Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Morality, Religion

Bloody Well Right

If God is love, how do we explain the Old Testament passages where he commands the Israelites to eradicate entire groups of people, even the children (Josh 9:24; Num 31; 1 Sam 15)? Sometimes people say it was to punish these people for their evil practices, like child sacrifice. Well, child sacrifice is certainly a terrible thing. But does it make sense to punish child sacrifice by killing all the children?

Let’s think about this for a moment. When cultures engaged in child sacrifice, it’s not because they just loved killing children — it’s because they believed it served as some kind of propitiation, appeasing their gods for the greater good. So if God didn’t approve of child sacrifice, what seems like the most rational way to deal with it: (1) kill everyone, including all the children you don’t want killed, or (2) make yourself known to these people as the one true god and tell them that child sacrifice is not what you want? Wouldn’t option 2 be a win-win scenario?

Here’s something else to consider. If God didn’t like child sacrifice, why did he command Abraham to offer his son Isaac as one? Granted, he stopped the sacrifice before the boy was killed, but isn’t this a weird command for a deity who despises child sacrifice? And what about Psalm 137, where the inspired writer is lamenting Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem and says the following:

8 O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
     Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
9 Happy the one who takes and dashes
     Your little ones against the rock!

Furthermore, if God wanted the Canaanites destroyed because of their heinous practices, why stop at Canaan? There were many cultures that engaged in terrible practices like this from time to time — why not send the Israelites to slaughter them all? Instead this “judgment” is only brought against people in the same geographic location that God wanted the Israelites to inhabit:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
— Josh 1:1-5

So they answered Joshua and said, “Because your servants were clearly told that the Lord your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing.”
— Josh 9:24

How strange that these passages focus on taking the land from the Canaanites and not on their evil natures…

As a final consideration, even if the only thing left to do with these evil Canaanites was kill them all, does it make sense that God would choose the cruelest and most agonizing way to do it? Instead of speaking them out of existence, or immediately striking them all dead, he has them besieged by invaders. They’re forced to watch their loved ones being massacred before being hacked to death themselves. Would God really command this?

How does a god who would command genocide on this scale differ from the vilest despots of the modern era? What’s the difference between this god and bin Laden? What’s the difference between a god like this and a devil? Could a god this bloody be right?

446 thoughts on “Bloody Well Right”

  1. Who were the Caananites in the Biblical narrative (in fact any peoples God set the Israelites against)? Where did Abraham live/grow up, and what were the accepted religious practices of those civilizations? What was God’s, or the writer of the scriptures, point in including these atrocities in the scripture?

    Howdy, Kent! Always good to see you around these parts! 🙂

    Like Ark, I don’t think these events ever happened in the first place. I think they’re legends, much like the tales of King Arthur. I think it’s well accepted that the cultures of that time and place were very barbaric by today’s standards. They believed in cruel, nationalistic gods. So I think a story about the Israelite god clearing the land for his people made perfect sense. The other people weren’t Israelites, so who really cares?

    To me, it’s very striking that God’s characteristics match the time and place so well. Instead of standing out from all the other “false” gods, he acts like they do: he needs sacrifices, he’s only interested in his particular tribe, he’s jealous and vindictive, he’s very concerned about how people live, etc.

    Something that was eye-opening for me was the Moabite Stone, which is a record from King Mesha of Moab. He lived around the time of Israel’s king Omri, and this stone is a record of some of the events that occurred during his reign. Like most people, my knowledge of this time period primarily comes from the Old Testament, and when it says things like the Israelites lost a battle because God was angry with them, or they won a battle because God was pleased, I took it at face value. They attribute everything to God’s moods: the quality of the harvest, plague outbreaks, etc. But the Moabite Stone shows that this is how everyone else viewed things as well, except they did it from the perspective of their own god:

    And I have built this sanctuary for Chemosh in Karchah, a sanctuary of salvation, for he saved me from all aggressors, and made me look upon all mine enemies with contempt. Omri was king of Israel, and oppressed Moab during many days, and Chemosh was angry with his aggressions. His son succeeded him, and he also said, I will oppress Moab. In my days he said, Let us go, and I will see my desire upon him and his house, and Israel said, I shall destroy it for ever. Now Omri took the land of Madeba, and occupied it in his day, and in the days of his son, forty years. And Chemosh had mercy on it in my time. And I built Baal-meon and made therein the ditch, and I built Kiriathaim. And the men of Gad dwelled in the country of Ataroth from ancient times, and the king of Israel fortified Ataroth. I assaulted the wall and captured it, and killed all the warriors of the city for the well-pleasing of Chemosh and Moab, and I removed from it all the spoil, and offered it before Chemosh in Kirjath; and I placed therein the men of Siran, and the men of Mochrath. And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men, but I did not kill the women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh. And the king of Israel fortified Jahaz, and occupied it, when he made war against me, and Chemosh drove him out before me, and I took from Moab two hundred men in all, and placed them in Jahaz, and took it to annex it to Dibon.

    Change “Chemosh” to “God” or “Yahweh,” and this could have come straight out of the Bible.

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  2. @Kent -RE: “Who were the Caananites in the Biblical narrative (in fact any peoples God set the Israelites against)? Where did Abraham live/grow up, and what were the accepted religious practices of those civilizations?
    According to the OT, Abraham came from “Ur of the Chaldees.” There was in fact, a major metropolitan city in Southern Mesopotamia, just a few miles from what is now modern Baghdad (or what’s left of it), in fact the very name, “Ur,” is Sumarian for “City.” HOWEVER, Abe, by most accounts, was alleged to have lived around 2350 BCE – you get different birthdates from each person you ask – and the tribe known as the Chaldeans didn’t move into the area until around 700 BCE. That portion of Genesis was written by the Priestly Source, a group of Jewish priests in Babylon, during the Babylonian Captivity, around 520 BCE, and so, of course, there were Chaldeans living there then. Bible writers were never big fact-checkers, so no one bothered to look into how long the Chaldeans had lived in the area, which is the same reason you have camels in Egypt a few years later, while the camel wasn’t domesticated until around 1000 BCE.

    Abe then left Mesopotamia, where each City-State was in perpetual war with all of the others, and moved to the Levant, but first, he stopped off in Haran, in far Northern Mesopotamia, near the Syrian border. – according to the Bible – and he left part of his family there, including his nephew, Laban. Interestingly, throughout Genesis, Laban is called, “Laban the Syrian” – and equally interestingly, there is a small town just 20 miles east of Haran, called still to this day, “Ur-fa,” and whose Chamber of Commerce prides itself in calling Ur-fa, “the birthplace of Abraham.” How much more logical, that the writers of the Priestly Source got it wrong, as they clearly did with the Chaldeans, and Abe wasn’t from Ur at all, and didn’t travel 700 miles up Mesopotamia, to Haran, but a mere 20 miles from Ur-fa? That should answer your question, to the best of my knowledge certainly, as to where Abraham grew up.

    what were the accepted religious practices of those civilizations?” – By the time Abraham allegedly came along, the Sumarians, the original inhabitants of the Mesopotamaian valley for 4000 years, had been overrun and conquered by the Akkadians, a Semitic group that had slowly filtered into Mesopotamia, innocently at first, but as they grew in strength and numbers, set out to conquer it. The Sumarians weren’t annihilated, and the survivors merged into the new Akkadian society, where they exchanged gods. For example, the Sumarians had a moon god they called, “Nana,” and the Akkadians also had a moon god, that they called, “Sin” – it wasn’t difficult for the two groups to simply say, “OK, same god, different names.” The chief god of the Sumerians was known as “Enlil” – “En,” meaning basically “Chief,” or “head,” or “ruler” – “l,” of – “il,” lords – “En-l-il, “Ruler of the gods” (paraphrased). The Akkadian head of the pantheon was “Ellil,” – same basic translation: “El-l-il” – but in fish stories and religions, the first liar doesn’t stand a chance – since the Akkadians had beaten the Sumarians, clearly their god was stronger – “Elil” gained the reputation of being so powerful that the other gods couldn’t even look at him.

