Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 9

We now turn to the post-flood world and learn more about God's "promises" and find out that Noah could be a bit testy when he was hungover.

Genesis 9:2
In this verse God says every living creature of the earth and every bird will be terrified of mankind. This is kind of odd because there are quite a few land animals and birds that are not at all terrified of humans, especially in places like the Galapagos where, up until recently, there was no human presence. People can just walk right up to frigate birds on the islands and they won't fly away. Similarly, dodo birds who lived in isolation on the island of Mauritius had no natural fear of humans and were easily hunted into extinction. It's almost like animals that were around humans evolved to fear them because of selective pressure caused by easily being killed by them. Nah, that can't be it. Evolution is just a fairy tale for grown-ups.

Just look at how terror-stricken all these animals are!

Genesis 9:4-5
Prohibition is made against eating bloody meat. It would have been easy for the ancients to conclude that blood was the source of a creature’s life essence as any time they observed major blood loss it would have looked like something’s life was literally draining out of it. We now know what blood actually is and does.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 8

We now move on to the final chapter dealing with Noah's Flood. Here we begin to see, among other things, how the timeline of the Flood makes for some odd circumstances.

Genesis 8:1-3
Here we have another term, “remembered,” (zakar) that has to be given an expanded meaning because it can’t possibly mean what it looks like it means. Otherwise it might imply that Yahweh does not possess timeless omniscience, but rather has to rely on his memory of past events. It's just another anthropomorphism for the stupid people that can't grasp that concept without using human-like descriptions.

It is noteworthy that the writer of this passage seems to think that by having a wind blow across the land and closing the floodgates in the sky, the waters will just recede. In his view of cosmology that might have worked just like it did before. In reality, no amount of wind is going to just make nearly two times the currently extant volume of water on the earth just disappear.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 7

More fun with the Great Flood in this installment.

Genesis 7:1
As the narrative switches back from "Elohim" (God) to “Yahweh” (LORD), we find out that Noah is godly compared to everyone else around…again. Although in fairness, it is a different word this time (tsaddiyq in lieu of tamim). Why would Moses suddenly perfer to use a different name for God and a different word to describe Noah's character? Well, if it turns out we're dealing with two or more different authors, we would seem to have our explanation.

Here the instructions concerning how many animals to take are modified. Back in 6:19 Elohim told Noah it was to be two of every kind of living creature from all flesh. Now Yahweh tells Noah here that it’s actually seven of every clean animal and seven of every kind of bird, but only two of every unclean animal that’s not a bird. This is odd for a few reasons. First, back in 6:20 Noah was specifically told by Elohim that birds and cattle (a clean animal) will come to him “two of every kind.” Second, we were told in 6:22 that Noah did all that Elohim commanded him. Here, though, Yahweh changes that and adds, “You must take” not they “will come to you.” Later the narrative will switch back to emphasizing just two, oddly enough at the same time the writer begins referring to the deity as "Elohim". It’s almost as if there’s one source who likes referring to God as “Yahweh” who’s concerned that animals will be available for sacrifice after the flood and another source using “Elohim” to refer to God who doesn’t share those same concerns. But that can't be because Jesus and the apostles said Moses wrote the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 6:5ff.

Now we come to the Flood narrative and this is where things start to get kind of silly. I'm going to deal with this from the standpoint of those who take these passages literally. However, the question I have for Christians who don't take these passages literally is, what's the point of all this if it's just "metaphorical" and how do you know your metaphorical interpretation is the right one?

Again Yahweh comes across very human in this passage. He has to observe the wickedness as though he didn’t already know it was coming in the first place. He experiences regret and grief over his actions. Finally, in a rather petulant manner he decides to wipe out not only mankind, but also land animals and birds. Like a child who’s angry that his model airplane didn’t turn out exactly the way he wanted, he’s just going to pout about it and then smash the thing and go do something else.

This is Yahweh’s first recorded killing in the Bible and he appears determined to do it in grand fashion. He could have started with the fratricidal Cain, but instead he decided to actually protect him from retributive justice. He could have made an example of the proud and murderous Lamech, but he still withheld his justice. He could have struck down the violent, half-breed Nephilim. No, instead he waits until things get so bad he has to just kill absolutely everything in an incredibly overcomplicated manner. He appears to be under certain constraints when it comes to how he can accomplish this. It would seem that he can’t merely make all the bad people just disappear. He can't just magic all the wicked people straight to hell and make everything over again. No, he apparently has to put on a show, allowing theologians to later make guesses about why.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 5:1 – 6:4

We move now to some begats. People often like to skip over these when they read the Bible, but often these can present some real oddities and problems. This series of begetting is no exception.

There are a few odd things about this passage that recounts the descendants of Adam through Seth. First, the passage strangely seems to treat the previous four chapters of Genesis as non-existent, almost like it was a reboot or was from a different source. Seth comes across as a firstborn son and Cain is completely forgotten about.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Canon Revisited: a response

I suspect that most Christians regard the Bible as a single book and take for granted how and when those constituent parts were composed, much less how and when those 66 (or more?) books came to be collected and arranged into a single book. I myself became more aware of this process several years ago when I began looking into the claim that the King James Version was supposedly the only un-corrupted English translation. Bound up in that issue was, of course, the question of why certain books were included in the Bible and why others were left out. Not long after, I became embroiled in a lengthy online debate with a Roman Catholic over the question of canonicity. For those not aware, Catholics include some books in their Bibles that Protestants do not.

After the debate, which I felt I had "won", I came away with the sneaky suspicion that there were apparent weaknesses in the Protestant argument that my Catholic opponent had failed to point out. Perhaps the reason why that person didn't point out those weaknesses was because their argument was in many ways susceptible to the same sorts of critiques, namely the question of authority. My Catholic opponent would've done well to expose the fact that when I said that the Bible as a whole and the books individually attest to their own authority, my argument was completely circular. Of course, had my Catholic friend done that, I would've countered that relying on a supposedly infallible church body to decide what belongs in the canon only introduces one more participant into the circle.

I revisited the subject a few years later when I was teaching part of a Sunday School series on the doctrine of Scripture and the topic I was to teach on was the canon. Again I discovered the same problems, but this time I sought resolutions to those difficulties. What I discovered was that even Protestants within the Reformed tradition disagreed with one another over how best to go about addressing those issues and, in truth, none of them could satisfactorily escape the problems of circularity and subjectivity. This was certainly one of the things that helped precipitate my questioning of other doctrines with problems I had been brushing aside and ignoring.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I revealed to my church leadership that I no longer believed. When I mentioned in a discussion that the question of canonicity was one of the problems that led me to begin questioning the claims of Christianity, I was told that there was "more recent scholarship" that would address those questions. This, of course, raises the question of why it took 2,000 years for theologians in Christ's chruch to come up with a reasonable justification for the belief that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are the right ones.

What follows is my written response to that "more recent scholarship" which turned out to be a book entitled Canon Revisited, written by a New Testament professor and president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. I wrote this response after the book was presented to me and I returned the book along with this response, so I no longer have a copy in my possession. Keep that in mind if and when you decide to comment.

On a personal note, I think it's noteworthy that after I took the time to read this book and type up this response, the person who sent the book to me decided they no longer felt the desire to "cross swords" over this issue and instead just wanted to "express [his] love." In all honesty, it's hard for me not to see that as little more than an emotionally manipulative cop-out, even though I don't doubt the sincerity of the expression itself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 4

By the time we get to this passage it seems evident that Yahweh created Adam and Eve with not only the ability to speak Hebrew, but also the ability to employ complicated wordplay within that language. In 2:23 the man uses a play on ishah (woman) and ish (man); in 3:20 he uses a rather complex play on khavvah (Eve), khay/khayyah (living), and khayah (to live); and now in 4:1 Eve uses wordplay on the sound of the verb qaniti (I have created/obtained) and the name qayin (Cain).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Flat tire urban legend redux

Jay, Mark, Mateo and Lucas - everybody called Lucas "LT" because those were his initials and he sort of resembled a certain Giants linebacker - all met each other freshman year while attending Liberty University and became good friends. Often they would try to register for the same classes when convenient, given their majors. One semester they were all taking the same Chemistry class and had all done pretty well on all the material up to that point. Going into the final all four had a solid A in the class. In fact, the four were so confident going into the final that they decided to head over to Virginia Beach and party with some friends on the weekend, even though the final was on Monday. They had a great time, but they overslept and didn't make it back to Lynchburg until early Monday morning.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I've been such a fool

Many will be familiar with Psalm 14:1 and, of course, since my apostasy I've had it quoted to me. After reflecting on this verse a bit, I now think the people who say the godless are fools may be right after all.

