Harsh Jewish Ethics

The Hand of God

Let’s admit it — people can be real bad.  So it is important to have rules to contain badness.  All religions have moral rules to constrain their people.   Jews have a very restrictive 613 commandments (Mitzvot).  And Yahweh (the horrible Jewish god) demanded his followers to be rather brutal.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Kill People Who Don’t Listen to Priests:  Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)
  • Kill Witches:  You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)
  • Kill Homosexuals:  If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives. (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)
  • Kill Fortunetellers:  A man or a woman who acts as a medium or fortuneteller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death. (Leviticus 20:27 NAB)
  • Death for Hitting Dad:  Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)
  • Death for Cursing Parents:  1) If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will go out at the coming of darkness. (Proverbs 20:20 NAB)   2) All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)
  • Death for Adultery:  If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)
  • Death for Fornication:  A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)
  • Kill Nonbelievers:  They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

Oh yeah, there are all sorts of much more edifying ethical stuff in the Hebrew scriptures, but after all that, I am just not in the mood.  Sorry.

HT:  www.EvilBible.com


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

29 responses to “Harsh Jewish Ethics

  1. rautakyy

    Though I am not in favour of cultural relativism as such, it should be remembered from what kind of culture these commands came from originally. I have read that the part about “sorcerers” would originally translate as poisoners. Supposedly the hint to witchcraft was from King James version of the Bible because of the political climate of his time. Can someone verify that?

    The problem of ancient scripture acting as a moral guideline, is allways the same. How do we modern people interprete them? Are we to assume that the gods were infact vicious and vengefull, and follow these orders to the letter? If not, where goes the line within the modern culture to discredit the demands in the holy books? Should homosexuals be killed, or simply their marriages prevented? I do not think the Jewish or Biblical ethics actually say anything about their right to marry. I think there is nothing in modern western ethics against homosexuals and modern societes should follow that logic.

    Most people who hold faith in their traditional divinities live according to the ethical and moral codes of their societes, not by these – a bit outdated – commands, right?

  2. Nice hermeneutics on “sorcerers” — I didn’t know that.

  3. Earnest

    Sabio I wish a lot of the people I know would read this post to get a feel for our bloodthirsty origins as a Christian people. When I read Exodus and subsequent books sometimes it sounds like I’m reading about modern gang warfare in urban streets. “Anyone with the wrong colored bandanna on their heads must be gunned down.” How is this qualitatively different from some of these statements you mention?

  4. @ Earnest Well said.

  5. The more I read the Bible the more I say, “Geez, we’re still dealing with these issues!”

    -Kill People Who Don’t Listen to Priests: How do we process those who don’t respond to authorities? Criminals and the like? There’s also the petty: what do we do with those who don’t hold the same authority figures as we do; like church people vs. non-church people; church people vs. temple ppl etc.

    -Kill Witches- Building off of rautakyy’s apt revelation the definition of witch and sorcerers were culturally understood in a certain way. Ours would be “snake oil salesmen” or “those who put up info-mercials on products that don’t work”

    -Kill Homosexuals: Still some pockets who believe this. Some go so far as to say “those who step outside the expected gender roles.” So men who know how to cook (save for grilling) are transexual and should be considered weird.

    You get the gist. We’re still struggling with issues of community and belonging, boundaries and how to enforce them. each culture and group has the same, including, as you’ve pointed out many times, some atheists have indulged in similar strains of group-think. it’s a very human thing, the only difference is that the Jewish people wrote theirs down and ours are oral. Does that make the ancients braver than we? Are we the cowards here? Would we deny that we have prejudice and struggle with boundaries?

  6. Wow, Zero, I can’t believe the spin you put on that, unless I misunderstood, it seems like you said,

    At least the ancient Hebrews were honest about their crimes against humanity. We hide ours own. Those Jewish people were so brave to write theirs down.

    They wrote them down as law — no shame but actual pride. It was not bravery. My goodness, I get that the Bible is your tribes holy book, but must you go out of your way to try to minimize such well deserved criticisms.

  7. no, i stated the Hebrews were honest about putting their prejudices down on paper, our are oral. I don’t think we’re all that different or far from the ancient Hebrews. Same stuff different context.

    Let’s see if I’m wrong.

    What are your thoughts on the death penalty? When should we enforce it? How beholden are we to any social contract? How should we keep those boundaries firm?

