I sometimes wonder what people who call themselves Christians or Jews think of stories of genocide in the Bible, such as the Israelites’ slaughter of the residents of Jericho (the first six chapters of the book of Joshua). For those who are unfamiliar with the story (which I suspect includes a lot of Christians and Jews), here’s a summary: The Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years when the Lord tells Joshua that he’s giving the land just on the other side of the Jordan River to them; all they have to do to claim their reward is part the Jordan and walk across it (He tells them how in great detail), perform some rituals outside the fortified walls over the course of seven days that will make the walls crumble (He tells them how to do this in great detail, too), and then kill and burn everyone and everything in the city. Wait—first take anything valuable and add it to God’s treasury. And oh yeah, don’t kill the harlot Rahab or anyone in her house because she sheltered the Israelite spies while they were hatching this plot.
You know, a nice little Biblical morality tale. What I wonder is how people would react today if a modern leader arose who clearly had supernatural powers, claimed to speak for God, and asked them to commit genocide on His behalf. I imagine myself here in the environs of Northampton, Massachusetts, hearing about a man who has appeared on the banks of the Connecticut River and seems to have supernatural powers. For some reason, I uncharacteristically feel compelled to go check this out for myself. When I arrive, I find a man addressing a large crowd near the Calvin Coolidge Bridge. As I approach, everyone seems to freeze except him. He turns to me and says, "Welcome. You’re what, an agnostic? An atheist?"
Taken by surprise, I say, "Both, kind of. But, uh, surely I’m not that unusual. You don’t need to address me personally."
"That’s okay," he says. "I’m having a chat with everyone as they arrive. The others are temporarily frozen in time, as you will be when the next person arrives. So let’s say you’re agnostic. What evidence can I give you that God exists?"
Fortunately, I’ve given this some thought. "Well," I say, "You could start by doing something that would be extremely difficult to explain scientifically."
"You mean something besides freezing everyone else in time?"
"Uh, yeah. Maybe, uh, they’re all actors or something."
"You have something in mind, don’t you?" he says.
"As a matter of fact, I do." I reach into my pocket and pull out a handful of coins, maybe 15 or 20. "I’m going to drop these, but before I do, I want you to draw me a picture of what they’ll look like when they come to rest. Not just which will be heads and which tails, but their relative positions to each other, as well."
"Look down" he instructs me, and there at my feet is an image of coins neatly arranged on the ground. I check it against the coins in my hand, and he’s got the right number of each kind of coin, which is impressive, but I couldn’t get them to fall in such a neat arrangement if I tried. "You expect them to fall just like that?" I ask, to be sure.
"Just drop them," he replies.
So I turn and throw the coins as hard as I can in the opposite direction. A gust of wind arises, blows the coins up over my head, and presses them down exactly on top of their images on the ground.
"That’s pretty unlikely to happen by chance," I point out, unnecessarily.
"Piece of cake," he replies. "Is there anything else?"
"Yeah. Okay, if God is omnipotent, can he make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it? Can he? Huh? Huh?"
"I never said God was omnipotent."
"No. That’s silly. He’s just far more powerful than you can imagine. For practical purposes, you’d do well do think of him as omnipotent, but don’t be too literal about it. Anything else?"
So I’m thinking, he’s clearly got impressive supernatural powers, but how would the "God" hypothesis hold up to Ockham’s razor? "How do I know you’re not a technologically advanced alien, or just a figment of my imagination?" I ask.
"Would you behave any differently if I were?" he asks in return.
I mull this one for a moment.
Impatient, he asks, "Can we get on with this thought experiment?"
"Uh, sure, carry on, I guess."
Suddenly everyone is moving again, and the crowd has grown much larger, presumably because I, in turn, was frozen in time as more people arrived.
"Okay, let’s begin" the man says. "I am Joshua, God’s messenger, and I come with a message and an exhortation from God. First the message: God loves you, and by you, I mean the people of Northampton and environs. As a sign of his love for you, he wants to give you...Hadley!"
The crowd cheers wildly, which surprises me because I mostly think of Hadley as someplace you drive through on your way to Amherst, but they’re probably already thinking about all the stuff they can loot from Home Depot, Lowes, and both malls.
"Here’s the exhortation," he continues. "To claim this gift, you must slaughter all the Hadleyites, take anything you find of value and give it to me (I’ll see that God gets it), and burn everything else."
This exhortation gets a somewhat cooler reception than the message did. After a moment, some brave person asks, "Um, kill everyone?"
"Ooh, I’m glad you mentioned that,” Joshua says. "No, there’s a harlot who has been really good to the Northamptonites, and I promised we would spare her and anyone she can cram into her home. You’ll recognize the place by a scarlet rope bound to one of the windows."
Another hand tentatively goes up. "Kill the children, too?"
