Comment: Ancient Morality (Biblical Style)

I don’t quite know what to make of the Old Testament (Jewish scriptures) authors. I’m thinking of the morality of the ten plagues that God inflicted on the Egyptians.

You know the Bible story. The Israelites were enslaved and poorly treated by the Egyptians. Moses was commissioned by God to free the Israelites with God’s divine power. After some poor starts with his own people’s doubts and with ignored threats, Moses enacted the first five plagues with God’s help. Pharoah was unconvinced. So God changed his approach. Before enacting the worse plagues God ensured that Pharoah would still resist even against his own best interests (“hardened his heart”). Therefore God was able to inflict more pain and suffering on the Egyptian people as well as show his absolute supremacy over Pharoah as a rival “living God”. The final plague was a beauty with the killing all first born humans and animals.

I’ve always struggled with the US decision to drop the second atomic bomb over Japan to end World War II. Was the time delay enough for the Japanese to surrender? US argued it was. Here God wouldn’t allow Pharoah to surrender. Now, I don’t  hold any credence with this story – I’m not that gullible. In fact there is no or very little extrabiblical support for any Jewish captivity in Egypt let alone a mass escape to freedom. However these stories do say a lot about the religious authors of the Jewish scriptures and their moral values.

I know we need to be relativist when assessing the moral values of past generations. But it is hard to see how the forced infliction of pain could be venerated in scriptures. How would have these writers responded to our examples of evil – Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin? Admiringly?

Alex McCullie


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