10 Biblical Atrocities That Go Overlooked (Part Two)

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In a theocracy, God's Law has teeth!

Last time, I introduced five of the greatest atrocities in the Bible.

These were slavery, the treating of human beings like property (including the right to beat and kill them at will), God’s murder of children in the most horrible of ways just for acting like children, his responsibility for Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness which led to the Ten Plagues and eventually the death of the firstborn of every house in Egypt, and his punishment (by death) of at least 70,000 innocent people for the sins of one man.

These are only examples, by the way, of the type of things that happen all the time in Scripture. Along the same lines as the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, you have God actually sending demons to torture King Saul, purposely ruining Job’s life just to see if he would continue to be faithful (even though the Bible says God can be tempted of no man, neither tempteth he any man), and God actually claiming in Isaiah 45:7 to create all evil.

So we can see already, there are some places in the Bible that should (but often don’t) cause any of the religious faithful who are of good conscience to take a second and reconsider where they place their faith. It wasn’t until I was already well on the road to deconversion that I saw some of these awful things and began to make sense of them for what they truly were. I actually spent my time in trying to defend a god who was clearly guilty of some of the worst atrocities ever enacted upon humanity. Things like:

5: God Orders Systematic Genocide

Killing children because their parents chose another religion is godly!

Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again. (Deuteronomy 13:13-16 KJV)

In other words, kill the entire town, every man, woman, and child, even every animal, and don’t even take anything from the town, just burn the whole thing straight to the ground. Why, you ask? For choosing to leave Yahweh and worship another god!

War is hell. Regardless of the perpetrators or the targets or the innocent casualties, war is a terrible thing. It’s even worse when it’s God who commands it, and even worse still when he joins one side and destroys the other entirely due to the exercise of free will.

War in the Bible is glamorous . . . Right?

“How is this overlooked?” you may ask. “Everyone knows the story of the Israelites conquest of the Promised Land!” For the most part, that’s true, but when I was in Sunday School we sang songs like “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” and the tales of war and bloodshed were converted to stories of heroes and adventures for a younger audience, told with brightly-colored foam cut-outs. So technically, it’s not overlooked: it’s glorified.

To the victor go the spoils. If it had been the Canaanites that prevailed in the conflict for the Promised Land, the Bible most likely would have been written about Chemosh or Marduk instead of Yahweh. We’ll never know, because if there is any historical accuracy in the Bible, these entire races were exterminated.

There are some instances, though, where God didn’t command the death of every person…

4: God and Moses Approve of Rape

Rubens got it wrong. Picture the women a bit younger - like 12 or 13.

And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho. And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp. And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31:12-18 KJV)

This isn’t the only time the people are authorized by God to rape. At Jabesh-Gilead, the men are instructed to kill every man, woman, and child, but to keep the young virgins for themselves. When the men of the tribe of Benjamin complained that there weren’t enough women to be their wives, they were instructed to go lie in wait near a festival just outside the city and rape the women who came out. That way, their fathers would be legally obligated to give them to the men as wives. (This all takes place in Judges 21).

3: While We’re On The Subject Of Rape…

Let me ask you a serious question. If you were a judge, which of the following would you find more heinous: Not listening in church, disobeying your parents, hitting your father, being a homosexual, following a different religion, being an astrologer, committing adultery, having sex before marriage, working on Saturday, or rape?

If you answered rape, then you would do well to stand aside and let God take care of making the laws, as you apparently aren’t up to snuff on it. All the former are punishable by death. Rape is only punishable by 50 shekels of silver, payable to the father of the victim, and marriage to the victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Unless, of course, you are the rape victim and your attacker was holding your mouth shut, because God’s punishment for those who don’t scream loud enough to be heard while being raped is death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

God clearly cares less about the violation of the woman and more about the violation of the father’s property. This leads us to the next atrocity:

2: Women are Property

Not as bad as murder or rape, when you think about it. So why is this on the list above them? Let’s look at the following passage to see why:

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money. (Exodus 21:7-11 KJV)

That’s right: the selling of one’s own daughter as a sex slave is fine and dandy. Of course, that’s really all the practice of marriage was in the Bible: sealing a deal by trading off your virgin daughter, normally just at the point of having reached puberty, to a man usually old enough to be her father. And if she didn’t have the signs of being a virgin (which we know today can happen through a completely innocuous activity such as riding a horse), she was to be stoned on her parent’s front porch (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

Stop and think about that for a second: a woman was usually betrothed and married around puberty. That means she could be as young as 7, but probably around 13 or 14. Think about that for a second, and then read through the previous entries on today’s list for a clearer idea of just how atrocious the act of forcibly taking wives from among the virgins of your enemies really was.

1: Human Sacrifice

Ask any Christian, and they’ll tell you that the central story of the Bible is, indeed, the blood sacrifice of a human being (who also happened to be God). The Bible says without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins, and this is a facet of theology which is carried on all throughout the Bible, from the sacrifices of Cain and Abel to the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, from the scapegoat to the yearly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, from the sacrificial lamb in the Holy of Holies to the key event in all of Scripture: the crucifixion of Christ on the cross at Calvary.

But is God really obsessed with this idea of death and bloodshed as a means of maintaining favor? Based on some of what we’ve read already, and the punishment of death for so many minor infractions under his law, you would think so. But how far does it go?

Let’s look at Exodus 13:1-15 for the chilling answer.

If you can find a lamb (or a ram), you don't have to kill your firstborn son for God! See, he's better than those other gods. Merciful and loving.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. [the middle section describes the feast of the Lord, when and how to observe it] And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD’S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year. And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.

That’s right: something occurs in the Bible that is so awful that God tells the people how to apologize to their children when they’re old enough to realize how terrible it is. You know that ceremony they perform at churches where the pastor or priest holds up a newborn child and introduces it to the congregation? That’s clearly a misrepresentation of what’s going on here. Read the passage again, and there can be no doubt. These verses are not simply asking the parents to dedicate their firstborn to god, but as a human sacrifice which is then redeemed by sacrificing a lamb instead. Just like most of the other gods of the day, Yahweh demanded sacrifice in his name, including all the firstborn children.

But God is merciful. You can sacrifice a lamb instead of your son. But how can a “good, loving, and righteous” god even ask this of his people?

Jephthah murders his daughter. A nice thank-you gift for God.

Some people weren’t lucky enough to be redeemed, either. Consider Jepthah’s daughter, whom God accepted as a burnt offering (Judges 11), or the priests of the pagan shrines in I Kings 13, who were sacrificed on their own altars in order to desecrate them from further use. Consider that the punishment for stealing something that was supposed to be a burnt offering was to become a burnt offering yourself (Joshua 7:15), which, after what we’ve just read, could include trying to rescue your firstborn child from the flames.

That’s my list, and it’s something to consider next time you hear someone try to explain that our system of morals and values came from the Bible. It wasn’t until people started thinking for themselves, when humanity started growing up as a species, that we were able to develop a system of ethics that defied the laws of the Bible and we started drawing away from these terrible, racist, sexist, bloodthirsty, inhuman practices.

If humanity ever wants to fully mature, we’re going to have to keep moving away…

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