The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible …

Apparently, there are still some people who believe that the Earth is flat and, presumably, at least some of them are not joking. Equally unreal (at least to me) is that there are also people who believe the entire Bible to be literally true and historically accurate, all without errors of any kind. It’s unquestionably to be swallowed whole, just as it comes. If, however, you claim that all swans are white, it only takes one black swan to prove you wrong, so let’s look for some black swans. 

The Book of Joshua (with unforgivably uncritical satisfaction) describes the God-ordained complete destruction and genocidal slaughter of Canaanite cities, men, women, children and even livestock. That alone should pull the rug from underneath the literalists, or at least those who would claim to endorse acceptable standards of moral behaviour. But let’s focus on one particular story. 

During the course of their orgy of murderous mayhem, the Israelites went into battle against the Amorites, and were “killing them right and left”. Mind you, they had ‘outside’ help. As the Amorites fled through a pass, it seemed almost as if Israel’s God had positioned himself on the heights above them. “Yahweh made huge hailstones fall on them” and “more of the enemy soldiers died from the hail than from Israelite weapons”. Obviously, God-sized hailstones! 

Now you might think that this would be victory enough, but you’d be wrong. Joshua, the Israelite leader, asked Yahweh to “make the sun stop in the sky” and, sure enough, “the sun stood still and didn’t go down for about a whole day”. This gave the Israelites plenty of time to ensure that no Amorite might survive that wholesale slaughter. As well as moral vacuity, let’s focus here on cosmological incoherence.

We now know that it’s the Earth that does the moving, as it spins on its axis. If this movement suddenly stopped, the consequences would be utterly catastrophic. You and I, together with everybody else, would find ourselves flying eastwards at anything around 1,000 mph. High speed winds would scour the planet’s surface bare. The angular momentum imparted to air, rocks and water would keep moving at such speeds, ripping the Earth’s surface apart, triggering earthquakes and tsunamis. Debris would rise to encircle a wrecked planet. So much for the fallacious nonsense of literalism. 

The story tellers and writers of the Hebrew Bible weren’t concerned with what we call science and history. They were producing a work of spiritual literature, a national, religious epic, suitably furnished with dramatic colour and extravagant incident. In the religions of the surrounding peoples, the sun was worshipped as a god. Stopping its motion was simply an arrestingly graphic way of making the claim that Yahweh was superior to all such so-called ‘gods’, and that these were, in reality, no gods at all. Literalism misses the essentially crucial point, and turns eye-and-ear-catching story telling into something entirely incredible, if not deservedly risible.  

( Image – BBC Science Focus Magazine ]

One response to “The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible …”

  1. […] tale, but from the vantage point of the author of the book of Joshua, what was its import? Ray Inkster answers that question in a recent post. He notes that since many ancient cultures viewed the sun as a deity worthy of worship, the idea […]


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