Mark Owen writes

Moses and myth

Alice.....looked about for some way of escape, and wondering whether she could get away without being seen, when she noticed a curious appearance in the air: it puzzled her very much at first, but, after watching it for a minute or two she made it out to be a grin, and she said to herself, 'It's the Cheshire Cat: now I shall have somebody to talk to.' 'How are you getting on?' said the Cat, as soon as there was mouth enough for it to speak with. Alice waited until the eyes appeared, and then nodded. 'It's no use speaking to it,' she thought, 'till the ears have come, or at least one of them.' In another minute the whole head appeared, and then Alice put down her flamingo, and began an account of the game, feeling very glad she had someone to listen to her. The Cat seemed to think that there was enough of it now in sight, and no more of it appeared. (Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland )


Your Mr and Mrs Average, growing up in Western society, could be forgiven for believing that all religious history begins with the Jews and ends with the Christians. The propagandists for the Christian Church do a great job of brainwashing the public in this manner. They continually ignore the awkward presence of other religions on the planet.

From kindergarten days children are taught a fabulous farrago of nonsense stories from the Old Testament - Moses in the Bulrushes, the Tower of Babel, Joshua and the down-falling walls of Jericho, the crossing of the Red Sea, the Giving of the Ten Commandments, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lions' Den, and like wonders. These tales even appear in 'non-religious' children's picture story-books, on television programs, in school curricula, and in that grandest form of all - as epic Hollywood movies.

Fanciful these stories may be but they are treated as 'gospel' truth and accepted by the majority of the unthinking public as if they really did happen! The Book of the Movie has come to be treated as a holy book by people with little or no religion, a sort of fetish-object. For too long now we have listened to the advocates of Christianity stating baldly: 'GOD and his laws have been seriously challenged' or some such unproven assertion.

The preacher begs the question. First he must inform us as to what he means by 'GOD and his laws.' How can he prove that the Book he so glibly quotes from really does contain knowledge of GOD and his laws? There are many holy books in the world; why should we take special notice of this one?


Now the Jews laid claim to the Book, at least their part of it, the Old Testament, before the Christians. And they came to be known as 'the people of the Book.' So we should begin by studying this alleged law or word of GOD at the point where it claims revelation from the deity in the Old Testament.

But, please note that the Old Testament, allegedly a history of the Jews and Yahweh's dealings with them, is in no sense history as a historian would expect to read it! The book that began to be put together around 400 BCE is pseudo-history, history moulded more by Jewish aspirations than any desire to relate facts and events as they really occurred. That would be too much to expect!

Make no mistake about it, the driving ambition, indeed, the compelling concern of the compilers of this work was to elevate an obscure tribal confederation and set it at the very head of the human race. Henceforth, by their own happy admission, they were the Chosen People of the One True GOD, who was, of course, their deity, Yahweh. Absolutely unanimous, they were, in this regard! Now in a funny sort of way Christianity, while being antagonistic to the old faith, served by its Bibliolatry and some of its doctrines to strengthen this view Israel had of itself.

The Old Testament scriptures, revered by both Jew and Christian alike, clearly trace the Jewish people through a line stretching back to Moses and Abraham, and even to the mythical Adam and Eve. Not that any Bible as such existed until quite late in history; only scattered writings, and these certainly did not go back to the period to which they referred. It was only in the fifth century BCE that the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, all curiously, and falsely, ascribed to Moses, were brought together. The rest of the Old Testament was compiled even later. In fact, some books did not appear until about one hundred years before the birth of the Nazarene.

Yet in these books we are treated to detailed accounts of events and even conversations that occurred up to 800 years previously (Moses) and up to 1,200 years previously (Abraham), and from even earlier periods! Phew! Some feat of inspiration we have here.


The apologists for this book of wonders claim that the stories in it were passed on as oral history from generation to generation. Eastern people were very adept at this art - so we are informed. What utter nonsense is being peddled here. We are talking about a period of many hundreds of years, with ever-changing tribal alliances, endless movements of peoples, sometimes being carted off to captivity to foreign parts, later returning. Add to all this the natural desire of the tale-tellers to embroider the stories told and selectively retaining or discarding materials to suit their own purposes, and what do we have left of truth? Imagine if we relied solely on oral tradition for detailed knowledge of the Battle of Hastings!

But there is some hard proof of my contention, lest there be lingering doubt. Theodor Noldeke, the German orientalist, in his book Amalekiter, has shown that the memory of the pre-Islamic Arabs was so defective that all knowledge of great nations like the Nabateans and Thamudites had been lost within two or three centuries.

