war on christmas special

It may piss off the Christians to hear this, but Christmas doesn’t have much to do with anything in the Bible. In fact, take away the nativity scene and the rest of the holiday comes from pretty much every European tradition except the Christian one. The Romans were exchanging gifts during Saturnalia long before the three wise men showed up at Jesus’ house (yes, house – we’ll get to that in a bit), and the only thing that the Bible has to say about Christmas trees is to condemn them.

As far as the birth of Christ thing, of the four books of the Bible that discuss the life of Jesus – the Gospels – only two of them talk about his birth. And, given the Bible’s track record so far, it should not surprise you to learn that even those two books disagree with each other.

This starts making sense when you accept the most important fact about Jesus: he did not exist. Jesus was merely the cooption of pagan resurrection god myths by a particular Jewish sect in search of their long-awaited messiah. This is fairly obvious when you compare the four Gospels. They mostly agree on the gist of things, but they disagree on the details, which is precisely what you would expect from oral traditions. Furthermore, when you compare that gist to other Mediterranean and Near Eastern religious traditions, you find that they track fairly well: Greek sects had their resurrection gods; Egyptian sects had their resurrection gods; and so forth. Everything Jesus did, some other god had done before him.

As for the date of Christmas – December 25th – well, that’s not Christian in origin either. In fact, the modern holiday season, whether represented by Christmas, Hanukah, Eid, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday, is merely the modern version of the ancient celebration of the winter solstice – that time of year when the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer again. The Romans even celebrated the winter solstice on the same day that Christians would later celebrate Christmas, December 25th. A popular myth is that early Christians intentionally set the date of their holiday around the time of the Roman Saturnalia festival, so as to partake in the festivities without drawing attention to themselves. However, Christianity was little more than a local cult at that time, and it is unlikely that anything like Christmas had begun to develop so early in the religion’s existence.

The first hard evidence we have of the celebration of Christmas on December 25th does not occur until the year 354CE. It just so happens that that date was already in use by pagan Romans as the birth of Sol Invictus, the “Unconquered Sun”. Jesus has always had a sun god aspect, which is also in keeping with the other religions from which he is liberally borrowed, and which was especially obvious in early portrayals of him. As the Roman Empire transitioned from the Greco-Roman to the Christian religion, dies natalis Solis Invicti simply became Christmas, because the god celebrated was one and the same. And both gods, in this context, were simply symbolic representations of the solstice.

It has become something of a tradition that, around this time every year, we have to listen to the right-wing bitch and moan about the supposed “war on Christmas”. To any observer, however, Christmas is in no danger of disappearing. The truth is that Christmas has always been a secular holiday with religious overtones that change depending on the particular religious tradition of its observers. It is also true that the most rabidly religious groups are not the most fervent in their celebrations of Christmas, but in their attempts to suppress and ban them.

There is no “war on Christmas”. However, there is a right-wing fundamentalist Christian “war” on every other holiday that might be celebrated this time of year. What concerns the right-wing is not that their holiday might be taken away somehow, but that someone somewhere might not believe and practice in the same fashion that they do. The right-wing is threatened by any reminder that they do not possess undisputed cultural hegemony. Fundamentalist Christianity, with its inherent paranoia and delusions of persecution, makes the perfect foundation for a homegrown American proto-fascist movement, and that is precisely what it has become over the last few decades. Christmas, being an emotionally-charged topic among its followers, has been co-opted into a symbol of their supposed persecution at the hands of domestic enemies.

Also present is the right-wing embrace of anti-intellectualism, which has reached such an extent that the right-wing now seems proud of its ignorance. Its members are loathe to learn about the world, because, in learning, they might discover something that would make them question their beliefs; since they already know that they are right – because they believe they are right – then that new learning must be wrong, and, in trying to divert them off the “straight and narrow path” of their own egoism, intrinsically evil. Thus, they divide the world into neat boxes, but only two: fundamentalist Christian, and everything else. It is this anti-intellectualism, this fear of being wrong, that causes them to miss and dismiss the long history of the winter solstice as the ultimate multi-cultural celebration.

And it is this anti-intellectualism which leads them never to know that what they purport to celebrate as the birth of Jesus is not even true Biblically, for that fear of learning extends even to their own holy book, which they dare not actually read because they might be wrong.

As I mentioned above, only two of the four Gospels even mention the birth of Jesus. Those are Matthew and Luke, and they disagree with each other. The nativity scene, and the well-known story of Jesus’ birth, is a mishmash of both, taking the gaudiest bits of one and mixing it with the gaudiest bits of the other.

For example, the three wise men only appear in Matthew. Here they visit Jesus at his parents’ house in Bethlehem. The manger only appears in Luke, where Joseph and Mary must travel to Bethlehem for the purposes of census (itself a dubious idea) and find all the inns to be full. Unfortunately, the three wise men are absent from Luke’s version. Thus, the three wise men come from Matthew, and the manger comes from Luke, with the discrepancies conveniently forgotten.

The shepherds only appear in Luke, where they are visited by the angel while guarding their flocks. This bit is also incorporated into the standard nativity story. However, shepherds don’t guard their flocks in the field in the middle of winter, not even in the Near East (where it is not perpetually hot). In other words, according to the Bible itself, Jesus could not have been born on December 25th. Given his role as a resurrection god, it is probable that he was initially identified with the vernal equinox, which marks the approach of spring; only when the myth incorporated the solar aspect was his birthday changed to the winter solstice.

Herod and his slaughter of the first-borns only appears in Matthew, and is a wild fiction. The contemporaneous Roman historian Josephus produced a detailed biography of Herod that makes no mention of such an event, nor does any other history produced at the time (and such an event would have drawn notice). Meanwhile, in Luke only, Joseph and Mary travel to the temple in Jerusalem after Jesus’ birth to offer thanks to Yahweh for his birth, but this is missing from the standard tale, which ends in a strange anticlimax (Jesus is born, and that’s that until Easter).

As I mentioned above, these disparate tales make sense if they are considered to be different versions of the same oral tradition. The other two Gospels, Mark and John, begin with Jesus already having started his ministry. In all versions of the myth, the death and resurrection is the important part (though, again, they differ on the details), but Matthew and Luke seek to emphasize the deific nature of Jesus, as well as his Hebrew lineage (this places him within the context of messianic Judaism).

The obvious question here is why a story sprang up that incorporated bits and pieces from each of two different versions of the same tale, without anyone noticing the discrepancies. I mean, couldn’t they read? Well, as it turns out, no, they couldn’t. Not only was most of the population of Europe illiterate until well into the modern age, but the Catholic Church also did its utmost to maintain strict control over how the religion was presented to its followers. Only members of the church were permitted to “interpret scripture”, and, even then, they had to interpret it within an established framework; to do otherwise was to risk being branded a heretic. With the traditional Christian penchant for the gaudy and saccharine, it is likely that the standard tale was the result of a new and underground kind of oral tradition, one for the common people in which Jesus may be born in the most lowly of states (a manger), but in which even the wise and the powerful recognize his superiority and eventual triumph. In that sense, the Christmas story becomes a pseudo-proletarian version of the resurrection god myth.

Meanwhile, as Christianity spread throughout pagan Europe, it incorporated the traditions of the locals so as to win their support. Thus, the Catholic Church incorporated its pantheon of saints, which appealed to the locals’ traditions of multiple gods with specific domains of power. Christmas, likewise, expanded from its origins in the Roman Saturnalia and Sol Invictus festivals and adopted local customs such as mistletoe, stockings on the fireplace, and the Christmas tree decorated in lights.

