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I've Got the Golden Hemorrhoids
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Ever since the war broke out, I’ve been thinking endlessly about Gaza. Basically, I’m horrified by every aspect of this catastrophe. Innocent people are dying. It’s getting worse.
In a total coincidence, the story I’ve been working on is about that same small stretch of the world. It’s also about war. Gaza itself even makes a brief appearance. But, again, this is a total coincidence, just the next weird/awful thing that happens in the Book of Samuel.
Let’s recap what our heroes were up to when we saw them last:
Eli, elderly high priest, fell off his chair and died.
His stupid boys Hophni and Pinchas got killed with swords. It happened when they dragged the Ark of the Covenant into battle versus the Philistines.
Samuel meanwhile has been wandering around Israel, angrily prophesying against Eli and his clan.
God is chilling.
And the Philistines, victorious over Israel, have the ark. That’s where we pick our story up.
• • •
When the battle’s over and the bodies stacked, the Philistines have no idea what to do with the ark. They can’t give it back—not after Israel’s two dumbest priests carried it into battle, hoping to goad God into the fight against the Philistines. Now their holy box has been captured and Eli’s idiot sons are dead. Ha, the Philistines say to that. Haha, indeed.
But nobody knows what to do with that ark. It’s a dangerous situation.
At this time, Israel is a network of hilltop bumpkins, farmers and shepherds led by priests and tribal thugs. The Philistines are merchants, metalworkers, and traders. They have an actual government with a standing army. They are in contact with other cultures. Israel is, mostly, in contact with goats. Israel’s army is an assortment of guys who are too violent for farming and can’t be trusted behind sheep. They don’t scare the Philistines at all.
The Hebrew god, however, is nothing to mess with. Neither is His ark. The Israelites circled Jericho seven times with it, and God, you might recall, brought those walls tumblin’ down. The Philistines would prefer their walls to keep standin’ up.
The Ark of the Covenant is weird and gold. What’s in it? I don’t know, nobody does. It’s topped by two winged cherubs. Between the cherubs is an empty space. Don’t look too hard into that empty space. You don’t know what you’ll see. You don’t know if you’ll like it. Care must be taken.
“Oh I don’t know, stick it in a temple,” the Philistine priests finally decide.
They bring it to Ashdod. Today, Ashdod is an Israeli city just up the coast from Gaza. Back then it was a major settlement, one of five major Philistinian cities.
They place the ark in the Temple of Dagon—their chief god. They place it directly below a humongous status of mighty Dagon. It’s respectful, a statement piece.
OK, maybe below their god isn’t so respectful. Whatever. War isn’t nice, they say.
The Philistines leave the temple that night. Nighty-night, Dagon. But when they return to the temple in the morning, the statue of Dagon has toppled.
It’s lying on the ground, and the way it fell, it actually kinda looks as if Dagon is bowing down to the ark.
Hahaha! The priests of Dagon laugh. How funny. A big wind must have blown through. Let’s all be more careful, who’s running this temple!, etc. They pick up Dagon and go about their daily rites.
When evening comes, the last priest smooches Dagon a goodnight kiss and turns out the lights.
The next morning, the statue of Dagon has toppled again. This time, somehow Dagon’s head and both his hands are chopped off. Not broken; chopped off. Dagon’s made of solid stone, but it’s as if someone cut the limbs cleanly, like they were butchering soft flesh with a blade.
Well, the priests of Ashdod say, how about we don’t tell anybody about this? How about we keep it a secret? They put yellow tape across the entrance of the temple. Sorry—closed for non-Dagon repairs.
This is probably when the Philistines should’ve given the ark back. OK, so they won it fair and square—not all prizes are meant to be kept. But they didn’t return it, they held on to the ark.
Get ready for some crazy shit.
First, a huge wave of mice overrun the city. Then the citizens of Ashdod start feeling…itching, swelling, bleeding. All in the same place. I’m trying to be a bit polite here.
In the privacy of their homes, the people of Ashdod discover, to their horror, that they had been afflicted en masse with an Angry God-sized case of hemorrhoids.
And far up above, in Heaven, the God of the Israelites refills His Glorious Bowl of Popcorn and takes a Mighty Sip from His Delightful Cup. The show has begun.
I should mention: not everybody translates the Hebrew as “hemorrhoids.” The reasons for this will become clearer as the story goes on. Some suggest that what afflicted the Philistines of Ashdod was actually Bubonic plague. If so, the rectal bleeding, inflammation, pain, etc., was in fact caused by buboes, the painful swellings that appear in the thighs, armpits, rectum or groin before you drop dead in medieval Europe. Or, I guess, ancient Palestine.
Hemorrhoids or plague, it sucks, and pretty soon the elders of Ashdod have had enough. They gather their leaders, priests, scribes, their Professors of Israelite Studies in a room. They are all standing up, some are moaning, everybody’s barely holding it together as they lean on the walls and attempt to think.
“This is a delicate situation,” says the Israelite Studies scholar. “The theurgical properties of the Ark are well known, and certain ancient texts testify to its potential to wreck havoc if those not deemed ‘pure’ in the eyes of YHWH come in contact with it. We should consider a reciprocal solution to this crisis that invites the Israelites to join a process with a viable path forward towards peaceful coexistence.”
