Saturday, 14 September 2019

Eight Bloody Pages!

I recently started the process of publishing my second book, A MisreadBible Christmas, which will be released on the 4th October.

Last year, I began writing short stories for my website. By the end of the year, I had decided to compile the stories into my first book, The MisreadBible: Genesis, so while I was still writing short stories to go on the website, I was also editing the manuscript of what would become the book. As Christmas approached, I decided to write the nativity story and publish it on my website.

Early this year, I worked hard to complete the first book, and I knew that I would write a sequel focusing on the Book of Exodus, possibly extending all the way to Deuteronomy. However, I knew it would take some time to complete the sequel, so I decided that first I’d turn my nativity stories into a book.

Unfortunately, the nativity story as a whole wasn’t very long, so I decided that I’d try to include other things to make the book worth the money. I’d written some parody Christmas carols, so I put them at the end of the book. I’d also written a parody of A Visit from St. Nicholas, so I included that too.

In the first book, I had included a story that wasn’t based on the Bible, but which was thematically linked. I thought it would be nice to do the same thing in this book. I considered a few different stories that I could parody, and at first, I intended to write a parody of It’s a Wonderful Life, but I couldn’t come up with an effective way to use it. I ended up settling on A Christmas Carol, a story which I’ve liked since childhood, and I thought it would be interesting to cast King Herod as Scrooge.

As you may know, the Bible’s portrayal of King Herod is pretty two-dimensional (though, admittedly, it portrayal of most people and situations can be) and the slaughter of the innocents is most likely a myth, so if I was going to write about Herod, I wanted to know more about the real historical figure. I incorporated a lot of facts in the story, but I included the premise of the slaughter of the innocents as a plot element. I also took creative licence with some things to fit it all together. When it comes to A Christmas Carol, I know the story well enough to tell it in my own words, but I wanted to capture the feel of the original, so I used a copy of A Christmas Carol the same way I would the Bible, in some cases, re-writing sentence by sentence, keeping any phrases that I liked, and in other places, just freewriting and seeing where it took me.

As with all of my writing, some jokes come out of the source material, but some come from me thinking, ‘It might be funny if this happens,’ and experimenting with the idea. I spend a lot of time working on dialogue because it’s a great way to illustrate two sides of the same issue. Sometimes the characters are essentially putting across my point of view.

I used to work as a copyeditor at a newspaper, and I am very critical of my own work. It’s taken years of practice to take off my editor hat in order to write without stopping to correct myself. I now divide my authoring into the writing stage, the editing stage, the reading my stuff to a friend or family member to see their reaction stage, the compiling stage, and the polishing stage. The compiling stage is essentially copying the text into the final manuscript, applying styles, and setting up the layout. The polishing stage is having a final read and edit to make sure that I’m happy with it.

Now, you might be wondering why I named this blog post ‘Eight Bloody Pages!’ Well, after writing the book, I had to submit it for publication. I currently use Lulu and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). KDP is good because they are part of Amazon, which is one of the biggest online book providers nowadays. Lulu is good because they distribute to companies like Ingram, Google, and Apple.

So, anyway, I was busy uploading my manuscript for the paperback edition of my book to KDP, filling in all the necessary information in their wizard-like webforms, and at the end, there were two options: ‘Save draft’ and ‘Publish’. Even though I wasn’t ready to publish, as the release date is next month, I accidentally clicked ‘Publish’. Shit! KDP doesn’t have an option to halt the publication process once it starts, so I sent them an email. Apparently, they don’t have that option on their end either. Basically, I had to wait until the book was approved and essentially published, and click ‘Unpublish’ when the option became available.

The next day, I was checking my emails when I found one from KDP. My book had been rejected because it had writing on the spine, and they don’t allow writing on the spine of books shorter than a hundred pages. I had written 92. By the way, due to the way that modern books are produced, the number of pages in a manuscript has to be a multiple of four as one sheet of paper is folded in half to be bound creating four sides (which word processors call pages).

Anyway, due to my preference to start ‘chapters’ on odd-numbered pages, and the necessity for the total page number to be a multiple of four, I already had a few blank pages, so I didn’t want to just stick another eight at the end of the book. And, as I mentioned in the first part of this post, I had striven to pack the book with quality content, so I didn’t want to add anything that was just filler.

