Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Abraham and Jephthah: Yahweh's great contradiction

Ask any Christian if the Bible is an accurate description of God's character, more than likely they will answer yes. If you ask them if genocide, slavery, rape, abortion and theft are morally reprehensible, they'll also likely answer yes. But when you offer them evidence that not only are these acts are approved by Yahweh but commanded, they'll do one of several things -- deny the evidence, give God carte blanche (he's God and he can do what he wants, might makes right, i.e.), respond "But that's the Old Testament. Jesus changed things," or if they're truly honest, begin questioning the veracity of the Bible.

Like many religions that were developed throughout Mesopotamia, Judeo-Christianity and Judaism embrace the concept of human and animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. One would think that there is a better way for God to forgive sin than to spill innocent blood since he's omniscient. In reality, early Christians likely lifted the concept of blood sacrifice from Mithraism, which is said to have been born from Zoroastrianism. As astronomer E.C. Krupp states in his book, Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets:

"We don't know at what point in the year Mithras slaughtered the bull, and we don't know when this mythical act was reenacted in the Mithraic grottoes to baptize initiates in the blood of the bull. But the depictions of sacrifice displayed in the chapels are entirely consistent with the astronomical circumstances of a specific night, just after sunset, in spring."

Krupp confirms that Mithraic rituals of blood sacrifice and baptism were alive and well before the advent of Christianity. He also confirms another very subtle but strong relation between Christianity and worship of celestial bodies. It is interesting to note that Mithras' birthday was celebrated on December 25th as, by default, he was one of the embodiments of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. It is also interesting to note that a key tenet of Mithraic tradition was ritual meals, not unlike that of Christian communion.

While human/animal sacrifice is nothing new, there are two prime examples that can be found in the Old Testament -- the stories of Abraham and Jephthah. Of these two, the story of Abraham's desire to slay his own son as an act of obedience to Jehovah, is the most prominent. But the story of Jephthah is not so well-known. Not surprisingly, many Christians have never heard of Jephthah.

Jephthah, as the Book of Judges illustrates, was a warrior that served as a judge in Israel for six years. Jephthah led the Israelites in a battle against the Ammonites. But before the battle began, Jephthah prayed to Jehovah, asking for an assured victory in exchange for the first thing that walked out of his house to greet him after the battle. Jephthah's only daughter was the first to exit his house upon his return, exuberant and dancing with tambourines. Horrified, Jephthah told her that he had made an oath to God that couldn't be broken, and that she needed to be sacrificed.

She asked for two months of isolation with her friends because had never known marriage. At the end of those two months, Jephthah slew his only daughter, a virgin, of course.

At the opposite end of the sacrificial spectrum stands Abraham and his then only son, Isaac. The story takes places in Genesis 22:1-19 when Jehovah calls out to Abraham and instructs him to take Isaac to a mountain where he will be sacrificed. Abraham immediately obeys and sets out for the wilderness along with his son. At no point does the text say anything about Abraham questioning Jehovah's request, which I find rather interesting. Even the New Testament tells us that Jesus begged God to reconsider letting his blood spill. But no request can be found from Abraham.

After walking through the wilderness for three days, they finally arrive at the place where Isaac is to be slain. Isaac begins inquiring where the sacrificial lamb is, but Abraham insists that God will provide a lamb very soon. Finally, Abraham binds Isaac and lays him onto a makeshift alter.

Try to imagine binding your only son as he struggles, clawing, fighting and screaming, wondering why you're trying to plunge a knife into his neck. I can't help but wonder at what point a man would tell Jehovah that he's not worthy of worship, that he is an utterly horrible deity, and that the only way he could have his son is by going through himself first.

Just as Abraham raises his knife above Isaac's body, the angel the lord suddenly prevents Abraham from following through. Genesis 22:12 states "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Many, if not most, evangelicals believe that this particular angel is Jesus himself. The inevitable question then should leap out to the astute reader, isn't God omniscient? If so, then he should know that Abraham truly fears him. As a matter of fact, he should have known that Abraham feared him millions of years before he was born. Why then does this particular angel say, "Now I know that you fear God"?

Many Christians will say that their god would never accept any human sacrifice, particularly virgin sacrifice, other than that of Jesus, which when you think about it, really wasn't a sacrifice at all. As Matt Dillahunty once said, "At least when Elvis died for my sins he stayed dead." But as we read the text in Judges, we do know that Yahweh is willing to accept human sacrifice.

So there are two great contradictions here that few Christians will ever accept. The first of these is that they will say their god is omniscient, but the text in Genesis 22 proves otherwise. The second contradiction is that, assuming Yahweh really is omniscient, he could see millions of years in advance before Abraham ever raised a knife above his son's body, he would send his angel to stop it. If this is true, then he certainly had the ability to stop Jephthah from slaying his only daughter. He had three days to stop Abraham and prevented him from going through with Isaac's sacrifice, but had two months to stop Jephthah from sacrificing his daughter, yet chose not to.

Most Christians, no doubt, will either ignore this or rationalize in some way that Jephthah's daughter really wasn't sacrificed at all. Or, if they do accept the evidence at face value, will claim that there is a greater plan in God's vision than we can see. Yet, for all the biblical doctrine they know (which is actually very little), they will never state what that reason is. They would rather proclaim that it's a mystery to us and only God knows why, adding yet one more piece of evidence why their god is immoral.

One further addition to this problem for Yahweh is that not only does he condone lying, he actually rewards it. Starting in Genesis 22:7-8 we read:

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"
Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together."

The only reason these two journeyed into the mountains is so that Abraham could sacrifice Isaac. At no point did he expect God to intervene, nor did he expect a lamb as a substitute for Isaac. The reward for Abraham, as Genesis states, was that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, which we know is false.


Milo said...

An interesting interpretation of the story of Abraham and Isaac is found in Richard Friedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed. The author is a documentary theorist and analysis of the text shows the part about the angels stopping the sacrifice to be inconsistent with the rest of the text indicating that it may have been an insertion or re-write. The original story would have had Abraham actually going through with the sacrifice.

Notice these two verses:

5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

The first says we will return and the second says Abraham returned. Interesting.

Also Isaac was not Abraham's only son. His first born was Ishmael.

Matt said...

Hi Milo,

Is it safe to say that your perspective on this issue is that Abraham had foreknowledge direct from God that he would not allow Isaac to be sacrificed?

Your response doesn't address the issue regarding Abraham's lie to Isaac.

Also, Genesis 22:2 says:

"Then God said, 'Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.'"

I know that Abraham had more than one son, but in this passage, it is clear that he only had one at the time.

This whole passage is very difficult, if not impossible, for any Christian to logically account for in the light of the errors in it.

First, God tells Abraham to slay Isaac, but Abraham tells his servants that they'll return. It seems to me that Abraham was challenging God's authority. If he knew Isaac was going to return, why would he go through all that trouble just to have a mock sacrifice to satisfy God? Then upon arrival to the site where Isaac was to be slain, Abraham effectively lied to Isaac, telling him that God would send a lamb to be sacrificed instead.

Like I said, this whole passage doesn't make sense.