An Atheist Reads The Bible: Biblical Family Values

Next month in Ireland we will have a referendum on allowing same-sex couples the right to marry each other. As you can imagine, the main opposition to this is coming from religious groups, with the usual talk of traditional marriage as God intended. What is strange is that if you actually read the Bible, there is a striking absence of traditional marriage or family values in general.

After all, Jacob had not only two wives, but he also got his two servants pregnant with his wives blessing. Abraham too gets his slave pregnant and seems unconcerned when she and his son are banished. Abraham also has several concubines (Genesis 25:6), the exact number isn’t said. Esau had three wives: Adah, Oholibamah and Basemath (who was also his aunt) (Genesis 36:2-3). There is a striking lack of family values or even blood loyalty as we see repeated examples of brothers betray brothers and sons cheat fathers. The very first Biblical family saw Cain murder his brother Abel. Ham, the son of Noah, did something that caused his father to curse him. Lot offered his daughters to a mob, the daughters later got him drunk and get pregnant by him. God demanded that Abraham violate the strongest family bonds by murdering his own son. Jacob and Rebekah conspired to scam Isaac and rob Esau. And all of this is before we begin today’s reading.

Today’s story begins with Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, who is raped by Prince Shechem (Genesis 34:2). The Prince falls in love with his victim and his father, King Hamor, offers an alliance with Jacob if Shechem can marry Dinah. Jacob and his sons hide their feelings, requesting only that Shechem and his people are circumcised. Hamor agrees to this and all the people of his city are circumcised and a union is agreed. Three days later while the men are still “sore”, the sons of Jacob kill them all (Red Wedding style). However, rather than just take revenge on those who raped their sister, they “killed all the males” and plundered the city (Genesis 34:25-7). “All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in their houses, they captured and plundered.” (Genesis 34:29). Now I can understand taking revenge (it’s not very loving or forgiving, but understandable), but why punish the whole city? Why slaughter innocent men? Why take their wives and children, presumably to be sold as slaves and probably raped too? Why commit the very crimes that outraged them in the first place? Why do the chosen people act in such a murderous fashion and why does God not stop them?

Then we have a couple boring pages of genealogy before we come to Joseph and his robe of many colours (which can also be translated as robe with long sleeves, which just isn’t as good). Joseph had a lot of dreams, which apparently were significant, even though if God was trying to contact humans, dreams would probably be the worst way of doing so. Most of the time, people forget their dreams or dream such weird stuff that literally any interpretation could be drawn. Anyways, Jacob’s sons hated Joseph so one day they sold him into slavery and told his father that a wild animal had killed him (Genesis 37).

The Bible takes an odd diversion away from the story of Joseph and talks about Judah; one of Jacob’s other sons. “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.” (Genesis 38:7) This is very odd, because we have no idea what Er did, and at this point there were still no rules from God. How was Er supposed to know he had done wrong? Also, this raises the question of whether or not God kills wicked people? There are plenty of examples of evil people living their life in peace without God striking them down, so what did Er do differently? Or why does God only strike down people who lived long along before records were kept? Anyways, Judah tells Er’s brother Onan to “perform his duty” by which he means make his dead brothers wife, Tamar, pregnant. These are really weird family values. Onan doesn’t want to make his sister-in-law pregnant (she doesn’t get a say in any of this) as the child would be the son of Er, not him (is that how it worked?). So Onan “would waste the semen on the ground”. But “what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.” (Genesis 38:10) Really? When does the loving God show up because so far all we’ve got is a tyrant that kills people for bizarre or no reason at all? Do we have to wait for the New Testament?

Just in case this story wasn’t odd enough, it gets really weird. Tamar one day covers her face with a veil and sits on the side of the road. Her father-in-law Judah sees her and “he thought she was a prostitute” (Genesis 38:15). I know I say this in every post, but this is really messed up. I mean who writes this crazy stuff? How can anyone in all seriousness claim that this is greatest book ever that can help people with moral issues? Imagine if people did life their lives according to the Bible, how messed up with that be? So Tamar, rather than correcting her father-in-law’s mistake like a normal person, sleeps with him in exchange for his staff and sigil (why did he not recognise her? Did she keep the veil on? Was it dark and/or was he drunk?).

