I remember a time in church when my preacher was telling the congregation that they should read the bible more. He suggested they begin with the Gospels because they were exciting, rather than become bored by starting with Numbers. There were some giggles from the pews, because the few of us who actually knew about Numbers were aware of all the dull census lists and travel records. A good portion of the crowd didn’t laugh, no doubt because they hadn’t the slightest idea that Numbers was even a book in the bible. Looking back at it now, I wonder if a few of the people who didn’t laugh did so because they were all too familiar with Numbers 11 which beings with an uncounted number of families being immolated.
So what did the Israelites do to deserve being burned alive? Did they commit atrocious acts of child rape? Did they butcher their parents and drink their blood? No, even worse! According to Numbers 11:1-3, “the people complained.” So, if you ever are discussing the ethics of capital punishment, and you’re debating which crimes are worthy of execution, you can pull out your ace, kvetching.
In particular, the fires ravaged the outermost tents of the camp. Believers may prefer to assume that the worst complainers just so happened to live in the outermost tents, and therefore only the guilty were punished, but that would imply that the god of the bible had qualms about indiscriminate murder. Anyway, as grandparents and pregnant women alike were consumed by the conflagration, the Israelites who weren’t on fire begged Moses to intercede with God and stop the approaching blaze. And sure enough, like so many times before this, God does whatever the hell Moses tell him to do, because God is his bitch.
When an uncounted number of children have been burned alive, you kind of want to make a memorial, so the Israelites named this camp, Taberah, which means “burning.” Not exactly the most sensitive name, but it does get right to the point!