Liar, Lunatic or … Look, Just Put Down the Knife

So you’re walking down the street and you see a man up ahead who looks a little sketchy. He’s dirty, bearded and wearing an overcoat. He looks a little wild about the eyes. You decide to steer clear.

Suddenly he reaches into his coat and pulls out a machete. As you watch, he starts grabbing handfuls of his own hair and hacking them off with the blade. He does the same with his beard. He shoves each handful of hair or whiskers into a pocket as he goes. Before you know it, he’s messily shaved his head and chin, leaving small tufts of hair and drops of blood.

He then takes this mass of hair and beard to a nearby fruit and vegetable stall and starts weighing the tangled mass on their produce scale. By weight he divides the hair into three piles. One pile he just hurls into the air. A second pile he dumps in the intersection and tosses a lit match onto. Finally he leaves, holding the third handful of hair and slashing at it with the machete as he goes.

Few of us would hesitate to call this man insane. But this is Ezekiel:

“And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword; use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard; then take balances for weighing, and divide the hair.

A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed; and a third part you shall take and strike with the sword round about the city; and a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them.

And you shall take from these a small number, and bind them in the skirts of your robe.

And of these again you shall take some, and cast them into the fire, and burn them in the fire; from there a fire will come forth into all the house of Israel. [Ezek. 5:1-4]

God touched or crazy? The line is thin, and good ‘ol Zeke goes right up to that line and voids his bowels on it. Then sets fire to the whole mess and cooks his bread over it.

And here’s another problem I have with the Liar, Lunatic or Lord trilemma: how exactly are we supposed to evaluate sanity? God is supposed to be beyond human comprehension. A person acting in an incomprehensible way may be crazy, or may be touched by God.

Ezekiel is a good example, both in the way he behaved and in the way his writings were treated. Some Jewish sages prohibited younger men from reading parts of Ezekiel because they could cause damage to the mind. There are stories of Rabbi catching a glimpse of the God’s throne as Ezekiel describes it and either being killed or going insane.

Jesus did not just catch a glimpse of God, nor was he merely touched. He was both man and God crammed into a fragile package. In the end, the best argument against Jesus’s divinity may be that Jesus just seemed too darn sane.

  • kessy_athena

    Actually, machetes generally aren’t very sharp – they’re designed to cut through vegetation more by virtue of inertia. Cutting your hair with one is definitely not recommended.

    • Sunny Day

      I think machete compares well to the swords of the period.

      • Artor

        In a fight, given the choice of a modern, cheap hardware store machete and a bronze age sword, I’d pick the machete. But I’d still love to have a real bronze age sword, even a cheap one. Size-wise, they’d be about the same. And honestly, you should keep your machete sharp. It’s the difference between one hack at a branch vs 3 or 4. Save your arm, sharpen your machete.

    • JK

      Swords never were really sharp either. It was more of a hitting/piercing weapon than a cutting one. Compared to a club it was much sharper, heavier and more durable though.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    God is supposed to be beyond human comprehension.

    Opinions on this vary widely, depending on whether the person you are conversing with is explaining how God wants you to run your sex life or defending God’s existence.

    • kessy_athena

      It seems to me that it depends on how exactly you define “human comprehension.” If you’re saying that it’s impossible to have complete, total, perfect, all encompassing knowledge of all possible aspects of the properties of a god, that’s obvious – it’s impossible to have that sort of knowledge about *anything*. If you’re saying that it’s impossible to make a meaningful mental model of what a god is, that’s silly. by saying that you just did make a mental model. One that isn’t terribly useful, but still…

  • mikespeir

    “In the end, the best argument against Jesus’s divinity may be that Jesus just seemed too darn sane.”

    Don’t think I’ve heard that one before. You may have a point, though.

    • JohnMWhite

      I don’t know, yelling at a fig tree seems a bit loopy.

      • Kodie

        He’s very disappointed in the tree.

      • trj

        God hates figs.

  • Fox

    Ezekiel sounds sorta like Diogenes of Sinope in a way. Reminds me of him.

    • Elemenope

      +1 for this. You get points.

  • vasaroti

    This is clearly a magic rite, just like all the other magic rituals that involve hair, nail clippings, blood, etc. There’s more of this stuff in the Bible than is generally acknowledged, and yet Christians get all pissy about pagan rituals that generally involve nothing more noxious than herbs and candles.

