January 25th, 2008


Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

In my ongoing reading of the Bible, I've now finished the Writings. Well, what Christians consider to be the Writings, anyway; the Tanakh includes a few other books in this category. Anyway, for a few brief thoughts:

Esther - The story is pretty similar to that of Daniel, with Jews gaining significant posts in an imperial government. I'd seen a theory that this book was actually based on earlier Babylonian mythology, drawing attention to some of the similar names (Esther/Ishtar, Mordecai/Marduk, etc.), but I don't know how likely this is. They appear to reject it at Wikipedia.

Job - God torments the title character for no apparent reason, then responds to his complaints by saying, essentially, "You're don't know what I do, so shut up." I guess that's fair enough, but the whole thing is lessened somewhat by the behind-the-scenes material saying that God basically did all of this on some sort of bet. It's interesting to note that Job says that God "hangs the Earth on nothing," yet God Himself claims it has foundations. Also of note to anyone interested in mythological monsters (and maybe none of you are, but I certainly am) is the introduction of Behemoth and Leviathan, whom modern Creationists have claimed were dinosaurs. I think I might have liked it better when they were saying Satan made fossils to trick us.

Psalms - These are pretty much the precursor to modern Christian music. 150 songs, all with pretty much the same message. Still, I think I can see why these are so popular, since there's some interesting poetic language, like the hand-clapping floods of Psalm 98, and the skin-cleaving bones of Psalm 102, and the snow and hoarfrost being compared to wool and ashes in Psalm 147. There's plenty of weirdly violent language as well. In Psalm 69, the author exhorts God to "make [his enemies'] loins continually to shake." Psalm 18 has God riding a cherub into battle and breathing smoke out of His nostrils. Leviathan makes two reappearances. But I think the craziest line in the entire book is Psalm 137, Verse 9: "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."

Proverbs - The main lessons I got from these were to seek wisdom, tell the truth, take accurate measurements (I'm not sure whether those verses were meant to be taken literally), practice diligence, beat your kids, and avoid loose women (because, if the Bible has taught us nothing else, it's that a man going astray is pretty much always a woman's fault). Since this book values wisdom so highly (going so far as to personify the quality as a woman, whom I believe was known as Sophia in the Septuagint), what's with all of the so-called Christians looking down on intellectualism and science? Yes, I know wisdom and book-learning aren't the same thing, but still.

Ecclesiastes - Okay, maybe it's because the first chapter of this book says that wisdom brings sorrow? I really didn't know much about Ecclesiastes, but it's an interesting book. It's presumably the source of the expression "nothing new under the sun," as well as of that Byrds song. The advice in this book doesn't really fit too well with the idea of living for the next life instead of this one. According to Ecclesiastes 9:10 (New Revised Standard version), "[w]hatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going."

Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs, but not Song of Sixpence) - Attributed to Solomon, although part of it is from a woman's point of view. The king compares a woman's hair to a flock of goats, her teeth to ewes, her nose and neck to towers, her navel to a bowl of wine, and her breasts to fawns and date clusters. And then she probably says, "I'll bet you say that to all the other girls." And this is the guy who had 700 wives and 300 concubines, so it's not like there weren't plenty of other girls. I understand that the more prudish branch of Christianity has tried to claim that this book is symbolic of Christ's love for the church, which I guess must mean that Jesus can be compared to be a bag of myrrh that lies between the church's breasts.