18 July 2017

Cozbi: Pierced

Numbers 25

I am pierced
for my transgressions,
pierced by your spear
and your holy zeal.
I am your atonement sacrifice,
human blood to quell the wrath
of the angry deity.
My death buys an end
to suffering and plague,
my sinner's sinful death
in forbidden embrace,
in the midst of the act
that brought this disgrace.

I am pierced
for my transgressions,
your human sacrifice.
You have killed the sinner
to end the sin,
killed the guilty
to free from the curse.
Now your violence
bears the blessing of peace,
the seal of approval
from your god.
Now your line
is a line of promise:
eternal priesthood -
forever like this.

And they will wonder and speculate
that He Who Will Come will come from you,
that He Who Will Come will be like you,
eternal priest,
burning with zeal.
And they will wonder and speculate
and look for another Phinehas
who takes the spear
and with one good thrust
rids the world of godlessness,
cleans the world from sin at last.

Will they then look
upon the one they pierced,
for our transgressions?
The one who did not wield the spear
but had it thrust into his side
till blood and water came spilling out;
the one whose zeal
was not spelled out in violence
but in death and suffering;
the one whose victory over sin
was not won by killing sinners
but by self-sacrificing love?

Will they see
their God
at the hands of the Phinehas' of this world,
at the hands of holy zeal,
their God,
a sinner pierced for blasphemy?

for our transgressions,
pierced by our spear
of holy zeal.
God, our atonement sacrifice
to appease an angry humanity.
God, not an angry deity,
but love
by our hate,
a mirror to wake
a dreaming world,
break our spears
and forgive.


[18. July 2017]

Cozbi was a Midianite woman, likely a temple prostitute. Israel on the way through the desert encountered Moabites and Midianites and started worshipping their god/s (Baal Peor) and getting involved with their women (a big deal in a culture where religion is passed on through the mother). As a consequence, there was a plague, from which many people died.
Phinehas, a descendant of the high priest Aaron, killed Cozbi together with her Israelite husband / lover (apparently "in the act" so they were both pierced through - as in the picture above). The text describes this as "atonement". The plague ends after this.

It's a somewhat weird story - and not a very comfortable one, in my opinion. The killing of Cozbi and the man, Zimri, is like a "human sacrifice" appeasing God. Phinehas is lauded for what he did, his action receives a godly "stamp of approval", he receives blessing and promise, in fact a very similar promise to what David received. David was given a promise of "eternal kingship", Phinehas one of "eternal priesthood" (v.13).

While researching my Master thesis about the genealogy of Jesus, I came across all sorts of interesting Messiah theories from the centuries before Jesus. There was a strong tradition expecting the Messiah to come from the line of David, be another David or Solomon, a "King-Messiah". Another tradition believed in a Messiah from the line of Levi, a "Priest-Messiah" (either the same person or a second Messiah in addition to the Davidic one). Because of the promise to Phinehas in Numbers 25, there was a line of thought that expected a "Priest-Messiah" in the pattern of Phinehas. In general, Messiah expectations were not very unlike Phinehas. Especially during the time Israel was under the Greeks (and later the Romans), with foreign religions encroaching, there was a tendency to hope for a powerful "military" Messiah who would with force remove the "godless", non-believers, sinners etc.

So I find it very interesting that Jesus is very different from Phinehas - and Jesus' "atonement sacrifice" is very different from this "sacrifice" of Cozbi and Zimri. Jesus does not kill sinners with "holy zeal" - instead He actually ends up killed by the "holy zeal" of the religious leaders who name Him a blasphemer. Jesus is the one who ends up pierced with a spear (reference to John 19). I believe the concept of "penal substitution atonement" is wrong: God is not an angry god to be appeased. In Taiwan where I grew up, the ones needing appeasing were the ghosts and demons - and my God is not a demon. Jesus' death, the way I understand it when I read the Bible, is not to "appease God" because Jesus is God, as part of the trinity. Jesus is God showing us that God is different, that God is not an angry god needing appeasement. In fact Jesus' death shows us that it is us human beings who are looking for blood and violent solutions. I believe Jesus' death shows us the dangers of "holy zeal" going so far as to kill God Himself. Jesus did not die to appease God - we killed Him to appease our own lust for violent solutions. And the power in Jesus' death is that God does not react with revenge and punishment to the greatest sin of all (the murder of God), but with forgiveness - and that is the point from which we can change, from which we can forgive and reconcile and become more like Him.

Read Numbers how you will - I choose to read it through the lens of the Gospels, through the story of Jesus. I don't want to "sanctify" Cozbi here; we really don't know enough of her story. But what I did realise last time I read this story was that we have someone pierced by a spear here - and we have someone pierced by a spear in the Gospels. And it was expected that the Messiah would be the one wielding the spear and piercing sinners - like Phinehas. But what really happened was that the Messiah took the position of Cozbi and Zimri, the "sinners", and let Himself be pierced. And that made me think and I hope it makes you think too. :-) I find such things very fascinating to think about.

Quick word about my "hermeneutic" here: I believe the Bible is given to us by God and is inspired, that it is full of wonderful and important things to learn. At the same time, I believe that God chose to reveal Himself and all these truths through human beings who were tied to their own time and culture. This does not mean we shouldn't take the Bible seriously, or that we can't ever hope to understand the Bible. My answer to this issue is to on the one hand try to understand the original culture at least a little bit - I read into background culture things a lot while doing this challenge, because especially women's issues in the Bible are very hard to understand without some idea of the patriarchal culture the Bible was written in - on the other hand, to have a place to read the Bible from. For me, that is Jesus and the Gospels - I read the whole Bible through that lens. Which means that if something - like this story of Cozbi and Phinehas - does not fit with the idea of God given to us by Jesus, then I don't throw it out the window but ask myself what God shows me through this difference. Which is what I did in this poem... If we read this without Jesus, we could conclude that religious violence is okay - and it has been read like this in the past, to horrid effect. I believe we need to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, if we want to understand it properly.

(Feel free to ask and challenge me on this bit. This has been my hermeneutic for the past few years. It has meant taking seriously the fact that there are problematic texts in the Bible, that there are texts that have been used in a very problematic way in the past, while at the same time loving and respecting the Bible as given to us by God.)

No comments:

Post a Comment