T Nation

Questions about Moses by Voltaire


1) In what language would Moses have written in a savage desert? It could have been only in Egyptian, for from this very book it can be seen that Moses and his people were born in Egypt. It is probable that he spoke no other language. The Egyptians did not yet use papyrus: they engraved hieroglyphs on marble or wood. It is even said that the tables of the ten commandments were engraved on stone. Five volumes must have therefore been engraved on polished stones, which required prodigious effort and time.

2) Is it likely that men skilled enough to engrave the five books of the Pentateuch on marble or wood would have been available in the desert in which the Jewish people has neither a shoemaker nor tailor, and in which the god of the universe was obliged to work a continual miracle to preserve the Jews' old clothes and old shoes? It will be said that there were craftsmen enough to make a golden calf in one night, and then reduce the gold to powder, an operation impossible in the tabernacle, which they embellished with thirty-four columns of brass with capitals of silver; to weave and embrodier linen veils, hyacinth, purple and scarlet; but all this in itself reinforces the view of the adversaries. They reply that they would have been impossible to do such elaborate work in a desert, where everything was lacking; that they should have begun making shoes and tunies, that those who lack nescessties so not indulge in luxueries; and that it is a self-evident contradiction to sau that there were metal-founders, engravers, embroiderers when they had either clothes nor bread.

3)If Moses had written the first chapter of Genesis would all young people have been forbidden to read the first chapter? Would so little respect have been showen to the legislator? If it was Moses who had said that god punishes the inquity of the fathers to the fourth generation, would Ezekiel have dared to say contrary?

  1. If Moses had written Leviticus could he have contradicted himself in Deuteronomy? Leviticus forbids a man to marry his brother's wife. Deuteronomy orders him to do so.

  2. Would Moses have spoken in his book of towns which did not exist in his time? Would he have said that towns were west of the Jordan when from his point of view they were east of it?

  3. Would he have assigned forty-eight towns to the Levites in a country in which there have never been ten towns, and in a desert in which he had always wandered without having a house?

  4. Would he have prescribed rules for Jewish kings when not only did this people have no kings but held then in horror, and it was not probable that they would ever have any? Come! Moses gave precepts for the conduct of the kings who did not regin until 800 years after him, and said nothing for the benefit of the judges and pontiffs who succeeded him.

Does not this refection lead us to believe that the Pentateuch was composed in the times of the kings, and that the ceremonies instituted by Moses had been merely a tradition?

  1. Could he really have said to the Jews: 'I have made you leave the land of Egypt to the number of 6,000 warriors under the protection of your god'? Would the jews not have answered him: 'You must have been very timid not to have led us to the Pharroh of Egypt; he could not oppose us an army of 200,000 men. Egypt has never had that many soldiers in the ranks. We would easily have vanquished them, we would have been the master of this country. What! the god who speaks to you butchered for our pleasure all the first-egypt, which makes, to avenge us, 300,000 men dead in one night if there were 300,000 families in that counrty, and you did not help your god! and you didn't give us this fertile country which couldn't be defended! you made us leave Eygpt like thieves and cowards to perish in the desert, between the precipices and the mountians! You could at least had led is to direct route to this land of Canaan to which we have not right, which you promised us, and which we haven't yet been able to enter.

'It would have been reasonable for us to travel for the land of Goshen along the Mediterranean to Trye and Sidon. But you made us cross almost the whole of the isthmus of Suez, you made us re-enter Egypt, go beyond Memphis, and we are now at Baal_Zephon, or the shore of the Red Sea, turning our backs to the land of Canaan, having walked eighty leagues in the Egypt we wanted to avoid, and finally close to perishing between the sea and Pharaoh's army!

'Had you wanted to deliver us to our enemies would you have taken another route and other measures? You say that god saved us by a miracle, the sea parted to let us pass, but after such a favour should we have been made to die of hunger and weariness in the horrible deserts of Etam, Kadesh-barnea, Marah, Elim, Horeb and Sinai? All our fathers perish in these frightful solitudes, and forty years later you tell us that god took particular care of our fathers!'

