Archive | February 2012

Genesis: The Flood

Genesis 6:1-8:22

The story of the flood is one of the most iconic tales in the Bible. Many movies–”Evan Almighty”, possibly Steve Carell’s best work and a personal favorite of mine–and children’s cartoons have been based on this story. Many religions, especially around the near east and Mediterranean Sea, have a common flood myth. One other myth that I’m aware of is the one told in “The Metamorphoses” by Ovid, which is the Greco-Roman version. In this myth, Jove has become displeased by the actions of man, and decides to clear the Earth of all life. Jove instructs his brother Neptune, God of the seas, to bring down rain and crash the waves of the seas against the land. Neptune does as instructed and floods the Earth. After the Earth flooded only one man, Deucalion, and one woman, his wife, survive. Jove sees that these two are the purest of all of the humans and favors them. They are then told by the Gods to repopulate the Earth.

I digress from the original topic, but for good reason. The point is that the flood myth is common. This Greco-Roman myth is based on the Genesis myth, which the oldest written account is found written on tablets from the eighteenth-century BCE in Sumerian. The fact that it’s written in Sumerian, a dead language by eighteenth-century BCE, indicates the myth predates the Israelites by many centuries, and must have later been adopted as part of their religion and written in the Torah, or Old Testament as the Christians call it.

Let’s now take a look at the account of the flood that is given to us in Genesis. The story, “The Flood”, begins with an account of the development of society that stemmed from the lineage of Adam. The Bible states that the “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose”. I had to do a little research to see what “sons of God” and “daughters of men” meant. What I found was that the “sons of God” refers to the line of Seth, and the “daughters of men” refers to the line of Cain. This passage mentions the Nephilim, we will hear more about them later in the Bible. God also says his spirit will no longer contend with man forever, because man is mortal; so from this time forth God decrees that no man shall live more than 120 years. God was displeased of “how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become”. God “grieved that he had made man on the earth”. God was displeased with all of his creation except for Noah and his wife, their sons, and their son’s wives. To fight the wickedness of man, God decides to kill everyone who displeased him by drowning them in a flood. God then gives Noah very specific instructions. Which I find interesting. Why here, unlike many other parts, is God so specific; whereas other times, when clarity would be nice, he is not? Anyways, God tells Noah to build an ark that follows these dimensions precisely: 450 ft. long by 75 ft. wide by 45 ft. high. God commands to “make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 in. of the top.” Also, he dictates to “put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” God establishes a covenant with Noah and commands him to bring two of every kind of animal, male and female, and take every kind of food. Noah did everything God commanded. Now this all occurred in Genesis 6.

In Genesis 7 the story differs slightly in regards to God’s commands about the animals. In this chapter of the story, God commands Noah to take “seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate”. Noah was also commanded to take seven of every kind of bird, both male and female. The Bible does not give us a definition of a clean or unclean animal in this passage, so while God could be specific about dimensions of the boat, he chooses not to have it known what animals are clean and unclean here. Also, why the flip-flopping–if you will allow me to use such a humorous political phrase–on the number of animals. Originally one pair of each, now seven pairs of some and only one pair of the other. Why show favorites on certain animals? If God created all the animals, then why did he create some he didn’t prefer? There are obvious logistic problems with the gathering of all species. There are 1.3 million known species that live on the Earth currently, and scientist estimate that 8.7 million exist in total. So just based off of the number of we do know, how were they all suppose to fit into an ark that is smaller than the Titanic? You also have to take into account the space necessary to store the amount of food needed to feed all of these animals, Noah, and his family. And not just for forty days, as we find out, but to feed them for a year.

God tells Noah that he will make it rain for forty days and forty nights. The water then flooded the Earth for 150 days (about 5 months). God remembers that Noah, his family, and all those animals were in that ark, and he sends out a wind and the waters begin to recede. The ark settles on the Mountains of Ararat, somewhere in modern Armenia. According to the tale it wasn’t until a year later that the Earth was dry and they came out of the ark. God tells them to come out and be fruitful and multiply. Noah then makes an altar for God. He then takes some of the clean animals that he had saved from this flood and kills them as a sacrificial offering to God. God is then so pleased by the pleasurable aroma of the burning meat of these clean animals that he makes this promise, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man,  even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease”.

This is a promising outlook from a “benevolent” deity. All of humanity from childhood is evil and every inclination rooted in evil. I find it interesting that the death of so many lives by the act of God did not change his perspective; it took the death of more lives, the sacrifice of animals, for God to finally ease up on the reigns a bit. There is some archaeological evidence that in early human life there was some serious flooding in the middle east region, but not to this scale. The Tigris and the Euphrates were prone to flood often and sporadically. The weather was very unpredictable in this region. There is an interesting anthropological outlook on religion that correlates weather conditions to a culture’s God(s).

