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Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Worst Bible Story

Image source.

I’m currently reading The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns, and I’ll be blogging my thoughts about it. Enns is a biblical scholar, and he writes about how his understanding of the bible has changed and expanded. He says that conservative Christians tend to have this idea about what the bible is “supposed to” be- it’s “Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instruction manual” (p 10). And of course, these conservative Christians truly value the bible and believe we should study it very seriously- but when people actually do this, they find the bible is not so perfect and clear after all. It’s weird. And we’ve been told that Christians must believe the bible is so clear and straightforward and 100% correct and every word is applicable to our lives... so what do we do when we find it’s a book that’s not really like that at all?

He’s absolutely right. I was always encouraged to ask questions about the bible- all questions are okay!- but with the understanding that I would then find “the answer” and I’d have to accept it. In bible study, people were allowed to say “wow, what God did here sounds awful” and then we’d have a discussion about it, the goal of which was to find some explanation that would help us believe what God did actually was NOT awful.

“I think this is wrong” was not a valid opinion we could hold. It was fine to say it, to honestly give our reaction to the passage being read, but we all knew it couldn’t actually be wrong, and we trusted that with enough research it could all be explained.

In the past when I read the bible, I believed that everything it had God saying or doing was by definition good and right. There could be no “God did something really bad here” or “I think this was just the writer’s opinion, not what God actually commanded.”

Reading the bible in this way has definitely affected my view of God. Seeing all the genocide and misogyny and horrifically graphic curses and believing it all must be good and right because hey, God said it IN THE BIBLE... what kind of God does that leave me with?

Perhaps this can best be shown by an example. I present to you: The Worst Bible Story Ever. It’s a story that has lurked in the back of my mind for a long time, haunting me and causing me to wonder if God is acting in my life the way God acted in this story.

Go ahead and read it: 2 Samuel 21:1-14

So. Basically, God sent a famine on Israel because a long time ago, before David was the king, Saul massacred some of the Gibeonite people. Yes, Saul did this terrible thing, and then several decades later, God decided to suddenly, out of nowhere, punish David and the Israelites for not making it right.

So there’s a famine for 3 years, and David legitimately has no idea why. Eventually God tells them it’s punishment for that one time when Saul killed the Gibeonites. Long ago. So David goes and asks the Gibeonites how to make it right, and they ask for permission to execute seven of Saul's male descendents.

And that’s what David does. He hands over seven of Saul’s male relatives for the Gibeonites to kill. There’s this weird little aside about how David spared Mephibosheth because you all remember the Sunday school lesson about David showing mercy to Mephibosheth, what a nice guy. Mephibosheth is not a red shirt, so David doesn’t have him killed. Wow isn’t David so nice?

And it works. So those people- who may or may not actually have had anything to do with the human rights abuses against the Gibeonites- get killed, and God apparently approves of it all. God ends the famine and all is well.

The end.

So, you know, I read this story and the obvious question is “WTF?!” I’ve read a few commentaries about it, looking for answers, but none of them addressed the question of “WTF”. They barely mentioned this passage, or just gave some little statement like “having Saul’s relatives killed may seem barbaric to modern readers, but really it was totally legit, trust me. Nothing to see here. Anyway, this story teaches us to be obedient, like David. Isn’t David a great guy?” That’s all.

And what did I learn from this, the Worst Bible Story?

It taught me that sometimes God causes bad things in our lives as punishment for a completely unrelated sin, which we might not even be aware of. And the punishment will only stop once we figure out the specific sin and make it right- and “make it right” might mean doing some highly questionable things. You know, obeying God even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s the only way to stop the punishment.

If David didn’t kill those guys, God would have let that famine go on forever. You gotta obey God, regardless of others’ opinions on what’s acceptable behavior.

And I’ve been haunted by that for a long time.

The fear that problems in my life are punishment from a God who can’t find any other way to communicate. And I’m just screwed until I figure out which sin it was that’s being punished. And it might be something I wasn’t even involved in. And then I have to do the right thing, even though it’s ridiculous and risky and actually seems like a really bad idea- but that’s the only way God will end the suffering.

