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Sunday, October 27, 2013

What Would Dawkinites Do?

What would be done in the name of atheism?

Well atheists and anti-theists often protest that Stalin, Mao, Jong Il, Castro, Hoxsa, etc. are not good examples of atheism or an atheistic state. If we ignore the fact that ever fully secularized and explicitly atheistic state has universally led to a rapid totalitarian violent culture, we are still left with the problem of what exactly atheists would do if they were no longer the extreme minority but where in control. So I wanted to hear it from them.

I asked the follow question in about 5 different atheistic Facebook forums:

For those anti-theists who believe that religion is evil, wicked, deluded, violent, poisons everything and to raise a child with religious beliefs is a worse form of child abuse than sexually molesting them (aka you agree with Ditchkins and Harris et al), if you were given the reigns of the nation, how would you change the laws? For example, if religious education is really more damaging to a child than sexual predation, then why would you NOT make it illegal and punishable by lengthy prison sentences?

Some of the responses I got were chilling. And to be honest, these were the COMMON responses (and yes these are all direct quotes!):

1.      I would make religion like alcohol and it should not be consumed until the age of 21.

2.      I would make it illegal for any public religious displays and have all religious buildings reclaimed.

3.      If people want to practice religion, they are to do it in their own homes.

4.      If a parent tries to force their religion onto their child, their child will be removed and the parent punished just like any other form of child abuse.

5.      Religion should be a personal belief and as such should be practiced in private, ultimately one cannot tell how a parent raises their child. No public preaching should be allowed. Churches, temples, mosques etc should not be exempt from paying taxes, religious studies should not be a mandatory subject but one via choice. Religion should in no way shape or form be involved in any politics or government legislation.

6.      They’re both equally horrible. Religion and school dont mix what so ever. And I do think organized religion is evil, however, the people who attend church are not. There’s a difference between saying religion is evil, and you’re evil because you believe.

a.       I asked a follow up question: So people should be allowed to be religious but they cannot congregate in churches because that would be organized? He responded: Smaller non profit is fine, mega churches are ridiculous.

7.      I would also have religious studies as mandatory education in primary school.
In this children will be taught the origins of religions and how they were made up to control primitive people and are full of myths and legends with only very small amounts of reality.

8.      I would first off tax the church. In fact I would back tax them.....Secondly I would reclaim all "holy ground" and house homeless people in them and help them get real life skills so they could eventually be a productive member of society.....Thirdly, nothing taught in school about creationism/Christian science

9.      I do think I would take children away from overtly theist families like the Westboro Baptist Church and such and I would have an age limit on the time you can attend church at all.

10.  If the nation were to demand that I define the laws regarding religion, it's gone. Churches are closed. No prayer in public spaces. Kids get taught in school that creationism is nonsense. The usual.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that nothing evil is done in the name of religion or that atheism is just the peaceful result of secularism, think again. This does not mean that all atheists are like this but atheists should not think that it is only religion when it gets powerful that commits atrocities.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

There Be Monsters In Y'er Bible Mate!

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In this edition of The Freed Thinker Podcast we respond to a meme that has been making its way around the atheistic blog-o-sphere and on the facebook threads dealing with the supposed “monsters” in the Bible. How accurate is the meme? Does the Bible affirm the real existence of Dragons and Cockatrices and Sea Monsters?

We will see. 

This meme is an absolute total failure as we will see. The major problem with this is that the graphics used to represent each one of the animals is supposed to make us think that those images are adequate representations of what the Hebrew authors really meant. We will see that this is simply not the case.

I would like to begin with a procedural note. I will be citing primarily from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) because it is, in my opinion and in the opinion of most scholars and for many reasons, the best mass market translation out today. Often the NASB has cleaned up the problem with the passage that plagued the KJV so when I need to, I will cite the KJV and will note that I have made the change. Now, let’s move now into the list of these creatures.

