To believe in a god who created the universe doesn’t automatically lead believers to their own specific religious sect. The truth is that there are an overwhelming number of non-Christian religionists who agree that a different creator god exists. So it’s quite apparent that philosophical and scientific god arguments are beside the point. None of those arguments, even if shown to be true, point to a specific religion, or religious sect, or gain anything at all in the debates between theistic religious faiths.
Philosophical god arguments are unnecessary, used to reinforce a faith that doesn’t actually need them, which are rejected by some key figures in the history of the Christian faith. This includes philosopher Immanuel Kant, who in the 18th century had to admit, “I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith” [Critique of Pure Reason, p. bxxx], and Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the last century, who rejected these god arguments with a big fat nein!
Some key evangelicals also reject the philosophical arguments:
- Alvin Plantinga: “I don’t know of an argument for Christian belief that seems very likely to convince one who doesn’t already accept its conclusion.” [Warranted Christian Belief, p. 201.]
- Richard Swinburne: “I cannot see any force in an argument to the existence of God from the existence of morality.” [The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p. 215.]
- John Feinberg: “I am not convinced that any of the traditional arguments succeed.” [Can You Believe it’s True? Christian Apologetics in a Modern, Postmodern Era, p. 321.] I studied analytical philosophy under his brother Paul at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
The philosophical and pseudoscientific cases used in defense of one’s religion are very bad. Massimo Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at City College of New York who holds Ph.D.s in both biology and philosophy, tweeted: “I’m sorry but I can’t any longer take seriously any essay or paper that itself takes talk of god seriously. It’s simply a non starter” [March 28, 2023].
In response, “The Real Atheology Podcast” tweeted “given the serious work done by many Theistic philosophers, I have to disagree with your comments here.” Pigliucci responded: “I don’t consider any theologian to be ‘serious.’ They may be, and often are, analytically rigorous. But so is the concept of p-zombies. And yet I think it’s a waste of time.” Pigliucci again tweeted: “Consider, for instance, the Medieval Scholastics. They were rigorous and did a lot of work. But it was, as David Hume famously put it, only a bunch of sophistry and illusions. Why? Because it was based on indefensible assumptions and lack of empirical evidence” [March 30, 2023].
I agree, and I have defended such a viewpoint in my 2016 book Unapologetic. An excerpt of it is online under the title “Why I Changed My Mind on the Value of the Philosophy of Religion.“
What is almost always overlooked in debating the existence of the theistic god is that such a divine being has had a complex evolution over the centuries from Elohim, to Yahweh, to Jesus, and then to the god of the philosophers, without asking if the original gods had any merit. I will critically scrutinize each of these gods in what follows. If believers really understood the Bible, they wouldn’t believe in any of these gods.
Atheist philosophers of religion try to disprove the existence of the Christian God by arguing against the philosophical proofs put forth. This is okay as it goes, but it overlooks the fact that Christians will just come up with different conceptions of “God”—despite the fact that these new conceptions are foreign to the gods that we find in the Bible.
There is a better approach. It’s the one that changed my mind, turning me from a former Christian apologist to an atheist. It involves taking the Bible seriously. This is better than fruitlessly debating the Five Ways of Aquinas.
What this means is that if we want to understand the Bible, we shouldn’t try to dismiss it depending on what we think that it should say. Rather, we should honestly try to understand what it says.
Unfortunately, Christians take the Bible literally until such time as the literal interpretation becomes indefensible. Then they find some other meaning, no matter how strange. In other words, it says what it says until refuted by reason, morality, and/or science; then it says something other than what it says. Keep this in mind as you read. Come back to read it again if needed.
I’ll explain what I mean without recourse to skepticism or anti-supernaturalism.
Jaco Gericke wrote: “If you read the Scriptures and are not shocked out of all your religious beliefs you have not understood them.” Gericke has Ph.D.s in both the Old Testament and the philosophy of religion. His chapter “Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t?” in my The Christian Delusion (2010) has been influential in my thinking.
1) The God Elohim Doesn’t Exist!
To make plain that Elohim doesn’t exist, I will focus on the first chapter in Genesis. It can be difficult to understand. It requires understanding the immediate context, the larger context, and the wider contexts of the Bible in the surrounding cultures of its day.
How to Better Understand Biblical Texts Like Genesis 1
To understand Genesis 1, you can use the following tools:
- Interpret it using other passages.
- Use the results of the consensus of scientists working in their respective fields on anything relevant to the texts in the Bible. There isn’t any higher authority. No nonscientist can dispute the consensus until that consensus changes. Only further science can change the consensus, not any prescientific biblical verses.
- Use archaeological evidence.
- Use the earliest manuscripts.
- Understand Akkadian literature like the “Enuma Elish,” which is called “The Babylonian Genesis.”
