A Skeptics Understanding of the Old Testament

Dan Cameron
Jun 24 · 11 min read

According to a 2011 Gallup survey one in three Americans or 95 million people interpret the Bible literally, believing it to be the actual word of God. Contrary to this belief, however, the Bible was not written by God. Nor, is every word the historically accurate, inspired word of God. Let’s look at a few examples of its logical discrepancy with either science or common sense: According to Genesis, God created all of heaven and earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. Scientists, on the other hand, have dated the age of the universe to be about 13.8 billion years old. Biblical scholars have estimated man’s existence on this planet to be between 6 and 40 thousand years. Scientific evidence, however, dates the existence of Homo sapiens (you and me) back as far as 200,000 years and Homo heidelbergensis about 1.3 million years. According to the Bible, Noah’s Arc was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. By comparison, a small Carnival cruise ship is about 950 feet in length. For Noah’s Arc to have contained all of the creatures currently inhabiting the earth, it would have needed the capacity to include the following species: 5,490 mammals; 9,998 birds; 9,084 reptiles; 1,000,000 insects; and 102,248 spiders and scorpions. I’m not sure how he would have accommodated the 6,433 species of amphibians. Now multiply these numbers by two! And — Noah would have needed to supply enough food for all of these sailing companions to last over a year. Have I made my point? For those of you who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and believe that there is only one God, read Exodus 12:12 “On that same night I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.” Did you catch that: “all the gods of Egypt?”

Strict adherents to the Bible are afraid to refute any aspect of it because of the circular logic used to argue its truth. In other words if any part of the Bible is fallible then all of it can be called into question. In reality, we are better off viewing the Bible not as a book of science or even as an accurate historical record of the ancient Middle East. Instead, it is best to examine the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament in the Christian Bible) from the context in which it was written.

Rise of the Jewish Nation

The Middle East was populated by tribes. Biblically speaking, twelve of them were ruled theocratically by Jewish religious leaders; however, for a time they were united under David and later his son Solomon. It is quite apparent that the books of the Bible were written by various religious leaders to document their religious laws as well as to tell a collection of stories designed not only for religious instruction, but to keep the tribal members in line. Several of the stories involved men and women who were not only heroes but gained great benefits from their faithfulness to God or conversely suffered God’s wrath as a punishment for their lack of faith. It didn’t matter to the writers if these people actually existed or if the events actually occurred. The books were written centuries after the supposed events. The importance of the stories was that by invoking the name, words and laws of God, there was no room for dissent or argument. How can a mere human question an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing creator of the universe! Over time these religious leaders designed, defined and perpetuated (to this very day) a social order; a unique religious morality and rigidity; and a complete cultural history. The stories are brilliant. They are filled with colorful details, interesting characters and a moral or religious lesson. Job, for example, is a story of good versus evil, and of the ultimate triumph resulting from Job’s faithfulness to God, even through the most horrific suffering and personal loss. Even though there is absolutely no historical or archeological evidence that the Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt, the story nevertheless provides the Bible with one of its greatest heroes — Moses. It shows the power of God; God’s faithfulness to his people and also his wrath when those same people lost faith in and obedience to him. The story is also an important link to probably the most significant chain-of-events in the Hebrew Bible: God’s promise to Abraham, the exodus from Egyptian slavery and Joshua’s invasion and ultimate conquest of Canaan by the twelve tribes. These stories are intended to prove to the disparate and unruly Jewish tribes that God keeps his promises; that he is in control of human events; that the Jews are his special, chosen people and finally that everyone else, namely the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, Perizzites and Jebusites were by God’s orders … to be killed, wiped from the face of the earth. Yes, every man, woman and child in the lands promised by God to Abraham. The intended result: no one except God’s people (Jews) should exist on this land.

It is quite likely that a major reason for this rather lengthy “chain-of-events” was to justify (or perhaps motivate) the mass slaughter of entire populations of innocent inhabitants in what was possibly a real, historical land grab by military conquest. Again, no further justification is needed if God told you to do it!

In case you’re interested, the “promised land” includes: everything from the Nile River in Egypt to Lebanon and everything from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River. In other words, the lands include modern day Israel, the occupied territories, plus Jordan and parts of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

God’s Wrath on a Disobedient Nation

In 930 BC, the Kingdom of Israel split into the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Amos was the first of the prophets to predict the downfall of the Northern Kingdom. He shocked the Kingdom by pronouncing its impending doom as a punishment by God for the sins of his nation. Amos tells his countrymen that they must accept God’s judgment, which is to be defeated by the Assyrians. The prophet Hosea softened the prediction by giving the Jews one last chance to repent and turn to God, but this did not happen and in 722 BC, the Israelites were defeated and taken to Assyria by Shalmaneser. By 586 BC The Southern Kingdom had fallen to the Babylonians, where the Jews were exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar. It was during this period that Ezekiel wrote his prophesies (see below).

In 538 BC, Babylon was defeated by Persia under Cyrus the Great. He granted his subjects freedom of religion and allowed the Jews to return home. The temple of Solomon that was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar was rebuilt.

In 333 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and ushered-in the Hellenistic period. After Alexander’s death, his generals went to war over control of his conquered territory. As a result, in 198 BC, Judah became part of the Seleucid Empire, which in 175 BC, was controlled by Antiochus, IV Epiphanes who became king after his father died.

Antiochus, upon hearing of a revolt, sacked Jerusalem, killing 80,000 Jews and selling 40,000 into slavery. He then attempted to force the conversion of all Jews from Judaism to the Greek’s Hellenistic religion.

By 160 BC, Hellenistic control diminished, though the culture remained a strong influence on Jewish life and during this time priest-kings ruled Judea with the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes as the principal Jewish social movements. Law was dispensed theocratically by the Sanhedrin. Jewish independence ended in 64 BC when the region was conquered by Rome and in 6 AD it was annexed as a Roman province. There were several failed Jewish revolts culminating in the Bar Kochba revolt in 136 AD, at which time the Romans finally exiled the Jews from Judea. Throughout the second part of the Old Testament, Jews were under the thumb of some foreign power, even when they were allowed various amounts of religious independence.

Apocalyptic Eschatology

In the Bible, there were the early prophets who were preachers living in the “here and now” of ancient Israel and prophesied Gods commands to his people, who, if they obeyed God’s commands were rewarded and if not, were punished. In later years, apocalyptic (revealing the mysteries of what is to happen in the future) eschatology (the study of the end times, including life after death) evolved. The apocalyptic writers lived under subjugation of a foreign and heathen ruler. They were pessimists who no longer believed that God would rule through his people and guide them to success; including the ultimate defeat of their enemies. They were convinced that the world was too evil, that God’s people were too engulfed in sin and were doomed to suffer God’s wrath until a final day of judgment would erupt from horrific cataclysmic events. In this scenario, only through the cleansing of destruction could there be rebirth. God would send his Messiah, a man from the line of David to rule the earth in peace and justice. His capitol would be “New Jerusalem”. There are two apocalyptic prophets that have had an incredible effect on both Jewish and Christian thinking: Ezekiel and Daniel.

Ezekiel

Ezekiel was a priest of significance during the time of Babylonian occupation. He was one of the first Jews to be exiled to Babylon and wrote of his dreams and visions, including conversations with God that expressed God’s anger with the behavior of his people, his punishment and finally his plan for Israel’s ultimate redemption, including a “New Jerusalem”, the rebuilding of his temple and the divine reunification of Israel. Only through God’s divine actions will Jews be allowed to return home. Israel would then be ruled by the Messiah or in Hebrew the Moshiach who would ultimately bring world peace:

Ezekiel 36:

17: ‘Son of man (Ezekiel), when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their way and by their doings; their way before Me was as the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity.

18: Wherefore I poured out My fury upon them for the blood which they had shed upon the land, and because they had defiled it with their idols;

19: and I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; according to their way and according to their doings I judged them.

20: And when they came unto the nations, whither they came, they profaned My holy name; in that men said of them: These are the people of the LORD, and are gone forth out of His land.

So the former children of God were scattered among the Nations of the world, but not forever. God communicates to his prophet Ezekiel that someday he will, through his divine power, return his people to the “promised land”:

24: For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.

25: And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

Ezekiel 37

11: Then He said unto me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.

12: Therefore prophesy, and say unto them: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.

13: And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O My people.

14: And I will put My spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land; and ye shall know that I the LORD have spoken, and performed it, saith the LORD.’

At the time of Ezekiel, the Northern Tribes had already been exiled by the Assyrians, never to return to their homeland. These are known today as the “lost tribes.” The Southern Tribes were now exiled to Babylon. The great Jewish kingdom of David and Solomon had become a tiny fragment of its former glory. Apocalyptic writers like Ezekiel gave up on Israel ever returning to greatness without God’s divine intervention.

The passages in Chapter 37 refer to the raising of the dead from “Dry Bones.” In Jewish tradition when a person dies, they don’t go to heaven or hell they go to “Sheol.” This is a place in the underworld where all dead people go, but not forever, as we see in Gods Promise through Ezekiel to the Jewish people.

(True Bible believing Jews like the Neturei Karta take these passages from Ezekiel very seriously. They believe that the State of Israel exists in sin and that God through Torah Law has forbidden Jews to have their own nation until God the Messiah unites his people through his divine action.)

Noah and Semitism

There is a rather odd biblical justification for the Jews attitude of superiority over other Arabic groups. The story begins with Noah who, as we know, built the Ark and filled it with animals to repopulate the earth after the flood. As a reward for his faithfulness, God blessed Noah and all his descendants. One day (after the flood) Noah apparently drank too much wine and was stumbling around inside his tent stark naked. Ham, one of his three sons, saw him in his tent and then left to tell his brothers Shem and Japheth. When learning of this unfortunate episode the two brothers backed into the tent and without looking, draped a garment over his body. Later, when Noah awoke (probably with a wicked hangover) and after discovering what had happened, he was furious at Ham for seeing him in his nakedness. Therefore, he blessed Shem and his descendants, but interestingly, did not curse Ham directly; instead he cursed Ham’s son Canaan and his descendants, presumably to reward Shem’s family and simultaneously punish Ham’s family for having seen him naked. Then Noah ordered Canaan and all his descendants to be the servant of Shem and Shem’s descendants. I’m guessing that Noah cursed Canaan instead of Ham, figuring that the shock of seeing a six-hundred-year-old man naked was punishment enough — and, according to the bible, Noah lived to be nine hundred and fifty years old.

Actually, it’s ridiculous to me that scholars ever bothered to debate this story at all … but they have … for centuries. First of all, the curse itself is nonsensical and secondly, the fact that Noah skipped a generation and cursed Ham’s son, who was completely innocent, is baffling, especially after God had already blessed Noah and all his descendants.

The reason the story of Noah is important in Hebrew tradition is that Abram, who God later renamed Abraham was a direct descendant of Shem. As you may know, it was Abraham with whom God made his covenant and promised to his descendants all the lands of Canaan. The Canaanites, of course were the descendants of Canaan and as such a cursed people.

Today, modern Jews consider themselves “Semites” or descendants of “Shem” and that modern Arabs are descendants of Canaan and as such still live under the curse of Noah. This makes a convenient biblical justification for the subjugation of Arabs. To modern Jews “anti-Semite” is a slur against only them. In actual fact Jews have been inter-marrying for the past six thousand years and there have been racially impure converts to Judaism for the same period of time. In addition, genetic testing has shown that today, there is no racial difference between Arabic Jews and Arabic Non-Jews. To be clear, Jews are not a race or even a distinct people in any respect other than tribal and religious affiliation. Today, there are black African Jews and blond haired, blue eyed Northern European Jews.

The archeological evidence suggests that the Jews were simply one of many tribes and occupiers to inhabit ancient Israel. If you take away God’s promise (see Ezekiel), it is no more of a Jewish ancestral homeland than of an Arab ancestral homeland.

Dan Cameron

Written by

Author of Greed, Power and Politics, The Dismal History of Economics and the Forgotten Path to Prosperity. https://greedpowerpolitics.com/