Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Wednesday Bible Study: Poetry slam

 Not much to say about this I haven't already said. This tale appears to be a framing device to bring in the songs, which derive from an older, unknown source. Otherwise the repetitive action doesn't really accomplish anything. I have a couple of comments along the way.

23 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

No particular reason for this, but 7 is a common number in sorcery.

Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.

God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”

God apparently didn't already know this, he needed to be told about it.

The Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. Then Balaam spoke his message:

“Balak brought me from Aram,
    the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
    come, denounce Israel.’
How can I curse
    those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
    those whom the Lord has not denounced?
From the rocky peaks I see them,
    from the heights I view them.
I see a people who live apart
    and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob
    or number even a fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
    and may my final end be like theirs!”

11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”

12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

13 Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”

16 The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

17 So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the Lord say?”

18 Then he spoke his message:

“Arise, Balak, and listen;
    hear me, son of Zippor.
19 God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?
20 I have received a command to bless;
    he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

Actually as we have seen God has changed his mind many times, often after Moses argues with him. He has also made numerous promises and prophecies which have not been fulfilled.

21 “No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
    no misery observed[a] in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
    the shout of the King is among them.
22 God brought them out of Egypt;
    they have the strength of a wild ox.

KJV renders this as "unicorn." No, I don't know why.

23 There is no divination against[b] Jacob,
    no evil omens against[c] Israel.
It will now be said of Jacob
    and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’
24 The people rise like a lioness;
    they rouse themselves like a lion
that does not rest till it devours its prey
    and drinks the blood of its victims.”

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”

26 Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”

27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” 28 And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.

29 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 30 Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.


  1. Numbers 23:21 Or He has not looked on Jacob’s offenses / or on the wrongs found
  2. Numbers 23:23 Or in
  3. Numbers 23:23 Or in

Tuesday, September 29, 2020


In the first place, anybody who plans to watch the so-called debate tonight in order to decide who to vote for probably needs custodial care.

The impact of these events on the polls in the past has turned on ridiculous events. Nixon's sweaty upper lip, you forgot Poland, there you go again, where's the beef, I will not make a political issue out of my opponent's youth and inexperience, Al Gore looking at his watch . . . 

These are not debates in the sense of Oxford students arguing opposing sides of a question, or really any other sense. They're just performances in which reporters are looking for moment or a zinger or a presentation value that they can turn into a hook. Any candidate who earnestly tried to explain issues of public policy would be labeled a wonk and accused of talking down to people. Same if he used a three syllable word. Since Chris Wallace has promised not to do any fact checking you know what we're going to get instead. The real attraction of this is the same as the appeal of NASCAR: hoping for a crash.

The relationship between the ability to perform in these phony made-for-TV events, and the ability to function effectively as president of the United States, is the same as the relationship between being an NFL running back and solving differential equations. It's time to abolish this brainless ritual.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Profiles in Courage

 If CDC Director Robert Redfield can be overheard saying this on a plane, why can't he say it in public?

Update: So you think reporters for major news networks just make shit up? Redfield did not deny this when confronted about it.


Not really. Everybody who doesn't need a glass navel to see already knew that the Resident is a total phony who is an utter failure at business, doesn't pay federal income taxes, and why was he so desperate not to have his tax returns public? Duhh.

But actually, he's a criminal, as, again, everybody whose head can be found without a colonoscope already knew that too. The enablers are seizing on the sentence in the NY report that says there is no new information about ties to Russia, but the returns don't tell us anything about who he owes the $300 million to. But we already know the answer to that. Who would loan $300 million without collateral to a serial bankrupt? 

The problem is that everybody who didn't already know this would need a glass navel to see, and they don't have one. So it doesn't really matter as far as the election is concerned. It will suck up most of the oxygen for the next couple of weeks, I should think, and make him more desperate. Narcissists handle humiliation like swallowing hot coals. What the actual outcome may be I prefer not to contemplate.

Sad update: As I fully expected, the response of cultists to this non-revelation is that he's smart not to pay taxes and doesn't everybody try to beat the tax man? So right on cue, I get the comments to that effect. But one consequence of being willfully blind is that you can't read. The point is not his federal income tax payments, it's that he is a criminal who owes hundreds of millions of dollars that he cannot repay to entities unknown. Maybe we should find out who they are.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Talking out of your ass

The next three chapters are the story of Balaam. This is a departure in several ways. It is the first time since Genesis that the focus has not been directly on the Israelites or their progenitors. Rather, the protagonists are other people, perceiving the Israelites and their God. It also has stylistic departures, not so much in today's chapter but in the next two. We've come across a song here and there, but there are many songs in the two later chapters of this story. And, as for the first time in the previous chapter, the people are called Israel; anachronistically, they are also called Jacob.

