Bible vs Quran: Test your knowledge of who deserves death in which religion – Valerie Tarico

Three Holy Books

Dr Valerie Tarico“Is the Quran more violent than the Bible as most Americans believe? The question is hard to answer. A tally at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible counts 842 violent or cruel passages in the Bible as compared to 333 in the Quran. That said, the Bible is a much thicker tome, and even though the New Testament endorses and adds to the violence in the Old, when percentages are compared, the Quran comes out ahead.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

Abrahamic ReligionsThe world has watched in horror while members of ISIS justify the next mass murder or icy execution with words from the Quran, followed by shouts of Allahu Akbar—God is the greatest! If beliefs have any power whatsoever to drive behaviour—and as a psychologist I think they do—there can be little doubt that the Quran’s many endorsements of violence play a role in how exactly ISIS has chosen to pursue religious and political dominion.

At the same time, it should be equally clear a sacred text filled with violence is insufficient to trigger mass brutality unless other conditions are present as well. Culture, empathy, education and empowerment—and other factors that scholars understand only in part—appear to have a protective influence, safeguarding even most fundamentalists against the worst teachings of their own tradition. We know this in part because the Bible contains commandments and stories that are as horrific as those being used to justify butchery in Iraq and Syria.

The following 30 violent exhortations are a mix, drawn from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures. The generic word God is used for all deity names, and names of places or people have been replaced with generic terms. How well do you know your Torah, Bible, or Quran and Hadith? Can you tell which is which?

[The source of the quotation has been added after the quote, as Hindu readers will not be knowing “their” Torah, Bible, Quran or Hadith very well. – Ed]

  1. Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the [holy man] who represents God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)
  2. I decided to order a man to lead the prayer and then take a flame to burn all those, who had not left their houses for the prayer, burning them alive inside their homes. (Bukhari 11:626)
  3. All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)
  4. Fight them until there is no more [disbelief or worshipping of other gods] and worship is for God alone. (Quran 2:193)
  5. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. (Matthew 10:34-35)
  6. Whoso fighteth in the way of God, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward. (Quran 4:74)
  7. Make ready to slaughter [the infidel’s] sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants. (Isaiah 14:21 NAB)
  8. [God’s messenger] … was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The [holy man] replied, “They [women and children] are from them [unbelievers].” (Bukhari 52:256)
  9. Then I heard God say to the other men, “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all—old and young, girls and women and little children.” (Ezekiel 9:5 NLT)
  10. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them. (Quran 8:12)
  11. Keep [my holiday], for it is holy. Anyone who desecrates it must die. (Exodus 31:12-15 NLT)
  12. The punishment of those who wage war against God and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement. (Quran 5:33)
  13. If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)
  14. It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war until he had made a great slaughter in the land…. (Quran 8:67)
  15. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31: 17-18 KJV)
  16. I shall terrorize the [heathens]. So wound their bodies and incapacitate them, because they oppose God and his apostle. (Quran 8:12)
  17. A [holy man’s] daughter who loses her honour by committing fornication and thereby dishonours her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)
  18. So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them. (Quran 9:5)
  19. Everyone who would not seek God was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)
  20. And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction. (Quran 17:16)
  21. But if [a girl wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night] and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against God’s people by her unchasteness in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB)
  22. The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say.”O [believer]! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.” (Bukhari 52:177)
  23. If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)
  24. God’s Apostle said, “I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but God.’” (Bukhari 8:387)
  25. Cursed be he who does God’s work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB).
  26. God said, “A prophet must slaughter before collecting captives. A slaughtered enemy is driven from the land. [Prophet], you craved the desires of this world, its goods and the ransom captives would bring. But God desires killing them to manifest the religion.” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 484)
  27. Anyone who blasphemes God’s name must be stoned to death by the whole community of [believers]. (Leviticus 24:16 NLT)
  28. When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) [your religion]; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them.… If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them [a tax]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek God’s help and fight them. (Muslim 19:4294)
  29. Anyone else who goes too near the [Holy Place] will be executed. (Numbers 1: 51 NLT)
  30. Killing unbelievers is a small matter to us. (Tabari 9:69)

Is the Quran more violent than the Bible as most Americans believe? The question is hard to answer. A tally at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible counts 842 violent or cruel passages in the Bible as compared to 333 in the Quran. That said, the Bible is a much thicker tome, and even though the New Testament endorses and adds to the violence in the Old, when percentages are compared, the Quran comes out ahead. In addition, the kinds of cruelty and violence vary as do the perpetrator and victim and the extent to which any verse can be interpreted as divine sanction for the behaviour in question. Either way, endorsements of violence abound in both.

Bible and Quran believers who recognize verses in this list will no doubt protest that they have been taken out of context, as indeed they have. I think the appropriate response to such a complaint is a question: What context, exactly, would make these verses uplifting, inspiring or worthy of praise? In what context are passages like these some of the most important and holy guidance that the creator of the universe might think to impart to humankind? In what context is a book that contains these passages and many, many more like them the apogee of divine goodness and timeless wisdom?

Members of each Abrahamic tradition are quick to point out the rational and moral flaws in the others. I wonder sometimes, what this world might be like if they were as quick to examine the flaws in their own. –, 1 June 2013

» Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. 

Bible & Koran

Marriage in the Bible: Captive virgins, polygamy and sex slaves – Valerie Tarico

Dr Valerie Tarico“The God of the Bible explicitly endorses polygamy and sexual slavery and coerced marriage of young virgins along with monogamy. In fact, he endorses all three to the point of providing detailed regulations. Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix of sexual contact that receives divine sanction. … Furthermore, none of the norms that are endorsed and regulated in the Old Testament law – polygamy, sexual slavery, coerced marriage of young girls—are revised, reversed, or condemned by Jesus.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

David & JonathanBible believers are beside themselves about the prospect that marriage norms and laws are changing, but let me tell you a secret about Bible believers that I know because I was one. Most don’t actually read their Bibles.

