The Bible would have us believe that Moses and Joshua were chosen by God to
do God's work.
A person who reads the Bible would reasonably expect that such people would
be examples of good behaviour.
Instead we find that, by modern standards, they were guilty of genocide,
mass murder, even terrorism.
So far as I know, the Bible does not point out that these acts of Moses and
Joshua were unethical and these men should not be held up as models of good
The reader of the Bible cannot get guidance on ethics from that work.
He has to have an existing knowledge of ethics in order to decide which bits
of the Bible are upholding ethical standards and which bits are not.
If the Bible was generally accepted just as an old book that contained some
wisdom, some history, and some writings that are very dated and dubious in
the messages they give, that would be acceptable, but we are told it is a
holy book and at least some hold that it is the 'word of God'.
Is it any wonder that the Taliban and Islamic State can find justification for their barbaric acts in the scriptures?
Philosophers from Socrates on to Russell and Singer give an infinitely better
guide to what is ethical.
We accept that they are human and fallible and consequently we take their
writings as advice rather than law.
|Faith–the greatest enemy of reason
|How very true John.
It could equally well be said that faith – the holding of beliefs
without supporting evidence, or even contrary to the evidence – is the
greatest enemy of reason.
Moses has received the Ten Commandments from God, one of which was
"Thou shalt not kill".
He came down from Mount Sinai to find the Israelites worshiping the golden
And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man
his sward by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout
the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion,
and every man his neighbour.
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there
fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the Lord, even every
man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a
blessing this day.
Moses received a commandment from God stating that killing was against God's
law; Moses immediately set the Israelites to killing each other
Are we to take it from this that it's OK to ignore God's commandments, and
to kill and to order other
people to kill, so long as you believe that is what God really wants?
Try to imagine what a group of people would do if they were told to "go out
and kill your brother, companion, and neighbour".
Many would think, "if I have to kill people then I will kill people I don't
like"; so there would be a purge of the more unpopular people.
One would hope that in any real-life situation where the leader of a group
gave such an order the reaction would be an immediate rebellion against
the leader, but one can imagine if there was a Jonestown-like blind
following of what was perceived as a semi-divine leader people might obay the order.
Were the followers of Moses similar to the Jonestown group?
There are three versions of the Ten Commandments in the Bible, two of them
are very similar, Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21,
the third version, in Exodus 34:12-26, is radically different.
It seems odd that God couldn't pass on a consistent set of rules, don't
It is telling that there is nothing in any of the sets of the ten commandments
against the rape of a woman.
In fact, from Genesis 19 (the story of the two angels who Lot protected
from the Sodomites) one could get the impression that women have no rights
at all, and can be raped at any time that it may suit whichever male
rules their lives.
In Genesis 19, Lot pleads with the Sodomites to not molest his
guests (male angels), and offers his virgin daughters to be raped in the
place of Lot's guests.
"Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me,
I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your
eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the
shadow of my roof."
How could this be justified under any set of rational and consistent ethics?
Can it be that those who believe that the Bible sets out the rules under
which we should live also believe that women should be treated as the
property of men and may be handed over to other men to be raped at will?
Rape of virgin girls seems to be justified in the story of
Moses and the Midianites too.
The Ten Commandments say nothing about humane treatment of animals or our
fellow man (or woman).
They say nothing against slavery, in fact slavery is quite acceptable to the God of the Old Testament.
Most non-Muslims are disgusted when they hear that
for the death of anyone who turns away from Islam; here we see that
Christianity is no better.
"If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the
wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee
secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known,
thou, nor thy fathers;
Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee,
or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end
of the earth;
Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine
eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put
him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought
to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the
land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
Would anyone in the twenty-first century, other than a religious fanatic,
claim that it is ethical to kill someone who tries to convert someone to
God presses for the total annihilation of whole peoples if they refuse to
surrender and pay tribute:
"When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace
And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then
it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries
unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee,
then thou shalt besiege it:
And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt
smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the
city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou
shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given
Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee,
which are not of the cities of these nations.
But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee
for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the
Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the
Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee."
Where is there any morality in this?
We can force people to pay tribute to us or kill them all, so long as we
believe it is sanctioned by God?
What sane person would hold that stoning to death is the correct way to
handle a rebellious son?
The Bible does.
"If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the
voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have
chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out
unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn
and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a
And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so
shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and
How many rebellious sons have become good adults?
Not many would live long enough if fathers behaved as this passage instructs them to.
There are two other places in the Bible that also suggest killing
rebellious sons: Exodus 21:15 and Leviticus 20:9.
