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Archive for August, 2011

… to link to Kate Beaton cartoons is a good one. I expect I’ll be finding more excuses as time goes on.

kbeatonmoses

Click on Moses! Click him! He will take you to the Promised Land of Mirth!

For instance, she’s pretty much summed up Metamorphoses. Take that, Ovid!

Still looking in to the manna thing. Can’t decide which theory is more hilarious/repulsive: the one that suggests manna was the secretions of scale insects, or the one that suggests it may have been psylocibe cubensis— you know, magic mushrooms.

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Part of the reason I had such trouble with Exodus is evident once you get to chapter 25. Prior to that, it is this enormous human drama: freedom from slavery, the wrath of God, the doubt and determination of his chosen Prophet, and the birth of a nation that endures to the present day.

Then Moses goes up Mount Sinai and God starts placing catalogue orders.

The Erection of the Tabernacle and the Sacred Vessels: Gerard Hoet et. alia., from a 1728 Bible (Wikimedia)

There is an enormous section of Exodus wherein God dictates not just commandments and community laws, but also his instructions for sacrifices and the dimensions, uses, and decoration of the Tabernacle. It’s an unbroken litany of requirements and sizes and color specifications until the end of chapter 31. Like this:

And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same.  And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side:  Three bowls made like unto almonds, with a knop and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, with a knop and a flower: so in the six branches that come out of the candlestick.

And in the candlestick shall be four bowls made like unto almonds, with their knops and their flowers. And there shall be a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, according to the six branches that proceed out of the candlestick. Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold. And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it. And the tongs thereof, and the snuffdishes thereof, shall be of pure gold. Of a talent of pure gold shall he make it, with all these vessels. And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount. (25: 31-40)

Then Moses comes down and makes a powdered gold milkshake of the golden calf, and has a few thousand people slain for it, and then– then– we get to read the descriptions all over again in chapters 36-39 when the appointed craftsmen, Bezaleel and Aholiab, start actually making everything. It’s mind-numbing.

Still, I think I get the purpose for this. And I don’t mean for Steven Spielberg’s art directors, who surely found it helpful– I mean for the Israelites.

I can imagine these words being read out to the descendants of the Exodus generation many dozens of decades later, at a time when these objects may still be known to exist, even be on display. The fact that their ancient scripture, handed down from one’s forefathers, describes these precious objects precisely– and marks them out as dictated by God Himself– would be a comforting sign of permanence, a reassurance of the rightness of the patterns of your faith.

And for the Exodus generation themselves, describing these objects to this level of detail offers the practical benefit of providing an inventory, and also a chance to show off a little: see, we are nomads, formerly slaves, and yet we can offer beautiful surroundings to our Lord as a place to dwell among us, with golden candlesticks of marvelous craftsmanship.

However, I’m glad I’ll be moving on to Isaiah soon, once I look in to the matter of the manna.

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Moses by Jose de Ribera (1591-1652). From Wikipedia

I realize that the tools I am equipped with for evaluating a text are woefully lacking. The things they taught me about character analysis in AP English and in my screenwriting courses during college assume certain things about why people tell stories and what an author is “trying to say” through a character that don’t exactly apply, I think, to a work of holy writ.

But, you know, I’ve been stuck here, blogging-wise, for months, and I have to press on. Just take it as read that I’m going to say something stupid, and we’ll all do fine.

So.

If Genesis was the “how people got here” part of the Bible, Exodus is specifically about how some of those people– the Hebrew people– began to become Jews. They enter into a new, sacred covenant with the God who liberated them from Egypt. And He picks a pretty interesting person through whom to work the liberation.

Moses is the most interesting person yet in the Bible. His origin story would nowadays befit a masked comic-book vigilante: born a slave, raised by royalty, he becomes a murderer, a fugitive, a shepherd, and finally, a liberator and prophet.

But the thing about him is this: it takes a really long time before he seems convinced that any of what he is doing at God’s command is going to work. He’s constantly asking questions of God. See the dialogue in Genesis 3-4, where Moses beholds God in the Burning Bush. He asks the following questions:

“You want ME to free my people? But I’m a nobody! Are you sure? What name am I supposed to give them, anyway? And what do I do if they don’t believe you sent me? I mean, the trick with the snake is pretty neat, but this sort of thing calls for an orator and I’m not much of a speaker; couldn’t you send someone else? Please?”

But God is insistent: you’re the man, Moses. So our reluctant prophet is packed off, with the help of his brother Aaron, who eventually ends up acting as spokesman. You probably know what comes next: they tell old Pharaoh to let God’s people go, repeatedly. He refuses them, repeatedly. God sends a number of disgusting and bizarre and finally bloody and vengeful afflictions to the Egyptians, sparing the Israelites. And during all of this, Moses is repeatedly asking: do you really want me to go back there again? Isn’t there a better way?

He does eventually settle into his role. He teaches the people God’s instructions for Passover. He gathers up the bones of Joseph and carries them into the wilderness. He parts the Red Sea. He explains the whole “manna” thing to people. He gets some friends to prop his arms up so he can hold up his staff in order to assure victory for the Israelites in battle. But he is, throughout, nagged by doubt. It isn’t doubt of God that’s plaguing Moses (haw haw), it’s doubt of himself.

Also, he’s an angry dude. Witness him coming down from Mount Sinai after forty days and nights of chiseling instructions about the ten commandments and cleanliness and the entire dimensions of the tabernacle only to find his brethren worshipping a golden calf:

And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.  (32:19-20)

Did you get all that? He makes them drink a powdered gold milkshake. That is some seriously dedicated anger.

And it gets worse:

Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.  And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. (32:26-28)

So you see, Moses is not a peaceable shepherd of freedom. He’s more like a crotchety midwife for this nation being born in the wilderness. It’s a terrible birth with pain and war, fire and bloodshed. But instead of maintaining love and respect for the birthing process, he constantly loses patience with the entire process, and everyone involved. He second-guesses God, and himself, and his own people.

Ultimately, like a modern midwife, he is there at the start of the family but not of it. Eventually his anger and disobedience proves too much even for God (in Numbers, not Exodus), and he dies within sight, but not within the boundaries, of the Promised Land.

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