In most places in the world the climate is unpredictable. In societies where the weather was volatile, so too were the moods of the Gods. In contrast, the Egyptian Gods were even-handed and mild-tempered. This reflected the nature of the Nile river. The Nile floods predictably and leads to predictable growing seasons. This is what contributed to the Egyptians stability and prosperity for generations.

The flood myth is a fixture in many culture’s. The story is in some ways a great metaphor for humanity’s ability to triumph over nature and humanity’s will to survive. I would argue that this particular version of the myth is not the best–I prefer the version told in “The Metamorphoses”–but it’s a matter of taste.

Next time I will look at “God’s Covenant With Noah”.

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Genesis: From Adam to Noah

Genesis 5:1-32

“This is the written account of Adam’s line”, Genesis 5:1. That is mostly what this passage is about. One thing to comment on is the age of the people in this passage. Archaeological evidence shows that there are no records of humans living for a half-millennia or more. So what we learn in this passage is that Noah is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Adam. One interesting thing to mention is the grandfather of Noah. In Genesis 4:18, “ . . . Methushael was the father of Lamech”. Lamech is the father of Noah, but what’s interesting about this is what Genesis 5:25 says, “When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he became the father of Lamech”. Now Methusaleh according to “From Adam to Noah” is the son of Enoch, who is the son of Cain according to Genesis 4:17, but here Enoch is the son of Jared, Genesis 5:18. In “From Adam to Noah”, Lamech is the grandson of Enoch, but in “Cain and Abel”, Lamech is the great-great grandson of Enoch. According to the passage “From Adam to Noah” Enoch is the great-great-great grandson of Seth, instead of the son of Cain as it is in “Cain and Abel”. So while this should give us a clear understanding of the lineage of Adam to Noah, instead the lineage is now even more muddled.

A footnote in the NIV version, and this version only, states that “father” in lines Genesis 5:7-26 could mean ancestor. If this is true and this is how the text is actually translated then this would clear up the contradiction, but that is not what all the other version of the Bible say. All the others say either begot, begat, or explicitly says they were the sons of whomever. So based on a literal reading of the text, there is a contradiction of the important lineage of Adam.

The passage ends with the names of Noah’s sons, Noah became the father of Shem, Ham , and Japheth.

Next time I look at the Christian version of the flood myth in, “The Flood”.

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Cain and Abel

Genesis 4:1-26

Cain and Abel, the classic story of sibling rivalry. Cain was the first-born son of Adam and Eve, and Abel the second. Each brother played a different role in the new domesticated lifestyle of the family now cast out of Eden; Cain was a farmer and Abel kept flocks. The two brothers both decided to bring an offering to the Lord. Christianity, like many religions, has a constant theme of sacrificial offerings to God in both the new and old testaments. Cain brings crops from his field, but God is not impressed. Abel on the other hand brings fat portions from the first-born of his flock, and this pleases God. Throughout the Bible, God has a fascination with first-born and the flesh of living creatures that is very disturbing. God’s dismissal of Cain’s offerings angers him. Cain is upset that God chose favor of his younger brother over him.

“The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’” Genesis 4:6-7

This is the first mention of sin in the Bible, and why wouldn’t Cain be angry? I thought God was omniscient. God should know why Cain is upset. It is difficult to see any fault with what Cain has done so far. All Cain had done was seek God’s approval of his crops, and God rejected him. God disapproved of his work and his labor. Cain’s anger is justified. Haven’t you ever put a lot of work into a gift for someone? If you have, how would you feel if they just brushed it off? If God were as benevolent as Christian’s say he is, he would have been gracious enough to say to both of them, “Thank you both for your bounty. I see you both put a lot of work into this. I really appreciate it.” Instead, God was the ungrateful guest at a dinner party, “ I loved the meat, but the vegetables . . . eh. I’ve had better.” If God didn’t like the vegetables maybe he should have taken a more nurturing approach, “Hey Cain, I really appreciate the crops you gave me, but they could still use a little work. I know you have been trying real hard and I can see it. I just have a few suggestions to make them better. Have you heard of selective breeding?” God instead ridiculed him.

Cain, in his jealous rage, lures his brother into the field. There he attacks his brother and murders him. The Lord then asks Cain where his bother is. Cain then replies with one of the most famous quotes in the Bible, “I don’t know . . . Am I my brothers’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9. This is a great moral question.  Do we have an obligation to help our fellow-man at any cost? This is my not so literal view of the quote.

