As anyone who watches Game of Thrones can tell you, life long ago was very brutal. People didn’t live long, and while they lived things were too great. The politics of the time were especially rough. One person (or at best a small handful of people) had all the power and any threat to this power was swiftly destroyed. This power was obtained and maintained by killing people so the best thing ordinary people could do was to stay out of their way and under no circumstances question or challenge them. These leaders didn’t care about the ordinary people and used their power to enrich themselves and their cronies. Everyone else was simply “the masses”, the hordes of commoners who got in the way, a nuisance that could be troublesome if it didn’t have enough bread.
You would think that a polity ruled by God would be different. Surely it would be a model of peace and understanding where all people prospered together as one? A place where all are free and equal citizens? The strange thing is that even in the Bible (which is written by the Israelites and therefore puts them in the best light) the Israelites seem the exact same as every other tribe of the time. Being directly lead in all they do by God doesn’t seem to make a society in any way better than how they would have acted without God. Moses and God act like petty despots rather than models of virtue that we should all follow.
For example, Chapter 11 begins by noting that when some people complained about living in a desert (which can hardly have been much fun), how do you think God reacted? Did he show love and kindness? Perhaps show some of his legendary justice and wisdom? No, instead the Bible casually notes that he consumed them with fire. In fact, he only stopped burning people because Moses prayed to him to stop.
Of course killing protestors doesn’t solve the underlying problem that they are still in a desert. The “rabble” (that is the word used in the Bible) grumbles again so God brings a huge amount of quail from the sea in a wind. Let’s ignore the science of how exactly this works (if I stop to ponder over the impossibility of every miracle I’ll never finish the book) and marvel at one of the first signs of kindness from God to his chosen people. But like a peace offering from a mafia don or a Red Wedding, it’s a trap. While the people are eating the quail God gets angry at them for no reason and he struck them down “with a very great plague”. Just to be clear, God is literally slaughtering people for no reason.
In Chapter 13 Moses sends out spies to scout out the land of Israel. Some return boasting of how prosperous it is (a land of milk and honey) but others come back with lies claiming that it is inhabited by ferocious giants. This scares the people who start weeping and declare they wished they died in Egypt. There is no compassion or understanding from God, instead like Darth Vadar, he finds their lack of faith disturbing. He vows to take the Death Star proposal and kill everyone, men, women, children, those who oppose him and those who love him. He tells Moses that he will exterminate the entire Jewish population and make a new, better people. No wonder the Catholic Church doesn’t encourage reading the bible but Atheist Ireland does. I wonder what a religious person would make of the casual way in which God suggests committing Genocide against his “chosen” people.
Moses talks God out of genocide, but God swears that none of these people will ever see the promised land. God declares that the Israelites will wait for 40 years in the desert until everyone who grumbled against him is dead, only then will they enter Israel. This is something new to me, I had always thought that the Israelites moved very slowly and that’s why it took them 40 years to cross the desert. In fact there was only about a year or two of travelling, then a 40 year rest and there another year or so until they reached Israel. This seems incredibly spiteful and petty from God, I mean why does he care about a few grumblers? Why make the innocent suffer as much as the guilty?
Just to make sure the lesson is learned, the spies die of a plague (why did God need spies in the first place?). The Israelites repent and beg for mercy but apparently God doesn’t forgive (there is more plot holes and contradictions in this book than in a cheap detective novel. Moses mocks their pleas and the Bible casually notes that the people went into the hills where they were defeated (and presumably killed) by the Canaanites and Amelikites (so much for God’s protection). The Bible really doesn’t care about the sufferings of ordinary people, so no real notice is paid to this inconvenience. Just in case there wasn’t enough needless bloodshed, a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath so God told Moses to have the entire Israelite congregation (of 600,000 men?) stone him to death.
In a break from the bloodshed, we get some racism in sexism in when Miriam and Aaron criticise Moses for marrying a Cushite (African) woman. God gets angry at them (though its not clear whether its because of the racism or because they questioned Moses) so he rebukes them and infects Miriam with leprosy, while Aaron is untouched. This is yet another example of blatant sexism. Aaron did just as much as Miriam, yet he is untouched, while Miriam must siffer is banished from the camp for seven days. Women get punished severely while men are untouched for doing literally the exact same thing. And religious people have the nerve to claim society would have no morals without these wonderful Bible ethics to guide us?
Believe it or not, we’re only halfway thorugh the bloodshed as a man, Korah gathers 250 chiefs and challenges the authority of Moses. Korah must be either very stupid or very brave considering what happened to everyone else who complained. Korah claims Moses is trying to make himself a prince and holding a monopoly over the word of God. Korah believes that God is for all the Israelites not just Moses. I actually agree with him and I don’t see why Moses and the priests have erected themselves as barriers between God and everyone else. Why does God only talk to Moses while ignoring all the other Israelites? Is God for everyone or just the elites? Does Moses really get his orders from God or does he just make them up himself?
