The Blaze: Does the Bible Really Condone Stoning?

A while back, but you’ll forgive me for not posting this earlier because I’m lazy, the Glennbeckistan Times posted an article with the provocative title, Fact Check: Does the Bible Really Condone Stoning?.

Spoiler alert:

Theologian R.P. Nettelhorst added that capital punishment is seen in the Bible for a variety of offenses: Murder, adultery, rape, Sabbath breaking, disobedience to parents, witchcraft, and idolatry.

That answers the question posed in the title: yes, the Bible does condone stoning. Glad we’ve cleared that up. Oh, wait, did someone have any excuses theology to offer? (Emphasis added)

Rabbi Aryeh Spero, author of “Push Back: Reclaiming Our American Judeo-Christian Spirit,” told TheBlaze that the Bible speaks openly about stoning, however he said that the Judeo-Christian texts differ greatly from “the procedures we see today in Islamic countries.”[…]

“Any Biblical death penalty procedure had to be accomplished in one instantaneous stroke,” he explained. “For while the death penalty may have been administered, it was not done in a way to prolong agony or suffering, nor in a manner of public humiliation that degraded the human being created in the image of God.”

Okay, so the Bible condones stoning for a number of offenses, but not the way the Taliban does it, so that’s okay.

Back to Nettelhorst:

“The laws are applied equally to all members of society.  There are not different laws for different classes,” he told TheBlaze. “Second, the laws were intended to be proportional. The lex talionis ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ was designed to limit punishments to being no worse than the offense.”

Proportional? Really? This is the guy who said that the Bible prescribes the death penalty for things like adultery, Sabbath breaking, and disobedience to parents.

Which of these merits the death penalty? Show me the kind of aggravated premeditated first-degree Sabbath-breaking that warrants death. Here’s what Nettelhorst gives us:

“An individual who breaks the Sabbath (by gathering firewood on Saturday) shortly after the Sabbath was instituted by the Ten Commandments, is soon dispatched after a brief consultation with God.  It is the only instance in the Bible of someone being executed for violating the Sabbath.

The article provides several more instances of this: cases in the Bible where people weren’t execute for trivial crimes. So the argument seems to be “the law is rarely enforced, so it’s not a bad law.”

What else?

He also detailed 2 Kings 10:18-28, noting that, while it appears that God’s blessing is upon Jehu, who gathers servants, priests and prophets of Baal and executes them for worshipping other gods, this may not actually be the case. After these deaths — and a coup against the former king and royal family — God seemed anything but pleased.

So Jehu does what God wants, as far as he can tell, and then it turns out that’t not what God wanted after all. I’m not sure what the lesson is, here: that God sucks at communicating his desires, maybe? At any rate, if this explanation is correct, then how can you be sure that anything you do has God’s blessing? With your finite human brain, you might be misreading things entirely.

Anything else?

For those who struggle with the notion that everything in the Bible is God’s word and should be taken literally, Spero explained that the Old Testament includes certain societal practices and occurrences that were meant to — and have — changed as mankind has matured and evolved.

Ah. This is a Jewish variant of “oh, but that’s the Old Testament!” Spero probably goes into more length in his book, but in this article, he gives no reason to think that he hasn’t just pulled this excuse out of thin air. Especially since the problem with divine law seems to be that it can’t be changed.

Just recently, for instance, we’ve learned about a ring of Jewish kidnappers: under Jewish law, a couple can only get divorced if the husband okays it. So a woman could give these guys $70,000-$80,000 and they’d kidnap her husband and beat him up or torture him until he agreed to the divorce. It would be far better for everyone to just change the law so that the husband’s consent isn’t mandatory. Except that if it’s God’s law — or perceived to be God’s law — then the law is very hard to change. (And if you can’t even repeal stoning, then what chance is there of repealing God’s no-cheeseburgers rule?)

Finally:

The contradiction, the theologian [Nettelhorst] says, might be rooted in the notion that there was a disconnect between what ancient Israelites thought God wanted verses what the Lord really requested of them.