I must mention the New Testament also in this regard. Similar claims are made as to the veracity of the New Testament writings. And here we are dealing not with hundreds of years but only with a generation or two. Yet eye-witness accounts of the so-called Lord's Prayer, for example, which one would have thought to have been of sufficient importance to be repeated word-perfect by the disciples, differ in the two Gospels where it occurs.

The saga of early Israel is, in fact, in the same category of 'history' as the stories of King Arthur, Merlin the Magician, Robin Hood and Jeanne D'Arc. Let us then observe the rise and rise of the people of Israel as they elevate themselves from obscurity to an honoured place in the nations of the world (which was in time to rebound against them tragically, as we know). Immediately we face a problem. Beyond the pages of the Bible itself there is simple very little history to be found, especially for the early period of the nation. Contemporary records are sparse. In fact, of all the patriarchal figures, Abraham alone appears to have any basis in actual history. And even his existence is challenged by some scholars; at the very least the records are confused, as we have already seen.

Many scholars believe, with good reason, that names such as Cain, Abel, Seth, Ham, Japeth, Noah and Moses are, in reality, derived from localities where deities (originally leaders) were worshipped under such names or similar ones. In other words, the very familiar hero-gods of early religious history.


In the case of Moses we are in all probability dealing with an Egyptian rebel leader, Osarsiph, a priest of Heliopolis. This renegade priest abandoned the gods of Egypt for one of the gods of Midian, or Canaan. With him were other renegade priests who formed the core of the levitical priesthood of Israel. That some aspects of the Jewish religion are derived from Egypt is plainly evident in the dress of the priests and especially in the Urim and Thummim, worn on the priests' breasts. These were symbols of the Egyptian gods, Horus and Anubis. So much for the alleged purity of Hebrew worship!

Israel's god was known by the supposedly mysterious Tetragrammaton, YHWH. Now Israel proudly boasts that it is monotheistic, yet clearly in the book of Genesis we meet many gods! In the very first verse of the very first chapter we read: 'In the beginning the gods created the heaven and the earth....' Not quite as you read it in your Bible? Why, no, and perhaps, yes. You see the poor translators are a trifle embarrassed using the plural form to describe the deity. But it is plural, quite definitely; the Hebrew says elohim, meaning 'the gods.' That's in the original, at least insofar as anything in the Bible can be termed 'original'.

Now while translators generally ignore the problem raised here, the Westminster Study Bible (RSV) at least has sufficient honesty to mention it in a marginal note, explaining the usage as 'denoting majesty and the totality of God's attributes.' Well, this is some sort of explanation, I guess. The Royal Plural, one might say! But such specious explanations cannot hide the truth. There are multiple gods in Genesis. Plural usages are scattered liberally through the text. Who can argue with Genesis 1:26: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness....' or with Genesis 3:22: 'And the Lord God said, Behold the man is become as one of us....' ?

The compilers of the Pentateuch were obviously pretty hopeless at the job of editing. They let all this slip through and then, when they realized the confusion this would cause in the minds of the believers, instead of going back over the text and cleaning it up, they simply added an explanatory statement (Exodus 6:2-3). Quite amazing it is, too; really lets the cat out of the bag! They couldn't have realized what they were saying. Here it is: 'And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am Yahweh and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty [El Shaddai ], but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them....'

And as if this isn't enough to shake the ramparts of Israelite monotheism, let us look back to what is perhaps an even more amazing passage (Exodus 3:13-15). Here is mumbo-jumbo such as to tie all translators up in knots. Moses has asked the deity what name he should use to explain to the Hebrews who it was that sent him to them. 'I am that I am,' says the god. Or, perhaps, 'I am, because I am,' or 'I am who am,' or 'I will be that I will be,' run the marginal notes for the Revised Version. The Hebrew word used is Ehyeh, and it comes from the same root as the word now rendered Yahweh.


But wait, there's something strangely familiar about these word-plays. The Zoroastrian holy books tell us that Ahura Mazda announced: 'I am who I am, Mazda.' And in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the god is described with the words: 'I am he who I am.' Dear, dear, is there nothing at all unique about Yahweh? His penchant for word-games is shared by other deities. And I remind my readers that all this complicated discourse, this play on language, involving Moses and his mysterious deity, including the giving of those famous Ten Commandments (which, as she shall see, are actually more than ten!), are all somehow transmitted word-perfect down through many centuries! Some feat of communication!

The real truth is that before YHWH (Yahweh) came into regular use among the Jews, the people worshipped elohim, the gods. In fact there were an enormous number of local deities throughout the region. They usually incorporated el in the name, or derivatives of el. Thus there was El-Elyon, translated as 'God Most High' in the Bible, another god, who appeared to Abraham under curious circumstances. There are place-names also, such as Beth-el, translated 'House of God' incorporating the el name. Now such usages were not confined to Israel. They had occurred - and may be seen on innumerable monuments - long before the tribes came together to form the Hebrew nation. Such names are scattered over a wide area, north into Akkad, down through Arabia, and into what is now Palestine. There are literally hundreds of such titles, with slight variations in structure. And included among their number is the god proclaimed by Muhammad, the high god of the Arabs, al-ilah, or Allah, the form by which we now know that sacred name.

But this is not the end of confusion. There are also many names based on the Yahweh god-title. Thus we have Yahweh-jireh, translated 'The Lord-Will-Provide.' Ultimately Israel did choose but one tribal god, leaving behind all the rest. (Although the people lapsed into worship of other gods on many occasions.) This was Yahweh, who seems to have been originally another hero-god, worshipped by the Kenite tribe of the Midianites.

But before leaving the interesting, if confusing, topic of the many gods of Israel, let me take you back briefly to the story of Adam and Eve. In the Sumerian paradise story a number of gods appear, a sort of council of the gods. It should not, then, surprise us one whit to find that in the Genesis version we read: 'And the Lord God said, Behold the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil....' (Genesis 3:22) So we have here, yet again, echoes of that ancient Sumerian legend. The gods reign in Sumer, elohim reign in early Israel.


There is so much mythology in the Old Testament one could devote a full book to the subject. Genesis alone is a case-study in myth-making. But I leave it to a Christian writer to summarize the situation regarding this fabulous work of fantasy. Dr John Skinner, Principal and Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature, Westminster College, Cambridge, wrote (in A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1912):

'It is not difficult to show that Genesis related incredibilities which no reasonable appeal to miracle will suffice to remove. With respect to the origin of the world, the antiquity of man on earth, the distribution and relations of peoples, the beginnings of civilization, etc., its statements are at variance with the scientific knowledge of our time; and no person of educated intelligence accepts them in their plain natural sense. We know that angels do not cohabit with mortal women, that the Flood did not cover the highest mountains of the world, that the ark could not have accommodated all the species of animals then existing, that the Euphrates and Tigris have not a common source, that the Dead Sea was not first formed in the time of Abraham....Sarah was more than sixty-five years old when Abraham feared that her beauty might endanger his life in Egypt; she was over ninety when the same fear seized him in Gerar. Abraham at the age of ninety-nine laughs at the idea of having a son; yet forty years later he marries and begets children. Both Midian and Ishmael were grand-uncles of Joseph; but their descendants appear as tribes trading with Egypt in his boyhood. Amalek was a grandson of Esau; yet the Amalekites are settled in the Negeb in the time of Abraham - It is a thankless task to multiply these examples. The contradictions and violations of probability and scientific possibility are intelligible, and not at all disquieting, in a collection of legends; but they preclude the supposition that Genesis is literal history.'

And yet, fully seventy years or more after these words were penned, we still have the spectacle of deluded people actually proclaiming all this as literal truth and, worse still, being allowed to teach it as such to young people in schools. In some places these fables represent virtually the only view taught.


But perhaps in those books that follow Genesis we will find the truth? But sadly, when we come to consider that great event known as the Exodus, one of the cornerstones of Jewish belief, we find ourselves disillusioned. Dramatized as an event of vast import by the Bible, this episode lacks all but the slightest supporting evidence from sources outside Israel's borders. Even its date is uncertain and we find it placed at various times between about 1,440 BCE and 1,225 BCE. Quite a range to choose from! Modern opinion seems to favour a date somewhere around 1,230 BCE.

This episode saw Moses, as I shall call him, together with that priestly infestation, the Levites, leading the people from captivity in Egypt to the fabled 'Promised Land', i.e., Canaan. And as the people journey through the wilderness, Moses hears, or he claims to hear, Yahweh's voice calling to him from Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:3). Now the message that comes (remember, from Yahweh himself) is this: on the third day Yahweh 'will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.'

