Monday, March 30, 2009

god is not Great chapter 7: Revelation: The Nightmare of the "Old" Testament

As the chapter name states clearly this chapter discusses the first of the three most widely known and adhered to monotheistic books of scripture, the "Old Testament" or "Tanakh" as it is more properly known in Jewish circles.

If it was not already obvious, Hitchens is very much not a fan. In his debates he commonly targets the cruelties of Yahweh in the times of Moses, Joshua, and pretty much the whole of the time encompassed. That said, cruelties are remarkably not what he focuses on in this chapter, but inconsistencies and what he sees as signs of being a man-made book, and by extension man-made religion. He targets the Ten Commandments early as a sign of it being man-made, as other than the first few commandments, all advancing the primacy of the Jewish God, none of the more legalistic commandments are things that any society has ever had trouble condemning without the bible (i.e theft, murder). This in my analysis somewhat demonstrates that the commands of the biblical God are not unique.

Atheists often have to argue about the issue of morality and whether or not we require a deity to be moral. The fact that not all gods can exist (as some are dogmatically the only one), and all societies have morals and ethics, how could a wrong god provide morals? Clearly god is not a requirement for this. But at this point I digress...

He targets the early Pentateuch the hardest of any section. Most notably he makes sure to show that there is no solid evidence for the Exodus, the 40 year period in the desert, or a "dramatic conquest of the promised land." He demonstrates that archaeology confirms Jewish settlements in the region from thousands of years past, and well before the events of the Exodus story could have taken place.

Probably the most interesting things he targets in the books of Moses is Moses himself. Traditionally the Pentateuch was written by Moses himself. The fact that on many occasions Moses refers to himself in the third person is strange (and in Hitchens' analysis a sign of either alternative authorship or perhaps megalomania), but not conclusive. What more definitively indicates either alternative authorship, or a change in authorship is in the account of Moses' death in Deuteronomy and the use of saying that nobody knows "unto this day," reagarding where moses finally died which I belive Hitchens accurately interprets as indication of a significant passage of time since the actual events, perhaps even centuries. It would also of course be even more obviously onsensical for Moses to be post-mortem discussing a lack of knowledge of Moses' death.

In the end, Hitchens surprisingly, given his record, only notes one instance of massacre at the hands of the Israelites, and the subsequent punishment by Yahweh for letting too many survive.

Oddly enough, Hitchens shows a lot more restraint here than he does in debate. I was personally hoping for more in-depth analysis of biblical problems, but in that respect, which Hitchens knows his bible well, he is not a theologian, and the book is presented to make a simpler point that deep biblical analysis really didn't further.


  1. I never noticed the whole Moses discussing his own death and not being sure when it happened thing before.

    Odd, that.

  2. Deuteronomy is pretty bad about that.
    Deut. 34:10
    And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.

    Obviously written in reflection, not in the present tense, nor prophetic.