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Taking a hatchet to Hitchens

I saw with some trepidation an article by an atheist that rebukes the man: the title is “Christopher Hitchens’ lies do atheism no favors“. I felt that trepidation because there really are very good reasons to criticize Hitchens: his politics were vile, he was a cheerleader for war, his ‘solutions’ for problems in the Middle East were little more than excuses for genocide. He had the capacity to be thoughtful and interesting and deep, but when it came to world politics, he was a madman waving a gun. Someone could write a strong, well-researched criticism of Hitchens that would actually have a lot of weight, and it could overshadow the fellow’s virtues (and, by the way, I think we should recognize that he was not a saint, and that like every one of us, he had his flaws).

But I shouldn’t have worried. The author, Curtis White, basically writes an apologia for religion, and goes after Hitchens for…not respecting faith enough. Seriously? Yeah, seriously. This guy is an atheist who thinks the great theological circle-jerk is a beautiful ballet.

As critics have observed since its publication, one enormous problem with Hitchens’s book is that it reduces religion to a series of criminal anecdotes. In the process, however, virtually all of the real history of religious thought, as well as historical and textual scholarship, is simply ignored as if it never existed. Not for Hitchens the rich cross-cultural fertilization of the Levant by Helenistic, Jewish, and Manichaean thought. Not for Hitchens the transformation of a Jewish heretic into a religion that Nietzsche called “Platonism for the masses.” Not for Hitchens the fascinating theological fissures in the New Testament between Jewish, Gnostic, and Pauline doctrines. Not for Hitchens the remarkable journey of the first Christian heresy, Arianism, spiritual origin of our own thoroughly liberal Unitarianism. (Newton was an Arian and anti-Trinitarian, which made his presence at Trinity College permanently awkward.) Not for Hitchens the sublime transformation of Christian thought into the cathartic spirituality of German Idealism/ Romanticism and American Transcendentalism. And, strangely, not for Hitchens the existential Christianity of Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Karl Jaspers, Paul Tillich, Martin Buber, and, most recently, the religious turn of poststructural thought in Jacques Derrida and Slavoj Žižek. (All of these philosophers sought what Žižek calls Christianity’s “perverse core.”) And it’s certainly not that he didn’t have the opportunity to acknowledge these intellectual and spiritual traditions. At one point he calls the story of Abraham and Isaac “mad and gloomy,” a “frightful” and “vile” “delusion,” but sees no reason to mention Kierkegaard’s complex, poetic, and deeply felt philosophical retelling of the story in “Fear and Trembling”. In this way, Hitchens is often as much a textual literalist as the fundamentalists he criticizes.

I think I wrote about this before. It’s a red herring: when we ask for evidence of a god, the apologists point to a whole bunch of people wrangling at daunting length about the interpretation of holy writ and say, “See? There. They couldn’t possibly be arguing about nothing at all, now could they?” I wish this would sink in, that someone making an intricate paean to the ineffability of nothing is not evidence of anything other than the human brain’s immense capacity for masturbatory self-reference.

And then the screed continues this trend with the credulous claim that the Bible actually is a solid historical document, contra Hitchens.

This case has been well made by others, if mostly in places far more obscure than Hitchens’s privileged position on the New York Times best-seller list. For example, William J. Hamblin wrote a thorough and admirably restrained review (“The Most Misunderstood Book: Christopher Hitchens on the Bible”) in which he held Hitchens to account for historical howlers of this kind:

In discussing the exodus, Hitchens dogmatically asserts: “There was no flight from Egypt, no wandering in the desert . . . , and no dramatic conquest of the Promised Land. It was all, quite simply and very ineptly, made up at a much later date. No Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode either, even in passing. . . . All the Mosaic myths can be safely and easily discarded.” These narratives can be “easily discarded” by Hitchens only because he has failed to do even a superficial survey of the evidence in favor of the historicity of the biblical traditions. Might we suggest that Hitchens begin with Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt and Ancient Israel in Sinai? It should be noted that Hoffmeier’s books were not published by some small evangelical theological press but by Oxford University—hardly a bastion of regressive fundamentalist apologetics. Hitchens’s claim that “no Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode [of Moses and the Israelites] either, even in passing” is simply polemical balderdash.

Hamblin is thorough, patient, relentless, but also, it seems to me, a little perplexed and saddened by Hitchens’s naked dishonesty and, in all probability, by his own feeling of impotence. You can hardly blame him. Criticism of this character would have, and surely should have, revealed Hitchens’s book for what it is … if it hadn’t been published in The FARMS Review of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. Hitchens need never have feared the dulling of his reputation for intellectual dash and brio from that source.

No, Hitchens was quite right. There is no archaeological evidence for the dramatic events of the Exodus. The stories of a vast and powerful rising Hebrew kingdom are all mythologizing and self-aggrandizement. I’m sure Hamblin was quite saddened by the criticism of the self-serving Biblical archaeological community. He probably wept when he read Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies.

I see no “historical howler” in Hitchen’s comment. The people who argue for the historicity of the Bible are religious apologists who read their interpretation of the faith into the historical record, who ignore evidence of the minor significance of the Jewish tribes of that era, and who constantly inflate trivial anecdotes into evidence of empires. It’s a discipline tainted by people who go into it solely to make excuses for their faith.

This is not to say that the Jewish people didn’t exist, or that they were never enslaved in Egypt, or that they never invaded Palestine — merely that the stories in the Bible are grossly exaggerated and untrustworthy.

White does make one justifiable argument, that Hitchens tended to sweep all Eastern religions into the same rubbish bin, and was rather too casual in lumping them all together. I think it’s valid to say Hitchens was not an expert on Eastern philosophy…but then the responsibility falls on his critics to explain exactly why we should grant an Eastern religion greater credence than something a two-year old babbles? And why then, isn’t the atheist author of this piece now adopting the superior ethical philosophy of ancient Tibetans?

And finally, White goes galloping off to attack secular reasons for moral behavior.