That is what these grumbling Jews, these unjust children of Jewish vagabonds who dies in the desert, could have said to Moses, if he had read them Exodus and Genesis. And what would they not have done and said when he came to the golden calf? 'What! you dare to tell us that your brother made a golden calf for our fathers when you were with god on the mountain, you who tell once that you spoke with god face to face, and then that you saw him from behind! Still, you were with this god, and your brother moulded a golden calf in a single day and gave him to us to worship; and, instead of punishing your unworthy brother, you make him our pontiff, and you order your Levites to butcher 23,000 men of your people! Would our fathers have tolerated victims by bloodthirsty priests? You tell us that, not satisfied with this incredible butchery, you had another 24,000 of your wretched followers massacred because one of them had gone to bed with a Midianite, although you yourself married a Midianite. And you add that you're the kindest of men! A few more examples of this kindness and nobody would have been left!

'No, had you been capable of such cruelty, had you been able to practice it, you would have been the most barbarous of all men, and no suffering would have sufficed to expiate so strange a crime.'

These more or less, are the objections made by scholars to those who think that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch. But they are answered that the ways of god are not those of men; that god tested, led and abandoned his people out of a wisdom unknown to us; that the Jews themselves have believed for more than 2,000 years that Moses is the author of these books, that the church which succeeded the synagogue, and which is also infallible, has settled this point of the controversy, and that learned men should be silent when the church speaks.

Several learned men have held that the Pentateuch could not have been written by Moses.

Was there really a Moses? If a man who gave orders to the whole of nature had really existed among the Egyptians, would not have such prodigious events have played a leading part in the history of Egypt? Would not Sanchoniathon, Manetho, Megasthenes, Herodotus have spoken of him? The historian Joesephus collected all possible evidence in favour of the Jews. He dared not say that any of the authors whom he cited had said a single word about the miracles of Moses. Really! the Nile was changed to blood, an angel slaughtered all of the first born in Egypt, the sea parted , its waters were suspended on the right and left, and no author mentioned it! and all of the nations forgot these prodigies! and only a little barbaric nation of slaves told us these stories, thousands of years after the event!

Who then was this Moses who was unknown to the whole world until the moment Ptolemy had the curiousity to have the writings of Jews translated into Greek? For many centuries oriental fables attributed everything to Bacchus that the Jews have said about Moses. Bacchus had crossed the Red Sea on dry feet, Bacchus had changed the waters into blood, Bacchus had every day worked miracles with his rod. All of these events were sung in the Bacchus orgies before there was the slightest intercourse with the Jews, before it was known that these wretched people had books. It is not probable in the highest degree that this people, so new, wandering for so long, so recently known, established so late in Palestine, took over the Phoenician fables with the Phoenician language, and embroidered them still further , as do all crude imitators? So poor a people, so ignorant, so unaware of all the arts, could it do anything but copy its neighbors? Is it not well known that everything was Phoenician, even to the name of Adonai, Ihaho, Elohi or Eloa which means god in the Jewish nation?


Most likely Egyptian. You do realize the bible is a compilation of mystical ideology taught through allegories though right?

I believe the people mentioned and many accounts of activities did occur and were written, but a lot of it, like shoes being preserved etc is just a way to teach a deeper lesson.

Most of the biblical dogma is irrelevent.


and God doesn't believe in atheists, therefore they don't exist...


And yet here we are, whereas God only appears to you if you have wandered long enough through the desert to wolf down any mushroom you find.


If you're finding mushrooms in the desert, you're probably on something already.


Actually Bacchus

This is your take on the bible. To millions of others who take the bible literally, they would disagree with you.

Moses was nothing more than the Jewry of that day "borrowing" the hero of Bacchus from their neighbors.


Of all the true or fabulous personages of profane antiquity Bacchus is to us the most important. I do not mean for the fine invention which is attributed to him by all the world except the Jews, but for the prodigious resemblance of his fabulous history to the true adventures of Moses.

