Old Testament Peculiarities part 1 of 3
Much of the Old Testament contains odd and unrealistic stories much of which does not support the idea of a benevolent God. Nor do they make the idea that God had much say if any, in the writing of the bible credible. Most Christians avoid the issue by saying the Old Testament is no longer relevant. Some even say that they were written in a time when humans more inclined to be evil, yet people still do nasty things to each other sometimes far more subtle and corruption is far more widespread than it probably was in the Old Testament times. There is no justification given for why these people were evil, just that they were evil. One of the oldest rules of writing is show, do not tell, a rule the bible does not always follow when trying to make points about everyone being evil. We are only told they are evil from the point of view of a presumably Israelite author, who had a typically negative view of their neighbors although this was not entirely without reason given the Babylonian exile, trouble with their neighbours invading periodically and according to the bible, enslavement by Egypt as well (more on that later). The bible would suggest that all the members of these nations, right down to the smallest infants were evil because of what those who held power in those nations did to the Israelite’s. This is typical of the sort of thinking of parents pass down to their children after they have been oppressed by another nation. This leads those children to express a similar dislike for anyone from the oppressive nation, even if the people they direct their hate towards had nothing to do with the actions of their predecessors or their countrymen. This thinking does not seem worthy of an omniscient and all-powerful God. There is no way to prove that if those infants in these stories had been removed from their society and brought up with the Israelite’s and treated the same as Israelite children then they would not have grown up hating the Israelite’s but it is probable as a hypothetical situation that if treated well they would have borne no ill feelings towards the Israelite’s.
It is important to note with the Old Testament that while the authors presumably all believed in the same God, they had different interpretations of who he was leading into subtle and sometimes glaring differences in God’s personality from one book to another, or sometimes such as in Psalms, within the same book. Psalms such as Psalm 23, often cited by evangelicals when they spot a potential convert, depict a nicer deity than some of the other authors such as the author of Kings. Despite Richard Dawkin’s commentary on the Old Testament God, – who states in his book The God Delusion- “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (Dawkin’s is hardly what I call the subtle type)- there are moments where the author of some of the Old Testament books thinks God is merciful or compassionate in contrast to what some of the other authors thought. Psalm 116:5 gives us a different view of God compared to some of the ways he is portrayed in the Old Testament.
“Gracious is the Lord and righteous; yes, our God is merciful”- Psalm 116:5
God’s emotions in the Old Testament are decidedly human. He gets angry and destroys some of his subjects on at least one occasion in a rage (almost all in the case of the flood). He becomes biased towards certain groups of people (such as the Israelites, at least until they annoy him). He has at least one moment of regret just before the Genesis flood. He loves making things but gets extremely frustrated when they do not work properly (while many people can attest to this we are not perfect so this is presumably not applicable to God), when they do work he enjoys the things he makes at least until they stop working the way he wants and sometimes throws them out, people included. He loves as humans love but sometimes appears to hate as well, gets jealous as a human does and desires recognition to extreme degrees that for a person would be considered unhealthy. Oddly, God does not like some of creation very much as some animals are described as unclean. According to some theologians God decided some animals were deemed as unclean because they did not fit to a pattern, or kind, as those animals that the Israelite’s were more accustomed to.
On God’s emotions
If God is 100% good, why does he get jealous? Christian’s claim he is good but rarely if ever in literature and in reality jealousy results in something good. In fact in most of literature jealousy results in something bad happening, Shakespeare’s plays for one are notorious for characters doing this and they usually do not realize they are doing it until it is far too late (hence the concept of the tragic hero). Usually half the characters, or the main one at the very least, end up dead by the last act as a result. Nothing good comes from jealousy.
Many Christians counter this by saying that God’s jealousy is like that of a husband or wife that has been cheated by their spouse and that is righteous jealousy. How is this jealousy? Anger at a betrayal is not quite the same. Righteous jealousy is a complete and total oxymoron. Either way, rarely if ever does jealousy promote feelings of goodwill toward the subject of one's jealousy (e.g. a jealous spouse will likely not feel like being kind to someone they think is flirting with their partner).
Paul, despite my dislike of some of what he writes, provides a wonderful passage on what love is. Commonly known as the love passage, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 reads as follows:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
God is said to be love, and evangelists sometimes substitute love for God when reading this passage. Yet God is shown to be boast, get jealous and is easily angered in multiple instances. Also, if he was not self seeking would not desire the amount of worship commonly given to him and punish those who fail to do this by condemning them. While not keeping a record of wrongs for Christians, God does keep a record of wrongs committed by non-believers according to the Bible.
– Also on God’s anger, how does a deity who has planned everything and is omniscient get angry? Usually one gets angry because of circumstances that are beyond their control or which they feel is beyond their control (not applicable to God). God getting angry is kind of like suggesting a fiction author could go into a rage at something a character in their book does and then throw the book in the fire. Since they are the one writing and they know everything that is going to happen this makes no sense. This is assuming God is omniscient.
This leads on to the highly controversial topic of predestination previously mentioned before on this blog, some denominations agree with the idea, some do not. If our fates are planned however, this means God knows our fates before we are born, knows who and who will not go to heaven and according to predestination God chooses us, not the other way around. So in other words, your fate is already decided.
Why does God resort to killing? Surely there are other ways to resolve relationship issues caused by sin. I do not understand why the bible would glorify this either because there is nothing glorious about killing something that is completely incapable of defending itself against you. It also makes the idea that some believers have, that the Bible is God’s love letter to humanity sound very wrong indeed. While this could be argued of the New Testament except for Revelations, I have doubts about how romantic or interment a letter would sound if it contained the level of violence described in the Old Testament, it was not always solely humanity that was committing or orchestrating the violence either.
Strange Moments in the Old Testament
The following will span the next two entries of this blog and will only focus on some of the stranger moments that occur in the Old Testament with the primary focus being on the most well known ones.
The Story of Isaac
This was a story I also learnt very early on as a Christian, at the time I never questioned it along with anything else theology or Bible related that I heard during that time. Here are a couple of things of note from that story:
Isaac is reduced to a total idiot in the story where Adam is told to sacrifice him. In the narrative, Isaac was apparently totally oblivious to the his father’s intent to sacrifice him even as he was being bound, one suspects that at that point at least Isaac may have queued to what was going on. Instead he keeps asking Abraham where the sacrifice is, not realizing it is actually himself even as he is being bound (by which stage Isaac seems so stupid Abraham was probably feeling less that concerned for his well being). Also, Isaac was totally unfazed at nearly being stabbed by his father; one would suspect that he would have been understandably quite upset afterwards.
What did Abraham tell Sarah? In context she has desired a son her whole life, then one day her husband says that he has been ordered by God to sacrifice that son, one would think Sarah would not have been pleased and possibly divorced Abraham there, and then, the test was hardly very kind on Sarah. Did her husband lie about what he was going to do, which would make the story even worse. Why would God demand something from Abraham that was undoubtedly traumatic, assuming Abraham loved Isaac.
Why was Abraham tested when God already knew the outcome? Some have theorized that an evil spirit, not God, told Abraham to sacrifice his son and God stopped the plan from being carried out at the last moment, which is more feasible