Open-Minded Judgments

June 9, 2010

People stare at me when I read the Bible in public. I’m inclined to explain to young gawkers that this is a summer project in hopes that doing so will prevent them from pegging me as a believer. I am equally tempted to crush those who approve of my studies (hint — they include the population that will receive Social Security benefits) with a sarcastic admission of disbelief.

My conflict with reading the Bible is paramount to the Bible itself. This monstrosity of diction is a colossal contradiction, an impossible labyrinth mankind somehow decided to follow and interpret. The problem with interpretation is that it’s subjective. Not only is it subjective, successful transmission relies on intelligent agents. We are completely screwed.

I was really excited to use the Rape of Dinah as a lynchpin for a diatribe about the Bible and sex, but my head is so spun by erotic conflict that I’m going to have to put my favorite subject off until I can slow the rotations. Therefore, I will do what I prefer not to do and save myself for a later entry, devoting this one to “The Twelve Tribes of Israel.”

For those of you who don’t remember, Jacob (don’t worry about him, he’s just a cog) presented these 12 “tribes,” which are like premonitions or curses or whatever, to his sons on his deathbed. FYI, at this point Jacob’s name is now Israel but he still responds to Jacob. If any of you can explain the name changing, by all means, jump in…

The messages embedded in these “tribes” are all over the place and are only consistent in lack of clarity. Individually they can be interpreted as good or evil, right or wrong, cause or effect. As a group, they can be divided into categories, but how should they be divided and what does it mean? Basically, how does some dumb schmoe like myself make sense of this?

I looked through all 11 tribes — Jacob has 12 sons but apparently Simeon and Levi are not important enough to have their own so they get smashed together — evaluated them, weighed their outcomes and then paired them. I used Jacob’s moment with God, which he has midway through naming the tribes, as the divider between my two sections. It’s a yin-yang situation. Those before the interference are yin, those after, yang.

— Hold on. I need a moment with myself. — Since I absently rolled up the napkin where I wrote my notes about the Twelve Tribes of Israel, proceeded to wrap it around my finger and then rip it up, I’m starting from scratch. One second…

And we’re rolling. These are my pairings.

1. Benjamin (also renamed) is like a wolf and kills all day and night. His brothers Simeon and Levi also kill but they use weapons, anger and violence and they use it to harm humans and animals. Here we have instinct versus indulgence or animal versus man.

2. Joseph gets a huge paragraph because he’s like a donkey. He’s also a good fighter, protector and farmer. God also loves him so he can do whatever the hell he wants and people will bow down to him. Some kids inherit unpaid property taxes and others God’s devotion. Who said life is fair? Paired with Joseph is poor Judah. Like Joseph, people will bow to Judah but Judah’s a loner and a glutton. He will always spawn, but he’s addicted to the grape and will die with purple teeth. Here we have perfection and imperfection or power and misfortune.

3. Naphtali is a deer and a nympho. He gets two sentences and a license to screw. He’s an ancient Mimbo, a dumb male purposed with reproduction and blessed with beautiful sperm. Reuben, on the other hand, is a good person but since he slept with dad’s concubine, he’s dishonorable. Here we have frivolity and oppression or reproduction and chastity.

4. Asher is good with food and will feed the king, but his brother Issachar is fine with being no better than a donkey so he bends his back to carry food and works as a slave. Here we get into an equal to or better than equation. If you’re kind of like a donkey (Joseph), you’re better than a donkey and also amazing. If you’re equal to a donkey (Issacher), you’re ripe for blankets and fat asses. Here we have responsibility and laziness or status and freedom.

5. Gad is destined to get attacked by robbers and turn them in. Fantastic fortune. Dan will rule people and act as a snake that attacks pedestrians. Here we have honor and deception or cowardice and enterprise.

5.5 Zebulun is the cheese. He’s the last brother, he doesn’t have a yin-yang match and is destined to live by the sea where he will become a haven for ships and expand his territory beyond Sidon. I say he’s a decoy for the gluttonous devouring of land that spawns eternities of religious warfare.

So what’s good and what’s bad? It all depends on the lens. Is everything circumstantial? I don’t know, but organized religion sure wants us to think so.

This project has me overwhelmed and empathetic to those who devote their lives to this journey. For this entry I read 10 pages and could only write about 1.5.

Rather then spend any more of my day expanding my worldview, challenging my often bombastic proclamations and sitting in my chair sipping tea and looking thoughtfully out the window like a scholar, I’m going to close my computer, spend money on clothes I don’t need and then have a drink of the least holy water imaginable.

Stopping Point: Exodus

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2 Responses to “Open-Minded Judgments”

  1. Abby said

    Hey, just a thought for you – the Bible can be really hard to understand or get at what its supposed to mean, seeing as it was written so long ago both by people, and to people, who had really different cultures to us. It might help you to read a commentary alongside it. There is a series called the NIV Application Commentaries. They have written one book to go with every book of the Bible and they often explain stuff well. Obviously, they are writing from a Christian perspective, so you may not agree with their interpretation, but it might at least give you a starting point and answer some of your questions about why things are in there. Like I said, just a thought…

  2. Jeff said

    I admire your willingness to tackle this project. Reading the bible in totality is difficult even for adamant believers because it is confusing and archaic. My suggestion is to view it as the story of God creating a way to restore his relationship with mankind that was tarnished by their disobedience. Focus on the big picture rather than on the smaller stuff. This will help make sense of it rather than reading it for every historical detail or ancient custom that sticks out. Keep up the good work. I will keep reading.

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