Lesson 15: “Look to God and Live” #BCCSundaySchool2018

SNL-Bill-Hader-as-Stefon

The Old Testament’s hottest book is Numbers. This week’s reading has it all: burnings, plagues, miraculous leprosy, poisonous flying hell-snakes, and a meat sneeze. What’s a meat sneeze? It’s that thing where you complain about eating manna, so God makes you eat meat for a month until it comes out of your nostrils.

As Matt said in his post on last week’s lesson, the Old Testament is full of extraordinary weirdness. Not only do we often dance around that weirdness, we also read it in the KJV, which is just archaic enough that it masks some of that weirdness behind language that to many modern readers seems stilted and obscure.

For this post, I thought I’d try something a little different. Taking a cue from Adam’s wonderful paraphrases of scriptural books, I thought I’d write my own slightly irreverent paraphrase of the reading selections from the lesson. This is an effort to make the story a little more vivid and to really lay bare some of the fantastic weirdness. I’ve taken a few minor liberties and tried to make it funny, but I hope I’ve remained pretty true to the spirit of these stories. Let’s start with a little background, and then I’ll give my paraphrase interspersed with some discussion questions and a little commentary, followed by a conclusion.

Background

In the last lesson, we were in Exodus, and the Lord was creating his people as a nation as he had created the world itself in Genesis. Now we’re in Numbers. It’s called Numbers because it begins with, essentially, a census, which finds that there are a little over 600,000 men over age 20. Some scholars have estimated that with this number of fighting-age men, there would have been around 3 million people total, including women and children. That number seems unlikely, but the exact numbers aren’t that important; the point is that this is a huge group of people.

The first several chapters set up rituals and protocols: Rules for how Levites are responsible for the tabernacle, rules on confession, rules on how to deal with lepers or women suspected of sexual sin, rules on how to do Nazarite vows (this will be important later on, with Sampson), rules on how the priests are to bless Israel, rules on how to keep the Passover, and rules on how to use trumpets to sound alarm and call assemblies. Also: God’s presence is there in a pillar of fire at night and a cloud during the day. When the cloud lifts, it’s time to go. When it rests on the tabernacle, time to camp.

With that, we’re off. The cloud lifts, and the caravan rolls out from Sinai.

1. Burning Man (Numbers 11:1-3).

The people of the Israelites complained. (We don’t know what they complained about or if their complaint was legitimate. It doesn’t matter.) The LORD heard them and was pissed, so he sent down fire, which began to burn them. And the people were like “Moses, what the hell, man?” So Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire stopped.

So they named that place in the desert “Burning Man.”

  • What sort of role is Moses playing in this story?
  • How is that role similar to the role that Christ plays? How is it different?
  • How is that role similar to the role that modern prophets play? How is it different?

2. The Graves of the Munchies (Numbers 11:4-34).

After that, the people started getting super munchy for meat, because they were very much not into the vegan manna diet. They remembered the fresh fish and veggies they had in Egypt and manna didn’t seem so great. It was nice that the manna just showed up at night, but it was still kind of a lot of work for not a lot of taste: they had to gather it, grind it, and bake it. All that work for something that basically just tasted like oil. So they were bummed out.

Moses heard everyone whining about manna, and the LORD was super pissed. Oh, and Moses was pissed too. Boy was he. And he said to the LORD, “Why do you hate me so much? What did I ever do to you that you decided to make me responsible for these whiny fools? I’m not their dad. Why are you acting like it’s my job to carry them around like babies to the promised land? It wasn’t my idea to promise them this land, it was yours. I can’t take responsibility for them like this. If this is how you’re gonna be with me, then why don’t you just kill me?”

So the LORD was like “Moses, first of all, chill. Second, go get 70 of the old respected men of the people and bring them to the tabernacle and I’ll take some of your prophetic gift and put it on them so you won’t have to do this all by yourself. And say this to the people: ‘People get ready, because meat’s coming. You wanna complain about missing the meat you had in Egypt? Oh, here it comes. The LORD’s gonna give you meat and you’re gonna eat it. Not one day, not two days, not five, or ten, or 20 days of meat, but a Month of Meat. All meat all the time. It’s gonna be MEAT MONTH until you’re so full of meat that it’s leaking out of your nostrils and it makes you want to puke.”

