Sunday, August 20, 2017

Biblical Anachronisms

From *The Skeptical Review*, 1999 / May-June:

by Farrell Till
Anachronisms occur in written documents when they make references to anything (persons, places, events, etc.) that did not belong to the era in which the documents were set. If a history of the Civil War made references to aerial bombardments and said that Thomas Jefferson was the president at this time, these would be anachronisms, because airplanes didn't exist then and Jefferson was president 50 years earlier. Anyone seeing such references in a history book would immediately realize that the writer was poorly informed about some aspects of this war. Certainly, no one would consider the author to be an infallible writer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Slavery And The Bible

From the Alt. Bible. Errancy discussion group 7-9-99:
Here is another view:
The slavery tolerated by the Scriptures must be understood in its historical context. Old Testament laws regulating slavery are troublesome by modern standards, but in their historical context they provided a degree of social recognition and legal protection to slaves that was advanced for its time (Exodus 21:20-27; Leviticus 25:44-46).
In ancient times, slavery existed in every part of the world. Slaves had no legal status or rights, and were treated as the property of their owners. Even Plato and Aristotle looked upon slaves as inferior beings. As inhumane as such slavery was, we must keep in mind that on occasion it was an alternative to the massacre of enemy populations in wartime and the starvation of the poor during famine. It was to the people of this harsh age that the Bible was first written.
Well, let me just ask a stupid question.  Even though slavery was widely practiced in those days, why didn't Yahweh set a higher standard and tell his "chosen ones" that regardless of what other nations may do, they were not to enslave people?  I would add to that another suggestion.  Why didn't Yahweh tell his "chosen ones" that although other armies slaughtered entire civilian populations after battles, including even children and babies, he would hold them to a much higher standard and expect them to refrain from such barbaric conduct and to treat other people humanely?  If such standards as these were found in the Bible, I would find it much easier to believe in the Hebrew god Yahweh.  As it is, the Bible merely reflected the morality of its time, and so it is perfectly reasonable to assume that this is because the Hebrews created their god in their own image, just as the other nations of that time did.
Timmy's attempt to explain why slavery was condoned in the Bible is just another attempt to rationalize one of the serious morality problems found in it.
>In New Testament times, slave labor was foundational to the economy of the Roman empire. About a third of the population were slaves. If the writers of the New Testament had attacked the institution of slavery directly, the gospel would have been identified with a radical political cause at a time when the abolition of slavery was unthinkable. To directly appeal for the freeing of slaves would have been inflammatory and a direct threat to the social order. (1) Consequently, the New Testament acknowledged slavery's existence, instructing both Christian masters and slaves in the way they should behave (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:2; 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:2; Philemon 1:10-21), at the same time that it openly declared the spiritual equality of all people (Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 7:20-24; Colossians 3:11).
Well, let's suppose at the time when the NT was written, prostitution was foundational to the economy of the Roman empire.  In that case, would it have been morally appropriate for the NT to condone the practice and simply give instructions to both Christian brothel owners and their prostitutes on how they should behave?  A serious flaw in Timmy's rationalization is that the standard Christian view of morality is that it is objective (absolute). If that's the case, then there could have been no way that Christianity could have tolerated something that is objectively immoral without seriously compromising what it is supposed to stand for.  In other words, if morality toward slavery can be situational (because of economic conditions), then theoretically any immoral practice could be justified depending on the situation.  If not, why not?
>(2) The gospel first had the practical effect of outmoding slavery within the community of the Church, (3) and carried within it the seeds of the eventual complete abolition of slavery in the Western world.
Yeah, right, and it took only about 1900 years to do this.
>The fact that the Bible never expressly condemned the institution of slavery has been wrongfully used as a rationale for its continuance. In the American South prior to the Civil War, many nominal Christians wrongly interpreted the Bible's approach to slavery and used their misunderstanding to justify economic interests. The terrible use of African slave labor continued in spite of those who argued from the Scriptures for the equality of all races(*). 
But, gee, whiz, Timmy, the economics of the time required a source of cheap labor to process cotton, which was the backbone of the southern economy. My father, both grandfathers, and uncles on both sides of the family were all cotton farmers in Southeast Missouri, so I know something about the particular problems involved in producing this crop.  During my childhood, there were no mechanical cotton pickers, so the crop had to be picked by hand.  Before that, each cotton row had to have the grass and weeds removed from around the cotton plants several times, and this had to be done through a process called "chopping cotton," which was done by several individuals wielding garden hoes.  One laborer could chop about an acre of cotton per day, and my father farmed over 200 acres.  The cost of labor was high in cotton production, and a century before my time, there were no mechanical cotton gins, which at least existed when I was growing up.  These factors were all contributing reasons for slavery in the south.  So if economic conditions in the Roman empire justified slavery, why wouldn't economic conditions in the South have also justified it?
You've rationalized, but you haven't explained why a morally perfect deity would not have acted to remove slavery entirely from a nation that he had selected to be his "chosen people."
Farrell Till

