A bigger boat

Why are crows' feathers black?

As it happens, there's a story that tells why. It's a lovely story, told in a lovely children's book, and nicely retold at Sandy Schlosser's folklore site.*

Read the story, though, and you'll see that it's really not mainly concerned with the question it nominally addresses. The structure of the story is something like this:

Q: Why are the crow's feathers black?

A: Courage and helping others are good. Remember that every time you see a crow.

The answer doesn't seem to follow logically from the explicit question, but this is how origin stories tend to work. This is why they're worth telling and hearing even if you know that the color of a crow's feathers are a matter of adaptation and genetics.

One of my favorite origin stories is nominally the answer to the question "Where do rainbows come from?"

The answer the story gives has nothing to do with the refraction of light, because the story isn't really about where rainbows come from. The story, of course, is that of Noah's ark, as famously told in chapters 6-9 of the book of Genesis and side one of Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow Right!

The structure of that story is, in part, something like this:

Q: Where do rainbows come from?

A: Selfishness is destructive — to you and to every living creature. Remember that every time you see a rainbow.

Again, the answer isn't directly related to the apparent question because the apparent question isn't really what the story is about. This may seem complicated, but if you read these stories it's quite obvious. They're not subtle about it. Their message is not some hidden meaning that needs to be decoded. It would be very difficult, in fact, to read or hear such stories without taking away the meaning they are meant to convey.

Difficult but, alas, not impossible. See, for example, the sad case of Johan Huibers (via):

A half-sized replica of the biblical Noah's Ark has been built by a Dutch man, complete with model animals.

Dutch creationist Johan Huibers built the ark as testament to his literal belief in the Bible.

The ark, in the town of Schagen, is 150 cubits long — half the length of Noah's — and three stories high. A cubit was about 45cm (18in) long.

The ark opened its doors on Saturday, after almost two years' construction, most of it by Mr Huiber himself.

Well, OK. Huibers' ark is kind of cool as a sort of Field-of-Dreams-ish eccentric marvel. You have to admire the splendid goofiness of it. But it also seems like Huiber has been cutting down trees to get a better view of the forest.

Most people who insist that the story of Noah is "literally" true don't go to such great lengths to illustrate their belief, but it's still startling how many people have gotten drowned in the details of this story. They travel to Mt. Ararat in search of the ark, or they obsess over details of hydrology and storage space. Just as lost at sea are these poor folks' mirror opposites — those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is "literally" false. (I'm forced to place the word literally in quotation marks here because it is the word they insist on using, although what they mean by it is far from clear.)

Both sorts of literalists approach these stories with the same incomprehension as that of people who don't understand jokes. "What kind of bar?" they ask. You try to ignore them, to get on to the punch line, to the point, but they keep interrupting. "A duck? I don't think you'd be allowed in the bar if you were carrying a duck."

Such people are particularly infuriating when you're trying to tell a really good joke. They're even more infuriating when you're trying to tell a really important story.

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* Sandy was a classmate of mine in high school. I had no idea where she was or what she was up to until stumbling across her site while googling "Rainbow Crow." The Web is pretty neat.

  • cjmr

    If two parents were to announce that they found their child’s direction in life immoral and corrupt, and that they were therefor going to drown him or her,
    See the other comments thread…

  • nieciedo

    VorJack:
    Jewish tradition doesn’t consider the Nephilim to the product of human-angel interbreeding. The fathers of the Nephilim are called “benei elohim.” That can be translated as “sons of God” or “members of the class of divine being,” but the world “elohim” original meant “powers” or “authorities” and thus can also have the meaning “leaders” “rulers” or “judges.” See Psalm 82.
    Thus, it was not angels but the “children of the ruling elite” who took the “daughters of the common man” and bore the Nephilim.
    But whether the Nephilim were the children of humans or aliens or angels, their birth is not the cause of the flood. It may just be a separate tradition that the Redactor decided to stick in there just as part of the scene-setting for the antidiluvian world. It was still human choice that brought on the destruction.
    No, I don’t believe in a personal God who smites people at will, like a giant nanny in the sky. I think the image of a disciplinarian father or a king or slave-owner (!) were metaphors at the Biblical authors needed to make sense of the world, but the moral and ethical precepts of the Torah make much more sense if you don’t focus on the mythological details try to see the forest instead of the trees.

