04 March 2010

Just another holy war

First Chronicles gets my vote for the most boring book ever written. Just try reading the first nine chapters some time. If you make it through, reading every word, you're probably the first person who ever has.

But hidden in the list of descendants of Reuben in chapter five, there's another one of God's killings, one that I'd missed before. I probably lost interest somewhere in the "These are the children of Abihail the son of Huri, the son of Jaroah, the son of Gilead, the son of Michael, the son of Jeshishai, the son of Jahdo, the son of Buz....."

So anyway, here's the story. I'm sorry it's so damned boring.

It all starts with 44,760 sons of Reuben, who were valiant men that could shoot bows and hack things to pieces with swords.
The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, of valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war, were four and forty thousand seven hundred and threescore, that went out to the war. 1 Chronicles 5.18
All they needed was a war to keep them busy. And they found one.
They made war with the Hagarites, with Jetur, and Nephish, and Nodab. 5.19
While the sons of Reuben were fighting, they cried to God, so God decided to be on their side, delivering the Hagarites into their hand.
And the Hagarites were delivered into their hand, and all that were with them: for they cried to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them; because they put their trust in him. 5:20
And that pretty much did it. Once you have God on your side in a holy war that is "of God," killing people is a piece of cake.
For there fell down many slain, because the war was of God. 5.22
All that was left was to collect the booty.
They took away their cattle; of their camels fifty thousand, and of sheep two hundred and fifty thousand, and of asses two thousand, and of men an hundred thousand. 5.21
Which is pretty good, as booty goes. 50,000 camels, a quarter million sheep, 2000 asses, and 100,000 slaves.

But how many were killed in this holy war of God? It's a shame that God doesn't tell us, but with 100,000 slaves, I'd think the valiant sons of Reuben must have killed 50,000 or so. What with God on their side and all.

God's next killing: half a million Israelite soldiers


Anonymous said...

"For there fell down many slain, because the war was of God."

Let's hear an explanation of this from a Chrisitan.

twillight said...

a quater million sheeps, not camels.

And yes, even I read it like "name, name, name, stop, wind back, read what isn't a name, name, name, name" :o

skanksta said...

What a shame Yahweh/Steve's 100th killing wasn't a bit more or a humourous, colourful spectacular :( !

Great stuff as always from both of you...

Steve Wells said...

Thanks again, twillight.

But Shucks! A quarter million camels would have been so much more impressive.

Interested said...

I'm with Marcus, come on christian, explain this.

Unknown said...

I am a Xian, but there is a caveat: I am not a literalist when it comes to the Bible. I do not consider it the inerrant word of God. While I do believe that there is much to be learned of God from the Bible, I believe there there is also much to be learned of people from the Bible.

Bart Ehrman, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, talks about the Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. What he means is that from the beginning of the writing down of scripture there have been errors and corruptions. The texts are filled with corruptions that reflect the religious and political mindset of the time in which they were being copied.

So, for me, as I approach scripture I choose a hermeneutic of God is Love. As I read the stories I must decide if all elements are truly divine or simply the divination of a human through asking the question of whether the story exemplifies a loving response of something else. Yes, I realize that this is not a full-proof method, however, it does help explain some of the contradictory points.

In the end, I am as outraged as many of you by the folks who approach the scriptures from an inerrancy standpoint. They too use a hermeneutic, but it is one of a vengeful, jealous, and "just" God.

Love to hear your thoughts.

Steve Wells said...

Thanks for the comment, Jane. It's good to know that believers stop by now and then.

You say that you're "not a literalist when it comes to the Bible" and that you don't "consider it the inerrant word of God." Me neither.

But do you believe that any of the 100 killings that I've gone through so far happened? If so, which ones? And, of those that you think happened, do you think they were good killings? Are any of God's killings consistent with "a hermeneutic of God is Love?"

Unknown said...

I believe the killings happened, but I don't believe they were inspired by or mandated by God. I think the killings are a result of people's greed, distrust, you name it. I think that people use God to "justify" their actions. This is actually how Jewish scholars read the "not taking the name of the Lord in vain" commandment. It's not that one uses the name in swearing, but that one uses God to "justify" one's actions -- without any real thumbs up or down from God. I do not believe the killings were good. Killing is not consistent with a hermeneutic of God is Love. Which means, I also do not believe that God had a son born simply to use the child as a sacrifice. I believe that Jesus was killed at the hands of the Roman government. Jesus upset the status quo religious times, to be sure, but was not born to be a sacrificial killing.

