Friday, February 26, 2010

Making John about Jesus

Again, we are picking up right where we left off in the Gospel of John. Previously, we covered the beloved verse John 3:16, and the verses before it which compare Jesus to a bronze serpent. Jesus has finished speaking to Nicodemus for now, and has decided to take a walk in the Judean countryside where He bumps into that ever-enigmatic figure, John the Baptist, once more.

Making John about Jesus
The great thing about telling the truth is that you do not have to lie about it. You do not have to worry about creating gaps of logic. You do not have to worry about making sense. That is not to say that everything in the real world makes logical sense; truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. However, poorly conceived stories can reveal themselves as lies when their fundamental building blocks just do not stack up.

Enter John 3:22-36. After telling Nicodemus how He was like a bronze serpent, Jesus takes a walk in the Judean countryside and starts baptizing people in the big spring of Aenon. (John 4:1-3 corrects that statement, saying that only His disciples did the baptizing.) It just so happens that John the Baptist was baptizing at the same time in the very same spring!

Right away we hit a minor glitch in the matrix. Obviously (and explicitly in John 3:24) this is before John the Baptist was put in prison. According to John 1:35-51, this is after Jesus picks up some of His fabled Fishers of Men, including Simon-Peter and Andrew, Simon-Peter's brother. That would be fine if Mark 1:14-17 did not put John the Baptist in prison prior to picking up any of the Apostles, including Simon-Peter and Andrew.

So what? There is a minor error in chronology, but that does not defeat the underlying truth, right? Right. For that, we go back to the Scripture, where once again the Gospel of John yields enough rope to hang itself. Consider John 3:25-26:
An argument developed between some of John[ the Baptist]'s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him." NIV
Did you happen to notice how utterly clueless John the Baptist's disciples are rendered in this text? They identify Jesus as “that man” and “the one you testified about” instead of the Son of God, which is supposedly what John the Baptist testified about Him in John 1:34 after His baptism. Furthermore, they are actually portrayed as being concerned about people going to Jesus.

Let us put this in perspective. Since John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Son of God at His baptism, Jesus was tempted by Satan, preached that the time has come for the Kingdom of God, picked up disciples, changed water in wine, purged the Temple, and debated some of the finer points of redemption with Nicodemus.

Now during that time (let us very conservatively say about two months), we are expected to believe that John the Baptist, the man supposedly preparing the way for Jesus, was so ineffective in communication of God's plan and Jesus' role that his own disciples were actually concerned about people going to Jesus, even those same disciples who witnessed Jesus' baptism!

This is simply untenable. Furthermore, it is not just a matter of being untrue, but rather it is a matter of deception. This is a lie with a purpose, and that purpose is illuminated in the verses which follow.

John 3:27-36 is packed full of propaganda. In John 3:27-30, John the Baptist reportedly explains how his role is meant to be subservient to Jesus, and how he is quite happy about that. Then John 3:31-36 plays up the importance of Jesus; how Jesus is from Heaven, and how belief in Him is the key to achieving everlasting life.

That is precisely the kind of message you would expect John the Baptist to be repeating over and over and over again if he was really preparing the way for Jesus and directing people to Him; and that is why it is inconceivable that his own disciples would be so clueless about Jesus after hearing such a message repeated over the past couple of months (at least).

The author of the Gospel of John was obviously trying to make John the Baptist's message all about Jesus. However, as we have previously discussed, John the Baptist does not quite fit the prophesies for the Messianic forerunner and his water baptism appears to stand in contrast to Jesus' message when put under scrutiny. Furthermore, part of the legacy John the Baptist left behind with the Mandaeans was the identification of Jesus as a false prophet. Clearly, the real John the Baptist was not all about Jesus.

This section of the Gospel of John shows itself as a poor attempt to persuade those people who were somewhat familiar with John the Baptist to switch over to the Jesus camp, as well as to use John the Baptist's inherent credibility to bolster the image of Jesus. It was a celebrity endorsement, so to speak. Had King Herod not killed John the Baptist early in his life, it seems unlikely that such a tactic would have been successful.

Friday, February 19, 2010

God According to Leviticus

Our studies of Leviticus have come to a close. Rules and regulations can reveal a lot about an authority figure, so let us review what we have learned in this book of God's laws.

God According to Leviticus
The book of Leviticus is more about God's rules and regulations than any length of narrative story. So what do the laws of Leviticus cover? What do we learn from this book?

God loves barbecue, and prefers His meat really, really well done. Burnt to a crisp, actually. God demanded the burnt sacrifice of animals as part of the atonement process. Atonement came in a two-part process: first, blood was put on the altar, and second, God enjoyed the smell of the burnt flesh. Remarkably, neither of these events are repeated in the story of Jesus. So much for foreshadowing.

