I had the opportunity to watch “The Bible Rules” a new series on the History Channel 2. This is about the lesser known bits of the bible, the parts that many Christians and Jews have no idea exist since most of their leaders will judiciously ignore them in favor of the happy fuzzy parts. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the nonsense they had last year, “The Bible” (reviewed by me here, and here) which was recently repackaged into a movie, “Son of God” to get even more money from theists.
As expected, there are TrueChristians who are sure that the series is wrong wrong! Wrong!, and not interpreted in the “right” way (just do an internet search on the series and a page or two in you can see the frothing). It’s hilarious to see them horrified that God wasn’t mentioned until a whole 5 minutes into the show “So deficient of Godly teaching is this series that it’s not until 5 minutes and 30 seconds into the first episode that God is even mentioned although Moloch is discussed almost from the opening words.” I guess mentioning the Bible and quoting the Bible isn’t enough for some TrueChristians; it all has to be about them. I wonder must God be mentioned every, hmmm, 5.34 seconds to be Christian enough? Of course, this TrueChristian is also in shock over the new Cosmos series too since it dares to tell the truth and show their religion as it is, warts and all.
I’m only one episode in, “The Curse” (can see it here ,may not be visible to folks outside the US. It autolaunches with soun.d. You can also get close captioning on it) but the presentation seems to take one stand, that these strange laws, most abhorrent to many modern humans, are simply evidence of the ancient cultures and how they lived. This is a valid viewpoint that I have no problem with as an atheist. It does appear to lead to much discomfort on the part of the various religious leaders whose comments are in the show. It may indeed be my subjective view of how they act, but there are many too-wide smiles, and nervous laughter when certain verses are discussed. There is a lot of “oh how silly these laws are” whilst trying to make believe the god supposedly ordering those laws exists. It comes down to: do you believe that the bible is accurate when it quotes God as directly giving these laws, or do you want to claim that these laws are completely human in basis, being how they reacted to a world that was often lethal and mysterious to them? The series description says that “We find weird rules, revealing rules, curiosity-inspiring rules—and these rules, which will help us understand history, are presented in informative, surprising and reaffirming ways.” Reaffirming to who? For me, this show is indeed reaffirming that the claims of the bible and its believers are nonsense.
Some of the commenters who are on this show are the “Interfaith Amigos” a rabbi, a UCC pastor and a Sufi imam; Michael Coogan, a lecturer at the Harvard Divinity School (a quote from him “These books were written over the course of many centuries, and like all other books, they reflect the presuppositions and prejudices, the ideas and ideals of their authors (almost entirely men) and of the societies in and for which they were written.” ); Rev. Bill Golderer (ordained the first gay Presby minister, much to the horror of other Christians who saw him in this show), Rev. Brian McLaren; Salman Hameed; Patrick McGovern (he’s one of the folks who help Dogfish Head Brewery come up with their stranger things); Rev. Dr. Jaqueline Lewis; Thomas Cahill; Dr. Jacob L. Wright; Seth Sanders; Shawna Dolansky; Rev. James Hamilton; Rabbi Brad Hirschfield; Eric H. Cline; and others. Most of these are apologists who want to place a more modern spin on what their god “really” meant.
Here are the verses reviewed in this episode and some thoughts on them.
“Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Moloch.” – Leviticus 18 (right before the admonitions against homosexual sex) it appears that they are using the ESV version of the bible for this. Of course, some Christians are sure that this version is “a lie of the devil”, declaring so on their stereotypically badly designed websites. Note for TrueChristians: your claims don’t become more “true” because of the number of colors and fonts you use.
Much shock is shown when child sacrifice is mentioned. “Who or what would demand the sacrifice of a child?” Of course, anyone who knows that bible knows that the god mentioned there does exactly this (Genesis 22, perhaps in Exodus 22: 29-30 considering first born sons the same as livestock, Judges 11, and perhaps when this god kills David’s son rather than David, 2 Samuel 12, as a replacement sacrifice). The show does call anything but Christianity and Judasim a “cult” which I am guessing is a sop to modern theists, but they are religions just like ones now. There is some evidence that child sacrifice was practiced, and it seems that it was not an unthinkable act throughout out all of the religions of the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean. Valuable sacrifices were made to all gods of that time, blood and life being the most important. They were all “horrible demanding” deities. In this segment, Rev. McLaren seems to have a problem not laughing through his interview about child sacrifice. It strikes me as the uncomfortable laughter of someone who really doesn’t want to talk about something but has found himself on tape. We have Golderer and McLaren sure that Abraham was horrified by his god’s demand, but we have no idea what Abraham felt because the bible says he did exactly what God asked without question, no emotions mentioned at all.. We do have a Christian pastor who is sure that God can ask you do the awful and that you should do it (around 7 minutes in). Rev. Dr. Jaqui Lewis is sure that what god says is what should be done. In my opinion, this is a rather peculiar attitude for someone who claims to be for social justice. It is the claim of the pastors that the A&I story was a change in paradigm, that God was saying we don’t sacrifice anymore. I do not find that to be the case at all. There is nothing that says that child sacrifice is wrong and primitive, it only says that God was testing Abraham to see if he would do anything that God said and that he needed Isaac in the days to come.