The ancient poets have placed the birth of Bacchus in Egypt; he is exposed on the Nile and it is from that event that he is named Mises by the first Orpheus, which, in Egyptian, signifies ?saved from the waters,? according to those who pretend to understand the ancient Egyptian tongue, which is no longer known. He is brought up near a mountain of Arabia called Nisa, which is believed to be Mount Sinai. It is pretended that a goddess ordered him to go and destroy a barbarous nation and that he passed through the Red Sea on foot, with a multitude of men, women, and children. Another time the river Orontes suspended its waters right and left to let him pass, and the Hydaspes did the same. He commanded the sun to stand still; two luminous rays proceeded from his head. He made a fountain of wine spout up by striking the ground with his thyrsis, and engraved his laws on two tables of marble. He wanted only to have afflicted Egypt with ten plagues, to be the perfect copy of Moses.

Vossius is, I think, the first who has extended this parallel. The bishop of Avranches, Huet, has pushed it quite as far, but he adds, in his ?Evangelical Demonstrations,? that Moses is not only Bacchus, but that he is also Osiris and Typhon. He does not halt in this fine path. Moses, according to him, is Æsculapius, Amphion, Apollo, Adonis, and even Priapus. It is pleasant enough that Huet founds his proof that Moses is Adonis in their both keeping sheep: ?Et formosus oves, ad flumina pavit Adonis.?

He contends that he is Priapus because Priapus is sometimes painted with an ass, and the Jews were supposed, among the Gentiles, to adore an ass. He gives another proof, not very canonical, which is that the rod of Moses might be compared to the sceptre of Priapus. ?Sceptrum tribuitur Priapo, virga Mosi.? Neither is this demonstration in the manner of Euclid.

We will not here speak of the more modern Bacchuses, such as he who lived two hundred years before the Trojan war, and whom the Greeks celebrated as a son of Jupiter, shut up in his thigh. We will pause at him who was supposed to be born on the confines of Egypt and to have performed so many prodigies. Our respect for the sacred Jewish books will not permit us to doubt that the Egyptians, the Arabs, and even the Greeks, have imitated the history of Moses. The difficulty consists solely in not knowing how they could be instructed in this incontrovertible history. With respect to the Egyptians, it is very likely that they never recorded these miracles of Moses, which would have covered them with shame. If they had said a word of it the historians, Josephus and Philo, would not have failed to have taken advantage of it. Josephus, in his answer to Appion, made a point of citing all the Egyptian authors who have mentioned Moses, and he finds none who relate one of these miracles. No Jew has ever quoted any Egyptian author who has said a word of the ten plagues of Egypt, of the miraculous passage through the Red Sea, etc. It could not be among the Egyptians, therefore, that this scandalous parallel was formed between the divine Moses and the profane Bacchus.

It is very clear that if a single Egyptian author had said a word of the great miracles of Moses all the synagogue of Alexandria, all the disputatious church of that famous town would have quoted such word, and have triumphed at it, every one after his manner. Athenagorus, Clement, Origen, who have said so many useless things, would have related this important passage a thousand times and it would have been the strongest argument of all the fathers. The whole have kept a profound silence; they had, therefore, nothing to say. But how was it possible for any Egyptian to speak of the exploits of a man who caused all the first born of the families of Egypt to be killed; who turned the Nile to blood, and who drowned in the Red Sea their king and all his army?

All our historians agree that one Clodowick, a Sicambrian, subjugated Gaul with a handful of barbarians. The English are the first to say that the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans came by turns to exterminate a part of their nation. If they had not avowed this truth all Europe would have exclaimed against its concealment. The universe should exclaim in the same manner at the amazing prodigies of Moses, of Joshua, of Gideon, Samson, and of so many leaders and prophets. The universe is silent notwithstanding. Amazing mystery! On one side it is palpable that all is true, since it is found in the holy writings, which are approved by the Church; on the other it is evident that no people have ever mentioned it. Let us worship Providence, and submit ourselves in all things.

The Arabs, who have always loved the marvellous, were probably the first authors of the fables invented of Bacchus, afterwards adopted and embellished by the Greeks. But how came the stories of the Arabs and Greeks to agree so well with those of the Jews? It is known that the Hebrews never communicated their books to any one till the time of the Ptolemies; they regarded such communication as a sacrilege, and Josephus, to justify their obstinacy in concealing the Pentateuch from the rest of the world, says that God punished all foreigners who dared to speak of the Jewish histories. If we are to believe him, the historian Theopompus, for only designing to mention them in his work, became deranged for thirty days, and the tragic poet Theodectes was struck blind for having introduced the name of the Jews into one of his tragedies. Such are the excuses that Flavius Josephus gives in his answer to Appion for the history of the Jews being so long unknown.