I've done a little (very little) research. The scholarship on this is complicated and controversial, but a leading hypothesis is that this is an interweaving of the story as told by J and E, which accounts for some repetitiveness that we will encounter in the next two chapters; and that it was constructed in large part as a framing device for the songs, which come from an unknown older source or sources. It is tempting to think it was the lost Book of the Wars of the Lord, as mentioned in the preceding chapter. 

However anomalous, the story of Balaam furthers the evolution of the plot. The major focus of Leviticus was the promulgation of the law. This continues to some extent in Numbers but the central concern is establishing the the requirement for absolute loyalty and obedience to Yahweh, through an increasingly absurd series of rebellions and sadistic punishments. Yahweh isn't about winning friends through kindness and compassion, he's a narcissistic psychopath whose leadership style is tyranny. However, he has been promising to reward the people in due course for their abject servitude, by letting them murder and expropriate their neighbors. And so the central line of the narrative has moved on to that phase, as this story establishes. Chapter 22 does have a couple of narrative oddities, which I'll note.


22 Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.

They have come a very long way -- they were near the red sea, now all of a sudden they are on the other side of the Jordan river, in what is today Jordan, near the ostensible site of the baptism of Jesus.  There was no description of their crossing the river, but somehow they wound up on the east side.

Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.

The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”

So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said:

“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”

We don't get any introduction to Balaam or explanation of who he is, but he is evidently a renowned sorcerer. He is drawing on some power other than that of a God, but what this may be is never explained.

The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.

“Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.

God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”

10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: 11 ‘A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.’”

12 But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”

God speaks only to Moses, and to this man, who is not an Israelite. 

13 The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”

14 So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

15 Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. 16 They came to Balaam and said:

“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, 17 because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”

18 But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. 19 Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.”

20 That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”

21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.

Why is God angry? He told Balaam to go.

23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

“No,” he said.

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

WTF? Why does God not allow Balaam to see the angel at first and put the donkey through this humiliation? Why have the donkey talk? The whole thing seems pointless.

32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.[a]

As the footnote says, nobody knows what this is supposed to mean.

33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”

35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.

Right, well that was the instruction in the first place. This entire episode is pointless.

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

38 “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

39 Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.


  1. Numbers 22:32 The meaning of the Hebrew for this clause is uncertain.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Child sex trafficking

This is of course the new moral panic. The ridiculous and bizarre Q-Anon phenomenon has some number of millions of people believing that there is a global conspiracy of prominent Democratic politicians, Hollywood stars and rich people that kidnaps and rapes children, then murders them and extracts a substance from their blood that gives people eternal youth, or something like that; and that God Emperor Ronald T. Dump is going to blow the lid off the whole thing any day now. (Gee I wonder what he's been waiting for.) 

While that is generally not given credence by sane people, the perpetrators have been trying to mainstream it by the backdoor of ginning up a crusade against what they tell people is a massive epidemic of child sex trafficking, without mentioning the Q-Anon conspiracy. Since it's possible that many people who are paying only casual attention, I expect the belief that this is a big problem is widespread.

Actually it isn't. As Michael Hobbes explains, the actual story is complicated, but it isn't what people think. The number of children who are literally kidnapped and sexually exploited in the U.S. is not exactly known, but it's probably in the low hundreds at the most. And this has nothing to do with shadowy international cartels, it's done by plain old American criminals. 

Yet we hear numbers bandied about in the hundreds of thousands. What these numbers actually refer to is kids who are runaways or "throwaways," whose home environments are so bad that they wind up on the streets, although even most of them return home after a short time. In fact, often they were being sexually abused, but by a parent or caretaker. Some runaway kids sell their bodies for survival, but nobody is actually trafficking them. A lot of child "kidnappings," if not the majority, are actually custody disputes.