Ah, the Christmas tree! Here we find the ultimate irony of the “war on Christmas” kerfuffle, because this is, in fact, the only Christmas tradition that the Bible does mention:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10:2-4, emphasis mine)

Odd, isn’t it, how the Bible itself may be the biggest culprit in the “war on Christmas” of them all!


genesis 23-25 - catching up

I know I never write these things even after I make an effort to do so. You want to know why? Because reading the Bible is bad enough; writing about it is even worse.

Much of the Bible seems like housekeeping, in which details are included just because they are part of the chronology. Thus, we spent entire chapters learning why some obscure mountain or cave bears a particular name, when that location will never be mentioned again. This is not just housekeeping, but pointless housekeeping – like tidying up a building that’s about to be bulldozed.

There is no moral message contained in these passages. These passages do not serve as prologue to a moral message. They are “history”, except that they are mostly a-historical, made-up fantasy.

So we come to Genesis 23, in which Sarah finally dies. The trailer-trash Sarah has exemplified some of the most immoral behavior you might ever come across, and she will not be missed. Sarah’s death is dispensed with in two verses; the remaining 18 are devoted to Abraham negotiating for the purchase of a cave in which to bury her, and a discussion of why that cave is called what it is called.


Genesis 24 picks up a bit, but not in a good way (unless you enjoy unintentional laughter). Abraham is now worried about his son Isaac not having a wife. Since this is the Bronze Age, Isaac cannot be expected to go off and find his own wife, so Abraham sends his slave out to find one for him.

You really need to read this chapter just to enjoy its repetitiveness. It tells the same story, in almost precisely the same words, three times – and almost tells it once more! In the end, the slave winds up finding Rebekah, who agrees to become Isaac’s wife.

We can finally say good riddance to the abominable Abraham in Genesis 25. I guess he won’t be pulling that “she’s my sister” bullshit on anybody else now. The chapter then proceeds to discuss the birth of Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob.

Jacob will be one of the ancestors of Judaism and later Christianity and Islam. Like his forebears, he is a shining example of how not to treat other people. His brother Esau comes to him one day dying of hunger and begs for sustenance. Jacob agrees to give it to him, but only if Esau sells him his birthright. Thus, for the price of a bowl of beans and a piece of bread, Esau’s descendants are robbed of their rightful inheritance and must become Jacob’s servants.

Oh, what a glorious history the Jews/Christians/Muslims share!

At least we’re half done with Genesis now. It’s all (further) downhill from here.


genesis 21-22 - motherly love & filial sacrifice

I’m trying to make Ponzo Reads the Bible a regular feature, and Sunday seems like the most appropriate day for it. Unfortunately, the first entry happens to concern Genesis 21, which is mostly boring as shit, so we’re going to skip much of it. The first half does deserve mention, though, because it not only introduces a major character, but reveals what kind of a person Sarah is.

Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Sarah, of course, is not only Abraham’s wife, but his sister, so we are already in weird ass territory here. Sarah is also over 90 years old at this point, so it’s even weirder. Fortunately, Sarah has been receiving fertility treatments from God: therefore, Isaac.

Of course, a 90-year-old woman giving birth is biologically dubious, but we do not question the pumpkin carriage or the ruby slippers; all fairy tales need their supernatural elements. Thus, we will take it in stride and move ahead.

Earlier we felt some sympathy for Sarah, but, if that hasn’t already evaporated, it will now. Since Sarah has her own kid now, she gets jealous of Hagar and her son Ishmael. You may remember Hagar: when Sarah was still infertile, she forced her slave girl Hagar to bear Abraham a son, Ishmael. Well, now Sarah wants them out of the house, because they offend her.

I’m no fan of Abraham or God, but I am willing to cut them a break here. God promises that Hagar and Ishmael will be taken care of, and that is indeed the case. Sarah, on the other hand, couldn’t care less whether Hagar and Ishmael live or die. So fuck her.

This chapter now goes off on one of those odd Biblical non-sequiturs and discusses the origins of a well, so this is where we’ll skip ahead to Genesis 22. I was willing to cut God and Abraham some slack a moment ago, but this is the chapter that makes me want to take both of them out back and ensure that no one ever finds the bodies.

This is the part where Abraham almost murders his own son at God’s request.

God decides to “tempt” Abraham, but God is really testing his loyalty. He demands that Abraham offer Isaac as a sacrifice. What is remarkable here is that Abraham does not suffer any moral qualms about this. He does not question why God would make such a demand. He does not resist in the slightest. He merely packs up his ass (the other kind), selects his best sacrificin’ knife, and sets off to the altar.

Of course, we know that God relents at the very end, with Isaac bound on the altar and the knife in Abraham’s hand. What does this say about God, though? He demands loyalty to him over familial relationships, regardless of the damage it does. What did Isaac think about his father after this? What was their relationship like? Is this the kind of human society that God expects his followers to create: one in which no one can trust anyone else? Even worse, this passage has served as the template for subsequent Christian families rejecting their children when they didn’t turn out the way that they wanted.

In other words, these are the “family values” that fundamentalists truly have.

Any God that would demand that its servant demonstrate his loyalty by killing his own son is simply evil. And any father that would blindly and robotically follow such a command is more than a “bad father”, but a sociopath.

There is more to consider here, though, because there are two versions of this story. As we’ve discussed previously, the Pentateuch is comprised of at least four different source documents. Well, the Isaac sacrifice story appears in two of them. The one people are familiar with is the one in which God relents at the very end; this is basically the Disney version of an older, original tale. You see, in that source document, Isaac never appears again after this. In other words, originally, God let Abraham go through with the sacrifice.

There is evidence that human sacrifice was practiced by the forerunners of the Israelites. By the time the Bible was compiled, the practice had mostly shifted to animal proxies. There are still passages in the Bible that reflect the earlier practice, though; most of them were edited out, but reconstructing the source documents reveals them. This is one such example.

Genesis 22 ends with – what else? – a boring genealogy. Hopefully things will pick up next time. (Actually, they don’t.)


genesis 20 - degenerate assholes

It’s been quite some time since my last post in the Ponzo Reads the Bible series (which is now migrating to the new blog, though you can always access the archives here). I have practical reasons for slacking off – moving halfway across the country being the chief one – but the most immediate excuse is that I got stuck on Genesis 20. I just didn’t know how to respond to it.

It is not because Genesis 20 contains some life-changing moral message that caused an epiphany in me. Rather, Genesis 20 simply continues what has quickly become the theme of the Old Testament in general: God’s chosen people do terrible things to others, with God’s full approval.

How many times can I condemn the moral degeneracy of Abraham and Sarah, or of their God for letting them get away with the shit they pull? How can I find new words to describe my disgust?

Here is the summary of Genesis 21: Abraham and Sarah travel to the land of Gerar, which is ruled by King Abimelech. Once again, they play the “Sarah is my sister” trick on Abimelech, convincing him that Sarah is free for the taking and ensuring that he will fall in lust with her (keep in mind, by the way, that Sarah is over 90 years old at this point). Once Abimelech has taken Sarah for his own, God shows up to demand the Bronze Age equivalent of protection money, threatening dire consequences if Abimelech fails to pay up.

Excuse me, but how is this not a protection racket?

This time, though, there is a twist. You see, Abimelech may have taken Sarah to be his wife, but he has refrained from even touching her in the meantime. God couldn’t care less, though; he still insists that Abimelech pay up or face the consequences. In fact, he even has the audacity to take credit for Abimelech’s own modesty.

Oh, and it gets better, because here we find out that Abraham and Sarah weren’t lying about the sister thing after all. Sarah really is Abraham’s sister; he just married her anyway!

What is all this I’ve been hearing lately about “defending ‘traditional marriage’”?

Now, all of this would be fine if it were used to convey some moral lesson – i.e., if Abraham and Sarah eventually got what was coming to them for their actions. That is not the case, though. Instead, these trailer trash degenerates engage in trickery and deceit with God’s imprimatur, and God even shows up to twist the arm of their innocent victims. Three major religions trace their origins back to Abraham as ur-patriarch, and never stop to examine or question his true nature. These religions worship the same god that is here behaving like a petty thug.

