Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Biblical stories that will freak you out. #1

After going through the ten commandments I began thinking about all of the really disturbing stories in the Bible and thought I might start an occasionally writing about passages in the bible which were disturbing or immoral.

Today's entry is a gem of a story from Judges 11.  Jephthah goes to make war against the children of Ammon, this in itself is not that remarkable, but the there is much more to the passage starting in verse 30.
And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. Judges 11, 30-31
So we see here at the start of the passage Jephthah makes a promise to God.  He tells god that if he is granted a victory over the Ammon he will kill and make a burnt offering of whatever comes out of his house first.  I find this a really odd promise to make, given that he was going to be coming home from a war did it not occur to him that it might not be an animal that came out, but a fellow human being?  Further, God, though silent in this passage, seems to find this arrangement acceptable.  He certainly speak up to tell Jephthah he might want to rethink his promise.

While we are on this subject I think it might be worth bringing up that this bargain looks very much like some sort of magic spell.  Offering up blood sacrifices in exchange for deities reorganizing reality in your favor seems very similar to the sort of things I often hear Christians condemn about other religions.
So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.  And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. Judges 11:32-33
So, fairly straight forward here, Jephthah goes out to war and wins.  Indeed he apparently chases them across 20 cities.
And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.  Judges 11:34
So, unsurprisingly, Jephthah's daughter comes out to greet him.  His only daughter as it turns out.  You might think Jephthah would have deemed it a good idea to tell his daughter not to come great him when he got back, but clearly he did not think that far ahead.  His daughter came out to greet him because she was presumably happy that he hadn't been killed in the war, unaware that he had struck a blood bargain with his preferred deity for that safe return.
And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.  Judges 11:35
Well, at least he is upset about this turn of events.  However, he simply says that he can't go back on a promise he made to God so he is going to have to kill her and make a human sacrifice of her.   Again, God could have popped in at this point to tell him human sacrifice is wrong, and killing ones own daughter is even more wrong, but He continues to be silent.
And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.  And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.   Judges 11:36-38
To being told her dad is going to have to kill her now she responds rather calmly in this story.  I rather expect if this event were real she would not be so understanding.  She only asks that she be allowed two months to hang out with her friends to bewail that she will die a virgin.  Considering the age of marriage at the time this means that Jephthah's daughter (funny they never give her a name) would probably be no more than 13 or 14.  There is also some rather inherent sexism in this passage, the fact that she chooses to bewail her virginity rather than the fact that she was about to be made a burnt offering focuses on her role as a producer of babies to the exclusion of any other value she might have possessed.  "It's just a shame she has to die before she could pop out a few babies," is the way this reads to me.
And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year. Judges 11:39-40
Well, as promised she calmly comes back to her father so that he can preform the sacrifice.  If she had any sense she would have run away from that abusive nut job that calls himself her father, but she comes back and he goes through with it.  Again it should be noted that God could have intervened here but did not.  He did so for Abraham, not that God showing up at the last second up and yelling, "Psyche" makes the story all that great, but at least there was no actual human sacrifice in that one.

I have actually had Christians try to absolve this story by treating it as a object lesson about the need to keep the promises one makes to God.  The passage actually even supports this conclusion when Jephthah says, "I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back."  I personal think if there is any lesson to be found here it's that we shouldn't make bat shit crazy promises to invisible beings, but I am just weird like that  I guess.  Mostly I just point out to them that this kind of thinking can only lead to a rather openly relativistic moral position.  (you know, the sort of position that Fundamentalist Christians claim is a flaw with atheism)

How does one know that all of those parents who killed there kids weren't doing God's will?  Perhaps all those pedophile priests in the Catholic church were told by god to do what they did?  God wouldn't do that?  Why? Because it is wrong?  Just like human sacrifice is wrong even if its to keep a promise to god?  One cannot have it both ways, either we always keep our promises to god and this guy is a spiritual hero for his actions, or there are somethings that should never be done in any circumstance and this guy is the poster boy for what religion can make people do at its worst.

If it is the first, then Fundamentalist can not reasonably claim to have the moral high ground on anything, If it is the second then the it becomes increasingly difficult to treat the Bible as if it has anything useful to say about our morals.


  1. Is there any place in the text where you see God's approval of this ordeal?

    Deuteronomy 12:31
    "Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods."

  2. No, nor did I say there was.

    However, the moral of this story seems to be that it is wrong to break a promise to God no matter the cost. I have certainly heard Christians defend it that way, though you may disagree.

    God of course didn't come out in vocal support, but he did (presumably) grant him victory in battle knowing the consequences and didn't show up to stop him either.