So the bigger problem is not sex trafficking, but hundreds of thousands of children who do not have a safe and nurturing home environment. Yes, we should all be for saving the children, but we need to knw what we're actually talking about.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Breonna Taylor decision

I am very happy to say that I am not a lawyer. I note that as far as I have been able to find on the informational sites I frequent -- be they corporate media, magazines and blogs, whatever -- I have not found any lawyers who have yet stepped forward to offer a critique of the decision not to prosecute police officers in the death of Breonna Taylor. Paul Campos, for example, has chosen to write about something else today -- agreed, probably something even more important -- but still.

We may yet see some legal eagle commentary, but in the meantime I'm going to speculate that they don't want to speak the truth and be taken the wrong way. Here's how it seems to me, not as a lawyer but as a social scientist who understands a little bit about the law. The fact is it would be very difficult to prosecute those police, and very unlikely they would be convicted. The grand jury would not indict, but I suspect if they had a judge would have dismissed the case without a trial. The Attorney General, in other words, had no choice.

That does not mean, however, that there is any moral justification in the delta quadrant of the galaxy for this young woman to have been killed. That is a different question, although it should not be, in other words the problem here is with the law. And it begins with the "drugs" exception to the Fourth Amendment, and logically prior to that the War on [some people who use some] drugs. This created the possibility for a no-knock warrant in the first place. There is no reason why heavily armed cops should be bursting into people's homes in the middle of the night looking for [some] drugs [possessed by some] people. That there weren't any in this case maybe makes it a little bit worse, but that shouldn't matter. 

But the fact is these police had such a warrant and they acted in accordance with accepted procedure. The one who did not, who fired blindly from outside the apartment, was indicted because prosecution is possible in that instance. Just so I don't get accused of a minor technical error which will be blown massively out of proportion, I will be more precise and note that apparently despite the no-knock warrant these cops in this particular instance had been instructed to identify themselves. One witness out of several said he did hear somebody yell "police," which might be true but nobody else heard it. Regardless, one should not be surprised that people who suddenly find heavily armed intruders breaking into their home in the middle of the night would react by trying to defend themselves. The point is this should never have happened in the first place.

The War on [some people who use some] drugs is a fundamentally racist project. White people are just as likely to use illicit drugs as Black and Latino people, but they are far less likely to be prosecuted for it. I don't have the statistics right in my head and don't feel like bothering to look it up, but it's a huge disparity, multiples in fact. But the police aren't bursting into suburban white people's homes at 2:00 am looking for weed, cocaine, ecstasy, opioids or whatever might be there, even though I promise you, it's there. That includes my small, all white town where the cows outnumber the people, and I know who they are, but there sure as hell aren't any police looking for them because the police don't care about them. They aren't a part of the War on [some people who use some] Drugs. 

So drug use and possession should not be a crime. To the extent it's a behavioral problem for some people, it should be treated as such, and they should get the help they need. Small time dealing should not be treated as a mortal threat to civilization requiring tactics that put lives at risk. No, these cops can't be prosecuted but that's because of policies and tactics that should never have been legal. But they are. That's what needs to change.

Update: Here's a detailed discussion of the legal issues from David French. He knew in early August that these cops could not be prosecuted, and he explains why. That's what needs to change.

And please note:  While I am saying that protestors demanding that these specific police officers be prosecuted are unlikely to get their way, I do completely understand their outrage and endorse the protests. Many are also demanding broader structural change, and the uprising will be validated if that happens.



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wednesday Bible study: Deja vu all over again, with extra added weirdness

Numbers 21 is very long and very strange. It is stylistically anomalous -- it seems to come from a different source than the surrounding material. It is also inconsistent with the main thrust of the narrative. The people are supposed to be wandering in the wilderness and prevented from entering the promised land, but here they conquer and occupy land and cities. Some of them apparently keep wandering, but others settle down. In any case the genocide the Israelites perpetrate in Deuteronomy gets started here. As a matter of fact the conquest of Og will be retold in Deuteronomy. Then there is the fiery serpent thing, which is just another of those weird interpolations. I'll make numerous comments along the way.

21 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy[a] their cities.” The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.[b]

This is the first glaring stylistic anomaly. Up until now, Moses has always spoken to God for the Israelites, but now disembodied Israelites speak to God, who is not called Yahweh but The Lord, further evidence of a different source. In this case anyway, after slaughtering the Canaanites and destroying their towns, the Israelites move on.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[c] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Sheesh. You think by now they would have realized that this complaining is a really bad idea. 

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Okaaaay. So all you have to do is look at the bronze snake on the pole and you are immune to snake venom. If God decided not to murder the people with snakes after all, he could have just taken them away. This seems to be an overly elaborate solution.

