4/7/09 - the old testament

In today's excerpt - the Bible. David Plotz, a Jewish journalist, decides to read the Old Testament as an honest exercise in discovering the roots of his heritage. In his short new book, Good BookThe Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible—he reports chapter-by-chapter on the entire Old Testament and the following excerpt regarding Moses and the Passover captures the style and tone of his reporting:

"Back to Egypt: Aaron and Moses pay a visit to Pharaoh, and at first request merely that he allow the Israelites a few days off for a camp meeting in the wilderness. When the negotiations falter, Moses and Aaron increase their demands, eventually insisting that Pharaoh liberate the Israelites. As Pharaoh resists, Moses begins inflicting plagues on the Egyptians.

"Curiously, the most compelling characters in the drama of the plagues are not Moses, Aaron or Pharaoh, but Pharaoh's anonymous sorcerers. I am fascinated by these guys. We are introduced to them when Moses and Aaron first visit Pharaoh. To impress Pharaoh, Aaron throws down his rod and it turns into a snake. The cocky sorcerers toss down their rods, which turn into snakes, too. But then Aaron's snake gobbles theirs up. God 1 Sorcerers 0.

"The sorcerers, of course, don't learn their lesson. Aaron and Moses begin delivering plagues, and the sorcerers keep thinking they can trump God. When Moses and Aaron turn the Nile to blood, the sorcerers do 'the same with their spells.' Aaron and Moses cover Egypt with frogs. The sorcerers do 'the same with their spells.' Moses and Aaron bring lice. But the sorcerers, their powers waning, can't conjure up lice. (That's really lame. Even I could conjure up lice: I would just drop by my daughter's first-grade classroom and rub a few heads.) A couple of plagues later, the sorcerers' defeat is total. Moses afflicts the Egyptians with boils. The sorcerers, summoned to work their counter-magic, don't even show up: they can't because they're covered with boils. The increasing feebleness of their dark arts makes for great black comedy—and hilariously effective testimony for God's power. The sorcerers are the gangster's dumb sidekicks ... and it's wonderful to see them meet the deserved misfortune of flunkies everywhere.

"Except for the trouncing of the sorcerers, however, the plagues don't speak well for God. In fact, this is the most disturbing story in the Bible so far—even more troubling than the Flood. The ten plagues basically go like this. Moses and Aaron unleash a plague. Pharaoh promises to let the Israelites go if God will lift the plague. The plague ceases, and Pharaoh immediately reneges, so that another plague is unleashed. The mystery of course is: why does Pharaoh renege? Exodus tells us the answer: he reneges because God has 'stiffened his heart.'

"Why would God keep hardening Pharaoh's heart so that He can inflict yet another monstrous plague? Why would God prolong the Egyptians' suffering? God tells us why. Listen carefully:

"For I have hardened his heart ... in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your sons' sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know I am the Lord.

"In other words, God is causing the plagues so that we can tell stories about the plagues. He's torturing the Egyptians so that we will worship Him. What kind of insecure and cruel God murders children so that His followers will obey Him, and will tell stories about Him? ... He even performs the last and worst plague—the slaying of the firstborn—Himself. He wants the plagues to persist and worsen, so that we will tell stories about them. And lo and behold, 3,500 years later, that's exactly what we do every Passover.

"[And] how stupid is Pharaoh? Egypt has been pummeled by frogs, vermin, lice, cattle disease, hail, and other plagues; it has lost all its firstborn males (the plague that finally leads to freedom for the Israelites); its gods are manifestly impotent against the wrath of our God. But that doesn't deter the idiotic monarch from pursuing the Israelites across the Red Sea."


David Plotz


Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned when I Read Every Single Word of the Bible


HarperCollins Publishing


Copyright 2009 by David Plotz


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