On Retconning Biblical Violence

In 2009, I wrote “The Twisted Moral of Passover“, about how this major Jewish holiday is really a celebration of genocide: the mass killing of the Egyptian children that preceded the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery. (The very name of the holiday refers to how the Israelite slaves supposedly marked their doors with blood so that the divine executioner would see it and pass over their houses.)

Even if there isn’t any archaeological evidence for this event, or for the Egyptian captivity in general (which there isn’t), it doesn’t take away the disturbing message. The slaughter of the innocent is being treated as something to commemorate, an event for which Jewish people should feel pride and gratitude. As I said at the time:

Let us not forget, ancient Egypt was not a democracy! Regardless of their feelings on the matter, the Egyptian people had no say in whether the Israelites were set free. The only person who had the power to make that decision was the pharaoh. What purpose did it serve for God to torment and massacre his subjects? Truth, why not just kill the pharaoh and ensure that the next person to come to the throne was more sympathetic to the Israelites’ plight?

Well, this week it’s Passover again, and I assume that’s how a Jewish believer found my post. He left an irritated comment accusing me of not understanding what the holiday is about:

We Jews must NOT gloat over the downfall of our enemy, even if such a downfall was eminently deserved. When God metes out justice to the wicked, we should find it unsettling. God’s power has been unleashed in this world; am I so deserving that it will not be directed at me?

The commentator Rabbeinu Yonah adds that there is a certain sense of elation we may feel. God’s honor has been restored. Wickedness does not last forever. God ultimately sees to it that His enemies are punished. If He does so in this world, just a small amount of His glory has been revealed to mankind. And for that, we may rejoice.

We may NOT, however, rejoice over the suffering itself our enemy endures. It may be necessary and it may be 100% right, but it is NOT a source of joy.

But the suffering of the Egyptians, as I’ve already discussed, was neither necessary nor right. It was a collective punishment, born from the ancient mindset that people bear responsibility for the deeds of others in their family, tribe or nation, and can rightfully be punished for things they didn’t do and couldn’t control. Were the firstborn Egyptian infants and children really “God’s enemies”? Does it “reveal God’s glory” for them to be slaughtered? This believer’s reply steps carefully around these questions.

The Talmud states that when the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, the angels wanted to sing their daily song of praise to God, and God quieted them: “The creations of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you are singing song?!” (Megillah 10b). One of the most wicked and immoral nations history has produced was at last experiencing its morally inevitable fate, yet God Himself experienced no pleasure in the process.

Yet at the same time the angels were silenced, Moses and Miriam led the Jewish nation in the Song of the Sea.

Were we so much better? If the angels could not sing, how could we?

This is an excellent example of how religion bends, unwillingly, to moral progress. Most religious texts were written in ancient eras when immoral practices like slavery, genocide and absolute monarchy were the norm. Modern apologists recognize the evil parts of their sacred text, but their faith prevents them from either outright rejecting or altering it. Their solution, beloved of comic book authors and soap opera writers everywhere, is the retcon: introducing new facts and assumptions that weren’t originally in evidence and that retroactively change the meaning of what we read.

In the original text of the Bible, the waters of the sea crash in and drown the Egyptians, and the Israelites witness this and sing a hymn of joy and gratitude (which, by the way, is still part of daily Jewish prayers). The clear message is that God did something good by annihilating the Egyptian army. The modern retcon is that the Israelites were wrong to sing their happiness, and that God himself remained silent (presumably rather than saying something like, “Boy, what a great thing that was that I just did!”) because he didn’t approve of his own action.

Here’s a question: If God didn’t want to kill the Egyptians, why didn’t he just, you know, not kill them? Why not just put a forcefield between them and the Israelites? Why not just close the sea before they entered it? The “regrettable necessity” defense doesn’t hold any water (much less a sea’s worth of water) when dealing with an omnipotent being.

I’ve previously dubbed this trend “the march of progress”: the way that moral progress overtakes religion, in spite of the furious rearguard defenses by fundamentalists, and the way that later believers then claim credit for that moral advance as if it had been their idea all along. It’s happened many times, and this is another example of it.

It’s undoubtedly a good thing that decent people now recognize the evil of genocide, Jewish and gentile alike. But you’d never have gotten that idea if you were going solely by the Bible, which depicts God as committing so many mass killings he practically runs out of ideas for how to do them. Indeed, there are still people who take these bloody passages at face value. All the clever reinterpretations in the world can’t paper over the true, disturbing message of a text like this, which will always bleed through in the end.

Image: Planetary genocide turned into a fun cartoon for children, via Shutterstock

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Malky

    A further point to remember is that from a certain perspective even Pharoah was not guilt as God “hardened his heart” more than once after he had decided to let them go Exodus 7.3, 13 and 9.12 etc. So God has full resposnibility for the whole thing so much for free will.

  • The Good Atheist

    You forgot one important detail in all of this: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because he wanted to perform all of those supposed “miracles”. God says explicitly several times that even killing the Egyptians is done to make his name resonate. So it’s entirely about God, and his need to “impress”

    Also, Moses totally lies to the Pharaoh and pretends they want to leave for a 3 day festival. Couldn’t even give him a straight answer…

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    But the suffering of the Egyptians, as I’ve already discussed, was neither necessary nor right.

    This is made even more apparent earlier in Exodus, when Moses was returning to Egypt, God tells him outright that Pharaoh probably would let them go easily but God wasn’t about to let that get in the way of getting his vengeance on:

    Exodus 4:21 And the Lord
    said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do
    all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I
    will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. (KJV)

  • Nathaniel

    As a atheist Jew who personally finds Passover to be just about the only holiday that’s actually meaningful to me, allow for an explanation for why I can like it rather than be disgusted by it.

    The answer is that by dint of being an atheist, I don’t have to take any of these events literally. Of course even with that in mind, a straightforward interpretation of these events would still be morally obscene, as you point out. But if you take the idea it wasn’t God unleashing literal plagues, then that leads to a much different story. The plagues transform from divine wrath into the efforts of a people attempting to fight back against oppressor who refused to change their ways.

    Even in this light, one could still argue that killing all the firstborn was too much, disproportionate retribution. So lets take a look at an event which I feel parallels the story. I give you the American Civil War.

    Now of course the Civil War never involved killing all firstborn sons in any part of the country. But the death toll was the highest percentage wise of any conflict America has been in, and many towns in the South had no young men that hadn’t been maimed or killed for a decade or more.

    The Civil war was one of the most terrible moments in American history. And it was worth it, because it ended the scourge of slavery. And it was probably the only way slavery could have ever ended. Many black people at the time didn’t miss the similarities I am pointing out, considering the war to be the time when God had decided to unleash his wrath upon the South for its crimes against black people.

    So the plagues are a message what can be the cost of freedom. And that sometimes the only way to stop an oppressor is to hurt them so badly they are forced to stop by the screams of their dying.

    But even so, that’s of secondary importance to what I consider to be the real message of Passover. Its near the end of the reading. Paraphrased, none of us are free if one is enslaved. Even if I am free in one of the most wealthy countries on Earth, I am still not free. Every slave, every sweatshop worker, every subject of a dictatorship diminishes me. And it is my duty to do what I can to bring these people out of Egypt and into the promised land. That is what Passover means to me as an atheist, as a Jew and a free person.

  • Loren Petrich

    Retconning – retroactive continuity – is something used elsewhere in apologetics.

    The two Genesis creation stories are often retconned together by supposing Genesis 2 to be what happened in Genesis 1 when God created humanity.

    The stylistic jumpiness and Moses’s funeral are often retconned with Moses’s supposed authorship by supposing that Moses jumped around in writing style a lot and that he made a prophecy of what his funeral would be like.

    The genealogies of Jesus Christ in Matthew and Luke are sometimes retconned with each other and with the Virgin Birth by supposing that one of them is for his (step)father Joseph and one for his mother Mary. Another retcon for them is that they fill in each other’s gaps.

    The different timings of Jesus Christ’s Temple temper tantrum are sometimes retconned as him having thrown two of them, one of them early in his career, recorded by John, and the other one late in his career, recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

    Paul’s ignorance of details of Jesus Christ’s life is sometimes retconned as him supposing that he did not want to repeat details of that, since his audience and readership knew all about that.

    Some Jews retcon the Talmud as inspired by supposing that God revealed to Moses a much larger body of law than what he had written down. The remaining law, an oral law, was then passed down the generations for over a thousand years before the authors of the Talmud wrote it down.

    The Koran agrees with the Docetics, a Gnostic sect, that Jesus Christ had only seemed to die on the cross, that he rose to Heaven and a fake version of him crucified instead.

    According to Islam, Mohammed had many predecessor prophets, like Abraham, Moses, Alexander the Great, and Jesus Christ. They were all proto-Muslims whose teachings got corrupted by their followers, with Mohammed’s teachings escaping that fate.

  • busterggi

    “Wickedness does not last forever. God ultimately sees to it that His enemies are punished.”

    Sounds as though the Book of Revelation somehow snuck into the rabbi’s torah.

