The Exodus from Egypt as Exceedingly Ridiculous

The Exodus from Egypt as Exceedingly Ridiculous June 4, 2016

This is from some years ago. It is still the final argument in my God on Trial talk that I do.

I have been kindly asked to give a talk to the Dorset Humanists next month, They seemed to enjoy my last few talks so much as to want me to create a talk to deliver. I am gratefully obliging.

I will be looking at arguments for and against God, starting off with the wide deistic arguments from philosophy, and then narrowing down to particular arguments concerning the historicity and probability of the Judeo-Christian God. Here is something I am working on with regards to the ridiculousness of the Exodus account. The idea is that, just like the Noah’s Flood account, we learn them and inherit them as part of our cultural baggage, memory and identity, and THEN learn how to rationalise what is improbable from what is probable. This is how silly, nay stupid, beliefs get through the net. People that come to believe these things as adults have no excuse, though.

The movement of the enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt with Moses (and Aaron) as their figureheads, and the plagues and resulting mayhem caused by both the plagues (including the Passover) and a crashing sea destroying an army, is well documented in the Bible.

My goal with this post is to show how this account, now part of our cultural baggage and memory, does not warrant being ring-fenced from critical analysis and lack of belief. It IS ridiculous, and warrants ridicule when seriously entertained as a reliable truth claim.

Let me set out the events of the Exodus account, as well as writing in red why I think the claim is entirely improbable:

  • Jacob and his sons and their families moved to Egypt. They numbered 70. Remember this number! Jacob was father of Joseph (sold into slavery to Egypt and became second in command).
  • The “sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them” – they started to populate Egypt with “Israelites”. [Even though that term is an anachronism since the nation did not exist yet]
  • A new Pharaoh took up office and did not know Joseph (his brothers and all). [Is it likely that he would have NO knowledge of the second in command of his own country who single-handedly saved them from famine and who famously translated dreams as prophecies?]
  • He saw all of these Israelites and got worried. Seemingly in one generation or so, they were THAT numerous that he said: “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” [How quickly must they have reproduced? Something to which I will return later.]
  • Thus the Egyptians enslaved all of these Israelites who were already numerous. Just like that. [How could you enslave an entire population of people who were already a threat to national security like that? There is absolutely no archaeological evidence or otherwise for such an enslavement. This biblical claim is the only evidence for such a huge event and its continued happening.]
  • The Pharaoh dictated that all firstborn Hebrew children should be killed and thrown in the Nile. [Controlling populations would mean that actually killing off females is more sensible and effective!]
  • Moses is born and for 8 months his mother conceals him before sending him down the river for the Pharaoh’s daughter to find him and bring him up in secret. [This part of the Bible was written when the Israelites were in Babylonian Exile and the probability is that they stile stories off their captors and surrounding cultures. This story is a re-telling of the earlier birth story of King Sargon of Akkad, a Sumerian king who was the illegitimate son of a priestess. She brought him forth in secret and placed him in a basket of reeds on the river. He was found by Akki the irrigator who raised him as his own son. This is defended by the mention of a pitch basket in both stories – pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses, but was in Sumeria. Also similar to Osiris’ birth.]
  • Moses murders a man and runs away; talks to a burning bush; has his son’s foreskin cut off and touched to his feet or genitals – this is because God was going to kill Moses and his wife suddenly cuts off their son’s foreskin and touches it to his feet and thus saves Moses. [This story is no doubt weirder when read as an adult. Does it sound like the actions of an all-loving and powerful God?]
  • Moses returns to Egypt and does some magic tricks (taught to him by a bush), and with the help of his much better public speaker brother Aaron, tells the Pharaoh to let his people go. [This includes the Pharaoh’s magicians matching every magic trick for a time. Thus pagans could actually do magic, according to the Bible – unless God just made them able to do this in order to set up the whole mess.]
  • God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. [The only way to understand this claim is 1) The Pharaoh would not have said no, would have said yes, and so God changes his mind so that he can then punish all of Egypt for the Pharaoh’s wicked denial; or 2) God was not sure whether Pharaoh would say yes or no, so God makes sure of him saying no. Therefore, God is not omniscient. God is either evil or not omniscient and evil. He sets up the whole situation SO THAT he cold punish Egypt.]
  • All the plagues come:
    • The Nile turns to blood
    • Frogs
    • Gnats or lice
    • Flies
    • Diseased livestock
    • Boils on man and beast
    • Thunder and hail
    • Locusts
    • Darkness
    • Death of the firstborn of all people and beasts
  • [These plagues are not the work of an all-loving God, especially when see as being a consequence of something God made happen. This punishes not just the entire nation of a country, many who would not even have know who Moses was, as well as every head of livestock. What have THEY done to deserve this??]
  • The Israelites mark their own doors as a symbol to the angels of death to Passover their houses so that only Egyptian firstborns die. [God is obviously not omniscient since he does not know where certain people live, and needs symbols so as not to accidentally kill the wrong people.]
  • Pharaoh allows Moses to get out of Egypt quickly. [Evidence of the Pharaoh exercising his own will, freely.]
  • This is the little know, oft swept-over event. God softens the Egyptians to the Israelites so that his chosen ones can plunder and loot the Egyptian families – Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. [Holy Cow! As if the 10 plagues aren’t enough, God again messes with free will and allows the Egyptians to have all their possessions nicked!]
  • 430 years since the day they came to Egypt, the Hebrews / Israelites break free and run off. All 600,000 men armed for battle. And on top of that women, children and livestock. [Remember, 70 people originally have now come to probably something near 2 million. This birth rate is pretty much impossible in any realistic sense. This is a mass exodus. If there was this many of them, how could they not overthrow their captors anyway?]
  • They took Joseph’s bones with them. [They had time to do some grave-robbing but somehow did not have time to leaven some bread. Go figure.]
  • Whilst the Israelites are in the desert, God hardens the Pharaoh’s heart AGAIN, so that he chases them with his army. [Free will again foiled with huge consequences. God has again set up a scenario where thousands upon thousands would end up dying, not because Pharaoh was bad, but because God MADE him bad, or choose in such a way.]
  • The Pharaoh’s army is sent against him. In capturing or killing 2 million people, this army has to be massive. They get destroyed by the sea (Red or Reed). [There is no evidence of this in Egyptian artwork, archaeology or anything. Nothing at all.]
  • Some 2 million people are able to wander around the desert for 40 years without finding their way out, and without starving or dying of thirst. [Er, wow. Ok, so not only are these people the worst geographers of all time, but they can also survive amazingly in the desert. I suppose they had manna… Not only this, but there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for this happening. To compound matters for historicity, there is archaeological evidence for contemporary Bedouin tribes. So nothing from 2 million itinerant travellers, and yet evidence of small tribes in tents… If you lined up all of the people in single file, they would stretch the length of the desert…]
  • They came out of the Sinai Peninsula to take over cities and take their homeland away from the Canaanites. Which was nice. [Little to absolutely no evidence of this.]

As you can see from my comments, the probability that this actually happened as described, or even at all, is so remotely small as to be laughable.

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  • Andy_Schueler

    430 years since the day they came to Egypt, the Hebrews / Israelites break free and run off. All 600,000 men armed for battle. And on top of that women, children and livestock.[Remember, 70 people originally have now come to probably something near 2 million. This birth rate is pretty much impossible in any realistic sense.

    Yup, this would be an annual growth rate of 2.38%. This is absurdly high, even compared to modern standards. The current annual population growth rate is 1.1% (worldwide average). Growth rates were as high as ~2% in the sixties, and some countries had brief periods of time where the growth rate exceeded 3%, but never before the second half of the twentieth century.
    Even just 1% would be completely impossible with bronze age standards of hygiene and medicine. Not to mention that the Israelites could have easily conquered the entire world with such an absurdly high growth rate by simply outbreeding every other culture.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    Two million people would need about 1 gallon of water per day per person and that’s a bare minimum. I’m not including them wandering around all day long or what they are eating.

    A pool that had a million gallons in it would be 267 feet long, 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep. This ‘tribe’ would completely drain one of the pools every day for 40 years. That’s over 14,500 of these million gallon pools. In the desert.

    That’s not even mentioning the latrines of these people. Or food.

    This kind of event would utterly destroy the ecosystem of the area.

  • Jonathan:

    Although I can track down your references, it would be helpful if you cite the passages you are critiquing (both from the Bible and from other sources, such as the birth story of King Sargon of Akkad). I’ll cite the passages I take you to be referring to so you can correct me. Anyway, here are my brief, initial thoughts. I might add more later if I have time.

    (1) On what basis do you believe the term “Israelites” (Ex. 1:7) is an anachronism? You seem to be saying that unless they are a “nation” the term “Israelites” cannot be used. But if that’s all your argument is then it is unconvincing since a group can have a self-designation even if they are not a nation.

    (2) An indefinite period of time had passed between the generation of Joseph and the Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Ex. 1:8). You suggest about a generation elapsed but that is debatable. It seems to me that a plausible reading could connect this Pharaoh to the time of Moses’ birth (Ex. 2:1ff.).

    (3) Pharaoh’s paranoia in Ex. 1:9-10 is ludicrous if taken in a wholly literal manner. We must consider the xenophobia of the Egyptian ruling class (Gen. 42:9, 12; 43:32; 46:34) and not take the statement as a dispassionate objective assessment (see p. 131 of William H. C. Propp, Exodus 1-18). You take the enslavement of the Israelites (Ex. 1:11) to be absurd in light of the Pharaoh’s comments, but it’s just as easy to see the absurdity in Pharaoh’s statement in light of how he enslaved the Israelites. In fact, this would be a more charitable reading.

    (4) The precise motives of Pharaoh’s “population control” is not clear. He starts by afflicting the Israelites with heavy burdens (Ex. 1:11) but the Israelites kept multiplying (Ex. 1:12). This suggests he did not intend to eradicate the Israelites completely, but to limit their numbers. It is after this that the murder of the male children is implemented. But note that the text does not say whether this would go on indefinitely. Perhaps he hoped to decrease the number of Israelites for a time but then later to allow male children to live so as to keep slave laborers. Since we don’t know his full motives you can’t criticize his tactics as inefficient.

    (5) Moses was concealed for three months (Ex. 2:2), not eight months. Time permitting, I’ll come back to the Sargon parallel and whether pitch was available in Egypt.

    (6) The strange story in Ex. 4:24-26 has perplexed readers for centuries. Presumably the first readers had information that allowed them to make sense of the passage. Unless you have made an interpretive breakthrough you can’t draw conclusions from the passage.

    (7) Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7 do not mean the Egyptian magicians tapped into supernatural powers. Rather they succeeded through their “secret arts”/”trickery”.

    (8) The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is a detailed matter that I won’t fully address here. However, Egypt is not punished for Pharaoh’s sins but for their own sins (e.g., Ex. 1:11 MT implicates all Egypt in the slavery of Israel). The Egyptians had the opportunity to escape with Israel (Ex. 12:38). And the plagues are not just for punishment but for the people to know Yahweh.

    (9) You are worried about all Egypt being judged. While the language is universal it also implies the Egyptians are receiving justice. The geographic location and number of people affected is not stated in the text.

    (10) You take Ex. 12:13 to imply that God is not omniscient. But in the previous plagues he was quite able to distinguish between the Israelites and Egyptians.

    (11) Ex. 12:37 is usually translated to mean the Israelites had 600,000 soldiers. But the Hebrew is more ambiguous. D. Stuart (p. 297-303 of Exodus) thinks it refers to 7,200 soldiers, which would suggest 28,800-36,000 Israelites in all.

    (12) Many of your objections rely on the assumption that violating someone’s free will is always morally wrong. But don’t you deny the existence of free will?

    • Andy_Schueler

      (7) Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7 do not mean the Egyptian magicians tapped into supernatural powers. Rather they succeeded through their “secret arts”/”trickery”.

      That seems to be a very strange interpretation of the text. Exodus 7 says the egyptian magicians did the same thing – if they used “trickery” in this story, so did Moses and Aaron according to the text.