So let’s consider the “Enuma Elish” (c. 1600 BCE) which predates Genesis 1. Both are products of the same Mesopotamian conceptual world. There are important similarities: Darkness precedes creation. Same division of the waters above and below. Light exists before the creation of the Sun, Moon, and stars. The sequence of the days of creation are the same. Both gods rest afterward. Plus most importantly, it has a chaos god. More on this later.
When we take the Bible seriously, we discover a significant but unsuccessful cover-up about the gods that we find in the Bible, who evolved over the centuries through polytheism to henotheism to monotheism.
Let’s look at seven things about the first two verses of Genesis 1. These are usually translated like this:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without form and void, and darkness covered the surface of the abyss, and the Spirit of God was moving over the waters.
- This is not describing the absolute beginning of time!
The word “the” in verse one—”In the beginning”—is not there. Better translations:
- “When God began to create the heavens and earth” (NRSV).
- “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth” (New American Bible).
- Genesis 1 is not describing a creation out of nothing!
Instead, it’s describing the making of something from preexisting matter. This is stated well by a translator’s note in the New English Translation (NET):
Genesis itself does not account for the original creation of matter. The “heavenly/sky” did not exist prior to the second day of creation, and the “earth/dry land” did not exist as we know it, prior to the third day.
Genesis 1 begins ominously. What exists is a formless empty Earth, hidden beneath a darkened watery chaos.
- Genesis 1 is not describing the origin of heaven above, where God lives, or where the saints go when they die!
Rather, it’s describing the origin of the “skies” above us, not much higher than the highest of mountains. God lives in a palace with the heavenly hosts above the skies.
- Nor is it describing the origin of the planet Earth, since it hadn’t been discovered yet!
It’s describing the origin of “dry land.” If Genesis 1 intended to mean the planet Earth rotating around the Sun, it could have said so—thereby speeding up our knowledge of the world we live on.
- Nor does the “Spirit of God” move over the waters!
The word used here can be translated “spirit” or “breath” or “wind” because the ancients believed that wind came from the breath of their gods. It’s best translated as “the wind of God,” not the “Spirit of God.” We no longer attribute the wind, or hurricanes, to God’s “Spirit” or his breath.
Biblical scholar Kipp Davis offered this comment:
This is most likely akin to the wind-weapon fashioned by Marduk in his defeat of the chaos monster, Tiamat. The way that the “wind of god” is pictured brooding (“hovering”) over the watery chaos is a combative posture of dominance over a vanquished enemy. (personal communication, April 4, 2023)
- Who was making the world in Genesis 1?
It was Elohim, a plural word for “gods.” Randall Heskett, an Old Testament and Hebrew scholar, tells me: “Elohim, even after monotheism, still includes the heavenly hosts, who are part of the divine council.” This includes “the sons of god” (Job 38:7). Elohim even says “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), which includes these celestial beings. More on Elohim directly below.
- The word “abyss” is misleading, since what is being described in Genesis 1:2 is not just a vastly deep and darkened waters.
It’s describing a primordial “chaos” that is being manipulated and maintained by mischievous chaos gods! More on chaos gods below.
So here is a better translation of Genesis 1:1–2:
Elohim made the skies and dry land, beginning with land that was without form and void, with darkness covering the surface of the chaos, and the wind of Elohim hovering over the waters.
(The original grammar is a bit difficult to translate. If nothing else, consider this a slightly interpretive translation using corrected wording.)
I could use the word “God” instead of Elohim since the verb indicates a singular male God. Literally it reads: “God, he said, ‘Let there be light.'” It’s just that it’s more complicated than that. Heskett suggested: “In the beginning, when the henotheistic god—who became a monotheistic god but kept his henotheistic name—created the heavens and earth.” He adds, “Elohim is the resonance of henotheism, before the move to monotheism.”
Who is Elohim?
The Hebrew word Elohim is derived from the name of the Canaanite god El, a shortened version of which is El Elyon, or “God Most High.” El was the head of the Canaanite pantheon of gods.
We see him enter the drama in Genesis 14:18-20:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of El Elyon, and he blessed Abram, saying: ‘Blessed be Abram by El Elyon, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to El Elyon, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’
El had a wife named Asherah, the Queen of Heaven. El had many “sons of god” with her, deities in their own right.
In Genesis 6 these embodied deities married women, had genitalia, and produced giants the old fashioned way. Their offspring were called Nephilim to be raised by their mothers!
That the Hebrews worshiped El is sure, we can see it in geographic places and names, such as:
- Beth-el = “House of El”
- Peni-el = “Face of El”
- Micha-el = “Who is like El?”
- Dani-el = “Judged by El”
- Isra-el = “Struggled with El”
- Ishma-el “Heard by El”
- …along with a whole host of others!
We shouldn’t be surprised that a Canaanite god made the dry land appear and the skies above. Biblical scholar Mark S. Smith says:
Archaeological data in the Iron I age suggests that the Israelite culture largely overlapped with and derived from Canaanite culture… In short, Israelite culture was largely Canaanite in nature. [The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities of Ancient Israel (2002), pp. 6-7.]
