Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: biblical marriage (page 1 of 2)

NT Lesson 8 (Sermon on the Mount 1)

The Sermon on the Mount: “A More Excellent Way”

Matthew 5

LDS manual: here


To show that some of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are terrible, and that it allows believers to selectively jettison inconvenient doctrine from the Old Testament


This time, we’re starting on the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

which was actually taught on a plain.

Luke 6:17 And he came down with them, and stood in the plain

Seriously, were any of these Bible writers actually there? Oh, wait; no, they weren’t. This was probably written 30 or 40 years after Jesus would have died. As mentioned in this Thinking Atheist podcast, it was written originally in Greek — not Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken — which points to a later writing date.

Main ideas for this lesson

Some of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are terrible

People just love the Sermon on the Mount because many of its teachings are nice. They’re all about the lerv. A closer reading shows that many of these teachings are nonsense, and a real supernatural being could do a lot better.

The Sermon on the Mount has been thoroughly fisked a number of times, and here are some of my faves.

You should definitely check them out. But here are a few of my ideas.

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Well, those are just lovely. One problem: while being meek works out great for those in power, it doesn’t do much to help to help you out of a bad situation. Does a belief that God will sort everything out comfort you, or just put you back to sleep? Frank Zappa suggests that helping each other out would be a better way to turn things around.

Frank Zappa- The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing… by WarGodIII


Here’s another one:

Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

In my upbringing, this meant: Everyone knows you’re a Mormon, and they’re watching you. Don’t let your behaviour reflect badly on the Church.

This has a number of effects: It controls your behaviour, serving as a kind of panopticon where you’re always being observed. It also gives you the idea that how you feel about what you’re doing is less important than how others feel about what you’re doing. And that means that you can’t really trust your own moral instincts, because it’s always someone else evaluating your behaviour. You have to imagine what morality looks like to some external observer, guess what they expect, and then do that. It’s like giving someone an moral-sense-ectomy, so that you can replace it with whatever you want.

It’s one tiny scripture, but the church does this in lots of ways, and the effect is cumulative.

Let your light shine?

When you do good things, you’re supposed to let them be seen.

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Oh, wait; no, you’re not. Very next chapter:

Matthew 6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

It’s very difficult to know how publicly righteous you’re supposed to be.

Is the Old Testament still valid?

How many times have you had a discussion with a believer about the barbarity of the Bible, and they say, “But that’s the Old Testament!”?

Well, in this section, Jesus sets out the relationship between his teachings and those of the Old Testament.

Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
5:19 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.

This sounds to me like the kind of thing that would have been written way later, once the early Christians were trying to allay criticism that they were getting away from their Jewish base.

Anyway: So what’s the deal? Is the OT still in force? The OT certainly says so; in numerous places it says it was intended to last as a perpetual statute forever.

Lev. 23: 14it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Num. 19:21 And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them…

And Jesus says as much: Things things won’t be done away “till heaven and earth pass”.

But Christians argue that the OT has been superseded. In the words of the Jehovah’s Witness guy that came to my house yesterday, Jehovah gave us the Ten Commandments in the OT, and the Two Commandments (love God, love your neighbour) in the New. Sort of a version update. This seems to be what they mean by Jesus ‘fulfilling’ the law. (Which is confusing, because “heaven and earth” haven’t passed away yet, and here it is fulfilled already. Oh, well.)

If that’s the case, and the OT has been deprecated, then why do Christians still cherry-pick laws from it that they like?

As mentioned in this lesson, some Christians like to cite the homophobic scriptures in Leviticus, but ignore the shellfish prohibition in the very same book.

A fact lampooned in “Prop 8: The Musical”. Remember that?

While there are mountains of explanations from Christians trying to sort this out, the fact remains: The relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament is confusing, and this confusion allows Christians to play it both ways. They can pull anything they want from the Old Testament that suits their purpose because Bible, but they can selectively disavow chapters and chapters full of stuff they find unpalatable. This should, however, cast some doubt on just how much they “believe” the Bible.

And what’s often forgotten in this discussion is that (for Mormons and Trinitarians) Jesus is Jehovah. Why wouldn’t he be okay with what he commanded earlier? It makes no sense in terms of a coherent narrative from an unchanging god, but it makes loads of sense in terms of human cultural evolution, which Christianity is a prime example of.

Thinking is not doing

Jesus gives a teaching from the School of Emotional Repression:

Matthew 5:21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Being angry is nowhere near as serious as killing someone. This teaching is ridiculous.

Note also that atheists are called ‘fools’ in the OT. Man, Jesus sure could use some help from a modern Christian to get himself sorted out!

Adultery in your heart

Matthew 5:27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Seriously, Jesus? Impulse control is a fine thing, but this crosses the line into thoughtcrime. In my youth, I wasted a lot of effort trying to stop naughty thoughts from crossing my mind, and feeling bad when I couldn’t. As an adult, I enjoy my sense of eroticism at baseline levels. We are sexual beings, and while we put it on background for much of our day-to-day lives, trying to deny this aspect of our personality is damaging, and makes us act like sexually repressed weirdos. What a terrible lack of perspective to equate sexual desire with unconstrained rutting.

There’s more. If thinking about sex is equated with doing it — if there’s no line between the two, then it eradicates the line between normal stuff people do (like hugging, smooching, etc) and things that are truly messed up (like sexual assault). Have a read of this treatment of the toxic purity culture of American Christianity (as it pertains to the notorious Duggar family), and how it makes inappropriate sexual behaviour not only possible, but likely.

The huge problem with this teaching is that it does not distinguish between having thoughts and desires, and acting on them in an inappropriate way. To the young person, just developing (one hopes) critical thinking skills, this can and does lead to problems in making decisions. After all, if one has already fallen into sexual sin in the realm of thought, why not at least get some satisfaction for the trouble. All the guilt and shame is already there, so why not try to at least get a little gratification.

Needless to say, this worldview is not very good at addressing the issue of consent. Since all sexual sin is the same…, then the difference between lusting and sexually assaulting someone is blurred.

More extreme beliefs follow.

Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

It’s off with the hands and eyes for a lot of you.

(Funny that it mentions the right hand specifically, by the way.)

Just one more thing from this bit: this is the first time we’ve seen where Jesus mentions ‘hell’. He’ll have more to say about this — including actual fire! — but let’s make a note of this and move on.


And now we’re to one of Jesus’ teachings that Christians happily ignore: his teachings on divorce.

Matthew 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

And thank goodness they ignore it! Yes, divorce can be unfortunate and disruptive, but it can also give you your life back.

People tell me that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. I always respond: Fifty percent of marriages should end in divorce. All my life in church, people treated divorce like the worst thing in the world. That and apostasy. Then I found that they were wrong about both those things. And everything else.

A bit of context, though: Divorce is good, except where it leads to poverty for women, which, in a patriarchal society where men have all the power and money, is very likely. So let’s take that into account. But this is an argument against patriarchy, not divorce.

The other good thing about Christians ignoring Jesus’ teachings on divorce is that Christians can learn to ignore the bullshit in their Bible. And that’s a good thing, if only they were aware that’s what they’re doing.

On the other hand, I sometimes wish modern Christians weren’t so selective.

Additional lesson ideas

Luke’s additions

Boy, did Luke have a different take on this sermon!

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
6:21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
6:22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
6:23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
6:24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
6:25 Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.

Message: if you’re a wealthy, well-fed laughing person, you’re hosed in the afterlife.

Love your enemies

Well, we’ve been tough on the Sermon on the Mount/Plain today. But there are some good bits, and here’s one.

Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

I think this might be a good idea, unless you’re someone who’s learned to be fatally compromised in relationships. In some cases, it would be better to cut your enemies out of your life, instead of being commanded to love them. (And what’s with being commanded to love? Geez.)

Even then, there are some weird inconsistencies in this part of Jesus’ message.

And this is the same Jesus who sends people to hell. But more on that later.

Let’s just say that loving your enemies is good if you can manage it. It’s an advanced move.

Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

This reminded me of a poem by Charles Bowen:

“The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella”

See you next time.

NT Lesson 2 (Mary)

“My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord”

Luke 1; Matthew 1

LDS manual: here


To explain why the gospel accounts are not reliable, and to remind readers that God is pretty much a rapist.


We’re starting to dip our toes into the origin story of Christianity here. However, as we’ll see, there are reasons to think that the story has been contaminated by earlier texts, as well as popular notions about gods, virgins, and the sex between them.

Main ideas for this lesson

The where and when of the Gospels

As a believer, I had a rather naïve view of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). I always thought that they were each written by a single author, more or less at the time of the events they described. You know, plus or minus a few months.

I should have known better, especially after reading these words from Luke:

Luke 1:1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
1:3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
1:4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

Notice that the writer of Luke says that at this point in history, many people have written their own histories of Jesus. In writing his version, Luke is just mopping up.

So when were these accounts of Jesus written?

To answer this question, let’s start with this video featuring Matt Dillahunty, answering a question from a caller.

Ask: What points does Matt make?

  • The Gospels were written decades after the events they discuss
  • Conservative scholars habitually date the Gospels early
  • It’s not a debate we even need to get into because even if someone had written the gospels down at the time, it wouldn’t mean that the events actually happened.

In the video, Matt mentions this site, earlychristianwritings.com (which is not offline; it’s still going strong).

Class activity: Browse the front page of earlychristianwritings.com. Which books came before the first gospels?
Answer: Most of the Pauline epistles. It’s almost as though the effort for the first half of the century went into administration, and putting the story of Jesus into writing was an afterthought. This is striking to me, because we’re eventually going to see the same pattern for Joseph Smith’s “First Vision”, which didn’t seem to be a part of early church mythology, and didn’t see a coherent write-up until much later.

Ask: According to the website, when do the four gospels appear?

  • Matthew: 80–100 CE
  • Mark: 65–80 CE
  • Luke: 80–130 CE
  • John: 90–120 CE

Wikipedia’s page on the gospels doesn’t differ significantly on timing. (Notice that Mark is the first gospel to be written. Current thinking has it that whoever wrote Matthew and Luke were copying from Mark. Check out the Wikipedia page for Mark, in particular the Two-Source Hypothesis.)

That’s right; it’s possible that the gospels could have been written down a full century after the events they were describing. How reliable does this make them?

Stories can grow up very quickly. As I write this, the Islamist attack on the cartoonists of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo is still news, and predictably, conspiracy theories have already grown up around the event. In the last decade and a half, the body of ideas known as 9/11 Trutherism has grown up, reached a kind of apex, and dwindled back down to background levels. It doesn’t take long for these movements to coalesce.

So when we read these gospels, it’s important to remember that these documents were not written by eyewitnesses in any traditional sense. The writers had time to confabulate, and borrow whatever legends were current among the people. Christianity had a long time to get its origin story straight.

Is eyewitness testimony reliable?

Luke also says that he is an eyewitness of the events in the Gospels.

Luke 1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

For many Christians I’ve talked to, this is the key to the whole thing. The gospels were written by eyewitnesses who saw the whole thing, and for them this is very convincing.

But eyewitness accounts are not all they’re cracked up to be. Here’s Sam Harris explaining why.

Starting at 3:14.

Consider Christianity. The entire doctrine is predicated on the idea that the Gospel account of the miracles of Jesus is true. This is why people believe Jesus was the son of God, divine, etc. This textual claim is problematic because everyone acknowledges that the gospels followed Jesus’ ministry by decades and there is no extra-biblical account of his miracles. But the truth is quite a bit worse than that. The truth is even if we had multiple contemporaneous eyewitness accounts of the miracles of Jesus, this still would not provide sufficient basis to believe that these events actually occurred.

Well, why not? Well, the problem is that firsthand reports of miracles are quite common, even in the 21st century. I have met literally hundreds at this point of Western-educated men and women that think that their favorite Hindu or Buddhist guru has magic powers. The powers ascribed to these gurus are every bit as outlandish as those ascribed to Jesus. Now, I actually remain open to evidence of such powers. But the fact is that people who tell these stories desperately want to believe them. All, to my knowledge, lack the kind of corroborating evidence we should require before believing that nature’s laws have been abrogated this way. And people who believe these stories show an uncanny reluctance to look for non-miraculous causes. But it remains a fact that yogis and mystics are said to be walking on water, and raising the dead, and flying without the aid of technology. Materializing objects, reading minds, foretelling the future. Right now, in fact all of these powers have been assigned to Satya Sai Baba the South Indian guru, by an uncountable number of eyewitnesses. But he even claims to have been born of a virgin, which is not all that uncommon a claim in the history of religion.

The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has done decades of research investigating the reliability of memory. A famous experiment showed how language can influence our memories of events we’ve seen.

In this experiment, participants watched a video of a car crash. They were then asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed / collided / bumped / hit / contacted) each other?” Some subjects got the version of the question with the word ‘hit’, others ‘smashed’, and so on. What Loftus found was that the subjects’ estimates of the cars’ speed depended on the verb they’d heard — contacted v hit, for example.

Loftus also found that when people were asked the ‘smashed’ version of the question, they were more likely to imagine that they’d seen broken glass, when there was none.

These experiments and others should serve as a caution to us when people come with ‘eyewitness testimony’. People can be mistaken, people can be wrong, and people can lie. And when the stories don’t even come from eyewitnesses, but are written decades after the fact — as is the case with the gospels – this gives us even less reason to believe the extraordinary claims therein.

