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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Lent / Tarot / Escape: Six of Swords

Lent / Tarot / Escape: The Six of Swords

There are two famous escapes in the Bible that have a lot in common. In Exodus, in the Old Testament, Pharaoh decrees that all male Jewish babies must be killed. Moses escapes by water. His mother put him in a waterproofed basket and set him afloat in the Nile. He is rescued by the Pharaoh's daughter and goes on to free his people and lead them to the promised land. Later, of course, Moses and the Jews escape via a land tunnel through water, in the famous parting of the Red Sea incident.

Once they reach the Promised Land, Jews under Joshua carry out a war against the Canaanites for dominance. These wars are often cited as proof that Jews and Christians have a tradition of jihad. Jews and Christians don't have a tradition of jihad. These wars are time- population- and place-specific, and they are limited. Nowhere in the Bible are Jews or Christians ordered to commit perpetual war until the entire planet is either Jewish or Christian. Compare this to hadith Bukhari 1:24 and numerous similar jihad verses.

Jesus, like Moses, also escapes a ruler's genocidal decree. Herod orders a massacre of first born Jewish sons, and Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Egypt.

In recent years, archaeologists have argued that there is no support for the stories of Exodus and Joshua. No evidence of vast numbers of Jews enslaved in Egypt. No evidence whatsoever for the kind of mass warfare described in Joshua. Rather, archaeologists argue, the process of Jews dominating was slow and peaceful.

It's a quandary. People accuse Jews of promoting a false history as true, and then they accuse Jews of committing massacres that they claim never happened.

I have two thoughts about this. First, when a people tells a story as part of their origin, and pass on that story carefully for hundreds of years, I tend to believe that there is at least a kernel of truth there. Archaeologists felt similarly about the Trojan War. Maybe Artemis didn't actually send wind to Agamemnon's ships – in other words, maybe the Greek gods were not actually involved – but maybe there really was an event such as that described in Homer's Iliad. Archaeological digs in Turkey support this.

Maybe there weren't as many Jewish slaves in Egypt as described in Exodus. Indeed there is no support for the large numbers of enslaved Jews as Exodus describes. But I do think that when a people preserves a story as true – not as merely symbolically true but actually true – for so long, I think there is a kernel of truth there.

As for the massive battles that Joshua describes – archeologists say that it is likely that those battles never happened. There is no archaeological support for them. Rather, what all those stories is meant to imply is that God wanted his chosen people, the Jews, to remain utterly separated from the Canaanites, who engaged in sinful behavior like sacrificing their own children to gods and temple prostitution.

I'm not Biblical archaeologist and I don't have a right to an opinion. I see that there are very well-educated scholars on all side of the debates. So far, these debates have not shaken my faith. The God of the Bible wants his people to be free. That's a very special story. It has inspired freedom fighters for thousands of years. It was central to the abolitionist and Civil Rights movement. And the God of the Bible wants his people not to be seduced by evil secular trends followed by non-believers. 

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