Refuting Atheist John Loftus – “Detestable” Old Testament Laws.


See part 9 – Bible, Christianity & Science.

1. Loftus: “The Bible prescribes a host of detestable ‘moral’ guidelines. For example, if an Israelite man desires a female captive from war, he is permitted to force her to be his wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14).”

Firstly, we have already seen that atheists cannot make moral judgments, they are merely regurgitating their personal views on life and we needn’t take their opinions seriously (refer to Part #1 point 2). However, we shall still need to answer Loftus here regarding these “detestable ‘moral’ guidelines.”

Firstly, to answer the POW contention. This law aimed to integrate war survivors into a new society, something that is quite unparalleled in the ANE (Ancient Near East). The ANE was a land that was full of blood & war and where little mercy was afforded to defeated enemies. However, the opposite is actually the case with this law as it was actually intended to protect, not harm, women. Exegete Paul Copan explains that “In this scenario, the law served as a protective measure for the woman POW” (1). The reason being is that at the end of a battle we are left with a displaced people, and if no-one opted to take them in they would either die in the wilderness or be defenseless and thus assaulted by other parties.

So, this law aimed to integrate women, who had little value in the ANE, into Israelite society via marrying one of the Israelite soldiers. Copan tells is that “Rather than being outcasts or the low woman on the totem pole, women captured in war could become integrated into Israelite society through marriage” (2). Furthermore, rape was also not an option here since it was punishable by death (Deu. 22: 25-27) and thus it fully applied to soldiers. This law further allows the woman a full month of mourning (Deu. 21:13) her losses as a result of the battle, and the husband, the Israelite soldier, is also forbidden to mistreat her (Deu. 21:14). The woman was to be treated as a full-fledged wife.

This law, as well as other many other Mosaic Laws, were quite “unparalleled in other ancient Near Eastern codices” (3).

2. Loftus: “If a virgin who is pledged to be married is raped but fails to cry out, she is to be stoned along with her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), while if a virgin who is not pledged to be married is raped and does not cry out, she must marry her attacker (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).”

There are two laws Loftus mentions here and we shall review them in order. Firstly, in Deuteronomy 22:23-24 both the man and woman are compliant in the act of adultery. The full passage reads:

“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.”

Since the woman did not scream for help she was complicit in the act. Since the man seduced the woman and caused her to commit adultery then he, alongside her, are to be stoned. This law symbolized the sanctity & solemnity that God viewed fidelity within marriage, and thus the repercussions were harsh. If the woman was prevented from screaming by her attacker then she would be allowed to plead her case to the jury. I find this understandable in the presence of a holy God who intended his chosen people to separate themselves from the evils of the world.

The second law involves what is to happen to a rape victim, the full verse reads: “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered,  then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.”

Again, if we consider the historical context this law aims to protect the woman. Firstly, it would be extremely difficult for the woman who was raped to find a husband since her culture “valued virginity” (4). If the woman had had intercourse before, via rape or not, she would be deemed undesirable to men, and her chances of marriage would be extremely limited as a result. She would either become destitute, sell herself into indebted servitude, or end up as a prostitute, neither of which were desirable. So, a protective measure needed to be set in place in order to safeguard her future financial security and life should she be sexually violated.

That meant that if she was raped her rapist was forced to marry her and thus provide for her. Since the man is the guilty one he is to be held responsible as “he may not divorce her all his days.” It is also worth noting that the passage tells us that “they are discovered” and not that “he is discovered.” This suggests that what is being described here is not forcible rape, however, the man is still to be held responsible. Further, that he may never divorce her “all his days” is a harsh punishment since this meant that he had to provide for her financially and in all the necessary ways for his entire life, and this law stood even if he fell out of desire for her. The man had no choice but to continue to support his wife independent of what she did. This was surely enough to make any man who considered raping a woman question his motives, however, that would not mean that a man still might not attempt to do it. But this law stood as a deterrent.

Our next part to answering this is found in Exodus 22:16-17: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride price for virgins.”

It is very likely that a father would seek vengeance on a man who had raped his daughter especially since such an act would strongly damage her future. It is also likely that a father would not want his daughter to marry a rapist, however, the situation becomes complicated when one considered the virtue of virginity of women within the wider cultural context. The rapist is also commanded to pay a hefty fine to the daughter’s father whether he grants him his daughter or not. Copan explains:

“The girl’s father (the legal point person) has the right to refuse any such permanent arrangement as well as the right to demand the payment that would be given for a bride, even though the seducer doesn’t marry his daughter (since she has been sexually compromised, marriage to another man would be difficult if not impossible). The girl has to agree with this arrangement, and she isn’t required to marry the seducer. In this arrangement, she is still treated as a virgin” (5).

