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Given the ease with which one may self-publish these days (as I know by experience), it's not surprising to see all manner of persons believing that they, now, can publish THE book which will destroy Christianity. To these ranks now add "Dr." Jason Long, author of the work Biblical Nonsense.
The doctorate is put in quotes for a reason. It is not because Long does not have a doctorate; he does -- in pharmacy -- but because Long evidently believes that by making note of this doctorate, it somehow lends him credibility as a commentator. It does not. If anything, that he "attended Church weekly for sixteen years" is a more relevant credential (which is to say, neither is).
We are assured that this work "utilizes scientific scrutiny, sound logic, and enlightened rationalism to present a remarkably compelling case against the legitimacy of the Bible" but for all the credible sources that were used (to wit, none -- there are no footnotes) this can be seen as little more than bravado.
We'll get right to the contents after a note -- an epigraph is given, "I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs." This is attributed to Frederick Douglass, but like so many quotes fundy atheists like to throw around, is not cited with a source.
Based on a search, it is possible that Douglass did say this at a talk that had to do with religion -- but the number of atheist sites that use it and admit it is unattributed offers grave concern that another Pope Leo X hoax is in the offing. Let's hope not. If we discover otherwise, we will let you know.
And now, to Biblical Nonsense. Some of the chapters and points are beyond our scope (creation/evolution, Flood, archaeology, etc) and we will bypass these, as usual. This should be considered as a guide if you have Biblical Nonsense in front of you.
This brief chapter is not so much about the Bible as it is Long's rather simplistic analysis of why Christianity was successful. There's not one footnote here to any credible source; not even Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity or any work by a credible church historian or sociological scholar like Malina, Schaff or Pelikan.
That said, it needs no arguing that, as Long says, specific events were pivotal in Christianity's success. No doubt the same could be said for any religious, social, or political movement. As a fan of the sci-fi writer Harry Turtledove, I might cite one his recent works in which the survival of a single person in the first century Roman political machine is said to produce an alternate history in which, two thousand years later, Rome is still around as a backwards "gunpowder empire" and their main rival is the Lithuanians, another gunpowder empire. To make an issue of this as Long does is, frankly pointless.
In terms of more specific comment, Long's analysis is that the God of the Jews was too mean to be much more successful:
Before the purported arrival of Jesus Christ, the original Hebrew religion, as found in the Old Testament, was an unfathomably harsh one. If you’ve taken the time to read the Old Testament in its entirety, you’ve probably noticed that God was consistently angry and vengeful for what appear to be petty reasons. He even threatened to kill people for excuses most of us would consider insane if offered by an ordinary earthly individual. Records made shortly before the Common Era (otherwise known as the BC period) indicate that the support for this deity had about run out of steam.
What "records" show this is not explained; much less are we given any sort of documentation to any credible, scholarly work referring to such records. Not that it is clear what is meant in the first place. In the time in question, Judaism was doing just fine; it had not "run out of steam" in any sense of the word, as it continued to be perpetuated by loyal Jews all over the Roman Empire, had gained special privileges from the Empire to not perform pagan worship rites to the Emperor, and was begrudgingly respected for its antiquity even as its people were hated.
There was no sign of any "fizzle" and where Long gets such a notion is not fathomable. In later chapters we will see his charges about "petty reasons" and "excuses" and such explained (though no better), so we will move on rather with his continued "analysis":
Paul, however, was convinced that the idea of Christ renovated the old religion. Thus, he altered the formerly distant and spiteful God into a loving and fair ruler. In fact, the makeover was so drastic that some virtually extinct sects of the new religion believe the god of the New Testament is an entirely different god than the one depicted in the Old Testament.
Long perhaps has Marcion in thought of here for the "sects" he has on his mind, but of course, the rub of this is that Marcion did his work by severely editing the documents that would comprise the New Testament. God no longer distant? Wrong: Paul and Jesus alike portray God in terms of a quite distant patron, who has Jesus as His assigned broker; what that boils down to is that He was, as He was in the OT, a ruling king and not your "best friend" as Long no doubt learned while he spent 16 years in church.
Indeed such personability would have been practically unthinkable in this day and age when people did not get to know each other as individual persons. God loving and fair? Yes, we say so, but Long would not still: Perhaps he missed those portions of the Gospels in which Jesus threatens eternal punishment; and perhaps he missed passages like 2 Thess. 1:9 and Phil. 3:19 where Paul affirms the same doctrine. The point being, by Long's standards, the God of the NT is no less "distant and spiteful" than the God of the OT.
Paul also dropped an array of incorrigible requirements for converting to this new persuasion, including the most deterring one of all: circumcision.
In fact, Judaism of Paul's day had a place for so-called "God fearers" -- persons who did not wish to undergo the circumcision ritual, but still wished to worship the God of Judaism. Thus circumcision was no deterrent at all to entering the congregation of YHWH; you were not of the upper crust, to be sure, but you got everything else that was at the table and enjoyed it. So Long's social analysis once again falls flat.
In order to garner a larger following, he also emphasized the aspects of Christianity possessing universal appeal. The most notable of his addendums, the gift of an afterlife, may have been essential for the conversion to be successful.
"Addendum"? The Jewish faith had a very clear "gift of an afterlife", one that was highly developed and detailed in the critical century, complete with resurrection (a Jewish and Christianity novelty, incidentally, that made BOTH faiths repulsive to the average pagan). In addition, the contemporary "mystery religions" offered the same gift (and without the horrible embodiment of resurrection), so Long's social analysis is doubly in error.
Furthermore, Paul took an additional step toward creating a more accessible belief system by proclaiming that anyone could get into this afterlife regardless of any immoral behavior previously exhibited by the new believer.
However, Judaism, as well as pagan mystery religions, were equally unconcerned with behavior you previously exhibited when it came to accepting their covenant offers of salvation. Obviously all of them had some concern for what came after, but the point is that Long errs in thinking that Paul was the only one "offering a gift of eternal life." That gift was offered from several sources. So what does this do to Long's analysis, again, but refute it?
Long makes the incredible and undocumented statement that, the "traditional Roman and Greek religions were rapidly falling out of favor with the citizens of the Empire. Zeus, Jupiter, and company were scarcely observed in religious ceremonies."
Were they? They may have been (I find no consensus on the point), but there was hardly an unfilled void. Long shows no awareness of the influx of Eastern cults into the Empire, and their popularity; or of the growing popularity of Greek philosophy or the mystery religions. Perhaps he wishes to intimate that Christianity fell into a hole that Roman religion had dug for itself. There may have been such a hole indeed (there's plenty of discussion and scholarship on that, which Long's meager paragraph or two won't address) but Christianity would have come along to find that hole already filled.
Quite unacceptable is Long's implication that Christianity was a success because what was sought was "a novel way of thought to remodel their society." Clearly he is unfamiliar with the ancient suspicion of anything new and the clinging to that which had been done before. This (and other factors) meant, indeed, that the "citizens of Rome...would have quickly rejected Christianity on the grounds of having no practical use for it" -- especially since mystery religions were a much more favorable option. Doubtful is his claim that Christianity succeeded because it was "the first [religion] with intricate detail and organization to reach this region of the globe."
Even if we assume that "intricate detail and organization" was somehow preferable to simplicity in presentation and organization, the simple fact is that Christianity's details were not "intricate" and certainly no more so than what any pagan or Jew would have known already. That's assuming it is ever clear what Long means by "detail and organization," which is not explained in the first place.
It is said, "A large collection of recorded events and stories from which potential members could gain the religion’s essential lessons also accompanied the movement. Such inclusions were great new concepts for the Romans who previously had religions founded on abstract ideas."
Really? Someone here apparently missed out on the "large collection of recorded events and stories" that Jews and pagans alike had -- the latter, with their collection of myths of the gods and their adventures, and with their sacred history which was crowned by Homer and Romulus, were hardly "abstract ideas".
Before Christianity, the closest thing to an afterlife that previously established religions ever offered the Romans was the concept of Hades. While this mysterious idea permitted their souls to be saved, it wasn’t clear exactly what transpired after their deaths.
Well, it's not "clear exactly what transpired" after the death of a Christian either; Long's idea that heaven "was a remarkable refuge where they would sit alongside their god and savior while singing praises to them" seems to have come more from his experiences discovered while in church, or from popular music, than from a Bible. And once again, those mystery religions offered their own version of "heaven", and Rome itself had quote detailed idea of the Elysian fields and The Plain of Asphodel, of crossing the River Sytx, of meeting the gods and giving an account, and -- hold on a moment -- no belief in eternal damnation. You'd get some just desserts in Tartarus if you were bad, but you wouldn't stay there forever.
