"Ken's Guide to the Bible": A Critique

The tenor and scholarship of this work can be shown with a few examples, and it can be readily seen why it is not to be taken seriously -- even as a humorous attempt. While it is sometimes said that this guide is intended as a sort of joke, it remains that many Skeptics use some of its claims seriously.

Smith's only sources used are a few different versions of the Bible, a Bible dictionary, a Strong's concordance (though I see no sign he has actually used it), H. G. Wells' Outline of History, and Asimov's Guide to the Bible.

Ex. 20:26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it. Smith says of this verse: "God instructs Moses that no altar should have steps; people ascending steps might expose their genitals."

Not only might, but in some cases would: Exposure of the genitalia during ascent to an altar was a regular practice of the disgusting pagan rituals engaged by the Canaanites.

Likewise" Exodus 28:42-3 Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die. Smith says of this passage: "God tells Moses that Aaron and his sons must always wear underwear when they enter God's tent or else they will be killed."

In describing this in modern terms, Ken strips the passage of its sociological context and instead invokes an image of Aaron and his sons rushing down to Wal-Mart to buy Fruit of the Looms - when the reason for the command here is the same as the one above: It relates to the purposeful pagan practice of exposure for sexual rituals. The garment regulation above serves to prevent the activity, even the appearance of evil.

Noting diet regulations in Leviticus, Smith says: "God tells the people of Israel that they cannot eat bats, but that grasshoppers and locusts are okay."

Yes they are, and they are a staple in the diets of many a Third World nation resident today, whereas bats continue to be a dangerous snack, since they basically live in their own excrement. Smith is simply misusing our modern, American idea that all such animals are "gross" and using it to imply that the Bible presents an inconsistency here, when understood in its social context, it does not.

Observation is made that the story of Jesus takes up only 93 out of 923 pages in the Bible. But since when does the number of pages matter over and against importance of content? Moreover, considering that Jesus' life lasted but 30 years, while the OT covers over a thousand, doesn't the proportion actually make sense?

Smith explains James' suggestion that Paul pay for the expenses of the Nazirites, and the reaction of the Temple crowd to Paul's speech, saying that it "makes clear what the Bible never says outright: that Paul is preaching a very different form of Christianity from the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem."

If that is so, one wonders, for example, why James himself was martyred by the Jewish establishment not many years later. The real problem Paul had here is not that he was preaching a "very different form of Christianity," but that he was preaching and pronouncing the blessings of a Jewish Messiah to Gentiles at a time of fierce Jewish ultra-nationalism (which the Jerusalem apostles had no problem with, since they did not preach to Gentiles), a period when sicarii did their work, and we had the first fomentings of what would lead to the 66 rebellion against Rome - no thanks due to Rome itself, which kept sending tyrants like Felix and Albinus to rule the place. Smith simply has no cognizance of the historical context of these passages.

Smith objects that the word "intelligence" is found only once in the Bible, at Dan. 11:30, and that in a negative sense - which presumably, logically, leads to the argument that the Bible is an anti-intellectual book. It is true that this is the only use of the word in the KJV, which was written when "intelligence" did not have the stronger connotations it does today.

But let's look at the NIV, if we're going to use this kind of argument. "Intelligent" and "intelligence" appear 9 times, with the emphasis split about evenly. "Wisdom" appears 218 times. "Wise" appears 186 times. "Think" occurs 87 times. "Ken" does not appear at all.

Smith objects that the prophets didn't forecast things like the Nazis and space travel - certainly edifying topics for the ancient Israelites to be informed upon.

Acts 19:17-19, the destruction of magical scrolls in Ephesus, is described as the "first book burning in the name of Jesus."

Not mentioned is the fact that the burning was voluntary, and on the part of the owners of the scrolls (not actually books) themselves, Smith's attempts to invoke images of fundamentalists burning the public library's copy of Catcher in the Rye notwithstanding. Never mind also that the Romans were burning the scrolls of illicit and/or unaccepted religious groups as a typical controlling method long before the Christians ever lit the match.

Under the "Family Values" category is cited Genesis 50:1-3, where Joseph and his family "turn Jacob into a mummy." What would Smith expect people living in Egypt to have done to their honored dead? And what does the disposition of the dead in this time - of which this method is also similar to the Jewish method of using ossuaries - have to do with "Family Values"?

Citing Lev. 19:28, with only the comment, "God forbids tattoos," as if simply by saying this the law itself is exposed as ridiculous, with perhaps the implication that God had a grudge against sailors who had "MOTHER" stenciled on their arm.

Most authorities in the know, however, think the rule is directed against the pagan religious practice of tattooing - the idea of tattooing simply for the sake of being "hip" having yet to be invented.

Citing the story of Gideon, Ken writes of the three hundred in his army who are "handpicked after they display an aptitude for lapping water like dogs."

