Tuesday, September 23, 2003
"And it came to pass at midnight, the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive woman that was in the prison, and all the first born of cattle (Exodus 12: 29) …every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first born of man to the first born of beasts (13: 15)…and there arose a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house wherein there lay not one dead (12: 30)…this night all the children of Israel must observe in their generations. (12: 42)”
I would assume that there are a variety of nuances to an explanation of the festival of Pesach (Passover), given the thousands of words that commentators have written about these words, but the following seems to be a credible source for a succinct and as reliable an explanation as is probable. According to the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters:
“During the Seder we tell the story of the Passover: how G-d ‘passed-over’ the Jewish homes and spared the first born Israelites from the fate that was in store for their Egyptian counterparts. While all the Egyptian first born were stricken at midnight of the fifteenth day of the month of Nissan of the year 2448, not one Jewish firstborn was harmed…This is why the festival is called Pesach, or Passover, because G-d‘passed-over’ the homes of the Jews.”
The writer has serious doubts about the story of the “Passover” written by the Israelites, even though Jewish people the world over solemnly observe “Pesach”. Recently, Rabbi David Wolpe, spiritual leader of Conservative congregation Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, and the author of numerous popular books on Judaism caused considerable faith-based controversy in the Jewish community.
In three sermons at the beginning and end of Passover, Wolpe examined current research in biblical archaeology and concluded, "…virtually every modern archaeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all."
Similar remarks from Ze’ev Herzog, Professor of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, created considerable controversy amongst his colleagues in the archeological scientific community. According to Herzog, ”This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: The Israelites were never in Egypt, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.”
Yet, these comments, grounded as they are in modern research and analysis from different scientific and faith-based perspectives are not the basis for my own doubts. My own doubts germinated with reading Tom Paine’s “The Age of Reason” but became rationalized as I considered the first born of the families of my acquaintances and considered the consequences if each of their first born had been stricken. To illustrate: one family has three generations still alive. Maternal grandmother and grandfather (2 people) with five children, each married (10 people), each couple had children (20 people altogether) a total of 32 people. If we consider each of the firstborn as stricken it would include the grandfather (1), one of the five children (1), three of their spouses who were firstborn (3), and five of the children of the five married couples (5 altogether) a total of 10 people. Accordingly, the god invented by the Israelites would have “stricken” about 30% of the total family. Based on our reckoning, we would expect that about 30% of the Egyptian population would have been “stricken”.
Beyond the enormous death toll, the Israelites then “… asked of the Egyptians vessels of silver and gold and very much raiment (Exodus 12: 35) …and the Lord gave favor to the people in the sight of the Egyptians; and they stripped the Egyptians (12: 36)…and the children of Israel set forward from Ramesse to Socoth, being about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. (12: 37)…And a mixed multitude without number went up also with them, sheep and herds and beasts of divers kinds, exceeding many.”(12: 38) All of which indicates (we can infer from the six hundred thousand men in the story) that there were between one and a half million and two million people if we include (besides the men) the probable number of Israelite women and children making the move out of Egypt in the Israelite year 2448.
Yet before the Egyptian firstborn were so “stricken” (which also included the “stricken” first born of their cattle and “beasts”), the Israelite god required each of the Israelites to participate in the eating of slaughtered, unblemished, roasted, one year old male lambs, smearing the blood of the slaughtered lambs on the door posts of their house so that their omnipotent god would know by the sign of the blood that the firstborn of that house should not be “stricken”. (12: 4-8) By my reckoning of the matter, if about twenty-five people ate one lamb, it required, in order for 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 of these Israelite Egyptian slaves to eat a piece of lamb, that they had to slaughter some 60,000 to 80,000 one-year-old unblemished male lambs. Assuming that one-year-old unblemished male lambs constituted about one quarter (an exaggeration of the number of unblemished, one-year-old male lambs that could possibly be part of a flock) of the entire flock of sheep, it meant that these Egyptian slaves either owned or had access to, conservatively, between 240,000 and 320,000 sheep.