It was quite clear what happened after death: You were either blessed in the Elysian fields, bored and forgetful at Asphodel, or punished in Tartarus. What this paragraph makes clear is that Long's knowledge of Roman religion is inadequate -- or else he drank from the stream of Lethe after reading about it. (If he doesn't know what that means, it just proves my point.)
Furthermore, this wonderful gift had only one prerequisite: accept Jesus as a personal savior. Such coherent simplicity was obviously a vast improvement over the older vague religions.
Simple? Yes, it was: As simple as pledging yourself to one the pagan deities as their client. Long no doubt had his mind on the Protestant tradition of simplicity here, but the fact is that "accept Jesus as a personal savior" meant something no less simple to an ancient than what he experienced in daily life: covenant obligation, grace, service. This too was not unusual, despite Long:
While Christianity did have strict guidelines, the followers were seemingly immune from God’s post mortem punishments if they had received forgiveness for their sins. Even though Christians are adamant about living what they consider a respectable and moral life, they cannot deny that God also admits rapists and murderers into Heaven under the provided guidelines.
That is so, and they also say that God delivers rewards in accordance with acts as well -- though this is not as much emphasized in an atmosphere of cheap grace as it needs to be. And in that respect, the ancient person received the same idea from their own patrons, and within the circle dance of grace and obligation, where loyalty was rewarded with loyalty, and disobedience with sanction. Heaven as shown in the parables of Jesus is no different; and if Long thinks otherwise, he might consider the parable of the talents for once in his life.
Following this Long cites "great psychological factors" in Christianity's favor, but he is wrong on both.
The first is said to be that "Jesus prophesied his own return within the lifetime of certain individuals" and that this threat encouraged the Romans to "act quickly before it was too late." Of course, since the Romans had a way out to a sufficient place as it stood, any such Christian "offer" would have been met with all the joy of a political campaign commercial.
But beyond that, Long errs anyway, since he concludes that it was taught that "[o]nce Jesus returned, the offer was seemingly void." No such thing is said anywhere at all in the New Testament, and indeed, since the "return" was not the dispensational act Long thinks it is, but rather a formal enthronement in heaven, there was nothing particularly about it that would have been of any use as an "act now or pay later" device. (And there was also no need to "alter the predictions" into ambiguity when Jesus' prophecies failed, since they did not fail -- but succeeded between 67-73 AD -- and are not even ambiguous to anyone who does the requisite study.)
Factor 2: "the initial ban of Christianity from practice and observance within Rome. As we all know, when you can’t have something, you want it even more."
As we here know, this kind of "psychology" is a characteristic of a society ordered by the individual; when it comes to the ancient world and its mentality favoring the collective, within which what the majority wants is what drives you, the exact opposite is true: When you can't have something, you want it even less, because getting it means that you will be sanctioned as a deviant and subjected to public shame, which is the worst thing in the world.
So Long's education in psychology didn't teach him that no, the whole world didn't think like Americans -- and aside from that, there was no official, sanctioned "ban" on Christianity for many years after its inception.
The rest of Long's chapter offer brief summations of reaction to Christianity in Eastern Asia and through the Middle Ages and into America. We have no interest in these areas, since they have nothing to do with the initial spread of Christianity in the critical formative years.
This one is titled, "The Psychology Hidden Behind Christianity" and it really requires no comment, because it's just an expanded version of the old "you believe what your parents taught you" argument, which also ends up proving as much about communism being the best or worst political system as does the child born in Havana and being taught that Castro is the world's political savior. In other words, it's just a red herring argument that proves and says nothing about the validity or truth of the system, and in any event, has no application to someone like me who was raised in an environment essentially hostile or indifferent to Christianity, and who grew up thinking Christians were arrogant fools.
It would be just as easy (and just as fallacious) for us to "psychoanalyze" Long and make up stories about the reasons for his apostasy -- but they wouldn't in the least serve to validate or invalidate his beliefs. Indeed, we could just as easily say that he included this superfluous chapter on psychology as an expression of his own insecurities with his presentation of the facts. Why not? It proves as much as his whole chapter here does.
No, still no actual, relevant arguments yet. Long now offers a chapter titled, "Christianity’s Imminent Downfall" in which he makes issue with the drop of the number of Christians in America. What this has to do with the truth or falsity of Christianity itself isn't clear, and what Long's personal anecdotes about who he has met online say about the same subject is also far from obvious, but Long needs to take in the book The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity by religious scholar Philip Jenkins. America isn't all there is to the universe.
This one, titled "Poor Christian Reasoning," you might suppose offered some hope for some real arguments from Long, but in summation it's only a chapter on faulty reasoning processes used by Christians (ones Long has encountered) and which by his own admission and warning, "freethinkers" are not immune to either. I won't assume that Long has not encountered Christians who argue such things as, "the crucifixion is a historical fact because no one has found any documents conspiring to invent the story." The way to argue for the crucifixion as a historical fact is to appeal to positive testimony from sources (Gospels, Paul, Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, etc -- and defend as needed against arguments to the contrary), and he won't need to assume that I have not dealt with "freethinkers" who say such things as, "you can't prove that the Gospels were not corrupted more than the evidence shows." He won't have to assume that I have not encountered "freethinkers" who use such tactics as the argumentum ad antiquitatem ("people have been fooling themselves with religion for thousands of years"), and so on.
I have never run across any of the arguments Long attributes to Christians, but perhaps that's because he ran in the wrong circles as a Christian.
Chapters 5 and 6 are on subjects beyond our scope, so we move to:
Titled, "The Flat Earth Society," this chapter attempts to prove that the Bible teaches a flat earth, and also alludes to the idea that it teaches a solid sky. These concepts we have refuted here and we find that Long has provided but one new argument:
A reference to Isaiah 24:1, "Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof." But the word used here is 'erets, a word used over 2500 times in the OT and used commonly of a limited area of land (Gen. 12:10, "And there was a famine in the land") so that there is no quality here against a spherical earth and no place for Long's remark that "it’s impossible to orient our planet in such a fashion and erroneous for Isaiah to use this absurd brand of diction."
Long should have consulted a Hebrew lexicon, at least, before making such an argument.
It does speak for itself that Long takes the tack of criticizing the text for referring to the movement of the sun, all the while ignoring our modern, continued use of words like "sunset" -- Long is unwilling to grant the Bible the use of phenomenological language.
Also of note is Long's appeal to the alleged catastrophe that would have accompanied Joshua's long day and Isaiah's sunlight reversal. The objections he ises are addressed in the item here (though he admits begrudgingly, "...I suppose that if a power existed to stop the planet from moving, the same power could withhold such consequences from taking place.")
Finally, Long is without knowledge to the genre of apocalyptic, as he accuses Joel of using eclipses as a way of frightening people. In actuality, Joel is using a figure of speech within which the sun and moon are symbols for governmental entities of his time (just like Japan's "rising sun" on its flag) and so this is in no way a reference to "a supernatural force...as manipulating these heavenly bodies in order to foreshadow some imminent spectacle of anger."
Chapter 8 is about subjects beyond our scope.
It is with this chapter that Long enters into the realm of "argument by outrage". There is no actual effort to show that any given act by God was indeed unjust or unfair in context. It is by far the longest chapter (at least of ones in our scope, from what I checked) and time and time again uses emotion as "argument" as though by merely being outraged and describing what happened, the injustice of the matter is thereby settled.
In rare cases some defense is made, but where that happens, Long invariably fails once again on some matter such as social-cultural context.
Here are the points:
The reason that God decides to drown the entire world, killing nearly every living person and animal on earth, is his belief that people are evil and unworthy of existence (Genesis 6:5). So what if they were evil? As Lenny Bruce once exclaimed, “The fault lies with the manufacturer!”
It's rather remarkable that with so many philosophers of ethics with published works out there, Long thinks a mere snippet from a comedian is some kind of germane insight. The blaming of God for our decisions and flaws is the retort of the spoiled child unwilling and unable to accept personal responsibility. But if Long wants to deal with some actual arguments in this area, we have this series from a sister site. It quotes authors and scholarly philosophers like Alvin Plantinga instead of comedians like George Carlin, however.
Even if we suppose the adults deserved to die slow and torturous deaths, what association could we conceivably make between their decisions and the adolescent victims of the flood? Couldn’t God have just placed the innocent children and animals aside for a while so that they wouldn’t drown?
