By Vexen Crabtree 2016
The Hebrew Scriptures, which the Christians adopted as their Old Testament, are infamously violent. The endorsements of violence, mass murder and rape & pillage are dramatic, and are conducted under the direct commands of God for the betterment of the believer's religion1. The worry is that this gives justification for anyone who hears voices in their head telling them to murder for their religion that actually they should do so, and indeed, historically many have used the Bible to justify murder. For example, Emperor Theodosius tricked, trapped and murdered several thousand civilians from Thessalonia, and when his Bishop complained, he argued that he was acting as did David from the Old Testament2,3. Many Jewish terrorists have followed this line of logic and for hundreds of years Europe fell into the barbaric and ignorant dark ages under the terrible machinations of Christian institutions that embraced the Bible's endorsements of violence.
Exodus 15:3 states that God loves war, but it is not just enemy combatants that are the target. Exodus 22:18 has been used as the basis for murdering women accused of all manner of daft superstitious things ("thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"). Exodus 32:27-29 has the God of Israel command the army to murder sons, brothers, friends and neighbours and they are then blessed for doing so. In Numbers 31:17 they are told to murder all the children amongst the enemies and any woman who might be pregnant. Deuteronomy 7:1 tells the Israelites to occupy their future land and exterminate the original inhabitants because they are infidels: "you're to make no compromise with them or show them any mercy". Deuteronomy 13:6-9 says that if your relatives or friends try to get you to worship other gods, you must kill them "without mercy" - a deed that Abraham attempts in Genesis 22:1-18. In Deuteronomy 20:16-18 they are told to exterminate "everything that breaths". Joshua 6:21-24 and Judges 20 tell stories where God wants them to kill "everyone in the city, men, women, young and old. They also killed the cattle, sheep and donkeys. ... And they burnt the city with fire" and looted all they could. All with no morality nor sense of loss at all. 1 Samuel 15:1-8 has it that because the indigenous people of Amalek opposed God's murderous army, they killed all the men, women, children, babies, cattle, camels and donkeys there4. Likewise, in 1 Kings 18:21-40 the great prophet Elijah murders 450 followers of Baal because they follow the wrong God. Not all the slaughter is on God's chosen land: In Esther 9:12-16 the Israelites slaughter over 75,000 enemies in an internal strife in the Persian empire. In Hosea 13:16 the infants of Samaria will be "dashed in pieces" because the people no longer follow Israel's bloody God. If you are in any doubt that God commands bloodshed in his name then Jeremiah 48:10 declares that you will be cursed if you refrain from bloodshed. These examples are where it is Humans carrying out God's will and don't include the many times where God leads by murderous example.
This is not a complete documentation of divine slaughter in the Bible but it suffices as a snapshot of the horror:
Exodus 32:27-28 "[Moses' orders to his army] he said to them, "The Lord God of Israel commands every one of you to put on his sword and go through the camp from this gate to the other and kill his brothers, his friends and his neighbours. The Levites obeyed and killed about 3000 Men that day".
Exodus 32:29 "Moses said to the Levites, "Today you have consecrated yourselves as priests in the service of the Lord by killing your sons and brothers, so the Lord has given you his blessing".
Numbers 31:17 (Moses) "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him (in other words: women that might be pregnant)".
Deuteronomy 7:1 "When Yahweh your god has settled you in the land you're about to occupy, and driven out many infidels before you...you're to cut them down and exterminate them. You're to make no compromise with them or show them any mercy".
Deuteronomy 20:16-18 has the Israelites commanded to exterminate "everything that breaths".
Joshua 6:21-24 "With their swords they killed everyone in the city, men, women, young and old. They also killed the cattle, sheep and donkeys. ... And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord".
Joshua 8:24-29 Israel defeated Ai's troops in the field, and pursued and slaughtered those of them that had ran away. Once done, "all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. [... A]ll that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai".
Judges 20: Description a battle and city-burning, with no morality or sense of loss at all.
Judges 20:42-48 "... and them which came out of the cities they destroyed in the midst of them. ... And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand of the best Benjamine soldiers; ... and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; ... and slew two thousand men of them. So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; ... And the men of Israel turned again upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city, as the beast, and all that came to hand: also they set on fire all the cities that they came to.
1 Samuel 15:1-8 "Now listen to what the Lord Almighty says. He is going to punish the people of Amalek because their ancestors opposed the Israelites... 3-8 : With 210000 soldiers they killed all the men, women, children, babies, cattle, camels and donkeys".
1 Kings 18:21-40 The great prophet Elijah murders 450 followers of Baal because they follow the wrong God.
Esther 9:12-16: The Israelites slaughter enemies in an internal strife in the Persian empire, at least 75800 enemies are killed.
Hosea 13:16 "Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up".
The Book of Joshua is the 6th book of the Old Testament. It is a story of invaders wiping out an indigenous population. This immoral prejudice is now widely regarded as representing the worst and most unethical periods of Human history. We know it is abhorrent to behave like that. It is still a crime against humanity to behave like that even if you think you're doing it in the name of your religion. But there it is, in the Book of Joshua, teaching us all that if your God tells you to murder, pillage and conquer, then, it is just fine to go ahead and do so. Not only is it fine, but actually you will be punished if you refuse. So now, we see Joshua as a story presenting God as fundamentally immoral: To follow God, you have to abandon Humanitarian ethics. This is one of the greatest problems modern-day readers have with Joshua5.
Some examples from the city of Jericho (chapter 6) and Ai (chapter 8):
“And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. [...] And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.”
“And When Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. [... A]ll that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. [...] And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.”
Joshua 10:10-11, 10:28-32, 10:34-40, 11:6-17,21 contain more of the same, over and over (sometimes with Joshua's forces doing the killing, sometimes God itself doing it directly), with no sense of sadness, regret or pain on behalf of the killers. Kill children and animals with God behind you and there's no need for guilt or doubt.
A problem with this divinely-endorsed violence is that it inspires others to follow in the same footsteps. For example, Emperor Theodosius ruled the Roman Empire towards the end of the 4th century. After a dispute, rather than attempt to deliver justice, he invited an entire Greek tribe (the Thessalonians) to Milan and massacred the lot of them, including men, women and children.
“The people of Thessalonia were treacherously invited, in the name of the sovereign, to the games of the circus [but] as soon as the assembly was complete, the soldiers, who had secretly been posted around the circus [began] a general massacre. The promiscuous carnage lasted three hours, without discrimination of strangers, or natives, of age or sex, of innocence or guilt; the most moderate accounts state the number of the slain at seven thousand.”
The Archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, became very upset by this, and wrote in a personal letter to Theodosius that his conduct had been bad, and that Theodosius would have to show public sorrow and tears. He also refused Holy Communion to Theodosius. The emperor then explained that he was only doing what the Bible condoned - he was acting as did David from the Old Testament. According to the historian Edward Gibbon, the Archbishop's reply was to demand 'You have imitated David in his crime, imitate then his repentance'. For the next eight months, the emperor frequently paraded in beggar's clothes to come and ask forgiveness outside the Cathedral of Milan.2,3
What does this teach us? You may commit horrendous crime in the name of God, as long as you apologize afterwards. Theodosius won - he slaughtered his enemies, and he won public recognition as a pious repentant. The Bible has thusly been used by a great many tyrants to justify their actions.
Some of the genocides committed by God in the Bible are of the young, the innocent, and some are even the results of accidents. (Click the links below for full descriptions):
“In Genesis 22:1-18 and Qur'an 37:99-113 Abraham was tested by God and told to murder his only son. He obeyed and was about to stab Isaac to death on an altar when God changed its mind, and stops him at the last moment. Abraham was given incredible rewards for his loyalty. Abraham is one of the most holy and revered figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, yet he clearly failed this moral test: in going to murder his own son for God, he was displaying the worst signs of religion: insanity, murderous willingness to attempt spiritual gain at any cost, and an inability to question the true worth of his own beliefs. He followed criminal orders without asking why - a trend that in history has had terrible consequences yet is endorsed in the Bible. Not only that, he did not even question the highly likely probability that hearing voices is not a good thing. The Bible should teach that we ought to use our moral compass to decide if we ought to listen to the voices in ours heads! Instead, the Bible teaches we ought to murder even our own son in order to get ourselves into heaven, if it is what we think God wants.”
