This is me, Eccles

This is me, Eccles
This is me, Eccles

Saturday, 11 May 2013


So we reach Chapter 4 in the Eccles Bible project, explaining the Bible in simple terms to an atheist called Richard who is trying to get to grips with theology. We have already seen Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus.


This is not really what the Book of Numbers is about.

Still, some numbers do appear in the book of that name: Moses starts off by counting his people, and comes up with a total of 603,550 men over the age of 20, fit for military service (they are expecting trouble, then...). Rather a lot, really. I had always thought in terms of a smallish flock, but here we have something like the population of Glasgow - since the women and children are presumably not included in this figure.

children of Glasgow

Some of the Children of Glasgow prepare for a fight.

Anyway, once the census is over, there are various adventures in the desert. The Levites play a prominent part, as people of that tribe don't do military service, but are reserved for religious duties - perhaps a bit hard on those who wanted to become chartered accountants or manufacturers of jeans.

For about forty years, the people of Israel - who are chosen by God, although they don't really find out why until much later - wander in the desert, and most of this takes place in the book of Numbers. Aaron will die, and Moses will be told that he also cannot go into the promised land.

It's not really important, except as a nice story, but let's mention Balaam and his talking donkey. Balaam wants to go and curse the Israelites, because Balak the King of Moab asked him to. But an angel stops him.

Balaam and his donkey

Balaam's donkey sees the angel, and gets hit as a result.

So basically, the people of Israel are under God's protection. This makes them very unpopular with the hosts of Midian, whom they basically decide to massacre. Not to mention the Canaanites. Not to mention Stephen Hawking.


Stephen Hawking - sticking up for the Midianites.

Richard, old fruit, I know you're distinctly unhappy with this bit of the Bible. Why is a loving God telling the Israelites to kill people? Even evil people, who indulged in things like prostitution, abortion, and same-sex marriage? Why, aren't we lucky that we don't do things like that ourselves, eh? We might be in deep trouble!


I don't think a caption is needed...

All right, so basically the Israelites are going to do God's will, and as a result they will get preferential treatment. We have one more book of the Pentateuch/Torah to go (i.e., Deuteronomy), and this will see us through to the end of Moses.

Moses and the bronze snake

Moses and the bronze snake (Numbers 21) - an early homeopathic cure for snake-bite.

A note on the text: apparently, in Chapter 10 the author uses a rare glyph called an inverted nun. Since these are so rare, let's have a photo.

inverted nun

An inverted nun.


  1. Dear Sir,

    The episode involving Balaam is not "a nice story". It involves donkey abuse and gives the wrong signals to people who want to adopt methods of sustainable transport, and also encourages road traffic disruption by delinquent angels.

    Yours, after a half-decent bottle of Marquis de Elche,
    Disgusted of Benidorm

    1. It is clear that the poor young inverted nun with the funny eyebrows was thrown from that delinquent donkey.

    2. I am revolted that any Catholic should stoop so low as to drink any such vile and horrible muck !!!

      Yours, after an unmentionable bottle of cheap Cahors,

      Fist-shaker of Monte-Carlo

  2. darling eccles, wot about de horizontally flipped nun? xx Jess

  3. Well, as we were taught in kindergarten ‘vertical nuns’ comes in three forms - called congregations - vertically flipped, horizontally flipped and Z-shaped.

    We know that Pope Francis prefers the third form - which he refers to as ‘zitelle’.

    But that shouldn’t bother us as eventually they all become horizontal anyway…