I understand that my thinking is not common among Xians. I try to talk about how I come to believe these things as much as I can. I do not want to convert anyone, I just want those who have been hurt by Xian literalists to know that they were hurt by people, not God.

I look forward to a good discussion. Thank you for your respectful questions.

Steve Wells said...

I suspect, then, that you don't believe that killings happened, at least not many of them.

Let's start with God's first killing, the flood. You don't believe that happened, do you?

Unknown said...

Steve, as I said, I do believe the killings happened, but I don't believe they were the result of a warring, hate-filled, vengeful God.

I do believe the flood occurred. There is even some archaeological evidence to support it. Do I believe that it happened because God looked at humans and found them deplorable? No. I cannot believe in a God who gives free-will then punishes humans for exercising that free-will. I believe the flood was a meteorological event that was explained by using God; those who finally wrote down the story wanted to be sure that those who heard the story behaved in a prescribed manner and so built in the punishment portion.

Thanks for continuing to ask questions. I feel a bit vulnerable, but I do enjoy engaging in good dialogue.

Steve Wells said...

So you believe there was a world-wide flood around 2400 BCE that covered Mount Everest and drowned every person alive at the time (along with the animals) except for Noah, his family, and whatever animals he took with him on the ark?

twillight said...

I think Jane had a point with the "taking God's name in vain", too bad she don't see the result of her statement - i.e.: there is no bibleGod, only humans making things up. Including all the stories of the Bible.

Unknown said...

First I think it's important to understand what world-wide meant in the time of the story being written down, or even passed through oral tradition. World-wide was sort of where you could travel in a relatively short amount of time and/or the world one could see with eyes. It did not mean the world we now conceive of, meaning the entirety of the planet Earth. So, to answer your question, no I don't think the whole earth was covered and that every living creature except Noah, his family and the animals he had on board were saved. I think a flood happened in a relatively small area of the globe and devastated a population -- just as they do today. (Sort of like the Tsunami in 2004.

Unknown said...

Twilight, please feel free to address me. I won't be offended.

I believe in an ineffable being, that I refer to as God. I believe that humans have not understood this ineffable being - thus the ineffable part. I believe humans have done many things and used this ineffable being to justify their actions.

These are beliefs, and I do not impose them on others. From my point of view, if I choose to live my life by "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself" I am certainly not bringing death, destruction, greed or other horrible things into the world. I strive to live a life that follows that edict, which by the way is mentioned in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Xian Scriptures. Maybe I'm foolish, but there are worse ways for me to live.

Steve Wells said...

Do you think there was a man named Noah who built an ark? If so, did God tell him to build it? Did Noah bring animals on board? Did God cause the flood? If so, did he do it to punish people?

Unknown said...

I stated in my original post that I'm not a literalist. I take the story as an allegory, a folktale -- used to teach some lesson. So, what many other Xians will believe to be "the truth" I find to be story. What I can conceive of is a story being passed down about a man who, after seeing the threat of a flood, used a boat to try and save his family and possibly his own livestock. I see this story being passed down orally and then finally written. I see the story being changed over time. I see the story being used as all folktales are used, as some moral teaching tool. This holds very near to the Jewish practice of Midrash. Jewish scholars believe that there are "holes" in the scripture so that we can ask questions. That is how I approach the scripture and my concept of God. God, for me, is found in the questions I ask about the holes.

I have previously stated that I cannot believe in a God who gives free-will and then punishes humans for using it, so, no, I do not believe that a flood was used as punishment.

Interesting sidebar -- there are some theologians who read the Genesis 6 - 8 story say that God becomes grieved by the devastation and that the rainbow is a sign to God, not to humans, to never destroy all things like that again. While this is midrashic, it also is a result of the JEDP documentary hypothesis of the authorship of the Pentateuch. There's no simple answer as to how this story became what it is today; what does not change is that it is a story, not a recounting of a literal or real event.

Steve Wells said...

OK Jane. God didn't drown everyone on earth (along with the animals) to punish people. There may have been a flood, as there are now and then, but God had nothing to do with it. There was no killer; whatever might have happened, just happened.

So you don't believe that the first killing happened.

How about the second? Do you believe that God smashed and burned everyone to death in Sodom and Gomorrah?

Unknown said...

I don't mind a good spirited discussion, but I'm wondering if you might be able to summarize your questions with a more general approach. I have stated my beliefs in very broad terms -- non-literalist, midrashic, folktale, misconstrued and corrupted through history. I'm wondering if I will be asked to make a personal belief statement about each of the killings listed in your 100, which is actually longer than 100.

I appreciate that you are actually reading the Hebrew Scripture. It helps to have a discussion when both parties have read the same document.

Steve Wells said...

I'm sorry, Jane. I'm not interested in "a more general approach."

You said, "I do believe the killings happened." But I don't believe that you believe that at all. I think you are just pretending to believe.

You don't believe the first killing happened (God didn't drown everyone except those in Noah's boat); you don't believe that God smashed and burned everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah; and you don't believe that Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

I have listed 111 killings by God in the Bible. Is there one of these that you believe he did?

If so, let me know.

twillight said...

@Jane, please feel free to address me. I won't be offended, even if you mistype my nick.

Second: what you mean by "ineffable" beings?
If you mean "supernatural", then sry to isappoint you, but if something exist, that's part f nature, so it is natural, so humans can understand it.
Or if you mean "miracelous", then sry, but no such thing ever existed. No witches, no unicorns, no dragons, no gods, or any other things your book of fairy-tales ever contained.

If you disagree, feel free to PROVE your claim. And no, an ancient story-book isn't proof on anything.

I'm also interrested on the process, which stories you think tells anything about your "god", and why only those stories, and if you have an objective (= valid) way to sort them out.
I'm also interrested why you drop out certain things, while not put everything under doubt.

Unknown said...

As I've stated, clearly I thought, I do not believe in a literal interpretation of the texts of the Bible.

As I explained, I believe there was a flood, I cannot speak to the extent to which all human and animal life was lost - there are no records. I also stated that I believe the flood to have been a meteorological event. Not punishment at the hands of God. I have been clear about this.

I have not given you my opinion on Sodom and Gomorrah. I will here though, no, I do not believe that it represents an historical event. I believe that it is a story.

As for the 111, a quite impressive list I might add, I do not believe that an ineffable being, or God, is responsible for those killings. Humans are responsible for those killings. Again, I will refer to my statement about "taking the Lord's name in vain" - humans have committed acts and then "blamed" them on God to justify the act or to gain support from others. The killings happened, but not because God dictated that they occur.

Is that more clear?

Steve Wells said...

Thanks Jane. And yes, that's clear enough. You and I agree on pretty much everything, as far as I can tell.

God didn't kill a single person, and the Bible is wrong when it says that he did.

Ineffable beings are a lot like imaginary ones, and they seldom kill anyone.

Unknown said...

My apologies for my misspelling, but I did address you directly in my post to you, whereas you spoke about me in the third person -- all I meant to say is that you could address your comments to me rather than about me.

Ineffable is defined as being indescribable or indefinable. It has naught to do with supernatural or miraculous. Those would be my own personal feelings/beliefs. When addressing the notion of God I use the term ineffable because there is no concrete way to define or prove the existence or non-existence of such a being. Not having proof is not the same as disproving.

I explained in one of my early posts that I use the hermeneutic of God is Love to filter the stories of the Bible. I do not filter the stories for proof of the existence of God. The stories are filtered for my own edification - they help me in my living.

I have not, will not and am not asking you to believe the same as me. I am discussing my beliefs and opinions, as are we all.

Would you clarify what you believe I'm "dropping out?" I've only addressed the specific stories Steve asked me about, so I'm confused as to what I've left out.

I look forward to further discussions.

Unknown said...

I'm unclear on what your purpose with your questions was. It felt as if I was asked to answer the same questions several times, with my answer not changing from one time to the next. Did you think I was a "troll"? I am not.

I stumbled upon your blog and found it really very interesting. I recently attended a Stephen Prothero lecture, wherein he spoke of the religious illiteracy of Americans. I find your blog to be very literate in terms of religion. I enjoy that. As I said, I enjoy a good, spirited discussion.

I think we do agree on much when it comes to the authenticity of the Bible.

Steve Wells said...

No, Jane, I don't think you're a troll. But you're not a Bible believer, either, which is what we need around here.

Unknown said...

You're right, I'm a Xian and a Bible reader, but not a Bible believer. Sorry. I hope it's okay if I still hang out and partake in discussions. I find this very interesting.

Steve Wells said...

I didn't mean to make you feel unwelcome. I think your views are interesting. You're not a Bible believer, yet you base your beliefs on the Bible. I'm not sure how that works, but I guess you think it does.

I'd just like Bible believers to explain why each of God's killings was a good thing. The Bible God is proud of his killings; why are Bible believers so ashamed of them?

Unknown said...

I spent 10 years in a Pentecostal/Evangelical church. I understand some of their thinking, but quite honestly, the cognitive dissonance is why I'm not there anymore. I can answer some questions the way I was taught to answer them, but the answers sound hollow because I don't believe it.

I think the best way to describe my reading of the Bible is almost like a Zen Buddhist interacts with the Tao. It is a book of teaching through allegory, analogy, parable, and folktale. There are some moral imperatives within those stories. It's a practice that takes a life-time.

Steve Wells said...

You say, "there are some moral imperatives within those stories."

Could you explain some of them for us? Take one of God's killings and find the "moral imperative" that's within.

For example, in #25, Phinehas threw a spear though a mixed-race couple, and God liked it so much that he stopped killing everyone in a plague (but not before 24,000 were killed).

What was the moral imperative of that killing?

Or how about when David bought his first wife with 200 Philistine foreskins? (1 Sam.18:25-27) Was there some kind of moral imperative in that story?

It would be great if you would go through all 111 of God's killings and reveal the moral imperative in each.

Unknown said...

I'm feeling a little uncomfortable again. The questions are all focused on the 111 killings. I thought that I had already stated I did not believe those to be by a directive from God, but rather humans, or humans attempt to explain some phenomenon.

I do not believe that there are moral imperatives to the 111 killings. I could maybe tell you what the pentecostals would say, if that would be of interest -- although I don't believe it myself.

Steve Wells said...

That's good, Jane. You should be feeling uncomfortable.

When you said, "There are some moral imperatives within those stories," you were talking about Bible stories, weren't you? And the story about how David bought his first wife is a Bible story, isn't it?

Are there some Bible stories with moral imperatives and others that are just too disgusting to even think about? How do you decide which are which?

Unknown said...

Why should I feel uncomfortable? I don't mind discourse, but I will not be put on the defensive.

I have not proselytized; I have stated very clearly that this is my opinion. I have stated very clearly the hermeneutic I use toward scripture. I am somewhat befuddled as to why I am asked the same questions again and again. I have stated very clearly that I do not believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. I have stated that I do not believe in a literal translation of the Bible. I am confused as to what you want.

Again, the treatment feels more like a trap than a true discussion.

Steve Wells said...

Well, Jane, you are on the defensive. You may not like it, but that's the way it is.

And you're on the defensive because you keep saying things that you can't defend. So either defend the things you say or stop saying them.

You said that Bible stories, though untrue, have moral imperatives within them. So even though you don't believe that David bought his first wife with 200 Philistine foreskins, for example, you believe there is a moral imperative in the story itself.

So I'd like you to use your hermeneutic skills to reveal the deep moral imperative within that story. Is that too much to ask?

twillight said...

@Jane, I'm sorry to tell you this, but is something is not provable to exist, is by definition proved to be non-existant.

I'm also sorry to take notion, that you still mistyped my nick. It has a reason it isn't started with a capital letter, and as it is a "name", and not a "title", you have to keep it as it is, even at the beggining of a sentence.

As for your question about "droppin out": You dropped out certain elements of stories in the book you originate your belief from (i.e.: that God is told to be responsible for those killings).
You confessed you don't have any base to believe in it, so I ask you: why you believe in it at all. Why don't yu start to be on the honest way not pointing to a bronz-age tribesmen's book, and say instead what you really believe in? Why do you propagate something obviously unworthy to believe in, more so: something you yourself said you don't believe in at all? (Worse: somethng that is proven harmful.)

Unknown said...

Wow, Steve.... This coming from an atheist, you're really coming off as a complete douche. You REALLY can't understand what she's saying?

Steve Wells said...

I understand what she's saying, cowmonger. And I responded honestly to it. Is there something wrong with that?

Steve Wells said...

Hey cowmonger,
On second thought, maybe I didn't REALLY understand what Jane was saying. Maybe you can explain it to me. (I'll try not to be a complete douche to you.)

Oh, and did you (as an atheist, of course) agree with her?

Autumn said...

While I didn't think you came off as a "douche," I do think you came off a little aggressive.

It seems like you might be misunderstanding Jane.

It seems as though she has decided that whenever God is depicted as cruel or bloodthristy, that it isn't actually God, but someone using the name God in vain. She doesn't draw moral imperatives from all the stories; just some. (The some where God matches up with her mental image of what a God of love would be.)
I think she understands the "scary god" stories to be sort of like the boogey man stories of today; behave or something drastically unfair will happen to you. Or the masturbation will make you go blind/ give you hairy palms. The ghost stories that warn children not to walk away by themselves in the middle of the night.

I think the more interesting line of questioning would be how she came to believe that God is a God of love. Or why is it she believes in God in the first place, since she doesn't use the bible as proof of God's existance.

Steve Wells said...

I agree, Abielle. I was a little aggressive. Maybe even more than a little.

