The Top 5 Most Ridiculous Things in Numbers

So far we have found the Old Testament, especially the first few books of the Bible, has tended to be filled with many, many ridiculous things. To be fair, there are many quite sane and sober commands and stories in these ancient texts, but there are also a number of features that have had us at Holey Books questioning many of the common assumptions Judaism and Christianity seem make about them. So far, our blog has examined some of these absurdities in Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, and now we turn to the fourth book of the Old Testament, Numbers. For us, five ridiculous things stand out:

  1. God Will Provide Abortions…As Long as the Kid Was a Bastard (Num. 5:27). And you thought Planned Parenthood was bad. In Numbers, God instructs Moses in a divinely full-proof way of determining whether a woman has been tent-hopping. Give her a cursed solution to drink. If she has remained faithful, she will imbibe and be fine. But if she is guilty of infidelity, she will have a miscarriage. Yes, you read that right: God is willing to help abort a bastard child. On reconsideration, perhaps my comparison to Planned Parenthood was not apt: let’s be fair to that organization: they don’t care whether the child is the product of infidelity. God instead—and here let me follow the logic those who support outlawing abortion—determines that abortion (i.e. murder, in the pro-life view) is okay…as long as the baby came from an affair. Continuing the logic, could we say that it’s (his/hers?) life mattered less, then? As an abortion opponent, shouldn’t one be…well…disturbed by this? “Pro-life” or “pro-choice,” this passage is ridiculous.
  2. God is a Frequent Killer (Num. 11, 14, 21, 25, 31, 33, and others). Ryan has detailed, in a previous post, the many ways God effectuates his will in Numbers—and usually this seems to be by death and destruction. While I won’t reiterate everything Ryan has already detailed, suffice to say, God kills a lot of people in the Book of Numbers, and for a lot of different reasons—although mostly because they complained or didn’t do what he want (oh, and he rewards a murderer in Num. 25:6-13). The comedian Louis C.K. has compared the Old Testament God to a bad ex-girlfriend. In Numbers, that seems like quite the understatement.
  3. The Midianites Are Wrongly Blamed (Num. 25). The poor Midianites are blamed for Israelite men fooling around with Moabite women, as well as their (the Israelites’) subsequent Baal worshipping. Yes, this seems to be a simple error in the text. In other words, the Bible just has it wrong: in one place it’s the Moabites, in the other it’s the Midianites. As Ryan’s post noted, it’s awful hard to stomach the idea of inerrant scripture with such an obvious textual problem.*
  4. Donkeys Can Talk (Num. 20). Okay, you know we can’t avoid talking creatures. After all, one of the more popular posts on the site is about the talking “serpent” in the Book of Genesis (who by the way is not Satan). Numbers has its own talking creature, but this time it is an ass. Unlike the snake before him, though, the ass is actually wise,** and complains after Balaam was mistreating it. I’ll spare any further explanation as to why this is ridiculous.
  5. Woman Can’t Make Their Own Decisions (Num. 30). Numbers prescribes that, if a woman is unmarried and living in her father’s house, she can only make pledges that her father approves. Similarly, if she’s married, pledges only count with her husband’s consent. This one is also obvious. Women are incapable, according to Numbers, of making their own decisions. This may have been the norm in paternalistic Ancient Israel, and looking at this text now, we should definitely understand it as a relic of a different cultural era—which should give us pause from righteously criticizing their society. But that still does not make it any less ridiculous to our current world, where we know woman are capable of making any decision a man is.

*There is a possibly slippery issue here with textual versions and translations and extant copies, but really that is, assuming the logic of inerrant scripture, irrelevant. If we assume scripture is God-breathed, then part of the inerrant path to us has to be that God has ensured the right copies were saved and translated.

**Oh yes, I know the snake was “clever” and witty, but I don’t think the result that he suggested was a positive one for Adam and Eve, so I’m deducing a lack of wisdom.

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