Friday, August 11, 2017

There's A Living In It

From *The Skeptical Review* 1992/March-April:

by Farrell Till
A subscriber in Florida recently raised an interesting question: "Why can't these preachers simply admit that the Bible is not the inerrant book it has been proclaimed to be and stop lying to their congregations?" The question was asked in the context of comments the reader was making about the thoroughness of TSR's exposure of flaws in the inerrancy doctrine.

I have to admit that I have often wondered the same thing. Ten issues of The Skeptical Review have now been published containing over 30 major articles and several short ones that focused on discrepancies in the Bible text. In every issue, we have offered inerrancy defenders the opportunity to rebut our lead articles, but twice we had to publish without rebuttals because we could find no one willing to argue the inerrancy view on the subject we were featuring. We have been especially persistent in challenging Wayne Jackson, the editor of Christian Courier, to defend his inerrancy views, because he is especially vocal in his articles about "the uncanny reliablility" of the Bible in even "the smallest details" ("The Bible Passes the Test," Biblical Notes, Nov./Dec. 1991, p. 9). Jackson, like many of his inerrancy colleagues, has repeatedly declined our offers of space to defend his claim that the Bible is inerrant. We find it hard to understand why an inerrancy believer who writes as frequently on the subject as Jackson does would refuse an offer of free publishing space to write on the subject if he sincerely believes in what he preaches.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled

The following is from the October-December, 1991 issue of *The Skeptical Review*. It is a thorough refutation of the claims of prophecy fulfillment in the Bible. (Be warned, it is equivalent in length to about 44 standard type-written pages):

by Farrell Till
Prophecy fulfillment is a popular argument that bibliolaters rely on in trying to prove the divine inspiration of the Bible. They claim that the Bible is filled with recorded events that prophets foretold years and even centuries before they happened. They argue that there is no way to explain how these predictions could have been so accurately made except to conclude that the Holy Spirit enabled the prophets who uttered them to see into the future. In prophecy fulfillment, then, they see evidence of God's direct involvement in the writing of the Bible.

A very simple flaw in the prophecy-fulfillment argument is that foreseeing the future doesn't necessarily prove divine guidance. Psychics have existed in every generation, and some of them have demonstrated amazing abilities to predict future events. Their "powers," although mystifying to those who witness them, are not usually considered divine in origin. If, then, Old Testament prophets did on occasions foresee the future (a questionable premise at best), perhaps they were merely the Nostradamuses and Edgar Cayces of their day. Why would it necessarily follow that they were divinely inspired? Even the Bible recognizes the possibility that uninspired prophets can sometimes accurately predict the future:

"If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, `Let us go after other gods'--which you have not known--`and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for Yahweh your God is testing you to know whether you love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 13:1-3, NKJV with Yahweh substituted for "the LORD").

Saturday, July 29, 2017

But If There Is No Tooth Fairy...

From *The Skeptical Review*, 1994/March-April:

by Farrell Till
Theists never tire of painting skepticism and atheism as philosophies of despair and doom. Immediately after publishing our belief that morality depends on neither God nor the Bible, the cries of outrage began to arrive, the strongest of which was Bill Lockwood's article "The Skeptic's Sword" which appears on pages 8-9 of this issue. The message is that it conveys is typically theistic in outlook: without the security blanket of a god, life is a condition of utter hopelessness.

The only argument the theist has to offer in support of this position appears to be, "If there is no God, then..." The then will vary from "then there is no hope for life after death" to "then there is no absolute standard of morality," but such statements are all rooted in a fallacy of wishful thinking or belief that reality can be altered by personal hopes and aspirations.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tall Tales Of Wilderness Wanderings (Part 13 of 13): Logistical Improbabilities in the Wilderness-Wandering Tales What Priests?

by Farrell Till
When the Israelites were camped in the wilderness of Sinai, Moses "went up unto God" (Exodus 19:3), which was no big deal in those days. People were always going up to God or God was coming down to them. Anyway, Moses went up to God and Yahweh called to Moses out of the mountain and said that he would make a "holy nation" out of the children of Israel (vs:5-6).

Such a prestigious honor, however, was not without its costs. Yahweh told Moses that he would come to him in a thick cloud that the people might hear when he spoke to Moses (v:9). Moses was then directed to "set bounds to the people round about" and tell them not to go up into the mount or touch the border of it. "Whoever touches the mount shall surely be put to death," Yahweh warned. "No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether it be beast or man, he shall not live" (vs:12-13).

Now here's a thought for consideration. Let's suppose that there is at least an element of truth in the exodus tales and that at least a small troupe of Israelites did leave Egypt under the leadership of a man named Moses. What better way to keep them under control than to instill in them a fear and awe by telling them that they would suffer the divine wrath of their god if they intruded on sacred territory that was reserved only for Yahweh's chosen leader? I'm not saying that this actually happened, but indeed it could have. If Moses were such a charlatan as this, he could have minimized the risk of being discovered as a phony by making the people keep their distance when he was communicating with Yahweh or when Yahweh was speaking out of the cloud. A magician today wouldn't have any difficulty at all in making a cloud of smoke and then giving the illusion of someone speaking out of it. Maybe Moses controlled the people by such means as this. It's a thought that becomes very believable when one studies the "lest you die" warning that was so frequently used in the Pentateuch. Even the Kohathites who were chosen to bear the ark were warned not to touch the holy things in it "lest they die" (Num. 4:15). Why, if they touched the "holy things," they just might have decided that they were just ordinary objects with no special powers attached to them.

When I read "lest-you-die" passages in the Bible, it seems very likely to me that they were nothing more than scare tactics of priests who were just protecting their turf and reducing the chances that they would be found out for what they were, i. e., just ordinary men, by constantly warning the people that they would die if they came too close to the sacred paraphernalia that the priests used to bamboozle them.

Anyway, Yahweh presumably told Moses to put bounds on the people and warn them that they would die if they dared touch even the "border" of the mount. Then the omniscient Yahweh did a peculiar thing. He placed the same restriction on priests, who didn't even exist at the time: "And Yahweh said to him [Moses], Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to Yahweh, lest he break out against them" (v:24).

Now, really, what danger was there that the priests would break through to come up to Yahweh, because there were no priests at this time? It wasn't until chapter 28 that Aaron and his four sons were consecrated to be priests. That priests didn't exist until Aaron and his sons were set apart (28:1ff) is evident from 24:4-5, where Moses built an altar at the foot of the mount and appointed "young men of the children of Israel" to offer burnt-offerings and peace-offerings to Yahweh, and he himself took half of the blood, put it in basins, and sprinkled the other half on the altar. Then he took the blood in the basins, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which Yahweh has made with you." The book of Leviticus is very specific in noting that such duties as these were reserved strictly for the priests, so why was Moses officiating at such a ceremony as this if there were priests who had been set apart to do it?

The logical conclusion is that the writer of Exodus made a boo-boo and put an anachronism into the text.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tall Tales Of Wilderness Wanderings (Part 12 of 13): Logistical Improbabilities in the Wilderness-Wandering Tales Clothes with Lifetime Warranties

by Farrell Till
The writer(s) of the Pentateuch apparently could not see the absurdities in many of the scenarios presented in the stories of the Israelite exodus from Egypt and subsequent wanderings in the Sinai wilderness. Where, for example, did the people find water and grazing land for the huge flocks and herds (Ex. 12:3817:3Num. 32:1Deut. 3:19) that they had with them? How did just three priests (Ex. 28:1Lev. 10:1-7) manage to officiate at all of the daily sacrifices and then carry all of the offal remains out of the camp (Lev. 4:7-12,219:8-1116:23-27Num. 19:1-7) for disposal by burning? Biblicists apparently don't wonder about problems such as these, just as the biblical writers seemed unaware of them.

There is, however, an example of a logistical absurdity that the biblical writer was apparently aware of, and so he posited an explanation that was itself another absurdity. Because the people were terrified by the report of giants in the land of Canaan, Yahweh decreed that all adults, except for Joshua and Caleb, would have to wander in the wilderness until they were dead; then those who had been children at the time of this incident would be allowed to enter the promised land (Num. 14:26-35Dt. 1:34-39). Although people routinely lived longer than a hundred years at this time (Gen. 50:26Ex. 6:16-20Num. 33:38-39Deut. 34:7; Josh. 24:29), for some reason probably known only to the inscrutable Yahweh, all of the Israelites who had not been minors at the time of the spies' report of giants in the land of Canaan died after only 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Num. 14:33Deut. 2:7). All the people, then, who had been in their twenties at the time died, for some reason, before or during their sixties.