10 The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth. 11 Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that faces Moab toward the sunrise. 12 From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley. 13 They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the wilderness extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says:

“. . . Zahab[d] in Suphah and the ravines,
    the Arnon 15 and[e] the slopes of the ravines
that lead to the settlement of Ar
    and lie along the border of Moab.”

There is never any explanation as to why they have to keep moving. In the previous chapter, they were given a location with plenty of water, and they're eating manna so it doesn't really matter where they are. The Book of the Wars of the Lord has been lost. Remember that the compilers of the Torah had a lot of material to work with and they chose what to include. 

16 From there they continued on to Beer, the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.”

17 Then Israel sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!
    Sing about it,
18 about the well that the princes dug,
    that the nobles of the people sank—
    the nobles with scepters and staffs.”

All of these songs are another stylistic anomaly. It refers to a social hierarchy that has not been described in these terms before. We know that the tribes have leaders and that they carry rods, but they have not previously been called nobles or princes. As I've noted before, we are gradually seeing the emergence of an aristocratic warrior caste after what has been exclusively priestly leadership.

Then they went from the wilderness to Mattanah, 19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.

21 Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:

22 “Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.”

23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel. 24 Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. 25 Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements. 26 Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon.

So some portion of the Israelites stop wandering in the wilderness and settle here in what had been the land of the Amorites. That's not supposed to be the plot.

27 That is why the poets say:

“Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt;
    let Sihon’s city be restored.

28 “Fire went out from Heshbon,
    a blaze from the city of Sihon.
It consumed Ar of Moab,
    the citizens of Arnon’s heights.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
    You are destroyed, people of Chemosh!
He has given up his sons as fugitives
    and his daughters as captives
    to Sihon king of the Amorites.

30 “But we have overthrown them;
    Heshbon’s dominion has been destroyed all the way to Dibon.
We have demolished them as far as Nophah,
    which extends to Medeba.”

31 So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.

32 After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there. 33 Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”

35 So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.

What more can I say? This is not a universal God, but a psychopath who murders entire peoples for the sake of the ones he has chosen -- a completely different conception of "God" than we grow up with, at least as overtly described. But right wing Christians today actually do see God in this way, they just think he has switched his allegiance from the Jews to them.


  1. Numbers 21:2 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them; also in verse 3.
  2. Numbers 21:3 Hormah means destruction.
  3. Numbers 21:4 Or the Sea of Reeds
  4. Numbers 21:14 Septuagint; Hebrew Waheb
  5. Numbers 21:15 Or “I have been given from Suphah and the ravines / of the Arnon 15 to

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Bible and abortion

Republicans are rushing to confirm a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg because they want a Supreme Court that will be friendly to them in any litigation over the coming election. But they also want to please conservative Christians who care about overturning Roe v Wade more than any political issue. In fact, for many of them, it's the only issue that matters.

I have always been puzzled about why pro-choice advocates never seem to point out the obvious: nowhere in the Bible, Old Testament or New, is there any condemnation of abortion. I recently heard an anti-abortion voter interviewed on the radio and she said that the Bible says that human life begins at conception and abortion is a mortal sin. The reporter said nothing, because she probably didn't now any better, but no, the Bible doesn't say that. Preachers who rail against abortion never quote the Bible, because they can't. As a matter of fact, however, there is one mention of abortion in the Old Testament, in Numbers 5. You can read verses 11-31 here. It's a bit too long to quote in full, but basically, if a man thinks his wife's pregnancy results from adultery, he is to take her to a priest, who will perform a ceremony and make her drink a bitter potion. If the baby is not the husband's, she will miscarry. In short, it's a ceremony for inducing abortion.

Since the Bible does not condemn abortion, and in fact specifically endorses it under these circumstances, you may well ask why so many Christians are convinced that God wants abortion outlawed. You may be even more inclined to ask this question when you reflect that about 50% of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion, usually before the woman even knows she is pregnant, making God by far the most prolific abortionist. That would also be the greatest public health crisis in all of history, but they don't seem to want to do anything about it.

The Catholic church has a complicated history regarding the question of abortion, but in a nutshell, the position that prevailed for most of church history was that abortion was permissible until the woman felt the fetus move in the womb, at which point the soul was thought to have entered. In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV determined that this happened at about 24 weeks, which would make Roe v Wade consistent with church doctrine. It was not until 1869 that Pope Pius IX changed church doctrine to make abortion a sin at any time.