Sea Monster/Leviathan

So the first “monsters” we see in the meme are the Sea Monster followed by Leviathan. We can see in the images of these creatures that they are these huge, terrifying looking monsters with lots of legs and wings and crashing waves around them – but is this how the Bible describes them? Not really as we will see. In fact the sea monster and Leviathan are actuality likely the same animal in the mind of the Hebrew writers. When we look at couplets such as Psalm 74 we see that the same animal is called “sea monster” in the first line, and “Leviathan” in the next. Now for those who don’t know, couplets are an extremely common literary device in Hebrew literature where something in described in one line and then redescribed in the very next line – such as in Psalm 78:1 where the Psalmist writes, “Listen, O my people, to my instruction;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” Here listening to God’s instruction is rephrased as inclining one’s ears to the words from God’s mouth. They mean the same thing but they are described in different terms. So when we read in Psalm 74:13-14, “You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan;” we can see that the same beast is being described in the couplet. And in fact some of the verses even use the same word that is later translated (in the KJV of course) as “dragon”, such as Isaiah 27:1, so it is possible that in some cases even the “dragon” and the sea monster Leviathan are one and the same.

Main verses for Sea Monster/Leviathan:

1.      Job 3:8 - “Let those curse it who curse the day, Who are prepared to rouse Leviathan.” (This is found in a speech made by Job, not a claim made by the author of Job – that is, this is direct speech.)
2.      Job 7:12 – “Am I the sea, or the sea monster, That You set a guard over me?” (This again is direct speech from Job)
3.      Job 41:1-34 - “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?
Or press down his tongue with a cord?
“Can you put a rope in his nose
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?
“Will he make many supplications to you,
Or will he speak to you soft words?
“Will he make a covenant with you?
Will you take him for a servant forever?
“Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you bind him for your maidens?
“Will the traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him among the merchants?
“Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
Or his head with fishing spears?
“Lay your hand on him;
Remember the battle; you will not do it again!
“Behold, your expectation is false;
Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?
10 “No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;
Who then is he that can stand before Me?
11 “Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
12 “I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
Or his mighty strength, or his orderly frame.
13 “Who can strip off his outer armor?
Who can come within his double mail?
14 “Who can open the doors of his face?
Around his teeth there is terror.
15 His strong scales are his pride,
Shut up as with a tight seal.
16 “One is so near to another
That no air can come between them.
17 “They are joined one to another;
They clasp each other and cannot be separated.
18 “His sneezes flash forth light,
And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
19 “Out of his mouth go burning torches;
Sparks of fire leap forth.
20 “Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth
As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21 “His breath kindles coals,
And a flame goes forth from his mouth.
22 “In his neck lodges strength,
And dismay leaps before him.
23 “The folds of his flesh are joined together,
Firm on him and immovable.
24 “His heart is as hard as a stone,
Even as hard as a lower millstone.
25 “When he raises himself up, the mighty fear;
Because of the crashing they are bewildered.
26 “The sword that reaches him cannot avail,
Nor the spear, the dart or the javelin.
27 “He regards iron as straw,
Bronze as rotten wood.
28 “The arrow cannot make him flee;
Slingstones are turned into stubble for him.
29 “Clubs are regarded as stubble;
He laughs at the rattling of the javelin.
30 “His underparts are like sharp potsherds;
He spreads out like a threshing sledge on the mire.
31 “He makes the depths boil like a pot;
He makes the sea like a jar of ointment.
32 “Behind him he makes a wake to shine;
One would think the deep to be gray-haired.
33 “Nothing on earth is like him,
One made without fear.
34 “He looks on everything that is high;
He is king over all the sons of pride.”

(Now this is direct speech from God talking to Job. But does it mean that God is affirming the existence of Leviathan as shown in the picture?)

4.      Psalm 74:13-14 - You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

5.      Psalms 104:24-26 - O Lord, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your possessions.
25 There is the sea, great and broad,
In which are swarms without number,
Animals both small and great.
26 There the ships move along,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.

6.      Isaiah 27:1 - In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.

7.      Ezekiel 32:1-2 - In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first of the month, the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him,
‘You compared yourself to a young lion of the nations,
Yet you are like the monster in the seas;
And you burst forth in your rivers
And muddied the waters with your feet
And fouled their rivers.’

8.      Lamentations 4:3 (KJV only) - Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.

This is a good example where the NASB benefits from 400 more years of textual criticism and study and better translated a term that was unknown to the editors of the KJV but has become known to us now –
Even jackals offer the breast,
They nurse their young;
But the daughter of my people has become cruel
Like ostriches in the wilderness.

So what can we say about this sea monster Leviathan. First of all, we simply don’t know what it is. The graphic would like us to pretend that Christians believe in something like what is shown in the picture. The problem is that Christians don’t. We simply don’t know what is being described in these passages but there are good reasons to think that the animal is much more ordinary, as we will see. It is likely that this is not describing some mythical creature but rather is describing a crocodile or a very dangerous poisonous snake or serpent. Not only are the terms used universally understood as serpentine creatures, but we will see that much of the confusion arises when we fail to understand how they frequently function as representations of the deities of the powerful nations that have opposed Israel in their past.

But first let me ask you, if you didn’t know what a giant squid was or what the recently discovered Frilled Shark was or some other bizarre sea creature that you saw while fishing or washed up on the shore, would you be blamed for calling it a “sea monster”? Hardly. So why should we expect ancient people to be any different? And in fact, as we will see in a moment, they didn’t call them “sea monster”. That was what the English translators used. They called it a תַּנִּין (tannin) which literally just means a serpent.

Now Leviathan is a transliteration from Hebrew into English of לִוְיָתָן (liv-ya-than) which Waltke shows to mean a "coiled one" and is one of these Tanninim (-im is the plural ending in Hebrew).  While we don’t know exactly what creature it is for certain, based on the usage of the term and the description given in Job, many scholars think that what we are dealing with is a crocodile or some kind of large water snake. The interesting part is not actually what animal it is, but how the Biblical authors use the animal as a polemic against their oppressive neighboring empires.

Isaiah 27:1 says, "In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea." 

“That day” is a reference to the day of the Lord – when God would judge the nations.  That is, on judgment day Leviathan will be slain.  Leviathan becomes a reference to Satan or the powers of evil.  The Book of Revelation in the New Testament will pick up this theme saying, "9And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." (Rev 12:9).  Or elsewhere John writes, "2And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;" (Rev 20:2).  So it is possible that the descriptions and uses of this serpent are not just the descriptions of an animal at all but function rather as polemical allusions to Satan. Thus he is described with this language from ANE myths, which is not really surprising considering that sometimes he is called Beelzebul (some English translations Beelzebub) -- a name first ascribed to one of the false gods (one of the Baals) in the ANE pantheon. This is even more probable considering that a major feature of the Old Testament is its use of parallel thought forms in order to polemicize their neighbors. That is, the Hebrew authors would commonly take a theme or an image from their pagan surroundings and use it like “hooks” to hang their message on. For example, they were not affirming the existence of the Baal but they felt free to use it as a symbol for evil and idolatry – for more on this I recommend checking out John Currid’s lecture series entitled Crass Plagiarism[1] or John Walton’s lecture “Reading Genesis through Ancient Eyes,”[2] both of which are available on iTunes. Or as Prof. Howard Vos has noted: “The OT prophet was referring to poetic imagery known to his people just as Christian writers allude to Graeco-Roman mythology without encouraging belief in the pagan deities.”

The false gods and the mythical creatures of chaos become names for Satan. Another ANE Tannin was Rahab (no not the prostitute in Jericho) which Waltke defines as the "arrogant one". Isaiah 51:9-10 says,

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord;
Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.
Was it not You who cut Rahab in pieces,
Who pierced the dragon?
10 Was it not You who dried up the sea,
The waters of the great deep;
Who made the depths of the sea a pathway
For the redeemed to cross over?

Again, the Hebrew for "dragon" is Tannin – here we have another application of the dragon theme. I think we will see that the Biblical authors used the image of the dragon (which we will see is not what we think of when we hear the term dragon) to describe what they considered to be evil powers (Satanic or otherwise).  But what we see in this Isaiah 51 passage is that at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, it was Rahab that was cut to pieces.  At the New Exodus in Isaiah 27 which we read previously, it is Leviathan that is pierced.  In Isaiah Rahab is a poetic allusion for Egypt; which is not a stretch to think considering that it was a serpent that portrayed the power of Pharaoh on his headdress and a crocodile was a common illustration of his might. We know that the venomous asp and the deadly crocodile were both symbols of power and divinity that the Pharaohs took to represent themselves – the Biblical authors were just using the same imagery for them that they ascribed to themselves. And moreover, each of these nations worshipped what were, in the eyes of any faithful Israelite, demonic false gods represented by these two creatures and so the defeat of a nation was also a defeat of those gods -- and thus a defeat of the dragons/serpents that symbolized those gods.  This final defeat is also foreshadowed in the curse on the land-serpent Satan just after the fall in the Garden when God promises, "he shall bruise your head." It is possible then that these uses of Leviathan and the sea monster, while possible references to real animals (such as a crocodile or a large or dangerous serpent) are metaphors for the wicked powers of kingdoms like Egypt and Babylon. As we just stated but will do well to keep in mind, this defeat of the serpent motif was emblematic to the Jews because of God’s decree that one of the main roles of Messiah would be to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). 