He thinks it's weird; we say Smith is not a military tactician. Those who picked up water in their hands and lapped like dogs were those who were most attentive to their surroundings - and were therefore the best candidates to conduct a night-time raid of the sort planned by Gideon.(See more here, with citation to someone who is a military tactician.)

Eli is described as "the only person in the Bible to die by falling out of his chair."

Smith offers the "Who Killed Saul" error, but with an extra bit of error, as he identifies the person who came to David as the same soldier who was with Saul - in spite of the fact that the solder in 1 Samuel kills himself, and the person in 2 Samuel clearly identifies himself as an Amalekite.

Objections are made about David going to war in 2 Sam. 10:1-5 because the enemy shaved off half the beards of David's emissaries. Perhaps Smith wishes to suggest that this was a minor thing for David to lose his temper over, but he's out of the social context: What was done to David's men was a deadly insult that amounted to a declaration of enmity and war.

As Rihbany notes in The Syrian Christ [171-3], the beard and mustache, to an Oriental, signifies one's manhood, and swearing on one's beard, which seems odd to us, "means to pledge the integrity of one's manhood." To curse someone's beard or mustache "is to invite serious trouble."

Noting the comparison between the Samuel and Chronicles accounts of the Davidic census, Smith concludes that this shows that "God is actually Satan."

With nothing else said, Elijah and Elisha are described as "two of the creepiest characters on the Old Testament." Isaiah is "an egomaniacal crackpot" whose writings are "often overblown and disjointed." Ezekiel is dismissed as "a nut" - but Daniel is more, "a bona fide nutcake." Amos consists of "nonstop nagging, judgment and calamity." Micah is a "ranting lunatic."

God's replies in the book of Job, regarded by literary experts in the field as masterpieces of ANE philosophy and thought, are described as "pretty shallow" and "scary." Psalms, also considered exemplary, is put off as "split fairly evenly between praising God and whining at Him." Proverbs - again, considered exemplary in the context of ANE literature by those in the field - is "like reading an endless list of Chinese fortune cookie sayings." Ecclesiastes, a very deep treatise on the human condition, is put off as a "Gloomy Gus sermon" put together by a "seriously depressed writer.

The Song of Solomon is described as "the kind of stuff you read aloud to your girl to get her in the mood." A description of the prophets: "An occasional screwball, such as Ezekiel, Daniel, or Zechariah, lightens the proceedings with nutty visions, but for the most part the prophets are a dreary bunch." On Hosea's kids: "God gives them funny names in His quest for a good religious metaphor."

Of Joel it is simply said, "Since Joel has nothing original to offer, one can safely avoid reading this book."

Joseph's attempt to divorce Mary is pointed up as exemplary "family values" - ignoring the fact that in their social context, Joseph's actions were actually just (indeed, required by the Jewish law) and overwhelmingly merciful.

Ken supposes that Jesus may have been fat - he uses the moniker, "Tubby Jesus" more than once - because the Gospels "often depict him as eating and encouraging others to do likewise, and he always complains when people are bothered by it."

This, incidentally, is in reference to the Last Supper and to the Pharisaic objections to Jesus' table fellowship with "sinners"...what bothered them was not the eating, but the company Jesus was keeping.

Luke 11:5-10, the parable of the man who knocked on the door of his neighbor, is interpreted as meaning "its okay to be pushy and annoying as long as the result is worthwhile." As Rihbany shows in The Syrian Christ such persistence is an Oriental characteristic -- which indeed Westerners find unendurable, but not Easterners, who expect it.

Luke 16:19-31, the story of Lazarus and the rich man, is interpreted as telling us "who should go to hell: rich people." The lesson of the story: "poverty, regardless of how it is attained, guarantees admittance to heaven."

We could point out that the issue was not poverty or wealth, but how the rich man's heart was inclined - but if the point of the story is that the rich go to hell, and the poor go to heaven...then what was Abraham, a wealthy tribal chieftain, doing on the Paradise side with Lazarus?

The Jesus of John's Gospel is described as a "whiny, overbearing know-it-all who can't seem to stop making brazen claims of divine origin." Smith doesn't realize just how brazen the Synoptic claims are; some are as brazen as those found in John.

Demonstrating his vast appreciation and understanding of apocalyptic literature, as well as of gemology, Ken says: "When John says that God looks like jasper, what he is saying is that God is green."

This should be sufficient to show that Smith is not to be taken seriously as a critic.


Update 6/21: Some 20 years after I first wrote this article, I can only stand amazed at how well it anticipated what is now so commomplace today, as illustrated by Nichols' Death of Expertise. Ken Smith was a classic example of a typical ignoramus commenting with pretend authority on subjects he knew nothing about. He encapsulated "the death of expertise" decades before Nichols wrote his book.

But to be fair, Thomas Paine would have represented that sort of ignorance even in the 1700s.