If they did, they would know that the biblical model of sex and marriage has little to do with the one they so loudly defend. Sex in the Bible includes rape, incest, master-slave sexual relations, captive virgins, and more. Of course, just because a story is told in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended as a model for moral behaviour. Does God forbid or command the behaviour? Is it punished or rewarded? In the New Testament stories, does Jesus change the rules or leave them alone? By these criteria, the Bible not only describes many forms of sexual relationships (including sexually coercive relationships), it gives them the divine thumbs up.

Not one man, one woman

The God of the Bible explicitly endorses polygamy and sexual slavery and coerced marriage of young virgins along with monogamy. In fact, he endorses all three to the point of providing detailed regulations. Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix of sexual contact that receives divine sanction.

Prophet and ConcubinesNew Testament endorses Old Testament

Nowhere does the Bible say, “Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you.” Consent, in the Bible, is not a thing. Furthermore, none of the norms that are endorsed and regulated in the Old Testament law—polygamy, sexual slavery, coerced marriage of young girls—are revised, reversed, or condemned by Jesus. In fact, the writer of Matthew puts these words in the mouth of Jesus:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law [the Old Testament] until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

The Law of which Jesus speaks is the Law of Moses, or the Torah, and anyone who claims the Bible as the perfect word of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God should have the decency to read the Torah carefully—and then keep going.

• Sex Slaves. Concubines are sex slaves, and the Bible gives instructions on acquisition of several types of sex slaves, although the line between biblical marriage and sexual slavery is blurry. A Hebrew man might, for example, sell his daughter to another Hebrew, who then has certain obligations to her once she is used. For example, he can’t then sell her to a foreigner. Alternately a man might see a virgin war captive that he wants for himself.

• Polygamy. Polygamy is a norm in the Old Testament and accepted in the New Testament. has pages dedicated to 40 biblical figures, each of whom had multiple wives. The list includes patriarchs like Abraham and Isaac. King David, the first king of Israel may have limited himself to eight wives, but his son Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived had 700 wives and 300 concubines! (1 Kings 11)

• War Booty. In the book of Numbers (31:18) God’s servant commands the Israelites to kill all of the used Midianite women who have been captured in war, and all of the boy children, but to keep all of the virgin girls for themselves. The Law of Moses spells out a purification ritual to prepare a captive virgin for life as a concubine. It requires her Tamar &  Judahowner to shave her head and trim her nails and give her a month to mourn her parents before the first sex act (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). A Hebrew girl who is raped can be sold to her rapist for 50 shekels, or about $580 (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). He must then keep her as one of his wives for as long as she lives.

• Brother’s Wife. A man might acquire multiple wives whether he wanted them or not if his brother died. In fact, if a brother dies with no children, it becomes a duty to impregnate his wife. In the book of Genesis, Onan is struck dead by God because he fails to fulfill this duty—preferring to spill his seed on the ground rather than providing offspring for his brother (Genesis 38:8-10). A New Testament story shows that the tradition has survived. Jesus is a rabbi, and a group of scholars called Sadducees try to test his knowledge of Hebrew Law by asking him this question:

“Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:24-28).

Jesus is too clever for them and points out that in Heaven, that place of perfect bliss, there is no marriage.

Having a brother act as a sperm donor isn’t the only biblical solution to lack of offspring. The patriarch Abraham is married to his half-sister Sarah, but the two are childless for the first 75 years or so of their marriage. Frustrated, Sarah finally says, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Her slave, Hagar, becomes pregnant, and then later Sarah does too and the story gets complicated (Genesis 16). But that doesn’t stop Abraham’s grandson Jacob from participating in a competition, in which his two wives repeatedly send in their slaves to get pregnant by him, each trying to get more sons than the other (Genesis 30:1-22).

Abraham, Sarah and HagarBible believers or simply change-averse?

These stories might be irrelevant to the question of biblical marriage were it not that Bible believers keep telling us that God punishes people when he dislikes their sexual behaviour. He disliked the behaviour of New Orleans gays so much, according to Pat Robertson, that he sent a hurricane to drown the whole city—kind of like Noah’s flood. And yet, according to the Bible story, both Abraham and Jacob were particularly beloved and blessed by God.

The point is that marriage has changed tremendously since the Iron Age when the Bible was written. For centuries, concubines and polygamy were debated by Christian leaders—accepted by some and rejected by others. The nuclear family model so prized by America’s fundamentalist Christians emerged from the interplay between Christianity and European cultures including the monogamous tradition of the Roman Empire. As humanity’s moral consciousness has evolved, coerced sex has become less acceptable even within marriage while intertribal and interracial marriage has grown in acceptance. Today even devout Bible believers oppose sexual slavery. Marriage, increasingly, is a commitment of love, freely given. Gay marriage is simply a part of this broader conversation, and opposition on the part of Bible believers has little to do with biblical monogamy.

Since many Christians haven’t read the whole Bible, most “Bible believers” are not, as they like to claim, actually Bible believers. Biblical literalists, even those who think themselves “nondenominational,” almost all follow some theological tradition that tells them which parts of the Bible to follow and how. Granted, sometimes even decent people do get sucked into a sort of text worship that I call bibliolatry, and Bible worship can make a person’s moral priorities as archaic and cruel as those of the Iron Age tribesmen who wrote the texts. (I once listened, horrified, while a sweet, elderly pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses rationalized the Old Testament slaughter of children with the same words Nazis used to justify the slaughter of Jewish babies.)

