Romans 9: A Divine and Fickle Dictator

It had been a while since I’d read Romans 9, but an email correspondence that I keep with a Christian caused me to read it last night. When I was a Christian, this chapter had always been difficult for me, but that’s because I was trying to fit it within my own theology. Last night, I was struck by several things I had forgotten and thought it would be worth sharing.

For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
— verses 6-13

Here, Paul makes a distinction between those who belong to Israel by birth, and those who are children of Abraham by faith. In other words, just because someone is Jewish does not mean he/she is really God’s child. He then points out that even before Jacob and Esau were old enough to know right from wrong, God rejected Esau in favor of Jacob. That seems a little arbitrary, doesn’t it?

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
— verses 14-18

So is God being unjust in choosing one infant over another? Not according to Paul. Why? Because God can do what he wants.

What kind of answer is that? If Paul’s argument were true, then there would be no such thing as right and wrong. God is always right, regardless of his behavior, because whatever he does is right by default. That flies in the face of what most Christians believe today, yet that’s Paul’s position. And he anticipates an argument about it:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, oh man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
— verses 19-24

Paul’s only defense is that we can’t question God. But we’re not questioning God, Paul, we’re questioning you and the authors of the Old Testament.

And don’t miss what Paul says here. He’s saying that God creates some people to show mercy toward, and he creates others that he can use to demonstrate his power. He’s a god with an inferiority complex. Such a god does not actually care for his creation; he uses them as pawns for his own glory. And who is this god trying to impress? Obviously not humans, if he thinks so little of us. And he’s supposedly the only deity, so who’s he putting on the show for?

And what about Paul’s argument regarding the potter and the clay? On one hand, there’s a decent point there. It’s kind of like “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” If someone gives you something, don’t be overly critical of it. So if God gave us life, who are we to question him on the quality of it? The problem is Paul is saying more than that. He’s saying if God created you and finds you inadequate, you can’t put that back on God — you can’t complain “why did you make me this way?” But Paul’s wrong about that. If God’s not happy with how humanity turned out, that’s not our fault, it’s his. It would be like a child putting a model together incorrectly and then becoming angry at the model. It’s not the model’s fault that the child built it wrong, so it would be unjust to take that out on the model.

Paul’s God is fickle and arbitrary. He makes people like Pharaoh disobedient, and then punishes them for their disobedience. He picks others for glory and mercy, who have done nothing to merit such favor. The sad thing is that many Christians view this as a good thing and talk about God’s wondrous mystery and mercy. This is not a good thing. Such a God is untrustworthy. Unlimited power and a personality disorder make for a very dangerous combination.

And the description of God in this chapter is at odds with other passages that claim God is the embodiment of love and wants all men to be saved. Both versions can’t be right. In addition to its contradictory descriptions of God, the Bible is filled with all kinds of contradictory accounts, failed prophecies, immoral commandments, bad science, and faulty history. Why do so many people, even after learning about the Bible’s faults, continue to believe that it teaches anything accurate about the supernatural?

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184 thoughts on “Romans 9: A Divine and Fickle Dictator

  1. “God rejected Esau in favor of Jacob”

    If we consider that the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were not actually people rather “peoples” (in the north, the south, and the father, Abraham, in the middle in Hebron) then we have to ascertain which peoples the author was referring to regarding Esau, namely the Edomites. In 2 Kings 8:22 we see why “god” hated Esau: “To this day Edom has been in rebellion against Judah. Libnah revolted at the same time.”

    The true 7th Century geopolitical message is never far from the surface.

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  2. And what I found especially ironic, was that of the two, Esau was by far the more noble and ethical. Notice, as their reunion approached, how Jacob/Israel place his livestock in the foreground, followed by the slaves and hired hands, then his concubines and their children, then his wives and their children, and finally, himself, in hope that if his brother was still pissed, his bloodthirst would be slaked by the time he hacked his way through all of those, and he wouldn’t have anything left for Jake.

    Turned out, he got a hug for his trouble. Who was the more noble?

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  3. “It’s not the model’s fault that the child built it wrong, so it would be unjust to take that out on the model.”

    But the kid does take it out on the model, whether it is just or not.

    Why do so many people, even after learning about the Bible’s faults, continue to believe that it teaches anything accurate about the supernatural?

    I honestly think it is because it is the best answer to them to explain the seemingly fickle nature of life (human behavior, natural processes, a devastating asteroid impact, etc). I guess. Folks just don’t want to own up to the fact that we don’t have as much control as we would like to think?

    Not sure, but thanks for analyzing this passage. Makes me realize that it is not just me who thinks it’s a pointless circular argument. 🙂

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  4. @arch

    I completely agree! And Esau gets tons of grief for selling his birthright, but Jacob was the schmuck that wanted to charge his famished brother for a bowl of soup! There’s some really messed up morality in the Bible…

    @NE White

    I think you’re right about why people still believe it anyway. It’s funny how tragedies can cause some people to pull closer to faith; whereas, they cause folks like us to question why God would allow such things to happen.

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  5. Mary

    So God elects more to go to hell then heaven because that is God’s right as the creator. This should make on evangelical Christians upset. Their god send billions and billions to hell and that’s okay!

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  6. Ah Romans 9 was one of my favorites for “proving” Calvinism.

    You make a good point about why /who is God trying to impress….I never really thought of that.

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  7. But wouldn’t you think, N.E. – and you’re preaching to the choir here, I’m not opposing you – that after a million people prayed for Hurricane Katrina to just go away, and it didn’t, that they’d begin to get a clue that prayer doesn’t work?

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  8. Nate – check out Louis Ginzberg’s “Legends of the Jews,” I have the URL somewhere, but since it’s so easily found on Google, I’m too lazy to give it to you (hey, you want fact, or fiction?). Ginzberg, who as the name might imply, is not anti-semitic, has compiled a book of the legends the Jewish people have concocted about the scriptural characters in the Bible.

    For example, when in Gen 14, Abraham and his army of 300 Ninja-shepherds defeated five trained Mesopotamian armies, chasing them all the way up the Levant to Dan, which wouldn’t even be built until Abe’s great-grandson, Dan, built it, was due largely because Abe grew to 80-feet tall, chased them down with giant steps, and defeated them single-handedly! It’s in the book!

    And there are more attempts to vilify Esau than I could possibly relate, but one stands out. As you may recall, Esau is touted in Genesis as being a hunter, an expert archer, second only to Nimrod. Yet according to the “Legends,” Jacob had enough time to slaughter two lambs, slice and dice them and prepare a “savory stew,” as well as fabricate some hairy mittens, while Esau was out bagging a deer, primarily because instead of relying on his archery skills, Esau decided to run the deer down on foot. Having caught it, and not knowing for certain just how many deer it took to make a bowl of stew (he was never very good at math), he tied the deer up and went after another. While he was gone, Satan untied the bound deer, and poor Esau was left with no option to catch yet another. This went on, until Jacob had gotten his surrepticious blessing.

    Seriously, I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up – check it out for yourself!

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  9. But imagine yourself as a genuine god, Kent, superior to everyone – what kind of psychological problems would you have to have, to want anyone to fear you?

    During the warmer months, I see ants by the thousands, who aren’t even aware of my existence, due to the difference in size – I step over them, I feel no need to crush out their lives, simply because I can, with impunity. Think about it —

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  10. So many non-sequiturs that I hardly know where to start. Fickle and arbitrary? Untrustworthy? At odds with love? Rubbish, complete and total. All this shows is that you don’t know the least about the outline of Romans, or where chapter 9 fits into the book. You picked a chapter in the middle and started reading, skipping v.3 and it’s significance. It also shows that you’ve let your emotions get the best of your logic. Sorry Nate, I only come here on rare occasions, and this post shows why. You’re now working from emotion, not logic, and do not appear to want to know the difference.

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  11. I understand your point, Arch. I’ve always wondered if the ‘fear’ in the Bible literally meant an afraid-for-your-life-type-scared or if it implied something more. Your ant example for instance; if the ants were capable of emotion, would they fear you because you could step on them at any moment? Would they be in awe of you because of your sheer size? Would they respect you because, though you could step on them, you don’t? Maybe an amalgam of all three? And, in their feeble attempts to describe that to each other, the best they came up with was “fear”? *shrug*

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  12. Marc

    Well atheist don’t fear or respect a God they don’t believes exists. The attempts by atheists to interpret the Holy Scriptures are really pretty silly. The Scriptures were produced by the community of Faith (Israel/Church), for the community of Faith. The Ancient Christian Faith has never been about Sola Scriptura even though many sectarian Christian are left with this position because they have rejected the rest of Holy Apostolic Tradition that constitutes the Ancient Christian Faith.

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  13. I guess my point was, what kind of warped, twisted, psychological mindset would I have to possess, to kill an ant that has done no harm to me? If one climbs up my body and for no reason, other than that it can, bites me, it’s dead meat, but to see an ant on the ground, who woke up this morning with no other agenda on it’s mind than running around, doing ant things, and for me to arbitrarily kill it, for no valid reason, would, in my estimation, be not only wrong, but sick.

    Yet the Bible tells us (if it were true) of millions of people its god either killed personally, or ordered killed, yet theists find something from that, worthy of praise – I can’t imagine anything other than fear prompting such behavior.

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  14. Marc

    Arch,

    Because you believe that the material cosmos and physical life is all that exists, your point of view makes sense. Because many theist believe that a spiritual realm exist outside of time/space and that human being have a spiritual component that can exist there, God’s actions have not caused anyone to perish. This is why the belief in the Resurrection forms the Christian’s point of view.

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  15. I’m sure that at some point in time, that’s likely also been said of the Ancient Zoroastrian Faith, as well as the faiths of all of the rest of the gods of Man’s creation.

    How’ve you been, Marc? Long time —

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  16. Marc

    It’s been at least since last year Arch, I am surviving the nasty weather of the New Year so far. Btw I really liked the run down on all the religions on your blog site.

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  17. Wow, that was unexpected – thanks for the visit, just wish you’d have left a comment, I live for those.

    Clearly, you’re referring to the first chapter, gods “r” us – I just wanted to give Theists a chance to laugh at other whacky religions before I demonstrated that their own is no exception from the wonderful world of whacky. I later do the same with flood stories, when we come to that little old winemaker, Noah.

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  18. All good questions and excellent points made in several comments. I would just like to point out that you are right that this is a difficult section but it needs to be balanced by the very next chapters, Romans 10-11 where Paul proclaims God the lord of all, wants to bless all who call upon him, and that eventually salvation will come to Israel too. Thus, when you look at these three chapters together in conjunction with the overall rhetorical strategy of the book (explaining how Gentile and Jewish Christians should relate to each other), I think Paul is trying in Romans 9 to make sense of the fact that most Jews of the day rejected their long awaited savior which to him was inexplicable.

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  19. Whenever you get a Christian commenting on your blog they invariably come across as ignorant of the fact you were a practicing full blown fundamentalist…for YEARS.
    This is why I find myself shaking my head when I read nonsensical comments from the likes of (Not so ) humblesmith.

    His vitriol smacks of exactly the apologetic tone you, Nate, must have back in the day. I’ll bet you smile inwardly when reading some of these comments.
    On Marcus’s blog another critic used the term “we Christians” as if Marcus had never been there and must therefore be completely unaware of how Christians think and approach their faith.

    This type of blindness illustrates how inculcation works. Simply dismiss the deconvertee as never really having been a Christian in the firs place. The personification of arrogance.

    Your final paragraph, ”asked and answered”.

    The final few lines of dialogue in the movie, Hear no Evil., See no Evil come to mind.

    ”Why can’t I shoot em? I wanna shoot em. Please let me shoot ’em. 😉

    Oh, and happy new year and complaints of the season and all that… 🙂

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  20. As I was reading, Hitchens’ phrase “we are created sick and yet commanded to be healthy” came to mind.

    I’m surprised I hadn’t seen that chapter in this light before–we’re told straight out that god just decided to choose this one or that one and make some for mercy and others for not. I never realized there was such a good biblical argument for Calvanism, as Alice said!

    Someone said that Ch. 10 and 11 say something about god wants ALL to be saved. It might do, but that doesn’t fix this chapter, merely contradicts it.

    Another thing that came to mind was that 9-10min clip from the movie God On Trial, about Jews in the Concentration Camps; after almost every Plague, Pharaoh Relented–the plague had done its job! As Clausewitz says, “war is politics by other means”. The Plague was, I thought, to punish Pharaoh/Egypt and get him to relent. But then god HARDENED pharaoh’s heart (you know, “god”, according to the OT)!

    There’s no good word for that.

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  21. Thanks for all the comments!

    @Sabio — unfortunately, the Christian I’m having this correspondence with won’t comment here — I think he knows I run a blog, but he doesn’t know the address. He did respond to my email, which made similar points to what I said here. He pointed out that in Exodus, sometimes it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and other times it says that Pharaoh hardened it. He said that he views this chapter as dealing with the clashes that occur between God’s sovereignty and our free will, hence the complicated language.

    @humblesmith — I’m actually using verse 3 in my next post, which I wrote at the same time I wrote this one. I didn’t intentionally leave it out of consideration here. As to the outline of Romans, I’m sorry you feel I missed the context so completely. Feel free to offer corrections.

    @bburleson — Hi Ben! Thanks for the comment. I think you’re right about Paul’s goals for this chapter. Your point actually ties in well with the other article I’ve written about this, which I’m about to post. Even though I agree with you on the overall point of this chapter, I still feel it’s significant that Paul’s defense of God is to say that God doesn’t need a defense at all, since he’s the boss. It’s similar to God’s position in Job. Personally, I think this was a behavior that people in that time expected of their gods, though it seems immoral to us today. For me, that’s more evidence that the Bible is simply another cultural writing from its time, and not an actual divine revelation. But I’m aware that others aren’t as bothered by these cultural influences.

    @Ark — Happy New Year to you too! 😉

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  22. “He said that he views this chapter as dealing with the clashes that occur between God’s sovereignty and our free will, hence the complicated language.”

    Of course, the complicated language couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the first four books of the Torah were written by three distinct groups, separated by time and location, then pieced together by a redactor.

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  23. Dave Hedgepeth

    The Bible is about God making God’s love and salvation understood to people. God hoped that would happen through the Jews, and God elected them for that purpose. God didn’t always choose what we would think of as the best – or at least, the most obvious – people for the job. As someone pointed out in an earlier post, Esau seemed more noble than Jacob – moreover, he was the first-born. But God chose the least likely – Jacob – ancestor of the Jewish people.

    By the time Romans 9 was written – hundreds of years later – Paul (himself a Jew) was dealing with an attitude among his fellows that, rather than being outward-focused, was exclusive. In fact, the early Christian movement, in reaching out to Gentiles (non-Jews), was going against the grain of the majority Jewish sensibility. But the reception of the good news of Jesus by the Gentiles did not invalidate God’s justice – rather, this was God’s plan to begin with.

    Romans 9 does not reflect an arbitrary (or fickle) God, but rather One who, like a potter with clay, can make a new creation if the first one doesn’t turn out so good. God is willing to change God’s mind in response to changing hearts, and Romans 11:22-24 summarizes God’s purpose and kindness well.

    Was Paul making the argument not to question God, when he said, “who are you… to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:20). It looks like it, if it’s read out of context. But within context, Paul was inviting his fellow Jews to consider that just because they were born into “the chosen people,” did not mean they would forever be “the chosen people.” Instead, Paul concluded this particular chapter with an appeal to faith – which Gentiles had come to, and Jews seemed to have rejected. Even with that, a statement of God’s mercy for all is how this entire section, chapters 9-11, ends.

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  24. I get what you’re saying, and assuming he existed, Paul likely sincerely meant what he was saying, but as far as a sales technique is concerned, letting in the Gentiles, free of the thousand-year old baggage of Jewish law, was a great idea to build a flock quickly. Everyone wants to use a product that 4 out of 5 Gentiles recommend.

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  25. Dave Hedgepeth

    i think only 1 out of 100 wound up using it, but that’s still pretty good.
    i think i get what you are saying, too, but really is the essence of the good news as i understand it. in one of the new testament books (hebrews), there’s a list of people “justified” by their faith. so abraham, without the benefit or burden of law, was embraced by God – and not because he was good (clearly, he was not good in several areas of his life). and i think that’s what paul was trying to get across in romans 9 – justification not by self-righteousness, but by God’s mercy.

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  26. Herodotus was a 5th century (BCE), historian, and in a political speech about monarchy, said this about kings, which could easily be extrapolated to apply to gods, of whatever flavor:

    “How could a monarchy ever be suitably arranged – with someone who is unaccountable to anyone else, being able to do whatever he likes? For even the best of men, placed in such a situation, would not be able to maintain his normal character. He would become arrogant, due to his current good fortune.”

    He went on to say:

    “Respect him appropriately, and he is irritated because he is not being fawned over sufficiently. Fawn over him, and he is irritated because you are a flatterer. But the greatest perils I will mention are that he disrupts the laws of the land, violates women, and murders men without trial.”

    In short,

    “Power corrupts,
    Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    God is all-powerful.
    Draw your own conclusions –”
    ~ Anonymous ~

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  27. I also think there are some contradictions between what Jesus said, what Paul taught, and what James wrote (i.e. the way to Salvation: loving your neighbors vs. by faith alone vs. by deeds and faith). But I also understand (or I think I do) what Paul meant by us not questioning God. Even if his views of God are different from ours, I can appreciate not questioning what cannot be explained by our limited minds, such as why there are earthquakes and wars. The world is what it is, and all we can do is try to make sense of it, and try to learn and grow from the unfavorable circumstances, not question if there is really a God.

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  28. “Tide goes in, tide goes out – you can’t explain that –“

    Is that what you’re trying to say, Noel? Earthquakes CAN be explained, as can wars – you can choose to hide your head in the Bible if you like, I want to be out there, learning how things work, rather than satisfying myself with, “Goddidit!”

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  29. Archaeopterynx1, sorry about the misunderstanding… I did not mean we do not understand what causes earthquakes or war, but “why” God would permit it.

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  30. “[W]e’re not questioning God, Paul, we’re questioning you and the authors of the Old Testament.”

    I’m hoping you realize, Nate, that I share comments with you and your ‘site visitors — not so much because I’ve got an axe to grind or a point of view to promote — but because I’m trying to figure out how to place what it is that I believe within the context of your “Atheist” vs. “Christian” debate.

    I read this post when you first published it, so I’ve had a while to consider it. My overall reaction is to announce to you that you’re expecting much too much out of the Bible, much too much out of Paul and much too much out of the letter to the Romans.

    My approach, upon reading your selected passage from Chapter Nine, is to begin by putting Paul’s comments within the context of something far larger than the specific topic he’s addressing. I think it’s important to acknowledge the “question beneath the question”. THAT question isn’t a ‘Christian’ question or a ‘believers’ question — it’s a human question. It’s a question we’re all stuck with. It’s a question I can’t side-step by identifying myself as an atheist.

    That’s the question I want to look at with you.

    An observation we ALL come to at some point in our lives is this: “Some guys have all the luck.” And, I dare say, the very fact of our being human impels us to ask “why.” I can knead my ideas about God into my response. I can fashion some sort of response that doesn’t rely upon the existence of God. I can reference the scriptures of any of the religions that humanity has ever developed, I can rely upon the words of a philosopher, or humanist, or scientist. I can ‘wing it’ and pull an answer “out of my ass” as it were.

    What I can’t do is pretend that the question means nothing to me.

    Why oh why is everything so unfair? Why oh why is it impossible for me (or anyone else, it seems) to sit comfortably in this world of unfairness?

    It’s an extraordinarily important question, it’s an extraordinarily difficult question and it’s the question that Paul has taken up in this passage.

