Quran Day: The Cow 47-59 Recounts Exodus and God’s Relationship with the Israelites

Though there are an endless number of things to say about these verses, I’m going to go with two in particular: the first is the events recounted in Exodus and recalled here and the second is this notion of remembering.

What Comes from Exodus

Verse 49 begins a list of things that happened to the Israelites in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, the one that begins with the Israelites’ enslavement. God recounts how He saved the children of Israel from Egypt, parted the sea to aid their escape, communed with Moses, and how the Israelites made a calf, how God gave Moses the Book and Discernment (which I believe means the Bible and Prophecy, though instead of prophecy perhaps wisdom and [juris]prudence), how God sent manna and quails, etc.

Another hot topic in these sections is the Israelites’ disobedience (and they were so unruly between Egypt and Canaan that it’s a wonder they got anything – worse than bratty children in the backseat of a car!), and God’s continual mercy as he forgave them and still allowed them to go forward.

The Actual Bible in the Bible…and Then in the Quran

I would like to point out three things though. First, how it says that God gave Moses the Book. As I take this to mean the Bible, I must say that according to the Five Books of Moses, this didn’t happen. God didn’t give Moses a book (to read about Moses’ biblical authorship and the specifics of Deuteronomy’s mention of this, click HERE). Now, of course, this isn’t too important because the inherited tradition is that God did give Moses the Bible (or at least the beginning of it) so we’ll move on.

My Trouble with Verse 58

The second thing is verse 58, the one part of the events recounted (which admittedly seem to extend outside of Exodus), that I don’t understand or at least can’t match up to anything in the Bible. I don’t remember God ever saying that or anything like it to the Israelites, but perhaps it’s the Quran’s way of saying that God gave the Israelites every chance to go to Heaven (this great city?) and that they just had to do it a certain way and as the following verses showed, they just kept sinning and perverting God’s word.

It is fascinating that God tells the Israelites to repent in these verses because repentance and forgiveness by God were concepts entirely absent from ancient Israelite religion (that is, the religion reflected in Genesis, Exodus-Deuteronomy). I believe that forgiveness and repentance are very important concepts in Islam and so it’s interesting that in recounting ancient Israelite history, the Quran has God emphasizing the importance of repentance to the Israelites, though the concept was never there and doesn’t exist in that part of the Bible, beyond basic apologizing after the Golden Calf incident, but certainly not as a theological emphasis or doctrinal necessity.

Finally, though a quick summary, I would like to say that for the most part this section captures the gist of the Old Testament. God did the Israelites a lot of favors from Egypt forward, the Israelites treated God poorly and were totally ungrateful, and then throughout the Prophets the Israelites are accused, like verse 59 here, of perverting the word of God and being sinners. Thus, retribution was sent, ultimately for the Jews in the form of the Babylonian Exile.

Remembrance

The last thing I want to mention is the way many of these verses start, emphasizing “Remember.” This makes me think of the Passover holiday celebrated by Jews that is designed to make Jews remember the many things that God did for them. Jews recount the events so that they never forget what they owe God. That feeling, though obviously in brief, seems echoed here based on the interweaving of God’s great actions, mercy and forgiveness.

What do these verses make you think about? What can you add to our understanding of these verses? Is there any part of the summary of ancient Israelite history that you have trouble placing as a biblically recounted event?

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The Cow 47-59

47. Remember, O Children of Israel, the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 48. Take heed of the day when no man will be useful to man in the least, when no intercession matter nor ransom avail, nor help reach them. 49. Remember, We saved you from the Pharaoh’s people who wronged and oppressed you and slew your sons but spared your women: In this was a great favor from your Lord. 50. Remember, We parted the sea and saved you, and drowned the men of Pharaoh before your very eyes. 51. Yet, remember, as We communed with Moses for forty nights you took the calf in his absence (and worshiped it), and you did wrong. 52. Even so, We pardoned you that you may be grateful. 53. Remember, We gave Moses the Book and Discernment of falsehood and truth, that you may be guided. 54. Remember, Moses said: “My people, by taking this calf you have done yourselves harm, so now turn to your Creator in repentance, and kill your pride, which is better with your Lord.” And (the Lord) softened towards you, for He is all-forgiving and merciful. 55. Remember, when you said to Moses: “We shall not believe in you until we see God face to face,” lightening struck you as you looked. 56. Even then We revived you after you had become senseless that you might give thanks; 57. And made the cloud spread shade over you, and sent for you manna and quails that you may eat of the good things We have made for you. No harm was done to Us, they only harmed themselves. 58. And remember, We said to you: “Enter this city, eat wherever you like, as much as you please, but pass through the gates in humility and say: ‘May our sins be forgiven.'” We shall forgive your trespasses and give those who do good abundance. 59. But the wicked changed and perverted the word We had spoken to a word distorted, and We sent from heaven retribution on the wicked, for they disobeyed.

