As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.

— Gloucester in King Lear.

Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

— The Book of Job

And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:
And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger. And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.

…And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

— The Book of Exodus


I have called you friends

– Jesus

6 posts were split to a new topic: Dale and John

Not quite sure what discussion you are trying to provoke, @John_Harshman. Are you suggesting that God is portrayed as acting wrongly or capriciously (like wanton boys towards flies) in Job and in Exodus?

Yes, he is charging God with being evil, unlike Job.

In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Maybe I should say, rather, is that he is saying that the Judeo-Christian God that he doesn’t believe exists is evil.

You will of course correct me if I am mischaracterizing you, @John_Harshman.

“24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:21-26, KJV)

Do you think these things are pleasant to us who believe? Yet we accept them about our God and learn to fear him all the more. He is a God - by the way, the only true and living God - who requires blood. Do you not know that this present world will not pass away until Jesus and the armies of heaven make the blood run deep?

Want to discuss? You start.

I hope not! :slight_smile:

I think the view @John_Harshman is expressing here is not uncommon among atheists. There are probably as many variations in those views as there are variation among atheists. I know making any criticism of God will provoke a response, but those criticisms exist.

I think it’s fair to say that God has an “image problem”, at least to certain audiences.


I really would like to get some OT theologians or philosophers in here to engage in the discussion.

In the mean time, most of the stuff I’ve seen around “genocide” in the OT has been about the Canaanite conquest in Joshua/Judges. I’ll try to find some stuff specifically about Exodus when I have more time. So I have some (somewhat dated) articles to show a range in views about OT violence.

John Piper

The most conservative, I think, is Calvinist pastor John Piper:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.

Piper’s defense is a straight-up “God can do whatever he likes, and it’s good.”

Paul Copan

Next is Paul Copan, who is a philosopher at Palm Beach Atlantic University and wrote a book entitled Is God a Moral Monster?. Here’s a few excerpts from a 2010 article he wrote:

By the Israelite attack on Canaan, God accomplished two things. First, He brought righteous judgment on the deserving Canaanites — a kind of corporate capital punishment. God directed this destruction, however, less against Canaanite persons as it was against Canaanite religion (Deuteronomy 7:3–5; 12:2,3; cp. Exodus 34:12,13).

Second, God was able to prepare a land for His people to create the proper religious setting to make sense of a coming Messiah who would bring redemption to Israelites and Gentiles alike (Genesis 12:3).

Copan then goes on to describe how the conquest language was ANE hyperbole:

Yes, Joshua uses ancient conventional warfare rhetoric. Many other ancient Near East military accounts are full of bravado and exaggeration, depicting total devastation. Ancient Near East readers knew this was massive hyperbole and not literally true. Interestingly, Deuteronomy 7:2–5 uses words like “utterly destroy” right next to “you shall not intermarry with them” (NASB). As we have seen, the chief concern is destroying Canaanite religion not the Canaanite people .

and even that talk about “women and children” should be interpreted differently:

This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).

Greg Boyd

Greg Boyd, neo-anabaptist and open theist pastor and theologian, has done quit a bit of work in this area. Here is some of his response to Copan:

In response, I’d first like to make it clear that I do not deny that the law of the OT was inspired by God or that it reflects God’s will for his people at the time. I simply maintain that what God willed for his people was the best they could do given the spiritual state of their hearts and the cultural conditioning of their minds . The law reflects God’s will insofar as the OT laws generally represent an improvement over the laws of other ANE cultures. But since God will not coercively push people beyond where their hearts and minds are willing or able to go, the law also reflects God accommodating his people’s darkened spiritual state as well as their cultural conditioning.

Pete Enns

Finally, Pete Enns takes apart John Piper’s statement, as he does for much of how Evangelicals view the Bible. You can read the critique yourself but here is the relevant statement of Enns’ own view:

The conquest stories are symbolic narratives that point to a theological truth . For example, the fact that Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute , is spared but the Israelite family man Achan and his family are treated as Canaanites (Joshua 6-7) is designed to make people think long and hard about what insider and outsider even means.

Overall, you can see there is a fairly large range in views about the morality of the Canaanite conquest within just the Evangelical’ish (at least Protestant) community. I have no idea how the Catholic and Orthodox churches deal with it.


My point in a previous thread obviously was not adequately articulate for some:

God is not capricious in his justice… [i.e., not wanton!]

In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

…the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.

That means it is measured.

Also something that never gets considered in the big picture from his critics is the most frequent mandate in the Bible – all together now… (I’ve posted it enough times we should all be able to repeat it :slightly_smiling_face:):

The most frequent mandate in the Bible is “Don’t be afraid” or one of its several variations – “Be anxious for nothing”, “Fret not”, …

That’s one big non sequitor if all God is is a nasty, selfish and brutish judge.

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I’m glad it’s a fable.

Not a new concern, and not a concern only of atheists. From Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses:


@DaleCutler I am aware of the Apologist’s response, I was trying to discuss the criticism itself without making the criticism (the criticism exists). I’m not asking you to defend your beliefs.