  • busterggi

    Yes, the Civli War was horrible but human beings don’t have the magic power to make their wishes come true, supposedly Yahweh does.

    Not a real parallel.

  • TBP100

    Many of the most convoluted apologetics are precisely on this passage. Watching people trying to square this with ideas of both free will and God’s supposed goodness can be very amusing, if you don’t stop to think that people are actually wasting brain cells on an impossible task.

  • boomSLANG

    “So God has full resposnibility for the whole thing so much for free will.”

    Precisely. On the one hand we are told that “evil” is necessary in order for “free will” to be possible. On the other hand, if “God” can go around hardening people’s hearts to make them “evil” at his leasure or when he wants an extra dose of praise from one ethnic group, then “God” is ultimately responsible for that “evil”.

  • TBP100

    You beat me to it. If there is an omnipotent, omniscient being then absolutely everything, good, bad or indifferent, is as it is precisely because he wishes it to be that way.

  • boomSLANG

    And from a theist’s POV, how can anyone be sure that “God” didn’t harden the hearts of slave-owners to create a situation in which “God” can be the “hero” and would get the “Glory” he’s constantly seeking?

  • GCT

    And wasting brain cells in attempting to perform apologetics for genocide and infanticide.

  • Nathaniel

    Which is precisely part of the point I was making. Reading comprehension is your friend.

  • GCT

    I’m at a loss as to how you’re going from a story of god intentionally killing Egyptians in order to show off to the idea that no one should be enslaved. This is especially so since this same tribe supposedly moved into their new area and promptly set about conquering and enslaving all who stood in their way, all at god’s orders.

  • Nathaniel

    Because since I don’t believe in God, I’m able to treat it as an allegorical figure like the Golem from Jewish fables.

  • mcbender

    Amusingly I also wrote on this subject recently, if anyone is interested in a (marginally) Jewish atheist’s perspective:

    http://pointstick.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/some-thoughts-on-passover-and-a-soup-recipe/

  • GCT

    By that logic, we can treat any story as some sort of allegory and find a way to twist it into a nice moral. We could make the same claim about the genocides of the Midianites or the Amalekites, or any of the others. Since we don’t believe in god, it could become a story of sticking up for oneself. Who cares that it’s actually a story about something completely different, just as the Passover story is revenge fantasy porn.

  • busterggi

    Oh, I understood – I just thought you did a crappy job of it.

  • Nathaniel

    So freeing yourself and your people from slavery with violence is equivalent to a conquering a city and then massacring everyone inside?

    On that basis, I declare the Civil War morally equivalent to the genocide of the Native Americans.

  • JohnH2

    Palestine had been a tributary state of Egypt for a long time; and Egypt having slaves from Palestine was not uncommon: in one recorded campaign the claim is made that 90,000 people from Canaan were taken as slaves. The details in Exodus are wrong, being a rewriting of the story done probably around the time of King Josiah based on combining older texts. There shouldn’t be much doubt though that the Hebrews were slaves to Egypt at some point, or that later on they were no longer and were able to form independent kingdoms.

    Assuming the Exodus story is basically accurate though:

    From a military point of view the drowning of Pharaohs current armies and the death of the first borns of Egypt would have been a huge blow to the power of Egypt for a long time to come, and leave Palestine as being far down the list of priorities for Egypt. Allowing for the Hebrews to enter and become established without having to worry about Egyptian garrisons and armies interfering.

    From a religious point of view, for God everyone dies; Everyone that did not die in that Passover is now dead and God is pretty much just as responsible for all of those deaths as for the ones in the Passover. By ordering the deaths to occur at the Passover however God was able to demonstrate to the Israelites that He was more powerful than all the gods of Egypt and was willing to intervene on their behalf.

  • boomSLANG

    “On that basis, I declare the Civil War morally equivalent to the genocide of the Native Americans.”

    Except that no one to my knowledge treats the Civil War or the slaughter of the Native Americans as “an allegory”, and if I’m not mistaken, GCT’s contention involved taking any ol’ fable and twisting into a good “moral” lesson. He can correct me if I’m wrong.

  • J-D

    Since Jesus did not return to life from the dead, it is incorrect to say that the festival of Easter was established to commemorate his return to life from the dead. I don’t know why it was established, but that wasn’t it.

    By parallel logic, it is incorrect to say that the festival of Passover was established to commemorate the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn by God, since no such event ever took place. I don’t know why Passover was established, but that wasn’t it. There isn’t even sufficient evidence to establish that the story of the slaying of the firstborn was part of the original Passover ritual. For all we know, Passover rituals were observed before that story was ever invented, and it was only incorporated into the rituals later.

    I fully acknowledge that the story of the slaying of the firstborn is a story of a monstrous atrocity, and also that many people today engage in bizarre intellectual contortions in an unconvincing effort to reconcile that story with their conceptions of a just and loving God. But notice that I can acknowledge that without making any tendentious claims about the ‘real’ meaning or ‘true’ moral of the Passover story.

  • Nathaniel

    Thank you. Passover is not history. Its a story. And stories are tools, with more than One True Use.

  • Doomedd

    “Assuming the Exodus story is basically accurate “

    It is not accurate at all. In a way, the exodus is extraordinary because every bit of history in it is wrong.

  • Doomedd

    “Let me run the risk of Godwin’s Law here and say that I think it’s also a bit odd that we continue to celebrate Passover (with the genocide of the Egyptian firstborn) and have not reevaluated it any after the Holocaust; how can we celebrate a genocide that benefited us (even one committed by God) while also mourning the victims of one committed against us? “

    I fell something similar when I speak with conservative french Canadians nationalist. They tend to claim they we were brutally oppressed by English /Canadians and they really don’t care about the past cultural genocide against natives. They may even be outright apologetic about it. Liberals are far more sane.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Indian_residential_school_system

  • GCT

    You’re not wrong.

  • GCT

    So freeing yourself and your people from slavery with violence is equivalent to a conquering a city and then massacring everyone inside?

    You left off a couple parts there:
    1. Freeing oneself and one’s people from slavery with un-necessary violence (since god is involved, no violence was necessary),
    2. Conquering a city and then massacring everyone inside, except for the times when those people took slaves (especially the young girls that they took for sex slaves) kinda goes against the whole moral that if one person is not free, then I am not free, and
    3. It’s the same fucking people that you claim wrote the moral about how if person X isn’t free then none of us are.

    Sorry, but you are imputing a modern moral idea back onto an ancient story where it doesn’t belong. What you’re doing is no different from the Xians who claim that the stories in the Bible advocate against slavery, owning women, etc. IOW, you’re retconning the Bible.

  • GCT

    There shouldn’t be much doubt though that the Hebrews were slaves to Egypt at some point, or that later on they were no longer and were able to form independent kingdoms.

    There is doubt, about both counts. Adam has previously covered in in the links he provides.

    From a religious point of view, for God everyone dies; Everyone that did not die in that Passover is now dead and God is pretty much just as responsible for all of those deaths as for the ones in the Passover.

    IOW, genocide is OK because god’s going to kill everyone eventually anyway? WTF?

    By ordering the deaths to occur at the Passover however God was able to demonstrate to the Israelites that He was more powerful than all the gods of Egypt and was willing to intervene on their behalf.

    Which he couldn’t demonstrate by some non-violent means? Apparently someone doesn’t know what omnipotent means.

  • GCT

    For all we know, Passover rituals were observed before that story was ever invented, and it was only incorporated into the rituals later.

    And, this makes it OK how exactly?

    I fully acknowledge that the story of the slaying of the firstborn is a story of a monstrous atrocity, and also that many people today engage in bizarre intellectual contortions in an unconvincing effort to reconcile that story with their conceptions of a just and loving God.

    As opposed to people who engage in bizarre intellectual contortions to someone absolve the idea of Passover from a monstrous atrocity?

    But notice that I can acknowledge that without making any tendentious claims about the ‘real’ meaning or ‘true’ moral of the Passover story.

    The Passover story is the one in the Bible. What is tendentious about looking at what is written in the Bible and taking it at face value?

  • GCT

    Yes, it’s a story about the needless slaughter of a bunch of people and animals so that the Jews could have their revenge porn. It’s not a nice story at all. (Oh, and that third paragraph includes you.)

  • Nathaniel

    You say that last line a though I am supposed to be devastated by your logic. But that’s what I was saying in my very first comment. I am telling a different story than the one intended by the bible alone. As an atheist, I feel no love or sense of sacredness for the Bible. Its a book of myths and fairy tales for me. And as many other people have done with myths and fairy tales, I am taking one of the stories contained within, changing it and making it my own.

    What you’re doing is trying to slap the story out of my hands and say, “No, you’re not allowed to do that. Stories are static, unchanging things, and you’re not allowed to tell this story in any way other than the one I give permission for.”

    To which I reply, who the hell died and made you king of Judaism? Or ruler of my Judaism? I haven’t let Orthodox Jews tell me how to run my life when it comes to my jewishness, and I am sure as not going to let a goy attempt to either.

  • GCT

    I am telling a different story than the one intended by the bible alone.

    Then, you are not telling the Passover story, and I’m left wondering, once again, how you got from A to B. The idea that freedom for all is a good thing is a good idea. I’m stumped how you got it from a Biblical story, and you admit that you didn’t. So, therefore, you’re not basing your idea on the Passover story and this idea that you’ve lumped together with Passover really shouldn’t be.

    What you’re doing is trying to slap the story out of my hands and say, “No, you’re not allowed to do that. Stories are static, unchanging things, and you’re not allowed to tell this story in any way other than the one I give permission for.”

    You claim to feel no sacredness for the Bible, but when I point out that you’re not basing your “story” on the Biblical story and that they have nothing to do with each other, you get indignant about it. So, which is it?

    To which I reply, who the hell died and made you king of Judaism? Or ruler of my Judaism?

    This sounds a lot like a no true scotsman, only in reverse. Now, Judaism can mean anything and everything so long as you claim that it’s your personal version? Really? Do Xians get the same leeway? Do they get to claim that they are really Xian if their personal Xianity denies the existence of Jesus and god?

    I haven’t let Orthodox Jews tell me how to run my life when it comes to my jewishness, and I am sure as not going to let a goy attempt to either.

    I wasn’t aware that pointing out what you are doing and the error inherent in it was the same as “run[ning] your life.” It must suck for you unless you make very few errors. The simple fact is that you’re claiming that a story in the Bible has some meaning (for you) that is not at all in evidence, thereby contradicting yourself, and getting indignant when someone points out what you’ve done all while claiming that it’s not sacred to you. This even goes so far as you making pejorative declarations for me pointing out that you’re guilty of doing exactly what the OP talked about. Oi vey.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    And it isn’t limited to hardening their hearts either. The bible makes it clear that God will hound people and subject them to great suffering until they do as he wants (see Jonah, all the times the Jews were conquered and enslaved because they pissed God off) or let a spirit of deception wash over a population so there is just no way they could ever discover the truth that God requires. The concept of “free will”, as it is generally defined by such apologists, is impossible to meet when there is an entity that can and gladly will coerce and/ or mislead in such a terrible manner.

  • JohnH2

    There are Egyptian forts throughout Palestine and records from Egypt of Egypt taking slaves from there as well. So there were both slaves that were from there and the entire region was under Egyptian rule. There are also clear archeological records that Samaria was its own independent kingdom after that point; Adam is addressing only a very literal view of the Exodus, and ignoring everything else.

    IOW, it is very different talking about genocide committed by humans and something that God does. The morality of killing people must be different for any God that is worth being called God, as everyone dies and God is in control of when everyone dies, therefore as responsible for every death that is currently happening as for the Spanish Flu as for Black Death, as for whatever Biblical atrocity that an atheist chooses to assume is accurate and complain about.

    Demonstrating via nonviolent means didn’t work to even impress the Egyptians, and demonstrating via the Passover and parting the sea wasn’t enough to keep the Israelites following God for even a few weeks.

  • Tommykey69

    Knowing what we know today about the universe, that it consists of many billions of galaxies each filled with its own billions of planets, it strikes me as odd to think that a being would create all that and then for a couple of millennia act as the exclusive tribal deity for a group of people in the Middle East.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    There are Egyptian forts throughout Palestine and records from Egypt of Egypt taking slaves from there as well.

    Yes, those things are both true, considering that the period when the Exodus is most commonly believed to have happened is the New Kingdom era, the height of ancient Egypt’s power. You don’t seem to notice that this undermines, not bolsters, your argument: the pharaohs had fortified outposts all along the path any fleeing population of slaves would have to have taken, making the Exodus even less likely as a historical event.

    What does not exist, however, is any record, whether written or archaeological, of a specific, cohesive foreign population enslaved in Egypt in its entirety. Nor is there any archaeological record of this group leaving Egypt in a mass migration, whether because they escaped or because they were cast out. Nor do any Israelite artifacts in Palestine show signs of the cultural cross-contamination you’d expect if they had lived and labored in Egypt for centuries as a people.

    Demonstrating via nonviolent means didn’t work to even impress the Egyptians…

    And therefore the only other option was mass slaughter? It never ceases to amaze how unimaginative religious believers can be.

    Here’s a suggestion for what I’d do, if I were God: I’d tell the Israelites it was time to go and have them pack up and leave. Then, if any Egyptians tried to stop them, I’d afflict those people with temporary paralysis that would last until all the Israelites were gone. Can you see any problem with that?

  • JohnH2

    Except you apparently deny that the Jews were ever slaves to Egypt at all; meaning per your denial of the Egyptian fortresses in Palestine and of the Egyptian records of enslaving tens of thousands from Palestine there is nothing for it to be revenge of.

  • JohnH2

    Adam:

    At some point all of Palestine was at least tribute slaves to Egypt, as well as large portions of the population being actually enslaved. At a later point they were no longer slaves but free from Egyptian domination. There was therefore an Exodus from slavery, even if it may have very little relation to the story in Exodus.

    Given that the Hebrews in Exodus cross the Red Sea into the Sinai they weren’t exactly following the fortified way of the sea; If I am assuming that the Exodus account is accurate the fortification of the way of the sea is the least challenging aspect of the story.

    Given the military and cultural dominance of Egypt over Palestine, the lack of cross cultural contamination more suggests to me that we aren’t aware of what is cross cultural contamination than that there is none; this being true regardless of the Exodus.

    “therefore the only other option was mass slaughter? ”

    Whether or not that is the only other option, that is the option that the story records as happening.

    ” I’d tell the Israelites it was time to go and have them pack up and leave. Then, if any Egyptians tried to stop them, I’d afflict those people with temporary paralysis that would last until all the Israelites were gone. Can you see any problem with that?”

    No problem with that, that is what is recorded as happening for a group of people in the Book of Mormon. That is not however what the story in Exodus records as having happened.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com/ Leo Buzalsky

    “By parallel logic” May the 4th, a.k.a. Star Wars Day, was not established to commemorate the defeat of the evil Empire…

    Well, OK, it wasn’t. But, then, it’s not fully parallel logic. A difference is we are well aware that Star Wars is a work of fiction. But do many of the celebrants of Passover recognize that it is a myth? More importantly, did the first celebrants of Passover recognize it was a myth? We don’t know. It’s good that you recognize that we don’t know about the first rituals of Passover, but I’m rather dumbfounded that you would then so easily reject the notion that True Believers founded such holidays.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    At some point all of Palestine was at least tribute slaves to Egypt, as well as large portions of the population being actually enslaved. At a later point they were no longer slaves but free from Egyptian domination. There was therefore an Exodus from slavery, even if it may have very little relation to the story in Exodus.

    So you’re saying the story of the Exodus is true even though none of the specific events in that story actually happened. Well, have it your way.

  • GCT

    IOW, it is very different talking about genocide committed by humans and something that God does. The morality of killing people must be different for any God that is worth being called God, as everyone dies and God is in control of when everyone dies, therefore as responsible for every death that is currently happening as for the Spanish Flu as for Black Death, as for whatever Biblical atrocity that an atheist chooses to assume is accurate and complain about.

    Wow, there are numerous problems with this. First off, you’re trying to excuse god by claiming that he does a whole lot of other bad stuff too, so genocide isn’t so bad. That’s a terrible defense.

    Secondly, you seem to be advocating a non-universal morality, that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. You want to claim that it’s alright for god to murder, but immoral for humans to do the same. This is generally a no-no in Xian circles (except when trying to explain away obviously immoral acts by god).

    Third, what moral responsibilities we have should increase with our power and ability. That god has immense power means that he should adhere to a stricter moral code than us. You have it backwards, that because god is powerful he gets to be as much of a bastard as he wants.

    Lastly, the phrase, “an atheist chooses to assume is accurate and complain about,” is bullshit. We aren’t choosing to assume anything. We are pointing to the actual words in your holy texts and saying that they are terrible and not worth following. I don’t have to assume that it happened to point out that it’s a horrible story with a horrible moral message. And, the idea that we are “complaining” is nothing more than ugly religious privilege meant to belittle atheists. It’s offensive.

    Demonstrating via nonviolent means didn’t work to even impress the Egyptians…

    Especially given the fact that god went and made sure that Pharaoh would not change his mind and let them go in the story. Seems rather strange to use that as an argument for violence when god was the architect of the necessity for violence by making sure that it came to that.

    I’ll also note that you seem to be advocating that violence is the best way to get an idea across as it seems to work better than non-violent means.

  • GCT

    I fail to see how that matters. The style of the story is revenge porn, even if the particulars never happened.

    Voldemort wants revenge on Harry Potter even though neither of them exist in real life.

  • JohnH2

    I am claiming that you are making an error in applying the same rules to God as to an individual person: just as saying that murder is bad, but we allow the state to allow for murder in cases of war (at the least) and that a state killing people in times of war can be a very good thing.

