A Short Example of “Biblical Values”

The Lord got frustrated and angry a lot in the Old Testament.  And rather than just guide his chosen ones through calm psychological counseling, the Lord was often prone to strengthening the enemies of his chosen ones in order to inflict punishment on his darlings.  At least that is often the judgment presented by the priest authors who pretended to chronicle truth of the Lord’s holy mood swings.  Whenever the Yahweh priests lost total control over those subjected to their self-proclaimed god-given authority, and another ethnic group or culture prevailed, a favorite excuse for the Israelite’s defeat was that the Israelites “went awhoring after other gods.”  A typical but lesser known example of this favored excuse is found in the book of Judges, which purports to cover the history of Israel from the time of the settlement in Canaan until just before establishment of the monarchy.  (Related post: Fables From the Book of Judges, August 2010.)

The Old Testament runneth over with blood and guts stories, which seems a peculiar way to express the love and the alleged continual blessing and favoritism of the Lord.  The book of Judges attempted to connect and continue the priestly saga of the violent settlement of Canaan that had begun with the book of Joshua.  But no leader who was comparable to the merciless Joshua had been provided by the Lord after Joshua died, and thus the unity of the tribes weakened, and consequently degenerated into apostasy followed by military defeat to Mesopotamia.  According to the alleged Israelite history by the priest-authors of Judges, Israel’s fall to Mesopotamia was due to a series of desertions from the faith.  So the omniscient Lord determined that the Israelites must therefore be made to endure eight years under Mesopotamian rule, and only then would God raise up a warrior, Othniel, to deliver them.  But then after forty years under Othniel’s supervision the people again “went awhoring after other gods” (a favorite phrase among priest-authors).  And of course God’s favorites wound up defeated c. 1406 BCE by Eglon, king of the Moabites, who had allied with the Ammonites and Amalekites against God’s darlings.

After eighteen years under the harsh thumb of King Eglon, a self-appointed rescuer named Ehud from the tribe of Benjamin decided to redeem his people by assassinating King Eglon.  Ehud, acclaimed as the second of the revered “Judges,” was convinced that getting rid of the tyrant Eglon was his godly calling, and so he fashioned a two-edged dagger about eighteen inches long, hid it in the folds of his cloak, and managed to get into the presence of the obese king Eglon.  Ehud implied to the king that he had a secret errand, so the king allowed Ehud a private meeting in the king’s summer parlor.  According to the priest-authors, deception for some mysterious holy reason is the honored way to serve an omniscient God, so Ehud came close to the king, saying, “I have a message from God unto thee” (Judges 3:20).  As the king bent near, Ehud then drew with his left hand the dagger hidden under his cloak on his right thigh and thrust the long blade into the belly of the corpulent king.

The lethal attack upon the king is lavishly detailed: “And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he (Ehud) could not draw the dagger out of his (Eglon’s) belly; and the dirt came out.”  Slinking away and locking the door to the summer parlor behind him, Ehud managed to depart the crime scene just as palace servants arrived and lingered uneasily outside the parlor door, for they were sore afraid to intrude upon the king’s privacy.  That detailed gory story is presented in a style similar to cloak and dagger entertainment features of today in which the hero (Ehud) answers his highest spiritual calling.  The priest-written story then gets abruptly condensed from verse 27 to 30 with a hasty brush off saying that Ehud raised an army which he led against the implied might of the combined Moabite, Ammonite and Amalekite forces.  The priestly account tersely sums it up that the combat resulted in the slaying of “…ten thousand men, all lusty and all men of valor; and there escape not a man.”  The chapter then concludes with the claim that Israel “…had rest fourscore years” (the typical forty years in such tales).  There is no further narrative; there is only the statement that Ehud “delivered Israel,” the implication being that all the violence, destruction and killing had been with God’s blessing.

If such a premeditated, cold-blooded murder, as is so explicitly detailed of King Eglon’s murder was carried out today in the manner stated would it be so callously brushed aside as it is presented in the circumstances depicted in the book of Judges?  Could any rational person possibly believe that such practiced betrayal and plotted taking of human life could be carried out as a fulfillment of some divine commission?  The Ehud tale obviously is not true spiritual guidance, and should not be accepted as inspirational or motivational.  Unfortunately, there are religious extremists in the United States today who seek to install such bloody “biblical values” as the righteous path for achieving God’s favor for the nation.

Addendum:  There is a peculiarity to this particular “holy” tale, which is that there is a word used in the telling which is not found anywhere else in “holy scriptures.”  That is the word misdaron, which has often been translated as “vestibule” or “porch“–or as in the above version as “parlor.”  But Professor Baruch Halpern (Pennsylvania University), compared palace architecture of the region in this timeframe and found that the word misdaron is most probably in reference to King Eglon’s toilet.  Royal palaces did in fact have indoor toilet facilities in the mid-second millennium BCE.  No wonder the servants would not be eager to disturb the king’s privacy!

This, however, leaves us wondering why Ehud would have been conversing with Eglon when the king was sitting on that throne.  On the other hand, it does explain the  particular detail that “all the dirt came out” when Ehud plunged the knife into the king’s gut.  Plus it is more logical that Ehud could have escaped through the misdaron while the toilet door was still locked and he exited by means of the droppings area below which was flushed out by a royal “plumber.”  Certainly such labor was not open to public view, which would explain Ehud’s easy escape.

This tale in the time of its writing would have been greeted with hilarity, which was probably the point of the priest authors.  And the abrupt denouement with Ehud’s wondrous triumphs simply added a twist of the knife, so to speak.

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