For the murder of his brother, Cain was banished to wander the world and cursed. The ground that Cain worked would no longer yield crops. Cain then says that God’s “punishment is more than [he] can bear.”  Cain says that he “will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds [him] will kill [him]”. This implies that there are other humans who live but were not created by the Christian God. God assures Cain that he won’t be murdered, because God will mark him so that all will know that if they were to slay him they too would be cursed. Cain then leaves and has a son with his wife, whose name we are not told, and they name their son Enoch. Cain founds a city and names it after his son. Then the rest of the paragraph is a description of the lineage to follow Cain. Many of these early societies emphasized the importance of lineage. Lineage showed to whom land was inherited and justified one’s claim to the land. The important person in this lineage is Lamech, who is the great-great-great grandson of Cain.

Lamech marries two women, wait two? Yes, polygamy. So much for the sanctity of marriage. This is one of those things I wonder how Christian justify. As an Atheist and someone who believes in evolution I can easily justify such action. In early societies it would have been necessary for a man to take on more than one mate. Since men can always impregnate women, but women can only carry one child at a time, to increase your numbers it would just be economical. There was a high infant mortality rate, so to better your odds at having an offspring survive it makes sense to have multiple children with multiple women. Also, this could help prevent deformities from incest. It would be better to have half-brothers and half-sisters mate then full brothers and sisters, though it would be better to just go outside of the gene pool entirely, but many early civilizations did not have that luxury.  Children were important for labor on the farms. Also, a civilization with a large population can field a larger army. While I can explain it, I find it hard for a Christian today to explain it based solely off their doctrine. Now, Lamech has a son with each of his wives, Adah and Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; “the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock” or pastoralist. These were semi-sedentary people who followed herds, and, because of this, wouldn’t have permanent living structures. Adah had another son, Jubal, who was “the father of all who play the harp and flute”. Zillah’s son was name Tubal-Cain, he was a smith and made weapons out of bronze and iron. He had a sister, Naamah, and we don’t know what she did. If Tubal-Cain was making tools out of Iron, then this would place this society somewhere around 1300 BCE. This listing of people who were the father of some idea or profession seems very similar to the polytheistic mythologies of the world. Like in Greek mythology, each God was the creator or protector of an idea or profession. While these people aren’t worshiped, this importance of acknowledging them seems reminiscent.

This chapter ends with Adam having another son named Seth. Seth later has a son named Enosh. The last line is, “At that time men began to call [or proclaim] the name of the Lord”. So it was at this time that people were starting to spread the word.

Next time I look at the lineage of Noah in the story, “From Adam to Noah”.

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Genesis: The Fall of Man

Genesis 3:1-3:24

This story opens with the serpent trying to seduce Eve into tasting the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is interesting how the serpent is the one portrayed as the evil character in this story, but all the serpent did was tell Eve the truth. God had been the one who had lied to Adam and Eve by telling them that they would die if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. All the serpent did was tell Eve that she would not die, but be like God. The Bible then says that Eve decides to eat the fruit from the tree because it “was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom”. This passage is evidence of Christianity’s contempt for knowledge. This contempt will later have many ramifications and lead to the unjust deaths of many great minds. Eve eats the fruit then gives some to Adam who also eats from it. They are then aware of their nakedness and are ashamed. I assume this is an attempt to explain why humans wear cloths. The real reason can be explained be our evolutionary will to survive. As we became more intelligent and could create sharp tools to carve the flesh of befallen animals, we learned that we could use the hides as a way to keep warm in harsh climates.

God comes strolling by them in the garden so the two of them hide. The Lord God calls out to them inquiring where they are. Adam answers God and says they hid because they were ashamed of their nakedness.

God then asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

Adam’s cowardly reply tries to evade any responsibility of his own actions, and attempts to pin it all on Eve. This is definitely a man of strong character. He tells his Lord, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it”.

When God turns to Eve to inquire of her disobedience, she also tries to find a scapegoat to avoid punishment and pins the whole thing on the serpent. She plays the damsel in distress as she tells God, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate it”.

Though the serpent didn’t deceive anyone like I said earlier. The serpent merely stated the facts, and it was God who was the deceiver. If God had just told them that if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that he would punish them, because he wanted to be the only one with power, maybe they wouldn’t have. Even better, as I said in my last post, if he hadn’t created the tree at all there wouldn’t have been any problems. God punishes the serpent by making it forced to live its life crawling on its stomach. I guess the serpent had had legs prior to God’s wrath.