Wonderful idea! Why not also suggest that God create ex nihilo, after the Flood, a whole squadron of nannies to take care of all of those innocent children? Indeed, why not ask God to change the channel for us so we don't have to get up or even pick up a remote? The irony of this from Long is astounding, as we will see later he replies to certain of OT morals laws with the answer, "why doesn't God mind His own business," yet utterly contradictorily, asks God to step in again and again whenever he thinks it is convenient.
Long seems to have a peculiar definition of "genocide". He says that Sodom and Gomorrah was a "genocidal operation" but "genocide" means, "deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group," and since Sodom and Gomorrah were not any of these things, it is clear that Long doesn't know how to use the word, other than for effect.
Appeal to Ex. 4:10-11. The word "make" here carries the meaning of appoint, preserve, or even reward and has nothing to do with "taking credit" for making people deaf, dumb or blind as Long believes.
The usual about how unfair it was to punish all of Egypt; see here.
The usual about unfairness to the firstborn of Egypt; see here.
God revisits the plague concept when he dishes one out on his chosen people for following Aaron’s orders to worship a golden calf (Exodus 32:35). Recall, however, that Aaron was one of the two men to whom they owed their freedom. Why would God punish his people for actions that they didn’t realize were “wrong,” especially when they had implicitly learned to trust the person giving the orders?
No, Aaron was NOT someone they "owed their freedom" to -- Moses and Aaron clearly acted as brokers for God, who they knew very well was the one to whom their freedom was owed, and who have them explicit instructions to make no graven image (meaning, a point of presence for the manifestation of deity), and this prior to the golden calf incident.
This debacle seems to have shifted Aaron over to God’s bad side because God later kills his two sons for building a “strange fire” (most likely meaning that they let a forbidden item burn) (Leviticus 10:1-2). No matter how many times I read passages like this, I’m always amazed how God kills people because they do something silly like build a displeasing campfire...
Silly! These two men also came to the party DRUNK (note that drinking is cited as a problem immediately after this, Lev. 10:9) and treated the sacred like toilet paper. To do this was to undermine the very basis for social coherence and security for the Israelites by treating it as trivial and unimportant. Long, like most modern impatient individualists, sees only the moment of two deaths and carries an unhealthy, imbalanced focus on them, unconcerned with the long-term considerations of what such an impious act would imply if left unpunished or under-penalized.
On the subject of fire, God later sets some of the desert wanderers ablaze for complaining about their difficulties (Numbers 11:1). Keep in mind that they were now wandering around the desert for decades doing absolutely nothing after having been slaves in Egypt for centuries.
False -- they were showing an incomprehensible ingratitude in a situation where they were sufficiently provided for, and reacted like spoiled children demanding that God do more for them. We once again remind the reader that the perpetuation of such ingratitude would, in the context of an ancient society with no social safety nets and with limited resources, lead to further consequences that entailed the suffering and death of far more than these few people. Long is again too short-sighted and uneducated to see more than the immediate acts and results. But worse, he presumes that their expressed desire to return to Egypt as slaves actually means that they really had it better there.
Long also claims that they were "increasingly irritated over being homeless" -- that is far off, for a pastoral lifestyle was nothing atypical for the day, and indeed, was regarded by many as desirable.
When they complain about having no meat for nourishment, God provides them with a circle of quail three feet high and a day’s journey wide... Not true -- see here.
God opens the ground under Korah’s household and sucks everything he has, family and all, into the depths of the earth (Numbers 16:31-33). The remaining council of 250 are burned alive (Numbers 16:35). Does the punishment fit the so-called crime? Does God have any compassion for their situation? Obviously not, on both accounts.
Obviously, Long's mere declarative say-so that it doesn't fit the crime isn't an argument of any sort. It bears repeating again that he does not live in the Ancient Near East, in a life and culture constantly on the brink of anarchy, where deviance of any sort readily snowballed into death and suffering for many more who followed the same lead.
Would Long rather kill 250 now, or watch 250,000 die later because he failed to punish the 250?
The answer no doubt is that he'd act like he could opt out of doing either, by having God hand him everything.
The usual about Jepthah.
The usual about the death of 70K from the census (see 2/3 of the way down)
The usual about David's infant son -- it speaks for itself that Long regards David's crime here as "petty".
At one point, God sends a famine upon David’s followers. When he makes an inquiry to God for a justification, he’s told, “It is for Saul, and his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites” (2 Samuel 21:1). Saul died years ago, yet God just now decides to punish people who had nothing to do with the decisions of their former leader.
And who have not yet delivered the proper restitution for the crimes of their former leader, and have thereby implicitly endorsed and supported them. Or does Long not approve of "Good Samaritan" laws as well?
David’s new son, Solomon, turns away from the Hebrew god and decides to worship other deities. Solomon’s decision infuriates God, but he isn’t punished because God recently came to like David. Instead, he punishes Solomon’s son by taking away part of his land when he comes to power (1 Kings 11:9-13). Once again, we see the impossibility of being free from God’s anger even when living in total obedience to him. In essence, Solomon’s son was divinely punished before he was ever born.
And of course, Solomon's son was perfectly innocent and never did a thing wrong? But a few points from this.
First of all, Long is unknowing of the fact that this WAS a punishment for Solomon, for the collectivist mentality of the ancient person, and the association of honor with the prestige of the entire family, meant that whatever punishment fell on Solomon's son, detracted from Solomon as well.
Second, Solomon's son did indeed not live in "total obedience" but was a wretched slavedriver.
Finally, it was more than simply, "God recently came to like David" but that David, by his overall honor rating and loyalty to God, had come to earn the right to have punishment on his descendant (remember to look at family honor collectively, so the punishment goes on David too) withheld for a time.
The issue about Josiah, who in fact did not receive any punishment at all.
Instead of directly murdering people or using his followers to execute similar commands, the apparently insatiable God begins sending animals to kill those who displease him. On one occasion, he has a lion kill a man because he refuses to hit someone (1 Kings 20:35).
Someone in other words who disobeyed a direct order from a recognized prophet of God, and thereby placed himself as God's superior. That's no offense at all, is it?
God sends his lions out again to kill a group of people who were new to Samaria. The reason for this atrocity is their lack of worship, even though they were never informed of the proper worship methods (2 Kings 17:24-26).
Not so. The ancient person knew, as we know that clouds cause rain, that if you lived in land, you had to get to know and do service to the deity of the land. Thus their "ignorance" was a matter of intentional neglect of their duties, and in this case, outright arrogance, for they assumed that the defeat of Israel meant that their god was defeated also.
This is another example of Long making uninformed judgments about a cultural setting he knows nothing about.
The usual about Elisha and the bears. We get a clue here as to Long's background: He says, "Christians never have to justify such passages because, of course, they never read them!"
He didn't. We did. And we also read up on the scholarship.
Issue is offered over Abraham and Sarah, and the plague on Pharaoh's house. The background here dispels Long's declaration of injustice: What was enacted here was a sort of "diplomatic marriage" custom -- a mutual agreement in which, in order to gain the protection of the king, along with water and grazing rights, the patriarchs, having no daughters to present for such an exchange, resorted to the ruse with their wives. In this kind of situation, the ruling king, if he were indeed an honorable man, would not have sexual relations with the woman in question, nor have taken her into his house like one of his own wives.
Long fails to read Pharaoh's retort as a face-saving excuse which it is.
The usual about Onan.
The usual about 50,070 people being killed for looking into the Ark. Long has not found out yet that textual criticism puts the number at 70, not 50,070. Also the usual about Uzzah (about 2/3 down). Long's plea that Uzzah was using "pure reflex" is a mere contrived excuse -- who privied him as to how close Uzzah was to the Ark, and what he was doing at the time? --but even if true, the offense had started long before Uzzah laid his hands on anything.
A potpourri of objectionss, many of which object to God killing people in war (! -- so does Long disapprove of ALL war, and should we assume that?); the usual about Nabal; and: [God] plagues Azariah, a man labeled as a good King, with leprosy for the remainder of his life because he allows people to burn incense in a location displeasing to God (2 Kings 15:1-5). This is another great example of an overbearing punishment for breaking an asinine law.
No, it's example of Long not understanding either the punishment or the crime in their cultural contexts. First of all, "leprosy" as we know it (Hansen's disease) is not what is in view here; the word used referred to any number of skin disorders, and could refer to something as small as a nickel.
Second, the punishment fits the crime perfectly: Azariah violated ritual purity and cleanness laws by allowing this incense to be burned, so he is given a skin disorder which makes him ritually unclean.