Hitchens’s second metaphysical claim has to do with conscience. He counters the claim that without religion we would have no ethics by saying that conscience is innate. He writes, “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”

Well, as Hitchens likes to say, this is “piffle.” After all, what is a conscience? Does it light up on a brain scan when we think virtuous thoughts? And if it is innate (and just what exactly does it mean to be innate?) why was Crassus’s crucifixion of six thousand Spartacans lined up along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua in 71 BCE thought by the people of Rome to be an expression of Roman vertù and a very good reason to honor Crassus with a full triumphal procession back into the city? Are we to imagine that the citizens of Rome threw garlands in the path of the conquering hero against their better judgment? Are we to imagine that after the celebration the citizens were stung by conscience and were unable to sleep at night? Or did Crassus merely confirm for Rome that it was what it thought it was, a race of masters?

White does not understand at all. Humans are plastic, with some innate biases. If you raise a child with love and encourage them to love others, they will (well, usually — we’re also too complex to be programmed simplistically). If you raise them with hate, they grow up hating. If you bring them up believing that slaves are a less worthy other, they will feel no guilt if you murder them en masse. Romans were recipients of life-long propaganda about the virtue of Rome…just as Americans now are raised with a lifelong faith in the superiority of their way of life. And there are all kinds of indoctrination systems out there.

Religion is one. It’s not the only one, obviously. Religion is just something that raises people to unquestioningly accept the superiority of a system of beliefs — not just about ethics, but about the nature of the universe. And it’s a system that is demonstrably false. It’s also a useful tool for obedience that is often coopted by other beliefs — American exceptionalism, for instance, is also all tangled up in Christianity.

I have no religion, and after meeting many people who were sincere in their beliefs, I realized that I never did — as a child, I was going through the motions, but never believed in any deity, nor even felt fear or concern or love for one. I acquired that basic human decency not from religion, but from family and friends, being brought up in an almost totally religion-free home that regarded fairness and justice towards others as an important value.

And that’s what Hitchens meant: ethical behavior is independent of religion, which merely claims against all evidence to be the wellspring of human decency. He does not imply in any way that freedom from religion automatically gives you good values, but that the causes of those values precede the nonsense your church layers upon you. And further, when you look at what religion effectively teaches — deference to authority, gullibility, guilt and fear — it’s true, religion really does poison everything.

Comments

  1. Randomfactor says

    the great theological circle-jerk is a beautiful ballet.

    Largely performed by hacking at one another with sharp objects. So much for the divinely-inspired morality.

    And did I miss the report that fMRI had shown the “soul”?

  2. says

    It is amusing that he cites Hoffmeier in support of the idea that there is evidence that Exodus is true. Hoffmeier’s books assume Exodus is true a priori. Hoffmeier then goes about and cherry picks data to support this assumption, ignoring evidence that runs counter to his thesis, and at times, ignoring Biblical claims that run counter to his thesis. He is the archaeological equivalent of a creationist.

  3. Sili says

    This is not to say that the Jewish people didn’t exist, or that they were never enslaved in Egypt, or that they never invaded Palestine — merely that the stories in the Bible are grossly exaggerated and untrustworthy.

    Why not?

    The Jewish people existed (and exists) of course, but only from a much later day than is often suggested. The oldest defining characteristic found – as far as I know – is an aversion to pork.

    The Jewish People as a people/nation/whole were never slaves in Egypt. There may have been slaves in Egypt who were Jewish – there were Jewish households in Egypt and Jews are in some circumstances allowed to keep Jews and indentured labourers for a period of seven years, so it does not stretch imagination.

    There is no evidence of a Jewish People taking Palaestine by force at any point in history prior to the 20th century. The original settlement was peaceful immigration.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    …when we ask for evidence of a god, the apologists point to a whole bunch of people wrangling at daunting length about the interpretation of holy writ and say, “See? There. They couldn’t possibly be arguing about nothing at all, now could they?”

    Obviously, Mr. White and the apologists he defends have never hung out at sci-fi and fantasy conventions, a D&D game, or any other large gathering of nerds. We argue about nothing–whether Harry Potter could beat Luke Skywalker in a fair fight, or the evolution of tribbles–all the time.

  5. says

    I notice that he seems particularly outraged at Hitch’s backhanded dismissal of “eastern” religions, particularly Buddhism. To the extent that skepticism and atheism have largely given buddhism a miss, that’s pretty true.

    I greatly disagree with his characterization of buddhism as a great philosophical tradition with a profound metaphysics. It’s just a collection of sayings allegedly by some guy who was supposed to be very smart, that were collected a couple hundred years or so after his death. Sound familiar? It should. It’s all based on vigorous assertion and the fact that the guy who supposedly said this stuff was supposedly really really wise. Its “metaphysics” are shambolic – simply assumed is hindu dharma and morality comes from our desire to get queued in the recycler in ever higher positions. That’s a “philosophy”? I’m sorry but that’s just sophistimacated theology that’s based as much in reality as Saddam’s WMD were. It’s a collection of opinions of some old dead guy who appears to have liked to preach slave morality. It’s not quite as batshit insane as the abrahamic religions, but could we please stop taking buddhism seriously? It’s dead bullshit, not philosophy.

  6. says

    Harry Potter could beat Luke Skywalker in a fair fight

    How could it be “fair” if Potter’s got magic!?

    oh… wait… I just walked into your neatly-laid trap, didn’t I?

  7. says

    “why was Crassus’s crucifixion of six thousand Spartacans lined up along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua in 71 BCE thought by the people of Rome to be an expression of Roman vertù and a very good reason to honor Crassus with a full triumphal procession back into the city? ”

    All other objectionable bits from this work aside, this is pretty egregious in its bullploppery. The author here tries to paint Crassus as some kind of slave-murdering monster and the people of Rome as just too happy that he did it. The reality is that the political message sent by the crucifixion of this slave population was the ending of their extremely successful (and extremely large) slave revolt, which did quite a bit to shake up Roman society and economy, as well as threatening the Romans themselves. He describes it as though the Romans were simply gleeful to see slaves being killed when the reality is much different and more complex.

  8. alkaloid says

    Wouldn’t an omniscient god already know that Abraham would be willing to sacrifice Isaac before he even asked, making the entire request an exercise in sadism even beyond the obvious evil of the request?

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    This is not to say that the Jewish people didn’t exist, or that they were never enslaved in Egypt, or that they never invaded Palestine — merely that the stories in the Bible are grossly exaggerated and untrustworthy.

    The land the Israelites entered and settled after the exodus from Egypt was called Canaan at the time and later Judea and Samaria and Israel. Israel (& Judea, Samaria, the area of the original Davidic Kingdom etc ..) has been the historical, emotional and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people for about six thousand years or so.

    Historically, there has never been an independent land of “Palestine” with that name first being used by the Roman empire after crushing the Jewish revolts in a series of Judean-Roman wars of the first few centuries. The modern “Palestinians” are of much more recent origin, note for starters that, Islam came thousands of years after Judaism and indeed many Arabs who would later identify themselves as “palestinian”immigrated to the formerly desolate and largely unpopulated area only following the early Jewish settlers efforts to famous “make the deserts bloom”mostly from Syria and Egypt. It is a little known fact that even the PLO terrorist and later dictator Yasser Arafat was actually born in Cairo, Egypt.

  10. DLC says

    Indeed, Hitchens was no saint. Further, I doubt he would wish to be remembered as such. He was just a man, and had his blind spots and failings, just as we all do. But this fellow’s critique is nothing but calling for civility and for respecting all the courtiers as they examine the Emperor’s new clothes.

  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    So no the Jewish people never invaded “Palestine” because there wasn’t such a land back then.

    Another little known historical fact – the British Mandate of “Palestine” actually was split into a Jewish and an Arab state post war – the Arabs taking two thirds of the mandate and naming their state Transjordan or as we know it today, Jordan.

  12. sundiver says

    Sili: Not only is the exodus a fabrication, the idea that the Jews immigrated into the Levant from somewhere else is likely wrong too. According to Finklestein and Silberman the culture that gave birth to Judaism probably arose in the highlands north of Jerusalem. Archeological discoveries there indicate that, around 1200 BCE, in certain settlements the residents stopped eating pork. These findings are thought to be the oldest, archeological attested evidence of one Judaism’s dietary taboos and indicate that the Hebrews never migrated in but arose from tribes native to the region.

  13. sundiver says

    I find it interesting that a supposedly omniscient god gave the Hebrews one of few places in the Mid-East that doesn’t have any oil.

  14. consciousness razor says

    Like Hitchens, I am an atheist, if to be an atheist means not believing in a CEO God who sits outside his creation, proclaiming edicts, punishing hapless sinners, seeking vengeance on his enemies, and picking sides in times of war.

    I just have to wonder. What would he be, if to be an atheist meant not believing in any kind of god? Because that’s what I think it means. If you believe in a Sophisticated™ god, you’re not an atheist, you dissembling fucker.

    White does make one justifiable argument, that Hitchens tended to sweep all Eastern religions into the same rubbish bin, and was rather too casual in lumping them all together.

    He’s right, to some extent at least, about Hitchens’ one-size-fits-all dismissal of “Western” religions too. But he doesn’t seem to grok that God is Not Great isn’t intended to be a full, rigorous exercise in system-building. He’s not a scientist and a historian and an ethicist and an epistemologist and a metaphysician and a poet and a literary critic. Well, yeah, I’ll grant that, but what the fuck is the problem exactly?

    I think it’s fair to say the book really does fail to deliver an effective argument against religious belief in general (not just specific, especially hateful and bizarre fundie beliefs; religion in general). It’s bad philosophy and bad counter-apologetics. Same with The God Delusion. They’re full of holes and full of fucking errors.

    But for fuck’s sake, aren’t they supposed to be popular fucking trash books that people eat up, without taking them as infallible fucking holy texts on every issue imaginable? They’re not even fucking academic treatises, not about everything and not even about one thing. So what if they don’t cover every topic under the sun that you think is important? It’s like analyzing a Justin Bieber song and criticizing its lack of harmonic diversity and unimaginative orchestration. Do you think Bieber fucking cares? Do you think anybody should be fucking impressed by that?

    So where’s this review supposed to go? What conclusion is there? Hitchens is “dishonest,” I guess. Why not infer plain old stupidity or ignorance or indifference?

  15. peggin says

    @ Marcus Ranum

    Harry Potter could beat Luke Skywalker in a fair fight

    How could it be “fair” if Potter’s got magic!?

    Yeah, but Luke Skywalker has the force — that’s a kind of magic, isn’t it?

    But, seriously, I remember seeing on-line friendships come to an end as a result of vicious fights over whether or not Buffy should have killed Dawn. By White’s logic, I guess that proves that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is really real, too.

  16. says

    The modern “Palestinians” are of much more recent origin

    People from what is now called Palestine and Israel are pretty much genetically indistinguishable IIRC. A 3 year old Israeli child was killed after falling from a window a while ago and his kidney ended up in a 9yo kid from the West Bank, perfect match. What separates these people today is the invisible man in the sky flavor they have chosen to believe in.

    Not for Hitchens the sublime transformation of Christian thought into the cathartic spirituality of German Idealism/ Romanticism and American Transcendentalism.

    I’m not sure what this is supposed to be an argument for/against? And what exactly is “Christian thought” anyway? The dogmatic insistence that we need not worry about how the world works because it’s all explained in our book, a notion that led to 1000 years of scientific standstill?

    Emperor, clothes, all that.

  17. says

    Well, the Bible is right about one thing… at least in reference to defenses of itself(and religion in general), there really is nothing new under the sun. Why should anyone give any credence to complex philosophical/theological ideas about something without first determining whether or not that thing actually exists?

  18. latsot says

    I always enjoy it when a book review tells the author which book they SHOULD have written instead of the one they did.

  19. anteprepro says

    Poor things can’t even check wikipedia before trying to get cheap shots in on a dead atheist.

    The reference they give is a google book , a chapter called “Exodus, Date of” that starts on page 258. They are sympathetic to the Bible (just look at the title), sympathetic to those who want to find a date of exodus (they do spend a whole chapter on the irrelevant task), and yet begin and conclude their chapter by noting how scholars have come to the consensus that the exodus did not happen. They bemoan that consensus on page 270, wishing that archaeologists would explore the matter more so that they would have more data to work with in determining when exodus occurred (!!?!?!).

  20. says

    “Well someone said,” is about all this dishonest dolt can come up with.

    It was published by Oxford… Yeah, and one of Dembski’s books was published by Cambridge. These places publish lots of sucky books, partly because they’re too cheap to care about accuracy, merely relying on credentials for most of their “checking.”

    If you’d given us some actual evidence, White, we might be impressed. All you’re doing is saying that someone wrote something, or “there’s a controversy” (where have we heard that one?), so we should credit religion and fault Hitchens.