What does this say about those religions, or their adherents? What does it say about the nature of their god? The only rational conclusion is that God – Yahweh, Allah, or whatever name you choose to ascribe to this deity – is evil. The chief religious concept that the Bible supports is maltheism.

The Bible hardly needs critics, as it is its own worst enemy. If its adherents ever bothered to read it, or if they did so without succumbing to massive cognitive dissonance, they would reject it outright.



For the time being, work on Ponzo Reads the Bible will be suspended. For new material, visit Open Threat.


genesis 18-19 - sodom and gomorrah

Previously, I noted how the Bible rushes past some topics, whereas it draws others out to ridiculous lengths. Entire chapters are devoted to peripheral subjects, while important sequences of events are compressed into a verse or two. Fortunately, the next two chapters are an exception. Chapters 18 and 19 do a fairly good job of setting up the story and bringing it to a conclusion. A few details are lost, but, for the most part, this section moves along fairly well.

Too bad its contents are reprehensible.

There are many Christians who attempt to argue that the Bible does not in fact condemn homosexuality. As much as I respect the motivations of these Christians, I must disagree with them: the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality.

However, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not a good example of this. It is vague, inconsistent, and open to considerable interpretation. The reader is left with the impression that it is not homosexuality as such that this section condemns, but gang rape. Further, given that the term “sodomy” has been used to refer not only to anal penetration, but to any “unusual” sexual activity, it would seem that at least two different interpretations arose from this tale.

Also, Lot himself provides a terrible moral exemplar.

The story begins in Chapter 18. God appears to Abraham in the form of three avatars. Abraham invites the three men into his tent to rest, and a great deal of detail is wasted on the preparations for their meal. The men repeat that Sarah will bear a child, which amuses her greatly due to her age. They then prepare to continue on their way.

The three avatars have come to judge Sodom. For a moment, God wonders if he should share his intent to destroy the city with Abraham. When he does, Abraham asks if God if he intends to destroy the righteous inhabitants of the city along with the wicked. Abraham convinces God not to destroy the city if at least fifty righteous people can be found there.

Abraham continues to argue, and convinces God not to destroy the city if forty righteous people can be found there.

Abraham continues to argue, and convinces God not to destroy the city if thirty righteous people can be found there.

Abraham continues to argue, and convinces God not to destroy the city if twenty righteous people can be found there.

Abraham continues to argue, and convinces God not to destroy the city if ten righteous people can be found there.

God, who must be getting as tired of this as I am, hurries on his way, having agreed to the ten-righteous-people promise. None of this matters anyway, though, because God doesn’t even bother to look for ten righteous people once his representatives have arrived in the city.

As Chapter 19 opens, two angels enter Sodom. This is inconsistent with the preceding chapter, which referred to three “men”. This numerical inconsistency, along with the change from “men” to “angels”, suggests that Chapters 18 and 19 were derived from different source texts. This may also explain why God conveniently forgets his ten-righteous-people promise.

Lot sees the angels and invites them to spend the night at his house with his wife and two virgin daughters. That night, the house is surrounded, and the men (or people) outside demand that Lot send the angels outside so that they might “know” them. Lot begs the crowd to reconsider, and offers his two daughters instead.

This is a troublesome passage. First of all, there is the use of the term “know”. As Religious Tolerance explains, the term is used (in its original Hebrew) 943 times in the Tanakh/Old Testament, mostly in the sense of “to know a fact”. Only on about a dozen occasions is it used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

As mentioned in Chapter 14, Sodom had recently been invaded by foreign armies. The people would still be on alert for more enemies. The arrival of these two strange men in the city would no doubt raise their suspicions. It has been suggested that, therefore, the crowd simply wants to interrogate the angels, and it is in that sense that the word “know” is used.

Further complicating the conventional reading, the KJV refers to “the men of the city, even the men of Sodom…both young and old, all the people from every quarter” (Genesis 19:4) The problem here is that the original Hebrew could refer either to male humans alone, or to people in the general sense (analogous to the English word “man”). It is also unlikely that “both young and old, all the people from every quarter” would not include women and children in the mix.

Regardless, Lot’s offer of his two virgin daughters in place of the two angels causes those arguments to collapse. If the mob’s intent were not sexual, then why would Lot make this offer? This still does not necessarily imply homosexuality, but, regardless, the people of Sodom would have to be extremely debauched to make this demand.

This is not a very good passage on which to base moral lessons, however, given Lot’s offer: “Please! You can rape my two young daughters if you leave these strangers alone!”

The angels ward off the mob, and reveal to Lot that they have been sent to destroy the city. In the morning, Lot, his wife, and his daughters flee the city with the angels, with Lot being oddly cantankerous during the journey. The angels warn them not to look back, but Lot’s wife cannot help herself, and, in a nicely psychedelic touch, is turned into a pillar of salt as Sodom and Gomorrah and all the plains thereabout are destroyed with fire and brimstone.

The oddly inappropriate moral lessons are not yet over, however.

Lot and his daughters escape and take up residence in a cave. It appears that Lot’s daughters believe that they are the last living people on Earth, and worry that they will never have children. Therefore, they decide to get their father drunk, and each then sleeps with him and conceives a son.

So one of our “righteous moral exemplars” offers his two virgin daughters for a mob to gang rape. Later, those two righteous daughters incestuously rape their own father.

But it is homosexuality that is wrong. Go figure.

genesis 16-17 - slave abuse + penises

In Chapter 12, you might have felt sympathy for poor Sarai, Abram’s wife. Abram basically prostituted her out to Pharaoh in exchange for wealth.

In Chapter 16, prepare to lose all that sympathy. The story goes like this:

Sarai, as previously mentioned, is barren. She wants a child, though, and convinces Abram to impregnate Hagar, her “maid” (i.e., slave girl). Abram does this, after which Hagar starts to “despise” her mistress (Wouldn’t you? It’s not like Hagar had a choice in the matter). Sarai asks Abram to punish her, but Abram says, basically, “She’s your slave. You punish her.” Sarai does so harshly, and Hagar flees into the desert.

Once again, we have an example of a victim being punished for being victimized.

An angel (avatar) of God appears to her and provides water. The angel commands Sarai to return to her owner, promising that her “seed” will be numerous.

So, one again, we have God approving of the victim being punished.

Hagar bears a son, whom Abram names Ishmael – just as the angel prophesied! I bet you didn’t see that coming.

Chapter 17 is about penises. (Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t write it!)

First, though, God once again repeats his promise to Abram. That’s the one in which he will give Abram’s lineage all the lands of Israel (described many times as much larger than the modern-day state). Also, that Abram’s “seed” shall be greater in number than all the sands on the beach, or all the stars in the sky. Needless to say, neither of these things ever happened.

Abram is here renamed Abraham. Sarai is renamed Sarah later in the chapter.

Now we get to the penises.

In order to commemorate this promise (which, again, God never fulfills), he commands that Abraham and all his male offspring circumcise themselves. Also, their male slaves must be circumcised. God goes into quite a lot of detail here. Infants are to be circumcised eight days after birth. Everyone else has to be circumcised immediately: Abraham himself at age 90, and Ishmael at 13. Anyone who is not circumcised will be cast out and made a pariah.

Ten of the 27 verses in this chapter are about circumcision.

One has to wonder what cutting off the foreskin of the penis has to do with God (not) giving the land of Israel to the Hebrews. Considering how it all turned out, you can’t help but wonder if this was not all part of some elaborate divine practical joke.