This seems to anger Joshua a bit. "What, you think God is some sort of monster? Would he make orphans of all the Hadleyite children? Of course not! Kill them, too! If they’re good kids, they’ll go to heaven. Just make it quick, okay?"
People now seem to be trying to imagine what this process will look like. "Will we get weapons or something?" someone asks.
"You bet! God provides for his own," Joshua says. He turns toward the river, raises his arms and suddenly all kinds of guns appear on the shore. I don’t know from guns, but I recognize a neighbor who I know is an NRA member, and he seems suitably impressed. "If there are no more questions, everyone grab a piece, I’ll part the river, and we can just walk across and start shooting. We could wrap this up in time for lunch."
"Or we could take the bridge," a woman points out, and a moment later she is promptly smote. Or is that smitten? In any case, there’s nothing left of her but a wisp of smoke.
"God. Said. Part. The. River. Any other questions?" Joshua asks.
What does one do? I hope I’d be brave enough to say, "Fuck you. Your God is evil," and if I weren’t immediately smitten, do whatever I could to prevent this from happening. But as a nonbeliever, I seriously doubt I will ever have to make a decision like this. How about believers? Do they ever really try to imagine exactly what Joshua was asking of the Israelites?
I didn't read the entire novel you posted so si am going on the general ideal I got by glancing over it.
Predator-prey relationships are also vital in maintaining and even increasing the biological diversity of the particular ecosystem, and in helping to keep the ecosystem stable. This is because a single species is kept under control by the species that uses it for food. [encyclopedia.com]
So there has been cannibals amongst people, but there is not specifically a predator for homo sapian. The point here is not that people are eat people as prey, but the evolutionary function is like that of the preditor-prey relationship.
Homo sapian being on top of the food chain of sorts, the closest evolutionary thing that would keep homo sapian in evolutionary check like the predator-prey relationship is the fact of such "inhumane" population control occurances throughout history.
We all know how well word of mouth stays factual and accurate!!!
All human embellish all facts, story’s, and myth’s!!!
In other words one must take everything said or stated with a grain of salt or you may be one of those who whole life is within someone’s else’s own conspiracy theory!!!
trump and his obstructionist republican fascists death cult followers come to mind as the latest example of god(s), politics, guns, insanity, and just plain stupidity can take hold within such insidious ways!!!
Well stated, indeed!
Wars of extermination were "God's creation." Few devout Christians or Jews would countenance such behavior today. Even the pagans had better morals than this. Did any Caesar order such a command as Jehovah's?
"...in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you."
Deuteronomy 20:16-17 (NIV)
No wonder that the Great Agnostic himself responded with such disdain to that very passage:
"Is it possible for man to conceive of anything more perfectly infamous? Can you believe that such directions were given by any being except an infinite fiend? Remember that the army receiving these instructions was one of invasion. Peace was offered upon condition that the people submitting should be the slaves of the invader; but if any should have the courage to defend their homes, to fight for the love of wife and child, then the sword was to spare none -- not even the prattling, dimpled babe.
And we are called upon to worship such a God; to get upon our knees and tell him that he is good, that he is merciful, that he is just, that he is love."
Robert Green Ingersoll, The Gods, 1872
I prefer to think of the stories from a historical first person perspective of Bronze Age people.
A flashlight would be a divine wand of WTF! Holy Shitdom! to those goat herders.
So we know that ancient Egyptian armies weren't disciplined enough to move in ranks the way modern military men march today. The foot soldiers moved as clusters and mobs, the Cavalry were free range scouts typically traveling in pairs.
So large groups wouldn't get lost and wander off there was a group that marked the "official" position of the army, a group of men there carried a mobile pyre.
Filtered through many stories the pyre became a column of fire at night, and a column of smoke during the day. Which according to the surviving fable led the Israelites for 40 years in the desert.
As for the walls of Jericho, toppling walls was a relatively new concept, but it was common in the wars throughout the Middle Ages. The military engineers called "Sappers" would dig tunnels under enemy fortifications during a siege.
This could have been carried out in secret if spies were able to infiltrate to keep the enemy from catching on and allowed the invader to avoiding the resource and time involved with protecting the sappers by normal siege methods.
The wood braced tunnels were filled with flammable materials and a greased pig would be set on fire and released to run the tunnels lighting the supports. Then they need only wait for the fire to weaken the supports so the tunnels collapsed and the walls fell.
A General able to pull off that kind of secrecy could then march his entire army up to surround the city and just move in after the walls fell. The average soldier didn't know about what the sappers did or why, this was on purpose, so the army would gain morale from seeing magic knocking down the walls of their enemies. God was on their side. Hence the ritual, marching and blowing horns, since they didn't know precisely when the tunnels would collapse anyway, they just kept at it until it happened.
Anyway that's where my mind goes.