30 April 2023

About the new Skeptic's Annotated Bible website

Unless you've just visiting the Skeptic's Annotated Bible website for the first time, you've probably noticed that it has changed recently. The content is the the same, at least for the most part, although I add and revise its content each day. But it's no longer just a bunch of html files. It's now a database-driven site, which is a whole nother thing entirely.

With the site in a database, I no longer have to create, manage, and separately maintain tens of thousands of html files. It also allows me to present the site in ways that would have been difficult or impossible to do previously. And now that I don't have to spend so much time with housekeeping, I can spend more time adding content and presenting it in new and (hopefully) more useful and interesting ways.

Although the site functions much the same as it did before, there are a few things that we've added or changed that I should tell you about.

  • We've added a context sensitive search to the pages that allow you to search on the part of the site that is relevant to the page you are on.

    For example, it you are on the Bible homepage, the default is to search the text of the King James Version of the Bible. It will also find results for Bible trivia questions, Every Jot and Tittle, and other Bible-related content. If you are on the Quran homepage, the search will be for Quran, etc. And by using the advanced search, you can search whichever parts of the site you are interested in.

    The search box can always be found by clicking on the hamburger menu icon on the top right corner of the page.

  • Most of the pages on the site allow comments. To do so, login with a username and password or by signing in with your Google account.

    Comments can be used to ask questions, make suggestions, let me know about corrections that need to be made, and discuss the page's content with others at the website. I will try to read, review, and reply to the comments in a timely manner.

  • The text for the Bible in Fewer Words podcast episodes can be found on the site by clicking on the Text and notes for episodes link. I encourage listeners to read along with us on these pages as we do the podcasts.

  • The category icons on right column of each chapter can be clicked to display the category list for that chapter. As on the old site, a complete list for the book can be found by clicking on the category icons on the book's outline pages.

  • Many of the blog posts from Dwindling in Unbelief have been copied to the new blog. For now, I will try to post at both sites - at least until it seems that most visitors are aware of the new SAB blog here.

Please let me know if you have any comments, questions, or concerns about the new site.

15 April 2023

So it was Jesus who sent the fiery serpents in Numbers 21!

One of the craziest stories in the Bible is found in Numbers 21. It all happens in just two verses:

The people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.

And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Numbers 21:5-6

Christians don't pay much attention to it, though. That was, after all, the Old Testament, and they ignore pretty much everything in it, except for the verses that condemn homosexuality.

Sure, they say, God sent fiery serpents to bite the people for complaining about the lack of food and water, but Jesus had nothing to do with it.

Unless you believe Paul, that is. Here's what he says about it:

Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 1 Corinthians 10:9

The people tempted Christ (by complaining) and he sent snakes to bite them.

So don't tempt Jesus, or he'll send some of his snakes to bite you too.

14 April 2023

What were the fiery serpents in Numbers 21?

In our most recent podcast, we told the story about the fiery serpents that God sent to bite the people for complaining about the lack of food and water. It all happens in just five verses in Numbers 21 (verses 5-9)

Here's the story from the Bible in Fewer words.

5 The people spoke against God and Moses, saying,

Why did you make us leave Egypt to die in the wilderness?

There’s no bread or water, and we hate this light bread.

6 So God sent fiery serpents to bite the people. And many died.

7 The people came to Moses, and said,

We have sinned by criticizing you and God. Ask God to take away the serpents.

And Moses prayed for the people.

8 God said to Moses,

Make a fiery serpent and put it on a pole.

Whoever looks at it will live after being bit by a fiery serpent.

9 So Moses made a brass serpent and put it on a pole.

Whoever was bitten by a fiery serpent didn't die if they looked at it.

The Brazen Serpent by James Tissot

These verses have long fascinated both believers and skeptics. What were the mysterious "fiery serpents" that God sent to bite the people, causing many of them to die? Well, parasitologists say it may have been the guinea worm (The nematode Dranunculus medinensis).

To understand why the guinea worm is suspected, you must understand its life cycle.

Guinea worm larvae are released by their mothers into a body of water. The larvae thrash about vigorously until they attract and are eaten by a copepod, which is a small, nearly microscopic, crustacean. The copepod is, however, just a temporary home for the worm. It cannot complete its life cycle unless it can somehow get inside its definitive host: a human being. This is accomplished when someone drinks water containing the infected copepods.

The copepod's body is destroyed by the stomach acids, releasing the guinea worms, which burrow their way through the intestinal wall. They migrate through the abdominal cavity and into the connective tissue, stopping to mate with any other migrating worms that they run into along the way. By this time females have grown to be nearly a meter in length, while the males are only a few centimeters. After the worms have sex, the little males wanders off to find a place to die, while the females continue their journey through the human host's body.

The migration of the female worms cause great pain and discomfort, but it is when the worm reaches its final destination that the torment really begins. The worms end up just beneath the surface of the skin, usually in the legs or feet, where they remain for a month or more. Their metabolic wastes and the host's allergic reaction cause blisters to form, resulting in intense itching and burning pain. One of the few ways to relieve the pain is to immerse the blister in water, inducing the worm to break through the surface of the skin releasing millions of guinea worm larvae. A copepod eats the larvae and a human drinks that water, completing the guinea worm life cycle.

But the human suffering is far from over when the worm breaks through the skin, for although the female worms die soon after releasing the larvae, their dead meter-long bodies are not easy to remove. And even if the dead worms can be extracted without rupturing, serious secondary infections often occur.

So how are the female worms removed? Well, the traditional way, which is still used today, is to carefully wind the worm around a stick. The only other option is surgical removal, but this is extremely difficult and not often successful.

Using a matchstick to wind up and remove a guinea worm from the leg of a human

So were the "fiery serpents" of Numbers 21 guinea worms in disguise? I'll leave that for you to decide, but some aspects seem to fit the description in Numbers.

The pregnant females are rather large worms and cause excruciating pain when breaking through the skin to release their larvae. So it is easy to see how they could be called "fiery serpents."

Guinea worms would have been present in the region at the time of the Exodus, as they still are today. If the Israelites encountered drought conditions, as they did according to the account in Numbers, it would have facilitated the transmission of the disease by concentrating worm larvae, intermediate hosts (copepods), and infected humans at the same water source.

And the serpent on a pole could well represent the most common form of treatment, then and now: pulling out the guinea worm by winding it on a stick.

Okay, let's assume the "fiery serpents" were guinea worms. If so, what message should we take from all this? What is God trying to tell us here? And what can we learn about God from this passage in Numbers?

One thing that should be clear to us all, of course, is the moral of the story: Don’t whine. God can’t stand a whiner. So if you or your children don’t have enough to eat or drink, well, just keep quiet about it. Whatever you do don’t mention it to God. If you ever get tempted to complain about it, just look at the above photo as a reminder.

So we know why God did it. What isn’t so clear, to me at least, is how. Did he simply infect the drinking water with guinea worm larvae? Or did he specially create guinea worms just for the occasion? If so, why didn’t he clean up afterwards? Why did millions of people have to suffer (and still suffer today) because the Israelites complained to God about their living conditions?

And what should we make of the “serpent on a pole” thing? The bible says that people were cured just by looking at it. Would it still work today? If so, then someone should let people know because the current treatment is much more involved (and painful) than that.

You also have to wonder why God didn’t explain how to prevent further infections, because prevention is much easier than treatment. All that is needed is to filter the drinking water through a fine-mesh cloth to remove the copepods. (The World Health Organization and the Carter Center has nearly eradicated the disease by using this method.) Wouldn’t that be better than Moses’s magic brass serpent - or the real treatment that this may have represented? Didn’t God know how to prevent the disease that he created?

But the last question is most important of all. Why are there guinea worms? Did God specifically design these worms to live inside the body of humans? Or were they created by Satan? Or did they just evolve, and God had nothing to do with it? If the first is true, then God is evil. If the second, then there are at least two gods. If the third, then God cannot control his own creation. Which do you think it is?

13 April 2023

About that red cow in Numbers 19

The passage in Numbers 19:1-10 is rather uninteresting in itself. So much so, in fact, that I almost left it out of the Bible in Fewer Words podcast. It is, after all, just another animal sacrifice - the type of thing that is found throughout the Pentateuch. There are burnt offerings, meat offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, heave offerings, and wave offerings. And I've probably left out a few. This one seems to be just one more.

But it turns out that this one is rather special - at least to many of today's Christians and Jews. Pretty much everything depends on the red cow [1] of Numbers 19. Without it the temple can't be rebuilt, the Messiah won't come, Jesus won't return, and the world won't end.

You're probably wondering how that can all be true. Well, God commanded the Israelites to find and kill a red, unblemished heifer that had never done a day's work in its life. After killing it, they were to burn its flesh, skin, blood and dung. God told them to collect the resulting ashes, mix them with water, and use it to purify those who happen to touch (or come near) a bone, dead body or grave.

God made it clear that this cleaning procedure could only be done by using this "water of separation" made from the red cow's ashes. And that this was a statute forever.

Things worked out fine from the time of Moses until the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE. Enough unblemished red heifers were found, killed, and burned to keep a continuous supply of holy water. But when the Romans destroyed the temple, the stash of ashes was lost or destroyed.

Many, perhaps most, of the Jews in Jerusalem were killed during the siege, and those that survived were enslaved, displaced, or fled to surrounding countries. This caused a complete change in Judaism: from a temple-based religion, with lots of animal sacrifices, to a new form called Rabbinical Judaism, with no sacrifices.

Maimonides, a renowned rabbi who lived the late 12th and early 13th centuries, said that there were only nine red heifers from the time of Moses to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. During that time the ashes were saved and used as necessary to make the water of separation, which ensured that the priests could be purified to allow them to perform the temple animal sacrifices. But after the ashes of the last red heifer were lost and the temple was destroyed, it was no longer possible to perform them.

So for nearly 2000 years, the Jews haven't sacrificed animals to God. There are, of course, many commandments in the Bible that require animal sacrifices, but the Jews believe that sacrifices can only be performed by priests in the temple. And since there is no temple, there can't be any sacrifices.

And that seemed like a good excuse until relatively recently. The Jews returned to Israel in 1948 and took control of the territory that contains the site of the temple in 1967. So a third temple could be rebuilt and animal sacrifices could resume. What's the hold up?

The hold up is the red cow.[2] A red cow that meets the requirements of Numbers 19 must be found and sacrificed to make the holy water that can purify priests from all the dead bodies that they have come into contact with during their lives.

Once a red cow is found, killed, and burned, its ashes can be used to purify priests, the temple can be rebuilt, and God will smell the sweet savor of burning animal flesh once again.

And according to Maimonides, when the third temple is rebuilt the Messiah will come.

Of course, Christians believe the Messiah came and went a long time ago. But many also believe that when a red heifer is found and the temple is rebuilt, he'll come again. And then all hell will break loose and the end of the world will come.

Recently five red heifers have been sent from Texas to Jerusalem, hoping that one of them will meet the rabbi's standards.

Here's a video about it.

And an update on 8 April 23

  1. There is some disagreement about the color of the cow. The Quran insists that the cow was bright yellow.

    Allah commandeth you that ye sacrifice a cow ... Verily she is a yellow cow. Bright is her colour, gladdening beholders. Quran 2:67-69

  2. Well, that's not the only hold up. The Dome of the Rock, which is one of Islam's most holy sites, is situated on top of the site of the second temple. So the third temple couldn't be built there without causing even more hostility between Jews and Muslims.

    But I suspect that the real reason why the temple will not be rebuilt is that Jews don't want to sacrifice animals anymore, and not having a temple provides a convenient excuse not to.

08 April 2023

Happy Jesus-in-hell day!

Descent into Hell by Michael Burghers

Now that Jesus is dead (they killed him in the Philippines on Good Friday), we can celebrate what happened after he died.

Happy Jesus-in-Hell Day!

Most Christians (well, Protestants, anyway) don't know this, but Jesus went directly to hell after he died.

Really, he did. It says so in the Bible.

He [David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. Acts 2:31

The above quote is from the speech that Peter gave on the day of Pentecost -- you know, the day that believers spoke in languages they didn't understand and acted like they were drunk.

So it must be true. (If you can't trust a drunken Pentecostal preacher who was also the first pope, who can you trust?)

There are a couple of other references to Jesus's day in hell by someone who claimed to be Peter, but wasn't.

Here's what the forger of 1 Peter said about it.

Christ ... went and preached unto the spirits in prison. 1 Peter 3:19

For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead. 1 Peter 4:6

So Jesus preached the gospel to the dead people "in prison" -- that is, to the people in hell.

And then there's this from Ephesians (another forgery, this time attributed to Paul).

Christ ... descended first into the lower parts of the earth. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. Ephesians 4:7-9

So Jesus descended "into the lower parts of the earth" -- which, as we all know, is where hell is.

Of course, Catholics know all this. They are reminded every time they attend mass or say the rosary, because it's right there in The Apostles' Creed.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell....