    If you’re an atheist, White, you’re still no empiricist. Evidence or STFU.

    Glen Davidson

  21. Sastra says

    As critics have observed since its publication, one enormous problem with Hitchens’s book is that it reduces religion to a series of criminal anecdotes. In the process, however, virtually all of the real history of religious thought, as well as historical and textual scholarship, is simply ignored as if it never existed.

    White gloriously misses the point. The interesting, valuable aspects of religion (whatever they may be) are necessarily humanistic because they are being evaluated from a humanist standpoint. Both White and Hitchens are nonbelievers. If an atheist is capable of appreciating the art, the morals, the philosophy, the history — then religion can’t claim them as unique to religion. They can’t be said to be grounded in supernatural assumptions if they also stand up under naturalist assumptions. Nature — since it’s shared by the religious and nonreligious alike — thus gets priority.

    And religion does not get the credit. It only gets credit for what doesn’t make sense to an atheist because it can’t. Religious virtues and knowledge must lie above the physical world and beyond human reason or else it’s not singularly faith-based. Their territory doesn’t overlap with ours. If the case for the value of religion must be made in the areas which overlap — then this says nothing good about religion. God doesn’t have to exist for those parts, does it?

    That’s Hitchen’s point. That’s the gnu atheist argument, too. Religion ‘improves’ only when it gets less and less mystical and unworldly and special … and starts to make more and more sense to people who are NOT in the particular religion. The fact that over the years people of faith have successfully managed to revise and reform the unmodern stupidities to do what Jerry Coyne calls “make theological virtue out of scientific necessity” isn’t counted as a great triumph of religious faith; it’s a triumph of rational thought over religious faith.

    Cut out God and you can cut out the crap. Exactly.

    Not for Hitchens the sublime transformation of Christian thought into the cathartic spirituality of German Idealism/ Romanticism and American Transcendentalism.

    What, Hitchens wasn’t enchanted by the anti-humanist, anti-enlightenment attempt to re-enchant the world? I would hope not. That reference to “German romaticism” is … problematic. Catharsis involves purging out the toxins.

    “Spirituality” is only benign when it’s a poetic form of humanism. Otherwise, it descends into woo, pseudoscience, and hierarchical divisions of humanity which can’t be questioned. Blood and soil. The destiny of the spiritually enlightened. Yeah, let’s get all teary-eyed and swoony over irrationalism and instinct as systems of knowing. One of those instincts is that atheism is not only wrong but a perversion of the heart, White.

    Look under the surface before you accuse Christopher Hitchens of being shallow.

  22. stevem says

    re Marcus Ranum:

    I greatly disagree with his characterization of buddhism as a great philosophical tradition with a profound metaphysics. It’s just a collection of sayings allegedly by some guy who was supposed to be very smart, that were collected a couple hundred years or so after his death. Sound familiar?

    [aside] That reminds me of a claim that Jesus spent his “missing years” in India as Siddhartha dispensing those “words of wisdom” that became Buddhism. [or maybe where he went when he “poofed” away after his resurrection] Of course, all religion comes from God (the one and only), so why not Buddhism as well? [/aside]
    Seriously, what I read was a very SERIOUS claim that that was true. Still totally amazed at things people will believe with no thought whatsoever. “He tells the truth, whatever he says must always be true.”

    re Hitchens @ OP:

    PZ is (tacitly) providing the perfect example of how NOT to use an ad hominem fallacy when countering someone’s arguments. PZ does NOT say Hitchens is wrong about atheism because Hitchen’s is a ‘gun-waving’ fanatic. Or somesuch. ad hominem can refer to insults, by “dictionary definition”, since it means “to attack the person”. It is a ‘fallacy’ when you do that instead of attacking the *arguments* the person is making. Regardless, as much as PZ disagrees with Hitchens’ politics, he does NOT use that as a reason to dismiss EVERYTHING Hitchens says. Conversely, just because PZ agrees with his atheism, doesn’t force him to justify Hitchens’ politics in the least. ad hominem can mean either ‘disagreeing’ OR ‘agreeing’ with someone just because of who they are, not because of what they are saying.

  23. says

    A friend of mine spent about two years in his youth, in Sudan (his father worked for the US State Dept). One time, when there was a protracted deluge following a drought, nine of the ten plagues of the Exodus story took place. (The one that didn’t, obviously, was the killing of the firstborn and it should be made clear that the rivers didn’t actually turn to blood, but the iron runoff into the river, did turn it blood-red…)

    And that was a completely natural process that was a simple result of a lot of water after a time of dryness…

    So I can’t speak with certainty that this part of the Exodus story didn’t happen, but I can at least say that, if it did, no gods would’ve been needed to make it happen. (My vote goes for it being a relatively commonplace occurrence that really didn’t warrant much documentation in the time or place, but once people migrated to a location where it didn’t happen that way, it became the stuff of the book of Exodus…)

  24. Gregory Greenwood says

    When people like Curtis White claim to be atheists, and then spend a not insubstantial amount of time and (presumably) effort trying to hold toxic, irrational religious woo up as some glorious ideal, while taking cheap and inaccurate shots at other atheists, I become more than a little suspucious.

    White increasingly strikes me as the theist’s ideal of what an atheist ‘should’ be – someone who thinks that religion is just spiffing, and should never ever be criticised. Someone who is more interested in attacking atheism and other atheists than looking critically at the many harmful delusions and con-tricks that lie at the heart of religious beliefs. Someone who is ultimately a somewhat reluctant atheist; who wishes that they could join in with all this supposedly aweome religiosity rather than being stuck with the other godless types. Who are just awful people, dontcha know, what with all the baby eating and summoning of tentacled Elder Gods to destroy humanity…

    Someone, perhaps, who will one day suddenly announce that he has ‘seen the light’, and will go on to describe at length how he used to be an atheist, and why that was so very, very wrong and hopeless and terrible. Perhaps a nice little book deal might be involved, or a lecture tour.

    Sastra @ 23;

    One of those instincts is that atheism is not only wrong but a perversion of the heart, White.