Female consent is not a high priority for God

The worrying thing about the story of Jesus’ conception is that Mary’s consent is not required. It starts when as angel informs Mary that God’s going to do her:

Luke 1:30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

Valerie Tarico writes a great piece in the IEET called It’s Not Rape If He’s a God — Or Thinks He Is. She gives a laundry list of gods who have had sex with human women (allegedly), and comments:

But these encounters between beautiful young women and gods have one thing in common. None of them has freely given female consent as a part of the narrative. (Luke’s Mary assents after being not asked but told by a powerful supernatural being what is going to happen to her, and she responds with language emphasizing the power differential. “Behold the bond slave of the Lord: be it done to me . . .”)

Who needs consent, freely given? If he’s a god, she’s got to want it, right? That is how the stories play out.

Yes, it is, and this should bother us a lot more than it does. The low priority assigned to female consent goes hand in hand with other ways in which Christianity promotes rape culture. This includes the cult of modesty so prevalent in Mormonism; young women are encouraged to take responsibility for the sexual thoughts of young men — don’t become walking pornography. How will Mormonism (or Christianity) ever be able to encourage men to take consent seriously, when their god is running around boffing teens? How can sexual abuse be addressed, when there’s a sexual relationship with a huge power differential written right into Christianity’s origin story? It starts here.

Additional lesson ideas

Born of a virgin?

Christians find justification for the virgin birth story in the alleged prophecy of Isaiah:

Isa. 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Let’s ignore the fact that Jesus was never called Immanuel in the NT. The real problem is the mistranslation of the Hebrew word almah ‘young woman’ as ‘virgin’. Paul, writing before the gospels, doesn’t mention a virgin birth, and this might mean that the idea hadn’t taken yet. The book of Matthew contains the first reference to this notion, but Matthew’s a bit of an outlier. Other books don’t make reference to a virgin birth — check our Bart Ehrman’s blog and Valerie Tarico’s article in Alternet for some interesting explanations for this.

Did God have sex with Mary?

Mormons seem to have settled on a peculiar angle on Jesus’ conception: that God and Mary knocked boots. Or at least, this is a point that non-Mormon Christians seemed eager to dredge up with me as a missionary. I was always open to the possibility myself, not being particularly sex-negative. If you go with the Mormon idea that God is a literal man of humanoid form, white skin, about 6’2″, with a godly dong, then godly sex is not out of the question. On the other hand, I thought the question bespoke a kind of inappropriate curiosity.

And yet, as recently as the 80s, the Gospel Doctrine manual used this quote from Ezra Taft Benson, which stops just short of saying, “They totally did it.”

I am bold to say to you, … Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. He was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!

There you go, folks. God is Jesus’ father in the most sticky, sweaty, slippery sense.

I have a funny memory of teaching this Gospel Doctrine lesson as a missionary (I don’t think that was a normal thing, but I tried to serve where needed), and reading this quote out. I figured at the time that it was a coded reference to coitus divinus, and maybe I wanted to see who knew what was what. Let them who have ears to hear, and all that. And who do you think connected with it? The mission president’s wife. Yep, she caught the reference, and nodded sagely. She was into it. Odd.

If you want to see a list of references from the semi-official Mormon canon, here it is. Caution: Christianity, Web 0.9 design, animated gifs.

Be that as it may, the coital liaison between God and Mary did make for awkward dinner parties.

The idea of gods having sex with human women is incredibly popular throughout history. RationalWiki has a big list. You must admit, it’s a tempting option for a girl in trouble. In the Amazon, a girl has (or had) the option of blaming dolphins who turn into men.

Tribal elder: Who’s the father?
Girl: Um, a dolphin!
Tribal elder: Sounds legit.
Every guy in the tribe: Phew!

There are a number of closely-related cartoons that mine the humour of this situation. Here they are.

 This one’s so popular, it comes in two varieties.

Where’d Joseph get a typewriter, anyway?

This one is my favourite, though.

Now I’m definitely going to hell.

OT Lesson 34 (Hosea)

“I Will Betroth Thee unto Me in Righteousness”

Hosea 1–3; 11; 13–14

LDS manual: here


This chapter is about Hosea. We’ve seen some unusual behaviour from prophets — genocide, hacking oxen to pieces, bear maulings — but this is one of the stranger ones. To hear Hosea’s side of the story, Jehovah / Jesus commanded him to take a wife that would be adulterous. Her name was Gomer. A popular name, apparently.

1:2 The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.
1:3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son.

I have to say something here. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. But in this book, plus Job and Jonah recently, we now see that God’s going through a phase where he’s just dicking with people.

Anyway, having married an adulterous wife, Hosea writes an entire book of the Bible excoriating her for having lovers, threatening Israel with death and destruction, and asking the Lord to exact a series of frighteningly specific punishments on his wife and Israel alike.

The picture I’m getting here is that Hosea’s wife had an affair, and he handled it monumentally badly.

Presently, Hosea’s wife has children, and Hosea gives creative names to these adorable tots:

  • a baby son Jezreel, so named because God was going to kill lots of people to avenge the killings of Jezreel. Charming!
  • a baby daughter Loruhamah, which means ‘unloved’. What a cutie!
  • a baby son, Loammi, which means ‘not my people’. Aw, he’s adorable.

Apart from the psychological damage inflicted by these names, the main problem is that it’s just impossible to find personalised baby stuff for them.

Then Hosea tells his kids that their mom is a whore, and that he’s not her husband.

2:2 Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts;
2:3 Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.

I hate when people bring the kids into it.

And, in an extra twisted touch, he’s not going to be merciful to them because they are — as they say — brothel sprouts.

2:4 And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms.

Way to go, Dad. Ironically, this lesson is being taught on Father’s Day all over Australia.

At this point, the text becomes a little unclear, but it appears from commentaries I’ve read that Hosea goes and buys his wife back from someone. In other words, she’s become a prostitute.

3:1 Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine.
3:2 So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley:

Read the following scriptures with the class. What does the Lord threaten to do to those who don’t worship him?

9:14 Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
9:15 All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters.
9:16 Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.

10:13 Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.
10:14 Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Betharbel in the day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces upon her children.
10:15 So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.

13:7 Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them:
13:8 I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them.

13:15 Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels.
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.

This has implications for the abortion debate.

No word on whether counselling was effective for Hosea and Gomer.

Main points for this lesson


Why in the world would Jehovah / Jesus command one of his prophets to marry an unfaithful wife? The real manual has it that J/J was getting Hosea to act out an allegory, in which the adultery of Hosea’s wife was meant to symbolise Israel’s apostasy.

Explain that in addition to these smaller comparisons, Hosea also used extended comparisons, which are called metaphors or similitudes (similitude is the word used in the scriptures). The book of Hosea contains several comparisons to help us understand the relationship between Jesus Christ and his people.

Hosea’s quite a short book, but within its pages are some of the ugliest metaphors in scripture. If you’re an ex-member who no longer worships the Abrahamic god, the LDS Church offers these metaphors to help you understand your situation.

  • Worship is like sex
  • People who turn from worshipping God (read: ex-Mormons) are like prostitutes
  • Believers are like property that God has bought, and owns
  • Believers are like animals

Let’s look at each of these.

Worship is like sex

The Book of Hosea hinges on a metaphor that worship is like sex. There’s an explicit connection drawn between idolatry and adultery.

Ask the class: How is worshipping God like having sex with God?
Endure several minutes of uncomfortable silence. Then answer the question yourself:

You see, the church is like a woman. And God gets mad if she has sex with anyone else. But ‘sex’ is standing in for ‘worship’. Which makes you wonder if the sex around God’s place is really boring, like Sacrament Meeting, or if the worship is actually pretty hot and steamy. I’m guessing the former.

As for me, it’s bad enough that I was born into a church that expected me to worship the Abrahamic god for the whole of my life. Now I find that it’s meant to have a sexual element, too. This seems unimaginably creepy, as though not only my mind but also my body was required, and no need for my consent. I suppose the worship / sex thing is an apt comparison, after all.

People who turn from worshipping God are like prostitutes

Let’s consider the central metaphor of this reading, and see what its implications are supposed to be:

  • Hosea’s wife Gomer has left her husband, gone after other men, and become a prostitute.
  • She explicitly represents Israel, which has stopped believing in Jehovah / Jesus.
  • If we are not faithful to God (the church, Hosea, what have you), then we are acting in the role of Gomer.

In other words, insofar as we are intended to connect this metaphor to a modern situation, people who have left the church are cast as the whore. I don’t really see any other way that this could have been intended.

And let’s be clear: I don’t think most Mormons feel this way about ex-members. Yet the church offers this “whoredom” metaphor as a way of thinking about people who have stopped worshipping. Is this respectful? Is it accurate?

I don’t actually have a problem with sex work, so I don’t mind this kind of criticism. Maybe it’s apt: I’ve left someone who was pimping me (the church), and gone into business for myself. However, if I went around saying that Mormons were like prostitutes, not only would I evoke howls of protest from Mormons, I’d probably have ex-Mormons telling me I was going a bit far. Yet here we have the reverse situation, posted not by some weirdo on Facebook, but proclaimed openly in every Mormon Sunday School class this week, using the church’s official teaching materials.

One thing the church has always done very poorly is understanding the motivations of those who leave. Over and over again, we have lessons about the Dangers of Personal Apostasy, and it seems to be beyond their comprehension that people might have good reasons for leaving.

  • The claims of the church turn out not to be true.
  • Prophets do not act with anything resembling inspiration.
  • The church teaches a white-washed and distorted version of its history.
  • The church acts less like a church and more like a corporation that works to advance conservative political views.

I think these are good reasons to leave, but what we hear in church is that ex-Mormons leave because “they were offended” or “they wanted to sin”. These rather trivial reasons are given as a way of invalidating the experience of ex-Mormons.

Check out Jen’s great list of terms she once used to describe ex-Mos.

Inactive, struggling with faith, lost testimony, fell away, gave in to temptation, led away, allowed Satan to have influence, lost the spirit, not truly committed, not truly converted, not obedient enough, having a crisis of faith, didn’t endure to the end, didn’t keep covenants, relied too much in the understanding of man, proud, offended, wandered off the path, focusing on the wrong priorities, complacent, selfish, not worthy, chose to sin, blinded by arrogance.

I hear ya, Jen. I had the same list.

If any readers want to find out why people really leave, you couldn’t do much better than this video from John Dehlin, on why people leave the LDS Church.

Believers are like property that God has bought, and owns

In chapter 3, Hosea buys his wife back. The real lesson manual has this to say:

In Hosea 3:1–2, the husband purchased his wife from her lover (you may want to explain that in Old Testament cultures, women were often considered property and could be bought or sold)…. In what sense has Jesus Christ “bought” each of us? (See 1 Peter 1:18–19.) What does Christ require of us in return?

Hey, we can do better than 1 Peter. Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 6.

1 Cor 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

That’s right — you don’t belong to yourself, and you don’t (or shouldn’t) have control over your own body or your own self. And why not? Because someone allegedly bought you two thousand years ago.

This gives the game away. Christianity purports to set us free, but in actual fact, Christianity requires slaves, and the Bible says this over and over. And if you try to escape, then some very graphic punishments will ensue.

I think slavery is wrong, no matter who the owner is, and I don’t allow myself to be owned. Throwing off religion has served as a reclamation of my freedom and personal autonomy.

Believers are like animals

Finally, the lesson manual offers another — equally unappealing — metaphor.
Another similitude often used in the scriptures to describe the relationship between the Lord and his people is the master-animal relationship. This similitude is used briefly in Hosea 11:4. What do we learn about the Lord’s feelings for his people through this comparison?

Let’s see.

11:3 I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.
11:4 I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.

Ask: What do we learn about the Lord’s feelings for his people through this comparison?
Answer: God feels like he gets to lead his people around like an animal. But he feeds them and takes off the yoke — after putting it on, of course.

Believers are often characterised as sheep, but in this scripture, they’re beasts of burden. And as I remember the things I used to do in the church:

  • attend hours of meetings
  • work at my callings
  • clean church buildings and temples
  • support activities
  • promise to give everything I had to the church

I think the ‘burden’ idea is appropriate. Church activity is a burden, and an unnecessary one at that. It ties us down with bands, and then claims that they’re “bands of love”. But we all have better things to do with our time than prop up an organisation that exists for its own perpetuation.

To conclude this section, the real lesson manual asks:

How do the similitudes in the book of Hosea help you understand how the Savior feels about you?

Oh, they speak volumes, I can tell you.

Additional teaching ideas

Is God loving and merciful?

The real lesson manual thinks so. In fact, this one point is the entire purpose of the lesson:

Purpose: To help class members understand that the Lord is loving and merciful and will forgive us when we repent and return to him.

But the god of the book of Hosea shows a distinct lack of these qualities.

Ask: Imagine someone said to you, “If you don’t worship me, I’ll kill you. But if you do worship me, I’ll be kind to you.” Would you consider that person loving or merciful?

Answer: This is not love or mercy. If someone is kind to me, then that’s nice. It’s kind of the minimum that I would expect from a normal person. But this does not mean that they’re worthy of worship. And adding threats into the equation just compounds the unacceptability.

The book of Hosea shows us that Christianity is an abusive and immoral religion. It’s abusive to require someone to worship or love you, and it’s immoral to someone them with death and destruction for refusing to love you enough. Jehovah / Jesus is a violent asshole, and worshipping him is a bad deal. Don’t accept it.