These books were of such prodigious scarcity that we only hear of one copy under King Josiah, and this copy had been lost for a long time and was found in the bottom of a chest on the report of Shaphan, scribe to the Pontiff Hilkiah, who carried it to the king.

This circumstance happened, according to the Second Book of Kings, six hundred and twenty-four years before our vulgar era, four hundred years after Homer, and in the most flourishing times of Greece. The Greeks then scarcely knew that there were any Hebrews in the world. The captivity of the Jews at Babylon still more augmented their ignorance of their own books. Esdras must have restored them at the end of seventy years and for already more than five hundred years the fable of Bacchus had been current among the Greeks.

If the Greeks had founded their fables on the Jewish history they would have chosen facts more interesting to mankind, such as the adventures of Abraham, those of Noah, of Methuselah, of Seth, Enoch, Cain, and Eve; of the fatal serpent and of the tree of knowledge, all which names have ever been unknown to them. There was only a slight knowledge of the Jewish people until a long time after the revolution that Alexander produced in Asia and in Europe; the historian Josephus avows it in formal terms. This is the manner in which he expresses himself in the commencement of his reply to Appion, who (by way of parenthesis) was dead when he answered him, for Appion died under the Emperor Claudius, and Josephus wrote under Vespasian.

?As the country we inhabit is distant from the sea we do not apply ourselves to commerce and have no communication with other nations. We content ourselves with cultivating our lands, which are very fertile, and we labor chiefly to bring up our children properly, because nothing appears to us so necessary as to instruct them in the knowledge of our holy laws and in true piety, which inspires them with the desire of observing them. The above reasons, added to others already mentioned, and this manner of life which is peculiar to us, show why we have had no communication with the Greeks, like the Egyptians and Ph?nicians. Is it astonishing that our nation, so distant from the sea, not affecting to write anything, and living in the way which I have related, has been little known??

After such an authentic avowal from a Jew, the most tenacious of the honor of his nation that has ever written, it will be seen that it is impossible for the ancient Greeks to have taken the fable of Bacchus from the holy books of the Hebrews, any more than the sacrifice of Iphigenia, that of the son of Idomeneus, the labors of Hercules, the adventure of Eurydice, and others. The quantity of ancient tales which resemble one another is prodigious. How is it that the Greeks have put into fables what the Hebrews have put into histories? Was it by the gift of invention; was it by a facility of imitation, or in consequence of the accordance of fine minds? To conclude: God has permitted it?a truth which ought to suffice.

Of what consequence is it that the Arabs and Greeks have said the same things as the Jews? We read the Old Testament only to prepare ourselves for the New, and in neither the one nor the other do we seek anything but lessons of benevolence, moderation, gentleness, and true charity.


Thats interesting stuff. I'm probably not as up on old testament stuff as I should be. There are certainly a lot of questions raised about their ability to do the things laid out in the book, ex: casting the golden calf.

The casting of the golden calf is especially unique too, because it would have been without the aid of God. All the other creations, skills, and abilities used to do things can be written off as "God helped".

Most of the town and directional stuff sounds like a lot of speculation.

I've also heard at least the end of exodus is generally attributed to Joshua (when moses dies).


My favorite Moses conjecture is from Sigmund Freud. Moses was a Atenist priest who fell out of favor and was forced to flee Egypt (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhenaten). Evidence for this includes the strong similaries between Psalm 104 and the Hymn to the Aten. Aten being the one god worshiped by Akhenaten.

If we look at the time lines, I would rather tie Joseph with Akhenaten. After all, if there is a Pharoh that embraced monotheism a few generations before Rames II/Moses, it sure seem like we are taking about Akhenaten.

Besides if the Hebrews are allied with a Pharoh of the XVIII Dynasty, it makes perfect sense that things would go wrong for the Hebrews at the beginning of XIX Dynasty. This actually melds quite nicely with the description in the beginning of Exodus (e.g. Ch 1 v 8).

Anyhow, Moses could then be an monotheist at a time when the the polytheist were again in power in Egypt. But, he would be a monotheist for Aten writing in Egyptian.


The Midianites were a tribe that lived near Mt. Sinai. The Kenites were part of the Midianite community, probably east of Sinai in Arabia. Jethro, Moses father in law was a Medianite.

The Jewish Encyclopedia summarizes the theories of these scholars. "Jethro initiates Moses and Aaron into the worship of YHVH. Several modern scholars believe, in consequence of this statement, that YHVH was a Kenite deity, and that from the Kenites through the agency of Moses his worship passed to the Israelites.

The Kenites, then, were a nomadic tribe, more advanced in the arts of life than Israel." (The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1916, p. 467) Ben-Sasson calls this the "Midianite-Kenite" hypothesis on the origin of the name Yahweh (Malamat, 1976, p. 45).

Moses' father in law, Jethro, is traditionally identified by the Druze as Shoaib, whose name means "Who Shows the Right Path". Shoaib is also a prophet in the Koran. So this is a fairly direct link between Moses and a group that is tied to Arab culture.

There are some interesting conjectures in "Jethro, Druze and Vedic Origins" (http://www.bhaktivedantacollege.org/bvc_site/resources_services/articles/pdfs/misc/english/jethro_druze_vedic_origins.pdf) that try to tie Jethro with Hindu teachings, but this more like fascinating conjecture than anything that I consider scholarly.


I don't believe that the Hebrews of the Old Testament were monotheists. Here is a good article about it:

Many Bible fundamentalists believe that while the nations around them wallowed in the mire of polytheism the Hebrews practiced a strict monotheistic religion. Their insight into the nature of the one true God Yahweh had resulted, of course, from the personal relationships that Abraham and the other Hebrew patriarchs had experienced with Yahweh, who had routinely revealed himself to them in dreams, apparitions, and other manifestations. It makes good sermon material, but there's just one thing wrong with it. It isn't true.

The early Hebrews believed in polytheism as much as the nations around them. They thought of Chemosh, Molech, Milcom, Baal, Dagon, and the other pagan gods as deities who were just as real as their own god Yahweh. They just thought that Yahweh was greater and mightier than the others, a sort of supergod or, in other words, the God of gods (Josh. 22:22). Monotheism or the belief that Yahweh was the only God was a late development in Jewish theology.

The evidence for this is too clear to dispute. There is, first of all, the peculiar fact that the Hebrews, when not referring to him by his personal name Yahweh, generally used a plural word (elohim) to designate their god. Literally, it meant gods rather than god. In the original Hebrew, therefore, Genesis 1:1 is actually saying, "In the beginning gods created the heavens and the earth." It seems strange that a people with a clear concept of monotheism, as bibliolaters claim that the Hebrews had, would have used a plural word in referring to the one and only true god. It would be somewhat like an English writer using men to refer to a man.

Bible writers did in fact often use the singular word el (god) in obvious reference to Yahweh. Genesis 21:23 states that "Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of Yahweh, the Everlasting El" (Bethel Translation). In Genesis 31:13, an "angel of God" (elohim) appeared to Jacob in a dream and said, "I am the El of Bethel...." Other instances when Yahweh Elohim was called El can be found in Genesis 35:1,3; 43:14; 46:3; 48:3; 49:25; Exodus 15:2; 20:5; 34:6 and numerous other places. It happened enough to indicate that Bible writers had some difficulty deciding whether to call their Yahweh elohim (gods) or el (god). To say the least, this does not indicate a clear grasp of monotheistic concepts.

Bibliolaters will quickly protest that the Hebrews used the plural word elohim when referring to their god Yahweh only to show awe and respect. It was "the plural of dignity," they claim, a way of expressing the majesty and greatness of God. Some even think they see an early recognition of the triune godhead in the plural term elohim. In Genesis 1:26, Elohim said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," and after Adam and Eve had sinned, Yahweh Elohim said, "Behold the man is become as one of us" (Gen. 3:22). What could these statements be, bibliolaters ask, except the three persons in the one godhead talking?