God also promises that Sarah will now conceive a child of her own. Furthermore, this child, Isaac, will be Abraham’s heir, despite being his second son. Ishmael won’t make out too badly in the long run (relatively, anyway), but you have to wonder if that whole Hagar thing in the preceding chapter was really necessary if God was just going to circumvent it anyway.

genesis 13-15 - boring

There are fifty chapters in the Book of Genesis. In some of these, a lot happens, so much that the details are glossed over. Those sections deserve to be expanded into several chapters. Other chapters, however, contain almost nothing of importance. They are genealogies, or, as in the case of our present subject, devoted almost entirely to a single issue which could easily have been communicated in a couple of verses at the most. The next three chapters are examples of the latter.

In Chapter 13, we are told that Abram and Lot are both rich. Both have lots of flocks, herds, and tents. There is not enough room in Canaan – where they have returned – for both of them. Abram suggests that they separate into two groups. Lot chooses Jordan, which lies to the east. Abram remains in Canaan. God repeats his promise to Abram.

That’s it. That’s what this entire chapter is all about. There is a brief mention here of the wickedness of the men of Sodom (Genesis 13:13), but, since that won’t be important until much later, I will wait until then to discuss it.

Chapter 14 describes the sack of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by a coalition of neighboring armies. No mention of their “wickedness” is made here. Lot had settled in Sodom, and is captured. An escapee from the battle tells Abram about his nephew’s capture, and Abram sets off after him with his army of slaves (Genesis 14:14). Lot is returned to Sodom, along with all the treasures which the attackers had taken. The end.

Chapter 15 at least contains an interesting sequence in which God commands Abram to engage in a bit of extispicy, or divination by examining the entrails of animals. This is noteworthy because it produces a vision in which Abram glimpses the Egyptian captivity.

This is one of the passages that fundamentalist Christians cite when they claim that the Bible is full of prophecies that have been fulfilled. This is dubious, however. The extant Tanakh/Old Testament was compiled long after its original source texts were written. Those texts had been revised over hundreds of years, often to support concepts that were not important when they were first written, but which became important later on. Thus, there is no way to know which came first: the vision, or the Egyptian captivity.

If the Egyptian captivity actually occurred, that is (but we still have a long way to go before we get that far).

I must admit that it is around this point that I lose tract of which source is which. That is because the phrase “LORD God” begins to appear. Up until now, I have used the terms “God” and “LORD” as markers for the Priestly and Jahwist sources respectively, but “LORD God” confuses that.

I can say that we start encountering the Elohist source around this time. It exclusively used the term “Elohim” for God, whereas the Priestly source used both “Elohim” and “El Shaddai” (In earlier posts, I stated that the Priestly source used the term “El”; that was an error on my part. “El” comes from the ancient Semitic religion, but you can still see its influence on these later terms.) The Elohist source mostly echoes the content of the Jahwist and Priestly sources, but adds a new spin on some of them. When possible, I will note this; one example is particularly intriguing.

genesis 12 - spousal abuse

Abram is an asshole. Let’s just admit that right up front. One would expect the person on whom three major religions are based to have had some sense of honor or moral character, but Abram has neither of these.

Nevertheless, in Chapter 12, Yahweh has arbitrarily chosen Abram to be one of his favorites:

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Thus, all of Abram’s moral failings are overlooked and forgotten, even when they are truly outrageous.

Abram takes his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, all their belongings, and all their slaves (euphemistically translated as “souls” here (Genesis 12:5)) and travels into the land of Canaan. Here, in a passage that could have been inspired by the tower scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (“What? The curtains?”), Yahweh tells him that, one day, all this shall be his.

What is to be done with those annoying Canaanites is glossed over for the time being. Instead, we follow Abram’s adventures in Egypt.

And here…here…holy crap!

And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels. (Genesis 12:11-16)

[Emphasis mine] Yep, you read that right. Abram tells Sarai to identify herself as his sister, not his wife. She is then taken into Pharaoh’s harem (that’s what “house” here means), and Abram is repaid for her services. So basically, Abram pimps out his own wife to Pharaoh! Gah!

But if that weren’t bad enough, the game is rigged in Abram’s favor:

And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife. (Genesis 12:17)

So Abram lies to Pharaoh, tricks him into taking his own wife as a concubine, and takes all the things Pharaoh gives him in return. And then Yahweh punishes Pharaoh! Abram even gets to keep all his ill-gotten booty.

Maltheism is religion based on the worship of an evil god. Elohim might have his positive aspects, but Yahweh is just…well, just look at who he chooses to represent him!

And people say that this is a “good book”? They say that it contains uplifting moral lessons? These sorts of actions are not performed by people whom God punishes. They are performed by the very people whom Yahweh has chosen to favor. It is the victims of these tricks whom Yahweh punishes.

Based on stuff like this, what kind of god do you think Yahweh is?

genesis 11 - the tower of babel

Genesis 11 is divided into two parts. The first part relays the story of the Tower of Babel.

As mentioned previously, Genesis 11:1 asserts that all humans spoke the same language at this time, despite what Genesis 10 had to say on the issue. This discrepancy may be because we have returned to using the Jahwist text, as indicated by multiple uses of the term “LORD”, meaning Yahweh.

“They” are journeying from the east, when “they” find a plain in the land of Shinar, where “they” dwell. Who “they” are is unclear. Recall, however, that the garden was planted “eastward in Eden” (Genesis 2:8), also in the Jahwist text. Thus, this could provide continuity with a more easterly creation of the proto-Hebrews.

The people decide to build a city and a tower, and to give themselves a name, in order to unify themselves. Yahweh comes down to see the city and the tower, and is terrified. The construction indicates that, soon, there will be nothing beyond human capability. Yahweh then suggests “let us go down” (Genesis 11:7) to confound the people’s language, sew confusion, and scatter them so that they cannot complete the tower.

That Yahweh must “come down” to view the city and tower illustrates once again the limited nature of the Jahwist deity. So does his concern that humans may soon be able to accomplish anything they desire. This idea is fairly common among ancient mythologies: humans regard themselves as the rightful equals of the gods, and it is only due to the caprice and unfairness of the gods that they are kept inferior and subservient. That this idea is manifested in the Torah/Pentateuch reflects how much this early version of Judaism had in common with other mythologies of the region.

Yahweh’s use of the phrase “let us go down” is also revealing. I have mentioned previously the polytheistic nature of the ancient Semitic religion, and the henotheistic nature of early Judaism. Once again, the “royal we” was not used in Ancient Hebrew, so this is a definite reference to multiple divine beings.

Christian apologists would hold that God is speaking to the angels here, but God should not need the assistance of the angels in carrying out his plan. There is also no evidence of this in the text. Furthermore, angels have not yet appeared in the Bible, and there is evidence that, when they do, they are merely manifestations of God himself, analogous to Hindu avatars.

The only reasonable conclusion is that Yahweh is speaking to other beings similar to himself. This falls squarely in line with the concept of the seventy children of El in the ancient Semitic religion.

The second part of Genesis 11 is – you guessed it! – another lengthy genealogy.

Once again, we can skip the details and just focus on a couple of interesting points.

First, all the individuals named here live well beyond the 120-year human lifespan set down (by Yahweh himself, incidentally) in Genesis 6:3. The longest lifespan cited is 600 years (Shem), and the shortest is 148 years (Nahor). One could say that at least the trend is going down, but this won’t be the last time this limit is forgotten.

Second, we are introduced to a number of very important personages here. First up is Abram, a descendant of Shem, one of the three sons of Noah. Abram is later renamed Abraham, and is considered the ultimate founder of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We shall follow his adventures more closely in upcoming chapters.