So I consider the story a fabulous tale for two reasons:
1) Based on the admittedly rough, but certainly credible, assessment of the kind of losses (perhaps 30-40% of their population) that would have been sustained by the Egyptians had the god invented by the Israelites caused the firstborn of the Egyptians to be “stricken”, there would be independent Egyptian written records of the event and certainly other independent written records by the neighboring peoples. When you add to the loss of the firstborn Egyptians (and their first born “beasts”), the drowning of an entire Egyptian army (presumably made up of the second or third born males and “beasts” since the first born had already been “stricken”), it is totally incredulous that there is no other independent written record of this catastrophic event .
2) Slaves, as far as I have been able to ascertain from the history of such a condition, do not own property, they are the property for their owners to do with as they please. They certainly do not have the independent access to some 240,000 to 320,000 sheep to wantonly ferret out (examining them closely to determine if they had any blemishes) some 60,000 to 80,000 unblemished, one year old male lambs from the flock in order to slaughter and dress them, paint the doorways of their houses with the lambs’ blood, and then cook and eat them, while their armed and dangerous owners passively observed the goings-on. In fact, unless the Israelites had constant access to the flock over a period of time, it is highly unlikely that they could possibly tell which of the lambs were one year olds or, if they could tell, that there actually were some 60,000 to 80,000 unblemished, male lambs that were one year old on the 14th day of Nissan in the Israelite year 2448 –all of which would mean there would have been quite a bumper crop of male lambs born on the 14th day of Nissan in 2447.
Having written all of this, it seems mundane and irrelevant in the context of where this tale has been. Imagine the slaves brought to these shores from Africa - a people driven from and slaughtered on their own land; brought onto distant shores or displaced by some cruel and malevolent purveyors of humanity; tortured and brutalized, transported, worked and killed in all kinds of unimaginable and imaginable means; mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children bartered, sold, separated and dispersed from each other; the women and barely grown girls becoming the repositories of the men (in the Jeffersonian manner) that owned them.
And then imagine that this tale falls into the hands of any of these slaves, into the hands of any of these oppressed, into the hands of any of the tortured and brutalized; a tale where the slave owner and oppressor is made to suffer the consequences of their acts in ten tortuous plagues with the final plague killing all of the slave owners’ first born and then killing an army of its second or third born males along with its chariots drawn by second or third born “beasts”, rendering them helpless to continue the brutalization of their victims. Then, capping it all off, the slave owners pay reparations with “vessels of silver and gold and very much raiment”. No wonder the tale resounds in song in the churches of the African American community “Go down Moses, Go down in Egypt land, Tell old Pharaoh, Let My People Go…”
It is a marvelous tale, a glorious tale, a tale of redemption and retribution, the “take this job and shove it” tale for all eternity, the “I’ve got friends in low places” god tale of all time.
Typical of the faith-based response to the archeological critique of the story told by the Israelites was the response expressed by Kirk Douglas: “The story of the Exodus, as an actor, I find interesting and dramatic. I am not concerned with the archaeological authenticity of the story: I am interested in what the metaphor teaches me about my own spiritual journey. And Judaism is the language I speak, the path I walk, the origin and the destination of that journey.”
All of which would be fine and dandy if the god of the bible invented by the Israelites ended the bloodletting there and gave the Israelites the land that belonged to the Egyptians that had been their tormentors. Yet, the Egyptians were left to own their own land and by all accounts of the period continued to prosper. Instead, the god of the bible invented by the Israelites decided (so the story goes) to keep the promise to Abraham (“…to thy seed I will give this land…”(Genesis 12:7)) and give them the land that belonged to some other people who had nothing at all to do with their torment, who were busy going about the business of enjoying the fruits of their own land. In fact, the writer of the tale knew full well that the land he pens as “promised” actually belonged to another people. According to the Israelite storytellers, the field and cave in Chanaan in which Sara and then Abraham were buried was purchased for “four hundred sicles of silver” (Genesis 23:15) after Abraham had implored the people of Chanaan, “I am a stranger and sojourner among you, give me the right of a burying place with you…”(Genesis 23:4)
In any event, the god of the bible invented by the Israelites declares, “…I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey, to the places of the Chanaanites, and Hethite, and Amorrhite, and Perezite, and Hevite, and Jebusite”(Exodus 3:8).
