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Updated every weekday.         Please vote!    

 

2011-10-28

And so, Moses and the two million Israelites continue their trek out of Egypt in Exodus 13:1-5. The first order of business God brings up is the first born children of the entire nationóGod wants them all. Every firstborn human and animal is to be sanctified, that is, to be made holy. In doing this, the child symbolically becomes the property of the Lord. This is disgusting. Children are people. Juvenile people, yes, but people none the less. They are not property to be handed away, nor should they have their lives planned for them. As Richard Dawkins said, we donít say that a child is a Democrat or a Republican because we realize theyíre too young to understand what that entails. So why donít we have a problem with picking a religion for a child?

Moving on. God demands that the Israelites remember this day by not eating leavened bread. Hereís an idea, rather than remember the day through an odd dietary ritual, why not remember the day by writing about it? Preferably on stone or metal tablets that will withstand the trials of time. That way, archeologists will have actual evidence that accurately places the date of the tablets to the time when the events were supposed to have occurred. Why didnít God command this? The first problem is that the Hebrew people might not have even had their own writing system then. We can only trace the earliest Hebrew alphabet back to around 1000 BCE, but Moses was supposed to write the Torah around 1450 BCE. But even if the Hebrew people didnít have their own writing system, surely some of them learned how to carve ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs into stone? Yet no stone or metal carvings exist from that time, none are even close! Our oldest surviving manuscripts of the Torah only date back to around 100 BCE.

Moving on further. God tells Moses to lead the Israelites to the land flowing with milk and honey: Canaan. Yes, the same Canaan that the Hebrews keep leaving due to famine. Maybe a barren rocky desert wasnít the best choice for the promised land? However, thereís one teensy little problem: itís already occupied by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now, a nice diplomatic solution is to simply join them in the land and live in peace and harmony, but this is God weíre talking about here. There will be blood.

 

Comments

Baughbe writes:

 

Writing before they had an alphabet? No Problem! Just watch a very young pre-school child make shapeless scribbles and listen as they babble about what they just wrote. Then ask them 20 minutes later about it and get an entirely different story! Oral tradition, legitimized after the fact with non-existent writings. Who ever played 'The Rumor Game'? We did that in school, what was said to the first person in line (and written down) had no relationship at all to what the last person in line heard and reported. That's why I put no trust in oral traditions. Any relationship to the truth is accidental at best.

Ladyofthemasque writes:

 

Baughbe, I believe your analogy is only somewhat accurate. You've compared full-grown adults in a society where the main way to pass information was by doing it orally to toddlers who haven't even mastered verbal language yet, never mind writing. The storytellers might have written symbols on bits of leather or wood with charcoal or whatever as mnemonic aids, but the storytellers did so as adults.

The Rumor Game isn't the same as handing down oral teachings, either; in the game, you hear a whisper once, and only once. In oral teachings, you hear the same story at normal volume (with only slight variations) over and over and over, until you, too, have learned the meat and bones of that story...and in some cultures, they insisted upon it being told exactly word-for-word every single time. (Not many, but some.)

For those of you who are in the SCA (medieval society), attend a lot of camping events, and attend the bardic fires in the evenings, you've seen this in action as your favorite storyteller trots out the audience's favorite stories at several events. Eventually other bards who listen to the story will pick it up and tell it, too...with some small variations, admittedly, but the meat and bones of the story are there. This is not the same as a toddler scribbling a story with a crayon, and then coming back an hour later to hear an entirely different story about the scribble.

So there may be some variation indeed, but there may be more meat behind an old story than you'd think. The twists away from the truth are more likely to be greater when a) the story protagonist needs to appear as a hero to motivate the people of that culture, b) they're talking about events which they were too scientifically undeveloped to understand, c) they were trying to create an allegory to subtly influence their culture in a particular direction. (I suspect c. as it's quite clear the priests were trying to get their people to fall into line culturally about this particular religious observance.)

Symbols have been used for descriptives and as mnemonic aids since prehistoric days tens of thousands of years ago. Just ask any Frenchman living near those limestone aubris in central France about "those paleolithic hooligans and their tribal gang-signs scribbled all over the place." Of course, what's telling about the ancient Hebrews is that they -don't- seem to have these mnemonic symbols...which is why I voted c., priests coming up with stories to influence their culture.

...What IS interesting is that nearly every single Human culture out there with a lengthy history has a "flood" story at some point, some natural disaster which caused great problems and slew many people. While the story may be so ancient there is no meat left with which to identify the original beast...this one myth/belief is so persistent and widespread, I can only conclude there was indeed some sort of large widespread disaster that got told by the survivors to everyone they met, and in such gory detail that they passed it along to everyone -they- met, et cetera, et cetera.

(I do not, however, believe in the Noah's Ark part of the flood story, as TAG did a wonderful job of debunking that stinking pile of way too much manure that would've built up on board.)

So for myself, while I will not implicitly trust an oral tradition...I will examine it with a neutral eye toward whatever meat and bone may be embedded in the tale, and then ask myself what is the purpose of this story? Is it a motivational tale, an historical record of events, some combination of the two, or something else?

Ladyofthemasque writes:

 

I almost never believe quantities and qualities such as numbers and descriptions of monsters in oral traditions. Mainly because people love to exaggerate.

As in the story of The Brave Little Tailor, who "slew seven in one blow!", he actually slaughtered 7 flies, not 7 giants, but it sounds so much more fantastic to spread the rumor that it was giants rather than mere flies. And how much more exciting is it to say you encountered and fought off a great big lion than encountered and fought off a small (but still dangerous) bobcat?

Aaaand I'm gonna shut up for now. That's too many long posts recently.

Allanon6666 writes:

 

Pft, no such thing as too many long posts, Ladyofthemasque. Especially when they're informative.

Maju writes:

 

"nearly every single Human culture out there with a lengthy history has a "flood" story at some point"rnrnActually not: only a few irrigation agricultural cultures do. They have overwhelmed the res with such stories though and other cultural export items. rnrnThe Western (Hebrew, etc.) flood can be tracked to the Sumerian one which most likely a wordplay of amaru (flood) and a-maru (var. a-murru): semitic people. It probably indicates the semitic invasions of the 4th millenium.rnrnArchaeologically there is no such any single flood, although there are of course many localized floods which may have inspired the narration. rnrnIn China there's another (very different) flood myth. But again China gets flooded every other day as well. rnrnNeither Basque nor Indoeuropean nor many other mythologies have any flood myths.

El Pato writes:

 

Not really adding anything relevant to the discussion, but since I read the entire comic series recently (a week ago?) and noticed you had a call for the lurkers to speak up, I just figured I would say a small "Thanks for the effort you put in drawing this!"

I have been an atheist since age 12, when I discovered rational thinking, yet never took the time to dissect the bible as well as you do; I just thought "meh, rubbish!" and pretended it's insignificant. I like the way you point out its flaws and really enjoy the informative texts below the pics (granted, I didn't read every single one of those), so keep up the good work!

someguy writes:

 

if you have seen a flood the water goes on forever. it really does look like the whole world is covered in water. and if your world view is of a flat earth it would also seem that for so much water to be covering everything in sight for days without just flowing away that the whole world must really be covered. humans tended to settle near rivers to make use of the fertile soil. the soil is especially fertile in part due to these floods.

humans who constantly are settling in food plains have myths about floods... probably due to divine deities... nothing else explains it!

 

Oh the irony!