    The president that declares war can be moral in that declaration of war which leads to thousands of deaths, while immoral if ordering the death of political opponents. Jesus as a person was under the obligation of not killing, but as a God that obligation is nonsensical: death is a requirement and God must be at least in some sense answerable for all deaths.

    The moral responsibility of both the president and of God is greater, even though what may be moral for either in those positions is immoral for someone not in that position to do.

    You are complaining about the exodus story instead of the ~150,000 people that died yesterday when the accuracy of the exodus can be debated and the deaths of yesterday can’t be.

    I don’t see how you reject all those other details and accept that the story is accurate (or accurately translated) about what happened with Pharaoh’s heart. Not just me, my entire faith rejects that detail as being a mistranslation.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com/ Leo Buzalsky

    Have to go Godwin here. There are Holocaust deniers out there. Since they don’t believe that ever happened, it’s cool, then, if they turn that into some sort of allegory?

  • JohnH2

    I am saying taking what are pretty clearly edited details, many done at the time of King Josiah, when the Exodus story was compiled from other sources, and showing those details to be wrong doesn’t prove much of anything.

    The disparate sources show that the story is much older than its compilation date, and while they may also have been edited and expanded it can be assumed that they are records of real events that did happen, even if the details are incorrect.

    So for instance it could be that the records are of the 14th Dynasty who were Canaanites in Egypt, starting possibly with a Jacob, emerging during the end of the 12th Dynasty being co-ruler and possibly under the 13th Dynasty until Egypt was conquered by the Hyksos with the Minoan eruption causing an exodus from the Nile Delta to Canaan. Or it could be from the more traditional New Kingdom period. Or it could even be that the combination of multiple accounts actually combined separate accounts. I don’t know, but I do know that saying it is fantasy revenge porn is almost certainly further from the truth (even assuming not God) than assuming the story is based on real events.

  • Thom Watson

    Here’s a suggestion for what I’d do, if I were God: I’d tell the Israelites it was time to go and have them pack up and leave. Then, if any Egyptians tried to stop them, I’d afflict those people with temporary paralysis that would last until all the Israelites were gone.

    Or, quick-and-easy, just fold your arms, snap your ponytail and blink, or wiggle your nose, and teleport the Israelites out of Egypt. Jeannie and Samantha used to do that sort of thing all the time; if we mere humans can pull such solutions out of our allegedly god-given imaginations, you’d think it would be less than child’s play for an omnipotent deity.

  • J-D

    Star Wars is your example, not mine. I didn’t say it was a parallel case. The cases I described as parallel were those of Easter and Passover. There are many people alive today who do not consider the Passover story a work of fiction, but equally there are many people alive today who do not consider the Easter story a work of fiction, so in that respect the parallel is maintained.

    I don’t know how many (if any) of the people who celebrate Passover today regard it as a myth. I bet you don’t either, and I don’t understand what you consider to be the importance of the point.

    I’m not clear on the grounds for concluding that religious rituals are generally established by True Believers rather than by frauds; it could be either, as far as I can see. L Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith were frauds; why shouldn’t they be the typical examples? But even if the first Passover rituals, whatever they were, were established by True Believers, that doesn’t tell us what those true beliefs were. They may have included the story of the slaying of the firstborn, but then again perhaps they didn’t.

  • J-D

    Please note that I did not say that the story of the slaying of the firstborn is/was ‘OK’. I stipulated explicitly that it is the story of a monstrous atrocity.

    No bizarre intellectual contortion is required to absolve ideas from the commission of monstrous atrocities. Monstrous atrocities are committed by people, not by ideas.

    In the Song of Songs I find one verse which begins ‘I am a rose’ and another which begins ‘I am a wall’. If I take it at ‘face value’, how can I reconcile those? A rose can’t be a wall, can it? Should it be obvious to anybody reading that book that much of the language is metaphorical? Is it in fact obvious to every reader that the language is metaphorical?

    What about the book of Job? Some readers consider it to be an account of events that actually happened to a real historical individual, while some others consider it to be a moral fable, like the fables of Aesop, and not a historical account. Will you tell me that taking Aesop’s fables at ‘face value’ means interpreting them as intended to be stories of actual events in the life of actual animals? So which interpretation is the ‘face value’ of the book of Job?

    Finally, even if we take the biblical story of Passover as having been intended to be a factual account of historical events, nowhere in the text is a statement that ‘the real meaning of this story is X’ or ‘the true moral of this story is Y’. When people read what are unambiguously intended to be factual accounts of historical events, they often disagree about the ‘real meaning’ or ‘true moral’ of those events.

  • Nathaniel

    Because real world events are totally the same as stories from a book of myths. Of course! Why didn’t I ever realize that!

  • Doomedd

    “And therefore the only other option was mass slaughter? It never ceases to amaze how unimaginative religious believers can be. “

    I can’t help to think there are evidence that the original story acknowledge Pharaoh’s divinity. Exodus 7:10-12 makes sense if you read it as a duel of divine magic. The hardening part make sense if you interpret it as a harassing tactic against Pharaoh with the ultimate goal of ambushing his army in the red sea.

    As far as a know, battles of god were like battles of king, by using armies and populace instead of direct combat. I guess that why God didn’t attack Pharaoh directly, that not how gods behave. Again, it kind of imply that Pharaoh was a god-king in the original story.

  • Doomedd

    “You are complaining about the exodus story instead of the ~150,000 people that died yesterday when the accuracy of the exodus can be debated and the deaths of yesterday can’t be.”

    I guess Adam wrote about the exodus BECAUSE we can debate the accuracy of the book.

    “I don’t see how you reject all those other details and accept that the story is accurate (or accurately translated) about what happened with Pharaoh’s heart. “

    It doesn’t seem that Adam think the story is accurate with a good translation. Yet, the bible is supposed to be the literal word of god and that not a fringe theory.

    No, if I understand Adam correctly, the exodus is wrong on so many levels that it remove credibility from the story. Add that even the core of the story can be disproved by archeological evidence and the only choice he have is to conclude that the exodus is nothing but fiction. I don’t think he reject the Exodus for any other reasons. If you can bring SOLID proofs, we may change our opinions.

    “Not just me, my entire faith rejects that detail as being a mistranslation.”

    That the reason the faithful bother me. You are free to have your opinion and express it but you are basically saying that you have your opinion and that you are unwilling to change it. I’ll tell you brutally, you don’t bring much to the discussion. That faith of yours forbids you to consider that you may be wrong and you need to be open to the possibility that you may be wrong if you want a productive discussion. Play by the rules, refusing to be wrong is ignoring the rules. No amount of conviction will change this fact.

  • eyelessgame

    My favorite bit about the whole story isn’t the cruelty. It’s this –
    In the fifth plague, all of the Egyptian cattle, horses, asses, camels, and oxen die.
    In the sixth plague, all of the Egyptian men and all the Egyptian livestock get boils all over their bodies.
    In the seventh plague, hail rains down on the Egyptians and kills all their animals.
    In the tenth plague, the firstborn child of every Egyptian man and beast dies.

    Then, after the horses all died, then got boils, then got killed a second time by hail, then the young horses died a third time… the Israelites leave, and the Egyptians pursue them. On horseback.

    There is a reason editing was invented.

  • Bdole

    “killing all the firstborn was too much, disproportionate retribution.”
    Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter precisely because the Pharaoh of that time (2 generations earlier) had ordered all the male, Jewish babies thrown into the Nile. Presumably, the first-born slaughter, 80 years later, was payback for that.
    OT logic: 2 wrongs make a right.

  • eyelessgame

    That makes sense, considering the “wizard duel” between Moses and Pharaoh’s priests. This was not a “one true god” story, it was a duel of gods, and Yahweh won.
    (Of course a lot of the early Bible reads like polytheistic myths given a monotheistic coat of paint. I count six deities in Genesis 1-5 at least, and the Flood works much more coherently as a story if you imagine Poseidon planning to drown the world and Athena or Hephaestus planning to save one particular favored mortal. God’s otherwise quite the schitzo in those stories.)

  • eyelessgame

    Not so surprising. Recall that in Superman 1, Superman couldn’t even fly. God gets more powerful as the story goes on. He clearly had to use cruder methods before he leveled up. (He was still relying on blood sacrifices to wash away sins only two thousand years ago.)

  • cipher

    Not to mention the fact that he hardens their hearts so that they don’t accept Jesus, then tortures them eternally for it. The Calvinists (who represent the majority of evangelicals these days) are absolutely thrilled with this doctrine. They project their psychopathy onto their deity.

  • GCT

    Says the person who started this by comparing Passover to the Civil War.

  • GCT

    There’s not a scrap of evidence for this except the revenge fantasy porn that you are trying to support. There is no record of the Jews being in Egypt, no record of a mass exodus, etc. It’s all made up.

  • GCT

    I am claiming that you are making an error in applying the same rules to God as to an individual person…

    If you believe in universal morality, which is sort of a Xian tenet, then yes, you believe that what is moral for me is also moral for god. That’s not my error, that’s your error. I would say that we need to hold god to a higher standard whereas you seem to want to claim that because he’s powerful he can do whatever he likes, up to and including murder. This makes no sense.