“No more talking,” says a large warlord. “Or I shove this sword down your throat. Swear to Dagon, I will do this in front of everyone.”
“Coexistence? I have a better idea,” says the governor of Ashdod. He shares his plan, which is no great shakes but all he can think of, given the swelling.
That night, under the cover of darkness, the leaders of Ashdod remove the Ark of the Covenant from their temple. They bring it to Gath, another large Philistine city, and leave it there, running away as fast as they can. Under the circumstances, “running” is generous. Honestly, it’s more of a waddle.
In the morning, the as-yet-rectally-sound citizens of Gath are surprised to learn that they have been “gifted” the Hebrew ark. This “gift” comes with an outbreak of mice. After that, the inflammation, bleeding, burning, etc. Explosive pain straight out of their rear ends. I am trying my hardest to handle this tastefully, and I hope you creeps appreciate that I haven’t said “ass” even once, until just now.
• • •
The five great Philistine cities at this time are Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. To their credit, the leaders of Gath are quicker on the uptake than their buddies in Ashdod had been. Almost immediately, several residents of Gath waddle into the city of Ekron, carrying the Ark of the Covenant—then leave, laughing with relief.
In the morning, the citizens of Ekron are horrified to find the Ark of the Covenant in their possession. They’ve heard the rumors. They know all about the mice and inflammation. Well, enough is enough. The leaders of Ekron call for a meeting of all the cities, including Ashkelon and Gaza, who so far have not been stuck with the ark. Philistines need to stick together at a time like this. They must come up with a plan that is better than “continuously take turns getting divine hemorrhoids.”
The Philistines call their priests, prophets, and sorcerers into one magical room. At some point this stopped being a purely military matter. There is glitter on the table and all the sorcerers are wearing floppy Dumbledore hats.
“Tell us what will keep the goddamn god of the Israelites happy,” the generals demand from their hippie freaks. “Tell us what He wants us to do with his magic box. The People are in pain, ass-pain, severe ass-pain. Or dying of plague? We just need this to be finished already. We’ll do whatever this crazy Hebrew god wants.”
The priests and magicians confer for several hours. When they open the door to invite the leaders back in, confetti accidentally comes flying out a magician’s sleeve.
“Whoops,” he says to a large warlord with angry eyes and a weapon in his hand.
“We have searched Ancient Texts and Hebraic Legends,” says the top priest. “We were also lucky enough to draw on the experience and knowledge of the Arnie Gold Endowed Chair of Israelite Studies, who joined our conference.” (The professor smiles and gives a subtle nod.)
“Talk faster,” says the warlord.
“Of course, we should return the ark,” the priest says. “But if we send it back empty-handed, we believe the plague will just continue. Their God is not easily appeased. We must pay tribute.”
Everybody understands. So far so good.
“What is the tribute?”
“Five golden hemorrhoids,” says the priest. “And five golden mice. One for each of our great cities.”
And while the warlords scratch their beards, that goddamn confetti cannon accidentally goes off again, giving everyone a real shock.
• • •
Now, you or I may find this confounding. Golden mice, fine. Golden hemorrhoids? You might reasonably wonder, what the fuck is that? What the fuck is a golden hemorrhoid?
I have no idea. So maybe it’s not hemorrhoids. Maybe it is Bubonic plague. In that case, they were tasked with sending the ark back with five golden plague buboes. Still other people say that they’re golden tumors. As if that’s better. As if any of this makes any fucking sense.
Maybe this is abstract art. Maybe they sent back five modernist globs that somehow represented the idea of hemorrhoids. Or maybe they were dead-accurate physical representations? I really have no clue. It’s all nuts.
Whatever, though. This is what the priests require, so whatever the fuck this stuff was, that’s what they made for this vengeful but eccentric Israelite deity.
When the spiritual men get their golden things, they load them in a cart. They remove the ark from Ekron and place it in the cart. Time to send it home.
They get two milk cows and snatch away their calves. This distresses the mothers. Their udders full, the cows are latched to each other and yoked to the cart.
The cows walk that path, lowing as they go. They are angry, aching, confused. They don’t like the feel of this. Mooooo. Yet something compels them down the path.
The path leads to Beit Shemesh. When they get to Beit Shemesh, the Israelites will rejoice the return of the ark. But anything that touches or lifts the ark becomes holy and needs to be sacrificed. The cart will be chopped to bits, and the two cows will be slaughtered and burned.
This won’t end well for the cows, but they walk on.
The Philistines anxiously watch the cows from a distance, their butts improving by the minute.
Elsewhere, the prophet Samuel has gotten word that the ark is on its way home. He gets to work. The Philistines destroyed Shiloh, the previous temple, in the last battle. The Israelites are going to have to figure out what to do with their ark.
And still those cows, full of milk and dread, keep walking down the path. They’re locked one with the other. No way out now. Increasingly panicked, they long for their calves, but still can’t stop moving closer and closer to what surely will be their final destination.