22. The Holy Bible : The Old Testament books 1-5

The Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
covering from the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, to the death of Moses.

My thoughts : As said previously, I will not comment on the text as religion, merely my experiences in dealing with the books as literature and evidence of life and customs in the ancient world.
I have not read the Bible in detail before, but having grown up in a Christian environment and done my fair share of Sunday School classes, the basic stories were familiar : the Creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Abel and Cain, Noah and his Ark, the Tower of Babel, Lot escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah, and the story of Moses from being found as a babe in the bullrushes beside the Nile, through the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the 40 years in the wilderness.
Reading the complete books was quite laborious with so much repetition (Deuteronomy was almost entirely repetition of earlier sections), family histories, and detail of sacrifices (reminiscent of the offerings to the Gods in Homer’s Iliad). There was quite a long section inserted in the story of Moses to proscribe laws, not a little unlike the Laws of Hammurabi to protect society and provide guidelines for conduct. But I did learn some details to the above stories, at least by my interpretation of the text
• Man was meant to be a vegetarian, but had come to eating meat by the time of Noah
• There were two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve and Adam ate of the latter, and God banished them from the Garden in case they also ate of the Tree of Life and became immortal
• The mark put on Cain was to warn others not to kill him so he would long suffer for his sin
• There were giants in the days of Methuselah
• Noah collected seven pairs of each type of clean (edible) animal and one pair of each type of unclean animal. It rained for 40 days but the flood stayed on the earth for 150 days.
• Esau the hairy man and hunter, and his untrustworthy brother Jacob. Esau reminded me of Enkidu from the Gilgamesh epic. His description here seems too much for coincidence.
• There was a second set of tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed presented to Noah by God after the first were smashed
• The dietary restrictions other than pigs, such as rabbits, swans and seafood
• The Israelites’ forty years wandering in the wilderness was to ensure none of that generation, who had disobeyed and angered God, survived to see the promised land of milk and honey
There were also some things that disturbed me. The severity of God’s punishments, and his favouritism of the Israelites (despite their repeated transgressions) over the Canaanites, the Amorites and other tribes, was difficult to connect with the loving God of the New Testament. Lot offering up his daughters to the mob that visited his house to sodomise his guests. The plagues inflicted on the Egyptians as a result of Pharoah’s refusal to release the Israelites, yet it was God himself who repeatedly hardened Pharoah’s heart so He had reason to continue demonstrating His powers, even to killing the first born of every Egyptian family. The war against the Midianites, where Moses insisted after the battle that his soldiers kill all the women and male children, and enslave the girl children. The God of the Old Testament is indeed a jealous God and one ready to demand love through fear.

The Book of Deuteronomy ends with the Song of Moses, which has some vivid imagery in stark contrast to the tedious repetition of the preceding chapters.

“My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” Deut. 32 : 2

“For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter, their wine is the poison of dragons and the cruel venom of asps.” Deut 32 : 32-33.

Favourite lines/passages : The lines that immediately resonated with me were those that have been quoted so often since, notably “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22) and “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live (Exodus 22 : 18) but my favourite was very reassuring on a personal level in the section about lepers “And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald yet he is clean” (Leviticus 13 : 40) Phew!

Personal rating : As the source of literary themes and background, Genesis and Exodus were worthwhile reading. The other three books were a disagreeable and diminishing experience to read. 3/10

Next : I need a break before tacking more Old Testament, so I will move onto the Odes of Pindar.

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