In fact, the prophet Jeremiah mentioned the Tanninim by way of this exact analogy. In Jeremiah 51:34 he said,

34 “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured me and crushed me,
He has set me down like an empty vessel;
He has swallowed me like a monster,
He has filled his stomach with my delicacies;
He has washed me away.

Here the word "monster" translates the Hebrew word Tannin -- a dragon-serpent sea monster.  This is similar to the Isaianic discussion about judgment day being a swallowing up and destruction of the serpent.

Among the first two books of the Writings (Job and Psalms), these themes are even more prevalent.  In Psalm 73 the psalmist writes,

You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness."

As we saw before, the sea monsters here in this couplet are called Leviathan.  The Psalmist co-opts this mythical language but in a different way than the rest of Scripture since he does not refer to this sea monster here as Rahab but as Leviathan.  Another example is when the Psalmist in Psalm 104 tells the story of creation in a similar way to Genesis.  Psalm 104:26 says,

26 There the ships move along,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it. {the sea}

As Waltke says in a footnote, the point of this verse is that it "reduces the Leviathan to a duck in God's bathtub."  The Tanninim, including Leviathan and Rahab, are but creatures that God had made. The point of these passages is not to tell us about the nature of some mythical creature but to show us that God is creator of all things – no matter how frightening or dangerous they may be – not to give us exact morphological descriptions.

This brings us to Job who mentions these ANE creatures such as in Job 3:8 where Job says of the day of his birth, “Let those curse it who curse the day, Who are prepared to rouse Leviathan."  Perhaps the eschatology of Job includes the loosing of Leviathan right before the final judgment (like Rev 20:3).  But whatever the text means, Job is cursing the day of his birth and comparing it to evil eschatological events.  Job mentions sea monsters in general in Job 7:12, "Am I the sea, or the sea monster (Tannin), That You set a guard over me?".  Job also refers to the death of the Tannin called Rahab in the same way as the prophets above when he writes in Job 26:12-13,

He quieted the sea with His power,
And by His understanding He shattered Rahab.
13 “By His breath the heavens are cleared;
His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent."

Here the word serpent is the same as Gen 3:1 showing that the theme of representing evil powers has carried through into the book of Job. And just after mentioning Behemoth, Leviathan comes up again in Job 41:1-2, "Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?
Or press down his tongue with a cord?"  And God continues this way describing Leviathan in some very poetic terms but the point is to show that while Job is puny compared to this powerful serpent, that God can catch the 'mighty' Leviathan like a simple fish.  The point is to emphasize God's strength and Leviathan's impotence and thus to challenge Job for confronting God.

And therefore in the Job cycle, it is to draw us back to the original adversary in the book of Job which was Satan himself.  No matter whether he is seen as a serpent-dragon of the sea or a land-serpent, he is a creature of God and under His control.  Satan is impotent compared to God.  More than that, Satan is powerless except as God gives him authority which we see in the opening prologue of the book.  This is the teaching of Scripture throughout.

So the Bible is not describing some mega water dragon the lives in the sea. What we find in the Bible is the description of what would likely have been a terrifying creature to any ancient person (a crocodile, a large shark, a deadly snake such as an adder or an asp) and that animal then being used as a symbol of the evil power of the oppressive nations with which Israel encounters. This was their version of political satire or opposition rhetoric. This was their version of the George W. Bush “the Axis of Evil.” We will actually see more of this when the serpent theme is carried forward into the New Testament under the “Dragon” image.

So for the first 2 graphics, this meme is total bust.

Behemoth – This creature is only mentioned in one passage.
1.      Job 40:15-24:
15 “Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you;
He eats grass like an ox.
16 “Behold now, his strength in his loins
And his power in the muscles of his belly.
17 “He bends his tail like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are knit together.
18 “His bones are tubes of bronze;
His limbs are like bars of iron.
19 “He is the first of the ways of God;
Let his maker bring near his sword.
20 “Surely the mountains bring him food,
And all the beasts of the field play there.
21 “Under the lotus plants he lies down,
In the covert of the reeds and the marsh.
22 “The lotus plants cover him with shade;
The willows of the brook surround him.
23 “If a river rages, he is not alarmed;
He is confident, though the Jordan rushes to his mouth.
24 “Can anyone capture him when he is on watch,
With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?