(And that’s why I thought maybe if I deleted from my computer all the music I had downloaded illegally, my friend whom I had been praying for would finally become a Christian. I deleted it. She did not become a Christian.)

Less than a week after I began dating my previous boyfriend, I got sick. My stomach felt sick, constantly, and this continued for weeks. And I wondered if it was God telling me I shouldn’t be dating him. At that time, I was beginning some baby steps of rebelling against purity culture- I had committed the awful sin of acquiring a boyfriend without a clear “yes” from God. I had decided that he was a pretty great guy and it would be worth it to date him and find out if we could be compatible (and yes, that was a good decision based on the available information at the time. Not "the right" decision; there is no one magical "right" decision. Just varying degrees of good or bad decisions). 

But, you know, purity culture says that we need to wait until God shows us our perfect soul mate, and just deciding to date someone because it seemed like a good idea (while being aware that we don’t know until we try) means I don’t trust God and I’m giving in to my fleshly desires. (5 bucks to anyone who can find an example of “fleshly” being used by someone who’s not an evangelical Christian.)

And I got sick. And I wondered if God would heal me if I broke up with him. Even though there was no reason- there was nothing wrong with our relationship. Except that maybe it was a horrible sin. And maybe God sent the sickness as a punishment.

And I wondered, and I told myself, no I don’t view God that way anymore, I believe God gives us freedom to make choices like this and God wouldn’t do that. (This was right around the time I quit believing that God sends people to hell for being mistaken about religion.)

(And no I did not break up with him at that time, and I ended up getting surgery to remove my gall bladder, and everything got better, and then later we broke up for different reasons. So. Did God send that gall bladder problem as punishment? I don’t think so.)

I don’t believe in a God like that anymore. But that’s the God we see in the Worst Bible Story, and I’ve wondered and worried many times if that could be the reason for problems in my life. 

Image source.

As a bonus, I will also tell you the Second Worst Bible Story. 

Go over and read it: Numbers 25.

So, this one time, Moses was leading the Israelites through the desert, and a bunch of them started having sex with Moabite women and worshiping the Moabite idols. God was not a fan of this, so, of course, God started killing a bunch of the Israelites. But then, one courageous man, Phinehas, leapt into action. He saw a man and woman go into a tent, presumably to have the worst kind of God-hating sex, and he threw his spear and it went right through both of them and they died there and God’s honor was restored and the plague stopped. Wow what a hero!

And what did I learn from this story?

Obviously, the meaning is this: Sometimes people are doing things in their own personal lives which God considers immoral. Even though these immoral people are not directly hurting anyone, they are indirectly destroying society because God sends a plague on all of us as punishment. In some cases, the sin is so horrible that, even though it’s a situation that doesn’t involve you at all, you would be right to jump in there and just STOP THE SIN by any means possible. Even violence may be acceptable.

And I’ve even heard this story cited to show that there is a biblical argument for murdering abortion doctors. It’s definitely not something my friend who made this argument would actually seriously do- you know, because Christianity also highly disapproves of murder and we are quick to distance ourselves from the kind of person who would do that, but... there is a biblical argument for it. You need to stop the sin. There’s no time to be reasonable.

On another occasion, a friend of mine, let’s call him Hector, brought another friend, let’s call him Carl, to church. Carl claimed to be a Christian, but he hadn’t been attending church or anything, and Hector and I knew that he didn’t have a real “relationship with God”, you know, because evangelical Christians are all about judging who is and who isn’t a “real Christian.”

So Carl came to church. And that week, we had communion, and Hector stopped him and explained, you know, honestly, you’re not a real Christian, so you shouldn’t take communion. And Carl was really hurt by it (can you imagine), but I admired Hector for taking a stand like that. Defending the wafers and grape juice from those who don’t have the “correct” view on Jesus.