God’s judgement on Eve is the first testament of the Bible’s clear patriarchal view of the world. God makes Eve a subject to Adam, and says Adam “will rule over you”. This promotion of the subjugation of woman to man and the oppression of women’s rights has marred our society for millenniums. Evidence of this bigoted belief is seen today with recent discussion in the US on contraceptives and abortion. Still the church believes that it has the right to control women and their reproductive functions. God also makes childbirth harder on women; the perfect example of an act by a benevolent God.

For Adam, God’s punishment really doesn’t appear to be as harsh. God’s punishment is to make the land less conducive to vegetation. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food”, God tells Adam. Now this part of the story, at least, if it is not to be taken literal, is probably an allegory for what happened around 13,000 BCE. Around that time the Earth was coming out of an ice age and beginning to warm. This warming made once fertile lands dry up. One example would be the Sahara. The Sahara was once a lush fertile land that supported many plants and animals. As the Earth began to warm, the Sahara began to become the desert it is today. This warming forced people towards river valleys, which would later become the cradles of civilization. This warming also was what inspired humans to turn to an agrarian life instead of one of foraging. The agrarian life was harsher than the life of a forager. Fossil records show that those who became sedentary farmers were subjected to new diseases, a less diverse diet, and longer work days that increased stress, and the result was a reduced life expectancy and shorter people. The benefit of the domestication of plants and animals was that it led to surplus food, which in turn led to surplus population. The agrarian people were not as healthy, but had strength in numbers.

In the last paragraph of this passage, God gives Adam and Eve garments made from skin. I already addressed what would have led man to create such garments, so I will not readdress this. God, fearful that man will also try to usurp more of his power by eating from the tree of life and gain immortality, banishes Adam and Eve out of the garden. This fear that God has is interesting to point out. Throughout the Bible man’s relationship to God is one of reverence and fear. Man is suppose to be fearful of God’s wrath, but interestingly it is God who is afraid here. This is an interesting perspective to keep in mind while reading. Is God’s wrath more in reaction to his fear of man? In any case, it is clear here that God is afraid of sharing any power with man, as any tyrant throughout history–Stalin, Saddam Hussein,or Gaddafi. To protect the garden, and God’s power, God places a Cherubim and a flaming sword moving back and forth to guard the tree. A cherubim is related to the Assyrian karabu, they are cognates, and is a mythical animal similar to the sphinx. This mythical creature was popular in the area of Babylon, where this story takes place, and is tied to their polytheistic beliefs that Christians abhor so much. The fact these creatures never existed hurts the credibility of this book. One more fallacy to chalk up on the board if you are keeping count.

This concludes the tale of the Fall of Man. Next, the story of sibling rivalry, “Cain and Abel”.

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Genesis: Adam and Eve

Genesis 2:4-2:25

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” (I thought the last chapter, “The Beginning”, was the story of how the heavens and the earth were created. No better way to start off your second chapter of your book, than by totally rendering your first invalid.) In this new tale of humanities origins, God creates the heavens and the earth. The earth was barren. From the dust God then creates man and then God creates vegetation for the man to be the care taker of. In the previous story, “The Beginning”, God creates vegetation on the third day, and creates both male and female on the sixth day. If this is the literal word of God I find it hard to see how such a huge discrepancy was created in the story by the infallible creator.

Returning to the tale of “Adam and Eve”, God plants a garden in the east– east of what? Jerusalem?–which he names Eden. In this garden God plants many trees that were pleasant to eat from. In the middle of the garden God also plants two trees, one the tree of life, the other the infamous tree of knowledge of good and evil. I question God’s intention when planting the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As the story progresses, God will tell Adam that he can eat from all the trees except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because “when you eat of it you will surely die”. There is no good reason for God to create this tree if God didn’t want Adam to eat from it. If God created everything God could have chosen not to create the tree. This, to me, is a clear sign of God’s malicious tendencies.

Drawing our attention back to the text, the Bible clearly states where the garden of Eden is, if it really existed. In Eden “a river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters”: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and the Euphrates. Clearly this means that Eden would have been located somewhere outside of what would later become Mesopotamia. Now there is no archaeological evidence of Eden’s existence, but it is safe to assume that people did inhabit the region around what would become Mesopotamia. God then decides that man needed a companion, so God creates animals from the dust of the earth. God then allows man to name each animal. Man is displeased with all the companions God attempted to create for man, so, as Adam slept, God took his rib and created Eve.

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,‘
for she was taken out of man.”