      (8) The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is a detailed matter that I won’t fully address here. However, Egypt is not punished for Pharaoh’s sins but for their own sins (e.g., Ex. 1:11 MT implicates all Egypt in the slavery of Israel). The Egyptians had the opportunity to escape with Israel (Ex. 12:38). And the plagues are not just for punishment but for the people to know Yahweh.

      If they are punished “for their own sins”, why were all firstborns and livestock slaughtered in the story?

      (9) You are worried about all Egypt being judged. While the language is universal it also implies the Egyptians are receiving justice.

      How can the slaughter of children and livestock be “just” in any context?

      • That seems to be a very strange interpretation of the text. Exodus 7 says the egyptian magicians did the same thing – if they used “trickery” in this story, so did Moses and Aaron according to the text.

        The magicians did the same thing in the sense that they reproduced some of the miracles. In 8:18 the magicians fail to reproduce the plague of the gnats (Hebrew kinnam) by their secret arts. They then state that the plague is from the finger of God (8:19). That Yahweh is behind the actions of Moses and Aaron is abundantly clear (e.g., 7:25; 8:13, 22, 24, 29, 31; 9:3, 4, 5, 6).

        If they are punished “for their own sins”, why were all firstborns and livestock slaughtered in the story?

        Note that I said punishment for sins was not the sole reason for the plagues. The killing of the Egyptian firstborn parallels the killing of the Israelite babies.

        How can the slaughter of children and livestock be “just” in any context?

        If I recall correctly, you are a consequentialist. On such a view, slaughter would be justified whenever a greater good would result.

        • Andy_Schueler

          The magicians did the same thing in the sense that they reproduced some of the miracles.

          So they used actual magic?

          Note that I said punishment for sins was not the sole reason for the plagues. The killing of the Egyptian firstborn parallels the killing of the Israelite babies.

          Murdering children is ok as long as it´s for revenge?

          If I recall correctly, you are a consequentialist.

          I think pretty much everyone is – even those that claim otherwise usually act like one in real life. Yahweh acts like one as well as Jonathan nicely demonstrated:
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2012/12/18/god-is-a-consequentialist/

          On such a view, slaughter would be justified whenever a greater good would result.

          Not necessarily (also depends on who gets to define what the “greater good” is). But more importantly – what good did the slaughter of innocent children (and animals) accomplish that Yahweh could not have accomplished without slaughtering innocent children and animals?

          • So they used actual magic?

            No, in my first comment I wrote: “Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7 do not mean the Egyptian magicians tapped into supernatural powers. Rather they succeeded through their ‘secret arts’/’trickery’.” To be overly verbose, this means Aaron’s staff actually turned into a serpent by the power of Yahweh. The magicians made it appear that they had turned a staff into a serpent through the use of their secret arts/trickery. The text does not say exactly how this was done but it need not be actual magic (just as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat need not be actual magic).

            Murdering children is ok as long as it´s for revenge?

            The text does not say that the killing of the firstborn is for revenge. But there is a literary parallel with the killing of the Israelite sons. The cry of grief in 11:6; 12:30 matches the cries in 3:7, 9. The text is not interested in giving a full explanation of why God did everything exactly as he did.

            Not necessarily (also depends on who gets to define what the “greater good” is).

            Presumably the omniscient creator of the universe would know what the greater good is.

            But more importantly – what good did the slaughter of innocent children (and animals) accomplish that Yahweh could not have accomplished without slaughtering innocent children and animals?

            I think the matter is inscrutable. Exodus does not state why each and every action of Yahweh was taken. And even if it did, I am in no position to know that some alternative history would be better or worse.

          • Er, how the hell do you trick rivers of blood all over Egypt?

          • Andy_Schueler

            No, in my first comment I wrote: “Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7 do not mean the Egyptian magicians tapped into supernatural powers. Rather they succeeded through their ‘secret arts’/’trickery’.” To be overly verbose, this means Aaron’s staff actually turned into a serpent by the power of Yahweh. The magicians made it appear that they had turned a staff into a serpent through the use of their secret arts/trickery. The text does not say exactly how this was done but it need not be actual magic (just as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat need not be actual magic).

            Alright, but you said originally “(7) Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7 do not mean the Egyptian magicians tapped into supernatural powers. Rather they succeeded through their “secret arts”/”trickery”.” – as if this clearly follows from the text. It doesn´t. The text doesn´t contradict your interpretation directly (although this must have been some quite impressive trickery then which would make Copperfield jealous…) but the more parsimonous explanation is that the author had actual magicians in mind because people used to belive in actual magic at that time.

            The text does not say that the killing of the firstborn is for revenge. But there is a literary parallel with the killing of the Israelite sons. The cry of grief in 11:6; 12:30 matches the cries in 3:7, 9. The text is not interested in giving a full explanation of why God did everything exactly as he did.

            Well, I don´t believe that any of this ever happened, so I don´t care much. If I would believe that this happened, I would like an explanation for this atrocity though – you don´t?

            I think the matter is inscrutable. Exodus does not state why each and every action of Yahweh was taken. And even if it did, I am in no position to know that some alternative history would be better or worse.

            Seriously? I cannot imagine anyone handling the matter worse. I know the standard omniscience escape clause – but how is it consistent to thank God for the stuff you perceive to be as good while giving him a free pass on killing the innocent firstborns of an entire nation?

          • The text doesn´t contradict your interpretation directly (although this must have been some quite impressive trickery then which would make Copperfield jealous…) but the more parsimonous explanation is that the author had actual magicians in mind because people used to belive in actual magic at that time.

            I don’t think parsimony can be invoked in this way. The Israelites did not approve of magic and so it can’t be taken for granted that an Israelite author believed in magic. Also, the ancients knew about illusions and tricks so you could run your argument in the opposite direction. Commentator Douglas K. Stuart writes: “[T]he simplest reading of the text is one that assumes they imitated by magical deception what Aaron had done by divine power” (Exodus, p. 194-195). Nahum M. Sarna states: “The term [secret arts, lahatim] itself suggests that the wonder belonged to the magicians’ conventional repertoire of tricks” (Exodus, p. 37).

            If I would believe that this happened, I would like an explanation for this atrocity though – you don´t?

            I might like an explanation (hell, I’d like to know everything) but the mere fact that I don’t have one doesn’t mean much.

            Seriously? I cannot imagine anyone handling the matter worse.

            You’d prefer I lie to you? Because giving you a concrete answer would involve lying.

            I know the standard omniscience escape clause – but how is it consistent to thank God for the stuff you perceive to be as good while giving him a free pass on killing the innocent firstborns of an entire nation?

            First you need to explain how it is inconsistent. Do you think my belief that God is good is based on weighing the good stuff against the bad stuff? It’s not. Do you think I believe God does not cause/allow the bad stuff? I do think he causes/allows the bad stuff.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I don’t think parsimony can be invoked in this way. The Israelites did not approve of magic and so it can’t be taken for granted that an Israelite author believed in magic.

            How can you “not approve of magic” if you do not believe that there is any such thing as magic in the first place? That doesn´t even make sense.

            Also, the ancients knew about illusions and tricks

            Again, must have been pretty impressive trickery then.

            First you need to explain how it is inconsistent.

            Well, once you accepted an argument along the line “he might have killed thousands of innocent children for no apparent reason whatsoever, but he´s sooo much smarter than we are, maybe that was a good thing and we just don´t get it” – I don´t think you can evaluate the morality of anything that this God allegedly did or didn´t do. If you want to praise him / thank him for something good – how can you even know that it was good, maybe it was actually bad and you just didn´t get it. And I see conceptually no difference to a scenario where a friend who is much, much smarter than you, tells you to kill some children because that´s what God wants, maybe you don´t understand the reasons for that, but you should trust your friend because he´s after all much, much smarter than you are.

          • There’s so much I want to say to all of Jayman’s posts, but alas, will have to wait til tonight!

          • How can you “not approve of magic” if you do not believe that there is any such thing as magic in the first place? That doesn´t even make sense.

            The same way that atheists can not approve of prayer/church/religion even though they don’t believe in God?

            Well, once you accepted an argument along the line “he might have killed thousands of innocent children for no apparent reason whatsoever, but he´s sooo much smarter than we are, maybe that was a good thing and we just don´t get it” – I don´t think you can evaluate the morality of anything that this God allegedly did or didn´t do.

            This is true in the sense that I can’t weigh the pros and cons of an act in its entirety. But on consequentialism this is the case even of human actions. Consider the debate over whether using atomic weapons on Japan at the end of World War II was justified. We might be able to weigh the loss of Japanese lives against the loss of American lives in an invasion. But it becomes much more difficult to weigh the long term consequences of the act. We don’t have access to an alternate history where the bombs were not dropped and so, at the least, there is much uncertainty.

            If you want to praise him / thank him for something good – how can you even know that it was good, maybe it was actually bad and you just didn´t get it.

            On the basis of natural theology and revelation, I can praise God for being the good, not just an agent that does good.

            And I see conceptually no difference to a scenario where a friend who is much, much smarter than you, tells you to kill some children because that´s what God wants, maybe you don´t understand the reasons for th at, but you should trust your friend because he´s after all much, much smarter than you are.

            I see quite a difference between great intelligence and omniscience.

          • Andy_Schueler

            The same way that atheists can not approve of prayer/church/religion even though they don’t believe in God?

            You´ll find plenty of atheists criticizing religion, but criticizing prayer? You might find an atheist mentioning that he thinks that prayer is a waste of time, or that no one should be forced to pray or attend a prayer, or that praying for a cure is not a substitute for going to an actual doctor (i.e. criticizing not what they do, but what they do NOT do), but criticizing prayer per se? I´m not aware of atheists doing that and I see no reason to do so because I do not believe that prayer works. And I see no reason for the Israelites to be critical of magic if they don´t believe that magic actually works (note that this is different from criticizing the culture in which magic is practiced).

            This is true in the sense that I can’t weigh the pros and cons of an act in its entirety. But on consequentialism this is the case even of human actions. Consider the debate over whether using atomic weapons on Japan at the end of World War II was justified. We might be able to weigh the loss of Japanese lives against the loss of American lives in an invasion. But it becomes much more difficult to weigh the long term consequences of the act. We don’t have access to an alternate history where the bombs were not dropped and so, at the least, there is much uncertainty.

            True. But this didn´t address the issue I raised. Example: John von Neumann recommended an early nuclear strike on the Soviet Union before they develop the capacities for nuclear retaliation as the best available option for the US government. I have to acknowledge that John von Neumann was, for every conceivable measure of intelligence and knowledge, a much smarter and much more knowledgeable man than I am. Does that mean I cannot disagree with him? And how is that different from disagreeing with Yahweh? Omniscience would be a quantitative difference to the other scenario, not a qualitative one.

            On the basis of natural theology and revelation, I can praise God for being the good, not just an agent that does good.

            But this seems to boil down to “good” merely being a short form of saying “whatever God does or wants” – even if it happens to be something that seems to be a blatant example of callous disregard for suffering or downright viciousness.

            I see quite a difference between great intelligence and omniscience.

            Quantitatively yes, not qualitatively.

          • And I see no reason for the Israelites to be critical of magic if they don´t believe that magic actually works (note that this is different from criticizing the culture in which magic is practiced).

            So, in today’s world, I should not be able to find an individual who both criticizes magic and does not believe in magic? Of course you might pass this off as criticism of the culture in which magic is practiced, but we might be able to do the same in the case of the Israelites too.

            Does that mean I cannot disagree with him? And how is that different from disagreeing with Yahweh?

            If you disagree with a human, even a very intelligent human, you have the chance of being right. If you disagree with an omniscient being you are wrong.

            But this seems to boil down to “good” merely being a short form of saying “whatever God does or wants”

            No, it is to say that something is good to the degree that it fulfills its essence.

          • Andy_Schueler

            So, in today’s world, I should not be able to find an individual who both criticizes magic and does not believe in magic?

            I would indeed be surprised if you find someone who criticizes the act of casting a spell per se. Why should I criticize a wiccan for practicing spellcraft? Again, I might find it to be a waste of time, I wouldn´t want anyone to be coerced into participating into a wiccan ritual, I might disagree with them when they exploit people that actually believe in the power of their spells, but why should anyone who doesn´t believe that these spells work criticize the practice per se?

            No, it is to say that something is good to the degree that it fulfills its essence.

            Alright, I assume for the sake of the argument that Yahweh is indeed the “essence of goodness” and that all stories described in the Bible actually happened. Since I find most of Yahweh´s actions as described in the Bible to be morally reprehensible, I can only conclude that I am completely and utterly incapable of being a moral agent (this is the obvious conclusion, since I find the actions of the agent that is the essence of goodness to be morally reprehensible, I must be maximally incompetent when it comes to making moral judgments). This would thus further mean that I cannot make any moral judgments without Yahweh, the essence of goodness, explicitly giving me the right answer to the moral problem in question. And now we have a problem. Christians seem to universally agree that Yahweh revealed his will in the Bible. But based on the assumptions I just granted, it is obvious that I am maximally incompetent at understanding the moral implications of the stories described in the Bible (and even if I wouldn´t be, plenty of moral dilemmas that occur in everyday life are not covered in the Bible at all). So how could I even begin to act as an moral agent without Yahweh regularly(!) giving me specific(!) and explicit(!) advice how I should act?

            If I grant you the assumptions mentioned above, it follows inevitably that Yahweh doesn´t care whether I act according to his will or not, or is unable to inform me about what is will actually is.

          • Andy,

            I think someone can criticize witchcraft simply because it is the practice or outgrowth of false beliefs.

            I said something is good to the degree that it fulfills its essence. On classical theism, God’s essence is existence. Since God is pure actuality he perfectly fulfills his essence and is therefore good. Note that he is not considered good because of my evaluation of his actions. On the related (old) natural law view you are capable of making judgments about whether someone is in a good state or not.

            I think that’s enough of these two rabbit trails.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I think someone can criticize witchcraft simply because it is the practice or outgrowth of false beliefs.

            This is why I distinguished between belief / culture and the practices that grow out of this culture. I can (and do) criticize beliefs, but on what possible grounds could I criticize a practice that grows out of such beliefs if this practice doesn´t harm anyone? If someone practices spellcraft and I don´t believe that spells work, then the mere practice is nothing but a hobby, like playing Dungeons & Dragons or watching Television. I could point out that it´s a waste of time, that no one should be coerced to participate in this practice, and that people who believe in spells should not be exploited by practicioners of spellcraft (the exact same points I would raise for prayer) – but I cannot criticize the practice per se because I don´t believe that it actually works.

            I said something is good to the degree that it fulfills its essence. On classical theism, God’s essence is existence. Since God is pure actuality he perfectly fulfills his essence and is therefore good. Note that he is not considered good because of my evaluation of his actions. On the related (old) natural law view you are capable of making judgments about whether someone is in a good state or not.

            This is really not meant to be insulting but what you wrote here is just word salad to me – I don´t have the foggiest clue what you are talking about and how it addresses what I said.

          • Great point. As I have said, Justin Schieber has actually put that into a syllogistic argument which he is soon to release. There is no way of being able to tell whether God is lying or not.

    • Sorry , Jayman, you have a point. I was preparing this more for a talk, and so this wasn’t originally going to be a post like this.

      Actually, the Sargon claims are ones I have known for years – I used to argue this way back. I read and researched it ages ago. Will check and will read your post when I can – later tonight, hopefully.

    • On (1) – It’s not really a substantive point, more of a passing comment. The potential issue is that it shows how much of a retrofit this is – a re-writing of history whilst in exile.

      (2) An indefinite period of time had passed between the generation of Joseph and the Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Ex. 1:8). You suggest about a generation elapsed but that is debatable. It seems to me that a plausible reading could connect this Pharaoh to the time of Moses’ birth (Ex. 2:1ff.).

      Rather ad hoc. This is a guy who single-handedly saved Egypt from starvation through miraculous dream-interpretations. That people thousands of years later know more about him than the very people in government with him or after him. Did everyone in his governmental vicinity evaporate?

      (3) Pharaoh’s paranoia in Ex. 1:9-10 is ludicrous if taken in a wholly literal manner. We must consider the xenophobia of the Egyptian ruling class (Gen. 42:9, 12; 43:32; 46:34) and not take the statement as a dispassionate objective assessment (see p. 131 of William H. C. Propp,Exodus 1-18). You take the enslavement of the Israelites (Ex. 1:11) to be absurd in light of the Pharaoh’s comments, but it’s just as easy to see the absurdity in Pharaoh’s statement in light of how he enslaved the Israelites. In fact, this would be a more charitable reading.

      Not entirely sure of your point here. What is ridiculous Is the numbers involved and the idea that such a large section of society can suddenly be enslaved!

      (4) The precise motives of Pharaoh’s “population control” is not clear. He starts by afflicting the Israelites with heavy burdens (Ex. 1:11) but the Israelites kept multiplying (Ex. 1:12). This suggests he did not intend to eradicate the Israelites
      completely, but to limit their numbers. It is after this that the murder of the male children is implemented. But note that the text does not say whether this would go on indefinitely. Perhaps he hoped to decrease the number of Israelites for a time but then later to allow male children to live so as to keep slave laborers. Since we don’t know his full motives you can’t criticize his tactics as inefficient.

      Perhaps perhaps. Ad hoc. The whole idea seems very remote at best.

      (5) Moses was concealed for three months (Ex. 2:2), not eight months. Time permitting, I’ll come back to the Sargon parallel and whether pitch was available in Egypt.

      I remember Kitchen arguing about this and camel trading in Egypt (that being another issue, I seem to remember). From memory (and this is 5 years ago plus), the defence of this argument seemed a little tenuous.

      (6) The strange story in Ex. 4:24-26 has perplexed readers for centuries. Presumably the first readers had information that allowed them to make sense of the passage. Unless you have made an interpretive breakthrough you can’t draw conclusions from the passage.

      Good defence.

      (7) Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7 do not mean the Egyptian magicians tapped into supernatural powers. Rather they succeeded through their “secret arts”/”trickery”.

      Er, WTF? So they “struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood.21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt” and this worked by trickery. That’s a little more than David Copperfield…

      (8) The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is a detailed matter that I won’t fully address here. However, Egypt is not punished for Pharaoh’s sins but for their own sins (e.g., Ex. 1:11 MT implicates all Egypt in the slavery of Israel).
      The Egyptians had the opportunity to escape with Israel (Ex. 12:38). And the plagues are not just for punishment but for the people to know Yahweh.

      So all of Egypt is complicit in this action? Every single person and family? Every single ANIMAL? Wow. Do you really believe this? So that when your government choose to do something, every single family and animal in the country is entirely
      complicit and deserving punishment to the point of death?

      (9) You are worried about all Egypt being judged. While the language is universal it also implies the Egyptians are receiving justice. The geographic location and number of people affected is not stated in the text.

      See above reply.

      “the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.”

      “throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats… All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats.”

      “ “Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.” 6 And the next day theLord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. “

      “It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

      “Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both people and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26 The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.”

      “Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”

      “By morning the wind had brought the locusts; 14 they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. “

      “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse
      than there has ever been or ever will be again.”

      Yeah, fairly universal, covering all of Egypt, each and every Egyptian, and all their livestock too. Oh, and probably every ecosystem therein.

      (10) You take Ex. 12:13 to imply that God is not omniscient. But in the previous plagues he was quite able to distinguish between the Israelites and Egyptians.

      Precisely. Slapdash writing. Contradictory and anthropomorphic.

      (11) Ex. 12:37 is usually translated to mean the Israelites had 600,000 soldiers. But the Hebrew is more ambiguous. D. Stuart (p. 297-303 of Exodus) thinks it refers to 7,200 soldiers, which would suggest 28,800-36,000 Israelites in all.

      Even if I was to grant you that (I don’t), that number of people wandering around a desert for 40 years without leaving a single bit of trace, with all of their livestock, is STILL ridiculous…

      (12) Many of your objections rely on the assumption that violating someone’s free will is always morally wrong. But don’t you deny the existence of free will?

      There are so many issues with this. It invalidates the free will theodicy as an explanation for evil, for a start. God seems willing to break the free will regularity in
      order to cause untold damage to Egypt and its animals and children, and yet won’t step in to stop a tsunami killing 240,000 people or a nazi regime killing 6 million…

      That’s just a start.

      • On (1) – It’s not really a substantive point, more of a passing comment. The potential issue is that it shows how much of a retrofit this is – a re-writing of history whilst in exile.

        Wasn’t Israel a nation centuries before the Babylonian exile?

        That people thousands of years later know more about him than the very people in government with him or after him. Did everyone in his governmental vicinity evaporate?

        Must the reference in Ex. 1:8 mean the new Pharaoh knew absolutely nothing about Joseph?

        Er, WTF? So they “struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood.21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt” and this worked by trickery. That’s a little more than David Copperfield…

        You’re quoting what Moses and Aaron brought about, not the actions of the magicians. Since blood was already everywhere, the magicians, like the Egyptians in general (7:24), probably had to dig for water. Their turning water to blood had to be on a much smaller scale.

        So all of Egypt is complicit in this action? Every single person and family? Every single ANIMAL? Wow. Do you really believe this? So that when your government choose to do something, every single family and animal in the country is entirely complicit and deserving punishment to the point of death?

        That the language is universal in nature does not mean the action in history was universal in nature. For example, in the NT when Paul says all the world had heard the gospel in his own day he does not mean the phrase in the same way us moderns might mean it. Likewise in Exodus it is dangerous to jump from the language of the text to the conclusion that each and every human and animal was guilty. So the answer to your questions is no. I don’t take the text as literally as the modern Westerner is so prone to do.

        Yeah, fairly universal, covering all of Egypt, each and every Egyptian, and all their livestock too. Oh, and probably every ecosystem therein.

        That’s what I mean when I say the language is universal. But I also think it is an error to take such language as precise, literal descriptions. I’ll try to come back to this later.

        Precisely. Slapdash writing. Contradictory and anthropomorphic.

        It’s only contradictory when you don’t read it charitably.

        There are so many issues with this. It invalidates the free will theodicy as an explanation for evil, for a start.

        I’m trying to understand your position. If there’s no free will then how can you blame God (who also doesn’t have free will?) for violating human free will. I’m not even getting into theodicy in (12).

        • Just a quick note before I shoot:

          You’re quoting what Moses and Aaron brought about, not the actions of the magicians. Since blood was already everywhere, the magicians, like the Egyptians in general (7:24), probably had to dig for water. Their turning water to blood had to be on a much smaller scale.

          “But the magicians of Egypt did the same”

          It’s what the Bible says. I don’t know what you are reading. I suggest reading that whole passage again. Everything Aaron and Moses did, they replicated. It does NOT say “they did similar, but on a much smaller scale that could mean their magic could be confused with trickery”.

          It literally says they also turned water to blood through the land of egypt. IT says they also made frogs all over egypt, but were somehow unable to make gnats.

          • Jonathan:

            “But the magicians of Egypt did the same”. It’s what the Bible says. I don’t know what you are reading.

            I don’t read so much into the phrase “did the same”. The phrase does not mean the two actions are identical. It is pointing to a similarity, nothing more.

            It does NOT say “they did similar, but on a much smaller scale that could mean their magic could be confused with trickery”.

            But it does imply the magicians were out-matched. Aaron’s staff swallowed the magicians’ staffs (7:12). Moses turns all the water in the Nile to blood (7:20). If all the water in the Nile had been turned to blood then how could the magicians do the same in the identical fashion you seem to envision (7:22)? Aaron causes frogs to come up and cover the land of Egypt (8:6). The magicians are said to cause frogs to come up on the land of Egypt too (8:7) but it is not said that these frogs covered the land. It’s not clear if we should read into that or not but it’s a possibile indication of the superiority of Moses and Aaron. You’ve already mentioned that the magicians cannot replicate all the plagues but it should also be noted that Moses and Aaron are the ones called upon to remove the plagues.