What About Chaos Gods?
Most ancient cultures believed that there was someone or something causing chaos before the creative gods came along to put a stop to their mischief. Chaos was usually personified as a god, the first god. They were typically associated with a wild, unpredictable, scary sea.
Chaos gods were plentiful:
- Apophis – The Egyptian chaos god
- Eris – The Greek chaos goddess
- Chaos – The Roman god of chaos
- Tiamat – The Mesopotamian chaos goddess
Tiamat was a chaos goddess of the saltwater ocean depicted as a monster, a dragon. In the “Enuma Elish” the chief god Marduk killed Tiamat and used her carcass to make the skies and dry land.
The Hebrew word for “chaos” in Genesis 1:2 is the Akkadian equivalent for Tiamat. Heskett: “They are one and the same.”
So Elohim was fighting chaos gods!
Chaos gods like Rahab:
- “By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces” (Job 26:12).
- “You crushed Rahab, with your strong arm you founded the world and all that is in it” (Psalms 89:10).
Biblical scholar James Barr tells us: “This point of view, this way of seeing the matter, was almost certainly present to the minds of some biblical writers” [Beyond Fundamentalism, pp. 132-133]. Which authors? The authors/editors of Genesis 1, Job, Psalms, and Isaiah:
Awake, awake, arm of Yahweh, as in generations of old. Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through?
I am Yahweh your Elohim, who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’
If you don’t have a concept of an eternal god, this is the alternative. In an ancient polytheistic world, gods are born from and return to chaos, just as people were born and died without them knowing their own origins.
In a polytheistic world, the gods fight each other just like we do. That’s because human beings invent gods that resemble themselves, given what we know about the world. As our world changes, so also our gods change with the times.
I’m reminded of the Greek philosopher Xenophanes, who said:
If cattle and horses, or lions, had hands, or were able to draw with their feet and produce the works which men do, horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make the gods’ bodies the same shape as their own. (Fragment 15)
Look at the Six Days of “Making” rather than “Creating”
Question: Who was Elohim commanding?
- Day 1: Elohim said, “Let there be…”
- Day 2: Elohim said, “Let there be…”
- Day 3: Elohim said, “Let the waters…”
- Day 4: Elohim said, “Let there be…”
- Day 5: Elohim said, “Let the waters…”
- Day 6: Elohim said, “Let the earth…”
Answer: Chaos gods!
With each day Elohim was freeing the skies and the land from the power of their grip. He is described as doing this just as Yahweh sent ten plagues against the gods of Egypt that he was fighting, even though those gods were not mentioned by name, either.
What we find is Elohim lighting the darkness from above, making dry land to surface, and filling it with life.
Day 1: “Let there be Light”
Elohim took a dark, formless, empty Earth that was engulfed in water, and said: “Let there be light.” This wasn’t direct sunlight, which was to be created on day 4. Rather, in the prescientific mindset, it’s a dim indirect light that shines during the day separate from the sun, something seen in a theatre before the show begins. It’s seen before the sun breaches the horizon, and when clouds cover the sun.
Day 2: “Let there be a Dome in the Middle of the Water in Order to Separate the Water”
Elohim took some of the waters, lifted them up into the sky, and held them up in the sky with a “gigantic metal dome” (per a translator note in the New American Bible). After all, the mythmakers had already entered the Iron Age. Then this metal dome was supported by huge pillars (Job 9). What supported the pillars themselves is relegated to myth and mystery, the bedrock of faith. Or, is it really turtles all the way down after all?
Later we find that Elohim opened the floodgates of the dome in the sky to flood the Earth (Genesis 7:11), which never happened since there is no dome in the sky!
Day 3: “Let the Dry Land Appear and Vegetation to Grow”
Dry land surfaced from beneath the waters. This was reaffirmed in the New Testament: “By the word of God the earth was made from water…” (2 Peter 3:5)
But the planet Earth was never covered with water from which the land could appear, not at creation, nor in Noah’s story, per science.
Day 4: “Let there be Lights in the Sky to Separate the Day from the Night”
Elohim fixed the Sun, Moon, stars, and galaxies by the billions in the same dome that held back the waters from the land. Picture them like recessed lighting in a ceiling, something absurd given modern astronomy. Consider these two points:
- We learn that Elohim’s throne is not far above the dome in the sky since at one point he worried that men might actually build a Tower of Babel up to him (Genesis 11)!
- Jesus “ascended” up to the sky, from which “every eye” will see him return—because the ancients believed that Heaven was literally up there, and that the Earth was flat!
The Earth is depicted as immovable (Joel 2:10; Isaiah 13:13; Revelation 6:12-13) and flat (Psalms 75:3; 104:5; Isaiah 11:12; Job 28:24). The Bible uses the phrase: “The ends of the earth” (Deuteronomy 13:7; Job 28:24; Psalms 48:10).