OT Lesson 26 (Solomon)

King Solomon: Man of Wisdom, Man of Foolishness

1 Kings 3; 5–11

LDS manual: here



This chapter certainly starts off with a bang: Kind David is old and cold, so they throw a girl into bed with him. Her name is Abishag, or as it is sometimes rendered — rather amusingly, given the situation — Avishag.

1 Kings 1:1 Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat.
1:2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
1:3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
1:4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.

Davi e Abisag by Perdo Américo, 1879

All kinds of questions here. What does cherishing involve? Was Abishag kind of a hot name for a girl back then? Was the past tense of get really gat?

But we do know that the word shunamitism derives from this practice, meaning ‘throwing a young girl into bed with an old man to extend his life’. Believe it or not, it was encouraged in the 1800s.

In the 17th century, Francis Bacon approved King David’s practice, suggesting, however, that puppies might serve as well as young virgins.

Puppies? Forgive me, but this — while very cute — hardly seems an appropriate substitute. On the other hand, let’s have a moment of sympathy for this Shunammite girl, tossed into bed with a dusty old man. She probably didn’t want to be there.

Succession woes

The young Abishag, for her part, finds herself at the centre of a succession struggle, wonderfully summarised here.

David’s son Adonijah wants to be king after David dies, but Bathsheba wants the throne for Solomon. The prophet Nathan’s on board — Adonijah’s not that into him. So Bathsheba and Nathan bring David around.

1 Kings 1:29 And the king sware, and said, As the LORD liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress,
1:30 Even as I sware unto thee by the LORD God of Israel, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead; even so will I certainly do this day.

Meanwhile, Adonijah and his friends is celebrating his accession to the throne.

1 Kings 1:9 And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fat cattle by the stone of Zoheleth, which is by Enrogel, and called all his brethren the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah the king’s servants:

But when they hear the news that David has backed Solomon, all of Adonijah’s friends bail, like Bob Alexander’s campaign event at the end of the movie Dave.

1 Kings 1:49 And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way.

Adonijah knows he’s in trouble, so he heads to the temple and grabs the horns of the altar. That’s a safe zone.

1 Kings 1:50 And Adonijah feared because of Solomon, and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.

Solomon tells him to knock it off; he’s not going to kill him.

1 Kings 1:52 And Solomon said, If he will shew himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die.

Now you’d think Adonijah would lie low after this, but no, he decides he wants to marry Abishag the Royal Hottie.

1 Kings 2:17 And [Adonijah] said, Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king, (for he will not say thee nay,) that he give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife.

Even Bathsheba thinks this is uncontroversial.

1 Kings 2:18 And Bathsheba said, Well; I will speak for thee unto the king.

But Solomon is a little smarter than your average bear, and sees this as a power play. If Adonijah marries Abishag, who was in a way the last partner David had, it could be a claim to his legitimacy to the throne. Sorry, Adonijah, but you have played the game of thrones badly.

1 Kings 2:23 Then king Solomon sware by the LORD, saying, God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah have not spoken this word against his own life.
2:24 Now therefore, as the LORD liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day.
2:25 And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.

In killing Adonijah, Solomon is only following in the ways of his father David, who used his last moments to settle some old scores. He commands Solomon to kill Joab and Shimei.

1 Kings 2:1 Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying,
2:2 I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man;

2:5 Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet.
2:6 Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace.

2:8 And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword.
2:9 Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.

Dispute over a baby

This is the story everyone’s familiar with, but even my highly educated never-Mo girlfriend/wife had never heard it! So here it is.

Two women — sex workers — live together and have a baby each. In the night, one baby dies, and so now both are claiming the same live baby. Solomon considers, and instructs a nearby minion to cleave the living baby in twain, and distribute half to each women. Before the axeman can carry out this eminently fair proposition, one of the women bursts out, telling Solomon to keep the baby alive and to give it to the other woman.

1 Kings 3:26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.

King Solomon halts the proceedings, and delivers the baby to the mum that wanted to keep it alive.

1 Kings 3:27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.

Everyone’s really impressed.

1 Kings 3:28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.

It’s even more impressive when you realise that it doesn’t matter if the woman was the real mother. The child would do best with whichever woman wanted it to be alive, regardless of maternity.

Since I can never resist a bit of Twain, here’s Huckleberry Finn and Jim arguing over this story. Please excuse the n-word as a product of language use at the time.

“WELL, den! Warn’ dat de beatenes’ notion in de worl’? You jes’ take en look at it a minute. Dah’s de stump, dah — dat’s one er de women; heah’s you — dat’s de yuther one; I’s Sollermun; en dish yer dollar bill’s de chile. Bofe un you claims it. What does I do? Does I shin aroun’ mongs’ de neighbors en fine out which un you de bill DO b’long to, en han’ it over to de right one, all safe en soun’, de way dat anybody dat had any gumption would? No; I take en whack de bill in TWO, en give half un it to you, en de yuther half to de yuther woman. Dat’s de way Sollermun was gwyne to do wid de chile. Now I want to ast you: what’s de use er dat half a bill? — can’t buy noth’n wid it. En what use is a half a chile? I wouldn’ give a dern for a million un um.”

“But hang it, Jim, you’ve clean missed the point — blame it, you’ve missed it a thousand mile.”

“Who? Me? Go ‘long. Doan’ talk to me ’bout yo’ pints. I reck’n I knows sense when I sees it; en dey ain’ no sense in sich doin’s as dat. De ‘spute warn’t ’bout a half a chile, de ‘spute was ’bout a whole chile; en de man dat think he kin settle a ‘spute ’bout a whole chile wid a half a chile doan’ know enough to come in out’n de rain. Doan’ talk to me ’bout Sollermun, Huck, I knows him by de back.”

“But I tell you you don’t get the point.”

“Blame de point! I reck’n I knows what I knows. En mine you, de REAL pint is down furder — it’s down deeper. It lays in de way Sollermun was raised. You take a man dat’s got on’y one or two chillen; is dat man gwyne to be waseful o’ chillen? No, he ain’t; he can’t ‘ford it. HE know how to value ’em. But you take a man dat’s got ’bout five million chillen runnin’ roun’ de house, en it’s diffunt. HE as soon chop a chile in two as a cat. Dey’s plenty mo’. A chile er two, mo’ er less, warn’t no consekens to Sollermun, dad fatch him!”

I never see such a nigger. If he got a notion in his head once, there warn’t no getting it out again. He was the most down on Solomon of any nigger I ever see.

The temple is built and dedicated

Solomon wants to build a temple. This is a positive sign: instead of war and conquest, Solomon is channeling the Israelites’ efforts into architecture. Not only would this be very beautiful, but also a sign of stability besides.

1 Kings 5:2 And Solomon sent to Hiram, saying,
5:3 Thou knowest how that David my father could not build an house unto the name of the LORD his God for the wars which were about him on every side, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet.
5:4 But now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent.
5:5 And, behold, I purpose to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house unto my name.

Old habits die hard, though; the opening ceremony involved the slaughter of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. How long would that have taken‽

1 Kings 8:63 And Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the LORD, two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD.

Whatever. I’m just glad that Mormons don’t sacrifice animals anymore. Instead, they just wave handkerchiefs around in an awkward and slightly dorky way.

Solomon marries foreign women

There has to be some conflict here, and it relates to Solomon’s choice of wives.

1 Kings 11:1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites:
11:2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

That sounds great. That would have meant that the formerly warring kingdoms were integrating. But Jehovah/Jesus isn’t happy with that. He sees his monotheistic hold slipping away.

1 Kings 11:11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.
11:12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.

The real lesson manual chastises Solomon for the sin of — having lots of wives? no — interfaith marriage, equating it with ‘turning away from God’.

How did Solomon’s choice of wives show that he had turned away from God? (See 1 Kings 11:1–2. He married out of the covenant.)

Ask: How do members in part-member families feel about this?

Main points from this lesson

Did Solomon’s temple exist?

We’ve seen a bit of a pattern here in the Old Testament. We read about the Flood — and then see that there’s no evidence for it. We read about the Exodus — and then find that there’s no evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt at all.

And by the way, while I’m thinking of it, did you catch this bit of the church’s terrible new Book of Abraham essay?

But even this evidence of ancient origins, substantial though it may be, cannot prove the truthfulness of the book of Abraham any more than archaeological evidence can prove the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt or the Resurrection of the Son of God.

Comparing the Book of Abraham with two other fictitious events. That’s cute.

Anyway, while it may have been a bit of shock to find that these Bible stories have no evidentiary basis, it’s equally surprising to find that the trail of evidence never really gets started the further you go. And so it is with Solomon’s temple. The book of 1 Kings was written way after the fact — about 400 years after the temple was allegedly built — and no evidence for it exists.

Could Solomon’s temple have existed anyway? Well, much of 1 Kings is taken up with very specific detail that gives the whole thing an air of verisimilitude. Then again, fiction can be very detailed. Some works of fiction even come with their own constructed languages (which you can hear me talking about in Episodes 161 and 162 of my language podcast Talk the Talk).

Skeptic Brian Dunning, for his part, feels that we should believe the Solomon’s temple story until it’s disconfirmed

Since we can’t verify that the temple existed, we certainly can’t say that the Holy of Holies did, and we can’t say that there was an Ark inside of it. However, there is a wealth of non-empirical evidence supporting the idea that Solomon, his temple, and the Ark within probably did exist. Historians going back through ancient Rome, such as Josephus, and ancient Greece, such as Herodotus, have all provided accounts that are generally consistent with the Biblical history of Solomon’s temple. I believe it’s fair to say that the existence of Solomon’s temple, and a gilt wooden ark hidden inside of it, are the null hypothesis. We’ve no compelling reason to doubt it.

…but it doesn’t work that way. Unspecified ‘non-empirical evidence’ might be okay for ordinary propositions, but I think I’d like a bit more before I sign off on this.

I feel the same way about Solomon’s temple as I feel about Jesus. It’s fine with me if it existed, and if more details come to light that confirm their veracity, I have no problem with that. On the other hand, I’m not holding my breath, and if the LDS Church wants people make important life choices based on this elaborate narrative, then it needs to support it with publicly verifiable evidence.

Temples, Solomon, and Freemasonry

Just about every Latter-day Saint has heard unflattering comparisons between Freemasonry and the Mormon temple ceremony, with the implication that Joseph Smith ripped off the Masonic ritual and incorporated it into the endowment.

While I’d always heard talk of such things, it wasn’t until I read a leaked copy of the Master Mason Degree ritual (PDF) that I fully understood the extent of Joseph Smith’s plagiarism (a representative slice is at right). I went through the LDS temple for the first time before the 1990 changes, so I remember the penalties and the Five Points of Fellowship, and they’re all there. It’s a wholesale transplant. What a spin-out. I found myself thinking, “Was there anything original that Smith did?”

See also Richard Packham’s convenient chart.

How do Mormons explain away the similarities? One common line of reasoning involves Solomon’s temple. The argument goes something like this:

  • The LDS temple ceremony was practiced in Solomon’s temple.
  • Solomon’s temple was built by stone masons, who had access to the temple ceremony.
  • Those same masons formed Freemasonry.
  • They therefore pilfered the temple ceremony from Solomon’s temple, and used it for their own.

As a believer, I accepted this explanation for a while, until I became aware that Freemasonry does not go back to the time of Solomon’s temple, supposedly about 900 BCE. In fact, organised Freemasonry starts in the 1700s, and probably goes no farther back than the 1200s or 1300s. Even that might be a bit generous — Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope pegs it at the 1500s. By the way, Uncle Cecil’s description of Masonic handshakes might raise a tremor for an endowment holder.

In shaking hands, for example, a Master Mason will press his thumb between the other guy’s second and third knuckles, thereby identifying himself to initiates while leaving others clueless.

And more handshakes and drawings here. Beware, though: evangelical Christianity.

To say that Freemasons borrowed the temple ceremony from proto-Mormons is to get it exactly backwards. It was Joseph Smith that remixed the Masonic ritual into what is now the LDS temple endowment.

Additional ideas for teaching

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba: Is it true about those two?

The book of 1 Kings has this little subplot about a powerful woman — the Queen of Sheba — who came to visit Solomon.

1 Kings 10:1 And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions.
10:2 And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.
10:3 And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for this supposed meeting; it sounds like a meeting between two intelligent people who found an intellectual kinship. And when people bond in this way, things can get… well… a little bit hot.

1 Kings 10:13 And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.

So… did they have a thing?

Certainly film and artwork have had no trouble filling in the gaps in the narrative.

At this point, we need to look back on the Bible and see the two similar stories we’ve run across: David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Boaz. In both of these, the Bible is maddeningly circumspect in its details. But are we to believe that nothing went on there? Were these rough and semi-barbaric people secretly the inventors of Victorian morality? Even though the text doesn’t explicitly sanction such a reading, you have to look at this and say, come on.

Another thing: when there’s no sex, as with David and Abishag, the text specifically says, “He knew her not.” If that’s not there, some bets are off.

So my take, as Gospel Doctrine for the Godless teacher: They totally did it.

pi = 3

As we all know, the value of pi (π) — the ratio of the circumference of a circle and its diameter — is 3.141592… and on and on and on.

And if you didn’t know the value of π, just remember this sentence: “Boy, I wish I could calculate pi.” The number of letters in each word corresponds to each digit. Science moment of the day.

