I Think Someone Has an Axe to Grind, part 3


Continuing my response to Valerie Tarico, from her post at Salon (which began here), let’s look at point number 4,

During armed conflict, God and his messengers command the Israelites to slaughter civilians and destroy their homes and means of food production including livestock and orchards.

I’m not even going to give any credit that such an accusation is even remotely accurate, but let’s look at the argument that she makes to sustain such a conclusion.

During World War II, the American military engaged in “terror bombing” of civilian centers including Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo, as the Nazis terror-bombed London. If the Old Testament stories are to be believed, the ancient Israelites similarly targeted and terrorized ordinary villagers during their military campaigns, only they did so at God’s command and with his blessing.

Like I said, not even remotely accurate, as well as a clear double-standard.

Anyone familiar with life in the ancient near East, which is the background of the biblical account, knows that “villages” surrounded the “cities” which were military outposts, and that the “villagers”, especially able-bodied men comprised the forces charged with defense of the outlying areas. Also, there was no concept of “civilian” as opposed to “military”, these are modern categories that simply did not exist at the time. The fact that she mentions the attacks inflicted by both sides during World War 2 as a means of demoralizing the populace into petitioning their respective governments to bring that war to a close without breathing condemnation of it is just a sign of her hypocrisy.

This completely unreflective and historically and theologically ignorant statement takes the cake though,

In one account, God commands human assassins to wreak havoc on civilians literally hundreds of years after an offense. Just when you think He has forgiven or forgotten[…]

The “account” to which she is referring is in regards to 1 Samuel 15, when the prophet Samuel brings orders from God to attack a specific Amelikite king. This order is based upon an event that occurred about 300-350 years earlier, when, in Exodus 17, right after the crossing of the Red Sea, while the Hebrews are going to Horeb, a group of Amelikites attack them. The Hebrews defeat the Amelikites with the help of God, driving them off, but God declares to Moses,

“Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14, ESV)

Again, double standards rear their head: it’s perfectly acceptable for the Amelikites to launch an unprovoked attack the Hebrews, but when Israel, who had been constantly harassed by them throughout the years is finally in a place to put a stop to their harassment, that’s unacceptable. Please.

Her next assertion, point number 5,

As in ISIS, sexual enslavement of conquered women is one means of humiliating enemy combatants.

Let’s just acknowledge the category error here, first. Let it sink in. Now, we can proceed.

In the book of Numbers, God’s messenger commands the Chosen People to kill every Midianite man, woman or child, except for virgin girls who are to be turned into sex slaves according to very explicit instructions. Many Americans were horrified at the story of an ISIS fighter who bound and gagged a captive girl, praying and quoting the Quran to her before commencing rape. The Bible’s instructions for claiming a captive virgin suggest shaving her head rather than applying duct tape to her wrists and mouth (Numbers 31).

Notice that to make her comparison more effective, she uses language that, while technically accurate, is not used in biblically to describe the position that Moses held. Further, notice her assertion that she never demonstrates as being the case that, “virgin girls are to be turned into sex slaves.” That claim, to anyone who has taken time to familiarize themselves with just the entire historical context surrounding the events being described in the 31st chapter of Numbers, which begins all the way back in chapter 22, as well as the cultural context recognizes that the assertion is simply absurd, on its face. (See here and here for further discussion).

Second, she is inaccurate in her representation of how Deuteronomy 21:10-14, which is actually a continuation of the rules of warfare that are laid out in Deuteronomy 20, directs men to treat women who are taken as captives, and the symbology that is used. It’s a straw man, plain and simple, because she is making an assertion without demonstrating whether or not the comparison is meaningfully accurate.

Last point, number 6,

In the New Testament gospels, even Jesus threatens violence and torment against those who don’t fall in line.

Let’s just get the facts straight here: it’s not a threat, it’s a promise.

In one parable, he likens God to the Master of a great estate who says, “These enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence (Luke 19:26-27). In a sermon, he says that those who fail to repent in time will be cast into outer darkness where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:22-30).

Actually, Jesus is comparing himself, as the rightful king of all creation and it’s creatures, to that ruler, a ruler who holds absolute power and will not accept anything less than perfect submission to him, which is something that people in the first century would have been very familiar with and would have accepted as a true argument. Similarly, there will be a time when an opportunity to repent will no longer be available, just like buy one, get one sales. If she is trying to argue that it is somehow unfair then she needs to demonstrate how it is so since it is God, through Christ, making the offer and it is his decision as Creator and God to do so.

Let’s consider this analogy:

Say that a traffic court judge had the authority to offer amnesty to everyone who had a speeding ticket. And he published in the newspaper that anyone who appeared before his court, on a specific date, between the hours of 8am and noon, would have their speeding ticket(s) dismissed with no regards to the number of tickets or how long they had them. But, anyone who did not appear to present their tickets would be liable. Let’s say that on the day, the hallway of the courthouse was filled with people, with hours ticking by, and 3 minutes before the noon deadline, a man comes pushing through the crowd with a double handful of speeding tickets, he pushes into the court room, runs up the bench, the judge looks at the tickets to make sure that they are all speeding tickets, and just as the clock strikes noon, he slams down his gavel, loudly declaring, “Case dismissed!” The man shouts in relief and gratitude, “I’m free! I’m forgiven! I will never speed again!” Now the throngs in the hall begin to fill the courtroom and rush the bench, but the judge orders for everyone to be arrested until they can pay their fines because the time of amnesty is up. He has done nothing wrong because it was his authority to dismiss those who came during the time of amnesty, and it is his authority to hold those who didn’t take advantage.

I am certain that I have demonstrated that her argumentation is simply absurd. Valerie’s arguments are devoid of any meaningful historical context or grasp of what she is objecting to and that she doesn’t have a basis that she can make an argument against either what is described or prescribed in the Bible or against anything that ISIS or anyone else does.

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