Moses is talking to the captains of Israel after the army had destroyed
"Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them.
"They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of
turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that
a plague struck the Lord's people.
Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,
but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."
This is genocide of the most bloodthirsty kind.
If it happened today Moses would be tried in an international court
and would, correctly, be jailed for years.
Are we supposed to believe that it was acceptable because Moses thought he
was doing God's work?
(How many war crimes have been committed by people who claimed to be doing
Joshua and the army of Israel are outside the walls of Jericho.
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the
dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times.
And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with
the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given
you the city.
And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are there-in, to
the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are
with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that were sent.
And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye
make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make
the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.
But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are
consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord.
So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it
came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and
the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat,
so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before
him, and they took the city.
And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman,
young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
So, what was the crime of the people of Jericho that justified the
destruction of their city and the slaughter of every man, woman and
They were in the way.
The people of Israel wanted their land, they had been promised it by
Three of the ten commandments were, "Thou shalt not steal", "Thou shalt
not kill" and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house ... nor any
thing that is thy neighbour's".
But here are the 'people of the Lord' stealing the land of the people
of Jericho and killing the people of Jericho, because they wanted their
land, they coveted their land.
We are to believe that they had some God-given right to break the
commandments (and to commit these crimes against any reasonable
system of ethics), and that this God-given right somehow justified
ignoring the commandments.
Whether the wall miraculously fell down flat, or indeed, whether the
army of Israel ever laid siege to Jericho, is not the point here.
The point is that whoever wrote the Book of Joshua believed that genocide,
mass murder, was quite acceptable, so long as it was thought to be
sanctioned by God.
(And is it right to punish children for the sins of their ancestors?)
Genesis:1:1 "In the beginning God created heaven and the earth."
Genesis tells us that there was nothing before God created the Universe.
There are at least two implications here: the first is that he was
omnipotent (having unlimited power and authority), the second is that
there were no other gods (unless they were created by God).
And then in Exodus (20:3 to 20:5):
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any
thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that
is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD
thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the
children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."
Here we see an entirely different picture.
The god of the Israelites is jealous of other gods.
How can that be?
Genesis would have us believe that God created everything, that he
was omnipotent; if there were other gods they must have been created by God.
Surely there can only be one omnipotent god; to have more than one is
Where did these other gods come from?
If God created them why would he be jealous of them?
On the primary subject of this page, whether the Bible can tell us how to
live ethically, under what ethical justification could "the children unto
the third and fourth generation" be held accountable for the crimes of
It is quite immoral to punish children for crimes that they are
innocent of; the crimes of their ancestors.
The Old Testament not only allows slavery, but provides rules for the
treatment of slaves.
For example, see Exodus 21: 2 to 4:
"If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh
he shall go out free for nothing.
If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married,
then his wife shall go out with him.
If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or
daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go
out by himself."
The next verses show that, should the man not want to go free at the cost
of losing his wife and children, he has the option of remaining a slave
Now there is an act of kindness!
And note that these laws apply to Hebrew slaves.
One supposes that non-Hebrew slaves could not expect the same kindness and
Exodus 21: 20-21
Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if
the slave dies as a direct result,
but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two,
since the slave is their property.
Exodus 21 is a juicy chapter, not only in the rules it gives regarding
slavery, but in a number of other barbaric laws:
- "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
- "And he that curseth [or smiteth] his father, or his mother, shall surely
be put to death."
- "If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be
surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox
shall be quit."
One can see that stoning a man or woman to death, while being terribly
barbaric, could have some deterrence value on other people.
But how could stoning an ox to death deter other oxen from goring anyone?
More on slavery; Leviticus
Leviticus 25: 44-45
And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have – from the
nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves.
Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and
their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they
shall become your property.
No decent person in the twenty-first century would hold the dealing in slaves,
especially in child slaves, is ethically acceptable.
Plainly our ethical standards do not come from the Bible.
Deuteronomy 22: 20-21
If an unmarried girl is found to not be a virgin the Bible tells us that she
should be stoned to death!
But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the
young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her
father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones,
because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her
So you shall put away the evil from among you.
Much is made by those who like to repeat the Bible story about how the
Christian God first ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son to God; but stopped
Abraham at the last minute.
Modern Christians like this story because it shows how God is merciful.
There is another similar story:
Judges 11:30-39, in which God is quite content to allow Jephthah to
sacrifice his beloved only child, this time a daughter, by burning her.
What happened to God's mercy?
You are not likely to hear this story in a modern church.