Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: On the Sanctity of Human Life

Exodus 11 is on the short side. It is also crystal clear about the real meaning of all this.

 Now the Lord had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.”
 I'll just note again that we don't know how God is doing all this talking. Does Moses hear the voice in his head, does it come down from the sky, is there yet another burning bush? Anyway, KJV has it that the people are to "borrow" the silver and gold from their (presumably Egyptian) neighbors, which is obviously stealing  since their intention is to make off with it. Again, isn't there going to be a commandment about that? Hmm.

3 (The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
The  parentheses are added by the translators, of course. I'm not sure why. Anyway apparently this is supposed to explain why the Egyptians handed over their valuables to slaves. In any case it's quite odd.

So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.
The cattle are already all dead, remember? They were exterminated in the fifth plague, and then, even though they were already all dead, they were killed again in the hail. I need hardly point out that there seems to be something a little bit wrong about murdering all these people, maybe? None of them is responsible for Pharaoh refusing to let the Israelites go. God is responsible for that, as he keeps hardening Pharaoh's heart.
There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8
Aha, now we get it.  This is not the universal God most Christians and Jews understand  today. This God is specific to the Hebrews and cares only about them. The whole point of this exercise is to prove that.
All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

So there you go. God is causing Pharaoh not to let  the people go for the purpose of giving himself an excuse to murder all the firstborn sons of Egypt. He is not murdering the firstborn sons for the purpose of freeing the Israelites, he is doing it to prove that he doesn't give a shit about Egyptians, and is capable of murdering them. That is the entire point of this story.


Don Quixote said...

This story in Exodus is both compelling and horrific. I can say that the retelling of it at an annual Seder is a very enjoyable ritual that really gets rooted in a kid's mind; I guess all religious rituals are like that, but the food at my Mom's Seders was so incredibly good, especially the Charoseth. That said, it's too bad that there's so much bullshit associated with so many religions that goes along with the fun parts ... though, having participated as a musician in hundreds of Catholic and Christian services, I don't see the fun. Judaism has so many traditions and customs that are amazingly enjoyable, and serious at the same time (i.e., not Easter egg hunts). It would be great if we could have the rituals without rigid belief systems.

I used to think that if everyone were of the same religion, people wouldn't fight so much; but I recently had a discussion with a friend from Africa about a country where all the people are basically the same religion. They fight anyway.

Cervantes said...

Yes, consider the Northern Ireland protestants and Catholics. Of course that wasn't really about religion.

There are conflicting commandments in the Torah about whether non-Jews can share the Seder. I presume it's fine with Conservative and Reform, probably not with Orthodox, but I'm just guessing. I did participate in a Seder when I happened to be staying with some friends in Chicago. The meaning most people ascribe to it nowadays is of course quite different from what is literally in Exodus, I think, otherwise it would make no sense to invite a non-Jew.

The next chapter is all about the ritual. It's very long so we'll take it in installments.