The definition of “God” that has been woven into our cultural mind-set over the past thousands of years is made up of many strands. In this blog, I want to demonstrate that the way our culture has been conditioned with regards to this tapestry of legends, superstitions and beliefs has caused incalculable harm to the spiritual potential of humanity. I want to show that the resulting “definition” of the power, force, entity or deity associated with and, somehow, involved in the process of Creation has actually instilled a negative influence on how we think, act and relate to one and other. Since the definition is skewed or in error, then, our thinking, actions and relationships with each other (as much as they are based on the influence of those errors) have become hindrances to genuine religious refinement and spiritual sensitivity. Our thoughts and actions have become barriers to the divine dimension of our being. Stumbling blocks to our sense of who and what we are in the cosmic scheme of things. Less than our actual spiritually sensitive potential.
With a misdirected and misinformed idea about the definition and nature of that deity, we could be convinced, for instance, that waging war in the name of “God” would be a glorious thing and be fully approved (if not actually engineered) by the Universal Force of Life for property, personal power, profit or partisan purposes. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”
Where are these superstitious strands, folkloric legends and misguided definitions of divinity located? The answer is … the bible!
So, let’s take a closer look at one of the most widely spread, universally sold and best known legends in that collection of ancient writings. Let’s take an analytical look at the story of the Exodus. Why? Because “God” is defined with regards to his power, his character, his plan for the future and his relationship with humanity in the context of this celebrated piece. Of course, I am using the male possessive pronoun for “God” in this case solely as a literary convention.
It must be remembered that the story, in its final form as it was crafted by Yahwist priests and scribes sometime after the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (circa 521 – 516 BCE) was designed to sell the Exodus tradition to the populace. It was crafted with that intent. Why? Because it emphasized the idea that obedience to the so-called dictates of “God” would insure prosperity, but, disobedience would displease “God” and bring about horrible consequences. Furthermore, the steps, processes and ritualistic observances to stay on the “good side” of God could only be accomplished through the channels of the priest class. However, these priests, story tellers and scribes were not technical people. Not, even, logical in their zeal to sell the story and so, their miraculous elements left much to be desired. They never had the thoroughness to cover all the bases. Perhaps, in those times, they never even needed to.
But, today, we do. Our spiritual well being and evolution depends on it.
Why? Because the Exodus story has had a profound influence on not only the history of the Middle East, but, on the history of belief systems that, today. encompass the world! For that reason, the story needs to be analyzed with a critical mind.
Let’s review the elements of this story:
a) A Hebrew family found themselves in Egypt around 1400 BCE after escaping a famine that was wreaking hardships in the Fertile Crescent.
b) Over the course of the next few hundred years, that family multiplied to become a population of more than a million subservient “slaves” who were now suffering under harsh treatment by their Egyptian overlords.
c) But, one of their number (Moses), who was lucky enough to be raised in a royal Egyptian household, killed an Egyptian citizen, fled out of the country, married non-Hebrew women, became a shepherd and (one day) was told by “God” to go back to Egypt and lead the enslaved Hebrews back to the Fertile Crescent which (several hundred years before) “God” promised to the patriarchs of the original Hebrew family mentioned in item (a). It was a conditional deal. They could have the land “flowing with milk and honey” as long as they worshiped this jealous and wrathful deity. (Oh!) And killed all the people who were living in that land at the time. God even offered to supply an “Angel of Death” who would help them out whenever necessary.
d) After a number of miraculous demonstrations that Moses executed to prove the power of this Hebrew “God” failed to have their desired affect, a final demonstration … the slaughter of every first born male child in the Egyptian population convinced Pharaoh to allow Moses to lead the enslaved Hebrew people back to the “promised land”. But. afterwards he changed his mind and chased the Hebrews with his army to re-capture them and enslave them once again. “God”, however, interceded and gave Moses the power to split the Red Sea into two parts so that the Hebrews could cross over and then it would close up over the pursuing pharaoh and his army, drowning them all.
e) Forty years later, this enormous mass of people finally arrived in the country East of Palestine (the promised land) and, under the charge of a few Hebrew generals, proceeded to invade and massacre the indigenous inhabitants because “God” told them that they could and should.
