and he peeled white spots in them by exposing the white wood of the staffs. Then he placed the staffs that he had peeled in front of the flock, in the gutters, in the drinking troughs, where the flocks would come to drink, that they might get into heat in front of them when they came to drink. So the flocks would get into heat in front of the staffs, and the flocks would produce striped, speckled, and color-patched offspring. Then Jacob separated the young rams and turned the flocks to face the striped ones and all the dark-brown ones among the flocks of Laʹban. Then he separated his own flocks and did not mix them with Laʹban’s flocks. And whenever the robust animals would get into heat, Jacob would place the staffs in the gutters before the eyes of the flocks, that they might get into heat by the staffs. But when the animals were weak, he would not place the staffs there. So the weak ones always came to be Laʹban’s, but the robust ones became Jacob’s. And the man grew very prosperous, and he acquired great flocks and male and female servants and camels and donkeys.” (Genesis 30:37-43)

If anyone has the patience to work through that one, I’m all ears. It may be one of those things that you have to be a farmer to appreciate—I’ll bet Farmer Mort takes it in stride—and it reminds me of that circuit overseer who would point out that “a working mule won’t kick, and a kicking mule won’t work.” His purpose was to highlight the value of cooperation. He was a sensation in the rural congregations, but then he got to the big city and nobody knew what a mule was.

They’re all shysters! They all pull fast ones on each other. They all cause HQ to hem and haw throughout Genesis that “well—there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jehovah approved of these little shenanigans.” I’m not so sure it is the best approach. If you conceded that they did some maneuvering back in the day, you wouldn’t get so bent out of shape if it turns out they’ve done some maneuverings, end-runs, and power plays in the modern day organization. Don’t carry on that Rutherford outmaneuvered the Russell devotees, or that Knorr or Franz or whoever didn’t cross all the T’s or dot all the ‘I’s. Instead, picture God saying: “What a bunch of yo-yos! How am I going to get anything done through this mess? I’ll just make they keep their paws off their neighbor’s wives like my servant David did not and let it go at that!”

Esau wasn’t even that bad of a guy, really. He was just too much ‘earth’ on the ‘earth/fire/air/water’ pinwheel. There’s plenty of solid and respected brothers only slightly higher than him overall—you know, brothers that are rock-solid dependable and there is no practical ability that they cannot master and they love a good solid meal after a hard day’s work—but you have to prod them to do their daily Bible reading, and they continually carry on about how they don’t like study, and find reading a bore.

How could Esau have been, really? He took a couple of Hittite wives that drove his parents nuts, but he was hardly the first one to do this. Didn’t Moses have a couple of these clunkers, too? Or was it just ‘foreign’ wives without reference to specific nationality?

When Esau was 40 years old, he took as wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and also Basemath the daughter of Elan the Hittite. They were a source of great grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:34)

He mended his bad ways. “Esau then realized that the daughters of Caʹnaan were displeasing to his father Isaac, so Esau went to Ishmael and took as wife Mahalath the daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, the sister of Nebaioth, in addition to the other wives he already had.” (Genesis 28:8-9) It’s a though he says: “Huh! The folks like wives from the A-team? Okay, I’ll go out and get me one of those.” I mean, he could have married some dragon-lady just to spite them, but he didn’t.

And he forgave Jacob, despite of lifetime of being outmaneuvered by the little twerp. Here, decades later, the two respective families are about to encounter each other, and Jacob is sweating it that Esau will view it as payback time. He sends forth emissaries with presents to suck up to him, but it is all water under the bridge to Esau—contrast that to some pinheaded people even of our own who will nurse a grudge till the end of their days.

Esau said: “What is the purpose of all this camp of travelers that I have met?” He replied: “In order to find favor in the eyes of my lord.” Then Esau said: “I have a great many possessions, my brother. Keep what is yours.” However, Jacob said: “No, please. If I have found favor in your eyes, you must take my gift from my hand, because I brought it so that I could see your face. And I have seen your face as though seeing God’s face, in that you received me with pleasure. Take, please, the gift conveying my blessing that was brought to you, for God has favored me and I have everything I need.” And he continued to urge him, so that he took it.” (Genesis 33:8-11)

Was Isaac all that different from Esau? Despite Jacob’s spirituality, Isaac preferred Esau because it meant game in his stomach. He didn’t think to send Jacob away to marry a worshipper of Jehovah of his own accord—Rebekah’s complaining prodded him to do it. And why did he yet go ahead and attempt to bless Esau if he appreciated that by rights it belonged to Jacob? There are chapters in the Bible about Abraham, and chapters in the Bible about Jacob. But Isaac is more or less of a placeholder. Not all that much is written about him. Who knows? Maybe he was traumatized by almost  being sacrificed.

So Esau turned out to be okay himself—not hot stuff spiritually, but not hostile either. But he didn’t teach his kids. That’s the trouble with brothers who are too much ‘earth.’ They can neglect passing on spiritual gems to their own kids and what they do pass on is in the form of do’s and don’t, absent the principles that give them heart-appeal, and the kids become Edomites, without a spiritual bone in their bodies.

