News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 19, 2010 in News

As they did with the Bible several centuries ago, Germans are now leading the way in studying the Qur’an as an historical document.

Big update to the debates page.

My 5th letter to Mark van Steenwyk is up.

Holy crap Tokbox is amazing! Superb interface. Start video chats with 20 people at once, and the only person who needs a (free) account is the person who initiates the video conference. Ahhhhhhh, it is the 21st century after all. Most importantly, when you first sign up you get a welcome video message from some hot chick named Lauren.

According to the ‘Good Book’, Yahweh commanded child sacrifice – which is yet another example of perfect moral goodness according to Biblical Christians, who keep battling it out with Koranic Muslims for the title of Most Morally Horrifying Religious Nutjobs. Now, a new drinking game: take a shot whenever you read the phrase “out of context” written by a Christian who has no knowledge at all of the ‘context’ of the Ancient Near East.

Yahweh slaughters the Amorites by throwing rocks from the sky (Joshua 10:10-11).

Yahweh slaughters the Amorites by throwing rocks from the sky (Joshua 10:10-11).

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Maher March 20, 2010 at 7:36 am

anon, I think I could read the actual Bible quicker than I could read that.

  (Quote)

anon March 20, 2010 at 8:32 am

Hi Luke,

In one of the links above you cite a post by John Loftus. He considers two passages from the Bible and claims that these passages imply that Yahweh commanded child sacrifice. I thought that Loftus arguments were unpersuasive. Or, at the very least, I thought that they need more work to be made persuasive. Consider the first passage he cites (Exodus 22:29-30):

“You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The first-born of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.”

He says that this passage shows that Yahweh commanded child sacrifice. It says that “the first born of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen”. Clearly ‘give to me’, when applied to oxen, means sacrifice the oxen. So by ‘give to me’ when applied to the first born son means the same thing.

I think this is a somewhat misleading argument. There is a precedent in the bible for talking about giving your firstborn son to God. In other places, when that language is used, the first born son isn’t killed. He is set apart by his parents for a life of service to God. Consider 1 Samuel 1:10:

“And she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thy maidservant and remember me, and not forget Thy maidservant, but wilt give Thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all of the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”"

As I’m sure you know, Samuel wasn’t sacrificed or killed. He just had the life of a prophet. So given that there is a precedent in the bible for talking about “giving your firstborn son to God” that entails a life of service to God rather than a burnt offering to God, I think it is somewhat uncharitable and implausible to find one verse where Yahweh says “give me your first born sons” and to take that as meaning you shall kill your first born sons.

The other verse Loftus quotes is this (Ezekiel 20:25-26):

“Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD.”

There are two points worth mentioning here:

First, Loftus makes it sound like this passage is refering back to the law that Yahweh gave through Moses and that it is supposed to confirm that that law requires child sacrifice. But I encourage you to read all of Ezekiel 20. If you do that, you will see that Yahweh isn’t talking about the law of Moses. He is talking about a punishment given to the Israelites for not obeying the law of Moses.

Second, I encourage you to look at other translations than what Loftus uses. Consider, for example, the New American Standard. It reads this way:

“I pronounced them unclean because of their gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire so that I might make them desolate, in order that they might know that I am the LORD.”

This makes it sound like Yahweh is judging them to be unclean because they sacrificed their firstborn. In general the passage makes it sound like child sacrifice is one of the things that Yahweh was upset about.

I am no Bible scholar. I don’t have a full grasp of what is going on in these texts. Maybe the bible does record Yahweh as requiring child sacrifice. But given what Loftus says, I think the Christian has a bunch of easy responses. He needs to do more to make his point persuasive.

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 20, 2010 at 8:38 am

Thanks for your comment, anon.

  (Quote)

Hermes March 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

“Now, a new drinking game: take a shot whenever you read the phrase “out of context” written by a Christian who has no knowledge at all of the ‘context’ of the Ancient Near East.”

My liver would grow arms and claw it’s way out of me first.

  (Quote)

Roman March 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

I like your style of writing anon!

  (Quote)

Gabriel March 20, 2010 at 4:18 pm

“And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded not, neither came it into My mind.”
Jeremiah 7:31

“‘Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old?”

[Reply from God]
“It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”

John Loftus is dead wrong on this one.

  (Quote)

Jeff H March 20, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Gabriel,

Unfortunately, your response doesn’t take into account the possibility that there might be contradictions within the Bible. Just because one prophet in one book says that God didn’t order child sacrifice, that doesn’t preclude some other prophet elsewhere from saying he did. It’s quite possible that they could be saying completely different things.

You know, just like the Mosaic law has a billion rules for sacrifice, and then David comes along and says “sacrifice and offering you did not desire”….hmm.

  (Quote)

cartesian March 20, 2010 at 9:48 pm

I’m actually inclined to think that God *did* command the Israelites to give to him every first born male, including male children. In the Exodus 22 verse that Loftus cites (“The first-born of your sons you shall give to me”), the Hebrew word translated as “give” really does seem to mean just that: give. It doesn’t specifically mean “sacrifice,” as becomes evident if you look around at how the word is used elsewhere in the text. But the context suggests that God is owed the firstborn male children, and that it would be just if they died.

However, Exodus 13 tells us that God also provided *redemption* for the firstborn male children. God specifically and clearly commanded the Israelites NOT to kill their firstborn, though God is owed them, and to kill something else instead:

12 you are to give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.

And later:

15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.

So it’s pretty darn clear that, here in Exodus 22, God did NOT command child sacrifice, contrary to what you (Luke) and Loftus claim.

Instead, this seems to be an instance of some weird but significant theme that runs throughout the whole Bible: someone (often a firstborn son) suffers and/or dies in the place of or for the benefit of someone else. Abraham is commanded to kill Isaac, but in the end Isaac’s place is taken, at God’s command, by a ram. The death of the firstborn in Egypt triggers the release of the Israelites from slavery. Here, in Exodus, the Israelites are told that, by rights, their firstborn belong to Yahweh. But they are also told to kill something else in the place of the firstborn son. And then of course there’s that whole Jesus thing, the “only begotten Son of God” who is said to have died for the sins of the whole world.

Weird how a theme could be woven through so many books penned by so many authors separated by so much time and geography… Weird indeed. Pretty suspicious, actually…

  (Quote)

Mark March 20, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Weird how a theme could be woven through so many books penned by so many authors separated by so much time and geography… Weird indeed. Pretty suspicious, actually…

Just curious. Why would that be weird to you?

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk March 21, 2010 at 7:44 am

Kansas 67, University of Northern Iowa 69:

I take it all back, there is a God.

  (Quote)

Bill Snedden March 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

“Weird indeed. Pretty suspicious, actually…”

Well, no…at least no more weird or suspicious than any backdated or self-fulfilling prophecy would be…

  (Quote)

Sumhawchic March 24, 2010 at 2:24 am

Most importantly, when you first sign up you get a welcome video message from some hot chick named Lauren.

Well, well, Luke, I see that you’ve made some progress, because the last two times that you mentioned “some hot chick” you didn’t even bother to mention their names – Ariane Sherine and ZOMGitsCriss/Cristina Rad.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment