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March 5th, 2014
05:44 pm

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God of Love, God of War
Yet again, I came across more talk about how bad the God of the Old Testament is, and I've wondered what standard Jewish answers to the claim might be. I've tried googling, but haven't found the right search terms.

For the record, I can see issues with Noah's flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham being told to kill Isaac, and with the conquest of Canaan, but if you compare damage done by Jews to damage done by Christians, it seems that the content of scriptures matters rather little. And possibly that amount of damage is more related to the amount of power available than anything else.

I used to think that pacifist religions led to less violent behavior, and this may be true on the average, but Buddhists are murdering Muslims in Burma, so it's not an absolute truth. (There's a book about how governments with pacifist religions handled (talked about?) their wars, but I didn't note the title-- anyone know of it?)

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From:whswhs
Date:March 5th, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)
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I find the Christian God scarier than the Jewish one. The Jewish God occasionally kills people who've offended him, and at least once he killed nearly the entire human race. But not everyone, and when he kills them it's over. The Christian God sentences those who've offended him to agelong torment (at least; many interpretations say unending torment), and everyone has offended him.

As for the behavior of adherents of the respective faiths, I don't think they're fairly comparable. Christianity is a proselytizing religion and has a lot more soldiers.

Bill Stoddard
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 5th, 2014 11:17 pm (UTC)
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I have an impression that the Christian bible is much vaguer about hell than a great many Christians have been, but that gets into the question of how much you should believe that a religion is adequately conveyed by its texts, and how much you should look at what it's (nominal?) members think it is.
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From:whswhs
Date:March 6th, 2014 12:49 am (UTC)
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The Revelation of St. John is pretty explicit about the matter. Though the original Greek says "for an age of ages" and not "forever" about being cast into the lake of fire.

I'm not able to judge Christianity by its adherents very well; I haven't had all that much first-hand exposure. I've only been to two Christian services in my life, both funerals for relatives.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:March 6th, 2014 02:33 am (UTC)
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The Book of Revelation was included in the official Christian canon very late, and by a very narrow margin. The author is unknown, but probably was more than one person. It's considered to be heresy by some sects of Christianity, and is regarded as allegorical by most non-Fundamentalist branches of Protestantism. I'm not up on the non-Protestant controversies around that book, but there have been quite a lot of them over the past two millenia..

Have you seen The Jefferson Bible? Thomas Jefferson took the Gospels, axed all the supernatural woo, and just kept the life and philosophy of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Jesus did not say he was the Son of God. He said that people who wished to follow him ought to live by his teachings, in which he was pretty straightforward about how he expected them to treat others. The only people he speaks against are the hypocrites, but he's got plenty to say about them.

I have to presume that most people who call themselves 'Christian' do not actually believe in Hell, whatever they may say. If they did, and if they truly believed that following the word of Christ was their only hope of salvation from it, they would be living a whole lot differently than they do.

The real Christians I have known don't fear Hell. They don't give it much thought; they have faith in their salvation. They follow Christ because they love him - he's their King and their best friend and their Jedi Master all rolled into one, and they strive to live the way he told them to because they believe it's the best way to live.

,
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From:whswhs
Date:March 6th, 2014 02:39 am (UTC)
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I've heard of the Jefferson Bible, but never tried to track it down.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:March 6th, 2014 07:20 am (UTC)
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Click the link there; it's online.
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From:whswhs
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I saw your link. But note that I said "haven't tried to track it down," not "haven't been able." It sounds to me as if the point of the Jefferson Bible was to preserve Jesus as a moral teacher without the theological baggage. But without the supernatural baggage, Jesus can't be taken as authoritative, but has to be evaluated by the content of his teachings—and I've never found that content very interesting. Or, for the most part, very attractive.
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From:dr_zrfq
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:10 am (UTC)
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Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy book that appears to have been written on psychoactives (the writer[s] of the Gospel of John didn't stop taking drugs after the first book was done, he/she/it/they went on to even better drugs and kept writing).