The story with conservative protestants is considerably more interesting. Evangelical Christians didn't care about abortion at all until the 1980s. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 1976, after Roe v Wade, affirming that women should have access to abortion. But the southern conservative Christian denominations also supported segregation, and when they lost that battle conservative activists needed to find another issue to mobilize them. Paul Weyrich had the inspiration. This is from a transcript of the NPR Throughline program at the link. Speakers include Throughline host Rund Abdelfatah and historian Randall Balmer:

BALMER: I was reading through Weyrich's papers - midterm election, 1978 - and it's almost like the papers began to sizzle because Weyrich said, I found it; this is the issue that's going to work for us in order to mobilize grassroots evangelical voters.

ABDELFATAH: Abortion.. . . He teamed up with some prominent anti-abortion activists and helped amplify resistance to abortion among evangelicals. It worked. In 1979, the Moral Majority was formed. They threw their support behind Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. And Reagan won. This began the close relationship between the Republican Party and white evangelicals.

So God didn't have the idea of outlawing abortion. Paul Weyrich did. If you ever get into a discussion with someone who wants to outlaw abortion, ask them where in the Bible it says that abortion is a sin.



Monday, September 21, 2020

The Dreams of Reason

 I commend to your attention this essay by Hunter (somewhat lengthy in the context of today's short attention spans) and this by Lili Loofbourow (equally lengthy). 

They make somewhat similar points, with different framing, so pick the one you like. The version in a pistachio shell is that it's pointless to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy, or lying, because they aren't even pretending to actually believe anything they say. It's all bullshit, 100%. That also means it's pointless to try to have a discussion based on facts and logic, because neither of those words means anything to them and their followers. This is true but they don't make the underlying dynamic explicit so I will do it for them.

The obscenely wealthy plutocrats who bankroll the conservative movement care about only two things: that rich people should not pay taxes; and that rich people should not be restricted from doing whatever damage to humanity they want to do in pursuit of their bottomless greed, be it pollute the air and water, exploit workers, or cheat consumers. Obviously none of that makes for a winning political platform, so Republican politicians don't actually say that. Instead they stir up white racism, fear of social and cultural change, and the sexual hangups of Bible thumpers. However, they don't really care about any of those things themselves. Just think how many have turned out to be closeted homosexuals or to have paid for abortions. Hell, Strom Thurmond had a Black daughter. I mean, Donald J. Trump? Give me a break. And by the way, white evangelical protestants didn't care about abortion until the latter part of the 20th Century, when they needed an issue to replace segregation.

But these tactics by themselves won't get them a majority nowadays, and all they care about is staying in power. So they just lie, all the time, about everything. And whenever its convenient they forget all about the last lie and make up a new one. Hunter gives a few examples:

McConnell and his allies lied their way through the impeachment of a president, simply insisting that the evidence was not evidence and the testimony not testimony. The movement has lied its way through a pandemic, turning even the most rote of pandemic safety precautions—masks, even—into conspiracies and partisan litmus tests.

When Michael Caputo and his aides insisted that children were nearly immune to the virus and could not spread it, it was not ideology. It was a lie meant to keep more of the "economy" open even if the more pertinent metric—deaths—was multiplied.

When the movement claims "antifa"—a group that does not actually exist—is behind police reform protests, it is a lie. It is propaganda intended purely to discredit protestors, and better facilitate state and militia violence against them.

When Sen. Ron Johnson pipelines the work of known Russian operatives into his committee to declare that he has discovered very serious doings, doings that suggest his opponents are secretly corrupt in ways no American law enforcement has ever been able to find, he is fully aware of his own actions. He is not stupid.

When Attorney General William Barr releases a document that grossly undermines a report on Russian election interference that benefited his party, and follows up by launching conspiracy after conspiracy all premised on the notion that it is American law enforcement that is corrupt for going after Republican targets, he is lying to the public for the sake of the party.

 I know that their cultists are simply impervious to this. None so blind . . .  Since there is absolutely no point in trying to have a rational argument with some people, I will not publish their comments. It's not because you got me, or I don't have an answer. It's because it is pointless to answer some people.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Rock Stars

With Numbers 20 we start killing off the generation of Moses. As important as this chapter is to the plot, much of it is vague and a bit mysterious. First Miriam dies, and that's it. No further information, no ceremony, no nothin'. At least she is one of the very few (two, unless I'm forgetting something?) women the since the Exodus to even have a name. Then there is the terrible crime committed by Moses and Aaron that apparently results in Aaron's death. It's a bit hard to discern.