    I suspect that White may well – completely spontaneously and without any forethought or planning, you understand – come to just the conclusion that atheism is a ‘perversion of the heart’…

    Just as soon as it is most profitable to do so…

  25. kantalope says

    As for the Crassus story…the Romans had religion. They had so many religions you can’t count ‘em. So how is religion supposed to have stopped the slave revolt/mass crucifixion after all?

    Ask the Cathars how morally religion makes people behave.

    There is also a long tradition of figuring out how old the earth is based on biblical chronology. Ussher’s is just the most famous and all of that sofistimicated-fillosofizin is demonstrably false. So yeah, those people did all that work and it was nuthin but a waste of crank-yankin. Look at the centuries of time wasted on the exactly wrong medical and natural sciences of the ancient Greeks (I’m lookin at you Aristotle!).

    And White’s go to guy for Biblical Accuracy is Hamblin? A Mormon Apologist! Aha hahahaha – what next a treatise on ethical business transactions from a three card monte dealer?

  26. says

    There is no evidence of a Jewish People taking Palaestine by force at any point in history prior to the 20th century. The original settlement was peaceful immigration.

    As Sundiver notes, the Jews were, by and large, native Canaanites. The interesting question is why they came to see themselves as ‘outsiders’ in their own country, since there is little evidence even of large-scale ‘peaceful immigration’. There were small populations of immigrants that may have played a role in contributing to this national mythology. I find it likely that there’s a gem of historical truth — perhaps a few families who worked in Egypt became assimilated with Canaanite culture, and their legend was sufficiently fantastical that it spread and came to be widely accepted.

     

    Its ‘metaphysics’ are shambolic – simply assumed is hindu dharma and morality comes from our desire to get queued in the recycler in ever higher positions.

    That isn’t an accurate summary of Buddhist philosophy, on either count. First, you need to define ‘dharma'; generally Buddhist views on this do not align with Hindu views. Second, you need to explain why you think Buddhism has a theory of where morality ‘comes from’ (or why it should have such a thing); it sounds like you’re projecting onto this tradition a way of doing ethics that simply isn’t a priority for Buddhists. (And, I think, rightly so.)
     
    I would agree that Buddhist philosophy is generally less rich and interesting than Western philosophy, but that’s not to say that it simply doesn’t exist. See e.g. Nagarjuna or Dharmakirti.

  27. Gregory Greenwood says

    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物) @ 30;

    I predict a bottleneck at the Templeton swinging doors.

    Well, payments handed out in increments of thirty pieces of silver will do that…

  28. Cosmas says

    ” “Palestinians” are of much more recent origin, note for starters that, Islam came thousands of years after Judaism and indeed many Arabs who would later identify themselves as “palestinian”immigrated to the formerly desolate and largely unpopulated area only following the early Jewish settlers efforts to famous “make the deserts bloom”mostly from Syria and Egypt”

    Non-propaganda citation please

    you’re conflating Muslim and Arab. The Semitic native in that land have always lived there. Sociological changes in time happened thru adoption of various religions and not via cleansing and replacing the various ethnic groups. People who were Jews later became Christian or Muslim, or Druze etc… Some of the population may have left or been displaced, but the majority remained and like dinosaurs who gradually became identified as birds, we now know them by a different name. The devastating irony of the current ethnic cleansing project by modern day Zionists supported by fundamentalist propaganda is that at its core an internecine fratricide on a tribal alter.

  29. Sili says

    The land the Israelites entered and settled after the exodus from Egypt was called Canaan at the time and later Judea and Samaria and Israel. Israel (& Judea, Samaria, the area of the original Davidic Kingdom etc ..) has been the historical, emotional and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people for about six thousand years or so.Bollocks. At best there has been a Jewish People since about 1200 BCE as already mentioned.

    Palaestine hasn’t been the Jewish homeland since 135 CE. If we’re to assign homelands on that basis, I’m perfectly willing to let the Jewish People have Palaestine, when the Normans leave the British Isles and the Americas are purged of Europeans.

    Historically, there has never been an independent land of “Palestine” with that name first being used by the Roman empire after crushing the Jewish revolts in a series of Judean-Roman wars of the first few centuries.

    Do you really think we don’t know that? “Palaestine” is a convenient shorthand for “the geographical area roughly covered by the Roman province of that name, at various times called Canaan, Israel, Samaria, Judaea &c.

  30. says

    Not for Hitchens the transformation of a Jewish heretic into a religion that Nietzsche called “Platonism for the masses.

    Where’s the good in that? Platonism’s bullshit.

    Not for Hitchens the sublime transformation of Christian thought into the cathartic spirituality of German Idealism/ Romanticism and American Transcendentalism.

    And holding up German Romanticism as a good thing is even worse, as sastra notes. It shows either disturbing sympathies or stunning historical ignorance.

    Akira MacKenzie

    Obviously, Mr. White and the apologists he defends have never hung out at sci-fi and fantasy conventions, a D&D game, or any other large gathering of nerds. We argue about nothing–whether Harry Potter could beat Luke Skywalker in a fair fight, or the evolution of tribbles–all the time.

    For that matter, given the nature of the internet, it would not surprise me if as many words have been written on such topics as on the last 5000 years of sophistimicated theology.
    Marcus Ranum

    How could it be “fair” if Potter’s got magic!?

    They’ve both got magic; what do you call the Force?

    StevoR

    The land the Israelites entered and settled after the exodus from Egypt was called Canaan at the time and later Judea and Samaria and Israel.

    Did you miss the part where there’s no shred of evidence that they were in Egypt in the first damn place, you idiot? The Jews didn’t immigrate into Canaan at all, because they were Canaannites who developed a different religion, which eventually became dominant in the area. When will you learn to just stay the fuck out of these discussions?

    stevem

    aside] That reminds me of a claim that Jesus spent his “missing years” in India as Siddhartha dispensing those “words of wisdom” that became Buddhism.

    Huh. I’ve never seen that version before (a cursory look at the dates shows it can’t be possible, since Bhuddism predates Christianity by a fair margin). I have heard the version that he spent his ‘missing years’ in India, where he learned Buddhist thought and brought it back to the Middle East, including some versions in which he is recognised there as aBuddha, allegedly called Issa.

    Robby Bensinger

    I would agree that Buddhist philosophy is generally less rich and interesting than Western philosophy, but that’s not to say that it simply doesn’t exist.

    No one was claiming it didn’t exist, just that it’s crap. There probably is just as much Buddhist philosophy around as Christian philosophy, but it’s still crap.