And Moses was like “Yeah, I don’t know, LORD, that sounds like an empty threat because, um, LORD, there’s like 600,000 footsoldiers here (not to mention their wives and children and old people). There is no way I’m gonna be able to find enough meat to feed them meat for a month and make them sick of it.” And the LORD was like “Moses, are you even serious right now? Do you think I can’t do what I say. Just you wait.” So Moses was like “Fine.”

So Moses gathered the 70 old men and brought them to the tabernacle and the Lord took some of Moses’s prophetic gift and gave it to the old men, and they began to prophesy. Two of the guys Moses had chosen didn’t show at the tabernacle. They were back in the camp, but the spirit fell on them just like the others and they began to prophesy too. So the people tattled to Moses, and Joshua was like “Moses, stop these guys.” And Moses was like “Are you kidding, Joshua? I wish the LORD would put his spirit on all these people and make them all prophets; then they’d know how I feel having to do this all the time. It’s exhausting!”

So anyway, then the LORD sent a strong wind that blew tons of quail from the sea and dropped them around the camp. Seriously, like actual tons of quail. Like, so much quail. Three feet deep of quail all around the camp in every direction as far as you could walk in a day. An insane amount of quail. And the people gathered dead quail all that day, and all night, and all day the next day until every last one of them had wildly overabundant amounts of quail. And they spread out all around the camp with their giant piles of quail and they started to eat it, but before they had even chewed the meat, the LORD was pissed again and sent a plague. And a bunch of people died from the plague and they buried them there. So they called that place “Graves of the Munchies.”

  • In Exodus, manna is described as tasting sweet like honey and white in color. Here it’s described as having the color of bdellium (a dark brown resin) and tasting like oil. Are these two different stories, or we hearing two different perspectives on the same thing? How do our experiences change our perspective on blessings from God?
  • What about the quail? Exodus says that the Lord provided quail with the manna. Did that just stop? (Oh, the quail is coming back, with a vengeance.)
  • Again, what kind of a role is Moses playing in this story? How is that role similar to and different from the roles that Jesus plays and the roles that modern prophets play?
  • I love the Lord’s wicked sense of irony with the quail. He’s mean and vengeful, but also kind of hilarious.
  • How does the Lord’s answer to the wish for meat compare with the story of Joseph Smith repeatedly asking for permission to let Martin Harris take the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript. Does the Lord sometimes give us answers to prayers that represent our will more than his will? How do we tell the difference? Jesus says that ask and ye shall receive—is that a blessing or a curse?
  • Did Moses choose the 70 Elders, or did the Lord, or did they both? Why didn’t the Lord just dictate to Moses which men he wanted as leaders? What role does agency play in church callings today?
  • Do we sometimes put an unfair burden on our leaders by expecting them to be the ones to declare what is moral and right instead of exercising our own right to the gift of the holy ghost?
  • How does Moses’s experience with delegation compare with King Benjamin’s teachings in the Book of Mormon about the disadvantages of a king? How does it compare with the church’s recent emphasis on the importance of leadership through councils rather than priesthood presidency’s simply dictating?
  • Why would it be better to disperse authority and responsibility and spiritual gifts rather than concentrate them in one person?
  • How can we learn to be prophets, as Moses wished all his people would be?
  • What does it mean to believe that you have a right to personal revelation but also that the President of the Church is the only one who can receive institutional revelation for the whole church?
  • Let’s talk about the plague. The Lord didn’t say he was going to kill them with a plague, he said he was going to make then eat it for a month. But then it says he sent a plague while the meat was still between their teeth and they hadn’t even finished chewing it. Like he wasn’t even patient enough to wait a month to make MEAT MONTH happen? What gives?
  • This sounds almost like a repeat or an rhyme of the first story about complaining (“Burning Man”). Could these be just two versions of the same story?
  • Also, this is very different from the way the quail are described in Exodus, where they’re seen as a blessing given along with the manna, not as a curse for wanting more than manna. Are these two different versions of the same event?
  • Also, the people describe how they would gather, grind, and bake the manna, and it describes them gathering the quail and eating it, but not cooking it. Did they eat it raw? Gross.

3. Moses is Special (Numbers 12).

So after that, Miriam and Aaron were bugged with Moses because of his Ethiopian wife. (By the way, Moses had married an Ethiopian woman.) And they were all “Moses, you’re not even that special. The LORD has spoken through us, too. It’s not like you’re the only one.”

