Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bible Book 3: Leviticus

Jan. 16-Jan. 18. Finished reading Leviticus in 3 days.

Leviticus pretty much carries on where Exodus left off, but nothing really happens. I would call this my least-liked book in the bible, because all it basically is is God giving the jews an entire array of pagan and nit picky rules. From sacrifices, how and when to prepare them, to leprosy and what you do if you have it. From what you're allowed to eat, to who you're forbidden from sleeping with. I mean, I get that you can't "sleep" with family, because that's just plain wrong. But I was sad to discover that it actually says in the bible, in this very book, Chap 18~Verse 22 that men can't sleep with other men. :( Just a couple of chapters later, in Chap 20~Verse 13, it said if a man does get caught sleeping with another man, both guys should be stoned to death. >,< For those who don't know me, I am a big supporter for gay rights, so those passages were my absolute least-favorite in the book. And hey, there were lots of weird and horrible rules to contend with here!

Basically the moral of this story is that God is holy, so the Jewish people should try their best to be holy too, because they're the "chosen people", so these are instructions on how you live a holy life. Besides all the rules, this book isn't very exciting. I mean there are short, fleeting moments when action happens, little scenes. Like when Moses anointied the tabernacle and all the furniture and all the priest costumes that God had told the people to make just so, back in Exodus. There's the time when two of Aaron’s sons play with some bad incense when they weren't supposed to, so they get burned by God for it! There was also a brief story where a guy cursed with God's name in vain, so God ordered everyone to stone him, to make him an example out of him. Riveting, isn't it? :/

I don't want to dwell on reviewing this book any longer than I have to, so I'll just end it here. Hopefully Numbers will be less boring... although with a name like that, I'm not optimistic.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bible Book 2: Exodus

Jan. 9-Jan. 15. Finished reading Exodus in 7 days

Moses and the plagues (aka, the Passover Story)
I know this story pretty much back to front, because we retell it every year during the Passover Seder. But it was still interesting to see the Bible's take, to see what "really" happened. For example, I learned that when Moses tells Pharaoh to "Let my people go", he was 80 years old! Pretty brave of the old guy to go about rescuing the hundreds of thousands of Hebrew slaves under Egypt's mighty rule. Especially when you realize that they had all been slaves for four hundred years!!! O,O Imagine, four hundred years, and the status quo never changed, until Moses came along!

After Moses demonstrates to the Egyptians that God is all powerful (sending them plagues of frogs, hail, darkness, etc. to prove the point), the Jews are free to go and Moses leads the way through the Red Sea (yeah, I have never believed that this could really happen, but I'll go with it) and through the wilderness. Since they rushed out of Egypt so fast, they didn't have time to bake their bread properly, so they carried the dough on their backs and the sun baked it, which is why we eat the traditional Passover food Matzah, (unleavened cracker-like bread) today.

Jews in the desert
God lead the people as a pillar of smoke by day, and a pillar of fire by night, so they knew which way to go. When the matzah ran out, God fed the people by making a doughy substance (which they decided to call manna) fall from the sky every morning, which would last them enough for the day. That was pretty smart and generous of God, I should say.

The 10 commandments and other rules
So about halfway into the book, all the Jews camp near the famous Mount Sinai, where God calls Moses up to meet with him and have a little chat. This is where God talks about the 10 basic commandments that everyone should follow. He doesn't stop there, though. There's an entire list of other ordinances and rules to follow in relation to slaves, animals, wives, thieves, and lots of other things, which goes on for a couple of chapters straight! God is very specific about this stuff, I gotta say. But He's not done with Moses yet. Oh no, there's much more God needs to say...

The tabernacle
For 3 long chapters, God says how He wants everyone to collect gold, silver, precious gems, rich fabric and cloth in many colors, accacia wood, and other stones and materials, and make him this holy structure, this tabernacle. He tells Moses exactly how the thing must be built, how big it must be, how it must be plated with solid pure gold, how there must be two golden cherubim (cupid-like angels) decorating the sides, how there will be curtains all around it that are so long... on and on and on, right down to the last detail! It's an entire verbal blueprint, just... ugh, so much reading! >_<

THEN God describes how all the stuff that goes inside the tabernacle, like the 7-pronged candle stick (aka, a menorah),the table, the bowls and all the other furniture are plated in gold and silver and brass, and it's just amazing how specific God is! Just remember, Moses is still up there on the mountain, and he's listening to God tell him everything. And he's STILL not done yet!