  • Kodie

    Richie Tenenbaum gives himself a haircut.

    I am trying to figure out what is insane about this. I thought keeping your hair was important part of some religions, that cutting it all off is a symbolic gesture of transforming oneself and what one believes. I have no problem taking this as a metaphor. Weigh it on a scale, that’s all it’s worth. The superstition of keeping it meant much more, that you can transform your sentimentality over it to see it apart from your head and remind yourself it’s silly, it’s only hair. Women, today, are advised to go against the impulse to cut off all your hair after a break-up. I don’t know why that’s such a strong impulse but it is. Something about all that old, long hair is draining you and hiding you, but unless you like yourself in short hair, it takes longer to grow back than the immediate positive effect lasts. I’ve done it. It sucks.

    Doing this out in the street may be something else. Using a large blade and hacking away at your head and face so your skin actually bleeds, on the street, that is kind of weird. Maybe just dramatic. I don’t know, since I think it’s metaphorical. Proudly release your old thinking and don’t mind if people see you and you cut yourself. Performance art. ????? Is this exceptionally different than how some people go on TV to get make-overs because they are stuck in a particular decade with their hairstyle? I think it’s weird how someone can think their hair looks the best one way for the last 30 years if no one else still has their hair that way, and yet they spend hours styling it so it always looks the same. It’s some kind of psychological armor for them. So I think just reading this account here (not in whatever context) reminds me of that.

    • Brian K

      The best solution (especially for a guy well into middle age who has hairline issues) is “Number 2 clippers, all over” It’s neat, quick, and cheap. :)

  • Verimius

    I wonder if Ezekiel’s behavior would have been considered bizarre by the standards of the time. If he already had even a minor reputation as a prophet, maybe strange behavior would have been acceptable. Or perhaps it would have been a good way to get attention for his prophecies.

    Remember, in medieval times, sackcloth and ashes were considered holy. Today, it would look nuts.

    Is it fair to judge the past by modern standards?

    BTW, I’m an atheist. Just asking the questions to make people think.

  • Gwynnyd

    “Is it fair to judge the past by modern standards?”
    Depends on what you are judging. Guy hacking off his hair while wandering down the street and performing magic rituals with it around the city? Yeah, I think I can confidently say this would not generally be considered *normal* behavior in ANY culture at any point in human history. Did it happen? Except for the magic bits actually working, why not? Non-normative behavior occurs all the time. Walking around in sackcloth and ashes or wearing hair shirts or flagellating yourself was considered *holy* but not necessarily “normal” even in medieval times.

    Was this written as a metaphor for something? I have no idea. COULD this be interpreted as a metaphor for something? Well, sure! Of course it could! Probably lots of things. Ought it to be interpreted metaphorically? I wouldn’t. YMMV

  • drax

    My first exposure to Ezekiel was as evidence for UFOs. The whole wheel inside a wheel thing as an alien ship. It was much later that I learned that Ezekiel was a nutjob. Also, coincidentally, I am scheduled to have my head shaved on the solstice. Although I won’t be weighing, burning, or storing any in my pocket. Also, no swords or machetes will be involved (I hope).

  • drax

    My first exposure to Ezekiel was as evidence for UFOs. The whole wheel inside a wheel thing as an alien ship. It was much later that I learned that Ezekiel was a nutjob. Also, coincidentally, I am scheduled to have my head shaved on the solstice. Although I won’t be weighing, burning, or storing any in my pocket. No swords or machetes will be involved (I hope).

  • Greg G.

    Ezekiel 23 is one of those chapters young men shouldn’t read, right? If lusting in your heart is the same as adultery, then reading that chapter will get you damned.

  • Guest Speaker

    I think John C was definitely touched by God, maybe even entered.

    So I was waiting for his interpretation of these passages, but I guess even he doesn’t touch this crazy chapter.

  • bill

    Performance art in the service of prophesying for his faith, I think, explains it well enough. I’ve seen more bizarre performance artists in the news the past few years.

  • Schaden Freud

    Ah, Ezekiel. My favourite book of the bible ever since I was a kid, and a contributing factor to my atheism.

    You know, I’ve never thought to look at Lewis’ trilemma that way before. Mainly because I’ve always tended to laugh at it and not take it seriously enough to go very deep into it. I never could understand why it’s so popular with christians.