Jesus was supposedly taken by Satan to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and tempted, where he could see all of the kingdoms of the world! How is that possible on this globe that we live on? What about kingdoms in China, India, Brazil, and Europe?
Edward Babinski did a massive amount of research on this and concludes: “Taking the Bible at its word means thinking in terms of a flat earth.” [See the “Biblical Cosmology” chapter in my The Christian Delusion (2010).]
In Elohim’s world the stars move: “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises” (Ecclesiastes 1:5).
…and they stop: “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky for about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since” (Joshua 10:13-14).
…and they point down: The Star of Bethlehem points down to the specific place where the baby Jesus was found by the Magi.
Day 5: Elohim Made All Aquatic and Flying Animals according to Their “Kind” without Any Understanding of How Species Originated via Evolution.
Elohim showed no awareness of dinosaurs, nor the fact that the history of evolution has shown that 99.9% of all species have gone extinct, since evolution produces a lot of dead ends on its way to producing species that survive.
Imagine that! On every day in Genesis 1 the supposed creator god Elohim knows nothing about the universe!
Day 6: Elohim Said, “Let us Make Man in our Image, in our Likeness”
As mentioned earlier, this included the heavenly hosts as co-creators of human beings. Why did Elohim, the creator of all things, need any co-creators?
Furthermore, what does “our image” and “our likeness” mean? Taking the Bible seriously means Elohim had a body like ours! We can see this in the original language of Hebrew, but more easily in Genesis 5:1-3, with an analogy. “When Elohim created mankind, he made them in the likeness of Elohim,” we’re told. Then the passage switches to Adam, saying: “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.”
As Adam produced a son in his physical likeness and image, so also Elohim created humans in his physical likeness and image. Maybe the idea of God being likened to “the man in the sky” isn’t that far off the mark after all!
Day 7: Elohim was Tired so he Rested
Only embodied beings get tired. Surely an omnipotent spiritual being does not. This, though, follows what we know of the Babylonian god Marduk, in the “Enuma Elish.” In it Marduk made humans to work so that he could rest.
Genesis 32:22-32 tells us that Jacob wrestled with Elohim and prevailed. He struggled with a man one night. The man asked to be released, but Jacob refused until he blessed him. So Jacob was named “Israel” because, we read, he “struggled with Elohim and had overcome.” Jacob called the place Peniel “because I saw Elohim face to face, and yet my life was spared.” [On this, see God: An Anatomy (2022) by Francesca Stavrakopoulou.]
So Elohim doesn’t exist!
- It’s a Canaanite embodied deity.
- Invented by superstitious people.
- There is no excuse for a real creator to utterly fail a basic science class, regardless of whether the days of creation were sequential or not!
- There is no excuse for a real creator to mislead his creatures about something so important, which would lead generations of scientifically literate people away from the Christian religious faith and into damnation.
2) The God Yahweh Doesn’t Exist!
Gericke: “The entity most readers refer to when they speak of God is an upgraded version of a middle-Eastern tribal deity called Yahweh” [“Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t?” (2010)]
Just like Elohim and his sons in Genesis 6 have bodies, so also did Yahweh. How else can the following passage be understood?
Adam and Eve heard the sound of Yahweh as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from Yahweh among the trees of the garden. But Yahweh called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ (Genesis 3:8-10)
As with Adam and Eve, so also Yahweh let Moses see his body:
Moses wanted to see Yahweh, so Yahweh said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you… But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then Yahweh said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33)
Again, how else can this passage be understood?
There’s something else. In the Old Testament, whenever you come across “the Lord Our God,” or “the Lord God,” or even “Lord,” Christian translators have hidden the truth behind those words. It’s “Yahweh” or “Yahweh your god.”
You can see this with these two examples:
I am Yahweh your Elohim, who brought you out of slavery in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 5:6)
Will you not possess what Chemosh your Elohim gives you? All that Yahweh our Elohim has given us, we will possess. (Judges 11:24).
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain the oldest text of the book of Deuteronomy. It predates the manuscripts used for the biblical texts by a thousand years, and it says that Yahweh was a son of El Elyon, who gave him the Hebrew people to rule over.
When Elyon divided the nations; When he separated the sons of Adam, he established the borders of the nations according to the sons of Elohim. Yahweh’s portion was his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance…. Praise, O heavens, his people, Kneel before him, all you Elohim. (Dead Sea Scrolls, 4QDeut)
Now we can see this attempted cover-up:
- The Masoretic Hebrew text inserted “sons of Israel.”
- The Greek Septuagint inserted “angels of god.”
- The Dead Sea Scrolls (c. 3rd century BCE) says “sons of God.”
New English Translation note on Deuteronomy 32: “Sons of God is undoubtedly the original reading.”
This, I submit, is the proverbial smoking gun, showing an important deceptive redaction of the original text by the biblical mythmakers. [See Thom Stark’s discussion of this in chapter 4 (“Yahweh’s Ascendancy”) of his 2011 The Human Faces of God.]
Now look at Psalm 82: “The downfall of unjust gods” (a title given by the translators of the New American Bible):
Elohim presides in the divine council; he renders judgment in the midst of the Elohim (i.e., the gods): ‘How long are you going to judge unfairly? Defend weak people and orphans. Protect the rights of the oppressed…. I declare: Elohim though you be, you are all sons of Elyon. Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall.’
What we see here is no different than what we find in other cultures connected through the trade route of the Fertile Crescent, whose deities were a pantheon of gods, some of whom were henotheistic, with a supreme god ruling over the others. There were large pantheons of gods in other lands and times, too. Why should it be different with El Elyon, Asherah, and Yahweh? By the way, Yahweh had brothers. They were Chemosh (Kemosh), Baal, and Milcom.
Smith sees the union of El and Yahweh later in the early Hebrew monarchy. El became identified as a name of Yahweh, while Asherah ceased to be a distinct goddess. The attributes of El, Asherah, and Baal (a storm god) were assimilated into Yahweh. Yahweh eventually reigned over the Hebrews in Palestine, a territory given him by El Elyon.
Readers might assume that Yahweh was an omnipotent god. But as a tribal god he is far from being all-powerful. We are told:” “Yahweh was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron” (Judges 1:19).
Imagine that! An all-powerful god cannot defeat men in iron chariots! What could he do against tanks and fighter jets?
Furthermore, hear Gericke:
If the Old Testament texts are to be believed, ultimate reality is the god of Israel who forever uses Iron Age artifacts. Time-period artifacts like ram horn shofars, swords, scrolls and chariots, are described as if they have been around forever and will be used forever. [“Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t?” (2010)]
Yahweh rides on chariots (Psalms 68:17; 104:3; Isaiah 66:15), and brought Elijah up into Heaven on one of them (2 Kings 2). He also needs an army to do his bidding, but why?
There was a time before the Iron-Age when these artifacts didn’t exist. People wrote on stone and clay, fought with clubs, bows and spears and ran on foot. Some cultures never used these artifacts and have never even heard of them. Modern people today don’t write on scrolls, fight battles with swords, blow on ram’s horns or ride in horse-drawn chariots. [“Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t?” (2010)]
Yahweh is a Monster! Four Cases
Yahweh is a Monster 1: The Story of Job
Yahweh enlisted the barbaric thought police, a spy, a “satan” to find out if anyone was being hypocritical, because Yahweh didn’t know. The satan was a fully credentialed member of the divine court, Yahweh’s little helper. Satan accused Job of hypocrisy, that Job merely feigned allegiance to Yahweh in order to gain the benefits that only Yahweh could give him. So Yahweh allowed the satan to test Job with trials and tribulations and the loss of family and slaves to find out the truth. Yahweh did not know whether Job was guilty. If he already knew, then Job’s sufferings were pointless.
In this story Yahweh lives in a separate palace in the sky and acts like a petty narcissistic king who would treat his subjects terribly simply because he could do so, just like any other despotic Mediterranean king they knew. Job was a pawn who was tortured for the pleasure of Yahweh and other sons of Elohim. At the end Yahweh doesn’t reveal why Job suffered, just that Job wasn’t capable of understanding why, so he was faulted for demanding an answer from the Almighty.
Some apologists say that evil cannot be an attribute of God because “evil is not a great-making quality.” But in Job’s tale, power is indeed a great-making quality. The one with the greatest power is in charge and can do what he wants, even in doing evil by sending disasters (Isaiah 45:7; Lamentations 3:28; Amos 3:6). The concept of a Satanic being had not yet been invented by the mythmakers. [On this, see The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots by T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley (2005).]
Imagine that! An all-knowing god who doesn’t know it all, and a god who supposedly cares the most who doesn’t care for the “collateral damage.”
Yahweh is a Monster 2: Genocide!
In the cities of these peoples that Yahweh your god is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction as Yahweh your god has commanded. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)
Thus says the Lord of hosts, now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ (1 Samuel 15:1-3) [On this, see chapter 6 of Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God (2011).]
Yahweh is a Monster 3: Slavery!
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 21:20-21)
Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life. (Leviticus 25:44-46)
Is this a perfectly good God?
If you were enslaved:
- Could Yahweh not have said anything different?
- Does this express your god’s complete and utter love toward you as an individual? [On this, see Hector Avalos’ Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2013).]
Yahweh is a Monster 4: Child Sacrifice!
You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The first-born of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. (Exodus 22:29-30)
Let’s spend some time on this absolutely horrific command. The Hebrews understood Yahweh’s command and acted accordingly. [On this, See Jon D. Levenson’s The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son (1993).]