Three months later, Judah is told that Tamar has been immoral (irony alert) and pregnant. Judah orders her to be burned (Genesis 38:24). What the actual fuck! As a rule I don’t curse on this blog, but this is seriously fucked up. This stuff would turn anyone into a feminist, the man can sleep with prostitutes, but if a woman sleeps with anyone she gets burned! At the last moment she reveals the staff and sigil saying it belongs to the man who got her pregnant. Judah gets embarrassed and the story ends. I’ll be damned if anyone can find a moral in that story.

Meanwhile, Joseph earns the trust of his slave master and is put in charge of his land. However, the masters wife tries to seduce him (oh these Biblical women, always causing trouble for our righteous men). She keeps trying and he keeps rejecting her (knowing the Bible probably because she’s not related to him) and eventually she accuses him of trying to rape her and he gets thrown into the dungeons (Genesis 39). He then interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh’s servants and word eventually reaches Pharaoh who asks him to interpret his dream. Joseph tells him that seven fat cows followed by seven lean cows (a metaphor still used today) means there will be seven good harvests followed by a seven year famine (could God not just prevent the famine?). So Pharaoh (it’s never said which Pharaoh because then we might know if the story is true) taxes one-fifth of the harvest to be stored to prepare for the famine (nice Keynesian counter-cyclical policy). Joseph is put in charge of the granaries with only Pharaoh being more important than him (Genesis 41).

The dreams of course come true and “all the Earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe all over the Earth.” (Genesis 41:57) Really, the entire Earth came to Egypt? People from Ireland, Australia, America, Peru and China came all the way to Egypt? Or perhaps God/whoever wrote the Bible thought the Middle East was all of the Earth?

Jacob too is affected by the famine and he sends his sons to find food. They meet Joseph but don’t recognise him. He remembers them but rather than tell them straight away he drags the whole thing out over four chapters (Genesis 42-46). It gets repetitive and the point is made long before the story is over, so I’m going to skim through this. Basically, Josephs toys with his brothers, puts them in prison, gives them a scaring before revealing himself and giving them piles of gold. All the descendants of Isaac (66 men, the woman aren’t counted) then come to live in Egypt.

Meanwhile the famine continues and Joseph keeps selling grain until he has collected all the money in Egypt and Canaan (Genesis 47:14). But the people are still starving, so he takes their livestock in exchange for food (couldn’t the starving people just eat the livestock?). What about the poor who have neither money nor livestock? But the next year the people are still starving, so they request that they be bought as slaves (sure they did). So Joseph buys all the land and people in Egypt and turns them into slaves (Genesis 47:20-1). Let me stop here. Why does Joseph not just give the food away for free? Wouldn’t that be better, kinder and more just than turning the country into some sort of communist slave society? This is problematic, because Joseph and the Israelites don’t seem to have any problems with slaves, their only problem is if they are slaves not slave owners.

Jacob then blesses his sons (who represent the twelve tribes of Israel) on his deathbed. These blessings are mostly animal metaphors and supposed to represent the tribes of Israel as they were in the time this was written, but to be honest; they’re so vague that they could mean anything. After him, Joseph dies and that’s where the Book of Genesis ends.

So the next time someone talks about Biblical family values, you can remind about the story of Judah who sleeps with his daughter-in-law and almost burns her for doing so. Er and Onan who are killed by the supposedly loving God for no reason or Joseph’s brothers who think about killing him but then sell him into slavery. Nor is Joseph much of a model considering he is (allegedly) the reason why Egypt became a slave society. So looking at the first book of the Bible, I don’t see much love or understanding. Instead God and his chosen people are hateful, deceitful, incestuous, murderous and cruel. The idea that the Bible can teach us how to live a moral live is absolute nonsense.

For the rest of series, see here.

12 thoughts on “An Atheist Reads The Bible: Biblical Family Values”