So to sum up, yes, the Bible condones stoning people to death for minor offenses, but it’s okay because:

  • It wasn’t done for fun.
  • It was intended to be a quick death.
  • It usually wasn’t enforced.
  • It’s the Old Testament. Nobody does that anymore.
  • It may not have been God’s law to begin with.

Have I missed anything? Because it looks to me as though pile of apologetics doesn’t address the central problem, which is that THE BIBLE CONDONES AND EVEN COMMANDS STONING FOR TRIVIAL OFFENSES.

Did it used to be okay to stone people for breaking the Sabbath, but now it isn’t? Then God’s moral law isn’t absolute, but changes over time.

Did God’s law change, but God forgot to edit his rulebook to reflect this fact? Then he sucks at communicating his wishes.

Was that not God’s law to begin with, but mere humans’? Then there are probably other mere-human laws in the Bible as well. How do you know which is which? (And if we can’t tell them apart, why bother consulting the Bible to begin with?) And why didn’t God make it clearer that he’s opposed to killing people who break the sabbath?

This reminds me of Bryan Fischer’s commentary on slavery in the Bible. He uses a lot of words, but it basically boils down to “the US did slavery wrong”, the obvious implication being that there’s a right way to do slavery: by following God’s rules and regulations for how to correctly own another human being.

One irony here is that I think this sort of thing is more of a problem for liberal, enlightened theists than for knuckle-draggers. The crazy Taliban types will just accept that God condones stoning, or slavery, or whatever. They’ll nod and do these horrible things.

A Christian can look at the Koran — or a Muslim can look at the Bible — and say “Meh. That’s clearly not a consistently-good set of moral rules. I’ll just ignore it and seek enlightenment elsewhere”.

But it’s the liberal Christian who looks at the Bible, sees that it condones things that are clearly immoral; but it’s supposed to be God’s word, so you can’t just ignore it; who then has to spend time and mental effort trying to reconcile what’s right with what’s in the Bible.

Massacre Comparison

Comparing Herod and God in the Bible.

According to Wikipedia, the Catholic Encyclopedia places the death toll in the massacre of the innocents between 6000 and 20000.

Christianthinktank.com estimates the number of firstborn killed in Exodus at 69,000.


Credits

Massacre of the innocents by Daniele da Volterra, 1557.

Death of the firstborn by the LaVista Church of Christ (or so it says), licensed under a Creative Commons non-commercial license.

Motivational-poster-izing by Despair.com.

Shit My Bible Says: By the Rivers of Babylon

Psalm 137:

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
   when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
   we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
   our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
   they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
   while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
   may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
   my highest joy.

7 Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
   on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
   “tear it down to its foundations!”

Huh. Actually, that’s quite beautiful. A song of grief and loss, and trying to carry on in desperate circumstances.

Some of you may be old enough to remember Boney M’s version. Admit it, you started singing along with the text, above:
http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/L9XDKNnE0ig?rel=0

(And for those who aren’t old enough to remember: um, there once was this thing called disco and, er, we’re not terribly proud of that.)

Update: Hold on. Alert reader me has just pointed out that I left off a bit off at the end:

8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
   happy is the one who repays you
   according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
   and dashes them against the rocks.

Huh. I wonder why this part never made it into the Boney M song.

Shit My Bible Says: Deuteronomy 22

From Deuteronomy 22:

5 A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.

I guess this means God hates Martin Lawrence for the Big Momma films… okay, bad example. But apparently God also hates Eddie Izzard and Tim Curry. To say nothing of every woman who ever wore pants or borrowed her boyfriend’s shirt.

And speaking of clothes:

11 Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.

(Leviticus 19:19 is actually broader, and forbids all mixed-fabric clothing (I’m looking at you, cotton-polyester wearers!):

19 “‘Keep my decrees.
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

)

And near the end, we find:

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Yeah, you read that right: the Bible says a woman has to marry her rapist.

