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Joshua 11 (Anakim)


And welcome back to the Internet’s greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best my limited education allows. I encourage you to read the Good Book along with me, because my time’s too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

11:1. And it was, when Jabin king of Hazor heard, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, to the king of Achshaph.

11:2. And to the kings that were on the north of the mountains, and of the plains south of Chinnaroth, and in the valley, and in the regions of Dor on the west.

By the end of Chapter 10, Joshua has successfully conquered and obliterated all the cities in the southern half of Israel. Now Israel has to reckon with the major cities to the north, which it does.

5:18. Joshua made war a long time with all these kings.

This verse is the subject of one of Rashi's many entertainingly preposterous notes. According to the venerated sage, this verse is actually a rebuke to Joshua, because the Israelite leader, aware of his divinely ordination to parcel out the Promised Land to the tribes of Israel, took his sweet time killing the Canaanites in order to extend his lifespan.

5:21. And at that time, Joshua came and cut off the 'Anakim from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from 'Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua destroyed them completely with their cities.

Here we have mention of the Anakim, or "the descendants of Anak", a small ethnic minority that are physically intimidating to their neighbors because of their great height. Oddly enough, traditional Jewish sources tend to prefer a down-to-earth interpretation of passages involving these people, while some Christians still link them with the nephilim of Genesis and conclude they were demon-human hybrids of astonishing size.

The Anakim could well have been nephilim - giants - but remember how relative that word is. People in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age were far shorter than the average man or woman is today. Goliath's height of six feet and seven inches (200cm) was considered awe-inspiring at the time it was recorded, but today I have a cousin that tall.

In his book The Greek Myths, Robert Graves suggests that the Anakites' mighty ancestor Anak is the same mythic figure whom the ancient Greeks knew as Anax. There are undeniable parallels - like Anak, Anax was said to be the giant leader of a tall people named after him, the Anactorians - and both legends existed in the same time period, in two lands known to have been in contact. It's a neat thought, so I hope it's true.

OK, then. Since Chapter 12 is a major gear change from the type of stuff we've been reading so far, I'm going to end today's entry here.

NEXT TIME: As any policeman or military officer can tell you, behind every successful mission lies a mountain of paperwork. Join Joshua as he gets down to the less sexy, bureaucratic side of leading an invasion.

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi's commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.


Joshua 10

Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

Joshua 10 (The Sun Stilled)


And welcome back to the Internet’s greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best my limited education allows. I encourage you to read the Good Book along with me, because my time’s too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

10:1. [The Amorite kings learned that]...the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them;

10:2. That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all her men were mighty.

In these setup verses lies another hint that the various episodes of Joshua's campaign were originally standalone stories. We have here five Amorite kings going ape over Gibeon joining Israel, "because it was greater than Ai" - a comparison which should mystify any reader who recalls how Ai is described only two chapters ago: "they are but few" (7:3). Ai is understood by the writer of Joshua 8 to be a pathetic distraction that unfortunately develops into something bigger due to Achan's sin, but here the writer - be he the same man or another - is clearly imagining a city of somewhat more repute.

10:3. And Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem...

Adonizedek is the second king of Jerusalem mentioned in the Bible, after Melchizedek, and his name merits some attention. Most believe it translates into English as "My Lord is Righteousness" just as Melchizedek's does "Righteousness is my king", but both meanings may be the result of reinterpretation by later Hebrew and Christian thinkers. "Tzedek" could also be the name of a deity, possibly a second name for the Canaanite god El _before he became the _Elohim we all know and love, and if so that would fit very well with the naming practices of Canaanite kings, including the Israelites themselves. They often incorporated their patron deities' names into their own.

10:5. And the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered together and went up, they and all their camps, and encamped on Gibeon, and made war against it.

The Amorites were a powerful people who are nevertheless well past their heyday here, at least if we're assuming that this war is really happening when the Bible says it is. From 2000-1600 B.C.E. they were so dominant in Mesopotamia that scholars sometimes refer to that cultural and political phase of the Levant as the Amorite Period. Hammurabi, the famous king of Babylon, was an Amorite. Their hegemony was eventually broken by the Hittites, who themselves imploded before the time of Joshua's invasion.

5:10. And the Lord confused them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and they chased them by the way that goes up to Beth-horon, and smote them to Azekah, and to Makkedah.

"Confusion" might better be read "chaos". I've heard on more than one occasion a historian say that casualties in ancient warfare were usually light until for whatever reason one side broke formation and ceased to function as a unit. At that point people really started dying in large numbers - mostly on the side which had caved. The Lord is simply being credited here with the breaking of the Amorite ranks.

5:11. And it was as they fled from before Israel, and were in the descent of Beth-horon, that the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them to Azekah, and they died. There were more who died with the hailstones than whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.

What do we make of this record of a miracle?

Christian apologists bristle when skeptics dismiss accounts like this one out of hand, but I don't think they're fairly acknowledging the propensity for absolutely bizarre embellishments to which ancient scribes apparently leaned. An Egyptian pharoah had it written down (prior to winning the actual fight) that the gods had drowned his opponents in a giant tidal wave. Jewish writers claimed that an angel saved Jerusalem by striking down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers... after which Hezekiah apparently bribed Sennacherib to leave out of pity. Other examples abound. It wouldn't be unfair to suggest the stones raining down from Heaven in this story are a complete fabrication. It certainly wouldn't be unfair to suggest that they're just embellished hailstones, taken as a sign.

5:13. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is this not written in the book of Jashar?

Creation.com has done its homework on other cultures' versions of this famous miracle, while of course remaining predictably certain that the Book of Joshua's version is the true account. I'll quote it here:

"[Many] cultures have legends that seem to be based on this event. For example, there is a Greek myth of Apollo’s son, Phaethon, who disrupted the sun’s course for a day... In fact, the New Zealand Maori people have a myth about how their hero Maui slowed the sun before it rose, while the Mexican Annals of Cuauhtitlan (the history of the empire of Culhuacan and Mexico) records a night that continued for an extended time... It should also be noted that the Amorites were sun and moon worshippers."

I'd append to the last sentence of the above paragraph: "Like everyone else." Sun worship is so prevalent a feature of ancient religion that it's almost not worth noting the Amorites practiced it.

It's even found in the religion of the Hebrews, in this very story. Joshua's demand of the celestial bodies to freeze takes the form of a poetic couplet in the midst of a story otherwise composed of prose, which is about as big a hint as there can be that Joshua's words pre-date the story around them. Divorced of its context the quotation suggests itself to be a pagan incantation, famous saying, or both; the exact words of miracle workers, including Jesus, were often repeated verbatim by magicians in an attempt to achieve the same results. The couplet can also be taken as Exhibit B in the case that Joshua as a character pre-dates his Biblical incarnation (see Joshua 1 in this series).

Concerning the "book of Jashar" (also spelled "Jasher") mentioned in 5:13: while many think the book is the source for this story and simply no longer exists, Orthodox Judaism identifies it as another name for the Torah.

5:14. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

The writer of the Book of Judah now has to cover for the fact that he just quoted a man's successful ordering around of the sun and moon: really, of course, God did it.

Whew. I knew this was going to be a long entry. I got to get to bed.

NEXT TIME: We continue our daringly sequential exegetical escapade with Chapter 11.

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.


Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

Joshua 9 (Gibeonites)

Pencil and ink drawing of a meeting

And welcome back to this week's final installment of the Internet's greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best his limited education allows. He encourages you to read the Good Book with him, because his time's too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

9:6 And [the Gibeonites] went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel: "We have come from a distant land, and now make a covenant with us."

Notice that the Israelites consider a promise made to someone to be binding, even if that person lied to obtain it. Oaths, blessings, and curses were powerful and irrevocable things in antiquity. Their importance is why one of the Ten Commandments is to "not take the LORD's name in vain", as the King James Version famously puts it. The commandment is warning you that it's a sin to say something like "I swear by God in Heaven that I will repay you next Tuesday" and then break your word.

"Wait! Wait! Back up! Who were the Gibeonites?" you ask. Well, they were, quite simply, the people who lived in the city of Gibeon, much as New Yorkers are people who live in New York. Ethnically-speaking, they were apparently Hivites.

"And who are the Hivites?" you implacably inquire.

I hate it when you ask questions I can't answer. But at least in this case nobody can. Out of the seven different nations living in Canaan at the time of Joshua's invasion, the Hivites are the most obscure. The only detail known about them is that they were uncircumcised, which seems to me like a highly personal thing to know about folks who are otherwise completely mysterious to you.

