Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

I heard that the Bible has a recommendation for an abortion remedy, and I thought that was pretty cool, until I actually read it. Jesus, the Bible makes everything worse. Numbers 5:11-31.

11 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

12 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man’s wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,

13 And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;

14 And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled:

15 Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

16 And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord:

17 And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water:

18 And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:

19 And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:

20 But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband:

21 Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;

22 And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.

23 And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:

24 And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.

25 Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the Lord, and offer it upon the altar:

26 And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.

27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.

28 And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.

29 This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;

30 Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law.

31 Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.

Yikes. Sure, abortion is OK in the Bible, but just for a woman who is suspected of adultery by her husband, and if she’s found guilty of adultery, then her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. I think maybe we shouldn’t be looking to the Christian holy book for guidance on this issue, or any other for that matter.

Maybe Xian hypocrisy is preferred to Xians being true to the Bible.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    The shooter is a radical muslim lone wolf who started shooting gay people. Because religious scripture (He is from Iran, and we know what Khomeini thought about gay people).
    I have no idea what Islam says about abortion.
    Old testament: Modern jews usually deal with the toxic shit by saying it is allegorical. A good idea I recommend for other religions.

  2. ORigel says

    Numbers 5 is as useful to skeptics as Hosea 13:16– a way to show how anti-life their holy book is.

    Samaria will be held guilty,
    For she has rebelled against her God.
    They will fall by the sword,
    Their little ones will be dashed in pieces,
    And their pregnant women will be ripped open.

    Verses like this are an OT prophetic staple. Remember this when Christians tell you how pro-social justice the prophets were.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    Texas- the place where r☆tarded get executed. And the merely stupid and vile rule.
    If Clarence Thomas gets his will Griswold vs Connecticut is up next.
    The Texans will love it when the state government starts telling them which contraceptives they are allowed to use.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ephah: [noun] an ancient Hebrew unit of dry measure equal to ¹/₁₀ homer or a little over a bushel.

    0.1 bushel of barley, enough for a case of beer: Such a bargain for inflicting fistulas* on your own wife! Thanks, Lord!

    *Or whatever other gynecological horror “her thigh shall rot” euphemizes…

  5. birgerjohansson says

    1 Homer- this should be the measure
    of enough barley for a case if beer…
    (lets myself out)

  6. wzrd1 says

    @birgerjohansson, the Quran is as silent as the Torah on abortion. It was known and practiced, as other historical journals and treatises on medicine can attest to, but the copied and customized and more original works from the bronze age were silent. The guidance I’ve heard largely was, if the fetus could not survive outside of the womb, it is part of the woman and not a human life, as it has not drawn breath. Hadith is variable, depending upon the sect, but the average consensus remains as above.
    Only alleged Christians know better than their own God, prohibiting a practice that history records as being performed, that their faith remains silent on, because they know more than their alleged idiot creator.

    @PZ, dilation and curettage isn’t a new procedure and the dilation historically was performed with a naturally occurring sea plant, laminaria, which is still in use today, despite synthetics now being available. Understandable, as one tends to be more comfortable with how something one learned with and used for decades behaves en vivo…
    A half bushel of barley, dust from the floor that’d largely be local dust and incense ash (frankincense apparently having measurable antimicrobial activity and still used in niche markets for wine barrel sanitation) and “bitter water”, which between the incense ash and that last magical and unutterable secret ingredient being from the Greek text, moving water and hence, more holy water and in the original Hebrew text, the water from the container the priests washed their hands in, placed into an earthenware drinking vessel that was to be destroyed at the conclusion of the ceremony and frankly, the whole nine yards seems dependent upon the priest’s curse.
    Notable being, the temple midden digs didn’t seem to have many such vessels, but then, jealousy was required and other options included compensation for the unauthorized usage of the husband’s property.
    Or just divorcing her.
    Given the loss of standing just in asking for the ritual, I suspect that it was beyond uncommon.