I would never have done what Hector did, because I was not confident enough in my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11 and I had never seen anyone stopped from taking communion before. (At the church where I grew up, they clearly explain that it’s for all Christians, regardless of denomination, but it’s not like anyone’s guarding it and checking if you’re a Christian or not. And actually, one time I did invite a non-Christian friend to church and she did eat the wafer and grape juice, and I didn't say anything because ... well I mean, clearly I was more worried about what people would think of me than about honoring God. Or maybe because I was trying to be a good and loving friend. Take your pick.)

I would never have done that, but I really admired Hector for the way he stepped out in faith and took a stand for God, even though other people didn't accept it.

Remember what Phinehas did. He just jumped in there, no time to explain, no time to ask questions. Just STOP THE SIN, and it doesn’t matter who gets killed in the process. We need to defend God.

Image source.

So those are my top two Worst Bible Stories. Now I have a different view- I don’t think that’s actually how they happened; I think the writers were giving a creative interpretation of events in order to teach the readers something. (What that “something” is, I have no idea, but I’m willing to believe it’s something useful, because I value the bible. Or, you know, maybe not something useful, and it was a mistake to put them in the bible. Who knows.)

Readers, here’s my question to you: Is there something in the bible that affected you the way that these affected me? Do you have a Worst Bible Story?

And if you have any insight on the Worst and Second Worst Bible Stories I shared (if you can help address the question of “WTF”), that would be useful too. These two examples definitely need a lot of cultural background I don’t have if they’re going to come close to making any sense. So let me know what you think. (But only if you respect that I don’t have to agree and that I’m allowed to believe they are the Worst Bible Stories and still be a Christian. None of this “let’s tell Perfect Number how she clearly interpreted the bible wrong and actually nothing in the bible is bad or confusing.”)

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My other posts about The Bible Tells Me So:

The Worst Bible Story
Blaming the Biblical Victim (And More Horrifying Implications of Scripture) 

The Bible's Contradictions Matter, And It's Not a Logic Problem 
The Bible is a Model, So Use Your Brain 
Jesus Takes the Bible Out of Context 
The Old Testament Does Not Predict Jesus 
Peter Enns Makes Me Want to Actually Read the Bible Again

40 comments:

  1. Numbers 31. I almost lost my faith over it - Moses does THE EXACT same thing we condemn Herod for in the New Testament. And keeps the virgin women alive for presumably sex-slavery. I have noticed God isn't much mentioned in this story, so perhaps He didn't approve, but it still baffles and agonizes me to this day.
    A distant second: why the heck does Paul call Lot 'righteous' when he offered to let his daughters be raped? Or Jephthah, who may have killed his daughter as a human sacrifice?

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  2. I've always really disliked the story where the Israelites completely wipe out the nations of Jericho and Ai. Genocide doesn't seem ok in any context, even if it's "oh well that was a long time ago, things were different then." No, no, genocides in the name of religion happen today. Why are those not ok but the ones in the Bible are ok? *frustration* Also, try explaining genocide to six year olds in Sunday School without sounding like a terrible person. >.>

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  3. My top book of 2014 was Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood, followed by Peter Enns' The Bible Tell Me So. What I loved most about these two books is that they are *honest* about the nature of scripture! The bible is terrible sometimes, should be questioned, and ought always to be secondary to Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.

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  4. How about the Flood? God, you know, killing the entire human race and starting over, because why? He was grieved for their sinfulness. God actually felt bad for everything that had come of the whole "beginning" thing so far. So he decides to start over. The "baptismal waters" or the "mikveh" cleansing all of creation in a purge...

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  5. Muriel VolestranglerJanuary 1, 2015 at 5:58 PM

    There's the well-known 'Elisha has 42 children torn apart by bears for mocking his baldness' episode - https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+2%3A23-24&version=NIV;KJV . Not as horrifying as the genocides, but it seems so petty. Like the first act of an evil character in a horror story, who has just realised he can magically do what he wants.