At least why they're mentioned in the Book of Joshua is easier to figure out. Whoever the Gibeonites were and whatever happened to them, they clearly still lived in Canaan at the time the Book of Joshua was written. The writers of the Book of Joshua needed to explain their presence.

Remember the writers' goal and you'll understand the problem: the story of Joshua was written to help unite all the people of Israel and Judah against their conquerors, the Assyrians. First, it tells the inspiring story of an Israelite general taking over the Promised Land. Joshua and his army are meant to serve as an example for everyone to follow. Second, the Book of Joshua shows Joshua dividing the Promised Land among the twelve tribes of Israel. It reminded the Jews, as it still does today, that they were one people, not many, and that the whole land belonged to them, so they had a right and even a God-given duty to kick out foreigners.

But if that was true, who were these Gibeonite people? Everyone knew this un-assimilated minority had been living in Canaan for practically forever. They weren't children of Abraham, that was for sure; just look at their yoohoos.

Chapter 9 of the Book of Joshua answers this question with a story so convenient and racist that it's practically impossible to accept at face-value: they were so scared of us when we arrived that they tricked us into letting them live, then promised to be our gofers. Especially considering the importance that the ancient Israelites placed on one's heritage, the writers' message is equally transparent: the Gibeonites of today are also cowards and should still be our gofers.

Still, if I were a Gibeonite I would count myself lucky. After all, the writers of Genesis explained Moab and Ammon to be what happens when girls sleep with their fathers.

By the way, there is a modern city of Gibeon - "New Gibeon" now - but it's full of Jews, not Hivites. It's small because it was only resettled in 1977 and because you have to be brave/crazy to live there; it lies in the Arab territory now known as the West Bank / Judea and Samaria Area. Here's a picture:

Picture of the landscape and town.

Have a good weekend!

NEXT TIME: Chapter 10! Duh!

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Joshua 7-8 Joshua 5-6 Joshua 2-4 Joshua 1

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Joshua 7-8 (Casting lots, Mt. Ebal)

Picture of dice on a lotto card.

Uh oh, there's a lot to cover here. We'd better jump right into it.

When last we left our hero (as my old O.T. professor always likes to say), Joshua has successfully destroyed the city of Jericho and now has his eye set on its neighbor, Ai.

7:2. And Joshua sent men from Jericho, to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Beth-el, and spoke to them saying, Go up and spy out the land. And the men went up and spied out Ai.

7:3. And they returned to Joshua, and said to him, Do not let all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; do not trouble all the people there; for they are but few.

We're starting to get a sense of Joshua's M.O. here: always start by sending spies to check out the enemy's defenses.

In this case, the spies' report is meant to make the Israelites' upcoming defeat even more humiliating. The town of Ai is not a tough target. Joshua shouldn't need to send more than a sliver of his army to take it.

  1. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty-six men; and they chased them from before the gate to Shebarim, and smote them in the descent; and the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.

The men of Ai whup the ever-loving bejeezus out of Joshua's men, chasing them all the way back down the hill (most cities were built on top of hills back then so that they could be more easily defended). Notice that despite suffering total defeat, the Israelite force of three thousand men only suffers thirty-six casualties.

There are several ways to explain that strangely low figure. First, you could just accept that war is a strange art and sometimes you get these results. For instance, in the famous Battle of Trenton, George Washington attacked 1,500 Hessian soldiers with 2,400 men, but only two American soldiers and twenty-two Hessians died in the fighting. Second, you could take this as evidence that the number of Israelites listed in the Bible is heavily inflated (which is true, as I've previously discussed), since thirty-six is only a realistic number of deaths if there were far fewer participants.

7.1. And the children of Israel committed a trespass in the consecrated thing, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the consecrated thing; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel. (Joshua 7.1)

Notice the collectivist mindset of the ancients here: one soldier angers the LORD by taking home some of the nice things the Israelites find in Jericho, but this verse accuses all of "the children of Israel" - and an apparently like-minded God punishes the entire army. The sin of the individual is the sin of the community. You are indeed your brother's keeper.

7.14. [God says:] In the morning, therefore, you shall be brought near according to your tribes; and it shall be, that the tribe which the Lord takes shall come near by families; and the family which the Lord takes shall come near by households; and the household which the Lord takes shall come near man by man.

This is a very unclear verse, perhaps purposefully so; a later redactor of the text might have been embarrassed by the method which the Israelites use here and purposefully obscured it. What happens is that the priests cast lots - basically, roll dice - in order to figure out who is guilty. Probably they are specifically using Urimm and Thummim a holy pair of divination stones in the possession of the high priest. These particular stones are the Israelites' primary means of communicating with God after Moses dies: Joshua asks what he should do next and the high priest pulls out the stones to find out.

So: first the high priest rolls to see which tribe is at fault (Judah), then he rolls to see which family of that tribe is at fault (the Zarhites), then he rolls to see which household in that family is at fault (Zabdi), and finally he rolls to see which of Zabdi's people is at fault (Achan, Zabdi's grandson), after which Achan (whose name basically means "trouble-maker") confesses.

If this doesn't sound very different from seeking the advice of someone who gazes into crystal balls or reads tea leaves, well, let's face it: it's not.

7:25. And Joshua said, Why have you troubled us? The Lord shall trouble you this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, [after] they [had] stoned them with stones.

A friend (actually he's more of an enemy, but we keep in touch) who has visited Israel and who majored in Religion tells me that the Hebrews usually didn't throw rocks at somebody until they died; that might take too long. Instead they brought the criminal to a cliff and then stoned him until he fell. Since the tribesmen of Judah (which wrote most of the Tanakh) mainly lived in the mountains, they had plenty of cliffs available.

I'm going to skip most of chapter 8 because while it's fun stuff, it's also pretty self-explanatory. God is happy with Israel again, so Joshua conquers Ai, and this time everyone keeps their hands in their pockets.

8:30. Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel on Mount Ebal.

8:31. As Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, upon which no (man) has lifted up any iron. And they offered upon it burnt-offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace-offerings.

8:32. And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.

8:33. And all Israel, and their elders and officers and their judges, stood on this side of the Ark and on that side, before the priests the Levites, the bearers of the Ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as the native born, half of them over against Mount Gerizim and half of them over against Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded, to bless the people of Israel first.

8:34. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the Torah.

This scene may seem familiar to you. In the Book of Deuteronomy, a still-living Moses orders the people of Israel to perform this ritual after they enter the Promised Land. The Book of Joshua's record of the people doing so is actually considered the older account by scholars, however; that is, the story of the Israelities performing the ritual is older than the story of Moses telling them to do it.

Both stories may actually be incorrect, though. The Samaritan version of the Torah says that Mount Gerizim - the other mountain that the tribes stand on - is the original site of the altar, as well as the place God has truly designed for His worship. This disagreement may be why both mountains are used, but blessings are pronounced from Ebal and curses from Gerizim: the writers of Dueteronomy and Jonah, southerners who would have disagreed with the Samarians, are trying to bring northern and southern Hebrews together while still subtly asserting their chosen mountain's superiority.

Here's a picture of both Ebal and Gerizim:

Picture of the landscape where Gerizim was.

On the archaeology side of things, a structure which may well be an altar has been discovered on Mount Ebal. The only problem is it's facing the wrong direction - away from Mount Gerizim, north instead of south. Wikipedia says that "the excavating archaeologist proposed that this could be resolved by identifying a mountain to the north as Gerizim rather than the usual location, [but] the suggestion was ridiculed by both the Samaritans, who found it offensive to move the centre of their religion, and by other scholars and archaeologists."

So take from all that what you will.


As usual, all Biblical quotations are from the Tanach published by Judaica Press, courtesy of Chabad.org.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Joshua 5-6 Joshua 2-4 Joshua 1

Joshua 5-6 (Jericho)

A sea of rabbis

Above: Family photo! Brooklyn, NY. 2007.

The version of the Hebrew Bible we will use today is once again brought to you by Chabad.org, the website of our favorite Hasids, the Chabadniks (pictured above). They should all live and be well.

Let's see what their ancestors are doing in the Book of Joshua, chapter 5.

5.13. And it was when Joshua was in Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and saw, and, behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand; and Joshua went to him, and said to him, Are you for us, or for our adversaries?

5.14. And he said, No, but I am the the captain of the host of the Lord; I have now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and prostrated himself, and said to him, What does my lord say to his servant?