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Jacob Pulls a Fast One on Esau - Twice! (Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me)

Thoughts gleaned from Genesis 27:

Am I right on this or does Isaac seem more of a placeholder than a factor in himself? Abraham & Jacob are good stuff. But Isaac slobbering over Esau, for the game he could bring in? He doesn’t really come across as all that spiritual as a character. Rebekah knows that once you put a good meal in his belly you can talk him into doing anything. That’s not to say he is non-spiritual—no. He is probably rock-solid. But it is not his strong suit—he is given with matters more ordinary.

Okay, okay, Jacob is a good guy. Got it. But let no one say he was not an opportunist. I mean, he certainly didn’t say of Esau: ‘My brother’s making a dumb move. I’d better see he comes to no harm because of it.’ Twice he chiseled the older brother out of a good deal: “At this he said: “Is he not rightly named Jacob, that he might supplant me these two times? My birthright he has already taken, and now he has taken my blessing!” Esau rages. (Gen 27:36)

I gave up long ago on trying to explain these guys or put them out there for everyone to emulate. There is not a one of them without dozens of skeletons in the closet. The ancient world is one strange place with customs and ways not easy to get one’s head around.

Even the idea of seeking a blessing from Dad—what’s that about? My Dad’s blessing was a hope that I would stay out of the hoosegow, which fortunately I have managed to do. The whole concept of firstborn falls pretty flat today in American culture, though it still holds sway in some places.

In the annoying moments of our people—though they are not so bad as many believers—they sanctify these characters after the fact, putting favorable spin on things that read pretty dubious straight off the page. In their absolute worst moments, they present them as modern-day JWs themselves but in an ancient setting, concerns intact about dress and grooming and such things.

But overall they say that, ‘Look, the Bible is history. Nobody is saying that because it is in the Bible, even as the deeds of one of the ‘good guys,’ it is the wonderful thing for you to copy. The Bible is human history—and where is the following quote made?—history of events when persons and nations worshiped Jehovah, history of events when they knew of Him but did not, and history of those peoples who never knew anything about him—and all the while, amidst this backdrop, the promised Seed is being developed and nurtured.’

I remember one ‘All in the Family’ scene in which someone reads some clearly sordid verse in the Bible. “That’s terrible!” Gloria exclaims, and Archie quickly intercedes with, “It’s beautiful—it’s in the Bible.” No, it’s really terrible. But as one modern brother put it, when the younger brothers started squabbling over something: “It’s amazing what Jehovah can do considering what he has to work with.” It is a better take than that of a more cynical brother—someone who did not remain faithful: “The truth is such a beautiful thing—it’s a shame God had to waste it on people” That doesn’t fly. You have to cultivate a love of people in order to survive.

Meantime, I entertain my own ideas of the basic nature of people, different constitutions of different areas of emphasis—most notably the ‘air—water—earth—fire’ pinwheels that people are said to fall on. The descriptions keep popping up in psychology, in ancient thinking, in diverse cultures—and they are not necessarily presented the same, but they can overlap. Carl Jung went big into this kind of thing, but the ideas far precede him. Those Myers-Briggs tests of 16 different personality types stem from the same undercurrents.

I like especially the contrast between air and earth. The ‘air’ personality is obsessed with ‘airy’ thoughts. Such persons are quick to entertain the spiritual—‘head in the clouds’—not practical at all at their worst—‘so spiritual that they are no earthly good’ is one blunt way to say it. At their very worst, they are so much of the air that their feet lose contact with the ground and they are lost in worlds of their own making.

The ‘earth’ person is just the opposite. Always grounded, always completely comfortable on earth. There is no way an earth person becomes seasick, or if they do, they either master it quickly or forevermore avoid the sea—“Not coming near that stuff, again!” they say, so disconcerting is it to have ‘earth’ interrupted. An earth person absolutely loves a good meal and will carry on about it forever—whereas an ‘air’ person barely notices it and practically begrudges the time it takes to prepare and consume. They are rock-solid, capable, practical, certainly capable of solid spirituality, but it is not their specialty, and at worst they can forget about it completely as they hone in on things physical.

There is also the ‘fire’ and the ‘water’ person, but these attributes seemed not to be so developed, or perhaps they did not resonate so much with me. They strike me as modifying influences on the ‘air’ and ‘ground’ but it may be they should be taken as orientations in themselves. ‘Fire’ is, not surprisingly, associated with impulsiveness, zeal, ‘hot-headedness.’ ‘Water’ is cooling, and is partly so by being flexible, able to quickly wrap around any situation and squelch trouble. It strikes me as these are probably persons who can bring opposing camps together—a task not always easy. When ideas are too far apart, by even explaining one side to the other you are accused of pushing that idea. No, it is not easy. But if there is anyone who can do it, it is a ‘water’ person.

Isaac was earth. Jacob was air. Esau was earth. It’s the way I look at it, anyway.

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Social Distancing in Genesis

Social distancing’—a term unheard of two weeks ago—today deemed as vital as breathing air. Read Genesis to see examples of it. Having a whole bunch of animals seems to be all you need to do the trick.