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  6. John Small BerriesJanuary 1, 2015 at 6:12 PM

    For me, the worst Bible story — the one which shattered the image of God that I'd been raised with, as a perfectly just deity and the embodiment of all that was and is good — was the Tenth Plague.

    For this plague (as with a few of the others), the Bible explicitly says that "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land." And as punishment for that refusal — that God caused Pharaoh to make — God murdered thousands of children who had no culpability for that refusal.

    Now, God obviously had no compunctions about violating Pharaoh's free will; throughout Exodus he repeatedly "hardened Pharaoh's heart" to give God the excuse to visit terrible plagues upon Egypt. And in Exodus 12, God "gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians", to make the Egyptians give the Israelites gold and silver and anything they asked for.

    So God clearly could have simply given the Israelites favour in Pharaoh's sight, and made him release them at any time; he could have done so before inflicting even the first plague upon them.

    But he didn't.

    Instead, he deliberately controlled Pharaoh like a puppet in order to give himself a flimsy excuse to wreak havoc on a country and murder innocent children.

    That's not good. It's not moral. It's not just. It's monstrous evil, worse by far than anything the Bible portrays Satan as having done. I know that technically, it's not as egregious a mass-murder than the Flood, which Charles has already brought up, but somehow the fact that God slaughtered children as "punishment" for a refusal that he forced to be made makes it seem worse to me.

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  7. And don't forget the ones in which there are consequences to leaving survivors.

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  8. This is the first of your blog I have read. I think this is awesome.

    But I have a slightly different perspective on the story from 2 Samuel. Here Goes:
    -God wants us to reconcile past sins. One example, today, God might want Christians to apologize to a people group whose ancestors were slaughtered by Christians in the Crusades. I know a woman who apologized to another non-Christian woman for the Crusades and the non-Christian woman just cried and thanked her for the apology.

    -Next is the method of reconciliation. In the story, David didn't seek God's counsel to see if the Gibeonites request for the 7 bodies was okay. So maybe, and this is a big maybe, God recognized David's efforts for reconciliation, yet it wasn't ideal in God's eyes. Maybe David should have suggested alternative modes of reconciliation to the Gibeonites.

    -As for the famine, it seems harsh of God, I agree. But it serves to bring home the point that what happened in the past matters, and again, God wants us to reconcile things that our ancestors did, or people from the same "group" or "tribe" that we associate did.
    I see OT stories not so much as historical but as stories (narrative) that are a part of one big story---including Jesus. So this OT story is a narrative lesson about the nature of God that is perhaps exaggerated to drive home a point.
    This is just how my mind sees the story. I do take issue with it, though. It portrays a harsh, unreasonable God. I know it sounds like I'm doing this " the goal of which was to find some explanation that would help us believe what God did actually was NOT awful."
    But these are some thoughts I had.

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  9. John,

    Some of the horror of that story comes about become the "10 plagues" story we get appears to be actually two "7 plagues" stories hacked together, which you could call the J source and P source but which I think of as the tale of 7 plagues and the tale of 7 signs.

    You might have noticed that some of the events, like the river of blood, are described twice and inconsistently. Moses makes the water red, then afterwards Moses and Aaron make the water red (which should already be red?). All the water in the nile is red but also all the water anywhere in egypt, and everyone who drinks it dies except obviously that can't be true because the Egyptians aren't all dead.

    If you cut the story apart into individual sentences, you can make two entire new stories out of it. The first story only has Moses and not Aaron. Pharaoh's magician's are also not mentioned. God really wants the Israelites released ASAP and when Pharaoh refuses, he responds with a biological attack. The Nile river -- and only the Nile river -- turns red, stinks horribly, and all the fish in the river and anyone who drinks from the river dies. You can work out that everyone must have survived on their stored water supplies. In this story, the plagues keep escalating in scope and destructiveness until the death of the firstborn breaks Pharaoh's will.

