My daughter's bat mitzvah planning session is coming up at our temple, and of course I Googled the Torah portion that she will read if we get the date we're hoping for. It starts in Numbers 30.2, and immediately discusses the difference between a man's vows - which are an obligation in the sight of God - and a daughter's or wife's vows, which can be negated by her father's or husband's disapproval. It then goes on to describe God's displeasure with Israelite warriors who neglected to murder the women and children of the Midianites, and his instructions to kill all the boys and mothers but to leave the virgin girls alive with His divine permission.
As the chapter continues, these instructions seem to be followed to the letter (there are no details), and the army's leaders atone for their initial lack of bloodthirstiness by paying extra tithes to the Levites.
Okay, so this kind of thing is why the Hebrew Bible has a bad rap. Yeah, I know Jesus said "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" (Matt. 10:34), but let's face it: This is a lot worse. There is just no way to put a good spin on it if you think of the Bible as even faintly historical, which I do (emphasis on the faintly, but historical nonetheless). It's also pretty much impossible see God in these passages in a favorable light; we have to in all candor admit that the One we may turn to today is so different from the biblical Lord, He might as well be another species of supernal altogether.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Although I'm glad I've done my gig and don't have to explicate this Torah portion in front of all my friends and family for my bat mitzvah, I still have issues with the story of the Golden Calf that is upcoming in the next book of The Promised Land Trilogy. Unlike the DeMille version, which had an earthquake swallow the idol-worshippers, Exodus 32:28 says quite specifically that the Levites slaughtered three thousand men at God's command through Moses - "killing his brother and friend and neighbor" (New International Version). God then blessed the priestly killers and got rid of the rest of the "sinners," presumably the women and children, by visiting them with a plague.
My impulse is to ignore all of this, like Cecil B. did, and turn it into a quasi-supernatural event. But that would do a disservice to my daughter's intellect (and, after all, these books are being written for her). I'm finding that I will have to figure out my stance on the entire Bible before I go very much further with the first draft of Trek to Sinai. Otherwise, I'll be wandering in the desert without a map.