US Supreme Court 2015But many who call themselves Bible believers are simply, congenitally conservative—meaning change-resistant. What really concerns them is protecting the status quo, an ancient hierarchy with privileged majority-culture straight males at the top, which they justify by invoking ancient texts. Gay marriage will come, as will other reproductive rights, and these Bible believers will adapt to the change as they have others: reluctantly, slowly and with angry protests, but in the end accepting it, and perhaps even insisting that it was God’s will all along. – Raw Story, 29 June 2015

Westboro Baptist Church

Judgement Day Prediction

Where the Bible really stands on slavery – Valerie Tarico

Japheth, Ham & Shem

Dr Valerie Tarico“It is easy to look back on slavery from the vantage of our modern moral consensus—that treating people as property is wrong, regardless of what our ancestors believed. But the very same Bible that provided Furman and Jefferson Davis with a defense of slavery also teaches that non-believers are evildoers, women are for breeding, children need beating, and marriage can take almost any form but queer.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

New TestamentShould a person be able to own another person? Today Christians uniformly say no, and many would like to believe that has always been the case. But history tells a different story, one in which Christians have struggled to give a clear answer when confronted with questions about human trafficking and human rights. Had the Bible been edited differently, Christendom might have achieved moral clarity on this issue sooner. As is, the Bible contains very mixed messages, which means that biblical authority could be invoked on either side of the question, leaving Christian beliefs about slavery vulnerable for centuries to prevailing cultural, political, and economic currents.

Old TestamentOld Testament endorses, describes, and regulates slavery

The Bible first endorses slavery in the book of Genesis, in the story of Noah the ark builder. After the flood, Noah’s son Ham sees his father drunk and naked, and for reasons that have long been debated, is cursed. One recurring theme in Genesis is that guilt can be transferred from a guilty person to an innocent person (think of Adam and Eve’s fruit consumption, which taints us all), and in this case the curse is put on Ham’s son, Canaan.

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. May God make space for Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” (Genesis 9:24-27 NRSV)

Most likely, this story was intended originally to justify the Israelite subjugation of Canaanite peoples, who, in other stories about the conquest of the Promised Land are slaughtered or enslaved. Later though, Christians and Muslims would use the story to explain why some people have dark skin, and “Ham’s curse” became a justification for enslaving Native Americans and Africans.

Throughout the Hebrew Old Testament, slavery is endorsed in a variety of ways. Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob both have sex with female slaves, and the unions are blessed with male offspring. Captives are counted among the booties of war, with explicit instructions given for purifying virgin war captives before “knowing them.” The wisest man of all time, Solomon, keeps hundreds of concubines, meaning sexual slaves, along with his many wives.

The books of the Law provide explicit rules for the treatment of Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves.

  • You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

When punishing slaves, owners are given latitude that falls just short of on-the-spot murder:

  • When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21)

That said, the book of Deuteronomy explicitly forbids returning an escaped slave to his master, in a passage that was a favourite of abolitionists:

  • Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them. (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)

Most Christians believe that Mosaic Law is no longer binding, and that the life of Jesus ushered in a new period of grace and forgiveness, but that hasn’t stopped Old Testament endorsements of slavery from shaping the course of Christian history. They are, after all, still in the Bible. Fourth century Catholic councils endorsed the Hebrew Scriptures as a package, permanently binding them together with the Christian writings that became the New Testament.

Paul & OnesimusNew Testament encourages kindness from master, obedience from slave

Equally regrettable, from the standpoint of moral clarity, is the fact that New Testament writers fail to condemn Old Testament slavery. In fact, the Jesus of Matthew says that he has come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

Slavery comes up regularly in New Testament texts; but rather than repudiating the practice, the writers simply encourage good behaviour on the part of both slaves and masters. Slaves are clearly property of the owners, as are their families. In one parable Jesus compares God to a king who has slaves. When one slave refuses to forgive the debt of a peer, the righteous king treats him in kind, “and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.” (Matthew 18:25)

While in prison, the Apostle Paul encounters an escaped slave, Onesimus, and sends a letter to his Christian owner, Philemon, tacitly endorsing Philemon’s authority in the matter. The messages are mixed. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon “not as a slave but as a brother”—but he does send him back.

Several letters attributed to Paul express the sentiment that in Christ all people are one:

  • For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
  • There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Then again, he tells slaves to submit to their masters, even as he exhorts masters to treat slaves well.

  • Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality. (Ephesians 6:5-9)
  • Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. (1 Timothy 6:1-3)

The mixed messages of the New Testament provided the basis for later Christian arguments on both sides of the slavery question.

Gregory of NyssaChurch Fathers disagree but pro-slavery faction dominates for 1300 years

For some early Christians, the message of equality trumped endorsements of slavery. John Fletcher (Lessons on Slavery, 1852) wrote that early sects in Asia Minor “decried the lawfulness of it, denounced slave-holding as a sin, a violation of the law of nature and religion. They gave fugitive slaves asylum, and openly offered them protection.” We are told that the Emperor Constantine gave bishops permission to manumit slaves, which would have offered a powerful incentive for conversion to Christianity. St. Gregory, the 4th-century bishop of Nyssa in what is now Turkey, made impassioned arguments against slavery.

“Do sheep and oxen beget men for you? Irrational beasts have only one kind of servitude. Do these form a paltry sum for you? ‘He makes grass grow for the cattle and green herbs for the service of men’ [Psalms 103.14]. But once you have freed yourself from servitude and bondage, you desire to have others serve you. ‘I have obtained servants and maidens.’ What value is this, I ask? What merit do you see in their nature? What small worth have you bestowed upon them?”

Regrettably, as the Church and Roman state became more tightly allied, politics trumped idealism. In the mid-4th century, Manichaean Christians, who were considered heretics by the Church of Rome, were encouraging slaves to take their freedom into their own hands. The Church convened the Council of Gangra, and issued a formal proclamation aligning with the Roman authorities against the Manichaean slave rebels. “If anyone, on the pretext of religion, teaches another man’s slave to despise his master and to withdraw from his service, and not serve his master with good will and all respect, let him be anathema.”

This became the official Church position for the next 1300 years. Although some writers, including Augustine, voiced opposition, the Vatican repeatedly endorsed slavery from the 5th through 17th centuries. To help enforce priestly celibacy, the Ninth Council of Toledo even declared that all children of clergy would be slaves.

Gregory XV Colonial powers invoke the Bible; Mennonites and Quakers raise opposition

As the countries of Europe colonized the world during the 17th century, the moral authority of Bible and Church offered little protection for subject people in the Americas and Africa. The Dominican Fray Bartolome de las Casas, argued against enslavement of Native Americans, but was ignored. The Catholic Church required only that slaves be non-Christians and captured in a “just war.” Near the close of the 17th century, Catholic theologian Leander invoked both common sense and the Bible in support of Church doctrine:

“It is certainly a matter of faith that this sort of slavery in which a man serves his master as his slave, is altogether lawful. This is proved from Holy Scripture…. It is also proved from reason for it is not unreasonable that just as things which are captured in a just war pass into the power and ownership of the victors, so persons captured in war pass into the ownership of the captors…. All theologians are unanimous on this.”

Catholic defenders of slavery were not alone. In England, the Anglican Church spent half a century debating whether slaves should be taught the core tenets of Christian belief. Opposition came from owners who feared that if slaves became Christians they might be entitled to liberty. In North America Protestants first passed laws requiring that slaves be sold with spouse and/or children to protect the family unit, and then decided that these laws infringed the rights of slave-holders. Many sincere Christians believed that primitive heathens were better off as slaves, which allowed them a chance to replace their demonic tribal lifestyle with civilization and possibly salvation.

But as the 17th century came to a close with broad Protestant and Catholic support for slavery, two minority sects, Mennonites and Quakers began formally converging around an anti-slavery stance. Their opposition to injustice, rooted in their own understanding of the Christian faith, would become the kernel of an abolitionist movement that ultimately leveraged the organizing power and moral authority of Christianity to help end both church and state sanction for human trafficking.

John Wesley, anti-slaver and founder of Methodism.Protestant support for slavery fractures and turns

The 18th century marked a pivot point in Christian thinking about slavery, much as the 4th century had, but in the opposite direction. At the start of the century, British Quakers forbade slave-holding among their members, and American Quakers even relocated communities from the South to Ohio and Indiana to distance from the practice. But then as now, Quakers were a small sect, the leading edge in their ethical thinking perhaps, but only the leading edge.

It took John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination, to bring abolitionism into the Christian main current. A son of the Enlightenment as well as the Christian tradition Wesley drew on both secular and religious tools to make his case. His writings lay out in careful detail the history of the Atlantic slave trade as it was known to him. He cites laws that prescribe mutilation and worse for slaves who offend. He makes the argument in clear secular ethical terms for abolition. He also plumbs the language and passions of faith:

“If therefore you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy, nor of the revealed law of GOD) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle towards men. And see that you invariably do unto every one, as you would he should do unto you.” 

Wesley is keenly aware that the book of Genesis has long been invoked in defense of slavery, and rather than deny the Bible’s dark legacy he invokes it, calling on God himself to free the oppressed from both slavery and sin:

The servile progeny of Ham
Seize as the purchase of thy blood!
Let all the heathen know thy name:
From idols to the living God
The dark Americans convert,
And shine in every pagan heart! 

I cite Wesley not because he gets sole or even majority credit for the sea change in Christian thinking during the 18th century, but because he embodies the many currents that came together to create that change. The European Enlightenment prompted lines of ethical philosophy and political analysis that are fundamentally at odds with slave trafficking and forced labour. America’s deist founding fathers documented their own conflicted feelings on the topic. Christians including Puritans, Quakers, Methodists, Anglicans and Baptists wrestled publicly with the issue.

The first and second Great Awakenings spawned revival meetings across the country that drew slaves and former slaves into Christianity. And emancipation began making political inroads, though not without opponents. Vermont outlawed slavery in 1777, and by the end of the century, Upper Canada—now Ontario—had implemented a law that would phase out the practice. By contrast, the Catholic Church placed anti-slavery tracts on a list of forbidden books, and Virginia forbade Blacks from gathering after dark, even for worship services.

Jefferson DavisChristians in the American South hold out

By the start of the 19th century, the fight was far from over, but without Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793, legal slavery in Christian-dominant countries might well have ended with a whimper instead of a war. The economic value of slavery was in decline throughout Europe’s empires, and in the American North a transition to grain production had made slavery all but obsolete in some regions. Where slaves cost more to feed than they could produce, owners set them free.

But as cotton production soared in the South, thanks to Whitney’s invention, so did the demand for slave labour. By the start of the Civil War, the South was producing over 4 million bales of cotton annually, up from a few thousand in 1790. Between 1790 and 1808, when an act of Congress banned the Atlantic slave trade, cotton-producing states imported 80,000 additional slaves from Africa to meet growing demand.

Northerners could think about slavery in abstract humanitarian terms but for Southerners, slavery was prosperity, and many Southern Christians behaved like owners of oil wells might today: they hunkered down and defended their revenue stream by engaging in the kind of “motivated reasoning” that allows us to find virtue in what benefits us. Under pressure, prominent Christian leaders turn to the Bible to defend the South’s way of life:

  • [Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…. It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…. It has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts. — Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.
  • There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral. — Rev. Alexander Campbell
  • The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example. — Rev. Richard Furman, prominent Baptist and namesake of Furman University
  • The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined. — U.S. Senator James Henry Hammond.

The doom of Ham. Whether Ham’s curse is “branded on the form and features of his African descendants,” as Hammond believed, the story of that curse has been branded on the form and features of Christian history, down to the present.

Brigham Young: Self-styled prophet, polygamist and slaver. Kind of a 19th century Muhammad.Modern Christians struggle to disentangle biblical authority from bigotry

On Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, the LDS Mormon Church officially renounced the doctrine that brown skin is a punishment from God. The announcement acknowledged that racism was a part of LDS teaching for generations, as indeed it was, officially, until external pressures including the American civil rights movement and the desire to proselytize in Brazil made segregation impossible. LDS leaders have come a long ways from the thinking of Brigham Young, who wrote, “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10).

“This will always be so,” said Young, but modern Mormons believe he was wrong. Similarly, most modern Protestants and Catholics believe their spiritual forefathers were wrong to endorse slavery—or practice it—or preach it from the pulpit. But thanks in part to words penciled by our Iron Age ancestors and decisions made by 4th-century councils, this moral clarity has been painfully difficult to achieve. How much sooner might Christians have come to this understanding if the Church had not treated those ancient words from Genesis and Leviticus and Ephesians as if they were God-breathed?