    In the other, Moses and Aaron together turn the waters red as a kind of magic trick. They use their staves to turn every drop red -- not just in the rivers, but even the bottled water people were storing in their basements. That is way more mysterious and magical in my view than the other version, which you can think of as analogous to just putting something poison in the water.

    This is the version where Pharaoh's magicians get involved. I never understood the magicians when I was a kid, because if the plagues were causing real damage to Egypt, why would Pharaoh want to double them? But no, in the version with Aaron, God's miracles are harmless and flashy. The entire point is for God to demonstrate by a non-violent show of force that he is the most high God. The high-point of this story is the plague of darkness. This one again feels more magical. God didn't really control the death of the firstborn; the israelites had to take steps to protect themselves. Here, he can just selectively blind all the egyptians and none of his own people, while they escape like stage magicians.

    Anyway, it's in THIS version of the story that God harden's Pharaoh's heart, because God has prepared a few more tricks and doesn't want the show to be interrupted. He makes sure Pharaoh doesn't release the slaves too soon, because God isn't done proving his point.

    I'm not saying that God necessarily look GOOD in these stories; in one, he's basically a terrorist, and in the other, might seem like a showboating narcissist, but neither of them is anywhere near as horrifying as the combined version.

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  10. John Small BerriesJanuary 1, 2015 at 11:48 PM

    Orion,

    If you have to put the Bible through that kind of contortion — hacking its stories apart into bits and selectively reassembling them, and even altering parts (for example, to make the Israelites the actual murderers of children* in order to absolve God of responsibility for the actions the unmutilated Bible ascribes to him) — then you're pretty much demonstrating that the Bible can't be trusted, in and of itself, to serve as any sort of basis for knowledge (of God, of morality, of ontology, of truth).

    Especially when, even after going to that much trouble, you can't even make God look wholly good. For even in the "showboating narcissist" version, you leave God (the source of all morality, according to some people) perfectly content to let his people murder children.

    __
    * I assume that's what you meant by "the Israelites [taking] steps to protect themselves", though I'm not sure how slaughtering children accomplishes any sort of protection. I'd have thought it would make the Egyptians far more intent on revenge than if the Israelites had merely escaped slavery.

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  11. I've always felt that way about Pharoh and his "hard heart", and Judas, as well. If the Bible is to be believed, they were doing God's will, not their own, and yet they - and others - are punished for it. Huh?

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  12. Read Deuteronomy 20 and you'll see that what Moses did to the Midianites in Numbers 31 was basically mandated by Yahweh.

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  13. No, steps to protect themselves is a reference to the Passover. In the J-source text, god's curse is like a natural (or supernatural) disaster, which kills anyone who doesn't get out of the way. That's very much unlike the P-source, where God is in total control of all of his signs and wonders. He's able to selectively exempt his people from some of them (like the darkness) without anyone painting blood on anything.


    As my talk of J source and P source may suggest, these stories aren't my own invention. The idea is that before the bible was written down, there were many stories told in Judea and Israel. When the Bible was being put together, the editors put in every story they had rather than throwing any away. Sometimes they printed them side-by-side (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2), but sometimes they decided to thread the stories into each other, like with the plagues. They found all the points of overlap between the Yahwist story and the Priestly story and stitched them together there.


    It's the hacked apart *and reconstituted* versions that are the real heritage of the ancients. Does that prove "the bible" is unreliable? Maybe. I'm not Jewish or Christian, so I don't have a dog in that fight. You can certainly say that the bible as it is written in the form we've received can't be trusted, and that's absolutely true. But if you're looking for something that *is* of value, I think it's worth looking for the sources.

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  14. One of the easiest ways to spot the breaks is by looking at what they call god. What you see and God vs. LORD (or Lord) in most Englsih translation is "elohim" vs. YHVH in the Hebrew. It's believed that the two names (well, one name one title) were used by two different groups of storytellers.

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  15. From what I have studied, both in class & out of class, the children mocking Elisha were not merely mocking Elisha. Elisha represented God because of his role. That is not to say the level of Jesus but it is to say the level of Moses or David. To go against Elisha was to go against God.