In this article, I won't get involved in discussing the absurdities of the trinity doctrine except to say that the Hebrew usage of elohim to designate their tribal god could very well have been a vestigial expression from their distinctly polytheistic days. One thing is sure: Old Testament writers often seemed confused about whether they intended the word elohim to mean their god Yahweh or gods in a definite plural sense. When Yahweh alone was meant, they usually referred to him as Elohim without the article ha (the), and if Elohim (Yahweh) was the subject of the sentence, a singular verb was used even though elohim was a plural noun. The creative god of Genesis 1, for example, is called Elohim, without the article ha (the), some thirty times. In places like Exodus 12:12, however, where "the gods of Egypt" were referred to, the same word elohim was used but with the article ha, ha-elohim (the gods). In Genesis 35:7, English translations state that Jacob built an altar at Bethel "because there God was revealed to him," but the Hebrew text literally states that the gods (ha-elohim) were revealed (niglu). The addition of the u sound to a Hebrew verb made it plural much in the same way that the addition of an "s" to a verb in English makes it third- person singular, so in this case, the Bible was really saying that the gods were revealed to Jacob, not God was revealed to him. If space permitted, I could cite many examples like this where English translations have deceptively rendered haelohim as God and its plural verbs as singulars. Most English readers have not researched the Bible enough to be aware that these things have been done; hence, they naively believe that the Hebrews had a consistently monotheistic concept of God all through their history when in reality monotheism was a late development in their theology.

There are many passages in the Old Testament that indicate belief that the pagan deities were real gods. Jephthah said in his message to the king of the Ammonites during a dispute over territory the Israelites had taken on their way out of Egypt, "Will you not possess that which Chemosh your elohim gives you to possess? So whomever Yahweh our Elohim has dispossessed from before us, them will we possess" (Judges 11:24, BB). Since there were no capital letters in Hebrew to show the distinction the translators arbitrarily made in capitalizing elohim as it referred to Yahweh, it is obvious that Jephthah considered Chemosh of the Ammonites to be elohim in the same sense that Yahweh was the elohim of Israel. He was contending that Yahweh, his elohim, had given the Israelites certain territories just as Chemosh, the elohim of the Ammonites, had given them certain lands and that the two nations should therefore be content with the arrangements of their respective gods. Furthermore, we have to wonder at this point if Jephthah intended elohim as a "plural of dignity" when he applied it to the singular deity Chemosh. If not, why not? If it expressed dignity and respect when applied to Yahweh, then why would it not mean the same when applied to another deity? So if there is any merit at all to the plural-of- dignity argument, we have in this passage a clear indication that Chemosh was considered a real god who deserved respect.

That pagan gods should indeed be respected was often indicated in the Old Testament. Exodus 22:28 says, "Thou shalt not revile the gods (ha-elohim), nor curse the ruler of thy people" (KJV). Despite the inclusion of the article ha, as shown in the parentheses, most translations have tried to hide the fact that gods in general were probably intended by rendering ha-elohim God (singular) with a capital "G" and no article. Deliberate deceptions of translation like this have kept English readers from seeing many things that would be damaging to traditional Judeo-Christian doctrines, in this case an apparent polytheistic concept in early Hebrew history.

Leviticus 24:10-23 tells the story of the son of an Israelite-Egyptian marriage who had been heard blaspheming "the Name" during a fight. The man was put in ward until what should be done to him "might be declared to them at the mouth of Yahweh" (v:12). Upon inquiring, Moses was told by Yahweh to have the congregation stone the man to death. "And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying," Yahweh declared, " Whoever curses his Elohim shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemes the name of Yahweh, he shall surely be put to death" (vv:15- 16). The capitalization of elohim in this passage was a purely arbitrary interpretation of the Bethel translators, because there were no capital letters in Hebrew, so the word could just as well have been translated gods: "Whoever curses his gods shall bear his sin...."

Is there any reason to believe that the plural concept of gods was intended in the statement? There very definitely is. Two distinct offenses seem to have been under consideration: (1) whoever curses his gods shall bear his sin, but (2) he that blasphemes the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death. In other words, cursing one's gods was just considered a sinful offense, but cursing the name of Yahweh was an offense punishable by death. The text implies that the man who was charged in this case wasn't a Hebrew. Although his mother was an "Israelitish woman," his father was Egyptian. That he possibly believed in Egyptian gods was suggested in the last half of verse 16 when Yahweh said that "as well the sojourner, as the homeborn,when he blasphemes the name of Yah-weh, (he) shall be put to death." This man may have been a sojourner (foreigner), but notice was being served by his execution that a more serious penalty would be extracted for blaspheming Yahweh than for cursing other gods. So whatever dubious value this fanciful little tale might have, it at least seems to be saying that the Hebrews thought pagan gods were real. If not, why would they have considered it sinful to curse gods that didn't even exist?

