Monday, November 5, 2012

Exodus 4 v.1-31 A jumbled mess of Moses

This chapter is hard to read. For my purposes, it doesn't matter why. Is Moses on the road to Egypt or not? Did he leave already? His wife just cuts off their son's foreskin? I dunno. Here's how it sounds:

Moses asked god what proof he could show people that this all happened. The bush and the instruction to go to Egypt. God told him to throw his goose-herding staff on the ground--let me back up here. God asked Moses what it was first. What's that? What's what? That long stick thing in your hand. Oh this? This is a staff. Oh, okay, throw it on the ground. It turns into a snake. Ah! A snake! Don't be a pussy, just grab it by the tail. Oh, it's a staff again.

So that's a good . . . trick. Also, does god not know what a staff is?

Then god told Moses to put his hand inside his cloak. To bring out a bunch of FLOWERS! No, just take your hand out again, oh okay. Ah! Leprosy! God must've giggled at that. Yeah, you're a leper now. No, just kidding, put your hand back in your coat and. . .voila! Flowers! No, you just don't have leprosy anymore. Oh, sweet. You know, thousands of years from now human beings will be able to do this. With antibiotics.

If they don't believe that, god told him, just take some water from that river they have, the Nile. Pour it on the ground and it will turn into blood. Trust me.

Moses was dubious he would be able to carry this message. He wasn't a great speaker, apparently. God became angry at this and told him to just use his 'brother' Aaron as a mouthpiece. So that was settled, I guess. Don't forget your long stick thing! Staff? Your staff!

This is where the linear part of the story almost completely breaks down.

Moses asked his father-in-law if he could go to Egypt to free his people. His father-in-law replied, okay, good luck with that.

Then in Midian, god told Moses to go to Egypt. Again. Don't worry, god assured Moses, no one wants to kill you anymore. So Moses packed up his wife and his sons on his donkey.

God had more instructions for Moses. Incredibly confusing instructions.

I am sending you to Egypt to perform the three magic tricks before the Pharaoh there. But also, I am going to harden his heart. So when you ask him to let the Israelites go and he tells you no, you will know that I meant for that to happen.


Also, when he refuses, like I know he will, you should tell him that Israel is my first-born son, and that because he won't let Israel go, I will kill his first-born son.

So you're hardening his heart so that you can kill his first-born son?

Yes. This is what they get for worshipping cats.

So on the way to Egypt, at a lodging place, god tried to kill Moses. No idea why.

Okay. Here's the exact next sentence:

25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it.[c] 

See the little footnote? That links to 'the meaning of the Hebrew clause here is uncertain.' No shit.

God didn't kill Moses after all. Possibly even god was shocked and distracted by a mother mutilating the genitals of her son, and just got the hell out of there before anything else happened. 

Which isn't to say that society really sees circumcision as mutilation. But it sort of is. Let's take a little aside here:

I happen to have pierced my body in various places over the years, for various reasons. Each time this happened, I was mutilating my body. The act of puncturing or cutting the body to draw blood and change the physical appearance of the body is mutilation. What makes what I did different from circumcision is that a) when I took many of my piercings out, the holes closed up--they grew back together and b) I was an adult when I made the decision. One of my problems with many major religions--which is more of a cultural thing than a religion thing-- is the idea that you do not own your body. I believe in some ways this point of view makes it okay to pierce babies' ears and cut off skin from the penis. The fact that one of those actions is irreversible seems to me a little unfair. But, admittedly, I'm not as worried about getting into heaven as I am about violating the basic human right of having your body as unmanipulated as possible during childhood. But, again, if I were worried about keeping a rather dangerously capricious god happy, I would see it as a small sacrifice.

The fact that the appearance of circumcision in this story is so confusing the translators have to footnote it with 'no idea what's going on here' gives me pause. I am missing something that may have been well-known to people alive at the time of writing, or it's just one of those crazy twists of telephone when a message gets garbled through over-telling. But it shows up again later in Leviticus, I think. So we'll examine it more closely then. Back to the story. 

Then god told Aaron to go into the wilderness to meet Moses, and the two met at the mountain of god. Which is on the way to Egypt? After the lodging place? 

Aaron believed the tricks Moses performed must come from god or at least a decent slight-of-hand book, and they both convinced the elders and all of their people that god had heard their suffering, and they all bowed down and worshipped Moses. Or god. It's not clear in the text.    

The last bit clearly happened before Moses left. So it should have been inserted sooner in the text. The fact that it's out of order doesn't really argue for much except bad copying practices or bad translations of texts.  

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