27 July 2006

Bad Books of the Bible

You'd think that "The Good Book" wouldn't have much bad stuff in it. But nearly half (27/66) of the Bible's books have nothing good in them, at least as far as I can see. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible includes some of the worst stuff in all literature, with 27 books that have not a single piece of useful moral (or any other kind of) advice.

Here's my list of the Bible's bad books:

  1. Genesis
  2. Numbers
  3. Joshua
  4. Judges
  5. Ruth
  6. 1 Samuel
  7. 2 Samuel
  8. 1 Kings
  9. 2 Kings
  10. 1 Chronicles
  11. 2 Chronicles
  12. Ezra
  13. Nehemiah
  14. Esther
  15. Song of Solomon
  16. Lamentations
  17. Daniel
  18. Joel
  19. Obadiah
  20. Jonah
  21. Nahum
  22. Habakkuk
  23. Zephaniah
  24. Haggai
  25. 2 Thessalonians
  26. Philemon
  27. Revelation

(Let me know if you can find something good in them. If you can convince me, I'll add the verses to the good stuff and remove the book from the bad book list.)


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that most of the bad books mentioned are from the Old Testament. But, yes, I see your point; absolutely riddled with xenophobia, threats and propaganda.

Some of the mythology mentioned (for example, Ezekiel and Isiah on seeing celestial beings and God himself) are interesting.

There's very strong nationalist themes too, which border on being militant.

For maintaining social order, it might have been good more than 20 centuries ago, but it's not really compatible with today's values.

Brucker said...

As I might have said in my post today (and if I didn't, I was thinking it) what is "good" to a believer is different to an unbeliever. For instance, most believers in the Bible are highly inspired by the words of the men in Daniel 3:16-18 as a show of great faith.

Also, your idea of what is "good" may be colored by other issues you have not stated. Why not qualify Revelation 21:4 as "good"? It looks good to me, but it may be that you don't like the larger context in which the statement is made.

A believer no doubt can find something good in every book of the Bible (possibly Judges being an exception), but it's a matter of opinion, isn't it? Can the challenge be worded more precisely?

Steve Wells said...

"what is "good" to a believer is different to an unbeliever."

That's true, Brucker. But Revelation 21:4 is a false promise and cruel lie if there is no life after death. So I don't consider it good. (I should probably mark it somehow, but I'm not sure what category to put it in.)

But I think we can both agree that Leviticus 19:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 are good. We should love others and seek the truth.

That's the type of thing I am looking for in the "good stuff." Ideas that any decent person, regardless of his or her belief system, would recognize as good.

Brucker said...

Yes, as I think I was trying to imply in both those cases, those are things that are good only if what they stand for is true. If not, one becomes foolishness, the other becomes a "cruel lie".

But still, I think there is so much that depends on a personal point of view here. Case in point, as I mentioned in my post the other day, there are people who believe ordering others to "not commit adultery" is unfairly limiting of our personal freedoms. You do make the choice to mark it as "good" nonetheless.

There's a lot of grey area. If not committing adultery is a good thing, then perhaps it's a good thing that Jacob didn't simply divorce Leah when he realized he'd been tricked into marrying her.

Isn't just about the entire Song of Solomon good because it's a love letter from a man to his wife? Even though an unbeliever may scoff at Daniel's devotion to his (supposedly false) religion, I've always thought it admirable that Daniel serves his Babylonian and Persian masters faithfully even though he doesn't like their beliefs.

In 2Sam. 9, one of David's first acts after becoming King of Israel is to see to it that the family of deposed King Saul is taken care of, especially Saul's crippled grandson, Mephibosheth.

I don't think I buy your statement about Ruth. It is a very nice story about a man who saves two widows from a life of poverty. Ruth decides to not abandon her mother-in-law (1:16), the story illustrates the Israelite custom of leaving gleanings which you called good in Leviticus (2:2), we see Boaz going above and beyond the call in this matter ((2:15), what you seem to mark as bad in verse 4:11 is a matter of custom not that he buys her like a slave, but that he pays off her family's debt as is required by Jewish law before she marry him.

One more thing that I think a non-believer especially would find good is the letter to the Laodiceans in the book of Revelation, which many fundamentalist Biblical scholars have interpreted as a prophetic chewing out of the modern-era churches, telling them that they are all a bunch of hypocrites and care more about having material goods than having Jesus in their lives.

KDG said...

Nothing good in the Song of Solomon? What! Isn't that the book about sex?

Anonymous said...

Just realize that the Bible in its current form was made fairly long ago by a comission from king james. (i think). They decided what should be put in and what shouldn't, especially with regards to the new testament.

Anonymous said...

The site is put together very nicely--kudos. I am a Catholic (I know) and I find that a lot of what you use to support why Christianity is "wrong" is...wrong. Part of this is because a lot of your quotes seem to come out a King James based or more modern based/English based text. A lot of ideas, concepts and phrases are misinterpreted when reading these. The King James version is so heavily edited, I find it blashpemous and wrong. Mind you I am both Irish and Catholic (again, I know) but the King James bible is just wrong. However, I whole-heartidly agree with you on many things. I find it funny how so many Christians hate all other people. When we are told to "love our brothers," that means all people. Love is blind to religion, race, nationality and in many cases even gender. I agree Christians always need to be ready to answer questions about their faith. I learned some latin and Hebrew (from a Jew) just so I could read a more original and truthful bible, it also helped me confirm my faith as a Catholic. Any referrence to dying should be thought of as good because that is when you leave your Earthly body to enter into God's Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Well, what version do you want him to use? Which is the one that Christians agree is the best? They don't.

Most modern versions are copyrighted and their terms of use prevent them from appearing on sites like the SAB. The KJV, though it has issues (I agree with you, and don't like it myself) is entirely in the public domain.

