The Other “Thou Shalt Not”s

October 9, 2017

Your parents told you they didn’t have favorite kids.  But God sure has favorite animals.

In The Beginning, God made the animals, and saw that they were all good.  Except one of them was a talking snake, which talked the first humans into sentience and breaking literally God’s only rule.  (Which means the snake had knowledge of good and evil already, which means the snake had already eaten from the tree!  That just hit me.)  Granted, that snake may or may not have been Satan (it’s more inferred than stated, really), the angel who led a civil war among angels and got cast out of Heaven and into Hell.  Either way, God punished all snakes forever by saying all humans and snakes would be at war forever, a war which humans usually win.  There’s a big theme of ancestry in the Bible – people are defined by who their parents were.  I think as a millennial I’m supposed to reject that, and all labels.  But our culture’s been rebelling against its parents for 55+ years, unlike most of the untold thousands of years before that.  But right or wrong, it’s in the Bible.  (That will settle the argument for some of you; the rest of you, keep writing with existential uncertainty.)

God sort of makes peace with snakes later, at least off-and-on.  The first time God shows up as or with an animal, it’s Moses’ staff turning into a snake, which eats the Egyptian magician’s snakes.  Then later, we’re not there yet but later, Moses makes a metal snake statue on a staff that can cure snakebites.  In other words, snakes symbolize the numerous, often supernatural enemies, but are overpowered by the one good snake.

After snakes, the Bible sort of toys with an evil-cows theme for a while.  When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he dreams of good cows (representing prophesies of plentiful food), and then 7 vile, gnarled cows come up and eat them.  If you can’t picture this, it’s because cow mouths are small, and cows are big.  I assume there were multiple bites.  The gnarly cows must’ve been thinking was so many one-time vegetarians do: “I tried living off just plants, but meat is just too good!”

Bull of Famine

The next time cows come up, it’s during “Let My People Go” – when Pharaoh won’t free the Israelites from slavery, one of the plagues is on all the livestock, which all get sick and die.  For animal rights activists reading, keep in mind animals were seen as extensions of people, like property.  You might’ve preferred a Plague of Runaway Animals where the cows escaped from bondage.  That’s okay.  That’s not the story, but if you ever get to decide a plague, you can do that.

Cows even get their own punishments – right when God starts making all the little rules after the 10 Commandments, which I hear Jesus doesn’t carry over to Christianity later.  (If you’re wondering why there are few sermons on this, it’s not because people are picking and choosing what parts of the Bible count – though that does happen too.  In this case it’s about what rules were laws for the Israelites and their personal covenant with God, as opposed to what rules were universal moral norms.  But if you want sources for this, there are countless theologians who have answered this.  Post some in the comments and I’ll put it here and give you credit.)

In the first chapter of the list of rules, Exodus 21, it says, and this verse is special enough to put on your T-shirt and screensaver:

“If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death. However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded. This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels. That is, about 12 ounces or about 345 grams of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.” (Exodus 28-32)

Amen.

You can tell from the tone that this was meticulously legalistic.

Goring Ox

Let’s leave the cows alone for a second, ’cause Exodus 21 talks a lot about slaves.  If you’re Jewish or Christian (or maybe Muslim, if you feel like the early Quran makes you look bad too when it talks about this), this makes you nervous.  Defending slavery as God’s plan is… outdated.  If you  find yourself defending it, it’s usually after you say the words “I’m not racist, I just think that…” and then you grasp at straws to defend it.  That’s what you’d call a Straw Man argument.  (You studied logic in high school too?  High-five!)

Now if you’re not one of those faiths, this kind of verse could be why you don’t trust religion, possibly not at all, possibly just older Western religion, possibly just in the hands of conservatives.  It all depends how much you define a religion by what bad was done in its religious circles.  After all, almost all of history people have been religious.  Is it all religion’s fault that people are stupid and suck sometimes?  (I would pay to watch a debate with this title.)  Or is it just correlation, not causation?  People were doing stupid things and they were religious, but religion wasn’t the one thing that kept people from being mature, scientific pacifists.  And yes, some of the religions were made up; I don’t know of a theory today that holds that all religions are factually true.  That would be a lot of creation stories and gods pushing the sun.  Whether they’re philosophically true is… nope, not enough room in this blog for that.  Moving on!

Hebrew slavery was only slightly different.  They’d just been slaves themselves in Egypt.  They may have been desensitized to the idea, like with corporal punishment and watching Family Guy with kids in the room.  The chapter also starts off saying “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years.  But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.”  This means they were making some of their own people into slaves.  They weren’t taking other peoples and keeping them as slaves.  It also means slavery was temporary.  It worked as a kind of indentured servitude, a way of working their way out of debt.  (If this were still legal, we could pay off ours before we were 30.  I’d put an exclamation point and laugh, but I might cry hot tears of rage, so a period will do.)

Slaves also had rights, some spelled out here, others in other chapters (here’s a more in-depth explanation if you’re still thinking “this guy’s whitewashing slavery, pretty sure he’s making some of this up.”)  This chapter does say if someone injures their slave (knocking out an eye or a tooth) also frees them immediately (Exodus 21:26-27).  I’m not sure if the verses right before it count: “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” which is where we get that old expression.