“Whoever curses father and mother should be put to death” – Exodus 21
Again, the show presents this as a cultural thing, ancient peoples believed that curses were real. A valid answer but a problem when one wants to believe that supernatural powers are real and gods are real. People may have believed in curses but is there any evidence these curses worked? It doesn’t seem so. We do have curses recorded from the ancient period but nothing shows that the curses were any more effective then than they are now, not at all. No more effective than spells or prayers. The show claims that “Thousands of years ago, there were people who used magical spells to change the course of events.” There were stories about people who did this, but again no evidence of this being true, no more than Athena showing up at Troy.
“A man or woman who is a medium or wizard shall be put to death” – Leviticus 20
So, are wizards real? Well, Dr. Dolansky chuckles when she speaks of them not being a “Harry Potter” type of wizard. Being that a Harry Potter type of wizard does spells to change things, it seems that the bible is indeed talking about just that type, changing sticks to snakes, etc. As they mention, belief in witchcraft was common, even the Code of Hammurabi mentions it. Belief in witchcraft continues now in the less educated parts of the world where people are murdered because of such ignorant beliefs. The difference between magic done by “us” and magic done by “them” was who was invoked. Judeo/Islamo/Christian god magic was fine; every other god magic was bad. In that no wizards seem to have ever existed, this again is evidence that the bible is nothing but a work by humans who did have beliefs but nothing to support them.
“One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death. The whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer.” – Leviticus 24
Of course this brings up visions of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” with the women stoning the man who said “That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah. ” and the high priest….
Adept ridicule aside, stoning is a horrible thing, a slow painful death where you are buried so you can’t get away and smashed with rocks until “her head is pretty much gone” as the one commenter states. Rev. Hamilton compares it with a firing squad, in that no one knows which rock killed the person, that it is the whole tribe that is participating in “justice”. Hamilton is a Southern Baptist and seems to be the least liberal of the apologists on the show.
The show does bring up a theory, that stoning by the entire tribe shows loyalty to the tribe or at least those in power. If you don’t throw a rock, then you are sympathetic to the blasphemer and you therefore can’t be trusted. It sounds a lot like McCarthy damning by association. I would also posit that stoning makes everyone responsible, therefore no one can speak out against those in power, the idea that “you are no better than us, so who are you to say we are wrong” Golderer seems to agree in the way that it does keep people in line “It sounds barbaric but there is an accountability in here.” Yes, it is barbaric and the accountability is nothing more than fear and guilt used to manipulate people.
The show says that only three countries still routinely use stoning, Iran, Pakistan and Somalia, which points out just how ridiculous it is to follow a book that commends such actions. It also said that: “The bible rule says a lot how an ancient community protected itself, before we pass judgment, we must consider the context in which this rule practiced.” Yes, we can consider the context, and it is the context of a superstitious ignorant people who were afraid of anyone not like them. For a book that purports to be the direct word of god, it shows us that it is nothing more than the rules of men. The excuse is that humans were living in a more violent world so that excuses their actions. It may but it does not excuse the supposed actions of an omniscient and omnipotent god that should not be beholden to human actions. If it exists, it could have said such things are wrong and smote anyone who disagreed. Yes, I know that many theists will use the excuse that we can’t know God’s ways to avoid the problems with a god that evidently needs harm and evil to function.
Addendum – a classic American short story is “The Lottery“, the events leading up to a stoning.
“Nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials” – Leviticus 19 (also where it says don’t plant two different kinds of seed in a field, mate different kinds of animals together – mules are evil , and slavery is still cool with this god.)
And thus polyester cotton blends are sinful. Hirschfield and Hamilton mention that mixing things means “impurity”, which leads to the idea of the special people. The show compares this idea of purity and special fabrics to flags or gang colors, an ability to know “us” and “them”.
“You shall not revile the God or a leader of your people” – Exodus 22
This one goes into how politics now and then are different. Not so much, considering how many conservative Christians think that imprecatory prayer work against people, especially political figures. I guess the tea partiers haven’t read this part of their bible. It also makes unfounded claims about King David, which have no evident to support them at all. One more important part of the bible that cannot be shown to be real, no fantastic palaces or temples or piles of foreskins. They do bring up an interesting point, that we now interpret the bible differently, to say that this god has given us “inalienable rights” which the bible does not do at all. The bible gives no rights other than to those who believe in the “right” way, and even then, only to men. In the ancient world, power came from gods and kings were essentially priests, the vessels of that power (Romans 13 has that too). This segment also shows that curses are attributed to natural disasters as “just so” stories of why things happen in the context of believing in magic.
I am pleased that the Rev. McLaren does acknowledge that the bible’s rules appear to be there to keep things the status quo, that gods are invoked to keep the people in their place. Now, I do guess that he will say that not’s what his god really meant but it’s just a part of the bible that is attributable to humans that he can ignore.