(By the way, Moses was super bad at confrontations.) So the LORD interrupted and was all “Moses, Aaron, Miriam. My office. Now.” So they went to the tabernacle and the LORD came down in a cloud and stood in the doorway and called Miriam and Aaron out. And he said “Listen. Moses actually is special. All other prophets among you? I’ll speak to them through visions and dreams only. But not Moses. He actually sees me face to face. I speak to him plainly. You should be afraid of Moses because he is special.” And then the LORD got super pissed and just peaced out.

And then all of a sudden Miriam had this nasty leprosy all over her. And it really freaked Aaron out. And he was like “Moses, we get it. You’re special. We screwed up. But can you like, maybe, not hold it against us? Can we maybe not have our sister be like the walking dead over here?”

So Moses was like “Alright, LORD, you’ve made your point. Let’s heal her now.” And the LORD was all “Hahahaha, no. If she’d disrespected her father, you’d all take that so seriously that you’d shun her for a whole week. So that’s what we’re gonna do.” So they kicked Miriam out of camp for a week. But they stuck around and didn’t leave until she was allowed back in. Then they left Hazeroth and went to Paran.

  • In Doctrine and Covenants 84, Moses is used symbolically as the archetypal high priest, and high priests are called “the sons of Moses.” That Moses married an Ethiopian woman might be one data point against the racist doctrines that some church leaders and members used to believe about race and interracial marriage disqualifying anyone from priesthood ordination.
  • What does Moses’s Ethiopian wife have to do with Aaron and Miriam’s complaint against him? I find it fascinating that the text gives us a motivation for their complaint that doesn’t seem to fully match their complaint itself.
  • Do we ever let our displeasure with other people cloud our judgment on things that aren’t even really related to the things that displease us?
  • Why is only Miriam punished and not Aaron? What does that tell us about the people who wrote (and re-wrote) it?
  • The Lord is pretty hard core in this story. Why? What does that tell us about the people who wrote (and re-wrote) it?
  • Is this reaffirmation of Moses’s unique status in tension with calling the 70 Elders and Moses’ wishing that all the people shared the gift of prophecy? How do we reconcile them? How to we reconcile a robust belief in personal revelation with a robust belief in institutional revelation? Does one trump the other? Does it have to?
  • It seems like Moses is constantly the one reining in the Lord. Again, how is his role like and unlike the role that Jesus plays, and how it is like and unlike the role that modern prophets play?

4. Giant Grape Creek (Numbers 13, 14:1-10).

So then the LORD said to Moses “Send one respected man from each tribe to go check out the land of Canaan.”

So Moses chose one man from each tribe and said, “Okay, guys, here’s what we’re gonna do. Go up on that mountain to the south and do some recon. Find out what kind of people live there, how many there are, whether they’re strong, what kind of land it is, whether it’s rich or barren, whether there’s wood—oh, and see if you can get some fruit, too.” (By the way, it was the time of year that grapes were just ripening.)

So they did what Moses said, and they crossed a stream and cut down a huge cluster of grapes. Like really huge. Ridiculously huge. Like so insanely super huge that they only way they could carry it was to hang it on a staff and have a dude carry each end of the staff. So they called the stream “Giant Grape Creek.”

And they got some pomegranates and figs too.

Anyway, 40 days later the recon team came back and showed everyone the fruit and they were like “Guys, the land is awesome. It’s super lush. Like you wouldn’t even believe how lush it is. Like, just milk and honey flowing everywhere! And check out the size of these grapes!”

“Buuuuut, also, the people there are super strong and there’s a ton of them, and they live in these big walled cities like fortresses. And did we mention they’re strong? Yeah, like insanely strong. And huge too. Like, freakin’ giants. Yeah, actually, they’re actual giants. Like real giants, we’re not even kidding. Made us look like grasshoppers. Like freaking grasshoppers!

And, one of them, Caleb, was like “Let’s take the land from them right now. I ain’t skeered.” But the others were like “Caleb’s out of his mind. The Canaanites would absolutely destroy us.