  • nieciedo

    If two parents were to announce that they found their child’s direction in life immoral and corrupt, and that they were therefor going to drown him or her, we would see this as monstrous. But when God chooses to wipe only most of us out, we consider that merciful?
    Fred has warned us about the dangers of analogies, but here’s a better analogy. A child has been warned not to play on the ice on the lake because it is too thin and could break. The child disregards that warning and plays on the ice. The ice breaks and the child drowns. Do we blame the ice for breaking or the water for drowning him?
    Thinking of God in terms of a person is helpful in some ways, but leads to unpleasant conclusions. Isaiah told us that God is not like us and God’s ways and thoughts are not ours. This does not mean that God is a person Who decides to smite somebody and doesn’t have to explain because His thoughts and ways are different and we wouldn’t understand. God isn’t a person and doesn’t smite people to begin with.

  • Angelika

    @VorJack I think we just have fundamentally different notion of what God is and what humans are in relation to God.
    Personally I feel, that the fact that I live, that I have certain gifts and personal traits, that I have happened to be born to my parents, etc. was none of my doing. I did not do anything to earn all that. I did not make the physical world my being depends on. I just happen to be around for a while, because God granted me the opportunity to be. I happen to like to be around here, and would like to stay around for a bit longer, sure, but since it was not my doing bringing me to life in the first place, I’m really not in a position to argue with God, when my opportunity to be ends.
    I don’t really think, that the comparison of my parents right on my life to that of God goes very far. Of course, they contributed substantially to my existence, and you’ll find many proponents on this board, who will argue that a mother has every right to choose whether or not a child she is pregnant with will live or not. However, like me, my parents are similarly dependent on a physical world, they didn’t create, as I am, and their importance for for maintaining my existence becomes considerably smaller the older I get, which also limits their rights on deciding whether or not I should be alive.

  • McJulie

    Q.: Why did the man hunt the white whale?
    A: It is foolish to either impose or derive Judeo-Christian moral concepts (i.e. revenge) on/from the natural world.
    Except, revenge is specifically not a Christian moral concept. (I don’t think it’s a Jewish one either, but I’ll leave that to nieciedo.) The “rightness” of revenge or vengeance is a common theme in non-Christian cultures. (re: The story of Medea, who is considered heroic for murdering her children in order to punish her unfaithful husband.)
    In fact, the conflict between the “revenge is good and even necessary” value of classical culture, and the “revenge is bad” value of Christian teachings is a driving feature of the internal conflict in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And, of course, revenge ends up destroying everyone in that play (like jealousy destroys everyone in Othello and greed/ambition destroys everyone in that Scottish play…) Also, see the role of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, which isn’t a treatise on Christian virtues, but does reflect them.
    (“He deserves death.” “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”)
    Of course, you can hardly be blamed for not knowing that revenge is not a Christian virtue, since it seems to me that most modern Christians have absolutely no idea of this. They seem to wallow in revenge fantasies pretty freely, although sometimes if you point out that revenge is not a Christian virtue, they don’t disagree — they just either 1. Get quiet, or 2. Try to make some case that their revenge fantasies aren’t actually revenge fantasies.
    but I don’t need to figure how many ton[ne]s of hay were needed to feed the unicorns.
    But, you realize, there were no unicorns on the Ark.
    The Flood represents the undoing of the work of creation.
    I like that.
    So, I wonder, (as I’m listening to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band CD I just picked up in New Orleans) is the promise at the end of the flood story one reason RTCs are slow to accept global warming? Because it seems too much like God ending the world in flood again?