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Cartman Takes to the Pulpit in “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?”

I’m not sure if Comedy Central is just trying to delight me and my senses these days or if it’s just a coincidence that great religious episode after great religious episode seems to be on. Actually, it reminds me of how many episodes in which South Park focuses on religion. And tonight’s episode is 410, “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?”

The show begins with Father Maxi preaching fiery brimstone and damnation to his congregation after catching the boys behaving poorly in church. By scaring them into going to Sunday School where they can prepare for their first communion by taking their first confession, Father Maxi ends up filling the boys with all sorts of theological diatribe that they can’t seem to shake.

Concerned by what they’ve heard, Cartman, Stan, Kenny and the other boys try to save their friends who might otherwise be destined for Hell – Timmy, for instance, who can’t say more than his own name, much less confess. Oh, and obviously Kyle. Father Maxi’s ill intentions are best demonstrated when he quotes the Bible to tell Kyle he’s going to Hell but actually quotes from a passage that doesn’t mention anything about the Jews. It is also clear that all he cares about is greater church attendance.

Realizing that it is the Bible from which both the priest and the church’s sister, Sister Anne, draw their authority when making their bold assertions about going to Hell, the boys begin to fear the power of this book. That is, until Father Maxi is caught having sex in the confessional booths and ousted by the children, only to have Cartman take up the pulpit in his place, determined to save the souls of all of South Park’s children. You can’t miss the conclusion of this two-part episode, “Probably,” tomorrow night.

The reason I love this episode is multi-fold, but two issues in particular are its treatment of theology and the Bible. The Bible is used as a source of authority – almost the source of authority – and it’s only by getting a hold of it that Cartman’s power can actually take shape. We see him mimic the terrible lessons he’s learned from his Church: how to wield undeserved and unjust authority through threats and coercion.

Second is the use of theology. When the boys are taught theology as children, they are simply confused. Communion is illogical to them because the notion that crackers and wine really become Jesus’ body suggests that Jesus was made of crackers and wine. They approach these issues like children: skeptical and curious. Why? Why? Why? they ask. In typical dogmatic fashion, they are told, because the Bible says so, because that’s the way it is, and stop bothering me or you’re going to Hell.

And then there’s so much more.

To read up on tonight’s other episode, “Fantastic Easter Special,”  click HERE. Click HERE to read about other South Park episodes.

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Interview with Ex-cult Member, Tifany

I’d like to introduce everyone to Tifany Lee. Tifany is currently a musician preparing to record her third album. You can check out the first two at her MySpace page or her website tifanylee.com and look forward to the third. She is also the editor of Heroine Magazine, an excellent publication that she is bringing in part to her new blog at tifanylee.wordpress.com. Tifany’s fascinating experiences in a cult make her this week’s guest blogger. I hope that you enjoy what she has to share with us and take the opportunity to ask her questions about whatever you’d like. Without further ado…

What’s the name of the cult you joined?
Trob (The Realization of Being)

How old were you when you joined?
19

Why did you join?
I was a freshman in college at University of Washington freaking out about what I was going to do with my life. I had made some questionable decisions and my romances had failed miserably. My sister was having issues of her own – my mother had taken her to a medical doctor and a shrink to no avail. I told her about the mother of my best friend who I had known since middle school and a strange school that she ran. I suggested she try that as a last resort. When I came home for the summer a month later, my sister was transformed. She was completely over the crisis, but more than that, she was happy. And she had never been happy her whole life. She was always kind of mopey. But now she was confident and friendly and I was sold immediately. I started the work and became a more focused student than my sister ever was; she would touch in from time to time after that.

What did the cult offer you that your life wasn’t giving you?
Meaning, purpose.

Did the cult fulfill its promises?
Yes, for a while.

How long were you in the cult and why did you leave?
I was there for 11 years, till I was 31. Then, the founder had a stroke and her right-hand woman – the president of the school – began to make accusations about the founder. There was a fight for power and it left me sick to my stomach. It was a positive thinking cult with a dash of scare-you-with-the-devil kind of stuff and she started to accuse the founder of being manipulative. Actually, evil. She told us that we had been a cult all along. This infuriated me. I had defended the school to everyone in my life for not being a cult. It took me a month to sneak out because I had so many responsibilities at the school, but when I finally did, a mass exodus occurred. I had been kind of the star of the school. I was going to make the school famous when I became famous – that’s what they told me and believed. I read cult recovery books that say that members rarely get out. People escape if one of three things happen: an authority figure dies or gets sick, there is a power struggle, and something else that I forgot because it didn’t pertain to me. I recognized the cult tactics on every page: public humiliation to break you, build you back up with their ideals. It’s kind of like building a robot. I think our cult was a mild version – we weren’t physically sequestered from society we were only encouraged to have relationships that didn’t interfere with the school. It was all hidden behind a veil of love and support. That’s how it was all done – with love.