So the people were super bummed to hear about the giant Canaanites and that night they all cried. And they complained about Moses and Aaron and said “Man, wouldn’t it have been better to have just stayed in Egypt, or to have died in the wilderness, than to be so close to the promised land and get killed by these Canaanites? What was the LORD thinking bringing us here to be killed by these giant Canaanite berserkers. You know what guys? I think we’d be better off in slavery back in Egypt. Pharaoh would take us back, wouldn’t he? Let’s ditch this Moses guy, choose us a new leader, and high-tail it back to Egypt.”

Moses and Aaron heard all this and were super bummed out. But Joshua and Caleb stood up for them and said “My dudes, you’re not thinking clearly. This land is amazing. And if the LORD is in a good mood with us, he’s going to give it to us. Milk and honey, guys! Come on! They might look strong, but believe me, we’ll crush them because the LORD is with us, and not with them.”

But the people were like, “We’ve had enough of your war-mongering, Caleb. Hey, can we stone this guy?”

  • I think the grapes and the giants are both pretty clearly hyperbole. It’s kind of funny how the author or authors get so caught up in their descriptions. It’s almost like telling fish stories. After nothing but manna, and the whole thing with the quail and the plague just for wanting something else, it’s easy to see why they might get carried away.
  • The way the story is written, it’s easy to think of the Israelites as just silly for doubting Moses. But are they really that different from us?

5. The LORD is Done Playing, But Moses Talks Him Down a Bit (Numbers 14:11-45).

And the LORD said to Moses “Moses, my man, how long will these people keep provoking me? Were the signs (the burning and the quails and the prophecy and the leprosy) not enough? I’m not even kidding Moses, I’m done with them. Yes. That’s it. I’m done. I’m disinheriting them now, and I’m going to kill them all and I’m going to take you alone and make you into a bigger and better nation than they ever were. Here I go—”

And Moses was like “Hang on, LORD. That plan sounds pretty good at first blush, but let’s play it out: If you did that, then the Egyptians would totally hear about it. And they’d be all like ‘Oh, the LORD is totally lame. He killed his own people in the wilderness because he was too weak to bring them into the land he promised them.’ And then the Egyptians will tell the Canaanites, and then everybody will be talking about how weak you are. Like, seriously, all the great nations around here have heard about how you totally destroyed Pharaoh and led this people with cloud and fire and everything—they’re all scared of you now! But if this story about you not being able to bring your people into the promised land gets out, then this awesome reputation you’ve worked so hard to build will be for nothing! Nobody will be scared of you anymore. Is that what you want?

Moses went on: “I have an idea, LORD. Remember when you told me that you’re ‘patient and full of great mercy and forgiveness’? Let’s maybe go with that and proof of your power. Maybe we try forgiving them instead of wiping them out?”

And the LORD was like “Fine, Moses, you win. I’ll forgive them. But this is not over. The whole earth is going to be filled with my glory and fame someday. These ungrateful brats saw my miracles in Egypt and have continued to provoke me, so they’re not going to get squat: None of them will get to see the promised land! (Except Caleb. Caleb is my man.) Tomorrow we’re packing up and going back into the desert. And say to the people: ‘Remember when you said it would be better to die in the wilderness? Well, careful what you wish for, nerds, because that’s what gonna happen (what, did you forget what happened when you wished for meat?)! Your carcasses are gonna drop dead in the desert. As you took forty days to recon the land, your kids will wander in the desert for forty years and bear the consequences of your rebellion until the dead body of everyone over 20 years old is a bone-dry buzzard buffet in the desert.”

Then all the twelve recon men, except for Caleb and Joshua, died of a plague.

And Moses went and told the people. And the people were all “Okay, Moses, we get it. You and the LORD have made your point. Our bad. We’ll go fight the Canaanites and take the land now. Sorry we doubted.”

But Moses was like “Uh, no, guys. the LORD is not on your side right now and you’re totally gonna get slaughtered. Yeah, it turns out, the Canaanites really are like giants and they’re gonna absolutely curb-stomp you.” And the people were like “Moses, we get it, you can stop being so dramatic. We’re going. We’re going.”

And they went up the mountain, but Moses stayed in camp with the ark. And the Canaanites totally curb-stomped them. And Moses was like “You weren’t listening, were you?”