  • X

    @nieciedo
    Thanks for that thoughtful defense, and yay for Jews taking the time to figure all this stuff out and square it up together.
    Maybe you can help me with another part. I read the bit about Joseph and the plagues about a month back, and I was struck that every single plague was successful in convincing Pharaoh to let the Jews go, but then God would “harden his heart” and make him redact the order — seemingly just so he would get to smite Egypt again. If human choice were the driving factor, then surely Pharaoh should have been “allowed” to choose the “right” thing the first time, thus sparing enormous death and suffering.

  • nieciedo

    @McJulie:
    So, I wonder, (as I’m listening to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band CD I just picked up in New Orleans) is the promise at the end of the flood story one reason RTCs are slow to accept global warming? Because it seems too much like God ending the world in flood again?
    That would be giving them entirely too much credit :-)

  • X

    BTW, my question isn’t intended to be passive aggressive snarky, I’m genuinely puzzled about this story.

  • nieciedo

    @X:
    Maybe you can help me with another part. I read the bit about Joseph and the plagues about a month back, and I was struck that every single plague was successful in convincing Pharaoh to let the Jews go, but then God would “harden his heart” and make him redact the order — seemingly just so he would get to smite Egypt again. If human choice were the driving factor, then surely Pharaoh should have been “allowed” to choose the “right” thing the first time, thus sparing enormous death and suffering.
    Here’s two approaches, one not so pretty.
    The ancient Israelites believed in measure for measure: what you do comes back to you, maybe not immediately but eventually. Fill the earth with violence and injustice, and the world will be destroyed as with Noah. Establish a society and an economy founded the exploitation of slaves and that society will eventually fall.
    There is a definite strand of tradition that believed that Egypt needed to be punished to a certain extent, to “pay the bill” it had rung up for oppressing the Hebrews and the other “mixed multitude” who made up the slave labor force. So one plague would not have been enough: all the plagues were necessary to expiate the crime of slavery.
    But the “hardening of the heart” is a classic bone of contention. When a person’s heart is “hard,” they are resolute. They’ve decided what they’re going to do and they’re not going to let emotion deter them one way or the other. If Pharaoh’s heart was not hardened, then he might have gotten scared and released the Israelites out of fear and self-preservation (as he tried in varying degrees to do). But he would not have learned his lesson, and he would not have done so out of genuine contrition, and he would not have had a chance to repent. With Pharaoh’s heart hardened, he was making decisions cooly and rationally, displaying his inherent injustice and cruelty and condemning himself.

  • 85% Duane

    CJMR:See the other comments thread…
    LOL!
    Clearly God homeschools..

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I wonder, (as I’m listening to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band CD I just picked up in New Orleans)….
    GAH! McJulie! Were you at Jazz Fest, too? GAH! We could have totally had a Jazz Slacktifest if we’d only compared notes BEFORE April 27!

  • Bugmaster

    With Pharaoh’s heart hardened, he was making decisions cooly and rationally, displaying his inherent injustice and cruelty and condemning himself.Ah, but the important point here is that the Pharaoh’s heart was not naturally hardened; it was God who hardened the Pharaoh’s heart. Thus, it could be argued that the Pharaoh was not fully resposible for his actions, because God was playing him like a puppet. By stipping away the Pharaoh’s emotion, and taking control of his will, God has rendred him less than human, and thus underserving of a human’s punishment (in the same way that a rock does not deserve punishment when it drops on your foot).
    Additionally, a purely logical and emotionless Pharaoh would’ve probably decided, based on available evidence, that
    a). The Israelites’ God is stronger than the Egyptian Pantheon, because he delivers plagues on demand which the Egyptian priests cannot counterspell;
    b). The Israelites’ God wants him to let the slaves go
    c). The Egyptian society could survive the exodus of the slaves, but it could not survive the wrath of a powerful deity, therefore
    d). He should let the Israelite slaves go as soon as possible.
    So, in order to change the Pharaoh’s mind, God would need to do more than harden his heart; he’d need to drastically alter his decision-making processes, as well.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Also: All the stuff about obsessing over details in order to prove/disprove Noah’s Ark, and the missing the point of the joke and asking what kind of bar, reminds me very strongly of Andrew Rilstone’s 4-part take-down of Richard Dawkins (“Where Dawkins Went Wrong,” “Some More of Dawkins’ Greatest Mistakes,” “Who Is This Dawkins Person, Anyway?” etc). See especially the mirror-images “Argument from Evolution” and the “Argument from God” in Part 4.