A further potpourri of objections about unfair punishment for things like picking up sticks on the Sabbath, etc.; all of these, we will compress under a single heading of "unjustified and unexplained 'argument by outrage'" by Long. Unless he shows that the society in question did not need this level of penalty (and by the way, he needs to know that law codes in the ancient world were didactic, and that lesser punishments were permitted to be offered), his "arguments" are non-arguments.
He is to cast any menstruating or leprous person out of the camp because God doesn’t want to be around those “dirty” people when he descends for a visit (Numbers 5:1-3). In other words, God wants no association with those who are more likely to need assistance, medical or otherwise.
The last I checked, menstruation wasn't cause for needing assistance, but maybe Long thinks less of the vitality of women than we do. That said, Long is missing the concept of ritual purity that governs these rules. It is not "dirty" in the sense that he believes.
The usual about the Canaanites. Does Long even realize that the Canaanites themselves were squatters who had destroyed a prior, valuable culture?
The usual about Judges 20:18; Is Long a military general who can assure us that he could have done a better job?
The usual about the Amalekites.
The usual against animal sacrifice, which leads us to assume that Long will tomorrow be found protesting outside the local McDonald's because of the "aromas emitted by burnt flesh" performed by that "fiendish character" Ronald McDonald and by the butchers who knew what organs to extract.
Quite frankly, if Lev. 1-9 makes Long "weak of stomach" one wonders how in the world he handled going through pharmacy school, or if he'd survive sitting down to a burger. It might help to know that Leviticus was never intended to be read by the people at large but was a manual for priests. If he picked up a book like Field Dressing and Butchering Rabbits, Squirrels, and Other Small Game would he object as well?
I have asked if Long will ever justify his objections against prescribed Biblical punishments in their contexts, but we never get more than this kind of circular reasoning:
Let’s begin by considering the adultery law. While cheating on a spouse is certainly one of the most selfish acts a person can commit, being unfaithful is nothing deserving of death. Some couples even encourage each other to commit adultery. If that’s what they want, their sex lives should remain their own business. Suggesting that this would upset a supernatural entity, one wise enough to create the universe in a week, only demonstrates the unenlightened beliefs held by that party. Since researchers have estimated that 50% of Americans commit adultery, does this mean that God really want us to stone 50% of America’s population to death?
This is apparently supposed to be an "argument": 1) "It doesn't deserve it, because I say it doesn't"; 2) "It's my own business what I do" [except when I petulantly demand that God step in]; 3) "People do it all the time."
No, there's no warrant for stoning people today (see here) but this is no argument at all. It gets no better from Long with same-sex relations, either. Long can't even see that with all three answers, he declares himself God's superior and explains why God doesn't step in every time he wants him to.
Likewise, about 25% of men are uncircumcised. For what possible reason would God ever care what a man’s penis looks like? Since there’s no conclusively proven health benefit from the procedure, one can only assume that God finds it aesthetically pleasing.
One would be better off "assuming" that it is chosen as a mark of covenant relationship precisely because it is so serious and personal (who but one truly loyal would submit to it, or submit his sons to it?), and keeping in mind that a refusal to do it amounts to declaring God's covenant trash -- thus warranting the punishment (exile from the covenant people).
The usual about stoning rebellious sons.
And Long says, "We shouldn’t needlessly kill animals because some wacko has sex with them. The helpless creatures obviously lack the capacity to make an informed choice in the matter."
Come to think of it, the cow that made the burger he ate didn't have any informed choice in the matter either, and nor did the millions of microbes he's killing every time he breathes.
We have already seen that Long has no wherewithal to say, Of all the worthwhile messages that God could have included in the Bible to help us through life, he settles on a number of nonsense rules and regulations that he knew hardly anyone would still follow a short while later.
Really? The rules and regulations so offered would be applicable to pastoral and nomadic societies for a thousand or more years, and would still be applicable in some parts of the world today; and the principles that underlaid them, as a whole, remain to the point today.
The usual about God being "jealous" although it is misplaced. The word for "jealousy" in Joshua 24:19, which Long uses, is used less than half a dozen times in the OT, and always is used to describe God. Nowhere is this word described as a sin. A related word is used to describe a husband who worries that his wife is walking out on him (Numbers 5). Sarna (Exodus commentary, 110) notes that the root of the word means "to become intensely red" and that it can refer to ardor, zeal, rage, or jealosuly.
Paul knows of a godly jealousy (2 Cor. 11:2), so is this a sin as we understand it? Jealousy is part of God's nature because it is demanded by who He is -- He is the only being who can indeed say He has a right to be jealous, since He is the only one who truly deserves utter respect and devotion. Malina in The New Testament World [126-7] adds that in the context of an honor-based world, jealousy was "a form of protectiveness that would ward off the envious and their machinations."
It is a behavior that an honorable person is expected to "exhibit towards that which he or she is perceived to possess exclusive access." Thus for God to be jealous here is not a vice in context, but a supreme virtue and demonstration of His concern for Israel.
The usual about the sins of the fathers.
The usual about 2 Thess. 2:8-12.
It is said: We also understand that God wants Christians to suffer through life (1 Peter 4:12-19). Why doesn’t he make it less painful to follow him in order for more of us to understand the “true” way of being saved?
A better question is, "Why doesn't Jason Long become more mature?" A personality like this is unwilling to make any sacrifice in the end, because it is "painful" or even "inconvenient."
God goes so far as to place equivalent monetary values on human life for an offering that he requires everyone to provide (Leviticus 27:1-8). This is another prime example of the total disregard God reserves for his creations. We may not be omnipotent and omniscient, but most of us would never attempt to place a specific price on the value of a human life.
Long has misplaced his sentiments yet again; the value in question is essentially a service tax for the Temple cultus. One may as well say that local fire and police departments and sanitation services place a "value on human life" when millage rates are set.
The usual about God allowing Job to suffer by Satan; Long of course would not recognize Satan's "honor challenge" to God, or that 98% of all people who ever lived (in their agonistic settings) would have regarded a refusal by God tantamount to God admitting that Satan was superior. To Long, it's a case of "God's ego" and not public honor.
The usual about ancient modes of expression (see end paragraph).
Long presumes to speak for the justice of eternal punishment for "a radical Muslim who has had the exact opposite notion [of Christianity] drilled into his head since birth" and does so by assuming that the Muslim is never shown the error of his ways.
Once again we look for actual explanations and find little other than "I say so": Let’s look at a few Old Testament examples and determine if his retaliations are justifiable. The first of which would be to not harass any widows or orphans because God will kill you with a sword (Exodus 22:24). As in the previous section, we see a continuity of God administering unfit punishments for minor crimes.
Oh, really? Preying on the most vulnerable members of that society, and leaving them in situations where their lives were at stake, doesn't deserve the death penalty? Long lives in a world where all these widows and orphans had to do was run down to the local social services office and get their next welfare check, when the fact is, a "harrasser" is someone who will leave that widow and orphan DEAD by slow death in a society where resources are heavily limited.
If you try to rebuild Jericho, your oldest and youngest son will die (Joshua 6:26). While such an extreme measure of revenge could hardly be warranted, God affords everyone ample opportunity to avoid his insane wrath in this instance.
Revenge? No such thing is said; it is merely a prediction of what will happen to the rebuilder.
If you don’t worship God, he’ll sever your arm, revoke your eyesight, and curse you with a premature death (1 Samuel 2:31-33). Similarly, he’ll wipe you off the earth if you observe other gods (Deuteronomy 6:14-15). If you take it as far as hating God, he’ll totally destroy you (Deuteronomy 7:10). I think these punishments are starting to creep over that arbitrary boundary known as “fairness.”
I think Jason Long is merely posturing in outrage and providing absolutely no argument showing any actual unfairness in the context of the social world within which they are made. That he has no conception of the harm done to widows and orphans done by what he calls mere "harrassers" shows that he is viewing these texts through 21st-century eyes.
The usual about the punishments being "scare tactics", which we assume is also the case for sentencing guidelines provided by modern states, which are "exposing the childish behavior" of the state "by listing a long series of punishments for failing to follow its laws and not paying it enough attention."
The usual about "[God] threatens to torture us for eternity" which we have rendered moot here.
That pretty well sums up Chapter 9, with Long ironically comparing God to "a spoiled child" even as he himself blames God for condemning those who have years upon years to make the right choice, but don't.