5.15. And the captain of the Lord's host said to Joshua, Remove your shoe from your foot; for the place upon which you stand is holy. And Joshua did so.

When reading this passage, I always assumed "the Lord's host" is a reference to God's army of angels. Rashi, however, is convinced that "the Lord's host" is a reference to Israel, and on reflection he's more likely to be right. I think he and other religious Jews are almost certainly wrong, however, in identifying the captain as the archangel Michael; Michael's name doesn't pop up in the Tanakh until the Book of Daniel, which means he probably didn't have a place in Jewish mythology until the Exile.

This should go without saying, but the captain's not Jesus, either.

And naturally, that means the Mormon idea that the captain is both Jesus and Michael is right out.

No - the captain is God Himself. Notice that Joshua is told by the captain to remove his shoes, just as Moses was once told. Notice also that Joshua prostrates himself before the captain; the Jews who edited the Book of Joshua were fierce monotheists and never would have allowed this scene to remain if they thought Joshua was bowing to anyone but the LORD.

The Walls of Jericho

Picture of Jericho's walls today.

Above: The ruins of Jericho's walls. Cool, huh?

6.2. And the Lord said to Joshua, See, I have given into your hand Jericho and its king, the mighty warriors.

6.3. And you shall circle the city, all the men of war, go round about the city once. Thus shall you do six days.

6.4. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark; and on the seventh day you shall encircle the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.

6.5. And it shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down in its place and the people shall go up, every man opposite him.

Jericho's walls really did fall and the city was indeed destroyed, but not by Joshua; the city was burnt down roughly 150 years before the Bible's dating of the Israelite invasion. Joshua would have arrived to find the city abandoned. Jericho's sudden, violent ruin was more likely a famous story which the writers of the Book of Joshua attached to Joshua's conquest.

But wait! Don't get too depressed! There is indeed evidence of attacks from across the Jordan River in the fifteenth century by "shashu (Egyptian for wanderers) of YHW", whom the Egyptians list in their records as one of their many enemies. Anson Rainey of the Biblical Archaeology Review writes in an online article:

"A text in the hypostyle hall at Karnak that can be dated quite precisely to 1291 B.C.E. (to the reign of Seti I) tells of shasu pastoralists on the mountain ridges of Canaan. They have no regard for the laws of the Egyptian palace. A similar text locates a clash with shasu in northern Sinai or the western Negev."

"These shasu were the main source of early hill-country settlements in Canaan that represent the Israelites’ settling down."

These nomadic shashu attacked cities in Canaan during the Late Bronze Age and eventually settled in the highlands where the nation of Judah arose, all in the right time period. That's pretty exciting, isn't it? Even more exciting, writes Israel Finkelstein in The Bible Unearthed, is the fact that when archaeologists dig through these settlements, there's one usually common discovery which they just can't seem to find: pig bones.

OK, enough historical fact-checking. Back to the story.

6:17. And the city shall be devoted; it, and all that is in it, to the Lord; only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that is with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

Notice the verb "devoted" basically means "kill/burn". We're talking about violent blood sacrifices here to the LORD, not only of animals and treasure but of people. The real difference between sacrifices to Yahweh and other gods isn't that Yahweh doesn't demand human flesh, but that the Israelites only have to kill enemies and not their own people. This is because of the Israelite system of redemption. Instead of having your firstborn son sacrificed on the altar of the Tabernacle, you're allowed by Yahweh to redeem (that is, buy back from Him) the child with a dove or bull. The Bible's first example of this substitution system is when Abraham receives a ram with which to replace Isaac.

Aaaaaand I think that'll do for today.


Joshua 2-4 (Crossing the Jordan, Rahab)

Picture of the River Jordan

Above: The River Jordan in all her glory.

Hm. I left my JPS Tanakh at home today and the only JPS version of the Jewish Bible I can find online is the 1917 release. Well, let's try using Judaica Press's version today, helpfully available on Chabad.org. It could be fun, since it comes with Rashi's commentary, one of those rabbis who never met a question about the Bible for which he couldn't bend over and pull out an answer.

2:1. And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men out of Shittim to spy secretly, saying, Go see the land and Jericho. And they went, and came to the house of an innkeeper named Rahab, and they lay there.

According to Jewish tradition, the two spies are Phinehas and Caleb. In theory that can't be true, since only Caleb and Joshua survived the Israelites' forty years in the desert. Phinehas should have died with the last generation. However, he actually does appear later in the Book of Joshua and gets rewarded with his own mountain, so apparently he's not.

This first verse is a good example of what I mean about Rashi's commentary: while you might only take from the above verse that Joshua sent two spies, Rashi informs us that he specifically told the two spies that they should pretend to be either deaf-mutes or potters.

And ah, yes - Rahab. I once heard someone refer to her as "the original hooker with the heart of gold." What a thought: the storytelling tradition that climaxed in 1990 with Pretty Woman begins here.

What I only noticed while studying for this post was that her reputation as a prostitute may be undeserved. Let's read that verse again.

2:1. And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men out of Shittim to spy secretly, saying, Go see the land and Jericho. And they went, and came to the house of an innkeeper named Rahab, and they lay there.

Who knew? The word for "prostitute" in Hebrew is apparently similar to - or even the same as - the word for "innkeeper". I'll bet that's gotten a lot of Hebrew men in trouble over the years.

JOSEPH: Finally! We've made it to Bethlehem. You stay here, Mary. I'll go find a prostitute.

MARY: At least you've finally admitted you see them. I knew you couldn't deal with this.

It's nice to see that the translators at Judaica Press give Rahab the benefit of the doubt.

Jewish tradition also says that Rahab not only gets to live as a reward for helping the Hebrew spies, but also gets to marry Joshua.

3:17. And the priests that bore the Ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm arranged on the dry land in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel passed over on dry ground, until the whole nation had completely passed over the Jordan.

In chapter 3, God repeats the miracle He did for the last generation, parting the waters of the Jordan River for Joshua's forces. The miracles in which God parts the waters are probably His most important ones in the Bible because of their symbolism. They represent God's greatest power and recall the story of Creation.

...the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. (Genesis/Bereshit 1:2)

To understand why there is water in the world before God has created anything, you need to know about other stories of how the world was created, specifically the Sumerian and Babylonian myths (remember, Abram's father Terah is from the city of Ur, which lies in that part of the world). In many mythologies but specifically these Middle-Eastern ones, water represents chaos and disorder; it has existed forever, like we think of outer space existing now. The gods make the world by creating order out of that chaotic, immortal substance. For instance, in Babylonian mythology the god Marduk creates the world by killing the ocean goddess Tiamat and splitting her in half.

In Genesis, God creates the world in a similar way (after He finishes turning on the lights so He can see what He's doing), creating space in which to work by parting the waters. His parting of a sea (or lake, or whatever) in Exodus and a river in Joshua are reminders to that.

OK, that's Joshua 2-4. Here, by the way, is a map showing where all of this is happening:

Map showing geography around River Jordan

You can see Jericho, but Abel-Shittim's too small to be on this map. The Jordan River is the blue river feeding the Dead Sea from the north. The Israelites cross more or less directly east of Jericho.

While today's archaeologists dismiss a lot of the Biblical account, almost all of the ones I've read do agree that the Israelites came to settle Canaan through its eastern border, so I think the Book of Joshua does get its geography right here.


Joshua Chapter 1

Picture of a statue of Dagon

Like many other books of the "Old Testament", Joshua is grouped differently in the Hebrew canon; it's considered the first book of the Prophets. The best bet is that the earliest recognizable version of this book was prepared by the scribes of either King Hezekiah of Judah or his descendant King Josiah. They wrote it because their king wanted to reunite all of Israel under Jerusalem's rule. The story of Joshua conquering Canaan was the perfect story with which to inspire the people, to convince them that the LORD would bless Judah's liberating Canaan from the Assyrians if only they would believe and be faithful.

I should just go ahead and say it now: from what archaeologists have discovered, Joshua's invasion of Canaan can't possibly have really occurred - any of it, at all. Egypt actually ruled Canaan during the traditional time period (the Late Bronze Age) in which the Israelites are supposed to have invaded. None of the less traditional ideas about when the Israelites might have attacked work either, for various reasons.

More than that, details like the number of Israelites with Joshua (Numbers 1:26) are transparently untrue. The tribe of Judah, for instance, is listed as contributing almost 75,000 soldiers to the Israelite army, but archaeologists can't find evidence in the land it settled for a larger population than 12,000. For another comparison, consider this: Rome is known to be the first city to ever reach a population of one million people, which it did over a thousand years after Joshua's day - but a conservative estimate of the Israelite "camp" under Joshua would have to at least exceed 3 million. For the Late Bronze Age, that's just crazy talk.

But not necessarily for scribes living five hundred years later, who might at least have imagined such fantastic numbers. And the reason why we can finger those later priests of Judah as the writers of Joshua is because the Canaan which Joshua is depicted conquering corresponds nicely with Canaan as the priests would have known it in the time.


  • The Book of Joshua was written in the 700-600s B.C.

  • It was written to serve as an example to the people, so they would support the king of Judah's plans to overthrow the Assyrians and unite Israel. The people who read the book were supposed to see their current king as a new Joshua and themselves as God's new army.

It's quite possible a lot of events written about in the Book of Joshua really happened, but probably not in the context in which they're presented.

Alright, that's it for preliminary discussion. Let's move onto the content.

1:1 Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister...

The most interesting thing about Joshua, from a biologist's perspective, is how he could have a fish for a father.

Because apparently he did: "Nun" means "fish" in Aramaic (it's not a Hebrew word). And while the Israelites often gave their children strange names, "fish" is still too odd to be one of them.

Most scholars don't find that interesting, but at least one of them does: Dr. Robert M. Price wonders if Joshua, clearly a famous figure in ancient Canaan, originally had no place in the Israelite genealogies at all, but was once instead a legendary half-god, half-human warrior like Hercules or Achilles. His father would have been one of the elohim of the waters, someone like (but not) the Philistine sea god Dagon (pictured above).

According to this theory, the Israelites retooled Joshua's legend after they switched from polytheism to henotheism (and from henotheism to monotheism): Joshua became simply a hero and nobody paid any attention to his father, who was presumed to just be some poor jerk who spent most of his life as a slave in Egypt.

This theory also explains the miracles that God performs for Joshua: originally, Joshua performs the miracles himself.

The rest of Joshua 1 isn't very interesting, just Joshua giving Team Israel a pep talk before the big game, so we'll stop here. Hope you had fun.

NEXT: Joshua, Chapter 2. Maybe.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Joshua 9 Joshua 7-8 Joshua 5-6 Joshua 2-4

A Combined View of the Crucifixion and Resurrection

The four Biblical gospels tell the story of Jesus' life in different ways, presenting events in varying orders, and sometimes even disagreeing about what events to include and exclude. Justin Taylor, with help from the ESV Study Bible, prepared a harmony/chronology of what happened during the week before Jesus' crucifixion.

I haven't read through this yet, but I intend to.

John Piper and Rick Warren

There was a kerkuffle in the blogosphere a few weeks ago, over John Piper's decision to invite Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God National Conference, later this year.

There are quite a few people who think that Pastor Piper made an unwise decision, by associating himself with Pastor Warren. And, I'm sure there are quite a few people who think that there's absolutely no reason not to associate with Rick Warren. So, here are some resources to shed some light on the situation.

I report, you decide. But my own position is close to what Doug Wilson says.

This entry was tagged. John Piper Rick Warren

What's in a name? (The Bible's characters)

Another large hint that many of the Bible's stories are fictional can be found in the names of their characters.

The example I run across most often are Mahlon and Chilion, the doomed husbands of Ruth and her sister-in-law in the widely-misunderstood Book of Ruth; the reader is tipped off in advance to their coming fates by the fact that their names respectively mean "sick" and "wasting away".

But other suspiciously clever monikers abound, in the New Testament as well as the old:

Zacchaeus, the tax collector who offers so much money to the poor, has a name which at its root means "to give alms".

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, is appropriately-named "ruler of the people" (talk about a case of your parents having your life planned out for you, huh?).

One would only have to be introduced to Martha to know that she is the "lady of the house".

And Judas Iscariot has three equally-possible (to some) translations. One is that he was an Edomite, the same red-haired, good-for-nothing race as Herod. The second and third translations are "assassin" (a particular sort, too, but I won't get into it here) and "traitor".

The most fascinating and tantalizing sobriquet, however, which I've stumbled on in my recent studies (comprised mainly of Dr. Price's The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and Jack Miles's God and Christ), is that of Thomas.

Like Moses, Thomas is a name that has clearly undergone some surgery. It was the Greek name for the sign of Gemini, which is to say that it means "twin", but that of course isn't a real name. "He would have been called So-And-So the Twin" (Price). But withal the So-And-So? And isn't it strange that a man would simply be referred to as "the Twin"? One imagines he must have had a pretty famous brother or sister.

You see this coming, don't you?

Multiple traditions (and possibly some manuscripts of the canon, though I don't have a source for that to reference at the moment, so just disbelieve me there) have it that Thomas's full name was Judas Thomas - and Judas is one of the brothers of Jesus listed in the canonical gospels. While by no means proven, it certainly isn't a stretch to imagine the Catholic Church deciding to start snipping away at the connection once its emerging orthodoxy began to demand a sole, virgin birth by an eternally virginal Mary - and a time-honored way to lie without, y'know, actually saying anything factually untrue is just to withhold certain information. The issue could be buried well enough simply by ceasing to identify Thomas's twin.

To me, a mind-blowing thought, even if unsubstantiated.

And I hope you're grateful for it, 'cause I don't have internet access in my apartment right now and this post has cost me nearly 3000 won to type at the local internet cafe.

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Did Jesus do miracles?

"Then some of the scribes and pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." He said to them in reply, "An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the Sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights." (Matthew 12: 38-40)

It's been a good, long while since I published any anti-Christian screed on this site. I feel inspired to do so today because this morning - and I want you to know I am not making this up - Atheist Me led the daily devotional for my school's students. Their pastor couldn't get out of his driveway and needed a fill-in.

In case you're wondering, no: even for a man who refuses to step foot in a worship service these days and would on principle never tell a child that Jesus is alive, much less loves him or her, it was pretty easygoing. I simply asked one of the older kids to lead the rest in prayer and then chose as our subject a parable from the Gospel of Luke which I do find valuable - in this particular case, the tale of the good Samaritan.

And to digress from this post's point, I find that this story - and indeed many stories from the Tanakh set after the reign of Solomon - have special resonance for Koreans (my students are all Korean), since these tales are set at a time when Israel is divided in twain and the northern segment of the population is considered to have gone seriously astray. In fact I like to bring home the point by reintroducing them to the tale by retelling it with new principal actors. That is, I tell them about a Korean man who gets mugged and passed over by a pastor and a missionary before being saved by a North Korean communist. In the future I plan to do the same wherever I go, should I have the opportunity: have Tutsis saved by Hutus, Jews by Muslim Palestinians, etc. I think it's the only way to restore the desired effect of a passage that has long since lost any relevancy.

OK, then: screed time.

Matthew 12:38-40 is a pretty major smoking gun that a lot of the Gospel accounts of Jesus need to be taken with more than a grain or two of salt. Far more people - even almost everybody - should notice it, but since reading the Bible is for most an act of worship rather than an exercise in critical thinking, and one written in an alien style that easily disorients the modern reader, neither the demands of Jesus' enemies or Jesus' own reply seem as bizarre as they should. Their conversation really should go something like this:

PHARISEES: Teacher, give us a sign!

JESUS: Oh, for the last - Huh?

SCRIBES: Show us a miracle so that we'll believe you!

JESUS: Forget it! Thirteen verses ago I was healing people left and right and your type accused me of witchcraft!

PHARISEES: Well... Do one now and we'll believe you.

JESUS: No. In fact, the only miracle I'm going to show this wicked generation is the Sign of Jonah.

LAME PERSON: That's it?

JESUS: Yes. That's the only one. Sorry.

LAME PERSON: But you healed Matthathias down the street of his leprosy. And Rachel of her epilepsy. And... A ton of other people.

JESUS: OK, OK, I'll heal you too. Just pipe down.

Clearly we've got some editorial funny business going on here; the passage simply doesn't make sense in its context. But then whence came it? Since the Gospel of Mark doesn't include it and both the other Synoptic Gospels do (and choose for its inclusion different places in the narrative) a decent educated guess is that it's a quotation out of "Q", the mysterious, missing wellspring from which the first three Gospels all seem to draw.

A'right, then: it's a quotation of Jesus, probably pulled from a list of them, that both Matthew and Luke noted and felt should be included. Yet, what about the content of the quotation itself? First we should note that the quote itself varies according to the gospel in which it is read, meaning either Matthew, Luke, both, or subsequent editors chose to add their own touch what Jesus was saying in this passage. Luke's adds more quotes from Jesus after it (the original, stand-alone quote at most included "An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the Sign of Jonah the prophet") clearly peg the sign of Jonah to be simply Jonah's preaching. Someone who had his hand in Matthew, however, appears to have decided that Jesus was foreshadowing here (which in the context of Gospel of Matthew is not unreasonable, less so otherwise). Rather than let the Lord's sly allusion slip by any less savvy readers, he's written in J.C. simply spelling it out.

Second, we note that for all the clarification Matthew's (first? second?) author has added, we're still left with the quandary of why the Pharisees and scribes are asking Jesus for miracles - perhaps the gospel writers simply should have placed this passage earlier in Jesus' ministry, before He started healing? - and why Jesus says He won't. What's the most logical explanation?

The author or editor of Matthew tries to solve the problem himself; unlike the less gilded lilly of Luke's gospel, in which Jesus clearly identifies the present generation as the wicked one of which He speaks, Matthew makes Jesus' targets more generic. In Matthew, Jesus is talking about any generation that wants proof of His authority. Very handily, this not only erases the contradiction but gives churches a verse with which to counterattack when people demand they prove they represent God with some good old-fashioned miracle-working. The preferable take for Christians, then - but also the less trustworthy, since Matthew is clearly messing with his inherited text elsewhere in even the same section.

I'll offer a different idea, using the principle of analogy and a particular comparison borrowed from the excellent book I'm reading by scholar Dr. Robert M. Price (The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man). Another would-be messiah named Sabbatai Zevi, who would unfortunately go on to really disappoint his followers by choosing to convert to Islam rather than be martyred, was said by the Jews to be working all sorts of wonders during his candidacy - despite he himself saying he wasn't up to do any. The nature of personality cults and mystic beliefs took its course regardless, with various people claiming they'd been the recipient of his healing touch or what have you. Just as today (the overwhelming desire of the Catholic population to see Mother Theresa canonized has resulted in multiple, often embarrassing claims, such as that the visible glare of light in a photo of her is actually a heavenly radiance), people found magic where they wanted to find it.

Maybe Jesus' followers were likewise far more responsible for His miracles, even in the face of His own knowledge and declarations that He would not perform them (He fails at one point in Mark to do any miracles, ostensibly because the people in that location have no faith). Their imagination and experiences accomplished what Jesus Himself refused to do. Their reports are what is chronicled in the Gospels.

I think the taste from this morning is out of my mouth now.

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Political and Economic Wrangling Over the Pentateuch

It wouldn't surprise me a bit to learn that Adam already knows about this theory. But it was news to me and fairly fascinating to boot.

I just finished Richard Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? It's a classic popularization of the Documentary Hypothesis, which claims that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is actually a medley of four earlier sources called J (the Yahwist), E (the Elohist), D (the Deuteronomist), and P (the Priestly source). Friedman's survey of two centuries of Biblical detective work is quite fascinating. What truly shocked me, however, was learning that a bunch of liberal theologians converged on a vulgar Public Choice theory of the evolution of their most sacred book.

Friedman begins by explaining that J and E are the earliest sources. The most obvious difference between the two is that J always calls God "Yahweh," while E initially calls him "Elohim." But it's the non-obvious differences that are telling. He presents strong evidence that the author of J came from Judah, the southern Jewish kingdom, while the author of E came from Israel, the northern Jewish kingdom. J elevates Aaron and slights Moses; E does the opposite.

What's going on? Friedman explains that these two countries had conflicting religious establishments. Those in the north - or at least a major faction - were Mushite (claiming descent from Moses); those in the south were Aaronite (claiming descent from Aaron). Through this lens, J and E turn out to be thinly-veiled bids for money and power. Here's one example of how E tries to push Mushite interests:

Recall that the [Mushite] priests of Shiloh suffered the loss of their place in the priestly hierarchy under King Solomon. Their chief... was expelled from Jerusalem. The other chief priest... who was regarded as a descendant of Aaron, meanwhile remained in power... The Shiloh prophet Ahijah instigated the northern tribes' secession, and he designated Jeroboam as the northern king. The Shiloh priests' hopes for the new kingdom, however, were frustrated when Jeroboam established the golden calf religious centers at Dan and Beth-El, and he did not appoint them as priests there. For this old family of priests, what should have been a time of liberation had been turned into a religious betrayal. The symbol of their exclusion in Israel was the golden calves. The symbol of their exclusion in Judah was Aaron. Someone from that family, the author of E, wrote a story that said that soon after the Israelites' liberation from slavery, they committed heresy. What was the heresy? They worshipped a golden calf! Who made the golden calf? Aaron! [emphasis original]

--The Public Choice of the Ancient Hebrews, Bryan Caplan

You may want to click through to EconLog to read the rest of Bryan's summarization. It's all fascinating.

This discovery illuminates my paradigms

I've been using the handy word "paradigm" fairly often regularly, I thought because it's a concise description of what I've found so interesting: the processes through which we've come to think, which often enough as part of their function exclude important information.

Until I was reading through a list of theological terms (one of the first sites to come up on Google when you search for theological terminology) and found this:

paradigm (Greek) Meaning a pattern, example or model. An overworked and overused word that is part of the vocabulary of individuals attempting to boost their sense of importance in the eyes of other persons. The word is used as "new paradigm" and "paradigm shift". It is used extensively by New Age writers and speakers and by the new breed of hyper-Charismatics and Dominion Theology believers to indicate that they believe a new mode of operation and thinking is in order.

I think I could rewrite the entry with a little less liberal wordiness ("paradigm (Greek) - A word used by bastards"), but still: ow. Cut to the quick.

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That Liberal Bible

buddy christ_4ea27_0

So this week I've been ragging a lot on the new Conservative Bible Project going on over at Conservapedia. Just 'cause it's, uh, y'know... stupid.

Yet confirmation bias, lack of perspective, and baseless theology certainly aren't phenomenas found solely on the Right end of the political spectrum. And to remind us all of that, today I present to you the website Jesus Is A Liberal, the creators of which want you to know:

"We believe it is high time someone stand up for the Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant and Independent thinking majority's position that any plain reading of His words, any genuine interpretation of His intent, outline a Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant, Loving [sic] and holistic world view... Our Mission is to promote the Integral Koan (TM), holistic meme, and the original belief and understanding that Jesus IS a Liberal, and to their very core His teachings outline a Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant, Loving, open minded, holistic, and sustainable vision for our World.

I tried to look up what a koan is, as well as how one might be trademarked, but according to a Buddhist priest "a koan can't be answered or understood by the intellect." Which explains the website perfectly, really.

Unlike the Conservative Bible Project, this website is now inactive - and curiously so, since it had obtained a modicum of success selling bumper stickers and t-shirts. Its Articles section advertises new updates coming your way in June of '07.

Still, as a monument to paradigm-shackled thought processes it remains exemplary, so have fun checking it out.

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The Conservative Bible Project II

Because one way to regularly update a blog is to shoot fish in a barrel, today we continue our look at the development of a Republican Study Bible (because may we just be honest? While the project is officially entitled the "Conservative Bible Project", "conservative" is a term that's changed its meaning several times just in the last century. "Republican" is much more accurate), now underway at Conservapedia.

From the Project's website, we learn:

Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the "social justice" movement among Christians. For example, the conservative word "volunteer" is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word "comrade" is used three times, "laborer(s)" is used 13 times, "labored" 15 times, and "fellow" (as in "fellow worker") is used 55 times.

Now as someone with a B.A. in English and an interest in politics, I've always found the propaganda potential in word choice very real and interesting. Still, I'm unconvinced words like "laborer" and "worker" are so much Leftist vocab as they are common words that Leftists have simply run into the ground.

But hey, who knows? Maybe better alternatives do exist - so out of curiosity I jumped onto Thesaurus.com to find a few synonyms they might prefer, then decided to try inserting them in a sample verse.

I chose 1 Timothy 5:18 (ESV): "The laborer deserves his wages." Clearly runs afoul of the CBP's standards, so let's see what we can do with it, shall we?

"The worker deserves his wages." Hmm. No, that's definitely no better, is it?

"The blue collar deserves his wages." Oof, no. Even worse. The United Auto Workers could put it on a poster.

"The drudge deserves his wages." Apolitical, but seems a little insulting. Looking down the list I also see "peon" and "grunt", neither of which I feel any better about.

"The farmhand deserves his wages." Too narrow.

"The stiff deserves his wages." Too on the nose.

"The wage-earner deserves his wages." Redundant?

"The migrant worker deserves his wages." Uncomfortably pro-immigration.

"The grunt deserves his wages." I told you they were further down the list.

"The manual worker deserves his wages." If we could only get rid of that darned 'w' word. Replace it with "technician", maybe - but I suppose that would be what the Conservative Bible Project calls "liberal wordiness".

"The jobholder deserves his wages." OK, this is technically perfect, but doesn't it sound like it came out of the company manual instead of God's Word? Ditto for "staff member" and the like. I just want something with a bit more soul.

Shoot. Well, I've been through most of the modern synonyms the online thesaurus has to offer, and I haven't found any I think would really communicate the proper capitalist spirit in a striking fashion. I guess for me the words "laborer" and "worker" are justified. Maybe the good folk at the Conservative Bible Project are a little more inventive than me, though.

Come to think of it, to believe what they do I guess they'd have to be.

This entry was tagged. Humor Jobs

The Conservative Bible Project

Oddly enough, I learned about the following endeavor from the latest Steve Grant column - who mainly writes about trends in comic books.

So: On the online Conservapedia you can now find a webpage dedicated to the new Conservative Bible Project, which seeks to remedy the fact that no current edition of the Bible exists on which a Republican president may swear and mean it.

The Project lists ten guidelines according to which it intends to re-interpret God's Holy Word, which must simply be reproduced in their entirety:

Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias

Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity

Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]. [Note: I never really understood why something being written simply makes it dumber.]

Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".

Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[5] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census. [Actually, I quite like this suggestion. Will they make it clear that the ancient Hebrews rolled dice to determine the will of God?]

Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil. [Sickos.]

Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning. [I didn't make this one up. Go check the page. It's really there. I hope this project works out; I can't wait to see what they do with the God-given, quite socialist rules of ancient Israel in regard to private debt, alms, etc. Not to mention the early church having everything in common...]

Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story. [As an example, they cite Luke 23:34 - which was indeed apparently inserted later into the gospel. But blamin' this on liberalism is just laughable.]

Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels. [But will the translators be able to recognize it when they see it?]

Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God." [The ridiculousness of this particular charge should be self-evident. Writing styles break down across ideological lines, with taut writing being conservative. Amazing.]

Their webpage also includes suggestions as to how they might approach the job of interpreting on a practical level ("identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as 'government', and suggest more accurate substitutes").

At present it looks like the Project has either translated or is in the process of translating all of the New Testament, but has expectedly barely gotten anywhere with the Tanakh.

The deep irony here is that the men and women involved in this project are part of a tradition which they will deny exists to their very graves: even the earliest manuscripts are chock-full of verses which bear obvious signs of having been ever-so-slightly tampered with in order to buttress a particular ideology.

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Consigning Man to the Oven

Hitler and Holocaust comparisons are considered fairly gauche these days on account of their overuse.

Nevertheless, bear with me.

Imagine you’re a German in the 1930’s or early ‘40’s – nobody of particular consequence, but a lawful and ethnic citizen of das Deutschland. Turning on the radio one morning, you hear a typically bellicose and historically divergent Fuhrer publicly announce that any living man, woman, or child who is not a member of the Nationalist Socialist Party by the time Germany wins the war will be receiving a special gift from the government: a one-way ticket to the ovens of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Needless to say, you’re alarmed. Not for yourself, of course; you’ve been a member in good standing of the Third Reich’s sole political party since childhood, when you would go camping in the summers with all your friends in the Hitler Youth Corps. But you have friends, coworkers, and even family whom you love very much and of whom you think very highly, yet who have foolishly never decided that accepting Hitler as their leader is in their best interests.

Usually you greet every directive of the Fuhrer with implicit and joyful trust, but this time doubt wells in your heart. You understand why your Jewish neighbors had to go – they were, after all, constantly trying to sabotage the creation of the German utopia – but why all these other people?

You ask your friend Johann, who works for the Party and is schooled in the impeccable reasoning that underwrites all its actions; he’s always been able to clear up for you any idelogical concept you don’t quite grasp, so long as you aren’t actually challenging the government’s authority.

And it’s “Quite simple, really,” Johann tells you, an understanding smile on his face. “I grant you that it’s sad, but surely you’d agree that a socialist utopia can never occur if selfish capitalists and other undesirable elements are allowed to keep operating within it. They’d ruin everything. They must be weeded out.”

“Can’t we just force them to obey?” you ask hopefully.

Johann clucks his tongue. “And make them all slaves? The Fuhrer respects the free will of each citizen. He believes in personal freedom.”

“Then exile,” you desperately suggest. “The Fuhrer could banish them from Germany, yet he could also show mercy by allowing them to return once they realize the error of their ways!”

“An infinite amount of time to choose,” Johann patiently explains, “would render their judgment inconsequential. What does it matter what path one selects, if he may later instantly step onto the path he forewent? And furthermore, of what worth is an oath of loyalty, when victory has already been won? No, my friend, a line in the sand must be drawn, and the end of the war is the right place to do so. ”

He pats you on the shoulder. “Listen to me. I know how difficult this is for you. It is the same for me. I do not want any Germans to burn up in the ovens. That’s why I work so hard every day for the Interior Ministry of Propaganda – because I love my countrymen and want to convince as many of them as possible to accept Hitler as their own personal fuhrer. Now, if I may speak candidly and if you will be discreet, I will confess something to you: if I was the one in charge of the government, I would not have the strength of will to sign an order to eliminate so many. But I’m not the one in charge, nor should I be. Nor should you be, my friend, I think you will agree. So let us both just have faith in Adolf Hitler, that what he does is and always has been good and wise. He will not lead us astray.”

You nod, slowly but firmly. All of his points make sense, but it’s the last things Johann said which actually soothe the ache that had been developing in your heart: that you and he aren’t the ones responsible for doing this. It’s not in your hands. You’re both just two good people trying to save as many Germans as possible before the Fuhrer does what he must. And as for the Fuhrer’s role in all of this? Even if you don’t completely understand that, you should just have faith it’s all for the best.

Besides, it’s not like people who turns down membership aren’t choosing the ovens for themselves. If they are sentenced to death, it’ll be their own fault.

“Heil Hitler,” Johann ritually declares, bringing an end to your meeting.

“Heil Hitler,” you reply, and stand.


I’ve encountered another mainstream argument for the justness of Hell that I haven’t paraphrased in the above allegory. It’s a claim made by many of the largest websites on Christian apologetics: that people ultimately go to Hell because they literally prefer eternal torment to complete surrender to God.

It’s the only reason that still makes sense to me. But that’s because it’s the right decision - the one any brave enough person should make if confronted with a despot threatening genocide. To support a murderous regime is a monstrous evil in and of itself, even if yours is not the murdering hand. The German people of the 1930’s and ‘40’s certainly bore a collective guilt for following a man we now refer to as a gold standard of evil. Christians who believe in Hell and serve its creator bear the same.

On some level, I think most Christians now understand that, too, which is why in these more enlightened times popular interpretations of Hell have begun to soften, with references to fire, brimstone, and outer darkness being declared metaphorical or judiciously ignored. They speak instead of “eternal separation from God,” a softer fate parallel to my scenario’s suggestion of Hitler exiling non-Nazis.

That’s nonsense, but at least it’s an attempt, however underhanded, to rid themselves of the evil doctrine. The Christians I don’t understand are those who do not consider it incumbent upon themselves to address it at all. They piously punt, assuring all inquirers that while they don’t know God’s reason, it’s sure to be a good one – on its face a breathtakingly irresponsible decision.

Or they utilize excuses like those in my scenario, telling in that their obvious purpose is selfish. People who do feel better after Johann’s defense do so because their concerns have nothing to do with mercy; everything he says only addresses and absolves them and their god of culpability. And that is good enough for them.

The truly loving person would not be so satisfied. Indeed, you would think that the natural response of a Spirit-filled Christian, theoretically brimming with love for his or her fellow man, would be to either immediately commit to a lifetime of missions work or plunge headlong into abyssal depression, perhaps followed by alcoholism and drug abuse. Biblical precedents exist for both routes.

I would prefer a third option, however, that also has an example in God’s Supposed Word: that of Moses, the humblest man then alive, who nevertheless had the courage to say to his LORD on Mt. Sinai, “Please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written."

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Who is Dr. Ron Charles? (A warning to gullible people)



Just why is Minor Thoughts your #1 source for the latest news and discussion concerning embattled Christian archaeologist Dr. Ron Charles, and his book The Search ? Is it our incisive reporting on the subject? Our delicate handling of the larger issues raised in indicting a fellow believer for his suspicious claims? Or perhaps just our marked determination, ironically so similar to that of a Christian archaeologist, to not stop digging until the truth is uncovered?

Probably not, as we haven't even mentioned the dude on our blog for years now. But we wish you'd tell us, because our original, off-handed mention that the guy's book is suspicious is still receiving replies. And recently a Mr. Richard Peck, who's co-authored an article on the subject of the man for Personal Freedom Outreach's journal, has offered me his research for the purpose of debunking Ron's claims. Other respondents include Dr. Ron Charles himself.

Who, I might add, I am personally starting to feel a little sorry for. This politico-religious blog calling him names now actually comes up first when you search him out on Google. For the longest time his own RonCharles.com _came in second, and now I can't find it at all. Meaning _we're actually the only real publicity this man has: a side-mention slamming his book as not worth finishing a couple years ago. We should start a charity to hire him an SEO writer.

Perhaps this visible position we hold at least explains why some, like commenter Flor Hull, angrily accuse us of acting as "Satan's helpers" for being so "stupid and naive [as] to spend all your time just [trying] to prove one man wrong." They assume that Webmaster Joe and I actually became the thorn in Ron Charles's side we apparently are through some sort of effort.

Allow me to dissuade all interested parties of that illusion. Joe and I have barely even spoken about Ron Charles. And so little patience for nonsense do I possess these days that I've lacked the constitution to even read more than a couple pages of Ron Charles's life's work at a time, so I certainly haven't let him unduly distract me. A few years ago I simply opened The Search, on the recommendation of a friend from whom I thankfully borrowed it instead of wasting my own money, read several of its ridiculous statements - all written in an amateurish style that assured me the author does not possess a professor's education, regardless of the bio in the back - and then I put it back down. Out of a sense of civic duty I typed out a quick form letter of protest to the people at Final Frontiers dumb enough to hire such a person.

That's been the extent of my personal investment in the issue. Frankly, the Church and the religious world in general possesses no shortage of crackpots pedaling obviously ridiculous theories to the gullible - I just finished reading Tim LaHaye's (Left Behind) guide to the Book of Revelation, incidentally - and Ron's a pretty small fish, all things considered.

Yet the case was recently made to me that whereas I have often said that the only credible role of the blog-o-sphere is to provide commentary not currently available in the mainstream media, and whereas no resource currently exists on the internet for people at risk of being fooled by Ron Charles's absurd "findings", writing an actual article on the question of Ron Charles's book and creditability would provide an authentic service. After all, "small fish" are exactly what blogs are best at catching.

So I caved in, and I wrote this.

I thank Mr. Richard Peck and Personal Freedom Outreach, who graciously allowed me to use research from their own article on the matter ("The Search for the Real Dr. Ron Charles") from the July-September '08 issue of PFO's Quarterly Journal. If you want more information, go buy a copy.

Who is Dr. Ron Charles?

Ronal D. Charles is a man who has written a book about his personal search ("a culmination of more than 30 years of historical research") for information on Jesus Christ - aptly titled The Search. You can buy it on Amazon. Apparently some people do. As of this writing all of the reviewers have given it perfect scores, too, though at least some of these people are known to be personal friends of Mr. Charles.

When I received his book from a friend, I first opened it to its back page. Since I'd never heard of Ron Charles, I wanted to know who he was. Here was the information I found:

"Dr. Ron Charles is well qualified [sic] to write a book about the search for historical Jesus... [He has] a B.A. in Theology... an M.A. in Ancient History, an M.A. in Historical Theology, a Ph.D. in Ancient History, a Ph.D. in International Relations, and a Th.D. in Historical Theology... He serves on the Board of Directors for Pacific International University... as a member of the Board of Governors of Cambridge's Biographical and Historical Division, and has recently been a recipient of Cambridge's One Thousand Great Americas[sic] award. Dr. Charles has Mitten [sic - surely he means "mitted". What a multi-talented man!] six other books."

Note that I've just quoted only a little of The Search so far and have already had to note two mistakes. There are three paragraphs total within the "About the Author" section and they contain several more mistakes, run-on sentences and the like. For me, this is what immediately flagged Ron Charles's book as not to be trusted. Any man capable of earning doctorates in multiple subjects shouldn't write on a high school student's level. In fact, he almost certainly would be capable of getting his work published by a university press or other book publisher, instead of having to self-publish (not that I have anything against self-publishing - some great books have been self-published - but you should note when one is).

I didn't follow up on Ron Charles's biography then. I just flipped to the front of the book and began reading. But recently I've come back and taken a second look at this section, bothered to check a few of the credits listed. I'd never heard of Pacific International University but simply assumed it was a credible institution.

Not so. Pacific International University is apparently what's sometimes called a "diploma mill", according to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. No institution respectable enough to meet the standards of the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education considers P.I.C.'s degrees to be worth anything. In some states it would even be fraudulent to suggest so. Which makes one wonder how many of Ron Charles's degrees are from its printer or that of a similar (let's call it what it is) business.

Let me quench one's curiosity. Richard Peck's article for PFO's Quarterly Journal details at least three such degrees, all obtained via "home-correspondence courses" from Florida International University: a B.A. in Theology, a master's in Biblical History, and a doctorate in Biblical History. And all obtained within a three-year span! No easy feat, unless of course it was.

Richard Peck also notes many other degrees Ron Charles has allegedly claimed to hold, but which on review he doesn't: theological degrees from actual respected academies like Berean University, U. of Southwestern Louisiana, Kilgore College, and - get this - Cambridge University. No less than honorary PhDs from that last one too, though it's news across the pond.

If this is true, who is "Dr." Ron Charles? I certainly couldn't tell you, but apparently not someone "well qualified" to write a book about Jesus.

A Look Into Ron Charles's The Search

The shortcomings of its author aside, let's consider Ron Charles's magnum opus on its own merits. Now, I've admitted to having not read the entirety of The Search - just the first few chapters on several occasions and a few random selections from the tome's innards. Factor that as you will into your estimation of my opinion on it, but life is short and we are all stewards of the time we are given on Earth. I don't think reading all of The Search is good use of it. Nor do I really think it's necessary when what I have read of it is so dubious.

Ron Charles has written in our comment threads that "within the body and text of [The Search] I have identified each and every manuscript that I used. I name the museum, the university, or institution where the document can be found (in case someone wants to also research the documentation), the author, the date that it was written and exactly where it is located in the institution. I researched for over 30 years; traveling to over 50 countries in that research and it took me 3 years to write it."

(An aside: Whoa. Three years. That's as long as it takes to get three degrees!)

Poppycock. "Identified each and every manuscript that I used"? On pages 226-235 he claims to have discovered ancient scrolls in the possession of a mullah in Turkey, documents illuminating much about the wedding feast in Cana described within the Gospel of John, including who's wedding it actually was (Jesus' sister). After reading these scrolls with understandably breathless excitement - this is the kind of find deserving cover treatment by every Biblical archaeology magazine in print, the kind of find which makes a scholar's legacy - what does Ron do? Plead with the mullah to entrust the document to a museum? Photograph it? Return later with a renowned professor to authenticate it, followed by a team to excavate the area in which the scroll was found? Trade the mullah his scrolls for a briefcase of laundered cash? Surely something! After all, this is the sort of revelation that would bring a grinding halt to any previous investigation and consume all further attention.

Well, sorry to disappoint you. He leaves and The Search doesn't bother mentioning them again, even though these scrolls (if they really exist) are worth a few dozen dessertations in and of themselves. And where can a reader go and investigate these scrolls for himself? He or she can go to Amad's house in Hatay, Turkey, that's where. Or maybe it's "Amada's" house. I'm not sure because neither is Ron Charles. He can't seem to remember the name of the man with whom he shared this transformative experience. For half the story he spells it one way and half the time he spells it the other (for which I again do have sympathy, since I honestly make the same mistake on a regular basis. When I'm writing fiction).

Anyhow, the name's not important. If you want to find the man, you can identify him because he's the mullah of a mosque that, er... used to be named the Church of St. Barnabas. Ask around town 'til someone's eyes light up.

Another weakness of this story is worth mentioning for what it says about either the character of Ron Charles or the extent of his education: Ron's unquestioning acceptance of these long-lost sheepskin scrolls at face value. Even if the documents truly are real and are old, instead of fakes sold by a native to unsuspecting tourists, Ron's education should tell him that spurious additions to the story of Jesus' life were (and are) a dime-a-dozen. We have tons of ancient reports like these scrolls in the possession of universities, pretending to be evidence of new details about the life of the Christ. In fact, some of these fake additions have made it into the Bible itself (Did you know that the story of Jesus sparing the prostitute from stoning is nowhere to be found in our best and oldest manuscripts?).

But Ron Charles is a very trusting man. He leaves Amad's/Amada's house a true believer. "In one short afternoon," he writes on page 235, "I had learned that the wedding at Cana was probably Jesus' sister's wedding, Mary was the sponsor of the wedding, there were two different types of wine served, Mary's wine-order had been "short-changed," [sic] Jesus was responsible for giving a benediction at the wedding" and much, much more.

I am not so trusting a man. You, Dear Reader, should not be one either.

There are plenty of similar examples within The Search, if you care to read the other 600 pages. Experts you don't know authoritatively produce information of which respectable Bible professors I know have never heard. Untitled documents are found in libraries. Really, it's all not unlike The Da Vinci Code, only purporting to be real and without a set of antagonists nipping at Ron Charles's heels (though he's got 'em now). As with any fantasy, you read until you feel your suspension of disbelief break.

The Questions

Mine are obvious, so let's answer everyone else's.

In his comment on our original mention of him, Ron Charles asked me a question: "How does your opinion about the book translate into a personal evaluation of my character?"

It's really quite simple. A person can deduce a lot about the person who made a product from the product itself. When I read a book in which patently absurd claims are made without any back-up, I swiftly come to the conclusion that the man who produced it is not trustworthy.

He also protests: "What kind of con am I running? When I am in the USA I make people aware of the conditions of the persecuted Christians in the Muslim Middle East. Check with Final Frontiers, they are missing no money, I have not beat them out of anything. In fact, all funds that I make from my book and speaking goes to feed the persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Is that a con?"

If you're selling nonsense, yes it is, regardless of why you do it - and frankly, considering how untrustworthy his book is, I'm not willing to take Ron Charles' charity at face value either.

A gentleman named John Rose also made this pertinent inquiry: "Let me be clear with one thing at the very onset. 'IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE.' The people who are slandering Mr. Ron Charles should be aware of this. What are their own credentials to discredit Ron?"

The initial reply that comes to my mind is that I am actually "well qualified" to discredit Ron, having myself received a four-year degree at an accredited institution - but really, it's even more basic than that. I'm simply a person with a capacity for some level of critical analysis. If you're one too, you probably didn't need to read this article; you quickly noticed the problems with Ron Charles and his book, then moved on.

Many people don't have that ability, however. They're the ones on whom people like Ron Charles - or to throw out another example, Jason Gastrich - prey, and the Church is full of them, since most believers have almost by definition eschewed their critical faculties in favor of simply believing what they are told (consider their general willingness to believe the Gospel of Matthew correctly cites his Old Testament sources, when all any Christian has to do to see the writer is pulling a serious Michael Moore on them is flip to those parts of the Bible) Thus do hucksters flourish there, spinning tales of having discovered surviving dinosaurs in the Congo, the Ark in the Turkish mountains, the ovens of Nebuchadnezzar in the ruins of Babylon, or anything else. They know that most of their audience will believe without question, desperate as they are to have their world view corroborated by external evidence.

I know of what I speak. I can still remember the seminars to which my parents brought me when I was a junior Baptist in Norfolk. Boy, did I eat it up.

Which brings me back to one of our commenters' questions: when most Christians are so incurious about the truth, are we just what Flor Hull said? Are we stupid and naive for trying to prove one man wrong? After all, it's clear that Ron Charles and his kind are all symptoms of what's wrong with the body of Christ rather than what ails it.

Updates and Links

  • Jamaica Gleaner News has an interview with Ron Charles up on its website in which our dear evangelist is said to have discovered Noah's Ark - and as far back as 1991, no less. Strange that nobody's updated its Wikipedia entry yet.

  • Enjoyably, another webpage has Ron Charles debunking someone else's same claim.

  • A commenter has offered us the current webpage of Ron Charles. Here's the link. It's quite the brazen man who can declare his intent to "provide the highest quality of educational truth" to Third World peoples while on the same page lying that his books have hit the New York Times Bestseller List. Interestingly, he claims to be the author of not just The Search but also "many books on history, theology and archaeology, some [sic] have been on N.Y. Times best seller list." More drivel, or is anyone else aware of other books published by Ron Charles?

  • The Midland Reporter-Telegram's website MyWestTexas.com has a full article about Ron Charles in advance of his September 15th guest spot on God's Learning Channel (which was just last night, as of this writing). The story pimps Charles's Cubit Foundation and also has a slightly less absolute declaration by Charles about his relationship with Noah's Ark: “What we can say is there was an object up [on Mt. Ararat] made out of wood that fits the same dimensions as the Bible... It very well could be.”

  • Ron Charles is a "featured scholar" on Truths That Transform: A Reliable Source, a DVD that "provides myth-busting evidence which validates God's Word". Coral Ridge Ministries sells 'em here. One can only assume the product's subtitle refers to the Bible and not the documentary itself.


Charles, Ron. The Search. Bloomington, Ind.: 1st Books Library (AuthorHouse), 2007.

Richard Peck and G. Richard Fisher. "The Search for the Real Dr. Ron Charles." The Quarterly Journal. 28. 3 (2008): 5-8.

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The Earth is the Lord's

In Calvinism Continued, Adam argues that it's nonsense to suggest that all sin is really a sin against God.

A Christian might also suggest that all sins are sins against God, not men - but that is simply nonsense. Whosoever harms me, harms me (a better argument is the idea that God wants you to forgive as you were forgiven, but that proves a lack of need for blood). God is by all accounts undamaged. Indeed, the only crime against God must be simple, completely ineffective rebellion - which we must assume does not hurt God's feelings, because that would suggest we have some power over Him - and the idea that God can't put up with that suggests He's not merciful at all.

I disagree, for perfectly valid libertarian reasons. But to follow the logic, you'll have to temporarily assume that the Bible is what it claims to be: God's attempt to reveal who he is and what he's all about.


  1. God created the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
  2. God created man (Genesis 2:7-8)
  3. Ownership comes from mixing labor (John Locke)

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

Conclusion: God owns the earth and everything in the earth -- including us. Further conclusion: Because God owns us, he can do with us as he likes. He has, in fact, done so by giving us the Law and requiring us to obey it. I'd say that most of the Old Testament assumes this point of view.

Deuteronomy 10:12-14

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.

1 Samuel 2:8

He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.

1 Chronicles 29:11

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

Nehemiah 9:6

You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Psalm 24:1-4

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.

To repeat my argument: God created the world and everything in it, including us. Therefore, God owns us and is perfectly justified in doing with us as he likes. God has designed his world (his universe) to run according to certain laws. Every violation of those laws is a violation of the "natural order" of things and a rebellion against God. Rebellion is nothing more nor less than taking that which doesn't belong to you, namely power.

True, your sin of theft is between you and your victim. He's harmed by longer having that which once belonged to him. But your theft is a crime against God: you've also usurped his power to decide what is and isn't right. You've placed your own judgment and desires above his.

Jonathan Edwards makes the argument that punishment must be proportional to the degree of sin. He goes on to argue that sin is a crime against an infinite God and deserving of infinite punishment.

A crime is more or less heinous, according as we are under greater or less obligations to the contrary. This is self-evident; because it is herein that the criminalness or faultiness of any thing consists, that it is contrary to what we are obliged or bound to, or what ought to be in us. So the faultiness of one being hating another, is in proportion to his obligation to love him. The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another, is proportionably more or less heinous, as he was under greater or less obligations to honour him. The fault of disobeying another, is greater or less, as any one is under greater or less obligations to obey him. And therefore if there be any being that we are under infinite obligations to love, and honour, and obey, the contrary towards him must be infinitely faulty.

Our obligation to love, honour, and obey any being, is in proportion to his loveliness, honourableness, and authority; for that is the very meaning of the words. When we say any one is very lovely, it is the same as to say, that he is one very much to be loved. Or if we say such a one is more honourable than another, the meaning of the words is, that he is one that we are more obliged to honour. If we say any one has great authority over us, it is the same as to say, that he has great right to our subjection and obedience.

But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honourable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honourable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him.

So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.

Therefore, I argue, God is perfectly justified in any punishment he cares to deal out.