And I think you've summarized Jane's position (along with that of most other moderate Christians) very well. The problem that I have with that is this: that's not what they actually say.

They start off saying that they believe in the Bible, that it's a good book (THE good book, even), and that they base their beliefs on it.

Then when they are confronted (by us overly aggressive types) with what is actually in the Bible, they say, well, I believe that that bad stuff happened (like the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, plagues of Egypt, etc.), but God wasn't responsible for it. People were, and they blamed it on God.

When it's pointed out that the stories in the Bible never happened, they say, Yeah, that's true, but the stories have important moral teachings associated with them and that's why God put them in the Bible.

When they're asked what important moral teaching a particular story has, they say well, I'm more comfortable talking about generalities.

Which leads back them back to saying that the Bible is a good book that was inspired by God and that they base all their beliefs on its teachings. (Pay no attention to what it actually says -- or you're being a complete douche.)

I don't want to scare believers away, but I'm not going to pretend to agree with them either.

skanksta said...

Wow - this is the belated 100th killing birthday that both Steve and Yahweh deserved !

@Jane - You are an absolute diamond for coming on here and explaining your faith in this stuff!

What I don't understand, (and what I think Steve and other atheists are thinking - I certainly am), is..

once you have accepted - as you clearly have - that the bible is plainly too absurd to be literally true, HOW DO YOU THEN FAIL TO NOTICE that it almost certainly just another primitive creation myth - as practiced/believed by every human society in the known history of our species ?

Where is the logic in assuming that THIS religious creation myth (your one!) is actually true and transcendently devine, when it's obviously just backward bigotry ??

Why isn't it painfully obvious to you that this is barbaric nonsense made up by primitive humans ?

I genuinely want to know your response to this - no point scoring or anything like that...


Autumn said...

Well, she did state that shes a bible 'reader' and not a bible 'believer.'

I was under the impression that she wasn't a "normal" christian, in that regard. She doesn't believe the bible is inerrant.
She doesn't jump through the same mental gymnastics that most christians do to justify everything. Instead of "god having a plan" and the ever popular "no questioning god" approach, she says that were probably just boogey-man stories.
She stated, too, that she doesn't use the bible for proof of the existence of God.
(So again, where does she get her proof, I wonder.)

I guess I just didn't notice her being inconsistent.

Unknown said...


Hope you haven't been scared off by some of the regulars forgetting to reset Phasers to 'stun' ;-)

I've just spent the last few weeks reading this blog from start to finish, including comments, so I can see why the Veterans might go in boot-first out of habit - some of the hand to hand combat against Jason and co in the trenches left me scarred and I was just an observer...

I am really curious to understand if you find other religious writings useful? You mentioned the Tao - any reason why you couldn't interchange that with the bible in you belief system?

Also you mention Jesus, do you believe he was literally the son of god/an aspect of god or was he human full-stop?

@Steve, sconnor et al

you guys have nothing but my admiration for the effort you are putting into helping open people's eyes - but I fear that you have done such a good job that this Blog has been blacklisted by bible believers, otherwise where are they?

Anonymous said...

The issue I take with Jane's position is that she says she believes in the god of the bible, but that she doesn't believe the bible. So why believe in the god? Because you want to? This does not seem to me to be a logical way of doing things. You pick and choose what you want to believe. Why don't you believe in the hindu gods for instance? Why do you love Yahweh with all your heart? Why not Vishnu? Or Mars? Or The Flying Spaghetti Monster? If the bible just a load of man made BS?

Autumn said...

I love the flying Spaghetti Monster.

May his noodly goodness touch your life.

Matt S said...

I feel like this thread via Jane's comments sounds like Armstrong/Eagleton. If only everyone could understand their complex and nuanced theology and not worship so simplistically. if only every Christian should spend the major man-hours figuring out what happened in the translation and what rabbis think!

Matt S said...

As I finish this thread, it seems like Jane is me four years ago before I came to college. Super liberal catholic, hardly took the book seriously but still believed. Then I went through the paces of arguments that were just offered and guess what? God is gone!

After what some might call a "spiritual" experience I've renewed my interest in the general topic of spirituality (mostly trending towards the scientific study of it mixed with reading these atheist blogs and buddhism/taoism) and I have to agree with someone who posted earlier that the Tao is a much better system (and more playful/honest about its contradictions!) but no system is perfect.

Matthew Blanchette said...

Matt S, I've had the same experience; only in high school, and mostly because I'd devoured Bible stories beforehand.

I'm no longer so spiritual, but I have contributed to the tales of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster

Also, your last post on here was on my birthday; coincidence?