    …just as saying that murder is bad, but we allow the state to allow for murder in cases of war (at the least) and that a state killing people in times of war can be a very good thing.

    No, it’s not a good thing. It’s sometimes an unavoidable lesser of two evils. god never has that issue, however. god, literally, never has to rely on violence, which should be a last resort.

    Jesus as a person was under the obligation of not killing, but as a God that obligation is nonsensical: death is a requirement and God must be at least in some sense answerable for all deaths.

    This is contradicted by the idea of heaven and hell. We are told that those places must exist because the soul is necessarily eternal. So, which is it? Is death necessary or is it not necessary to have an eternal soul?

    Secondly, you’ve stacked the deck here. You’ve claimed that because the universe acts as it does, and death happens, that this is a necessity for god. But, if your god really did set up the system, then he set it up the way he wanted to set it up and could have chosen a different system; IOW, it’s not a necessity.

    I don’t see how you reject all those other details and accept that the story is accurate (or accurately translated) about what happened with Pharaoh’s heart.

    Sigh. Are you intentionally trying to be obtuse? Pharaoh’s heart was never hardened, just as the Exodus never actually happened. None of it actually happened. That doesn’t mean that we can’t read the story and point out the issues with it. Star Wars isn’t real either, and I can still go in and point out issues in the story. And, if someone claims to be able to find a moral in the story, I can look at what was written and argue about whether the story, as written, supports that moral or not.

    So, looking at the story, it’s supposed to talk about how great god is, and you are attempting to claim that god had no other choice (according to the story – and no, I will no longer put in that addendum, so stop playing stupid). The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, which happens in the story, indicates that your account in wrong.

    Not just me, my entire faith rejects that detail as being a mistranslation.

    Well, it’s a good thing that your faith counts as evidence…oh wait, it doesn’t.

  • GCT

    Please note that I did not say that the story of the slaying of the firstborn is/was ‘OK’. I stipulated explicitly that it is the story of a monstrous atrocity.

    Please note that I was speaking about the observance of the Passover ritual, which is an observance and celebration of the slaughter of many innocents. If you agree that the story is a monstrous atrocity, then why take pains to claim that the original Passover may not have been associated? It certainly is now, and anyone who celebrates it now is celebrating genocide.

    So which interpretation is the ‘face value’ of the book of Job?

    The one where god comes down and says that he’s doing all this to Job because he can. It’s a plain reading. Just as the Exodus account and the Passover didn’t actually happen, we can still read it plainly and see that it’s a story about the slaughter of the Egyptians that god wanted to carry out.

    When people read what are unambiguously intended to be factual accounts of historical events, they often disagree about the ‘real meaning’ or ‘true moral’ of those events.

    Would you accept it if I said that the meaning of Passover, to me, is about how bunnies are fluffy and cute? I suspect not, because there’s no way to get there from reading the text.

  • J-D

    People who observe Passover don’t all observe it in the same way and don’t all carry out the same rituals. Few or none of the people who do observe it include in their rituals mass slaughter, or the celebration of mass slaughter.

    I did not say that the story is a monstrous atrocity, I said that it is the story _of_ a monstrous atrocity. Stories are not atrocities.

    If you take the book of Job at face value, do you read Job as a historical character or as an allegorical one? I note that you avoided answering this question.

    If you said that the meaning of Passover to you is about how bunnies are fluffy and cute I would incline to the view that you were being hamfistedly ironical, on the basis of the inconsistency with your earlier remarks. It is a fact that people place differing interpretations on the same text, and also that there is no certain procedure for defining in advance the limits of the interpretations that may be placed on any given text, and I have also observed in the past that some people are highly uncomfortable with these facts and resort to sarcastic response when they are pointed out. I consider the interpretation of Passover as meaning that bunnies are fluffy and cute as being so unlikely that I wouldn’t waste time discussing it unless somebody seriously put it forward. But sometimes things that I consider highly unlikely do happen.

  • GCT

    People who observe Passover don’t all observe it in the same way and don’t all carry out the same rituals. Few or none of the people who do observe it include in their rituals mass slaughter, or the celebration of mass slaughter.

    Whether someone has a seder or just hangs with family, if they are doing it in commemoration of the Passover story, as told in the Bible, they are most certainly celebrating mass slaughter. It would be like celebrating a story about the trail of tears and how the white man was able to gain more land.

    I did not say that the story is a monstrous atrocity, I said that it is the story _of_ a monstrous atrocity. Stories are not atrocities.

    This is nothing more than splitting hairs that don’t get us anywhere.

    If you take the book of Job at face value, do you read Job as a historical character or as an allegorical one? I note that you avoided answering this question.

    Because it is not germane to the point. Whether I take the Exodus story as literal or not, if I celebrate the story of the mass killing of every Egyptian firstborn, then I’m celebrating mass killing. I also noted that we can still talk about the meaning of the story whether we believe Job actually happened or not – again, it’s not germane.

    If you said that the meaning of Passover to you is about how bunnies are fluffy and cute I would incline to the view that you were being hamfistedly ironical, on the basis of the inconsistency with your earlier remarks.

    Sigh. If someone else said that, and you didn’t have the benefit of their previous comments, would it change your view? Would you honestly think that they really thought the story was about cute, fluffy bunnies? Let’s not be coy.

    It is a fact that people place differing interpretations on the same text, and also that there is no certain procedure for defining in advance the limits of the interpretations that may be placed on any given text, and I have also observed in the past that some people are highly uncomfortable with these facts and resort to sarcastic response when they are pointed out.

    How can you possibly interpret the text differently than god killed a whole bunch of Egyptians? The plain text says X. No, what you are really trying to argue for is that people claim that there are different meanings as to why this happened in the text. But, using backhanded attacks at me while ignoring that you can’t deny the fact that the text speaks about genocide is rather below the belt.

    I consider the interpretation of Passover as meaning that bunnies are fluffy and cute as being so unlikely that I wouldn’t waste time discussing it unless somebody seriously put it forward.

    And, why not? Oh, I’ll answer for you since you are resorting to being intentionally obtuse. It’s because there’s no connection between the story of god’s genocide and bunnies. None at all. Not all interpretations are equally valid, and I can’t make it valid by claiming, erroneously, that you can simply insert bunnies into the text, or ignore all the slaughter and pretend it’s about frolicking bunnies. The text speaks for itself. It is a story about a genocide, just as there are many other Biblical stories that promote and celebrate genocide. That is a fact. That people celebrate that genocide today is reprehensible, just as it would be to celebrate a story about the trail of tears from the white man’s perspective of pushing out Native Americans.

  • JohnH2

    There is a record, it is called the Bible. There are also Egyptian records of the 14th Dynasty being of the people that the Hebrews are and records of the New Kingdom both conquering the area that the Hebrews lived in and enslaving them. Now the record that we have, the Bible, has suffered heavy editing and many of the details are from a much later date; it is simple to prove those details to be wrong; but idiotic and ignoring the evidence and collaborating histories to claim that the Hebrews were never enslaved and never went free.

  • GCT

    The Bible is known to be inaccurate and self-serving, and cannot, therefore, be considered a valid source for the events “recorded” within it. The archaeological evidence is completely missing. It’s possible that some Jews, or people who would later become the Jews, were enslaved, and maybe some escaped, but not on a huge scale. There was no mass enslavement, nor mass exodus. The story is simply false.

  • GCT

    This got me to thinking (after I stopped laughing and upvoting, that is) that killing the work animals probably had the effect of making things tougher on the slaves.

    ‘Guess what slaves. All the animals that we use to pull around the heavy farming implements are dead. Guess who gets to pull that stuff around now. You can thank your genocidal god for that one.’

  • JohnH2

    I think at this point you are just denying it to deny it. There is very strong archaeological record of the Canaanite conquest, enslavement, and the earlier Canaanite 14th Dynasty, and of the independent kingdom of Samaria later on.

    In the Egyptian records there is that Canaanites moved to the Nile delta near the end of the 12th Dynasty, potential evidence that their leader was named Jacob (that is debatable), that under the 13th Dynasty they set up the 14th Dynasty that ruled at least part of the Nile Delta, and appear to be under the 13th Dynasty. That they were enslaved during the Hyksos invasion and Manetho a 3rd century BC Egyptian historian records the Exodus of 480,000 captive Canaanites leaving Egypt back to Palestine. Everything except for Manetho’s account of exodus has lots of archeological backing to it.

    Then we have the Bible that records Joseph going into Egypt, becoming co-ruler of Egypt and bringing his father Jacob; they eventually become enslaved under a later Pharaoh, there is a recorded exodus in which they take the bodies of Jacob and Joseph with them. Somehow despite the above Egyptian records I am supposed to believe that the story is simply false and not based on real events but compiled and edited about a thousand years after the event?