  8. rautakyy

    There is of course a difference between a culture where most people are literate and the written information is easily accessible through public libraries and internet, when comparing it to a culture where most are illiterate and the written word is accepted as coming from such an absolute authority as a god.

    Modern society is secular, hence all our prejudice might be actually written somewhere, but it also could be easily challenged. Therefore no one truth about our cultural prejudice exists anymore. Our laws are written down, but challenged and changed all the time.

    On the other hand, so much of our western cultural tradition remains to be a heritage from the ancient cultures. As well as from the Jewish as from European traditions. It was not us modern people who came up with the idea of democracy, in which any mans words may be challenged. Oh no, it is far more older ideal, than even the ancient Greeks.

  9. @ Zero
    Interestingly, I am debating a bit with a conservative Christian about the Death Penalty & Justice in his two recent posts: (1) Cop Killer & (2) The Last Supper. If you’d like to see my opinion, please seem my comments there.

    First, I think applying the word “honest” to writing horrific laws on paper was an attempt to valorize (albeit subtly) what should be condemned. I don’t care that the equivalent in Sharia law is written down in constitutions — I don’t consider that honest — I consider that codified horror. I’d rather have bigotry whispered and not tolerated by law, than “honestly” recorded in law to be brutally and righteously applied.

    That was my point.

    Second, to minimize horrible policies by saying, “Look, we all do bad things.” is the “Tu Quoque” argument which I find very lacking.

    Simply put, I felt that you were going out of your way to support your club’s favorite text unnecessarily. We are hopefully making progress in moral systems. Saudi just gave women the vote — next is driving. The more Muslims disempower their ancient texts the better.

    My son read me an article yesterday where a TV show in Somalia rewarded children who best recited their treasured Koran with AK-47s and grenades.

    In India, transcending traditions of Sati (burning of a woman whose husband dies — as written in holy scripture) was a hard battle.

    We should all be acknowledging our horrible backgrounds and trying to transcend them — and if they were codified in ancient texts, they need to be denounced.

  10. PS, Ghost:

    I am strongly against the death penalty. But even *if* a criminal is wrongly judged for murder, at least he is not being executed because he is a homosexual, cursed his parent, committed adultery or was a non-believer. It is horribly wrong to kill an innocent person, but the reasons matter a lot.

    The murder of an innocent person is deplorable and should not be allowed.

  11. I don’t want to soften criticism of the bible, there’s some horrific stuff in there, including the laws that you posted. two things to consider:

    1. we have no idea if these were carried out or how wide spread they were
    2. most of the atrocities committed in the name of these laws are more modern that we care to admit.

    Here’s the thing, we do this too. I don’t think it’s a Tu Quoque, it’s the doctrine of sin. It’s the mite in neighbor’s eye and log in our own.

    Atrocities are carried out in the name of law day in and day out and our law is much more complex than the law of a small tribe in the backwaters of the world. To say, “it’s just those backwards theists or ancient people who don’t know any better” ignores the “codified horror” in our own midst and that’s what I’m trying to point out.

    We still have legalized lynching. We still execute and wrongly imprison people. We still declare some witches and sorcerers only some choose to call them “practicers of homeopathic medicine” which are declared unclean and anathema by the pervading group (to get a little personal) albeit we’re not stoning these types just yet.

    But one day we will if we’re not careful. If we keep buying into the scapegoat mechanism or the idea that “it was just those people back then… we’re much more enlightened now.”

  12. Sabio

    I’d love to hear your explanation as to why such laws were handed down. I mean, theologically why there laws were given to Israel. There was a theologically very significant reason, whether you believe is it true I’m not really concerned but, I would just like to see if you are aware of it.

  13. @ John
    You are asking me to explain why Christians say the laws were given to Jews? Or why Jews say it? Which Christians or Which Jews — lots of different theologies out there.

    Or are you asking me to explain speculation by anthologists? The anthropologists would use the same tools to analyze this question as they would to analyze why Mohammed laid down the law (oooops, I mean why God told Mohammed to lay down the law). And why the ancient Vedic seers received their divine laws. Or why Buddha created his moral codes.

    I may not be familiar with the particular of some Christian’s theological speculation.

    I have heard:
    (1) To set the Jews apart from the surrounding people
    (2) To please God
    (3) To improve on the morality of the time (which was far more vengeful, for instance than just an eye-for-an-eye).

    I am not sure what you are fishing for. So why don’t you just tell us.

  14. @ Zero
    You said,

    To say, “it’s just those backwards theists or ancient people who don’t know any better” ignores the “codified horror” in our own midst and that’s what I’m trying to point out.

    You put quotes there — I said no such thing. You are reading in. I agree we commit many horrific stuff to this day. Ironically some of it is still based on the iron age morality rules. You are reading too much in what I say. We need to condemn atrocity where ever it is. You can make a post of laws of present day that you think are horrible in America. Miscarriage of those rules is different from the rules — I am discussing the rules.

  15. rautakyy

    If I may be so bold, I suspect the quotes by Zero1ghost (whom may correct me if I am wrong) were referring to my comment not yours Sabio.

    Human has not changed during time, but social norms have changed and what we now see horrific may have been mecifull by the people of the ancient past. There is no universal morals. But there are universal ethics. One may call it the will of god in our hearts or what ever satisfies a persons cultural niche for understanding this. However, most mammals have a capcity for emphaty and a sence of justice. Humans are not an exeption. It is a natural system of social survival system. There are anomalies in the population and we call those sociopaths.

    Cultural indoctrination may enhance some traits that go against our natural desire for “good” and it is perverted into accepting brutal violence and grave injustice as serving as a morality. Writing it down is just one way to cement this unnatural behaviour to our set of values. Religions and ideologies are the strongest methods of introducing supreme authority to make this transition easier. This often plays on our also very natural need for security – A nother trait we share with most of the animal kingdom.

  16. “[YWHW] demanded his followers to be rather brutal.”
    -Thus the claim that I see is “We’re not as brutal.” If you’re not saying that, then you’re not saying it and that’s my bad. If you are, well you now know my thoughts on that.

    @rautakyy: I agree with your stance but I was not responding to it. Thank you for the follow up and I agree. I recently came across the book Columbine by David Cullen and it introduced me to the “anomalies in the population” which we call sociopaths. Fascinating book that I highly recommend.

  17. @ rautakyy
    I have no idea what you meant when you said:

    There is no universal morals. But there are universal ethics.

    Another sympathy anomaly are autistics — by no means disproportionately criminals, violent or aggressive.

    @ zero1ghost
    I will repeat myself:

    You can make a post of laws of present day that you think are horrible in America. Miscarriage of those rules is different from the rules — I am discussing the rules.

    Another important point to show how it is inappropriate to say something like “look, they did bad and so do we” is that:

    The OT laws I quoted above were from a god (supposedly) and thus not up for discussion — unlike mere secular laws. This is another horrific element of them. Making a god say something is an incredibly underhanded rhetorical, brainwashing technique. (if you have a second, see my post on “The Sanctification Cloak“)

  18. rautakyy

    What I meant is, that what we percieve as morals is usually what any particular society (or religion) finds as an acceptable or not modus of behaviour. Ethics are universal in that they have a logic beyond what is simply acceptable.

    For example the ancient jews held slaves. It was regulated by their morals, given by god, so it was “morally” OK. By the moral or behaviour code of their society, they could even defend it by claiming the slaves were better of as their slaves than as someone elses slaves, or by saying that without their masters the slaves would be beggars. However, according to ethics, they must have known (by the most simple exercise on emphaty) that the slaves would rather have been free.

    Today we percieve freedom to be a human right, but freedom in total and utter poverty is not much better than slavery. By the most simple exercise of ethics and emphaty we should understand that no-one would like to be a homeless person, and that no-one has chosen to become one. And in that sense Zero1Ghost has a point.

    Just to be sure, I am not endorcing slavery. I just mean freedom is nothing when you no longer are free to do anything, exept survive.

  19. @ rautakky
    I think I understand the relativistic tensions you point at, but don’t see how it relates to the post or Ghost’s comments. Are you saying, sure, they were harsh laws but maybe not as harsh as they seem if you consider the times?

    Indeed the times were brutal. I don’t care what rationales they used. I think it is important to point out their brutality because many Christians and Jews look at their Bible non-critically and think it is the word of a god.

  20. rautakyy

    I am saying we are living brutal times today, but we do not stop to think about it too often. And I thought that was the point Zero1Ghost was also trying to make (my apologies, if I interrepted you wrong). It is easy to abhor the horros of past, and not consider similar horrors of today. This is the same as when we abhor the horrors of strange cultures, on other sides of the globe. The ancient cultures are strange to us and thus we are able to pick out the frightening things in them, while we are blind to the evil of our own culture. Maybe it is a form of xenophobia.

    For example, we say that life in the ancient times was horrific because they did not have the medicines we today have. But what is truly horrible, is that even though we today have the medicines, most people in the world have no access to them. With greater power always comes the greater responsibility also.

    Morals based on such codes as the Bible often serve as means only to give acception to evil that is inherent to the culture. Never the less that evil exists and we should act against it.

  21. rautakyy reads me correctly.

    “The OT laws I quoted above were from a god (supposedly) and thus not up for discussion”
    -I don’t believe that. and as I and scholars much better that i have, we have no idea how many of these laws were carried out, if ever (ex: Leviticus was for the priestly class alone, it’s an incomplete book and we have no written data that most of those laws were carried out from a culture that wrote a ton of these things down) and when you look at believers who say they do, they actually don’t.

    They don’t believe in prohibitions against eating shrimp to wearing mixed to not eating blood to leaving the “corner” (however big that is) of their fields for gleaning (yet stoning those who glean on the Sabbath) and they esp don’t believe in all the slavery laws cause those are barbaric. Yet ironically, they’ll pick and choose when it supports them, ex: gays and atheists.

    hypocritical and awful.

    and yet:

    we have xenophobic laws. we have economic slavery on our books and we have a system which coddles the rich while the poor and now middle class languish (ex: Capital Punishment). we have the tech to feed the world and yet look at the horn of Africa. we have the medicines, as rautakyy points out, yet the access is denied in the holy name of Profit.

    so if “Making a god say something is an incredibly underhanded rhetorical, brainwashing technique.” then so is “Rewriting history to support horrific laws and a particular ideology/class is an incredibly underhanded rhetorical brainwashing technique.”

    same practice with a small twist that seeks the same result.

  22. @ rautakyy :
    (1) I guess the implicit comparison in this post is with formal written laws. But I am not comparing those times with these times. I am not comparing recorded law and misapplication of law (as I wrote above). And I am indeed not saying we are without bad laws.

    (2) In the comments I also point out that these ancient horrific laws still, because they are stupidly treated as holy, are the source and feed some of the problems we have today.

    (3) If you will read my blog you will see that I am far from a xenophobia. Just look at the biographical time line.

    (4) So, I get the anthropological relativism — but I am speaking to # 1 and #2.

    @ Ghost :
    (1) I wonder if you’d defend the Qu’ran with such vigor if I went through and pointed out its horrible similar laws — many of which are still carried out today. Likewise, the application of Christian literalist with theology different than yours (and we have established that yours is in gross minority), show the horrible echo of these laws in history.

    (2) See # 2 above.

    (3) Likewise, this post is meant as a reference post for me to point Christians to who have no idea what their “Holy” book says.

    @ Zero and ruatakyy
    Yes, I get that the USA (I won’t speak for others) has many laws I disagree with — though I am sure Zero and I would disagree on the details. The above are about laws about who we kill. Show me a written law in the US with such blatant stupidity about killing. I am against the death penalty and I think our laws set up horrific injustices and further the crime rates. Even as present-day-Israel’s laws do the same — mainly because of the influence of those who still feel they are the chosen people right-one-and-only god (what horse shit).

    But I think I get your main point:

    Zero: We are all bad. America is very bad. It is no surprise that ancient Israel had bad spots too.

    rautakyy: We must be careful to look a cultures in more complex ways and not be xenophobic. It is important to look for aspects we could misread out of context.

  23. (1) I wonder if you’d defend the Qu’ran with such vigor if I went through and pointed out its horrible similar laws: note I was silent on the buddhist one. I would do the same for the Koran/Qu’ran as I simply don’t know the theology and the only contact I do have are primarily Sufi and non-literalist versions.

    (1.5)”and we have established that yours is in gross minority”
    -trying to change that and I feel a ground-swell coming that may get more along. part of my job is to be an evangelist for my gross minority for believers and non alike.. not to convert, but to raise awareness.

    (2) See # 2 above. agreed. doesn’t mean we don’t to the same thing without these stupid horseshit laws. tax code would be an easy example.

    (3) Likewise, this post is meant as a reference post for me to point Christians to who have no idea what their “Holy” book says.
    -likewise my comments are meant to be a reference post for those who don’t know academic Christian scholarship that is read by the gross minority (see #1.5)

    “I am against the death penalty and I think our laws set up horrific injustices and further the crime rates.”