          • You seem to be prepared to go to inordinate lengths in order to let this story stand….

          • I could say you’ve gone to inordinate lengths to critique the story. But you haven’t provided the near the depth of interpretation that I have.

          • Honest_John_Law

            “…depth of interpretation…” – Jayman

            There is ample evidence that many Church Fathers believed in a literal 6-day creation (one day being 24 hours). Are you a Young Earth Creationist? Do you believe the Earth is less than ~10,000 years old?

  • I think these two quotes highlight a major problem running through Jonathan and Andy’s analysis. Both are from William H. C. Propp’s Exodus 1-18.

    On p. 347 he draws attention to hyperbole:

    One of the outstanding features of the Exodus story, beginning already in chap. 5, is hyperbole. We find frequent assertions of totality: “not one remained,” “not one was smitten,” “not a hoof,” “not a house,” “man and animal.” Fretheim counts over fifty appearances of kol ‘all.’ These exaggerations both delight and offend our overfastidious sensibilities and are frequently noted by commentators. Do the Hebrews gather stubble “in all the land of Egypt,” from border to border (5:12)? Does Aaron extend his rod “over all Egypt’s waters,” up and down the length of the Nile (7:19; 8:1)? If there is no water in all Egypt, what do the magicians convert to blood (7:22)? If all the dirt turns to lice (8:13), on what do the magicians attempt to operate (8:14)? Is the land really “devestated” by the swarms of tiny arob (8:20; cf. Ps 78:45)? How can all the cattle die from murrain (9:6) if some are later killed by hail (9:19-21), if Moses demands from Pharaoh sacrificed animals (10:25), if the firstborn cattle die during the paschal night (11:5; 12:12, 29) and if the horses drown in the Sea (chaps. 14-15)? Does Yahweh send all his afflictions against Egypt (9:14), or are some held in reserve? How can every servant of Pharaoh, throughout all Egypt, receive warning of the plague of hail in a single day (9:18-20)? Can every household of Egypt contain a dead, firstborn male (12:30)?

    Listing these is trivializing, but important given the history of biblical scholarship. Only a pedant would carp at such “contradictions”, or, worse yet, use them in isolation as source-critical criteria. We must not hold the Bible to anachronistic standards of journalistic accuracy.

    On p. 332 he explains what is meant by the term kol (“all”):

    The NIV translation “all the livestock of the Egyptians died” would seem to suggest that no Egyptian livestock survived the plague, especially when this statement is followed by the (correctly translated) statement “but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died.” Yet when one reads on to the account of the seventh plague, it is clear that there were plenty of Egyptian livestock still alive, since they are mentioned as being in danger of being killed by the next plague, that of ferocious hail (9:19-21). Moreover, Egyptian livestock are described as alive at the advent of the account of the final plague, that of the death of the firstborn (12:29). This apparent contradiction is not due to inconsistency among the plague accounts, multiple contradictory sources for them, or any similar cause. It is due simply to the fact that the Hebrew word kol, usually translated “all,” can mean “all sorts of” or “from all over” or “all over the place.” In this verse the better translation of the full expression would be “all sorts of Egyptian livestock died” or “Egyptian livestock died all over the place.”

    Basically, aren’t you guys taking things a little too literally?

    • Andy_Schueler

      Basically, aren’t you guys taking things a little too literally?

      When it comes to those obvious contradictions, like all livestock being killed after all livestock had already been killed before – I would totally agree that a literal interpretation does not seem very likely (because you have to assume that the author was a complete idiot or that the text was redacted by an idiot) and that a translation like “died all over the place” seems much more plausible.
      But I don´t think that these obvious contradictions in the story is what Jonathan was aiming at. The skeptic´s approach to Exodus is usually a) pointing out that there is virtually no evidence for the historicity of the Exodus and plenty of reasons that make the historicity of the Exodus seem highly improbably, and b) pointing out that the events in the Exodus cast a very bad light on Yahweh if they actually happened (and this point is not affected by pointing out that not literally all firstborn were killed etc.).

      • pointing out that the events in the Exodus cast a very bad light on Yahweh if they actually happened (and this point is not affected by pointing out that not literally all firstborn were killed etc.).

        I think it makes it much more difficult to assert that a given action is morally problematic. You and Jonathan rely on the strictly literal meaning of the text to make the plagues sound unjust. For example, Jonathan wrote: “This punishes not just the entire nation of a country, many who would not even have know who Moses was, as well as every head of livestock. What have THEY done to deserve this??” But once hyperbole is taken into account how does he know people who didn’t even know Moses were afflicted at all?

        • Andy_Schueler

          I think it makes it much more difficult to assert that a given action is morally problematic. You and Jonathan rely on the strictly literal meaning of the text to make the plagues sound unjust. For example, Jonathan wrote: “This punishes not just the entire nation of a country, many who would not even have know who Moses was, as well as every head of livestock. What have THEY done to deserve this??” But once hyperbole is taken into account how does he know people who didn’t even know Moses were afflicted at all?

          It doesn´t rely on a literal interpretation. Even if the plagues (particularly the last one) were much more limited in scope than a literal reading would suggest, they would still be unjust. Just one child that is killed for something that others did and just one family that is punished (even if one member of this family actually did something that might deserve punishment) for something that others did is unjust.

          • Just one child that is killed for something that others did and just one family that is punished (even if one member of this family actually did something that might deserve punishment) for something that others did is unjust.

            The Hebrew word bekowr refers to the firstborn and not necessarily to a child. Can you point to one of these unjust killings or do you just assume they happened? And as a consequentialist you’re still stuck trying to argue that, even if such a thing happened, it wasn’t for the best in the long run.

          • Andy_Schueler

            The Hebrew word bekowr refers to the firstborn and not necessarily to a child. Can you point to one of these unjust killings or do you just assume they happened?

            So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.
            – Exodus 11:4-5
            At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
            – Exodus 12:29-30

            I accept that a translation along the line of “died all over the place”, instead of all firstborns dying is possible, maybe even plausible. This doesn´t make any difference though, the text is clearly written in such a way that the killing is indiscriminatory – the firstborn sons of the highest class of the egyptian society (including the Pharao) were killed just as those of the lowest class, including slaves and prisoners. The only criteria for making it on the “kill list” were firstborn child + not an israelite, and the text emphasizes how the killing was otherwise completely indiscriminatory by juxtaposing the death of the Pharao´s firstborn son with the deaths of the firstborn children of a lowly slave girl and a prisoner.
            Indiscriminatory killing cannot be just.

            And as a consequentialist you’re still stuck trying to argue that, even if such a thing happened, it wasn’t for the best in the long run.

            No, I´m not. I´m asking why a being with the power that Yahweh allegedly has needed to cause so much unnecessary suffering if he could have simply convinced the Pharao to “let his people go” and convince him that he (Yahweh) is indeed the big fish that you should not mess with (I assume that persuading a Pharao, without killing and hurting anyone, would have been well within Yahweh´s power). If it is so trivially easy to come up with a solution for the problem that doesn´t involve all this suffering, the only possible conclusion is that this suffering was not necessary in any way, shape or form.
            This is not a hard moral problem, it is one of the easiest I could imagine.

          • The only criteria for making it on the “kill list” were firstborn child + not an israelite, and the text emphasizes how the killing was otherwise completely indiscriminatory by juxtaposing the death of the Pharao´s firstborn son with the deaths of the firstborn children of a lowly slave girl and a prisoner.

            The text says God did not discriminate on the basis of economic class. This is not the same as “completely indiscriminate” killing.

            I´m asking why a being with the power that Yahweh allegedly has needed to cause so much unnecessary suffering if he could have simply convinced the Pharao to “let his people go” and that he (Yahweh) is indeed the big fish that you should not mess with (I assume that persuading a Pharao would have been well within Yahweh´s power).

            As I mentioned earlier, the text does not restrict God’s motives to just freeing the Israelites. That you think you have a solution to an over-simplified problem doesn’t tell us anything.

          • Andy_Schueler

            The text says God did not discriminate on the basis of economic class. This is not the same as “completely indiscriminate” killing.

            The text juxtaposes (twice!) the killing of the firstborn sons of the highest and most powerful members of society with the killing of the firstborn sons of the lowest and least powerful members of society.
            If this does not emphasize indiscriminatory killing, what does it emphasize?

            As I mentioned earlier, the text does not restrict God’s motives to just freeing the Israelites.

            Freeing his people + letting the egyptians know that he´s the big fish, anything I forgot?

            That you think you have a solution to an over-simplified problem doesn’t tell us anything.

            How exactly did I oversimplify the problem? What were Yahweh´s goals except for setting his people free + letting the egyptians know that he´s the big fish and how exactly would my solution not have worked?

          • If this does not emphasize indiscriminatory killing, what does it emphasize?

            That economic status is irrelevant in God’s eyes.

            Freeing his people + letting the egyptians know that he´s the big fish, anything I forgot?

            (1) The liberation of the Israelites (1:23-24; 3:8-10, 17-18; 6:1, 6; 7:5).

            (2) The judgment of the Egyptians for their sins (3:9, 17; 6:6; 7:5).

            (3) The despoiling of the Egyptians (3:21-22; 12:36).

            (4) So the Israelites will know Yahweh (4:31; 6:7; 10:2; 14:31).

            (5) So the Egyptians will know Yahweh (7:6; 9:14; 14:4, 18).

            (6) So God’s name will be proclaimed throughout the earth (9:16).

            (7) To execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt (12:12).

            How exactly did I oversimplify the problem? What were Yahweh´s goals except for setting his people free + letting the egyptians know that he´s the big fish and how exactly would my solution not have worked?

            That you don’t know all of God’s goals is part of the problem. While the text mentions at least the seven reasons I gave above, it does not claim that this list is exhaustive. You don’t know the mind of God and you can’t evaluate alternate histories. Yet we are to believe your moral judgments in such matters are sound.

          • Andy_Schueler

            That economic status is irrelevant in God’s eyes.

            So the Israelites used to believe that economic status would otherwise protect you from Yahweh´s judgment and this is why it needed to be emphasized twice that God will not spare a firstborn son just because he happens to be the son of a slave girl? What evidence do you have to support this?

            (1) The liberation of the Israelites (1:23-24; 3:8-10, 17-18; 6:1, 6; 7:5).
            (2) The judgment of the Egyptians for their sins (3:9, 17; 6:6; 7:5).
            (3) The despoiling of the Egyptians (3:21-22; 12:36).
            (4) So the Israelites will know Yahweh (4:31; 6:7; 10:2; 14:31).
            (5) So the Egyptians will know Yahweh (7:6; 9:14; 14:4, 18).
            (6) So God’s name will be proclaimed throughout the earth (9:16).
            (7) To execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt (12:12).

            Re 1+4+5 => Included in what I said.
            Re 3 => An aim that is morally reprehensible per se.
            Re 6 => Didn´t happen, so Yahweh´s methods failed to accomplish this aim.
            Re 2 => Didn´t happen unless every single Egyptian that was most deserving of judgment happened to be the firstborn son of a person that was still alive.
            Re 7 => How can you interpret this literally without being a polytheist?
            I would grant you that I missed point 3 – and how could this not have been accomplished in exactly the same way I suggested?

            That you don’t know all of God’s goals is part of the problem. While the text mentions at least the seven reasons I gave above, it does not claim that this list is exhaustive. You don’t know the mind of God and you can’t evaluate alternate histories.

            Do you need to know exactly what Hitler was thinking to condemn his actions? Would you accept the argument that you cannot condemn Hitler´s actions because “you can´t evaluate alternative histories”? (Of course you can evaluate alternative histories – it´s called counterfactual thinking)

            Yet we are to believe your moral judgments in such matters are sound.

            So why should we trust yours then?

          • So the Israelites used to believe that economic status would otherwise protect you from Yahweh´s judgment and this is why it needed to be emphasized twice that God will not spare a firstborn son just because he happens to be the son of a slave girl? What evidence do you have to support this?