Passages in the Old Testament that show an early Hebrew belief in polytheism are too numerous to examine in detail. I can cite only a few random ones. After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, for example, they sang a hymn of praise to Yahweh in which they said, "Who is like unto you, O Yahweh, among the elohim (gods)?" (Ex. 15:11). So obviously was the word elohim intended in this verse to convey the concept of gods in general that even the biased Bethel translators have printed it with a lowercase "e," but unless the Hebrews who sang these words believed that other gods existed, it would have made no sense at all for them to ask who among the gods was like unto their god Yahweh. In Psalm 95:3, it was declared that "Yahweh is a great El (god) and a great King above all elohim (gods)." But how could this psalmist have believed Yahweh was greater than other gods unless he believed that other gods existed to compare Yahweh to? Psalm 86:8 declared, "There is none like you among the elohim, O Yahweh." However, if the psalmist thought that Yahweh was the only god, his words of praise were completely meaningless. It would be as if someone said of the Eiffel Tower, "There are no Eiffel Towers like unto the Eiffel Tower." To say, however, that there are no towers like unto the Eiffel Tower grants clear recognition that other towers exist, and so it was when the Hebrews said that there were no gods like their god Yahweh. They were clearly indicating their belief that other gods existed.

Even as late as Solomon, belief in the reality of pagan gods still persisted. In declaring his plans to build a temple to Yahweh, Solomon said, "Great is our God above all gods" (2 Chron. 2:5). How could he have thought his god was greater than the other gods unless he believed other gods existed? Since in this case Solomon himself eventually resorted to idolatry (1 Kings 11:4-8), he very obviously believed pagan gods were real. In this respect, Solomon wasn't at all unusual. Throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh was compared to other gods in ways that showed a belief in the realness of the others. He was called "God of gods and Lord of Lords, a great God" (Deut. 10:17), but how could he have been God of gods unless other gods existed? The same comparison was made in Joshua 22:22 and Psalm 136:2-3. To the Hebrews, Yahweh was simply "God of gods," the greatest and mightiest of many existing gods. To deny this is to make all the words of Yahwistic praise like those just quoted completely meaningless.

Fundamentalists will of course point out that many Bible passages clearly teach that Yahweh was the one and only God. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon said to the people that "Yahweh is God, and there is none else" (1 Kings 8:60). (This was the same Solomon who shortly afterwards worshipped other gods, so we have to wonder just how strongly he believed what he said.) Moses also said that "Yahweh is God; there is no other beside him" (Deut. 4:35). So no one will dispute that the Bible in many places says that there is only one God, but trying to disprove that polytheism was believed by some Bible characters and writers by just quoting passages that clearly teach monotheism is to miss the point entirely. The contention of The Skeptical Review is that, contrary to what fundamentalists preach from their pulpits, the Bible is an inconsistent, contradictory book. The conflicting polytheistic-monotheistic views of its writers is just one example of its inconsistency and contradiction, so bibliolaters can't satisfactorily explain the problem by simply referring to the passages that appear to teach monotheism. Pitting scripture against scripture in this way only confirms the premise on which this publication was founded: there are obvious contradictions in the Bible. To satisfactorily resolve this matter, they will have to show that the passages I have presented and explicated in this article don't really teach polytheistic concepts.

I don't think they can do that. In Exodus 12:12, Yahweh said that on the night of the Passover he would execute judgment "against all the gods of Egypt." But how can judgment be executed against something that doesn't even exist? This is what bibliolaters must explain, because whoever wrote Exodus 12:12 clearly believed that the gods of Egypt were real gods.



Aten is just another version of a solar deity. Many peoples worshiped the sun under various names. Sir James Frazer and others have detailed how many of these myths crossed trade routes and the like. Even the ancients like Herodotus detailed how the same deities were worshiped under different names across the world.