Anonymous said...

you link to http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/cruelty/short.html, which contains some "bad" passages from Genesis 22. right after 22.10, an angel appears to Abraham and tells him NOT to kill his son. this should go on the "good" list.

Cody said...

The problem with this challenge, as stated previously, is that everyone's concept of "good" is different. "Good" is quite subjective.

But just for fun, here are some good things in a few of the books you have on the "Bad List":

Genesis 50:20 says, (my paraphrase) that what Joseph's brothers intended for evil (bad), God used for good, to save the lives of lots of people.

That even has the word good in it. Does saving thousands of people from famine qualify as good?

1 Samuel 26 tells the story of David sparing Saul's life, even though Saul was trying to kill him! Saul repents (at least for a short time) and stops pursuing David and they basically "make up". Good?

Zephaniah 3:17 says that God will rejoice over his people with songs of joy. That may not sound good to an unbeliever but how can you call it bad?

I'm sure I could find more but those are just a few quick ones that came to mind.


Ignatz Rabinowitz said...

I suppose it depends on how you define "Good." I mean, on the surface, Hamlet is a "Bad Book" in that it's got lots of murder, ilicit sex, conspiracy, and violence in it, and no real moral. Also, the story never happened.

So, all things being equal, it's bad, and it's definitely too long by half. However, all things are not equal, and things do not have to be literally true to have value. Just because the endless and boring geneologies in Numbers have no value to us doesn't mean they weren't important to the ancient Jews, and it seems a bit racist to me to declare that since something is useless to contemporary white (?) Americans, it must therefore always have been valueless.

Likewise, the extensive legal codes in Deuteronomy and Leviticus are boring and have no real value to us, but they were written as an administrative code for a priestly caste that no longer exists. So obviously they had value to them.

The historical books were written by and for a disposessed people who were desparately trying to hold on to their national identity while they were in captivity in a foreign land. Again, not strictly relevant to life today, I'll grant you, but it's interesting from a historical perspective, and saying "It's a bad book" is kinda' like saying "Black Americans shouldn't even pretend to have any interest in all that African mumbo-jumbo, it's all useless." Again, you're leaning towards racism here.

TimAtheist said...

I think you're dead-on. Those books are of no real practical use.

You'd think people had better things to do with their time that promote this stuff...

Republibot 3.0 said...

I think you could probably say the same thing about anyone's scripture, really, be it Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Baha'I, Muslim, Sikh, you name it. But leaving aside the issue of whether or not any of these scriptures are TRUE or not, leaving aside the issue of whether there's actually a God or not, I think what you're overlooking is that even though they're not important to you, personally, as atheists, they ARE important to the people who believe them. This isn't something one should scorn. I know people who get a pick-me-up when they're down, and a sense of calm from reading Charles Dickens. Dickens isn't even remotely true, and he was wildly propagandistic in his own day, but it has moral value to a lot of people, despite the fact that it's full of ghosts and other such nonsense. So if Chuck can be allowed, despite being untrue, why can't the Bible or the Koran?

A very common culturally imperialist mistake people mistake is to think, "Since this has no value to me, it must have no value at all." That's simply not true. Stories, legends, religions have a great importance to any society irrespective of their literal truth or lack thereof.

Secondly, there's openly moral/ethical stuff ("Thou shalt not..") and then there's stuff that has no appaerent moral value on the surface, but does the deeper you look. For instance, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac is vicious and cruel, and trying to figure out why God would require that, and why Abraham would go through with it (Or attempt to) has provided millenia of religious debate (My own theory is that it's God showing these people that He doesn't want human sacrifices). In this sense, scripture is interactive, it's not just rules, it's also trying to figure out 'why?' and 'what is this doing here?'

Finally, scripture always has and always will provide a cultural anchor for people, it helps them decide who they are in the context of a larger society and movement that's lasted for hundreds, or even thousands of years. No one still believes the moon is a giant calabash, but if you're African, you've heard the legends of that, and it's a common point of reference between yourself and others. You tell your kids the Calabash stories, not because they're true, but because they're fun and a part of your community, you know? They provide a sense of continuity.

So there's three reasons people promote this stuff, without even resorting to religious arguments.

astrotenor said...

Hi Steve. Regarding Thessalonians 2, I think there is actually one good stuff within. When Saul, at the end, says: "for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 3:8neither did we eat bread for nought at any man's hand, but in labor and travail, working night and day, that we might not burden any of you: 3:9not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves and ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us. 3:10For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat. 3:11For we hear of some that walk among you disorderly, that work not at all, but are busybodies. 3:12Now them that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 3:13But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing. 3:14And if any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. 3:15And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 3:16Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways." (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/2thessalonians-asv.html). Most of all to work everybody and to not exploit anybody: this is for sure a good thing.

Joe (from Italy)

Anonymous said...

Song of Solomon is a pretty lovely poem about sexual intercourse. One could argue that that is "good stuff."

Matthew said...

I am incredibly confused by your argument of "good" versus "bad."

When you say a book is not "good" what you're saying is the moral lesson of the book is too complicated to understand without some basic analysis. So naturally, this excludes much of the Jewish Books, which Christians omitted or considered heresy because they couldn't understand them either.

Song of Songs: Sex and Lovemaking: How to be a good spouse through romance. Nothing bad about that.

Book of Ruth: A story about tolerance, anti-racism and acceptance of those who are different.

Book of Esther: Queen Esther is the ultimate badass and helps prevent a Genocidal maniac from getting his way.

On top of all that, these books are female-centric and in their own ways are feminist for celebrating empowered female protagonists.

So lets see: Feminism, Healthy Sex, multicultural tolerance, and stopping genocide. What's wrong with all that? Nothing.