Interpretation of biblical atrocities?

I to wonder what their response would be, however I have not seen any videos or articles yet of jews faced with the same questions, it seems that Christians are the most common search results when it comes to answering these sort of questions.


I think I will start us off by asking why God smited 50,000 for looking into the ark in 1st sameul 6:19?

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Er, I read 70. Not 70,000. Just 70. I mean that’s nowt for the God of the Bible.

Jesus saw Himself in the OT. He didn’t remember. He was wrong for possibly the right reason. But He was wrong. The possible right reason is that He was the Son of God, the divine nature incarnate, through the virgin birth, as Mary told Him. Or she made it up. In good faith. In PTSD. In shame. And He believed her. For if He were just human, His mother was a truly remarkable woman. And Joseph was a truly decent man. The novel writes itself doesn’t it?

Whether He was right or not about being God’s Son, the Son of God, He was wrong, of course, about being YHWH, initially the adopted Canaanite warrior storm god from the Midianite desert, evolved over a thousand years, to a remarkably, suspiciously, humane degree. The socialist humanist God of proto-Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Micah.

Because none of the things attributed to that God actually happened, bar the actual few historical events. And actual God, if there be such a being, didn’t do those either. You know, the sick, arbitrary atrocities. If He is, He did Jesus. And a bit of inspiring, of universal social justice.

Fundamentalist attempt to explain such atrocities by pointing out that divine revelation was progressive; that is, incomplete until the Incarnation. Stumbling over divinely ordered atrocities are a problem if one believes everything in the Bible is divinely inspired rather than divine revelation is found mixed in with Israel’s cultural understanding of deities. The Bible consists of texts written, edited, and compiled from ancient, cultural perspectives. Only those texts that complied with the purview of the community of faith were selected for the canon. The amazing thing about the Old Testament is that Hebrews made these selections. These selections narrate the story of repeated unfaithfulness by Israel to keep the covenant. This is just the opposite of what all other kingdom narratives record. Why did the scribes of Israel record and preserve a narrative of repeated failure? Historians of the kings court glamorize the king and omit atrocities.

I find that a very good liberal theist take. Which is the nastiest thing I could possibly say : ) God the Killer gets more and more pragmatic, more and more civilized, sophisticated with increasing civilization. He still does. Where’s amazing divine revelation in that?

Great question. Here’s a quote in NIV, but I agree that KJV says 5,070. KJV is not the most accurate version. Here’s a commentary about the typographical error–it’s thought perhaps that it was meant to say 70 men out of the 50,000 of Beth Shemesh. 1 Samuel 6:19 Commentaries: He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter. (

Why do you think that God would have killed 70 people for looking at the ark?

As a kid, I was told that this was because they may have been drunk or disrespectful–gawking.

That’s a tough one. In context, once the ark was in the Holy of Holies of the temple, a priest was only allowed in once a year (I think), and he had a cord tied to his ankle so that if he was struck down by God for unworthy attitude, they could pull him back without endangering themselves.

I struggle with this a lot.

It’s definitely not the picture you see in Jesus, where we treat our enemies with love despite their abuse, or allow children, the least powerful and weakest (and most likely to die of natural causes) to come to Him in front of others.

Other passages in the OT, I think, reflect the times–they were brutal. In Psalm 137:9 “Blessed by he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

If you notice people who grow up in grouchy families, they tend to be grouchy. Also, in tough straits, sometimes the parents are pretty strict.

I think that happened in the Old Testament. They considered God to be a “warrior God,” like the surrounding nations’ gods, who fought for them and killed many people.

They inflated ages, like the surrounding folks did, to give their kings and patriarchs dignity.

there are quite a few books out there about horrible things attributed to God. I think that they are from a poor view of God. George MacDonald wrote,

i. If it be said by any that God does a thing which seems to me unjust, then either I do not know what the thing is, or God does not do it…Least of all must we accept some low notion of justice in a man, and argue that God is just in doing after that notion.

I think that that’s a good insight, always keeping in mind that the people of the time judged based on their own limited insight; as we do. Thanks

There is a thread about "Inerrancy and Mass Slaughter" from earlier, that you might find interesting.

Other books are by Greg Boyd as above, and also Paul Copan, “Is God a Moral Monster” (though i don’t agree with Copan, who mainly seems to think that God did them, but not as badly as the numbers imply). Thanks.

I’d be interested in what you think. Thanks.


Great point. I think Enns wrote that much of the history was written in the context of the Babylonian captivity, and the recurrent reminder that the Israelites constantly failed was a theodicy of why God did not keep David’s house as a king for eternity, as at one time seemed prophesied. Maybe others can correct me here. Thanks.

I suspect it would also be accurate to say that it wasn’t the kings or their supporters who wrote the versions of the books of the Bible we now have (with the exception of some of the psalms). Also after the return of many of the exiles it seems to have been the high priest who ruled and that is when most of the texts were chosen and/or finalized. Official histories of the kings didn’t survive (though they were probably mined for info).
It would be fascinating to see an official histories of Ahab or Manasseh or even more so of the kings of Edom, Moab, or Ammon (we do have the Mesha Stele)

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Because once you let go, where do you stop.

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Yes! But, if we really think about it, God is on the side of truth, and not of a label. So, if truth takes me away from my original beliefs, then God’s still on my side. We’re here to follow truth, not whether we’re Christian, or evolution, or young earth, or any other label.

One passage that reminds me of that is when Joshua asked if God was for him, or for his enemies. When God answered, “Neither,” that was a great Hebrew lesson–that He’s on the side of truth, not of identity (Joshua 5: 13-14a)

A severe irony, of course, is that this passage involved Joshua’s intent for killing many innocent people–so the message is garbled in all that. However, looking at Jesus, who was, as He said, a better revelation, gives us a better vision of God, I think. Thanks.

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There is no revelation of God but Jesus, at most. That’s the final thread I’m left with.

PS So why that time? Why that place? Why that culture? The natural explanation is that. Time and place. The perfect confluence of cultures. Jewish, Greek, Roman with all their heritages in Persia, India, Babylon, Egypt, Canaan, Sumer. If God does not exist then this is still the greatest individual human story ever told. If He does, it’s that and infinitely more. But we have no way of deciding. None. Rationality has become vastly easier and, necessarily, inevitably, faith inversely less. Faith stories evolved with society and Christianity’s kept up more than any other. Objectively. Which of course is an insult in the eyes of all others I’m sure, but best case Christianity has always been orders of magnitude better, more moral, more humane, more inclusive, more just, more rational, more beautiful, more profound than the competition, including all the second rate and less Christianity, from the get go. It still is. In fact that high bar has always been a minority one in post-Jewish Christianity, but it has always been there. It still is. That is intriguing.

Belief, folk belief, faith belief even intellectual belief was easy, right belief as difficult then as now, but now faith at all is rationally, intellectually difficult and best moral belief, though plainly obvious, is politically impossible.

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