  • JohnH2

    If I believe that morality is universal then I have to believe that everyone if placed in the same position would have the same morality. It is blatantly obvious that what is moral for one in one position is not moral for another in a different position: a husband and wife sleeping together is moral in all surviving forms of Christianity, while an unmarried man and women (or even more so, one of them married the other not) sleeping together is immoral in nearly all forms of Christianity, even though the action is the same. Likewise it is generally immoral to cut someone with a knife, but a surgeon that refused to save someones life by cutting into them would be immoral to not do so. Power has nothing to do with this, there are things that it would be immoral for God to do.

    You are quibbling on whether doing something like stopping the Nazi’s was a good thing or the lesser of two evils. That seems to be a pattern for you.

    You are confused in relation to death. We all die but that doesn’t contradict the idea that our soul is eternal. Death is the separation of spirit from body, and that happens to everyone and God must be responsible in some sense for every separation that occurs. The joining and separation and rejoining of spirit and body is necessary.

    Given that Christ only did what He saw His Father do, it isn’t at all clear that God could have organized things differently given the co-eternal laws that He works in.

    I reject as a mistranslation the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart: God knew that Pharaoh would harden his heart but God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart.

  • Dietrich Buxtehude

    “This is an excellent example of how religion bends, unwillingly, to moral progress. Most religious texts were written in ancient eras when immoral practices like slavery, genocide and absolute monarchy were the norm. Modern apologists recognize the evil parts of their sacred text, but their faith prevents them from either outright rejecting or altering it. ”

    Actually, this is a terrible example of what you’re talking about, because that ‘retcon’ is not at all modern. It’s in the Talmud. In other words, even Ancient Jews recognized this as a horror. To mark Passover as a celebration over the plagues is frankly bizarre and strange. It’s not like they aren’t called plagues or something.

    You can say, perhaps, that Jews are not properly offended *enough* by the genocide of the Egyptians in the story, but you cannot claim that elating over violence and death is part of the holiday. It’s in the Talmud precisely that this is not what it’s about.

  • Dietrich Buxtehude

    I have no idea where people get the idea that Passover celebrates the plagues. They aren’t called “miracles.” They’re plagues. Even Ancient Jews recognized this (as the Talmud clearly shows), and celebrated the Passover story as a passage to freedom. Just because there’s genocide in the story doesn’t mean that the Passover story celebrates it.

    There’s plenty to criticize in the Passover story, but this is just nonsense. FFS, there’s even the long tradition of pouring drops of wine to commerate the death/pain of the Egyptians in the story. That’s part of the Seder. And that’s not a “modern thing”. Again, that’s Ancient stuff.

  • Dietrich Buxtehude

    Eliezer Yudowsky does a great job criticizing the actual issue of the Passover tradition without relying on bad hyperbole and exaggeration like how it’s a “celebration of genocide.”

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/jy/avoiding_your_beliefs_real_weak_points/

  • J-D

    If I make a statement, or take an action, with a particular intended meaning in mind, and if you interpret it as having a different meaning, then that’s a misunderstanding. The misunderstanding may not be your fault; it may be my fault, or it may be nobody’s fault; but it’s still a misunderstanding.

    If you see some people having dinner together on the Passover night, and you interpret their actions as a celebration of genocide, whereas they do not intend their actions as a celebration of genocide, I see no reason why anybody else should regard your interpretation as more accurate than theirs. You are asserting that they don’t know their own minds, which is the kind of assertion that needs stronger evidence to substantiate it than you have produced. I see that hasn’t stopped you from insisting that you know what I’m ‘really’ arguing better than I do myself. Well, you can’t read my mind, so that’s not the case, but if you think you can read minds it would explain why you think you know more about other people’s intentions than they do themselves.

    There is no universal principle that literal interpretations always trump metaphorical, figurative, analogical, or allegorical ones. In the case of the example I gave from Song of Songs, ‘rose’ and ‘wall’ are ordinary words with plain simple meanings, but I submit that in the particular context I quoted them from it makes more sense to understand them figuratively and not literally. If ‘rose’ and ‘wall’ can be understood figuratively, so can ‘kill’. Indeed, as it happens, ‘kill’ and semantically related words like ‘murder’, ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’, and ‘bloodbath’ are often used figuratively. Are you really unaware of that?

    I suspect that most people who read the Biblical account of the killing of the firstborn interpret it as referring to a literal killing. I do not know whether there are any people who choose to interpret the account figuratively, although I suspect there are. If there are, they are entitled to their choice, which does not violate any underlying fact or principle.

    The _word_ ‘kill’ is in the text, I don’t dispute that, but the word ‘celebrate’ isn’t. That seems to be your own contribution to the interpretation. Where are you getting it from? People who recite the Passover story are reciting a story in which people are killed (whether they mean it literally or not), but reciting a story is not synonymous with celebrating it.

    If somebody seriously insisted to me that the Passover story was about bunnies, I would ask ‘How do you arrive at that interpretation? I’m not seeing any reference to bunnies.’ I cannot imagine what answer anybody could possibly give to that question. Since I can’t imagine it, I can’t evaluate it either, positively or negatively. If you tell me, honestly and sincerely, that you know people who think the Passover story is about bunnies but they’ve never explained to you why, I can only say that it sounds extremely weird to me. My experience in the past has been that when things sound extremely weird to me they turn out not to be true, so that’s the way I’m going to bet, if I have to bet; but it’s not a certainty.

  • Loren Petrich

    This seems like a version of the Israelite-Hyksos hypothesis, and I think that there is a lot to be said for it in general. Yes, in general. The Hyksos ruled northern Egypt at about the time of Thera’s big eruption, and travelers from Crete could easily have described the effects of that eruption to them. Thus, the beginning of the account of the Ten Plagues of Egypt.

    They were expelled by Egyptians led by a certain Ahmose, and in Hebrew, that name sort of sounds like “Brother of Moses”. Later storytellers would then have imagined who Moses must have been.

    Along the way, they likely went through some big marsh, likely near Eilat. A marsh big enough to seem like a sea of reeds to someone in it. It was far enough from Egypt for their Egyptian pursuers to quit and return home. That is not nearly as dramatic as getting drowned in that sea, and that drowned bit was likely an invention of later storytellers.

    It’s something like the Trojan War, embellished and modified by generations of storytellers, but with some kernels of real history.

  • JohnH2

    “embellished and modified by generations of storytellers, but with some kernels of real history.”

    Generally that is what happens. In the case of Genesis and Exodus we know that what we have is an edited compilation of other accounts, so it is entirely likely that multiple separate events were combined into a single narrative.

  • GCT

    Apparently, you think that all “Canaanites” were Jews. LOL. The Egyptians did record military victories and they were known to take slaves from time to time, but none of that supports the idea that a large mass of Jews were enslaved, and the timelines don’t support it. As I said, some Jews may have been enslaved, and some may have escaped. The legend probably grew from there. The legend, as described in the Bible, is fabrication.

  • GCT

    If I believe that morality is universal then I have to believe that everyone if placed in the same position would have the same morality. It is blatantly obvious that what is moral for one in one position is not moral for another in a different position…

    Your point? Take your surgeon example. If someone has the knowledge, ability, and means to perform a life-saving surgery and refuses to do so, is that not immoral? It has nothing to do with the general category of “cutting with knives” as much as it does with the situation. Anyone put in the situation of having the means to save a life would be immoral not to do so, according to Xian morality.

    Power has nothing to do with this, there are things that it would be immoral for God to do.

    That’s incorrect. Would you fault a non-physician for not performing life-saving surgery on someone? They have neither the ability nor the means to do so. In short, they lack the power to affect a positive outcome, so we don’t hold them morally accountable for not attempting to save the life through means that they don’t have the ability to carry out. With god, that is never a limitation. You want to let god off the hook, and it’s because he has limitless power when you should be doing the opposite.

    You are quibbling on whether doing something like stopping the Nazi’s was a good thing or the lesser of two evils. That seems to be a pattern for you.

    No, I’m making the point that violence is and should be the last resort, even when it comes to Nazis. You want to look at god’s violence and claim he had no other options, but that is simply never the case for an omni-max god. And, if violence should be our last resort, then a god that engages in violence when it doesn’t need to is acting immorally.

    You are confused in relation to death. We all die but that doesn’t contradict the idea that our soul is eternal.

    I’m not confused at all – it’s you who don’t understand the arguments being made. I’m not saying that an eternal soul contradicts a non-eternal vessel for that soul, but I am saying that it contradicts the idea that death is necessary. There’s no necessary reason that god had to create finite bodies that will die to carry our souls. You take it for granted, because that’s the human experience (that people die) and let god off the hook for coming up with a flawed plan. But, it was never necessary to include death in his plan, and the existence of eternal souls and heaven/hell directly counter the claim that it is necessary.

    …God must be responsible in some sense for every separation that occurs.

    If you’re being consistent, god must be responsible for everything, full stop. That means all good and all evil. This makes god a-moral at best. But, that contradicts the Xian tenets of god as the perfect moral being.

    Given that Christ only did what He saw His Father do, it isn’t at all clear that God could have organized things differently given the co-eternal laws that He works in.

    Then god is not omni-max. We’re not talking about paradoxical contradictions here (like making a boulder so heavy that even god can’t lift it). We’re talking about real limits to the power of god, which means that god is not all-powerful, all-knowing, etc.

