Another Uncomfortable Bible Passage

When people ask me why I’m no longer a Christian, I often say “because I read the Bible.” I’m not just being snarky, I mean it literally. If I hadn’t read the Bible so much, I may have stayed a Christian. But it contains so many passages that are appalling and/or ridiculous that I simply could not believe it any longer. Here’s a perfect example, from Numbers 5:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.

This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.

There are several things that jump out from this verse. First, that there is no equivalent for men anywhere in the Bible. No man is forced to drink some magic potion of holy water and dirt to prove whether he committed adultery or not. According to this verse, the priest can know whether she’s telling the truth by the effect of this magic potion — if it doesn’t make her sick, then she was telling the truth. There’s no reason God couldn’t command the same thing for men, but he doesn’t. The reason why is obvious right in the text — the woman is “under his authority.” She is his property. Just another example of misogyny in the Bible.

Second, this is an example of God causing abortions to happen. If she has committed adultery, her “womb will discharge” and she will abort any baby she’s carrying and become infertile. Perhaps the anti-choice folks should remember that, along with the fact that their god commands the slaughter of massive numbers of babies and pregnant women. So much for the idea that their religion believes that all life is precious.

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  • http://www.clanfield.net janiceintoronto

    Golly. Who’d a thunk the Bible doesn’t make any sense?

  • doublereed

    The bible has always been very much pro-abortion. Not pro-choice, of course. But definitely pro-abortion.

  • jaybee

    You stupid atheists, always quoting the bible out of context. What, you posed all of Numbers 5? Pssshh. To truly understand the meaning of this passage, to give it full context, you have to quote the whole bible, otherwise you are just cherry picking.

  • gorgias

    Explain then, oh great Christian witness jaybee, what context justifies this verse. No really, go ahead. Don’t just claim that we’re taking verses out of context and act like your job is done. Explain how this makes sense in the grander scheme of a loving God who loves all his children, male and female, equally.

  • lancifer

    Evangelical Christians just dismiss anything they don’t like in the old testament as being superseded by “the good news” in the new testament. They fatuously insist that Ol’ Yahweh gave all of those silly rules to the Hebrews to show that you can’t get to heaven by your “works” but only by the “grace” of Jebus and his blood atonement. Even though that wasn’t an option for any Hebrew for at least another thousand or so years.

    How nice of God to make millions of people, over tens of generations, jump through arcane and idiotic hoops knowing full well that they could never do it well enough to please Him and then sending them to hell anyway.

    Once again proving that “God is love”.

  • http://Reallyawakeguy.blogspot.com somnus

    Of course there’s no male equivalent. As far as I can tell, the Old Testament only considers a man to have committed adultery if he sleeps with another man’s wife. His own marital status has no impact on who he’s allowed to have sex with.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    First, that there is no equivalent for men anywhere in the Bible.

    What? This proves you haven’t really read the Bible. That passage follows the one you quote:

    “And if the husband dips his quill in another women’s inkwell, boys will be boys, amirite?”

     

    gorgias “Explain then, oh great Christian witness jaybee…”

    Whoosh.

  • busterggi

    Modus, that passage only applies to the Amirites.

  • jaybee

    Gorgias, you have been poe’d. I thought the sarcasm was obvious. Did you really think I was asking Ed to quote the whole bible in his blog post in order to give Numbers 5 context?

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Ed, why do you insist on leaving out important parts of the passage:

    Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when my fear is gone I will turn and face fear’s path, and only I will remain.”

  • kagekiri

    Yeah, Numbers 5 is something I always think about when religious people mention abortion as “murder of an innocent”. Forced abortion of out-of-wedlock fetuses and sterilization of adulteress (or just outright murder of the woman via stoning, regardless of her pregnancy status) is the Bible’s take on the matter.

    Another story I find particularly similar is God killing David and Bathsheba’s first child days after its birth, for the sins of its parents (adultery for both of the parents, murder conspiracy on David’s part). That’s just plain, direct (well, via disease, but specifically God-sent disease) baby killing on God’s end, and David doesn’t get directly punished at all.

    For a god who says that children should be punished for the sins of their parents, God sure kills a lot of children for the sins of their parents.

    Like, say, killing the firstborns in Egypt, because the firstborn kids sure deserve it! Or in Job’s case, his kids and servants actually get killed because of the sinless-ness of their father/master, regardless of their personal sins or responsibilities or age. They were just property to be replaced at the end of the story, a story about God bragging to Satan, the evil being God’s supposed to be protecting us from.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    theschwa, where is that? I’ve gone all through my Orange Catholic Bible and can’t find that passage.

  • scienceavenger

    I had a similar experience, although my Bible reading (prompted by a challenge from my Church of Christ roomie) moved me that last step from agnostic to atheist. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, that this nonsense, and boring* nonsense at that, was supposedly this perfect, divinely inspired book. I became an atheist overnight. And in a classic case of “what comes around goes around”, years later, partly due to my influence, he became an atheist as well.

    *I’ve attempted to read both the Koran and the Book of Mormon, and came away with the same reaction. Above all else, they are an absolute, repetitively childish BORE to read.

  • scienceavenger

    That should be “Deist to atheist”, not “Agnostic to atheist”. Forgetting my own history, must be getting old.

  • Synfandel

    @8 busterggi wrote:

    Modus, that passage only applies to the Amirites.

    Busterggi wins the thread.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Modus (12),

    First off, you should look in the Orange Protestant Bible. And use the only TRUE version: Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879.

  • vmanis1

    There is a loony theory out there that, rather than being the inerrant word of a deranged God (or a ghostwriter), the Bible is actually a collection of texts from various sources, of varying quality. In some cases, one would even see two contradictory versions of the same story next to each other (e.g., the beginning of Genesis).

    If this theory were true, it would make perfect sense to cherry-pick the bits that make sense to the reader.

    Fortunately, this ridiculous theory is false. We must either accept the whole thing, or reject it all.

  • dingojack

    Modus – did you try the mint flavoured (as opposed to orange) Bible? Inquiring minds….

    Dingo

  • Ichthyic

    You stupid atheists, always quoting the bible out of context. What, you posed all of Numbers 5? Pssshh. To truly understand the meaning of this passage, to give it full context, you have to quote the whole bible, otherwise you are just cherry picking.

    no, no, you’re behind the times. sure, you’re supposed to quote the while bible… but you’re supposed to do it REVERSE, starting with the new testament and working backwards.

    …because that was the way it was written, or something.

  • thebookofdave

    …because that was the way it was written, or something

    Backward masking: not just for subliminal satanic messages anymore. Right, Icthyic?

  • thebookofdave

    the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.

    Just in case this isn’t immediately apparent from a plain text reading of this chapter and Ed’s comments: this mixture is called the “bitter water that causes the curse” for a reason that highlights the barbarity of this custom. The tabernacle floor is stained with the blood of thousands of animal sacrifices. Mixed with holy water, it becomes a potentially lethal bacterial stew.

  • samgardner

    My personal pet theory is that Satan wrote ALL of the Bible. Teach the controversy!

    Not that I actually believe in any deity or devil. It just makes for a more amusing line of conversations with Christians than simply pointing out there’s no proof.

  • fwtbc

    … if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him …

    *giggle*

  • spamamander, internet amphibian

    Damnit fwtcb, I didn’t catch that… -cannot unread-

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    “baby killing on God’s end, and David doesn’t get directly punished at all.

    You’re assuming that David DIDN’T have GOD’s ear. I assume he did and called in a favor.

    “YHWH, dude, I am sooooooooooo fucked! I never got Bathsheba to sign a pre-nup and her son could be the frikkin’ KING. Hook a brother up, ‘kay?”

  • Die Anyway

    I say we hang a copy of this on the courthouse wall instead of the 10 Commandments.

  • Kermit Sansoo

    jaybee: Gorgias, you have been poe’d. I thought the sarcasm was obvious. Did you really think I was asking Ed to quote the whole bible in his blog post in order to give Numbers 5 context?

    .

    That’s what makes it a Poe. When parodying an ideologue, you can’t write anything so over-the-top that a reader cannot reasonably question your insincerity.