One of the reasons often bandied about to explain why brilliant scientists and other egghead professor types try to push their secular agendas in fields like anthropology, sociology, archeology, biology, psychology, cosmology, geology and other areas that can make claims that run counter to sacred texts is that these folks are just trying to convince themselves and everybody else that there is no God. They desperately don’t want there to be a God and the reason they and other non-theists don’t want there to be a God is really quite simple. They don’t want to have to feel like any divine judge can hold them accountable for all their vile wickedness. That’s the whole motivation behind secular humanism and atheism, right?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 3

I've already dealt with a few of the issues pertaining to Genesis 3 in my discussion of Genesis 2, but there are a few other things that come up in specific verses that I address in what follows.

Genesis 3:5
Many English translations take the plural participle translated “knowing” as a substantival participle functioning as a predicate adjective in the sentence and give the translation, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” However, other translations recognize that it could be (and mostly likely is, given an examination of parallel constructions) an attributive adjective modifying “elohim”. In that case “elohim” would be a numerical plural and should be rendered “gods” like in the KJV, NET and alternate reading of the HCSB. The point is the serpent would be telling the woman that she would be like “gods”. If this is the case, she must, therefore, have had some frame of reference for the idea of there being more than one god or at least lesser gods. We have here even more evidence of the writer(s) having either a polytheistic or at least a henotheistic understanding of gods and we're only in Genesis 3. This raises the question: what other gods would Eve have known about?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 2

Continuing the series I started earlier this week...

Genesis 2:8-17
In the creation account of 2:4-3:24 the deity is referred to as Yahweh Elohim (usually shown as "LORD God" in most English translations) rather than merely Elohim (God) as in chapter 1. The double identification of the deity, found eleven times in this section, occurs almost nowhere else in the Pentateuch (the sole exception being Exodus 9:30 where the Greek equivalent of this construction is curiously absent from the Septuagint). It has been suggested that someone inserted "Elohim" into a text that previously only had "Yahweh" as a means of softening the transition between the creation accounts of 1:1-2:3 and the one found in 2:4-3:24. Given that this is the only place in Genesis where this construction is used, that certainly seems plausible. Otherwise we're left wondering why in the world Moses would've suddenly switched gears on us, not that Bible expositors haven't provided quite a few guesses.

Anyway, Yahweh Elohim plants a garden/orchard, makes a man and places him there to work, care for and maintain it. Why? If we don’t bring all of our interpretive baggage with us, the obvious reason seems to be because Yahweh wants to be able to eat from it, but he doesn’t want to have to work it himself. He does allow man to eat from the trees in the orchard, however, and this is for the man’s provision and wages for his services. Man is essentially Yahweh’s slave, made from dirt. This would fit with most of the other Ancient Near Eastern creation myths like the Atrahasis Epic, which has the gods forming man from clay in order to serve them in tending to creation because they don’t want to do it themselves. Again, Yahweh seems to be failing to distinguish himself from the other gods of the Ancient Near East.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 1

As an homage to the Great Agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll and his work Some Mistakes of Moses, I've decided to publish my own remarks on the Pentateuch under the heading "Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe." Star Wars fans will get the "expanded universe" reference. This series will begin with Genesis and go through Deuteronomy. I don't pretend to be an expert and this is simply a vehicle for disseminating my personal notes on certain passages in these books of the Bible that I find problematic for those who hold to a doctrine of inerrancy akin to the one put forward in the Chicago Statement. Christians with a more robust view of scripture probably won't have any real problems getting around many of the issues I am likely to point out. Those with a more traditional view will take issue from the outset.