The metaphor that we get from the taking of the rib emphasizing the unity of man and woman is probably the first beautiful idea in the Bible. The quote that precedes this paragraph is a beautiful metaphor of the unity of man and women. It is very poetic and would be regarded as solely a great literary line if it were from any other book. Instead, there are people who literally believe that women were made from a man’s rib. The monogamous relationship that the metaphor tries to address can be explained by evolution. Our offspring’s maturity rate is much longer than most other mammals, and requires a longer period of nurturing. The need then arose to have both males and females to help provide for the child. To encourage mates to stay together, through the process of evolution, sex became more pleasurable and created an emotional attachment amongst mates. This explanation I must concede is not as poetic, but is more truthful.

That concludes the second story of the Bible, and its second version of our origin. This second version is by far more entertaining than the first, and gives plenty of material to build off of for the stories that will follow. Join me next time as I look at “The Fall of Man”.

Genesis: The Beginning

Genesis 1:1-2:3

The book of Genesis: possibly one of the most revered books in the Bible. (Maybe because people don’t read much further due to the bible’s shear girth.) A less cynical outlook, it is probably so revered due to humanity’s quest for knowledge of our origins. We seek knowledge of our origins because we believe that it defines our purpose. The problem with this origin tale is that it is riddled with flaws, and, instead of viewing the book only as an allegory, some Christians see this as the unquestionable reality of our beginnings despite all evidence. The first chapter, The Beginning, outlines the creation of the Earth, its life, and the cosmos.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, and while he hovered over the waters he created light. This created the existence of day and night.

On the second day he created the “sky”.

On the third day he commanded that the water gather in pools so that land would emerge. This brings me to my first problem to address. Based on what we know, land would have existed before water, and from the gravitational pull on the Earth by the Sun and the Moon the land would have shifted releasing gases that would soon form our atmosphere. The Atmosphere would then create an environment possible for clouds to form which would then release water. The water would then pool in the lowest crevasses first until we had large bodies of water. Also, the only large bodies of water mentioned are seas, not oceans. This is another display of ignorance that an all knowing God who created everything should have been able to point out when he was having man pen his best seller. On the same day that God created the land he also created vegetation.

On the fourth day God finally decides to create the Sun and the Moon as well as the stars. So on the first day god created light without the Sun? That is an amazing miracle I must say. Also, vegetation was able to survive without the Sun? So prior to the Sun photosynthesis was irrelevant? What, did plants evolve over time to require photosynthesis? God also states that he creates “a lesser light to govern the night”, the Moon, implying that the moon gives off light. This we also know to be a fallacy. The notion that the Earth predates the Sun also enforces this Ptolemaic belief of geocentrism that has been disproven thanks to Nicolaus Copernicus. Just another example of the ignorance that permeates this book. This concludes God’s fourth day.

God creates fish and birds on the fifth day and commands then to multiply.

On day six God creates all other animals. He also decides to create man, “in our own image”. The use of “our” implies that God is the monarch, king, or tyrant, if you prefer, of man. This is the first glimpse that we see of Christianity’s tyrannical tendencies. When God created man, he didn’t just create Adam. God created both male and female at the same time. God then graciously gives man every seed-bearing plant, tree, creature, anything that has the breathe of life in it for food, yet pork is supposedly off limits, as well as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, even though it doesn’t state that here. So did God lie to man or had he just forgot at that moment? Either way, it shows fallacy in the infallible.

Come the Seventh day God decided to kick back and take a day off, and that concludes the first chapter of Genesis.

This is just the first chapter of the first book of the bible and already so many faults can be found. These alone already discredit the book, yet there are those who believe, despite all fossil evidence of our hominid ancestors–Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens–that shows our gradual evolution, that this is how humanity and the cosmos began. Why people believe promoting such ignorance in our biology classrooms is a good thing, I will never understand. Now it is also worthy to point out that this creation myth is prevalent throughout many early societies. Some are more interesting than others; I suggest the greco-roman story told in “The Metamorphoses”.

In the second chapter, “Adam and Eve”, I expect things to get quite interesting. I hope you join me for that.

*As always, if you enjoy the series please follow the blog so you can stay up to date, like the post if you like it, and share these posts on your favorite social media site. Also, comment if you have anything to add.

An Atheist’s Bible Study

An Atheist’s Bible Study is my exploration of the Bible. Each post includes a summary of the passage I read and my thoughts. I began this blog to share my exploration with others to receive feedback, and to inspire others to read the text critically. I welcome comments and I read them all. I began reading the New International Version of the Bible, but I have switched to The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version,
which is a New Revised Standard Version. I suggest using this Bible because it has great annotations and essays about each book.

So I hope you follow along with me in this study of one of the most influential texts in western civilization; I think it will be both enlightening and entertaining.

*Note: I do have an Amazon Associates account. If you like what I am doing and you wish to use the link provided to purchase The New Oxford Annotated Bible, then cool. But that is not what this site is about, and it is not necessary. Thanks for reading.