    I know the passage you speak of but isn't it odd that the writer of Judges (or Jephthah if you believe the story actual history) didn't know it?

  3. Here's how the story begins ... "Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him." (Judges 11:3)

    This doesn't speak too well of him. In other places in the OT, we see this kind of sacrifice directly linked with pagan idolatry (references below). Jephtah was obviously influenced by his cultural neighbors in making his rash vow.

    2 Kings 16:2-4
    [King Ahaz] did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.

    2 Kings 21:2-5
    [King Manasseh] did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, "In Jerusalem will I put my name." And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. (see more on this king and these practices in 2 Chronicles 33)

    So, it's not as if Jephthah knowing these verses would automatically prevent him from doing this type of thing - that's the point: he sinned.

    So my question is why are you using this to say it is an example of the Bible teaching us bad morals or something to that effect? It is clear from OT passages both before and after that human sacrifice was sin.

    Skeptimus, how do you know if you would have been a cultural neighbor to Israel at that time and disliked Yahweh as you do now, that you would not have approved of this common cultural practice? What I mean is, by what grounds do you condemn the cultural practices of others? Isn't that just you imposing your values on them?


  4. "Jephtah was obviously influenced by his cultural neighbors in making his rash vow."

    "So, it's not as if Jephthah knowing these verses would automatically prevent him from doing this type of thing - that's the point: he sinned."

    ...Where in this passage does it say either of these things? It seems you are just making stuff up to fit a preconceived idea.

    "how do you know if you would have been a cultural neighbor to Israel at that time and disliked Yahweh as you do now, that you would not have approved of this common cultural practice? What I mean is, by what grounds do you condemn the cultural practices of others? Isn't that just you imposing your values on them?"

    I am trying to be polite here, I really am, but you are trying my patience with this statement.

    I have already explained that I believe in a sort of objective morality that is based upon science and rational examination of the evidence. I have also explained that I find such an ethical system superior in every way to religious ethical systems, and that divine command ethics are inherently relativistic and illogical.

    If you wish to debate my position then do so, but please stop repeating the same tired talking point I have heard from a thousand other Christians. We cannot have a true conversation unless you acknowledge that a point has been made and then move on to criticism. Ignoring what was said and then making throwing out the same faulty argument again does not really help.

    I really don't feel like going into a huge dissertation about my thoughts on ethics so I suggest you check out this talk by Matt Dillahunty


    He has been doing this a lot longer than I have, and I actually think Matt makes a more consistent argument than than Sam Harris on this topic.

  5. One other thing.

    If you truly cannot see any rational reason to object to murdering people and thus you must be told not to by God then this is a failure on your part not mine.

  6. Skeptimus wrote: "If you truly cannot see any rational reason to object to murdering people and thus you must be told not to by God then this is a failure on your part not mine."

    I don't recall saying I didn't have a rational reason to see murder as wrong. I asked you to give me yours, which apparently "tried your patience" since you say you believe in a "sort of objective morality".

    When you say a "sort of objective morality", do you mean this as in *virtually* objective but not *actually* objective? If so, that view is a semantic word game and *virtually* has no meaning.

    On this view you say you hold, are you saying that "science and rational examination of the evidence" told you that human sacrifice is virtually objectively wrong? In what way? If so, what exactly does that mean (that something is virtually objectively wrong)?

    I have heard this kind of thing by atheists before and upon examination, the claim to a "sort of objective morality" has no real content.

    As far as Jephtah being influenced by paganism, I would have thought that would have been obvious, since every passage I quoted linked human sacrifice with idolatry - and condemned both of them.


  7. Yes, it tried my patience because I already spelled it out to you earlier (which you never responded to) and they you show up repeating a question I had already answered. So yes you exasperated me.

    I would think that someone who claims to want a rational discussion would try to be a bit less of a self righteous jerk....but alas this is the sort of behavior I have come to expect....moving on.

    Since you need me to hold your hand and walk you through this I will.

    So we recognize that our actions have certain measurable and objective results, we can rational judge what results certain actions are likely to have on both individuals and on society. There are certain actions which will objectively result in a more stable society, happier more well adjusted people, etc. There are also certain actions that result in a loss of those things. Many things can be complicated and difficult to judge, but that doesn't mean there are no answers to be had.

    Morality is not left up to the whims of the individual, and though some things are determined culturally or socially, some things have verifiable negative effects on the individual or society, and often both. Society can be wrong, because it can incorrect judge the effects of behaviors. What society would promote a behavior that they know would either destroy or harm the culture? I very much doubt you would fine any, yet for most of history most societies (including the Jewish one) believed slavery was moral, even though we can now clearly see the harm it causes both individuals and societies. So the key to understanding morality is to understand our psychology better.

    I suppose one could suggest that some society might set upon its own destruction as a value, (cults like Heavens gate might qualify) but unsurprisingly those groups don't stay around very long. Survival of the fittest applies to cultures as much as it does biology.

    This is by far a short version of what I think, I really do suggest you watch Matt's talk, but do what you wish.

    I would, however, suggest you might respond to my question now that I have responded to yours. How do you justify divine command morality as anything other than relativism and might makes right? How can you possibly make a claim to objective ethics when the word objective must necessarily require that the idea can not come from individual?

    If you wish to continue discussing I think it is reasonable to ask you to answer my questions as well.

  8. do you not expect to be paid according to your terms?
    those ten are GOD's terms.
    Hey, if you don't want to pay HIM what HE is due for doing the work HE does- fine, just do not be surprised when HE stops... like today, when we end up with dead bloody kids- you don't think HIS protection is worth a little humility and obedience... fine- mission accomplished, we don't have it.

    But do not pretend for a moment that you have a better solution.. or that there is even and army of hands that could have been capable of protecting us from the kind of abject evil we saw taking form before us....There is only ONE Hand capable of preventing us from it and we have been enjoying decades of freebies of HIS MERCY and in the infinite wisdom of dopes like you.....we fired HIM, while complying with every term we could offer to lucifer himself.

    In case you did not notice.... until we started rejected the HAND that sustains us, that feeds us, that has kept evil for devouring our children.....we did not have the babies slaughtered like we did today-

    and you with your bright ideas and great biblical interpretation.... YOU advocate the removal of GOD but you did not do a very good job in GOD's stead, did you? How about you go tell those moms how we don't really need GOD to protect US... think they'll agree - "no GOD for us...don't need 'em"

    doubt it because theirs are the first of many that will die- evil devours babies- and it loves the ones whose moms WANTED to give birth to them....

    It's a shame indeed, you can not undo the damage you gave room to. You failed to replace the protection from evil that GOD gave us, the protection HE HAS CONSISTENTLY DELIVERED, even unto to the faithless pigs in this country who too rely on it in their selfish blindness- how burdened you were with requirements for the protection of GOD... that you could not have at least ignore them... as long HIS terms were visible and you gave us room to GLORIFY HIM- you enjoyed that protection too...

    but YOU WANTED HIM GONE, HE stayed until you succeeded in removing HIM...
    and up until today, it was not clear, you had gotten your way.
    but there is no doubt evil is now standing where it has never stood- splashing in the blood of babies- wanted babies

    do NOT speak or puff a word of your ignorance against HIS REQUIREMENTS because unfortunately- evil has no interest in equity... you won't pay the toll for actively fighting GOD's PROTECTION, you moron....

    those dead kids did!

    evil does not give a shit about who's responsible for buying into the removal of GOD from school and giving it full reign of the classroom today- all lucifer cares about is being GOD- he's on the back of your money, behind the fruits of your labor and in direct access to the move vulnerable victims he can reach to terrorize the entire creation upon which your life is sustained by a GOD you reject.... but actively... so as to offer up the domain in which we all relied on HIS protection to the merciless death that is to come.

    So when those moms are bawling about their babies and how could God let this happen.... let us all remember- we kicked GOD OUT - we FIRED HIM- WE CONTRACTED WITH THE COMPETITOR and the bill of proof is in your pocket.... you invested energy into making sure HE WAS NOT GOING TO stop this from happening...

    and still HE offers forgiveness upon repentance of bravado and vanity- those moms may not... but GOD does, through HIS SON JESUS CHRIST...keep reading the bible... the whole story counts-
    and I hated that verse too but this is bullshit, dude.

  9. Ok, first off your insulting tone is unneeded. Name calling is unneeded. You don't know me or anything about me. Secondly I don't know what this post has to do with the events that happened in CT today. I may post about some of the comments that have been made by Christians in the wake of the shootings, but I'll not comment further.

    The event was a tragedy, but statistically we still live in the safest period in history, if you were to pick any other period in human history to live in during the last 50,000 years or so, you would have a much higher chance of violence being done to you than now.

    There is no reason to think a being you have never demonstrated to exist would have had any effect on the events that happened today so for you too use this tragedy to score brownie points for your narrow bigoted interpretation of the bible, to stand in the ruble and say "I told you so" does not paint you in a favorable light.

    By the way, peruse my site, I was a fundamentalist Christian for years. I have read the bible, front to back. Have you?