Well, it just so happened that when I told my friend Joshua Saxon that my book was close to publication, he said to me, ‘I guess that we’re going to need to make an audiobook of this one.’ Joshua had narrated my first book, but he works full-time, and he wasn’t sure if he could commit to narrating any other books, so I was surprised and delighted that he was willing to narrate this book for me. Anyway, when he told me he would narrate this book, I had started to produce a script for it.

There are certain things in a book that don’t translate well to an audiobook, for instance, I like to replace the long boring genealogies of the Bible with family tree diagrams, and you can’t really narrate one of those. So, again, in this book, I’d created a family tree diagram covering the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3. For the audiobook, I had started to turn this into a readable script. I decided that I liked the script version so much that I would include it in the book as well as the diagrams I’d drawn, so I completed the story, calling it ‘Plot Interrupting Genealogy’ (because the Bible authors have a habit of sticking their begat lists right in the middle of the narrative) and it gained me six pages.

Now, for the other two pages, I had come up with a few Christmas carol ideas that I either hadn’t started or hadn’t completed, so I decided to write those and add them to the book. I came up with three. Well, if you remember, the total page number has to be a multiple of four, and I had included a couple of blank pages for this reason, so an extra carol was easy to fit in.

Now that the book is finished, the table of contents reads as follows:

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • The Nativity
    • The Dumbfounding of a Religion
    • Holy Mother of Christ!
    • Prepare Ye the Way
    • Plot Interrupting Genealogy
    • What a Load of Non-census
    • Jesus Christ!
    • While Shepherds Got a Shock by Night
    • Wise Guys, Eh?
    • There Can Be Only One
  • Herod’s Christmas Carol
    • Stave 1: Humbug!
    • Stave 2: The Ghost of Herod’s Past
    • Stave 3: Horn of Plenty
    • Stave 4: What in the Fuck are You Pointing at?
    • The Final Stave: And this Time, It’s Stavier!
  • A Visit from St Anger
  • Carols
    • Away in a Saucepan
    • Frosty the Snowman
    • Hark! Harold the Angel Sings
    • I Saw Mommy Riding Santa Claus
    • Jesus Christ is Coming to Town
    • Jingle Bells (I’m going to Hell)
    • King Herod was a Mental Man
    • Cum, Got a Faceful
    • Randolph the Brown-nosed Reindeer
    • Soylent Night
  • A Christmas Tweet

If you’re interested in buying the book, visit

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Atheism is Not Dead: Consider this a snarky rebuttal

I recently saw this post on Twitter and was astounded by stunning display of modesty.

It turns out that this guy, J. Allen has written an article entitled, ‘Atheism Is Dead. Consider This The Obituary.’ It can be found at I was curious to see how he ‘ended’ atheism.

His opening argument:

Atheism is not “a lack of belief in God,” as atheists are so fond of saying. If you lack belief in God, but don’t deny God’s existence, you’re agnostic (neutral position), not atheist (negative position).

Words have more than one usage. A lot of atheists (myself included) use ‘atheism’ in the sense of ‘lack of belief’ and ‘agnosticism’ in the sense of ‘not knowing for a fact’. Therefore, we identify as both atheists and agnostics. Some atheists do believe that there is no god; these atheists are often called ‘strong atheists’ (or ‘hard’), and those with a lack of belief are termed ‘weak atheists’ (or ‘soft’). I wouldn’t call the hard atheist position ‘denial’ either, because that implies that there is a god who is proven to exist and that they’re refusing to admit it.

Regardless, when an atheist tells you the usage of atheism they’re using, it’s arrogant of you to assert that their position is actually something else. If your article is attacking the belief that there is no god and lumping all atheists into that category, that’s called a strawman.

When asked to defend it atheists must play make-believe agnostics, retreating into the safe space of neutrality. This allows them to dodge their own burden of proof: offering a stronger explanation for existence than God.

If any particular atheist makes the claim that there is no god, they have a burden of proof. However, those of us who don’t make such a claim, do not.

If simply lacking belief in God makes one an atheist, then all agnostics are atheists. And if all agnostics are atheists? The U.S. (and the world) has a lot more atheists than we thought.

No, actually. There are people who identify as agnostic theists too; they believe in a god (or gods) but don’t claim to know it for a fact. Those agnostics who also lack a belief in a god would be atheists by the sense of the word I use, but I don’t like to impose labels upon people. As long as it’s clear how they’re using the word, there needn’t be an issue.