Yes, it's what you'd expect, in a chapter titled, "Why Women And The Bible Don’t Mix." There is nothing new here; it's the same stuff we and our sister site answered, mainly in this series. For reference:
The "rule over you" canard
The "pain in childbirth" issue, as well as on menstruation -- Long fails to see the idea that deeming a woman "unclean" does not mean "dirty" (as noted in a link above) but is essentially a declared vacation at a time when it would be needed most.
The Exodus 21:7-11 (see about 1/3 down)
The Deut. 22:13-21 -- Long is badly informed if he thinks that a "woman who accidentally tears her hymen due to an injury or other non-sexual act is simply out of luck"; like any case in the ancient world, the matter would be brought before judges and elders to be decided upon, not merely slavishly followed like a pedantic manual of instruction.
Long's objection that sons are favored in inheritance ignores the fact that such sons would be responsible for the care of any unmarried daughters, and that husbands would be responsible for their welfare once they were married. He also misses the point that in the ancient world, no woman would consider herself "forced" to marry her deceased husband's brother but would rather find it desirable to remain within the same family ingroup.
The "childbirth is foul, especially of a girl" -- 1/2 way down; also more on the subject of menstruation
The Deut. 22:28-29
The Deut. 22:24 "too frightened to scream" argument, about 1/3 down. Long is not aware of the collective orientation of the ancient family; a pound of silver paid to the husband is for the sake of his entire household, which is injured by the attack.
The Midianite "sex slaves"
Long says that there is nothing in the OT of "explicit impermissibility of sexual relations between fathers and daughters." He dismisses the quite obvious condemnation implicit in the story of Lot as not good enough because of it "using disturbingly tranquil commentary."
Really? Perhaps Long ought to consider his desire for a more explicit, bang-on-the-head condemnation as a sign of his own lack, not the Bible's.
He also objects that this particular is not found in Leviticus 20:10-21, but "mother and son" is not on the list either. Evidence does not lead him to the conclusion that the ommission means "it was permissible, or at least somewhat condonable, for a father to rape his daughters." As one of the linked articles above noted, pedophilia was simply not a problem in Israelite society.
A potpourri of incidences in which women are mistreated or harmed, although all are merely reported without endorsement (Long's vague claim that "God looks upon these men favorably", unsupported with texts or for these particulars, notwithstanding).
The standard argument that Proverbs is full of advice to men on women. Is commentary from a father to his son is going to explain to him how he can find a good man?
The standard Pauline issues about Eph. 5:22-24, 1 Cor. 11:3-9, 1 Cor. 14, and 1 Timothy. Long misses the point as well that in the New Testament world, women did indeed have a right to institute divorce proceedings. Lot is likewise condemned as "unrighteous" for a mistake made in a high-pressure situatiom surrounded by a mob.
The usual false reading of 1 Cor. 7
Long's reading of Romans 1:27 as meaning, "the natural use of a woman is to function as a derogatory sexual outlet for a man" is his own, not found in Paul.
Chapter 11 -- there is nothing here but the arguments about slavery and the Bible that are answered by the two articles on our sister site here.
Chapter 12 is a summary in which Long endorses the JEDP theory (not knowing the flaws in that thesis). In addition, we find some issues lifted from various sources:
Appeal to the usual issues of anachronism such as Dan, Chaldeans, Edom, the Philistines, etc etc -- replies to all found at link.
The usual from Finkelstein about balm and myrrh (about 1/8 down). Long ever uses the "no camels" argument.
There is a large section on the historicity of the Exodus which is beyond our scope, but I will note a few points: Long is missing the point that ancient kings seldom if ever recorded their failures; there are the usual diatribes about logistics (maybe Long can step up to the plate with evidence for those millions of everyday Scythians on the steppes of Asia, and also explain how they ate, bathed, etc. and where evidence for all of their encampments are).
In light of the record of humanity, it is amazing that Long even raises as a problem the "Israelites’ total lack of faith in their god’s abilities." After being in church for 16 years, by his own present account living a deluded life, how can Long even raise such a question? (He could, however, to understand some of the Israelites' complaints as demands for action rather than a sign of lack of belief in the power of God.)
The conquest issue with reference to archaeology is beyond our scope, but we do refer here.
Long makes claims of the OT laws being "patterned after the Code of Hammurabi" (bottom third).
The standard "Sargon and Moses" argument rounds things out for this chapter.
This one offers Long's 40 favorite Biblical contradictions, and they're all ones we have seen before.
The creation accounts (link above).
Long fails to recognize Hosea 8:4 ("They made princes: and I knew it not") as well-placed sarcasm by the omniscient; it does not require omniscence to keep abreast of simple political events.
Long offers a new version of "Can God make a rock so heavy" argument, but he prefers burritos; even so, he is just as off base as any who propose this argument, and don't understand that omnipotence doesn't relate to logical impossibility.
Long criticizes God for having "human qualities" of fury (why is this not a divine quality that we also possess?), and also offers the standard issues here and from here.
The call on the name of the Lord issue
The oath swearing issue
Long places Psalms against Proverbs, missing genre considerations.
The 1 Tim. 2:8 prayer issue (see entry). Long admits the reason Jesus gives, "to be seen of men" but still insists that this is "violating a direct order given by Jesus" even though he does not explain why this is so if the intent is not to be seen of men.
The usual about wealth
The usual about faith and words
The usual about Luke 14:26 -- Long is missing the answer with his bare-bones literalist reading of miseo, and refers to apologists who "try to find ways to alter the meanings in order for the Christian Jesus blueprint to remain unbroken." Really? How about showing those ways are actually invalid? Is cultural contextualization invalid?
The usual about Matt. 15:17-19, and the usual false claim that the NT covenant "overhauls" the law --
--with as well, the expected issue about Hebrews 8:6-7
The usual re the genealogies of Jesus (also here). Long seems amazed that both Heli and Mary are descendants of David. I wonder if he has any conception of population demographics; there is nothing peculiar about two people descended from the same person hundreds of years before.
The old birth narrative issues, and Long is not up on the scholarship if he thinks the "two Quirinius" answer is what is offered these days.
The usual crowing rooster issue, as well as a few of the usual Gospel differences issues.
Long is no better than Sigal at understanding the difference between Pilate and Jesus' accusers.
Also the usual about the sign on the cross and Jesus' last words, and the standard resurrection story issues (see link above). Long is wrongly comparing oral transmision to "playing the telephone game".
The usual on seeing God
The age of Ahaziah issue (see entry for 8:26). Long obviously doesn't even know about the idea of textual criticism, though he does accuse some NIV translation of "deceitfully alter[ing] Ahaziah’s age from forty-two to twenty-two with only a minor footnote" without telling us what the footnote said, or why it is deceitful.
The "who killed Saul" issue.
The usual death of Judas issue, with Long answering one typical harmonization only by saying he thinks it is funny. That's an answer?
The usual staff issue (more here)
The Elijah/Jesus ascent issue
This is a new one: “And one kid of the goats for a sin offering: to make an atonement for you” (Numbers 29:5) versus “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4) -- The answer: The word "atonement" in Numbers means, "covering" -- while the word in Hebrews means, "cut off" or "remove."
The usual misuse of 1 Cor. 11:14 (see entry)
The Eccl. 1:4/Matt. 24:35 issue
The census of David issue
Another new one: “Walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes” (Ecclesiastes 11:9) versus “Seek not after your own heart and your own eyes” (Numbers 15:39). It escapes Long that Ecclesiastes is a dialogue between two points of view (see link two entries above)
Long does not know that Lazarus was not resurrected as Jesus was -- he doesn't know the difference between a resurrection and a resuscitation
The standard timing of the fig tree issue
And the 2 Kin. 24:8 Jehoachin issue (see entry)
In this one Long says he is going to talk about Bible absurdities. These fall into the following simple categories:
"It's a miracle and mircales are absurd."
"I, Jason Long, think this is weird, so it is."
"I, Jason Long, still do not understand how ancient Eastern peoples used artistic hyperbole, metaphors, and figures of speech."
There's no reason to dignify most of these points with answers, since Long is not actually explaining why this or that is absurd, weird, etc. but here are a few points in brief:
Long needs to know about ritual purity to counter his claims that the laws are "asinine" (to use his word for the laws)
There's no need to object to Goliath's height; textual criticism reveals that Goliath ought to be listed as FOUR cubits and a span, not six (6 foot 9). This evidence is found in Josephus (Antiquities 6.171) DSS fragment 4QSama, and certain editions of the Septuagint. By the way, this would be a large person in an era when most people were under 6 feet tall.
Long does not know that James 5:17 refers to a limited area of land not getting rain, not the entire planet.
Long does not know that laws like not boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk have to do with ancient, pagan occult practices, and thus his evaluation of "trivial and outdated matters" merely reflects his lac of contextualization.
Long has not learned that "cockatrice" in the OT needs to be translated "viper".
Long has not learned to appreciate the genres of apocalyptic or proverbial literature.
Long is still behind the times on Balaam and the donkey
Long blames the Bible for noting that Asa "sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians." So were physicians in this time, with their recipes for putting dung on wounds, actually the right people to go to?
Long blames 1 Tim. 5:23 for counseling the use of wine over water, not knowing that water was so unsanitary in this day that wine -- which was extremely weak compared to the modern potions -- was a far better option, and no threat at all to the liver unless it was all you ever had.
Long thinks that Rev. 10:10 could be used as literal advice to go around eating books.
Long even thinks Colossians 2:8 means, "blindly follow whatever the Bible says even when overwhelming evidence arises to the contrary."
Long is not up to date on Elijah and the ravens
Long is not respectful of things like Ezekiel lying on his side; more informed Skeptics read this rightly as an ancient form of "performance art".
Long's literalism is such that he reads John 10:8 to mean that Jesus is saying that there was "a world without a single person who didn’t steal something prior to Jesus’ arrival."
Long offers the standard "fools" issue
Long misreads a series of Jesus' teachings and decontextualizes (example: Luke 6:29-30)
Long offers ths standard issues against prayer
Long offers the standard Judges 1:19 issue (see entry)
To sum it up, Long offers a potpurri of unexegeted evaluations that commit such contextual errors as thinking that Romans 14:2 condemns all vegetarianism and Rev. 2:16 means Jesus really has a sword in his mouth. I think this speaks for itself.
This part of about prophecy, and a good portion is dispensed with at once, that having to do with Jesus' parousia. Others are dispensed with by recognition of the ancient genre of "trash talk" (see example here, which takes care of Long's analyses about how hard it is to believe that the Nile really will dry up.
A few leftovers:
He has not learned that "dragons" (Jer. 49:33) needs to be read as "jackals" and that the Hazor mentioned is not the city he thinks it is (see entry here)
He needs to read Jer. 17:8-10 as an answer to his misguided perplexity over Jonah and Nineveh.
He needs to learn to connect prophecies of the success of God's covenant people (like Is. 19:23-5) to the church age, the new and supplemented Israel.
He needs to learn that the "day of the Lord" in OT prophets is not "the day of reckoning" in an eschatological sense.
He needs to learn about first century Jewish exegetical methods
He needs to do his research on almah and parthenos as well as "Immanuel" at the same link, and "Bethlehem Ephatah" at this one
He needs to stop heeding Gerald Sigal about Is. 53 (link above).
And now Long commits himself to the most outrageous aspect, an endorsement of the Christ-myth. He does sum up with a somewhat agnostic tenor: "At the present, it’s honestly impossible to verify or dismiss Jesus as a real person because we lack evidence and crucial eyewitness testimony." But he also confuses the case for Jesus as a person who existed with a case for Jesus as divinity.
Major appeal to the alleged silence of Paul; in essence, Earl Doherty in miniature, with the same dismissals of 1 Tim. 6:13, 1 Cor. 11:23, and 1 Thes. 2:13-16 and the same appeal to Paul's "silence" to people who were already convinced Christians, and lived in a high-context society, at that.
Regular appeal to lack of "eyewitness" accounts, as though this were actually a problem. Long has not learned that the vast majority of recorded history does not involve "eyewitness" accounts, and his argument essentially dispenses with almost all of recorded history as unverified.
Standard appeal to the silence of Philo and Justus, as well as Pliny the Edler (see entries here) as well as use of the standard issues against Josephus (with the added implication that Josephus would come to his writing agreeing that Jesus was indeed "the most important man to ever live [sic]"). There are also single-sentence dismissals of other sources (see here for more on the secular ones).
Standard issues about Gospel dates and authorship.
Vague commentary is offered about the NT canonizing process with some of the usual issues, like Ireaneus' "winds" comment and the mere noting of the existence of other gospels and epistles, with no critical analysis of any of them.
This seems to be the depth of Long's use of scholarship: "Scholars agree that the original Gospel of John started at 1:19 and ended at 20:31. Furthermore, they’ve determined that the remainder of the book seems heavily edited and reworked."
And that's all we get for argument. Check the item on John at the above link for a discussion of why John does not include things like exorcisms, etc.
A standard, two-paragraph endorsement of Q and Markan priority. We will not make unique reference to each argument Long derives from this belief; the answers are all found in this series, but here are a few points:
The usual Mark 1:2 issue.
The usual "Jews did hold that other men could forgive sins" issue (see 2/3 down)
The standard location of the Gadarnes issue
The standard rulers of the synagogue issue -- you'll find several of Long's other issues answered in this article as well
Long amazingly dates the Gospel of Thomas as early as John.
There is a brief endorsement of various "pagan copycat" figures; see here and pick your name. Long errs with such ideas as that Atum, Horus and Ra were a "trinity" (he has no idea what a hypostasis is) and actually thinks there mere fact that Tacitus and Jesus mention Hercules (in what context?) makes their references to him just as verifiying as their records of Jesus.
Finally, Long caps the chapter with these claims:
The crucifixion legend has many problems in addition to the previously covered contradictions. Although the Romans rarely crucified thieves, we see them executing one on each side of Jesus. Even though Romans never performed executions so close to the Passover, they ignore tradition and carry out the crucifixions on the day before this sacred observance. While the Romans were meticulous in their documentation, they have no record of Jesus or his crucifixion. The whole idea of this Roman procession should be disconcerting if you consider that Rome, the undeniable democratic leader of the planet, didn’t offer Jesus due process.
Long's errors here are manifest. The "thieves" were not mere pickpockets; the word used refers to bandits of the Robin Hood variety, political subversives who were precisely the sort Rome would crucify; there is no evidence that Rome gave any regard about crucifying near or on a Passover; there are indeed no records of Jesus' crucifixion, because we have NO RECORDS AT ALL that survive from the office of any provicial Roman governor; and "due process" as Rome saw it was done on Jesus to a T.
And so comes to a close our "field guide" to Biblical Nonsense In close, if you have any hope of Long reforming and learning anything, you may abandon it at once. Note this from his FAQ page, in answer to the question, "Haven’t you read anything by Author X? He/she explains all of the so-called 'problems' you mention":
Whomever Author X happens to be at the moment, a few things almost always remain true:
1. X began with the conclusion that the Bible is true and worked backwards to find only supportive evidence.
2. X is not interested in the most likely conclusion, only the most likely conclusion that doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
3. If X was born with religion Y instead of Christianity, X would be just as confident that religion Y was correct.
4. There are countless Xs in every religion who claim to be able to prove that each of their belief systems is true.
5. X is skillful at making an argument seem valid but eventually looks foolish if you just do some unbiased research.
People who study a concept in which they have no emotional investment are going to offer more reliable conclusions than those who want the concept to turn out a certain way. If you wanted safety information on a used car, would it be wiser to trust the used car salesman or a consumer report? Similarly, if you wanted information on the historicity and veracity of Islam, would you ask an Islamic scholar who was born into Islam – or would you ask an agnostic scholar with no emotional investment in Islam? If you choose the unbiased scholar, why make an exception only for your religion? You may want to begin your quest for enlightenment here.
Those who retreat into the issue of "bias" this way are doing so because they are not up to the challenge of answering criticisms. That this is so is seen in how Long did reply to us.
Long introduces my response thusly: I’m sure that had this society compelled him to believe a different religion, he would achieve similar results in its defense as well. As noted, that's a genetic fallacy; I answered it above, with no reply from Long; even so, he did not apply it right, since "society" didn't "compel" me to believe Christianity, and if anything, the "society" I kept taught me that it was intolerant and undesirable.
Holding has been engaged in apologetics for such a long period of time that he has the advantage of a vast library of self-written articles that would literally take months for a single person, such as me, to provide adequate responses for. Fortunately, the majority of Holding’s arguments have been thoroughly researched and refuted by those who have far more expertise than I. You can find most of these by following the links already provided or by following the links within those. Many are general arguments with sufficient responses that can be found at a number of reputable scholarly sites. For instance, Holding’s prophecy claims (and prophecy claims in general) have been sufficiently covered here. I will take the time to tackle about ten or so of his other complaints. If, by chance, you find one of Holding’s arguments to be particularly compelling and cannot find a rebuttal online, email me so that I can help you locate one, draft one of my own, or issue a correction if Holding is likely correct.
Actually, Long wouldn't know where to find a single source or website that refutes anything I say. He links his readers to material by Farrell Till (!) who has not responded to me in years and is already years behind in responding to me. The appeal to email him personally bespeaks Long's refusal to put himself and his views up for public defense -- and a mere selection of ten out of hundreds only emphazies the point.
Long next says of his lack of depth in presentation that he only meant to offer a "brief introduction" and "by no means did I intend for this manuscript to be an exclusively novel, methodically referenced, meticulously comprehensive volume of perplexities plaguing the Bible" -- which is in essence his own admission that he didn't do a good job and he knows he didn't.
By analogy, how much regard would we have if someone went to Long's pharamcy, and he said: "I only gave you these pills as a 'brief introduction' and 'by no means did I intend for these pills to be an exclusively novel, meticulously comprehensive cure for your disease'. My goal was to have you 'investigate the symptoms raised by your taking of the medication and review some of the recommended drugs in the PDR, and subsequently considering the arguments offered by both sides.'"?
It is insufficient to say his purpose was "making you think." Yet thought is precisely what was sacrificed in Long's "that's good enough" approach. He says: I can simply think of no way of writing an all-inclusive work that can be kept to a length that wouldn’t discourage target readers (i.e. common doubting Christians). Is this not the same as saying,, let's encourage people to read by producing something incomplete?
And so Long goes to "random" treatment in which he boasts that "even the most novice of those in biblical studies can spot the errors when taking the time to do the research and analyzing the obvious evidence."
- Regarding the miracle of the sun in Joshua, and the alleged consequences of such an event in terms fo cows flying off, etc. we linked to Miller's treatment of the subject. Long resorts to charging Miller with being biased ("Miller’s explanations are perfect examples of a biased researcher beginning with the premise that the Bible cannot be wrong, using this premise as a conclusion that cannot be invalidated by further evidence, and concluding that the most likely explanation not invalidating this premise is probably the correct one.") and then offers his "own summation" of Miller's points, claiming "key problems that exist with [Miller's] proposal":
- Miller contends that the last part of verse 13, which reads, “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day,” should have been translated to read that it was hidden, inactive, and/or silent – and not in a hurry to go down. There are obviously alternative renditions of the Hebrew daman and ‘amad, but why would the author even mention the second tidbit (that the sun was not in a hurry to set) if the actual speed and circuit of the sun were never altered to begin with? If God simply hid the sun, silenced the sun, or inactivated the sun, why did the author mention anything about the speed of the sun? There is absolutely no congruity between the two translations that Miller proposes. There is congruity, however, in saying that the sun slowed or stopped and wasn’t in a hurry to go down.
Long simply misses Miller's quite clear answer on this point, perhaps because the technicalities of Hebrew were missed:
In Louw-Nida, in the semantic domain of 'attitudes and emotions', they list this meaning of 'uts: be eager, energetic, willing, engage in an activity with prudent vigor and excitement (Pr 28:20; Jer 17:16 For the sun NOT to be 'energetic' and with 'vigor' would poetically match the scenario quite well; the sun was 'quiet' and subdued as it traversed the sky behind the clouds. In other words, it never broke through the clouds in 'energetic' sunshine until 'the nation had avenged itself on its enemies'. That this is a poetic statement and not a simple prose observation can be seen from the actual presence of the word 'uts--it is not present in normal narrative descriptions of the sun going down (cf. Judg 14.18; 19.14). The text does not say 'it did not GO down for about a whole day' but that 'it did not HASTEN to go down...'
- Long adds, Miller also does not deal with the fact that the author is aware of how incredible the story actually is. Directly after the most incredible statement in the story, the author rhetorically asks, “Is not this written in the book of Jasher?” as if the story might be too incredible to take at face value.
Where Long gets the idea that the author is, by this statement, attesting to the "incredible" nature of the story is unknown. The book of Kings is full of statements like, "And the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon? " (1 Kings 11:41) which are not offered as a "need to corroborate his story" but as clear references to a source used, and to where the reader can find a fuller acccount.
- Finally, Long says, Miller also does not mention why Joshua would be crying for the moon to be silent. He conjectures that Joshua wants the sun to be silent (i.e. inactive, according to Miller) because of the extreme heat of the day, but why does he ask the moon to do the same?
It is true that Miller does not do this -- none is really needed, because the verbs are the same -- but even so, Long here only shows his lack of knowledge of ancient conditions of battle. A full moon offers light by which Israel's enemies could see their army coming. Perhaps Long should reevaluate his decision to see some problem in why the moon would be asked to "be silent" until he familiarizies himself with life in the ancient world.
So much for the "most novice" doing "research" based on "obvious evidence".
- Long's next random choice has to do with the issue of prayer in public. I noted that Jesus' words in Matthew 6:5-6 are an instruction against public prayer, done for the purpose of being noticed ("that they may be seen of men") while 1 Timothy 2:8 has nothing to do with modes or positions of prayer. Long says that despite the clear words, "this is obviously not the case" and then:
Holding doesn’t even attempt to address the issue raised. Jesus was quite clear that he wanted people to pray in private. The whole notion of praying in public did not sit well with him because that’s how the people who wanted to be seen chose to pray. Jesus wanted his believers to be nothing like them, therefore he ordered them to go into a state of privacy when they wanted to pray. It does not matter whether or not your prayers are genuine when praying in public, it is the act of praying in public that Jesus forbids in this passage. It should be clear to readers that Holding has misinterpreted this passage when he states that it is “an instruction against public prayer, done for the purpose of being noticed.”
So one of two things is apparent: Either "that they may be seen of men" is missing from Long's Bible; or else he thinks that this non-answer is an answer. None of this negates the presence of the clear qualifier of why: "to be seen of men." Thus public prayer for an altruistic purpose is not forbidden, no matter how much Long wishes to pretend that the qualifying phrase is not present.
Long then offers this retort on 1 Tim. 2:8:
It is also Holding’s position that 1 Timothy 2:8 is not a direct instruction for prayer. While this much is true, the author nevertheless expresses his hope that men pray everywhere. That would include him wanting men to pray in public.
Like this means Paul envisions people stopping while climbing down ladders, or doing surgery, or skiing down a slope, to pray? Long merely tries to force "everywhere" into being a physical location for the act of prayer, when the clearest meaning is that "everywhere" modifies "men" and that men are to then follow some mode not specified in Timothy.
It speaks for itself that Long is compelled to admit that this is "not a typical cut-and-dry example of a contradiction" -- it is one, rather, where he has to add his own suppositions to the text in order to create a problem, to say nothing of merely pretending that part of another text does not exist.
In close for this one, Long objects to how this one is not a "big deal," yet if it is not, why did he include it in Biblical Nonsense and why does he defend it now?
- Next Long confronts my comments on individualism verses collectivism:
...."the initial ban of Christianity from practice and observance within Rome. As we all know, when you can’t have something, you want it even more." Um hm. As we here know, this kind of "psychology" is a characteristic of a society ordered by the individual; when it comes to the ancient world and its mentality favoring the collective, within which what the majority wants is what drives you, the exact opposite is true: When you can't have something, you want it even less, because getting it means that you will be sanctioned as a deviant and subjected to public shame, which is the worst thing in the world...
This passage pretty much speaks for itself. Holding is apparently under the impression that not being able to have something makes a person want it less if the public consensus is against it. I’m sure that if I took the time, I could come up with dozens of scenarios and dozens of articles published in psychology journals that would invalidate his reasoning.
I'm just as sure that Long would have about as much grasp of "articles published in psychology journals" (much less ones that have to do with group-oriented societies) as he would of quantum physics. Long offers a "hypothetical scenario" which doesn't even address the critical issue I noted, which is, again, that Long's argument falsely ascribes individualist values to a collectivist culture. But his "scenario" is misplaced anyway, for it says:
Freedom of religion has been banned in a certain ancient country. Over 75% of the country no longer wants freedom of religion. As the majority against them grows, are those in the minority less likely or more likely to want their freedom back? Holding believes that the minority will not want freedom of religion because the public will punish them for their opinions. I believe that the minority will secretly hold to their desires and one day rise up to fight for their rights.
But Long's original argument was the people OUTSIDE Christianity would want it because it was banned. His argument here only addresses a minority that already believes -- not new converts! So perhaps Long can make up his mind one day what he actually wants to argue. The simple fact is that Long's "scenarios" are obstructionism. That he refuses to deal in specifics and resorts to "hypothetical scenarios" shows that his own knowledge of history is lacking.