  • Bugmaster

    the destruction of the moral order of the universe which God proclaimed “very good.”… And it was entirely the fault of human beingsHm, that depends entirely on how you see God’s role in the Universe.
    If God is omni-everything, then he created humanity, and set up the metaphysical links between them and the world, knowing full well that they’ll end up destroying it. I can’t help but feel that an omni-everything God who was also merciful would fiddle with the parameters on these metaphysical links to make them less destructive; or create humans who weren’t so destructive, or both.
    On the other hand, if God is merely very powerful, but not omnipotent or omniscient, then what you say makes sense. Creation simply got away from him…

  • Bugmaster

    Out of curiosity, is Johan Huibers’s mini-ark actually seaworthy ? Just curious. It would be so cool if it was.

  • Jeff

    But, you realize, there were no unicorns on the Ark.
    D’oh! (Yes, that’s why I chose them instead of, say, the hippogriffs.)
    Just out of curiosity, is there anyone here who thinks the story of Noah’s Ark is literaly true? Because I would tend to doubt it, and, if so, we can trim the discussion to what I believe was Fred’s poor choice of words.

  • Bugmaster

    Yes, that’s why I chose them instead of, say, the hippogriffsIf there were hippogriffs on the Ark, how come I still can’t rent a hippogriff and ride it ? Are the oil companies to blame ?

  • jackd

    Niecedo and Angelika, neither of you seem to be dealing with the God that most Christians claim to worship. That God is unquestionably a Person, an active agent who communicates with humans and interacts with the world. They also claim that this God is “good” and is opposed to “evil”, and that these concepts are comprehensible to humans.
    The Deluge as reported in Genesis is portrayed as a punishment. If we consider for a moment what this punishment entails (the death and destruction from which Noah & co. are spared), then it is obvious that the punishment is disproportionate and mostly meted out to the undeserving. This contradicts the nature of God as “good”.
    Niecedo, you seem to be avoiding this contradiction by implying that God is something more like a force of nature, or Nature itself. That opinion seems radically different from Christian teaching, but perhaps you come from some different tradition. In any event it does not address God as portrayed in the Biblical accounts. The analogy to thin ice fails because, in the Christian account, God is responsible for the thickness of the ice, indeed for all the “rules” – gravity, momentum, tensile strength, friction, etcetera – that cover the situation. Nothing can absolve God of responsibility for Creation, not even this strange “Free Will” concept.
    Angelika, your concept does not absolve the Creator of responsibility, either. Your description treats human beings as if we are objects in a Creation made of nothing but objects. The creator of an object has no moral obligation to it, true. But it seems to me that conscious beings are more than objects, and thus our Creator has a moral obligation to treat us as such, just as this Creator demands that we treat each other so.
    Personally, while I acknowledge that many people find that their God-concepts are a source of meaning in their lives, I see no evidence that there is a real external referent to those concepts.

  • X

    jackd: “Nothing can absolve God of responsibility for Creation, not even this strange “Free Will” concept.
    I’m no theologician, but I bet you’d be in for an extremely rough ride trying to defend that one…. I think free will and choice are EXACTLY the concepts that a lot of christian theology is built from. Being as you raise this problem of evil argument, the three defences I’ve heard are free will, the devil, and us just missinterpreting God’s inscrutable plan.
    I do think you’re right though that Niecedo’s account of God, while apparently fairly internally consistant isn’t completely compatible with what I know of the modern Christian account.

  • hf

    Jackd, you wouldn’t expect a self-described Jew talking about Jewish interpretations to address “the God that most Christians claim to worship”, any more than you’d expect an outsider to care how a reader thousands of years later interprets the Nephilim story. Angelika is just wrong: arguing from the source of all existence to morality still involves arguing from “is” to “ought” and has no philosophical advantage over my ‘do what seems right’ morality.

  • hf

    Nicole, I haven’t read Dawkins myself (just PZ Myers) but with the exception of the part about neighbors this “take-down” seems absurd. Andrew seems to think Dawkins has the burden of proof when dealing with, good gods, the argument that we can prove God’s existence from the Bible! If he thinks we have such a proof of God, one better than the C.S. Lewis trilemma, why doesn’t he spit it out? As for the trilemma itself, on the face of it this seems like a scientific argument. Jesus historically said such and such, according to Lewis, and psychology tells us to interpret it like so. Well, if he wants to make a scientific argument for the existence of God then C.S. Lewis has the burden of proof. In particular, he must start by proving that Jesus called himself God. I know of no such proof. Not one of Andrew’s objections has the slightest bearing on this question, and in general he seems to focus on Dawkins’ writing style instead of the argument.

  • Raka

    hf: Andrew seems to think Dawkins has the burden of proof when dealing with, good gods, the argument that we can prove God’s existence from the Bible
    Hardly. Andrew never (that I see) argues that god is proven to exist. Dawkins does spend some time attacking those who do so (and it’s when he’s at his best, which Andrew says as well). Most of his space is devoted to (and most of his publicity/sales comes from) his attempts to prove that god does not and can not exist. This is a much harder task, though I– an atheist-leaning agnostic– do consider it a worthy one. Unfortunately, Dawkins simply isn’t up to it, and settles for scornfully missing the point and making fallacious logical leaps that he covers with bluster and strong claims to weak research.
    Dawkins fails at what he sets out to do. Doesn’t prove either side right or wrong, but it is still a failure.

  • McJulie

    GAH! McJulie! Were you at Jazz Fest, too? GAH! We could have totally had a Jazz Slacktifest if we’d only compared notes BEFORE April 27!
    I was, in fact, at Jazz Fest — on May 6, so I don’t know if that would have corresponded with your visit.
    It was enormous fun and super-hot that day, so we decided which acts to see based on who was playing under the tents as opposed to out in the sun. One of my goals was to go to two places that I knew had re-opened since my visit last year, Preservation Hall and Commander’s Palace.
    Maybe we can do Jazz Slacktifest next time…

  • hf

    What in the name of Eris are you talking about? Every time I see Dawkins, he’s explaining that he considers it absurdly unlikely that God exists.
    And I don’t think Andrew believes we can prove God’s existence from Scripture. I think he believes something equally silly, namely, that Dawkins chose the wrong invalid argument to demolish. What criteria he thinks we should use for picking bad arguments if not fame, I can’t imagine.

  • pharoute

    Q. Why did Captain Ahab hunt Moby Dick?
    A: Resistance is not always futile.

  • Jesurgislac

    Bugmaster: If there were hippogriffs on the Ark, how come I still can’t rent a hippogriff and ride it ?
    I blame the patriarchy.

  • xaaronx

    M:And I don’t think Andrew believes we can prove God’s existence from Scripture. I think he believes something equally silly, namely, that Dawkins chose the wrong invalid argument to demolish. What criteria he thinks we should use for picking bad arguments if not fame, I can’t imagine.
    Really? Because I thought Rilstone was pointing out that Dawkins, having selected an argument, failed to demolish anything. Excepting perhaps his own credibility.

  • bulbul

    I blame the patriarchy.
    Don’t you always? :o)

  • bulbul

    NonyNony,
    Q: Where do rainbows come from?
    A: Do what God says or he’ll cut you.
    That’s pretty close to my understanding, although I would frame my intepretation thusly:
    Q: Where do rainbows come from?
    A: You ain’t shit, remember that every time you see a rainbow.
    This time, I am not invoking my superior hermeneutics skillz (+10 exegesis, +15 Hebrew, +20 actual reading of the passage in question :o) and I freely admit this interpration is based on my experience with psychologists and libertarians.
    True story: some time ago I took part in a Person Centered Approach training. While the whole experience was very rewarding and I actually like the theory (Empathy, Congruence and Unconditional Positive Regard Forever!), there was one thing that really ticked me off: most facilitators (with two notable exceptions) and some participants declared it their goal to achieve total independence. Sounds good in theory, but what they really meant was that they wanted to be as selfish as possible. To them, independence meant being free of any obligation whatsoever, especially those they took on voluntarily, nevermind those placed on them by somebody else. Just like libertarians, they believed everything they had they got themselves and that they are truly islands. Sometimes it takes an illness to realize what a load of crap that is. Sometimes it takes a flood.