The bit in Matthew 25:31-46 is rather more clear, and also makes it a lot simpler to avoid damnation. But the passage ticks off a lot of the religious right. (Oh wait, that would be a recommendation, eh?)
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From:whswhs
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:25 am (UTC)
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That's how someone would view the matter who does not view the Revelation as part of the Word of God, and who wants to offer hypotheses about the author's biographical experience. I was doing more the classic modernist litcrit thing of looking at what the text itself says.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:March 6th, 2014 10:23 am (UTC)
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In Luke, chapter 16, Jesus presents the story of Lazarus (not the one he raised from the dead) and a rich man. They both die; Lazarus goes to heaven, and the rich man to Hell, for reasons which aren't given, though there's a suggestion he refused to help Lazarus in his poverty.

"In his torment in Hades he [the rich man] looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his embrace. So he cried out, 'Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.'"

That's the New Jerusalem Bible, which is my preferred translation. I find it odd that it uses the Greek "Hades." Regardless, it's a large part of the basis of the Christian idea of Hell as a place of fire and perpetual torment.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:March 6th, 2014 01:06 am (UTC)
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I believe you'll find what you want under Jewish apologetics or Torah evil debunked.

I think there has to be a clear distinction drawn between damage done specifically by God in the Bible, and damage done by human people. Whatever happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, they weren't conquered by an invading army, and God supposedly sent bears, not swordsmen, to rend the 42 children who mocked Elisha.

Comparing Jews to Christians is 'apples and oranges'. Being Jewish is an ethnic heritage; any child of a Jewish mother was accounted Jewish. It's perfectly possible to be a Jewish atheist. Christianity is a belief-system; whether or not a person is Christian has nothing to do with their genes or their cultural tradition.

Comparing destructiveness kinda doesn't fly either. It would make more sense to compare the Israelites and the Romans in that regard, since they were contemporaries, and both groups were pretty-much *over* by the beginning of the Dark Ages, as far as centralized strength in arms goes. Christianity was the Official Religion of Europe from the fall of Rome through the World Wars, and it's still the dominant religion of many of the world's most aggressive countries.

However, America is not a Christian nation and never has been one. I'm not sure to what extent the other English-speaking nations of the world consider themselves 'Christian' either.

Seems to me that any kind of identity-flags will do just as well for those who wish to incite war. Religion is one handy flag, where the warring groups are of different religions - or different sects of the same religion, like Catholic vs. Protestant or Sunni vs. Shi'ite, or Nichiren Shoshu vs. Soka Gakkai. Skin color or other visible physical differences are another good way to tell Us from Them. Where none of those kinds of distinguishers apply, it's necessary to use ideology, but that doesn't carry as much emotional 'juice' to get people ready to kill each other, because ideology has to be thought about, at least to some extent.

Edited at 2014-03-06 01:07 am (UTC)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 6th, 2014 03:04 am (UTC)
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That is not what I want. I want to see what people who like Judaism have to say on the subject.

It's entirely possible that the quotes in your first link are entirely legitimate, but I do know that the Talmud is a record of people arguing with each other, so I wonder whether there are counterbalancing quotes there. The person who wrote that essay definitely had an agenda.

Edited to add: I'm referring to the first article under your first search-- it's here.

Edited at 2014-03-06 04:35 am (UTC)
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From:elenbarathi
Date:March 6th, 2014 07:47 am (UTC)
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I didn't give you a link to single sites there; I gave you links to search keywords so you could find what you wanted for yourself.

So: did you look as far as the third link on the first page of search results? Here it is again:
Jewish Virtual Library: Apologetics: "Apologetics in Judaism is that literature which endeavors to defend Jews, their religion, and their culture in reply to adverse criticism."

'Torah evil debunked' seems to lead into the Land of the Weird Fringe, so try Torah evil refute instead. Again, that's a search-result page; the third and fourth links on it may be of interest.
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 6th, 2014 01:21 pm (UTC)
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I've given the apologetics link a close skim and a word search. It doesn't discuss the particular argument I'm interested in.

"Torah evil refuted" doesn't seem to lead to the subject I want, either, though the first link about Jews and understanding the Holocaust was interesting.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:00 am (UTC)
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I've heard this defense of "An eye for an eye..." It's said that was an improvement over the then-existing custom of "For an eye, you kill their whole family."
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:20 am (UTC)
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I've seen that defense of it.
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From:agrumer
Date:March 6th, 2014 07:03 am (UTC)
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Doesn’t the Code of Hammurabi also specify “an eye for an eye”?
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From:lethargic_man
Date:March 6th, 2014 09:18 am (UTC)
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Yes indeed. But the Code of Hammurabi says that when a house collapses and kills the inhabitant's children, you should kill the builder's children. That's the reason for the Torah saying children may not be punished for the sins of parents or vice versa; this was not understood until the Code of Hammurabi was discovered. (Ex. 34:7 is traditionally interpreted as visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children if they follow in their parents' ways.)
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From:lethargic_man
Date:March 6th, 2014 09:14 am (UTC)
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The traditional interpretation is that monetary compensation is intended, as may be adduced from the verse elsewhere stating that no compensation may be accepted for the life of a murderer (hence compensation may be accepted for lesser injuries).

The Torah has to be seen in the context of its time. Whilst it forms the basis of Jewish law, that law has moved on since. As Rabbi Jeremy Gordon put it, whilst the rabbis of the Talmud were passionately in favour of the death penalty in theory, they were passionately against it ever being put into practice, going so far as to say only a Sanhedrin on the Temple Mount had the authority to pass capital punishment, then moving the Sanhedrin off the Temple Mount.

As other commenters have partially pointed out, you (nancylebov) seem to be conflating the issues of dealing with God killing people, such as the Flood, or Sodom and Gomorrah, which is not precedent-setting for humans, and when people do. (Indeed, the examples given here strike me as being people trying to explain natural disasters, but of course it requires a modern mindset to see it that way.)

The genocidal war against the Canaanites is seen as one-off, not precedent-setting. Besides, the account of conquering much of the land and killing the inhabitants portrayed in the Book of Joshua is betrayed by the picture depicted in Judges, of Canaanites continuing to live alongside Israelites, and indeed doing so for centuries yet—Jerusalem was still Jebusite when King David came to power.

You mention in your post Noah, and the Binding of Isaac, but you seem to have missed the lesson drawn from these events: that in the former case, God renounced ever doing such a thing again, and in the second, God intervened to prevent Abraham killing his son. Indeed, the text says God tested Abraham then; it does not say whether he passed that test.

Edited at 2014-03-06 09:15 am (UTC)
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From:tahkhleet
Date:March 6th, 2014 10:30 am (UTC)

re: the Binding of Isaac

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There was a brilliant exegesis on that which I wish I'd marked down. It was online. It basically made the case Abraham had no plan to kill Issac. Basically he was dragging his feet and delaying as much as possible until Y*VH finally relents and admits he's not going to demand Isaac die. It was from a fairly traditional leaning Rabbi, too, who cited some interesting bits about the language and phrasing to support his opinion.

And even if you don't find that a plausible interpretation, the always plausible thing I see in Torah in the challenging parts is: the same part can teach a different lesson in a different context. For example, it says the thing about "a man shall not lie with a man as a woman" and at the time that was all about weaning the Jews off the ritual prostitution of their neighbours' temple cults.

But now, I'm not the only one who's noticed "wait, whatever mystical thing in Kabbalah you have saying a man's anus is really his womb, that's not 'plain meaning'." On the plain meaning level, a man CANNOT lay with a man as a woman because a man doesn't have a vagina. So what can it be about? _Not to pretend the male you're having sex with is a woman_ and use them as an exercise in power. And this explains the lack of a counterbalancing comment on female homosexuality...because its not about homosexuality.

But since at the time it was written, there wasn't such a thing as homosexuality, there was just the person who got to say what happened during sex and the person who had to go along with that. Consensus was it was better to get the option to have the decision than not. The idea of an identity built around sexual orientation didn't exist. So at the time, it could only be interpreted as being about male-male sex, period. To help the Jews establish their "brand" as a distinct culture from their neighbours. Now the lesson is different because the way our conception of those events is so very different. The fact there's a lesson leading to a good outcome in both cases speaks to the sort of dynamic process which Torah is. The word means "instruction" as a _verb_ because all words in Hebrew start out as verbs at their root form (or so I was told anyway).

So I would see the thing with Isaac as being less about "Abraham was going to kill Isaac, go team!" and more about "well, at the time, getting the seniority system to be acknowledged as valid was still a fraught endeavor. This is why most religion starts out as ancestor worship. So for the time, the point was to put divine obligations above your own, and by extension, the authority of your seniors over your own inclinations. Its worth noting this didn't bear fruit until after the destruction of the First Temple! But at that point, the cultural inertia became very important.

But now that we get to the point that we've developed past rigid hierarchy, the lesson isn't about shut up and do your duty, its about "does divine Law have to be concerned with marit ayin, too?" The whole passage basically challenges the reader, provoking a visceral reaction of their innate moral sense against injustice. And sometimes that's how a test works. One time, my mom let me hit my brother when I was mad at him. He yelped like kicked puppy and I felt so bad I never had a temptation to do that to him again. Not all lessons can be learned the best by stress free measures...

marit ayin = Avoiding doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halakha, or that someone may misinterpret, thus causing him to violate halacha. Basically, not adhering to what is technically permitted when using that leeway could lead someone to get the wrong idea about what you're doing and you become a bad example to them thereby.

Y*VH is free to do anything, to the extent a moral example is what Torah sets down, that freedom cries out to be restricted. Basically, sometimes Y*VH acts poorly to see if the audience is paying attention and actually LEARNING what they're reading.
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From:nellorat
Date:March 6th, 2014 05:52 pm (UTC)

Re: the Binding of Isaac

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I liked this very much & have added your LJ to my friends' list.
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From:tahkhleet
Date:March 6th, 2014 10:03 am (UTC)

More to say tomorrow but....

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...as a student of history who studied military history at every opportunity, I am not familiar with any cultures off the top of my head which had a large population base and economy (for their historical technology level) who were not warlike. There were periods and areas where a "Pax Romania" applied within the boundaries of a society's territories/conquered possessions/client states. But there was still a steady trickle of conflicts. Prosperity and security if they happened together did seem to reduce the incidence of war. But I'm fairly sure there's not a strong cultural component.

You have to remember large scale "civilization" is built on war. The history of societies making their way by living in cities (which is literally what "civilization" means) is the history of armies and their support staff and leadership extorting food and labour from a peasant class ranging from 90-95% of the population. (and exercising veto power over the daily habits of those peasants) While it is not necessarily the case that war is the independent variable determining all else about history, up until the 20th century it was a basic parameter: if people lived in cities, they would make war regularly _unless_ they hit a plateau of extended prosperity.

It all starts off in the bronze age with using bronze weapons to get a decisive military edge to harvest slaves to enhance agricultural productivity. This lets more food be grown, which allows a larger army which can conquer more land and take more slaves to work it. The limit on this expansion algorithm is the corruption of the ruling class and the communication and transportation infrastructure holding the whole thing together. But the equilibrium between the societies that have reached their boundaries of comfortable control of their territory is innately unstable.

Because the only peace that exists is where even if they win, its uncertain if the winners can hold their possessions. Its hard to make war pay more than it costs reliably when its fought solely for plunder or political concessions. The better the peacetime economy is the more it pays to keep the peace. But the peace isn't being kept because the powerful and mighty value it for its own sake. They value it because when it is more rewarding than war, to the degree it is more rewarding than war.