But a common atheist criticism is that the Bible puts the value of π at just plain 3. How so? Well, 1 Kings 7 gives some measurements of the ‘molten sea’, which was a vessel of some kind.

1 Kings 7:23 And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

That makes π = 30/10, or just plain 3.

I actually think this is not a good argument against the Bible. Remember, π is a transcendental number, so the flow of digits never stops and never repeats. That means that any value of π given in the Bible could be considered insufficiently precise to anyone who decided to think so. Bible says 3? That’s not accurate. Bible says 3.1? Also inaccurate.

So this is on my list of Arguments Atheists Shouldn’t Use.

And yet… this is a bit of a missed opportunity for Jehovah/Jesus. He could have stuck an easter egg in the text, something like “The number thereof never endeth.” That way, when people found out more about π (and it wouldn’t have taken long), they could have been amazed by the Bible’s accuracy, instead of patting the ancient Hebrews on the back and saying, “There, there; you weren’t to have known about geometry.” Too bad.

OT Lesson 24 (David and Bathsheba)

“Create in Me a Clean Heart”

1 Samuel 18–20; 23–24

LDS manual: here


For today’s lesson, we’re blasting through all of 2 Samuel, and that means it’s all about David. In terms of kingliness, David was the apex. Israel had never seen anything like him. Imagine if John F. Kennedy, in addition to being a handsome president and a war hero, was also a rock star who wrote his own songs. That’s David for you.

And predictably, David collected a harem of women. Chapter 3 starts off with six of them.

3:2 And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
3:3 And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
3:4 And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
3:5 And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.

It wasn’t all slippery intercourse for David, though. There was also murder.

4:12 And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron.

He wasn’t too keen on lame and blind people.

5:8 And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind that are hated of David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.

But he did like the women.

5:13 And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.

And one point, he danced — perhaps even cavorted — while not wearing very much.

6:14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

Saul’s daughter Michal thought David was showing more of his body than was proper. So she complained at him.

6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

6:20 Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!

So David cursed her to be childless for the sin of sarcasm.

6:21 And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.
6:22 And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.
6:23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.

Except she did have children. But David took care of that by killing them. More on that later.

He killed off two thirds of the Moabites, and took the rest as servants.

8:2 And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.

We saw in the last lesson that the Israelites had a saying: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” When you get a reputation like that, you have to keep it up, and David does, with the murder of tens of thousands of people — with Jehovah’s explicit encouragement.

8:5 And when the Syrians of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David slew of the Syrians two and twenty thousand men.
8:13 And David gat him a name when he returned from smiting of the Syrians in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand men.
8:14 And he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all they of Edom became David’s servants. And the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went.
10:18 And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, who died there.

And now the famous story of Bathsheba. David sees her bathing, and invites her over for a bit.

11:2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
11:3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
11:4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

But whoops, she’s pregnant. Now David has to invite Uriah back, to establish plausible paternity.

11:5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
11:6 And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.
11:7 And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered.
11:8 And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.

“Wash thy feet.” After the story of Ruth and Boaz, I’m wondering if this means feet, or if it means feet.

But Uriah frustrates David’s plan by refusing to sleep with his wife. Twice! Curses!

11:9 But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.
11:10 And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?
11:11 And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.
11:12 And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow.
11:13 And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.

So David gets Uriah killed by stratagem.

11:14 And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
11:15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

11:26 And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
11:27 And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.

Instead of reading all this, you can just listen to the Pixies song, “Dead”, which is a micro version of David and Bathsheba. The song is something of a miracle of economy, conveying the frenzy of David’s adultery, with each chorus pounding in a single word — dead — conveying the emptiness of the whole tawdry affair. Notice also how the rhythmic structure is built around groups of 3, and not 4. I think this makes the song more unresolved and unsettling.

You crazy Bathsheba, I wancha
You’re suffocating, you need a good shed
I’m tired of living, Sheba, so gimme,


We’re apin’ rapin’ tapin’ catharsis
You get torn down and I get erected
My blood is working but my
My heart is,


Hey, what do you know?
Your lovely tan belly
Is starting to grow

Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper

The prophet Nathan chastises David in epic fashion, with a particularly scorching metaphor.

12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
12:2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
12:5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
12:6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
12:7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

He explains that David’s wives will be given to other men, who will have outdoor intercourse with them.

12:11 Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
12:12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

The child of their union dies.

12:15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

12:18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died.

But Solomon springs from their loins. More about him in future lessons.

12:24 And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.

Now a subplot about Absalom. Apparently, he was a handsome guy, with hair that weighed 2.2 kilograms.

14:25 But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
14:26 And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year’s end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king’s weight.

Absalom conspires against his father David.

15:10 But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.
15:11 And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.
15:12 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.
15:13 And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.
15:14 And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.

and even goes in unto his father’s concubines.

16:21 And Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Go in unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong.
16:22 So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

Absalom is killed in battle with David, when he’s devoured by a hungry tree.

18:8 For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

Well, no, the tree didn’t kill him, but he got stuck in one of its branches. And then run through with a dart. Very GoT.

18:9 And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.
18:10 And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.
18:11 And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.
18:12 And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.
18:13 Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.
18:14 Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.

David’s grief is “characteristically intense“.

18:33 And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

And the concubines? David punishes them by keeping them under house arrest for the rest of their lives.

20:3 And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.

For all this, David sings about how righteous he is.

22:21 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
22:22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22:23 For all his judgments were before me: and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.
22:24 I was also upright before him, and have kept myself from mine iniquity.
22:25 Therefore the LORD hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eye sight.

Main points of this lesson

God punishes people for arbitrary things that they haven’t even done

There are loads of things in these chapters that deserve punishment — murder being the main one – but as usual, the god of the Bible chooses to punish people, when the blame more properly belongs to someone else.

We’ve already seen how Jehovah/Jesus kills the baby of David and Bathsheba for his father’s sin.

But later, there’s a famine, and Jehovah/Jesus blames the famine on… David? No, Saul, who’s already dead. Why is he punishing people for the actions of a dead man? Who can fathom the divine mind?

21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

So David asks the Gibeonites what he can do for them. Answer: kill the supposedly non-existent sons of Michal from chapter 6.

21:6 Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them.

21:9 And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.

And then God punishes Israel for taking a census — that he moved David to take!

24:1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

24:9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
24:10 And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

God hates stats.

So what’s going on? I think there’s something we can learn here about the way religious people attribute causation. When something bad happens, like a famine or a death, it’s normal for us to try and figure out why it happened. That might help us avoid the problem. But we humans, with our monkey brains, have trouble attributing causality.

I know a voice teacher who tells everyone to gargle with zinc when you get a sore throat. Every time she gets the first sign of a sore throat, she’s hitting the zinc. And she always gets better — or at least she hasn’t died yet. Is the zinc helping, or is she getting better by herself? Well, in the absence of a carefully designed experiment, it’s hard to say. She’s certainly convinced. But she could be falling for a very compelling illusion: the placebo effect.

Theism adds another layer: When you believe in a mysterious being who does things for his own reasons, and who isn’t directly available to answer questions, it’s easy to pick up and use the supposed motives of this being as an explanation for everything. This makes people think that:

It’s a very convenient form of reasoning. The cause of the trouble is always something the religious person doesn’t like.

Thomas Gilovich has an interesting case from Israel in his book, “How We Know What Isn’t So“.

“A flurry of deaths by natural causes in the northern part of the country led to speculation about some new and unusual threat. It was not determined whether the increase in the number of deaths was within the normal fluctuation in the death rate that one can expect by chance. Instead, remedies for the problem were quickly put in place. In particular, a group of rabbis attributed the problem to the sacrilege of allowing women to attend funerals, formerly a forbidden practice. The remedy was a decree that subsequently barred women from funerals in the area. The decree was quickly enforced, and the rash of unusual deaths subsided — leaving one to wonder what the people in this area have concluded about the effectiveness of their remedy.”

Religious reasoning. It’s not for nothing that they think God is the answer to everything, because to them it is.

Steadying the Ark

Here’s the story of Uzzah, who Jehovah/Jesus killed because he tried to help. Unfortunately, helping in his case meant trying to touch God’s favourite piece of furniture.

6:6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
6:7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.


This is the way the god of the Bible works: kill tens of thousands of people, and you’re a hero; try to keep the Divine Toybox from tipping, and you’re dead.

Uzzah’s death seems unnecessarily harsh, even to Mormons, who have to explain why it was actually okay for God to kill him. For Latter-day Saints, Uzzah’s story is most often employed as a cautionary tale about not correcting the leaders of the church. It’s always seemed odd and self-serving to me that leaders of the church warn against correcting or criticising leaders of the church.

Brian Ricks’ symposium talk about Uzzah is fairly representative of the Mormon view and the Mormon arguments:

We live in a day when we are bombarded with temptations to leave the path of obedience to follow the path of good intentions. There are those who criticize the Brethren, thinking this loyal opposition will help the Church.

This interpretation of Uzzah’s death worked its way into the Doctrine and Covenents:

85:8 While that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.

The real Gospel Doctrine manual skips Uzzah, but the D&C manual says,

In modern revelation the Lord referred to this incident to teach the principle that the Lord does not need the help of men to defend his kingdom (see D&C 85:8). Yet even today there are those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. There are those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, those who would extend some unauthorized blessing, or those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. These are ark-steadiers. The best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s plan.

Yes, let’s talk about women being treated fairly in the church, shall we?

For decades, the LDS leadership has engaged in double-talk regarding the role of women in the church. They’re equal. But separate! Which means “not equal”.

And while there’s a lot of sexism in our society, we don’t tend to take kindly to ‘old boys clubs’, of which the LDS priesthood is a glaring example. Every male from the age of 12 gets the priesthood, and no woman does.

It was inevitable that there would be a movement to ordain women, and lawyer and feminist Kate Kelly spearheaded just such a movement. Her subsequent excommunication has opened up a huge problem for the LDS Church. With more and more people resigning, converts down, and alternative communities becoming more available, the LDS Church can ill afford to alienate half of its membership. If I cared about the church, I’d be very concerned right now.

And yet it’s the same old story: when you think you speak for a god, it often means you’re not good at listening. Mormons think the church will never fail, and overreach is impossible. And so, predictably, LDS leaders and members are throwing up Uzzah’s ark-steadying story as a way of shutting down the discourse.

The leadership of the LDS Church wants to convince people that they know what they’re doing, it’s all under control. But as the church lurches from PR crisis to PR catastrophe, this becomes harder to believe.

Additional ideas for teaching

The manual conflates premarital sex and sexual assault

We’ve already seen in Deuteronomy how rape is just another way of getting a wife. This lesson tells of the sexual assault of Tamar by her brother Amnon.

13:1 And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.
13:2 And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do anything to her.

13:10 And Amnon said unto Tamar, Bring the meat into the chamber, that I may eat of thine hand. And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
13:11 And when she had brought them unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister.
13:12 And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly.
13:13 And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.
13:14 Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.
13:15 Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
13:16 And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.

Amnon pays with his life.

13:28 Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant.
13:29 And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded.

A very sad story. But now here’s the kicker: the real lesson manual takes the story of this sexual assault, and uses it for a discussion about extramarital sex.

2 Samuel 13 contains the story of David’s son Amnon and David’s daughter Tamar. Amnon was attracted to Tamar and forced her to commit fornication with him.
• 2 Samuel 13:1 says that Amnon loved Tamar. How did Amnon’s feelings for Tamar change after he had sinned against her? (See 2 Samuel 13:15.) Why does hatred, rather than love, often result between people who violate the principles of morality?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “I heard Elder John A. Widtsoe . . . say,
It is my observation that a young man and a young woman who violate the principles of morality soon end up hating one another.’ I have observed the same thing. There may be words of love to begin with, but there will be words of anger and bitterness later” (“True to the Faith,” Ensign, June 1996, 5).

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that rape is not the same as sex. But the lesson manual conflates them. This is inexcusable.

Lest we think this is isolated, let’s remember the story of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and was forced to live and travel with the rapist. She commented on why she didn’t try to escape:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.” Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.” . . . Smart says children should be educated that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

I heard the ‘chewed gum’ analogy growing up in the church, and it was designed to induce sexual guilt, but in the context of consensual sex. It’s awful that this gets rolled into rape. This attitude harms people, and this part of the manual needs to be retracted immediately.

Interesting language note

This passage caught my attention:

17:29 And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.

What’s with the word kine? It’s a rather unusual plural because it shares no letters with its singular companion, cow. How did it get to be this way?

Back in the early days of English, there were a lot of ways to pluralise things. There was the occasional plural -s that we know so well, but there was also a lot of vowel-raising going on, too. For this, you would swap the vowel for one that was higher in your mouth. That’s why we have

  • manmen, or 
  • tooth → teeth.

But there was another method, and that was to put an -n on the end. That’s how we get oxen and brethren. Some people still say eyen for eye.

For its part, cu appears to have gotten a double shot of plurality: both the vowel raising and the -n on the end. But nowadays, we find it much easier to just put a plural -s onto cow.

If you’re curious about English plurals, you can hear me talking about them with Ben Ainslie on my podcast ‘Talk the Talk’, episode 158.