Abraham was not morally repulsed by the command to sacrifice his son Isaac, and there is no command against such a practice by Yahweh afterward (Genesis 22). Jephthah sacrificed his daughter (Judges 11). King Solomon set up sites for his foreign wives to sacrifice children to the goddess Asherah and to Chemosh (1 Kings 11:1-7). King Ahab sacrificed his two sons when rebuilding Jericho: “He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun” (1 Kings 16:33-34). There were also Kings Ahaz (2 Kings 16:2-3), Hoshea (2 Kings 17:7), and Manasseh (2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 33:6), who all set up places for child sacrifices.
In Micah 6:6-8, child sacrifices were the highest form of sacrifice:
With what shall I come to Yahweh, And bow myself before Elohim on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does Yahweh take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts; the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul.
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does Yahweh require of you. But to do justice, to love kindness; And to walk humbly with your Elohim?
There is clearly an ascending order of magnitude for sacrifices that the prophet thought pleased Yahweh, first by sacrificing 1) yearling calves, to 2) thousands of rams, to 3) his firstborn child, then concluding that it would be better if he hadn’t sinned at all. The logic was that child sacrifice was the highest sacrifice to Yahweh, next to living a life without sin (which wouldn’t require any sacrifice).
Archeologically speaking, there is evidence that supports the biblical account that children were sacrificed at the founding of cities, gates, and other structures:
In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawed in two. At Megiddo a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. [Nigel Davies, Human Sacrifice, In History and Today (1988), p. 61.]
About this, Kipp Davis says: “the physical evidence for child sacrifice in the Levant is scant, but this is also unsurprising. Children would have been sacrificed within days or weeks after birth, and the mostly cartilaginous nature of a newborn infant’s skeleton will decompose to nothing” (personal communication, April 4, 2023).
What we have are the written records of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE that “demonstrate beyond all doubt that the Israelites of the period made burnt offerings of their sons in the Tophet fires lighted in the Valley of Gehinnon outside Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:10). Usually the infants were ‘passed over’ or ‘passed through’ the fire, in honour of Molech” [Davies, Human Sacrifice, pp. 63-64].
Topheth means “place of fire,” which was located up high in a site of worship and sacrifice. Whatever the ritual was like, when the fires were hot enough, the infant was placed into the flames. The bone-chilling screams of the babies must have been extremely hard to listen to!
Francesca Stavrakopoulou concludes her King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice (2004) by saying:
Despite the biblical exhortation that child sacrifice is alien to Yahweh worship, practiced by the foreign and idolatrous, and consistently outlawed by Yahweh, closer inspection of this biblical portrayal instead locates child sacrifice within the mainstream of its presentation of Yahweh…. Child sacrifice appears to be a native and normative element of Judahite religious practice. (p. 318)
Imagine that! A perfectly good god who commands the most horrific deeds to be done!
Eventually the mythmakers got sick of child sacrifice, and believed that Yahweh was angry because of it. So the redactors did what they could do to stop it.
King Josiah’s Strategy: Rewrite History, then Eradicate It!
The High Priest Hilkiah was an early facilitator of fake news. He lied by saying he discovered a previously unknown book of law while repairs were being made to the Temple, in about 622 BCE. Allegedly it condemned child sacrifices. Strangely, no one thought to preserve this book. Some say it may be an early edition of Deuteronomy. But one thing sure, is that the further back in time we go, the less likely Hilkiah would find a book that condemned child sacrifices.
King Josiah was surely in on the con, especially since he promoted a most outrageous lie about himself and his reforms. The lie was that both his name and his attempts to eradicate child sacrifice were predicted 300 years in advance, something unheard of when it came to any other prophecy of this type. We know it’s a lie because the original prophet said to have predicted it, was coincidentally made to die immediately afterward. This explains why no one had ever heard of him up until that time. Then the remains of this dead prophet were atypically buried alongside an old prophet, whose grave was pointed out in Josiah’s day as “evidence” of the prophecy, yet never dug up. More significantly, the false 300-year-old prediction was made before child sacrifice was considered by the mythmakers to be sick. We know King Josiah was in on it, because no one else could force the other priests and scribes to keep silent about it. [Compare 1 Kings 13:1-32 with 2 Kings 23:1-26, and the introduction to my The Case Against Miracles (2019).] So we read of King Josiah, that he “defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech” (2 Kings 23:10). We also read:
[King Josiah] Defiled the high places which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And he broke in pieces the pillars, and cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with the bones of men…. And he slew all the priests of the high places who were there, upon the altars, and burned the bones of men upon them. (2 Kings 22-23)
Jeremiah’s Strategy: Just Deny Yahweh Ever Commanded It!
Josiah’s reforms didn’t last past his reign. So Jeremiah’s strategy was to simply deny that Yahweh ever sanctioned child sacrifices: “The sons of Judah have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire; which I did not command, and it did not come into my mind” (Jeremiah 7:31). Jeremiah even claimed that the scribes had lied (Jeremiah 8:8). He predicted Yahweh’s judgment:
Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. (Jeremiah 19:3-6)
Ezekiel’s Strategy: Have Yahweh Say he was Teaching His People How Bad They were for Obeying His Commands!