    For me, that helped make the story's "message" more clear. Do not belittle God and respect God. However, even with that "message", it brings about the issue if God doing such a thing.

    I still think some stories in the bible are just stories. They explain why history happened or they make up events to prove a point. For modern readers, this is scary. It causes us to think very different questions. But that's not a bad thing.

    I do not believe God was directly choosing to slaughter these children via she bears anymore than I think God brought about plagues in Egypt or demanded genocide. But I also have the privilege of hindsight. I have the privilege of experiencing the love of Jesus Christ post life, cross, death & resurrection. I see things people from that time did not and knew nothing about. I need to take all of this into account as I genuinely read and sincerely search for God within scripture.

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  16. For me, the worst was always Judges 11. There are some really awful stories in the Bible that depict the Hebrew deity as a really powerful Bronze/Iron Age monarch, but this one undercuts even fatherly love and responsibility in the name of keeping a vow. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+11

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  17. Numbers 31. It begs the question, if you had been in the Israelite army, would you have obeyed God and killed the boys and women, and kept the virgins for yourself? I hope not, but an evangelical Christian I debated with on Christian radio claimed he would have! See my Huffington Post blog on the subject: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-beaumont/jesus-wants-me-for-a-chil_b_6337268.html

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  18. What about the Book of Job? As a result of a bet, God allows Satan to kill all of Job's children and servants, destroy his home, take his flocks, and basically ruin the poor guy's life. In the end, God gives him more children and more wealth to replace what he lost, which supposedly makes everything ok again. Never mind that the bet was totally unnecessary to begin with, as God knew exactly how things would work out. Job's original children and servants are still dead, all so God can say, "See, I was right all along!"

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  19. ADJAKSAHKASFHSIERUYRUEIFKJSFSJFHKSDGSKKSGSHKGS
    (No, really, I am furious).

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  20. And this is one of the stories they always teach children in Sunday school, I guess because it makes for good illustrations and kids love animals. I can't believe I didn't realize til high school how horrible it was.

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  21. Yeah, I think if it's NOT something that REALLY HAPPENED, then it makes sense to pull out lessons about reconciling past sins, etc. If it did really happen, then there is way too much WTF, which totally overshadows any good things that could be learned.

    Interestingly, the way that these stories get taught in church is by puling out that bits that could be useful lessons to learn about God, and ignoring the awful stuff, and asserting that the story teaches us truths that will be evident in our lives, but not in a literal way- we don't expect God to LITERALLY part a sea, and of course we don't believe God would command us to ACTUALLY go kill people. And it seems to me that teaching the bible stories in this way totally does not require them to be literally things that really happened- in fact, if they did really happen, there's so much awfulness, it's unimaginable to me to just say "well we learned about God's faithfulness [or whatever]" and leave it at that.

    The churches I've attended teach the bible in this way, and also assert that we MUST believe these things literally happen. So. Maybe that's the problem.

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  22. And it's horrifying that that's one of the go-to bible stories to teach children. I guess they just choose the "children's bible stories" based on which ones will make for good illustrations. River of blood? Plague of frogs? Parting a sea? Cool!

    Until you realize that (if the story is true) with all those attacks on Egypt's crops/livestock/food supply, plus the firstborn children all being murdered, plus the whole army... like, God pretty much destroyed all of Egyptian society, and the devastation would be felt for generations.

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  23. This is really interesting, thanks for posting. I've heard of the idea of different sources being spliced together in the pentateuch- I bet this is really useful for understanding what the stories meant to the original audience and how we should interpret them.

    Of course, back when I was a "real true Christian" I was highly suspicious of the idea that the bible came from sources. No, Moses personally wrote it all down while God dictated it, don't you know. (Or, yes it came from oral stories that had been around for a while, but don't worry, the stories didn't change at all over time and they are all 100% true and accurate because back then people didn't have TV so they just told stories and they were really good at remembering so no details ever got changed.)