I also found this construction to be a little unusual: “The people is hungry”. While in American English usage, collective nouns like team or organization are considered singular (as in ‘the team wins’, not ‘the team win’), the noun people is almost always plural. This verse is evidence that, at least in the Jacobean English of the 1600s, people could take a singular verb. A singular observation, to my way of thinking.

OT Lesson 20 (Ruth)

All the City… Doth Know That Thou Art a Virtuous Woman

Ruth; 1 Samuel 1

LDS manual: here


After the last few blood-soaked lessons, we now arrive at the Book of Ruth. You could be forgiven for checking to make sure you’re still reading the same book. The Book of Ruth was supposed to have been written at the same time as Judges, but there’s no murder or bloodshed anywhere. There is, however, a scintilla of seduction, as we’ll see.

It’s a very short book. It’s also a very nice book. That’s the one thing about Ruth; she’s nice. She’s known for her loyalty, and for being the first convert to Judaism. Here’s a little photo collage of Christian materials about Ruth, that I got from an image search for “book of ruth”. See if you can catch any themes.

Wow — people market this like it’s a romance novel. Which, for the Bible, I suppose it is. It’s kinda hot stuff. I mean, it’s not the full-frontal Adam and Eve thing; it’s far more circumspect. Which means it’s perfect for modern Christians.

This is not to say that there’s no sex about it. Ruth is a bit of — if not a scheming little hussy — someone who keeps her eye on the ball and knows what kind of man she wants to nab.

I think this Christian treatment is a bit more on point, even though it’s a little less delicate.

The summary for Ruth doesn’t take long:

Ruth, Ch. 1: We meet Naomi. Famine has carried off her husband and two sons. She’s left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah (whose name you always have to read twice) and Ruth. With limited options for them, she tells them to scram; she can’t give them husbands. Well, she could, but it would take too long.

Ruth 1:10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
1:11 And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
1:12 Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;
1:13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.
1:14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.

Ruth, Ch. 2: Boaz comes on the scene. He notices Ruth gleaning (hence all the wheat imagery above). One of the nice bits of the Mosaic law was that you weren’t supposed to harvest every single grain from your fields; you were supposed to leave some for poor people to glean. He notices Ruth, and tells her to stay in his field. He even tells the workers to drop some of the wheat on purpose. Nice guy. But can you base a relationship on gleaning?

Ruth, Ch. 3: Now Naomi instructs Ruth in the Art of Getting a Man.

Ruth 3:2 And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.
3:3 Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
3:4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.

Sounds a little smutty, but this is essentially a marriage proposal.

Ruth 3:5 And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.
3:6 And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.
3:7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.

He wakes up at midnight, and whoa! A woman at his feet.

Ruth 3:8 And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
3:9 And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.

Bit of a sub, that Ruth. With a foot thing.

Boaz is amenable.

Ruth 3:10 And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
3:11 And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.

Ruth, Ch. 4: There’s a bit of horse-trading. There’s someone more related to Ruth than Boaz is, so he has the right of refusal. Which he does. Boaz says:

Ruth 4:10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.

And so Boaz and Ruth are married, and have seed.

The lesson manual also runs through the first bit of Samuel. God’s being a bit of a prat again, shutting up women’s wombs for the lulz.

1 Samuel 1:4 And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:
1:5 But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.

Hannah says, “How about we make a deal, Jehovah — if you give me a son, I won’t cut his hair.”

1 Samuel 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.

She really knows what God’s into.

1 Samuel 1:20 Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.

Main points from this lesson

So, did Naomi and Boaz do it on the first date?

Let’s get into this.

Naomi knows Boaz will be alone on the threshing floor, and she tells Ruth to “go in, and uncover his feet”. And work your way up from there. The salacious connotation isn’t hard to spot.

It becomes especially interesting when you learn that some versions translate feet as legs. Feet is sometimes used as a euphemism for genitals; for example,

Judges 3:24 Surely he covereth his feet

is sometimes rendered

He is only relieving himself

Also consider: Boaz tells her to stay until the morning.

Ruth 3:13 Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.

On the other hand, she seems to leave without doing the deed.

Ruth 3:14 And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another.

All the same, he wants to keep the matter covered up.

Ruth 3:14 And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.

So? Did they or didn’t they?

Well, I’m sorry to do this, but it’s kind of ambiguous. Many biblical scholars pooh-pooh the notion, but I think the text leaves an opening for Ruth and Boaz to have had slippery intercourse. The uncovering of the ‘feet’, the spreading of the ‘skirts’ — how else would you say it in a book like this?

These are supposed to be models for LDS women

I confess that I’ve had some trouble finding the point in this lesson, and I’m glad I’m not alone. It seems to me that whoever wrote the real lesson manual had the same problem.


How did Naomi show love and concern for her daughters-in-law when they offered to return to Bethlehem with her? (See Ruth 1:7–13.)

By telling them to go away.

What can we learn from Naomi’s concern for her daughters-in-law that can help us in our family relationships?

Make sure that you give them good advice vis-a-vis man-ensnarement.


Naomi counseled Ruth to perform a ritual that she hoped would result in the marriage of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 3:1–5). By lying at the feet of Boaz, Ruth would be, in effect, proposing marriage to him. What did Ruth’s obedience to Naomi’s counsel reveal about her feelings toward Naomi?

She was willing to perfume up and shag a relative.


What promise did Hannah make to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:11? What can we learn about Hannah from this promise? (She was a woman of great faith; class members may suggest additional answers.)

That she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a child, no matter how arbitrary or unrelated. Including giving him away to a priest, which we’ll see in the next lesson.

Seriously, that’s the lesson. Sorry, Mormon women. You can have a whole book of the Bible named after you, but it’s all about getting a man or becoming a baby-making machine. Like so many books, the Book of Ruth fails the Bechdel Test.

Additional ideas for teaching

Ruth clave unto Naomi

The folks at Would Jesus Discriminate think that there might have been a Ruth/Naomi thing going on, based on the use of the word clave.

The same Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt about Eve (and how spouses are supposed to feel toward each other) is used in Ruth 1:14 to describe how Ruth felt about Naomi. Her feelings are celebrated, not condemned.

Right, because words can only mean one thing.

Except they don’t. My copy of Strong’s renders this verb any number of ways, including following closely, staying with, and so forth.

So no, I can’t give it to them. Love your work, folks, but this is really stretching things.

Although now that I’ve seen this image of Ruth cleaving, I’m no longer so sure.

Even Orpah’s like, “Hmm…”

OT Lesson 19 (Judges)

The Reign of the Judges

Judges 2; 4; 6–7; 13–16

LDS manual: here


You think Joshua was messed up? Welcome to Judges. Now that there’s no real leader of Israel, the violence begun by Moses and continued by Joshua just sloshes around the community at large.

Last week, we saw a quote from proto-atheist Robert Ingersoll about the book of Joshua. He continues, regarding the book of Judges:

Is there anything in Joshua—with its wars, its murders and massacres, its swords dripping with the blood of mothers and babes, its tortures, maimings and mutilations, its fraud and fury, its hatred and revenge—calculated to improve the world?

Does not every chapter shock the heart of a good man? Is it a book to be read by children?

The book of Joshua is as merciless as famine, as ferocious as the heart of a wild beast. It is a history—a justification—a sanctification of nearly every crime.

The book of Judges is about the same, nothing but war and bloodshed; the horrible story of Jael and Sisera; of Gideon and his trumpets and pitchers; of Jephtha and his daughter, whom he murdered to please Jehovah.

Here we find the story of Samson, in which a sun-god is changed to a Hebrew giant.

Now I don’t want to say any book that contains violence is bad. There’s a difference between portraying violence and approving of violence. Mormons I have known are slow to see this distinction, until it comes to Judges. Here’s a Christian saying basically this very thing:

I’d like to raise a point now that many people think that the Bible endorses everything it states. That because it’s “God’s Word,” that everything is caused and approved by God. That’s simply not so.

The book of Judges mostly describes what happened during those years. It’s not prescribing or commanding. It’s actually showing what the people did when they were left to themselves, not to worshipping and obeying God.

So anyone that brings up these chapters has to recognize this isn’t an endorsement of what’s being described.

Well, this writer hasn’t read Judges. When you do, what’s noticeable about the violence is how kosher it is. In almost all the cases, the killing was expressly commanded or motivated by the god of the Bible.

So during this lesson, we’re going to keep track of the times that the Bible says that a killing was approved of the Lord, and how many times it wasn’t.

• Kings’ thumbs and big toes cut off

1:5 And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
1:6 But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.
1:7 And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

Not sure if they killed the kings in addition to the phalangectomies, but this one’s approved of the Lord. ✔

Looks like God’s got a new plan though: whereas before he promised that he’d wipe out the Canaanites (a promise he couldn’t keep), now he’s decided to keep them around as a snare.

2:3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

• The manual skips one of the gorier murders in Judges:

3:14 So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
3:15 But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.
3:16 But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh
3:17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.
3:18 And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present.
3:19 But he himself turned again from the quarries that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him.
3:20 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.
3:21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:
3:22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

Ehud is praised as a deliverer: I think we can say this one’s approved. ✔

• We also see the start of the mass smitings of the Philistines.

3:31 And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.

Tick! ✔

• Heber’s wife Jael kills Sisera by pounding a tent stake into his skull.

4:18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.
4:19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
4:20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
4:21 Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
4:22 And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.
4:23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.

The Lord evidently approved this murder, as seen in the song of the prophetess Deborah.

5:24 Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
5:25 He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
5:26 She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.

It’s a hit! ✔

• Gideon and friends make a lot of noise, and the opposing forces set upon each other.

7:22 And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath.

The Lord did this one himself. ✔

• The Danites slaughter the peaceful and unsuspecting people of Laish.

18:26 And the children of Dan went their way: and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back unto his house.
18:27 And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire.
18:28 And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man; and it was in the valley that lieth by Bethrehob. And they built a city, and dwelt therein.
18:29 And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel: howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first.

While the record doesn’t say Jehovah was behind this, it wasn’t out of character for Israel. Let’s be generous and say this was off the Danites’ own bat. ✘

The Danites would eventually lend their name to a particularly frightening Mormon vigilante group, which you can read about on MormonThink.

• Finally, the gang rape and murder of a concubine. In a repeat of the Lot story, men surround a house and demand sex with a visitor.

19:22 Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.

And as Lot tried to do with his daughters, the host throws them a concubine instead.

19:24 Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
19:25 But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.
19:26 Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light.
19:27 And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.
19:28 And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.
19:29 And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.
19:30 And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.

Truly a shocking story, but unlike the others, this one’s probably intended as a moral commentary and not a hero story. ✘

The real message of the Book of Judges

One of the things I notice from the real lesson manual is how Mormons take all the wrong lessons from the Bible. They make a big deal out of the Cycle of Apostasy. Wondering where Joseph Smith (or whoever) got it from when they were writing the Book of Mormon? It’s all right here in Judges. Here’s the chart you’ll see in this week’s Gospel Doctrine.

No wonder Mormons are terribly afraid of apostasy; they think it’s going to lead to bondage and warfare! They’re wrong about this, just as they’re wrong about everything else. Apostasy is awesome! It allows you to cast aside blinkered parochial notions without fear that a spirit will punish you. For once you can make your choices in life. No wonder the church can’t stand it. They need you to keep propping up the church in a ceaseless stream of activities that don’t really benefit you.

Also it’s no wonder they Mormons don’t have very good boundaries; they’re convinced that the apostasy of other people will cause bad things to happen to them, which makes it okay for them to police the behaviour of other people.

As it turns out, apostasy won’t lead to the collapse of society (Denmark and Sweden are doing fine.) It will, however, lead to the collapse of the church, and that’s why the church teaches against it. It’s the exact same reason why Jehovah commands the Israelites to destroy the religious icons of their neighbours. Remember, the primary goal of [ a god | the church | a corporation | any memeplex ] is self-perpetuation. Any entity that doesn’t do a good job of this doesn’t survive. So it’s normal for the church to act the way it does, but you must remember that it acts in its own interests, not in yours.

To my way of thinking, the so-called apostate times in Judges seem quite ideal. I don’t like war, I think having different cultural influences makes things interesting, and I’ve heard that genetic diversity is good for a population. And that’s what we’ve got here between the wars: Israel and the Caananites are living amongst each other, they’re marrying each other, and there’s a growing tolerance of each other’s religious beliefs.

3:5 And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites:
3:6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods

Such a situation is potentially very positive; contact allows cultural and technological transmission, the end of tribalism lowers the risk of tribal conflict, and there’s a rise in religious pluralism. That’s really healthy! This could become a really advanced society if it could continue.

Unfortunately, it’s not what the god of the Bible has in mind. Diversity is bad for religious monocultures, which is turn is dangerous for gods, so it’s no wonder Jehovah (or Jesus) isn’t having any. He wants Israel to be an insular society, rejecting cultural advances by its neighbours and engaging in continual tribal warfare.

The Book of Judges does have a great lesson to teach humanity, but it’s not the one that it intends. Societies are always in cycles, swinging between — not apostasy and faithfulness — but fundamentalism and secularism. And just look at Judges — the times when people veer away from religious totalitarianism are the good times. That’s a cause, not an effect. Secular pluralistic societies do quite well. Then when the religious monoculture asserts itself, we get wars and strife. There’s a reason why we called the most religious time in European history “the Dark Ages”.

So my chart looks a little different, because I don’t see the process as entirely cyclical. It’s upward progress through secularism and science, interrupted by periods of religious influence.