We are also introduced to Lot, son of Haran, one of Abram’s brothers. Lot will play an important role very shortly. Finally, we have Sarai, Abram’s wife. Normally, women in the Bible aren’t even named. Sarai is an exception, but only for dubious reasons. First, she is barren. (As the SAB puts it, why is it that it is only women in the Bible who are barren?) Second—

Well, you just won’t believe it until you’ve read it for yourself!

genesis 10 - genealogy + miscellanea

But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. (Titus 3:9)

Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. (1 Timothy 1:4)

[Emphasis mine] It is with that good advice that we mostly skip over Genesis 10, which is pretty much nothing but a genealogy.

There are a couple of points of interest, however.

By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. (Genesis 10:5)

These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations. (Genesis 10:20)

These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. (Genesis 10:31)

[Emphasis mine] We will be told in the very next chapter – Genesis 11:1, as a matter of fact – that there was only one human language prior to the Tower of Babel incident. As the passages above show, however, the author of Genesis 10 apparently disagreed.

Also, that whole “Curse of Ham” thing. Never becomes important again – in the Bible itself, at least.

genesis 9:18-29 - the curse of ham

The second part of Chapter 9 may be only 12 verses in length, but they are chock full of goodness. This is typical of the Bible: either one thing (or nothing) is covered excruciatingly slowly, or many things are covered so quickly that the reader’s head spins. I wonder if this was on purpose: bore the reader to the point of exhaustion, and then fill his head with a lot of facts he is too tired to question.

Noah has three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. These were actually introduced way back in Chapter 6 (Genesis 6:10), but it is only now that they become important. It is from these three men that all the peoples of the world are the descended. This is an important point. Pay attention: you will be graded.

Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine, and gets drunk off the wine. He falls asleep naked in his tent. Ham sees his father naked, and tells his two brothers. Shem and Japheth cover Noah, but take the precaution of approaching him backwards and not looking at him as they do so.

When Noah wakes up, he knows “what his younger son had done unto him” (Genesis 9:24). So he curses—

Wait! What?!

All the Bible says is that Ham saw Noah naked. There is no evidence here that this was anything other than an accident. If so, it is hardly likely that he would have reported it to his brothers.

Yet Noah knows “what [Ham] had done unto him.” This implies that Ham’s offense was far greater than seeing his father naked. The offense is so great that Noah curses not only Ham, but his offspring, the Canaanites. Thenceforth, the Canaanites will be enslaved to the descendants of Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:25-27 – when the King James Version uses the word “servant”, it is translating the Hebrew word for “slave”).

Either Noah is seriously overreacting here, or the Bible has left quite a bit out. It has been suggested that Ham raped his drunken father, but there is absolutely no evidence in the text itself to support this. And, once again, if Ham had done this, why would he have told his brothers about it? Prideful boasting? We are given no evidence of any sort of grudge between Noah and his son, or reason to believe that Ham is an evil sort of person.

Basically, this comes out of nowhere, blindsiding the reader, and providing yet another justification for the worst abuses of Christianity.

You see, the “Curse of Ham” was the principle Biblical passage used to support the enslavement of black Africans. Recall that Noah’s children produce three human lineages. For ages, Europeans divided humanity into three races. The “Negroid” race, to which black Africans belonged, was identified with the Canaanites, the cursed descendants of Ham. God had ordained that the Canaanites would serve the members of the other two lineages, so it was only proper that black Africans would be enslaved.

This argument, if one can call it that, reached its height of popularity in the United States, where the enslavement of black Africans became institutionalized. Although slavery had been practiced by virtually every culture in history, it was only in America that it was identified with one particular race of people. In the south, a free black person was an oxymoron; by definition, a black person was a slave, and it was primarily on this Biblical passage that that idea was based.

Thus ends the story of the good and righteous Noah: with his enslavement of an entire people for what was likely nothing more than his own bruised ego. Noah lives to be 950 years old, despite God having, at the start of this whole episode, restricted human lifespans to 120 years (Genesis 6:3).

It is on that unfair and depressing point that we must end this entry.


It has become apparent that if I don't start moving this project along, we won't get to the part where the world ends until, well, after the world ends.

Therefore I'm trying to catch up. This won't turn into "Ponzo's Bible Blog", though.

The forecast calls for heavy rains of frogs, locusts, and burning hail, with the occasional divine thunderbolt.

genesis 8-9 - the flood (part 2)

In which we conclude the story of Noah’s ark.

When we last left Noah, he, his family, and two or seven of every animal on Earth were sealed inside the ark, floating atop a deluged Earth. In Chapter 8, God “remembers” Noah, and causes the waters to recede. This takes quite a long time – or at least it seems to, given the attention paid to each successive step in the process; Noah et al. don’t leave the ark until the 18th verse of a 22-verse chapter.

At one point, Noah sends forth a raven to test whether the waters have receded fully. He then sends forth a dove. Once again, the documentary hypothesis arises: the raven comes from one source, and the dove from another (I don’t remember which from which).

Also, the dove, on its second trip outside the ark, brings back an olive leaf “pluckt off” [a tree, presumably] (Genesis 8:11). How could an olive tree survive a massive deluge, followed by at least 150 days of submersion in water, followed by the rapid recession of that water? And don’t say, “Because God did it,” because that’s just stupid.

I’ve paid virtually no attention to the specific periods mentioned here, because, not only am I not interested in them, but they are not interesting in themselves. For the denouement of a global flood, this chapter is surprising dull.

So Noah et al. finally leave the ark. This includes the animals. We return here to the Jahwist source, as Noah sacrifices one pair of each of the “clean” animals. Remember how the Priestly source designated only two pairs of animals, while the Jahwist source designated seven pairs of “clean” animals and birds? Here is where that becomes important. By the time the Priestly source was written, only members of the priesthood were permitted to make sacrifices. Noah, not being a priest (the priesthood would not be established until the time of Aaron), would have not been permitted to make a sacrifice, so the number of animals was reduced to two.

The Jahwist source, however, had no problem with laymen making sacrifices. Noah’s sacrifice is a burnt offering, and the LORD (Yahweh) “smells a sweet savour” arising from it. This is further evidence of Yahweh’s bloodthirsty nature.

Chapter 8 ends with Yahweh promising not to destroy the earth again. Chapter 9 begins with Elohim promising the same thing, except he is more long-winded*. First, Elohim tells Noah et al. that the animals are there for them to do with as they please (Genesis 9:2), a verse that has been used to justify ages of animal cruelty. Then Elohim commands Noah et al. to “be ye fruitful, and multiply” (Genesis 9:7), which might be fine for the Bronze Age when these words were first written, but nowadays is a recipe for overpopulation.

Oddly, Elohim also takes the time to prohibit the eating of animals that are still alive! (Genesis 9:4) Was this prohibition actually necessary?

Finally we get to the “covenant”, in which Elohim promises not to destroy the earth again. This takes a full ten verses; Elohim could take lessons in brevity from Yahweh. The rainbow is established as a symbol of the covenant, which I find quite nice, actually. Since rainbows are produced by water vapor in the air, it ties in nicely with the flood itself, and is a reminder of God’s contrition.

And that’s it. I will discuss the second half of Genesis 9 next time.

*I realize the hypocrisy inherent in me accusing someone else of being long-winded. Nevertheless, I doubt anyone will ever establish a religion based on the ranting of some random blogger, so I feel justified in doing so.

genesis 6-7 - the flood (part 1)

In which we discuss the Flood. (Given the length of the Biblical flood myth, I am dividing it into two posts. This one discusses the flood itself; the second post will discuss its denouement.)

First, flood myths are not exclusive to the Bible. They are common throughout the world, and especially in the Middle East. The Biblical flood myth seems to have been adapted from the earlier Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, which describes another, very similar flood story. It is possible this myth was adopted by the Hebrews during the Babylonian exile.