Tooth for a Tooth

But honestly, anything that contractually requires for someone to work for someone for 7 years, with any fewer legal rights than the rest, is a nauseating idea.  I could make Egyptian Slavemaster cards all day long, but that’s because they’re the Biblical bad guys.  I can’t bring myself to do that for the Hebrews, even if I gave the ability slightly different subtypes to make it a milder version of service from one of your creatures to another.  Moving on.

Oh and it says men can sell their daughters as slaves (Exodus 21:7-11) oh no time for that I have things I want to write about byeeee…

I’ll just list the other important points for time’s sake:

  • “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.”  (Exodus 22:2-3) Yaaaay, the South!  We don’t call 911…when it’s dark out.
  • “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife.  If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” (Exodus 22:16) I looked up a dozen translations of this, and rest assured, they all said “seduces,” not rapes.  Had to be sure.  So if a young couple sleeps together, they have to get married.  My God, that would not go over well now!  People don’t know what they’re doing when they start doing it.  Pheromones are beer goggles.  Take your time, teenagers.
  • “You must not allow a sorceress to live. … If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them … They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” (Exodus 22:17; Leviticus 20:6 & 27, yes I skipped ahead)  Iiiis this bigoted against Wiccans?  My God, that’s a big question.  Like a lot of the Bible, it is against other religions, and other religious practices – pagan, heathen, non-Abrahamic, take your pick of words for it.  This sounds a bit like Salem, where the Puritans killed… wait for it… 20 so-called witches.  (Still bad to kill them, but people talk about it like it was a Holocaust.)  If God is real, this carries more weight, since there’s an underlying power struggle between good and evil.  If God isn’t, then it’s just in-group favoritism and cultural bias leading to genocide / xenocide.  A lot weighs on that distinction.  Mind you, there are not a lot of people today who would lobby for the death penalty for all non-Christians.  Hashtag Westboro.  (I don’t think hashtags work on blogs.  Lemme try though: #Westboro.  Man am I gonna get some interesting site traffic!
    No Life from Death
  • “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) AHA!  Don’t be racist against immigrants!
  • “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:22-24) Be nice to single moms and their kids, or God will kill you.  And then your family will be widows and orphans, just to add some poetic justice.
  • You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.” (Exodus 22:29-30) Also not popular today.  I would be drafted into working in the temple for life and be raised by monks.  Not the warrior kind, which I could’ve gotten the hang of (my dad used to watch Kung Fu).  Luckily later on God announces that the tribe of Levite (inventors of Levis) will be drafted from then on instead, but in return, everyone tithes some of their income to them because it turns out priest-ing doesn’t make much money.
  • “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” (Exodus 23:6) Heck yeah – due process!  America could work on that.  Hire more public defenders and screen judges for racism in their past verdicts.

But wait til I get to the evilest cow of all!

…that’s not til Exodus 32?  And we’re only on 23? Sheesh!  Way to break up my theme!  Oh what the heck, I’ll throw it in early:

So while Moses went up to get the Ten Commandments written down (God said ’em on Mount Sinai but they wanted a hard copy), the people get real impatient reeeal fast.  Maybe they were a bit spoiled because they’d had the literal, all-providing presence of God, and were getting separation anxiety now that He was off spending time with Moses.  Maybe they missed their time in Egypt (in spite of the slavery bit) and wanted something gaudy and ritualistic to waste their resources on.  Apparently making up a God fills the existential void.  It’s also handy for atheists in AA who have to pick a “Higher Power” but don’t believe in one.

So they literally ask Aaron, the chief priest, who has literally been in on Moses’ every miracle since Egypt (not that Moses made the miracles but – that was a tricky sentence to word), and say “Come, make us gods who will go before us.”  And Aaron, wanting to keep with the times and stay up for re-election, says, give me all your gold jewelry.  And they do, and he makes a golden calf out of it.  And he says to them, “This is your god, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt!”

Golden Calf

Whoa, Bessie!  How did this happen?  Was Aaron just telling people what they wanted to hear?  Did they really just find a cow more relatable/relateable (SpellCheck is mad at me whichever way I say it) than the pillar of fire?  And here’s the big distinction I’ve found – this scripture doesn’t say that Aaron or the people thought this was a different God.  Read between the lines, and theologians please descend upon me if I’m wrong, but I think they were just portraying the God of Israel as a cow.

So Moses is up in the mountains with God, and God lets him know what’s going on below.  God muses aloud that he might just kill them all and make Moses’ descendants the new chosen people instead.  Moses talks him out of it.  Mhm.  Moses persuades the all-knowing one who reads minds and has seen all of time.  (Or God was just prompting Moses to speak for his people, since he really resents them too.)

So instead Moses goes down, drops the Ten Commandments in shock, they shatter – that’s the second time God’s tried to tell them these things – and he grinds the calf up to a powder and scatters it in the water.  Then he asks the tribe of Levite to kill several thousand of the calf-worshippers.  And they do.  I — I’m not even gonna touch that one.

Dang this post turned big!  Thanks for reading all the way through.  I got way more cards in this week.  That felt nice.

P.S, if anyone knows a good forum or medium for people to share games & fake cards like this online, lemme know.  It’d be great if this were a project involving more than just one guy.  But for now it’s still nice.

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