  31. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    There’s a specific spoonful of this bilge that I take particular exception to, and that’s the story of Abraham and Isaac and God’s instruction to Abraham to kill his own son which Abraham was totally going to do.

    When I was a child that story above all others terrified me. My was a minister, you see, and my view of the story was that: If God said to do something, up to and including murder me, his son, my father would do that. If God said, “Sorry, oopsies, forgot to tell you I changed my mind!”, I would still be dead. Of if my Dad, who was going deaf, didn’t hear God, then I’d be dead. And so on and on.

    I have never once understood all of the apologetics around that particularly obscene story, apologetics which say that it proved how GOOD God was. Which is bullshit. God demanded the sacrifice. Abraham was going to give it to him. As a test, it was sadism. As proof of God’s immorality compared to normal human feeling, it works very well. Nowadays, I see it the story as reinforcing the existing patriarchial hierarchy, and giving the man, the head of the family, authority on his own say-so (God told me to do it!) to murder any member of his own family.

    I say again, this terrified me for years, and was an enormous wall between me and father, who an excellent preacher, and told the story many times from the pulpit.

  32. kantalope says

    Or the even worse story of Job. I need to vent this at some point now seems good. Attended the funeral for the family of an almost 2 yo (cancer). And the preacher pulled out Job. It was all I could do to not jump up on my chair and yell, “Are you Fucking kidding me!”

    This has to put the parents in the roll of Job. Which puts their child, the one we are in this church to mourn, into the roll of cutout redshirt extra? Satan killed Job’s children so that Job could be rewarded later? What about the children in the first place? What did they get out of this experience? And then the rest of the blather amounted to telling the abused in an abusive domestic relationship to shutup and go back home. God is hitting you because he loves you. Arrrrgh. It has been a couple of months and steam still comes out of my ears.

  33. Sili says

    There’s a specific spoonful of this bilge that I take particular exception to, and that’s the story of Abraham and Isaac and God’s instruction to Abraham to kill his own son which Abraham was totally going to do.

    That’s actually a quite interesting history when looking at how the Bible was put together. I don’t have my copy of Friedman at hand, but if I recall correctly the original story is from the Elohist source, and Isaac isn’t spared. He disappears completely from the story – hence the need to give Abraham a substitute heir in Ishmael.

    Only when the Priestly source was written to clean up the Jahwist-Elohist collection, was the child sacrifice edited out as unpalatable.

  34. stevem says

    re 35:

    I have heard the version that he spent his ‘missing years’ in India, where he learned Buddhist thought and brought it back to the Middle East, including some versions in which he is recognised there as aBuddha, allegedly called Issa.

    Ah, maybe that is what I read, it was so long ago, that I mis-remembered the story a bit. mea culpa

  35. Owlmirror says

    I don’t have my copy of Friedman at hand, but if I recall correctly the original story is from the Elohist source, and Isaac isn’t spared. He disappears completely from the story –

    (From the Elohist story, that is.)

    There is no known original story where Isaac is explicitly sacrificed; it’s just that the text has the interjection about the substitute sacrifice given rather awkwardly by an angel of Yahweh.

    But Abraham nevertheless goes down the mountain alone. The implication that the original had Isaac sacrificed is thus an inference.

    The rabbis noted this discrepancy, and later Midrash does include scenarios where Isaac was sacrificed and brought back to life. Different Midrash has Isaac staying on the mountain to learn Torah with God or something (I think; it’s been a while).

  36. Akira MacKenzie says

    Dalilama @ 35

    They’ve both got magic; what do you call the Force?

    Comic Book Guy: The Force is created by midichlorians and it is used by thought alone, it does not require invocation, ritual, or spell components…

  37. says

    Comic Book Guy: The Force is created by midichlorians and it is used by thought alone, it does not require invocation, ritual, or spell components…

    <NERD FIGHT!> How do we know Harry Potter hasn’t got midichlorians in his blood? No one’s done an analysis of it, after all. Like the Force, use of Potterverse magic is inherited, and none of his spells require material components; alchemy is something separate. Similarly, Force users almost inevitably gesture when using their powers, as do Potterverse wizards. The shouted words are a form of mnemonic or kiai; the belief that they’re absolutely needed is basically superstition. The wands are some type of Force amplifier. </NERD FIGHT!>
    But isn’t it amazing that we can sit here and discuss this without ever insisting that if only we’d had the right parents we, too would be wizards/Jedi?

  38. Sili says

    (From the Elohist story, that is.)

    There is no known original story where Isaac is explicitly sacrificed; it’s just that the text has the interjection about the substitute sacrifice given rather awkwardly by an angel of Yahweh.

    Thank you. That’s what I inexpertly was trying to get at, yes.

    Thanks for the recommendation of Friendman, by the way (unless it was CJO). Very nice read. Finkelstein and Whatsit were really good too. I should find more books on the Old Testament, really. I’ve been binging on NT details lately.

    Is Francesca Stavrakopoulou any good? I liked her TbV work, but I really missed a lot of the necessary details. It’s all well and good to suggest the lost Eden is really a temple garden in Jerusalem, but that seriously screws up the chronology of the Documentary Hypothesis and pushes everything to be (post)Exilic. I’m not at all familiar with the Minimalism of the Copenhagen School, but I’d like to see what evidence it at work here.

  39. Sili says

    Like the Force, use of Potterverse magic is inherited,

    Is the Force really inherited? Isn’t it more like an infection?

  40. kantalope says

    “Is the Force really inherited? Isn’t it more like an infection?”

    Like Vampirism?

  41. Pierce R. Butler says

    StevoR … @ # 10 et seq.: … there has never been an independent land of “Palestine” with that name first being used by the Roman empire … The modern “Palestinians” are of much more recent origin…

    Funny how dictionary.reference.com (and every other etymological reference) seems to have gotten it wrong:

    Palestine
    from L. Palestina (name of a Roman province), from Gk. Palaistine (Herodotus), from Heb. Pelesheth “Philistia, land of the Philistines.”

    – according to you and the usual Zionist mouthpieces, anyway.

  42. says

    No one was claiming it didn’t exist, just that it’s crap. There probably is just as much Buddhist philosophy around as Christian philosophy, but it’s still crap.

