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.

31 July 2017

The Bible's Guide to Health Care

First of all, if you get sick, it's your own damned fault. (God made you sick for ignoring his voice, doing wrong in his sight, and/or ignoring his commandments.)
If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee. Exodus 15:26
If you do something evil and God punishes you with sickness, rely on faith-based medicine. Prayer and faith alone will cure you.
These signs shall follow them that believe ... they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:17-18

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up. James 5:14-15

For as it says in the Psalms,
The Lord ... healeth all thy diseases. Psalm 103:2-3

And as Jesus said to the woman who touched his garment,

Thy faith hath made thee whole. Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:34, Luke 8:48
If faith alone doesn't cure you, try touching your religious leader's handkerchief or shadow or something.
So that from his [Paul's] body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. Acts 19:12

They brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them ... and they were healed every one. Acts 5:15-16

Or use the lump-of-figs cure. (It was one of Isaiah's favorites.)
And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. 2 Kings 20:7
If you have too little faith for any these remedies, purchase some bible-based medical insurance. Several plans are available.
  • The Paul Plan. (A holy man falls on and embraces your dead body.)
    Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him ... And they brought the young man alive. Acts 20:10-12
  • The Elijah Plan (A holy man stretches himself on your dead body three times.)
    He [Elijah] stretched himself upon the child three times. ... and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. 1 Kings 17:21-22
  • The Elisha I Plan (Similar to the other two, but a bit more involved. A holy man lies on your dead body while he puts his mouth on your mouth, his eyes on your eyes, his hands on your hands, and stretches himself on you. This will cause your flesh to warm. Then, after he walks to and fro and stretches himself on you one more time, you'll rise from the dead and sneeze seven times.)
    When Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead.... And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 2 Kings 4:34-35
  • The Elisha II Plan (Ask that your dead body touch the bones of a dead prophet.)
    As they were burying a man ... when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet. 2 Kings 13:21

But whatever you do, don't go to a doctor. God is insulted if you trust science more than faith.

And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the LORD, but to the physicians. 2 Chronicles 16:12