    Though others followed him, Sargon was the last truly great Akkadian king. Realizing the benefits of being able to trade with the various cultures of the Mediterranean, he used his army, once Mesopotamia was secure, to “Akkadianize” the entire Levant, all the way nearly to Egypt, and he left forts and garrisons of soldiers at various locations to maintain Akkadian order – obviously, they took their god, “Ellil” with them, which the Caananites, having been freshly conquered by the Akkadians, adopted as their chief god, “El.”

    By Abe’s time, the Akkadians had themselves been conquered by another Semitic group, the Amorites, or Amurrites, so named after their own god, Amurru, who liked to be called, “El Shaddai” – the same name, interestingly, that in early Exodus, in the original Hebrew (it was changed in the English translations, I suspect for this very reason), Yahweh admits to Moses that that was the name that Abe, Ike and Jake knew him by. Hmm —

    Hope that helps.

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  3. Exactly why I do not believe that God ever told them to do that. This was their justification of their practices. God didn’t tell Abraham to kill Isaac either. IF he actually spoke to him (I think Abraham believed God spoke to him, but maybe not), God was showing Abraham that unlike the other religious cultures surrounding him (who did, indeed, sacrifice their children to the gods), his God did not want or require this (thus the ram caught in the thicket).

    Later, through the prophets, God’s voice becomes even clearer AGAINST all forms of blood sacrifice. I don’t believe that Jesus’ death was any kind of blood sacrifice to God either, but a complete UNdoing of the sacrificial system.

    Jesus shows us that God is NOT like He is portrayed in the O.T., but instead, the O.T. is a nice picture of the evolution of mankind from the ideas of God as angry/vindictive/murderous to the Truth of a loving God. There is a crystal clear progression of this throughout the Bible if you read it as a whole through the character lens of Jesus Christ.

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  4. Wonder when the Boobsy Twins are going to show up, they’re overdue? Well, we’ve got Silliness of Mind, a poor substitute (for ANYthing), but I guess he’ll have to do until the real thing comes along.

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  5. Thank you Nate and Arch, those are very helpful comments. I’ve heard that one of the points of the Abraham story was that when he was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, he would have thought, “Well, of course, that’s what the gods of all these civilizations demand of their people, why should my God be any different”, and up he goes. God stops him just before the fateful moment and the Jewish reader would have thought, “Hmm, that’s different. Maybe he’s not like those other Gods.” Just a thought I’d heard. That was also the thrust of my earlier question and, even if these OT stories are legends by-and-large, what was the purpose the writer was trying to get across? I’ll certainly give you that the people of Israel had an overwhelming propensity to want to be like all those other surrounding civilizations, a real source of conflict throughout the OT times, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to see that their writings, and/or the interpretation of God and his will, would reflect those other peoples. As a believer, I often wonder if that was one of the reasons that Jesus eventually shows up on the scene: to model. Again, just a thought.

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  6. Kent, those are good thoughts. when i was a believer I often wondered the same. This is one of the issues that i began to see only after seeing many other issues.

    To me, one of the biggest things here is, if the bible is indeed from god, but parts of the OT were fouled up due to human intervention, then how can we know which parts were and were not fouled up throughout the bible, to include the NT?

    How can we tell which are the god parts and which are the man parts?

    To me, the evidence of man parts led me to believe it was all really man.

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  7. that’s what i call it with the misses, “man parts.”

    I’ll say, “it’s time to play abraham and sarah, you will call me ‘lord’ and grab my man parts.”

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  8. That’s an impressive amount of information, arch — thanks!
    Well, he DID ask – I’m just glad he didn’t ask where babies come from – I’ve usually had my best success there with simply pointing —

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  9. What you’re seeing, Judah, in the NT, is the dampening, civilizing influence of the superimposed Greek culture on a violent, vicious primitive desert tribe with a bloody history.

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  10. Kent, many of the biblical stories were brought to the Levant by the ancestors of the Jews, and eventually incorporated into the OT, and made Jewish.