It is easy to look back on slavery from the vantage of our modern moral consensus—that treating people as property is wrong, regardless of what our ancestors believed. But the very same Bible that provided Furman and Jefferson Davis with a defense of slavery also teaches that non-believers are evildoers, women are for breeding, children need beating, and marriage can take almost any form but queer.

This month, aspiring presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked to comment on marriage equality and said, “This is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue. And as a biblical issue, unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to evolve.’” I’m guessing that the generations of Christians who fought slavery, biblical texts and Church tradition notwithstanding, would beg to differ. – Alternet, 12 February 2015

» Dr Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. As a writer she tackles the intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics, with a growing focus on women’s issues, and is actively engaged in dialogue that aims to find common ground between theists and freethinkers, in particular by focusing on humanity’s shared moral core.

Slavery in Brazil

See also

Nine reasons why everything you know about Jesus is a myth – Valerie Tarico

Dr Valerie Tarico“The person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

Jesus with wife Mary Magdalene and KidsJesus has been described as the best known figure in history, and also the least known. If you mentioned the name “Jesus” and someone asked Jesus who, you might blink. Or laugh. Even people who don’t think Jesus was God mostly believe they know a fair bit about him. You might be surprised that some of your most basic assumptions about Jesus are probably wrong. 

We have no record of anything that was written about Jesus by eyewitnesses or other contemporaries during the time he would have lived, or for decades thereafter. Nonetheless, based on archeological digs and artifacts, ancient texts and art, and even forensic science, we know a good deal about the time and culture in which the New Testament is set. This evidence points to some startling conclusions about who Jesus likely was—and wasn’t.

1. Married, not single. When an ancient papyrus scrap was found in 2014 referring to the wife of Jesus, some Catholics and Evangelicals were scandalized. But unlike the Catholic Church, Jews have no tradition of celibacy among religious leaders. Jesus and his disciples would have been practising Jews, and all great rabbis we know of were married. A rabbi being celibate would have been so unusual that some modern writers have argued Jesus must have been gay. But a number of ancient texts, including the canonical New Testament, point to a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The Gospel of Phillip says, “[Jesus] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

2. Cropped hair, not long. Jewish men at the time of Christ did not wear their hair long. A Roman triumphal arch of the time period depicts Jewish slaves with short hair. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses male hair length. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14 NRSV). During the 1960s, conservative Christians quoted this verse to express their disgust against the hippy movement and to label it anti-Christian.

3. Hung on a pole, not necessarily a cross. For centuries scholars have known that the Greek New Testament word “stauros,” which is translated into English as cross, can refer to a device of several shapes, commonly a single upright pole, “torture stake” or even tree. The Romans did not have a standard way of crucifying prisoners, and Josephus tells us that during the siege of Jerusalem, soldiers nailed or tied their victims in a variety of positions. Early Christians may have centered on the vertical pole with a crossbeam because it echoed the Egyptian ankh, a symbol of life, or the Sumerian symbol for Tammuz, or because it simply was more artistically and symbolically distinctive than the alternatives. Imagine millions of people wearing a golden pole on a chain around their necks.

4. Short, not tall. The typical Jewish man at the time of the Roman Empire would have been just over five feet tall, which makes this a best guess for the height of Jesus. That he is typically depicted taller derives from the mental challenge people have distinguishing physical stature from other kinds of stature. Great men are called “big men” and “larger than life.” In ancient times they often were assigned divine parentage and miraculous births, and the idea that Jesus was uniquely divine has created a strong pull over time to depict him as taller than is likely. A good illustration of this is the Shroud of Turin, which is just one of many such Jesus-shrouds that circulated during medieval times and which bears the image of a man closer to six feet in height.

5. Born in a house, not a stable. The miraculous birth story of Jesus is a late, maybe second-century addition to the Bible, and it contains many fascinating mythic elements and peculiarities. But the idea that Jesus was born in a stable was added to the Christmas story even later. In the original narrative, Joseph and Mary probably would have stayed with relatives, and the phrase “no room for them in the inn (gr: kataluma)” is better translated “no room for them in the upper room.” Later storytellers did not understand that people of the time might bring animals into their ground floor, as in Swiss housebarns, and they assumed that the presence of a manger implied a stable.

6. Named Joshua, not Jesus. The name Joshua (in Hebrew Y’hoshuʿa meaning “deliverance” or “salvation”), was common among Jews in the Ancient Near East as it is today. Joshua and Jesus are the same name, and are translated differently in our modern Bible to distinguish Jesus from the Joshua of the Old Testament, who leads the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. In actuality, the relationship between the two figures is fascinating and important. Some scholars believe that the New Testament gospels are mostly historicised and updated retellings of the more ancient Joshua story, with episodes interwoven from stories of Elisha and Elijah and Moses. A modern parallel can be found in the way Hollywood writers have reworked Shakespearean tropes and plot elements into dozens of modern movies (though for a very different purpose).

7. Number of apostles (12) from astrology, not history. Whether Jesus had 12 disciples who ranked above his other devotees is an open question, as their names vary from list to list. Since the Gospels echo the story of Joshua, the “12” apostles most immediately mirror the 12 tribes of Israel. But the number 12 was considered auspicious by many ancient people, including the Israelites, and the 189 repetitions of the number 12 in the Bible ultimately may derive from the same pre-historical roots as the 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 months of the year. Astrotheology or star worship preceded the Hebrew religion, and shaped both the Bible and world religions more broadly. One might point to the 12 Olympian gods or 12 sons of Odin, or 12 days of Christmas or 12 “legitimate” successors to the prophet Mohammed.

8. Prophecies recalled, not foretold. Even people who aren’t too sure about the divinity of Jesus sometimes think that the way he fulfilled prophecies was a bit spooky, like the writings of Nostradamus. In reality, Scooby Doo could solve this one in a single episode with three pieces of information: First, Old Testament prophecies were well-known to first-century Jews, and a messianic figure who wanted to fulfill some of these prophecies could simply do so. For example, in the book of Matthew, Jesus seeks a donkey to ride into Jerusalem “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). Second, “gospels” are a genre of devotional literature rather than objective histories, which means that the authors had every reason to shape their stories around earlier predictions. Third, scholars now believe that some Bible texts once thought to be prophecies (for example in the Book of Revelation) actually relate to events that were current or past at the time of writing.

