I Am So Very Glad God Doesn’t Exist

Either the infallible Book screwed up and recycled the same story, or Abraham is participating in the strangest scavenger hunt ever,  checking a box for every king he tricks into sleeping with his wife. Chapter 20 has Abraham telling King Abimelech of Gerar that Sarah (who is now over 100 years old, by the way) is his sister in a virtual repeat of the Chapter 12 story involving Pharaoh. Sarah must be the hottest centenarian ever to still be catching the eye of every king she comes across.

In the Abimelech episode, God flies into a similarly unjustifiable rage, although at least he targets his vengeance more narrowly this time around. Instead of striking Pharoah’s people with plagues, he goes all Sly Stallone on Abimelech, coming to him in a dream and telling him “thou art a dead man, because of the woman whom thou hast taken.” Seriously, that’s actually what it says “thou art a dead man.” If that’s not the work of some exiled biblical author hundreds of years later acting out at the impotence of his deity, imagining the good old days when God used to come to Earth and whoop some ass, then I don’t know what it is.

I’m alluding, of course, to modern biblical scholarship that suggests that the Pentateuch was not a homogeneous manuscript with a single author (Moses), but rather a compilation of texts from multiple authors that was later cobbled together. This is usually referred to as the “Documentary Hypothesis” or “Wellhausen Hypothesis.” The Documentary Hypothesis posits that the Pentateuch had at least four or five authors, generally referred to as J, E, P, and D who wrote at different times and from different perspectives. The underlying story would have been passed to them through oral tradition, and drifted somewhat according to each distinct culture. J and E are thought to have lived relatively early, while D and P came later.

J: The Yahwist:  c. 950 BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah.
E: The Elohist:  c. 850 BCE in the northern Kingdom of Israel.
D: The Deuteronomist:  c. 600 BCE in Jerusalem during a period of religious reform.
P: The Priestly:  c. 500 BCE by priests in Babylonian exile.

This multiple authorship can explain many contradictions (although it doesn’t resolve them). For example, the divergent characterizations of God as an ephemeral being on another plane of existence but also a being that can easily be confused as a human. Kugel says:

The God described in J and E was very much the God of Old, human-sized and possessed of human traits. In the Bible’s most ancient texts, this God was principally a divine warrior fighting Israel’s enemies (and its enemies’ gods), a wise counselor and a champion of justice, and in general the deity associated with one particular people, Israel.

The God of Deuteronomy, in contrast,

was more abstract and distant than that of J and E: He did not even really “dwell” on earth. His abode was heaven, and His temple was merely the place where He caused His name to dwell.

I say the Documentary Hypothesis doesn’t resolve the contradictions, because although the multiple authorship saves Moses from looking schizophrenic due to his contradictory concepts of God, the Bible should still be homogenous regardless of how many authors it had. It is purportedly the word of God, with the “authors” serving only as scribes to copy and paste God’s words, and it should be free of adulteration by the humans who wrote it down. So why do we have a God who is sometimes anthropomorphized, a humanoid who walks around and eats food and visits with people, and sometimes an abstract who exists on a different plane and doesn’t intervene in Earthly affairs?

With that in mind, back to the text. Abimelech tells God that he hasn’t touched Sarah, and he doesn’t understand why God is going to destroy his nation when he was lied to and deceived into thinking she was not married. God, facing a tough question about why he would destroy an entire nation based on a transgression (1) that never actually happened, and (2) would have been the fault of the lying Abraham and Sarah anyway. God pulls a tricky move, saying:

Yea, I — I have known that in the integrity of thy heart thou hast done this, and I withhold thee, even I, from sinning against Me, therefore I have not suffered thee to come against her;

He basically says, “yeah, umm, I totally knew you didn’t do anything with that chick, because, uh, I am super powerful and I know everything, and I prevented it from happening! So, you know, I won’t punish you as long as you return her. You’re welcome.” Then God compliments Abraham, the fucking pathological liar, for praying for Abimelech to be forgiven for the offense that didn’t happen and that Abraham tried to trick him into. Does this story make any fucking sense? In his wife-swap scam, Abraham appears to be trying to dupe God, who is not actually omniscient, and is not even as smart as a human, into destroying Abraham’s enemies by planting his wife in rival kings’ beds and then squealing to God about it. What a hero. What an amazing God. What a great fucking religion.