“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19
This again seems to be away to separate the “chosen people” from everyone else. Which is expected from humans but doesn’t make sense coming from an omnipotent and omniscient being. It would know who is who, only humans would need such concepts. A problem with this command is that cutting of the body is commanded by this god as a way to distinguish Israelites from others. This god is no different from Baal or the rest. Rev. Edward L. Beck, a Roman Catholic priest, states that one should not alter the body or inflict pain and suffering because his god has made it. I guess circumcision doesn’t count or isn’t what God “really” meant? I do find it interesting that Rev. Beck is a Passionist, a group of Catholics who focus on the death of Jesus Christ which included required mortification of the flesh. For someone who is supposed to wear a rough woolen habit, he has a snazzy sweater on.
“Put away your crooked speech and put devious talk far from you.” – Leviticus 25 Actually it’s from Proverbs 4. Which also has that one should pursue wisdom and insight.
“Whatever your lips utter, you must diligently perform.” – Deuteronomy 23, where you can also find one bit saying slavery is wrong since one is not to return the person to the master. It also has that no one with a mangled penis or testicles can be a believer or a bastard. And where this god might step in your poop if you fail to cover it up.
The show claims that in the ancient world, one was more closely held to what one said. In this modern world, one can say more with fewer repercussions which is true with the larger degree of anonymity one can have. In a society that was largely verbal, one’s words were considered their bond. That can be true but we’ve had writing for a very long time, e.g. cuneiform tablets which do have contracts and laws written on them. We’ve had courts for a long time, even in the bible so Rev. McLaren’s claim that words are so important since there were no courts seems a bit in error. It seems that again these laws supposedly from a god are nothing more that human. Words are indeed important but not magically so. It can also have bad repercussions if one thinks that one must do what one promised no matter what; Jephtha’s daughter discovered that.
The next episode is about sex and the Bible. Per the blurb for the next episode: “Sex is a major focus for the Bible rules, and in this episode, we find some of the more surprising commands in the Bible, including one that warns a woman against grabbing the crotch of an attacking man in order to defend her husband. The penalty? If she grabs, she gets her hand cut off. For people today, that sounds harsh.” Why yes, it does sound harsh 😉 . This should be interesting. 🙂
12 thoughts on “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – Cue uncomfortable smiles, History Channel 2’s new series “The Bible Rules””
Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
This is a long post, and the video it links to is not a light comedy… both are worth the time IMO.
My head is still doing little back-flips to hear the History Channel has something honestly critiquing the bible. It’s the End Times, i swear!
surely seems to be something odd going on 🙂
Re: Child Sacrifice.
I seem to recall reading that the Church in Days of Yore consecrate a church building or other edifice by entombing a child within the walls?
indeed. you can find reference here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/sacrifice.html Just ctrl +F and type “foundation” in to find the references. Here’s one: “When Christianity was introduced to Rügen, they wanted to build a church in Vilmnitz. However, the builders could not complete their task, because whatever they put up during day was torn down again by the Devil that night. Then they purchased a child, gave it a bread-roll in one hand, a light in the other, and set it in a cavity in the foundation, which they quickly mortared shut. Now the Devil could no longer disrupt the building’s progress.
It is also said that a child was entombed in the church at Bergen under similar circumstances.
•Source: A. Haas, “Das eingemauerte Kind,” Rügensche Sagen und Märchen (Stettin: Johs. Burmeister’s Buchhandlung, 1903), no. 195, p. 173.
and here: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2357&context=ocj
I’d caution against referencing a book titled “Rügen Sayings and Myths”—especially since the author himself presents these stories as a compilation of the island’s literary history. In fact, the opening chapter begins:
“In pagan times, the Hertha castle near Stubbenkammer was the dwelling place of the goddess Hertha.”
Yep, totally agree with you. It is a book of stories, not facts. However, I do find it curious that it seems that the Christians were the ones telling such stories about how a child in the foundation keeps the Devil away.
But does the story originate with Christians? The opening sentence (“When Christianity was introduced to Rügen…”) strikes me as propaganda. The only question is: from whose perspective? Are later Christians mocking the superstitious beliefs of earlier pagan converts, or were the last holdouts disseminating rumors about early Christians? For instance, The Nine Mountains at Ramblin tells the tale of a giant so vexed by the construction of this very church dedicated to the Christian god that he deliberately sets out to destroy it with a rock (which misses the mark).
Maybe this story can be successfully leveraged against apologists employing the “minimal facts argument” for the resurrection—i,e, historical claims which include embarrassing admissions reflect honest reporting rather than creative storytelling. 🙂
yep, the source is problematic. But as you said, it could be used as an interesting lever.
I’ve enjoyed the two episodes so far, as it provides context for the laws. The more you examine the context, the less of a role divine inspiration would seem to play and the more the Bible starts to look like simply another human invention.
“The Curse” demonstrates how pervasive superstition and prejudice were in antiquity. When this is the case, how on earth are we supposed to believe that what is written in the Bible represents what really happened? Or that any sort of meaningful theology can be extracted from it?
Thanks for commenting. I agree, how can one thing that some truth about magic can be extracted from the thing. I haven’t had a chance to watch the second episode yet but will soon.