  • I find it kind of fascinating that the Lord refers to the “signs which I have showed among them.” When Jesus says “signs shall follow them that believe,” in the new testament, he seems to be referring to things like miraculous healing and other blessings. Here, the signs seem to include curses: the quail, the fire, the plagues, the leprosy. Again, is Jesus’s promise that signs follow faith a blessing or a curse?
  • Again, Moses is the one holding back the Lord. And how funny is it that his first argument against wiping the people out is basically an appeal the Lord’s pride and reputation with the Egyptians and other nations?
  • Does this tell us something about how the ancient Israelites saw their place in the world and how they saw their God’s place among the Gods of their neighbors?
  • Dude, the Lord is so hard-core in this story. Moses’s plea for mercy worked, to the extent that the Lord didn’t immediately disinherit and slaughter the Israelites, but his compromise—yeah, I’ll forgive you collectively as a nation, but you individual people that doubted me, you’re never getting the promised land, and your children are going to have to pay for it for 40 years until you’re all dead—is a pretty serious price to pay.
  • But this isn’t just vengeance—it is that, but it’s also the Lord’s wicked sense of irony again. You think dying in the desert would be better? Okay, fine, let’s do that and then you can tell me if you still think it’s better.
  • So many divine plagues.

6. The Flying Hell-Snakes and the Metal Hell-Snake on a Pole (Numbers 21:1-9).

Following the reading selections from the lesson, we skip a bunch of stuff about different sacrifices, duties of Levites and Priests, another rebellion, God requiring capital punishment for breaking the Sabbath, and then we pick up again in chapter 21.

When the Canaanites fought Israel, they took some of the Israelites as prisoners. So anyway, Israel was like, “Hey LORD, we know we might still be on your bad side and all, but hear us out: The Canaanite King has some of our bros, and if you’ll be with us just enough to rescue them, then in return we’ll totally destroy their cities for you” And the LORD was like “Fine.” So they got the prisoners back and destroyed the cities and everyone that lived in them. And they called the place “The Demolition.”

So anyway, they left that place and went back toward the Red Sea around Edom, and it was a long, hard road and the people were bummed out by it. And the people began to complain again and they said “Moses, remind us why you took us out of Egypt? To die in the desert? There’s no food or water, man, and we are so over manna.”

So the LORD sent these flying hell-snakes and they bit a whole bunch of the people, and lots of them died. And the people came to Moses and they were like “Moses, we get it, Again, our bad. Can you maybe asked the LORD to cut it out with the flying hell-snakes?” And Moses prayed again.

And this time the LORD said “Moses, here’s what you do: Make a flying hell-snake statue out of brass and put it on a pole. Everybody that gets bitten, if he looks at the brass hell-snake on the pole, will live. So that’s what happened. Moses made the brass hell-snake and put it on the pole, and everybody that got bitten that looked at it lived.

  • So apparently, the Lord won’t let them inherit the Land of Canaan yet, but that won’t stop him from helping Israel slaughter the Canaanites and destroy their cities.
  • Also, I understand that international law concepts like proportionality weren’t really a thing in the Old Testament, but I can’t help think that the complete destruction of civilian cities is just a bit disproportionate to the taking of some prisoners.
  • When they ask Moses, did you bring us out here to die in the desert: First of all, were you not listening? Yeah, that’s exactly why Moses brought you here: for you to die off in the desert so your kids can inherit the promised land.
  • Alright, of all the curses and plagues and fire coming down from heaven, this has to be the most metal thing of all: Venomous flying hell-snakes that bite and kill. Metal.
  • And the remedy is pretty metal: a brass statute of a hell-snake lifted up on a pole.
  • The image of the victim lifted up on a pole, of course, is later repurposed by John in the New Testament and by Alma in the Book of Mormon as a type of Christ being crucified.
  • What is it about looking to Jesus being lifted up on the cross that gives us life and healing? Why not just look to him as resurrected instead of as crucified? Why is that not enough? What is it about the cross that is important? Why is it important that we believe in a Savior that wasn’t just killed, but one that was at least unjustly executed by the state, and arguably, lynched by a mob with state approval?
  • Alma says that to look to Christ, as to the serpent on the pole, is “easy.” How is the gospel easy? Do we sometimes make it harder to accept the Lord’s grace and forgiveness than it really is?