9. Some Jesus quotes not from Jesus; others uncertain. Lists of favorite Jesus sayings abound online. Some of the most popular are the Beatitudes (blessed are the meek, etc.) or the story of the woman caught in adultery (let he who is without sin cast the first stone) or the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you, which, we are told, sums up the Law and the Prophets).

Thomas JeffersonWhich words are actually from Jesus? This question has been debated fiercely by everyone from third-century Catholic Councils to the 20th-century Jesus Seminar. Even Thomas Jefferson weighed in, but much remains unclear. The New Testament Gospels were written long after Jesus would have died, and no technology existed with which to record his teachings in real-time, unless he wrote them down himself, which he didn’t.

We can be confident that at least some of the wise and timeless words and catchy proverbs attributed to Jesus are actually from earlier or later thinkers. For example, the Golden Rule was articulated before the time of Christ by the Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who similarly said it was the “whole Torah.” By contrast, the much-loved story of the woman caught in adultery doesn’t appear in manuscripts until the fourth century. Attributing words (or whole texts) to a famous person was common in the Ancient Near East, because it gave those words extra weight. Small wonder then that so many genuinely valuable insights ended up, in one way or another, paired with the name of Jesus.

JesusThe person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.

The teachings attributed to Jesus mix enduring spiritual and moral insights with irrelevancies and Judaica and bits of Iron Age culture, some of which are truly awful. That leaves each of us, from the privileged vantage of the 21st century, with both a right and a responsibility to consider the evidence and make our own best guesses about what is real and how we should then live. A good starting place might be a little more recognition that we don’t know nearly as much as we’d like to think, and a lot of what we know for sure is probably wrong. – Salon, 14 May 2015

» Dr Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. As a writer she tackles the intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics, with a growing focus on women’s issues, and is actively engaged in dialogue that aims to find common ground between theists and freethinkers, in particular by focusing on humanity’s shared moral core. She is a founder of, an interactive site that allows users to find and discuss information about virtues that emerge repeatedly across secular and religious wisdom traditions.

Workers lift the head of a giant idol of Jesus the King onto its body in Swiebodzin, Poland

See also

Jesus of the Gospels: A mythological figure – Chris Sosa

Chris Sosa“The arguments Christian scholars offer in favour of Jesus’ existence, from Flavius Josephus to later figures like Tacitus, and Justin Martyr, all disintegrate upon close examination. Dan Barker gives a strong argument against their proposed ‘evidences’ of Jesus’ existence in his excellent book Godless.” – Chris Sosa

Jesus the Imaginary Friend America has a curious fixation on the perspectives of Jesus Christ in the formation of public opinion, especially on prominent issues of social values. In recent days, protesters have taken to defending opposing moral positions by claiming Jesus held their viewpoint. Aside from the obvious problem of using a single historical figure as a moral barometer, there’s another troubling issue at hand: Folks are arguing about the opinions of an ancient person without stopping to verify his existence.

Allow me to explain. I’m not explicitly arguing there couldn’t have existed a man named Jesus who had a handful of followers, although that isn’t outside the realm of possibility. But the Jesus of Christianity presents some challenges in being understood as a literal figure within history.

Let’s begin with the largest problem: There does not exist a singular Jesus of the Bible. Each of the Gospels (and for that matter the writings of Paul) present a portrait of Jesus that disagrees with the others on basic facts, starting with the circumstances of his own birth.

When was he born? That’s a trickier question than it should be. Grab a bible and read along. According to Luke, that would be during the first census of Israel by Quirinius, governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). According to Matthew, that would be during the reign of Herod the GreatHerod the Great (Matthew 2:1). The problem? Quirinius’ census got underway in 6 CE. Herod had been dead for a good decade. Apologists occasionally try to wiggle their way out of this one by manipulating the text. But serious scholars, including believers, acknowledge the discrepancy.

Let’s check out the resurrection of Jesus. The oldest Gospel, Mark, does not say that Jesus resurrected at all in its original form. The resurrection was added at a later date. Most bibles even footnote within the text that the resurrection portion does not appear in the “earliest manuscripts.” My childhood bible, an Evangelical-approved NIV translation, actually drew a line dividing the portion from the rest of the text.

All four Gospels do reference an empty tomb. But not a single one agrees with the others on who actually saw it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 23-4, John 20). Mary is either alone, with another Mary, also with Salome or maybe with Joanna too? It seems we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator.

We’ve established that no one really has a clue what year Jesus was born or who exactly discovered his supposedly empty tomb after he died, assuming anyone did at all. But surely everyone can agree on his ascent to Heaven, right? It was a rather fantastical public display.

Bible & CrossUnfortunately, the Gospels can’t even agree on this. In Luke, his ascension occurs in Bethany the day he resurrected (Luke 24). In Acts, a canonical book of the New Testament, he ascends from Mount Olives forty days after resurrecting (Acts 1). Oh, well.

While all of these discrepancies are highly problematic, at least Jesus remains a figure of consistent character throughout the Gospels. Or not. The character has an ethical sensibility that could be described as “confused” at best.

None of the contradictions by anonymous Gospel writers negate the existence of Jesus. However, since no coherent vision of his life exists, it doesn’t seem all that important whether he lived or not. But let’s press on for curiosity’s sake.

What about the historical evidence for Jesus? We’ll check in with New Testament scholar and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Bart Ehrman. I bet he can clear this up.

There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp 56-57 of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium) 

Attis of PhrygiaMany Christian scholars will scoff at the preceding paragraph. But the outside arguments they offer in favor of Jesus’ existence, from Flavius Josephus to later figures like Tacitus, and Justin Martyr, all disintegrate upon close examination. Dan Barker gives a strong argument against their proposed “evidences” of Jesus’ existence in his excellent book Godless.