    I reject as a mistranslation the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart: God knew that Pharaoh would harden his heart but God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart.

    Based on what? Every translation indicates that god actively hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and no amount of special pleading on your part changes that.

  • GCT

    Even Ancient Jews recognized this (as the Talmud clearly shows), and celebrated the Passover story as a passage to freedom. Just because there’s genocide in the story doesn’t mean that the Passover story celebrates it.

    Um, you are aware that the “Passover” is a reference to god passing over the Jew’s houses while on his killing rampage, correct?

    FFS, there’s even the long tradition of pouring drops of wine to commerate the death/pain of the Egyptians in the story.

    Followed by the celebration of their deaths. Sorry, but it doesn’t wash.

  • GCT

    If you see some people having dinner together on the Passover night, and you interpret their actions as a celebration of genocide, whereas they do not intend their actions as a celebration of genocide, I see no reason why anybody else should regard your interpretation as more accurate than theirs.

    Intent is not magic.

    You are asserting that they don’t know their own minds, which is the kind of assertion that needs stronger evidence to substantiate it than you have produced.

    I’m doing nothing of the sort.

    I see that hasn’t stopped you from insisting that you know what I’m ‘really’ arguing better than I do myself.

    And, you continue to show that I was right. Don’t get bent out of shape because I point out your strategy that you, for some reason, don’t want to admit.

    There is no universal principle that literal interpretations always trump metaphorical, figurative, analogical, or allegorical ones.

    I don’t know why you think I would say differently. I’ve not argued this. I’ve not been arguing this. I’ve made it quite plain what I am saying and you keep ignoring it so that you can argue something different that doesn’t address what I’m arguing. Then, you get all bent out of shape when I point that out.

    If ‘rose’ and ‘wall’ can be understood figuratively, so can ‘kill’.

    Are you really going to argue that the plagues in the Exodus story were metaphorical? Even if they were, what were they metaphors for? Why use the imagery of death, murder, genocide, etc?

    I do not know whether there are any people who choose to interpret the account figuratively, although I suspect there are. If there are, they are entitled to their choice, which does not violate any underlying fact or principle.

    Because believers never retcon the Bible by hiding behind the “figurative” meaning that completely changes the historical and literal meaning. There has to be some way to get from literal to figurative. The fluffy bunny example I used before is apropos here as well. The reason I came up with something so bizarre (and I’m telling you because it obviously sailed right over your head) was because I wanted to come up something that no one could possibly argue for, as there is no way to get to a story about bunnies from a story about genocide. It was an extreme example to make a point (perhaps it was not extreme enough for you, or perhaps too extreme, I don’t know). I wouldn’t accept someone’s interpretation of a story if they show that they are completely ignoring the actual words written in order to just make up something that they want to be true, and that’s the case here with the Passover story. You can’t simply ignore the evil done by god in order to claim that it’s about something else entirely.

    The _word_ ‘kill’ is in the text, I don’t dispute that, but the word ‘celebrate’ isn’t. That seems to be your own contribution to the interpretation. Where are you getting it from?

    Usually when people hold religious observances to talk about how great god is, it’s a celebration. Yay, we are “celebrating” the fact that god killed those other people, not us. It’s not a stretch.

    If somebody seriously insisted to me that the Passover story was about bunnies, I would ask ‘How do you arrive at that interpretation? I’m not seeing any reference to bunnies.’ I cannot imagine what answer anybody could possibly give to that question. Since I can’t imagine it, I can’t evaluate it either, positively or negatively.

    You were soooo close there. Sigh. If you’re really unable to evaluate a text, then you should just stop arguing with me, since you are admitting that you don’t have the ability to talk about the text in question with the reading comprehension of a fourth grader. I doubt that’s the case, however, and I think you sense the danger in agreeing with my point and are looking for any way to avoid doing so.

  • GCT

    Yes, they are called plagues…what’s your point? They were plagues on those other guys.

  • Dietrich Buxtehude

    But the “Passover” was a miracle by religious standards.

    Let’s say a plague goes through the village, and six of your seven children die. You don’t rage against God for killing six of your children, you thank him for sparing the seventh. Likewise, not killing the Hebrew firstborn is considered a “miracle.” You may say that’s dumb and God is obviously evil or something, but that’s not the criticism you’re making. You’re suggesting that by thanking God for sparing the seventh child, you are celebrating the deaths of the other six.

    And there is no “celebration of their deaths.” That’s just BS. You’re admitting that the Jewish Tradition preaches sympathy for the Egyptians, both by text and by tradition but it’s still celebrating their deaths? And you think THAT washes?

  • Dietrich Buxtehude

    As in, they are not called “miracles.”

  • J-D

    You continue to show that I am right. But don’t get bent out of shape about it. Sigh. You were soooo close. You should just stop arguing with me.

  • GCT

    That’s the best you’ve got? You’re going to complain that I’m trying to read your mind and then confirm that I was right, only to turn around and act like a jackass when I point it out? And, yes, you are getting bent out of shape about this. You’re throwing accusations at me, you’re making snide remarks (which I admit I’ve returned towards you in kind, although you’re pretending now that it’s only one-sided and that I started it, which is rather juvenile), and you’re refusing to engage my arguments. Even now, this is another dodge to avoid engaging my arguments, because you simply can’t.

    Oh, and if you want to talk about misrepresentation, your last sentence is a prime example. You complain about me misrepresenting you and then you go and do the most blatant example I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll say it outright – you’re showing an alarming lack of intellectual honesty in this discussion and you should be ashamed of yourself.

  • JohnH2

    My point is that if you were in the position of God then your morality on the subject of death would be the same as Gods, but that since we are not our morality can not be the same as Gods, we do not have the authority or knowledge.

    The eternal soul doesn’t contradict the idea that death is necessary; it in fact is the reason death is necessary. We are placed in a position of limited knowledge so that we can learn to choose what is right for ourselves and this learning process necessitates errors on our part. If we were in an eternal state any errors would be fatal flaws that could never be repaired, being eternal. In this mortal state we are able to overcome our flaws through the grace of Christ; but this state is not eternal and therefore must end so that eventually we will be able to enter into an eternal state.

    I am being consistent and God is not responsible for everything, we are agents to ourselves and are able to make our own choices between good and evil. Essential parts of us are co-eternal with God, He did not create us out of nothing but rather framed or shaped us in the way that create is used in every other place in scripture and common usage. Creating from nothing is a paradoxical contradiction: virtual particles don’t come from nothing.

    “Based on what? ”

    Revelation to a modern prophet.

  • GCT

    My point is that if you were in the position of God then your morality on the subject of death would be the same as Gods, but that since we are not our morality can not be the same as Gods, we do not have the authority or knowledge.

    What further knowledge could you possibly have that would change what we do know already? This nothing more than the old trope that god works in mysterious ways. The only reason people say that is when they can’t actually defend god’s purported actions. No amount of additional knowledge will get around the logical inconsistencies that have been raised.

    The eternal soul doesn’t contradict the idea that death is necessary; it in fact is the reason death is necessary.

    Again, only if you assume that placing souls in mortal vessels is necessary. To an omni-max god, it’s not. IOW, you’re assuming your conclusion.

    We are placed in a position of limited knowledge so that we can learn to choose what is right for ourselves and this learning process necessitates errors on our part.

    There’s no logical need for us to be placed in mortal vessels in order to do this, nor is there a need to allow evil to affect others. Not to mention that this is contradictory to the idea of an omni-max god (once again). Free will and an omni-max god are mutually exclusive ideas. You can’t have both.

    If we were in an eternal state any errors would be fatal flaws that could never be repaired, being eternal.

    That’s a non sequitur. What you’re saying, in effect, is that our souls must remain perfect, but there’s no actual requirement that the universe work that way. It also means that living in our bodies is just about meaningless, since our souls would not be affected by the mistakes we make here.

    I am being consistent and God is not responsible for everything, we are agents to ourselves and are able to make our own choices between good and evil.

    Then, god is not omni-max. You can’t have it both ways. Either god is omni-max and therefore responsible for everything, or he is not responsible for everything and is not omni-max. You can’t be consistent and claim that god is both omni-max and also not responsible.

    Revelation to a modern prophet.

    IOW, someone else’s special pleading. It doesn’t become more acceptable if you use it second-hand.

  • JohnH2

    I agree, by your (and most peoples) illogical idea as to what Omnipotent is God is not Omnipotent as that idea is self-contradictory.

    Additional knowledge as in you can debate with me as to whether we even have a spirit that exists after death and to the state of that spirit after death; God knows both of those things, along with a lot of other things.

    No, I am saying that our souls have the ability to make mistakes and to overcome those mistakes. We don’t have to overcome those mistakes and can enter into an less than perfect eternal state if that is our choice.

  • J-D

    I hope you feel better now.

  • GCT

    I agree, by your (and most peoples) illogical idea as to what Omnipotent is God is not Omnipotent as that idea is self-contradictory.

