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Bible passages that appear immoral today
Various "hard passages:" Part 5 of 5

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Topics covered in this essay:

bulletVarious hard passages:
bulletMass murder of fighters for democracy

bulletMurdering a person for practicing birth control

bulletPunishing the children, grand-children, etc. of a sinner

bulletUsing torture against captives

bulletLegal rape

bulletPassages relating to slavery of females

bulletRaping female prisoners of war

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Mass murder of fighters for democracy:

Numbers 16:2-3: "And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?"

Numbers 16:20: "And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment. And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?"

Numbers 16:31-33: "...the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation." 

Num 16:41-49: "But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD...And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces... And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah."

250 leaders of Israel approached Moses and his brother Aaron, asking that the existing theocracy, with Moses as dictator, be replaced by a more democratic governing structure, in which power would be shared more widely. They felt that the whole nation was holy, and should share in governing themselves rather than being led by a single individual who had taken all power to himself. In short, they advocated a transition from a dictatorship to an oligarchy or partial democracy. God's first response was to destroy the entire Israelite nation, with the exception of Moses and Aaron. But Moses pleaded with God that he not commit genocide. God agreed, opened up cracks in the earth so that  two of the leaders, their families and possessions fell into the cracks. God then closed the earth so that the victims were buried alive and perished. Later, God burned alive the remaining leaders (and probably their wives and children).

On the next day, some Israelites were critical of Moses and Aaron for such a massive loss of life. Again, God wanted to commit genocide by killing all of the people, except for Moses and Aaron. Moses persuaded God to merely send a plague. An additional 14,700 people lost their lives. Thus ended any thoughts of a move towards a democratic government.

In recent decades, dictatorships have been replaced with democracies in many areas of the world. Democracies are valued, in part, because of their typically greater respect for human rights and their stability. Dictatorships, in particular theocracies like Iran and Afghanistan, are noted for their lack of fundamental freedoms. Individuals and groups working for democratic change are now honored worldwide.

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Murdering a person for practicing birth control:

Genesis 38:6-10: "...Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also."

Judah selected Tamar to be the wife of his eldest son, Er. But Er was wicked and so God killed him, apparently before the couple could have a son. Under the customs in Palestine at that time, the next oldest son, Onan, was expected to marry his late brother's wife and produce a male child, who would be credited to Er. But Onan did not wish to do this, and so he practiced a common but very ineffective form of birth control: coitus interruptus. That is, he disengaged from Tamar just before he ejaculated, and "spilled his semen on the ground." (NIV) God was displeased at this action and killed Onan as well.

For many years, this passages was interpreted as referring to masturbation rather than birth control. From the middle of the 19th century until today, many religious folk consider the prevention of masturbation (frequently called "onanism") to be a high priority. 

In modern systems of ethics, it is considered immoral to:

bulletforce a man and woman to marry.
bulletrequire them to engage in sexual intercourse. To the man and/or the woman, if they were not mutually attracted, this could be considered rape.
bulletrequire them to produce a son.
bulletkill the man because he practices birth control in order to prevent conception.

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Punishing the children, grandchildren, etc. of a sinner:

Exodus 20:5-6 "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."

This is part of the first of 3 versions of the Ten Commandments which are found in the Bible. Here, God divides the human race into two groups: those who hate Him (by worshipping other Gods) and those who love God (by worshipping him alone). God is recorded as taking intentional action to punish the former. But in addition, God will penalize the children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren of the transgressors, even though they did not participate in the sin. This concept was widely practiced in the ancient Middle East; families would be punished for the behavior of a single individual. 

Current systems of ethics hold an individual responsible for their own mistakes and bad behavior. If a person robs a bank, the state does not arrest the criminal's descendents. 

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Using torture against captives:

2 Samuel 12:26-31: "...Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city. And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters. Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it: lest I take the city, and it be called after my name. And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it...And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon."

The army of the Israelites attacked the Ammonites. Joab seizes the water supply of the city of Rabbah. The city quickly falls. The citizens of the city were then tortured in various ways - perhaps to death.

There are now international agreements concerning the conduct of warfare. These attempt to guarantee the safety and freedom from abuse civilians involved in a war.

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Legal rape of females:

According to Deuteronomy 22:28-29. a virgin female who was not engaged to be married and who was raped was required to marry her attacker, no matter what her feelings were towards the rapist. Most women would probably find it difficult to develop a love bond with the man and thus would have to submit to marital sexual activity against her will. That is, she had to accept being continually raped after she was married.

A man could become married by simply sexually attacking a woman that appealed to him, and paying his new father-in-law 50 shekels of silver. That payment would compensate the woman's father for the loss in value of one of his possessions: his daughter.

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Passages relating to female slaves:

Exodus 21:4 indicates that a slave owner could assign one of his female slaves to one of his male slaves as a wife. There is no indication that women were consulted during this type of transaction. The arrangement would probably involve rape in most cases.

In the times of the Hebrew Scriptures, Israelite men were limited to serving as slaves for seven years; women were permanently enslaved.

When a male slave left his owner, the marriage would normally be terminated; his wife would stay behind, with any children that she had. He could elect to stay a slave if he wished.

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Raping female prisoners of war:

Numbers 31:1-18 describes how army of the ancient Israelites killed every adult Midianite male in battle. Moses then ordered the slaughter in cold blood of most of the captives, including all of the male children who numbered about 32,000. Only the lives of 32,000 women - all virgins -- were spared. Some of the latter were given to the priests as slaves. Most were taken by the Israeli soldiers as captives of war.

Deuteronomy 21:11-14 describes how each captive woman would shave her head, pare her nails, be left alone to mourn the loss of her families, friends, and freedom. After a full month has passed, they would be required to submit to their owners sexually, as a wife. It is conceivable that in a few cases, a love bond might have formed between the soldier and his captive(s) during that month. However, in most cases we can probably assume that the woman had to submit sexually against her will; that is, she was raped.

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Related essay in this web site:

bulletImmoral practices regarding human slavery are discussed in a separate essay.

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Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-JAN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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