            I did not make that claim. Just because a text makes a point does not mean that no one accepted the point prior to the writing of the text.

            Re 3 => An aim that is morally reprehensible per se.

            Is that compatible with your consequentialism? If the Egyptians giving goods to the Israelites resulted in better consequences then you should applaud the actions.

            Re 6 => Didn´t happen, so Yahweh´s methods failed to accomplish this aim.

            Really? So there are not people throughout the earth who proclaim the name of Yahweh?

            Re 2 => Didn´t happen unless every single Egyptian that was most deserving of judgment happened to be the firstborn son of a person that was still alive.

            There were plagues other than the killing of the firstborn.

            Re 7 => How can you interpret this literally without being a polytheist?

            The judgment consists of God having his way with the land and people of Egypt that supposedly were protected by the Egyptian gods. Many of the plagues contain subtle allusions to Egyptian religion in order to denigrate that religion.

            Do you need to know exactly what Hitler was thinking to condemn his actions? Would you accept the argument that you cannot condemn Hitler´s actions because “you can´t evaluate alternative histories”? (Of course you can evaluate alternative histories – it´s called counterfactual thinking)

            Remember, I’m going along with consequentialism because it is your position. Likewise, you brought up God’s motives. Our counterfactual thinking is largely speculation. This is especially the case the further from the present we try to go. It seems to me Hitler’s motivations are irrelevant. All that matters is whether his actions led to a greater good.

            So why should we trust yours then?

            I’m not telling you to accept my moral judgments nor am I promoting consequentialism. All I need to do to defend the Exodus account is point to flaws in your argument.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I did not make that claim. Just because a text makes a point does not mean that no one accepted the point prior to the writing of the text.

            Alright, so to reiterate, these are the verses in question:

            So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.
            – Exodus 11:4-5
            At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
            – Exodus 12:29-30

            You claim that the “all” should not actually mean “all”, but rather “all over the place” or something like that (I grant you that). If I understand you correctly, you also claim that only those that were “guilty” were killed since you seem to deny that any of those deaths were unjust (you said “Can you point to one of these unjust killings or do you just assume they happened?”).
            And you further claim that these verses do not imply indiscriminate killing but rather merely emphasize that high (or low) economic status confers no protection from Yahweh´s punishment – for this interpretation, you provide no argument whatsoever but simply assert it as if it would be in any way obvious. I think this interpretation is ludicrous. The stylistic device of juxtaposing kings / princes / pharaos etc. with beggars / prisoners / slaves etc. always occurs in a context where something is claimed to happen to an entire group of people, and the purpose of this stylistic device is to emphasize that indeed the entire group is meant without exceptions.
            Let me give you a few examples:

            1.

            Not where he’s eating, but where he’s being eaten. A certain conference of worms is chowing down on him. Worms are the emperor of all diets. We fatten up all creatures to feed ourselves, and we fatten ourselves for the worms to eat when we’re dead. A fat king and a skinny beggar are just two dishes at the same meal. That’s all I have to say.
            – Hamlet

            2.

            For the next forty-five years, the Buddha and his disciples went from place to place in India spreading the Dharma, his teachings. Their compassion knew no bounds, they helped everyone along the way, beggars, kings and slave girls. At night, they would sleep where they were; when hungry they would ask for a little food.
            – Following the Buddha’s Footsteps

            3.

            Death is the end of everything. Death is the end of life, of beauty, of wealth, of power, of virtue too.
            Saints die and sinners die, kings die and beggars die.
            – Indian Philosophy in English:From Renaissance to Independence

            Now, I could intepret these texts to mean that only those that deserve to die will die while everyone else will live forever (example 1+3) and that the Buddha and his disciples only helped those that deserved to get help instead of helping everyone they saw indiscriminately (example 2). These interpretations would be ludicrous, in all those cases, the juxtaposition of high and low social status clearly serves to emphasize the point that the claim really applies to everyone without exceptions. A further reason why these interpretations would be ludicrous is, that I simply add something to the text without any justification for doing so (“deserve to die” / “deserve to get help”) – but this is exactly what you do with Exodus, the text nowhere states that the plagues spared those that are innocent.
            So, overall, it seems that you reject the natural reading of the text because it would cast a negative light on Yahweh, even if this means that you have to stick with a patently ludicrous interpretation.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Is that compatible with your consequentialism? If the Egyptians giving goods to the Israelites resulted in better consequences then you should applaud the actions.

            Please enlighten me, what good was accomplished by this act?

            Really? So there are not people throughout the earth who proclaim the name of Yahweh?

            And how many of those did it after and as a result of these events? How many Egyptians decided to follow hebrew customs and offer sacrifices to Yahweh because they saw his power and wrath?

            There were plagues other than the killing of the firstborn.

            And which of those were not indiscriminatory between those that are guilty and those that are innocent?

            The judgment consists of God having his way with the land and people of Egypt that supposedly were protected by the Egyptian gods. Many of the plagues contain subtle allusions to Egyptian religion in order to denigrate that religion.

            Again, how many Egyptians saw that their Gods were false, decided to follow hebrew customs and offer sacrifices to Yahweh because they saw his power and wrath?

            Remember, I’m going along with consequentialism because it is your position. Likewise, you brought up God’s motives. Our counterfactual thinking is largely speculation. This is especially the case the further from the present we try to go. It seems to me Hitler’s motivations are irrelevant. All that matters is whether his actions led to a greater good.

            So, assuming that the events described in Exodus really happened, what greater good was accomplished by all this suffering?

          • YOU have to admit, then, that God is a moral consequentialist. Which means the whole moral objectivity thing goes out of the window. Morality is not grounded in God, but in the consequences to actions. Thus God is unnecessary for morality.

          • YOU have to admit, then, that God is a moral consequentialist.

            As I noted earlier, I’m adopting the consequentialist position because that’s what you and Andy appear to believe. Your moral pronouncements on the Exodus account fail on your own standard. I don’t particularly care what meta-ethical position you want to assign to God or how you think morality is grounded.

          • Absolutely – if only one person, or even one gnat, died gratuitously, God is not omnibenevolent.

  • Is it likely that he would have NO knowledge of the second in command of his own country who single-handedly saved them from famine and who famously translated dreams as prophecies?

    I should mention that the interpretation of dreams was common in the ANE. While Joseph may have been particularly good at it, this skill was not unique.

  • qbsmd

    Re God hardens Pharaoh’s heart

    I’ve always been confused by this. I’ve heard from some biblical historians that parts of the bible contain remnants of polytheism and that the different names used for Yahweh were originally different gods. Is there any evidence that this story was originally Yahweh pushing Moses to fight and an Egyptian god pushing Pharaoh to fight, but the references to the Egyptian god were later redacted? I think that makes more sense by explaining the Egyptians being able to do magic and Yahweh being willing to punish anyone who wasn’t following him: the story was originally a battle between two gods showing that Yahweh was superior.

    • Do you have any references for that claim? Sounds interesting, but not one I have heard.

      • qbsmd

        I believe my information on Hebrew polytheism in the bible came from one or more of Robert Price’s podcasts. I’ll try to find specific podcasts and specific passages he mentioned as evidence. I haven’t listened to his podcast in a while, and kind of forgot about it, but I should probably send him my question.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    Jayman, I have a question. Below you say “Aren’t you taking this too literally?”

    You seem to think that the stories we’re talking about are true. So, in that case, the Bible is literal. But you seem to disagree with the actual events as described in the Bible. In that case, the Bible is at least partially figurative (or metaphorical or just-so stories or whatever… not literal).

    My question is, which parts of the Bible are literally true, which parts are metaphorical, and how do you know?

    For example, Exodus 12:37 says “600,000 men”. But you seem to think that this actually means 7,000 or so. Why?

    Is the Bible wrong?
    Was the Bible written by fallible men instead of the direct representation of God?

    This is a pretty serious problem. If you think that the Bible isn’t 100% correct, then what other parts may be incorrect? How do you know that the Bible wasn’t written by Lucifer? I mean, really, if you compare the devil figure and God in the Bible, the devil figure doesn’t look so bad compared to God who routinely commits or requires genocide. But I digress.

    • My question is, which parts of the Bible are literally true, which parts are metaphorical, and how do you know?

      The genre of each book and passage of the Bible must be determined individually. There’s no simple rule that allows you to just glance at the text and make a decision. In the case of Exodus I think hyperbole is used because that makes the text more intelligible than a woodenly literal interpretation does.

      For example, Exodus 12:37 says “600,000 men”. But you seem to think that this actually means 7,000 or so. Why?

      If I have time I’ll write more on this later. The issue concerns the meaning of the Hebrew and will therefore involve a more technical discussion.

      If you think that the Bible isn’t 100% correct, then what other parts may be incorrect?

      There’s always the chance of being wrong. I could think the Bible is 100% correct and there’s still a chance I’m wrong in that regard.

      How do you know that the Bible wasn’t written by Lucifer? I mean, really, if you compare the devil figure and God in the Bible, the devil figure doesn’t look so bad compared to God who routinely commits or requires genocide.

      Again, absolute certainty isn’t possible. But I think a comparison of “God” and “Satan” in the Bible clearly points in the other direction.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        There appears to be a contradiction in what you say. Do you think that the Bible is 100% accurate or not? If it is, then it cannot be ‘interpreted’. There cannot be any ‘hyperbole’ or anything else.

        Of course, you may be using 100% correct differently than I do. If the Bible says “600,000” in an English translation, then if it’s wrong (because of a translation problem), then what else is wrong in the Bible due to translation issues. Why even have translations if they are so wrong on issues as simple as the number of people in a location?

        That’s very, very dangerous. Before you know it people are reading the wrong translations, getting the wrong ideas, and then you have a bunch of ‘one true religions’ running around with different beliefs… which is pretty much what we have today.

        Do you think the rules in the Bible are translated correctly and to be taken literally? If so, do you consume shellfish? Do you where cotton/poly blends? Have you given up all your money and assets?

        Again, this is a digression, but if you compare God and the devil character in the Bible, I don’t see how you can come to the conclusion that the god character is better than the devil character.

        And yes, my purpose here is to cast doubt on the Bible. Either it is 100% literal and true or it is not. If it is not 100% literal and true (and there’s no possible way that it can be), then it is badly flawed as any kind of guide. There’s no basis for anything but a few historical events (those with external evidence) to be true. Not to mention the fact that many religions (and individuals) pick and choose bits of the Bible to follow.

        • There appears to be a contradiction in what you say. Do you think that the Bible is 100% accurate or not? If it is, then it cannot be ‘interpreted’. There cannot be any ‘hyperbole’ or anything else.

          When I am talking about whether the Bible is accurate I am trying to judge whether the author, when interpreted correctly, is making a true statement. On this standard I do not think the Bible is perfectly accurate. However, even if I did think it was perfectly accurate, I would still think it needs to be interpreted and that it might include hyperbole. Taking hyperbole literally is an error in interpretation, not the text itself.

          If the Bible says “600,000” in an English translation, then if it’s wrong (because of a translation problem), then what else is wrong in the Bible due to translation issues. Why even have translations if they are so wrong on issues as simple as the number of people in a location?

          No translation from one language to another is seamless and without difficulty. I’d always encourage someone to read a commentary on the Hebrew or Greek. But to then ask why even have translations is going overboard. The Hebrew and Greek contain ambiguities in places too.

          And yes, my purpose here is to cast doubt on the Bible. Either it is 100% literal and true or it is not. If it is not 100% literal and true (and there’s no possible way that it can be), then it is badly flawed as any kind of guide. There’s no basis for anything but a few historical events (those with external evidence) to be true. Not to mention the fact that many religions (and individuals) pick and choose bits of the Bible to follow.

          I’m not on board with the all-or-nothing approach. There’s no reason that literal and true must go hand-in-hand. A parable, for example, may tell a truth despite the fact that it is fictional on a literal/historical level. An historical narrative can be generally reliable without being perfect. There is usually a method to “picking and choosing” what Biblical commands apply to one’s life.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            OK. But do you go and base life decisions on something that has to be interpreted? Do you decide to kill people or restrict their freedoms on the basis of ‘an interpretation’?