  1. “All the descendants of Isaac (66 men, the woman aren’t counted) then come to live in Egypt.”
    -The Edomites are never said to have been in Egypt.
    “Instead God and his chosen people are hateful, deceitful, incestuous, murderous and cruel. The idea that the Bible can teach us how to live a moral live is absolute nonsense.”
    -I think that’s called teaching by negative example. Howard Zinn, for example, did this a lot. But even if you discount all the stuff the Biblical authors considered immoral, you still end up with a lot of allowance for cruelty.
    “But the people are still starving, so he takes their livestock in exchange for food (couldn’t the starving people just eat the livestock?).”
    -It would depend on the exchange rate between grain and cattle. And the Atkins diet is typically recommended for rapid weight loss, not weight gain.
    “Or why does God only strike down people who lived long along before records were kept?”
    -I think more examples of this come later, even when records were kept (though not preserved).
    “Do we have to wait for the New Testament?”
    -I think the earliest real trace of a loving God is in Numbers or Exodus, but even there it’s within a context of a very wrathful god. And I don’t think God is all that loving even in the New Testament (except for some of Jesus’s teachings and the Epistles).
    “Joseph and the Israelites don’t seem to have any problems with slaves, their only problem is if they are slaves not slave owners”
    “nice Keynesian counter-cyclical policy”
    -But Keynesian counter-cyclical policy is (mostly) about demand, not supply. And it’s not like the government and central bank have any need to store up demand, when the central bank can just print money on the spot. Also, Keynes advocated perpetual stimulus, not the commonly-supported idea of smoothing the cycle with contractionary policy in booms. And the idea of buffer stocks is hardly uniquely Keynesian (though most free market economists believe private speculators can replace government-accumulated buffer stocks with greater efficiency). And wouldn’t taxing the grain during the fat years discourage grain production during these years, thus undermining the point of the buffer-stock policy?

  2. “But the next year the people are still starving, so they request that they be bought as slaves (sure they did)”
    -Selling daughters into slavery during famine was fairly common in early 20th century China. So I wouldn’t be surprised that people really would sell themselves into slavery to escape starvation.
    “Or perhaps God/whoever wrote the Bible thought the Middle East was all of the Earth?”
    -Look back to Genesis 10:

  3. Marriage is now a out dated commodity, it costs to much to get married for most people and for those who do the cost of divorce is high, it represents snobbery in so far as the weddings here in my town are often 50Ks or much more often 100, the fact that people have to have this paper ritual shows they are in bad faith as without it their insecurities become to the fore, we now live in a age where nothing means anything and anything means what ever?

  4. Do realize that whenever the Bible says “servant” they are referring to a slave holding that “job.” There were no servants at that time there. But people translating the Bible had, well, issues. Too many slaves were popping up so a lot of them were called servants by means of clever translation. Jesus’ brother “James” real name was Jacob, stated very clearly so in the Greek texts, but Jacob sounds too Jewish and Jesus’ brother lead the nascent Church in Jerusalem, as a practicing Jew, well we can’t have that so Jesus brother became “James” even though the name didn’t exist at that time. James sounds much less Jewish, don’t you think?

    Now speaking of values, not just family values, whatever happened to honesty, truthfulness, etc.?

    1. Well I don’t speak Hebrew, but the edition I am working from claims that Hebrew uses the same word for slave and servant, leaving it open to interpretation.

      As for James and Jacob, I don’t know anything about that.

  5. 1. What do you say about this quotation from Heraclitus:
    “Gods are mortal, humans immortal, living their death, dying their life.”

    And my interpretation of it:

    “While religions, fashions and ideologies (because ideologies resemble religions – feminism, racism, anti-racism, communism, nationalism, fascism, etc. are as irrational as religions, isn’t it?) come and go, human nature is unchanged” – Corto ?


    “After two thousand years of mass. We’ve got as far as poison-gas.” – Thomas Hardy


    “Just as a man still is what he always was, so he already is what he will become.” – Carl Jung

    So to believe that Europeans behave as they behave because of Christianity is foolish, isn’t it?

    When I first read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales it stuck me how similar to us medieval people were…

    2. Catholicism has a bi-millennial theological literature. A lot to read! You should attempt to dispute with some heavies and not with us.

    Catholic G.K. Chesterton would seem to be a good start:

    “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.”

    1. No doubt the history of man is to date a misfortune of folly, what we do not know in this equation is those who are not given a platform to express the idea or vision of a better world as those in power do not want this alternative reality.

  6. I feel so sorry for all of you. Really I do. You don’t understand the story of Joseph at all. First you need to realize, the culture of that time was much, much, MUCH different than ours. I wish we could speak face-to-face, so I could answer each question, and provide insight to the Bible, including the culture of that time frame. But, alas, we cannot. Just know that you are wrong in every sense of the word. The stories in the Bible are so much more. They often have hidden meaning, so that only those who truly study the Bible can find it. Perhaps someday, you will see it, as I have.

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