Sunday, April 10, 2011

Human Sacrifice - Old Testament Style!

Life without God.
Cordelia: Why is it always virgin women who have to do the sacrificing?
Wesley: For purity, I suppose.
Cordelia: This has nothing to do with purity. This is all about dominance, buddy. You can bet if someone ordered a male body part for religious sacrifice the world would be atheist like that. [snaps fingers]

This clever back and forth is from the Angel episode The Shroud of Rahmon. Angel, for all you non-geeks out there was a TV show created by atheist extraordinaire Joss Whedon. Joss wrote the script for the original Toy Story movie; created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Doll House, Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog; and is directing the upcoming Avengers movie.

But this post isn't about Joss Whedon. It's about human sacrifice.

I'm reading thought the Book of Judges, and each page is offers a new reason to be an atheist. Previously, I wrote about Gideon, a military leader of the Israelites, as being a skeptic with some wacky tests to discern the will of God. Some time after Gideon's story ends the chosen people go back to their worship of Baal and other Canaanite gods.

Once again God marshals the black hats to punish Israel. The baddies are the Ammonites and the Philistines, and true to form the Israelites call out for God to save them.

(*As an aside God does not ascribe to the: "If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you its yours. If not, it was never meant to be." school of thought.)

Enter Jephthah, son of a prostitute and generally not liked. But he was a "mighty warrior", and when trouble comes you need a badass, regardless of whether his parents are in the social register or not. The elders come to him and they make a deal: Jephthah will save their skins if he gets to rule over them afterwards. The elders vow before the Lord and we all know that a vow before JAWHEH must be honored.

Jephthah is no fool. He tries to convince the Ammonites and Philistines to just go away. We Israelites are a good bunch of guys. Please ignore all the genocide we have done in the past. Unsurprisingly, the black hats (just as a reminder the Israelites are supposed to be the good guys in this story) don't buy it. They want to fight.

Let's let the good book take it from there.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. Judges 11:29
 Awesome, the Spirit of the Lord is going to make everything OK, right?
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering. Judges 11:30-31
Huh? Come again?
Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. Judges 11: 32-33
Wow, that's great with all the devastation and such, but I have some lingering concerns about that vow.
When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. Judges 11:34
Houston, we have a problem. But c'mon, he's not really going to do it, is he?
When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break. Judges 11:35
What really sets this story apart for me is that Jephthah not only intends to sacrifice his daughter, but he blames her for his "devastation". What. A. Dick.

Her response? 
My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry. Judges 11:36-37
Color me skeptical, but  I'm guessing those two verses were heavily edited.

Thankfully, God is a merciful God and she gets her wish. She (and it's important to point out that the Bible doesn't say what her name is) returns after two months.

At this point, a reasonable person would expect an Abraham and Isaac ending to this story. An angel swoops in at the last minute and saves the day. However, reason has little to do with the Bible.
After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed...
She was ritually sacrificed. Like a goat. How can this story get any worse?
And she was a virgin. Judges 11:39
You can see where the Bible's sensibilities are: a girl with no name gets killed, but on the plus side she was a virgin.

There's no snarky way to end this post, because...

this is Purgatory.


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