    Well, back to trying to figure out what knocked out my induction cooktop, one side was on deferred maintenance due to a sensor error, now the remaining side is giving what appears to be a driver transistor thermal failure.
    Might have to patch my failed resistive cooktop or fall back to my butane cooktop for a bit. :/
    before my damned coffee…!
    And the coffeepot just failed, the heating element opened up, a first in a half century of checking and repairing family home appliances – just after the year’s warranty (oddly, 3 years in Canada) ran out. Part not available, so Mr Coffee previously was on my shit list, now Hamilton Beach joins it for brands not to waste money on.
    Now, if only I could find whereinhell I put that percolator cord…

  7. rabbitbrush says

    Ummmm, “Numbers” is in the Old Testesment, not the New, so is not the xtian Bibble. “Numbers” is Jewish shi†. It’s all bullshi†, anyway.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Wzrd1 @ 8
    Maybe your kitchen is targeted by the aliens that knocked out the electronics in Tom Cruise ‘s neighborhood?

    BTW Christians have made “documentaries” claiming the whole “Alien abduction” thing are demons camouflaging themselves as extra-terrestrials. At least they are more original than the usual kooks.

  9. wsierichs says

    As an FYI: “Thigh” in this case possibly – probably likely – refers to a woman’s genitals, as it is used that way for men’s genitals in other ancient literature. A pretty ugly “curse.” Maybe intended to make a woman sterile (if it actually were some supernatural curse) or at least induce a miscarriage.

  10. submoron says

    My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.

  11. ORigel says

    @9 Numbers is also part of the Old Testament in Christian Bibles. Even though Christians say they are not under the Law, they include the Pentateuch in their bibles. Some think the whole Protestant Bible is inerrant and literally true.

    It’s fair game for skeptics to mock the views of the forced-birthers.

  12. laurian says

    Atheist here but Numbers is a Jewish text, not a Christian one.

    I know, I know, I know….

  13. nomdeplume says

    I presume that the lunatics from AiG not only believe that Genesis is inerrant but that so is everything that follows including the abhorrent passages like this. So why is this passage not being followed religiously?

  14. birgerjohansson says

    If we are to quote depressing religious scripture, here is some stuff I found about the hierarchy of loyalties true muslims are supposed to follow.

    (It was dug up by a Christian group, but this crowd are very careful to not misquote or misrepresent islamic texts)

  15. says

    Atheist here but Numbers is a Jewish text, not a Christian one.

    The Old Testament is part of what Christians call The Holy Bible, so it’s all a Christian text. Except when it’s not. Subject to change without notice.

  16. billseymour says

    Yes, the quote was from what Christians call the Old Testament, and that’s actually where far right Christians find most of their “proof text.”  These people who claim to love Jesus so much hardly ever base their moral theology on any parable or other quote actually attributed to Jesus in the Gospels.  That’s too much like SOCIALISM!  AIEEE!

  17. nomdeplume says

    I guess the religious see the Old Testament the way the Supreme Court sees the American Constitution.

  18. wzrd1 says

    @birgerjohansson, I suspect a not of this earth issue and a local one.
    Namely, we seem to get power surges that end up needing me to reboot every computer whenever there’s a geomagnetic storm. Probably some iron nearby or similar annoyance. :/
    Plus, this time of year, the added bonus of electrical storms, which have a slightly lower reboot ratio, but can cook electronics that are connected.
    Well, it’s either that or some bastard fed them after midnight gain.

    I see a lot of dismissal about “It’s Jewish” about Numbers. I simply say that which is true, Jesus was a Jew.
    Which gets xxxstians heads spinning, “No he’s not! He’s Christian!”, to which I reply, “So, Jesus worshiped himself? He went to temple services, he even taught in the temple, per scriptures, only Jews could enter the temple, let alone worship or teach there”.

  19. ORigel says

    Right-wing Christians lurve the Gospel of John and the epistles. Beyond that, they favor Genesis, Psalms, Daniel, and Revelation.

  20. ORigel says

    I was fantasizing about making the Bible the new “Constitution” of the United States because it’s longer, more varied, and thus easier to cherry-pick. Bonus points if ellipses are used to string together words from different verses, chapters, or books!

