Loftus Writing a Book with a Christian Scholar
If you’ve been following John W. Loftus’s blog, you know that he’s now writing a debate book with a Christian scholar. It looks like it’s going to be pretty shallow, at only 160 pages. Each debate is going to be less than 2000 words, with 750 words each presenting affirmation and denial, then a 100 word rebuttal each, and finally a 50 word conclusion each.
The good news is that Loftus is softballing questions to the unnamed scholar. The first three questions are:
- The biblical god ruled over a pantheon of gods and had a wife, Asherah.
- The biblical god required human sacrifices for his pleasure.
- The biblical god commanded the genocide of whole people groups.
As to (1), that is a big fat NEGATIVE. The people of Israel often worshiped Asherah (a Canaanite fertility goddess who also governed prosperity, I believe), and perhaps some of them may have believed that God took her as a wife. But the heretical beliefs of any religion do not define that religion.
The monotheism of ancient Israel (and most probably Abraham’s own journey to monotheism) didn’t conceive of God as a single entity or being. Rather, God was a plurality of powers. In polytheism, each discrete deity of a pantheon had a portfolio: a set of related areas of mortal life which that particular deity oversaw. Zeus, for example, ruled the skies, thunder, and lightning. Hades ruled death. Aphrodite ruled love and beauty, and her son Eros was responsible for matchmaking and sex (Eros is where we get our word erotica). When Abraham journeyed to monotheism, he (and people who followed after him) saw God the might of heavens (like clouds, thunder, and lightning) as an aspect of God. Similarly, death, love, beauty, matchmaking, and sex were all aspects of God. So, in our Greek example, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Eros were all seen as discrete powers, but unified in essence, purpose, and intelligence. They wouldn’t have individuality, but would be part of the divine.
This means that the Israelites didn’t see anything specifically wrong or blasphemous about worshiping the gods of the Canaanites, since these gods were seen as aspects of the One, True God of Israel. But in the Law, God through Moses sought to correct that way of thinking by forbidding Israel to make images of things on earth (you can’t worship nature, trees, or animals) and in heaven (forbidding both ancestor worship of oriental religions and the polytheism of most ancient cultures). God didn’t wish to be thought of as a set of individual entities, but as One.
As difficult as this is to wrap our modern minds around, it proved even more difficult for the Israelites to grasp. Hence, other deities (especially Canaanite deities) were worshiped throughout Israel. Asherah was by far the most common. The Bible makes repeated references to this, and consistently condemns it.
Whatever Loftus’s source for (1), it isn’t the Bible. The Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice, and nowhere in it do we find a hint that God married Asherah. Nor do we find this alleged Israelite pantheon. Viewing God as the unity of intelligence and purpose behind a plurality of powers doesn’t make the Israelites into polytheists. Judging the whole of an ancient religion by its heretics is also dangerous. When Loftus was a Christian, I’m sure that he would take great exception if an opponent were to judge him by the tenets of Marcionism.
I’ve repeatedly said that (2) is just false, and I would love to see a biblical challenge to it. I’ll save you time: there ain’t one. God forbid human sacrifices. Yes, the Israelites often practiced them (I’ll even grant the famous story in Judges, but you have to show me where God accepted the sacrifice explicitly or implicitly without appealing to an argument like, “God is omniscient and omnipotent and could have stopped it if he wanted to”). But, as I stated in (1), you can’t judge a religion by its heretics. Every religion has them, but don’t use their practices to condemn the religion as a whole, especially when there are clear, unambiguous biblical mandates against human sacrifice.
We’ve also addressed (3) so many times that I don’t even want to get into it again. No one is innocent before God; we are all sinners, worthy of death and deserving of hell. Life, also, isn’t a guarantee. Nothing in the Bible promises that humans won’t be the victims of murder, genocide, war, or a tragic car accident. Whether we die in our beds of old age with our families around us, or by application of a strangle wire after being raped for the two previous hours, we will die. For good or ill, it is our destiny, and has been since Adam first ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.
God is perfectly able to judge guilty sinners as such and even use a human war machine as that people’s undoing. And that’s exactly what we see in the commanded genocides. Indeed, we see similarities in all deaths; it is all God’s judgment upon a sinful people.