            Because, that’s what happening. In the real world, right now. Policy decisions are being made based on Biblical text that has direct results on the lives of people.

            The rest is entirely this concept of ‘interpreting’ the Word of God. I find the whole concept to be ridiculous. Either it is the one true Word of God… or it’s not.

            Unfortunately, evidence indicates that there is no Word of God. A simple case in point is the fact that many Christian churches consider other Christian churches to be fundamentally wrong (I’ve posted direct comments from church charters on this before). Heck, there are multiple Bibles, which one do you use and why? I’m willing to bet it’s not the Greek or Russian Orthodox or the Ethiopian Bibles. Why not?

            I totally agree that there is a method to ‘picking and choosing’ what parts of the Bible one follows. That method is almost always based on the culture one grows up in and family influence. Heck, I didn’t even know there were multiple Bibles until i was in my 30s.

            So, if one’s culture plays a more prominent part in what commands one follows, why not just stop pretending that one is following the Bible? It’s much simpler that way. You don’t have to spend large amounts of time trying to justify your actions with what’s in the Bible. If you have a decent reason for allowing homosexuals to marry or killing women, then fine. But do so based on reason, not because a book of tribal propaganda from 1400 years ago tells you to.

          • But do you go and base life decisions on something that has to be interpreted? Do you decide to kill people or restrict their freedoms on the basis of ‘an interpretation’?

            Yes, since most of our knowledge comes through written or spoken words that need to be interpreted. Even observations are interpreted. You seem to think interpretation is some special thing done to the Bible while I see it as a part of everyday life. Barring self-defense or just war, I don’t condone killing. A typical, liberal atheist might think I go too far in the libertarian direction when it comes to freedoms.

            I’m guessing you’re trying get at something else. Perhaps uncertainty? Consider a murder trial that will result in the defendant’s execution if he is found guilty. The jury must interpret the evidence. We require that someone be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in an attempt to protect innocent lives, but it is still the case that people are killed on the basis of a jury’s interpretation of the evidence.

            If you have a decent reason for allowing homosexuals to marry or killing women, then fine. But do so based on reason, not because a book of tribal propaganda from 1400 years ago tells you to.

            I don’t think reason alone will answer moral questions in such a way that we’ll all agree. For starters, you’ll need to prove to some of your fellow atheists that truly wrong actions exist. And you’re also stuck in your black-and-white thinking in stating that reason and religion are at odds with each other.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            You’re right. So where can I observe God? Where is the evidence for God? Then I can make my own interpretation.

            Here’s the thing. YOU are choosing to interpret God’s Word. Presumably (though I’m not sure) because it says some things that you disagree with. Maybe you don’t like owning slaves or you can’t really deal with there being two, mutually exclusive creation stories. I don’t know. But there are others who do NOT interpret the Bible. It is literally, 100% true in every particular.

            There’s no notation in the Bible that says “this part is metaphorical”. We are all left to interpret that as we will. So, why is your version correct and the others (people who take the Bible literally for example) wrong?

            You told us to stop taking the Bible too literally. Very well, I think that the whole thing is too literal and that it’s right up there with the movie “Titanic” as historical fiction. The exodus never happened. There was never a tribe of proto-Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years. The sea never parted and there was no mana from heaven. That’s my interpretation, because the observations and evidence all contradict the story in the Bible.

            We have similar amounts of evidence for the Great Flood, Jesus, the Gospels, etc… that is… none. Aside from the occasional location or famous person who appears (and is often misplaced i.e. Herod) there is no interpretation of the Bible that can be accurate… except that it is wholly a work of (slightly) historical fiction.

            Yes, people are sometimes put to death (which says something poor about our society anyway) based on evidence. However, as we progress both technologically and morally, these events become fewer and more people are being exonerated from death row.

            I do think that reason alone can answer moral questions. It won’t be in a way that everyone on the Earth agrees on, you’re right about that. Well over half the planet still believes that invisible people with magic powers are the only moral authority.

            I don’t need God to tell me what is moral or not. I can apply my
            own ideas about morality. In many cases, I agree with what the Bible
            says… of course most of those areas were stated long before the Bible was written. In many cases, I disagree with what the Bible says because I hold myself to a higher standard… mine.

            But you do use reason to analyze moral questions. If you didn’t, then you’d be like that poor kid who spent a week trying to justify slavery as presented in the Bible. You have analyzed the Bible and the culture you live in and (hopefully) reasoned about things like freedom, ethical treatment of living things, etc and concluded that slavery (owning another human being) is wrong.

            You have rejected the teachings of the Bible.

            Of course reason and religion are at odds with each other. This discussion shows that the application of reason to religion makes religion look foolish. Again, you are picking and choosing which bits of the religion you want to keep.

            When one is dealing with something as inherently unreasonable as the Bible, there can’t be any other reasonable option, but to reject it. You’ve rejected lots of it, you just haven’t rejected all of it. I have rejected all of it.

          • The fact is, if we find ZERO evidence for this AMAZINGLY INCREDIBLE EVENTS when we DEFINITELY should, then we must be dubious as to their historicity.

            The story is itself unbelievably ridiculous (the plagues alone) considering the Egyptians didn’t report them at all, or any of these events.

          • Andy_Schueler

            The story is itself unbelievably ridiculous (the plagues alone) considering the Egyptians didn’t report them at all, or any of these events.

            Imagine you were an Egyptian living in these times and you witness the ten plagues and hear how the Israelites miraculously escaped Pharao´s army – I could see how you would be pissed off with Yahweh but which person in their right mind would not start following hebrew customs, especially offering sacrifices to Yahweh, simply because they fear for their lives!?

            In other words – how the hell could this possibly have happened without the Egyptians converting to Yahweh worshippers?

          • In other words – how the hell could this possibly have happened without the Egyptians converting to Yahweh worshippers?

            We don’t know the geographic scope of the plagues or how many Egyptians knew the full details about them. But a mixed multitude did leave Egypt with the Israelites (12:38). And I’ve run across atheists who say they would not accept the existence of God even if extraordinary events were to occur.

          • Andy_Schueler

            We don’t know the geographic scope of the plagues or how many Egyptians knew the full details about them. But a mixed multitude did leave Egypt with the Israelites (12:38).

            This sounds as if these stories are just totally exaggerated and mythologized if they have indeed any kernel of historical truth. If anything remotely similar to the events in Exodus happened, and the highest members of society, including the Pharaoh himself, were direct witnesses of Yahweh´s power and wrath – how could they possibly stick with their old Gods instead of converting to Yahweh worshippers simply because they feared for their lives?

            And I’ve run across atheists who say they would not accept the existence of God even if extraordinary events were to occur.

            If Atheists would be punished by plagues like those described in Exodus, while Christians kept telling us that we are punished because we don´t worship their God – we would worhsip whatever God they ask us to worship simply because we don´t want to die.

          • Andy, I’m just going to combine my responses:

            The stylistic device of juxtaposing kings / prin ces / pharaos etc. with beggars / prisoners / slaves etc. always occurs in a context where something is claimed to happen to an entire group of people, and the purpose of this stylistic device is to emphasize that indeed the entire group is meant without exceptions.

            So you agree that generally the universal language should not be taken too literally but that this particular phrasing is an exception to that rule? Yet my applying the general rule to these verses is ludicrous?

            Your examples are from entirely different cultures than the one under discussion. I think a similar example can be found in Revelation 6:15-17:

            Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”

            Following your lead we might want to take the language to mean literally everyone hid in the caves. But the context clearly indicates only the wicked are in view. Admittedly, Revelation is later than Exodus, but it is at least from a Jewish author.

            Now, I could intepret these texts to mean that only those that deserve to die will die while everyone else will live forever (example 1+3) and that the Buddha and his disciples only helped those that deserved to get help instead of helping everyone they saw indiscriminately (example 2). These interpretations would be ludicrous, in all those cases, the juxtaposition of high and low social status clearly serves to emphasize the point that the claim really applies to everyone without exceptions.

            Your third quotation literally says “Death is the end of everything.” That, combined with the fact that we know everyone dies, is what makes your alternative interpretation impossible. I don’t the think the second quotation should be taken so literally (I don’t have its context, however). Are you really prepared to say the text is wrong if Buddha did not literally help every beggar, and every king, and every slave girl?

            A further reason why these interpretations would be ludicrous is, that I simply add something to the text without any justification for doing so (“deserve to die” / “deserve to get help”) – but this is exactly what you do with Exodus, the text nowhere states that the plagues spare d those that are innocent.

            If you changed “deserved to get help” to “needed help” it might be a plausible interpretation. Exodus does speak of God executing judgments (6:6; 7:4) which implies wrong-doing by the Egyptians. In 9:20 we see some Egyptians who feared Yahweh protecting themselves and their livestock from hail. I’ve already noted how the mention of “cries” in 11:6 form a parallel with 3:7, 9 so as to imply the last plague is payback for the treatment of the Israelites.

            And how many of those did it after and as a result of these events? How many Egyptians decided to follow hebrew customs and offer sacrifices to Yahweh because they saw his power and wrath?

            A multitude (12:38).

            And which of those were not indiscriminatory between those that are guilty and those that are innocent?

            Here’s the plauge of hail (9:20-21): Those of Pharaoh’s servants who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their servants and livestock into the houses, but those who did not take the word of the Lord seriously left their servants and their cattle in the field.

            So, assuming that the events described in Exodus really happened, what greater good was accomplished by all this suffering?

            I’ve already said it is up to you to show a greater good was not accomplished. You’re the consequentialist who thinks he can make such judgments.

          • Andy_Schueler

            So you agree that generally the universal language
            should not be taken too literally but that this particular phrasing is an exception to that rule? Yet my applying the general rule to these verses is ludicrous?

            Nope. What we disagree about here has nothing to do with literalism. It is about you a) interpreting a stylistic device differently than it is interpreted in any other context and b) you adding something to the text without any justification for doing so.

            Your examples are from entirely different cultures than the one under discussion.

            On purpose, because this stylistic device transcends cultures and is universally understood to emphasize exactly what I said it emphasizes.

            I think a similar example can be found in Revelation 6:15-17:

            Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”

            Following your lead we might want to take the language to mean literally everyone hid in the caves. But the context clearly indicates only the wicked are in view.

            Taken only Revelation 6 into account, the language indeed emphasizes everyone, because it says almost right before that:
            They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
            – Revelation 6:10-11
            The word that is translated to “brothers and sisters” (adelphoi) refers to believers, “brothers and sisters of the lord”. So yes, at face value the text actually does say and emphasize that everyone hid in the caves. This is immediatly contradicted in Revelation 7 but that is not unusual for the book of Revelation because it is an incoherent mess and clearly the result of a very bad drug trip (even if I grant you that the Book of Revelation carries any actual meaning, it then clearly is 100% metaphorical – the beast is not literally a beast, the riders are not literally riders etc.pp.).

            Your third quotation literally says “Death is the end of everything.” That, combined with the fact that we know everyone dies, is what makes your alternative interpretation impossible.

            1. Yes “everything” would, taken literally, include “everyone”, but you don´t take similar language (“all”) in Exodus literally so this doesn´t count.
            2. Yes we know empirically that all people are mortal, we have no empirical knowledge to help with the interpretation of the Exodus verses, so this doesn´t count either.

            I don’t the think the second quotation should be taken so literally (I don’t have its context, however). Are you really prepared to say the text is wrong if Buddha did not literally help every beggar, and every king, and every slave girl?

            The text says they helped everyone along their way. The juxtaposition of highest and lowest members of society serves the same purpose it always does – saying “yes, really everyone”. This could have been exaggerated for rethorical effect (just like the “all” in Exodus could be an exaggeration for rethorical effect), meaning that they did not help literally everyone along their way, but they rather helped a) a lot of people and did so b) indiscriminately.
            This is how this stylistic device is always used, do you really disagree with that even in this case?

            Exodus does speak of God executing judgments (6:6; 7:4) which implies wrong-doing by the Egyptians.

