Chapter 7: Revelation: The Nightmare of the “Old” Testament
As Judaism, Christianity and Islam find foundations in the revelation to Moses, Christopher Hitchens opens this chapter at the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. From these verses, “it would be harder to find an easier proof that religion is man-made.” His principal objections are:
- God sounds like an ancient Near East tyrant (Exodus 20:2, 8-11).
- The ethical commandments are self-evident (Exodus 20:13-16).
- The final commandments (v. 17) include slaves and wives as a man’s property, showing this to be a culturally-bounded writing, not a teaching from an eternal God.
He blames poor exegesis of the covenant for the nineteenth-century claims on Palestine that are the source of so many present woes in the Middle East. Tyrrany is again the order of the day and Hitchens is again unaware of the past century’s work on suzerainty treaties in the Near East and the scholars who have developed theology from them.
He formally cites Sigmund Freud and Thomas Paine and Finkelstein and Silberman’s The Bible Unearthed. Again, Freud is invoked to re-iterate that religion is of fear: “too clearly derived from our own desire to escape from or survive death. This critique of wish-thinking is strong and unanswerable….” This, of course, is not true. Freud has certainly had his critics since 1939, including Hitchens’s beloved Karl Popper. A 2006 Newsweek article refers to Freud as “history’s most-debunked doctor.”
Would Hitchens read this blog, I would love to hear him answer:
- Considering Freud’s lack of intellectual credibility, why does Hitchens continue to cling to his claims?
- Given that we are inescapably prone to our fear of death, how else ought it be dealt with other than the intervention of a God?
Concerning Paine, who “has never been refuted since he wrote,” has a blockquote that hints at a rudimentary, eighteenth-century form of textual criticism. Certainly not refuted, but answered through the 1860 publication of Essays and Reviews and any number of Anglican and German Biblcal scholars. Hitchens offers no evidence that he has read or even heard of these two centuries of scholarship.
The only recent text he engages is Finkelstein and Silberman. I don’t disagree with his use of modern archeological methods in OT exegesis at all. I’d find his arguments more credible would he reference more twentieth and twenty-first century writers.
Hitchens exposes the problems of poor exegesis of the Old Testament, which are already well-documented. However, he blames the abuse of the text on the text itself, not on its abusers. I would shudder to think of how, based on this example, Hitchens would treat cases of domestic abuse.
Chapter 8: The “New” Testament Exceeds the Evil of the “Old” One
The bibliography of a book is it’s most important part, one friend of mine told me. He was right. Again looking at Hitchens’s references we have H. L. Mencken, C. S. Lewis and Bart Ehrman. From his selections, it’s clear that Hitchens’s understanding of Christianity is colored more by essayists, novelists and controversialists than it is by its own theologians and Biblical scholars.
And so the chapter begins. He opens with a character attack on Mel Gibson (“Australian fascist and ham actor,” who adheres “to a crackpot and schismatic Catholic sect”). He moves on to pointing out textual contradictions in the Gospels and questioning the canonization process in the light of Nag Hammadi. Textual problems have been evident since at least Tatian’s Diatessaron of A.D. 150. Christians of any sensibility have had time to acknowledge this, deal and respond.
About halfway into the chapter, Hitchens alludes to having read any recent scholarship:
The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament have filled up many books by eminent scholars, and have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of “metaphor” and “Christ of faith.” This feebleness derives from the fact that until recently, Christians could simply burn or silence anybody who asked any inconvenient questions (115).
Of course, this explains why Thomas Jefferson suffered martyrdom at the hands of the church for his edited New Testament. And why Thomas Paine went into hiding for his deistic views. Or, it’s another one-sided argument from someone who can’t bother to footnote that he didn’t read H. Richard Niebuhr’s short book The Meaning of Revelation.
To his credit, he understands typological readings of the New Testament and correctly identifies the Immaculate Conception, a doctrine popularly misunderstood.
He picks C. S. Lewis’s popular “lunatic, liar, lord” rhetoric as his next target. Of course, Hitchens’s has moved from his topic (the text of the New Testament) and into christological apologetics. Hitchens is quite willing to choose “liar” and continue with his theme that the religion is itself immoral. It’s an interesting move that I haven’t heard anyone take up before.
Hitchens takes this opportunity to introduce Ehrman and the textual problem of John 8. There are plenty of problems around John 8 and Hitchens identifies a few. However, rather than turning to scholarly consensus, he picks New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. And no one else.
Hitchens concludes that he has “again selected [his] source on the basis of ‘evidence against interest:’ in other words from someone whose original scholarly and intellectual journey was not at all intended to challege holy writ.” To the contrary, Hitchens intentionally chose Ehrman, a scholar of the same race and gender as he. They graduated from college within a few years of one another. Additionally, Ehrman has come out as agnostic in the last year. To say that the distinction between an atheist and an agostic is “evidence against interest” stretches his argument more than thin.