    You’re dissatisfied with his response, I suspect, because you’re looking for him to provide the ‘final word’ on the matter. I’m not so hard on him. I’m looking, only, for him to provide a thoughtful, honest and heartfelt step along the path of the human conversation about what it means to be human. Because I use the standard do, I’m satisfied with Paul. Because I use the standard I do, I feel no compulsion to contort my thoughts into conformance with his. My job, as I see it, is simply to attempt to be understanding and accepting and — if you will — forgiving of Paul and his words.

    After I do that, I can offer a thoughtful, honest and heartfelt step of my own as a contribution to the discussion (which, we all realize, has been going on for millennia) without finding myself either on “Paul’s side” or the “other side.”

    I’ve got much more to say — but I’m very curious to know what you, and your readers, have to say about what I’ve said already.

    Peace,

    Paul

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  31. “Why oh why is everything so unfair? Why oh why is it impossible for me (or anyone else, it seems) to sit comfortably in this world of unfairness?”

    My response, Cap’n, would be quite close to what you would expect – “fair” and “unfair” are human concepts, promulgated by those who envision an imaginary scale and expect everything to balance. The Universe, on the other hand – to use the technical term – doesn’t give a rat’s ass about fairness, and doesn’t even recognize the concept. I sit quite comfortably in that Universe, because it’s the only one I have.

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  32. I have to agree with Arch. Without waxing too philosophically, I think we just have to accept that “it is what it is” (to use a rather jaded saying). Most of the time there is no rhyme or reason why things happen the way they do. And, IMO, you will drive yourself “bonkers” trying to figure out the fairness or unfairness of life.

    I realize this doesn’t directly reflect on the topic of the original posting, but I felt it needed to be said after reading both Arch’s and the Captain’s comments.

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  33. After Nan’s comment, regarding “the topic of the original posting,” I decided maybe I’d better go back and reread it, as to be honest, I’d lost all track, and was simply responding to the comments of others, regardless of how on- or off-topic those were.

    But in doing so, I reacquainted myself with this:

    “He’s a god with an inferiority complex. Such a god does not actually care for his creation; he uses them as pawns for his own glory. And who is this god trying to impress? Obviously not humans, if he thinks so little of us.

    Does anyone not really look at what “heaven” is about? It’s not about strolling under the shade of olive trees with your loved ones, it’s about praising god, 24/7, for eternity! What kind of supreme being needs that?

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  34. William

    I think it’s those who believe in god(s) that wonder most about fairness, because if god is in control and loves us all, why is he letting some live or die much worse than others? Wouldn’t god be fair and loving, without playing favorites?

    But like others have said, it is what it is – don’t lose any sleep over that.

    Revelation 6:9-11 is interesting to me. It’s a scene in heaven (or at least the afterlife) of martyrs who are complaining and begging god for vengeance, for the blood of those who killed them…. It’s confusing to me because I had always thought that those who died in Christ would be content in death. I thought they’d be happy or whatever – but not bitterly pissed off and blood hungry.

    I don’t find earth that miserable, and at times it is as much as I would ever hope for. Sitting around heaven, angry about being there, singing hymns until god got tired of hearing them…. Eternal bliss…

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  35. Hey Paul,

    Piggy backing off what others have said, I believe that this is actually one of several weights on the scales which pushes me toward the atheist versus the theist conclusion. With atheism this kind of random unfairness is to be expected, but with theism I am left with this difficult question that you have rightly attributed to this passage.

    This passage however seems even more insidious to me, because it seems clear to me that Paul is talking about not only difficulties in life but also determination of our eternity. His answer is that God determines from the start who is bound for destruction and who is bound for glory. That’s not only nauseating to me, but it doesn’t match up with the god as described in traditional mono-theism – a god who loves his creation and wants to be in relationship with all of them.

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  36. When you really sit down and read all that Paul wrote, I don’t see how anyone can come away without the realization that he had a very strange outlook on God, Jesus, and the afterlife. Of course, believers have been brainwashed — whoops — persuaded that he had all the answers. What he said was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him god.

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  37. @Nan, @William, @arch, @Howie

    Thank you all so much for your quick response!

    Honestly, arch, I got a laugh out of your comment, “‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ are human concepts”. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?? Where did we come up with those concepts? Certainly not by observing nature which, as you pointed out, is cold, heartless and doesn’t “give a rat’s ass” about any of us.

    As most of you know, my wife kept a blog (http://heartonthejourney.wordpress.com/) during the last fourteen months of her life. Naturally the whole ‘fair’ question was regularly batted around by her and her readers — and I added thoughts of my own from time to time.

    I knew Pam was doomed from the time her doctor diagnosed her. She had a glioblastoma that was going to eat her brain, she was going to die in a year or two, and there weren’t nothing nobody could do about it. It was obvious to me then (as it had always been, really) that the forces of nature that controlled her cancer weren’t at all constrained by anyone’s concept of fair.

    But “justice” was the driving force behind her care. She “deserved” to be treated well, with dignity. She deserved to be able to make the best use of her body she could. She deserved the best medical treatment and the best emotional support. The cancer didn’t give a rat’s ass, but all of us did.

    This ‘justice’ wasn’t something I dreamed up on my own. Everyone, from what I could see, was ‘on board’ and “everyone” included believers, non-believers, ex-believers and what not.

    Pardon me for selecting a personal example, but I’m pretty sure just about everybody has to deal with a similar situation at some point.

    I claim, and you will all disagree, that my capacity to make sure that my wife was treated justly derived from my faith in a just God. I’m pretty sure that if I doubted the justice or compassion of God I would have had a hard time keeping my spirits up; but I had my eyes on a loving God whom I tried to emulate even as I was being immersed in the effects of natural processes which were undeniably heartless. I rejected the ways of the natural “god” I could see and embraced the ways of the just God I could not see.

    When I talk about ‘faith’, that’s what I’m talking about. I had to decide whether to believe in an invisible goodness or succumb to the despair of the visible cruelty.

    You don’t believe in God, but I’ll bet you believe in enough to believe the same things I believe about just treatment for the sick. Don’t accept my conclusion that these ideas of justice come “from God’ — but propose some sort of theory of your own about where these ideas come from. I’d really be interested.

    “Fair” and “unfair” are human concepts. Not simply human but universally human, pervasively human, inescapably human.

    You know, just as I know, that nature is a frigid bitch — but you’re human, and you long for justice just like I do. How do you explain it?

    Paul

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  38. Dave Hedgepeth

    “My response, Cap’n, would be quite close to what you would expect – “fair” and “unfair” are human concepts, promulgated by those who envision an imaginary scale and expect everything to balance. The Universe, on the other hand – to use the technical term – doesn’t give a rat’s ass about fairness, and doesn’t even recognize the concept….”

    arch, i appreciate the honesty of your comment. bottom line, who determines “fair” and “unfair” if not God? and if there are no God or gods, then the fact that thousands of people die from hunger each day, or human trafficking is thriving, or someone just cut in front of me in line at the supermarket – there’s really no “right” judgment we can make against those people or those things, is there?

    as far as paul goes, he gets to his bottom line at the end of this section (chapters 9 thru 11 as a whole, not just chapter 9 out of context): 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (romans 11:30-32; NIV) (NIV uses non-inclusive language, but “men” should be read “people.”)

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  39. “Where did we come up with those concepts?”

    They, much like gods, are not based on what there is, but rather what we wish there were.

    “I claim, and you will all disagree, that my capacity to make sure that my wife was treated justly derived from my faith in a just God.”

    It may surprise you, but I don’t disagree at all – your capacity did indeed derive from your faith in a just god – not from the god, but from the faith.

    Just treatment for the sick” certainly has nothing to do with a god, but rather with what we would wish for ourselves, the source of all empathy.

    I am deeply sorry about the loss of your wife, I was totally unaware of that. I am presently losing someone who lives in Australia, to cancer, about whom I care deeply, and I do understand the feeling of helplessness.

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  40. The concept of an afterlife came late in Judaism . It came about as a result of the Jews getting their butts handed to them time and time again. Since it didn’t look like they were going to get their just rewards here on earth for the constant persecution they received from the Babylonians amongst others, the concept of rewards after they were dead was born.

    When we witness persecution of our own or of loved ones and we realize it’s not going to get any better in our lifetime , for some, their only hope is it will be better in their afterlife.

    If people wish to believe in a God during those perilous times , it’s not for us to judge whether this God is real to us or not. He is real to them and is a coping tool for them.

    It matters not if I agree with Captain, this was his private tragedy and he dealt with it in a manner which gave him the most strength and peace.

    My debate(s) with Captain will remain with Christianity and the Bible. but not with his personal tragedy .

    I think most of you here feel the same way. That’s one of the many things I like about this group. Compassion usually prevails here no matter our beliefs.

    Ken

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  41. Hey Paul,

    Your question is a common one from theists. The more I discuss it the more I realize that it is really the same question (although it is hard to realize it) as “why does anything exist at all?” Feelings of justice, fairness, and morality are all things that have been and could be explained as naturally arising from evolutionary processes as Arch has said. Sharon Street, Richard Joyce and Michael Ruse are authors who could expound further on this. While I don’t see Occam’s razor as a perfect rule it is at least a general guideline and in this case I can see it being applied here in this sense – since we can explain these feelings by natural causes there is no need to posit invisible agents to further the explanation.

    There are other atheist philosophers who do go further and believe in some kind of moral laws which exist necessarily somehow as brute facts of reality (sort of like Platonic abstracta). Shelly Kagan, Erik Weilenberg, and Michael Martin are just some atheists who have expressed this idea.

    Lately the following has been a response I’ve been giving to express my own feelings about this subject: I want life on earth for everyone to be as positive an experience as possible. It is simply a desire of mine and that desire would remain no matter if there are moral rules that exist or not. My gut feeling is you feel the same. I actually would like it if there were moral truths, and would even prefer there to be gods that existed that are somehow helping us in achieving this. I say people like you and I should simply shake hands and make our best effort to work together to make our world a better place and if there are any gods that want to help out then I say “the more the merrier!!”.

    You are so right that nature seems like a frigid bitch. The story of your wife and so many others like it attest to that and it saddens me. I’m sorry to hear about your story.

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  42. Oh, I do agree Ken, with one minor exception, the Captain seems to think that the compassion you speak so highly of, comes from an outside, spiritual source, while I maintain it emanates from within.