Not all of the offerings God required were to be cremated. Instead, God set aside some of the best cuts of meat and finest grains for the priests for the majority of the regulated sacrifices. The priests ate well. The people received true forgiveness from God (without Jesus). It was a win-win situation.

Speaking of forgiveness and sacrifice, it is worth noting that God created a gradation schedule for atonement offerings. The atonement for the head priest and the community elders ranked the highest value, demanding a blemish-free male bull. Meanwhile, the common man had the lowest value offering, a female goat or lamb.

In a very brief bit of actual storyline, we found a repulsive tale where two of Aaron's sons made an offering of “unauthorized fire” to God. God promptly burnt the two sons to death and then forbid Aaron and his remaining sons from mourning the loss of his sons/their brothers. If they did mourn, then God would kill them and become angry with all of the Israelites.

After killing the two men, God moved on to making more laws; defining clean and unclean animals. Of course, this late definition makes you wonder how Noah was supposed to know which animals were clean or unclean when God told him to collect seven pairs of the clean ones way back in Genesis 7:1-4. You know, back when everyone was a vegetarian (Genesis 9:2-3).

Through more of God's laws, we discovered that baby girls are twice as unclean as baby boys, requiring twice the purification time, and that the act of childbirth somehow obligates a sin offering.

Later, through prescribed shaman-istic cleansing and atonement rituals, we learned that it is God who makes people sick as a punishment for their sins. God also is responsible for spreading mildew too. And here, all this time, you thought that when you left your laundry in the washer too long it was just natural to develop mildew. Nope. You were visited by God!

God established Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to forgive the Israelites of their various sins throughout the year. After donning special clothes and making special sacrifices, the High Priest could then conduct the atonement ritual without God killing him. That ritual consisted of one goat which was killed, with its blood used to purify the Holy places and the Altar; one goat which became unclean by having the sins of the nation put on its head, and was then removed from Jerusalem and released alive in the wilderness (the scapegoat), and one ram used as a burnt offering which finally provided atonement with God for their sins. Do you remember when Jesus was released in the wilderness with the sins of mankind put on His head? Do you remember when Jesus became a burnt offering? Neither do I.

God went on to prohibit the eating of blood, because the life of a creature was in the blood. Thus, the inspiration for a vampire legend was born.

About two-thirds of the way through Leviticus God revealed what would become known as the second greatest commandment, thanks to Jesus; love your neighbor as yourself. However, its context defined your neighbor as your fellow Israelite, as opposed to how Jesus defined it in the Good Samaritan parable. While Jesus thought it was of primary importance, God buried this law with no particular emphasis after over a hundred other laws were already given, and it was not included in either set of the Ten Commandments.

Through several more laws, God declared that He dislikes animal crossbreeds, fields planted with mixed produce, blended fabrics, well-groomed men who trim their beards and hair on the sides of their heads, and tattoos.

Through even more laws, God declared that the death penalty should be used against people for sins they have committed, ranging from child sacrifice for a foreign god known as Molech to having sex with a woman while she is on her period. A couple of these laws seemed to contradict other laws.

God defined that there were some limitations on priests, the costs of priesthood. They could not mourn for the death of anyone other than immediate family members, not including married sisters. The High Priest could not even opening mourn his mother or father. They had to marry virgins and burn to death any daughter who became a prostitute. If some male member of the priesthood was born with or began having defects, which ranged from blindness to damaged testicles, he could not make an offering to God.

It was not enough simply to be in the service of God to ensure His favor. God dictated that if His priests were unclean when conducting their duties, they would incur guilt and die (be killed by God).

In another brief story, a half-breed blasphemed God, and so God was consulted for guidance on how to punish him. God declared that anyone who blasphemes God should be stoned to death, and then went on to say that sins should be paid back in like fashion; take a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This is in great contrast to what God just previously commanded, the killing of a mere blasphemer.

At the end of the list of laws, God laid out the blessings for obeying these laws, and the curses for disobeying them as part of the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, this is actually a whole new covenant, an alteration of God's promise, because the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had no such terms or conditions.

But wait! That was not all of the laws. The final chapter of Leviticus provided more regulations, laws which provided more money for God (or at least His priests). There God defined the value of a man, 50 shekels; and the value of a woman, 30 shekels. God also clarified that anything which was irrevocably given to God, such as men, animals, or land, can not be bought back. And to be sure of a residual income, God defined an obligatory tithe on all produce and livestock.

What We've Learned
God loves the smell of burnt flesh, and considers burnt sacrifice a critical component in atonement. Even on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which required the sacrifice of one goat for purifying the sanctuary and the release of the scapegoat to physically remove the sins from the nation, forgiveness was not granted until the burning of a ram.

God considers your importance to the community in determining what is necessary to provide atonement. It is not a one-size-fits-all atonement.

God seems as interested in providing for the financial well being of His priests as He seems anxious to kill them if they make any mistakes. And you should not mourn for anyone who was killed by God.

God not only considers women twice as unclean as men, but also holds women as less valuable than men; assigning no more than two-thirds the value of a man to a woman.

Despite creating all animals, there are some animals which God considers to be unclean and abominations to eat.

God put the life of every creature into its blood.

God does not want anyone altering what He has made, such as by blending two different things or trimming your beard or applying tattoos.

If you are sick or have mildew in your house, it is because God is punishing you.

God is superficial, not wanting anyone with any defects providing offerings to Him. While not explicitly said, perhaps this is because such defects were curses from God, just like sickness and mildew.

God believes that you should love your neighbor, meaning someone who lives in your own country, but did not consider this law important enough to give it any significant prominence in the Old Testament.

For human-to-human transgressions, God prescribes that you pay back in kind: take a life for a life, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. However, the slightest transgression against God is worthy of a death sentence.

God will change His promises at His will, adding terms and conditions to relieve Him of the responsibility to fulfill the promises and punish those who do not measure up to the new terms and conditions.

In short: God is a sexist, shallow, cruel, psychotically bloodthirsty, hypocritical, promise twisting deity who forgives most completely when imbibing smoke.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

More Money for God

Previously in Leviticus 26, God wrapped up the long list of laws within the book of Leviticus by describing the blessings that the Israelites would receive for obeying them, and the curses if they chose not to obey. It was an excellent grand finale to the book, which makes Leviticus 27, the last chapter of Leviticus and the subject of this study, seem like a misfit appendix.

More Money for God
You are valuable to God! You have a price, as do many other things. Let us take a look at just how valuable you are to God in the final chapter of Leviticus, and examine how much value God places on other offerings as we look into Leviticus 27; offerings up to and including human sacrifice.

Leviticus 27:1-8 regulates the value of everybody. If someone makes a vow to God to give an “equivalent value” for a particular person, these are the going rates for that person based on age and gender:




20-60 years old

50 silver shekels

30 silver shekels

5-20 years old

20 silver shekels

10 silver shekels

1 month-5 years old

5 silver shekels

3 silver shekels

More than 60 years old

15 silver shekels

10 silver shekels

The most valuable male is only worth about 20 ounces of silver (roughly US$120 as of February 2010) to God. Also notice that not everyone is the same value to God, but rather it is based on age and gender, with females being at best 2/3 and as little as 1/2 as valuable as males for a given age. So, yes, God does value everyone, but not equally. To God, women are considerably less valuable, and young children are practically worthless.

According to Leviticus 27:9-13, if a person vows an animal which is ceremonially clean, it becomes holy, destined for sacrifice, and cannot be substituted. However, if the animal is not ceremonially clean, the person can redeem it (or buy it back) for its priest-appraised value plus 20%.

Similarly, in Leviticus 27:14-15 we find that if a person dedicates a house to God, the person can redeem it for its priest-appraised value plus 20%.

Leviticus 27:16-24 covers if a person dedicates land to God, and in a similar manner the land can be bought back for an appraised value plus 20%. That appraised value is based off of how much seed is required for it, with a rate of 50 shekels (the going rate for a 20-60 year old man) per roughly 6 bushels of seed. The land also had special rules because of the Jubilee laws which return lands to their original owners in the year of the Jubilee.

These redemptions are just like Jesus' redemption in that... well, no, actually it is not at all like Jesus' redemption. There is no foreshadowing or typology here.

Speaking of Jesus, do you remember the tale about how Jesus threw out the money changers form the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, implicitly in Luke 19:45-46, and John 2:13-17)? They were there due to the verse of Leviticus 27:25, which stated that all of these cash payments were to be made according to the value of the sanctuary shekel.

Back to the Old Testament, Leviticus 27:26-27 reminds them that God already gets the firstborn animals, but He is willing to sell back the unclean ones.

Leviticus 27:28-29 steps into another kind of devoting to God; an irrevocable giving, such as by burnt sacrifice. That can include human sacrifice! Verse 28 states that anything a man owns and irrevocably devotes to God, including men, animals, or land, cannot be redeemed because it is most holy. Verse 29 goes on to say that any man given to God in such a way must be killed!

Now, what humans could a man “own” to give as such offerings? His slaves, his wife, and even his sons and daughters could be sacrificed in such a way. See the horrible story of Jephthah in Judges 11:29-40 for such a case, where he sacrifices his only child, his young daughter, to God by burnt offering. This is in the Good Book, you know, God's word.

Getting back to money, just in case these voluntary offerings did not fully support the Levites, God makes the giving of a tithe of produce and livestock compulsory in Leviticus 27:30-33.

With these various laws for financial offerings, and the regulations which provided for periodic and random sacrifices of foodstuffs, God has poised Himself to become very wealthy, or rather has poised the Levites to become high-class citizens which controlled the majority-share of the wealth of the Israelites. In other words, they were set up to be exactly the kind of people Jesus supposedly rejected for their love of wealth and importance.