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  24. Riane Eisler, in her book The Chalice and the Blade, argues that the Torah was written during the transition from an equalitarian, Partnership society to a male-oriented, Dominator society. Essentially, this transition followed the advent of the Bronze Age with its new tools, and the primary change was a shift from worship of that which embodied Nurture and Creativity (represented as female) to that which embodied power and domination (represented as male). Jehovah was a new god, in the this narrative, and represented the new, Dominator perspective. The Torah then, was really a piece of propaganda written by priests in an effort to consolidate power, dispel older myths and religions about the Goddess, and encourage the Dominator society. I think this explains a whole lot of horrible bible stories, and is the only thing that helps make sense of most of them.

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  25. One thing about this story that I did discover is that the Hebrew word sometimes translated "children" actually means young men able to take up arms. In other words, this was more like a teenage gang, and Elisha really did fear for his life. But I don't think the Elijah or Elisha stories probably really happened. They just read too much like oral legend, too much like Davy Crockett stories, for me to see them as intended to be historical.

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  26. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.

    John 1:18 - No one [Not Moses or Elijah or any of the Old Testament writers] has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

    2 Cor 3 says that when we read the Old Testament a veil is put over our face so that we can't see clearly what God is really like, but when we see Jesus, the veil is removed.

    Other NT say that the best of the Old Testament is just shadows. If someone is heading towards you and all you can see is their shadow then you can't tell much about that person except that they're their. So you end up operating on your own assumptions. When we see Jesus however, it's like seeing God in clear daylight.

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  27. We have this Bible illustrated storybook in the Sunday school class I teach and it showed all the plagues in what they thought would be "appropriate to children" levels. One child in my class though, pointed at the camels lying on the ground in the picture and got really upset that all the camels were dead and kept asking me why God killed the camels. I was like "Oh God, what am I supposed to say?!" ...I may or may not have just let them go play on the playground. >_O We didn't even go into the God killing firstborn part. If they were upset by dead camels there was no WAAAAY I was going to read the rest of it to them. Eep.

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  28. Hi! This is truly an awesome post.

    I view the Bible as man's thoughts about God rather than as the Almighty directly speaking to us:
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/on-the-inspiration-of-the-bible-and-other-books-von-der-interpretation-der-bibel-und-anderen-buchern/
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/the-greatness-of-the-apostle-paul-die-grose-des-apostels-paulus/

    I think it often speaks with conflicting voices so that there can be no consistent fundies: everyone has to pick and choose:
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/on-the-art-of-picking-and-chosing/

    I find that reading the Bible in this way solve most of the problems.

    I have become convinced that American anti-theism is largely a product of Biblical inerrancy.
    Countless anti-theists are former anti-theists who were constantly being taught that the Bible speaks with one unique voice on every possible topic.

    They turn that on its head and started out believing that Jesus must have been a genocidal monster because of the presence of genocidal texts in the OT: http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/a-perfect-example-of-anti-theistic-irrationality/
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/tribalism-love-and-gods-shameless-ploy-a-response-to-cyngus-and-valdobiade/

    Here are advice I gave to a Christian struggling as you did:

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/advice-for-a-struggling-christian/


    I'm absolutely persuaded that belief in Biblical inerrancy (according to the Chicago Statement) is harmful intellectually, emotionally, morally and spiritually.



    I think that the atrocious beliefs of mainstream Conservative Evangelicals go a long way explaining their callous and detrimental actions towards homosexuals, women, poor children and so on and so forth.



    For me, progressive Christianity start with the realization that as a supreme being, God has to be perfectly loving and just. Therefore we can't expect him to act like a human criminal.



    I'm looking forward to reading your answer.

    If you allow me to do so, I'd like to forward your post on my blog. I think this could be extremely helpful to many people.



    Lovely greetings.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hello Thom.



    I greatly admire your works and contacted you a while ago for an interview on facebook.

    Would you be interested?



    I apologize to disturb you here but you didn't give me any answer, so I'm not sure you received my messages.