To be credible, a worldview must offer a positive, testable argument.

This one is easy to answer: atheism isn’t a world view. Even if you’re using the definition, ‘the belief that there is no god,’ it still doesn’t qualify as a world view. A world view is a philosophy or conception of the world. A single belief or position doesn’t qualify.

In claiming that God does not exist, atheism logically entails that something other than God must be responsible for why something (rather than nothing) exists.

If God didn’t create existence, then something else had to. Makes sense, right?

And if you deny that God created existence, as atheists do, then you must believe something else did, right?

If a person doesn’t accept one explanation for something, it doesn’t mean that they have another. For example, if the police had someone in custody and after interviewing him, they determined that he didn’t commit the crime, that doesn’t mean that they know who committed the crime.

  • Fact: existence exists (if I didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this right now).
  • There must be an explanation for this fact.

We may never know the explanation. Maybe existence rather than non-existence is the default. We don’t know.

  • Atheists deny one possible explanation: God.
  • In denying the God explanation, atheism entails that some explanation other than God must be true.

No, ‘denying’ one possibility doesn’t mean that one has to accept another.

  • Atheists refuse to say what this other explanation is, let alone offer evidence in support of it.

Nor do they have to.

  • Thus, we’re left with a cold, hard conclusion: Atheism is a blind faith; a position with no evidence supporting it.

That’s a non sequitur. Having no explanation for why there is something rather than nothing isn’t the same as having no justification for believing there is no god. You can ask somebody who holds the hard atheist position what their justification is and weigh each argument on its merit. You can’t, however, assert that their position should address issues that are outside of its scope.

Atheists like to pretend that science is their domain.

There are many scientists who are theists and many atheists who have no interest in science. It’s possible that there are some atheists who think that ‘science is their domain’, but that’s certainly not true of all atheists. Sharing a position on a single issue doesn’t mean that we agree on everything. Making blanket statements is lazy.

Science “works” for two reasons:

  1. The universe is comprehensible. That is, it follows a set of orderly guidelines (laws) which allow it to be understood by cognitive observers (that’d be us).
  2. Cognitive observers exists [sic] (hi, mom!).

Scientific laws are descriptive; that is, they are our description of how things work. They aren’t prescriptive. The laws of gravity aren’t guidelines that bodies with mass follow in order to know how to be attracted to one another. Bodies with mass are attracted to each other, and the laws of gravity describe this phenomenon.

‘Being comprehensible’ isn’t a property of the universe, rather ‘being able to comprehend things’ is an ability that we as thinking agents possess. Would you claim that pebbles have the property of ‘being countable’, or that a ball has the property of ‘being able to be thrown’? The reason that pebbles can be counted by us is that we are beings who can count things. The reason that a ball can be thrown is that there are organisms capable of throwing. The reason the universe can be comprehended is that we are capable of comprehending things. In essence, you have it ass backwards.

Theists believe that God is the designer of the universe; a “cosmic engineer,” so to speak. Most theists also believe that God wants to be discovered. This would mean that science is the reverse engineering of the cosmic engineer’s work.

Sure enough, reverse engineering the universe perfectly described what science is and does. We study the various parts of nature and figure out how they work. That’s reverse engineering.

This is defining God into existence, and it’s no different from Ray Comfort’s argument, ‘Painting implies painter. Creation implies creator.’ Only by presupposing that there is a ‘cosmic engineer’ can you consider science to be reverse engineering.

Atheism entails mindlessness. Mindlessness entails chaos. Chaos is the opposite of science. Our minds are not chaos, and our universe is not chaos. If they were, science would be impossible.

You mean, the way that planets mindlessly orbit the Sun and chaotically stay in those orbits? Gravity is a mindless force, it doesn’t result in chaos, and science has a thorough understanding of it.

Is it any wonder, then, that God-fearing men have built science over the centuries? From the scientific method, to nearly every branch of science, they’ve all came from the blood, sweat, and tears of God-believers.

It’s not surprising that in a world where the majority of the world is religious, a lot of scientists are and have been religious. Did they reach their conclusions through prayer or by using science?

Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Max Planck . . . name a great scientist throughout history, and I’ll show you a believe [sic] in God.