Moses tells all his opponents to gather with their wives and children and declares that if nothing happens to them, he isn’t sent by God. But if the ground opens to swallow them all, then he was. Sure enough the Earth splits open and all of Korah’s followers fall into it. For good measure, God also sends a fire to burn 250 extra men. The next day people grumble about the massacre they just witnessed, so God sends a plague that kills 14,700 of them. The strange thing is that neither God nor Moses hesitate in the slightest before killing. There is no attempt to reason, debate or convince people. Moses doesn’t argue that he is sent by God, he simply kills those who think he wasn’t. No thought is given to the suffering and death that will follow or that innocents will probably die. There were loads of peaceful ways this could have ended but instead Moses and God go straight for the King Joffrey option.
Yet again, the people have no water and grumble against God, wishing they were dead. Now the Israelites must be either stupid or desperate if they are still complaining (or maybe God isn’t as miraculous as the Bible claims). Have they not learned by now that resistance is futile, questioning God in any way carrys the death penalty? What’s interesting is that the only time ordinary people are mentioned is when they are complaining. It seems that neither God nor Moses thinks or cares about them unless they are causing trouble. They are simply mouths to feed nothing more. Anyway God tells Moses to strike a rock and make water flow. Moses does this and inexplicably God then punishes Moses for not believing in him and declares Moses will not see the promised land. This makes no sense. I’ve read and reread the passage, but it’s the same, Moses does everything God asks and is still punished. When people say God is mysterious, it doesn’t seem to be a good thing.
As further punishment for nothing, God declares that Aaron must die. Again, this makes no sense as God is punishing his most loyal servants who have done nothing wrong. So in one of the most cold-hearted scenes in the Bible, God tells Moses to bring Aaron up to a mountain, strip him naked and leave him to die. Aaron’s son has to watch this and receive his father’s clothes and wear them. Imagine how Moses felt leaving his closest companion to slowly die alone.
What is usually left out of the traditional Bible stories about the Israelites is that the promised land wasn’t empty, but had its own people living there. Rather than treating them as, you know, fellow human beings, the Israelites slaughter them. They conquer the Amorities and slaughter all the people of King Og until none are left. Just for good measure God sends “fiery serpants” to kill his own people who dared complain (God is sounding pretty Stalinist at this point).
There is a very odd story about a talking donkey that I think it’s best to skip.
By chapter 25, The Israelites have begun to “whore with the daughters of Moab”. Some people have even started to worship Baal (though God must be awfully unconvincing if he loses believers so easily). While normal people have no problem with multicultarism and intermarriage, God reacts like a Fascist and tells Moses to execute the main worshippers of Baal and hang/impale (the word can apparently mean either) them publically. If there are any religious people reading this right now, you’re probably feeling a bit uncomfortable as your God seems to be acting like the Ku Klux Klan. When some people say they believe every word of the Bible and don’t pick and choose what suits them, do they include this? Do they believe in murdering those worship other religions or marry other ethnicities?
A man and his Midianite woman walk past so a priest kills them with a spear. God is so pleased with this that he ends a plague that was affecting the Israelites and that had killed 24,000 of them. Apparantly racial murder counts as atonement (do not want to think about the ethical consequences of this). God then commands that the Midianites should be killed for daring to intermarry with the Israelites (even though it was originally the Moabites that he was angry with).
The Israelites go to war with the Midianites (who have done nothing bad at all) and kill all their men. They capture their women, children and all their goods before burning their cities. This is one of the earliest recorded cases of genocide in history (though it’s thankfully doubtful as to whether it really happened). Moses gets angry, not at the horrendous massacre or the despicable slaughter of innocent people (who have done literally nothing to deserve it) but rather at the fact that they spared the women. He orders them to murder every boy and also every woman who has lost her virginity. The soldiers can keep the virgin girls for themselves (I don’t want to know what for). This amounts to 32,000 virgin girls, which implies that over 100,000 innocent people were slaughtered. God has no problem with any of this, his only input is to request that a share of the plunder is given to him. Sometimes Atheists say that even if God was real, they still wouldn’t worship him. To be honest, if there was a God who encouraged such evil, then he’d be no different from the Devil.
Another census is taken and despite all the slaughter the population surprisingly almost the exact same number. Even though probably 100,000 thousand have been killed by God, the population is relatively unchanged at 601,730.
The Book of Numbers ends with God telling Moses to climb to the top of a mountain and die as punishment for disobeying him. Moses, who has done everything God has asked and been his voice to the Israelites is casually discarded without much thought. God is left like Tony Montana or Michael Corleone, he has complete power, but only at the cost of wading through a sea of blood and turning his back on everyone close to him. He has absolute power but is still bitter, isolated and unloved. He sits on a throne of corpses.