  • Jesurgislac

    Don’t you always? :o)
    But no hippogriffs! Now it’s personal.

  • bulbul

    Bugmaster,
    So, in order to change the Pharaoh’s mind, God would need to do more than harden his heart; he’d need to drastically alter his decision-making processes, as well.
    That’s assuming Pharaoh was guided by rationality. Actually, I can see what went on in the palaces of Thebes:
    AIDE: Oh mighty Pharaoh, look out, it’s noon and yet the whole land is dark! Surely, my Lord, it must be a sign from the God of the Israelites, just as Moses and Aaron predicted!
    PHARAOH: Et tu, my trusty servant? How can you buy into that propaganda? As the priests from the Temple of New Egyptian Millennium tell me, it’s nothing but a long eclipse.
    AIDE: That may be, oh mighty Pharaoh, but what about those things that happened until now? How about the rain of frogs?
    PHARAOH: Feh! A statistical anomaly, nothing else.
    AIDE: And gnats?
    PHARAOH: It’s not the first time both Egypts have seen such an ocurrence, is it?
    AIDE: Surely, but how do your priests explain the pestilence which only affected the livestock of Egyptians but not that of the Israelites?
    PHARAOH: Active immunization, just another one of those barbaric rites these vicious people perform, which also accounts for the boils. And I will have no more of this unegyptian unpatriotic nonsense, especially not from you. Guards!
    And secondly, let’s not get hung up on metaphors here. Old Hebrew “lev” can be translated not only as “heart”, but also as “mind”, “understanding”, “thinking”. Maybe a better translation for Exodus 7:13 could be “And he clouded Pharaoh’s judgement”. It doesn’t have to be about emotions, it could as well be about intelligence and sound judgement.

  • 85% Duane

    Bulbul!

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    My understanding of Rilstone’s argument is with xaaronx’s – that the God Dawkins sets out to disprove isn’t actually the one that anyone actually believes in; and that Dawkins engages in a lot of hand-wavy unnecessary “I don’t know and I don’t care” style snark. But I mainly linked it because of the “argument from God” and “argument from Evolution” mirror images Rilstone points out; it seemed similar in concept to the lamented, overly-detail-oriented premise that “God’s existence depends upon whether Noah’s Ark is literally true.” The believer who proceeds from that premise feels very threatened by the Theory of Evolution and such, while the unbeliever who proceeds from that premise thinks that all theism everywhere is exactly as silly as believing that God told Noah to build him an arky-arky.
    McJulie – we might well have crossed paths briefly on the 6th, but probably not if you focused on tent stages; we were mainly at Acura, Congo, and Gentilly. Next year I’ll probably be in town for the French Quarter Fest instead, but if I stick around for JF I’ll be sure to let everyone know!

  • Jeff

    I blame the patriarchy.
    /me puts a fresh battery in the remote control ROFL-copter and sends it your way.

  • nieciedo

    Re: hardening of the heart.
    As Bulbul points out, there are many different opinions as to what this means.
    But what is important and often overlooked is that God does not “harden” or “strengthen” Pharaoh’s heart until after the fifth plague, the cattle pestilence.
    The Nile turns to blood, depriving Egypt of its only source of irrigation The country is invaded by frogs. The entire population is infested with lice — and the Egyptian priests and magicians admit that they can’t copy this and that something truly supernatural is going on. Wild vicious beasts invade the land and the livestock of Egypt (but not the Hebrews!) is killed by disease.
    Each time, though, Pharaoh changes his mind and hardens his own heart. The rabbis interpreted this to mean that evil the evil and corrupt get a chance — several chances — to repent before they get what they deserve. Therefore, God stepped in and prevented Pharaoh from giving in to immediate fear so that the Egyptians would pay the full measure of the punishment due to them.
    WRT to Noah, the rabbis pointed out that there were 10 generations between Adam and Noah, which shows how long God remained patient until finally the consequences of sin could no longer be held back.