            But it doesn´t speak of those Egyptians that are guilty, it speaks of the Egyptians indiscriminately. That the innocent were spared is something that you added to the text without any justification for doing so.

            I’ve already noted how the mention of “cries” in 11:6 form a parallel with 3:7, 9 so as to imply the last plague is payback for the treatment of the Israelites.

            We got rid of “eye for an eye” morality for a reason – it´s barbaric and counterproductive.

            Here’s the plauge of hail (9:20-21): Those of Pharaoh’s servants who feared the word of the Lord

            The plague was indiscriminatory, the text only says that some of Pharaoh´s servants believed Moses when he announced this particular plague and thus could save their livestock.

            I’ve already said it is up to you to show a greater good was not accomplished.

            If these events really happened, the only good that was accomplished was setting the Israelites free. That would have been trivially easy to accomplish with the powers that Yahweh allegedly has, without anyone (particular any innocent person) having to suffer.
            And this latter point remains also if we add other things to the “greater good”, including consequences for the “greater good” that are not mentioned in Exodus.

          • Taken only Revelation 6 into account, the language indeed emphasizes everyone, because it says almost right before that [Rev. 6:10-11]. The word that is translated to “brothers and sisters” (adelphoi) refers to believers, “brothers and sisters of the lord”. So yes, at face value the text actually does say and emphasize that everyone hid in the caves.

            Rev. 6:9-11 pertains to the opening of the fifth seal while Rev. 6:12-17 pertains to the opening of the sixth seal. Rev. 6:9 identifies the souls under the altar as “those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given” (i.e., martyrdom). Rev. 6:11 says that future martyrs would also die in a similar fashion: “their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been.” The righteous do not need to worry about the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:16-17).

            G. K. Beale further explains why Rev. 6:15-17 describes idolators (The Book of Revelation, p. 399-400): “That they are also judged because of idolatry is evident from the fact they ‘hide themselves in the caves and the rocks of the mountains … from the presence of the one sitting on the throne and from the wrath’ (vv 15b, 16b), which is based on a typological understanding of God’s judgment of Israelite idolaters in Isa. 2:10, 18–21: ‘You enter into the rocks and hide yourselves in the earth from the presence of the terror of the LORD.… But the idols will completely vanish. And they will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the LORD.… In that day they will cast away to the moles and bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, in order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs before the terror of the LORD … when he arises to make the earth tremble’ (a similar description from Jer. 4:29 may be included in this typological inference; cf. Jer. 4:23–28; 5:7).”

            So it seems this universal stylistic device is not so universal after all.

            This is immediatly contradicted in Revelation 7 but that is not unusual for the book of Revelation because it is an incoherent mess and clearly the result of a very bad drug trip.

            If you’re interested, I’m writing a commentary on the book on my blog now. The author is much more gifted than you give him credit for.

            1. Yes “everything” would, taken literally, include “everyone”, but you don´t take similar language (“all”) in Exodus literally so this doesn´t count.

            The context of Exodus dictates that “all” should not be taken literally there. From what little context you provide it seems that “everything” should be taken literally in that passage.

            2. Yes we know empirically that all people are mortal, we have no empirical knowledge to help with the interpretation of the Exodus verses, so this doesn´t count either.

            The point is that we take “everything” literally in that quote because of the context and our background knowledge. A different context and different background knowledge can lead to a different interpretation.

            This could have been exaggerated for rethorical effect, meaning that they did not help literally everyone along their way, but they rather helped a) a lot of people and did so b) indiscriminately. This is how this stylistic device is always used, do you really disagree with that even in this case?

            Yes. I think we need to make the distinction between discriminating on the basis of economic class and discriminating on any basis at all. While Buddha did not discriminate on the basis of class he probably discriminated on the basis of who required help, for example (i.e., he wouldn’t help someone who didn’t need help). And I don’t think such a statement should be pressed for literalism because, as you admit, exaggeration is very possible. I would also add that it sounds like a general statement (for lack of a better term) describing Buddha’s character that should not be pressed for too much precision. I would certainly not call the author a liar if I observed Buddha helping a lot of people across economic classes, but not literally helping each and every person.

            We got rid of “eye for an eye” morality for a reason – it´s barbaric and counterproductive.

            The eye-for-an-eye command is to limit punishment so that it is proportional to the crime. It is a figure of speech that does not refer to literally removing eyes.

            The plague was indiscriminatory, the text only says that some of Pharaoh´s servants believed Moses when he announced this particular plague and thus could save their livestock.

            So the plague indiscriminately killed Egyptians, but those Egyptians who feared the Lord were saved?

          • Andy_Schueler

            If you’re interested, I’m writing a commentary on the book on my blog now. The author is much more gifted than you give him credit for.

            I´ll check it out. I´m aware that the author of the book of Revelation must have been well educated and that the book uses 300+ allusions to the OT and plenty of symbolic numbers, animals, colors etc.pp.
            But so far I have seen nothing that would suggest that the text really does convey a coherent and intelligible message. There is a vast diversity of different interpretations for this book (even if you count only those that come from people that are trained in classics and biblical studies), but no evidence to counter the (very parsimonous) explanation that the author knew a lot about scripture, but was merely writing down his schizophrenic delusions or writing while being high on shrooms.

            Yes. I think we need to make the distinction between discriminating on the basis of economic class and discriminating on any basis at all. While Buddha did not discriminate on the basis of class he probably discriminated on the basis of who required help, for example (i.e., he wouldn’t help someone who didn’t need help). And I don’t think such a statement should be pressed for literalism because, as you admit, exaggeration is very possible.

            The question is, if exaggeration is used, which statement exactly is exaggerated for rethorical effect?
            I´ll try to explain with a hypothetical example. Imagine a german historian writing the following about the holocaust:
            All Jews in Germany were killed. All Jews, from beggar to banker, were rounded up and executed.

            Taken literally, this statement is obviously false, since some Jews did survive the holocaust. Assuming that “all” was used as an exaggeration for rethorical effect, and the “from beggar to banker” emphasizes that a lot of Jews were killed indiscriminately, it would be inaccurate, but not false.
            But would such an interpretation, where we assume that “all” was an exaggeration, still work for an alternate history where the Nazis didn´t try to kill all Jews but rather only those that were convicted violent criminals, independent of their social status?
            No, it wouldn´t. Now the description of the historian would not only be inaccurate (if we assume the “all” was an exaggeration), but rather actively misleading. The text doesn´t suggest any selection criterion at all beyond “being a Jew” and rather suggests indiscriminate killing through the stylistic device of juxtaposing the highest and lowest social status. I really don´t see how this stylistic device could serve any other purpose in Exodus than emphasizing either “yes, really everyone” (for a literal interpretation) or “a lot and indiscriminately” (for a non-literal interpretation). Taken by itself without further context, the Exodus verses that use this stylistic device seem to be clearly suggesting indiscriminate killing for both a literal and a non-literal interpretation. The context in Exodus might change this picture, but the only example that you so far suggested does not imply anything about guilt or innocence (see below).

            The eye-for-an-eye command is to limit punishment so that it is proportional to the crime. It is a figure of speech that does not refer to literally removing eyes.

            I know. And we got rid of this kind of punishment for a reason. What you suggested with “I’ve already noted how the mention of “cries” in 11:6 form a parallel with 3:7, 9 so as to imply the last plague is payback for the treatment of the Israelites” might be proportional in the sense that the Egyptians were made to suffer exactly what they inflicted on the Israelites. But this is barbaric and counterproductive. Killing the sons of the Egyptians because they killed the sons of the Israelites is not justice, it´s revenge. Unnecessarily cruel, completely unjust (because innocents are made to suffer as well) and counterproductive.
            This is the same attitude as in Psalm 137 – somewhat understandable given what they experienced, but still morally reprehensible and unjust.

            So the plague indiscriminately killed Egyptians, but those Egyptians who feared the Lord were saved?

            “Saved themselves” would be more appropriate. But indiscriminate wrt to guilt or innocence – absolutely.

          • But would such an interpretation, where we assume that “all” was an exaggeration, still work for an alternate history where the Nazis didn´t try to kill all Jews but rather only those that were convicted violent criminals, independent of their social status? No, it wouldn´t.

            But what if the narrative also regularly identified the Jews as violent criminals and portrayed the actions of the Nazis as justice being served? I’m borrowing ideas from elsewhere in Exodus to help interpret the two passages about the death of the firstborn that you have cited.

            I really don´t see how this stylistic device could serve any other purpose in Exodus than emphasizing either “yes, really everyone” (for a literal interpretation) or “a lot and indiscriminately” (for a non-literal interpretation).

            I take it to mean that people from all (a lot of) economic classes were killed. The indiscriminate part of the interpretation must be connected to economic class and not left unmodified.

            But this is barbaric and counterproductive. Killing the sons of the Egyptians because they killed the sons of the Israelites is not justice, it´s revenge. Unnecessarily cruel, completely unjust (because innocents are made to suffer as well) and counterproductive.

            I see nothing unjust about a murderer being executed. Exodus is not concerned with answering every moral question we raise. You write that innocents are made to suffer but the text does not say whether the firstborns suffered. Maybe they died in their sleep without suffering.

          • Andy_Schueler

            But what if the narrative also regularly identified the Jews as violent criminals and portrayed the actions of the Nazis as justice being served? I’m borrowing ideas from elsewhere in Exodus to help interpret the two passages about the death of the firstborn that you have cited.

            We have plenty of such historical accounts – and they usually are revisionist history written by the descendants of the perpetrators to whitewash the crimes of their fathers. Turkish denial of the armenian genocide, japanese denial of war crimes committed in WWII (particularly in China), Neonazis (who either deny that the holocaust happened or claim that the “Weltjudentum” was thoroughly and incorrigibly wicked and had to be stopped – holocaust denial is also widespread among persian and arabic historians (there are proportionally MUCH more professional historians that deny the holocaust then Biologists that deny universal common descent).
            Empirically, it can be demonstrated that such accounts are usually completely unreliable (and even if true, they would never justify indiscriminate slaughter, torture, slavery etc.).
            But in any case, this would not affect my example because the interpretation problem would remain.

            I take it to mean that people from all (a lot of) economic classes were killed. The indiscriminate part of the interpretation must be connected to economic class and not left unmodified.

            They are connected – this stylistic element emphasizes that something happened to everyone (or a lot of people selected indiscriminately) in a group of people. The juxtaposition is more than economic class – it is social status, which implies wealth, power, freedom, education, influence etc.pp. – and the emphasis works because this stylistic element conveys the message that no amount of (and no lack of) money, power, influence etc. has any impact on whether you are included in this group or not. Thus highlighting that it is something that happened to a group universally (either to literally all of them or many of them selected indiscriminately).

            I see nothing unjust about a murderer being executed. Exodus is not concerned with answering every moral question we raise. You write that innocents are made to suffer but the text does not say whether the firstborns suffered.

            Ok, so we assume that only those that were guilty and deserving the death penalty (which I find morally problematic per se) were killed – how does this make sense unless everyone that was guilty happened to be the firstborn son of a person that was still alive? It doesn´t.

          • The fact is, if we find ZERO evidence for this AMAZINGLY INCREDIBLE EVENTS when we DEFINITELY should, then we must be dubious as to their historicity.

            The likes of Kitchen and Hoffmeier show that there is some evidence for the Exodus account. You might find the evidence insufficient but you should at least engage with their arguments.

          • So where can I observe God? Where is the evidence for God? Then I can make my own interpretation.

            The question of God’s existence is a perrenial question. I’m sure you can read natural theology and Christian apologetics on your own.

            But there are others who do NOT interpret the Bible. It is literally, 100% true in every particular.

            Taking the Bible literally in all cases is still an interpretation (and, at times, a poor one).

            There’s no notation in the Bible that says “this part is metaphorical”. We are all left to interpret that as we will. So, why is your version correct and the others (people who take the Bible literally for example) wrong?

            I already said there is no simple rule for determining the genre of a book or passage. Read commentaries on various books of the Bible if you’d like to see how such matters are argued.

