Should we assume there was a practice of killing the ‘firstborn’ among the peoples with whom the Israelites lived?

2 Kings 3:27:  “Then he took his firstborn son who was to succeed him, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall.”

But obviously Yahweh was opposed to this practice of child sacrifice:

Ezekiel 20:26:  “I defiled them through their very gifts, in their offering up all their firstborn, in order that I might horrify them, so that they might know that I am the Lord.”

Ezekiel 20:31: “When you offer your gifts and make your children pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day.”

Micah 6:7:  “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Ezekiel 16:20-21:  “You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. As if your whorings were not enough!  You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering to them.”

Ezekiel 16:36:  “because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them.”

Recall that Yahweh refused the human sacrifice by Abraham of his firstborn son (Genesis 22).

And yet while Yahweh disapproved of child sacrifice, nevertheless this imagery of killing the firstborn is firmly entrenched in the Hebrew Bible, and continues on into the New Testament, as if Yahweh, the Almighty God actually had some interest in who was born first and ‘He’ had some need for their blood.

Exodus 12:29

[ The Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborn ] “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.

But the Pharaoh himself was not a firstborn??

Exodus 13:15

When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’”

This notion of ‘redeeming’ a firstborn son is a vast improvement over killing him, but still retains the idea that Yahweh is a murderous demon who craves firstborn blood, therefore, the need to ‘redeem.’

Could this killing of the firstborn have had a survival benefit to a tribe as a whole during times of crisis when there was not enough food?  Better to reduce the number of mouths to feed, especially those who might be old enough to snitch food from the parents’ food stores?  Of course no child should be killed regardless of benefit to the tribe as a whole.

Despite refusing to kill their own firstborn, the Levites nevertheless used this firstborn imagery to trick the Hebrew tribes into paying a tax.  First the Levites took a census of all their own firstborn and then a census of all the other firstborn among the Hebrews.

Numbers 3:43

The total enrollment, all the firstborn [non-Levite] males from a month old and upward, counting the number of names, was twenty-two thousand two hundred seventy-three.”

Numbers 3:45

Accept the Levites as substitutes for all the firstborn among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites as substitutes for their livestock; and the Levites shall be mine. I am the Lord.”

Supposedly there were 273 excess firstborn among the Israelites over and above the number of firstborn among the Levites, and so the tax was on these 273 excess firstborn.  Apparently, the Levites got paid this tax.  What a scam:

Numbers 3:46

As the price of redemption of the two hundred seventy-three of the firstborn of the Israelites, over and above the number of the Levites,”

Numbers 3:50

from the firstborn of the Israelites he took the money, one thousand three hundred sixty-five shekels, reckoned by the shekel of the sanctuary;”

It is even more of a scam when you do the math and realize that the number of Levite firstborn is actually at least 22,300, not 22,000 as stated, and more than covers the number of other Israelite firstborn which is 22,273.  The 22,300 does not include those who camp on the ‘east,’ the families of Moses and Aaron who are also presumably Levites (Exodus 4:14, Numbers 3:38), thus a higher number is indicated than 22,300.

The figures in Numbers 3 for the firstborn Levite census are in error because the numbers don’t even add up to the supposed total given there:  7,500 + 8,600 + 6,200 = 22,300, not 22,000 as stated.

The number 273 produces the Sower’s Sevens and so I have to ask if this tale about a tax on the firstborn is historical and factual, or merely an opportunity to produce “sacred numbers.”  Or merely the fictional foundation for other later practices, as we can see in Luke, Jesus’ parents were required to take him to the Temple and pay for the sacrifice of two turtledoves (Luke 2:24), because Jesus was a ‘firstborn.’

Calculation for Sower’s Sevens

First break apart 273 into 200, 70, 3.  Then apply the Sower’s parables numbers 100-60-30 and reverse, as follows:

100 x 200 = 20,000

60 x 70 = 4,200

30 x 3 = 90

Sum of products = 24,290; factor 70


30 x 200 = 6,000

60 x 70 = 4,200

100 x 3 = 300

Sum of products = 10,500; factor 70

Sum of sums of products = 24,290 + 10,500 = 34,790; factor 70 x 7

The biblical “70 x 7” is printed in Matthew 18:22 (NRSV footnote).  The biblical “70 x 7” is also found printed in Genesis 4:24.  This “70 x 7” is the special number which often emerges when I apply the Sower’s Parables numbers.