Do you still feel that certain things are missing in your life that the cult claimed it would have given you?
It was a miserable failure. I have spent the last years repairing the rift with my family who, though they never threw me out of the family or anything like that, thought I would never leave the cult – ever. But I did find my music there. I’m not sure if I would’ve ever written a song if I wasn’t in the mindset of being free to live any dream I wanted. And the president worked tirelessly to make me a better performer and made me take risks that, while they were for the good of the cult only, I marvel at now. I wrote, produced and starred in the biggest fundraisers for the school – these improv musicals that we ran at 7 Stages, 14th street playhouse, the woodruff arts center. we would rent them out and run ads on the radio and in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and pack the house. So, I have a strange gratitude. My struggle with my work now is that everything I did back then was steeped in the teachings and now I struggle with what I believe in.

How many people were in the cult? Was it local, national?
It was based in Atlanta with international students – my sister is in Brazil until she quit several years before I did, there were a few Hong Kong students, French, people scattered across the States, but for the most part it was Atlanta. There were about 500 peripheral students, and 40 hardcore, of which I was one. It was a fast growing organization several years before I arrived – they were renting out the civic center for events with messages of positive thinking and had about 2000 students. Until the president/my best friend’s mom became a leader and introduced reasons why people were not getting what they want. The founder said “you are a precious adorable angel” and deserve to have whatever you want. The President introduced psychology with the Devil as to why people didn’t materialize things.

Did the cult had a particular leader? Was this person particularly charismatic?
They were the sweetest people I had ever met.

Did the cult have weird doctrines and teachings?
Pretty standard stuff for a cult – we approve if you follow us and you are evil if you disagree. The bulk of the work was all the positive thinking stuff that Oprah is covering lately. I guess you could call it the re-packaged brand of bullshit that all religion has been peddling since the beginning of time.

Were there any doctrines about end-times?
My best friend (who was also the resident reincarnation of Satan because she always spoke her mind) took the revelations class where they studied revelations in the new testament but she didn’t understand much and it caused her anxiety about dying.

Do you think that the people who began the cult did so out of conviction or to manipulate others?
Absolutely not. And I still feel that the founder is sweet and true. I think that either the president got drunk on her power over other people’s lives or she went crazy. or maybe she was crazy. She believes everything to this day and touts herself as a life coach on the internet, riding on other people’s success. One of her students – the Hong Kong one – made millions of dollars over the years so the president gets the credit.

Did you have to pay to be in the cult or give up anything like contact with friends and family?

You had to pay for privates (one on one sessions – the most coveted and expensive way to learn), the group classes. There was the 7 emotional attachments that you had to let go to be free and then you could move on to the advance classes when J or L got the word from God. We all could talk to God but we all trusted J and L more when they listened. And you were expected to tithe, of course. I bartered most of the time I was there – I helped out in the office. My duties as teacher (I taught the children and teen classes) and producer were volunteer.

Are you a religious person? How so?
I have never been a religious person. I was baptized Presbyterian because my Ma liked the idea of predestination. But my parents aren’t religious either (though my Ma is falling into a primitive Baptist cult now).

Do you believe in God?
I did while I was in the cult, very much so. Before and after that, not so much. It was comforting when I believed that he was there. But my belief evaporated. It materialized and evaporated almost on its own.

Are you a spiritual person? How so?
I have been searching since adolescence. I explored my Cherokee background and learned about the Native American way of life – my 2nd cousin is a medicine woman and named me. I got into new age stuff after that – crystals, tarot, drugs have been a spiritual journey for me.

What else can you share with us about the experience of being a cult?
When I got out of the cult I saw how much everything is a cult. Everything we choose to identify with shapes our thinking. This war seems absurd to me because it is just cults fighting cults. But I do know the power of faith and what lengths a person can be manipulated to – there is no limit. The most hope I see in the present is that the person who wrote the manifesto for Al Qaeda has renounced his belief that violence is the answer – literally the guy who wrote the book. I forget his name damnit. When I read that I knew that Al Qaeda’s time is limited. It will be destroyed from within; maybe that’s the only way.

What advice would you offer others about being in a cult?
Think for yourself.

What did you think about South Park‘s Super Best Friends episode?

The Super Best Friends episode was obviously a take on Scientology and the weird alien where everybody killed themselves. But, surprisingly close in the premise at the beginning – tell people they’re unhappy (not really hard to convince them in the first place) and then don’t let them leave without talking for it so long
that they get tired of arguing and decide to stay.
Of the super best friends – the mormon dude? Really? He’s a cult leader, or at least I always thought so. In that case, David Blaine will soon join the superprophets. The joke they made about Buddha not believing in
evil – funny, and true. I most identify with Buddhism after leaving the cult because they don’t really believe in God either. It’s kind of like 6 of this, half dozen of the other – so ambiguous that it can never be wrong.