According to a somewhat conservative interpretation of the texts, 600 years after Yahweh commanded child sacrifice, the prophet Ezekiel invented an excuse for why Yahweh commanded it. He made Yahweh say: “I gave them statutes that were not good in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am Yahweh” (Ezekiel 20:25-27). Whatever this bizarre claim means, Yahweh was not concerned about the numbers of babies who were killed for centuries!
A Note on Inerrancy
No matter how we look at it, there are lies in the Bible. Surely King Josiah and his High Priest Hilkiah lied about finding a book, and its contents, along with a 300-year-old faked prophecy. In addition, either the text of Exodus 22:29-30—where Yahweh commands child sacrifice—is a forgery, or Jeremiah was lying, or Ezekiel was lying. This means that the doctrine of inerrancy is hopelessly indefensible.
Thomas Paine expresses my point:
To believe the Bible to be true, we must unbelieve all our belief in the moral justice of God; And to read the Bible without horror, we must undo everything that is tender, sympathizing, and benevolent in the heart of man. Speaking for myself, if I had no other evidence that the Bible is fabulous than the sacrifice I must make to believe it to be true, that alone would be sufficient to determine my choice. [The Age of Reason (Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2007), p. 71.]
In many cases child sacrifice was primarily condemned because it was offered to other deities (2 Kings 17:17; 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:4-10; Psalms 106:38; Isaiah 57:5-6; Ezekiel 16:20-21; 20:26,31; 23:37,39; cf. Acts 7:43), not because child sacrifice was wrong in and of itself.
No matter how it’s looked at, Yahweh can be blamed for legitimizing child sacrifices in the first place. Once child sacrifice was accepted as a divine command, the only question left was which god people should sacrifice their firstborn children to. If Yahweh existed as a perfectly good, all-knowing deity, he should’ve condemned it from the very beginning, with no exceptions, and enforced it by doling out stiff punishments to people who committed it.
At the very least, Yahweh should never have given any indications that child sacrifice worked. But Yahweh’s Bible tells us King Mesha of Moab sacrificed his firstborn son to the god Chemosh, which caused the Israelites to retreat in defeat. Mesha’s sacrifice brought a great “wrath” (ketzef) against the Israelite warriors in the story, indicating that Chemosh acted on their behalf! (2 Kings 3:26-27).
Eventually child sacrifice to foreign gods was so prevalent that it was named as one of the major reasons why Yahweh sent the Assyrians to destroy the kingdom of Israel in the North in 722 BCE, and why he sent the Babylonians to conquer and take captive the Judeans in the South in 587 BCE. (2 Kings 17:14-18; 2 Kings 25).
When the Judeans were defeated by Babylonia in 587 BCE, they interpreted events in defiance of the facts. The prophets didn’t blame Yahweh; they blamed their own sins. They had brought ruin on themselves. And since their god Yahweh brought down upon them the mightiest empire of the world from a distant foreign land, they concluded that Yahweh was the only God!
Consequently, this is how monotheism was born, and this is what later editors wrote back into their own sacred texts, making it difficult to see that the Hebrews began as a thoroughly polytheistic people who accepted child sacrifice to their god.
Monotheism was finally accepted and taught by the mythmakers: “I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth” (Isaiah 44:24).
But Yahweh lied by saying no gods came before him, since he was the son of El Elyon who fought chaos gods: “You are my witnesses,” declares Yahweh. “No god was formed before me, and there will be none after me” (Isaiah 43:10).
In this passage Yahweh is also saying that he had a beginning and will go out of existence, like other polytheistic gods.
It’s also odd that Yahweh challenged the other gods, saying:
Set forth your case, says Yahweh; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Do good, or do harm, that we may be afraid and terrified. You, indeed, are nothing and your work is nothing at all; whoever chooses you is an abomination. (Isaiah 41:21-24)
Who talks to beings that don’t exist? Instead, we would speak to the mythmakers themselves. We might say, “Set forth your case, bring your proofs. Show that your gods do good, or do harm, that we may be afraid and terrified. Your gods, indeed, are nothing and their work is nothing at all; whoever chooses them is believing in an abomination.”
Although monotheism had arrived, Yahweh was still an embodied god. He had a throne to sit on (Ezekiel 1; Daniel 7; Matthew 25:31; Revelation 5:1), and he rewarded people by allowing them to see his face (Matthew 5:8; 18:11; Revelation 22:3-4). The first martyr Stephen saw Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
3) The God Jesus Doesn’t Exist
If the embodied moral monster Yahweh doesn’t exist, then the embodied god Jesus depicted in the Gospels doesn’t exist, either, since he’s believed to be the son of Yahweh, a part of the Trinity, and in complete agreement with everything that Yahweh said and did. That should be the end of it.
Nonetheless, Jesus affirmed the genocidal story of Noah (Matthew 24:37-41) and that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 11:23-24; Luke 17:28-30).