This notion of ‘redeeming’ a firstborn or having a Levite substitute for a firstborn was perhaps somewhat embarrassing to the author of Wisdom who tries to justify it:

Wisdom 18:5

[ The Death of the Egyptian Firstborn ] “When they had resolved to kill the infants of your holy ones, and one child had been abandoned and rescued [Moses?], you in punishment took away a multitude of their children; and you destroyed them all together by a mighty flood.”

But actually Pharaoh did not succeed in killing the Hebrew boy babies because the midwives did not cooperate?? (Exodus 1)  So Pharaoh was punished for just trying.

Exodus 4:22-23 has the reasoning a bit differently:  “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son. I said to you, ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.’””

Have you noticed that in this supposedly historical account of the Pentateuch, the name of the Pharaoh is not mentioned?  At least I have not found it.  Moses and Aaron are named, but not their supposed adversary the Pharaoh?

It is puzzling that the number of Levite firstborn approximate the total for all other tribes combined.  Since all are descendants, supposedly, of the 12 brothers (and their wives), then why is one tribe approximately 50 percent, and not 1/12 (or 1/14 as there are 14 names for the “12 Tribes”).

Perhaps many of the Israelites did not participate in the census conducted by the Levites, as they figured it was not to their benefit to do so.

Maybe some of the Israelite ‘firstborn’ lied and said they were not firstborn, figuring it was to their benefit to do so.  Or lied and said the firstborn child was already lost.  What would you say if someone came snooping around your family asking who was firstborn and you knew there was a tradition among the locals of killing the firstborn?

Or perhaps the Levites were not actually part of the 12 tribes, only dominated them after acquiring them in a joining lost to history; the Levites being able to dominate because of their larger population.

Or perhaps the servitude of the 12 tribes predated the time of Moses significantly, and the Levites were a much larger percentage after the Exodus due to their being well-fed by the other tribes for a long time.

Or perhaps the Levites had purity regulations that prevented them from having large families and thus they had a greater percentage of ‘firstborn’ among them.

If the Levites constituted half the Hebrews, based on the tally of their firstborn, and if the number of all Israelite men that left Egypt was 600,000 (Exodus 12:37), and if the first census of Israelite men, without Levites, was 603,550 (Numbers 1:46), then the actual number of men who left Egypt, both Israelite and Levite, was twice that – 1.2 million??  Just asking.

Is it possible for 12 sons of Jacob, the forebears of the ’12 Tribes’ (and their wives) to spawn a people totaling 600,000 men or 1.2 million men in just 430 years (Exodus 12:40) – like 14 generations, if they were living in the fertile valley of the Nile and families were well-fed?  How many children on average in each family?  Just asking.  You’re welcome to do the math. I’m not going to attempt it here.

Could this supposed vast hoard of 600,000 men or 1.2 million men actually survive in the desert wilderness between Egypt and Palestine, by preying on the few indigenous people living in the desert or by raiding the surrounding towns or by eating miraculous ‘manna’ that fell from the sky?  Just asking.  Manna does not fall from the sky around here.  Just saying.

Jesus is a firstborn.

Hebrews 1:5-6:

“‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’”

Luke 2:7

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

In Luke 2, Jesus the firstborn is apparently ‘redeemed’ by a payment to the Temple, a sacrifice of two turtledoves or pigeons, but Jesus is ultimately killed as a blood sacrifice.  Seemingly a contradiction to have Jesus both redeemed and actually killed.

Luke 2:22-24

 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’”

The birds were not happy about this.  The Levites yes.  They got paid for the service and/or had pigeon pie.

Romans 8:29

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.”

Colossians 1:15

[ The Supremacy of Christ ] “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;”

Colossians 1:18

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”

Hebrews 12:23

and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,”:

Revelation 1:5

and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,”

My idea of God is that IT does not lust after the “blood” of the “firstborn,” nor does IT even care who is firstborn, neither favoring nor disfavoring by order of birth.

How very unfortunate that this very ancient idea of killing the firstborn, (that Yahweh generally did not approve of unless ‘He’ was the one doing the killing), continued on and still does continue on as the idea is retained and promoted by Christianity and its sacred texts.

Probably you don’t care unless you are a firstborn.

Who was the first person to image God in this way, saying God desires the blood of the firstborn?  Did this idol maker have mommy issues or older sister or older brother issues?  Maybe mommy liked firstborn older brother better – oh, oh.

I am not in favor of killing or redeeming or substituting or ‘designating as holy’ the “firstborn.”

NRSV used throughout

Posted May 15, 2018