Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Chosen People of the Supreme Being Test - Chapter 1: You Call This A Promised Land?

Back in December of last year, I did an introduction to a series I had planned called The Chosen People of the Supreme Being Test.

The idea behind the series was to test the Biblical claim (which many people still believe today) that the Jews are the chosen people of the Creator of the Universe. I proposed a set of criteria to measure whether or not this claim could be considered true based upon the evidence available to us. The first chapter in this series will examine the geographic evidence.

One of my favorite quotes from Sam Harris is when he quips that God, in his role as an omniscient real estate broker, gave the Jews a patch of desert in the Middle East. When you think about it though, if the God of the Bible really exists and is in fact the creator of the universe and the most powerful and intelligent being in existence, then this God should have been expected to have done a much better job assigning land to Abraham and his descendants.

In Genesis 17:8, God tells Abraham "The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." But when Abraham (then called Abram) makes his first sojourn into Canaan, the land is afflicted with a famine, and he is forced to live in Egypt.

Further on, in Genesis 42, there is again a famine in the region, and the brothers of Joseph are instructed by their father Jacob to go to Egypt "and buy some [grain] for us, so that we may live and not die." The book of Genesis ends on a somewhat happy note, with Joseph and his family being reunited in Egypt. As the book of Exodus gets underway, we are informed that the Israelites "were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them." They multiply so rapidly, according to Exodus, that Hebrew babies must have been dropping out of wombs left and right as the women were toiling in the fields gathering straw for bricks.

As just about everybody knows, in summary, the Israelites are enslaved by the Egyptians. God chooses Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and in the course of the conflict, God inflicts numerous plagues and misfortunes upon the Egyptians, culminating in the death of every first born Egyptian son. Then Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, only to find themselves in the Desert of Shur, where they travel for three days without finding water (Exodus 15:22) and they end up having to wander for 40 years before being able to reenter Canaan, which is filled with people who are not inclined to favor them as neighbors.

Now, when one considers how often Canaan was afflicted by famine, and how the descendants of Abraham always found themselves taking refuge in Egypt, it does not seem unreasonable to ask WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T GOD GIVE THE JEWS EGYPT?!?

Unlike Canaan, Egypt was a very fertile country, owing to the annual flooding of the Nile River. It can be said with confidence that without the Nile River, there would have been no Egyptian civlization. But the benefits of Egypt's geography did not end there. East and west of the Nile Delta, harsh deserts acted as natural barriers to deter all but the most determined and best equipped invaders. Thus, Egypt was doubly blessed with a fertile river valley that provided a steady and abundant food supply, and deserts on its eastern and western frontiers that served as buffers against foreign invaders.

The result of these favorable conditions was that the Egyptians would possess one of the world's most enduring civilizations. Historians believe that a single unified Egyptian state emerged around approximately 3,000 BCE. While there were periods of foreign domination here and there, notably by the Hyksos, the Egypt of the pharaohs survived until about 525 BCE when the land was conquered by the Persians. To put this in context for you, the time from when Jesus was allegedly born up until the present day is shorter by 500 years than the time from the unification of Egypt up to its conquest by the Persians. And while native Egyptian rule, apart from a brief spell of independence from the Persians, came to an end in 525 BCE, Egyptian culture continued to exert tremendous influence upon her foreign rulers. After the death of Alexander III of Macedon, his empire was partitioned by several of his generals. Egypt fell to Ptolemy, who founded the Ptolemaic dynasty. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt as pharaohs up until the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 BCE. So Egyptian culture continued to have an influence on its foreign rulers for centuries after its independent existence had come to an end.

So, when one considers how beneficial the geography of Egypt was for the Egyptians, it would have proven equally so for the Israelites. As mentioned above, the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied in Egypt after having taken refuge there from the famine in Canaan. Since God had no qualms about murdering the first born son of every Egyptian, it should not have been much of a stretch for God to have exterminated the rest of the lot and left the land in possession of the Israelites. Just as Egypt's deserts protected its people from foreign invaders and allowed them ample peace and prosperity to develop their religion, so an Israelite kingdom in Egypt could have developed and practiced their worship of their God in solitude from their neighbors. And just as Egypt did, the Israelites could have formed a powerful state and served as a cultural and religious beacon for the entire Middle East.

Instead, the all powerful and omniscient God of the Bible gives his chosen people the land of Canaan, which was incapable of supporting the necessary level of agriculture to sustain a large population, and which lacked easily defensible borders to deter invaders. Its location, where Africa and Asia meet, put it smack in the path of the armies of its powerful neighbors as they marched back and forth against one another. As the historical record indeed shows, after several centuries of maintaining a precarious independence, the Israelites found themselves overrun alternately by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians.

Maybe, one could argue, there were too many Egyptians in Egypt, and God had some qualms about exterminating all of them in order to give the land to his chosen people. Canaan was less populated and was therefore more manageable. But Egypt was not the only alternate option available to the Israelites that had favorable characteristics. God could also have told Abraham that he would give him and his descendants the island of Cyprus. The island was only sparsely populated while relatively aloof from the constant warfare raging in the Middle East during ancient times. Thus, as in Egypt, the Israelites could have led a peaceful existence devoted to the worship of their god in the absence of foreign interference.

Just think of it. If God had given the Israelites the island of Cyprus, there would be no Israeli-Palestinian dispute today. So, in this first chapter of the Chosen People of the Supreme Being Test, the God of the Bible gets a failing grade in geography. In the next chapter of this test, God and his chosen people will tackle military history.

15 comments:

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

Can I just ask one question?

" if the God of the Bible really exists and is in fact the creator of the universe and the most powerful and intelligent being in existence, then this God should have been expected to have done a much better job assigning land to Abraham and his descendants."

Since God (or you can use if) is the "Supreme Being" (as you put it), why do we always use our logic (which, by reason, is - or would be - below the intelligence of a Supreme Being) as to judge what we physically see as to whether the Supreme Being exist and/or the completeness of His knowlege?

Could it not be that we only see but a glimpse of the total array of knowledge by which this Supreme Being (I call God) views the entirety of all things within a scope we cannot comprehend?

Whereby the small portion we see cannot be fully understood by us, yet it fit perfectly into the completeness of the thought of the Supreme Being?

JayG said...

Actually Israel isn't that bad a place, and they grow an incredible amount of fruit that gets exported to Europe. Did you ever think that God might be testing the Israelites faith? They murmured all the time in the desert, it is kind of amazing that they are still here (thanks to Moses), while the Hitites, Jubusites, and Canaanites are all gone.

Fiery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fiery said...

Wow 2 fundies in one day Tommy. How exciting for you.

So, Splinters of Silver and JayG- I challenge you to go over to
PMomma's blog and let your little catholic light shine. You want to dabble in religious apologia? Get over there and apologize for the catholic church.

I look forward to seeing you defend the faith.

I'll place a private wager with Tommy that neither one of you gets past reading the main post.

Tommy said...

Hi Writer and Jay. Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and to comment.

Writer, by what other criteria than our logic and reason are we to judge the claims of the Bible? Why is religion the only field of inquiry in which logic and reason are to be suspended? If you were sitting on a jury, you could not rightfully render a verdict without having to carefully consider the evidence presented at trial. If you were to vote that a defendant was guilty because you just knew in your bones that he was guilty in spite of the fact that witness testimony cast reasonable doubt that the defendant was at the scene of the crime you would be behaving very irresponsibly.

To argue, as many other theists have, that we cannot judge the claims of religion because you claim "that we only see but a glimpse of the total array of knowledge by which [God] views the entirety of all things within a scope we cannot comprehend" is a total cop out. And the reason I say that is that religious people make claims on public policy and discourse based on their religious beliefs, and yet at the same time they insist that the basis for their religious beliefs cannot be critically analyzed because we mere mortals cannot even hope to comprehend the mind of the God in which they believe.

To put it another way, say I was to march into your town at the head of an army of soldiers, police, government bureaucrats, and a host of workers and declared that I was going to rearrange the way everything was done in your town because my way was better. You and your fellow townsfolk try to protest, saying that what I am proposing is too radical. How would you feel if I told you, "Well, I understand your concerns, but you have to trust me when I tell you that my plans are far too great for you to logically comprehend and that you are just going to have to give me the benefit of the doubt that I will make your lives better." You would think that I was totally bonkers, and even worse, that I was a threat to your way of life that featured the frightening combination of insanity and absolute power.

We approach the issue from opposite ends. You take it on faith that the Bible is true and dismiss any evidence that contradicts it because the Bible should be immune from logical scrutiny because we can never hope to understand God. Me, on the other hand, say that the claims of the Bible must be viewed through the lens of logic and reason, and where the Bible is at odds with it, the claims of the Bible must be dismissed.

Jay, China has the world's oldest continuous civilization, so why should I be impressed that there are still Jewish people today?

The land of Israel of course is not a bare desert, though portions of it, like the Negev are. My point is that unlike Egypt, in ancient times it was not a place that could sustain a large population. It not only lacked natural barriers to protect the Israelites from invasion, it was smack dab in one of the worse places you could be.

God could have given the Jews the island of Cyprus or Egypt and still tested them, that is if the God of the Bible actually existed.

Fiery said...

Apparently the link didn't copy paste when I posted.

*sigh*

The challenge link is here.

