Friday, March 19, 2010

Humans couldn’t have Invented the Bible; God did!

While the Bible asserts that we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), skeptics claim that instead we created God in our image. Although this is often true, it doesn’t mean that this allegation is always true. In fact, when we examine the Hebrew Bible, it becomes readily apparent that no one would have created this God with His demanding laws and teachings. Let’s start with the Jewish Patriarchs.

1. THE PATRIARCHS: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the forefathers of Judaism, were certainly not role-models. Instead, the Bible reveals that they were cowards, deceivers, liars and worse. We humans don’t create or select such role models, least of all the Fathers of our faith. Instead, we fashion them into the saints with which others would want to identify. This is exactly what the Talmud did with the Patriarchs. It sanitized the Bible’s depiction of them, and made them sinless. In contrast, the Bible’s portraits sharply conflict with what we’d create – so much so, that we feel compelled to re-create them.

2. MOSES: Even the greatest of all Israelites had been forbidden entry into the Promised Land because he had sinned. Aaron also is presented as a humiliated sinner. What hope therefore could the average Israelite entertain about his own future welfare? Not much! Such a revelation could not be the invention of humans who want to maintain a zealous following.

3. THE ISRAELITES: They are not portrayed as faithful to God, but as stubborn and unfaithful. Meanwhile, the Talmud characterizes the Jewish people as spiritually superior, the very thing that the Bible warns against:

• “After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut. 9:4-6)

We humans don’t characteristically write such disparaging things about ourselves and our people, and it gets worse. Almost all the prophets denounce Israel. How is it that the Jewish people would retain as Scripture such thoroughly condemning writings? They must have been convinced that they had no other choice, lest they oppose God.

4. MOSAIC LAWS: While much of Moses’ commands resemble those of other legal systems from that period, notably Hammurabi’s Code, much of it is not characteristic of anything else we find in the ancient Near East. For instance:

• The covenant was transacted with all the people, not just the king.
• The king was required to read the Torah to remind him that he was no better than other people (Deut. 17).
• A day of rest was mandatory for even animals and foreigners (Exodus 20:10).
• The Sabbath (7th) year required the cancellation of debts to protect the poor (Deut. 15:1, 4) – certainly not something that people who make the laws would tolerate.
• The Jubilee (50th) year required that the land be returned to its original owners. In fact, this law was so radical that there is no evidence that Israel ever obeyed it.
• The priestly caste was denied true wealth – land. Instead, God was to be their inheritance.
• The law granted soldiers permission to leave the army if they feared. If any nation granted their soldiers such an out, it would loose its army (Deut. 20).

Similarly, there are many other laws that humans, especially from that period of time would never tolerate. Therefore, these laws must have come from above!

5. MOSAIC THREATS: The warnings for disobedience were severe and demanding. If an Israelite failed to keep the law in just one respect, he was under a curse (Deut. 27:26). We humans would not accept such a threatening religion. Nor would the Rabbis, who qualified this teaching in several ways. For instance, Gerald Sigal, The Jew and the Christian Missionary, wrote,

• [Deuteronomy 27:26] does not refer to the breaking of the Law by an ordinary individual. It is, as the Rabbis explain, a reference to the authorities in power who fail to enforce the rule of the Law in the land of Israel (J.T. Sotah 7:4). The leadership of the nation is thus charged, under pain of the curse, to set the tone for the nation and make the Law the operative force in the life of the nation.

6. PROPHECIES: The Prophets uniformly prophesied (and declared) Israel’s spiritual failure (Deut. 29:4; Joshua 24:19). Moses even taught Israel a song that would serve to continually indict them. Israel would reject their God, and God would bring destruction upon them (Deut 32:15-35). No one would invent a religion foretelling such negative consequences for its own people.

Perhaps even more offensive to Israel, the Prophets also envisioned the hated Gentile nations enjoying the abundant blessings with Israel in the end. Perhaps the most poignant demonstration of the Israelite consternation to this Divine plan is exhibited by Jonah, who rebelled against his call to preach to Nineveh. This is because he feared that his preaching would serve as a vehicle for God blessing the Ninevites.

7. PENTATEUCHAL HOLIDAYS: Of the six prescribed holidays, only one of them is truly commemorative of an historical event – the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread. The other five seem to be prophetic. They look forward to God working events to their glorious culmination. However, this is very unusual – something we humans don’t do! Holidays commemorate past events. Characteristically, all of Israel’s non-divinely-ordained holidays are commemorative. Hanukkah commemorates the cleansing of the Temple and the Maccabean military victories. Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in Persia. T’sha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the Temple. Simchat Torah commemorates the giving of the Law on Sinai.

8. ASSIGNMENT OF DATES: We assign dates to occasions we want to remember. Not so the Torah (Pentateuch). There is no assignment of a date to the giving of the law, to any military victories or momentous defeats. There is no “Victory over Jericho” day or “Pharaoh’s Defeat in the Red Sea” day. Instead, the dates are those that are important to God.

This is only a mere outline of the ways that the Bible is humanly repugnant – not the type of thing that we would create if we had the choice. When we survey the Hebrew Bible, we do not find a human landscape with identifiable benchmarks. Instead, we encounter something entirely alien to our expectations and inclinations – something that doesn’t flatter the ego, but instead humbles us, if we are enabled to see this unearthly terrain through unbiased eyes. But it’s this humbling process that prepares us for a Divine encounter that will leave us unsatisfied with the world we had once inhabited.

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