That forty year period is the story of the Exodus.
Some points to consider:
a) How many people were in this mass migration? According to the bible (Exodus 12:37) there were 600,000 fighting men. According to Numbers 1:46 the total is refined to 603,550. Then, Numbers 3:39 tells us that we need to include another 23,000 Levites (Yahwist priests). Add to that a logical estimation of the amount of women, children, converts and camp followers based on the calculations of eminent biblical scholars and sociologists and you get a whopping 2 to 3 million people!
If this many people were marching ten abreast, they would form a column 150 to 190 miles long! The bible is loaded with preposterous exaggerations like this. (Why the biblical story tellers, priests and scribes felt it necessary to amplify these traditions with inflated numbers will be dealt with in another blog).
b) Archaeologists have determined that the population of Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Merneptah (1213 – 1203 BCE) was around three to three and a half million. A mass migration of two or more million Hebrew slaves out of the country at one time would have caused an economic catastrophe of enormous proportions. There is no indication of any such catastrophe in the historical records of ancient Egypt.
c) This enormous wave of people subsisted on food miraculously provided by “God” as they wandered around in the desert for forty years. The food was manna in the morning and (occasionally) quails in the evening. What is “manna”?
“Manna”, also known as ‘plant lice’, is the crystallized honeydew of certain scale insects. In the environment of a desert, this honeydew rapidly dries due to evaporation of its water content. It becomes a sticky solid and turns whitish or yellowish in color. Honeydew of this form is considered a delicacy in the Middle East. It is a good source of carbohydrates. In particular, there is a scale insect that feeds on tamarisk trees. This is often considered to be the prime candidate for biblical manna.
Manna, therefore is a sticky sap-like substance produced by insects on plants. The bible tells us in Exodus 16:16 that the Hebrews were to gather an omer 0f manna for each person in every tent each morning. An omer is about four liters or three pounds. The mental picture of hundreds of thousands of Hebrews crawling around among tamarisk bushes gleaning flaky particles to the tune of (2,000,000 people X 3 pounds of manna =6,000,000 pounds) 3,000 tons over a span of more than a hundred miles every morning for forty years (!) boggles the mind and absolutely decimates credulity.
d) Exodus tells us in 14:28 that the Pharaoh was drowned in pursuit of the escaping slaves. There is no record in the archives of ancient Egypt of a pharaoh having drowned. Merneptah lived into his sixties. His mummy has been recovered and thoroughly studied. It shows evidence of arthritis and atherosclerosis, but, no evidence of having been recovered from the bottom of the Reed Sea.
The mass migration of Hebrews “brought up out of Egypt by God with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand” never actually happened. Biblical scholars concur that the legend may have some background in a vaguely remembered episode of a much smaller nature in the history of a segment of the Hebrew peoples. But, it was elaborated, exaggerated and expanded upon by the Yahwist priests, scribes and story tellers of the post Babylonian exile period who knew what they were doing!
They were fabricating a “God” myth to impress the populace for power and manipulative purposes. As employees of the royal hierarchy, they also defined Yahweh as a “war god” and extolled the adventures of folkloric mass murderers as Yahweh’s champions. Joshua would be convicted as a war criminal today for the wanton killing of civilian women and children in Jericho and Ai. But, his alleged savagery was praised by the Yahwist priests. Sampson, David, Gideon, Saul and even Moses all dealt death to any peoples who did not allow the Hebrews to occupy their farms and villages, move into and take over their cities or subscribe to their form of religious observances.
An interesting note is that these events: the conquest of Judah, the fall of Jericho, the massacre at Ai, the slaying of Goliath and so many more blood thirsty narratives in the bible have been archaeologically proven to never have happened! They existed only in the minds of the Yahwist priests, scribes and story tellers who re-wrote their so-called holy scripture after the re-building of the Temple in Jerusalem.
And, from these anti-social, paranoid, bi-polar fanatics an enormous segment of the population of the world has inherited its definition of divinity. A definition infused with guilt, fear, frustration and anxiety. A definition built around the possibility of vengeance, wrath and punishment for real or imagined “sins”.
This sad conditioned needs to be recognized, re-evaluated and reformed.