Anyway, the reason for bringing up these examples, particularly the one about mixed-fabric clothing, is partly to point out just how detailed the Bible gets at times (if you’re a glutton for punishment, you can read God’s instructions to his interior decorator, aka Exodus 26).

And also to point out a contrast: when he was putting together his books of law, God allegedly found time to talk about agriculture and clothing; these things were worthy of his attention, and not something he could trust mere humans to work out for themselves. But he couldn’t be bothered to mention, even once, that owning people is bad; that raping children is bad; that genocide is bad (but why would he, when he commits and orders it so often?), that democracy is better than monarchy, and so on, and so forth.

I’m pretty sure that if I were composing a list of the Top 613 Most Important Things People Should and Shouldn’t Do, I’m pretty sure I’d include those in there. But that’s just me. I know it sounds hubristic to say my morality is better than God’s, but what other conclusion can I draw?

(Updated, Feb. 23, 10:32: typos. Thanks, alert reader!)

Shit My Bible Says: Lilies of the Field

It’s easy to dismiss the previous two episodes in this series as “Oh, but that’s the Old Testament!” So let’s pick on the New Testament for a change:

Matthew 6:25-34:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And also Luke 12:22-31:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

(emphasis added)

Here we have Jesus saying not to worry about what’ll happen tomorrow. Don’t worry about where your next meal is coming from or whether you can get clothes. And he’s not saying “make sure you’ve made adequate preparation for your future, but don’t give yourself an ulcer.” He’s saying not to worry about the future, because it’ll all work out somehow.

Now, if you have (or want) health insurance, or a retirement plan, or a college fund, or if the way you vote is influenced by what kind of world you want to leave your grandchildren, then you can recognize that the above is bullshit. You are worrying about the future instead of letting it work itself out on its own.

See, that’s the funny thing: the only people who can say “See? It all worked out after all” are the ones who weren’t killed by “it”.

Not worrying about retirement makes sense if you don’t think you’ll live long enough to retire: if you have a terminal disease that’ll kill you in six months, then yeah, you might as well cash out your IRA and enjoy trip to Tahiti before you die.

This is of a piece with some of Jesus’ other pronouncements, like Luke 6:29: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” If the world is about to be destroyed, then yeah, this makes sense because you have better things to do than sue the guy who stole your coat. But as a long-term strategy, it’s an invitation to get beaten and robbed.

Shit My Bible Says: Numbers 15:32-36

Numbers 15:32-36:

32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.

I’ll let apologetics site CARM explain this one:

Gathering sticks in itself is not wrong. It could be for the purpose of providing a fire for warmth of cooking. The problem is that a man was deliberately and flagrantly gathering sticks in the open on the Sabbath day when God had commanded that no work be done on the Sabbath. This was a direct challenge to God’s authority.

Okay, so a guy was gathering wood instead of telling God how wonderful he is, as God had commanded, and for that he had to be executed. Not fined, not spanked, not ordered to perform community service, but killed. By having rocks thrown at him.

And this isn’t something Moses or one of his flunkies thought would be a good idea. God himself commands it. The same God who is, people tell me, the source of all morality.

Go out on the Sabbath some time (whether you think that’s Saturday or Sunday) and count the people doing work. Aside from firefighters, emergency room staff, police officers, and the like, who are doing truly important work that won’t wait until Monday, you’ll also doubtless find gas station attendants, store employees at the mall, football players, tech support line operators, IT guys doing maintenance on the weekend, ans so on and so forth. All of these people deserve to die violently, according to the word of the unchanging God.

If this doesn’t outrage you, what the hell’s wrong with you? And if you are outraged, doesn’t that mean your morals are better than God’s?

Shit My Bible Says: Numbers 5:11-28

Back in January, the Pennsylvania House passed a resolution naming 2012 “The Year of the Bible”:

WHEREAS, a bunch of pious bullshit, and

WHEREAS, a pile of revisonist history, and

WHEREAS, puppies are cute and stuff, therefore let it be

RESOLVED, something or other blah blah blah this is an easy vote-winner and I can get out of here in time for happy hour, right?