    The “flood” story, for example, was based on an actual flood that occurred in 2900 BCE, near the city of Shurrapak, when the Euphrated River overflowed it’s banks to a depth of 15 cubits – 22.5 feet – (the same 15 found in the Bible, by which the waters were to have covered the highest mountains), that flooded an area that today, would have been about the size of three counties – devastating, to be sure, but hardly global. Actual, historical King Ziusudra escaped the flood by boarding a trading barge, loaded with cotton, cattle and beer, and sailed down the Euphrates to safety. A hundred years later, a fictional account of the flood was written into “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in which the king’s name is changed to Utinapishtim. He speaks of making landfall, after the waters subsided, and making an offering, over which the gods hovered like flies when, “they smelled the sweet savor.” Genesis tells us that Noah sacrificed, (Gen 8:21) “And the Lord smelled the sweet savor….” Word for word.

    The Akkadian king, Sargon, that I mentioned earlier, began his journey to greatness when his mother, a temple prostitute whose career would be strained if she had a child, placed him in a basket sealed with pitch, and released him to the Euphrates, where he was found, rescued and raised.

    The great Amurrite king, Hammurabi, the Lawgiver, was the inspiration for Moses and his primitive tablets of stone. As American author, Kurt Vonnegut, was fond of saying, “And so it goes.”

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  11. @Kent
    If you ( or anyone) are prepared to read the Old Testament with absolute honesty and a completely open, but nonetheless critical mind, look at the archaeological as well as historical evidence and accept the consensus of qualified secular experts in all related fields you will quickly come to the conclusion that any remaining factual claims will result in an Old Testament of very few pages indeed.

    If you can do that, you might soon begin to discover true enlightenment.

    The real test is to apply the same criteria to the New.

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  12. @Ark: Thank you for input. A lot of the depth of my faith has come from personal experience; seeing how God has worked in my life and the lives of family and friends. Believing sometimes despite the “evidence” as it were. 🙂

    I’m not that big a fan of apologetics and, in all honesty, there are several parts of both the OT and NT that I find hard to fathom and/or reconcile, and a few I flat out don’t believe are historically factual. I’m okay with that. There’s also quite a few that I’m coming to understand more clearly when viewed through the lens of cultural and/or historical context. But, again, that’s me. I don’t expect anyone else to necessarily come to the same conclusions, or begrudge them if they conclude differently. I fully understand the paths Nate has taken, and you, and Arch, and a few others I enjoy reading on these comment threads, and I certainly don’t fault you those paths. In fact, Nate and I rather enjoy “agreeing to disagree” on many of these points, and have for a couple years now.

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  13. Arch,

    Nothing could be more ridiculous than an atheist quoting the Bible.

    The quote you picked has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. Until you understand what you are reading it is recommended that you not try to quote the reading material.

    Like every atheist I’ve ever encountered, you are so angry at the suffering in the world, that you respond by trying to wink God out of existence.

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  14. Arch,

    The actions of God in the Old Testament point to the utterly depraved nature of man.

    But naturally, the atheists projects man’s inclination toward evil upon God in order to get atheism to miraculously work out.

    The greatest mass murders in all of human history were committed by atheists precisely because atheism does absolutely nothing to address man’s tendency toward evil.

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  15. @ SOM, “But naturally, the atheists projects man’s inclination toward evil upon God in order to get atheism to miraculously work out.”

    SOM, who caused the evil in the following scriptures ???

    1 Samuel 16:14 [ David in Saul’s Service ] Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.

    1 Samuel 16:15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you.

    1 Samuel 16:16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

    1 Samuel 16:23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

    1 Samuel 18:10 The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand

    1 Samuel 19:9 But an evil spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre,

    Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

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  16. Kent said:

    In fact, Nate and I rather enjoy “agreeing to disagree” on many of these points, and have for a couple years now.

    Amen! I really have no qualms with Christianity when it’s practiced by people like Kent. We’re able to disagree without demeaning one another, and you’re not going to see him holding a sign that says “God hates fags” or voting to get evolution out of school!

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  17. “Nothing could be more ridiculous than an atheist quoting the Bible.”

    Sometimes it is better to remain quiet and appear stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    I have never professed to be an atheist on any blog. Anything else enlightening you would like to say ???

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