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Thread: Bible Passages That Seem Immoral By Today's Standards

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    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Bible Passages That Seem Immoral By Today's Standards

    Murdering people for taking a census ordered by God:

    2nd Samuel 24:1-15:


    "And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah...Joab and the captains of the host went out...to number the people of Israel...So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men...Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee... seven years of famine...thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land...the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel...and there died of the people seventy thousand men." See also 1 Chronicles 21:1-14. (Same story is re-told here with some modification)

    God ordered King David to conduct a census of all of Israel and Judah. (1 Chronicles 21:1-14 states that Satan [sic], not God, provoked David to count the people. The Bible can't keep its consistency or make up its mind). This was accomplished. They counted 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 men in Judah. (The 1 Chronicles account specifies 1.1 million in Israel and 470,000 men in Judah; The tribes of Levi and Benjamin were not counted). For some unstated reason, David felt that he had performed a sin. God agreed, and gave David three options as punishment for carrying out God's orders. He chose either famine or pestilence. 70,000 men and an unrecorded number of women and children died of a plague.

    It is difficult to understand why God would consider it a sin to take a census that he had ordered. God had ordered earlier enumerations without considering them sinful. By modern morality, it is difficult to see why a plague should be sent to kill citizens whose only crime was to be passively counted by government officials.

    There is irony in the scripture by the apostle Paul when he says in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (WTF???)


    http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl4.htm

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl2.htm

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl3a.htm

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl1.htm

    http://theorderofthegecko.org/wp-con..._the_Bible.pdf

    http://media.isnet.org/kmi/off/XXtia...InTheBible.pdf
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    Bibliophile Drkshadow03's Avatar
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    I am going to respond to this with the assumption that you want help figuring out what is occurring in these passages and that you're reading this as a work of literature (as we're on a literature forum).

    I think you're correct that these are immoral by today's standard, which is why it is important to remember:

    These passages weren't written with today's standard in mind, but an ancient culture's standards (i. e. yesterday's standards)

    The biggest issue seems to be one of interpretation. The very first words of the Samuel passage reads:


    Quote Originally Posted by Red Terror View Post
    [B]
    "And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah (emphasis mine).
    So he's not just "mov[ing]" or "incit[ing]" (in the NIV translation) because he wants a census done. He incites David to perform the census because He is angry with Israel and as a pretense to punish them. Besides the interesting word choice here that suggests God is moving David to perform this action out of anger with the nation, Joab's response to him questions why he would even want to do such a thing in the first place, implying that Joab understands this as a morally questionable act. Eventually David later realizes he has committed a sin. Likewise, while the Chronicles passage contradicts the previous narrative by placing the blame on Satan, what is consistent is that by doing so they are emphasizing that David's census taking was a sinful act. So at the very least all the details point in a particular direction: census = bad.

    So the real question is why is taking a census considered an evil act?

    The ending stands out to me when David must select three choices of punishment. David chooses the plague rather than being attacked and hounded by human enemies because he would rather "fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (2 Sam 14, NIV translation). When considered in the relationship to the Deuteronomists (the generally ascribed authors of Samuel, Kings, and Joshua) penchant for criticizing historical figures who turn away from God or fail to follow the prescribed rules, we get some idea what might be happening here (i. e. what is the literary purpose? what are the authors trying to communicate to their audience?). Although God incites David to do it, He does so from anger. David's census of the fighting men might be seen as too secular, an unwillingness to trust in God, and instead put his faith in the abilities of men (his soldiers in this case).
    Last edited by Drkshadow03; 08-14-2016 at 07:19 AM.
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    Immoral? These things do not speak for themselves.

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    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Looks like you're straining gnat **** out of pepper.
    Sounds like a lot of Orwellian doublethink to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Drkshadow03 View Post
    I am going to respond to this with the assumption that you want help figuring out what is occurring in these passages and that you're reading this as a work of literature (as we're on a literature forum).

    I think you're correct that these are immoral by today's standard, which is why it is important to remember:

    These passages weren't written with today's standard in mind, but an ancient culture's standards (i. e. yesterday's standards)

    The biggest issue seems to be one of interpretation. The very first words of the Samuel passage reads:




    So he's not just "mov[ing]" or "incit[ing]" (in the NIV translation) because he wants a census done. He incites David to perform the census because He is angry with Israel and as a pretense to punish them. Besides the interesting word choice here that suggests God is moving David to perform this action out of anger with the nation, Joab's response to him questions why he would even want to do such a thing in the first place, implying that Joab understands this as a morally questionable act. Eventually David later realizes he has committed a sin. Likewise, while the Chronicles passage contradicts the previous narrative by placing the blame on Satan, what is consistent is that by doing so they are emphasizing that David's census taking was a sinful act. So at the very least all the details point in a particular direction: census = bad.

    So the real question is why is taking a census considered an evil act?

    The ending stands out to me when David must select three choices of punishment. David chooses the plague rather than being attacked and hounded by human enemies because he would rather "fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (2 Sam 14, NIV translation). When considered in the relationship to the Deuteronomists (the generally ascribed authors of Samuel, Kings, and Joshua) penchant for criticizing historical figures who turn away from God or fail to follow the proscribed rules, we get some idea what might be happening here (i. e. what is the literary purpose? what are the authors trying to communicate to their audience?). Although God incites David to do it, He does so from anger. David's census of the fighting men might be seen as too secular, an unwillingness to trust in God, and instead put his faith in the abilities of men (his soldiers in this case).
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    Alea iacta est. mortalterror's Avatar
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    This thread should be moved to the religion subforum.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Terror View Post
    God ordered King David to conduct a census of all of Israel and Judah. (1 Chronicles 21:1-14 states that Satan [sic], not God, provoked David to count the people. The Bible can't keep its consistency or make up its mind). This was accomplished. They counted 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 men in Judah. (The 1 Chronicles account specifies 1.1 million in Israel and 470,000 men in Judah; The tribes of Levi and Benjamin were not counted). For some unstated reason, David felt that he had performed a sin. God agreed, and gave David three options as punishment for carrying out God's orders. He chose either famine or pestilence. 70,000 men and an unrecorded number of women and children died of a plague.

    It is difficult to understand why God would consider it a sin to take a census that he had ordered. God had ordered earlier enumerations without considering them sinful. By modern morality, it is difficult to see why a plague should be sent to kill citizens whose only crime was to be passively counted by government officials.

    There is irony in the scripture by the apostle Paul when he says in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (WTF???)
    How do you know that God or Satan did any of these things?

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    Bibliophile Drkshadow03's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Terror View Post
    Looks like you're straining gnat **** out of pepper.
    Sounds like a lot of Orwellian doublethink to me.
    I employed close-reading, which was a part of the training I received in graduate school earning my Masters in English and is a technique all literary critic use to carefully analyze and understand a text.

    This may involve:

    1) closely looking at details and how specific words are being used: such as my pointing out that the text shows God is inciting David to perform a census out of anger with Israel. It says so explicitly.

    2) Considering how a character is being portrayed and their motivation from those details: God leads David to perform a census out of anger. God's motivation is anger.

    3) Identifying patterns:

    a) God incites David to perform a census from anger

    b) Joab's response to David suggests that he is doing something wrong or highly unusual ("but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?" - KJV, "But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?” - NIV)

    c) after the census, David's conscience leads him to explicitly declare that he sinned by having performed the census ("And David’s heart smote him after he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in having done this; but now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy slave, for I have done very foolishly." - KJV)

    d) Chronicles reassigns the blame for this census from God to Satan (literally from the good guy to the bad guy, at least from a Christian perspective).

    Conclusion: If you look at each element of the pattern, the text is implying that census taking of this sort is a sin.

    4) Situate an analysis in previous scholarship and larger themes of a writer: The Documentary Hypothesis is a well accepted scholarly theory in Biblical and literary studies. It suggests the bible had multiple writers. The evidence for this tends to be linguistic and thematic. One of those writers was the Deuteronomist. The Deuteronomist style is didactic and moralistic. They are the writers behind the semi-"historical" narratives (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). Their authorial standpoint is to look back on history and try to explain disastrous events in terms of Israel or the leaderships' failure to follow God's rules. So this gives us some context of what the writers might be thinking in terms of why a King-ordered census is a sin. It seems that it is a sin because the Deuteronomist perceives something secular and disobedient to God's covenant in this census taking of military men. This reading is supported by the textual detail where David claims after repenting for taking the census and having to decide on his punishment that he'd rather put his faith in God for his punishment than the hands of men. So we see the writer emphasizing putting one's faith in God over humanity, pretty typical for the Deuteronomist.

    Interestingly, Exodus 30:11-12 states - "Then the Lord said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them." So another possibility is as simple as them not paying the ransom money required during a census.

    If there was something that didn't make sense to you, I would be happy to explain further. No need for the ad hominem attacks if you disagree. I just assumed you wanted to have a literary discussion as we're on a literature forum, which implies that we ought to use literary methods.
    Last edited by Drkshadow03; 08-15-2016 at 08:26 AM.
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    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Yeah and I'm thoroughly without a curriculum vitae and no credentials. Well, the problem with a "close reading" of these "sacred texts" is that the latter are so elastic or plastic that any interpretation can be gleaned from them, which is why the fundamentalists desire a literal/strict interpretation. I say to them: "You want to interpret them literally?? O.K. let's see what the texts say when we interpret them literally." Hence my post.
    Quote Originally Posted by Drkshadow03 View Post
    I employed close-reading, which was a part of the training I received in graduate school earning my Masters in English and is a technique all literary critic use to carefully analyze and understand a text.

    This may involve:

    1) closely looking at details and how specific words are being used: such as my pointing out that the text shows God is inciting David to perform a census out of anger with Israel. It says so explicitly.

    2) Considering how a character is being portrayed and their motivation from those details: God leads David to perform a census out of anger. God's motivation is anger.

    3) Identifying patterns:

    a) God incites David to perform a census from anger

    b) Joab's response to David suggests that he is doing something wrong or highly unusual ("but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?" - KJV, "But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?” - NIV)

    c) after the census, David's conscience leads him to explicitly declare that he sinned by having performed the census ("And David’s heart smote him after he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in having done this; but now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy slave, for I have done very foolishly." - KJV)

    d) Chronicles reassigns the blame for this census from God to Satan (literally from the good guy to the bad guy, at least from a Christian perspective).

    Conclusion: If you look at each element of the pattern, the text is implying that census taking of this sort is a sin.

    4) Situate an analysis in previous scholarship and larger themes of a writer: The Documentary Hypothesis is a well accepted scholarly theory in Biblical and literary studies. It suggests the bible had multiple writers. The evidence for this tends to be linguistic and thematic. One of those writers was the Deuteronomist. The Deuteronomist style is didactic and moralistic. They are the writers behind the semi-"historical" narratives (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). Their authorial standpoint is to look back on history and try to explain disastrous events in terms of Israel or the leaderships' failure to follow God's rules. So this gives us some context of what the writers might be thinking in terms of why a King-ordered census is a sin. It seems that it is a sin because the Deuteronomist perceives something secular and disobedient to God's covenant in this census taking of military men. This reading is supported by the textual detail where David claims after repenting for taking the census and having to decide on his punishment that he'd rather put his faith in God for his punishment than the hands of men. So we see the writer emphasizing putting one's faith in God over humanity, pretty typical for the Deuteronomist.

    Interestingly, Exodus 30:11-12 states - "Then the Lord said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them." So another possibility is as simple as them not paying the ransom money required during a census.

    If there was something that didn't make sense to you, I would be happy to explain further. No need for the ad hominem attacks if you disagree. I just assumed you wanted to have a literary discussion as we're on a literature forum, which implies that we ought to use literary methods.
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    There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen. --- Vladimir Lenin

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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Terror View Post
    Yeah and I'm thoroughly without a curriculum vitae and no credentials. Well, the problem with a "close reading" of these "sacred texts" is that the latter are so elastic or plastic that any interpretation can be gleaned from them, which is why the fundamentalists desire a literal/strict interpretation. I say to them: "You want to interpret them literally?? O.K. let's see what the texts say when we interpret them literally." Hence my post.
    You admit that "any interpretation can be gleaned from" these texts and yet you insist on interpreting them literally. You might be able to make some hypothetical case against some sect of "fundamentalists", whoever they are. But that is as far as it goes.

    I am not interested in a literal interpretation of any religious text. I expect those texts to contain more than their literalness and express truth even in spite of their literalness. We cannot completely objectify our subjectivity into a text. Nor can we be downloaded into a computer. So staying on the literal level misses the point. It leads to contradictions and paradoxes. I would even say it is supposed to lead to contradictions and paradoxes if theism is true.

    Do you think that by picking nits with some religious sect you have undermined religion in general or even spirituality itself? The reason I ask this is because your avatar of Che Gevara suggests you might be promoting your own religious and political sect. Maybe my question can be rephrased: Are you trying to argue for atheism by nit-picking fundamentalists?

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    I don't necessarily interpret texts literally and neither did most Christian commentators prior to the Reformation.

    I could cite some far more ghastly passages than the one about the census but I don't want to give Red Terror ammunition.

    But these passages have to be read in the context of a very different nature of the divine as revealed in the rest of scripture. All scripture may be written for our learning, but it is not consistent in doing so. And what we may learn from a passage like 2 Samuel 24 is how people have had very misleading ideas about God.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Terror View Post
    Yeah and I'm thoroughly without a curriculum vitae and no credentials.
    And there is nothing wrong with lacking those credentials.

    Well, the problem with a "close reading" of these "sacred texts" is that the latter are so elastic or plastic that any interpretation can be gleaned from them, which is why the fundamentalists desire a literal/strict interpretation. I say to them: "You want to interpret them literally?? O.K. let's see what the texts say when we interpret them literally." Hence my post.
    I can't relate as I think most literary texts lend themselves to multiple interpretations (not just the Bible) and while I think close reading is a useful tool, I'm not claiming it guarantees definitive results (i. e. the one interpretation to rule them all and everyone else is wrong). I don't think reading a sacred book or a poem or a novel should be about finding its true meaning; however, this doesn't mean I think literary texts are meaningless.
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    I'm a fundamentalist. I don't require the interpretation you are implying.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    I don't necessarily interpret texts literally and neither did most Christian commentators prior to the Reformation.
    Agreed, in the early middle ages there developed a fourfold interpretive system that was something like the Jewish Pardes system of Biblical exegesis. Every passage in the bible could be interpreted in four ways: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.

    Consider the words of pope Gregory the Great (6th century) in his Moralia:

    "But be it known that there are some parts, which we go through in a historical exposition, some we trace out in allegory upon an investigation of the typical meaning, some we open in the lessons of moral teaching alone, allegorically conveyed, while there are some few which, with more particular care, we search out in all these ways together, exploring them in a threefold method. For first, we lay the historical foundations; next, by pursuing the typical sense, we erect a fabric of the mind to be a strong hold of faith; and moreover as the last step, by the grace of moral instruction, we, as it were, clothe the edifice with an overcast of colouring. Or at least how are the declarations of truth to be accounted of, but as food for the refreshment of the mind? These being handled with the alternate application of various methods, we serve up the viands of discourse in such sort as to prevent all disgust in the reader, thus invited as our guest, who, upon consideration of the various things presented to him, is to take that which he determines to be the choicest. Yet it sometimes happens that we neglect to interpret the plain words of the historical account, that we may not be too long in coming to the hidden senses, and sometimes they cannot be understood according to the letter, because when taken superficially, they convey no sort of instruction to the reader, but only engender error; "
    http://www.lectionarycentral.com/Gre...a/Epistle.html
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    I don't necessarily interpret texts literally and neither did most Christian commentators prior to the Reformation.
    That's a gross simplification. The modern politico-religious divide has led many to assume that Biblical exegetes were historically as polarized as we are (that is, as either literalists or interpreters). But a reading of Patristic authors such as Tertullian and Origen will show ancient Christian authors employing i terpretive techniques similar to those MT associates with Gregory (allegorical, typological, etc.) yet they never question the literality of the text. These Christians had no problem deriving literal and interpretive truths from the same verses.

    Directed to MT: I have read Moralia, though not since the octopus ink was wet. My memory is that while Gregory happens to treat certain Biblical verses "in the lessons of moral teaching alone, allegorically conveyed" (among the various interpretive quivers in his bow), he takes for granted the literality of the Biblical text he is interpreting. But if you have read Moralia more recently, perhaps you could remind me. Does he ever actually express skepticism about the literal truth of the Bible?

    Back to JR: So no. Biblical literalism cannot be blamed on that nasty Reformation. Even Luther's Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church an allegorical interpretation in which Judah's exile was equated with the withholding of Sacramental wine from laity. (Of course that did not the historical exile never happened). A good deal of Biblical literalism as it exists today (that is, in polarity with Biblical interpretation) can be laid at the feet of the various Great Awakening movements of the 18th through 20th centuries. Those indeed were led by (pietistic) Protestants, some of whom eschewed emerging liberal interpretations of the Bible. But tarring the enormous and far from homogeneous Reformation with their brush is neither historically nor theologically valid

    In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I am not a Biblical literalist in a modern (or even ancient) sense.

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    Tertullian once stated: "I believe because it is absurd." (not a paraphrase but a direct quotation) ---- meaning the tenets of Christianity and the Bible to boot.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    That's a gross simplification. The modern politico-religious divide has led many to assume that Biblical exegetes were historically as polarized as we are (that is, as either literalists or interpreters). But a reading of Patristic authors such as Tertullian and Origen will show ancient Christian authors employing i terpretive techniques similar to those MT associates with Gregory (allegorical, typological, etc.) yet they never question the literality of the text. These Christians had no problem deriving literal and interpretive truths from the same verses.

    Directed to MT: I have read Moralia, though not since the octopus ink was wet. My memory is that while Gregory happens to treat certain Biblical verses "in the lessons of moral teaching alone, allegorically conveyed" (among the various interpretive quivers in his bow), he takes for granted the literality of the Biblical text he is interpreting. But if you have read Moralia more recently, perhaps you could remind me. Does he ever actually express skepticism about the literal truth of the Bible?

    Back to JR: So no. Biblical literalism cannot be blamed on that nasty Reformation. Even Luther's Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church an allegorical interpretation in which Judah's exile was equated with the withholding of Sacramental wine from laity. (Of course that did not the historical exile never happened). A good deal of Biblical literalism as it exists today (that is, in polarity with Biblical interpretation) can be laid at the feet of the various Great Awakening movements of the 18th through 20th centuries. Those indeed were led by (pietistic) Protestants, some of whom eschewed emerging liberal interpretations of the Bible. But tarring the enormous and far from homogeneous Reformation with their brush is neither historically nor theologically valid

    In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I am not a Biblical literalist in a modern (or even ancient) sense.
    There has never been a single, great revolution in history without civil war. --- Vladimir Lenin

    There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen. --- Vladimir Lenin

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