Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beware of Bears

I am not a fan of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Yes, there is a great deal to admire and appreciate about Scripture. Giving it a full and honest reading is a worthwhile endeavor and can certainly bring knowledge and wisdom. However, there is plenty of objectionable stuff as well, products of a tribalistic Bronze Age mentality.

Since today is the Feast Day of the Prophet Elisha, let's reflect on this passage from 2 Kings 2:23-24 (KJV):

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Yeah, that's quite a disproportionate response. How do apologists defend this blatant act of injustice?

Well, there are three main lines of defense.

First, apologists like translating "little children" as "youths" in an effort to depict the scene as harassment by some type of Israelite street gang. They look at the word, neurim, which can indicate a male from early teens to adulthood. That gives a lot of leeway for reinterpretation. There's a big difference in context between a pack of snotty brats and a gang of delinquent youths.

However, apologists ignore the following word, qetannim, which is a diminutive adjective. That combination of words indicates the more youthful side of the age span. The kids are likely older than ten but younger than fifteen. Yeah, such youths can be obnoxious and odious in every way, but they are still kids. So, I reject this line of defense.

Second, apologists like portraying Elisha as the victim of the scene. They focus on his baldness and claim that it signifies his state of mourning over the loss of his master, the Prophet Elijah. Moreover, they claim that the children are trying to curse him with the phrase "Go Up!"

I reject this argument on two grounds. First, my premise isn't that the kids are not guilty of insulting Elisha, but that the punishment they receive is so disproportionate to the crime that it is in itself unjust!!! Second, the reason for Elisha's baldness or the meaning of the insult is irrelevant. The kids, even if they are cursing the prophet in the most deplorable manner, pose no viable threat to him, but he responds by sending a couple of bears to maul them. That's uncalled for!!!

Finally, apologists like minimizing the bear attack. They point out that the Syrian brown bears were relatively small, possibly weighing as little as 300 pounds. That's true, but that's big enough to put a serious killing on some twelve year old boys. Moreover, the apologists like pointing out that the text only says the kids were "mauled" not killed. That's also true, but, given ancient medicine, a serious mauling generally means death. So, although I can concede both these points, I don't believe that it minimizes Elisha's curse to an acceptable degree.

My feeling is that this text is meant to be understood as the KJV reads. Elisha is the Prophet of the LORD. Any insult to him is an insult to the LORD. It doesn't matter who you are or what you intend by such insults. If you show such disrespect to the LORD, you will be mightily punished, even unto death.

Within the Master-Servant relationship of the Biblical Covenant, this makes sense. It needs no apologetics. Within our modern sense of ethics and justice, it's unacceptable. Such disproportionate response is unethical and unjust.

And that's one reason why I'm not a fan of the Bible.

However, this scene does make for fun spoof vids:

Here's a link to Elisha's Wikipedia page.

Here's the Yogi Bear Wikipedia page.

And here's the Care Bears Wikipedia page.


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