All units approximate.

Jephthah sacrifices his daughter

For some reason, the manual doesn’t cover this chapter.

Jephthah, under inspiration, goes to kill some of those pesky Ammonites.

11:29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.

And he promises that when he gets home, he’ll sacrifice the first thing that comes out the door to meet him.

11:30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
11:31 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.

The battle goes well.

11:32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
11:33 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.

But who should come to greet him? His daughter. Epic facepalm.

11:34 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.

But a deal’s a deal.

11:35 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.

She’s game. What a little trooper.

11:36 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.
11:37 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.
11:38 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.

Remember that when Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, God put a stop to it. No such luck here.

11:39 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.

You know, when I discuss genocide in the Old Testament with Christians, there’s one justification that they always come back to: The Canaanites sacrificed their children to the god Molech (so that makes it okay for Israel to have murdered them all). But the story of Jephthah shows that human sacrifice is acceptable to Jehovah. Isn’t it a bit rich for Christians to claim that genocide is okay if you’re wiping out people who sacrifice children, when here in Judges, we have a God-approved case of child sacrifice? And when in fact their entire religion is predicated upon human sacrifice?

Ask: Is this story meant to show how awful it was, in the context of Israel’s apostasy?
Answer: No, verse 29 shows that the Spirit of the LORD was on him when he made that vow, and Jehovah must have known in advance what would happen. Notice also that Jephthah makes his vow, and then Jehovah (or Jesus) delivers the Ammonites into his hands. This is a bargain made and accepted. ✔

Ask: Did Jephthah suffer any negative social consequences as a result of killing his daughter? Did he become a pariah to his group?
Answer: No way; in the next chapter, his friends are dead keen to go kill some more Ammonites! They’re so mad they missed the last slaughter, they’re gonna burn his house down!

12:1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.

And Jephthah’s like: No, guys, c’mon, let’s go get some more. With friends like these, right?

There’s a hand at the back. Yes, Brother Hickenlooper?

Brother H: Did later revelation clarify Jephthah’s actions?

Yes, indeedy. The apostle Paul specifically mentions Jephthah as someone who did great deeds because of his faith.

Hebrews 11:32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
11:34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience referenced Jephthah in particular when vaporising this Christian caller John. Both parts worth watching.

Part 1:

Matt: Have you not read the story of Jephthah, who offers to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house to God, if God would let him win this battle? God supposedly does let him win the battle, knowing in advance that it would be his daughter, therefore God endorses human sacrifice— did you not read that part of the Bible?
John: Uh — no.
Matt: Then how can you tell me that the Bible is an accurate representation of God?

John: Did they go through with the sacrifice?
Matt: Yes!
John: Okay, so then at that point, if God allowed that sacrifice to go through, if he allowed that individual to sacrifice that other individual, then there was a bigger purpose and a bigger plan for that.
Matt: Okay, I’m glad you said that, ’cause now we’re done. And here’s why. You just said that if that’s what happened, — and it is; you can go read your Bible; I’m sorry you don’t know it as well as we do, but it’s there — that to me tells me is that if there is a god, and this is an accurate representation of his standard, then mine is superior. I don’t care what his standard is; I don’t care that I don’t live up to it, because he supports slavery. He supports child sacrifice. He rewards belief over deeds. He doesn’t care a whit what your life is like. He cares what you believe. He endows salvation — depending on what your soteriological claims are — based on faith or grace or anything else, yes, deeds come along afterward. But the tenet of Christianity, at least for most believers, is that you can live a good, decent life and still fry in hell.

Part 2:


Samson is everyone’s favourite murderous lunkhead. How could you not love a guy who evades capture by carrying off the gates of a city? What he lacks in brains, he makes up for in raw bull-headed determination.

Samson was the son of yet another barren woman, the type that were so common in those times.

13:2 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
13:3 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
13:24 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.

Samson’s not a bright boy, but he knows what he wants.

14:1 And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines.
14:2 And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.

Nice going, Samson. You’ve just made the list of Top 10 biblical ways to acquire a wife. The rest are right here on pages 14–15 of this Sunstone issue.

The thing that strikes me about Samson is not his strength as such, but his murderous rampages, and the equanimity with which the townsfolk accept them as part of life.

• He kills 30 men to pay off a debt when his friends trick him in the riddle contest.

14:19 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house.

Ask: What do you think of as ‘the feelings of the Spirit’?
Answer: Love, joy, peace, and according to Judges, the desire to smite the ever-living tar out of a bunch of dudes. ✔

• He causes ‘a great slaughter’ when the Philistines burn his wife and father-in-law to death over the Foxtails Incident.

15:4 And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
15:5 And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.
15:6 Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.
15:7 And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.
15:8 And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam.

We can only assume God’s okay with this — he doesn’t revoke Samson’s powers. ✔

• He kills a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass.

15:11 Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.
15:12 And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.
15:13 And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock.
15:14 And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.
15:15 And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.

Approved of the Lord. ✔

• Then he takes a break and goes to see a prostitute. God’s unfazed by this; Samson’s strength is uncurtailed.

16:1 Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.

• No, what causes his strength to fail is a simple haircut. By Delilah’s treachery, he is blinded and mocked. But Jehovah gives him the strength to kill just one… more… time!

16:27 Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
16:28 And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
16:29 And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
16:30 And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

And tick. ✔

There are a number of problems with the story of Samson.

First, God’s moral commands seem especially arbitrary here. He punishes Samson not for murdering over a thousand people, nor for having sex outside of marriage — that’s all okay. No, what really tears the deal for God is Samson getting a haircut that he didn’t even want. How does that square with divine justice?

But the other problem is: why does God have different deals for different people?

One of the things about Mormon doctrine is that the same requirements apply to everyone. Fair’s fair. You’re gay? No sex before marriage, just like straight people. You lived and died before Jesus? Well, you have to get baptised just like everybody else. God’s no respecter of persons.

But what the story of Samson shows is that God is a respecter of persons. If you’re a Nazarite, you follow a different set of rules to everyone else. So how does that fit into the system? Is Samson not supposed to cut his hair because cutting one’s hair is morally wrong? That would be weird. So why is this the thing that undoes Samson?

(This takes us into the territory of Euthyphro’s Dilemma, which we’ll discuss in a future lesson.)

Is it all about the kind of deal you make with God? If so, is it possible to hold out for a better deal? Do you just have to invent a sect, and God will respect it? This seems distinctly post-modern to me, like the new age friend who once implored me not to be an atheist, because if I thought there’d be nothing after death, that’s what would happen to me! Having God honour the deal you make with him would be terrific, if you could write your own deal. If it’s a custom-made deal that God handed down to the Nazarites, then not so much.

Additional ideas for teaching

Gods can take care of themselves.

Ask: What would you think of someone who committed an act of religiously motivated vandalism?

Such was Gideon, one of the heroes of Judges.

6:28 And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built.
6:29 And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they enquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing.

The men of the city go to Gideon’s father Joash, who says something quite sensible: Why does your god need protection? If he’s such a hotshot, let him do his own dirty work.

6:30 Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it.
6:31 And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.

Ironic, coming from an Israelite, but a good point nonetheless.

The Abrahamic god must be truly powerless to need a small army of apologists, legislators, missionaries, and defenders to make his case for him.


A shibboleth is often a word or phrase that identifies someone as a member of a group. The word comes to us from Judges 12. It seems that child-killer Jephthah took his friends the Gileadites to battle against the Ephraimites. The Gileadites won, and cut off the Ephraimites’ route of escape. The problem then became: how to tell the Gileadites from the Ephraimites when everyone was leaving the site of battle? The solution was linguistic: The Gileadite dialect used a /ʃ/ sound, as in shin; the Ephraimite dialect didn’t. So they got everyone to say the word shibboleth, which meant ‘ear of grain‘, and if they couldn’t say the /ʃ/, that marked them as an Ephraimite. They killed 42,000 people that day.

12:5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
12:6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

The takeaway here: A knowledge of phonology could save your life.

God can’t beat iron chariots

Perhaps his omnipotence was a later invention?

1:19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

Shoot, what’s an almighty deity to do?

Iron Chariots is also the name of a wonderful counter-apologetics site. Worth a look!

And the murder tally is:

God: From the above, I get 46,704 dead people, plus an entire army of Midianites and an unspecified Samsonian ‘great slaughter’ of Philistines. (That’s not counting the 300 foxes.) All commanded, inspired, or actually performed by the god of the Bible.
Man: One concubine, plus the City of Laish. I think I was being generous there.

Activity for Gospel Doctrine attenders: If the instructor tries to pull the old ‘reporting is not approval’ trick, just show them the stats. Don’t let them get away with it. The violence in Judges is mostly god-approved, and in fact the whole setup is Jehovah’s doing for deciding to keep the Canaanites around, contrary to his earlier promise in Joshua. The cycle of violence between Israel and its neighbours — and all its attendant misery — is worth it to Jehovah (or Jesus), so that Israel will remember him.

Thanks for playing, and we’ll see you next week.

OT Lesson 17 (Deuteronomy)

“Beware Lest Thou Forget”

Deuteronomy 6; 8; 11; 32

LDS manual: here


The real lesson manual has cherry-picked some scriptures from Deuteronomy — only four books out of the original 34. That’s okay, I suppose; the whole thing is kind of a rehash of Exodus and Leviticus. And in fact the word Deuteronomy means ‘second law‘ — we’ve already seen it the first time. But cherry-picking is not how we roll around here at GDG, so here’s a quick rundown of the whole book.

Moses is giving a final pep talk. “Hey,” he says, “remember the time we killed all the Amorites? And all those giants we defeated?”

2:11 Which also were accounted giants, as the Anakims; but the Moabites called them Emims.

“And we killed all the Heshbonites, including the children?”

2:33 And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.
2:34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain:

“And Og, the king of Bashan? and sixty cities, killing everyone?”

3:3 So the LORD our God delivered into our hands Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining.
3:4 And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.

“Well, you have to obey Jehovah, the one who commanded all these killings — in his mercy. ;)”

4:31 (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.

I assume, since the winking smiley emoticon hadn’t been invented yet, that the 😉 in the above paragraph was a typographic convention in Jacobean times.

“So remember to kill everyone when you take their land.”

7:2 And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
7:16 And thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them

“Oh, but love them.”

10:19 Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

“But destroy the symbols of their religions.”

12:2 Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:
12:3 And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.

“And if anyone — even in your own family — worships a different god, kill them.”

13:6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
13:7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
13:8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
13:9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
13:10 And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die;

God hates trees. Deforestation is kind of a problem in our day, but in Moses’s day, it was something of a goal.

16:21 Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee.

“When you go to destroy a city, give them a chance to become your slaves first. (That’s called a peace offer.) But if they put up a fight, kill the men and take the women.”

20:10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
20:11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
20:12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
20:13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
20:14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
20:15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.

“Unless God really hates them. Then just kill them all.”

20:16 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
20:17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:

“If you take over a city, and you see a woman you like, take her home and shave her head. Then after a month, she’s yours.”

21:10 When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
21:11 And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
21:12 Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
21:13 And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

“Kill rebellious children.”

21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

“If a woman’s not a virgin when you marry her, kill her.”

22:13 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
22:14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
22:15 Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
22:16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
22:17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
22:18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
22:19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
22:20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
22:21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

Stoning for adultery still happens. Brunei will be starting it up next year. Here’s a handy infographic about it.

Just to be clear, religious belief has convinced some people in the 21st century that this is a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with people who cheat on their spouses.

“Also, don’t let your wives grab other men’s junk, not even as a method of conflict resolution.”

25:11 When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets:
25:12 Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.

The always wonderful Brick Testament, ladies and gentlemen.

“Speaking of junk, here’s the list of people who can’t attend church: Nobody with testicle wounds or dickless; no bastards, and no Ammonites or Moabites. Geez, God really hates them!”

23:1 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
23:2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
23:3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:

“However, he doesn’t mind blind people, strangers, the fatherless, or widows.”

27:18 Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
27:19 Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.

“If you don’t obey all these things, then God’s going to give you haemorrhoids.”

28:27 The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed.

This video by nonstampcollector is fitting in so many ways.

28:30 Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof.

“And you’ll eat your own babies when your neighbours besiege your cities.”

28:53 And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the LORD thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee:

Notice that the Israelites brag about their ability to do this to other people when they besiege their cities — they just don’t want it to happen to them.

And endeth Moses: “I think that’s about it.”

Remember: this is God’s chance to give a message to mankind. He could have given us any kind of knowledge: about science, medicine, anything.

What he did instead was tell who you can own, and who you should kill. Spoiler alert: Everyone. And all in the name of brand protection!

Which is why Richard Dawkins was accurate in describing him thus:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

And check out Steve’s blog post, giving scriptural support to each of these charges.

Main points from this lesson

“Beware lest thou forget”

In Dueteronomy, there’s a big emphasis on always remembering the god of the Old Testament.

6:12 Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

In two separate places, God commands the Israelites to put his words on their hands, foreheads, and the posts of their houses.

6:6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
6:8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
6:9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

An unusual choice of fashion accessory, to be sure.

The lesson manual picks up this theme:

Why do you think Moses told the people to place passages of scripture between their eyes, on their hands, on the posts of their houses, and on their gates? How would such constant reminders affect our actions? What can we do in our homes to remind us of the Lord, his words, and our covenants with him? Do the pictures on our walls, the books we read, and the movies and television shows we watch remind us of the Lord, or do they suggest a longing for the world?