Conclusion

According to the lesson, the purpose is “[t]o encourage class members to overcome worldly desires and fears and look to the Savior and his prophets for guidance.” If you read these stories very shallowly, it’s basically just: do what God and the prophets say, or else you’ll get whacked in any number of insane miraculous ways. But that doesn’t really square with reality most of the time. The world we live in is a very different from the world depicted in these stories. That difference caused Jeremiah a lot of angst when he looked around and saw that wicked people seemed to prosper all the time (Jeremiah 12:1). We live more in Jeremiah’s world than in Moses’ world.

So I think to really understand these stories we need to ask ourselves: what are the differences between our world that the Israelites’ world that cause us to think of God and righteousness and fate and justice so differently? What have we lost by thinking of these things the way we do instead of as the Israelites did? What have we gained?

I’ll be honest, I see little resemblance between the God depicted in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament and that I personally know through my own worship experience and the impatient, mercurial, and kind of vain God depicted in these passages. I don’t lose a ton of sleep over that, because I don’t believe in scriptural inerrancy to being with, and I believe that we can know God better through repentance, prayer, faith in Christ, and receiving the Holy Ghost than we ever could through studying ancient texts.

But I don’t think that means we ought to simply dismiss these passages. I may not believe in inerrancy, but I believe in the canon of scripture. We’re not bound to believe that the scriptures are in all things a perfect representation of God’s will. But we do believe that, as a whole, they contain God’s word, and we are bound to take them seriously. These stories represent how these ancient people understood their relationship with God, and that’s the understanding that underpins the New Testament and the Book of Mormon.

I don’t think we need to try to justify or rationalize things that seem totally crazy. As Steve said on this blog once, God does not call us to defend the morally indefensible. There are few things I dislike more than sitting in a Sunday School class and listening to a class member or teacher try to justify the genocides, war crimes, and other atrocities attributed to God in the Old Testament. We don’t have to do that.

But I still think we should take these stories seriously. We should wrestle with them. What does it mean to believe in a God is believed to have killed people for complaining about the food? Or to have afflicted his people with flying hell-snakes and only healed them if they do some arbitrary thing? We have to wrestle with the question of what it means to believe in such a God without becoming the kind of person that takes such a fundamentalist view that they’re willing to justify anything. That wrestle can invite God to whisper to us and to reveal himself to us. These stories are crazy, kind of funny, disturbing, strange, and wildly entertaining. They show us a God that’s pretty frightening, but also one that’s right there present in the world. Not a God that floats unmovedly above the blood and sweat and excrement of humanity, but one who so loves the world that he’s willing to get right down in the thick of it and experience love and betrayal and anger and outrage, and throw a few elbows and be a part of our world. This is a God that is not exactly comforting, but the one thing he sure isn’t is distant. And in that sense, maybe the Old and New Testaments are teaching us the same thing about God’s relationship with the world.

Comments

  1. please please PLEASE come teach Gospel Doctrine in my ward.

  2. I am literally only here for the Stefon joke and it did not disappoint.

  3. stephenchardy says:

    Thanks very much for this. Especially the conclusions.

  4. The best I can say about Gospel Doctrine in my ward is that the teachers mean well. OT is hard to get into, but man, is it an extraordinarily dull rehash of seminary. I’d bookmark these to read during that hour if my guffawing wouldn’t be a distraction to the others.

  5. This is so wonderful. Please consider a JKC translation of the Bible.

  6. it's a series of tubes says:

    This is the goods, right here.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Outstanding. Your paraphrase brings the Word to life.

  8. I laughed so hard at “Graves of the Munchies” and “Giant Grape Creek.”

    “What does Moses’s Ethiopian wife have to do with Aaron and Miriam’s complaint against him? I find it fascinating that the text gives us a motivation for their complaint that doesn’t seem to fully match their complaint itself.”

    I recently read a book review over on Wheat and Tares about Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, where it pointed out that the Cushites (Ethiopians) were actually much higher status than the Hebrews, who had just been freed from slavery. Miriam and Aaron apparently thought that Moses had married above himself and was getting a bit too uppity because of it. It seems to me that they didn’t want to pull themselves up to Moses’ level, like the Sunday School manual suggests, but instead wanted to pull him back down to their level. “We’re prophets, too, and you’re not better than we are, younger brother!” It seems to me that the Cushite wife had all that much to do with it, she was just the catalyst for them to complain that Moses was getting above himself. I wonder if Miriam especially didn’t suffer from a bit of pride herself, because we often react to those characteristics (real or imagined) in others which we hate most in ourselves.