    Anti-intellectualism isn’t the right response to pseudoscience. I don’t doubt you know enough about Buddhism to recognize its falsehood, but I’m skeptical that you know enough about the philosophy done by Buddhists to conclude that it is all worthless. Could you provide some evidence of this?
     

    I should find more books on the Old Testament, really. I’ve been binging on NT details lately.

    What OT books have you read in the past? The best broad overview I’ve found is ‘How to Read the Bible’ (Kugel); the most interesting new perspective is ‘God: A Biography’ (Miles).

  43. Sili says

    Pierce,

    The significant word was “independent”. The area we refer to as Palaestine went from being a Jewish client kingdom of Rome to being under direct Roman rule. I haven’t really paid attention after the second century, but presumably they were then under Constantinopolitan rule until some version of EBOL! Muslims took over.

    So, no, not independent.

  44. Sili says

    What OT books have you read in the past? The best broad overview I’ve found is ‘How to Read the Bible’ (Kugel); the most interesting new perspective is ‘God: A Biography’ (Miles).

    Only Friedman and Finkelstein, really.

    I’d like to learn a bit more about the Prophets, their context and chronology.

  45. =8)-DX says

    >>Slavoj Žižek

    Please nasty people, don’t diss Slavoj Žižek for me. He’s my favourite atheist, neo-communist, postmodern vulgar philsopher out there. He’s an entertainer, a droner-on, a emphatically pseudo-intellectual-while-thinking-five-levels-deep philosopher.

    I’ve loved all his lectures and Q&As not because I think he’s right about everything, but because it’s just so fuckin’ awesome and makes one think. If there’s one real role for philosophers in the future utopic society (after the revolution), it’s to challenge one’s assumptions, make one think and make one laugh.

  46. zytigon says

    Try ” Egyptian myth and legend ” by Donald A. Mackenzie.
    Also ” The Golden bough ” by James Frazer
    The Ancient Egyptians viewed it taboo to eat pork long before any Hebrews / Jews did. Also the Egyptians practiced circumcision before the Jews did. So the traditions that the bible claims made Jews unique, didn’t. So were the stories written by people who were ignorant of the customs of ancient Egypt ?
    Egypt & Babylonia took turns ruling over the area that is now Israel.
    Interesting to read about the history of archaeology in Levant. Early archaeologists maybe made stuff up to fit the Bible stories. A real God could have preserved all the important evidence which is missing.
    Even the tablets of stone with 10 commandments went missing and there is no mention of it in the Bible- just as if it was fairy tales or propoganda.
    Harry H. McCall on debunkingchrisitianity wrote that there are no extant O.T. writings older than 250 BCE.
    ” The bible unearthed ” by Finkelstein & Silberman is worth reading
    There is a spectrum of views about every issue in the Bible

  47. karpad says

    Also on the Crassus issue, that’s a neat it of equivocation. Virtus is a specific thing in Roman culture. While it is the root word of virtue, it is not the same thing. It specifically is a concept of a sort of authoritarian swagger. “Manliness” is a viable translation (as the word was specifically used almost exclusively for men. Cultural sexism at play) but misses some nuance. Aspects include moral certitude, decisiveness, sincerity, and courage, but a component is also about behaving as expected for a public face: how you behave in front of others. Within the context of the word, Crassus most definitely was behaving with Virtus. To use the word as if the Romans would claim this were the same virtue as empathy or kindness is, I can only assume, deliberate obfuscation.

  48. =8)-DX says

    Also, midichlorians don’t exist. That’s just episode 1 bullshit. As Joda said, the force is everywhere, in the tree, in the air, in X-wing spaceships.
    Talking about the force in terms of midichlorians is like talking about Jar-jar Binks as an appropriate political emmisary for Naboo or about exotic poison gas being better than undetectable CO at killing Jedis.

    The force is fuckin’ everywhere, in everyone. Talent is one thing, but mystical supernatural telekinetic majicks is another.

  49. imthegenieicandoanything says

    I’d care about this if I knew who this lame asshole even is and what group that matters in any way he influences. Having 24/7 access to something that will piss you off is the least useful function of the WWW.

    My posts here are likely as important to the debate, or ANY debate – not at all. But I’m just killing some time.

  50. Pierce R. Butler says

    Sili @ # 48: The significant word was “independent”.

    The significance of which lies mostly in providing a weasel escape tunnel.

    In the etymology I quoted in # 41, the significant word was “Pelesheth” – a Hebrew word meaning “land of the Philistines”.

    Yes, the Palestinians as a population have held that piece of real estate for a very long time, fully acknowledged as an established kingdom by the putative ancestors of modern Israelis (as well as Greeks, Romans, et al). Said ancestors held their own “independence” only briefly and intermittently, with trivial effect.

  51. ekwhite says

    Marcus @1:

    I could not bring myself to read the entire article. I got the idea that it was tone trolling early, and stopped. There is something inherently disgusting about calling a dead person a liar when they are no longer around to defend themselves.

    I certainly disagreed with many of Hitchens’ ideas when he was alive – especially his cheerleading of the Iraq war – but I never thought of him as a liar. Wrong sometimes, but not a liar.

  52. says

    Sili #49,

    I’d like to learn a bit more about the Prophets, their context and chronology.

    You might want to check out the June 13, 2013 edition of In Our Time. The topic was prophecy and they always include a reading list. I am not familiar with these books might you might want to take a look.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02qncqn

  53. says

    Robby Bensinger

    Could you provide some evidence of this?

    Religious philosophy, Buddhist, Christian, or otherwise, is intrinsically crap, since it starts with falsified or incoherent axioms and purports to discuss the real world. A great deal of secular philosophy has the same problem, of course, to the point where the majority of the field consists of intellectual circle-jerks. While I have no objection to this, and indeed the discussion in this very thread about the nature of the Force could be fairly characterized the same way, but the people having that discussion aren’t making claims about the real world and don’t expect people who aren’t fans to care about it or take it seriously, neither of which claims can be made about philosophers, religious or secular.

    Sili

    Is the Force really inherited? Isn’t it more like an infection?

    Evidence indicates that the ability to use the Force runs in family lines, which implies that talent is heritable, regardless of whetehr the mechanism is midichlorians or ordinary* genetics.

    *or as ordinary as genetics gets in this context.

  54. Stacy says

    …not for Hitchens the existential Christianity of Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Karl Jaspers, Paul Tillich, Martin Buber

    Huh. I’m sure Martin Buber would have been surprised to find out he was a Christian.

  55. gruebleen says

    latsot @20, “when a book review tells the author which book they SHOULD have written”

    But latsot, that is the essence of “criticism”: “If I’da done it, I’da done it differently”. Especially when the “critic”, in fact, couldn’t have done it at all.

  56. Azuma Hazuki says

    @59

    And fuck Kierkegaard too. He capitulated to Tertullian’s “i believe it because it is absurd” defense, which is somewhere just north of the Chewbacca Defense in terms of usefulness.

  57. captainblack says

    I don’t like to knit pick (OK yes I do), but Crassus did not receive a Triumph for his part in the 3rd Servile War, but merely the lesser honour of an Ovation.

    Not much difference you might think, but it was for Crassus.

  58. John Morales says

    [OT + meta]

    captainblack, excellent nitpick, but was this deliberate?

    I don’t like to knit [sic] pick (OK yes I do)

    :)

  59. randay says

    Zitgon #51 is right. Curtis White certainly did not consult the book and video of “The Bible Unearthed” by Silberman and Finkelstein. They show that there was no Exodus. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDDs8HgOZ4o

    He/she also correctly recommends James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”. I wish to add Robert Graves and Raphael Patai’s “The Hebrew Myths”. There is also Graves’s “The White Goddess”.

    Christianity would not have survived as more than just another sect if it weren’t for Emperors Constantine and Theodosius in the 4th century who gathered quarreling Christian leaders together to come up with a single story, whether it made since or not. Theodosius made Christianity the state religion and outlawed other religions including Christian heretics.

  60. randay says

    I can add that there were fifty or more gospels that were rejected by Constantine and Theodosius’s councils. The followers of Arius, known as Arians, were likely the plurality and maybe the majority of Christians at that time. They were called heretics. Arianism was just one of several strands of Christian thought at the time.

  61. k_machine says

    Crassus’s crucifixion of six thousand Spartacans

    There’s so much wrong about this as an example of the good that Christianity brings. First, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a society that tolerates rebellions, be they Christian or of any other kind. Just ask Americans what they think about Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier (both on death row for killing police). If a group of Americans set about trying to start a revolution by killing cops and soldiers they would never in a million years be embraced by American Christians. Throughout history there has never been a Christian state that has put down rebellions and felt bad about it, counter-insurgents have always been celebrated as war heroes. Christianity did not get rid of slavery, the death penalty or torture (but I guess since they killed people in horrifying slow ways other than crucifixion, they were better).

    Secondly, if Spartacus rebellion would have succeeded, it would have destroyed the basis of the Roman empire (slavery) and therefore it would have wiped out the main disease vector of Christianity. Without a Roman empire to force people to be Christian, Christianity would at most be some obscure sub-sect of Judaism. You can’t stringently bemoan that the base of Christianity succeeded in putting down a rebellion in an un-Christian manner.

    Thirdly, Christianity was not shy about committing genocide to protect itself, in the Albigensian Crusade, Christians, ordered by the pope, murdered women and children to get rid of “heretics” and in the first crusade Christian knights murdered the non-Christian population of Jerusalem to the cheers of Christianity. But I guess since Christians babble about “love thine enemy”, getting exterminated in this fashion is better than paganism somehow (“love” in this context: I love to ram a sword through the body of your wife and children).

  62. erik333 says

    Seemed to me that Hitchens motivations for the Iraq war stemmed from his pro-kurdistan stance and viewing Saddam to be the same kind of beast as Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. Calling him a “cheerleader for war” seems less than nuanced. He viewed pacifism in the face of evil as “wicked”, and it is at least difficult to prove him wrong on that point.

  63. loopyj says

    I stopped reading the original article when I got to “At one point he calls the story of Abraham and Isaac “mad and gloomy,” a “frightful” and “vile” “delusion,” but sees no reason to mention Kierkegaard’s complex, poetic, and deeply felt philosophical retelling of the story in “Fear and Trembling”.” Why exactly does Curtis White think that Hitchens had any obligation to offer other writer’s analysis of the Abraham and Isaac story? What exactly is dishonest about not including the whole history of religious scholarship in a book that isn’t about the whole history of religious scholarship? It really irks me when critics complain about what’s not in a book and what they think the book should have been about, rather than focusing on the actual content and style.

    Kierkegaard’s retelling might have been ‘complex, poetic, and deeply felt,’ but it was still utter nonsense, page after agonizing page of religious and moral contortions to explain and excuse a short, simple, straightforward bible passage about how the nasty and capricious god of the OT demands fear from his worldly playthings and rewards them handsomely for their unquestioning obedience and willingness to violate the most fundamental of human ethical obligations.

  64. randay says

    Christian massacres are almost too numerous to mention. During the 30 years war between Catholics and Protestants, the army of the Holy Roman Empire sacked the town of Magdebourg killing 25,000 of the 30,000 inhabitants. One of the Catholic generals wrote about it:
    “In a letter, Pappenheim wrote of the Sack:
    I believe that over twenty thousand souls were lost. It is certain that no more terrible work and divine punishment has been seen since the Destruction of Jerusalem. All of our soldiers became rich. God with us.[8]” –wiki

    “magdeburgization” became a term for total destruction. When protestant troops defeated catholic ones, they executed many calling it “Magdebourg justice”.

  65. Ichthyic says

    Hitchens’s claim that “no Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode [of Moses and the Israelites] either, even in passing” is simply polemical balderdash.

    I was specifically interested in this, as no account I have ever read that was based on any factual evidence suggests that there ever was any mention of “this episode” (shorthand) in any Egyptian documents of the period.

    this based on direct accounts by Hector Avalos, and indirectly from references he has sourced.

    so, anyone know differently? I’d like to be able to put this issue to bed in my mind once and for all.

  66. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    so, anyone know differently? I’d like to be able to put this issue to bed in my mind once and for all.

    While I’m no expert, I am a voracious reader on ancient history, and I’ve never seen any factual evidence for the Exodus given.

  67. says

    I can’t give a citation, but I’m told there is a record of a group of merchants with a few hundred Hebrew mercenaries they’d hired as bodyguards being expelled from Egypt.