This type of instruction is not limited to just the most holy amongst us, such as Abraham. Deuteronomy 13:6-9 says that if your relatives or friends try to get you to worship other gods, firstly you must not give in to them, and secondly, you must kill them. That's right - kill your relatives if they try to draw you away from your religion, "without pity".
Aside from directly endorsing violence and strife, the Bible speaks volumes about the dangers of tolerating other religions. Tolerance and even friendship are sometimes discouraged and sometimes condemned. In the Bible, to be godly you have to be intolerant and shun those who had wrong beliefs.
12Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee; 13But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: 14For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, who is a jealous God. 15Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice.
5But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. 6For thou art a holy people.
Exodus 34:12-15 graphically warns believers not to get ensnared by those who believe differently, commanding that foreign altars and images are destroyed, and is repeated in Deuteronomy 7:1-2, 5-6. Making agreements with others will lead to "whoring" after their gods. With terrors like this awaiting true believers, it is no wonder that Abrahamic religions have found themselves centers of sectarian strife and intolerant violence towards others. It is not just foreigners who are subject to this violence. Deuteronomy 13:6-9 says that if your relatives or friends try to get you to worship other gods, firstly you must not give in to them, and secondly, you must kill them. That's right - kill your relatives if they try to draw you away from your religion, "without pity".
So, there are also milder elements of intolerance found in the Hebrew Scriptures / Old Testament. If there was any doubt, believers are certainly not to marry non-believers (Deuteronomy 7:3) as even the greatest men will be turned away from God by non-believing women (1 Kings 11:1-4). And Deuteronomy 28:9 says not to even learn about other religions or peoples. Insolar ignorance was the order of the day and fundamentalists have long since been found withdrawing their children from religious studies classes (if not from public education in total).
All of this scriptural violence has real-world effects. Judaism has developed into one of the least violence religions, but, the horrendous teachings found in the Bible all too often lead individual and small Jewish communities to commit acts of terrorism and violence.
“Modern Judaism does not lend itself to violence or extremism7. In history it has proven to be the most peaceable Abrahamic religion. Nonetheless Judaism has still amassed a monstrous catalogue of horrors in its name. If the stories of the Bible can be believed, the founding of Judaism occurred amidst pointlessly murderous battles with the rightful native inhabitants of Canaan and huge numbers of Biblical statements can be used to support violence and aggression in the name of religion. In history, Jewish nations conducted forced conversion en masse8. Modern terrorist incidents have also centered on the struggles to control land that has special religious significance for Jews in Israel. Extremist groups in the West Bank have executed violent terrorist campaigns against Palestinians and other campaigns have occurred against the Temple Mount9,10,11,12,13. Today, mainstream Judaism and the government of Israel speak out consistently and strongly against extremism, but the Haredim (ultra-conservative Orthodox Jews) are still growing in number and can be found aggressively trying to segregate the genders, enforcing strict rules of dress on others and banning free access to secular reading material especially via the Internet.”
Current edition: 2016 Dec 22
Last Modified: 2018 Jun 04
Parent page: Judaism
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
#abraham #biblical_morals #christianity #extremism #freethought #fundamentalism #genocide #infanticide #intolerance #islam #israel #judaism #monotheism #morals #murder #parenting #religion #religious_morals #religious_violence #the_bible #violence
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
(2007) Fundamentalism. Originally published 2005. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. New edition now published as part of the “Very Short Introduction” series.
(2009) The Invention of the Jewish People. English edition. Originally published 2008 as Matai ve'ekh humtza ha'am hayehudi?. Current version published by Verso, London, UK. A hardback book.