Costume specs
God needs some priests, so Moses' older brother, Aaron (who helped him a lot in Egypt) and his sons will do nicely. God goes on to order Moses precisely what he wants their costumes to look like. There's all these separate pieces, like a breastplate, a robe, a tunic, a girdle, and there's all these carved stones and gems to be set into the clothes, and gold chain to be wrapped around it, etc, etc, etc, you get the idea. This goes on for a whole chapter.

Ceremony specs
Finally, God specifies exactly how Aaron and his sons will perform their holy ceremonies. I never had any idea that God was so darn particular! The way he wants these sheep sacrificed, how there's always these feasts, how the candle stick should always be burning, the ingredients needed to make the holiest oil and incense, and all that! I mean, come on! What do you really need all this stuff for, God?! It's madness! (sigh) But hey, since it's God, I'll just go with it.

Golden calf God
Here's where the story picks up and gets engaging again. The people start getting impatient with Moses, because he's been up on the mountain "talking to God" for days and days and they don't know when he's coming down, or if he ever will. So they fashion a statue of a calf out of their gold earrings and other jewelry, call it the God that rescued them from Egypt, and throw a big party. Okayyyy... pretty dumb move by the people, if you ask me. Did they forget so quickly how they had manna rain down for them every morning? A calf idol can't do that. Oh well.

So God realizes what the people have done, and Moses comes down from the mountain so angry that he breaks the two stone tablets with God's commandments that he'd taken. God considers doing away with all these unfaithful and ungrateful people, but luckily Moses reasons with Him that He may have made all these rules, but the people didn't know about them yet. Can you really blame someone for breaking rules if they didn't know about the rules? Also, God promised Jacob that his generations would be as numerous as the stars, so what good would it be to wipe all the Jews out? So God gives them a second chance.

The people follow God's commands
So the rest of the book is Moses going back up the mountain and carving out God's commandments into stone tablets again, and then coming down and telling everyone what God wants to be done. So they gather up all the materials that were asked for and start following out God's ultra-specific instructions, with the tabernacle, the furniture, the priest costumes, the incense and everything, and I had to read exactly how they followed God's instructions almost entirely all... over... again! Honestly, talk about filler! I flipped through the last chapters of the book pretty quickly, since it was practically the same text, and that's where we end.

Might I add that whereas Genesis was particularly clear about when all the stories took place, Exodus was extremely vague about dates and things. However, with the Jews being slaves for 400 years, and knowing that they followed Moses through the desert for about 40 years, that gave me a good clue that Exodus ends somewhere around 2770 years after Creation. Great.

Exodus was nowhere as entertaining as Genesis was, but at least the first part of it was interesting. The next book in the series, Leviticus, is something I'm interested in reading, because I don't know it as well as the first two. Of course, I hear that it's full of even more rules, so I don't know... Well, at least it has less chapters!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bible Book 1: Genesis

Jan. 2-Jan. 7. Finished reading Genesis in 6 days

Creation, Adam and Eve
So God created the entire world and everything in it in 6 days, and rested for the 7th day. Awesome. You guys are probably all familiar with how that goes down, so there's no need to bring it up again. The story of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve (though in the version I'm reading, they're not named until after they leave the Garden of Eden), was also quite interesting, but not really anything new for me.

What really caught my interest (even though at face value it seems kinda boring) is that after the story of Cain and Abel (Adam's first 2 kids), the Bible goes about describing, in VERY great detail, the lineage of Adam's descendants. How old everybody was when they had the son next in line, and how long they lived to be when they finally died. Get this: Adam lived to be 930 years old!!! I'm serious, that's what the Bible says! O_O And nearly all of his family that came after him lived for about that long too, between 800 and 900 years old! I could barely believe this! To think that people used to have this kind of lifespan in biblical times! (Of course then God said, in a nutshell, "I can't have people living practically forever, so I'm going to cut their lifespan to about 120 years. That'll be enough for them.")