Numerous theories have been postulated to explain the prevalence of similar flood myths throughout the Middle East. One recent theory suggests that they are fragmentary records of a prehistoric deluge that occurred in the Black Sea region, and which forced the former inhabitants of that region to scatter, thereby producing similar myths among different cultures. A more prosaic explanation is simply that most ancient cultures arose near rivers and other bodies of water, water being essential to life. Rivers and such have a tendency to produce flooding, and massive floods would leave a definite impact on the societies that experienced them. It is only natural that such floods would have become part of their mythologies.

Genesis 6 opens with a strange fragment: an allusion to the “sons of God” and “giants in the earth”. This is provided with absolutely no context. We must look (again) to the Book of Enoch to provide that context.

The Book of Enoch describes the Grigori, or watchers, a semi-divine race possibly analogous to the demigods of other cultures; these were the “sons of God”. These beings descended to Earth and shared their knowledge and technology with humans; this is obviously analogous to the Greek myth of Prometheus. Although this in itself offended God, what really raised his ire was that the Grigori began to lust after human women, and mated with them. This produced a race known as the Nephilim, who were the “giants in the earth”, analogous to the heroes of other mythologies.

The Grigori were punished for their interference. This was later adapted into the “fallen angel” concept that would be used extensively in Christianity to explain the origin of Satan and his minions. By this point, there were no humans with pure lineages; all had been “corrupted” through interbreeding with the Grigori. All except one, that is.

Noah and his family remained of pure human blood. Thus, when God decided to rid Earth of the Grigori corruption, he spared Noah and his family in order to carry on the pure human lineage.

Noah is commanded to build an ark; specific instructions are provided for the shape and size of the ark. Noah and his family will enter the ark, along with a breeding pair of every animal on Earth. They will take along enough food for themselves and the animals. Once sealed, the ark will protect them as God brings a massive deluge to cover the earth and destroy the tainted humans (along with everything else).

Genesis 7 immediately opens with the LORD’s command to take seven breeding pairs of every “clean” animal and bird, and only a single breeding pair of the “unclean” animals. If you’ve been following along, you know that “the LORD” refers to Yahweh, whereas “God” refers to Elohim. Yes, once again we’ve run into two comingled source texts.

In fact, what follows is a rather clumsy and haphazard intertwining of the Priestly and Jahwist sources. This began in Chapter 6, but it was not quite as bad there; here, it results in one false start and stop after another, making the final text very hard to follow. It also introduces obvious contradictions, such as the number of animals taken aboard the ark.

There is also another example of the personal and corporeal nature of Yahweh from the Jahwist source, as he personally shuts the door of the ark. (Genesis 7:16)

One might wonder why the editor of the “final” Bible did not do a better job of correcting these contradictions. My theory is that every word of the source texts was regarded as holy and divinely inspired, and the editor did the best job he could to keep everything in them, even when the result made no sense. He was unwilling to throw anything away, even if doing so would have resulted in a superior product.

Since I’m running long here, I’ll discuss the discrepancy in the number of animals next time. Suffice it to say that Elohim/Yahweh floods the earth, and everything dies except Noah, his family, and billions of animals sealed inside a relatively tiny boat.

A couple of practical questions: First, what did the carnivores eat? Did Noah bring along extra animals to feed them? Second, and I don’t mean to be gross here, but what did they do with all the poop? Feces contains numerous toxic substances; the methane-filled atmosphere inside the sealed ark alone would have quickly become poisonous.

Next time: it just goes on and on like this.

genesis 5 - genealogy + miscellanea

Genesis 5 is simply a genealogy, tracing the lineage of Adam all the way to Noah.

Here we go:

Adam to Seth to Enos to Cainan to Mahalaleel to Jared (not the one from the Subway ads) to Enoch to Methuselah to Lamech to Noah

That’s…not very interesting.

Much more interesting are the following:

1. Genesis 5:2 invokes the creation of multiple humans from Genesis 1:27 (“Male and female created he them… and called their name Adam” (emphasis in original)). “Adam” simply means “man” or “humanity” in Hebrew; its use was analogous to the modern English word “man” in referring to either depending on context.

2. Note that God is here referred to as “God”, which translated the name of the creator-god El. There is no reference to Yahweh (“LORD”) until 5:29, which implies that the bulk of this chapter came from the Priestly source.

3. The persons named in this chapter are known as the “antediluvian patriarchs”. Note the absurdly long life spans attributed to them – an average of 907.5 years (discounting Enoch, whom I will discuss below). This is in keeping with the mythological character of these persons, and may reflect vestigial evidence of a Biblical version of the Ages of Man – in such concepts, early humans were both closer to the divine, and consequently exceedingly long-lived.

4. Enoch does not die. Instead, he “walked with God”, and “God took him”. In other words, he ascended directly to Heaven. This is significant in that the Book of Enoch, which is attributed to him, describes his discoveries after ascending to Heaven.

5. This chapter ends with the birth of Noah’s children Shem, Ham, and Japheth. We will learn more about Ham later.

Genesis 5 is of little interest otherwise, except to people constructing elaborate histories of a 6000-year-old Earth. Things pick up in the next chapter.

genesis 4 - cain and abel

Genesis 4 is a chapter of firsts for the Bible: the first mention of sex; the first murder; the first instance of polygamy; and the first genealogy. Previously, I have not summarized the events of each chapter, for reasons I will discuss below. Here, I will do so:

Adam has sex with Eve, and she gives birth to Cain. Don’t think I’m being crude there: it is the Bible itself which places the emphasis on their copulation (“And Adam knew Eve his wife...” (Genesis 4:1)). Eve then gives birth to Abel.

Cain is a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd. They each prepare a sacrifice for Yahweh from the products of his own profession. Cain offers fruits and vegetables, while Abel offers the first-born of his flock and their fat (Genesis 4:4). Yahweh is pleased with Abel’s sacrifice, but is not pleased by Cain’s.

When Cain is upset, Yahweh scolds him for being upset. In a fit of jealousy, Cain murders Abel when the two are alone. Yahweh asks what has happened, and curses Cain for his action. Cain is cast out, and “marked” so that no one will kill him.

Once again, Yahweh appears here as a personal deity, in contrast to the impersonal El. Also, we have more evidence of Yahweh’s lack of omniscience: he must ask Cain what he has done, instead of knowing automatically.

More ominously, however, is Yahweh’s preference for Abel’s animal sacrifice. This will become a theme in the Bible: Yahweh likes killing. A shocking number of verses in Exodus and Leviticus deal exclusively and in grotesque detail with the ritual slaughter of animals; it is here in Genesis 4 that Yahweh’s thirst for blood is first established.

It is therefore rather surprising that Yahweh would condemn Cain for the murder of Abel, and the only rational conclusion that the reader can draw is that Yahweh condemns the act not because it is in itself morally wrong, but because Abel was Yahweh’s favorite. This will only be the first time that Yahweh plays favorites, and when he is arbitrary and capricious in choosing those favorites.

While we are here, Genesis 4:15 – “And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” – was long used to justify the enslavement of Africans by white Christians. It is still a favorite among far-right white supremacists.

There is evidence here that Genesis 4 was composed from two different source documents. In Genesis 4:12, Yahweh tells Cain that he will be a “fugitive and vagabond”, yet a mere five verses later (Genesis 4:17), Cain settles down, marries, has a son (Enoch), and founds a city named in his son’s honor. There then follows a genealogy and short digression that makes little sense in context, given its brevity, and which is wholly unlike the preceding verses in tone and structure. Unless the author had short-term memory loss, the best explanation here is that there were two different versions of the Cain story, and that the editor made an attempt to keep the good parts of each, no matter if they were consistent.

Genesis 4:17 (“And Cain knew his wife…”) also brings up an interesting question. Although El created multiple humans in Genesis 1, Yahweh created only two in Genesis 2. Here, Adam and Eve have produced only two children when Cain marries. So where did Cain’s unnamed wife come from? I think this may reference the original nature of Yahweh as a local god. His creation of Adam and Eve was not originally interpreted to be the creation of all humans on Earth, but merely those who would play a central role in the history of the Hebrews and the nation of Israel. Thus, El created humanity in general, while Yahweh created the specific ancestors of the Israelites. A contradiction arose here only after the two gods fell together as one.

Genesis 4 ends with the birth of Seth, who is very much a replacement for Abel. Seth is the ancestor of the Israelites. There is a whole “school” of theology based on the perceived dichotomy between Cain and Seth. This “Serpent Seed” theory holds Adam was not really the father of Cain. That would have been the serpent – the devil – who was presumably humanoid in form prior to the Fall. Cain went astray because his lineage was diabolical. Seth, on the other hand, was the offspring the Adam, and thereby the offspring of God. This theory produced manifestations in both Jewish and Christian theology. In Christian theology, it became yet another rationale for racism, where Cain’s diabolical offspring are interpreted as being all non-whites, while whites are the godly offspring of Seth.

Genesis 4 is the first chapter in the Bible to read as if it were describing real people. Genesis 1 is concerned with impersonal theological issues, while the events of Genesis 2 and 3 are clearly mythical in nature. Genesis 4 describes human actions that could be interpreted outside a mythical framework. In other words, the characters in Genesis 4 act reasonably human; they engage in actions that are recognizable as the kind that real humans would engage in. Thus, I have summarized them in more detail.

Here are also the roots of Biblical history, such as they are; if there are any moral lessons here, they are not a particularly uplifting ones: God is capricious, and God likes killing things. There is plenty of evidence further on to support these conclusions, but, if this is the point of a supposed moral lesson in this chapter, it is maltheistic in character.

genesis 3 - the fall

The “Fall” is mostly contained within Genesis 3, but, to properly address it, we must begin with Genesis 2. Genesis 2 blends together the second creation myth with the setup for the Fall, and provides a description of the garden of Eden.

In Genesis 2:9, Yahweh plants two magic trees in Eden: the “tree of life”, and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. It is of the latter that Adam and (the yet-to-be-named) Eve will eat in Genesis 3. Yahweh forbids eating only of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and, later, scolds his creations for eating from that tree; at the end of Genesis 3, he places a cherubim in the garden to guard the tree of life, apparently having decided to extend his prohibition.

The Fall itself is a passable myth, but neither as elegant nor as inspiring as the Greek Prometheus delivering fire to humans against the wishes of the gods. In both mythologies, human knowledge is the product of rebellion against the wishes of the gods. In Greek mythology, it is made clear that the gods are upset because this offends their vanity; they wish to have knowledge (in this case, technology, in the form of fire) all to themselves. In Genesis, knowledge is regarded as a bad thing; to be knowledgeable or wise is to be mortal and condemned to suffering. As we will see on many occasions later on, Yahweh is no less vain than the Greek gods; here, he demands obedience over the best interests of his creations. The issue that he might consider humans to be competitors to him is not explored until later in the Babel myth.

Here also we see the inversion of the ancient symbolism of the serpent. Serpents shed their skins in order to grow; this led to them being used as symbols of rebirth and life in general in the majority of ancient cultures. It is intriguing that here, a symbol of life is inverted into a symbol of death (mortality).

We encounter more evidence of the personal nature of Yahweh, as contrasted with the impersonal El. Yahweh “walks” in Eden (and apparently talks to himself), and “makes” coats of skins for Adam and Eve, who has finally been named. We also encounter more evidence of his lack of omniscience, as, when Adam and Eve hide from him, he calls out, “Where art thou?” He is also unaware of what has just transpired with the serpent and the tree, as he demands an explanation for their covering their nakedness. The apologist would surely state that these are merely rhetorical devices, yet that same apologist would also likely claim that every word in the Bible is literally true and divinely inspired; regardless, there is no evidence that these are rhetorical questions.

Also interesting is Genesis 3:22, in which Yahweh states, “Behold, the man is become as one of us.” This recalls Genesis 1:26, where El states, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The “royal we” did not exist when these lines were composed; these are definite references to the first-person plural. These are vestigial traces of the polytheism of early Judaism, as derived from the ancient Semitic religion.

And that about wraps it up for the Fall.

genesis 1-2 - creation

And so we begin.

Don’t kid yourself: there are two very different and mutually contradictory accounts of creation in the Bible. The second follows immediately after the first, which makes their mutually irreconcilable natures even more obvious. The typical apologetic response is to claim that there are no contradictions (big surprise there) because each account focuses on different issues, but this is a very weak argument. It ignores the abrupt shift in authorial tone, the contradictory nature of God in each account, the mechanisms of creation, and even the very order of creation. I will address each of these topics below.

First, however, I want to point out something deeply interesting. Let me provide a summary of the creation of the universe:

In the beginning, there was chaos. This is depicted as an endless ocean, or abyss. There is no distinction between heaven and earth; both are unified as one. Through divine intervention, these primordial waters are divided into two halves, an upper half and a lower. These are separated by the dome of the sky, into which are placed the sun, moon, and stars. Below the dome, the earth is divided once again; the dry land is collected together into a single mass, and the waters form the salt-water oceans. Fresh water emerges from below the land and waters the ground, from which plants grow. Humans are created from the stuff of the ground itself: first a single man, and then a woman from out of the man’s body. Animals are brought to the man, who confers upon them their names. The creation of man and the naming of the animals takes place in an idyllic garden, where the humans are forbidden to eat the fruit of a magical tree which would confer upon them eternal life and limitless knowledge. The humans disobey, and are condemned to mortality.

That is a pretty accurate summary of the events recounted in Genesis. However, I was not summarizing Genesis. I was summarizing the Mesopotamian account of creation recorded in the Enuma Elish, which preceded the Bible by hundreds of years. I was also summarizing the creation of the world as believed by the ancient Egyptians. In fact, these myths are common throughout the ancient Middle East, and predate the Bible by centuries or millennia. This points to a common origin for these belief systems; indeed, Judaism, which preceded Christianity, Islam, and other offshoots, was itself preceded by an ancient Semitic religion, to which I will make many references in this and further entries in this series.

Judaism was the product of syncretism, the blending of multiple religious traditions. Syncretism was found throughout ancient belief systems, particularly polytheistic religions – and there is plenty of evidence that Judaism itself was originally polytheistic. Christianity was extremely syncretistic in nature as it spread throughout Europe. Non-syncretistic religions are the exception. Ancient Hebrew beliefs were influenced by those of the nearby Egyptians, and once again by the Sumerians. In fact, the ancient Hebrew culture developed at the crossroads of the ancient Middle East; the absence of syncretism in such an environment would be astonishing.

Back to Genesis itself, the two differing creation myths are the result of the attempts to edit together different source texts. Genesis is primarily comprised of two sources, called the Priestly source and the Jahwist source. The Jahwist is older, but, by the time the Bible was edited together, the Priestly Source had achieved a greater level of authority, largely because it favored the priesthood, which transmitted the religion. Genesis 1-2:3 recount a Priestly account of creation; the remainder of Genesis 2 recounts the Jahwist account. (Note that here is where we first encounter a bizarrely arbitrary chapter break: why not put the entirety of the first creation account in Genesis 1? Was this an attempt on the part of early editors (not the original Editor) to disguise the existence of two differing creation myths? Regardless, when I refer to Genesis 1, it is to the first creation myth contained mostly in Genesis 1, and Genesis 2 will refer to the second creation myth.)

Note the change in tone: Genesis 1 is written in a very impersonal but more poetic style; Genesis 2 is more immediate but also cruder. Note also the words used for God himself: in Genesis 1, the term used is simply “God”, while Genesis 2 uses “LORD God”. The differences here are largely lost in English, but, in the original Hebrew, Genesis 1 uses the term “El”, but Genesis 2 uses “Yahweh” (or, more accurately, “YHWH”). This is importance when one considers the ancient Semitic origins of the Judaism.

The Book of Enoch did not survive to be included in the Tanakh/Old Testament. It was only found in its entirely in the Dead Sea Scrolls during the twentieth century. If it had been included, it would have provided additional details about the nature of the universe and the nature of God himself. These details are in line with those of the ancient Semitic religion, and other ancient Middle Eastern religions.

Originally, El and Yahweh were not considered to be the same god. El was the father of 70 children, one of whom was Yahweh. Each of these children was the patron deity of a particular tribe or city, and Yahweh happened to be the patron deity of the people who would become the ancient Hebrews. Theirs was a henotheistic religion, in which multiple deities are acknowledged, but one is worshipped as particularly important. As the Hebrews transitioned to a monotheistic belief system, the characters of Yahweh and El were combined into one. The Priestly source cites the more impersonal father god El as the creator, whereas the Jahwist source cites the more personal Yahweh.

(Note that “El” is cognate with the Arabic term for God, “Allah” or “al-Lah”, as used in Islam. Note also the interesting coincidence that the Greek translation of the Tanakh/Old Testament is called the "Septuagint", a word derived from the Greek word for "seventy" - possibly an acknowledgment of the otherwise lost significance of that number.)

It is noteworthy that Yahweh himself is never described as creating the universe itself, but only humans, plants, and animals upon an already extant earth. Yahweh is a more personal, more direct god; however, he is neither omnipotent nor omniscient. For example, when Adam and Eve hide from him after eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God asks them where they are; other examples occur later in the Jahwist text. In contrast, whereas El is omnipotent and omniscient, he is also remote and impersonal, more a force of nature than a humanlike personality.

Furthermore, there is a distinct difference in how El and Yahweh go about their separate acts of creation. El “speaks” the universe into existence. In ancient language, the terms for “speech”, “breath”, and “spirit” were related; one may read this account of creation as El imbuing spirit into the universe, or breathing the universe into existence. In comparison, Yahweh adopts a more physical means of creation. He “plants” a garden in Eden; he “forms” man out of the dust of the ground; he “takes” one of Adam’s ribs to create Eve. One can easily imagine him doing all of this with his hands, because all of these terms describe an act which is performed with the hands. Yahweh is more of a mechanic, whereas El is more of an engineer.

However, even these differences are not enough to appease the apologist, who will state that they are there to shift focus from the impersonal to the personal. I find this argument unpersuasive, given the abruptness of the shift, as well as the relationships to other local religions described above. The most difficult task of the apologist is to reconcile the difference orders of creation: in Genesis 1, animals are created before humans, but, in Genesis 2, they are created after. This also produces one of the silliest attempts at apologetics we will encounter.

The apologist will state that Genesis 2:19, which states “the LORD God formed every beast…”, can be translated in the pluperfect, as “the LORD God had formed every beast…”. However, if this were so, why was this translation not used? Although I focus on the KJV, for this particular issue I compared the translations of multiple English versions of the Bible, including the Torah. In only one of them, the New International Version, was the translation “had formed” used. The NIV is one of the newest translations, and an attempt was made in it to reconcile contradictions in the original text; I do not consider it authoritative for that reason. Furthermore, the NIV is usually rejected by the more fundamentalist Christians who would be most served by its apologetic translation. Once again, I do not find the apologetics persuasive.

On a personal note, I rather like the language of Genesis 1. I mentioned above that it is poetic, and I find it rather pleasant in tone. The opening line, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, is understated; the authors did not feel the need to exaggerate the shear awesomeness of such a feat, and that adds immensely to its power. If only the rest of the Bible would maintain the quality of this opening chapter, but, unfortunately, it does not. Rarely will we encounter such powerful language again.



It is common even among those who dismiss the Bible as a source of religious truth or authority to admit that it is a beautifully written book and a compendium of uplifting moral lessons. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To take the last assertion first, for every uplifting moral lesson contained in the Bible, there are ten such lessons that are appalling. The Bible was written by a misogynistic, xenophobic culture; its origins lie in the Bronze Age. The Bible contains little that is applicable to modern society, and that is of such a general nature that it could have come from any belief system. When people speak of Biblical law, they are often ignorant of just what such law would entail. The same people who praise Biblical law would condemn Islamic sharia in the same breadth, without having the knowledge to realize how much the two systems have in common. Both are full of shocking elements that have little or no applicability to modern, democratic society.

As for its literary merits, to put it succinctly the Bible is horribly written. It is a confused jumble of turgid prose. I am going to focus on conservative Christians’ favorite version, the King James Version, but what I say describes every other version as well. Even when the Early Modern English of the KJV is replaced by contemporary English – even if it were read in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, for that matter – it cannot disguise its cut-and-paste nature. At some point in the past, the original text of the Bible seems to have been lost. At a later date, fragments of at least four different versions that remained extant were stitched together in an attempt to form a coherent whole. This was rarely successful. Furthermore, the Bible gets stuck on particular subjects and begins to read like the transcript of a scratched record; the first couple of books read fairly quickly, but the second half of Exodus and pretty much all of Leviticus are ridiculously repetitive.

I have long held that theology is no more valid a subject of study than baseball trivia or Star Trek fandom; in every case, you encounter a group of people obsessively devoted to something that really doesn’t matter to anyone not inside that group. Theology is worse, because it claims an importance that it does not deserve, and people tend to give it a wide birth; insulting someone else’s religion remains largely taboo even today. I do not intend to take cheap shots as I read the Bible and record my observations, but, at the same time, I will not pull any punches for fear that I might cause offense.

So why should the atheist Ponzo read the Bible? Well, because I’m bored. I’ve pretty much run out of video games to play, there is nothing on TV and I’ve worked my way through my DVD collection, and I’m not ready to start the book I purchased recently. I have no schedule planned, and I will work my way through the Bible at my own pace, starting with the Torah/Pentateuch and moving on from there. I reserve the right to skip ahead, but I am going to try not to do so.

I will generally link to the KJV as transcribed by the authors of the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. When appropriate, I will refer to other versions; I may or may not link to these, but the SAB provides links to these other versions. The SAB also contains links to additional skeptical resources, as well as apologetic resources; it is because of this breadth of coverage that I prefer the SAB.

I will also generally discuss subjects, not chapters. This is because many subjects span multiple chapters, the division of the Bible into chapters having been highly arbitrary (such divisions were not extant in the original Hebrew text, nor were verses numbered).

It is also very important to note that, when I use the term “myth”, it is not to belittle a particular story contained in the Bible. Only in the general vernacular does the term “myth” imply untruth or a lack of substance or seriousness. The term has a very precise meaning in the fields of religion, folklore, and mythology, and it is in that sense that I am using it: to describe stories with deep symbolic value.

My goal here is not mockery. It is to produce a relatively serious examination of the Bible from the point of view of someone who doesn’t take any of it seriously. It is also to prove a point: most people who identify themselves as Christians have never actually read what they consider to be the “word of God”, and don’t know what the book contains other than what they have been told. They are amazed that atheists know so much about Christianity, even as they display a shocking ignorance of the tenets of their own religion. Yet they often claim that simply reading the Bible leads to some sort of eye-opening spiritual epiphany. How wrong they are!

I also hope to show any believers who stumble upon my project how their beliefs are viewed by outsiders. Apologists tend to give more credence to their arguments than those arguments deserve; those not biased by faith tend to see through them to their weaknesses. Contrary to how it may seem, I can respect faith, but I do not respect cheap apologetics or proselytizing. I respect arguments which do not rely on those sorts of theatrics, and enjoy engaging in thoughtful discussions.

Who knows: by the time I reach the end of my project, I might even be a convert. I wouldn’t start holding my breath, though.