Abimelech summons Abraham and says “what the fuck dude, what is your fucking problem, why did you trick me and sic your mad-dog asshole God on me?” And Abraham has the most fucking asinine answer I have ever heard, for any question, ever. He says (A) because you were going to kill me if I called her my wife (same excuse he tried with Pharaoh and it was bullshit then too), and (B) besides, she IS my sister, not my mother’s daughter, but my father’s daughter. In other words, he says he married his half-sister, and claims that he didn’t really lie so much as he just didn’t tell the whole truth. Which is otherwise known as a fucking lie.

Abimelech sends the fucking liar on his way (again) with cattle and 1,000 shekels of silver AND SLAVES. What a great lesson. What a truly virtuous God. He showers a liar with rewards. With slaves and money. For lying.

As a cherry on top to this ridiculous story about the two biggest assholes in the universe running a scam on innocents, we learn that God had stricken all of Abimelech’s women barren “because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.”

I am so very glad God doesn’t exist.

CHAPTER 20

1 And Abraham journeyeth from thence toward the land of the south, and dwelleth between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourneth in Gerar;

and Abraham saith concerning Sarah his wife, `She is my sister;’ and Abimelech king of Gerar sendeth and taketh Sarah.

And God cometh in unto Abimelech in a dream of the night, and saith to him, `Lo, thou [art] a dead man, because of the woman whom thou hast taken — and she married to a husband.’

And Abimelech hath not drawn near unto her, and he saith, `Lord, also a righteous nation dost thou slay?

hath not he himself said to me, She [is] my sister! and she, even she herself, said, He [is] my brother; in the integrity of my heart, and in the innocency of my hands, I have done this.’

And God saith unto him in the dream, `Yea, I — I have known that in the integrity of thy heart thou hast done this, and I withhold thee, even I, from sinning against Me, therefore I have not suffered thee to come against her;

and now send back the man’s wife, for he [is] inspired, and he doth pray for thee, and live thou; and if thou do not send back, know that dying thou dost die, thou, and all that thou hast.’

And Abimelech riseth early in the morning, and calleth for all his servants, and speaketh all these words in their ears; and the men fear exceedingly;

and Abimelech calleth for Abraham, and saith to him, `What hast thou done to us? and what have I sinned against thee, that thou hast brought upon me, and upon my kingdom, a great sin? works which are not done thou hast done with me.’

10 Abimelech also saith unto Abraham, `What hast thou seen that thou hast done this thing?’

11 And Abraham saith, `Because I said, `Surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they have slain me for the sake of my wife;

12 and also, truly she is my sister, daughter of my father, only not daughter of my mother, and she becometh my wife;

13 and it cometh to pass, when God hath caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I say to her, This [is] thy kindness which thou dost with me: at every place whither we come, say of me, He [is] my brother.’

14 And Abimelech taketh sheep and oxen, and servants and handmaids, and giveth to Abraham, and sendeth back to him Sarah his wife;

15 and Abimelech saith, `Lo, my land [is] before thee, where it is good in thine eyes, dwell;’

16 and to Sarah he hath said, `Lo, I have given a thousand silverlings to thy brother; lo, it is to thee a covering of eyes, to all who are with thee;’ and by all this she is reasoned with.

17 And Abraham prayeth unto God, and God healeth Abimelech and his wife, and his handmaids, and they bear:

18 for Jehovah restraining had restrained every womb of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

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7 thoughts on “I Am So Very Glad God Doesn’t Exist

  1. To be fair, while the documentary hypothesis has shaped the central trend of modern Biblical scholarship, Wellhausen’s views have largely been dismissed. We still recognize sources and there is considerable debate over dating, but Wellhausen went so far as to suggest that the manuscripts were written post-exile in order to put words in Moses’ mouth and invent history in shaping a national identity. This view is largely dismissed.

    It is more likely that we have documents and oral traditions that were edited together into the Torah, in which case the “author” of the Pentateuch is much less an author and much more a redactor.

    • Whether or not Wellhausen nailed the dates, the idea that the Bible is not the product of a single author is widely accepted, and that was the crux of the point I was making. I doubt there will ever be universal acceptance of any single theory of the Bible’s authorship, but it is obvious that the Bible’s author is not who it purports to be. Just the fact that you have to have a debate about who wrote it strips it of much of its credibility, in my opinion. For many religious adherents, it derives its special status and sacrosanctity from its supposed divine source. Anything that undermines that claim is significant.