I don’t really want to rehash this topic either - this sort of criticism isn’t useful, IMO. I don’t think that religion(s) should be above criticism, because sometimes they do go wrong - or are (mis)interpreted to inspire people to do wrong. We don’t need to look very hard to see evidence of that. My suggestion, if I may, is to take the criticisms at face value, own them, and use them as a guide to make sure you (we) aren’t making excuses to do evil.

Is that fair?

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Not quite. I’m saying that the acts quoted and ascribed to God in Job and Exodus are evil. And that the character described in those quotes is evil. You can of course find other bits of the bible in which the character is not evil, some of which you have mentioned or quoted. Taken as a whole, the character of that God forms no coherent picture. This is a problem only if you think the bible should be taken as a coherent whole rather than an assemblage of documents written at different times by different people, many of whom had quite different conceptions of God. He definitely seems to have mellowed a bit over time. But his actions in Job and Exodus are reprehensible, as are many of the things he does in other parts of the Torah.

In Job, he persecutes Job (or has Satan, who in that story is not the devil but apparently one of God’s friends or employees, do it) purely on a bet. That’s killing for his sport indeed.

In Exodus, he visits the plagues on Egypt in order to demonstrate his power. In fact he hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he won’t let Moses’s people go until the last plague, the killing of the firstborn, is complete. More killing for his sport.

There are others. How do people who think the bible paints a coherent picture reconcile all this with a loving God?

I can see why you fear him, given your belief in the truth of scripture. But why do you also love him and think he loves you?

Yes, exactly. How is he not?

Thanks. Though not directly related to the topic, which refers not to acts encourage by God but to his actual described acts, the theology was interesting. Does anyone here wish to support or defend any of those positions?

Piper: It’s right because God can do whatever he wants.
Copan: It’s all exaggerated.
Boyd: It’s the best he could do to restrain those primitive, savage people.
Enns: It’s just metaphorical.

It still isn’t. What was your point?

What point do you draw from that?

Clearly, that isn’t all he is. But he still is that. I explain it by supposing that God is a fictional character viewed in different, mutually inconsistent ways by different writers at different times. You can find text showing him as just about any sort of person. But my question is about the parts in which he appears as evil. Those can’t be disposed of by pointing to other parts.

Right, those were just what I remembered from the last time I look at the “genocide in the OT” issues (back around 2010 or so as you can tell by the dates on the articles). I would like for us to pull in scholarship or at least reasoned outside resources rather than just opinions.

I don’t know if I could really defend the positions, but I gravitate towards maybe a mix of Copan and Boyd. I’m not a Calvinist so Piper loses me pretty quickly but “just metaphorical” seems to far.

From my own reading in the OT what I’ve tended to see is:

  • there is quite a bit of hyperbole or exaggeration going on. As Copan points out, when we read through the stories there will be language that sounds like total obliteration, but then not long after they are in trouble because they have mixed/intermarried so much that they are turning to idolatry. That’s not a couple survived. That sounds a lot more like the Israelites won the war and are occupying the land.
  • the OT is really corporate/nationalistic and not individualistic. Whole tribes or nations are held responsible for the actions of the leader. This one is hard for me to understand as an American. We love our individualism.
  • it does seem to me that God speaks to people within the context of their time and place. The Bible is written over hundreds of years through different cultures. It looks to me that God does come down to our level a lot, even to the point of Jesus becoming human, so it seems to me that it would be reasonable that the OT stories need to be interpreted in that light.

I think your question about Egypt and the first born is a tough one for sure. It seems as if all of Egypt is being punished for the decisions of Pharaoh. One one hand, God had given many other signs and plagues to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites out of slavery, so it wasn’t out of nowhere. Did literally every firstborn male person and livestock die that night? I don’t know. I would suggest that whatever it was it seems to have been enough that the Egyptians were happy to get rid of the Israelites.

I think the larger question would be the relationship between God and death in general. What if it was a disease that spread throughout Egypt, and say it somehow affect firstborn more than the rest, and God intervened to protect all the Israelites from the disease, does that make it better? Is all death attributable to God because he has the power to not allow it. If God allows “nature” to take its course, is he still responsible? Is God’s will and his permission the same thing? I don’t see clear resolution to these questions any times soon.

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Not even that, since Pharaoh’s decisions are controlled by God. As you will recall, the purpose of the plagues is not to persuade Pharaoh but to show God’s power, as God hardens Pharaoh’s heart after each plague.

It’s what the story says, and that’s all we have to go on. I can’t explain it any more than I can explain how Gandalf was able to kill an apparently much larger and more powerful Balrog. The incidents are similarly fictional. Still, if one does accept the reality of the story, it hardly matters whether every single firstborn was killed or just some. It’s still an atrocity for the purpose of showing God’s power. Terrorism, in fact.

Yes, because God allowed one person to make decision, but only right at the end. And would that justify the murder in any case?

That would indeed be a larger question, though not relevant to the immediate case, unless you’re seriously proposing the scenario.