Archive for November 2014
When Moses went up the mountain to confer with God (in the form of a burning, yet unconsumed, bush) why did it take him 40 days to receive the commandments? Face it, how hard could it have been? It only took God 6 days to complete all of Creation. Compared to that a simple “power-point presentation” should’ve been a snap — literally! Or was Moses a tad slow on the uptake? The fact (if you take Moses’ explanation at face value) it took forty days to get the thing written is a puzzlement.
But! If we look at things with a more “jaundiced eye”, perhaps we can “unpuzzle” the puzzlement. Suppose you’re guy like Moses — a prophet (albeit self-proclaimed) and something of a troublemaker You encourage the Hebrew slaves to throw off their shackles and leave Egypt. “What are the Egyptians going to do?” they ask. “They may try to convince you otherwise (which the Egyptians do in horrific fashion),” Moses replies, “but the chances of them killing all of you are relatively slim. Who would build their palaces? Their monuments? Their tombs?” Eventually, since this doesn’t happen overnight, the Hebrews have enough of the Egyptians (and probably gotten tired of Moses nagging them about leaving) and decide to leave, pretty much en masse.
The “exodus”, as it came to be called, drew a hefty crowd and Moses leads them out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Now Moses has a problem. He promised these people a land “flowing with milk and honey” and he has no idea where to find the place. But he sets out in search of the “promised land’ anyway. After a couple of years, some of the people get a bit testy. “Hey, Moses! Are we there yet?” “I’m thirsty!” “I’m hungry!” “Screw this! I’m staying here!” “Look, Moses, we’ve been kicked out of every town and oasis from here to Thebes. When are we gonna see this land of milk and honey?” Moses sees if he’s going to get these people to wherever they’re going, he needs to get everyone “on the same page”. He needs to set up some rules. He probably should’ve thought about it sooner, like before they left Egypt, but whaddya gonna do? He finds a location near a mountain for the people to bivouac while he “confers with God” on the mountain. He needs a quiet place where he can ponder his options. The people are willing to give him some space, but not much. So he goes off to create some kind of codex to ensure the people “stay on point” until he gets them where they need to go.
In his absence, some of the malcontents in the crowd stir up some trouble, saying Moses doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t have a plan, etc, , ,and they convince a large portion of the people to go another way, maybe even back to Egypt. Meanwhile, back on the mountain, Moses has nearly completed his “power-point” presentation in lapidary style, carving it on tablets (not 1Pads or Kindles, stone) to give to the people. He chooses stone tablets because they are meant to keep the people in line, not only in the desert, but when they get to where they’re going (wherever that may be). It took him a little over a month (something nobody bothered to question, by the way) Of course, they didn’t find out about the 6 day creation until later. Upon his return from the mountaintop, Moses finds he has a “mutiny” on his hands, and after showing off his lapidary skills, exhorts his followers to “dispatch” the unbelievers (although I’m reasonably sure he used more explicit language); a reaction which established a precedent for dealing with those who disagree with the established religious/political views that has been followed to the present day. In any event, after the brouhaha at Mt. Tabor was resolved, Moses explains that if everyone follows the rules “set in stone”, they would be rewarded with the fulfilled promise of “a land of milk and honey” but, because of the recent “dust-up” with the unbelievers in their midst, it was going to take some time because they had to rid themselves of the “riff-raff”. It takes 40 years to accomplish this, during which time Moses turns to writing the definitive (at the time) explanation and expansion of the original “power-point” presentation. This “commentary” includes, among other things, Who God is, What and When and How He did all the things He did ( the “Why” is alluded to but never satisfactorily explained, other than to say, “God works in mysterious ways”, which is to say, “That’s for Me to know and for you to find out.”)
Eventually. all the unbelievers and doubters are eliminated from among the people (they either die, leave or are “removed”), leaving only the “true believers” and a fair-sized army. The army was going to come in handy in the near future, because no one bothered to tell the owners of “the promised land”, the Canaanites, their land was promised to someone else. For whatever reason, before the Hebrews invade Canaan, Moses decides he’s finally had enough and hands over the reins of power to his brother, Aaron, and the commanding general of the army, Joshua. He also gives them the five books he’s written during the preceding 40 years, the Pentateuch. (Five books in 40 years is not a lot of output for a writer, but given the influence these books have had on the ensuing 5 or 6 thousand years of civilization, impressive none the less). Basically, Moses tells the people, “There’s the land of milk and honey. I’m outta here. You guys are on your own.” He then disappears from history except in reference to his writings; pretty much the way we, today, think of Norman Mailer or Truman Capote.
No long after they took possession of Canaan, things began to change for the Hebrews. They were no longer a landless people, wandering in the wilderness. They were a settled people; people of towns and cities, they had families to raise, farms to tend and businesses to run. They were the majority now (thanks to years of razing Canaanite cities and slaughtering Canaanite populations). Their law was THE law, their religion was THE religion. The context had changed for the people of Israel, and the law had to change, too. New ideas were introduced, new interpretations of the law presented and enshrined. As the people and their way of life became more and more sophisticated, so, too, did the law. In the context of life in the new Israel, the Law of Moses was becoming more and more irrelevant; more a historical document and less a functioning code of behavior. But the “Old Laws” were still “on the books” and those who chose to follow them became more and more irrelevant and more and more marginalized outside their own communities.
The same thing happened within Christianity, only in something like a reverse order. While Judaism remained pretty much a parochial faith, not really seeking to “recruit” others except by example, Christianity, especially after the deaths of the original founders (Jesus and the disciples), moved outward into a wider world, exposing itself to all manner of ideas and influences. The Pauline style of Christianity, which spread from Jerusalem into the wider middle east and across the Mediterranean, bore scant resemblance to that of Jesus and the disciples. Within a generation or two of Jesus’ death, it became apparent if this “new” religion was to survive and expand, it needed to wed itself to secular power; which it finally managed to do under Constantine.
The emperor, much like Moses before him, saw in religion a means of getting “everyone on the same page”, He was searching for a tool that would enable him to control his subjects — subjects with different languages, different cultures, different modes of dress, different religious beliefs — without recourse to military or other extreme (at least not too extreme) methods. He thought he found such a tool in Christianity. He could have chosen any one of a multitude of religious doctrines prevalent at the time, but Christianity was the most “assertive”, the most “virulent”, one could say, of the bunch. Besides, it was almost always “in flux”; owing to a variety of internal and external philosophical influences, it could be used to justify nearly anything from genocide to the divine right of kings. Christianity has no lapidary basis for its claims of legitimacy other than poorly remembered, Old Testament prophesies and borrowed “truths” which it dispenses with so-called “biblical” authority to those who have neither the time nor the inclination to examine them closely.
Why else would “dealers in ‘Christianity'” seek validation in referencing the Old Testament; words written by Jews, for Jews? Why would these “fakirs” offer to “share Jesus” with their “flocks” (a fitting term for those about to be “fleeced”) as though they had their savior hidden in a closet, ready to be revealed (for a fee, of course) when they have demoted the God of their Creation to second-class status in favor of a demigod?