I could go on for hundreds of pages about the contradictions and historical problems of the Jesus narrative. But it’s quite unnecessary. The Jesus of Christianity is clearly a mythological figure. He’s not even an original. – HuffPost

» Chris Sosa is a managing journalist for He previously served as a national editor for EDGE Publications.

» See New Research: Josephus’s Testimony Examined Linguistically Demonstrates the Passage a Forgery in Toto

VIDEO: Did Moses Exist? – D.M. Murdock

Prophet Moses

D.M. Murdock / Acharya SanningMoses is widely considered the main patriarch for the Abrahamic religions. Although many today regard his existence as suspect, few understand the powerful mythological resonance of the Moses figure. Moses is actually a syncretic and composite godman reaching into many ancient cultures and faiths. He is part sun-god, part lawgiver archetype, and plenty hero of a thousand faces. We enter the Myth of Moses in order to discover the censored wisdom of ancient Gnosis and the fury of an angry volcanic deity that has ruled the West for thousands of years. – D.M. Murdock / Acharya S.

Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver

A Hindu critiques Christianity – Koenraad Elst

Dr. Koenraad Elst“Kalavai Venkat bases his analysis [of Christianity] on a thorough knowledge of the relevant literature, but first of all on a close reading of the source material, starting with the Bible. Most Hindus would already be disabused of their illusions about Christianity if they simply read the Bible, rather than the syrupy pamphlets of the missionaries. Since the 18th century, freethinkers have collected all the contradictions and absurdities in the Bible. Christian apologists tend to dismiss these sceptics as “village atheists” and pretend that there is a more sophisticated angle from which all these anomalies suddenly become logical. But this author clearly hasn’t found it, and isn’t convinced of its existence.” – Dr Koenraad Elst

Kalavai VenkatWhat Every Hindu Should Know about Christianity (Hindu World Publisher, 2014, Buy from Lulu) is a book by Kalavai Venkat, pen name of a computer scientist living in Silicon Valley but originating in Kanchipuram, India. To Hindus it might be meaningful to know that he is a “Tambram”, a Tamil Brahmin. His mother tongue is Tamil, but he is also at home in Sanskrit, Hindi and English. Having worked in Israel for years, he also knows some Hebrew, which is an unusual advantage over most Indians dabbling in Biblical Studies. But his chief competence is science, and this outlook contributes more and more to our understanding of how Christianity came about and why it still persists.

An important new contribution, already familiar to Western specialists but much less to the Hindu layman, is psychology. Many Christian beliefs and practises, as well as the reflexes of the Christian apologists, are explained by such concepts as “confirmation bias”, “cognitive dissonance” and “selective attention”, the findings of evolutionary biology (which finds traces of morality even among the higher animals, independent from any divine revelation of the Ten Commandments) and the notion “meme”. These factors explain the Christian superiority feeling and anti-Hindu animus a lot better than the imperialist conspiracies or the sheer money factor to which many argumentative Hindus reduce the missionary offensive. While some American Protestant missionaries can make a career by harvesting souls in India for some years, most missionaries in the past and even today have made a lot of sacrifices for the joy of converting Pagans to the true faith. Some belief in their minds is stronger than any longing for pleasure and comforts. Sentimental people might deduce from this self-abnegation and strength of conviction that this conviction must be true. But while this belief is strong, indeed calculated to grab people by the throat and retain their loyalty to the death, it is also false.

What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity by Kalavai VenkatThe reality of the Bible

Kalavai Venkat bases his analysis on a thorough knowledge of the relevant literature, but first of all on a close reading of the source material, starting with the Bible. Most Hindus would already be disabused of their illusions about Christianity if they simply read the Bible, rather than the syrupy pamphlets of the missionaries. Since the 18th century, freethinkers have collected all the contradictions and absurdities in the Bible. Christian apologists tend to dismiss these sceptics as “village atheists” and pretend that there is a more sophisticated angle from which all these anomalies suddenly become logical. But this author clearly hasn’t found it, and isn’t convinced of its existence.

Thus, it is undeniable that Jesus predicted his own Second Coming in the End-Time for within the lifetime of his listeners. On this simple prediction, which in his case required nothing more than looking up this momentous date in his very own agenda, God Incarnate managed to get it wrong. Some people may call it unsportsmanlike and unreligious to bring up this obvious defect, but hey, it is there is the Gospel in cold print. Should we not believe in the Bible anymore? When so many human beings do make accurate predictions, should we not expect some reliability from God himself?

There are also elements in the Bible which modern sensibilities would find unpalatable. Thus, the Old Testament law requires a groom who finds that his bride is not a virgin anymore, to take her to her father’s doorstep and stone her to death. Similarly, a witch or a homosexual should be executed; God himself orders it. Now, Christians will tell you that this doesn’t apply anymore in the “Second Covenant”, i.e. Christianity (Judaism being the “First Covenant”), and that Jesus specifically prevented the stoning of an adulterous woman. Fine, but the author points out that Jesus explicitly professes his loyalty to the First Covenant and the totality of the Mosaic law. It is only with Saint Paul that a break with the Jewish law is effected. If Jesus prevented the stoning of a woman who by law deserved to be stoned, he was not law-observant and told a brazen-faced lie when he proclaimed his attachment to the totality of the law. Another possibility is that the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman was made up later as an illustration of the new Pauline view, which threw open the initially Jewish sect called Christianity to the Pagans. Paul did away with the law, and as an illustration of this reform, Jesus is posthumously turned into an enlightened skeptic of the law.

