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Author Topic: The Rational Bible: Exodus
Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 09:46
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I did break down and buy The Rational Bible: Exodus by Dennis Prager. This promises to be a mind-numbingly boring topic for most so I’ll keep it as light as I can. I can remember how oppressively bleak compulsory church attendance was when I was a child. It was not “the fear of God” instilled in me but “fear of boredom.”

Luckily Dennis Prager is a bit of a sprightly writer. We’re starting off (and staying with) Moses, of course. Prager notes that he is a rare moral character. First (as a prince of Egypt) he defends a Hebrew from her Egyptian taskmaster. Then he intervenes between two Hebrews with a dispute. Later he helps some Midian women from some Midian men at the well. His moral reach is not confined to just one tribe, which is how morality is normally conceived.

Prager also notes how the Torah does a strange thing and shows women (even Egyptian women, the midwives who refuse to kill the Hebrew male babies) in a good light, including naming some of these good women (Shifra, Puah) whilst leaving out the name of the oppressive pharaoh. Prager notes it is highly unusual for any text not to fixate on the big names. In this one, they are sometimes ignored completely.

A friend of mine over at another site dismissed the Torah as just a bunch of anthropomorphized baloney regarding God. You have to wonder if people actually have read this thing. What is startling is that the God that Moses meets gives his name not as “Chester” or “Joey” but “I am that I am” or “I will be what I will be.” That is, he is saying that he is Being itself. That’s hardly a God who looks like us, a mere flattering self image with wings, golden throne, scepter and perhaps a slurry of tattoos.

This book (so far) is a bit more than just parsing the words of Exodus. Prager inserts some of his (to me) familiar commentary on the broad subjects that Exodus brings up. When talking about the Egyptian midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh, he wrote:

I am convinced courage is the rarest of all good traits. There are far more kind and honest people than there are courageous people. Unfortunately, however, in the battle against evil, all the good traits in the world amount to little when not accompanied by courage.

You can see how this applies wonderfully to the Republican Party. They are “nice” but not good where it counts. He also takes some good and needed swipes at the dishonest atheists (which may be redundant):

I readily admit I wish there is a good God, ultimate justice, an afterlife, and meaning to my life. Every normal person wishes the same. But that does not make belief in God solely a product of wishful thinking. I believe in God for a host of rational reasons one of which is the unique greatness of the Torah and the Bible. Moreover, all those atheists who believe there is (or, more precisely, who manufacture) some ultimate purpose to their lives should recognize their entire philosophy of a meaningful life really is based on wishful thinking—precisely what they accuse believers of.

One of the great values of a Prager commentary is that he directly rebuts the comic-book conceptions of the Bible as spread by dishonest atheists. This spreading can be so pernicious and constant that I think many Christians and Jews simply acquiesce. They may no longer understand their own Bibles, let alone how to defend its content.

For instance, what kind of loving god would want you to fear him? Prager expertly handles this issue. Speaking in the context of the Egyptian midwives who helped the Hebrews (by not murdering their children):

Remember, it was not love of God that prompted the midwives’ moral heroism. In our time, many people invoke the commandment to love God but ignore or even disparage the commandment to fear God. While many God-believers will engage in heroic self-sacrifice out of love of God, most God-believers are moral on a day-to-day basis because they believe they will be judged by God. That’s why for example, in traditional Western societies, the finest people were routinely described as “God-fearing,” not “God-loving.”

It was the midwives’ fear of God that liberated them from fear of the Egyptian tyrant. This point is often overlooked: Fear of God is a liberating emotion, freeing one from a disabling fear of evil, powerful people. This needs to be emphasized because many people see fear of God as onerous rather than liberating.

. . . Those words [regarding a Soviet Jewish dissident] were all the more remarkable in that the vast majority of Soviet Jewish dissidents were not religious. But they understood the simple moral and logical fact that if one “fears no one except God,” one can muster the courage not to fear a totalitarian state. And these simple words also explain why totalitarian states like the Soviet Union [or the state of California] so feared and fought against belief in God Because belief in God posits there is something higher than the Party [or Pelosi], it constitutes a fatal threat to secular totalitarian societies (that’s why North Koreans have been horribly punished for owning a Bible).

This is a key point for me. Anti-religious bigotry is part and parcel of the “Progressive” mindset (except regarding Islam). If there is nothing higher than the state then there is no way in principle to oppose whatever morality the state is imposing. You just have to go along. And people do. Like sheep. But they have learned the reflexive snarl against Christians and Jews like good lapdogs.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 10:09
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I see. Fearing God means fearing his judgment if you deserve punishment. That makes good sense.

The Bible rarely names pharaohs. Necho is the only exception I know, given that Shishak was referred to as king rather than pharaoh.