Friday, February 5, 2010

God's Altered Promise

After having a blaspheming half-breed stoned to death in Leviticus 24, God continues on in Leviticus 25 with laws regarding the selling of land and the buying of slaves. That nearly completes God's list of laws in Leviticus, so now it is time to reveal what the Chosen People will receive for obeying the laws, and what disobedience will cost them.

God's Altered Promise
There is a mark of a man of integrity: you can believe his word. If he says he will do something, then he will do that very thing. He will not delay, put conditions on it, or make you jump through hoops before he will do it. His word is golden, and his respect is thereby earned. One should expect no different behavior in God, for how can a man be better than God. Let us take a look at Leviticus 26, and consider God's integrity.

Leviticus 26:1-2 lay down the final two of a long list of laws which began in Leviticus 1. Do not worship any images, such as Jesus on a crucifix for example, and respect the Sabbaths and the Sanctuary.

With the laws complete, God outlines the great benefits for obeying this long list of laws Leviticus 26:3-13. These include abundant harvests, safety from beasts and enemies, and many offspring. Maybe the best benefit of all is that God would dwell with them, and they would be His people. In Leviticus 26:13, God reminds them that He brought them out of the Egyptian slavery, yet He conveniently fails to remind them that they were slaves in Egypt because of Him!

God then reveals the punishments for not obeying His laws in Leviticus 26:14-39. First God will bring “sudden terror,” harsh illnesses (some of which will cause blindness and death), and they will be captured by their enemies (Leviticus 26:14-17).

If they then do not repent, God will punish them “seven times over” by making their harvests minuscule (Leviticus 26:18-20).

If they then do not repent, God will punish them “seven times over” by making wild beasts attack their flocks, their children, and the people themselves until the population is scarce (Leviticus 26:21-22).

If they then do not repent, God will punish them “seven times over” by making enemies attack them, capture them, and cut off their food supply (Leviticus 26:23-26).

If they then do not repent, God will punish them “seven times over” by making them so hungry they resort to cannibalism, destroying their cities and sanctuaries, and laying their land to waste. The remnant that survives will be scattered among foreign nations, and where they will live in a state of fear and submission to their enemies (Leviticus 26:27-39).

Finally, if they repent, then God will remember His covenant which He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Leviticus 26:40-42). Perhaps we should take a closer look at those covenants.

God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15:4-21 stating that his offspring would be innumerable, that his offspring would be enslaved and mistreated 400 years, and that they would come out of their enslavement with great wealth and then occupy the Promised Land.

God promises Abraham in Genesis 17:4-14 that he would have numerous offspring which became nations and kings, and that as an everlasting promise God would be their God and they would have the Promised Land forever. Circumcision was required for this covenant.

Then, after Abraham nearly sacrifices his son, Isaac, at God's request, God promises in Genesis 22:15-18 that He will surely bless Abraham's offspring, that they will be innumerable, that they will capture their enemies' cities, and that all nations of the earth will be blessed through them.

As for Isaac, God promises him in Genesis 26:2-5 that his descendants will get the Promised Land which was promised to Abraham, that his offspring will be innumerable, and that all nations of the earth will be blessed through his offspring. Why? Per Genesis 26:5:
"because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My requirements, My commands, My decrees and My laws." NIV
Mind you, Abraham did not have many requirements, commands, decrees and laws to follow from God, at least not that the Bible recorded.

Isaac's son, Jacob, gets his promises from God in Genesis 28:13-15, that his descendants will get the Promised Land which was promised to Abraham, that his offspring will be innumerable, and that all nations of the earth will be blessed through his offspring.

God also tells Jacob in Genesis 35:11-12 that nations and kings would come from his offspring, and that they will get the Promised Land.

Now, did you notice anything in all of those promises? First, you may have observed that they came about due to God's approval of Abraham's actions. Second, you may also have realized that, other than circumcision, there were no conditions required for Abraham's offspring to inherit these blessings.

Coming back to Leviticus, we just read that if and only if the Israelites obey God's long list of laws and regulations, which now spans the books of Exodus and Leviticus, will God follow through with the promise that He made to Abraham. And furthermore, if they do not obey, not only will God not keep His original promise, but He will also punish them severely.

In effect, God is making a new promise, a new covenant with the Israelites. God has altered His original promise to Abraham by adding new terms and conditions which effectively null and void the original covenant, because they provide God the opportunity to fulfill that covenant only when it is pleasing to Him.

A man of integrity will fulfill his promises despite the costs involved. I guess you cannot say the same for God.

Do not get me wrong. I do understand why God would not want to fulfill His promise to a wicked and undeserving people. Yet if God is not bound by His word despite any circumstance, what real hope is there of an eternal Salvation?