    It’s not illogical, and just claiming that it is doesn’t make it so, nor does it refute the points I made.

    Additional knowledge as in you can debate with me as to whether we even have a spirit that exists after death and to the state of that spirit after death; God knows both of those things, along with a lot of other things.

    Those things don’t change the facts that I’ve put forth, nor do they make non-necessary things necessary. There is no necessary reason why god had to create this universe as he did. If you claim there is, then you’re claiming god has no agency (which you should actually claim if you want to hold to a perfect being, but I digress). You, once again, can’t have it both ways.

    No, I am saying that our souls have the ability to make mistakes and to overcome those mistakes.

    This directly contradicts what you previously said.

  • GCT

    But the “Passover” was a miracle by religious standards.

    And, miracles are good, so by your previous argument (that using words like plague mean that it’s necessarily bad and looked down upon) the “Passover” being a miracle is a necessarily good thing. Right?

    Let’s say a plague goes through the village, and six of your seven children die. You don’t rage against God for killing six of your children, you thank him for sparing the seventh.

    Only if I attribute things to god, which I don’t. But, if I did attribute things like plagues to god, it would be inconsistent of me and special pleading to ignore the 6 deaths and thank god for not killing all of my children. That’s monstrous.

    Likewise, not killing the Hebrew firstborn is considered a “miracle.” You may say that’s dumb and God is obviously evil or something, but that’s not the criticism you’re making.

    Implicit in that, is that in order to recognize the miracle, many, many people had to die. Simply because I claim that I’m ignoring their deaths doesn’t make my celebration any less distasteful. This is especially true in the Passover story, because god was supposedly acting on behalf of the Jews. In fact, your angle doesn’t work when the text is taken into context. It’s not like some force was coming through and god moved to protect people.

    You’re suggesting that by thanking God for sparing the seventh child, you are celebrating the deaths of the other six.

    I’m saying that you can’t change the context of the text in order to make my argument invalid. I’m also saying that the text is about the slaughter of innocents, not about saving the seventh child.

    And there is no “celebration of their deaths.”

    In the Bible there is, making later retcons rather apparent. Also, making token gestures then going on to celebrate what happened is “celebration of their deaths.”

    You’re admitting that the Jewish Tradition preaches sympathy for the Egyptians, both by text and by tradition but it’s still celebrating their deaths?

    I’m doing no such thing.

  • GCT

    Yes, I do so love it when people act like condescending assholes. At least it’s become rather clear that you can’t actually defend yourself and have chosen the intellectual coward’s way out. Quote mining me was just a special touch. It makes clear just how cowardly and dishonest you are.

  • GCT

    And, up above you’re arguing that they are called miracles. Perhaps you’d like to make up your mind before you comment further?

  • J-D

    I guess you’re not feeling any better, then. Sorry about that.

  • GCT

    Every smarmy notpology you produce makes you look like more of a jackass, not less. You do realize that, don’t you?

  • J-D

    Please, do go on.

  • Dietrich Buxtehude

    No, the “Passover” is the miracle, because it protected the Jews from the plague. That’s consistent, or at least that’s as consistent as religions ever get.

  • Dietrich Buxtehude

    “Only if I attribute things to god, which I don’t. But, if I did attribute things like plagues to god, it would be inconsistent of me and special pleading to ignore the 6 deaths and thank god for not killing all of my children. That’s monstrous.”

    What? How is that monstrous? Kinda dumb and inconsistent, but monstrous? Unless you mean God is monstrous?

    But the retcon is in the Talmud, which is where the actual traditiion and commentary is taken from. It seems weird not to allow it.

  • JohnH2

    It is like I say something in one comment and then two comments later you have forgotten what I have said.

    God organized based on co-eternal rules and material: so God could have chosen to not organize those things, in which case He wouldn’t be God, and had degrees of freedom as to how things are organized. A painter working with paint and a canvas can choose not to paint and can choose what they paint but, if painting on a canvas, is restricted to the canvas and the paints they have.

    I don’t know how you say Omni-max isn’t illogical when you are constantly pointing out that it is. Regardless of that though: Omni-Benevolent implies a standard of Good independent of God while Omnipotent is understood to have God be the standard of good. The orthodox assumption on this matter is that God’s nature is prior to His will, but that doesn’t solve the problem as God’s nature would then be something that God doesn’t have power over making Him not traditionally Omnipotent and it leaves God with no real choices, as you point out, which again contradicts traditional Omnipotent. The other option (as taken by the Calvinists for instance) is to vacate good of meaning other than being what God wants, which makes Omni-Benvolent to be less than meaningless.

    That you didn’t understand what I previously said doesn’t mean that I have contradicted what I previously said.

  • Azkyroth

    …why do they all have blue eyes… O.O

  • GCT

    God organized based on co-eternal rules and material: so God could have chosen to not organize those things, in which case He wouldn’t be God, and had degrees of freedom as to how things are organized.

    And, where did these rules and material come from? Supposedly, god should have known all the outcomes when he put these rules and materials together. That makes him responsible. You can’t hand-wave that away.

    A painter working with paint and a canvas can choose not to paint and can choose what they paint but, if painting on a canvas, is restricted to the canvas and the paints they have.

    LOL. You make it sound like god just did the best he could, but he had shoddy materials to work with. That is not a portrait (see what I did there?) of an omni-max god. Apparently, you have no clue what it means to be omni-max.

    I don’t know how you say Omni-max isn’t illogical when you are constantly pointing out that it is.

    I have no idea what you are on about here.

    Regardless of that though: Omni-Benevolent implies a standard of Good independent of God while Omnipotent is understood to have God be the standard of good.

    Not entirely correct, but nevertheless, we can go with that. It’s the age old Euthyphro’s dilemma, which theologians have yet to solve.

    That you didn’t understand what I previously said doesn’t mean that I have contradicted what I previously said.

    You claimed both that souls must be placed in mortal vessels so that they don’t become tainted and also that souls have the ability to make mistakes and overcome them (making a mistake would taint the soul, however). You can’t have it both ways. If I’m not understanding, it’s because you are making contradictory remarks, which may not have been your intent. You can opt to clarify or accept that you need to rethink.

  • GCT

    It’s contradictory, plain and simple. Make up your mind.

  • JohnH2

    Again you appear to ignore even what I say in one part of my comment. I don’t believe in an omnimax god, how many times and in how many ways do I need to cover that? Therefore all statements of yours which are attacking me for believing an omnimax god or are predicated on my belief in an omnimax god or really have anything to do with the subject need to be reconsidered by you as you keep missing that basic point. If you are going to discuss the subject with me please actually pay attention to what I am saying and how it is different from your pre-concieved notions of Christianity which appear nearly completely based on some sort of evangelical view with some familiarity with orthodox; I am Mormon as you should remember.

    You pretty much got what I said about mortal bodies completely and utterly backwards. The mistakes would be made whether mortal or not, but it is mortality that allows us to fix our mistakes; otherwise we would live forever with our mistakes.

  • Giauz Ragnarock

    “… to show you My power and in order that My fame may resound throughout the world.” Exodus 9:15–16 (JPS)

    Also, funny. Where are all the ancient traditions and artifacts
    left over from EVERYONE finding out about the Exodus?

  • GCT

    I don’t believe in an omnimax god, how many times and in how many ways do I need to cover that?

    Omni-max is a trait that the vast majority of Xians claim is true of their god. If you don’t believe in an omni-max god, then Epicurus seems rather appropriate right now.

    If you are going to discuss the subject with me please actually pay attention to what I am saying…

    Where did you explicitly reject the notion of an omni-max god? Don’t get mad at me because I don’t know your specific beliefs when you don’t tell me what they are.

    You pretty much got what I said about mortal bodies completely and utterly backwards. The mistakes would be made whether mortal or not, but it is mortality that allows us to fix our mistakes; otherwise we would live forever with our mistakes.

    You’re having your cake and eating it too I see, as I already pointed out. Seems I’m not the one that’s not keeping up here.

  • JohnH2

    What part of any of this, each blockquote from a prior comment, isn’t clear?

    I don’t know how you say Omni-max isn’t illogical when you are constantly pointing out that it is

    I agree, by your (and most peoples) illogical idea as to what Omnipotent
    is God is not Omnipotent as that idea is self-contradictory.

    God is not responsible for everything [...] He did not create us out of nothing

    it isn’t at all clear that God could have organized things differently given the co-eternal laws that He works in.

    Mortality is a probationary period, sorry if you can’t understand that.

  • Campaigner1

    My question (as an adult approaching middle age) is: why the whole drama with Pharaoh in the first place? If God wanted the Jews freed of slavery in Egypt, why not just invoke a miracle where all the Egyptians would have fallen asleep for a couple of days? Then the Israelites simply leave. Or better yet, just teleport them all to the lands where he wished them to dwell.An omnipotent being makes nearly all the Old Testament stories utterly ludicrous in their unnecessary complexity.

  • J-D

    One possible explanation is that the person who made up that part of the story was not thinking of an omnipotent God. Does it say anywhere in that text that God is omnipotent?


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