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

Tommy,

You are right “We approach the issue from opposite ends.” I don’t mean that “we cannot judge the claims of religion”. What I mean is that when you say, “this God should have been expected to have done a much better job”, it is only based on our limited knowledge of what we physically see now or what man has written in history, whereas further Scripture speaks as to the full knowledge which God has concerning beginning to end in a current present state. Where as we may see that God should have done this or that, which would seem better in our eyes, we have no way to see into the full scope which He is able and have no way to honestly say that what we now think fits more perfectly into His ultimate wisdom. As you said, the knowledge, understanding, and power of a Supreme Being (I call God) by reason would (does) surpass our limit knowledge and understanding, whereby something that we may see as a fault could very well not be, due to our limited view. Basically to say God (which is all knowing, all powerful, and everywhere present) did not do something right, based on our limited knowledge, is basing our opinion on ignorance of all of the facts we do not know concerning the full scope of His intelligence. I fully realize that this takes faith to believe in such a powerful God, but to not believe in such a God yet to sit around and discuss why you believe what He did is wrong doesn’t make much sense to me.

I do appreciate the discussion type you have. I do not mind conversing with atheists that we can speak to each other as persons, even though we disagree. It is somewhat difficult to speak of some of the more radical ranters that visit my blog like clock work.


Fiery,

I will check out the site, but I am not Catholic. I am Baptist.

Tim

Fiery said...

When I was raised in the Lutheran church "catholic" lower case "c" was said to refer to all christian churches. Niacene creed and all. the lowering was deliberate.

I look forward to your comments.

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

fiery,

I am not sure as to what you would like me to say. Are you wanting me to take up for the priests that are child abusers or uphold the Catholic teaching of not to question the church or the "leadership"? I would do neither. This is why Christian people that say they believe the Bible, should use the Bible to test both the people and the sayings (including themselves) on a constant basis.

Completely what is happening at the blog you mention is just a basic bashing of the Catholic church at its people, what would you have me say? Sin is sin. We all have sin that should be repented of. Shall I also cast a stone when I am not completely sinless (although not guilty of their crimes being spoken of) or should I come to their defense as to say don't question the church?

The problem is most of the commenters would like the Catholic Church to be punished for its sin against God, yet do not wish for their own sins to be held equally accountable to a Holy God.

Tommy said...

Okay, and now the God of this blog has to issue one of his commandments, which is "Thou shalt restrict thy future comments to the topic of this post!"

BEAJ said...

The Exodus never happened. It was a story to give the ethnic Jews in Israel a special history to unite them between 610-450 BC.
Every religion thinks they are special in Gods eyes. Jews just have a big mouth about it.

JayG said...

tommy,
Thanks. But the word "continuous" does not rally describe Chinese culture, which is better described as being divided into dynasties.

Also, the Land of Canaan was in some ways not as fertile as Egypt, but perhaps this is why the G_d of Abraham, Issac and Jocob had the Israelites wait about 470 years from the time of the famine that brought Joseph's 11 brothers and father to him in Egypt, until the time when Joshua lead the Isrealites across the Jordan back into Canaan - "smack dab in one of the worst places you could be", yet the Isrealites survived. I'd say it looks like G_d kept His promise.

fiery,
catholic is Greek for universal. St. Ignatius of Antioch first used this word to describe the Church started by Jesus, about 107 AD.

Tommy said...

Jay,

Yes, China like Egypt, had many dynasties. But it does not mean that every time a new dynasty came to power in China the culture was wiped clean like an eraser board and begun anew.

Chinese culture has proven very resilient over thousands of years. Not only that, but like the Egyptians, whenever foreigners like the Manchuse of the Mongols conquered them, the conquerors often assimilated Chinese culture to bolster their legitimacy. The Chinese also had a strong cultural influence on their neighbors such as Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

Even today, Confucianism is undergoing something of a revival in China.

And no matter how you try to spin things Jay, if the Israelites had the all powerful creator of the universe on their side, they didn't have very much to show for it, apart from having survived. If the God of the Bible really existed and really treated his "chosen" people the way they were treated, he is either incompetent or he has a very warped sense of humor.

JayG said...

Since the Old Testament is basically a running list of how many times the Isrealites murmured, blasphemed, strayed and basically "cheated" on G_d, the fact that there is a faithful remnent from the tribe of Judah identifiable to this day speaks to G_d never forgeting His promise. According to Isaiah the Isrealites were supposed to be a Light unto the Nations (Gentiles). I don't think they kept up their part of the Covenant.

You can't really make out G_d as setting up the Isrealites like the Mafia sets up "made men"; being the Chosen people of G_d is more like being the oldest in a family - Dad expects more from the oldest. If an older son fails to live up to his obligations to the family, Dad does not throw him out of the family (at least a good Dad would not), but Dad has to chastize the older son for the benefit of the younger siblings.

kcotae said...

The so-called God of the Bible was just another being from an alien race experimenting on indiginous creatures. Speeding up their evolution. It's how things work in nature as a whole. Nature works slowly so "she" speeded up everything by creating sentience in various alien races, allowing them to help with the genetic work. Many hands make "life" work!
Genesis itself states that there was more than one Godlike creature at work in "Eden"
Genesis 1:26 "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness"