Top Ten Worst Bible Stories

It’s time for Bible stories. And they’re awful. In fact, they’re so bad I feel compelled to put them below a jump so that squeamish Readers can avoid them. Disclaimers first, and then the blood.  So you can skip the post if you know you’re going to be offended.  But I hope you do read it.


  • This post refers to the Christian Bible, incorporating both the Old and the New Testaments. It does so because both the Old and the New Testaments apply to the dominant religion in my own country. To the extent that it discusses Old Testament writings, it is as much about Judaism as it is about Christianity. This post is not about Islam because I am not as familiar with Islam as I am with Christianity, and because Islam does not have as powerful a cultural influence over my daily life as does Christianity. I’m very, very sure that if I took the time to read the Koran, I could find plenty of things like these to match.
  • Each passage herein is intended to either be a law handed down by Jehovah to the chosen people or to illustrate a moral lesson. These lessons are not only bad, but in my opinion, indefensible. I have labored to understand the moral lessons in context and find them indefensible.
  • The Bible also has a lot of good stuff — good moral lessons, laws that make sense or at least do not particularly matter, and examples of behavior that we might take as positive exemplars. Yes, I have deliberately excluded those.
  • An apologetic may choose to react to this post by trying to explain or re-interpret the Bible stories herein in a more positive light. I invite such conduct — and I hope that the apologetic doing so will also try to explain my why interpretation of the stories is wrong.
  • If you are certain that this sort of thing will simply offend you and you lack the intellectual courage to address writing and thinking that dares to subject the Bible to moral scrutiny, you don’t have to. All my substantive analysis appears below the post. You can simply know that I have read the Bible and found it to contain passages which offend me, call me a godless liberal or whatever you like, and use the mere existence of this post as another brick in the citadel of uncritical thought into which you’ve placed your own mind, so as to exclude from your life any thinking, writing, ideas, or notions which make you in the least bit uncomfortable. I hope, though, that if you’ve read this far, you think you’ve got the mental stones to take what I’ve got to dish out.
  • I incorporate the Old and the New Testaments despite knowing full well that Christians freely disregard those portions of the Old Testament that they find inconvenient, claiming through a variety of theological constructs that the Old Testament “no longer applies” to them, against which I point them to the very words of Jesus himself:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or line shall never pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus is saying “The Old Testament is fully in effect, now and until the End of Days.” So Jews need not defend the New Testament, but Christians do need to defend the Old.  And some things which do not seem defensible to me include the following:

10. Jesus was a racist.

For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she sought him that he would cast the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, “Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.” And she answered him, “Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” And he said unto her, “For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.” Mark 7:25-29.

A Greek lady has a problem — her daughter is possessed by a devil. (How, exactly, did this medical condition get diagnosed?) Jesus refuses to perform an exorcism on her because she is a Gentile. Instead, he compares her to a dog. But when she agrees that she is indeed a dog, Jesus pronounces the devil gone and dismisses her from his sight. This strikes me as quite far from the example of a universally loving, charitable, and kind God. Rather, it strikes me as a rather sadistic form of racism. Mixed with faith-healing a fictional injury. What a guy.

Moral lesson: some kinds of people are better than others as a result of the accident of their birth; the only means for a low-born person to gain any sort of redemption is to acknowledge and admit their lower status.

9. Women can best glorify God by mutilating the penises of the men they love.

On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the LORD met him [Moses] and tried to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So the LORD let Moses alone. It was then she said, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.” Exodus 4:24-26.

Quite possibly the most bizarre story in the entire book of Exodus, and that’s saying something. Jehovah meets Moses at an inn. Far more prosaic an encounter than, say, the burning bush episode or the handing down the commandments on Mount Siani episode. Jehovah is apparently just hanging out at this inn in Egypt, having a beer with his buddies, when Moses and Zipporah stroll in. And on the spot, the Big J is ready to kill Moses because, imagine this, Moses has not yet mutilated on his own son’s genitals before walking from Palestine to Egypt. So Moses’ quick-thinking Gentile wife Zipporah grabs a rock and all quick-like she snips and chops the kid’s groove unit, and then she throws the severed foreskin at the feet of — I’m not clear, maybe Jehovah, maybe Moses. And then Jehovah is all happy and so he goes away without following through on his threat to strike Moses dead.

This is not the usual way a bar fight ends.

Now when I first read this, I left with the impression that Zipporah didn’t just circumcise the kid, she got all Lorena Bobbitt on Moses, too, after Jehovah left them there at the inn. That doesn’t seem to be the traditional interpretation, but what’s with that second comment Zipporah makes after Jehovah splits the scene? The circumcision somehow solemnifies or deepens Moses’ marriage to Zipporah, and that doesn’t make any sense if it was done to the baby rather than to Moses himself. But another interpretation is that the circumcision has to be performed on the child at precisely the right time, no exceptions, not even for Moses. I can’t work this out in my own mind.

But more fundamentally, I just can’t understand Jehovah’s deep and apparently pathological hatred of the human male foreskin. Didn’t He make the penis with a foreskin to begin with? Why? Just so we could get it cut it off three days after we’re born? Wouldn’t it have been a much more efficient (dare I say, “intelligent”) design to have a penis that never had a foreskin in the first place? And certainly I don’t think failing to circumcise one’s own son exactly three days after he’s born is a capital offense. Sheesh. The Big J has obviously lost all sense of proportion here.

Moral lesson: the foreskin is evil and must be removed.

8. Quisling-like collaboration with the enemy is fine as long as you pay the temple tax.

And then came certain Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch [Jesus] in his words. They asked him, “Master, we know that you are true and care for no man’s approval, for you teach the way of God in truth: Therefore, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?” But Jesus, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you tempt me? Bring me a penny, that I may see it.” And they brought it, so Jesus asked them, “Whose image and superscription is on this penny?” And they said unto him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus then said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marvelled at him. Mark 12:13-17

Understand that Jesus’ time was one of Roman military occupation of Judea. The Romans had variously tried direct military governance and rule through local client-kings, and offering Roman citizenship to local elites so as to integrate them into the power structure — all the time exacting taxes from the natives, trying to get them to adopt Greco-Roman social attitudes (which included the worship of the state-sanctioned pantheon of deities), and recruiting the young men of the region into the legions. They were, in short, trying to wipe out Jewish national identity and to replace it with Roman identity. This was anathema to Jewish leaders, who rightly perceived an existential threat in the Romans’ effort to assimilate them.

Now, if you like the Romans, then you could argue that this was a good thing for them to have been doing, and the Jews were wrong to resist it. And it’s certainly the case that Roman occupation brought with it certain material advantages. But in terms of love of God and country, the dilemma raised by the Pharisees here is genuine even if their motives were merely to embarrass Jesus: if your country is invaded by a foreign power, should you resist or go along to get along?

Jesus’ answer is “collaborate and tithe.” He doesn’t even tone it down, as if to say, “Look, the Romans are just plain more powerful than we Jews are; we can’t possibly hope to revolt against them so you kind of have to pay your taxes unless you want some centurion using you for fencing practice.” That would be a realistic, if glum, response to the question. But instead, Jesus says “It doesn’t matter that we’re under military occupation by a cruel foreign army. Don’t resist, help them out. Just be sure you also give money to the correct religious institutions so that the religion survives.”

I’d hope that if I were in the Red Dawn-like circumstances Jesus found himself, I would be able to summon up a little bit more fighting spirit than this. Philippe Pétain would have nodded his head approvingly at this passage, but I cannot.

Moral lesson: the legitimacy of your civil government is irrelevant; tithing is your highest moral duty.

7. It’s okay to have slaves as long as you don’t beat them too badly.

Should a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod, and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall surely be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there shall be no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. Exodus 20:20-21.

So let’s get this straight: beating a slave with a weapon so savagely that the slave dies on the spot — that’s bad. (I suppose I’d agree with that.) But if you beat your slave with a weapon and the slave lives on in misery for a few days after the beat-down, and then dies of the wounds — no problem. Obviously, one human being owning another human being, like livestock, is perfectly okay or we wouldn’t need this rule in the first place.

Now, this opens up a whole lot of troublesome hypotheticals. What if you beat your slave to death with your bare hands, not using a rod? What if you rape your slave? Is such a thing even possible, given that the slave is your property? What if instead of beating him with a rod, you cut off your slave’s foot with a sword — and he survives? Does beating your slave to death with a rod carry a punishment that is harsher, less harsh, or about the same as beating a horse or an ox to death with a rod?

This is only one of many, many regulations indicating how and under what circumstances slavery is okay under Biblical law. I say, it doesn’t matter how benevolent you are to your slave. Slavery is wrong, under all circumstances. It was wrong then, it is wrong now, and it will always be wrong in the future for one human being to own another.

Moral lesson: slavery is morally justified by virtue of minimally benevolent treatment of the slaves.