Let’s talk about pictures on the walls for a second. In the last ten years or so, Mormons have invented a tradition of putting pictures of their leaders on the walls of their homes. You can go to the homes of many Latter-day Saints and find a picture like this official portrait:

Or this:

Maybe this excellent Photoshop job:

Please not this:

Chillaxin’ in the temple.

There’s like a cottage industry for these things.

Whoops, wrong leaders. Only two of them. But does anyone else get a North Korea thing off of this? Why the leader worship?

Ironically, the “First Presidency portrait” meme is probably in violation of the “no graven images” meme.

4:23 Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.

Now my memory is as bad as the next person, but what’s behind the constant exhortation to remember? If this god is as great as they say, why would someone need to keep him on their mind all the time? Wouldn’t it be obvious that he was real and powerful? Why is his existence and his influence so tenuous that it’s possible to forget it? Why does it need constantly shoring up?

Things that are true don’t need shoring up. They need to be publicised, of course, because information works best when it’s distributed. But things that are true don’t need to be believed in and constantly reiterated, like religious doctrines do.

The constant admonishment to remember religious norms is really about creating a bubble where the religious views won’t be challenged. The accompanying graphic in the manual resembles nothing less than an ideological bubble, where competing ideas just bounce off.


Again, when someone constructs a religious bubble, what they’re saying is that their ideas can’t compete with others on an equal footing. It’s a sure sign that the idea is weak.

Failed prophecies

How do you know if a prophet is a prophet? According to Deuteronomy, a prophet is fake if his prophecies don’t come true.

18:20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
18:21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
18:22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

By that definition, Moses fails the prophet test. More to the point, Joseph Smith fares no better.

Additional ideas for teaching

Rape in the Bible

How can you get a wife, according to Deuteronomy? Here’s one way: If you “lay hold on” a girl, just pay her father fifty shekels, and she’s your wife!

22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
22:29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

Now Christian apologists don’t like this very much, and to get around it, they play some word games.

The best apologist explanation I could find is that in the Torah, the word used for ‘seize’ is ‘tabas’. The word ‘tabas’ has multiple uses and doesn’t necessarily mean seized by force. For example, it could be used to describe the handling of a harp. From what I can tell, there is no formal word in the Hebrew language for ‘rape’, although I could be entirely wrong about the whole thing.

Of course! Since words have multiple meanings, just pick the one that corresponds to what you want. So when it says lays hold on her, it really means: he plays her like a harp. Yow. That’s some imagery.

I suppose that in Deut. 21:9, when parents are supposed to lay hold on their rebellious children (and stone them), it really just means caress them. With stones.

A quick and handy guide to biblical rape:

One more.

An unusual approach to crime investigation

If you find a dead body in the field, and you don’t know who killed him, here’s what you do: Cut off a cow’s head, and wash your hands over it. This will remove the sin.

21:1 If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:
21:2 Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:
21:3 And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;
21:4 And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley: 21:5 And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
21:6 And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley:
21:7 And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.

Well, that would certainly make CSI a touch more surreal. And a lot shorter.

OT Lesson 16 (Genocide)

“I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord”

Numbers 22–24; 31:1–16

LDS manual: here


Let’s start with a bit of review, just to see where we are in the narrative.

God’s been on a particularly blood-thirsty tear lately. He’s already commanded the slaughter of the Amorites, kicking off the waves of genocide that will typify this part of the Old Testament. But he hasn’t just caused violence against outsiders; he’s also killed the men of Korah by swallowing them up in a great hole, and then killed those who questioned it.

Let’s just pause for a moment, and look at the purpose for this lesson in the real manual:

Purpose: To encourage class members to submit to God’s will without hesitation.

Ponder that for a moment. “Submit to God’s will without hesitation.” Perhaps because of what God’s going to do to you if you hesitate to submit.

I can’t help but think there’s some Stockholm syndrome at work here on the part of believers. What else could be going on in your mind when you worship a murderous jerk who’s got a hair-trigger and a reputation to protect? You hear stories in church every week about how he kills people who get in his way, and you know that unbelievers are going to cop it, but you just try to make sure it’s not you. You’ll be happy eternally in heaven, while others are going to be suffering, but it’s good and just that they’ll be suffering, and God wouldn’t make that happen unless it were the right thing. There’s got to be some numbness going on in the part of your brain that does empathy. There’s a brokenness.

Add in the fact that “submitting to God’s will” translates into “submitting to the will of leaders” and you’ve got a potentially toxic formula. Psychologically, it would be a lot healthier to tell this god to fuck off. Have nothing to do with him and his works of murder.

Ch. 22: Balaam was a prophet, but he was copping some flak from his boss, the Moabite king Balak. Balak had gotten the news about the Ammonite genocide, and wanted Balaam to curse Israel. But Elohim appeared to Balaam, and put a little heat on him. Balaam was no fool and saw which way his bread was buttered; He decided to bless them instead.

Now to the famous story: In the morning, Balaam saddles his ass (LOL semantic shift) and heads off to see the king. Standing in the way is an angel that only donkeys can see, apparently. Balaam thinks the donkey’s just being an ass. After three smotes, the donkey’s had enough, and complains to Balaam using human speech, asking why it’s getting beaten. Balaam takes this with equanimity, and has a bit of discourse with the animal.

This is, of course, not the first inter-species communication in the Bible; that would be the talking snake in the Garden.

Chs. 23 & 24: Balaam refuses to curse Israel, even when the king offers him a houseful of dosh. Instead, he predicts a win by Israel, in bloodthirsty terms:

23:24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.


24:8 God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

Ch. 25: God’s brand is threatened, so it’s time for more murders. He plans a plague…

25:3 And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
25:4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
25:5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

But then someone puts a spear through a couple who are (one supposes) having sex. God thinks that’s pretty cool, so he calls off the plague.

25:6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
25:7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
25:8 And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

The guy who committed the murders gets a special treat: the Priesthood! (Gee, all I had to do was turn twelve. It’s like God gives it to everyone these days.)

Didn’t this happen in one of the Friday the 13th films? I forget which one. No, wait, it was “Bay of Blood”. If you don’t like horror, don’t watch this link, but remember: it’s fine to throw a Bible with the exact same scene to children because it makes them more moral.

Brother Brigham felt that such a course would in some cases have salubrious effects.

Possible irksome question for those trapped in a real Gospel Doctrine class: Ask if this is a justification of body piercing.

Chs. 26, 27, 28, 29: God is going to show Moses all the land he’s giving to the Israelites, and then Moses will die. But not before some more burning lamb! Mmm… smell that sweet savour.

28:6 It is a continual burnt offering, which was ordained in mount Sinai for a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD.

Ch. 30: Any vow a woman makes has to be okayed by her husband or her father.

Ch. 31: The Midianite massacre: see below.

Chs. 32 and 33: Aaron dies. God tells Moses that they have to conquer people and destroy their religions, or else…

33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.
33:56 Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.

Ask: If you were the supreme being of the universe, would you be a little more secure in your supremacy? Wouldn’t you think you could ease up on the brand dominance? After all, since you knew everything, you’d know that other gods were non-existent. Yet, Elohim doesn’t seem to know this. He acts like he’s the number-two dog. It seems likely, then, that at this point that’s what he was.

Main points for this lesson

Balaam, unlike modern LDS prophets, rejected the profit

You can say what you like about Balaam’s state of mind, talking to donkeys and all, but what you have to admire is his refusal to say what the king wants. Balak offers him loads of dough if he’ll curse Israel, but he won’t.

Compare this to modern so-called prophets, who are willing to tone down unpleasant doctrines if it keeps people coming in. In 1988, when church leaders were mulling about changing some of the stranger and more off-putting parts of the endowment session, they sent around a survey to thousands of Latter-day Saints.

Discussion at Mormon Curtain | Exmormon | LDS-Mormon | MormonThink

We don’t have access to the results of the survey, but we do know that the penalties — in which temple attendees would mime their own murder in various grisly ways — disappeared in the 1990 revision.

We’ve seen the same pattern more recently: tone down the anti-gay rhetoric when it doesn’t fly, adapt doctrines about race that are distasteful, and do whatever it takes to keep the bottom line from being affected.

So Balaam certainly had more integrity than prophets today. Too bad he doesn’t survive past chapter 31.

The Midianite genocide

God commands the wholesale slaughter of the Midianites. First, they kill the men — including boys.

31:7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

They take captives, burn the cities, and take the booty.

31:9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
31:10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
31:11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.

But Moses is pissed, because they didn’t kill the women.

31:14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

So they kill all the male children, and all the non-virgin women.

31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

The female children become sexual slaves, or at best, victims of forced marriages.

31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Verse 34 counts 32,000 women.

For as long as I’ve been an atheist, people have asked me where I get my morals from — even wondered how someone could be moral without religion. And religion is often recommended as a way of instilling ‘good moral values’.

This one lesson, all by itself, obliterates any claim that the Christian god is a moral being. Not only is he not the source of all morality, he’s not even a moral being. There are not many moral decisions that are easier to make than “Is genocide okay?” The Bible gets that wrong. And if it gets such an easy question wrong, how is it going to do on the hard ones?

Naturally, Christians have many explanations for why Old Testament genocide is actually fine. Christians of many denominations have cheerfully explained to me that God commanded it, and that means it’s just fine by them. Here’s what happened when I brought the issue up with a couple of very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Here are some of the arguments apologists offer for this repugnant deity:

  • The Midianites were bad people! They sacrificed their children to Molech.

There’s some disagreement as to the extent and the origin of child sacrifice in Canaan, but it’s hardly a remedy for child sacrifice if one kills every available male child. I find it highly likely that just as Bible writers demonised the Moabites as the result of incest, they demonised the Canaanites as child murderers. This allows a community to externalise their enemies as subhuman ‘others’, at which point you can do as you like to them.

  • ‘Destroy’ doesn’t mean ‘entirely eradicate’.

This is a case of redefining words, a favourite apologetics tactic. If the Israelites didn’t wipe out tribes person for person, it was contrary to the commands of Jehovah, and that’s the real problem here.

  • It was better than other cultures at the time.

This is an odd argument. Is God a transcendent being, outside of space and time, presenting an unambiguous and absolute moral code? Or is he not? This line of reasoning reminds me that sometimes if you push a religious absolutist, they inexplicably turn into a moral relativist. They have to. There’s no other way to justify this slaughter.

  • God gets to judge. Everything he commands is right, and he made us, so he gets to decide what to do with us. I’m just going to keep believing, and trust that he knows all.

This is chicken shit. It’s moral abnegation. If someone takes this view, they’re trying to feel okay about something that strikes a normal person as deeply wrong. They are in the process of removing the part of themselves that feels compassion, and replacing it with submission. To say, as in the title of this lesson, “I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord” is really a form of moral cowardice.

I had an experience when preparing for this Godless Doctrine lesson.

I’ve always been kind of haunted by a sense that I wouldn’t have handled moral controversies in the church very well. I’ve never had the chance to be tested in a big way though; I was too young for the ‘Race and the Priesthood’ issue, and I was out of the church by Prop 8. So would I have passed the test? Or would I have sung myself to sleep, convinced that the church was right, no matter what?

Well, when preparing for this lesson, I found something. I went through my old Sunday School notes on the computer, and found the file for this lesson when I taught it in Gospel Doctrine so long ago. And I noticed this sentence:

Does anyone else have a problem with the genocide besides me?

And then I remembered how I agonised over this issue as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. I really didn’t have an answer for it, and it really bothered me. Usually I was good at coming up with rationales, but this one was so obviously wrong.

So this was the question I dropped right in the middle of the lesson.

Does anyone else have a problem with the genocide besides me?

It caused the class to shift uncomfortably in their uncomfortable seats. A few people volunteered that, yes, they did. Others offered weak explanations. One RM ventured that the winners write history, which I suppose is true in this case. In the lesson, I left it as unresolved.

So when I read that entry in my lesson plan, I felt relieved. I almost cried, in fact. No, I hadn’t left the church over this issue, but it was a crack in my Mormonness. I knew the Bible was wrong on this issue, and in time I would find more things wrong. The religion had not dulled my sense of what a normal person would see as right. I felt like I was not ‘utterly cast off’.

The other thing I noticed from my lesson notes is that we used to do a whole lesson on Leviticus, but it’s been cut from the current manual. Obviously they didn’t do any of the bits I talked about in the previous lesson.

Additional ideas for teaching

‘Revelation’ can come by petition

The ‘Ordain Women’ movement has been on my mind and in the news lately. Again this year, women asked to be admitted to the Priesthood Session of General Conference, and again they were turned away.

The response to ‘Ordain Women’ from many Mormon men has been a colossal ‘harrumph!’ Why, those women think they can counsel the Lord. They think that revelation comes through them, and not through the prophet. And so on.

I don’t think Mormon women need the priesthood; they need atheism. But things would certainly be better for many Mormon women if they were taken seriously on an administrative level, on an equal footing in the priesthood.

So it was interesting to see this story where women petitioned Moses for property rights for daughters.

27:1 Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.
27:2 And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
27:3 Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.
27:4 Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.

And God says “Oh, that’s a good idea; I hadn’t thought of that.”

27:5 And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.
27:6 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
27:7 The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.
27:8 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.