  • nieciedo

    Jackd (and also Bugmaster)
    You’re right. I don’t believe in the kind of God that most Christians do. I do not believe that God is a being. Rather, I see God as Being itself. Specifically, I see God as that force of being and life that sustains existence and promotes the quality and diversity of life, the force that enables life to achieve its fullest potential (“salvation” is a human being actualizing his or her innate potential the fullest degree possible). My concept of God is pretty much close to that of Mordecai M. Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. His notion of God and why it is valuable to retain and reinterpret God-language and ritual even though we no longer belief in ancient mythology is nice summed up in his book The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion.

  • bulbul

    nieciedo,
    God does not “harden” or “strengthen” Pharaoh’s heart until after the fifth plague, the cattle pestilence.
    Um, not exactly:
    Exodus 7:14 (KJV): And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.That was before the first plague (blood) and just after the magical show with staffs and serpents (obviously designed to make Aaron look good).
    Same again after the second plague (frogs):
    Exodus 8:15 (KJV):But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.And again in 8:19 (after lice) and 8:32 (after flies).

  • Jeff

    there were 10 generations between Adam and Noah, which shows how long God remained patient until finally the consequences of sin could no longer be held back.
    An eternal being waits a mere 10 generations before punishing its creation for failing a test devised to be failed. The eternal being doesn’t modify anything after the punishment, so the creation will continue to err, and need more punishment. This eternal being is a sadist who needs a visit from Child Protective Services, stat.

  • X

    I blame the patriarchy.
    Dagnabit, she’s on to us. I warned you the vote and hippogriffs suppression subcommittees were compromised! Maybe grabbing the crotch and spitting isn’t a good enough secret handshake… naw.
    But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart
    That’s as may be, but nieciedo is still right that it wasn’t until the plague of boils that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Up until that point he did it to himself. After that it was God setting Egypt up for more death ‘n destrcution. Which makes a personal God seem pretty much like a jerk.
    Nieciedo, another Q for you: You see God as an impersonal force of nature rather than a personal guy who one relates to… Which makes a lot of sense to me. But how then do you square all the places where God makes compacts with people, asks them to do stuff, promises them things, gets angry, needs to discover what people have done after the fact, has dialogue and talks to people, etc. Those all seem very personal entity types of behaviors.

  • mcc

    That’s as may be, but nieciedo is still right that it wasn’t until the plague of boils that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Up until that point he did it to himself. After that it was God setting Egypt up for more death ‘n destrcution. Which makes a personal God seem pretty much like a jerk.
    Hm. Maybe the implication is it was the boils themselves [i.e. which God sent] which made Pharaoh stop acting rationally [i.e. "his heart was hardened"]
    And, well, really
    Can we blame him?

  • the opoponax

    “An eternal being waits a mere 10 generations before punishing its creation”
    i don’t think 10 generations is meant to be literal. i think that, as with almost any number ever alluded to in either testament of the bible, it just means “a really long time” or “a lot of generations”.
    unless you read the “begats” literally. which is just silly.

  • X

    Bulbul: most facilitators (with two notable exceptions) and some participants declared it their goal to achieve total independence
    I don’t know where you took your workshop, but I do a lot of work with Self Determination Theory, which is one of the mainstream academic manifestations of this type of stuff. One of the most widely missunderstood things about it (even within academic psychology) is exactly what you describe here. “Autonomy” (SDT’s word for it) does NOT mean “becoming independent from everyone around me.” Instead it means feeling like you freely choose to do whatever it is you are doing, and getting a sense of meaning from it. As Ryan and Deci (the grand daddies of the theory) describe it, you could in theory have a slave who felt a sense of autonomy, so long as they really felt that they valued their work, and that making their master happy was genuinely important to them and who they are. A much more tractable example would be cleaning your kids diaper. It is messy, unpleasant, and part of a highly dependent relationship, but if you value your kid and you value cleanliness, then it could be a very autonomous thing to do that would still make you feel satisfied.
    And BTW, yes, for all the positivists out there, there is simply tons of data that people who report higher feelings of autonomy also report greater feelings of happiness, that people who engage in tasks that they describe feeling autonomous about show later increases in happiness, etc. There are literally hundreds of empirical research papers and review chapters on this for anyone who cares.