So, in concluding our review of these two laws we see that they represent non-ideal circumstances, hence why they are defined as circumstantial laws as indicated by the if designation at the beginning of the verse. Given the cultural context these laws were the most appropriate while they also stood as remarkably advanced & morally improved laws, especially within the wider context of the ANE.

3. Loftus: “Psalm 137:9 touts the pleasure of dashing children against rocks (Psalm 137:9), and full-scale genocide is prescribed throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:1-2, 20:16).”

Regarding the dashing of the babies on rocks Loftus fails to even hint at the context out of which this passage emerges. However, let’s review it. The full text reads “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock” (Psalm 137:9).

However, before considering this contention we need to realize that many things that we find recorded in the Bible are not condoned by God, even though they are mentioned. This is one such case.

The author is speaking out against the Babylonian’s who had successfully taken the Jewish people into captivity. It is most likely that the author is in exile and had likely witnessed heinous crimes and atrocities committed against his people, and as a result he showing his disdain and anger at the Babylonians for what they have done. He is thus so angry and vengeful that he wishes the death of his enemy’s babies by them being dashed on rocks. Note that it is not God who is thinking this, it is the writer. We don’t see God approving the psalmist’s request nor do we find any fulfillment of it. That’s point one.

Regarding the genocide contention Loftus is probably referring to the Canaanites being forcibly driven out their land. Again although a full analysis is needed here I shall only mention several brief points in response.

Firstly, to classify God’s command to drive out the Canaanites (Exodus 23:23; Numbers 33:52, 53; Deuteronomy 20:16, 17) as genocide is misleading, exegete Craig explains: “It is therefore completely misleading to characterize God’s command to Israel as a command to commit genocide. Rather it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated. There may have been no non-combatants killed at all. That makes sense of why there is no record of the killing of women and children… Such scenes may have never taken place, since it was the soldiers who remained to fight. It is also why there were plenty of Canaanite people around after the conquest of the land, as the biblical record attests” (6).

Secondly, this driving out of the Canaanite’s was the product of judgment. God judged the Canaanites since they were an abominable people. We are informed that they worshiped idols (Deu. 4:28), that they were incestuous as seen in the relations between their gods, such as the god Ball having sex with his mother Asherah, with his sister Anat and his daughter Pidray (7). They were also adulterous as seen in one of their god’s Ishtar who “became the woman among the gods, patron of eroticism and sensuality, of conjugal love as well as adultery, of brides and prostitutes, transvestites and pederasts” (8). Rape was present too as we see in the city of Sodom (Gen. 19:5) as well as homosexuality (9). Bestiality was committed by their gods such as seen within the Canaanite epic poem “The Baal Cycle” we learn: “Mightiest Baal hears / He makes love with a heifer in the outback / A cow in the field of Death’s Realm. / He lies with her seventy times seven / Mounts eighty times eight / She conceives and bears a boy” (10). The Canaanites also performed child sacrifice. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to their gods and as a result “the land was polluted with blood” (Psalm 106:37-38).

However, despite this God gave them 400 years to repent (Genesis 15:13–16) of which they never did even though they knew of God’s power (Joshua 2:10–11; 9:9). Eventually they degenerate to a point where God then unleashes his judgement upon them. However, even though God unleashed his judgement he still allowed for those who turned to him to be spared (Joshua 6:25).

The truth is that often to save the body one has to amputate the arm, and in the context of the Canaanites God saw them ripe for judgement. That God could command such a thing is his prerogative since he is sovereign over his creation. So, having reviewed these several points in brevity I think that there is far more to consider than just to accuse God of genocide. I don’t think that Loftus’ accusation withstands scrutiny. We shall continue our review of this same argument in our next rebuttal.

To be continued…


1. Copan, P. 2011. Is God a Moral Monster? p. 120. (ebook format)

2. Copan, P. 2011. Ibid. p. 182. (ebook format)

3. Copan, P. 2011. Ibid. p. 130. (ebook format)

4. Esler, P. 2005. Ancient Israel: The Old Testament in Its Social Context. p. 188.

5. Copan, P. 2011. Ibid. p. 179. (ebook format)

6. Craig, W. 2011. The “Slaughter” of the Canaanites Re-visited. Available.

7. Pritchard, J. 1969. The Ancient Near East: Supplementary Texts and Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. p. 519.

8. Leick, G. 1994. Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature. p. 57.

9. Dalley, S. 1989. Myths from Mesopotamia. p. 305.

10. Smith, M. 1997. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. p. 148.


14 responses to “Refuting Atheist John Loftus – “Detestable” Old Testament Laws.

    • I just can’t take Loftus seriously. He starts on in his WIBA book admitting that he lies to people, cheated on his wife while he was a Pastor, had sex with a co worker and other stuff.

      So when he talks about what a good Christian he was before he “deconverted” maybe he we was lying then, too.

  1. This rebuttal is awful. Appealing to the historical setting and culture is meaningless. These laws were inspired by God. They should embody perfect justice. Killing a rape victim for not crying out? Forcing her to marry her attacker? A woman loses her hubby in war, but don’t worry! The God of the universe is with the conquerors and he has incredible moral guidelines. As a favor to the widow, she will be forced to marry whoever chooses her! How polite! What if no one chooses her? Oh. Too bad. God won’t get around to making women equal for another few thousand years. Can’t you see why these responses are so weak? God’s inspired word should transcend culture, place, and time. Gods laws should be the standard for all civilization. There should be absolutely no way to improve upon them. Epic fail.

    • You do know the purpose of the OT, right? Unlike the NT, the OT is not meant to be a guideline on which to follow. I said this in another comment somewhere on this site, but the OT is a documentation of history. It documents human nature (one thing you can’t deny the Bible shows brilliantly) and how God dealt with it, all pointing to the pinnacle of the Christian faith: The crucifixion and resurrection. This is why Jesus said, “The whole law is fulfilled with these two commands, love God, and love your neighbor.” This obviously transcends all culture and time. Everything other than that was meant to help (emphasis on help, not save) a people who hadn’t known a relationship with Christ, as explained here.
      James simply explains what happened in history, and why. Also, he never said these were preferred laws, but they were certainly necessary, again, to help. Also, you didn’t address anything further than the law on rape (you agree on it, which doesn’t make the post an epic fail, or simply just too lazy to write it out?), which leads me to believe you didn’t even read the whole post.

    • The irony is, Kenneth, that the writer of this defence of biblical ‘morality’ (difficult to use that word in the context of the horrific practices being ‘contextualised’) is actually doing what atheists do in a broader sense. He clearly can’t defend the words as they are laid out without appearing, well, immoral. So he re-writes them.

      An atheist does pretty well the same, it’s just we don’t have the ball and chain of needing to unscramble clearly unacceptable moral practices.

    • “Gods laws should be the standard for all civilization.”

      These were not God’s Laws for all civilization, these were the laws for Israel as a nation. If they were meant for all civilization then God would have imposed them on the gentile nations outside of the nation of Israel, since this not the case you are seriously wrong.

      “Killing a rape victim for not crying out?”
      Do you think they just assume that she wasn’t a rape victim or are just glossing over the fact that she could plead her case?

  2. Pingback: Refuting Atheist John Loftus – Bible, Christianity & Science | Historical Jesus studies.·

  3. Deuteronomy 22:28-29
    The Hebrew word tâphas used in this law translated as “seized” comes from the root meaning “to manipulate” whereas the other rape laws use the Hebrew word châzaq literally meaning siezed by force. So this law is definitely not about forcible rape.

  4. i think that no matter how horrendous an act in the bible might be, there will be a Christian who is convinced it was ‘a good thing’ and will make excuses to attempt to morally justify. that which is ultimately and obviously immoral.

  5. Pingback: A Response to John Loftus’ Reply to my Article. | Historical Jesus studies.·

  6. What nonsense. Many rapists threaten their victims with death if they scream. And the victim was less valuable if she was not a virgin? God should’ve addressed the devaluing of non-virgin women rather then having a rape victim marry her rapist. How absurd.

  7. Pingback: Refuting Atheist John Loftus – The Absurdity of Christianity. | Historical Jesus studies.·

  8. Pingback: Refuting Atheist John Loftus – Monotheism & God. | Historical Jesus studies.·

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