Wonder of wonders! In all the world's history no god has actually been seen by the people en masse, only by isolated individuals. Or so these favoured ones have told us. At last a historic event is to take place and Yahweh will be seen by all.

Preparations ensue, according to Yahweh's strict and precise instructions. This god is quite obsessed with minutae, as will be seen in many parts of the Old Testament story. Not only must the people be clean mentally and spiritually but must be clean in body too; they are instructed to wash their clothing for the big event. After all, their raiment must have been in need of washing after all their trekking about in that hot and arid land. Presumably Yahweh was a bit of a prude, too; the people were exhorted to avoid sexual activity!

The excitement grew as each day passed. The people became so worked up at the prospect of seeing a deity (well, after all, it would be quite some event, my readers must admit) that the authorities erected barricades to restrain them. Warnings were issued. Yahweh is a terrible god; his creatures may not approach too closely to him. Under no circumstances are they to 'break through' the barricades to 'gaze' upon their god. Anyone doing so risks instant death, if not beneath the terrible gaze of Yahweh, at least at the hands of the rulers who will see to it that transgressors are stoned or shot.


Evidently the people are not going to be given a very good look at Yahweh; at least, this is how it seems from all the precautions being taken. Alas, it transpires they are not going to see him at all! For if the Israelites fondly imagined from all this that they would actually see Yahweh with their own eyes, as he had been promised through Moses, they were to be sadly disillusioned.

The promises of Yahweh and his deputy had about as much substance as those of our present-day politicians. In the event the people were given some sort of show, a Hollywood-style display of thunder and lightnings and trumpet blasts and a thick cloud of smoke, 'because Yahweh descended upon it [the mountain] in fire, and the smoke ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.' It's all there, in Exodus chapter 19, to read if you wish. I have exaggerated nothing; there's no need to! If a deity spoke, did he lie? If not, did Moses, then, lie? Anyway you take it this passage highlights the absurdity of belief in the 'inerrant' Word.

Now we should not be at all surprised to learn, after all this, that the exact location of Mount Sinai has never been discovered. But this should not faze us, either, as the Bible itself is quite confused on the subject. In Deuteronomy 5, the mountain upon which Moses met with Yahweh even masquerades under a different name, Mount Horeb! Debate has raged on and off over the centuries as to the location of Sinai/Horeb but the issue remains unresolved. Now while some sort of 'exodus' probably did occur (as the memory of such an event plays an important role in Israel's psychic heritage) it was evidently of a very different character to that depicted in the Jewish scriptures.

Some scholars (for example, Loisy) think that Moses met with Yahweh (or whatever passed for Yahweh in the psychic regions of Moses' personality) not in Sinai at all but in the land of Midian, on the opposite side of the Gulf of Aqaba. The most ancient legend regarding these events is that recorded in Deuteronomy 32:2 and these words imply a starting-point for their journey in the extreme north-west of Arabia. This route would have taken Moses straight to Kadesh, to which he did indeed travel.

Now the Midianites were related to the Israelites through Abraham, according to the Bible. Indeed, Joseph was sold to Midianites and Zipporah, wife of Moses, came from the Kenite clan of Midian. And it is probably from the Kenites that the Jews adopted their tribal god, Yahweh. Perhaps Zipporah herself introduced her husband to the worship of the household god (a common occurrence, even today). Or perhaps Yahweh's representatives had provided a more convincing display of pyrotechnics on the mount than anything produced by the representatives of other gods. Pure speculation, maybe, but no less likely to have been the real truth than the fables enshrined in Israelite literature.


And pyrotechnics is the operative term for that amazing event witnessed by the people. Interesting isn't it, that the mountains of Midian have one feature of particular significance - they are volcanic. Surely some of my readers must have thought immediately of a volcanic eruption when they read that description (from the Bible itself, remember) of the visit of Yahweh. Indeed, recent research has discovered evidence of a particularly large eruption around that time and in that area. I remind my readers, again, that there was an enormous period of time between whatever actual events took place back on that exodus march and the recording of those events in books.

How easy for pious and superstitious minds to imagine all manner of things concocted from volcanic eruptions, priestly pronouncements, voices out of clouds and the whole paraphernalia of religious miracle. Remember those amazing happenings in the seances of the nineteenth century spiritualist movement; how easily gullible people were fooled by charlatans and frauds.

But we have not finished with Moses, oh no, not yet. Moses is far too important a figure in Jewish pseudo-history to dispose of as easily as that. For it is in the context of this incredible theatrical charade that Moses, or so we are told, emerges from the cloud-shrouded heights of the mountain to claim his own special revelation! Forgotten now is Yahweh's promise to reveal himself to all the people; they must heed Moses and the words he brings them, written on tablets of stone (Exodus 24:12) for these are the very words of Yahweh the god. And they begin with the Ten Commandments, familiar to most people (more or less).

We are, of course, told by the worshippers of Yahweh that these commandments are certainly the very word of GOD, a unique summary of divine law. They are nothing of the sort. Codes of conduct of like kind were drawn up in a number of ancient societies. Probably best known and of particular interest to us is the Code of Hammurabi, dating from around 2,000 BCE, but itself clearly based on still earlier legislation. A famous obelisk, now in the Louvre, Paris, depicts the Babylonian king receiving the laws from a solar deity. Moses is, as we have seen, depicted in the Bible as receiving the laws from a fulminating mountain deity.

Hammurabi's Code remained in force for over a thousand years in Babylonia and Assyria and later laws, including those of the Hebrews, were built upon or influenced by the Code. To mention but one example, the ruling principle of the criminal law was the lex talionis, the idea that justice demands a like punishment for offences committed - eye for eye, limb for limb, life for life. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

The Code of Hammurabi and the Hebrew Commandments tend to incorporate within their framework broad ideas of good and bad conduct generally accepted by the people for whom they are framed. But these are by no means fixed and eternal. In time many laws are made redundant by a community's changing standards.


An interesting reconstruction has been made by Alfred Loisy of the possible form the laws of Exodus might have taken in their primitive, unwritten, state, long before they were edited and expanded:

Thou shalt not worship any foreign god.

Thou shalt not cast any molten gods.

Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread.

Thou shalt give me all the first-born.

Thou shalt solemnize the feast of weeks,

And the feast of the vintage of the year's end.

Thou shalt not mix with unleavened bread the blood of thy victim.

Nothing of the paschal victim should remain till morning:

Thou shalt bring the first-fruits of thy harvest into the house of Yahweh thy god.

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.

This reconstruction is quite speculative as we have no way of knowing what the original code was but it serves to indicate how a primitive set of laws would, under the hands of the priests and scribes, become expanded into a complex system of ritual and belief. (Note especially the hint of human sacrifice which was undoubtedly a part of early practice in Israelite religion.) And remember, the Commandments were only written down some 800 years or so after they had been 'delivered' to Moses. Naturally it hardly needs saying that the two tablets of stone 'written with the finger of God' have very conveniently vanished into thin air, along with the Ark of the Covenant and Joseph Smith's Golden Plates.

I don't propose to spend a great deal of time discussing the Ten Commandments. I am more interested in those that follow. As we shall see, these additional laws provide us with a very interesting insight into the morality of Yahweh. In passing, though, I would like to draw your attention to one or two of the Ten.

Take the fourth. It is the longest of them all, which is curious in that it deals neither with the nature of Yahweh nor some such grand theme but with a triviality - the peculiar Jewish concept of the observance of the Sabbath. This festival is to be kept as a memorial to the fact that the Creator 'rested' on the seventh day after creating this, that and the other (Genesis 2:2,3).


It is, I am sure, not unreasonable to ask why an omnipotent El needs to rest at all! Be that as it may, two explanations have been advanced by scholars as to the origin of the Sabbath observance. The first regards the Jewish notion as being derived from the Babylonian shabattu. Apparently, according to a calendar of sacrifices and festivals dug up in Babylonia, this was a festival held on the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first and twenty-eighth days of the month. This view was first propounded by Friedrich Delitzsch, in Babel and Bible, and debate has continued ever since. The subject is complex and need not detain us further here for there is also another view. This connects the sabbath to the worship of lunar deities. It is more than likely than the two primitive religious observances, the Babylonian shabattu and the worship of the moon, were intertwined in Israel's remote past.

Among many primitive peoples some sort of observance involving the full moon, the new moon and, less commonly, each half moon, resulted in a four-way division of the month. Now it is especially interesting to note that not only were lunar festivals widely observed by Semites but Israel actually kept new moon feasts and these were usually linked to Sabbath worship (for example, see 2 Chronicles 2:4). That Israel continued such observances right down to New Testament times is evident from Paul's reference to Jewish Christian observance of 'a new moon or a sabbath day' in Colossians 2:16.