    I’m still wondering about why Miriam got punished but Aaron didn’t. I mean, this is the second time he’s got off scot free, after the incident with the golden calf. I’ve googled and checked lots of different opinions and commentaries, but no explanation that I’ve found seems quite right, especially not the idea that Miriam was rebuked solely because she was a woman challenging the authority of men. Nope, nope, nope. It’s my personal theory, or perhaps just my personal hope, that Aaron really did get some kind of punishment, but it was later whitewashed out of the scriptures to make him look better.

  9. Offensive! I came here to be uplifted, not subjected to gutter language—a pox on the BCC house!

    Just kidding. This was great.

  10. It seems to me that the Cushite wife had all that much to do with it, she was just the catalyst …

    It seems to me that the Cushite wife didn’t have all that much to do with it …

    Sorry about the confusion. :-)

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Tobia, part of the answer to your question about Aaron is suggested by the Documentary Hypothesis. The sources underlying the Torah had different attitudes towards these men. Moses was the particular hero of E and D, but J and P were more pro-Aaron and not so high on Moses. (It makes sense that P, the Priestly source, would tend to want to protect the reputation of Aaron, through him the priestly lineages come). I’m just guessing, but the author/editor of the story may have punished only Miriam and not Aaron so as to protect the reputation of Aaron.

    For more on this (including commentary on several “anti-Moses” texts), see my article on the Documentary Hypothesis, particularly the top of page 94:

    https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V33N01_79.pdf

  12. wow, this is really great. Loved this! Thank you!

  13. Kevin Barney: Yes! Exactly!

    And thanks for the link to the article. :-)

  14. Kevin Barney, going with the Documentary Hypothesis thread, somewhere in the multiverse there must be a space where the JKC source is considered authoritative. At least I hope so.

  15. Please move to my ward. Oh wait, it won’t matter. They wouldn’t call you to teach because you are both 1) knowledgeable, and 2) entertaining.

  16. Amazing and fun to read. I really liked the all caps LORD. Very scriptural. And very much like the big bad A that HE is in Numbers, an elephant in the middle of your blog. The characters all have to work around HIM, and so does our theology.

  17. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve gotten in heretical trouble for relaying scriptural stories like all of the characters are a bunch of spoiled teenagers.

    The fact that other people are as blasphemously realistic as me makes my heart sing with joy.

    Seriously, I second the motion on a JKC translation.

  18. Enjoyed your version JKC. I appreciate that you bring down the tone appropriately to pull off making it somehow still respectful, and your conclusions resonate with me. Maybe we’ll see a Broadway play? Andrew Lloyd Webber had nothing over you! I could work on the music.

  19. I’m glad you guys like the paraphrase! I had fun doing it. I’m also glad the Stefon joke landed.

    Tobia, thanks for the insight on the higher status of Moses’s wife. That does disentangle things a bit.

    Kevin, thanks for the link on the DH stuff. My understanding of the DH is at a pretty general level; I understand the basic idea that were dealing with an amalgamation of texts with different agendas, but I lack the knowledge to know which specific parts belong with which sources add I’m reading.

    You know, I kept the capital letters because it gives a sort of ironic overseriousness that works with the playful tone, but remember that in the KJV that’s a representation of the name Jehovah.

  20. If only your paraphrasing descriptions could be acted out like “Drunk History”. I think it would be semi-sacrilegious, but oh so entertaining. Awesome job!

  21. Oh my. Drunk history old testament edition would be hilarious.

  22. We’ll spend three weeks on the first book or two of Genesis, but then spend a class on this, and it’ll consist of the first story, and then the class will run out of time and nothing else will be covered. And then we’ll do it again in four years, and the four years after that.
    Thanks for this blog post. It is helpful.

  23. Corbin Mcmillen says:

    The god of 3rd nephi is the same

  24. Lindsey Gavin says:

    I taught this lesson today and your post was so helpful! The class and I would’ve been lost and merely talking surface level without it! I have never in my life heard these stories. We were all laughing when Moses tells God, “I didn’t conceive these guys” the Old Testament is funny and horrific.
    I’m so grateful to have been learning about the Old Testament through your thoughts and BCC followers comments this year! Thank you again, you’re doing good work!