Finding it hard to believe

So Thom Stark wrote two articles which are giving me trouble.

The first claims that Biblical monotheism evolved from polytheism:

The second claims that the Book of Joshua was written as propaganda for violent reform:

Can anyone respond?

There are also these videos from the PolyMath:

And finally, this:

Isn’t this just the genetic fallacy rearing its ugly head again?

There’s a lot of violence in the Old Testament. A lot of wonderful things, too, but certainly a lot of violence.

This is one more reason why it’s a good thing that Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity, and not the book of Joshua.

(By the way, I’m not conceding that it was written as propaganda for violent reform. I’m just saying that, even if it was, [1] that doesn’t rock my faith in Jesus and [2] returning to the book of Joshua through the light of Jesus, we can find valid applications of Joshua to our lives that don’t involve, for instance, us carrying out violent reform in our own contexts, or cheering on jihad because What Would Joshua Do.)


One thing which I have yet to see to see Michael Heiser say ‘anything’ about is the etymology of ‘Bene Elim’, This doesn’t mean ‘sons of God’, it means ‘sons of gods’ plural. Yahweh is referred to with the pluralistic word ‘elohim’ in the singular sense, but never as ‘elim’. Deutero-Isaiah also clearly reduces the other gods to mere false idols, directly contradicting older passages such as Deuteronomy 32.

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Justin Barrett has done ground-breaking work for cognitive science of religion. He is a Christian. Have you seen some if his YouTube presentations? Was at Cambridge. I need to study this more. Thanks

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God has always existed. There is no beginning and no end.

Edward Miller, MAR, Liberty University School of Divinity

I would listen to Thom Stark. God bless you, Reggie.

Can you give me some background info about Stark? What he believes, and such?

The first claims that Biblical monotheism evolved from polytheism:


The second claims that the Book of Joshua was written as propaganda for violent reform:

Just read the book. It simply records Joshua’s conquest of the holy land. The guy claims to be responding to two new “apologetic” arguments to defend Joshua, both seem to claim Joshua didn’t literally mean it. But of course he did. Sinners must be destroyed if God commands it so. Sounds fine to me.

As for the ridiculous video on the guy claiming God really needs a cause after all, or something, around 3:20 he says something among the lines of “I’m asking why everything in existence needs a cause except God.” Ugh … Because God never began to exist? That’s kind of the point. Eternal things are, by definition, uncaused. That’s why some atheists still grasp on to the possibility of a past-eternal universe. So they don’t need to explain where it came from.

He of course, not content with his already refuted argument, claims “there is no justification for the claim that God doesn’t need a cause”. Actually… there is. See above. Not finite. Therefore no cause. You can’t insert a cause into something that always existed … otherwise … where would the cause be placed? This is standard logic. He seems genuinely unaware of this. Of course, IP brings this up, and he responds with … total garbage. Seriously, I can’t comprehend how stupid this video is.

His response is essentially “the only reason why you worded the premise (everything that begins to exist has a cause) is so it doesn’t apply to God!” This is so utterly ridiculous I simply can’t even. How many ways is this wrong?

  • Essentially just psychoanalysis. Instead of addressing the actual argument, in the way it’s presented, the atheist attempts to explain the thought process going on in the theists head when he says this. This is just ridiculous. Please, address the argument because no one is in the mood to listen to fanciful speculation about why that argument was presented in such a way.
  • Genetic fallacy. A genetic fallacy is when someone claims to be able to explain how a belief originates, and therefore refute that belief. This is just a genetic fallacy. “The reason why you argue that everything that begins to exist has a cause is to exclude God!” Even if this was right, it wouldn’t refute, or even begin to refute the premise.
  • The third problem is that it isn’t actually right. The premise is just a fact. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. This is because things that don’t begin to exist can’t have causes, since you wouldn’t be able to insert this cause at any period in time (since the thing would always exist prior to it). So the premise “everything that exists has a cause” is actually wrong. Everything that “begins to exist” has a cause is factually correct. That’s why the premise is phrased this way. Not to cook up a premise so God can be excluded from causation. This is nonsense. Because that’s the only accurate way to phrase it.

I’m not going to bother watching the “no cause for a soul” videos. I’ve completely forgotten the content of those IP videos, and you should just send those videos to IP anyways. He should defend those for himself.

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I watched the last video long ago. It uses the same debunked objections, like “Kalam=special pleading”.

Isaiah 44’s concept of God is very different from that found in Deut 32.

“This is what the Lord says—
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God.
7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and lay out before me
what has happened since I established my ancient people,
and what is yet to come—
yes, let them foretell what will come.
8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid.
Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?
You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me?
No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

9 All who make idols are nothing,
and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
they are ignorant, to their own shame.
10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
which can profit nothing?
11 People who do that will be put to shame;
such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand;
they will be brought down to terror and shame.

12 The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
13 The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
human form in all its glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine.
14 He cut down cedars,
or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
15 It is used as fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”

The implication being that other gods are mere false idols. Contrast this with Deuteronomy 32, where other gods are divine beings given over the nations.

That response pretty much reduces God to a Hitler, Stalin or Mao who deserves no worship. ‘If’ the other gods ‘are’ acknowledged as real, the genocide makes somewhat more understandable, if they are demon-worshipping interlopers on divine land. Bear in mind that everyone in the ANE knew that areas of land belonged to the gods.

Still, good response otherwise.

After thinking things over I don’t necessarily think now that the religion of the Israelites ‘evolved over time’, however the way in which the OT writers saw God’s position among the gods is contradictory, in some cases (such as Deuteronomy 32:8-9) it is monolatric, the Ten Commandments are borderline henotheistic. in other cases, such as Deutero-Isaiah, other gods are merely false idols.


In Amarna-age Egypt, we see an attempt to impose monotheism - - inspired by the internal dialectic of Egyptian polytheism.

And don’t we see a similar pattern in the literary arc of the Old Testament doing exactly that: monotheism evolving from polytheism?

Special individuals migrate from one land to another, encountering the cults of other peoples. The Hebrew spend a few centuries in Egypt, presumably without even knowing their God as Yahweh.

Moses, in the story climax that is Exodus, presents the ten commandments, and even here, there are other Gods that are considered an accepted fact.

Leap frogging ahead to the Persian occupation of the Levant, it is said by some non-biblical authors that the Persians are notorious for not accepting any physical drawing or statue as a legitimate representation of their Zoroastrian god-head.

We can easily imagine the returning exiles, setting up their new temple, and adopting this Persian view. What then, when around 400 BCE, historians say there is a movement within Persian religious circles to raise statues to their God - - to better compete with the many kinds of infidel they have now rule.

One could imagine that this Persian reversal would trigger reactions within the Jewish priestly clans… where they object to a degeneration of their now re-purified faith.

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I don’t know if you disagree, but it sounds to me like Isaiah 44 is about idols, not the gods of other nations.

That response pretty much reduces God to a Hitler, Stalin or Mao who deserves no worship. ‘If’ the other gods ‘are’ acknowledged as real, the genocide makes somewhat more understandable, if they are demon-worshipping interlopers on divine land. Bear in mind that everyone in the ANE knew that areas of land belonged to the gods.

Ugh … I don’t think so. The Israelite’s destroying the Canaanite’s was the equivalent of the Allies destroying the Nazis. God didn’t, out of the blue, tell the Israelite’s to just start slaughtering people like Hitler. These Canaanite’s were, we’re told, guilty of idol worship, child sacrifice, and many other abominations on that level. You don’t think people who commit child sacrifice deserve to die? I do. And so the logic follows. Remember, the price of sin is death. The only reason God doesn’t annihilate all of us instantly, let alone the mere Canaanite’s, is because of His mercy. We all deserve to pay the price for our crushing debts.

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@Korvexius, you are at risk of heresy in some of the Eastern Orthodox communions…

I appreciated Stark’s review of Copan. A lot that Copan says is preaching to the choir. It doesn’t really work if you’re not in the choir or you start to listen to anyone outside the choir.

As one example, the idea of Joshua using common war rhetoric that is hyperbolic isn’t helpful. War rhetoric was meant to make people afraid and submissive. People weren’t supposed to brush it off as colourful exaggeration, as in the example Copan gives of modern sports bravado (“We totally slaughtered the other team!”). No reasonable person would speak of slaughtering the other team after a game where a player actually died. It’s just not the same kind of thing as war rhetoric.

That said, I do appreciate what Douglas Earl has written, though I haven’t read the specific book reviewed in that link (or even the entire review, though it’s now on my list). I wrote a paper for this in seminary, and without doubt it was the one topic that forced me to do the most digging. I didn’t go in knowing where I’d come out. My own take (which I believe is fairly close to Earl’s) is that three different angles all help us to not expect straight history from Joshua:

  1. Archaeology contradicts a flat reading of the main conquest narrative in Joshua, and it also reveals that Israelites descend from Canaanites.
  2. Joshua was written about 500 years after the events it describes (after the exile) and gives different views on the same events.
  3. Rather than being modern history writing, the purpose of Joshua is to speak to the writers’ present (the exiles). Foggy information about the past is crafted into portraits of God and Israel that reveal what Israel needs to do now. It’s more akin to prophecy than history.

Anyway, if you’re interested, you can read the dialogue-format paper I wrote that explores those ideas: When God Sees Red.


I’ll take my chances.

I remember when you were commenting about this over at Jesus Creed (if my memory serves me correctly). Glad you jumped in here.

I have to admit, when I saw it was a 29-page paper, I thought, “This is a fascinating subject but sadly I doubt I’ll ever actually get around to reading it.” And then you had to go and put it in a page-turning dialogue format…

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You might even introduce a completely different wild card for attempting an interpretation.

The Jeremiad community has evidence of its existence in Egypt. But archaeological digs suggests that those villages/towns were emptied sometime after the Persian conquest of Egypt! Interesting, yes? When the Persians acquired Nile real estate, the international border between Egypt and the rest of the Levant essentially disappeared.

Would this be a good time for the yearnings of the Jewish refugees in Egypt to be requited? Did they return to Palestine and “tangle” with the Persianized returnees? Did they have a different view of Egyptian ideas? Were the Jeremiad elite the ones who started to elaborate their thoughts in Enochian literature? I really don’t know, myself. Enochian literature has always been hard for me to interpret.

But when we compare the “information gradient” of Egypt’s thousands of temples and hundreds of thousands of literate priests - - to the paltry priestly families of Judah… funded by a single temple … one must wonder exactly how the Jeremiad folks could have avoided influencing Judaism. If they were intentional about it, I would be inclined to see Jeremiah as their book … and maybe you have at the tip of your fingers the books or factions that Jeremiah seems to rub the wrong way?

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