Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Men Decorate the Porta-Temple: Numbers 7 - 8:4

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary sponsored by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Remember how the men and women were invited to contribute supplies for the new porta-temple? No longer!

(The Bible variously refers to the Hebrews' magic travelling church as a "tabernacle," a "Tent of Meeting," etc. I'm calling it the porta-temple for brevity because that's what it was: a temple that was portable.)

In Numbers 7, Moses has finished building the porta-temple. Usually you throw open your new home for an open house, but obviously you can't do that with the porta-temple because it's sacred ground, so instead Moses asks for another round of donations. These ones are presented exclusively by "the Israelite leaders," one from each of the tribes. The festivities begin with a presentation of six carts of various goods, which moses gives to the Levites. Actually, only some of the Levites; the Kohathites don't get any of the goodies, because they are already responsible for carrying the most sacred relics, like the Ark of the Covenant, and Moses doesn't want them to strain their backs too much. (This is a strange notion when you think about it, because in theory there are several thousand men in each Levite clan.)

The rest of chapter 7 is a pointlessly elitist ode to the generosity of all the Israelite leaders, listing in excruciating detail the precise donations given by each man. To give you an example, Eliasaph of God donates a large silver plate, a silver bowl, a gold incense bowl, a bull, six rams, six lambs, six goats, and two oxen.

Now, I've made it actually sound more interesting than it really is, because these men are actually presenting the same gifts, but the Bible, always keen to avoid giving offence through lack of detail, helpfully provides a full list twelve times over.

God seems pleased enough with the offerings - and for good measure, the Bible lists them all for a thirteenth time, in case you missed any the first twelve times through. I don't know. How pleased would you be if everyone came to your housewarming party and gave you the same gift?