Actually, Mormons should be able to think of lots of cases where a revelation has come because someone asked a question. This is one of the earlier cases that worked to the benefit of women.

Unfortunately, women are put back in their place in chapter 30, when God says that any vow they make has to be approved by their husband (or father).


This is the first Bible verse where unicorns are mentioned —  the first of nine times in the Bible. With nine mentions, this is something to deal with.

23:22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

So did the biblical unicorn exist? Come on down to the Unicorn Museum and find out!

Oh sure, we could explain the biblical unicorn away by saying it’s a fictional beast, like God or Satan.

But the folks at Answers in Genesis think that since it’s in the Bible, it’s totes real.

The Bible describes unicorns skipping like calves (Psalm 29:6), traveling like bullocks, and bleeding when they die (Isaiah 34:7).

It might be extinct now:

The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence. (Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.).

or it might have described a real animal.

The elasmotherium, an extinct giant rhinoceros, provides another possibility for the unicorn’s identity. The elasmotherium’s 33-inch-long skull has a huge bony protuberance on the frontal bone consistent with the support structure for a massive horn.

This post shows two of the biggest tricks that apologists use when confronted with something foolish in their scripture:

1) Appeal to ignorance: Just because you can’t find a unicorn doesn’t mean it’s not real!

I suppose there might have been unicorns and they might have pooped Lucky Charms,

but with no evidence — no photos, no sightings, no bones, no scat — there’s no reason to believe in them. The same thing goes for leprechauns, genies, or gods.

2) Redefine words until they mean what you want. A unicorn can be a rhinoceros, and a horse can be a tapir.

Isn’t it nice to know that apologists are pretty much the same everywhere you go?

OT Lesson 15 (Leviticus, Numbers)

“Look to God and Live”

Numbers 11–14; 21:1–9

LDS manual: here


Well, we blasted through Exodus pretty fast, and now, according to the church-approved lesson manual, we’re up to Numbers. Wait — did we miss something?

Leviticus. We totally skipped Leviticus, the chapter where the god of the universe gives his perfect law for mankind. So let’s hit the highlights of Leviticus.

Animal sacrifice

God starts out by telling how to sacrifice animals. Why? He likes the smell.

1:11 …it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

In every age, people try to make their god into whatever they admire. In the past, people who admired war and conquest said that God was a god of war and conquest. Now Christians who admire science say that their god created science. A bit hard to harmonise those two things: God’s the ultimate scientist, he has enough intelligence to create the universe… and he likes the smell of burning goat.

Eating blood

7:27 Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.

This verse shows God’s intention to let as many Jehovah’s Witnesses as possible bleed to death.

God fails biology

God misclassifies rabbits as ruminants.

11:6 And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.

And God doen’t seem to realise that insects have six legs and not just four.

11:21 Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;
11:22 Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.
11:23 But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.
11:24 And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.


Here’s an interesting bit on leprosy. Leprosy at this time was a general term for a range of infections that could turn patches of your skin white and maybe do other nasty things; it wasn’t necessarily the skin-falling-off disease upon which so many jokes have been based. Even so, having leprosy meant you were bad news.

13:2 When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests:
13:3 And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.

And then you’d have to go away. That makes sense from an epidemiology point of view. But what happened if you had so much leprosy that your entire skin turned white?

13:12 And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh;
13:13 Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.

If you’re all leprous, then you’re fine again! Welcome back in, brother — you’re clean!

The impression I’m left with is that the Israelites didn’t mind leprosy so much; they just didn’t like people with two colours of skin. Well, just like they didn’t like two kinds of cloth mixed together, or two different animals ploughing the field together. All part of their obsession with purity. No mixing.

Sexual discharges

Let’s let the Brick Testament take up the story for the rules about sexual discharges.

(Why does this Lego guy not have a giant yellow dong in his hand? Judging by the size of his hand, he’d have some impressive girth. Might put me off the movie though, so it’s probably just as well.)


The people would symbolically put all their sins onto a goat — using a special Sin Transfer-o-metron — and drive it away.

16:22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.

Seems cruel to pretend to put your sins onto a goat and drive it out into the wilderness to die of exposure, doesn’t it? I guess it made them feel better, and that’s what matters.

It’s good to remember, as well, that the idea of a scapegoat would be picked up in the central doctrine of Christianity: you can avoid responsibility for your actions by putting them onto an innocent person.

Gay guys

18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
20:13 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.

Jehovah (which, remember, is Jesus) commands the Israelites to kill gay men. Apparently lesbians are okay — everyone likes lesbians! Except Paul, and he didn’t really like anyone.

People tell me that god is just fine with gay people now — that was the Old Testament! Why, Jesus said nothing about gay people at all!

I always respond: I’m not going to support the god of the Bible just because he doesn’t feel like killing gay people… anymore. When and why did he change his mind? Isn’t it more likely that society changed so it’s not okay to kill gay people anymore, and religion had to adapt?

It’s worth mentioning here that a lot of Christians are down with this one part of Leviticus, but not any of the others — like shellfish being an abomination — because it aligns with what they want to believe. This is cherry-picking.

As pilloried by President Bartlett on The West Wing.

One more:

Rules about bestiality.

18:23 Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.
20:15 And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast.
20:16 And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.


Love thy neighbour

19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

This sounds nice, but it doesn’t refer to loving everyone; it refers to your literal neighbour; the guy in the next tent. Those people across the river are fair game. However, the rule also extends to non-Israelites living among you:

19:34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Handicapped people shouldn’t come to church. God’s not into them.

21:17 Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.
21:18 For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
21:19 Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
21:20 Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;

Stones broken. Sounds painful.

Blasphemers are to be put to death.

24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.

This scripture was invoked in colonial New Hampshire.

If any pson wthin ye Province professing ye true God shall wittingly and willingly presume to blaspheme the wholly name of God, Father, Son or Holy Ghost, wth direct, express, presumptions or high-handed blasphemy, either by willful or obstinate denying ye true God or his creation or Governmt of ye world, or shall curse God, Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, such pson shall be put to death. Levit. 24: 15 and 16.

Notice that you didn’t have to actually say anything blasphemous. All you had to do was deny that a god created the world.
Here was the punishment for blasphemy in Maryland:

[Pg 143] In Maryland blasphemy was similarly punished. For the first offense the tongue was to be bored, and a fine paid of twenty pounds. For the second offense the blasphemer was to be stigmatized in the forehead with the letter B and the fine was doubled. For the third offense the penalty was death. Until the reign of Queen Anne the punishment of an English officer for blasphemy was boring the tongue with a hot iron.

Aren’t you glad we live in a time when religious authority has been largely defanged by secularism? I’m very critical of Islamic countries, where this kind of thing is still going on, but it’s worth remembering that Christians have pulled this stuff whenever they could get away with it. Islam is terrible, but it’s not uniquely terrible. Any religion could assert itself like this if left unchecked.

Slavery again

25:10 And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.

You’re supposed to set free your slaves. Hey, that sounds good! Oh, wait — that’s only if your slaves are Hebrews.

25:44 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
25:45 Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
25:46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.

You’re allowed to own heathen slaves, and not only that, if they have children, you inherit them. Slave babies!

God threatens those who don’t keep his commandments. With cannibalism.

26:27 And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me;
26:28 Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
26:29 And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.

Reading Leviticus is kind of strange. Here’s the word of the god of the universe. He could tell humanity anything about health, the cosmos, or anything. And what does he focus on? A lot of irrelevant, cruel, and discriminatory rules that sounds like they came from a bunch of goat herders. We won’t see much better from this god for a long time.


Now we rejoin the lesson.

Ch. 11: There’s an interesting episode in Numbers 11, in which two men start prophesying. Joshua tells Moses about it, and asks him to get them to stop.

11:27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.
11:28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.
11:29 And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!

This is a tricky issue. If you insist that all the revelation has to come from the top, you maintain tight control, but you squash the spiritual expression of the rank and file membership, and breed dissatisfaction. On the other hand, if you throw revelation open to everyone, then the religion turns into a circus, with everyone claiming authority for every wacky notion that pops into their heads… including leadership challenges and factional splintering.

Mormonism has hit on an amazingly clever strategy that solves this problem: everyone can have revelation, but only for areas within their domain. One’s domain is a stake if you’re a stake president, a ward if you’re the bishop, a family if you’re a man, or if you’re a woman, just yourself. (See the section below on misogyny.) And of course, the president of the church gets revelation for the whole church.

While I have no admiration for the control that the LDS Church has over its members or for revelation in general, I have to kind of stand in awe of this solution. It allows members to have some control over their own spiritual self-expression, while keeping it within a limited scope that doesn’t threaten the church hierarchy. It also allows leaders to pull the plug on non-hierarchical ‘revelation’ that gets out of hand. Quite brilliant, really.

Ch. 14: Moses does a clever bit of jiu-jitsu on one of the many occasions when God wants to destroy the Israelites, saying in effect, “If you destroy us, what will the other tribes think about your power?”

14:15 Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
14:16 Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.
14:20 And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:

At this point, God has some buyer’s remorse about tying himself too closely with the Israelites. His later attempt to circumvent this by acquiring a bunch of Christians will be unsuccessful, as he finds that they’re equally annoying.

Ch. 15: The Israelites kill a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

15:32 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
15:33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
15:34 And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
15:35 And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
15:36 And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

It’s issues like this that make me think: Thank goodness the government is in mostly secular hands.

Chs. 11 & 16: God kills a lot of people in Numbers. He kills people with a surfeit of quail for complaining. Then he kills the people of Korah for complaining, and then the people who complained about that. I guess what this lesson is meant to reinforce is that God hates complainers, and loves the docile, obedient, and compliant.

Main points from this lesson

The Bible reflects a profoundly misogynistic worldview

There are all kinds of ways in which these passages either ignore women, or imply that they’re somewhat the lesser.

  • Women are unclean for a week after having a baby boy, but if it’s a girl, the woman is unclean for two weeks.

12:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
12:3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
12:4 And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.
12:5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.

  • Notice also that only men are included in the numbering of Israel, including male babies. Women are not counted.
  • And of course, Miriam was punished with leprosy for criticising Moses. Aaron did the same thing, but wasn’t. I’ve had it explained that her sin was especially grievous because she was a woman, and it’s especially bad for a woman to criticise the prophet.

This doesn’t do much to make women feel worthwhile. And we can see echoes of this misogyny all through modern Christianity. Mormons, most recently, have steadfastly refused to ordain women. They’re ready to go to the wall for this, just like they went to the wall for denying the priesthood to people of African descent. And it’s sad to watch Mormons taking this stand because you know they’re going to have to walk it back before too long.

Unfunny joke: What’s the difference between Mormon doctrine and not Mormon doctrine?
Answer: About 40 years.

Do these biblical laws have a practical basis?

Growing up in the church, I was always taught that, while the Levitical laws were unusual, there was actually a point to them. For example, not eating pork. The story was that at that time, pork was unsafe to eat (trichinosis was mentioned), so the anti-pork law served as a kind of protection for the Israelites.

Not quite. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in chapter 3 of God Is Not Great, other people in that area and time ate pork with no ill effects. Archaeologists can tell the Jewish sites from the non-Jewish sites by going through their garbage dumps and finding pig bones or no pig bones.

So why the prohibition? Hitches puts it down to an aversion to anything that might seem like cannibalism — even the Polynesians called people ‘long pig’. This all seems plausible enough. But in the end, who knows why a religious taboo catches on? Why do Jews have a name-avoidance taboo while others don’t? Why do Australian Aboriginal cultures avoid spiritual places, while Western new-age hippies flock to them? Really just cultural build-up.

Why do religions do weird things?

If there’s one thing that characterises the diversity of religions, it’s their interesting and idiosyncratic practices. But why do religions build these up?

I’d say the answer is essentially one of branding. People in groups tend to do things to distinguish themselves as a group. But you can’t distinguish your group by doing normal things. You can’t really make yourself different by using reality because reality is available to everyone. No, you have to do odd things, like eating things on a certain day, or only wearing yellow, or praying in certain ways a certain number of times every day.

Doing odd things also helps group cohesion. How? Well, if you do the odd things that your group does, you might feel odd. Other people outside the group may not understand you, and even oppose you. Opposition and the feeling of being misunderstood can cause you to retreat back into the group, to be with people who do understand. Voilá: group cohesion. And even if people don’t oppose your practices, they might ask questions, and this allows you the chance to explain your beliefs: “We do this because…” Thus: missionary opportunity / meme propagation. This serves another purpose: identifying publicly as a member of a group reinforces one’s identity as a member of the group. It becomes awkward to unidentify later.

Additional ideas for teaching

The Old Testament rules are meant to last forever

A popular dodge that Christians engage in is to say that the laws of the Old Testament were superseded by Christ, and are now unnecessary. In doing so, they’re only following the example laid down by early Christians; Paul, especially, laid a lot of groundwork there, saying that the law was a schoolmaster, and so forth.

However, God says these laws are to be kept forever. Over and over again, it says things like this:

Lev. 23: 14it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Num. 19:21 And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them…

This makes it difficult to throw the Old Testament under the bus entirely.

Moses probably didn’t write the Pentateuch

It was once believed that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible. But here’s a funny little tidbit:

Num. 12:3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

Wouldn’t it be odd for Moses to write that about himself? So either Moses didn’t write it, or he was bragging about his humility. I might not put it past him.
The next few lessons cover a lot of material, but there are more talking animals, so that’ll be fun. See you next time.
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