Hello and welcome to another instalment of An Atheist Reads The Bible. Chances are that by now you all know how this works and don’t need any introduction, so let’s jump right into the second half of Deuteronomy which is a particularly violent section, obsessed with purging the evil from society.
Chapter 21 begins with a bit odd advice for dealing with unsolved murders. If someone is found murdered in a field, you must take a heifer to a valley with running water and untilled land and break the heifers’ neck. The elders of the city will then wash their hands and say they didn’t kill the man. This purges the guilt of innocent blood from the town, which begs the question, would God have blamed them otherwise? Why? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to, you know, actually find who committed the murder rather than some superstitious ritual to cover your ass? Crime fighting in ancient times was probably useless unless someone saw the crime, but at times like these, an all-seeing, all-knowing deity would sure come in handy.
The chapter continues on to give advice on how to treat women you kidnap and rape (I almost feel like these posts such coming with a disturbing warning, because the Bible is a messed up book). If you capture a woman in war, she must shave her head and nails and mourn her family (who you probably killed) for one month. After that she can be your wife, although needless to say she has no say in the matter. When debating Christians I am often told to read the Bible because it has some great teachings, but I’m guessing they didn’t mean teachings that condone kidnapping and raping women.
More terrible morals come in verses 18-21 where it is said that: “If a man has a rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother . . . then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So shall you purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” The bonds between parent and child are the strongest in society, so having a parent condemn their own child to death is horrific. What could a child possibly do to deserve that? How could simply disobeying their parent deserve death? Is it really a good thing that all children should live in fear that their parents will condemn them to death? It’s also very worrying that there’s no mention of the age of the child.
In contrast to the religious family values that are supposedly at the core of the Bible, verse 15 causally discusses “If a man has two wives” how this affects the inheritance of his children. There is a rule against women wearing men’s clothes and men wearing women’s clothes, but I wonder what it means. Does it forbid women from wearing trousers and men from wearing pink? When you build a house, it can’t be flat because if someone falls from it, their blood is on you. I suppose this is good from a health and safety point of view, but isn’t their own fault for being on the roof?
Then there are a few random rules given without reason, which seem almost comical in comparison with the surrounding deadly serious rules. You can’t sow two seeds in your vineyard or you’ll lose your crop. Don’t plow with an ox and donkey together. You shall not wear wool and linen mixed together. It almost feels as if these rules are just being made up on the spot.
Then things take a nasty turn. If a man finds out that his wife is not a virgin on their wedding day, there must be a public trial before the elders of the city (imagine how humiliating this would be. Why couldn’t the old men bugger off and mind their own business?). Her parents must provide evidence of her virginity (how do you do that?) and if she was a virgin, the man must be whipped and fined 100 shekels for giving the woman a bad name. This is interesting because previously it was said that a man’s life was worth 60 shekels and a woman’s 30. So accusing a woman of not being a virgin is three times worse than actually killing her. If she was not a virgin, then she is to be brought before her father’s house and the men of the city must stone her to death “because she has done an outrageous thing by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” This is horrifying. What harm has the woman done? What evil is there? Why is only the woman punished while the Bible is silent on the man’s virginity? Why is the burden of proof on the woman and how do you prove you were a virgin?
There are even more rules on sex crimes (which seem to be something of a favourite of the Bible’s). If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both are to be executed, but nothing is said about a single woman and a married man. I suspect that like always, women are held to a higher standard than men. If a man lies with an engaged/betrothed virgin, both shall be brought to the gates of the city and stoned to death, “the young woman because she did not cry for help”. However, if a woman is raped in the countryside, she has committed no offence. This is bizarrely unjust. Even if a woman was raped, she is still to be executed just because it happened in a city, even if she did resist and cry for help (do these people not know that cities are usually empty at night?).
If a man rapes an unengaged woman, he must pay her father 50 shekels (which is almost double the value of her life), marry her and can never divorce her. Note that the woman has no say at all in the matter and the fine is not paid to her, as if her father was the real victim. Being forced to marry your rapist is unimaginably cruel and I defy anyone to claim the Bible is a good source of morals and ethics after reading this chapter.
There are then some bizarre rules about who can enter an assembly of God. For whatever reason if a man has his genitals damaged or crushed, he cannot enter. Neither can someone born out of wedlock, for no particular reason, even to the tenth generation. This is incredibly excessive because who knows what our ancestors ten generations ago were doing? Why punish people for something that happened hundreds of years ago? In a piece of casual racism, no Ammonite or Moabite, even to the tenth generation may enter the congregation. Edomite and Egyptian children may enter in the third generation. Again, why this insistence on racial purity?
There are some passages that vaguely approach being good, although the bar is so low that anything that didn’t carry the death penalty would be an improvement. Israelites are forbidden from returning slaves to their masters, although this contradicts earlier passages that had no problem with slavery. It doesn’t outlaw slavery, implying that the Bible holds the odd position that slavery is fine and only slaves who escape should be free. None of the children of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, which is good, I guess. You shall not charge your brother interest on a loan, but you can charge interest to a foreigner, which I presume is the verse that lead to Jews becoming infamous moneylenders.
Keeping with the theme of viewing women as the possession of men, if two brothers live together and one dies, if they had no children, then the widow is forbidden to marry outside the family, instead the brother must marry her. If he refuses, the elders of the city will demand he does. If he still refuses, the widow must pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. More strangely, if two men fight each other and the wife of one intervenes by grabbing the balls of the other, her hand is to be cut off. This has got to be one of the most oddly specific laws in the Bible and I really wonder why it was needed in the first place?
Chapter 28 is devoted to God’s favourite activity, lavish promises and terrifying threats. He promises that if you obey him, everything will be blessed. The city, the countryside, the fruit of your womb, your cattle, your land and even your basket will be blessed. Your enemies will all be defeated, the weather will improve and you will prosper greatly. However, if you do not obey God and follow all his laws (all of them?) the Bible spends 50 verses detailing all the curses God will throw at you. You will be cursed in the city and in the country, cursed in the womb, cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. You will be cursed “until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds.” You will be cursed with pestilence, wasting disease, fever, drought and enemies until you die. Your body will be food for the birds.
As if you weren’t dead enough, God keeps adding curses like a child in a supermarket. You will be cursed with blindness, boils, madness, you will be constantly robbed, another man will “ravish” your wife and all your possessions will be taken from you. You will be conquered and destroyed by foreign enemies and the sieges will be so bad that you will be forced to eat your own children. It will be so bad that even the gentlest people will hide food from his brother, his wife and his children. On and on the curses come and God says he will delight in punishing those who don’t obey him and coming up with the most imaginative and cruel punishments.
Every time I read the Bible, I find horrible and disgusting parts. Each time I think I’ve come to the worst part, it gets even worse. The second half of Deuteronomy, with its justification of rape and infanticide, has got to be one of the worst parts, but I fear this record will once again be surpassed. The main theme seems to be an obsession with purging the evil from society which has disturbing connotations with a cult or genocidal regimes like Stalin’s purges or Cambodia. Imagine living in a society so evil that women were publically stoned to death for not being virgins or forced to marry their rapists, while parents condemn their children to death. A society that lived according to the Bible would be a very dark place.
For the rest of the series, see here.