      That’s about all I’ll say on that. I’m not qualified to get into a debate about the historicity of the Bible (and I would probably lose all my readership if I did anyway).

      BTW, this is a very interesting documentary for people interested in the origins of the Bible:

      • As a Christian, I tend to think we get carried away with concepts of inerrancy anyhow. I don’t think the authorship or date particularly matters, unless we establish a theological framework that places certain requirements on Scripture that I don’t think it was ever expected or intended to have.

        I’m enjoying your walk through, by the way. I don’t agree with much of it (which I imagine is expected given that I’m a Christian) but I find the perspectives you bring rather interesting.

      • Thanks. As a Christian who doesn’t shy away from the opposing perspective, you’ve already distinguished yourself, in a good way.

        Likewise, I think you may be in the minority about inerrancy. In my experience, Christians and other religious adherents are terrified to admit that this piece or that piece of the Bible may be inaccurate or anachronistic because then the whole institution is subject to scrutiny. It is supposed to be divinely inspired, so if the text is fallible, God is fallible. I found this precise syllogism in countless Christian, Jewish, and Muslim belief statements: God dictated the Bible, God is perfect, hence the Bible is perfect. The Catholic church even believes in the infallibility of its human leadership, and we’ve seen how that has played out…

        It’s immediately apparent upon reading the Bible that it contains contradictions, scientific impossibilities, factual inaccuracies, and repugnant moral positions. It’s also obvious that religions pick and choose which parts of the Bible are temporally-appropriate or culturally-acceptable, but it is nearly impossible to get the average Christian, Jew, or Muslim to admit that the Bible is not perfect, or that some Biblical precepts are universally wrong from a moral stance (slavery) or objectively impossible from a scientific/physical standpoint (spontaneous generation of matter, creation of humans from dust or a rib, etc.). They have a remarkable capacity for doublethink. Why is eating shrimp one of those outdated and unimportant parts for Christians but not for Jews. Or for that matter, why have Christians generally come to accept that slavery was an unfortunate historical relic of Biblical times, but they steadfastly maintain homophobic ideas? If the Bible were just an interesting story–a macro-parable, or self-consciously a fuzzy moral guidepost–this wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but the Bible proclaims its own perfection, and makes very unambiguous rules and directives that claim to come straight from the infallible God. That is problematic, to say the least.

      • Well, a few things:
        For starters, the scientific impossibilities you list, such as the creation narratives, are modern interpretations that have arisen in very recent history. Historically, the church fathers have consistently read those narratives as metaphor, dating back to the second century. Origen (second century), Augustine (fourth century), Martin Luther (the great reformer), John Wesley, and even John Calvin are among the notable personalities in Christian history that explicitly teach creation as a metaphor.

        Some of those repugnant moral conditions that you mention, such as slavery, looks very different from a modern perspective looking back than they do from an ancient perspective looking forward. I tend to think that many of the OT laws were means of progressing ancient civilizations towards holiness, and we see that in situations such as slavery, where the slaves were protected, cared for, and often rescued when they would flee to Israel from surrounding nations. Additionally, nearly every time we see slavery in scripture it is not imposed in the way we think of it, but is rather the result of a Jew who gets himself heavily in debt and offers to work for the one he is indebted to for seven years to work the debt off. Afterwards, he is not only free, he is provided with a new start, flocks of his own, and the ability to start fresh with no debt. There are exceptions to this, but even in the exceptions we see incredibly progressive movement compared to the surrounding ancient world.

        Also, homosexuality is not a consistent Christian position across the board. It may be more visible among the branch of popular Christianity that defines itself in political terms, but we see numerous mainstream Christian denominations who support homosexuality as valid and even ordain homosexual ministers.

        And to be fair, the Bible proclaims that it is inspired, which is very different than perfect or inerrant – especially since the picture we see in Scripture is consistently a God who works through broken, frail, fallible people to accomplish His purposes. I would expect the same pattern in the recording of Scripture.

        Personally, I see Scripture as the written record of God’s interaction with humanity. That gives us insight into who God is and what that means, but we still have to interpret that as we would any data. Sometimes, as new data becomes available, we have to go back and revise that interpretation. Such a revision is an act of faithfulness, rather than an act of apostasy.

        Just my own thoughts on it. 😉

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