20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!

Not explicit, but this apparently refers to the innumerable people God has already killed in Exodus -- for complaining, including the 14,700 he just got done killing because they complained. Seems like they're taking a chance complaining again!

Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

As far as anyone can tell, the problem here is that God told Moses to talk to the rock, but instead Moses hit the rock with his staff. This can be seen as an innocent mistake. After all, the hitting with the staff method was the one used last time, in  Exodus 17:6, and God till tell Moses to take the staff, so he probably just figured that was the thing to do. And it worked! Also, why does Aaron have to take the fall for this? Doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:

“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.

 Actually I don't remember any angel in that story.

“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

18 But Edom answered:

“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

19 The Israelites replied:

“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”

20 Again they answered:

“You may not pass through.”

Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

Don't know what the point of this whole story is.

22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”

27 Moses did as the Lord commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days.

Not 100% clear, but it appears God killed Aaron because Moses hit the rock instead of just talking to it. Okkaaaaaaay. .. .  .


  1. Numbers 20:13 Meribah means quarreling.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

He's gone full Nazi

 Not even trying to pretend any more.

"You have good genes, you know that, right? You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn't it, don't you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we're so different? You have good genes in Minnesota."

Friday, September 18, 2020

Yes, they are literally trying to kill you

 I'll link to Dr. Black, rather than directly to the NYT, because of the paywall:


A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month about who should be tested for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times.

The guidance said it was not necessary to test people without symptoms of Covid-19 even if they had been exposed to the virus. It came at a time when public health experts were pushing for more testing rather than less, and administration officials told The Times that the document was a C.D.C. product and had been revised with input from the agency’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

In addition to his commentary, let me add a bit of my own, in case there is any misunderstanding. The precise reason why this particular virus has become such a catastrophe is that it is transmissible by people without symptoms.  Something like 40% of people who test positive or would test positive -- that is, who have enough viral DNA in their sinuses to register on the test -- never get symptoms, or they get only non-specific symptoms that they don't necessarily attribute to Covid-19. Most adults do develop symptoms of varying severity, but they are particularly infectious in the three days or so before they do. The simplest takeaway is that you want to test anybody who is known to have been exposed because they might be currently without symptoms but infectious, in which case they should be isolated so as to protect others.

That ought to be obvious, but it also creates a good deal of confusion and very stupid arguments, having to do with the definition of a "case" and the case fatality rate. The insane idiots who are running the country right now don't want people to be tested because they think if there are fewer tests there will be fewer reported "cases" and that will make them look good. But in fact, if you don't test people without symptoms there will ultimately be more symptomatic cases and more dead people. On top of that, as we now know, coming out of Covid-19 alive does not necessarily mean that everything is hunky dory, because lot of people are ending up with organ damage, long term illness and possibly permanent disability. We don't really know how many yet but it seems to be a lot, and you don't need to have so-called "severe" illness for that to happen.

That impinges on your freedom a whole lot more than wearing a mask in public does, or not being able to go to a bar. And not being able to go to a bar is not as bad as slavery. Which is why it is actually very puzzling that not wearing a mask has become a symbol of loyalty to Dear Leader. More sick people and more dead people does not make him look good. And we could be talking about your mother, assuming you care. This is inane, yes, and stupid, yes. But it is also profoundly evil. Psychopathic, in fact.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Wednesday Bible study: Dept. of WTF?

However exotic it seems to modern sensibilities, most of what we have read so far is at least explicable. God does magic tricks to demonstrate his awesome power, or affirm the privileges of the priesthood; he slaughters people who challenge the priesthood or complain about his plans; the priests offer to perform abortions when it turns out a man is not the father of his wife's unborn child; the priests keep piling on the loot through sacrifices and tithes; the laws create a form of civil order, or serve as markers for tribal identity. But the point of Numbers 19 is entirely mysterious. 

