It’s taken me a while to muster up the desire to continue, after getting mired down in the dull, singsongy repetition of the two books of Kings. Don’t get me wrong— 1 Kings 1:1 starts out strong, you think, “AW YEAH!” when you hear that King David as an old man is shivering but finds that he can only go on if he snuggles up to a young virgin to warm him up. But then it’s a snoozefest, and David dies, and Solomon lives and here we have the famous decree to cut a disputed baby in half to identify the real mother. Guess how many wives Solomon had. 700 wives and 300 concubines—a bit excessive.
In 2 Kings, things still plod but there are scraps of interest. Elisha puts on a magic show raising people from the dead and creating unending flows of food (sounds familiar, right, Jesus?). There’s a disturbing scene where a woman complains that she agreed with her neighbor to first eat her son and the next day they’d eat her neighbor’s son, “So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son.” In chapter 9, we get gruesome details of Jezebel’s death—thrown from a window and trampled by horses until nothing left but her skull. Chapter 18 describes men who during a siege have to “eat their own dung and drink their own piss.” Chapter 23 mentions male prostitutes (sodomites).
1 Chronicles is the place to go if you’re looking for Biblical names. New favorite verse is 1:1:10 – “And Cush begat Nimrod : he began to be mighty upon the earth.” But seriously, most of this book is just lists of names, a genealogy from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael. We get a retelling of the stories we’ve already heard in the books of Samuel & Kings, like David’s story. 1:21:1 has the first appearance of the word Satan, which opens a can of worms. Previously, bad people were referred to as sons of Belial, and the Eden serpent in Genesis is just a snake. Whether or not there’s a definite article (the satan vs satan) shifts the meaning. The devilish Satan that we know won’t show up until Job. From Wikipedia:
The original Hebrew term sâtan (שָּׂטָן) is a generic noun meaning “accuser” or “adversary”, which is used throughout the Hebrew Bible to refer to ordinary human adversaries, as well as a specific supernatural entity. The word is derived from a verb meaning primarily “to obstruct, oppose”. When it is used without the definite article (simply satan), the word can refer to any accuser, but when it is used with the definite article (ha-satan), it usually refers specifically to the heavenly accuser: the satan.
2 Chronicles repeats a lot of the Kings stuff, about Solomon and his progeny. It’s a seesaw of God-fearing then God-snubbing people, with wars and peace then wars and peace again. I learned that 20,000 baths of wine = 120,000 gallons. We’ve got more mention of lost texts (like those of Iddo the seer). Next time I want to mis-inform someone, I’m going to say that God put the lying spirit in my mouth. Elijah prophesizes that Jehoram “shall have great sickness by disease of your bowels, until your bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.” Yikes. And what would a book of the bible be without an evil woman; this time it’s our girl Athaliah (daughter of Jezebel, of course!) who counseled her son to do wicked things, then seizes the government by killing the whole royal family (Can I get some detail here?! All we have is “But when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah.”). She actually gets a speaking part, too, very exciting for a woman: “Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and said, Treason, Treason.”
Things start to get dull in Ezra, where not much happens except the restriction on “mixed” marriage, so all the non-Jewish wives and children were abandoned. Some gruesome decree from King Darius where whoever alters his decrees “let timber be pulled down from his house, and let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.”
The book of Nehemiah used to be mixed in with Ezra but has been separate since the 16th c AD. Dullsville: Jerusalem is rebuilt and there’s long lists of names to lull you to sleep. Really hope things start to pick up soon.
Which they do, in Esther. It’s always a good sign when a book is named after a woman. Things start out exciting, with Queen Vashti refusing to come and be ogled by the king and his friends on the 7th day of an epic 180 day drinkfest. This refusal sets off panic in the court, with the dudes protesting that if other women caught wind of this rebellion, they too would start standing up to their husbands. THIS MUST BE STOPPED! And so a law was written that every man would “bear rule in his own house”, Vashti was banished, and the search was on for all “fair young virgins” to be brought to the king. Enter our hero, Esther, a Jewish orphan being raised by her uncle Mordecai, who told her not to reveal her Jewishness. This is great: all these pure, young virgins, had to undergo 12 months of further purification (6 months being oiled up with myrrh, 6 months with “sweet odors”) before they were pure enough for the king to ravage. Esther’s chosen to be the new wife. Meanwhile, Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, who then sets a plan in place to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. Haman throws lots to see when this should take place, and it’s determined that a year from now is the day. He gets the king to send decrees across the whole land saying that on such-and-such a day in 12 months, everyone should rise up against all Jews (“young and old, little children and women”), kill them and steal their money. So Haman’s a bad dude. He goes around setting up a scaffolding to hang Mordecai from but the king remembers all the great things Mordecai has done for him and grants him great wealth. Haman is eventually hung on the gallows he created for Mordecai. Esther has revealed her Jewishness and gotten the king to reverse his decree, and thus the festival of Purim is born. (Pur-im, because the date of their supposed destruction was determined by throwing Pur, or lots). Oh, and bible scholars say this book is a complete fiction made up to explain the origins of Purim. It’s one of 2 books in the Hebrew bible that don’t mention god (Song of Songs the other).