    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  30. This is awesome. Kudos. Im glad you raise the WTF question. I wish we have sunday school and youth group curriculum based on the WTF questions. It would help us all to engage with the bible so much better. keep writing....

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  31. If you can't handle the old testament just read the new testament. Jesus is all you truly need.

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  32. People that read the bible without knowing who God is and what sin is have no right to comment and make judgements. The simple fact is this.. We are all sinners and sin is so evil so bad and so horrible that we all deserve death. God is the only perfect being in existent therefore he is the only one with the right to decide who lives or dies. If you go to the bible understanding how bad sin is and how good God is, and that you as a human being able to breath right now is gods mercy because he loves you then you automatically know that when he decides to kill or orders a death.. It's perfectly 100% just because no one deserves to live.

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  33. many times the Bible doesn't make sense... But it's because of our inability to understand... For a child it doesn't make sense why you insist on baking soda, raw eggs, and flour for baking a cake. They are bad and taste bad in themselves..But you know the reason why they are required, even when you cannot convince the child. It pays to acknowledge that we are mere men.

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  34. Yep, this is exactly what I meant by "None of this 'let’s tell Perfect Number how she clearly interpreted the bible wrong and actually nothing in the bible is bad or confusing.'"

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  35. Yep, that's what I used to believe, and I'm so glad I don't anymore.

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  36. You have a problem with what the Gibeonites demanded, and David allowed, not God. God didn't hand the men over. This was a different time, and different societies and cultures had different (sometimes bizarre or troubling) ways of handling situations. Maybe that answer doesn't satisfy something in you, but its the truth, whether you walk away liking it or not.

    God had already said, at this point, that he can and may repay sin generations later, so Saul always knew that was a possibility.

    You may feel liberated by your critical way of reading scripture, but if everyone read the Bible the way you do, nobody would have a clue what any of it was trying to say, and we wouldn't be taking much away from it. I can't see how you can be getting much at all from reading the Bible the way your doing it. I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but for a (I'm assuming) Bible believing Christian, you seem to do an awful lot of second guessing, even criticizing God and his actions. Go read the end of Job. See what happens when a man thinks he has a case against God.

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  37. I love this article simply because I am in a very similar place right now. Over the past year I have gone from fundamentalist to loose liberal christian and I'm not even sure I'm there still...(I may have slid over the line even further). At best I call my self and seriously doubting skeptic believer. Ha!


    In any case, I would have to say my worst bible story ever is God slaughtering all the first born of Egypt because a king was rebellious and a little hard-headed. Who among us hasn't committed that "sin" before? Sure one can argue that he was doing so for the good of his people being ushered out of slavery. Yes, let's save one group of people from inhumane treatment only to slaughter another group who probably didn't even know what was going on in the first place. And babies no less? Oh and don't forget the animals.


    I'm reading a book by Bart Ehrman right now called "God's Problem - How the bible fails to answer our most important question, why we suffer." It covers a lot of ground historically speaking as to why people in antiquity felt they were being punished by God etc. I would suggest it if you haven't read it. Happy Truth hunting!

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  38. Thanks! Yeah I only realized recently how awful the story of the exodus is. The average Egyptian person had nothing to do with how the Israelites were being treated- why was God killing them and their children?


    Another thing I noticed in that story is the justification for "let my people go" is because God said so, and it's about proving that Israel's God is better than Egypt's. There's no moral argument like "hey, slavery is wrong, this is a human rights problem." Just you have to do it because God is powerful enough to MAKE you do it.

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  39. Fun fact: People have actually been noticing the YHWH/Elohim discrepancy for thousands of years. For instance, the Apocryphon of John (the Gnostic holy text that dates to the mid-2nd century at the latest) depicts YHWH and Elohim as twin brothers, each having power over two of the four classical elements.

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  40. Sorry, I miss a lot of Facebook messages, and obviously miss a lot of Disqus comments. Shoot me an email.

    ReplyDelete

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