The idea of "uncleanness" is itself somewhat obscure. It's a status that obviously you don't want to remain in, but it doesn't mean you have sinned. It just means you are obliged to perform certain rituals and until you do, you can't participate in others. Why touching or being near dead bodies makes one unclean is never stated and also mysterious. And no, it has nothing to do with public health or hygiene. As doctors, nurses, EMTs, homicide detectives and undertakers know, there is nothing dangerous about a corpse in ordinary circumstances. Even if there were, the ritual specified here wouldn't be of any help. And why these particular ingredients are needed to make the water of purification is also utterly mysterious. The sheer arbitrariness of the whole thing puzzles me. But there you are. Again, this has no relevance to contemporary Jewish practice. However, Maimonides for some reason claimed that there were a total of 9 red heifers used in this way during the Second Temple period, and predicted that the next red heifer would be a sign of the Messiah. Whatever.

19 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer.

Hyssop is an herb thought to have medicinal properties, but whether this is actually the same plant mentioned here is unknown. In any case it won't have any properties after it is burned. Where they get the cedar wood in the desert is also unknown.

After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.

“A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. 10 The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the foreigners residing among them.

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.

14 “This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, 15 and every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean.

16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

17 “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. 18 Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death. 19 The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. 20 But if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean. 21 This is a lasting ordinance for them.

“The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. 22 Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”

Pretty much nuts as far as I'm concerned.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A violation of norms

 Clutch your pearls and fall on the fainting couch. The editor-in-chief of Science Magazine, the flagship journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has written a political editorial! To wit: 

This may be the most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy.

In an interview with Woodward on 7 February 2020, Trump said he knew that COVID-19 was more lethal than the flu and that it spread through the air. “This is deadly stuff,” he said. But on 9 March, he tweeted that the “common flu” was worse than COVID-19, while economic advisor Larry Kudlow and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway assured the public that the virus was contained. On 19 March, Trump told Woodward that he did not want to level with the American people about the danger of the virus. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said, “I still like playing it down.” Playing it down meant lying about the fact that he knew the country was in grave danger. It also meant silencing health officials who tried to tell the truth.. . .  Trump was not clueless, and he was not ignoring the briefings. Listen to his own words. Trump lied, plain and simple.

Okay, that's bad I guess. You know, 200,000 dead and counting. But with the western U.S. in flames and a historic Atlantic hurricane season in progress, there's this

“It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” Trump said after Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, urged him and others not to “put our head in the sand” and simply ignore the warming climate. . . . But Crowfoot responded: “I wish science agreed with you.”

Trump, with a smirk, shot back: “OK, well, I don’t think science knows, actually.”

And the virus will just magically go away. It's like a miracle. This insane idiot is murdering people. By the thousands and hundreds of thousands. And if you don't understand that you are equally delusional.

And you can add Scientific American: First political endorsement in 175 years.

Monday, September 14, 2020


 Via Paul Campos, an intrepid reporter for The Economist visits Youngstown, Ohio on the traditional anthropological expedition to find the mysterious Trump Voter. I'll leave it to the Big Professor to comment specifically on this but sheesh.

“He’s done a great job, he’s got everyone back to work. I’m pretty much 100% for him,” said Kyle, a 30-year-old electrician. “He shoots his mouth off but at least that shows he’s honest,” said Jason, a pipe-fitter, who said he especially liked Mr Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt. “He’s done more for our country than the past ten presidents put together,” said an older builder, Jeff, skimming wet concrete on a new road. “He’s made—who is it, China or Japan?—pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do. He built the wall.”

What I will add to this is that the good people of Wingnutistan now believe that the country is in the midst of a vast insurrection by commies and anarchists, who are coming to burn down their houses and carry off their womenfolk. Please do get a grip.

Following the murder by police of unarmed people in a few specific cities -- e.g. New York, Minneapolis, Kenosha, and Portland -- largely peaceful protests occurred, except that in the first few days, after dark, some vandalism and in some cases looting occurred. It has been shown that some of this was perpetrated by right wing provocateurs, and some by common criminals, but had nothing to do with the vast majority of protesters, who were and are unarmed and peaceful. The lawbreaking petered out after a few days. I believe I have already described the BLM demonstration that took place in my small town on June 19th, which was an entirely peaceful and inspiring event. Nevertheless several people in the town called my friend the First Selectman in a panic, asking how he was going to protect them from the Antifa maniacs who were coming to kill them all. Similar rumors of busloads of armed and rampaging Antifa thugs turned out so-called militias in Idaho and elsewhere. All of it 100% fabricated. The only substantial threat of violence in the country right now comes from armed, right wing extremists. This is the finding of a DHS report which the administration has attempted to suppress.

