A Catholic reads the Bible, week 8: Uncomfortably numbed by Numbers

The Book of Numbers:  Is the name a misnomer?

Story highlights

  • Laura Bernardini likes numbers. The Book of Numbers? That's a different story.
  • She says Numbers reads like an extension of the many rules found in Leviticus

Laura Bernardini is director of coverage in CNN's Washington Bureau. The views expressed in this column belong to Bernardini.

Laura Bernardini

(CNN)This is week eight of an ongoing series: A Catholic Reads the Bible. Read week one, week two and week three.

This weekend, I ran a leg of the Vermont City Marathon. I hadn't really trained and didn't want to do it. But I had promised my sister Julia I would run. I had to honor that, even if I wasn't ready.
That is how I feel about Book of Numbers.
    Because I promised to read every word of the Bible this year, I am trudging through this book, just as the Israelites wandered the desert waiting to get to the Promise Land. In a way, we're both in the same spot: A little dry, a little dusty, mainly waiting for what's next.
    I will stay course, but to be completely honest: The Book of Numbers is boring. I have been pretty unfocused through these first 18 chapters.
    For the first time, I have read a page or two less and promised to read the rest the next day. When I do that, it doesn't get better.
    I should like Numbers. My previous life at CNN had me producing for John King and helping with the "Magic Wall" during the 2008 and 2012 elections. Census data is my friend. And the numbers given in the first few chapters surprised me (which gave me false hope for the rest).
    I had not imagined, for example, that the Israelites numbered into the hundreds of thousands. I had envisioned a few dozen. I hadn't thought about there being that many slaves in Egypt. I also hadn't realized that they waited in the desert as long as they did.
    While they waited, apparently, they had a lot of time to make up the rules of their new society -- and that's where my problem with Numbers begins.
    The rules that define the Book of Leviticus continued in Numbers, which may have been part of the reason for my boredom -- more of the same. In fact, some chapters are just long lists of rules. Snooze. (Good thing I didn't go to law school, I guess.)
    Then there is a lengthy section about the importance of the first-born. As a first-born, I should have cared. Yet, nope.
    The clans of the Levites and the Nazerites likewise didn't light up my imagination. I felt bad for the lepers because they were suffering and "unclean" and were expelled. Then there was the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath and was stoned for doing so, with God's approval.
    And when the Israelites become impatient, they complain. A lot. Some even say that slavery in Egypt was better than the desert. Moses and Aaron try to calm the masses. But the masses don't like the message and "the whole community threatened to stone them," the Bible says.
    Really? Stone Moses?
    Thankfully, God intervenes and calms the crowd, who turn their attention to their next complaint.
    As I meditate on the causes of my boredom, it probably stems from the fact that I didn't expect these dense, dull chapters. When I took this project on, my preconceived notion of the Bible was that it was action-packed. It's not. There are lulls.
    As with running marathons, I need to train some more. I need to focus in Numbers and try to make some sense out of this book.