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ruminations: Judges

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Just finished the book of Judges. Interesting stuff. It's one of those books antitheists
like to wave about while raving about how insane a theoretically nonexistent God is;
there's lots of killing, thieving, spirit-descending, clan warfare, idol-making, rape,
pillage, divination, and general mayhem, with only a dry remark occasionally about how
there was no king in those days and every man did what was right in his own eyes. A fairly
cheap monarchist moralism to stick on top of a rather sordid scripture.

Of course, what makes Judges intersting is how rather baldly it vindicates the dire
predictions of Deuteronomy and Joshua, that an Israel which forgets is doomed to repeat the
history of its neighbors, left to their own devices and stricken by the sword. There's a
general encroachment by the Philistines and other random "-ites", to the detriment of the
Israelite tribes becoming almost indistinguishable from their neighbors. Few published
novels foreshadow so blatantly as Moses' speeches did. The haphazard communication with
YHWH, El, Adonai, has so deteriorated by the end of the book that all they can think to ask
is how to destroy one of their sibling tribes for an apalling act publicized by a Levite
with a Machiavellian gift for communicating his thirst for revenge. Judges reminds me a
bit of King Lear, in which some of the most chilling/disturbing scenes take place
with the main actor off-stage; the LORD turns up now and again, often to
stave off disaster for His people, but increasingly, the narrator doesn't even have to
bother saying "the people again did what was offensive in the sight of the Lord".

As strange-seeming as all this is, I have trouble whipping it up into a moral indictment
against God for letting all this happen, let alone for endorsing it. Bible stories,
notwithstanding anything nice aunties or grannies told you in Sunday Skool, are
not role-model fodder. The joke, "It may be that your only purpose in life is to
serve as a warning to others," is nearly helpful here. Nowhere in Judges, let alone the
Bible as a whole, is there some kind of dummy-label: "Do everything these people did, they
were all great through and through." Judges is a freakin' mess because it is a human book,
that is to say, it is the stories of us. Fear of God, doubt, and superstition all live
cosily together making their kinky little home in Gideon's heart, for instance.

Judges turns out just as anyone who had tuned in for our previous episodes might've

If you do forget the LORD your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them,
I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish; like the nations that the LORD will
cause to perish before you, so shall you perish -- because you did not heed the LORD your
God. [..] And when the LORD your God has thrust them from your path, say not to yourselves,
"The LORD has enabled us to possess this land because of our virtues"; it is rather because
of the wickedness of those nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is
not because of your virtues and your rectitude that you will be able to possess their
country; but it is because of their wickedness that the LORD your God is dispossessing
those nations before you, and in order to fulfill the oath that the LORD made to your
fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [Deut. 8:19-20, 9:4-5 (JPS)]

And so Judges is all about the see-saw teeter-totter of 'so shall you perish' and 'to
fulfill the oath' -- the tribes go into freefall. The Lord delivers, often, but the
relationship is strained, distant, formal. Abraham was called God's friend. He haggled
with the Lord, fed him, trusted the Lord with the death and life of his sons, moved his
whole mob wherever the Lord transferred him. No leader from Judges is remotely intimate
in the same way with YHWH. Judges is a tale of self-absorbtion, of preoccupation.

Reading Scripture as an encyclopedia or an inspirational Can-Do! tale (a la the
'motivational speakers' circuit) is a fool's errand, to be polite. Unfortunately, it's
just the kind of popular strawman that is terrific cannon fodder for revisionist theology
and smug antitheism. And it's bought and sold by the bushel. [ Reading the Bible through
lenses of "progress" or "onwards and upwards" or 'backwards:bad::forward:good' and the
general evolutionary meme (predating Darwin, leave him out of this,
, one completely schematizes out the complexity and
entanglements and life in the texts. ] Don't impose on Judges a grid of known
types, or 'lessons learned', or a progress report; it's got people in it. God's life is
intersecting with them as their relationship is unfolding on the basis or his promises and
their responses, oaths between them, and love and hate and all those other aspects of
soulish existence by which we all live.

i need a lover, baby

i need a broken heart


i need a lover maybe

i need another age

i need a tragic movie

some taste of tears and rage

If we can't find ourslves in here, somewhere, ignoring or testing God, asking him how to
avenge belatedly the type of things we've let pass for years, singing songs of rejoicing
for deliverance, or just trying to hedge our bets with the local Pow'rs, we have problems,
people. I know I'm no Abraham, maybe more like Lot. Not Moses, even Joshua; more like
Aaron or Gideon. But I'll call upon the Lord, rely on his oaths, at least. Good thing I
Samuel is coming up, maybe I'll find some good news...

nd: decaf green tea; pale ale

np: Dire Straits, Money for Nothing;

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