What might seem to be a shocker is to learn that Jesus affirmed honor killings by stoning. The Pharisees had accused Jesus of being too lenient in his observance of the law. So Jesus calls them hypocrites:
You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. (Mark 7:9-12)
Corban is an Aramaic word that refers to an oath to devote something to God. The Pharisees allowed someone to pledge a gift to the temple, like a trust fund, in order to avoid giving it for the care of one’s aging parents.
Jesus’ first quote to “Honor your father and mother” is one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ second scriptural quote “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death” is found in Exodus 21:17, and again in Leviticus 20:9. Jesus says that the Pharisaical Corban loophole sets aside these two commands of God. Anyone who withholds financial help to their parents because of a Corban is breaking the 4th Commandment. Furthermore, since the Pharisees didn’t put these adult children to death for dishonoring their parents, they are breaking the law of Moses.
In this Jesus is affirming the Old Testament law of honor killings by stoning, for only if both of the laws that Jesus cites are to be obeyed can his analogy succeed. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 provides the context: “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them … all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”
That being said, there is more to consider. Justin Martyr, whom contemporary apologists ignore, was the grandfather of the entire tradition of Christian apologetics. He wrote various apologetic works, one of which is The First Apology, written to Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (c. 155-157 CE). In it he argued against the persecution of Christians by defending Christianity. He wrote:
When we say that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing new from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Zeus.
Then he goes on to tell some tales of the sons of Zeus, which include Mercury, Aesculapius, Hercules, Leda, Dioscuri, Perseus, Bellerophon, and Ariadne, along with the emperors of Rome themselves “whom you deem worthy of deification” and other tales, saying “it is needless to tell to those who already know” [from Chapter 21].
Richard Miller focuses on the points made by Justin Martyr in his important work Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity (2017). He comments as follows:
Justin contends there is “nothing new” about the Christian tales of Jesus. They are the same in kind as the Greco-Roman demi-gods: sired by human and divine parents, a tragic death, immortalization / resurrection, ascension, etc., which are the adorning themes of a superhero, not of real events in time and space.
Justin essentially says: ‘Our new hero is just like your own, except ours is awesome, whereas yours are the deceptions of demons.’
Justin offers no historical evidence.
Justin’s ‘case’ is that Jesus had more ancient prophetic oracles, or was a more perfect symbol of morality, and that’s it.
Why doesn’t Justin offer any historical evidence? Because none was needed, just as there was none needed for the sons of Zeus. Hero deification was based solely on the perceived greatness of the deceased.
But Jesus was definitely not a perfect symbol of morality!
He acted just like other ancient deities, as we’ve seen, since he was one with Yahweh, his father (John 10:30). So Jesus was Job’s tormentor, commanded genocide, slavery, child sacrifice, plus threatened an eternal punishment in hell.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is depicted as a horrible revengeful deity. In the Preface to Bart Ehrman’s Armageddon: What The Bible Really Says About the End Time (2023), Ehrman writes:
The book repeatedly indicates that God is angry and that Christ seeks to avenge his own unjust death, not just on those who were responsible for it; his vengeance falls on the “inhabitants of earth.” His followers too want revenge and are told to go out and get it. The largest section describes God and his “Lamb” inflicting horrible suffering on the planet; war, starvation, horrid disease, drought, earthquake, torture, and death. The catastrophes end with the Battle of Armageddon, where Christ destroys all the armies of earth and calls on the scavengers of the sky to gorge themselves on their flesh. This, then, is the climax of the history of earth.
But it is not the end of all things. After that there will be a final judgment. God’s faithful followers, his ‘slaves,’ will be saved; everyone else who has ever lived will be brought back to life, judged for their wickedness, and then thrown, while still alive, into a lake of burning sulfur.
Lastly, if Justin is correct about prophecy, then where is it to be found?
There is none! I defy someone to come up with one. There’s:
- No prophecy of a Trinitarian God;
- No prophecy of a Virgin Birth;
- No prophecy of an Incarnation;
- No prophecy of a suffering Messiah;
- No prophecy of a Resurrection;
- No prophecy of a Second Coming.
[For more on this, see Robert Miller’s Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy (2015) and section 2 of my The Case Against Miracles (2019).]
Just consider the Jews and Messianic prophesies:
- They were supposedly beloved of Yahweh.
- They believed in Yahweh.
- They believed Yahweh does miracles.
- They hoped for a messiah.
- They knew their prophecies.
- But overwhelmingly, they did not believe!
4) Finally, the God of the Philosophers Doesn’t Exist!
If theists think that an omni-everything God can legitimately be based on the Bible or its theology, they are fooling themselves. They are inventing their own versions of God, just like the ancient peoples in the Bible did. If anything, the problem of horrendous suffering renders that god-concept extremely improbable to the point of refutation. [For more on this, see my God and Horrendous Suffering (2021).]