    “The song is in the tree,
    the skeptic showeth me.
    No Sir! In Thee –”
    ~ Emily Dickenson ~

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  43. Dave Hedgepeth

    “The concept of an afterlife came late in Judaism .”

    ken, i don’t think this is true. the torah certainly does have a focus on this present life. and yes, various ideas of the afterlife began to emerge more and more in later judaism. one theory is that after escaping from slavery in egypt, in order to distinguish themselves from the egyptians who focused so much on life after death, the hebrew people turned to – and were given – laws for living well “here and now,” and came only gradually to further developing afterlife theology. but the concept was born long before the babylonian persecution (i’m guessing you mean the exile).

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  44. I’m inclined to concur with Ken, Dave – I use several Jewish sources in my writing, including chabad.org, and from all indications, there is no belief in an afterlife within the Jewish faith. I suspect we can look to Mithraism, from the captivity, or later, the Greeks, after Alexander’s conquest of the Levant c.300 BCE.

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  45. For the most part, the Torah describes the afterlife in vague terms, many of which may simply be figurative ways of speaking about death as it is observed by the living.

    http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/beliefs/afterlife.htm

    Later in the Torah, the concept of conscious life after death begins to develop. Daniel 12:2 declares, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.” Neh. 9:5.

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  46. I don’t have it at my fingertips, Marc – much of it comes from a Rabbi – I’ll have to check and get back to you.

    You know, don’t you, that if your child loses a puppy or a kitten, it’s not the same, if you rush out and buy him another one – right?

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  47. It appears to me that Job through his trials and tribulations had a “Desire” for an afterlife. I’m not sure that I find God validating his desire in the Book of Job. I will defer to Dave if he can provide scripture in Job to validate this.

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  48. The Oxford Bible Commentary says about Job, “In Job’s view, death is final. Not everyone in Ancient Israel shared his opinion, and gradually a belief in an afterlife emerged (Isa 26:19, Dan 12:2, Ps 73:23-8)

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  49. The Oxford Bible Commentary goes on to say, “It seems almost certain for most of the period of the Old Testament no happy life after death was envisaged. It was only with the Maccabean martyrs and the apocalypses that hopes of a resurrection appeared (cf. Dan 12:2)

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  50. @Arch

    “[Concepts], much like gods, are not based on what there is, but rather what we wish there were.”

    I kind of think you”ll agree with the following point once you’ve read over your sentence.

    A god, as you point out, may or may not exist; but a CONCEPT exists simply by us imagining it. To elaborate unnecessarily, you can argue that God doesn’t exist; but you have to concede that the concept of god exists simply by the fact that you’re talking about it.

    To be unnecessarily nerdy, until something exists as a CONCEPT it can’t even have the characteristic of non-existence.

    As to the concept of justice…

    You’re probably familiar with Dr. King’s stirring comment, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I’m hearing a voice in my head retorting, “Who’s justice? King’s justice?? Baptist justice??? Christian justice????” It’s the kind of comment that gets trotted out relentlessly by non-believers and provokes believers to go off on rants about the perils of relativism.

    Do you agree with me when I say that even after you’ve eliminated God, religion, scripture and ecclesiastical authority you’ve still got the human personality and, from everything I’ve heard from others or felt in myself, real happiness is impossible without some degree of justice. Not only that, but we humans seem to be universally convinced that whatever society we happen to be living in could potentially become MORE just, and more justice would lead to more happiness — and people seem to be able to agree that we all want happiness.

    Before there is justice there is the CONCEPT of justice and it seems to me that Dr. King’s arc of morality can only bend once a sufficient number of people buy into that concept.

    Any agreement?

    Paul

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  51. It’s evident that the concepts of Heaven and Hell as afterlife destinations occurred late in Judaism. The Book of Job and parts of the Torah speak about sheol as a “realm of the dead.” Whether this was an afterlife or just a reference to death itself isn’t always clear. What is clear is that there was no real difference between where the righteous and the unrighteous would end up.

    Cap’n,
    Sorry I didn’t get a reply to you yesterday, though everyone else here expressed the same basic views that I hold as well. Howie, in particular, has a knack for saying what I’m thinking. 🙂

    I’m very sorry about your wife. I think it’s a wonderful thing that she (and you) chose to blog about her illness. No doubt it was very helpful to others out there, and hopefully cathartic for both of you as well. I haven’t had a chance to read much of it in detail yet, but I will. And I’ll make sure I have a box of tissues handy.

    Thanks, as always, for your great comments.

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  52. Do you agree with me when I say that even after you’ve eliminated God, religion, scripture and ecclesiastical authority you’ve still got the human personality and, from everything I’ve heard from others or felt in myself, real happiness is impossible without some degree of justice. Not only that, but we humans seem to be universally convinced that whatever society we happen to be living in could potentially become MORE just, and more justice would lead to more happiness — and people seem to be able to agree that we all want happiness.

    Before there is justice there is the CONCEPT of justice and it seems to me that Dr. King’s arc of morality can only bend once a sufficient number of people buy into that concept.

    I would agree. But usually, this is the point when theists say that God is necessary for those concepts. I don’t agree with that…

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  53. Justice: (1) The quality of being just or fair; (2) Judgment involved in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards and punishments.

    Curious — which definition is the one that brings happiness?

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  54. All I’ve been able to locate so far, Marc – and not to be rude, but I really don’t have a great deal of time to spend on it – is that it appears a Talmudic scholar named Raba concluded that Job denied resurrection. I have no details, just that simple statement – it would sound as though denying the prospect of resurrection is not a good thing. I wish I had more time to look, and if I find myself with some, I will and report back. Interestingly, some of the scholars believed Job to have been a Gentile. Oi vey!

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  55. Further to arch’s comment re: Job, while doing research for my book, I read that many in the scholarly field contend the Book of Job is nothing more than a type of “folk tale” (parable, allegory, fable) written to assure the Israelites living during the terrible times of the Exile that God remained faithful. If there is any truth to this, then the discussion of his outlook on the resurrection is moot.

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  56. You’re asking me to do an awful lot of thinking on very little coffee.

    “To be unnecessarily nerdy, until something exists as a CONCEPT it can’t even have the characteristic of non-existence.”

    CC, not to sound patronizing, but they don’t make numbers large enough to count the things that don’t exist, for which we have yet to formulate a concept, because without a concept of them, we can’t count them, but they still don’t exist. The only difference, is that without a concept, we don’t know they don’t exist.

    Re Dr. King’s morality – and I was with him in Selma, BTW: “Who’s justice? King’s justice?? Baptist justice??? Christian justice????” You have to understand that King was first of all, a Minister, I would expect him to speak in religious terms.

    real happiness is impossible without some degree of justice” – sorry, I just don’t see that there’s a relationship. Would I LIKE to see more justice? Depends on what you’re calling justice this week – tit for tat, eye for an eye? Not really, it certainly wouldn’t increase my happiness. Two nights ago, a young teenage boy (17) walked into a convenience store with a rifle and shot the clerk, a young African man – studying in this country, engaged to be married shortly – just because he wanted to see what it felt like to kill someone. What justice would you recommend here, CC? What kind of justice would give this young man his life back, along with his education, his fiancee, and for that matter, his parents their son back? No such justice exists, so we’d better be ready to find a way to be happy without it, or prepared to live a very sad life.

    The young man who did this was physically a very attractive young man with his whole life ahead of him. He can now look forward to being tried as an adult and spending his life in prison, being sodomized until he’s no longer attractive, then becoming the sodomizer. How will that make me any happier? Or the parents or fiancee of the dead man? Or anyone, really?

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  57. Not necessarily, Nan, if it was written in exilic times, then that could well be an indication that the concept came from contact with foreign ideologies, rather than having been in any way inherent in the Hebrew faith.

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  58. Marc

    Thanks, Arch, KC, Nan, Nate, and Cap’n. I appreciate you all taking the time to address my question about Job. I think the consensus that the concepts about Sheol, the realm of the dead, and the possibility of life after death, developing over time makes sense.

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  59. BTW, Nate – assuming you’re lurking out there somewhere – I realize that this particular thread is about Paul, but Nan raised what I think is an interesting point in her book, Things I Never Learned in Sunday School (available on Amazon) – Paul’s letters predate the gospels by a significant number of years. Has anyone access to any authorities who have analyzed whether or not Paul’s writings may have influenced the anonymous authors of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John?

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  60. Well, dear friends, let’s talk about justice:

    @arch

    “Would I LIKE to see more justice? Depends on what you’re calling justice this week – tit for tat, eye for an eye? Not really, it certainly wouldn’t increase my happiness. ”

    Did I miss something? Have I been accused of changing my mind, on a weekly basis, about what justice means? If so, I protest that that’s a grossly unfair accusation!

    Justice means big things and little things; it means that when I walk into a store I wait for my turn to check out if somebody else finishes her shopping before I do. It means I pay for the items I take. It means I treat the clerk (and everyone else, for that matter) with respect. Am I saying anything here that is controversial?

    Were I to walk into a store and shoot the clerk that would be an injustice, the opposite of justice.

    I can’t be the only one here who notices that the just world is a world where I can be happy whereas the unjust world is a world where I could only be miserable. If I’m treated unjustly, I’ll be unhappy; and if I’m stuck in a situation where I must behave unjustly in order to get by — I’ll be unhappy about that!

    I realize that the word “justice” can be used in several ways and that it’s possible to use the word to apply, not to the condition of people treating each other right, but to the actions taken to deal with people who DON’T treat other people right.

    Let me do something I usually don’t do and refer to a passage in the Christian scriptures. Specifically, to the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8, 1-11). I myself am well satisfied that the events depicted in this story didn’t actually happen to Jesus (or to anyone else in any of the various cultures where similar stories are told.) For one thing, it seems far-fetched to think that a little vigilante crew of “crime stoppers” would bother to drag their offender (caught in the very act of sinning!) to Jesus in order to get his thoughts on the matter. It also seems that the statement, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” is unlikely to actually stop a stone-thrower in his tracks — much as we might appreciate the poetry of such a declaration.

    I like the story because it can be used profitably as an “instructive fable”. And the instruction is all about justice. Specifically, about the dichotomous ways the word can be used. The vigilante crowd used to word to mean “sinners getting ‘what’s coming to them'”. To Jesus it meant people appreciating the importance of marriage and upholding marital fidelity. Jesus (or, more properly, the fictionalized Jesus of the parable) could see that stoning the woman wasn’t going to improve relations between unmarried couples. So he employed a method that actually had some promise of working, which was to let the woman off with a stern warning.

    “Eye for an eye” and so on is justice in the way the would-be stone throwers used the word. I’m using the word in the same way as the hero of our little fable.

    Does that make it any clearer?

    Paul

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  61. It was never unclear in the first place.

    The “you” referred to in both my comment and yours, was a universal “you,” which might better have been written, “one.”

    You’re trying to define justice in such a way that will force us to say it must have had divine sources, and I have no inclination to play that.

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  62. Paul,

    I can’t be the only one here who notices that the just world is a world where I can be happy whereas the unjust world is a world where I could only be miserable. If I’m treated unjustly, I’ll be unhappy; and if I’m stuck in a situation where I must behave unjustly in order to get by — I’ll be unhappy about that!

    I’m pretty sure I see that too, and I think Nate’s very last reply to you also said he saw that as well – I’m not totally clear on exactly what you are suggesting, but it sounds like simple practical morality (my own terminology). In other words, there are actions that we can do that will promote the welfare and flourishing of conscious beings. This is a popular take on moral realism that can be agreed upon by both atheists and theists in my opinion. Massimo Pigliucci is an atheist who explains this position well (can easily be found with a free search). Richard Carrier is another atheist who tries to popularize this in laypersons terms as well.

    But where are you taking this reasoning? Is it what Arch is suggesting?

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  63. Dave Hedgepeth

    as usual, the conversation has taken some swift (and interesting) changes in direction… but i do want to get back to afterlife in judaism. using a source arch cites, chabad.org, there is an article which specifically says the torah contains the concept of the afterlife: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/266286/jewish/Do-Jews-Believe-in-an-Afterlife.htm. i understand that the ancient jewish concept is different than later jewish, and christian, concepts. but it’s not correct to say that the jews had no concept of the afterlife, and that they only made it up when the babylonians started breaking down the walls (which is, essentially, ken’s contention).

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  64. @Dave,”but it’s not correct to say that the jews had no concept of the afterlife, and that they only made it up when the babylonians started breaking down the walls (which is, essentially, ken’s contention).”

    I never said the jews had no concept of the afterlife. I said the concept of an afterlife came late in Judaism.

    I provided several sources to support this including the Oxford Bible Commentary. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I was simply quoting out of a book which is used by scholars throughout the world .

    If you’re simply looking at articles , there are probably as many articles to refute your idea as supports it.

    That’s the beauty of religion and religious documents. One can always find a quote to support anything one wants to believe . 🙂

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  65. @Arch, @Nan, @Howie, @Nate

    I seem to have fallen in with a gaggle of hyper-vigilant paranoids!

    A very, very sweet gaggle, mind you; but paranoid all the same.

    It is not my intention to catch the lot of you off guard, trip you up and dupe you all into faith. Of course, the idea of it is so delightfully absurd that you’ve got me chuckling about it — and I’m ready for my laugh about now.

    I told you what my point is. The issue Paul dealt with in Romans 9 (or the ‘issue beneath the issue’ as it were) is one you have to contend with whether you believe in God or you don’t. We’re ALREADY in even ground, here, without needing to agree about God’s existence.

    Instead of trying to make sense of God, let’s content ourselves to try and make sense of ourselves, of the human person. We’re desperate for justice, and goodness, and love and mutual regard and, yet, we live in a world ‘red in tooth and claw’ as Tennyson called it.

    That’s the knot Paul was trying to unravel. I agree with you that his solution to the puzzle was less than satisfactory; but I urge you not to be so rough on him. Each one of us has to confront the same confounding knot — and it’s no easy trick to untie it.

    We’re warm in a cold universe. We’re very warm in a very cold universe. We’re very warm, and very, very small in a very cold and very, very large universe.

    Please don’t try to slough off this essential existential question as if it were one only ‘believers’ had to wrestle with.

    Paul

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  66. @ Dave

    If the afterlife was so great ( or even existed) someone would have figured out how to get a message across that could be understood by everyone.
    I mean, are we not continually being told by the Christian brethren how shitty this life is and how they can’t wait for JC to show jhis bearded mug in a blaze of loving glory as he nukes us all to Hell – because he loves us of course. And how god’s chambermaids are busy making up the beds for us in Heaven?

    ”If only they would worship me, the ungrateful sods”, mused the god, God

    “Tell my old boss he can go ”eff ” himself. The water’s fine, and the chicks are hot. Come on over. Regards.
    Dave”

    If this were true, of course, I venture there would be a massive increase in suicides.
    Sadly, such hopefuls would be presented with a very different picture.

    In the famous words of Cheech and Chong. “Dave’s, not here, man”.

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  67. 😀 I’m laughing with you on that one Paul!! I can admit being paranoid in that sense – maybe I’ve been online too long conversing with theists who want to shove their god down my throat! 😉 I appreciate your different approach.

    As far as your point goes, I think you should go back and read our comments over. Yes I think we are in the same boat as far as wanting to be content. But we expressed pretty clearly why we’re not in the same boat as to the difficulty of that existential question. And we’ve also explained other reasons why this passage can be quite disturbing.

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  68. “We’re desperate for justice, and goodness, and love and mutual regard….”

    I don’t dislike you, CC, please believe that, but we just seem to disagree on so many fronts. You see, I’m NOT desperate for justice, I don’t expect goodness, although it’s nice when I find it, and I’m quite aware that love and mutual regard must be earned, not expected.

    Alexander was reputed to have some degree of insight as to how to slice through such a knotty problem.

    And the more I learn of Paul, the more I have reason to believe that his main struggle dealt with how to increase his own influence within the Judeo/Greco/Roman world.

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  69. ARE we so paranoid, CC, or didn’t you make it abundantly clear in your original comment, to wit:

    “Honestly, arch, I got a laugh out of your comment, ‘fair and unfair are human concepts”. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?? Where did we come up with those concepts? Certainly not by observing nature which, as you pointed out, is cold, heartless and doesn’t ‘give a rat’s ass’ about any of us.”

    If I’m so paranoid, prithee tell us where do YOU think we came up with those concepts? Are you trying to guide us to say a box of CrackerJacks?

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  70. @arch

    “You see, I’m NOT desperate for justice, I don’t expect goodness, although it’s nice when I find it, and I’m quite aware that love and mutual regard must be earned, not expected.”

    Methinks the Pteryx doth protest too much!

    If you truly are unperturbed when you’re violated or ripped off, you’re the very first of that stripe I’ve ever come across….

    Paul

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  71. Actually, now that you mention it, I don’t recall ever having been either. Maybe I’ve just lived a rather sheltered life. Possibly it’s in my perspective – there are things I can do something about, and things I can’t. Those I can, I do – those I can’t, I relegate to a garbage heap I call the past, and never dwell on them again.

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  72. Instead of trying to make sense of God, let’s content ourselves to try and make sense of ourselves, of the human person. We’re desperate for justice, and goodness, and love and mutual regard and, yet, we live in a world ‘red in tooth and claw’ as Tennyson called it.

    That’s the knot Paul was trying to unravel. I agree with you that his solution to the puzzle was less than satisfactory; but I urge you not to be so rough on him. Each one of us has to confront the same confounding knot — and it’s no easy trick to untie it.

    Hi Paul,

    I agree with you here. I think Paul was trying to make sense of his place in the world, as we all are. And like most of us, there were some core beliefs that he held onto a priori and never went back to question. His faith in the Jewish god was the main one. Given how that god was portrayed, given the promises he made to the Jews (according to their scriptures) and given the current state of Paul’s world, he was really just trying to rationalize everything. At least, that’s how I see him.

    I don’t really fault Paul for his conclusions, but that doesn’t mean I agree with him. I think his conclusions were bogus and bring up many more difficulties than they solve. Even when this chapter of Romans is read in context, it’s obvious that Paul’s ultimate answer was that God’s sovereignty trumps all. He can do what he wants because he’s god, and we have no right to call foul.

    Anyway, leaving Paul aside, I agree with you about justice. I do crave it. By justice, I don’t mean payback — I think that’s largely irrelevant. I crave the kind of justice you were talking about: kindness, fairness, respect, courtesy, etc. The world can be better than it is, and I hope that more and more people will work together to bring more justice to society, regardless of their religious beliefs.

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  73. Nate, if Cap wants to get into the “essential existential question,” maybe you should consider writing another post that addresses this. Seems to me it’s a topic that stands on its own since it plays a role in one’s viewpoint of life — whether or not they believe in god(s).Just a suggestion.

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  74. CC, although I’ve no doubt you believe I’m simply being obstreperous, but I believe that you think that because you and I rather loosely belong to the same species, we must have the same wants and needs, or even the same definition of terms. I maintain, nay, nay, not so.

    You imply I should – I believe your word was, “crave” justice. I quit smoking last Summer – I CRAVE a cigarette, every minute of every day – that’s what crave means to me. As far as justice for a mass murderer is concerned, as long as he’s taken off the street, where he won’t continue to hurt others, I couldn’t care less how he is punished, of even IF he’s punished – actually, I’d just as soon he was hospitalized, so as to determine what makes him want to kill, and to see if that can be cured.

    You can’t prove your point (whatEVER it might have been), by comparing, or making assumptions based on, our commonalities, they’re too scarce.

    (But if you can get me a cigarette, I’ll agree to anything you say!)

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  75. Marc

    Arch,

    I agree with your point about justice being the protection of others, and the cure of the criminal if possible. There have been those in the early Church who viewed judgment as diagnosis, and punishment as corrective therapy. As an Orthodox Christian, I share this view.

    I never knew when I was being vociferous I was also being obstreperous. Thanks for expanding my vocabulary Arch.