The one city where protests have continued every day is Portland, Oregon. Despite the apocalyptic and largely fabricated images you may see nightly on Faux News, the vast majority of the city is completely peaceful and unaffected. And the vast majority of the violence is perpetrated by the police. You can read a balanced account of what's going on from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Yes, some people sometimes throw things at the cops, who are wearing body armor and will not be harmed. I wish nonetheless they would stop doing that, but you do not need to arm yourself and you have nothing to fear unless you're planning to stand between the demonstrators and the police. Just don't do that and you'll be fine.

Antifa, by the way, does not exist. There is no such organization. It's just a label some people have applied to themselves, who like to take part in counterdemonstrations against right wing extremists. In some of these cases there have been confrontations between the groups, although of course accounts tend to vary as to who started it. Unless you are planning to march with a swastika or a Confederate battle flag, you have nothing to fear from them. And no, neither China nor Japan has paid one cent to American farmers.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Review Lesson

Now seems a good time to take stock of what we have read so far. In Genesis and Exodus, the priesthood has not appeared. While there is no real systematic elucidation of the nature of society, people appear to live in small bands ruled by a hereditary patriarchy. God speaks directly to whoever he wishes, or by means of messengers. There is no designated intermediary. The origin of these stories is murky, but it appears they are derived from oral tradition that got transcribed at various times. Sometimes there are variants of the same story, or contradictory stories. (There is a priest mentioned in Genesis, Melchizedek, but he does not have any formal role in Hebrew society.) 

By the second half of Exodus, however, Moses emerges as the intermediary between God and the people. In Leviticus and Numbers, we are no longer reading transcripts of ancient tradition, but rather works composed by priests for the specific purpose of asserting their authority. At the time these books were written Israelite society, as was typical of societies of that era, was ruled by an alliance between a priestly caste and warrior kings. However, Leviticus and Numbers are set in a fictional past in which the kings have yet to appear. (They have just been foreshadowed with the introduction of Joshua.) This allows the focus to remain exclusively on thee authority and privileges of the priesthood. These are gradually developed, beginning with the ordination of Aaron and culminating in recent chapters in which rebels against priestly authority are murdered en masse in various grotesque ways. Meanwhile, the privileges and perquisites of the priesthood are continually emphasized and expanded. 

First, they are entitled to consume most of the sacrifices, then they get the firstborn males of every dam, and a fee to redeem firstborn sons, then a tithe of ten percent of the income of every Hebrew. Now additional swag is added to the sacrifices including flour, olive oil, and wine. In Numbers 18 we get  final accounting of the income of the entire Levite tribe, and the part the Aaronite priesthood specifically skims off the top, along with a final reminder of the exclusive right of the priesthood to enter the sanctuary and mediate between the people and God. 

Just as a final comment, while this was presumably central to the nature of Hebrew society until the destruction of the temple, and the text remains central to religious ritual as it is read in the Temple on the Sabbath, it actually has no direct relevance to contemporary Jewish religious practice. In this regard it is hard to know what to make of it as scripture. The Torah as an object -- a physical scroll or book,  and the shape of the letters on the page -- is a sacred talisman. Only a highly selective portion of the content, however, has any real contemporary meaning, and even then only to the Orthodox subset of the Jewish people and even less to Christians, who also regard the books as sacred.

18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons ,alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.

“You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

Offerings for Priests and Levites

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share. You are to have the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire. From all the gifts they bring me as most holy offerings, whether grain or sin[a] or guilt offerings, that part belongs to you and your sons. 10 Eat it as something most holy; every male shall eat it. You must regard it as holy.

11 “This also is yours: whatever is set aside from the gifts of all the wave offerings of the Israelites. I give this to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.

12 “I give you all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the Lord as the firstfruits of their harvest. 13 All the land’s firstfruits that they bring to the Lord will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.

14 “Everything in Israel that is devoted[b] to the Lord is yours. 15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels[c] of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.

17 “But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 18 Their meat is to be yours, just as the breast of the wave offering and the right thigh are yours. 19 Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”

20 The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.

21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. 22 From now on the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’”

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the Lord from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest. 29 You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’

30 “Say to the Levites: ‘When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. 31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the tent of meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.’”


  1. Numbers 18:9 Or purification
  2. Numbers 18:14 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord.
  3. Numbers 18:16 That is, about 2 ounces or about 58 grams