Albert Einstein identified as agnostic. When he spoke of ‘God’ he was referencing Spinoza’s God.

In fact, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that atheists have done more evil than theists, despite being significantly outnumbered by them (sometimes by a factor in the thousands) throughout history.

Don’t believe me? Take a look below.

He then lists the murder rates in various countries without taking the populations of those countries into account, and without any indication of how many of those murders were committed by atheists.

Here’s an article that says that only 0.1% of the Federal Prison Population are atheists: Atheists Now Make Up 0.1% of the Federal Prison Population. A survey of individuals is a lot more meaningful than one of countries. I could look at this, pretend that correlation equals causation, and claim that atheists are more moral, but that would be ridiculous. Putting that aside, what does being evil have to do with whether or not a person has reached the correct conclusion about the existence of something?

To the atheist, human life is just a cosmic accident; pond scum which has, through a long series of beneficial mutations, evolved consciousness.

The universe has no purpose, nor does anything in it, including humanity. Any purpose we may think we have is just illusory; a lie we tell ourselves to better cope with the cold, dark, nihilistic reality of our existence.

Strawman! Look, I understand that Christians believe that there’s a special purpose bestowed by their God that makes everything ultimately meaningful, but things needn’t be ultimately meaningful to have meaning. I value my life. I value the lives of others. I don’t need a god to tell me that I and the other humans I co-exist have value; I can do that myself. My life is meaningful to me, my family, my friends, etc. That’s enough for me. I’m sorry that you can’t find meaning in your own life without the idea of some god to tell you that you’re his precious little snookums. That’s your issue.

Atheism, in a nutshell:

  • I know of no evidence for God. (this is the ignorance)
  • Therefor [sic], there is no evidence (here’s some more)
  • Therefore, God does not exist. (atheism’s argument from ignorance)
  • Therefore, the universe self-created via magic. (the logical consequence of atheism’s argument from ignorance)

Let me correct this for you.

  • I know of no evidence for God (or any other gods).
  • I don’t assume there is no evidence.
  • I don’t assume that a god doesn’t exist, but thus far I have no reason to assume a god does.
  • On an unrelated note, it’s my understanding the Big Bang Theory is the best explanation of how the universe came to be as it is, though not necessarily its origin. The Big Bang Theory doesn’t say that the universe ‘created itself’, nor does it say it’s ‘magical’. As to what came before the Big Bang, we don’t know. However, there are people who have expertise in this matter investigating it using the scientific method.

The preceding was me speaking for myself and not all atheists. Fancy individuals within a larger group having opinions of their own, eh?

What about biology? Surely Darwin solved all of that back in the mid-19th century, right? Atheists tell us he did.

No, Darwin didn’t ‘solve’ biology. He came up with a model for evolution, which has since been refined and contributed to by countless others. There are things about evolution that Darwin didn’t know, but which we know now. Science isn’t the work of any single individual; it’s a group effort.

Defending Darwin is tantamount to defending atheism.

Tell that to the countless theists who accept evolution.

So, that settles it, right? Darwin’s theory means atheism wins.

No, Darwin’s theory means that we understand how things evolved… My atheism isn’t dependent upon evolution.

He goes on to try to poke holes in evolution. He also points out that Dr. Jonathan Wells is like really really smart, and he has issues with evolution, therefore he must be correct. It’s really beside the point, because evolution has nothing to do with atheism, nor would disproving it do anything to substantiate the claim that there’s a god.

He then issues this challenge, ‘Show us the evidence for atheism,’ by which he means, ‘Show us evidence that there is no god.’ It’s not my position that there is no god, and despite your distaste for people saying that they lack belief, I do indeed lack belief in any gods. Call it intellectual cowardice all you like, but I find nothing cowardly about not accepting a proposition until it’s met its burden of proof. I find nothing cowardly about admitting that I don’t know everything, and that there are matters on which I am unqualified to speak.

Is Atheism A Religion?

No, religions are belief systems not a single position on a single proposition. There’s no atheistic view on these things. The ‘atheistic view’ addresses a single issue: the proposition that a god exists. But even if atheism were a religion, what of it? Are you trying to argue that religion is a bad thing, and we’re being just as illogical as you?