    (If someone gives you a cigarette, you will probably just blow smoke up their ass.)

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  76. Hey Marc – I had to look up the word “obstreperous” too. I guess sophisticated words like that should be expected from a guy named Archaeopteryx! 😉

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  77. @Arch

    “I believe that you think that because you and I rather loosely belong to the same species, we must have the same wants and needs, or even the same definition of terms. I maintain, nay, nay, not so.”

    Uncle! While it’s certainly true that I AM of the belief that those of us who “rather loosely belong to the same species” (??) have a great deal of commonality, and while it is also true that I go out of my way to look for ways we humans are similar rather than different, I have no desire to fight you.

    I shall, however, think of you the next time I light a cigarette and will blow some second-hand smoke in your (virtual) direction!

    🙂

    Paul

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  78. “I have no desire to fight you.”

    Fight? We’re not fighting! Are we fighting?

    “I shall, however, think of you the next time I light a cigarette and will blow some second-hand smoke in your (virtual) direction!”

    You really know how to hurt a guy —

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  79. Marc

    Arch,

    Hang in there on the cigarette thing. I have lost close family and friends to COPD and lung cancer, and there is nothing worse than watching helplessly as the one your care for struggles to breathe. I was able to kick that habit, and you are more disciplined they I am. You need to hang around to illuminate and humor us.

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  80. Dave Hedgepeth

    @arketanen

    in the famous words of cheech & chong, “you mean we’re smokin’ dog ****, man?”

    actually, ark, my heart is filled with love (of the christian, brotherly sort) that you are finally beginning to waste your time on little ol’ me again.

    Like

  81. Dave Hedgepeth

    @ken

    “If you’re simply looking at articles , there are probably as many articles to refute your idea as supports it. That’s the beauty of religion and religious documents. One can always find a quote to support anything one wants to believe . :-)”
    you certainly are correct about that. but whether it’s you or me or anyone else, it’s important to try to see quotes, events, persons, etc. in context – and for us to call each other on it when something comes up as perhaps not quite true (or at least as simple as it might at first seem).

    “I never said the jews had no concept of the afterlife. I said the concept of an afterlife came late in Judaism.”
    my interpretation of what you said was that the the jews came up with a concept of the afterlife only when the babylonians started persecuting them (i took that to mean the 6th century bc). as just discussed, however, that contention is at least questionable.

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  82. I’m in the US, but thanks to the wonderfulness of the WWW, I have a good friend in Australia – she and I were supposedly quitting together last summer. I quit, and she’s in the final stages of esophageal cancer, as we speak. Though we never met, her passing will leave a hole in my heart. I owe it to her to stick with it.

    Like

  83. Dave, as you no doubt know, many of the various empires that existed over the couple of thousand years the OT covers had voracious appetites for conquest, but one country that, though certainly sufficiently mighty, rarely engaged in conquest, was Egypt. The reasons the Egyptians didn’t go on long, drawn-out campaigns like that of Sargon, the Akkadian ruler of Mesopotamia, or Hammurabi, the Amurrite, a millennium later, was because of the complex rituals the Egyptians believed were necessary for the Egyptian soul to make it safely to the afterlife, they were impossible under battle conditions in distant lands, whereas the much-needed ingredients necessary were readily available on their home turf – they were fierce fighters close to home, but battle-wise, they didn’t get out much.

    My point is, that if the Hebrews had any belief in an afterlife, it could have easily been borrowed during their many, frequent contacts with Egypt and it’s culture, just as they borrowed their flood story and Tower of Babel fable from Mesopotamia.

    The “one god” thing was about the only original thing the Israelites ever came up with.

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  84. Dave Hedgepeth

    @arch
    perhaps you do, after all, have many of the same wants and needs, not to mention motivations, as the rest the species… as captain has suggested.
    my prayers for you and your friend. (can i say that on this site?)

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  85. Dave Hedgepeth

    @arch
    no, i really had not considered that aspect of egyptian religion and history. so thanks for the short lesson.
    as far as the afterlife, yes, that is a possibility, one which many have posited. its is also possible that the borrowing was the other way around… or maybe even that the “stories” are actually based in reality. regarding that, i am, more than likely, a minority of one on this site. i’ll brace myself.

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  86. RE: “(can i say that on this site?)” – what kind of advocates of free thought would we be if any of us said, “No!”

    I thank you for your kind thoughts, which are genuinely appreciated, but as for your prayers, I’d really rather have a hamburger, extra onions —

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  87. You don’t get it, Dave – places like this are FOR discussing things like that – you’re not going to be condemned or ganged up on for holding a contrary point of view.

    Regarding reverse borrowing, I’ve done the math, and you’re free to as well, and you’ll find there is only half enough water in, on, under, or above the earth to cover this globe even as high as Mt. Ararat – say nothing of Everest, so I’ll say nothing of it – and of that, 90% of it is already below sea level and unavailable for flooding, so the Biblical flood never happened. BUT there was a flood, in Mesopotamia c.2900 BCE), about 300 years before biblical chronology would suggest “Noah” was born, that flooded an area of about the equivalent of three US counties, when the Euphrates River flooded to a depth of 15 cubits (22.5 ft) – an actual HISTORICAL king, King Ziusudra (see Sumerian Kings List), escaped the flood by boarding a merchant barge loaded with cotton, cattle and beer (oh my!): http://www.noahs-ark-flood.com/index.html

    In fact, the oldest known piece of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh a fictional story involving a fictional version of Ziusudra, known as Utinapistim was tossed about for a week while his flood raged, then, as it subsided, he sent out birds, a dove came back. Once he disemb-arked, he built an altar and sacrificed to the gods, which, according to the Epic they surrounded like flies, once they “smelled the sweet savor.” Interestingly, when we look at Gen 8:21, set 300 years later, and actually written over a thousand years later, we have: “the Lord smelled the sweet savor.”

    I don’t discount your beliefs, those are yours, to do with as you please, but I do think you would do well to supplement those with information.

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  88. @Dave, “my interpretation of what you said was that the the jews came up with a concept of the afterlife only when the babylonians started persecuting them (i took that to mean the 6th century bc). as just discussed, however, that contention is at least questionable.”

    If you read what I said again, ” Since it didn’t look like they were going to get their just rewards here on earth for the constant persecution they received from the Babylonians amongst others, the concept of rewards after they were dead was born.”

    I didn’t say their concept of an afterlife was born through Babylonian persecution, I said their concept of receiving just rewards in the afterlife was born through their persecution at the hands of Babylonians amongst others. I think “amongst others” gives me a little
    wiggle room for dating even though you are trying to pin me down to 600 BC 🙂 If we take the word of the Oxford Bible Commentary, they date the Jewish concept of a happy life after death with the Maccabean Martyrs which would be a much later date yet !

    I will stand by the reference I used from the Oxford Bible Commentary, “It seems almost certain for most of the period of the Old Testament no happy life after death was envisaged. It was only with the Maccabean martyrs and the apocalypses that hopes of a resurrection appeared (cf. Dan 12:2)

    Question all you like ! But you will have to question my reference I listed and the thousands of scholars and ministers who use it.

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  89. @Dave. Like Arch said earlier, that’s what this forum is for. Questioning. It is quite OK to do so and I take no offense . I encourage everyone to question what I say. I am no scholar and I will make mistakes. Just ask unkleE ! 🙂

    Anyway sounds like you are a truth seeker like most of us here. Good luck on your quest.

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  90. @arch, you have done your homework concerning the “Flood Story” . As further support, I found this quote from the ETZ HAYIM, The Tora and Commentary. “Because Myths routinely reflect the anxieties of a particular culture, we conclude that the Flood story portrayed in Genesis is more likely of Mesopotamian than Palestinian origin. This Mesopotamian influence is evident not only in the Flood story but throughout the first 11 chapters of Genesis.”

    John Zande mentioned this Tora and Commentary in his blog which caused me to buy one. Thanks John !

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  91. @Ark

    ” If the afterlife was so great ( or even existed) someone would have figured out how to get a message across that could be understood by everyone.
    I mean, are we not continually being told by the Christian brethren how shitty this life is and how they can’t wait for JC to show jhis bearded mug in a blaze of loving glory as he nukes us all to Hell – because he loves us of course. And how god’s chambermaids are busy making up the beds for us in Heaven?

    ”If only they would worship me, the ungrateful sods”, mused the god, God

    “Tell my old boss he can go ”eff ” himself. The water’s fine, and the chicks are hot. Come on over. Regards.
    Dave”

    If this were true, of course, I venture there would be a massive increase in suicides.
    Sadly, such hopefuls would be presented with a very different picture….”

    Nice summation!

    You scholarly types will do a much better job of putting this into hysterical perspective so I shall limit my comments about the afterlife to my own spiritual journey.

    When I was much younger I thought the purpose of religion was to get us up to heaven to be with God. That idea seems totally absurd to me now. These days I operate under the hypothesis that the purpose of religion is to get God down here to be with us.

    Here’s a poem I like. It does a better job of expressing my thoughts than this comment does.

    QUITTIN’ TIME

    And on receiving the usual wage
    they grumbled against the landowner.
    (Matthew 20, 11)

    The very moment I am done
    I know exactly what I’m going to do.
    First thing, I’ll unravel those rusted gears and springs,
    Those ragged hands and that time-worn face of the old man I used to be.
    I’ll cover each component part with discarded newspapers
    Yellowing, now, beyond their sell-by date
    And place it, piece by piece,
    Tenderly, so tenderly in a steamer trunk.

    Then, I’ll book my passage for a cruise to Happy House
    Where I can eat chocolate cake all day
    And never get fat
    Or get a belly ache, or a cavity
    or ever, ever spoil my supper.

    Whenever I get to wondering about you
    I can keep an eye on every prank
    Tuning into my digitally boosted wide-screen
    And listening to my surround sound.

    So easy, then, to see you do those things that used to aggravate me so
    And laugh.
    Just laugh.

    The day will come, I know, when I’ll begin to remember
    And then it will astonish me to find
    The things I long to do again will be those same sad wretched things
    That prompted me wish myself done,
    And troubled me to dream my life away
    Thinking of that glorious day
    When I’d be here, so happy in the Happy House.