(it's true the peasants pushed back some and it wasn't just abject slavery in every place and culture. Chinese rice farmers were treated fairly well because the difference in yield between a well tended and shoddily tended rice paddy is at least 50%. But the peasants had the short end of the stick. They regarded armies as locusts and brigands regardless of which "side" because all the armies treated the peasants largely the same. Namely, something to plunder and rape for supplies and loot)

It's worth noting post Napoleonic 19th century Europe was quite peaceful compared to most of its history...but nothing had fundamentally changed. Which was why WW I and II were entirely possible. Russia, which missed out on the majority of the economic boom of the 19th century, was the one major European power still fighting large scale wars (mostly with the Ottoman Empire). And its worth noting that Russia again, currently, is the impoverished outlier (relatively speaking) and is again much more bellicose than any of its peers.

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From:tahkhleet
Date:March 6th, 2014 10:04 am (UTC)

(cont)

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(and the last quarter century of the 19th century was quite tense because the economy was in the toilet, but no one wanted to start a war without a decisive edge over their adversaries. Now, there hadn't been any major wars between modern powers after the wars of German unification and the American civil war. (Russia nor Turkey really quite counting as modern, though they both had aspirations that way) Yet it was very clear that something was fundamentally changing in the way humans made war. The next war could break a lot of previous patterns. Really, everyone wanted a general war, they just wanted to put it off till they were sure they'd be on the winning side.)

For that matter, the US is even more bellicose than Russia. The main difference is it wages war for political and economic concessions rather than to expand territory. Note how the incidence of American wars has worked: things were prosperous and secure (much of the period up to WW I, the 20's and the decade after the Korean War) and the US military activity scaled back. Then there comes the first clouds on the horizon as competition starts to seriously erode corporate America's profits. And suddenly there's the escalation in Vietnam. Then the 80's come and the stagnation of the 70's gives way to declining living standards for much of the nation and from Grenada to Iraq there's a steady stream of activity. Then the economy picks up with the dot com boom...and things scale back...then the boom goes bust and things just keep getting worse and worse and now the US is living out the predictions made in Pat Mills' Third World War comic series.

(which was about a war on the Third World. Which is pretty much what the US is engaged in right now: note that Obama was agitating very hard for committing US troops to Syria; its far from a foregone conclusion that the US will remain unentangled.)

So I agree with the above comment religion doesn't have much to do with war, because all city dwelling societies were founded on a paradigm of predatory violence. While we have collectively started to question that paradigm in the last few centuries, the oligarchs are still basically amoral predators. So they still successfully sucker regular people into killing to advance their interests. Because there's thousands of years of cultural habits and inertia that tell everyone this is the right thing to do.

It's not a surprise that despite the huge changes in our society, this aspect has changed surprisingly little. The main change is that the manner and times in which war is profitable have changed substantially. But the basic inhibitions against it are still minimal among the ruling classes (and even the regular folks are still easy to manipulate into thinking a war is "the right thing _this time_" over and over).

Now as to how well Judaism acquits itself as a better societal format...well, I think it does quite well where it retains its religious roots. The Chareidim and Chassidim who dominate religious affairs in Israel right now are not in touch with those roots. Partially because the Shoah destroyed so many of those roots. But partly because they reacted to that destruction with panic. I'm not deriding them for that panic. But for them to believe that all adult males should be Talmudic scholars ...that's pretty divorced from tradition.

The Jews have historically believed "Pray, but row for the rocks". The Shoah disillusioned a lot of religious Jews that rowing would mean much when things got really bad, so they've gone frantic into "praying". to the detriment of their society.

Of course, the religious Jews of America who aren't following the Chareidic and Chassidic mold aren't doing so well themselves. But that's because they are having a hard time reinterpreting their mission to maintain themselves as a distinct people, now that they have the OPTION to be part of larger society. Jewish society worked so well as it did historically largely because they were backed into a corner. So I confess, I'm not sure how Judaism is going to fare in the coming decades. But its had two great retrenchments and a few other substantial ones. None of which seemed very likely at the time.
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