I didn’t notice until recently that Narabelad, the apologist for Judaism whose claims I addressed in “The Jewish Prophecy of Exile“, has written a further reply to me. In this post, I’ll address it briefly.
First, let me note that my correspondent has evidently conceded that his list of things that would make him an atheist was impossible to satisfy and was offered in bad faith, because in his latest response, there’s not a word about it. Clearly, he’d rather avoid the difficult question of how to falsify his own beliefs and instead focus on apologetic claims for the historical accuracy of the Torah. Most of this simply reiterates his previous letter without adding anything new, so I won’t repeat myself responding to it – but there’s a few points worth marveling at just for their sheer audacity, and for the level of historical distortion he’s willing to resort to.
So Mr. Atheist contents that someone wrote predictions about an exile of the Israelite people based on the experience they had in the Babylonian Captivity. If that be the case then how do those same verses explain the Roman Exile, which started more than 400 years after the Babylonian Exile?
The obvious answer to this question is that history runs in patterns. Living at a crossroads of the ancient world, the Israelites were constantly under threat from powerful empires. And exiling a defeated enemy was a common tactic of war in that era, as is shown by the fact that it happened to them no fewer than three times. Most of the verses which my correspondent thinks are specific predictions of the Roman exile are really just generic prophecies of disaster which could apply to any major defeat. They say nothing specific about the identity of the enemy; they just predict that the Israelites’ life would be arduous and painful living in exile under a conqueror. Obviously, this isn’t a great leap of imagination.
Know that the Babylonian Captivity did not involve this kind of merciless cruelty against the cities that involved slaughter of the inhabitants, not to the extent that Rome inflicted. The Babylonians held Jerusalem in siege for 2 years but after the Israelites surrendered they were handled fairly amicably after that as the conquerors wanted them for their benefit.
Yes, those Babylonians were forgiving, merciful folk, all right. They were so merciful that they besieged Jerusalem until the food ran out and the inhabitants were starving to death [2 Kings 25:3; compare Deuteronomy 28:52-53]. Then, after they conquered Jerusalem and took King Zedekiah captive, they killed his sons in front of him, gouged his eyes out, sacked the temple, and burned the city to the ground [2 Kings 25:7-9]. The Bible specifically says that when Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city, he “slew their young men with the sword… and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man or him that stooped for age” [2 Chronicles 36:17]. The Israelites hated the Babylonians so much that they wrote revengeful psalms fantasizing about smashing the Babylonians’ children against rocks, claiming that this would be a just retribution for the way they had treated them [Psalms 137:8-9]. This is what my correspondent labels “amicable” treatment.
Obviously, this gross absurdity is serving apologetic ends. Because my correspondent wants us to believe that the biblical prophecies of slavery and disaster applied only to the Roman conquest and not the earlier Babylonian conquest, he tries to rewrite history to make the Babylonians into kind and merciful rulers. That sort of tactic isn’t new; but what is new, and incredible to boot, is that a religious Jew would try to vindicate his holy book by praising the most despised historical enemy of his people.
He next has some things to say about the Sinai event, when the Israelites supposedly saw and heard God manifest himself while they were camped at Mt. Sinai on the way out of Egypt. As I pointed out in my previous reply, there’s no archaeological evidence for the Egyptian captivity, the Exodus, the wandering in the desert, or Joshua’s conquest of Palestine. These events are pious mythology, most likely invented by the Israelite elite to give their people an origin story that would fill them with national pride and justify their plans for military expansionism. My correspondent apparently doesn’t dispute the absence of archaeological evidence, but tries to argue for the myth in another way:
Are any of you going to disbelieve the American Civil War? Oh, there are a few books about it that were written at the time but it’s possible that could have been mere campfire stories, folklore…. The thing that makes the US Civil War credible was not simply because of the books and surviving documents. Those documents are credible to us 140 years later because people that experienced it also passed down personal stories and vignettes of the Civil War event to their descendants….
If there were only documents and books about the Civil War, without family stories passed down the Civil War could be easily doubted as “folklore” or “myth”.
You know, I wasn’t even going to bother writing a further reply to this fellow – but then I saw this, something so magnificently ridiculous that I just had to get it down so I could marvel at the sheer idiocy of it. Yes, you read right: the reason we know that the Civil War happened isn’t because of the vast amounts of archaeological evidence, soldiers’ graves, letters written by soldiers, photographs, contemporary books and newspapers, Confederate legal documents, telegrams, presidential speeches and proclamations, and congressional laws and resolutions… but because some living people heard about it from oral folklore passed down through the generations.
This black-is-white, up-is-down inversion of reasoning is typical of religious apologists tying themselves in knots trying to defend the indefensible. No evidence? No problem! Just say that the actual physical remnants of history aren’t as trustworthy as supernatural folktales invented by anonymous authors for patriotic purposes thousands of years ago. It just goes to show that when you start with an absurd conclusion and reason backwards to support it, you inevitably have to invent new absurdities to prop up the original absurd premise.
For example, you can go to Bullfinch’s Mythology and look through it and see if there’s even one myth that had an entire nation was said to have eye- or ear- witnessed a god or goddess perform some act and lived to tell about it. But I’ll save you the trouble, because I know someone who has already done that – gone through all 700+ pages – and found nothing done en masse with any god.
Oh, really? Nothing besides the Exodus account fits that description? Well, I don’t claim to have read 700+ pages of Bulfinch, but I think I can offer a counterexample: the 1917 miracle of Fatima, where tens of thousands of Catholic faithful allegedly saw the sun change color and dance across the sky. It was even reported in newspapers. If en masse revelations are my correspondent’s criterion for belief, then he should be Roman Catholic, not Jewish. It wouldn’t even require him to give up belief in the Exodus miracle!
This reply, short as it is, more than adequately showcases the fallacious tactics that this person relies on and that are common to all apologetic traditions: vague, general statements passed off as amazing prophecies; apologetic rewriting of history; elevation of myths and tall tales over physical evidence; and the misplaced certainty that our miracles are unique among all religious traditions. There’s nothing in it that should give even a moment’s pause to an atheist who’s familiar with mthods of critical thinking or comparative religion.