Sunday, 9 April 2017
The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Numbers: Chapter 1 - A Census of the Tribes of Israel
Now after Leviticus, a book of the Bible filled with arcane rules, regulations, instructions and laws on revering God, we finally get back to the story. What? You need a recap? Okay, I'll give you a recap.
So, the story so far: In the beginning God created the universe. Actually he didn't because the people who wrote this story didn't really know about the universe or the cosmos and so their made up God only created the Earth and the Moon and the Sun and the stars and they didn't really know what the stars were and they thought that the Sun and the Moon went around the Earth and that the Earth was flat.
God then created Adam and Eve to start humanity and he gave them dominion over all of the planet except for one tree. Because God is an awkward son of a bitch when push comes to shove. Inevitably they ate an apple from this forbidden tree after listening to a talking snake and so they had to wear clothes thereafter to cover their nudity and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden which presumably then disappeared.
Then they had sons Cain and Abel but then Cain killed Abel. Somehow their sons found wives from somewhere and they propagated. A lot. They did this with lots of other humans who came into existence in a manner that is not explained.
Over presumably several hundred years humanity propagated and spread out and became wicked so much so that God decided to wipe them all out with a great flood. The world must have been really really wicked compared with the way it has been for most of recorded history. Anyway God instructed Noah to build an ark and put all of the animals into it - or at least all of the ones that the authors knew about - and they wouldn't eat one another or die and it must have been more like the Tardis than an actual boat. You know, bigger on the inside.
God then confused their language into lots of languages and scattered people across the planet. Or at least the bit that the authors knew about.
Skip ahead a few more hundred years or so.
God gets a new favourite called Abraham and sends him to the land called Canaan. He makes a deal with Abraham, a deal he wouldn't actually honour for centuries, promising lots of kids and kids of kids and land to raise them on. Abraham had two sons, one of them, Isaac, would be the important one. Oh and Abraham had two wives, one of them a slave. In between times God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their disgusting and immoral behaviour. Did you hear that Las Vegas?
God told Abraham to kill Isaac to show his allegiance to him. Abraham was prepared to do this but fortunately it was just a test. He's a nasty piece of work is God.
Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was the eldest but Jacob managed to swindle him out of his birthright. Even so Jacob became God's favourite and was eventually renamed Israel. Jacob/Israel had twelve sons and a daughter but she was raped meaning her brothers wreaked terrible vengeance on the towns where the rapists resided.
Jacob had a favourite son, Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers. In Egypt Jacob was clapped in irons and imprisoned but then, thanks to his prophesy powers, became the Pharoah's favourite and very powerful. He predicted famines and stored lots of grain in preparation. Eventually his brothers were forced by circumstance to come begging for food and he revealed himself to them and forgave them and they were all reunited and went to live in Egypt.
A few hundred more years passed in which seventy people turned into more than half a million and the Israelites as they were now called became an enslaved people. So Moses who had been raised by an Egyptian princess was appointed by God to free his people so that he could finally keep the promise he had been making for centuries and lead them to the promised land. Moses finally led them to freedom in the Sinai desert after causing famines and plagues and mass infanticide on the Egyptian people. On Mount Sinai he received the commandments from God and then a lot of instructions about how they were to lead their lives and the people eventually listened after worshipping a golden calf when he was off talking to God. The religion was started for real now with a Tabernacle to worship in and instructions on burnt offerings and how to enrich priests.
That's it, the story so far. It's been exciting hasn't it. Now we come to the book of Numbers.
So at the start of Numbers Moses and his brother Aaron are sitting in the Tabernacle that was built for the glorification of God. They are still in the desert with their people awaiting instructions from God. At this point, we are told, they had been there for over a year. Presumably they had to wait while God gave them all of those instructions in Leviticus.
Anyway, before they started their journey God told Moses and Aaron that he wanted a census taken of all of the able bodied men over the age of 20. There then follows a long and tedious recitation of all of the 12 tribes of Israel and the men who led them. These men were to count all of the men in their tribes. This clearly took a while because the final number they came back with was 603, 550. And remember that's just men over the age of 20. It takes no account of women and children. So its reasonable to extrapolate from this that there are supposed to be more than 2 million people in a camp in a desert. And this vast number of people, more than double the population of a city like Birmingham were the children of the 70 people who had gone to live in Egypt with Joseph only 400 years previously. And in Exodus we were told that there were actually about 600 thousand of them in total. Now it's just men over 20. Its an absurdity. But this is the Bible. Absurdity is what it does.
Oh and the 600 thousand men does not include the tribe of Levi, or the Levites as they were to be called. Why? Because they had been set aside for a special task and role. They were to be the guards of the Tabernacle. They were not to go to war but to guard the Tabernacle at all times, look after it and transport it as this vast and wholly imaginary tribe of people travelled across the desert. The Tabernacle, lest we forget, is a big and richly furnished tent with lots of gold, lots of altars for sacrificing animals in it and the Ark of the Covenant at its centre.
Anyway, we're back to the story and the Israelites were doing exactly what God was telling them to do. What could possibly go wrong?