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also owned sheep, cattle, and tents. So the land did not allow for all of them to stay in the same place; their goods had become so many that they could no longer dwell together. As a result, a quarrel arose between the herders of Abram’s livestock and the herders of Lot’s livestock....So Aʹbram said to Lot: “Please, there should be no quarreling between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land available to you? Please, separate from me. If you go to the left, then I will go to the right; but if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:5-9)

Today it would be called social distancing. You do it by having so many animals that your neighbor can’t stand to be around you.

Suppose he can stand it. How do you get him to move on in that case? You shut off his water:

The man [Isaac] became wealthy, and he continued to prosper until he became very wealthy. He acquired flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and a large body of servants, and the Philistines began to envy him. So the Philistines took soil and stopped up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham. Abimelech then said to Isaac: “Move from our neighborhood, for you have grown far stronger than we are.” So Isaac moved from there and encamped in the valley of Gerar and began dwelling there. And Isaac again dug the wells that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham but that the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death, and he called them by the names that his father had given them.” (Genesis 26: 13-18)

But what happens if you haven’t moved away far enough? Then you argue over the pipes, and even name them:

When the servants of Isaac were digging in the valley, they found a well of fresh water. And the shepherds of Gerar began quarreling with the shepherds of Isaac, saying: “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they had quarreled with him.”  (vs 19-20)

Esek means ‘contention.’ It is the definition of the Hebrew word.

And they started digging another well, and they began quarreling over it also. So he named it Sitnah.” (21)

Sitnah means ‘accusation.’

Later he moved away from there and dug another well, but they did not quarrel over it. So he named it Rehoboth and said: “It is because now Jehovah has given us ample room and has made us fruitful in the land.”  (22)

Reboboth means ‘broad places.’ Ahh—at last—enough room between you and the scoundrels.

Imagine—naming the wells! We don’t name faucets, yet they named wells. It was that important—water. What causes social distancing in this case, besides loads of animals? Water. We really are ‘people of the dirt,’ aren’t we? Not to mention ‘people of the water.’

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Abraham Enacts the Drama of the Ages, and Bart Messes it all Up

That God should ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son makes no sense at all and is even offensive—even barbaric. ‪It only makes sense when seen as forerunner for God sacrificing his own son in order to redeem others. It is all the more pointed when Abraham offers up the supplied ram In place of his son, calling to mind how God offers up a son in place of another.

Now after this the true God put Abraham to the test, and he said to him: “Abraham!” to which he replied: “Here I am!” Then he said: “Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and travel to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will designate to you.”....  (Genesis 22:1-2)

Then Isaac said to his father Abraham: “My father!” He replied: “Yes, my son!” So he continued: “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” To this Abraham said: “God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering, my son.” (vs 7-8)

But Jehovah’s angel called to him from the heavens and said: “Abraham, Abraham!” to which he answered: “Here I am!” Then he said: “Do not harm the boy, and do not do anything at all to him, for now I do know that you are God-fearing because you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.” At that Abraham looked up, and there just beyond him was a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.  (vs 11-13)

Bart Ehrman (my new villain) is doing his best to aggravate me, with some success. He says that after Jesus’ death, his disciples (and the more learned others, as though the original were dummies—“peasants” he calls them, with the implicit understanding that peasants are too stupid to derive “theology”) who had not a clue that Jesus would be put to death, tried to afterward rework it into a “victory” by “reinterpreting” passages of Hebrew scripture written for who knows what reason and applying them to Jesus. Doubtless, this passage is an example of that.

In fact, that is pretty much what happened. Bart gets this part right, but it is the air he emits of them pulling the scam of the ages that rankles. It is the air of examining intently all the pieces but never thinking to put them together, and being thoroughly obtuse when someone else does—of being unimpressed, possibly because of not wanting them to come together that way—and so it all goes over his head as he obsesses with the individual pieces. 

Going through this fellow’s Great Courses lectures, the feeling grows on me that, having ascended to the ranks of “scholar” himself, he is kind to scholars everywhere—both now and of those in early Christian times. When he gushes on about how some scholars think this, but other scholars think that, I am reminded exactly of why the lowly people were astounded at Jesus means of teaching—he didn’t teach as the scribes, constantly quoting each other, but taught as though one with authority. 

When Jesus finished these sayings, the effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching, for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)

He oohs and ahhh over “scholars” of the first century, too, and the feeling grows with me that it accounts for his treating Pharisees and Saducees with such respect. He doesn’t at all share Jesus’ ‘narrowmindedness’ in being so hard on them. Saducess are ‘the ruling class,’ so you know that is going to impress Bart, who now “rules” himself at the university, being deferred to. And the Pharisees? Just a religiously devout group of Jews who were serious about keeping the Law—what in the world is wrong with that? Why criticize people for their “theology?” he appears to believe.

Did the Jewish leaders scheme for Jesus’ execution? Well—yes, he concedes, but he passes it off as though it is just a few bad apples in an otherwise sincere bunch, much like a renegade politician storming as though a bull in a china shop. Maybe not even that. Jesus antagonized them, after all, by leaving the hills of Galilee, where his carrying on could be ignored, and coming right into Jerusalem, right into the temple and disrupting the established respectable religion, as though Bart would maintain he had no right to do this—he should have recognized their turf and conducted himself with proper decorum.

Besides, those Jewish leaders didn’t kill Jesus—Pilate did, and since Pilate comes from an authoritarian faction that no longer exists and can thus be disrespected without offending anyone important, Bart does just that. Pilate had no concern whatsoever for justice, Bart maintains. His job was to get rid of rabble-rousers, like Jesus, before they disturbed the peace and upset the status quo. He did it all the time and had no qualms about killing people. Life and death was in his hand—he was a tyrant who afforded Jesus a “trial” that lasted maybe two minutes before ridding himself and the empire of him.

In fact, one who reads the accounts of Jesus trial can’t help but be struck with how hard Pilate works to release Jesus. He knows that the preacher popular with the crowds is being framed. He also knows that the framers are trying to bully he himself, and he resents it. He only yields to those Jewish religious thugs when they force him to choose between Jesus and himself. “For this reason Pilate kept trying to find a way to release him, but the Jews shouted: “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar,” they point out darkly at John 19:12. That took the wind out of him. He doesn’t need those community leaders reporting him as a traitor to Caesar. He doesn’t need to be painted as though a party to insurrection. Better to grant the scoundrels what they want. So he does—but he is furious about it. He posts a sign above the stake that Jesus is impaled upon: “The king of the Jews.”

However, the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered: “What I have written, I have written.” (vs 21-22) He was so fed up with them. Granted, he didn’t exactly trade away everything he had like the merchant finding the fine pearl, did he? But neither is he portrayed as callously indifferent to the sufferings of an innocent man or an eager participant of injustice.

Possibly Bart offloads all the blame on Pilate because he, as a leader of society, feels an obligation to facilitate other leaders getting along. He downplays the Jewish connection maybe because that might feed into current anti-semitism (not an invalid concern). Revise history if need be to pin in all on the evil Romans, who are all dead and gone. I’m not blind to the concern, but when Mel Gibson, director of ‘The Passion,’ was asked directly whether Jesus had been killed by the Jews, he replied: “Well, it wasn’t the Scandinavians.”

Probably—I do not know this for sure—but probably Bart will sweep all these ‘softening’ factors with regard to Pilate aside. I am on to his tricks, as he employs ‘critical analysis’ to define history the humanistic way that he wants it defined. He will, if I am correct, dismiss all these humanizing touches of Pilate for having failed the “criterion of contextual credibility.” Yes, the gospel accounts may say what they do about Pilate, ‘but it is not credible because we have determined—my fellow scholars and I—that the Romans were nothing but brutes. Some early Christian writer just made that up’—if there is one thing that defines Bart’s perception, it is that everyone spun the story of Jesus their own way for their own personal advantage to validate whatever they had settled upon doing.

Everything goes over Bart’s head! He is so exasperating! Everything is a power play with this guy—a struggle for dominance by the ones who have reached the top of their game—just as he has himself as a professor with dozens of books authored and GreatCourses itself bestowing greatness upon him, immortalizing him as the great instuctor in all matters of Judeo-Christian religion. He treats the ascension of Christianity to worldwide prominence as though a team reaching the Super Bowl, celebrating the victory of being best in the world, oblivious to trade-offs of players along the way. It’s okay for football teams to do this, but in the case of a faith it amounts to selling its soul. He doesn’t even notice it though, and if you point it out to him he will not think it particularly important. The point is that they reached the Super Bowl; with the acceptance of Constantine, Christianity became the most important religion in the whole wide world! Score!!!!

Now, I readily concede that this is a subjective piece—my take on Bart. But there is barely anything anywhere that is not. Everyone looks at things though their own subjective lens. It is completely a myth that we are primarily rational beings. It is enough to say that we are capable of reason, but to say that it dominates is just too much. We are creatures of emotion, and that emotion is molded by our experience and background. One is quickly struck by how often Bart maintains that “we can assume” this or “we can assume” that. In fact, we cannot assume any of it just because he does. He raises possibilities, but no more, and upon consideration of the big picture, not very likely possibilities. A person with different experience or different motivation will, if we are going to “assume” things, assume entirely different things. The ones most blind are often the ones who revel in their ‘critical thinking’ because they are ever apt to “assume” that they have a lock on the stuff. The heart reaches for what it wants and then charges the head with devising a convincing rationale for it. This lends the impression that the head is calling the shots, but it is the heart all along.

I focus on Bart so as to put a human face on things. I shouldn’t, and in other posts about Bart, I don’t. It is not Bart himself, but what he represents. It took me the longest time to recognize why the Watchtower seldom names villains. It is the play we are watching, not the actors in the play. You don’t have to know the names of the actors to follow the play—it can even be a distraction if you do. Besides, name a villain and you automatically create the impression that removing that villain will improve things. Instead, another actor instantly steps into the role—he has the part memorized—and the play continues with barely a hiccup.

“Yeah, well Tom, you’re just grousing because Bart sells tons more books than you, and he sells it with a machinery that you cannot match. He has editors and professional enablers and you can’t even manage to get all your typos out of all your scribblings! He gets a perch at the university and you have to fight off even many of your own people who think that whatever you are trying to do you are doing it wrong and should stop.”

Okay, okay, so there is something to that. It is the oldest story in the world. There is stuff that is readily lapped up because it aligns itself with mainstream goals and urges, and there is stuff that doesn’t. It was even true following that great trial in Jerusalem. Both Pilate and the Jewish religious leaders resumed their dignified strutting, their privileged walk only briefly jostled—and not very seriously. The lowly ones who put their trust in Jesus scratch their heads and wonder what just it was that happened. Only later do they think to revisit that drama of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son.

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Was Abraham Autistic?—Who Would Have Thought It?

4000 years after Abraham bargained with God—the verses read as though he got the better of Him!—along comes a writer who suggests the man was autistic. Only if you had autism would you be so completely unaware of the impropriety of staring down God, so goes the rationale. Here is exchange, located at Genesis 18:

Then Abraham approached and said: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are 50 righteous men within the city. Will you, then, sweep them away and not pardon the place for the sake of the 50 righteous who are inside it? It is unthinkable that you would act in this manner by putting the righteous man to death with the wicked one so that the outcome for the righteous man and the wicked is the same! It is unthinkable of you. Will the Judge of all the earth not do what is right?”

Then Jehovah said: “If I find in Sodom 50 righteous men in the city, I will pardon the whole place for their sake.”

But Abraham again responded: “Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah, whereas I am dust and ashes. Suppose the 50 righteous should lack five. Because of the five will you destroy the whole city?” To this he said: “I will not destroy it if I find there 45.” But yet again he spoke to him and said: “Suppose 40 are found there.” He answered: “I will not do it for the sake of the 40.” But he continued: “Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me go on speaking: Suppose only 30 are found there.” He answered: “I will not do it if I find 30 there.”

But he continued: “Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah: Suppose only 20 are found there.” He answered: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the 20.” Finally he said: “Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me speak just once more: Suppose only ten are found there.” He answered: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” When Jehovah finished speaking to Abraham, he went his way and Abraham returned to his place.

Did Abraham just get the better of God? Only an autistic man would be so rash to try! It reminds me of when I entered the living room of a home where I had been invited and an autistic son descending the stairs said to me (four times his age) “What are you doing here?” “Asperger’s” is the specific brand of autism we are speaking of here, I think, though the writer does not say it.

This post was introduced to me with the ‘Hoo boy!’ remark that “Now they're speculating as to whether Abraham had autism. These retro-diagnoses really are getting a bit out of hand.” So I was prejudiced against it and that prejudice held up well while reading it. And then I noticed something that changed everything: the writer is a seventh grader, Meyer Lewis. I take back everything I was thinking. It’s brilliant.

That’s not to say I buy it. In fact, the very idea of an “autism spectrum” upon which one might “identify” seems dubious to me. Even more dubious is to contrast it with “neurotypical” people not on the “spectrum.” Is it science or is it marketing to line up conditions that may or may not be related as though they were different gradients of the same thing? I am happier just to recognize that there are differences in people. But this is hardly a reflection on Meyer—he is taught this stuff in school—of course he is going to pick up on it.

Meyer is autistic himself, he says, and ‘it takes one to know one.’ That’s why he reads into Abraham something no one else would. He also tells me something about Greta Thunberg, the global warming kid, that I didn’t know—she too is autistic, and is unaware of the social graces that hem in others!

Meyer plays the connection even further. Later in the Torah, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son, and Abraham doesn’t give him any feedback at all? How to explain this, from the fellow who wrung the concessions he did from God, whittling down the 50 persons required for God to save the place to just 10? Well, he experiences “selective mutism” in this latter case, which Meyer has also experienced—that’s why he thinks he can put himself in the patriarch’s shoes. The request is so “confusing and subtle” for Abraham to grasp that he freezes up, just as Meyer freezes up if you throw everything but the kitchen sink at him all at once.

I don’t like the categorizing of people that Meyer is taught, but given that he is taught it, I like what he does with it. It undermines the very foundation of critical thinking in that it reveals we are a collection of our experiences and it is those experiences that skew, if not determine, how we think. He will always see situations the way he does, but others will see things according to their own perceptions molded by their own experiences. Will critical thinking enable us to “come together” and find common consensus? I wouldn’t hold my breath. “Stay apart” is what has defined us throughout history.

The seventh grader even quotes Elie Wiesel, and endorses his take that “God invited Abraham to play this role. It is as if God turns to us, the readers of the future, and says, ‘I’m going to tell Abraham what I intend to do to Sodom so that he will argue with Me. I want to lose this argument.’” God thereby prods Abraham to reveal the good that is in his heart. I like it. Even if it is not God’s purpose, it certainly is the effect.

A noble handling of verse from the youngster, so that I, several times his age, ought be ashamed of the silly use I put the verses to—using them to trace the possible origen of a pejorative roundly considered offensive today—so that Meyer’s parents will either forbid him to read it or encourage him to on the basis of learning to spot an ignoramus when he sees one.. Either way, it’s dubious for me, but good for him.