(paraphrased)

So, yeah. Year of the Bible. Huh. Presumably that means that the good people of Pennsylvania ought to read the Bible to find out what it says, that our country and values are based on. Or, if it’s anything like Black History Month, sit through a bunch of PSAs and maybe, if you’re still in school, go on a field trip to the local museum.

So, as a public service, allow me to present what I’d like to call Shit My Bible Says. For this first episode, let’s take a look at Number 5:11-28 (skip forward for the tl;dr version):

11 Then the LORD said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the LORD cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

(emphasis added, quite emphatically)

To recap: if a man thinks his wife has been cheating on him, the local priest should give her a magic potion that will induce an abortion if she was unfaithful.

Read that again: causing a miscarriage — or, as the pro-life crowd likes to call it, murdering a baby — is considered an acceptable side effect of finding out whether your wife’s been getting some action on the side.

I was going to say that this shows that the God of the Bible doesn’t consider fetuses to be human, but then I realized that he’s quite fond of killing, and ordering the killing of, people who are unambiguously human.

At any rate, I don’t see why the religious right are up in arms about abortifacients, to say nothing of contraceptives. It seems obvious that according to the Bible, killing fetuses is no big deal.

(HT Larry O’Heam, aka Almighty God.)

Servants

From Luke 12 (NIV):

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.

I’m so glad that it explicitly says “servant” there. Because otherwise, you just know that some ungodly scoffer would say that Jesus endorses not just slavery, but the beating of slaves.

But as usual, God’s word (properly translated) is crystal-clear on the subject, and of course Jesus doesn’t condone slavery, and hasn’t done so since 1865.

Adam and Bobo?

Anti-gay-rights activists, when they’re not busy being worried about all the buttsecks going on without them, are fond of pointing out that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Clearly, men are supposed to fuck women, not other men.

Except, remember why God made Eve in the first place?:

18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

<p .21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.

22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

In other words, Eve was Plan B. The original idea, apparently, was for Adam to stick his dick in one or more of the animals. Literally get some pussy, if you will.

So I don’t see why the homophobes are so upset at the thought of two dudes getting it on. At least they’re dating inside their own species.

Judges 6:31

Chapter 6 of the book of Judges in the Bible is the beginning of the story of Gideon. The Midianites are being murderous dicks again, Israel appeals to God, God picks Gideon as Israel’s champion, all according to formula. An angel performs a couple of miracles, Gideon is impressed and gets religion.

Then God tells Gideon to start fighting a competing religion, that of Baal, starting with Gideon’s own father:

25 That same night the LORD said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”

Gideon’s not a complete moron; he’s afraid of what’ll happen if the townspeople catch him desecrating religious edifices. So he does this at night.

In the morning, the townspeople find the altar demolished, the sacred pole burned to sacrifice a stolen bull. They go to Joash, Gideon’s father, and tell him to give them his son the iconoclast. Presumably one of Joash’s duties as a head of family is to uphold religion. But he also doesn’t want to have his son killed, which puts him in a bit of a predicament. So he says:

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”

This is a precursor to “What does God need with a starship?“: “if Baal is really all that, why does he need you people to fight his battles for him?”

But of course, the question can be turned to YHWH, or any number of other gods. If anyone claims to be doing some god’s work by executing gays, or flogging adulterers, or feeding the hungry, or spreading their holy book, or outlawing abortion, ask them what God needs with a starship. Surely any god worthy of the name would be capable of snapping his/her/its fingers and make manna fall in the Sahara, or make gays fall down dead, or add a gene that prevents conception in people who aren’t married and financially stable.

Presidents and kings need spokespeople because they’re only human and don’t have time to answer everyone’s question. But on important policy matters they step out in front of the cameras and explain what they’re trying to achieve. Or, if they can, they issue orders and make stuff happen.

Why can’t gods do the same?