See Part 14 – On God and Suffering (Again…)
1. Loftus: “After centuries of theological gerrymandering, Christian theology has settled upon the concept of God as a perfect being as envisioned by St. Anselm in the 11th century. But the Bible itself isn’t consistent in describing its God. One probable biblical description casts God not as the creator of the universe ex nihilo, but as a god who fashioned the Earth to rise out of the seas in divine conflict with the dragon sea god, sometimes called Rahab, as in Job 26:9-12. This biblical God is merely the “god of the gods,” who like the other gods had a body that needed to rest on the seventh day, and was found walking in the “cool of the day” in the Garden of Eden.”
Regarding Job 26 there are multiple ways to how scholars have interpreted it. One way is that Rahab is not thought to stand in as “the dragon sea god” but is instead referring to Egypt. Rahab “is often put for Egypt; as Ps. 87:4, Isa. 51:9” (1). So, if that is the case then there is ultimately no “divine conflict” being had here between the Christian God YAHWEH and a rival god Rahab.
However, in my mind a far more adequate explanation is that Job 26, as with many other Old Testament texts, are largely polemical statements being made against neighbouring pagans that surrounded God’s chosen people at that time in history. Other names that appear in the Bible are Leviathan and Behemoth with the same intent. It is roughly analogous to Paul’s referencing everyone as “the offspring of God”, which is obviously biologically false, but makes a point for the pagan hearers who believed it literally (Acts 17.29). So, the Bible mentions the names of pagan deities & their destruction but never does it suggest that these pagan gods actually exist (pagan deities like Molech, Adrammelech, Dagon, Baal, golden calves, Zeus etc.). For example, in Leviticus 18:21 God instructs his people to avoid worshiping the pagan god Molech. Also, the 10 Commandments instruct us not to have any other gods before the one true God (Exodus 20:3). However, this does not mean that these gods, such as Molech, actually exist, instead the point is that one true God intends for his people to have a relationship with him and avoid indulging the negative aspects of pagan worship (such as child sacrifice, 2 Kings 17:31, idolatry etc.).
Then we have Loftus’ next line that the Christian God “like the other gods had a body that needed to rest on the seventh day.” One can reply twofold to this. The challenge basically argues that it doesn’t make much sense if an all-powerful God would need to rest like our limited bodies need to.
Even granted Loftus’ strictly literal reading of the end of the creation account where God is said to rest (or as we shall see below, ceased) were true it wouldn’t be an issue. That would be because the author is making use of anthropomorphism, a topic I briefly tackled in our previous rebuttal (see Part #6 point 1). In other words, just because God is said to have walked in the Garden of Eden (see. Gen. 3:8 & of which Loftus mentions in his paragraph) where Adam & Eve were present it doesn’t mean that God literally had two legs and a body that he used to trek through bush and shrubbery. No, the author is using figurative language, namely anthropomorphism, via the application of human characteristics to God in order for his narrative to be better understood. The same can be said with his “resting” on the 7th day. God does not literally have a body that gets tired & that would thus need to recuperate. It is simply a theological motif used by the author to say that God ceased from his creation activities. However, besides this there are other considerations we should note here. Firstly that the verse itself simply states that God rested and not that he actually needed to rest. So, we may be reading into it more than the author intended for his readers to. Further, the Hebrew word shabat, which is the Hebrew word for rest, also means “to cease or to stop.” So, God simply ceased from his creative activities on the 7th day, and that would make sense in the larger framework of the creation account – that God stopped creating things on the 7th day as indicated. So, I don’t think that Loftus’ challenge really stands here for several reasons, or that there is even a challenge in the first place.
2. Loftus: “Yahweh, the god of Israel, probably emerged out of a polytheistic amalgamation of the prebiblical gods of the ancient Near East. All prebiblical pantheons were organized as families, and Yahweh was likely simply one of the members of that family.”
Quite to the contrary the very first mentioning of God in the Bible adheres to monotheism (the existence of one God, as the Bible itself affirms) & not polytheism (the existence of many gods). In fact, the very first verse of Genesis tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) & not “in the beginning the gods created the heavens and the earth.” Further, our biblical characters & patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all reflect an early belief in monotheism (Gen. 12-50). And even prior to Moses, Joseph also reflects belief in one God as he himself asks “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Likewise the popular book of Job (with its setting & narrative that has been argued to date to pre-Mosaic times) also reflects belief in a single God as it speaks of an “almighty” God (see 5:17; 6:14; 8:3), a personal God (1:7-8) who created the world (38:4) and who is sovereign over it (42:1-2).
We also have the Ebla Tablets (which are some 1800 tablets found in a palace archive within the ancient city of Ebla, modern day Syria) (2) that date very early to between the years 2500 & 2250 BC (3). Thus these tablets give us some early evidence of monotheistic belief. The tablets tells us that the “Lord of heaven and earth: the earth was not, you created it, the light of day was not, you created it, the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.” What this negates is the idea that monotheism evolved out of polytheism as Loftus would have us think.
Also in other primitive religions, such as in many African religions, belief in a monotheistic concept of God is well grounded. The well-known scholar on African religions & belief systems the philosopher John Mbiti who has analyzed some 300 traditional religions informs us that “In all these societies, without a single exception, people have a notion of God as the Supreme Being” (4).
I think that these several lines of evidence, namely from the earliest belief in a monotheistic concept of God found in the Bible (as seen within the oldest setting found in the book of Job & the earliest beliefs by our patriarchs in Genesis), the primitive religious belief systems found in Africa, and the discovery of the Ebla tablets seem to suggest that Loftus has it wrong here. In other words, the origins of polytheism can be explained perhaps as a degeneration from monotheism.
Then we have Loftus’ next claim that “Some biblical authors consider Yahweh to be one of many gods fathered by Elyon, whose wife Asherah received the people and land of Israel to rule over (Deuteronomy 32:8).” Well, which biblical authors? What verses? Loftus certainly doesn’t mention them and thus is an argument without evidence that can be dismissed. Also, the verse in question (Deuteronomy 32:8) reads that the “the Most High gave the nations their inheritance…” and this would suggest a monotheistic conception of God, and not a god “fathered by Elyon.”
3. Loftus: “Yahweh was thought responsible for doing both good and evil, sending evil spirits to do his will, and commanding genocide.”
Again, the genocide contention is false. Yes, God did command and condone many violent acts of judgment that had many humans, animals and cities destroyed. No-one denies that, but it is false to accuse God of committing genocide when his judgments had absolutely nothing to do with the race/culture of a people but rather with their wicked, abominable sins. Since every judgment handed down by God in the Bible is a result of sin it strongly negates any challenge of God being unfair or genocidal. I answer this in some more detail in Part #10 point 3.
I am also not sure that Loftus’ claim that “Yahweh was thought” (emphasis mine) to do any of these supernatural events is defendable. For these many miracles (although sporadic and once off) that God allegedly performed were overtly supernatural and noticeable. For example, either God sent plagues on Egypt (Exodus 8) or the biblical author is mistaken, either God struck down 185 000 Assyrians via an angel (2 Kings 19:35) or the biblical author is mistaken, either God parted the sea (Exodus 14:21) or the biblical author is mistaken. No-where is there an option of God maybe doing these things. He either did them or he didn’t.
4. Loftus: “As time went on, Yahweh was believed to be the only God that existed. Still later, Satan emerged as an evil rival in order to exonerate Yahweh from being the creator of evil.”
This is blatantly disingenuous on two fronts. Firstly we have seen that monotheism was the earliest conception of God and that it was not as time went on the he “was believed to be the only God that existed.” We needn’t revisit that. Secondly, Loftus’ line that “Still later, Satan emerged as an evil rival in order to exonerate Yahweh from being the creator of evil” for Satan is present in both of the very earliest books of the Bible, in both Job & Genesis. In these two books Satan is a key figure. So that Loftus would say Satan later emerged as a evil rival is false on its face.
5. Loftus: “Further still, in the New Testament the biblical God was stripped of physical characteristics and known as a spiritual being. As theologians reflected on their God, they came to believe that he created the universe ex nihilo. Anselm finally defined him as the “greatest conceivable being.” But Anselm’s God is at odds with what we find in most of the Bible.”
We have already, multiple times, established that Loftus doesn’t know a thing about anthropomorphism. We have already reviewed him on that point so we needn’t return to it. However, it is true that anthropomorphism is used to describe God in a way that he isn’t really described as within the New Testament, but this is hardly a surprise considering that the New Testament focuses almost entirely on Jesus’ ministry, deity, resurrection, and his lasting legacy in the early churches. On the other hand the Old Testament focuses on God’s redemptive acts in history & his revelation of himself to his chosen people so that both them as well as us today can know about him. It is also worth noting that anthropomorphism in the Old Testament merely describes God in a way that can relate to human beings, however, in the New Testament God goes even further by actually coming to Earth in the physical body of the man Jesus Christ. So, I don’t think that there is necessarily a problem to be had here.
Then lastly Loftus writes that “Anselm’s God is at odds with what we find in most of the Bible” which is merely a vacuous statement. Who is Anselm? What did he mean by God being the “greatest conceivable being”? How is his conception of God at odds with what we “find in most of the Bible”? These are basic questions that Loftus does not even give an answer to so we needn’t take his statement seriously.
To be continued…
1. BibleStudyTools. Job 26. Available.
2. Numbers as in R. Biggs, “The Ebla tablets: an interim perspective”, The Biblical Achaeologist 43 (1980:76-87)
3. Dumper, M. & Stanley, B. 2007. Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: A Historical Encyclopedia. p. 141.
4. Mbiti, J. 1969. African Religions and Philosophy.