 

 

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Is God Omniscient? Omnipresent? Playing the Abraham Card

Whenever the religionists come around trying to tell me of God’s “omniscience”—let alone his “omnipresence”—I play the Abraham card: “Then Jehovah said [to Abraham]:

“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is very heavy. I will go down to see whether they are acting according to the outcry that has reached me. And if not, I can get to know it.”

He didn’t know if it was true or not! And in order to find out, he would have to go down there and check it out! To be sure, this is a personification of God. It is conversation with a ‘man’—an angel—representing him. Still, there is no reason that the angel representing HIm could not have said:

“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and of course, I know all about it. I’m God! What! Do you think I have to go down there myself and check it out?”

He did have to ‘go down there and check it out!’ He’s not omniscient. He’s not omnipresent. Love the personification. When the Bible speaks of the “eye of Jehovah,” the “ear of Jehovah,” the “hand of Jehovah,” the “arm of Jehovah”—he doesn’t have anything of these things. It’s all for our sake. It plants the perception that Paul relates 2000 years later, that “in fact, [God] is not far off from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27)

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Whittling a Deal Out of God

“Can you imagine having a conversation with God?” someone asks reverently—but maybe too reverently to strike a chord with the general population. “The very thought inspires awe—the Sovereign of the universe speaking to you! You hesitate at first, but then you manage to reply. He listens, he responds, and he even makes you feel free to ask any question you want.”

Let’s earthy the remark up a little bit—so as to reach people who don’t eat Bible sandwiches. I mean, nothing is wrong with the remark, nothing whatsoever. But maybe we can broaden its base of appeal.

He probably has in mind the latter third of Genesis chapter 18, because all Jehovahs Witnesses consider a sequential portion of scripture each week and this week it is Genesis 18 and 19.

Yeah—a conversation with God is something, all right—let alone wheeling & dealing with him, and seemingly emerging with the upper hand—that’s what happens when God and Abraham haggle over the future of Sodom. There is even a pejorative phrase about Jews in business, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this verse wasn’t pointed to as the underlying authority:

Then Abraham approached and said: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are 50 righteous men within the city. Will you, then, sweep them away and not pardon the place for the sake of the 50 righteous who are inside it? It is unthinkable that you would act in this manner by putting the righteous man to death with the wicked one so that the outcome for the righteous man and the wicked is the same! It is unthinkable of you. Will the Judge of all the earth not do what is right?” Then Jehovah said: “If I find in Sodʹom 50 righteous men in the city, I will pardon the whole place for their sake.”

But Abraham again responded: “Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah, whereas I am dust and ashes. Suppose the 50 righteous should lack five. Because of the five will you destroy the whole city?” To this he said: “I will not destroy it if I find there 45.” But yet again he spoke to him and said: “Suppose 40 are found there.” He answered: “I will not do it for the sake of the 40.” But he continued: “Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me go on speaking: Suppose only 30 are found there.” He answered: “I will not do it if I find 30 there.”

But he continued: “Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah: Suppose only 20 are found there.” He answered: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the 20.” Finally he said: “Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me speak just once more: Suppose only ten are found there.” He answered: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” When Jehovah finished speaking to Abraham, he went his way and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:23-33)

He outmaneuvered God! Look, I don’t do pejoratives here—I really don’t. I don’t want anyone coming after me saying that I do. On the other hand, every phrase has a etymology. Is this where the expression “jewing someone down” comes from?

These days, the ones who seem to me most behind the negotiating curve is Westerners—everyone else has learned to copy Abraham handily. As immigrants and refugees step from sinking islands onto ones that seem more stable, they bring extraordinary wheeling and dealing skills with them. If there is a marketplace back home—watch out! Westerners see the price tag, gulp, and reach down into their purse. ‘Foreigners’ see that price tag and regard it as a most interesting opening bid for negotiation.

Nguyen was my all-time hero in this. He left me speechless as he related picking up his new Toyota from the dealer. He circled it carefully. He spied something out of place and pounced upon it. “What’s this?!” he cried. “This is not my car! This is not the one I ordered! I don’t want it!”

The salesman was nervous. He had already given away half the store negotiating with this fellow. Of course it was his car. Nguyen pointed to a spot. “That was not on my car! I don’t want this one!”

“Oh,” the salesman sighed with relief. ”That is just the dealer sticker. We put that on all cars we sell” Nguyen gasped in disbelief. “You want me to advertise for you—for free?!” By the time he was done, he’s whittled a few more hundred out of the poor fellow.

“I hadn’t actually planned to do that,” he told me later with a smile. “It just occurred to me that moment.”

And as far as I know, before studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, he’d never heard of Abraham.

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Man Gave Names to all the Animals

The beavers are hard at work out where I walk the dog. I wonder if they will cause back up flooding at the apartments where I don’t live. That outcome doesn’t concern them in the slightest. They will drive in upright poles and then fetch branches and sticks for the horizontal. Ponds form, and they use the waterways to float food and debris so as to build homes entered from below.

They are all of them skilled engineers, all of them graduates of Dam U. When the kids were small and we would camp at Allegheny State Park, visiting beaver dams was one of the attractions. You had to go early in the morning and be very quiet—alarm them and they will dive out of sight after slapping the water with their tails to alert their buddies.

Now Jehovah God had been forming from the ground every wild animal of the field and every flying creature of the heavens, and he began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one; and whatever the man would call each living creature, that became its name.” - Genesis 2:19

Bob Dylan has explained just how this worked:

He saw an animal that liked to growl, Big furry paws and he liked to howl, Great big furry back and furry hair. "Ah, think I'll call it a bear."

He saw an animal up on a hill, Chewing up so much grass until she was filled. He saw milk comin' out but he didn't know how. "Ah, think I'll call it a cow."

He saw an animal that liked to snort, Horns on his head and they weren't too short. It looked like there wasn't nothin' that he couldn't pull. "Ah, think I'll call it a bull."

He saw an animal leavin' a muddy trail, Real dirty face and a curly tail. He wasn't too small and he wasn't too big. "Ah, think I'll call it a pig."

Next animal that he did meet. Had wool on his back and hooves on his feet, Eating grass on a mountainside so steep. "Ah, think I'll call it a sheep."

So it was pretty much like that. The Watchtower—no doubt others have said it as well—has written that Adam would have taken his time, observed unique characteristics, before naming names.

Let me see if I can do one:

He saw an animal that was great and gray, Swimming about freely every day. Catching its food without a fuss, “Ah, think I’ll call it a hippopotamus.”

And God said to Himself, ’Oh, come on!’ but he went with it.

And just to bring this full circle:

He saw an animal building dams, flooding just like a jailbird on the lam, carving up waterways like with a cleaver. ”Ah,” think I’ll call it a beaver

5B4E37D6-FEA2-423C-B86C-F57138B98049

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“Does God Care About Women?”—“No”...Really? Where is Quality Control When You Need Them?

Oh, for crying out loud! Where is Quality Control on these things?

From The Watchtower, September 1, 2012: “Does God Really Care About Women?”

“No” is the answer, as reproduced in the Research Guide, followed by: “Genesis 1:27 states: ‘God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.’ So from the very beginning, humans—both male and female—were created with the ability to reflect God’s qualities. Although Adam and Eve had their own unique emotional and physical makeup, they both received the same commission and enjoyed the same rights before their Maker. (Genesis 1:28-31)

This explanation accords with a ‘Yes’ answer, not a ‘No’ answer. Something is goofy. What is going on?

Look up that September 1 Watchtower and you will see a heading that is not reproduced: “Did God Create Woman Inferior to Man?” Ah—this clears it up. The answer to the missing heading is “No.” But why is that paragraph cited without the heading that explains it all? What’s with THAT? It is the collection of bloopers in the movie that appears as the credits roll—except this one has been left in the movie! So it is the scene of George Washington crossing the Delaware and the actor playing George has neglected to remove his wristwatch! Quality control, if you please? Find that brother and assign him potato-peeling duty in the HQ basement for the next 20 years, right next to the fellow who thought it a fine idea to hang out at the UN library.

My first reaction was mortification. I told a certain pal who seems to know every other person in Bethel—to have them make corrections. But he just laughed his sides off. Whether he did it or not I do not know. Then I said, “Nah—leave it in. They’ll discover it soon enough and the next update will make changes.” Leave it in so the rabid JW detractors can zero in, highlight it, gleefully sing it to the heavens, and then look like utter fools when anyone with a brain can go to the source and see the missing heading. Even if the Watchtower did feel in their heart of hearts that women are second class citizens—What! They are going to run a headline: “Does God Care About Women? No.” I don’t think so. Let those detractors go way way out on a limb with it, the same way they did with that article on women dealing with a difficult home life—the crash will be all the more spectacular when it comes.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus does this kind of thing all the time, and he does it deliberately—not exactly this sort of thing, but close enough in my book. He does it when he likens God to that unrighteous judge who will grant justice but only when you pester him to death. (Luke 18:6) He does it when he likens his ideal follower to the crook who robs his master blind and the master praises him for his use of “practical wisdom”—even adding: “for the sons of this system of things are wiser in a practical way toward their own generation than the sons of the light are!” (Luke 16:8)

What in the world is Jesus thinking? My guess is that he gives the “wise and intellectual ones” rope with which they can hang themselves. They mock the verse for its logical inconsistency and miss entirely the greater lesson taught! It is not unlike—sorry to switch to politics here—when Trump tweets that North Korea has launched its missels and anyone with common sense runs for the hills. The “wise and intellectual ones,” however, run to their keyboards to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right! It may be deliberate. Or it may just mean that he can’t spell—It is not JWs who buy into that concept of Trump the “flawed messiah”—that is the evangelicals that you are thinking of.

“I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children,” said Jesus at Matthew 11:25. I think he uses hyperbole as a tool in his toolbox because humble, honest, and hungry ones will instantly get the sense of it but the critical thinkers will not. “He catches the wise in their own cunning, so that the plans of the shrewd are thwarted,” is the thought expressed at Job 5:13.

I think that is what Jesus is doing—I don’t know it. Others may take it differently. “Why would he deliberately mislead people?” one atheist flung at me. The answer is that “he catches the wise in their own cunning.” Look to your heart. Note from that same Research Guide the commentary on Genesis 1:31, this one from the 1/1/2008 Watchtower:

“Evolution presents modern man as an improving animal. The Bible presents modern man as the degenerating descendant of a perfect man.”

Though the Watchtower does not make the application, I believe this explains why the essentially “top-down” approach of the JW organization resonates with its members—the “top” of the human organization taking the mantel of the “older men in Jerusalem” who had brought Christianity to the rank and file in the first place. “Critical thinking,” on the other hand, is far more in keeping with the approach of man as an “improving animal”—developing powerful skills of thought to lift us all up by our own bootstraps. It is not that the tool is valueless. It is that it should not be relied upon as the be-all and end-all—which is the way humanists usually do think of it. Let them debate themselves right off the deck of the ship before it reaches Port Newsystem.

Now, to be sure, The Watchtower is not inspired, nor is the Research Guide where I first discovered this blooper, a commentary on Genesis 1:27. It is not even as clever (sorry—politics again) as the trap Trump laid for his enemies in calling a press conference—and boy, did they come running!—expecting him to duck out of the 2016 presidential race after his ‘grab them by the you-know-what’ remark* came to light, but instead, they found him flanked with the three women that had accused President Clinton of gross misconduct! No. This one from the Watchtower is just pure clumsiness. It might even be deliberate—a prank by some immature kid at Bethel to see what he could get away with. It will be corrected soon enough—and I, having the rare “collector’s edition,” will sell it to Nemo for $100K.

It has not been a good week for Witness enemies—Nemo will be pulling his hair out. They were putting huge stock in that multi-million dollar verdict against Watchtower in a child sexual abuse matter and now that verdict has been reversed without a single dissenting vote. One of them muttered how they must be “celebrating this victory” at Watchtower HQ. But they showed no sign of it. The Witness attorney said, “there are no winners in a case involving child abuse. ‘No child should ever be subjected to such a debased crime,...Tragically, it happens, and when it does Jehovah's Witnesses follow the law. This is what the Montana Supreme Court has established.’” Obviously if one is on the hook for several million dollars and then no longer is, they will not mourn over it. But the focus is kept on the victim, as it should be. Ideally, she gets full justice from the perpetrator directly responsible.

If the actual requirement is that Witnesses or anyone else go “beyond the law,” then make that the law—Witnesses have demonstrated themselves pretty good at following law—and the problem is solved. Ones who want to bring the Watchtower down on this pretext are hardly out of bullets, but they are continually frustrated. Their efforts to put Witness stories above all others gain little traction because the pattern elsewhere is that the leaders of organizations, religious or otherwise, are the abusers, something rarely true with the Witness organization, and also that child sexual abuse appears to be the primary export of the planet, crowding out stories of “lesser” significance. With Watchtower (as in Montana) the situation is that of abuse within a step-family and Witness leaders come under the gun for evoking law and not reporting it, leaving that up to the persons involved—sometimes they do but often they don’t. History may well judge that harshly, but it does not hold a candle to leaders actually committing the abuse themselves. The class action suit in Quebec that I wrote about was similarly dismissed.

It is the common and accepted legal practice to go as high up on the food chain as possible with regard to any lawsuit—everyone knows this and judges it an unremarkable fact of life. How much did whoever “know or should have known” is the legal expression that carries the day and effectively amounts to a tax on the common person. Governments raise taxes. Businesses raise prices. When I hear that my neighbor’s lawyer secured him millions of dollars for his auto accident, I rejoice with him—then I open my insurance premium bill.

As people become ever more debased, just where does this end? Women on airlines are reporting sexual abuse. Even rape has been reported, and passengers being packed in like sardines, attendants expected to monitor this are caught unawares Do they “know or should have known?” In an increasingly depraved world, your guess is as good as mine.

...*

The President’s wife passed off her husband’s remarks to Billy Bush as “locker room talk.” Given that the media was every day trying to take him out and had apparently been sitting on that sound bite for ages, waiting for just the right moment, I made up a broadcast (in No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash) that I named: Live From the Locker Room:

Good evening. We’re broadcasting live from the locker room tonight to reveal to America just what goes on in this previously obscure culture that has so suddenly thrust itself upon the national stage. We’ll interview some players in this intriguing venue. Ah, here’s comes a jock now. “Hey! Yo! Whazzup? We’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Why, good evening sirs, madam. You must be members of the news media. Welcome to our humble locker room. It’s not much, but please make yourself at home. There are refreshments in the adjacent room, just past the gentleman snapping his neighbor’s buns with the wet towel.”

“Charlie, it is as we thought. ‘Locker room talk’ is but a lame excuse. They’re not crude at all here. They are quite refined and sensitive and…”

Hey, ya wanna get your crap outta here?! I can’t get to my @%!# locker!”

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