Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Susanna and Jephthah

I recently went out for a discussion with two naturalists I know who live in my area and with whom I'd been communicating via email.
Our discussion was lively and liberally sprinkled with disrespectful and sometimes downright rude remarks from their side as well as multiple evasions of my questions, but it was expected.
During the conversation, one of them mentioned two interesting and kind-of related questions.
1) The story of "Susanna, the daughter of that Israelite judge, being sacrificed to the God of the Old Testament", and
2) Him: Does the Bible present Yahweh as the only god?
Me: Yes.
Him: Then why does Judges 11:24 say, "“Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess." ?

I only had my wife's smaller-print Bible with me, I was a bit nervous, I wanted to answer and continue, and I couldn't find the tiny quotation marks in the context so as to discover who was speaking, so I told him I'd have to get back to him on it.

Here is my answer on both issues, sent via email:

Hello ____,
I thought I'd grace you with a little bit of info on your inquiry regarding Chemosh.
I could be wrong, but such questions as these appear to have been pulled out of, say, the Skeptics' Annotated Bible or some other silly source like that. I could be wrong, of course, but that's the impression it gives. If you want to propose sthg that is intended to demonstrate some kind of contradiction or inconsistency in the Bible, best go elsewhere.

Here is a link to the chapter in question, Judges 11 - v. 24

This is a quotation from the messengers of the Israelite judge Jephthah, replying to the king of the Ammonites (not to be confused with Amorites). v. 20 - the msgrs recount how Sihon had not trusted the Israelites to pass thru his territory though they had requested that passage, had mustered his army, and had been defeated (v. 21-22).
Now the msgrs ask the king of the Ammonites what right he has to take land that the Lord had given to the Israelites. They then appeal to his sense of justice to a polytheist's mind - if YOUR god enables you to take land, do you want someone else to horn in on it? He's engaging the Ammonite king's own moral standards on the Ammonite king's own terms to help him understand. It is similar to when I enter into the atheistic viewpoint, take it to its logical conclusion, and then call into question your ability to reason based on the logical conclusions, the foundation. The structure collapses b/c its foundation is faulty.

These msgrs don't believe that Chemosh is really a god - the daily recitation for Hebrews was and is Deut 6:4-6 - God, the Lord, is one God. Monotheism is one of the fundamental themes of the Old Testament.
What makes this argument so pitifully weak is that, even if I granted that these msgrs from Israel really did believe Chemosh was a god on par with YHWH, the author of Judges does not commend that idea. He is simply recording what took place.

You also made an effort to bring up Jephthah's daughter and confused her with "Susanna", who is a character in a Deuterocanonical (Apocryphal) book.
As for critiquing the book in which Susanna appears, which is a later addition to the book of Daniel known as "Susanna" or "Susanna and the Elders", I don't accept it as part of the Bible for a myriad of reasons. You might try asking the next Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox you meet about it; I'd join you in pointing out its flaws.
But the story of Jephthah's rash vow regarding his daughter appears also in Judges 11 - the same chapter, ironically.
Here is an article on that, if you are interested.


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