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  92. When I was much younger I thought the purpose of religion was to get us up to heaven to be with God.

    These days I operate under the hypothesis that the purpose of religion is to get God down here to be with us.

    UP to be with God … DOWN to be with us? Exactly where do you think God is?

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  93. I operate under the hypothesis that the purpose of religion is to get us all to live peaceful lives of quiet desperation, give as much of our money as possible to the church, then be kind enough to die on time and make way for the next crop.

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  94. Dave Hedgepeth

    @arch
    “Regarding reverse borrowing, I’ve done the math…”

    if you could imagine for a moment that there really was a global flood, it could have drastically altered the earth’s landscape (certainly even you will agree that mt. everest was not always 29,000+ ft high).

    this might also explain why the majority of ancient cultures have a “flood story,” and a high percentage of those talk about a cataclysmic flood. these cultures, likely, had little to no contact with one another. though there is some dispute over which story was written first, i do think, after a bit of research, that you are correct to say that gilgamesh was written before genesis. if i am correct, though – that a global, cataclysmic flood occurred – then it’s probably not a matter of “borrowing” at all. similarities granted between gilgamesh and genesis, there are significant differences as well.

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  95. Marc

    Dave,

    I think the massive ice melt that took place about 8,000 years ago is the source of all the flood stories. The sea levels increased quite rapidly and would have flooded any communities close to the coast. The area that now includes the Persian Gulf would have been mostly dry ground before this massive rise in sea levels. Perhaps this has something to do with the Biblical accounts given that where the Hebrew word “erets” is often translated as earth (which we think of as global) can also mean land or ground which is local..

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  96. The majority of ancient cultures have a “flood story,” for the simple reason that the majority of ancient cultures have had a flood – at one point in time, or another, but not necessarily simultaneously. While it’s true that Everest is a product of continental (tectonic plate) drift, and wasn’t always the height it is now, the past 3,000 years hasn’t made any significant difference, as its rate of growth is .16 inches per year, or 480 feet over the past 3K years, and when it comes to insufficient water, 29K or 28.5K really isn’t going to make any significant difference.

    You might find this interesting, Dave, from my own website:

    In 1994, Peter A. Clayton wrote a book with a rather lengthy title: Chronicle of the Pharaohs, The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (London. Thames & Hudson. 1994).
    In his book, Clayton demonstrated that the Egyptian Pharaonic Civilization predated the biblical flood. Clayton gave the following dates for Egyptian Dynasties and their Pharaohs.

    • Dynasty 0
    3150-3050 B.C.E.
    • Dynasty 1
    3050-2890 B.C.E.
    • Dynasty 2
    2890-2686 B.C.E.
    • Dynasty 3
    2686-2613 B.C.E.
    • Dynasty 4
    2613-2498 B.C.E.
    • Dynasty 5
    2498-2345 B.C.E.
    • Dynasty 6
    2345-2181 B.C.E.

    Now Noah’s flood occurred in either 2958 BCE, as calculated by the Roman Catholic scholar, Euseibus, or 2348 BCE, as calculated by Archbishop Ussher and Sir John Lightfoot. We must bear in mind that the comedy team of Ussher and Lightfoot had access to the Gregorian calendar we use today, while Euseibus, who lived in the third century BCE, had only the less accurate Julian calendar with which to work, which inclines one to lean more toward acceptance of Ussher’s and Lightfoot’s date, than Euseibus’.
    Unless, of course, one sees the irony of attempting to establish an exact date for the occurrence of a fictitious event, as being much like trying to deduce the age of Superman by accurately determining in exactly what year he was born – and failing to see the irrelevance.
    Clayton informs us that archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of the above Pharaohs for the associated six Dynasties (3150-2181 BCE) and excavations showed no flood layer of silt above their tombs, deposited by Noah’s alleged Universal Flood, or Utanapishtim’s, or Zuisudra’s, or Atrakhasis’ or the primeval octopus’, nor any other.
    Nor do the records or annals of Egypt, and those guys were anal about annals – meticulous record-keepers – make any mention of a universal, world-encompassing flood.
    Clayton’s conclusion was that if there had been a universal, globe-encompassing flood in the third millennium BCE, there is no evidence of it in Egypt, just a drone’s flight away from the Mesopotamian region where Noah’s flood reputedly began – as the crow flies, or as the water flows, Baghdad and Cairo are roughly 800 miles apart.
    In Clayton’s own words:

    “The absence of the mention of such a flood in Egyptian records and annals, from the same general Middle-Eastern area where can be found ‘the mountains of Ararat,’ combined with the archaeological evidence from the Pharaohs’ tombs, created before the 2958/2348 BCE flood occurred, reveal that the tale of Noah’s flood is a myth.”

    Or, possibly just a myth-take —

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  97. There WAS a flood in Mesopotamia, Marc, in 2900 BCE, which is 3000 years too recent to have been affected by glacial ice melting. I don’t know your familiarity with the Sumerian Kings List – there are in fact, several of them, and they don’t all list the same kings, but the one king they all agree on is Ziusudra, a king traced by modern methods to have ruled the City-State of Suruppak in 2900 BCE. On each of the Sumerian Kings Lists, his name is given, followed by the phrase, “and then the flood swept over.” For more on Ziusudra, try here.

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  98. Marc

    Your chronology sucks Arch. If you understand that the generations of Genesis are patriarchal periods were the the next patriarch is born in the same year as the death of the previous patriarch unless he was named by the previous patriarch, the chronology using the Septuagint places the creation of Adam and Eve at about 12,000 BC. the beginning of the Neolithic period. This same chronology places Noah’s flood at about 6,000 BC., the same time as the massive ice melts and rise of worldwide sea levels.

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  99. Actually, the chronology isn’t mine, Marc, it belongs to the Jewish people who originated all of this BS, but I’ll certainly pass along your critique.

    “…the generations of Genesis are patriarchal periods were the the next patriarch is born in the same year as the death of the previous patriarch unless he was named by the previous patriarch….

    That’s a clever trick, how’s it done, magic?

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  100. Sorry, that’s what happens, kc, when I try holding two conversations simultaneously – I called you by the other person’s name, then scrambled to hit “cancel” after I’d hit “Post, but too late. I haven’t done that since that time with my now-ex-wife —

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  101. According to answersingenesis.org Noah’s Flood happened in 2348 BC

    Calculated BC date for creation: 4004
    Calculated AM date for the Flood: – 1656
    Calculated BC date for the Flood: 2348
    Current Year (minus one2): + 2011
    Number of years since beginning of Flood: 4359

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  102. Most biblical authorities give a range from your date of 2348, and 2600, but then I’m sure we can all agree with Marc, that these authorities’ calculations — what was that technical term again? Ah yes, “suck“!

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  103. Marc

    Sorry Arch. I meant to say “most biblical authorities” use chronologies that suck.

    Given that most of the readers here believe that biblical authorities and the Bible itself sucks, I am glad you can all agree with me because I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

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  104. Actually Marc, I was truly hoping you were going to give some references from some authorities we could read that describe the calculations you’ve noted. I’m being serious – your chronology is new to me and I am curious. I’m not near as knowledgable about things pertaining to the flood like Arch, so you won’t get any fight from me on this one.

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  105. That makes sense:

    2900 BCE – the Euphrates River overflows it’s banks by 15 meters, during the Jemdet Nasr period, flooding three counties.

    2600 BCE – the Epic of Gilgamesh is written ascribing a week-long, area-wide flood to the wrath of the Mesopotamian gods.

    2300+ – the Hebrews plagiarize the Mesopotamian flood story, attributing it to their god.

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  106. Marc

    Howie,

    I don’t have any authoritative references for you regarding the patriarchal generation approach to a chronology of Genesis. I first read a work by Harold Camping regarding this approach some years ago before Harold lost his marbles. I believe he got it from a 19th century work by some obscure Christian missionary whose name I can’t find right now.

    http://www.biblemysteries.com/library/adam.htm

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  107. All you have to do, Howie, is imagine tribes of Semitic nomads, unsanitary, unwashed, unimaginably poor dietary habits as a result of not having a steady diet of staple vegetables, due the inability of nomadic life to sustain gardens, having no health care of any kind, yet able to live 6-10 times the length of the lifespans of the healthiest humans who ever lived on the planet. Then imagine one generation of them miraculously dying, just as the next generation is born (talk about absentee father-figures!), this continuing through generation after generation, then imagine all of the above happening by magic, and you’ve just about got it.

    Familiarize yourself with the Sumerian Kings List, previously mentioned (if it were possible to upload an image on these WordPress sites, I’d show it to you) – they credited their kings with unimaginably long lifespans, 20 thousand years, 30 thousand years, not uncommon. So when the Hebrews stole that from them, as they did most of the stories of the Torah, they realized that no one was going to buy into lifespans that long, so they dropped them down to a MUCH more credible 7 or 8 hundred years!

    Anybody wonder why Harold Camping checked into the rubber room? Cognitive dissonance! If you have any kind of conscience at all, and you’re trying to peddle moose-turd pies, sooner or later, something’s gotta give.

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  108. Re: Water water everywhere!

    You guys are a hoot! You point out (correctly) that determining an exact date for the flood is like trying to figure out Superman’s birthday. But that doesn’t stop you from posting comment after comment puzzling over the question. Reminds me of conversations you hear on the ‘Big Bang’. How did Ma Kent sew a suit for her son? What sort of scissors could she have used to cut indestructible cloth from Planet Krypton?

    If you’d like to read something that actually makes sense, something that approaches a work of mythic fiction in the way it ought to be approached, read this: http://reflectionsofacatholicchristian.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/gods-beautiful-idea/

    Paul

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  109. Marc – thanks for the link. I’ll try to read it after work, although I’m sure Arch would say it’s not worth my time ;-), but new ideas always make me curious.

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  110. “Nor any drop to drink” – I must assume that was the password d’jour, and that I am now, in

    I’m still wrestling with how the man with the big red S shaves! I WILL check out your link – thanks, I was wondering what I was going to do with today.

