I would be remiss if I didn’t at least finish up the story of Moses.

Deuteronomy is an interesting book even though most of it is review of the previous three books. As the people prepare to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminds them of the hardship they have gone through, the complaining they did both to God and to Moses and the consequences of the complaining, the laws that God has outlined for them, the glory that awaits them if they follow God and the horror they will face if they don’t. The 10 Commandments are repeated as are many of the laws from Exodus and Leviticus. There is new stuff as well.

There are good things in Deuteronomy. You should look after people in need for example and you should not return runaway slaves. Those are the kind of rules that you would expect in a holy book. At the same time, however, this is also a text written specifically for a group of people 3000 or so years ago. How closely are we expected to follow all of them?

For example, “You shall have a place outside the camp …and you shall have a stick with your weapons; and when you sit down outside you shall dig a hole with it … and cover up your excrement.” This is excellent advice for a group of 600,000 wandering in the desert but we may wonder why it is included in a holy book. That’s because the advice is not just about hygiene. They were to do this because “the Lord walks in the midst of your camp … that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.”

“If you have a rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother … all the men of the city shall stone him to death.” The modern debate on the appropriateness of spanking pales in comparison.

If a woman marries, but “the tokens of her virginity cannot be found”, she will be stoned to death. There are several statements regarding virginity, and they have little to do with morality and a lot to do with possession. If an engaged virgin is raped, the man is stoned to death. If the virgin is not engaged then the rapist pays the father 50 shekels and marries the girl.

Several people are not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord, including “he whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off”. Leaving aside the method of proving your wholeness as you enter the assembly, why would anybody of faith be denied entrance?

There is also a rule that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (among others) ignored. If a couple divorces and the woman remarries and then is either divorced or widowed, she may not go back to her first husband because “she has been defiled”. I am a bit lost here. If the second marriage defiles her for the first husband, wouldn’t the first marriage have defiled her for the second husband?

And finally, a warning to loyal wives. If two men are fighting and the wife of one of the men tries to rescue her husband and ‘puts out her hand and seizes [the other guy] by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand; your eyes shall have no pity.”

This is the trouble with reading the Bible. There may very well be logical explanations for these laws. However, we need somebody else to explain/translate them for us. Once we do that, we are in the human domain and who is to say their interpretation of the “word” of God is correct?


As you go through the Bible, you might also want to take a look at book called The Great Code: the Bible & Literature by Canadian author Nortrop Frye. Some thought he was one of the most influential literary critics in the 20th century.



As you go through the Bible, you might also want to take a look at book called The Great Code: the Bible & Literature by Canadian author Nortrop Frye. Some thought he was one of the most influential literary critics in the 20th century.


I should be reading more of the experts. Right now I am going through the Bible and commenting on the things I find interesting (and hoping that someone will add to my far from expert analysis). No doubt, I am missing out on a whole lot, both from a religious and a secular point of view. I am embarrassed to say that when I am confused about something, I just do a quick google search and take the first answer that seems reasonable to me. Every google search gives me thousands of sites. Some totally mock the Bible and others are total apologists. I found one site that used the Bible to defend the denial of woman seeking political office.

Anyway, I am at the end of the first five books of the Bible. They are also called the Pentateuch or the Torah. With Moses now dead and the people about to enter the Promised Land, I thought I would give my opinion so far.

There is no doubt that the stories in the Bible are worth reading. The characters are fascinating and their responses to their circumstances make for vivid reading. Not one of the characters is anywhere close to a perfect role model. Some of the decisions they make are very questionable, but I don’t think there are any characters that we can outright detest. I don’t like Aaron all that much and Abraham, at least to me, is overrated. I am intrigued by the female characters and wish we could have learned more about them. I like Jacob for the way his character evolves and I feel sorry for Moses, the reluctant leader who did everything asked of him and still got denied the Promised Land.

But the main character in the Bible is God and how do we characterize him. It’s easy for a non-believer to just shelve the Bible and ask “what’s the point of making sense of a being that does not exist?” But that’s too easy. Authors of stories develop their characters for a reason. Biographers describe real life characters using factual events. If we want to make some sense of God (whether real or not) we have to look at what he does and how the author describes him.

He is definitely someone we should fear. He kills every human except for Noah and his family. He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. He kills what number of Egyptians with plagues and then tops it off by killing the first born in each family. In Numbers he sends at least four plagues. We are not given the devastation of two, but over 40,000 are killed in the other two. As well, he destroyed two complete cities. That’s a lot of dead people.

A couple of times in Deuteronomy Moses gives this simple advice. “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good.”

And should we dare consider another god? “If thy brother … or thy son … or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend … entice thee secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … thou shalt not consent unto him, but thou shalt surely kill him”

And if you don’t follow the commandments set out by Moses?

“The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke … shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee … shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning … shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies and thy carcass shall be meat unto the beasts of the earth … The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness … and thou shalt grope at noonday … thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her … thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them.”

This god, too often, comes across as a bully, as a street gang leader or a dictator rallying the troops before invading neighbouring territory (which is about to happen). Is this what we are supposed to take away from these books? Must we fear God and must we think that when something horrific happens that God is punishing the non-believers? What other interpretation can there be?