Noah and the Ark
With some careful calculation, I discovered that Noah was an 9th generation man, after the very first man, Adam. That was a pretty long time after creation. Also with the huge generation span, hundreds and hundreds of years had passed, so it makes sense that the world was populated with tons of people that God wanted to get rid of by flood. The story itself I know, but the details were quite interesting. God tells Noah exactly how big to build the ark. He tells him to take the animals on two by two (except for the livestock, those he brought on seven by seven. You know, so the lions and wolves and other carniverous animals could have something to eat on the boat? God sure thought of everything). The flood may have lasted for 40 days, but they stayed on the ark for MUCH longer than that, because it still rained a little bit, and the waters took a long time to go down. I think Noah, his family, and all the animals stayed on that boat for a good few months, actually. So yeah, imagine how grateful everyone was to finally get back onto dry land! ^_^

Here's another something I noticed: When God created Adam and was telling him what he was allowed to eat, God said he could only eat fruits from the trees and herbs from the ground and stuff like that. Effectively, God meant for man to be a vegetarian. So then you see that Adam and his generations live for hundreds and hundreds of years thanks to this diet. After the flood however, and Noah gets all the animals off the ark, God tells Noah that the animals are grateful and fearful of him, because he saved them from drowning, so God gave him permission to have them as food if he wanted (only kosher animals, of course). After that, there was quite a noticeable decrease in the age lengths of people. They still lived to impressive ages, but they were much shorter lives... Because people now ate meat! Draw your own conclusions.

Tower of Babel
This story didn't take too long, but I wish it was longer. Two of Noah's sons' generations were part of this story, and in the city of Babel, everyone decides, hey, let's build a tower up to the sky! God notices that and sees that when people put all their heads together, they can accomplish a lot, even build a tower up to heaven. So what does God do? He makes people speak in different tongues from one another, so no one can understand each other and the tower never gets finished.

Abraham and Sarah, birth of Ishmael and Issac
The bible goes on another fast-forwarding through the generations rampage, until it gets to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. (This is about another ten generations after the flood, for those who are curious.) For the longest time, Abraham and Sarah can't have children, so Sarah lets him have her handmaid so Abraham can at least have an heir (because God kept promising Abraham that he'd have an heir to bestow all his riches to and his children and children's children would be as numerous as the stars in the sky). So Abraham and the maid produces Ishmael, and Sarah gets bitter and jealous of the maid, because she can't have children.

Then God comes to Sarah and promises that she will bear a son, and she has the nerve to laugh at God, because she and Abraham are so old, how could one imagine them having children together? But surprise surprise, God was right, and she gives birth to Issac (at about 90 years old!!!). So she kicks the maid and Ishmael out of their house. That was pretty mean of her. 0,o But don't worry. God keeps Ishmael and his mother safe, and I think he actually becomes the forefather of all the Muslims, so he made quite a name for himself.

Issac and Rebekah's romantic meeting
This was one of my favorite stories, because it was one I wasn't very familiar with before starting this project. When Issac gets old enough, Abraham tells one of his servants to go out and look for a bride for Issac. So the servant goes to a village with many camels and things, and parks near this well, where all the women come to draw water. The servant decides that the first woman who offers to give he and the camels a drink will be the woman he brings home to Issac.

The whole story pans out like a fairy tale, almost. It's kind of repetitive, but also quite romantic, especially in the very end, when the servant is taking Rebekah (she was The One, as far as the servant was concerned) back to Issac by camel. Issac was just hanging out in a field, minding his own business, when he sees a beautiful girl coming towards his family's camp by camel. He asks the servant who she is, and is told that she's his future bride. Rebekah then sees Issac and thinks he's a pretty good-looking guy too. So they fall in love and get married. It's the original "and they lived happily ever after." I loved it. ^_^

Esau and Jacob
Issac and Rebekah's twin sons, Esau and Jacob, made for a very interesting pair of characters. For one thing, I learned that Jacob was more clever and mean than I thought. He cheats his older brother out of his birthright in exchange for some soup when Esau is working hard in the fields one day and says he's dying of hunger. Then when their father is old and dying, Rebekah tells Jacob to pretend to be his brother by wearing his clothes and hairy goat skin on his hands (because Esau's a rough and hairy guy), so that he'll receive Issac's blessing. It's just so weird, thinking that all Jews are descended from this scheming twin.

Jacob marrying Leah, Rachel, and their maids, and having 13 kids
Later, when Jacob runs away from home (to get away from his sure to be angry twin brother), he comes across the beautiful Rachel, and he asks her father if he could marry her. He can, but only if Jacob works for him and keeps up the flocks and such for seven years. Jacob puts in all the work, and at the end of his service he finally gets married, but to the wrong daughter (Rachel's older sister, Leah). Jacob says that wasn't fair, but the father says, "Hey, we don't marry our kids out of birth order. Leah's the elder, so you get her. If you still want Rachel, you'll have to work for me seven more years." So since Jacob loved Rachel, that's what he did. Man, that's dedication.

He doesn't only marry Leah and Rachel, btw, but also both their hand maids, so he has 4 wives. If you know your bible, you already know that Jacob has 12 sons. Leah actually gave him over half of those sons (plus a daughter, Dinah, who isn't mentioned too much, but you can find a great fictional story about her in "The Red Tent", by Anitia Diamant. I read it long ago, and thought it was awesome) while the other wives only produced 2 each. Rachel, Jacob's favorite wife, gave birth to Joseph, and died while giving birth to his brother Benjamin.

The long story of Joseph
The last third of the book of Genesis then decides to center on one character, Joseph. It's incredible how many stories this guy has. What a life! At 17, his father gives him a beautiful coat of many colors, and his brothers get jealous of him. One day they trap him and consider actually killing him, because he's such a bother, but then they decide to sell him to the Egyptians as a slave instead. They put goat blood on his pretty coat and bring it back Jacob, who concludes that Joseph must have been torn to shreds by the wolves or something, so he mourns his favorite son for a long time.

Meanwhile, Joseph goes to live with an Egyptian officer, who treats him well enough, and Joseph actually offers to keep his master's house and finances in order, and he does such a good job that he makes the guy wealthy. Then his master's wife tries to get Joseph to sleep with her (because she's a cougar?), but Joseph knows that's wrong, so he runs away from her. The wife gets angry and tells everyone that Joseph tried to sleep with her anyway, so he gets sent to the dungeon.

It turns out that Joseph has a talent for interpreting dreams, though, so when the Pharoh has dreams that no one else can tell him the meaning of, he sends for Joseph, who tells him that there's going to be 7 years of riches and plenty, followed by 7 years of famine. He advises Pharoh to prepare for the famine by saving all the food up in stores, so when the famine comes, the Egyptians will still have with what to eat and live. Joseph turns out to be right, so Pharoh makes him a big advisor and gives him lots of power and riches.

During the famine, Joseph's brothers come to ask him for food for their families. He recognizes them, but keeps his identity a secret from them at first. He asks that they give him their youngest brother, Benjamin, in exchange for enough food to keep them fed over the famine. The brothers go back to Jacob and tell him, but Jacob is reluctant to give Benjamin up, because it was Rachel's only other son, and if he left, Jacob thought he'd surely die of sadness. In the end he does let Benjamin go, and when the brothers next see Joseph, they tell him what their father said, how he didn't want to let Benjamin go because his brother was thought to be dead and he couldn't part with Benjamin.

Joseph realizes that his brothers really care about their father and feel sorry for doing wrong by Joseph. So he reveals himself to them and says, "Hey guys, it's me, Joseph! I didn't die, I made a great life for myself in Egypt. I know you guys hated me long ago, but it's okay, I forgive you now. God meant for all this to happen. How about you bring our father and all your wives and families to come to live with me, in the riches of Egypt? I'm sure Pharoh won't mind." Lucky for him, Pharoh doesn't. So everyone moves in to live with Joseph, and Jacob happily gets to see his son again before he dies. The book of Genesis finally ends when Joseph dies at the ripe old age of 110 (roughly 2300 years after Creation, according to my calculations!)

Now on to the book of Exodus, which will talk about Moses and stuff! I'm excited to read that

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reading the Bible

As one of my resolutions for 2012, I have decided that, in addition to any books I might read this year, I will dedicate a bit of every day to reading the Bible, and I will finish all 39 books of the Old Testament before the year ends. This decision isn't for any particular reason, spiritual or no. I'm not that religious. Really, I'm just curious about reading the Bible because it's the best selling book in the world, EVER, and I've never actually sat down and read it before. I'm familiar with most of the stories, but I figured there must be something the Bible can teach me.

So yeah, if I have any followers left, I hope you'll join me on my little Bible reading journey here. ^_^ I don't mean any disrespect to the religious people, but I'm going to treat the Bible like it was any other novel series, and just give my honest opinions about the books. I'll see if they hold up by my story-telling standards, whether they are good enough for recommending to people.

Wish me luck, everyone! Tomorrow I'm going to dive into the first book. The one that started it all (and when I say all, I mean everything! Lol), Genesis. I didn't start the Bible today, because I've been partying all day (beginning of 2012, y'all!) and I'm just too tired. But I'll get a fresh start tomorrow.