- Next up, on where I noted Long's fallacious use of the "you believe what your parents taught you" issue. Long refuses to recognize the fallacy of this sort of appeal, and offers a claim that I "misunderstand the purpose of the chapter". Allegedly Long's "purpose" was to "demonstrate that the belief system is being observed with virtually zero independent thought."
The answer remains the same: What of it? To point this out at all is simply useless. It supports no real argument and has no effect on the objective truth. To answer further:
Does it come as any surprise, however, that Holding just happened to pick the one religion out of hundreds that was widely practiced and accepted in his society? Is there any reasonable doubt that if Holding had been born in, say, Iraq under similar conditions, he would have chosen Islam and been just as confident about the Qur’an (through the use of equally effective self-convincing apologetics) as he is now about the Bible?
What the point is her,e is hard to say. The first sentence makes no sense, since atheism/skepticism amounts to a worldview that could be chosen from as well. The "born in Iraq" question is just the same fallacy again, no better a question than mine about the child born in Cuba, and merely begs the question of the effectiveness of the apologetic in objective terms.
The fact for Long is that he was not born in Iraq, and he is not limited in his choices, and the information is not hidden from him. Thus his "reason" to avoid making responsible choices is moot. He is not the child in Iraq and nor am I. His comment "there are religious scholars of every belief system who contend that they can prove the veracity of each respective religion" is not a vaid reason to bypass the critical treadmill -- if so, let him "prove the veracity" of at least five varied faiths right now as he claims can be done. No, it can't be done -- Long is just saying, in essence, "It's too hard, I can't do it".
- Next to where I said:
Wonderful idea! Why not also suggest that God create ex nihilo, after the Flood, a whole squadron of nannies to take care of all of those innocent children?...The irony of this from Long is astounding, as we will see later he replies to certain of OT morals laws with the answer, "why doesn't God mind His own business," yet utterly contradictorily, asks God to step in again and again whenever he thinks it is convenient.
I have caught atheists in this sort of inconsistent view repeatedly. Long has no real answer to any of this, other than more of the same inconsistency: "Is this too much to ask from an omnipotent being? Holding apparently believes so, but I do not. This is where we disagree."
So why does Long disagree? He does not explain, and cannot, because his "argument" is nothing more than a emotional rhetoric and ribald inconsistency.
Long asks as well, "why does Holding not deal with the fact that God realizes the flood was in vain due to humanity’s evil ways?"
The simple answer is that Long didn't raise the question, as if I am expected to anticipate what other issue he will raise once the first one is refuted. But as to that, one may as well say that execution of persons on death row is "in vain" because people still commit murders, so we should stop executing people who deserve it. If this is Long's way of doing "common sense" then I don't want him filling my prescriptions.
Holding – very disturbingly – suggests that it would make just as much sense for us to expect that God should change the channels on our televisions as it would for him to not murder innocent people. He believes I contradict myself when I say that God should not have any business in what same sex couples do in their bedroom but that God should take an active role in explaining to us which religion is correct since we’ve already sent millions to their deaths over this very argument and will continue to do so. I hope the reader will take careful notice of how my position and Holding’s position contrast.
Indeed: Long's view is openly contradictory and self-centered; mine is consistent. If Long wants God to erect force fields during the Flood, how can he refuse the person who says God ought to help him fix his leaky roof? If he wants God to feed people directly, how can he refuse the person who wants God to change the channel? He cannot, for there is no place that one can warrant a stop. God is omnipotent -- and since that means nothing is beyond God, nothing is "too much to ask". Long's further comments, "we should not respect him if he is able to kill innocent children and hide when we are most in need of a simple explanation" is itself answered in further points, and that is like one we next get to:
- I noted, Long seems to have a peculiar definition of "genocide". He says that Sodom and Gomorrah was a "genocidal operation" but "genocide" means, "deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group," and since Sodom and Gomorrah were not any of these things, it is clear that Long doesn't know how to use the word, other than for rhetorical effect.
Long embarks on an explanation for why his use of "genocide" is actually OK; but all of the dictionaries he appeals to offer the same definition as the one I did; Long apparently does not understand the collective use of "people".
But Long persists and analyzes each part of the definition I gave in turn. Let's save time: In particular, he is wrong on the point of "racial, political, or cultural group." There is no evidence, and it would be very peculiar to suggest, that Sodom and Gomorrah were home to a distinct racial, political or cultural group that did not exist elsewhere. Cities would be far too small to house such a group in full, and it would be unreasonable, and require a substantial burden of proof, to suggest that there was some group that was small enough to fit into two cities.
So we skip over Long's defensses of "deliberate" and "systematic" (those words could describe execution of criminals as well) to what he rightly sees as the point of dispute -- and the defense is itself outrageous:
How would Holding justify the notion that neither of two distinct cities has its own unique culture? Culture, after all, is the set of patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population. Does every city not have its own unique culture? Does Holding believe that there was nothing special about Sodom and Gomorrah that could not be found anywhere else?
The semantic stretching required here to batter the word "cultural" into submission is way out of line. Long has now turned the killing of even a single person into "genocide" by this reasoning. After all, every person has their own unique "patterns, traits, and products" (ie, we each have our own sets of fingerprints -- or maybe you can NOT commit genocide by killing only one in a pair of identical twins.). No, Long simply made a tremendous error in his use of the word "genocide" and is now trying to stretch the dictionary to make it fit his misuse.
- Next we get to where I corrected Long's views of ancient society with my note about local judges:
This is clearly another example of sidestepping the issue at hand. Even assuming they go before a panel of judges, what are the judges going to rule upon if there is no evidence? The passage (Deut 22:13-21) clearly indicates that if the woman cannot produce evidence of her innocence, she is to be stoned to death.
Well, what about her own testimony that she had some sort of accident? What about family members who would remember the accident? What this boils down to is that Long is completely without knowledge of the workings of ANE justice, as expressed in Hillers' Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea:
..(T)here is no evidence that any collection of Near Eastern laws functioned as a written code that was applied by a strict method of exegesis to individual cases. As far as we can tell, these bodies of laws served educational purposes and gave expression to what was regarded as just in typical cases, but they left considerable latitude to local courts for determining the right in individual suits. They aided local courts without controlling them
Long does no more than re-assert his decontextualized reading of the text, as though it were written in a complete vacuum of understanding.
- We then get to where I noted (readers will note how few "hard data" issues Long actually confronts) how Israel disobeyed God despite signs in the wildness.
Long offers no direct answer to this, but merely insists that in the Bible God "makes consistent interventions in their lives through a series of regularly occurring patterns" and that this ought to be enough to raise a question.
It isn't. There is no such pattern at all; miracles and intervention were rare and far between. It doesn't matter, as well, that "no supernatural being has ever made an unquestionable and verifiable interjection into the life of a single individual" in Long's lifetime. Long's own admission of self-delusion (as he himself puts it) says all that needs to be said.
He admits to his own experience of (alleged) persistent deception. He thinks miracles make a difference? I have before me a work by another professed apostate, who says that he experienced what he thought was a miracle when rain stopped at his prayer, and stayed away. Yet he still apostasized and now views what happened as a coincidence. Perhaps Long ought to read the work of Christian-turned-apostate-turned-Christian-again Austin Miles, who claims that he experienced miracles before he became an atheist for a time. Lee Strobel also tells of a time when he experienced a miracle in his life, while a non-believer, but it did not convert him.
No, Israel was just as capable of failure; indeed, they had more options, which fit in with what happened -- allowing for the miracles, but then treating YHWH as though he were a local deity on the level with Molech. That is also Long's mistake: He argues as though the Israelites turned to whole disbelief in YHWH, when what they actually did was minimize Him.
- Next, Long's version of the "rock so heavy" routine. In response, Long once again merely repeats and clarifies his error, arguing that "infinite power...would certainly include having the power to do the logically impossible and the self-contradictory." It would not include this in the least; no more than one can change 2 + 2 so that it equals 6 by applying infinite amounts of electricity to it. Long is merely offering a definition of "omnipotence" that is false.
And so Long closes, ignoring 99% of all that is set against him (though he says, "perhaps one day I’ll have the time and/or desire to go through point by point to every detail raised in the articles to which he appeals" -- and maybe someday a flea will build a new World Trade Center). As this "reply" of his has shown, he is incapable of defending his own claims of "evidence".