6. Rape victims must marry their assailants.

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. Deuteronomy 22:28-29

If some dude raped my daughter, this is about the last thing I’d want. I’d be looking to slice open a slit in his body running from his testicles to his teeth. Now, you might say that’s a little bit too brutal; and perhaps rape, while still a serious crime meriting serious punishment, is not so serious a crime as to merit death as a form of punishment. So maybe I ought to dial it back a little bit. Okay, I can see that.

So given that progressive, enlightened, measured way of thinking, a fifty-shekel penalty for despoiling another man’s chattel seems about right, doesn’t it? We’re talking a considerable sum of money here. Fifty shekels would buy you two oxen and their yokes. (24 Samuel 22:-24.) And if your bull gores another man’s slave, that would set you back thirty shekels.  (Exodus 21:32.) So fifty shekels, hey, that’s big money.

Never mind the psychic impact of a rape victim forced to remain in close proximity to her assailant and thus relive the trauma of the rape every day for the rest of her life. That, apparently, was a matter of insignificant concern to to the author of the Book of Deuteronomy. In fact, the Bible generally and the Old Testament in particular are generally not very nice to the ladies at all.

Moral lesson: women are chattel, and raping them is only bad because it makes them less valuable.

5. Original sin is making up your own mind about good and evil.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “ “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:1-7.

Let’s leave aside the obvious jokes about why God didn’t put this tree somewhere that it would have been difficult for Adam and Eve to get at if he didn’t want them to eat the fruit. The story has a much bigger problem than the question of why God would tempt his creations to sin.

Here’s the real problem. The tree with the forbidden fruit is not only pleasing to the eye, it was “also desirable for gaining wisdom.” According to the snake, who apparently was right about this, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The lesson here could not be more obvious: thinking for yourself is sinful. This is particularly so when it comes to matters of morality — deciding what is good and evil is a matter that Jehovah wanted reserved to himself exclusively. Sure enough, as soon as they eat, Adam and Eve realize that they’re naked, realize that this is a problem and something to be ashamed of, and take action to clothe themselves and solve the problem of their nudity on their own.

Later in the story, after cursing them out of the garden for doing what He surely must have known they would do all along, Jehovah makes better clothing for the no-longer-hapless humans out of animal skins. “Well, you lost paradise, you’ll have labor and painful menstrual cycles, and your buddy the snake is now your enemy, but hey, here’s a nice leather jacket as a parting gift!” This reinforces the lesson that anything humans do (clothing mag from fig leaves) is bad and what God does (clothing made from animal skins) is good.

The big point, though, is that Adam and Eve learning things, thinking for themselves, doing things to help themselves, are offensive to Jehovah and moral transgressions worthy of expulsion from paradise. Taken to the logical extreme, this leads to a fear and rejection of knowledge itself — a moral condemnation of learning and education, and a deep fear off individual moral judgment.  Things which, if you had asked me, are in almost every instance close to inherently praiseworthy.

Moral lesson: deciding for yourself what is good and evil is bad.

4. Capital punishment for homosexuality.

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13.

Maybe the concept of two dudes ass-fucking really, really creeps you out. This is neither the time nor the place to discuss why that should be the case, but I assure you that unless you’re either the ass-fucker or the ass-fuckee, chances are very, very good that it doesn’t really concern you. But I understand that some people’s reaction to this is “Eww.”

“Eww” does not justify taking human life. Is there anyone, anyone, who will respond to Leviticus 20:13 by saying “Well, seems kind of harsh, but God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” No, it does not “settle it”. If you were to actually act on this passage of the Bible, that would be murder. Presumably, the author of this passage intended to deter homosexuality with capital punishment.

This is barbaric. Which, of course, is the sort of law we would expect from, well, barbarians, which is precisely what the early Israelites were — uncivilized, nomadic peoples of the Bronze Age trying to militarize so that they could invade and steal other peoples’ land.

Moral lesson: homosexuality is the moral equivalent of murder.

3. God rewards a father nearly killing his son in a fit of psychosis.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. Genesis 22:1-18.

Ho. Lee. Shit.  Let’s summarize: Abraham hears a voice in his head. The voice tells him “Kill your only son.” He says, “Okay.” According to the story, Abe doesn’t even offer any argument or protest to this plan.

In fact, he kicks it up a notch. He tricks his son into building the sacrificial altar upon which he intends to kill the boy. Then, anticipating that there might be a struggle, he ties the boy up, and gets so far along as to be holding the knife to the kid’s throat. This is his own son. Now traditionally, artists depict Abraham as weeping profusely while this is going on, but in fact the story as related in the Bible does not contain any text suggesting that this was actually the case and Abraham seems to be actively working to deceive Isaac into becoming an accomplice in his own murder.

But taken at face value, Abraham seems at best nonplussed by the whole episode.

He should have been locked up. The man was obviously schizophrenic. Murderously, dangerously, violently psychotic.

This is nothing to celebrate. Do you think that Isaac got up after this and said, “Oh, hey, Dad, don’t worry about this. You were just doing what God wanted you to do, I totally understand. No hard feelings. Let’s go get a date shake!” Or perhaps we might expect him to have been, well, a little bit traumatized at having been almost murdered by his own father?

Jehovah was behaving like a monster here. Exactly the way I would have expected Satan to have behaved. Satan is nowhere in the Bible depicted as doing anything nearly this awful. What kind of a twisted, insecure, perverted, sick, demented leader of any kind would demand that his apostle KILL HIS OWN SON as a demonstration of loyalty? And how much more twisted was Abraham, who was willing to do it? It turns my stomach to even think about it.

Moral lesson: Acting uncritically on faith is good; even if you do something that is obviously reprehensible, as long as God tells you to do it, it’s morally praiseworthy.

2. Terrorism is good if God says it is.

Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said to them, “Draw out and take a lamb to your families, and slaughter it. Then take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood, and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will spare your family death.” … And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise up, and get out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, and be gone; and bless me also.” And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, “We are all dead men.” And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading-troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians. And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. Exodus 12:21-23, 29-38.

This is the famous story of Passover, one of the most significant holidays in the Jewish faith. It only happened because Jehovah had made Pharaoh “hard of heart” in refusing Moses’ efforts to get the Israelites liberated through peaceful means. The sons of the Israelites were spared because their families had been told by Moses to have a special meal the night before and to decorate their doors with the blood of the lamb slaughtered for that meal.

So, Jehovah deliberately arranges it so Pharaoh does not agree to Moses’ unreasonable demand that he allow 600,000 of his subjects to emigrate. This would have been a significant fraction of the total population of Egypt. Imagine if, say Governor Schwarzenegger said to President Obama, “Let California secede and become an independent country,” and Obama said, “No.” I’m thinking in that hypothetical, Obama would be the more reasonable of the two. So we can all at least understand where Pharaoh is coming from here.

In the version of the story I quote above, Jehovah himself kills the firstborn sons of every Egyptian family. Every man and woman in Egypt wakes up the next day to find their sons dead. Understandably, they are “terrorized,” because what we are reading about here is an act of terrorism.

Now, why would Jehovah, who presumably knew who was an Israelite and who was an Egyptian, demand that the Israelites use the blood of the lambs to decorate their doors? Of course he wouldn’t. But in pretty much the rest of the Bible, Jehovah doesn’t do his own dirty work; he gets others to do it for him. Notice in the book of Job that God doesn’t take away Job’s wealth and family and health; rather, Satan does it after making a bet with God. God isn’t directly killing Isaac in the sacrifice of Abraham story — he gets Abe to be the knife-man. God doesn’t directly smite down the gay men; he gets the Israelites to pick up the rocks and stone them for him.

So it seems pretty reasonable here to read into this the idea that Jehovah himself did not kill the Egyptian children. Human agents of Jehovah did. Human beings bent on an act of terrorism like this would need to see a visual signal of where to strike and where to leave the family alone. So that’s what the blood on the door thing was all about — a signal to the terrorists to not strike at this particular house. Where they didn’t see this signal, they killed. And the Egyptians got the message, they thought “we are all dead men,” which shows they understood that if the assassins could kill their sons, they could kill again.

And then, the terrorists stole. They “borrowed” “Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment.” There is no record anywhere in the Bible of the Israelites ever giving this stuff back to the Egyptians from whom it was “borrowed.” So this looks more like “borrowed without permission,” followed by “failed to return,” which is a rather longish way of saying “stole.”

This is the event celebrated annually on the high holiday of the Jewish religious calendar — a massive, coordinated act of murderous terrorism followed by a massive act of theft, which successfully achieved its political objective of creating a breakaway state from the world’s oldest and most successful government.

Moral lesson: If God tells you to murder innocent babies and take their families’ valuables, then that’s a good thing to do.

1. God likes genocide

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. Deuteronomy 7:1-6

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 20:10-19

The LORD said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them. Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.” So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.

They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man. Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.

Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31:1-18

If you can figure out how to describe these things as anything other than “genocide,” I’d be interested in hearing it. Maybe we can get past the killing of the kings and the princes and the soldiers by saying “Well, the Israelites and the Midianites were at war and killing people is a part of war.” It would appear that the Midianites had not done anything directly to provoke the war, although there seems to have been something bad the Midianites had done before this, although I cannot find a reference to what the Midianites had done — but it must have been really bad. Like not cutting off their foreskins or something.

That doesn’t excuse Jehovah directly commanding the Israelites to wipe seven nations off the face of the earth in Deuteronomy, either.

And Moses makes sure they finish the job right.  When the Israelite soldiers get done killing, raping, and plundering, they come back to the camp with all their newly-captured slaves and comfort women, and Moses is all upset. Not that they were killing, raping, or plundering — it’s that they want to do more of the raping and not enough of the killing. Note that the women who had been raped were now ruined and worthless, so they were simply slaughtered. Only the virgin girls were kept alive, to be brought up and used as, I can only presume, comfort women in the future. 

Massive murder. Massive destruction. Open, unprovoked warfare. Thousands of innocents raped and slaughtered. All of it — every drop of blood — justified by the word of God.  As delivered by God’s faithful representatives Moses and Aaron.

Moral lesson: literally anything, including crimes against humanity itself, are morally justified if a priest tells you God wants you to do them.

When you send your kids to church and Sunday school so they can get taught “Biblical morality,” this is a part of what they’re learning:  don’t decide for yourself whether it’s right or wrong to do things like rape, murder, and slaving — just do them, taking God’s sanction for your activity based only on blind, unquestioning faith, as delivered to you by the racist representatives of a cruel and autocratic government.

So you can re-commit original sin, and decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong, using whatever knowledge, logic, and good sense you have available. Or, you could outsource your morality to ignorant bronze age shepherds-turned-warriors. The choice is yours.

UPDATE:  A commenter, Ennis, has taken the time to respond to some of the above stories on his blog.  Ennis is clearly smart, articulate, and intellectually committed to tackling the issues I raise here on their merits.  I have left a few comments on his blog (here and here), and I invite all my Readers to visit him and chime in there as well as here if they like. Our dialogue is entirely on the merits and I am as pleased as ever at having a thoughtful “sparring partner.”

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Hey TL,Would take too long to respond to all of your observations but one post I recently wrote speaks to number 10. You can find it here post which gives the rational for some of the OT laws is The point in both cases is you can't project our perspective backward into Bible times and vice versa but you can read them for yourself.They are a bit long to copy and paste (though I think you me beat on the length issue 🙂

  2. In regard to 4. Capital punishment for homosexuality, I agree that it is barbaric. While the Bible does prohibit sex between men (homosexuality), it can nevertheless be shown that the prohibition does not apply today when the sexual activity causes no harm. Also the prohibition does not apply today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Roman cultures. The Bible criticizes, but does not prohibit, sex between women. Full reasons for these conclusions are given on the Gay and Christian website (

  3. Please re-read the first bullet point in the disclaimers, zzi.

  4. Wow. Ten of the most horrible stories and Jonah doesn't even make it close.GOD: Hey Jonah!Jonah: ACK!GOD: Go east and tell the citizens of Nineveh that I will destroy them.Jonah: WTF dude. Get out of my head! *goes west, gets on a boat*GOD: Seriously, Jonah. Go east and tell them or I will kill you and everyone on this boat.Everyone on the boat: WHOA! Umm… Jonah?Jonah: *dives overboard, saving everyone on the boat from God's wrath. Gets swallowed by a fish and then spat out onto land three days later.*Of note: Jonah can hold is breath for a long time.Jonah: *Begrudgingly, but with fervor, preaches God's message in Nineveh*Citizens of Nineveh: WHOA! *wail in terror*GOD: *does nothing*GOD: *grows a gourd overnight then kills it*GOD: Hahahah, Jonah. They are surely trembling now that I have bottled out of killing them all, and you weren't omniscient enough to know about it. HAHAHAH!Moral of the story: God will screw with you.

  5. Hey TL,Just thought I'd let you know I posted the sermon I preached on #10 on your list. Here's the link: Sola Church Media.It's titled "Follow Me, Part 9" as its part of a larger series on the book of Mark. I posted my manuscript notes so you can read or listen, though they are slightly different. Perhaps I'll get through the other 9 sometime on my blog, as I've spent some time looking into them.

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