Testament of Jean Meslier: The Errors in Scripture

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 11, 2010 in Reviews

meslier_testamentJean Meslier (1664-1729) served as a Catholic priest for 40 years, but after his death was discovered to have written the very first book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism.

I’m blogging my way through the book. See the index for all posts.

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Next, Meslier discusses the content of the Scriptures:

…we would think that books that had really been made through the instruction and inspiration of a god ought to contain a very perfect science, wisdom, and learning; or, at least, we would think that we would not find in them the same faults, errors, and imperfections that we ordinarily find in other books…

Now, it is clear and evident that the aforementioned… books contain in themselves no particular nature of divinity, learning, knowledge, wisdom, or holiness… Far from it, we clearly find the same faults, errors, and imperfections that are ordinarily found in other books…

Consequently, it does not seem that these kinds of books really came from God…

On the one hand, you will see… fabulous narratives like of the so-called creation of the world; the formation and multiplication of the so-called first men; the so-called earthly paradise; the serpent who talks…; the talking donkey…; the so-called universal flood and the ark where all species of animals were enclosed; the confusion of languages and the division of nations… [these] narratives certainly have only the air of fables like those invented about the deeds of Prometheus, Pandora’s box, or the war of the giants against the gods…

On the other hand, you will see a motley heap of… vain practices and superstitions concerning the sacrifices and purifications of the ancient law… It is obvious that it would not take a great genius to make up these stories… and, consequently, for this there is no need for divine revelations and inspiration. It is not doing honor to a god to want to make of him only an author of so many base, stupid, vain, and ridiculous stories; he certainly was easily amused if he seriously enjoyed reveling in such vain, frivolous, and ridiculous things.

…Although in some of these books there were a few good lessons… like in the Proverbs of Solomon, in Wisdom and Ecclesiastes, nevertheless there is nothing, anywhere, that surpasses the range and capacity of the human mind or human wisdom. Far from it, we normally see that there is more intelligence, civility, knowledge, eloquence, order, clarity, coherence, precision… in the books of philosophers, historians, and profane orators than in any of the so-called holy… books…1

Meslier also has us consider the contradictions among the gospels:

We even see that [the gospel authors] clearly contradict each other in many things, which clearly shows that they were not inspired by God and that they did not have enough reason or natural talent to know how to edit a story well. Here are some examples…

1 – St. Matthew makes Jesus Christ descent from King David through his son Solomon and his descendants up to Joseph, putative father of this Jesus Chris (Matt. 1:1). And St. Luke makes him descend from the same David through his son Nathan and his descendants up to Joseph (Luke 3:31). This is a clear contradiction… Moreover, what is the point in making a genealogy of this Joseph and making him descend from King David… seeing that Jesus Christ was not really the son of Joseph? …

2 – There is a contradiction in what they say about what happened right after the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew said the news immediately spread through Jerusalem that a new king of the Jews was born and the magicians came looking to worship him. Then King Herod, fearing that this so-called new king might someday take the crown, cut the throats and massacred all the newborn infants up to two years old around Bethlehem; and Joseph and Mary… were warned in a dream… so they fled right away into Egypt…

On the other hand, Luke explicitly says that this Joseph and the mother of Jesus stayed peacefully for six months where their son was born… From this it is clear and evident that there is a contradiction in what they say…

With respect to the cruelty of King Herod toward the children of Bethlehem, since the historians of these times do not talk about it, like [Flavius] Josephus himself… although he describes the life and viciousness of this king in some detail… there are good grounds to believe that what is reported in the Gospel of St. Matthew is only an imposture…2

Meslier goes on to explain seven other contradictions in the gospels. Next, we will read Meslier’s thoughts on miracles.

  1. Testament, pages 101-103. []
  2. Ibid., pages 105-107. []

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

ShaneSteinhauser June 11, 2010 at 9:20 am

No, no, Luke! For you see Mathew’s list is from Jesus’ mother’s side, and Luke’s is from Jesus’ father’s side of the family. Joseph and Mary share King David as an ancestor. So Jesus is doubley decended from King David. Prophecy fullfilled!

Checkmate Atheists!

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Lorkas June 11, 2010 at 9:57 am

Such a stupid objection (since both texts explicitly mention Joseph and not Mary), but I have heard it seriously put forth.

As if it would even matter to those patriarchs whether or not Mary was descended from King David.

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Richard June 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Maybe I missed it, but can you provide the Scripture passage in Luke that “explicitly says that this Joseph and the mother of Jesus stayed peacefully for SIX MONTHS where their son was born”?