One difference between authoritarian and totalitarian governments is that the former often to recognize God, and even specific Christian religions. Nationalist Spain was very Catholic, though as usual they excluded messages that they considered negative. When the Catholic Church denounced Nazi German violations of its Concordat with Rome in 1938 (Mit Brennender Sorge), it was heard in Germany -- but not in Nationalist Spain (and probably not in loyalist Spain either, albeit for a different reason). Bakunin's anarchists also hated religion, which shows that they had more of an affinity than the Russian reprobate would have admitted with Karl Marx.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 10:42
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Anti-religious bigotry is part and parcel of the “Progressive” mindset (except regarding Islam). If there is nothing higher than the state then there is no way in principle to oppose whatever morality the state is imposing.

This is why I keep pointing out that the left's assault on religion has been ongoing for at least 200 years. Destroy first religion and then the family. After those are gone, the State is supreme. Why do you think the left promotes illegitimacy? I am convinced it is also why the left is attacking the idea of fixed genders.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 12:50
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I see. Fearing God means fearing his judgment if you deserve punishment. That makes good sense.

Think about the school teachers you didn’t fear (almost always women). We were little hellions who deserved a good knocking up beside the head.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 13:07
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After those are gone, the State is supreme. Why do you think the left promotes illegitimacy? I am convinced it is also why the left is attacking the idea of fixed genders.

The state promises an earthly utopia for the mob (and liberty, of course) if they will just give themselves over to the state (where they can be “free” of having to do such onerous stuff as thinking for themselves).

This is almost surely why most attacks on religion present Christians (probably the same for Jews as well) as mindless cultists. This is what the statists are. Sure, one could argue that people give themselves over to God for promises of heaven. And I find it difficult to try to parse the differences between the two when they both seem to be intersecting on an aspect of human nature. As Dennis Prager says (not in this book, at least thus far): Most people just want to be taken care of.

Even as slaves. Prager notes that the story of Moses returning to Egypt to free his people gets complicated. For the Hebrews, it’s somewhat a case of “the devil you know.” Prager notes that one can come to have a subservient mindset, something Moses himself did not have because of his different circumstances.

The pharaoh finds it easy to turn his people against him, making them, for instance, make bricks by having to gather their own straw (which previously had been supplied to them by someone) — and putting the blame on Moses for this. (Pharaoh was obviously an ancestor of Louis Farrakhan.) Despite having witnessed miracles performed via Moses’ staff, you can understandably see their angst at having pharaoh’s anger brought down on them. Promises of obtaining their liberty would have rightly been seen as pie-in-the-sky rhetoric, miracles or no miracles.

But as Prager notes, Moses was ever only a subsidiary part of the project to get pharaoh to let his people go. Words were not going to do it, although Prager says that because God is a moral God, pharaoh first had to offer an honest and straightforward choice. But God knew that the plagues were what would ultimately motivate pharaoh to cooperate.

What an amazing story. And there is so much missing….as with the story of Jesus. In certain parts, Prager speculates that what survives in the Torah must have been part of a much longer oral tradition.

Moses is extraordinary because he is a humble man but one who has an universal sense of justice, and one that does not simply parse things as “good for my tribe / bad for my tribe.” He was a man way ahead of his time, or any time. Whether God talked to him on Mt Sinai, and whether all these miracles were performed, I admit to remaining skeptical. But I do believe the basic story is true. It’s just hard for me to say “this stuff is 100% true” when we frankly can’t trust news stories that happened just the other day.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 13:25
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It's not the Torah, but notice that in the books of Kings, after discussing each monarch of either Israel or Judah, the writer asks of each: Aren't their deeds written up in some particular collection of their history. After that it reports the death and briefly cites the successor (except for those who had no successors, of course).

Pharaoh was asked before each plague to let the Israelites go. So each plague was on his head -- including the loss of the first-born, which presumably hit him as well.

Think of the Israelite subservience as a form of Stockholm syndrome. Recall that some slaves supported the South, though I doubt any rejected manumission when it came.

Brad-
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Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 18:41
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Think of the Israelite subservience as a form of Stockholm syndrome.

Interestingly, that's very much dealt with in this book.

I’ve just reached the part of Exodus where the 10th plague is unleashed. An interesting comment from Prager is the boldness of Moses/Aaron as the plagues unfold. At the start, they’re somewhat politely asking to be able to take 7 days of to go worship in the desert. By the time just before the 10th plague, they’re basically issuing the pharaoh orders.

One of the things involved in what they always said they wanted to do (if only to spend 7 days in the desert and return) was to sacrifice animals. And the animals that they would sacrifice would inherently be the ones that the Egyptians held as sacred. So Moses knew that any sacrificing would have to be done out of the eyes of the Egyptians or it would anger them greatly.

Negotiations with the pharaoh went back and forth. Yes, you can take some people out to the desert, but basically some would remain behind as hostages. After hit with a couple more plagues, yes you can go out, but only the menfolk. Pharaoh, of course, would break every promise he made. But the plagues wear the pharaoh down. If this really happened, these plagues were over an extended length of time and would have been extremely bothersome and destructive.

By the end of the 10th plaque, Moses is basically ordering the Egyptians to supply them with animals and silver. It’s a request, but the backdrop of the previous plagues obviously makes this “request” be all but a demand.

And Prager cites a couple Jewish scholar who say that the reason — perhaps the main reason — there is blood spread on the lintels of the houses was:

Sarno writes that the slaughtering of an animal sacred to the Egyptians was intended to undermine the fear imposed by hundreds of years of Egyptian bondage and thereby remove an important psychological barrier to liberation: Only when the Israelites could bring themselves to sacrifice the gods of their oppressors—before the oppressors’ eyes—would the Israelites truly be ready to embrace freedom. It would be analogous to people in totalitarian states gathering to publicly smash statues of the dictator . . .

Maimonides comments that the purpose of putting the blood on the doorposts is to let the world know the Israelites reject Egyptian ideas of the holy to such an extent they will even sacrifice an Egyptian god. Along similar lines, a nineteenth-century commentary by Rabbi Ya’akov Tzvi Mecklenburg, Ha’Ktav Ve’haKabbalah, notes that placing blood on the doorposts was a way of publicizing the Israelites’ offense against the Egyptians, thereby “braving the vengeance of their former persecutors,” and forcing them to endanger their lives and demonstrate their faith in God.

One wonders as well is whether this was a way to intentionally burn some bridges so that there would be little thought of abandoning the Exodus should the people face some hardship. Whatever the case may be, the way Prager lays this all out, you really get a sense for how the power imbalance between Moses and the pharaoh shifts. And although The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston is by no means a word-for-word account (so much of the story just does not exist), I think the Heston movie really captures some of this well. Yul Brynner, of course, is brilliant as the pharaoh as well.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 19:26
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So the lamb was sacred to the Egyptians. I hadn't known that. But the logic makes sense, and of course they needed a way to mark their doors that desperate Egyptians wouldn't imitate, not that it would occur to them until the Angel of Death started killing their first-born. (Incidentally, in a parody of Chuck Barris shows in MAD, a woman trades in her first-born baby in their version of Let's Make a Deal. In trade, she eventually ends up with a bin of clothespins.)

Incidentally, doors have lintels. Lentils are cheap legumes. I corrected it for you. (Asimov mentioned two Syracuse Greeks discussing them once, one of whom may have been Diogenes. One observed that if only Diogenes was willing to flatter Dionysus, he wouldn't have to live on lentils. Diogenes answered that if only the other were willing to live on lentils, he wouldn't have to flatter Dionysus. I don't find either alternative desirable, but to each his own.)

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 21:11
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what kind of loving god would want you to fear him

I think one should also consider that some would fear disappointing God, out of love, awe and respect, like children who do not want to disappoint their parents.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Rational Bible: Exodus
on: November 2, 2018, 21:27
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So the lamb was sacred to the Egyptians.

I’m not sure what specific animals, but I’m downplaying the significance when I say “sacred” for Prager says that thse animals were considered gods. I think of that difference as in the Sistine Chapel is sacred but it is certainly not god.

and of course they needed a way to mark their doors that desperate Egyptians wouldn't imitate

Had you been a caller to Prager’s show, he might well have agreed with that. I think that’s a solid insight….at least a plausible one. Some of the events in Exodus pretty much require interpretation because some of the language is obscure or the words have more than one meaning. Or you just know that some pretty obvious stuff must have happened and we’re only getting the highlights. And Prager from time to time gives his opinion (or that of another scholar) on what something means or why something was done in a certain way.

This was a huge community of Hebrews possibly as large as three million but likely less than that. But it would be impossible for that many people living alongside Egyptians (and likely amongst to some extent) to be told to do a thing and not have spies or honest overhearings (or misspeakings) spread the word quickly and easily.

One of the effects of Prager’s commentary and interpretation (along with those he quotes) is that you get more of a sense of this being a real story. Not to mention that I would guess a good half of the text I simply wouldn’t understand otheriwise. This is why the Bible is so difficult to read (but not difficult to read if one is only doing a chore for rote). Your (at least my) eyes can start to glaze over. The misunderstandings and obscureness of it all add up so quickly to impenetrable boredom. I just tend to give up.

Prager makes this readable. And, remember, we’re already talking about one of the most compelling religious sorties of all time. But I couldn’t just sit down and read this and get much out of it.

I’m 37% into this and at the point where the Hebrews have been in the wilderness a month and are complaining about the lack of water. What was interesting before that was the emphasis on eating unleavened bread. I doubt there is a law the expels a Jew from the tribe for killing another Jew. But if he eats leavened bread during Passover (and/or other sacred days as well), he is cut out of the tribe. This would appear to be the equivalent of Excommunication. I find that remarkable and, frankly, one of the strange things about the Jewish religion.

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