            We have similar amounts of evidence for the Great Flood, Jesus, the Gospels, etc… that is… none. Aside from the occasional location or famous person who appears (and is often misplaced i.e. Herod) there is no interpretation of the Bible that can be accurate… except that it is wholly a work of (slightly) historical fiction.

            To claim we have no evidence for Jesus and the Gospels is pure ignorance. As someone who has an apparent interest in the evolution-creationism debate, you might be surprised to know that NT scholars, such as James McGrath, find your type to be the atheist equivalent of a young earth creationist.

            I don’t need God to tell me what is moral or not. I can apply my

            own ideas about morality.

            So which meta-ethical theory is this? Subjectivism?

            You have rejected the teachings of the Bible.

            Only in the eyes of those with an all-or-nothing mindset.

            When one is dealing with something as inherently unreasonable as the Bible, there can’t be any other reasonable option, but to reject it. You’ve rejected lots of it, you just haven’t rejected all of it. I have rejected all of it.

            Should I reject the part of the Bible that narrates the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians? If you truly reject all of it then you must ignore the written sources from the Judahites and the Babylonians concerning the event. You must also ignore the archaeological evidence. Is this truly the reasonable option? Or are you just exaggerating?

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            I have read apologetic… and they are all garbage. Indeed, they all do what you are doing here. Making stuff up that supports what you want to be true. You know that the exodus didn’t happen, so you make up stuff so you can still believe the Bible and what the evidence actually shows.

            As far as Jesus, it was a fairly common name. I have little doubt, at some point, there was some itinerant preacher named Jesus. He did not perform miracles though. He was not crucified on a cross by the Romans. He did not rise from the dead three days later. That’s simply false.

            Tell me, why do you think that the story from Exodus isn’t exactly true (600,000 men become 7,000 for example), but insist that Jesus rose from the dead. Both stories have exactly the same amount of non-Biblical evidence… none.

            No, you have rejected the teachings and commands to not eat shellfish (probably, though I don’t know for sure), and to not wear clothing of two fabrics, and to give up all your possessions and money. You choose not to obey those commands, but you do choose to obey others.

            I’m talking about direct commands from God/Jesus that you don’t do. Why not? Because you choose not to. You ‘interpret’ the Bible so you don’t have to follow it exactly.

            As I said (I think twice now), just because the Titanic existed, it doesn’t make the movie 100% historically accurate. There was a Herod, but the Bible makes some significant mistakes about when. There was a Jerusalem (there is). But there still isn’t any evidence for the miracles of some itinerant preacher.

            The fundamental tenets of the Christian faith have no supporting evidence. Of course, that’s what faith actually is. Belief without evidence… indeed belief in spite of evidence.

          • As far as Jesus, it was a fairly common name. I have little doubt, at some point, there was some itinerant preacher named Jesus. He did not perform miracles though. He was not crucified on a cross by the Romans. He did not rise from the dead three days later. That’s simply false.

            And by denying that Jesus was executed on the cross you’ve lost all credibility on the matter of the historical Jesus. It is one of the best attested events of antiquity.

            Tell me, why do you think that the story from Exodus isn’t exactly true (600,000 men become 7,000 for example), but insist that Jesus rose from the dead. Both stories have exactly the same amount of non-Biblical evidence… none.

            The Biblical documents themselves are evidence. Nonetheless, the historical accuracy of the New Testament is better supported than the historical accuracy of Exodus for at least the following reasons:

            (1) The NT was written within living memory of the events it describes.

            (2) The NT was written by a number of individuals.

            (3) The NT documents support each other’s claims.

            (4) Extra-biblical sources support the NT’s claims at many points.

            (5) Archaeological evidence supports the NT’s claims at many points.

            (6) The Gospels are written in the Greco-Roman biography genre.

            No, you have rejected the teachings and commands to not eat shellfish (probably, though I don’t know for sure), and to not wear clothing of two fabrics, and to give up all your possessions and money. You choose not to obey those commands, but you do choose to obey others.

            Christians eat shellfish and wear clothes made of two fabrics because passages from Paul and Acts 15 abrogate such commands. On the question of money, if you are referring to the Rich Young Man he was told to follow Jesus literally (cf. Matt. 19:27). Such a command cannot be followed by today’s Christian. But giving money is still commended. The point is that it is not on a whim that we decide what commands to follow.

            The fundamental tenets of the Christian faith have no supporting evidence. Of course, that’s what faith actually is. Belief without evidence… indeed belief in spite of evidence.

            No, faith in God is analogous to faith in another human being. It is trust, not belief without evidence.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            And by denying that Jesus was executed on the cross you’ve lost all credibility on the matter of the historical Jesus. It is one of the best attested events of antiquity.

            And yet, there is still no evidence beyond the Bible for it. The Bible is not self authenticating. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

            As for as credibility, you lost credibility long ago. Allow me to explain why.

            he Biblical documents themselves are evidence. Nonetheless, the historical accuracy of the New Testament is better supported than the historical accuracy of Exodus for at least the following reasons:

            (1) The NT was written within living memory of the events it describes.

            (2) The NT was written by a number of individuals.

            (3) The NT documents support each other’s claims.

            (4) Extra-biblical sources support the NT’s claims at many points.

            (5) Archaeological evidence supports the NT’s claims at many points.

            (6) The Gospels are written in the Greco-Roman biography genre.

            The Bible is not self authenticating. I don’t know how you can’t see this. Just because there is SOME historical references to real people and real events does not mean that everything is 100% accurate. The Avengers takes place in New York City. Captain America mentions Hitler. The Marvel Cinematic Universe movies reference one another. Does that make them real? Of course not.

            You are forgetting a possibility… indeed the most likely possibility. Its’ not that the Gospels talked about real events, but that they copied each other and stole from prior sources of myth.

            I know you don’t believe it, but when you discount it, you lose your credibility as a scholar.

            Christians eat shellfish and wear clothes made of two fabrics because passages from Paul and Acts 15 abrogate such commands. On the question of money, if you are referring to the Rich Young Man he was told to follow Jesus literally (cf. Matt. 19:27). Such a command cannot be followed by today’s Christian. But giving money is still commended. The point is that it is not on a whim that we decide what commands to follow.

            And here’s where it is. This is how you pick and choose. You choose Paul’s commands over God’s.

            Why not listen to what Jesus says in Mathew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

            When you CHOOSE to ignore the laws of God, then you are picking and choosing what things you listen to in the Bible.

            And seriously, you cannot follow the command to give up all worldly possessions and money? God never said following him would be easy or pleasant or comfortable. He said to do it!

            I’m sorry, but you pick and choose what things you will do. You pick and choose what parts of the Bible you will follow. You don’t do what is commanded of you in every case. It’s obvious.

            I’m sorry to tell you this. But you aren’t following God’s Word. You are following the bits that you WANT to follow. It’s probably not your fault. You probably have been taught that this is OK. But a reading of the Bible shows that it’s not.

            If you choose to interpret God’s commands or listen to the the opinion of James or Paul instead of God, that’s on you. If I believed that God was real and that the Bible was the Word of God, I would follow God’s commands, not those of people.

            And, BTW, I have plenty of evidence for the faith that I place in people. It’s not blind faith. It’s supported by evidence. I generally don’t trust people without evidence. I’ve been burned by too many people.

          • And yet, there is still no evidence beyond the Bible for it.

            Actually there is in writers like Josephus and Tacitus.

            The Bible is not self authenticating.

            But it is an historical source like any other from its time and place. It can’t merely be dismissed because it’s in the Bible.

            Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

            Jesus’ existence and execution are not extraordinary claims.

            The Bible is not self authenticating. I don’t know how you can’t see this. Just because there is SOME historical references to real people and real events does not mean that everything is 100% accurate.

            I fail to see your point because I’ve actually studied the question. The NT does not just have a few historical references. It can be mined for hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of evidence that all point in the direction of historical accuracy. This may not means it’s 100% accurate but it rules out calling the Gospels historical fiction. Scholars generally recognize them as Greco-Roman biographies.

            Its’ not that the Gospels talked about real events, but that they copied each other and stole from prior sources of myth. I know you don’t believe it, but when you discount it, you lose your credibility as a scholar.

            Keep digging yourself deeper. The idea that the Gospel authors modeled their accounts on earlier myths to create fiction is another ridiculous idea buoyed by the internet. To not discount the idea would be to lose credibility among scholars. As I mentioned earlier, scholars view your ideas like scientists view a young earth creationists.

            And here’s where it is. This is how you pick and choose. You choose Paul’s commands over God’s.

            You’re assuming Paul’s commands and God’s commands conflict. In Acts 15:7-11 we read: After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith. So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”

            Why not listen to what Jesus says in Mathew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

            And what is your interpretation of the verse? The Law came to Israel and I’m a Gentile.

            And seriously, you cannot follow the command to give up all worldly possessions and money? God never said following him would be easy or pleasant or comfortable. He said to do it!

            As I noted earlier, in context, the verse means that the rich young man was to literally follow Jesus around the countryside. It is not possible to literally follow the commandment. Moreover, the command was tailored to the individual man. Note how in Luke 10:25ff. Jesus is asked the same question but does not tell the man to give up all worldly possessions and money.

            I’m sorry to tell you this. But you aren’t following God’s Word. You are following the bits that you WANT to follow.

            Give me a break. I know sometimes a part of me wants to sin. Yet I don’t suddenly decide to change my interpretation of the Bible.

            If I believed that God was real and that the Bible was the Word of God, I would follow God’s commands, not those of people.

            And, with your wooden literalism, all-or-nothing thinking, and crackpot Jesus-myth theory, you’d probably be a fundamentalist (replacing the Jesus-myth theory with evolution denial and young earth creationism). I think I can follow God without falling into such traps.

            And, BTW, I have plenty of evidence for the faith that I place in people. It’s not blind faith. It’s supported by evidence.

            My point is that Christian faith is not blind faith either.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            Your response shows that Christianity is a blind faith.

            Thanks for the discussion.

  • Peter

    Jonathon, I didn’t find this in Unholy Questions but my bibles say this great god killed all the animals including the horses. If so, when the Egyptians chased after Moses where did they get horses for their chariots? Also, all of these proto-Israelites lived in Egypt and obviously spoke Egyptian. If so, where the 10 Commandments written in hieroglyphics? Just asking.

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  • Of course we know today that the exodus account is a compete fabrication. The Bible Unearthed revealed that there is no archaeological evidence supporting the enslavement in Egypt, the exodus, the wandering and the military conquest of Canaan.

  • Vincent Torley

    Jonathan:

    Sorry to come to this controversy rather late. A few quick points:

    1. The number of men who left Israel at the time of the Exodus was closer to 5,000 than 603,550, according to Professor Colin Humphreys, who argues that the word “elep” which is commonly translated “thousand”, actually means “clan”. See http://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/serve_pdf_free.php?filename=SCB+12-1+Humphreys.pdf

    2. The plagues of Egypt were for the most part natural phenomena – e.g the Nile turning to blood is due to large concentrations of rust in the water. God need not have sent them. Rather, they may have been foreseen by him as occurrences in a year when all the natural cycles lined up against Egypt. God’s action, on this view, lay not in sending the plagues but in rescuing Israel (but not Egypt) from the worst consequences of them.

    3. A number of eminent authorities accept the Exodus. I mentioned Professor Colin Humphreys above; there’s also Professor James Hoffmeier and Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen, to name just a few.There’s also Professor Lawrence Schiffman. If you’re going to say the Exodus is ridiculous, you need to explain why these experts don’t think so.

    • Why?> Because they are maximalist presuppositional Christians of course! (Read someone like Philip Davies on Kitchen)

      The plagues ALL being natural phenomena which happened almost concurrently as described is entirely implausible. The Bible claims they were invoked by Aaron and Moses and that the Egyptian magicians copied them. How do you explain this?

      Do you want me to list all the miracle claims of other religions which you disbelieve and show you the double standards? None of the claims:

      1) are remotely probable (esp in conjunction) the way they are claimed
      2) fit with actual known history

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