So, if stringently imposing your preferred usage of the word ‘atheism’ on all atheists, creating a strawman of their position, misunderstanding the implications of not believing in a god, and making a lot of inane unsubstantiated assertions in a poorly written cocksure rant is ending atheism, I guess you’ve ended atheism.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

In Retrospect

The audiobook of The MisreadBible: Genesis has been submitted for retail approval, and it should be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes within a couple of weeks. Joshua Saxon did a stellar job narrating it, and I’m extremely happy with the result. I’m very excited to be able to share this with you.

At this stage, I am able to look back and reflect on the experience. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What will I do differently? It’s been a great learning experience.

I’d heard a lot of authors harp on about the importance of proofreading, but I went into the process thinking, ‘I worked as a copyeditor; surely I’ll be able to do it all myself,’ and I was eager to finally publish. I tried my damnedest to catch every error in my book. I used the built-in spelling and grammar check, I used Grammarly, I re-read each chapter until my eyes were bleary, and I used text-to-speech software so that I could listen to it…

After the proof copy had arrived, and I’d read it and approved it, I gave the book to my sister who opened it and found a mistake in the dedication: ‘You’re no longer with us, but your guidance gave my life a foundation without which this book would not possible.’ The word ‘be’ was missing. Oops. There may be copies of my book out there that include this error.

So, it cannot be stressed enough how vital it is to thoroughly proofread yourself and to find others to do it for you. You may think you’ve gone over your book with a fine-tooth comb, but it’s easy for mistakes to slip through the cracks.

Producing the audiobook was an experience in itself. I thought it was just a case of sending Joshua a copy of the book, and he’d do the rest. It’s not that simple.

For starters, in a book of fiction, there are many different characters, and they all need voices. Joshua and I had to agree on what type of voice and accent to give each of the main characters. Another issue is that there are character and place names that the narrator may not be familiar with. The Bible especially has all kinds of weird names in it. Joshua actually cursed me for writing ‘Whatever Became of Esau?’ (luckily, we’re both atheists, so it didn’t take).

After Joshua had recorded hours of material, it felt awful to tell him, ‘You know that name that you’ve used dozens of times? I’d actually like it to be pronounced this way,’ and have him re-record whole sections of the book. To his credit, Joshua took it all in his stride.

Now I’ve researched writing audiobook scripts, and for the next book, A MisreadBible Christmas, I’ve begun preparing a script with pronunciation and performance notes to make the whole process easier for Joshua. The more information he has before recording, the less likely it is that I’m going to ask him to re-record. He works really hard on all the books he narrates, and giving him extra work on top of that is pretty shitty. If I want the audiobook to be a certain way, it’s up to me to put in the work.

Another thing I learned about that I feel is worth mentioning is promotion. I didn’t give it enough thought before I published, and as a result, some of the promotional material I produced afterwards was written in a panicked hurry. For the next book, I’m preparing things ahead of time. I’m writing the synopsis I want to use in various online shops, preparing templates to use for various covering letters, writing a document containing all the information that book sites require, and compiling a list of people to contact.

Hopefully, the process of producing the next book will be smoother, and the next one will be smoother still.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A Triplet of Decalogues

The Pentateuch tells the story of a prophet called Moses, the son of enslaved Hebrews in Egypt who was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, killed an Egyptian slave-driver, absconded to Midian, and met God in a burning bush. After releasing his fellow Israelites from captivity, he led them to the promised land of Canaan. During his forty-year trek through the wilderness, he stopped off at the Mountain of God (named Sinai in some verses and Horeb in others) and received the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, recorded in Exodus 20.

The Ten Commandments form one of the most important law codes of the Abrahamic religions. They begin with the declaration that Yahweh is the god who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and that they should worship only him. They prohibit idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, adultery, coveting and lying under oath, and command strict observation of the Sabbath and honouring one’s parents.

According to the story, after Moses received the Ten Commandments, he came back down the mountain to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, and, in a fit of anger, he threw the tablets to the ground, breaking them. He then had to climb back up the mountain to get a second set of tablets, recorded in Exodus 34. This set of commandments is very different from the first, and, unlike the earlier set, which is never called the Ten Commandments in the text, the passage concludes with the words, ‘And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant – the Ten Commandments’ (Exodus 34:28).

Another set of commandments, almost identical to those found in Exodus 20, are given in Deuteronomy 5. So, in total, there are three different sets of Ten Commandments in the Pentateuch. The ones in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are often referred to as the Ethical Decalogue and the ones in Exodus 34 are often called the Ritual Decalogue.

The Ritual Decalogue has a lot of rules in common with the Covenant Code, found in Exodus 20:22-23:19, especially Exodus 23:10-19. Rather than prohibiting murder, theft, adultery, and lying, it commands that the Hebrews observe various festivals and has a bizarre law about not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. Like the Ethical Decalogue, it does, however, command the worship of Yahweh alone and prohibits the making of idols.

The differences between the two versions of the Ethical Decalogue are quite minor but interesting. Regarding the Sabbath, Exodus 20:11 gives this reason, ‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day,’ but Deuteronomy 5:12 says, ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.’

Here’s a comparison of all three versions of the Ten Commandments.

The Ritual Decalogue (Exodus 34)The Ethical Decalogue (Exodus 20)The Ethical Decalogue (Deuteronomy 5)
IntroductionBehold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst.I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Other godsBut you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods.You shall have no other gods before Me.You shall have no other gods before Me.
IdolatryYou shall make no molded gods for yourselves.You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Feast of Unleavened BreadThe Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.
FirstbornAll that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.
OfferingsAnd none shall appear before Me empty-handed.
BlasphemyYou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
The SabbathSix days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Other FeastsAnd you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year. You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven, nor shall the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover be left until morning.
FirstfruitsThe first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.
Kid in MilkYou shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
ParentsHonor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
MurderYou shall not murder.You shall not murder.
AdulteryYou shall not commit adultery.You shall not commit adultery.
TheftYou shall not steal.You shall not steal.
False WitnessYou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
CovetingYou shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
ConclusionThen the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Sister-Wives and the Documentary Hypothesis

One of the things that fascinates me about the Bible is the question of who authored the books that make it up. There are a lot of figures to whom various books were attributed, but for the most part, the real authors are unknown. For instance, the first five books of the Bible, called the Torah or Pentateuch, are traditionally attributed to Moses, but modern scholars have a very different view of how the Pentateuch came about.

I was in my early twenties when I began studying textual criticism, a field of study that analyses the biblical text, noting vocabulary, grammar, and style, in order to determine its authorship and composition. The most prominent model describing the composition of the Pentateuch is the Documentary Hypothesis, commonly associated with the German scholar Julius Wellhausen, but contributed to by many others.

The hypothesis proposes that there were four main sources for the Pentateuch, which were combined by a series of editors (or redactors) in an attempt to create a unified work. The four sources are identified as the Yahwist (or J, the initial of the German ‘Jahwist’), the Elohist (E), the Priestly (P), and the Deuteronomist (D).

When I first began looking into textual criticism, I was interested in finding out why there were so many contradictions in the Pentateuch. However, the 18th-century scholars who pioneered the Documentary Hypothesis were more interested in doublets, that is, duplicate narratives with slightly different versions of events.

There are many examples of doublets in the Pentateuch and even some triplets. The most obvious example of a triplet, to me at least, is the ‘Wife Confused for a Sister’ narratives (Genesis 12:10-20, Genesis 20:1-18, and Genesis 26:1-11). The first two have Abraham instructing his wife Sarah to say that she’s his sister, and the third has Isaac giving the same instruction to his wife Rebekah.

To summarise the stories, a patriarch ventures southwards to a foreign country. Fearing that his wife is so beautiful that anyone who sees her will want to marry her, he tells her to say that she’s his sister. The king sees the woman and, thinking she’s unmarried, decides he wants her for himself. The patriarch ends up becoming wealthy because of his deception, but, in the end, the ruse is uncovered, and the king asks, ‘What is this you have done to (me/us)?’ and sends him away.

Each story has differences from the others, but they all follow the same pattern.

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Genesis 12 narrative belongs to the J source, Genesis 20 belongs to the E source, and Genesis 26 belongs to J. This means that J has a story with Abraham and Sarah and another with Isaac and Rebekah, and E has a single story with Abraham and Sarah.

The J narratives (Genesis 12 and 26) begin with the words, ‘Now there was a famine in the land,’ whereas the E narrative (Genesis 20) merely has Abraham travelling south as part of his exploration of the land.

Both the first J narrative (Genesis 12) and the E narrative (Genesis 20) are about Abraham and Sarah. In these versions, Sarah ends up being kidnapped by the king, God intervenes on Abraham’s behalf, and Sarah is freed. In the second J narrative (Genesis 26), however, the king catches Isaac and Rebekah in an intimate moment and realises that he has been lied to.

In the E narrative (Genesis 20) and the second J narrative (Genesis 26), the patriarch travels to Philistia (called the Negev in the narratives) and has a dispute with King Abimelech of Gerar. They then go on to stake a claim to the land by digging wells. In the first J narrative (Genesis 12), Abraham journeys to Egypt and has a conflict with Pharaoh but returns without claiming any land.

Unique to the first J narrative (Genesis 12), Abraham remarks that by having Sarah pretend to be his sister, the Egyptians will ‘treat him well for [her] sake,’ and so, when Pharaoh abducted Sarah, he ‘treated him well for her sake’ by giving him livestock and servants, possibly in exchange for Sarah.

In E (Genesis 20), God appears to Abimelech in a dream and acknowledges that, while the king is innocent of any wrongdoing, he and his family will be killed if he doesn’t return her. When Abraham is confronted, he says, ‘Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.’ Abimelech subsequently gives Abraham livestock and servants plus a thousand shekels of silver to make up for his error.

In the second J narrative (Genesis 26), Abimelech is appalled at Isaac for his deception but declares, ‘Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.’ He doesn’t give Isaac any compensation, but Isaac, nevertheless, becomes wealthy whilst living in the land. Isaac and Rebekah are actually cousins, but this isn’t revealed.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

My Story

I was raised in a quasi-religious household. I say ‘quasi-religious’ because religion wasn’t really a topic of discussion at home, but my sister and I attended a Church of England school and the Salvation Army Sunday school.

English society is quite secular for the most part. We have a lot of churches, and we celebrate Easter and Christmas as public holidays, but in everyday life, religion isn’t a major influence. This is a stark contrast to America where, despite having an officially secular government, religion seems to be more in-your-face.

As a child, I took my religious belief very seriously. At Sunday school, we did Bible studies, and I asked a lot of questions. I was eager to learn more. My sister and I even went on to become Junior Soldiers, which is a formal dedication to the church and Christian life.

I stopped attending Sunday school when we moved to a new town when I was nine, but I continued to believe and study the Bible: one of my prized possessions was a small brown New Testament with gilded page edges, given to me by my grandmother.

Science education in the UK is generally pretty good, and so I was living in a culture where scientific ideas such as the Big Bang and evolution are accepted as fact. In my mind, this didn’t conflict with my religious views, because the Genesis account was treated as an allegory. I didn’t even consider the idea that the Genesis account was literal until the Jehovah’s Witnesses started visiting us.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Old Earth Creationists, which means that they say that the Genesis 1 account of creation is literal, but they have to warp it to such a degree that it means something completely different. The goal is to make the Bible appear to conform to modern science. For instance, they explained to me that when Genesis 1:16 talks about God creating the Sun on the fourth day, what it really meant was that the early Earth’s atmosphere was full of dense clouds and that on the fourth day it had cleared enough for the sunlight to be visible for the first time.

Ironically, studying the Bible with the Jehovah’s Witnesses only served to make me question it more. By my early teens, I had lost biggest part of my belief in Christianity, and religion didn’t really feel like a big part of my life anymore. I still spoke with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, because I found the subject interesting.

In my mid-teens, I converted Wicca and explored my own beliefs more freely. The neopagan community, despite the fact I no longer share their beliefs, at least foster an environment where people can think for themselves. I was able to explore my views on morality, nurture my love of nature, and my concept of a god became steadily more diluted, moving from a personal deity to pantheism to deism.

In my early 20s, though I still held vague pagan beliefs, I was no longer practising, except for celebrating some of the festivals. For a while, I didn’t really think about my beliefs at all.

By my mid-20s, I was struggling to rationalise my beliefs. In every other aspect of my life, I was trying to assess things rationally, but when it came to my religious beliefs, I was accepting things for which I had no evidence and coming up with elaborate explanations of how things might work.

I began to wonder whether or not the things I believed were really what I believed or whether they were just what I wanted to believe. After a lot of introspection, I concluded that the latter was true. With this realisation, all of the rationalisations fell away like a ton of bricks. At that moment, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. I was an atheist.