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Richard June 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Also you stated that Matthew states “the news IMMEDIATELY spread through Jerusalem.” Can you provide a scripture passage for this assertion? Most scholars believe the Magi arrived awhile after his birth (possibly 2-3 years). I don’t see the contradiction.

With regard to the vicious nature of Herod, many historians believe that Herod was known for many cruel acts. The infant slaughter in a remote area of Palestine would be rather common and may not have been news worthy enough for Josephus.

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lukeprog June 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Remember, these are Meslier’s views and claims, not my own.

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Richard June 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm

I assumed that you saw enough legitimacy in such claims to highlight them. If this is meant to be a simple survey of Meslier’s view, then I apologize for misunderstanding the intent of these posts.

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nate June 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm

// The infant slaughter in a remote area of Palestine would be rather common and may not have been news worthy enough for Josephus.//

Bethlehem is pretty close to Jerusalem. If I remember correctly, it’s less than a days journey. I’m pretty certain the killing of all children under the age of 2 would be newsworthy.

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Lorkas June 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm

With regard to the vicious nature of Herod, many historians believe that Herod was known for many cruel acts. The infant slaughter in a remote area of Palestine would be rather common and may not have been news worthy enough for Josephus.

Where’s the source demonstrating that Herod was known for frequently slaughtering all infants in a town?

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Richard June 11, 2010 at 6:22 pm

“I’m pretty certain the killing of all children under the age of 2 would be newsworthy.”

“Where’s the source demonstrating that Herod was known for frequently slaughtering all infants in a town?”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/herod.shtml

Key Quote: “Demographic clues from first century Palestine reveal that Bethlehem was a small village, with a population between three hundred and a thousand. Experts estimate that, at any given time, the number of babies under the age of two would be only between seven and twenty. So numbers alone may be the reason why Josephus does not mention the murders”

Anyone who has done any study of Herod would understand the vicious jealous nature of this ruler. He was so paranoid of his regal authority that he did not hesitate to murder numerous members of his own immediate and extended family. His favorite wife, Mariamne, was publicly executed, as was her mother, Alexandra. Earlier Herod had put to death Hyrcanus, Mariamne’s grandfather (who, incidentally, once had saved the king’s life). He also executed several of his sons, e.g., Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater. One ancient writer suggested that Augustus Caesar once quipped that it would be better to be Herod’s pig than his son! (Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.f.11). For a general survey of Herod’s activities, see Josephus, Antiquities, Books 14-17.

No, Josephus (who wrote from a Jewish perspective) did not mention this event but that is hardly evidence that it did not occur. I am not sure that this is as simple as saying “Well, non biblical historians did not mention this event so there are good grounds to say this biblical account is not true.” While you may have other grounds to question the reliability of the Gospels, I don’t think this is one area where the Gospel of Matthew makes an outlandish historical claim.

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Lorkas June 11, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Well if we don’t have grounds for rejecting it as historical, that must mean it really happened historically!

I really just wanted to know what your source was on the claim that Herod frequently ordered the deaths of all infants in a town. Obviously he was an atrocious person, but you made a specific claim about the frequency with which Herod ordered events just like the one described in Matthew, but your response doesn’t have anything to do with the question I asked about your original claim.

I’ll take it as a simple exaggeration, but I was curious to see if it really was a habit of his to order infanticide for an entire village, as you said it was.

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kilopapa June 12, 2010 at 1:34 am

The verse in Matthew actually states that all the male children under two in Bethlehem “and in all that region”(Revised Standard) were ordered to be killed. What that means is probably anyones guess but the text seems to suggest that more than just the village of Bethlehem may have been affected. Either way, the silence of contempory historians on such an event is far more difficult to explain than Richard would like to believe.

Another important point to remember about this passage is that Matthew says that the slaughter of the children took place to fulfill prohpecy (verse 18). So this story may be nothing more than a literary device to connect Jesus with the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.

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Beelzebub June 12, 2010 at 1:49 am

It’s constantly amazing to me that no matter what the topic, Meslier seems to have been there first. Amazing how he made a pretty convincing case 300 years ago!

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nate June 12, 2010 at 7:15 am

//So numbers alone may be the reason why Josephus does not mention the murders//

I think you’re forgetting another important part of the story. Because of the census, Bethlehem was filled with the descendants of David. As you’re pointed out, Herod was a pretty ruthless leader and wouldn’t want to leave anything to chance, so he’d probably try to kill all the children that went to Bethlehem for the census, which would probably be a lot.

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