The Old Testament editors did a better job here than they did with the creation story. They carefully excised any link with the worship of lunar deities in the various references to new moon festivals. But, we must ask, why else would such an observance occur, if not originally connected with such worship? And this leads us to a further telling observation. The Jewish Passover celebration was also linked to lunar worship! Wasn't this festival kept on the night of the full moon of the month nearest the Spring Equinox? There's more than a faint whiff of pagan worship here! And it was at the Passover than Jesus was crucified.

Thus Easter, that all-important Christian festival, is celebrated on a date that varies from year to year, sometimes in March and sometimes in April. Christians have, in fact, come to celebrate the death of their leader on a varying date! As an acquaintance once remarked, 'Christ is the god who dies from month to month.' And once again we find that primitive religious rites, in the form of worship of lunar deities, have profoundly influenced the development of a 'higher' religion.


So much for the fourth commandment. I will mention but one other before passing to my main theme. 'Honour thy father and thy mother,' it states unequivocally; one might say, baldly. All fathers, all mothers? Those who neglect their children? The mental and physical abusers? The rapists? There is a veritable army of parents who are quite unworthy of any sort of honour from their children. Yet these same children would be breaking Yahweh's law by not so honouring them! But there is worse to come. Wait until I tell you about those additional laws I mentioned earlier. They will (I hope) shock you!

For when Moses had delivered up the first Ten he took himself back into 'the thick darkness' where, as my readers may recall, Yahweh was skulking, after failing to appear as promised. Eventually Moses reappeared, this time armed with an enormous number of additional enactments.

Some were quite trivial. (But then much trivia fills the Bible's pages; that is why it is such a thick book. Take these curtain-making instructions, for example, from Exodus 26:9 - 'And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and thou shalt double over the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tent.' Very important, this!)

Some of the later enactments merely amplified earlier ones or extended the range of the guilt trip. The death penalty was prescribed for murderers, kidnappers and witches. And those nutty people who 'lieth with a beast' and even those who had merely struck or cursed their parents. Now witches may, to our enlightened minds, be figments of primitive imagination but the Bible's belief in witches was to lead to awful suffering for many. The Church of 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild,' was to seize upon the commandment, 'Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress [AV - 'witch'] to live (Exodus 22:18) to justify hounding thousands to torture and death. And from Leviticus (20:27): 'A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shalt surely be put to death [by stoning].' I wonder whether those poor wretches, perishing within the flames lit up by pious Christian gentlemen, found consolation in the god Agni, lord of the flame? If Christ and Yahweh had abandoned them, perhaps Agni had compassion on them at the last. Any god will do!

It is also in these additional laws that we come across those famous words that have been such a bone of contention ever since: 'Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe' (Exodus 21: 23-26). Clearly this is a development from the Code of Hammurabi but now it bears the seal of Yahweh! And, like the law concerning witches, this is another of 'God's laws for mankind' we are told about so often. Well, we are told about some of these laws, and quite often, but others - nary a mention! Like this one. Selective amnesia is a common complaint among religious apologists. Incidentally, on this topic, there is a law forbidding usury, too, but again, selective amnesia seems to take over.


I could go on interminably, for these laws are interminable, boringly so. (And, let me harp again: all carefully and precisely recorded verbatim three-quarters of a millennium after the event.) Amazingly, Yahweh seems to have suffered a serious lapse of memory. It appears he forgot he had given out these laws in Exodus and gave them forth all over again in the book of Deuteronomy! But, he seems to have changed his mind on some subjects for the new revelation has significant differences to the old! No doubt a deity can change his mind; he is, after all, a deity. The same thing happened when Allah was communicating with Muhammad.

But I've kept the juicy bits until last, for there are still two among the additional laws I must tell you about. I call them the Eleventh and Twelfth Commandments. They were the very first of a new list announced by Moses when he returned from his second visit with the god-of-the-smoking-mountain.

The eleventh commandment deals (approvingly) with the institution of slavery. Yes, I said slavery! Recognized as a normal fact of life in the Bible and certainly not repugnant to Yahweh. This law is found in Exodus 21:2-6. In the King James (Authorized) Version and the Revised Version the words used here are servant/bondsman and maidservant/bondswoman. The Hebrew clearly meant 'slave' but this was no doubt felt to be a bit strong for Bible readers. Once again the Revised Standard Version is more honest in its translation. But if my readers still doubt, then read on.

Slaves are to go free after six years' service. Thus runs the laws, but there's a nasty catch, a sting in the tail. If the slave came to his master already wived she, too, could go free with her husband. But if the wife had been given to the slave by his master then, when he goes free, the wife and children are to remain behind. Placed in a terrible dilemma (well, maybe not all the husbands; some might have been glad to leave behind wife and brats) what is the poor man to do? Ah, but Yahweh is infinitely kind. He has provided for just such a contingency. The slave may elect to retain his slave-status so as to remain with his family. He then agrees to serve his master 'forever' and in token of such servitude the master is instructed (Yahweh is, remember, very particular on matters of detail) to 'bore his ear through with an awl' (verse 6). And you tell me such people are not slaves? In another enactment (21:20) the master is apparently free to beat them with rods, provided only that they don't actually die! Well, it would be a waste, after all!


So much for this repugnant Eleventh Commandment, but the Twelfth actually outdoes it. This is the one (and if I were a betting man I'd sure bet this one has never been mentioned by your preachers) that prescribes conditions to be observed when a daughter has been sold into slavery by her father. Yes, this is what it says. Don't blame me, I'm merely quoting from the holy Book (Exodus 21:7). The law specified that the girl may become wife or concubine of the slave-owner or be given to his son. If she doesn't please the owner or the said son she is to go free. But, and it is a big 'but', the onus is on the slave-holder as to when she is released, if ever! After all, he may have chosen to keep her on as a household drudge or sexual plaything, long after she ceased pleasing him in other ways.

Nasty law this one but I mentioned before that Yahweh repeated his laws elsewhere, in the book of Deuteronomy. Remember also that in the second outburst he made some changes. Well, one of these changes seems to indicate that Yahweh had by then become a bit embarrassed by his rules governing daughter-slavery. They disappeared entirely from the new formulation!

These two commandments form part, but only part, of the dark underside of that 'great moral code' of Moses; these are the parts of the story left out by the Christian moralizers who would fain tell us how we should live 'by God's laws.' And, we are assured, they come directly from Yahweh himself, 'God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' or so they tell us.

Do we, then, judge the morality of Yahweh by the standards set in such passages? But this is the deity who supposedly commanded the circumcision of male infants, a bloody and (as we now know) unnecessary cruelty practised upon tiny babies. (Phallic worship was not unknown in Israel; seen, for example, in the worship of pillars and in the presentation by David to Saul of the foreskins of two hundred slain Philistines; the Bible describes this act as proving 'Yahweh was with David' - 1 Samuel 18:28.) The history of Israel provides ample evidence that the morality of Yahweh was of a very low order, but then, he was a god, so could presumably do as he wished. He was, wasn't he?


It was this same god-of-the-mountain who made a compact with Jephthah, the warrior, as a result of which his innocent daughter, an only child at that, was offered as a burnt offering to Yahweh. I can hear the exclamations as I write! But it is there, all spelled out clearly in Judges 11:29-31 and 34-40. Will the apologists for Yahweh try to explain away this story? Have they forgotten that among those commandments issued by the self-same god-of-the-mountains, provision was made for 'the firstborn of thy sons' to be given to Yahweh (Exodus 22:29). And, lest it be claimed that this was merely a symbolic 'giving', the very next verse refers to the firstborn of sheep and oxen to be likewise 'given'; and it wasn't symbolic for these latter, it was the real thing!

Maybe there is an explanation for all this. Perhaps the Gnostics were correct in believing the world was framed and controlled by a sort of faulty god, the Demiurgos, an underling of the High God, and that this creature was none other than Yahweh himself! The poor Jews had got it all wrong, mistaking their mountain deity for the true GOD and worshipping him accordingly. Nice theory. Certainly disposes of the problem of Yahweh's awful moral standards.

Much of the subsequent pseudo-history of Israel continues in the same fantastic vein. What can I say of the crossing of the Red Sea that hasn't been said before by others? Or of the Tower of Babel? Of of Daniel in his den of lions? (From time to time there have been reports of religious people trying to emulate Daniel; mostly they end up being eaten.) Or of Joshua and those incredible down-falling walls of Jericho?

Or, more remarkable still, Joshua's commanding the sun to stand still. Now there's a conjuror's dream come true! I've seen a magician making the Statue of Liberty disappear; pretty impressive trick that one, but to have stopped the sun in its tracks - wow! Haven't we been informed by the believers that the universe is an ordered place, thus proving (so they fondly but vainly imagine) the existence of a deity. Yet some petty chieftain in an unimportant corner of the world stops the sun in its tracks? Roll up your next wonder for us to believe. Oh, yes, I nearly forgot - there are many wonders yet to come - among them a Virgin Birth and a Resurrection.


The subsequent history of the nation of the Jews is both complex and boring so need not detain us long. Now far from being that distinctive Chosen Race as they claimed of themselves, the Hebrew nation was, in reality, a federation, and a very loose one at that, of many tribes and races. Probably included were peoples from among the Semites, Amorites, Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians and Phoenicians. In time this polyglot lot divided into two factions - the southern, Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the northern, Israel. In the south, where Solomon had built his great temple, some of the ancient Semitic deities again came to be worshipped. In the north, Yahweh-worship continued, albeit with lapses.

The divided nation finally fell to invaders and went through many upheavals in the intervening years, until restored to its homeland in the fifth century BCE. It is from this era that we date the bringing together of the Jewish scriptures.

Which brings us to the very last book of the Old Testament, a short but interesting work, known by the name of the prophet, Malachi. In these writings we come across some magnificent language, words filled with poetic power. And they spell out Israel's hope: 'Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and Yahweh, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold he cometh, said Yahweh Sabaoth ['Lord of Hosts']. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire....But to you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and gambol as calves in the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked....' (Malachi 3:1-2 and 4:2-3). Even my beloved Shakespeare hardly bettered these words. No wonder Mr Handel made such good use of them in his oratorio.

In the four centuries after this passage was penned the Jews went through further tribulations and we next find them, at the beginning of our present era, annexed to mighty Rome. As ever the nation is divided. The Pharisees, clinging to their legal observances, maintaining the messianic hope, believing in the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees, the pragmatists, living in the present, a priestly party accommodating itself to fluctuating fortune. It was this latter group, especially, who didn't want the boats rocked by an upstart from the provinces.


But those who in Israel looked for the coming of Messiah still held fast to their hope. First would come Elijah, then Messiah 'with healing in his wings,' and the suffering, the defeats and the failures of the past would all be swept away. The wicked would become 'ashes unto the soles of your feet' (Malachi 4:3). Israel would at last emerge triumphant at the head of humanity, 'the stone which the builders rejected....become the head of the corner' (Psalm 118:22).

And then someone did come. John the Baptizer came. And Jesus of Nazareth came. And some of the people said, chief among them Saul the Pharisee, here is Elijah and here is Messiah. But, alas, they were sadly mistaken. John was not Elijah and Jesus was not Messiah. A few renegade Jews may have thought they were but most were not fooled.

Every so often we come across a passage in the New Testament that is manifestly true. Mind you, it is not all that often, but it sometimes occurs. One such passage is this one: 'He came unto his own and they that were his own received him not' (John 1:11). How true! But the standard Christian interpretation of this passage fails dismally to perceive the underlying real truth behind these words. Surely, one would think, the Jews of all people had good reason to embrace Messiah if the Galilean were indeed he. It would mean the end of Roman rule, the end of all oppression of their race. It would mean triumph at last for Israel. But they did reject him.

Thereafter the Church seized the initiative and wrested the Jews' own prophets away from them, attaching its own interpretations to the prophetic utterances. The new religion, a strange amalgam of Hellenism, Mithraism, Zoroastrianism and plain old Paganism, grafted awkwardly on its Jewish host, sought to prove itself, snatching words out of context and claiming things of the Old Testament scriptures that few Jews in their right minds would ever have claimed.


Jesus the Nazarene, a Jew who went about doing good and who never ever thought of himself as a god, was elevated to the status of Messiah (for 'Christ' is but the Greek term for 'Messiah'). But more, the Christians were not content with appropriating the role of Messiah to Jesus. To the horror of the Jews, he was elevated still further, mystically co-equal with Yahweh himself, a very part of the eternal godhead.

Two thousand, four hundred years after Malachi's prophecies, the Christians still believe their Jesus to be the Messiah and the Jews still know he isn't. The Jews, at least those of their number who still have hope (and they are not all that many), look for his coming. They have a long wait ahead of them. They will continue to wait, for Messiah will never come. All prophecy, whether found in the Bible or in other holy books, is fulfilled or unfulfilled according to how well the prophets guess future outcomes from present trends.

That all the Jewish prophecies arose from ecstacy rather than from divine revelation is proved by the greatest single failure of this whole body of writings. It failed dismally to predict the coming of Christianity!

Mark Owen, 1991 -

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