    “Zero: We are all bad. America is very bad. It is no surprise that ancient Israel had bad spots too.”
    -close enough for jazz. I would say “We are all bad; we justify and encode it differently.” but your interp has merit.

  24. @ Zero1Ghost
    Good, it seems we have understanding, albeit without perfect agreement in emphasis. For instance, you show me an unfair US tax code that is fair to compare in impact with killing: homosexuals, parent-cursers, adulterers and non-believers.

    BTW, I am changing my views slowly on tax law. Getting rid of loop-holes seems important — simplifying seems important. I just wish that people who did not pay tax could somehow be stopped on voting for laws that regulate tax rates. Doing such seems ridiculously dangerous. Ooooops, not trying to de-rail to tax conversation. If you want one, then blog on it and I will visit. Smile.

  25. “you show me an unfair US tax code that is fair to compare in impact with killing: homosexuals, parent-cursers, adulterers and non-believers.”

    -depends on how you want to kill them and specifically in this case homosexuals. with a stone seems direct and easier to condemn. denying benefits, hospital visits, certain health care coverage, and some other of the 1138 federal benefits and privileges marriage brings is trickier and harder to see.

    i hate both. i stand against both.

    good to see you checking out tax code stuff. i’ll have to blog on it later. it would be good in the “Bridges” series

  26. Yeah, that is what I object to. You want to blur over a command from a god to kill and the discriminating laws you mention (which I disagree with also). That equating or blurring is bad for politics, bad for discussion purposes. One is definitely worse that the other – and that needs to be recognized. Otherwise you slip into sloppy relativism which I detest. Step by step.

  27. You’re allowing your feelings to cloud your judgment on this even though you try to put them on me with claims of tribalism. Untrue.

    Are these biblical laws bad? Yeah. Yet no data exists that they were carried out. I’ll say it again. THUS who is worse for wear? The ancients that never enforced or the modern people who half-ass these ideals into hackneyed moralistic piety that spills over into systemic and legal neglect?

    One is the egg and the other is the chicken from which it hatched. There is a direct connection here and BOTH. ARE. BAD.

    Are you receiving me on your end?

  28. I will ignore your first paragraph.
    On to the second.

    I have no idea if these were enforced or not. I’d like to find the evidence that shows that such encoded and holy law was never enforced or even shows to what extent they were enforced.

    I am comparing written law to written law — I was not addressing application — you introduced that. But that is fine, interesting and worth considering. But I am not just going to take your word at it. Show me the evidence.

    But as I said above, we see similar horrible things written both in old Indian law (sati -bride burning) which only stopped in recent history and muslim law (stone adulters, cutting of arms) and they are still done today. So I have no reason to doubt the ancient hebrew did the same. Heck, they went out of their way to preserve it holy scripture. And I can’t imagine they did it to be “honest” to show us how silly they were at one time. Or to say, look, we never did this, we just wanted it on the books.

    The last sentence in your second paragraph makes no sense grammatically and thus I don’t know what you were trying to say. Sounds like you were trying to cram 3 ideas in one sentence.

    Thus your conclusion makes not sense either. Caps don’t help. So please try that again. And please address my points above.

  29. “I will ignore your first paragraph.”
    -how benevolent. Emotion is playing into this because at every step you want to say “You want to blur over a command from a god to kill and the discriminating laws you mention” even when we both agree that God had no part in writing these laws and that they are encoded prejudices that put boundaries on an ancient group of people. Difference being that you’re an atheist, and I’m a weird theist who actually reads scholarship (this particular idea coming from the mid-1700s in Jesuit thought) and way before then in Rabbinic thought (Ramban circa 1240s).

    “I am comparing written law to written law — I was not addressing application — you introduced that.”
    -then who cares? someone could have written this stuff on a napkin then. what matters in law is what it produces whether in how things are carried out or the mindset they create in the group that believes them. I don’t believe you can divorce written law to application.

    I have already linked to modern legal and systemic neglect of LGBTQ and there are some laws on the books that discriminate against atheists although application isn’t really enforced. however, it is good to note that whole lot of atheists are in high levels of government nor have we had a contender for president.

    Being in a hospital, you must know that gay couples often aren’t allowed to visit their partners in a hospital, let alone make choices about loved ones’ care or even sue over neglect.

    “The last sentence in your second paragraph makes no sense grammatically…”

    read closely then: One is the egg (ancient “holy” laws) and the other is the chicken from which it hatched (modern discriminatory laws). There is a direct connection here and BOTH. ARE. BAD. get it?

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