Keeping the Bible Open

I find the whole idea of Christian apologetics to be quite fascinating.  Or as one person I heard yesterday put it, “defending the faith.”   Against what?  Again and again theists want there to be some rational basis for their faith, some empirical evidence for god, and then when none is found and the arguments refuted, they (mostly) close their eyes real hard and start repeating, “I believe, I believe, I believe.”  Much like the audience at Peter Pan clapping to keep Tinker Bell alive.

And I have to say, trying to rationally defend the Bible really will tie your head into knots.  Let’s give a simple example, the Ten Commandments.  We all know the story, or at least we think we do.  Moses went up the mountain and god himself scribed some stone tablets with the ethical code we are all supposed to live by.  Unfortunately after getting the tablets, Moses freaked out about what his brother had done while Moses was away (well he was gone 40 days!) making the golden calf and all, the Moses smashed the tablets.  So Moses trudged up the mountain again, god gave him another copy, which people now want to post in courthouses all over the country.  At least that is the Children’s Bible version.

In the real word things are considerably more messy.  Starting with the fact that Wikipedia lists three different versions of the Ten Commandments that different religious groups use.  Wait…What??  How can that be?  Let’s take a look at the Bible and find out, shall we?

Our story starts in Exodus 24, if you want to follow along, here is the New Revised Standard Version on Bible Gateway.  We start out with Moses and Aaron and 70 other dudes having a nice party with God.  They saw him, ate and drank with him.  Says so in verse 11.  After the party god says to Moses, c’mere, I got something for you:

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”

So, here we go the tablets of stone with the commandments on them.  So Moses goes up the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.  I guess god writes slowly or something.  In chapter god talks about the offerings to be made in the tabernacle:

gold, silver, and bronze,blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, fine leather,[a] acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breastpiece.

Which, of course no Christians do today and this doesn’t get posted in any courthouses.  Then for the rest of the chapter god becomes an interior designer, telling Moses exactly how to make the Ark of the Covenant (where the tablets will go) and all the decorations that will be around it.  This goes on for quite some time.  Chapters 26, 27, and 28 are all interior decoration instructions and fashion advice.  Chapter 29 is about the ordination of priests and the daily offerings (have you made your offering today?)  Chapter 30 is more of the same.  Finally in Chapter 31, after some specific recommendations for some awesome artisans to do the work he prescribed, god gets down to the commandments.

He prefaces it with some Sabbath law, and then here he comes with the tablets:

The Two Tablets of the Covenant

18 When God[d] finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant,[e] tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

Then we go to Chapter 32 where Aaron is making the golden calf and Moses smashes the tablets.  WTF??  Where are the actual commandments?  Well, they are certainly not in that story.  Let’s see if we can find them, shall we?

IN the next chapter Moses is ordered to leave Sinai, but he begs to the see god and god grants him an audience, but it is a rather bizarre one:

 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Huh?  Just a few chapters ago he was partying with 70 dudes, but now Moses can only see his butt?  Weird.  But we are still looking for the commandments.

In Chapter 34 it says that Moses makes up some new blank tablets and hauls them back up the mountain again.  And this time god does a rush job and gets the tablets done up right away, and this is what he writes:

11 Observe what I command you today. See, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. 13 You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles[c] 14 (for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God). 15 You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice. 16 And you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons, and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods.

17 You shall not make cast idols.

18 You shall keep the festival of unleavened bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.

19 All that first opens the womb is mine, all your male[d] livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.

No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

21 Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the festival of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the festival of ingathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.

25 You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven, and the sacrifice of the festival of the passover shall not be left until the morning.

26 The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.

You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

27 The Lord said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. 28 He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.[e]

I am not sure how to get 10 commandments out of this mess, but maybe god counts differently than I do, but there they are and  finally a commandment I can keep!  I nave never, ever boiled a kid in its mother’s milk.  And oddly enough, this is not the only place in the bible where boiling a kid in its mothers milk is prohibited!  Must be pretty important.   There is another version of this story in Deuteronomy, but we can get to that another day. In the mean time, don’t appear before god empty handed and certainly don’t boil any kids in their mother’s milk!


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