Rape of NoahAll this is on the assumption that Jesus and Paul existed at all. The author devotes a lot of pages to this question, which has occupied many scholars. Many motifs are just general and appear in the hagiographies of other divine or extraordinary persons. In Herod persecuting the infant Jesus and trying to kill him, Hindus will recognize a similar episode in the babe Krishna’s life. Indeed, religion-founding myths have a way of travelling. Thus, we know how Moses’ story of being found after surviving as an infant in a little boat was copied from a story about king Sargon of Akkad, nearly a thousand years older; or that Noah’s flood story was copied from the Gilgamesh epic. The Bible is not unique, it is but an evolute of many existing stories, upon which a new theology was superimposed. But some elements in Jesus’ story point to the existence of an individual, a travelling healer who shared the apocalyptic beliefs of his environment. Elements like the delusion that he was the expected Messiah, or that he suffered the Roman punishment of execution, may well be true. So, most likely we have a historical core with a mythological overlay, adapted by the evolving Church depending on its changing political and theological interests. As for Paul, doubting his existence is much less common, but the author summarizing the scholarly arguments for both positions without really deciding. A problem here is that Biblical scholarship is still mostly practised by Christian institutes. A truly historical and scientific approach is still very minoritarian.

The author advocates a straightforward attack on the Christian core beliefs. No diplomacy, no appeasement, no inculturation, as so many other Hindus practise and advocate. Ridiculing Hindu “idolatry” and “polytheism” in the colonial period made the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj and informally numerous anglicized Hindus make the improbable claim that they were iconoclastic monotheists. If you hear these Hindus talk about “God”, you might think you are among Evangelicals, so deep has the imitation gone. This proves that ridicule really works. Similarly, but more truthfully: if the many absurdities and contradictions in Christianity become better known, Hindus will turn away from it and even born Christians will disown the typical beliefs of Christianity.

Psychology of ProphetismMy own role

Among the sources of inspiration he lists, the writer mentions my own book, Psychology of Prophetism: a Secular Look at the Bible (Voice of India, Delhi, 1995). I wrote that book because I was exasperated at seeing what silly myths numerous Hindus tend to cherish concerning Christianity and specifically concerning the person of Jesus: he was a guru, he had been to India, his “real” teaching included reincarnation, etc.  It was by no means comprehensive and had only modest ambitions, but it seemed to me that it was urgently needed to convey to the Hindu public a glimpse of the scholarly and psychological knowledge recently built up about Christianity’s founding myth. Of course, with a mere book, distributed by a marginal publisher, I could not hope to make much of a difference. But seeing that twenty years later it has contributed to the present book, more thorough and fully accounting for the advances that science has made since, I am happy at seeing my effort amply rewarded.

At the time I had befriended the late Dr. Herman Somers, an apostate ex-Jesuit known among Jesuits as “Doctor Triplex” because he had doctorates in Theology, Classical Studies and Psychology, besides an MA in Thomist Philosophy. He drew my attention to the work that psychologists had done about the Biblical prophets and the character of Jesus over the preceding century. He himself had written two books on the subject, in Dutch (given all his other knowledge, his active command of English was, like most continental Europeans of his generation, rather poor). This line of research had led to the insight that Jesus had been a disturbed personality. In the middle of adapted myths and man’s natural tendency to religious imaginings, his own personal delusions had partly determined the specific contents of Christianity.

At this point, I can reveal that the book was purposely incomplete. I had intended to add a chapter on a subject quite unknown to Somers, viz. Mohammed. My venerated publisher Sita Ram Goel dissuaded me from going ahead with this, as it was likely to provoke Muslim violence, which would only be contained after it had already done its damage. Years later I did publish a paper on the psychopathology of Mohammed as known through the Islamic sources (i.e. putting in parenthesis the emerging theory that he hadn’t even existed), but because of its unassuming channel of publication and its scholarly title—Wahi, the Supernatural Basis of Islamit didn’t ruffle any feathers. Meanwhile, the internet has made similar theories about the Prophet, often by ex-Muslims, readily accessible to the Muslim public, so it can be (optimistically) hoped that this type of research may henceforth be done in all freedom.

Caste-based ReservationsOther topics

The book would have been sizable enough if it had limited itself to its chosen subject. However, the author has chosen to add a lengthy appendix about a seemingly unrelated topic, viz. the caste system. The reader should know something about the polemical context in India, essentially the same that diaspora Hindus in the West face.

In the British period, the Hindus had to deal with attacks from the Churches on everything Hindu, including the caste system. Initially, neither the Churches nor the colonial authorities made a problem of the separateness and inequality inherent in caste. After all, both were familiar phenomena in Western society too, with the cleavage between noblemen and commoners, Christians and Jews, freemen and slaves, colonizers and natives, or the steep and compartmentalized class system in the British motherland.  After the abolition of slavery, the anti-caste line of discourse was only one among many, typically brought up when addressing low-caste audiences. Today, it has become a monotonous but omnipresent refrain. Hindu-Christian “dialogues”, which the Christians prepare as publicity exercises and as psychological warfare, and where their naïve Hindu partners show up confused and unprepared, usually result in the embarrassment of the Hindus, who becomes hopelessly defensive when the inevitable subject of caste is raised. 

To set the record straight, the author draws upon his own personal experience, on his knowledge of the so-called law books of Hinduism, and on writings in Tamil and Sanskrit which would be inaccessible to many readers including diaspora Hindus. He confirms the obvious with the latest data from genetics: castes are biologically distinct units, identifiable subgroups of the human species. He slips, however, when he notes that these are biological groups “and therefore not human creations”. I guess he was not being careful in choosing his terminology here, for even biological groups are the result of the idiosyncrasies of human history. At any rate, the relations between the castes are a lot more nuanced as well as susceptible to change through the centuries. Thus, some untouchable castes had a glorious history and became only “impure” recently, during the Muslim or even the British period. The author demonstrates how, as per the law books they themselves composed, the Brahmins were barred from many pleasures and occupations, not quite how one would imagine a privileged caste. He also shows how the Christian meddling with the caste system objectively demeans rather than uplifts the low castes.

Nepal & India are Hindu countriesConclusion 

This book is bound to reach the targeted Hindu public in substantial measure. That it has been written by one of their own, will certainly help, though the author’s American setting influences his take on the subject of Christianity. On the other hand, it is very much the need of the hour that Indian Hindus get to know the modern critique of Christianity rather than the silly syrupy views which secular politicians and moronic Babas feed them. This book is really “what every Hindu should know about Christianity”. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 29 May 2014


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