Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Wide Stance Prophet?

Avedon Carol at The Sideshow has linked to this verse (16:49) from the book of the prophet Ezekiel:
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
The link is to the Skeptic's Annotated Bible, which apparently trades in pointing out the icky parts of Holy Writ, a useful service to be sure. I presume Avedon's point was to follow the popular progay-Christian argument that Sodom and Gomorrah were nuked for the sin of inhospitality, not for men doing the nasty with each other. Like most progay-Christian arguments, it's an oversimplification, especially if you do what everyone always tells you and read for context.

Despite that stuff about neglecting the poor and needy, most of this part of Ezekiel is concerned with other sins. Personifying Jerusalem as an exposed infant whom Yahweh rescued and raised to nubile womanhood, whereupon he "spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine" (16:8). But alas, unlike Sodom, Jerusalem turned out to be all too hospitable. Yahweh complains through his prophet that Jerusalem is a whore whore whore whore whore:
But thou didst trust thine own beauty and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was.

And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.

Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and my silver, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them. ...

Thou hast built thy high place at every head of the way, and hast made thy beauty to be abhorred, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms.

Thou hast also committed fornications with the Egyptians thy neighbors, great of flesh; and hast increased thy whoredoms, to provoke me to anger [16:15-17, 25-26].
I've left this in the 17th-century English of the King James Version, because otherwise it might be too NSFW; as it is, you can just explain that you're reading Scripture for your spiritual benefit. Yeah, that's it.

I especially like that bit about the Egyptians being "great of flesh," which means what you think it means, because it ties in to a later verse, 23:20, which is one of my favorites in the entire Bible:
For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
Yahweh appears to be somewhat obsessed with the, um, endowment of the Egyptians (conceived, of course, as allegorical rivals for the favors of Jerusalem). As you can see, the theme of Jerusalem's whoredom runs for chapter after chapter in Ezekiel. Whatever the "sin of Sodom" might have been, inhospitality seems to have been only a passing concern for Yahweh and his prophet. Big Egyptian donkey phalli and buckets of semen being enjoyed (in the divine mind, anyway) by the nubile Jerusalem were clearly much more important.

And yes, I know, this is an allegory, not meant to be taken literally. The point is that the allegory is built on imagery that is best described as pornographic. I'm not shocked by it, but I should think that the people who regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God would be appalled by it if they dusted off the archaic verbiage of the Authorized Version and considered what it was saying. And the Skeptic's Annotated Bible follows a venerable tradition of collecting the icky bits so that Enlightenment rationalists can be appalled by the brutal, obscene language of so-called Holy Scripture -- over and over again as needed. (I should track down the lovely story reported by Emma Donoghue in Passions Between Women [HarperCollins, 1995], of the headmistress of a respectable girls' school around 1800. She assured concerned parents that their daughters would not be reading improper parts of the classics, because she had carefully marked those passages, so that the girls would know which parts not to read. I'm sure it worked.)

All this reminds me of a passage from a Charles Bukowski story I saw quoted in a review somewhere in the 1970s. A man and a woman are arguing about their relationship. (I quote from memory.)
"You're a whore, you're a whore, you're nothing but a goddamned whore."
"Sure I'm a whore, or I wouldn't be living with you!"
"Hm, I never thought of it like that."
Maybe Jerusalem should have sassed Yahweh back in just those terms.