28 March 2019

A numbers problem in the book of Numbers

The book of Numbers is well-named. There are a lot of number in Numbers.

Take chapter three for instance. In the long last section of that chapter, God tells Moses to count the Levites [1] saying,

And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,

Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. Numbers 3:14-15

Notice that women and girls didn't count in God's census. Neither did babies (or fetuses) under 1 month old of either sex. [2]

But this post is about number problems, so I'll try to stick to that.

Moses did as God commanded and numbered the Levites.

He did so by counting the number of males in the families of Levi's three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

Here's what he came up with:

7,500 Gershonites

8,600 Kohathites

6,200 Merariites

Which, if you total them up, gives a grand total of 22,300.

But the total given in verse 39 is 22,000.

Which leads to the question: How many male Levites more than one month old did Moses and Aaron count?

I know, it's not a big deal. What's three hundred Levites among friends?

But there is a bigger number problem a little later in Numbers 3.

After Moses and Aaron were done counting Levites, God asked them to number all of the firstborn Israelite males.

They got busy doing that and came up with 22,273. (vv.42-43)

And yet Moses already counted all of the male Israelites over 20 years old, and found that there were 603,550. (Num 1:45, 2:32)

So if there were more than 600,000 Israelite males over 20 years old, there must have been more than a million males above 1 month old. And yet Numbers 3:42-43 says there were only 22,273 firstborn sons.

Which means that only about two percent of Israelite sons are firstborn sons, and the average Israelite family must have had a hundred sons and daughters.

  1. God had commanded Moses not to number the Levites in the previous two chapters. But I guess God changed his mind.

    Did God tell Moses to number the Levites?

    It is also interesting that God told Moses to take a census here, since he later will kill 70,000 people to punish David for taking a census. (See 2 Sam 24:1-17 and 1 Chr 21:2.) Oh well, I guess he changed his mind again.

    Is it OK to take a censsus?

  2. As the Harper Collins Study Bible points out, "One month seems to be the age at which personhood was believed to begin: see Lev 27:6."

    What the Bible says about Abortion

13 March 2019

Balaam's Story

Balaam is best known for his talking donkey, and rightly so.

But there's more to his story than that.

He first shows up in Numbers 22, when Balak, the king of Moab, asks him for help.

Balak had heard about the many genocides that the Israelites had committed with God's assistance, and he didn't want his kingdom to be next. So he sent some princes as messengers to Balaam.

Why Balak thought Balaam would could help isn't clear, but apparently Balaam was a famous pagan prophet from Pethor, near the Euphrates River. Anyway, Balak's messengers came to Pethor and told him that Balak wanted him to come to Moab and curse the Israelites.

After the messengers delivered their message, God came to Balaam and said,

Who are these men that came to visit you? (Num 22:9)

Which is a strange thing for an omniscient god to ask. But oh well.

After Balaam filled God in on the details about the messengers' visit, God said to him,

Don't go with them and don't curse the Israelites. Because they are blessed. (v.12)

So Balaam told the messengers that God said he couldn't go with him.

The messengers returned to Moab and gave Balak the bad news. Balak sent another set of princes, more honorable than the first, to deliver the same message to Balaam.

Balaam gave them the same answer:

I won't go to Balak even if he gives me his house filled with silver and gold.

God said I can't go and that's that.

But stay here tonight. Maybe God will say something else to me. (v.18-19)

And, sure enough, that night God said something else to Balaam:

If the men ask you to go with them, go with them.

But only do what I tell you to do. (v.20)

So Balaam saddled his famous ass went with the princes to Moab.

And then the story gets weird.

God tells Balaam to go with the messengers. (v.20).
So Balaam goes with them. (v.21)
Then God gets angry with him for going with them. (v.22)

You just can't please some gods!

And this is where the angel shows up; the ass sees the angel and tries not to run him over; Balaam hits the ass for not going straight; and Balaam, the angel, and the ass have an extended conversation.

I'm skipping over this part since everyone knows the story about Balaam's talking ass. And that's not what this post is about. (If you don't know the story, though, you should read it. It's one of the funniest in the Bible. You can find it in verses 23-35)

When Balaam finally arrives in Moab with his talking ass, he told Balak to make seven altars and sacrfice an oxen and a ram on each. While Balak was busy with that, Balaam went off to talk with God. God put a nonsensical parable in Balaam's mouth, which Balaam repeated to Balak at the burnt offering. (For the details see 23:7-10.)

The parable didn't please Balak, since it didn't curse the Israelites.

But Balak has an idea. He asks Balaam to go somewhere else (the field of Zophim), where Balaam can curse the Israelites. So they go there and Balaam tells Balak to make seven altars and offer God another seven oxen and seven rams, while he wanders off to talk to God again. God puts another parable in Balaam's mouth, which he recites to Balak. This one includes this amazing line:

God is as strong as a unicorn. (v.22)
And this:
The people will rise up as lion and drink the blood of the slain. (v.24)

But this parable didn't curse the Israelites either, so Balak suggested they try again.

This time they went to the top of Peor. Balaam told him to build another seven altars and sacrifice seven more oxen and rams, while he talks to God again. God told him another parable, which included some familiar lines.

God is as strong as a unicorn.

He will eat up nations, break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. (24:8)

Balak had finally had enough of Balaam and his parables. He told him to go home.

Balaam said he'd leave, but first he had some more parables about what the Israelites would do in the future. (They'll destroy Balak and his people.)

And that's it. That's all the Bible says about Balaam.

He did whatever God asked him to do, didn't curse the Israelites, and recited God's parables to Balak.

And yet Balaam is killed in the Midianite massacre (Num 31:8) for encouraging the Israelites to "commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor." (16)

Now this might seem a bit obscure to those who aren't familiar with "the matter of Peor", which is the story after Balaam's in Numbers 25.

Here is a brief summary:

The Israelites commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. 25:1-3

God and Moses respond by hanging up heads and forcing the people to kill each other 25:4-5

Phinehas stops God's plague by murdering an Israelite man and a Moabite woman while they were having sex. (But not before 24,000 people were killed in the plague.) 25:6-18

You might wonder why Balaam's name doesn't occur in the summary. Well, that's because his name isn't mentioned anywhere in the entire chapter which tells the story about "the matter of Peor." Balam had nothing to do with it, according to the bible story itself.

Balaam is accused of cursing the Israelites for Balak in Dt 23:4-5, Jos 24:9-10, and Neh 13:2 when he absolutely refused to do so all three times he was asked by Balak in Numbers 22-24.

The New Testament writers also condemn Balaam for "loving the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Pet 2:15), committing some unspecified "error" (Jude 11), and teaching Balak to sacrifice to idols and commit fornication (Rev 2:14). There is no evidence for any of these accusations in the story of Balak in Numbers 22-24.

It's true that Balaam mistreated his ass. But that really seemed more God and the angel's fault than Balaam's.

The hero of the story is clearly Balaam's ass. She behaved better and made more sense than Balak, Balaam, the angel and, most especially, God.

04 October 2018

A slow revision of the SAB

It's a bit hard for me to believe now, but I created the Skeptic's Annotated Bible website back in 1999, nearly 20 years ago!

I've kept the same basic html structure at the site for all these years. It seemed to work okay for the most part, but it was difficult to change and update. And it doesn't work as well as I'd like with all the different platforms that are in use now.

So I've begun to slowly revise the site, starting with Genesis and working my way through the Bible. When I'm done with that, I hope to do the same to the Book of Mormon and the Quran.

If you've visited the SAB lately you may have noticed some of the changes. I've revised the first seven books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges); revised the Contradictions and What the Bible Says About pages; and added material from Every Jot and Tittle, Strange Flesh, and Drunk with Blood.

When I began the site, my basic plan was just to highlight the texts that showed the Bible's cruelty, absurdity, contradictions, etc. I stuck with that approach through the years, adding various categories as time went by. Although there was some commentary, I mostly just highlighted verses, letting the Bible speak for itself.

That seemed to work okay, though some pages became cluttered, making it difficult for me to add comments or for the reader to follow the story of the text. So I've decided to change my approach a little.

I still highlight the words in the text that I think skeptics would be interested in, using the same icons and color-coding that I previously used at the site. But now I'm trying to make it easier to see the overall storyline of the Bible, by adding section headings for the text and summary notes in the right margin. The highlighted text on the right will be reduced a bit to make the more important verses stand out. And the really important ones (like "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.") will be in bold highlight. I've also added outlines for each of the chapters (e.g. Outline for Judges), which can be found on the navigation panel for each book.

In going through the first seven books of the Bible, I've found and added a lot of things that I missed the first few times around. I'm sure there are many typos and other mistakes to correct; when you see them, I'd appreciate it if you'd email me any corrections. And let me know if you have suggestions about other highlights or comments that you think should be made. I'm making the html easier to edit, so additions and corrections should now be much easier to make.

I hope this slow revision process will make the SAB more useful and easier to use. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

It is going to be a long, slow process, though. At best, I can only do a few chapters a day, so it'll be a year or so before I complete the revision of the Bible. And another year or two to do the same to the Book of Mormon and the Quran.

But I figure it's worth it. Every twenty years or so a website ought to be revised.

04 June 2018

The Masterpiece Cakeshop and Leviticus 20:13

Today the Supreme Court of the United States decided in favor of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, saying that the government “cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices” and that the state of Colorado's anti-discrimination law “was neither tolerant nor respectful of [baker Jack] Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

But the baker's religious beliefs are based on the Bible, and the Bible says nothing at all about baking (or not baking) cakes for same-sex couples. It does, however, have a few commandments about homosexuality, the most important of which is commandment 555:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13

So the Bible commands the baker (and everyone else who believes in the Bible) to do more than refuse to bake a cake for two men who are getting married; it commands him to kill them.

And so, according to the reasoning of the court, the government may not pass judgement on the religious belief and practice commanded in Leviticus 20:13. We must be tolerant and respectful of Bible believers as they execute homosexuals for committing an abomination before God.

27 November 2017

What should Roy Moore do? (According to the Bible)

The Bible has something to say about Roy Moore's situation. It's right there in Exodus 22, just before the part about killing witches.
And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.

If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins. Exodus 22:16-17

The teenage girls that Roy Moore molested were clearly unmarried --"unbetrothed maids" in the King James Bible. The only real question is whether or not he "lied" with them.

If he didn't, then there is no problem, biblically speaking. He could do whatever he wanted to do with and to them, as long as he didn't "lie" with them.

If he did "lie" with them, then Mr. Moore has two options: marry them, if their fathers will give them to him; or pay the fathers the going rate for virgins. (Since this isn't specified in the Bible, I suggest that Mr. Moore pay the standard biblical value for females between 5 and 20 years old: 10 shekels of silver, which comes to $62.37 per virgin in today's currency.)

In his interview with Sean Hannity, Moore said he doesn't "remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother." But that is totally irrelevant from a biblical perspective. In the Bible, mother's don't matter. Neither do their daughters. Only the fathers count. And that's who Roy Moore should be dealing with.

He can make everything right by paying each of the fathers just $62.37 per virgin.

It's the biblically correct thing to do.