  21. DLC says

    wzrd1 @ (and others) For a woman, “the Curse” was nothing other than her period, so, “the water that bringeth the curse” would have been a crude chemical abortificant. Also, while I don’t often make product recommendations may I suggest Bunn coffee makers ? they have a wet coil in the water tank that keeps the water hot (around 90c if I remember right.) and when you pour more water in it pushes the hot water out and into the drip basket. I’ve had 2 over the past 30-odd years, and both of them performed well, despite my living in an area with high lime scale content in the water.) As to your electrical power issue, you might investigate buying some power conditioners or GFI circuits. I’m not going to speculate further based on incomplete knowledge.

  22. ospalh says

    One interpretation of this section works out fine, tho.
    That assumes that the woman stays pregnant after drinking the potion.
    That means that the whole ritual is mostly a way to make jealous husbands shut up.
    “The child is yours. The ritual proves it. Never mind what you think you saw.”

  23. brightmoon says

    bitter water could have ergot in it. Rotting thigh and abortion sounds like ergot poisoning which can be nasty. What a cruel thing to do to a woman merely because her husband is a suspicious jerk.

  24. lasius says

    @14 laurian

    If the Christian faith descended from Judaism, why are there still Jews?

    Since this is a text from the common ancestor religion of both modern Christianity and modern Judaism, how can any religion have more claim to it?

  25. yoav says

    Also according to Ex 21:22 it is clear that the bible doesn’t consider a fetus a full person since if you hit a pregnant woman and cause her to miscarry, but she is not killed you only need to pay her husband for his lost property (the child), only if the woman herself is killed than you are put to death.

  26. ORigel says

    The more recent Evangelical versions often translate that verse as this:

    Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely. If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve. [NLT]

    They keep it ambiguous so the injury might be to the fetus, for all the reader knows.

  27. rrhain says

    Note, that is the nice interpretation.

    If you look at the various rabbinical interpretations of that passage (because we must never forget that this is a JEWISH text written for a JEWISH audience and attempts to reframe it in Christian terms is to inherently misunderstand it), you see that it means not merely that she’ll miscarry.

    Instead, she dies.

    But at least in those interpretations, the man who committed adultery with her also dies. As Maimonides wrote, “When she dies, the adulterer because of whom she was compelled to drink will also die, wherever he is located. The same phenomena, the swelling of the belly and the rupture of the thigh, will also occur to him. All the above applies provided her husband never engaged in forbidden sexual relations in his life. If, however, her husband ever engaged in forbidden relations, the waters do not check his wife.”

    Also, notice that the husband needs to be perfectly faithful in his own stead. He cannot accuse his wife of adultery and expect this to work when he’s screwing around on the side himself.

    And just to be clear, this ordeal is god coming down and personally, deliberately, and consciously causing the miscarriage (Nachmanides). Of all the law, this is the only one that requires god to come down and make it happen. It isn’t like the bitter waters are themselves an abortifacient. It’s just a ritual to conjure god and have him cast judgement right here and now upon the woman based upon her fidelity (and the fidelity of her husband).

    This invocation of god was actually used, according to the Talmud, to force god to make someone conceive. Chana, mother of Samuel, was barren and desperately wanted a child. Knowing that she was faithful, she told god that if he didn’t let her conceive, she would make herself sotah and undergo the ordeal, forcing god to have her conceive (Brochot, 31b).

    There is so much more to this than the Christians want you to know. Not only does this cause the death of the fetus, it is god directly, consciously, and personally killing it.

  28. wzrd1 says

    @rrhain, at the heart of most Christian misinterpretations is defective transliteration or worse, in some versions of the bible, defective transliteration into Latin from Hebrew and Greek, then deficiently translated Latin to English.
    Hence, biblical unicorns, dragons, etc that are entirely absent in the Hebrew sources.

    BTW, the description of manner of death strongly suggests bubonic plague, with rupture of the bubos in the groin and abdomen.

    But, telling, in no Jewish scripture is abortion prohibited at all and it was in use in that time period, Jesus being adherent to the laws of Moses and obviously knowledgeable of practices of the time would’ve known that and no objection was raised in any Christian testament.
    So, what exactly is the penalty for putting words and laws into the Creator’s mouth?