  • the opoponax

    “And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.”
    this isn’t really indicative that YHWH actually hardened Pharoh’s heart. he seems to simply be reporting to Moses that Pharoh’s heart has hardened. unless there’s another verse wherein they say “And the Lord hardened Pharoh’s heart,” which you don’t cite.

  • X

    totally totally TOTALLY off topic, Canada wins the World hockey championships, WOO HOO!
    We now return you to your regularly scheduled bickering :)

  • X

    @Opo,
    There’s a couple. In order:
    With the boils:
    The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.
    With the locusts:
    18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. 19 And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. [a] Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
    The plauge of darkness:
    27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.
    With the plauge of the firstborns:
    9 The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
    After which there was the passover, and the Egyptians learned to be kinder, gentler, more sympathetic people. By which I mean “scared.”
    33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!”

  • X

    Oh yes, and then once they were gone, God seemed fairly personally invested in killing more Egyptians for his own personal glory:
    1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. 3 Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” So the Israelites did this.
    And so was set up the Red Sea debacle. Read this whole denuoment here.
    BTW, this is the New International Version I’m citing here.

  • bulbul

    totally totally TOTALLY off topic, Canada wins the World hockey championships, WOO HOO!
    Canada suxxx! SUOMI! SUOMI!
    I, for one, don’t give a damn. We beat the Czechs and that’s all I’m asking of our boys.

  • bulbul

    X,
    “Autonomy” (SDT’s word for it) does NOT mean “becoming independent from everyone around me.”
    I totally get that. The problem is, they thought that’s exactly what this meant and not only did their actions show it, they admitted as much. Some of them tried to cover it in the PCA lingo (self-actualization etc.), but some didn’t.
    In the end, the whole thing became a sort of a cult centered around the chief facilitator. It was fun observing, though :o)

  • cjmr’s husband

    totally totally TOTALLY off topic, Canada wins the World hockey championships, WOO HOO!
    Ooooh, celebratory dinner of broiled hockey puck tonight!

  • bulbul

    That’s as may be, but nieciedo is still right that it wasn’t until the plague of boils that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”
    First, nieciedo said “after the cattle”. Secondly, that quote you quoted does not occur in the OT. The first time the Lord directly owns up to hardening Pharaoh’s heart is 9:12 after the boils:
    RSV: But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them; as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
    Thirdly, there are four ways this hardening is expressed in Exodus (KJV/RSV numbers):
    1. the verb ?azaq: qal – 7:13, 7:22, 8:19, 9:35 piel – 4:21 (the one by God), 9:12, 10:20 …, piel participle – 14:17
    2. the adjective kaved = hard: 7:14
    3. the verb derived from the adjective kaved: hifil – 8:15, 8:32, 9:34 … qal – 9:7
    4. the verb qaša: hifil – 7:3
    In 7:13, the form is 3rd person singular imperfect qal (with waw consecutivum) je?ezaq which would be best translated by “Pharaoh’s heart became/grew hardened” (wrong translation in KJV, better in RSV). Just like in 7:22, 8:19 and 9:35, we have here a passive construction with an unknown agent. Since all of these verses end in “as the LORD had said (to Moses)”, it is more than appropriate to assume that He was responsible for this hardening – and this is what is generally done.
    Same goes for 7:14 where the hardening is expressed by an adjective and the Lord speaks directly to Moses.
    Plus, there’s always the documentary hypothesis: this is not a coherent text, but rather an amalgam of three different sources. The different ways of expressing the same concept may be indicative of different Vorlagen. In one, the Pharaoh does it to himself, in the other, the Lord does directly, in the third, the Lord works indirectly.


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