From that time on the Israelite’s stories are laden with the commands of their god to proceed with a bloodcurdling genocidal slaughter of the peoples that inhabit that land of “milk and honey”. In passages that are as vivid descriptions of genocide as any of the accounts of the victims of the Nazi genocide, the Israelite writers describe what they did or what the god of the bible that they had invented commanded them to do.
In Deuteronomy 7:1-36, “…the Lord thy God…shall have destroyed many nations before thee, the Hethite, and the Gergezite, and the Amorrite, and the Chanaanite, and the Pherezite, and Hevite, and the Jebusite, seven nations much more numerous than thou art,…thou shalt utterly destroy them. Thou shalt make no league with them, nor show mercy to them: and shall slay them until they are utterly destroyed…and thou shalt destroy their names under heaven: no man shall be able to resist thee, until thou destroy them.”
In I Samuel 15:3, “Now therefore go, and smite Amalec, and utterly destroy all that he hath; spare him not, nor covet any thing that is his; but slay both man and woman, child and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
In Numbers 31:1-35, “…the Lord spoke to Moses saying: Revenge first the children of Israel on the Madianites…when they fought against the Madianites and had overcome them, they slew all the men…Therefore kill all that are of the male sex, even of the children: and put to death the women that have carnally known men…But the girls, and all the women that are virgins save for yourselves…and the spoils which the army had taken, was…thirty two thousand persons of the female sex that had not known men.”
In Numbers 33:50-52, “…the Lord said to Moses: Command the children of Israel…When you shall have passed over to Jordan, entering into the land of Chanaan, Destroy all the inhabitants of that land: beat down their pillars and break in pieces their statues, and waste all their high places.”
In I Samuel 27:8-9, “And David and his men went up, and pillaged Gessuri, and Gerzi, and the Amalecites; for these were of old the inhabitants of the countries…David wasted all the land, and left neither man nor woman alive…”
In Isaiah 13:15-18, “Every one that shall be found shall be slain; and every one that shall come to their aid, shall fall by the sword. Their infants shall be dashed in pieces before their eyes: their houses shall be pillaged, and their wives ravaged…with their arrows they shall kill the children, and shall have no pity upon the sucklings of the womb, and their eye shall not spare their sons.”
There is little doubt that the land purportedly promised to Abraham’s seed bears a strange fruit indeed— a fruit fertilized by the rotting flesh, dismembered bodies, disemboweled corpses, crushed homes, and mutilated children amongst the rutted fields and groves of the land of milk and honey with the scorched mountain top.
And it is on the basis of this story written by the Israelites, this story that can only be described as the written definition of the monstrous act of genocide, that the Zionist/Irgun/Likud/Sharonites of the modern State of Israel have made the political claim that they are entitled to acquire the whole of the land that is now historically constituted Palestine.
It is a clearly stated political claim that has been pursued with tenacity and consistence with a program of placing armed Jewish Israeli settlements in the west bank and Gaza strip of Palestine; the demolition of the homes and infrastructure of Palestine; the seizure of the property of the people of Palestine http://www.btselem.org/English/Publications/Land_Grab_Map.asp and the property of their local and national governments; the seizure and control of the water, sewer, and electricity serving Palestine; the building of guard towers that transform Palestine’s communities into prison yards; and finally, the building of a “Berlin wall” that caps the occupation of Palestine with transforming it into a huge concentration camp.
It is a claim with clay feet, mired in blood soaked quicksand; a claim only made possible by the massive supply of an almost infinite number and variety of weapons for killing furnished by the United States whose interests in establishing hegemony over the oil reserves of the area have created a symbiotic relationship with Israel which serves as both foil for United States interests and protagonist for its own acquisition of the whole of Palestine.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck.
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
(“Strange Fruit” sung by Billie Holiday)
September 22, 2003
William C. Carlotti