Sunday, November 9, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 25

When metaphor

turn tangible

can you beat it

with a stick?

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter is both a continuation of the previous chapter--and the most abrupt of breaks. We move from eschatology to scatology; from grand visions of a star in the future, to an orgy of here and now. The "nation that dwells alone" "joins" Baal Peor, and "sticks to the daughters of Moab."
It is a jarring shift. Yet lexically, the chapters flow smoothly. Balaam stood by "Peor", and now Israel joins Peor, triggering the last of the "flaring anger" (va-yihar aff) of this story: We begin with God being "flaring angry" at Balaam; then Balaam gets "flaring angry" at his ass; Balak gets "flaring angry" at Balaam (and interesting comment on the nature of the Balak-Balaam relation); and now we return  to the beginning, with God "flaring angry" at Israel. It seems that somehow Balaam has achieved Balak's objective, All the ill-wishing gazing from the highs of Peor has somehow brought to the very destruction that the gazing was meant to achieve. 
If this book has allowed an ever-growing complex relationship with speech, reaching its apogee with the hilltop blessing of the previous chapter, we now return to the wordless "weeping" that followed in the wake of the spies "evil report."
What is more, the solution to the flaring anger seems very anti the growing complexity of speech. A crude physical blow such as the type the doomed Moses,
It seems connected to the complete intertwining of harlotry (znut) and idolatry that open this chapter: "and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto the Baal of Peor." Here is a literalization of the dire  warning in Exodus 34 "lest you commit harlotry (znut) with their gods and do sacrifice unto their gods, and they call you, and you eat...and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters commit harlotry (znut) their gods."
In Exodus, prostitution and idolatry are intertwined; desiring "the daughter" leads directly to "following the gods." Throughout Leviticus and the beginning of Numbers, the literal becomes more metaphorical, and every kind of insistent "straying" is "harlotry." But here the metaphor collapses, tenor and vehicle becoming one. Which is the straying, which is the idolatry?
The answer to that seems another collapsed metaphor. No more does the priest perform elaborate symbolic rituals of purificationInstead, Pinhas takes the phallic spear and thrusts it (with almost ridiculous literalness) into the feminine tent (kuba) which is also a female womb (kubata). 
We being language back to earth. Painfully literalized...]

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