So get out and celebrate Jesus's descent into hell.

Here are some cool pictures that Jesus took during his visit to inspire you.

The first is a photo of a very tall Jesus meeting Adam and Eve as they come out of their demon-mouth house.

Here's one, on Saturday night, after Jesus put on his transparent robe.

And here's Jesus in a hurry to meet the ladies of hell.

Here's Jesus delivering the sermon from hell.

And here he is Sunday morning before heading back to the tomb.

So to hell with Easter. Celebrate Jesus-in-Hell Day instead!

04 April 2023

About the new website

If you've been to the SAB website lately, you have probably noticed that it has changed a bit recently.

It has the same content as the old site, plus some new additions. The main difference - and the thing we've been working on for a year or so now - is that the website is now entirely database-driven, rather than the tens of thousands of html pages and links that I had to create and manage by hand.

The new database-driven site will allow me to present the content of the site in ways that couldn't be done before. But there will be some problems that we will have to work out along the way.

Please let me know if you encounter any and we will try to address them - either by email (swwells@gmail.com) or by commenting on the web pages themselves.

(I have also copied many of the Blogger posts and moved them to the new website blog. I'll continue to double post for now, but at some time in the future I will be posting only on the new site. You can find the new blog here.

01 April 2023

Father Mike Schmitz explains the law of jealousies to us

The most popular podcast in the United States is (or was according to the National Review in Jan 2021) "The Bible in a Year" by Father Mike Schmitz. In it, Father Mike reads the Bible to you, and explains it all for you.

Father Mike gets through the whole thing, from Genesis to Revelation in 365 twenty-five minute episodes - including the apocrypha or what Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books. Which is pretty darned impressive. But then he's a very fast reader.

Still, he doesn't just read the Bible for you. He also explains it.

Here, for example, is the podcast's synopsis for "Day 56: Jealous Husbands":

Fr. Mike explains how God elevates the dignity of women by providing new laws around husbands accusing their wives of unfaithfulness.

Now that sounds nice, doesn't it? God elevates the dignity of women with the law of jealousies in Numbers chapter 5.

Carole and I recently covered Numbers 5 in a recent podcast. Here is the text for that part of the episode.
(You can listen to the podcast and read the text that we read from here.)

11 God said to Moses,

12-15 When the spirit of jealousy comes upon a man, and he suspects that his wife has had sex with another man, he shall bring his wife to the priest. 16 And the priest shall set her before me.

19 The priest shall say to the woman,

20-21 "If you’ve had sex with a man who is not your husband, God will cause this water to make your thigh rot and your belly swell."

22 And the woman shall say, "Amen. Amen."

24 Then the priest will make her drink the bitter water that causes the curse.

27 If she is defiled and has had sex with a man who is not her husband, God will make her belly swell, her thigh will rot, and she will be a curse among her people.

28 But if she is not defiled, then she shall be free and will conceive seed.

29 This is the law of jealousies, when a wife has sex with a man who is not her husband.

31 Or when the spirit of jealousy comes on a man, and he is jealous over his wife.

31 The man is guiltless, and the woman shall bear her iniquity.

Notice that this is God's law that he gives directly to Moses in his own words.

This is one of the most misogynistic passages in the Bible (perhaps even in all literature).

Is there anyone besides Father Mike who believes that this law "elevate the dignity of women"?

28 March 2023

The Bible in Fewer Words podcast

As many of you may know, my wife, Carole, and I have started a new podcast.

Well, it's not new anymore. In fact, we have released 54 episodes since we began a few months ago. We began with Genesis in December, and just posted the last episode of Leviticus today.

It was all Carole's idea, actually. Over the last few years I had been revising the SAB website by adding side notes to summarize the text of the Bible. And Carole was my editor.

She and I would discuss the notes, trying to make them a fair summary of the Bible's content, and while doing so, she recorded a few of our conversations. That's where the idea of a podcast came from.

Our goal is to present the Bible as concisely as possible, without leaving anything important out, while excluding the boring, repetitive, and uninteresting parts. So far it's been a lot of fun for us to produce,

So we invite you to listen to podcast episodes. They are usually between 10 and 15 minutes and cover from one to five or so chapters. You can find the text that we are reading here, with notes and links to the verses in the KJV at the SAB website. You are welcome to make comments and ask questions on the podcast pages. It'd be great to have you with us as we work our way through the Bible (using fewer words).