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  111. @Arch – I always did wonder about those oddly long lifetimes – as usual you’ve got me laughing again – a great start to my workweek!

    @Paul (CC) – I can’t help but thinking sometimes that you are actually an “atheist” of the Joseph Campbell type. But some of your posts give me other impressions, so you are for sure a mystery, which is perhaps an enjoyable thing for you. So I’m not trying to peg you down to some specific label, just trying to learn your perspective as I’m sure you’ll continue to expound in the future. 🙂

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  112. No, Howie, I would never say that! It would surprise you all of the things I read, to get a good laugh.

    This thing Marc is suggesting may be good for a chuckle or two, but for a REAL OMGROFLMAO, among the religious genre, I’ve yet to see beaten Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews. Mr. Ginzberg, as the name might imply, is far from anti-Semitic, but he has collected a vast series of legends that have grown out of biblical stories, and some of them will crack you up. Remember, in Chapter 14 of Genesis, when these five kings and their armies from Mesopotamia came into the Levant and fought and defeated four other kings, and for reasons making no sense whatsoever, kidnapped Abe’s nephew, Lot, and his family, and Abe and his 318 Ninja/goatherds chased those five armies of seasoned, battle-hardened troops the entire length of the Levant, from the south end of the Dead Sea, all the way to Dan, a hamlet in the north that wouldn’t have existed until one of Abe’s grandchildren, Dan, established it a couple of hundred years into the future? Sure you do!

    Well, in Legends, the reason Abe was so successful in retrieving his nephew was because Abe miraculously grew to a height of 50 feet, and each of his strides was a league, so it was easy to catch up with the fleeing army. I’m guessing Marc’s source should be at least as funny as that!

    Ah, those whacky Hebrews can sometimes be more fun than a barrel of matzo balls!

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  113. Marc

    Howie – I hope that you find it is worth your time. The prevalent telescoping of genealogies in the Scriptures in another way to explain a chronology that is supported by human and natural history.

    Paul – Thanks for your link. As an Orthodox Christian I share your views about the importance of the Church and the need to rely upon Holy Tradition for an understanding of Scriptures.

    Arch – I think it is accurate to point out that the oral traditions of Mesopotamian cultures probably derive from the same sources. It is possible that the Sumerian Kings List is a product of a more ancient oral tradition. Noah, like the other descendants of Seth, were farmers. Abraham and his descendants were nomadic herdsmen, whose longevity fell with in the historic norms.

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  114. @Marc, “Noah, like the other descendants of Seth, were farmers. Abraham and his descendants were nomadic herdsmen, whose longevity fell with in the historic norms.”

    Where is your evidence for the “Historic Norms” to be around the same as for Abraham who died at 175 years?

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  115. Howie, RE CC:

    “…you are for sure a mystery….”

    On CC’s own blog, to which he was kind enough to provide a link, I suggested that the god he worships could use a makeover – dump his publicist and start all over again. I personally suggested CC, but as is to be expected on theist sites, the comment is “awaiting moderation.” Seeing that, I added a follow-up comment, which is also “awaiting moderation,” suggesting that theists should have a mutual slogan, “God Is My Moderator,” and that having blog moderation turned on is much like a church with a lightening rod.

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  116. historic norms, Marc? You DO know what historic means, don’t you, Marc? It means historically verified! Please point me to qualified anthropologists, who have provided sufficient evidence to qualified medical doctors, for them to conclude, “Why yes, this man was over 700 years old when he died!”

    Wow, Marc, around Xmastime, I was beginning to think that for a theist, you were a pretty cool frood, but lately, I don’t know – everything OK in your personal life? You’re worrying me —

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  117. Marc

    KC – The point I wanted to make is that the descendents of Abraham began to live to ages that were much closer to historical norms than the ages given for previous patriarchs.

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  118. I can’t count the number of theist websites I’ve read, that have ridiculed both the Bib Bang and String Theory, both of which are nothing more than astrophysicists looking at the Universe as it is, and attempting to piece together a scenario that would accurately account for how it got that way. But according to the theists I’ve read, that approach is ridiculous – god did it, and that’s that!

    Yet you look at the illogical, impossible lifespans of the Bible, and instead of laughing, you propose “telescoping genealogies” as a possible solution. As ridiculous as it sounds, it at least is an effort to make sense of a book seemingly quilled by the Jabberwocky, at least until you make the statement that such a chronology, “is supported by human and natural history” – where on earth do you possibly find evidence – other than on “Answers In Genesis” – to support such a claim?

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  119. Marc

    Arch – I can’t find the word frood in my dictionary. Please illuminate me, or lay off the adult beverage. I remain the same misguided soul that I was late last year. I just wanted to supply some comic relief to the conversation here..

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  120. You looked in the dictionary?!! You choose the strangest sources, Marc, you should have been looking in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” where you would have found that frood refers to – wait for it – “a really amazingly together guy,” as in: “Hey you, sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is!

    Bringing education to the masses, one at a time, seems to have been my calling, but I’m pretty sure it was a telemarketer.

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  121. Marc

    Arch – You are forever illuminating! I thank you for the compliment. At my age I often feel that I am coming apart, so it is amazing to still be together. I try to keep my towel on the rack so I know were it is, but sometimes my wife moves it.

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  122. Marc

    I am a dumb ass Arch. If my “towel” is something other than what I alluded too, you will have to spell it out for this old fart.

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  123. No you’re not, Marc, you’re just unfamiliar with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – there were four books to the trilogy. And no, “towel” is not a euphemism, just a towel.

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  124. @Marc, this is a tough crowd when it comes to “detail” . I believe you are sincere in your corrected comments even though they weren’t your original statements. We tend to take people’s comments at face value, not what they might have meant. 🙂

    This is why so many here use critical study of the bible. Did Moses intend to have the old man stoned to death because he was picking up sticks on the Sabbath ? I don’t think he meant to have the old man put in “Time Out” instead. 🙂

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  125. I’ve always found “orthodox” to be such an interesting word, especially to the extent that it’s as loaded as it is. The word itself means, “right thinking,” cutting off argument before it begins. Simply stating that I’m “unorthodox,” automatically makes me wrong.

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  126. “I enjoy your illumination, even though I am an Orthodox Christian.”

    It’s OK, Marc – nobody’s perfect, but the fact that you’re hanging out with us means you’re a step or two closer —

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  127. Marc

    KC and Arch – I am truly blessed to have friends who challenge me. I have to search my soul and understanding to see if I am on the right track. I really appreciate what you guys do, even if I do not often agree with you.

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  128. Marc

    Arch – I thought you lived in Texas where there are taco stands and barbeque joints at every intersection. To hell with the tacos, give me Texas barbequed beef brisket.

    KC – I believe that we are all on a journey that will lead us to a “wow moment” when we understand the truth together. In the mean time we have to strive to discard what is not true.

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  129. Pingback: Morality Without Gods | Truth Is Elusive

  130. To me, Romans 9 is an indication that humans did not make up the Bible, for why would they make up a passage that has all the problems you point out, especially if the problems are so severe and obvious? It is not logical that they would make up a God that has all the problems you point out, and if they are so blatant, surely everyone would have had the same criticism. Oh, gee, the response is right there in the text……

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  131. Hi humblesmith,

    That’s a really fascinating question… I don’t guess I had thought about it in quite that way before. But to me, it illustrates the exact opposite. I don’t believe Paul was inventing anything here — he earnestly believed in the god he was defending. At the same time, I don’t think he was in a position to actually know anything about it. He was simply doing the best he could with what he had to work with — his cultural environment and the Jewish scriptures (along with other factors, I’m sure).

    Like the writer of Job, Paul could see that the world is horribly unfair. Yet because he believed in such a hands-on god, he’s trying to explain the unfairness. Apparently, it never dawned on him that maybe his entire starting premise was wrong. Maybe there was no god behind the scenes after all?

    Liked by 1 person

  132. Peter

    Well done humblesmith, turning a weakness into a strength. Well I will give you gumption for arguing that lack of logic means it must come from ‘God’.

    But seriously I think you give Paul too much credit. To me it seems more like Paul was making it up as he went along.

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  133. archaeopteryx1

    The entire reason for Paul’s epistle to the Romans, a church he had not only not started, but had never visited, was to butter up the members of that church for a visit Paul had planned to make, at which time he intended asking them for funds to make a missionary trip to Spain, one that never materialized.

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  134. It always just sounds weird to say that a problem couldn’t be a problem because it’s too obvious of a problem.

    “If jumping off a bridge was bad for you, then no one would do it, but since people do jump off bridges, it must be good for you.”

    It just reminds me of Monty Python, which i appreciate.

    Liked by 2 people

  135. What is the best way I can show my power to these things I’ve made? Aha! I’ll make some messed up in some way (or even not messed up) and say #6,372,340 is there for me to smash with a hammer in order to show the others my power. But these others, for no other reason than b/c well, why not, I’ll keep to show mercy to. No, no works, no merit on their part can alter this…

    Reminds me of the movie God On Trial, esp. the end bit, “The Verdict”. A bunch of Jews in a Concentration Camp have put God on trial. The end result is “remember all those terrible things God did to the Egyptians after He hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Clearly, God is not good–he was only on our side. Now he’s not.”

    But that’s a good point.
    God: “Let my people go or I will perform this curse”.
    Pharaoh: NO!
    God: OK, curse!
    Pharaoh: Ok, Uncle! I give up! Your people can go!
    God: Nah…zap!
    Pharaoh: Yeah…you can’t scare me! Double the work of the Israelites!

    Etc, etc, until God gets the excuse to kill all the Firstborn, none of whom had anything to do with Pharaoh’s decisions. Pharaoh didn’t even have anything to do with his decisions–God removed his free will and then punished the Egyptian people for it, just so God could show his terrible power.

    So, yeah, why would any believer in this god criticize any non-believer? Clearly we are of the population reserved for god’s show of judgment. It is kind of like Amputees–why doesn’t god ever heal them? B/c he doesn’t want to, now quit questioning god!

    Liked by 2 people

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