In this case again, we simply have no clue what this animal is that is being described – but we know it is nothing like the picture of a purple monster. Those who read the context of the passage know that this is found in a poetic section of the Bible (just like the Seas monster Leviathan often was) and is described in poetic language using poetic imagery. Have you never read a poem about an Elephant or a Crocodile? I mean just think of Lewis’ Carroll’s poem about the crocodile:

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

Should we think that Carroll actually believed that crocodiles made technological improvements to their tails like upgrades? Or that they had golden scales? And that they are able to grin and smile? Of course not. Carroll is clearly using poetry and it is obvious to anyone reading it that he is describing a poetic version of the crocodile. To anyone reading Job about Behemoth, the same is obviously true.

This now brings us to the possible identity of Behemoth.  The word “Behemoth” is also a Hebrew transliteration into English.  The term literally just means “a great animal”. Job uses the term בהמות (behemot) and this word is only used in one other place in the Bible and that is Psalm 73:22 – “Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.” Here the psalmist is not comparing himself to a mythical creature but rather that he was senseless and ignorant like a common beast. In fact most translations put in the footnote in the Job passage that Behemoth is likely a hippopotamus or elephant based on the description, but the Hebrew word is a general one for an animal sometimes referring to cattle or other livestock in outside sources.  In fact the translators of the Septuagint translate the word with the word θηρία (theria) which is a general term for a wild animal Greek.  But the point of the text is that both Behemoth and the sea monster Leviathan listed after Behemoth are creatures of God that depend upon Him.  God says, "Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you..." (Job 40:15).  This mighty beast depends on God for his food, shelter, and strength.  Again, the point is to emphasize God's strength and Behemoth's impotence and thus to challenge Job for confronting God.  Both of these creatures (Behemoth and Leviathan) are not impotent when compared to Job but they are when compared to God.

So again in this case we see the graphic from the meme to be just totally unrepresentative of what is stated in the Biblical text.

The first few were the most complex. We’ll see going forward that the common mistake is simply that the authors of the KJV just translated with mythical creatures what we know now were very common terms for every day animals.

Dragon – There are literally dozens of examples where in the KJV the authors have translated the term as dragon where we know that term was simply for a coiled serpent. So I will only show a couple of the couplets that we talked about before to show that snakes/serpents are what is being talked about and not mythical flying dragons.

1.      Deut 32:33 –
Their wine is the venom of serpents,
And the deadly poison of cobras.

2.      Ps 91:13 –
You will tread upon the lion and cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

Notice that in these couplets the “dragon,” which in the NASB has been correctly translated as serpent, is restated as a cobra – a very deadly and venomous snake. The couplets show that what is meant by “dragon” is not some mythical fire breathing flying mega serpent, but rather an ordinary, albeit deadly, snake.

In fact what we find is that within the Bible the only time something could be translated as “dragon” is in the book of Revelation where the Greek word δρκων (drakon) is used. In Greek there are several words for snakes, serpents and vipers such as φις (snake) or χιδνα (vipers) and I am going to argue that δρκων is another one, though it means something more like a great serpent. While the term “dragon” has now come to mean something like a giant winged flying lizard that spews fire, we would commit what is called the retroactive fallacy by importing that meaning back onto the text. In fact we see in Revelation that this δρκων is also found in a classic couplet. In Revelation 12:9 we read, “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” In this case the dragon is coupled with a serpent – the serpent of the Old Testament that we saw above was a coiled serpent that represented the evil powers. Revelation is an apocalyptic book that uses imagery (specifically imagery from the Old Testament) to describe the current events of John’s day. When he was looking for the right symbols to describe the devil and Nero and the oppressive Roman Empire, it is not surprising that he would use the same symbol of a serpent that was found throughout the Old Testament to describe Satan, and Nebuchadnezzar (parallel to Nero), and to the oppressive empires of Egypt and Babylon (parallel to Rome). Revelation is not trying to tell us that there are flying red dragons haunting the hills of Israel. He is telling us about the evil powers of Satan and those people and nations that seek to oppress the people of God.

Now, you may not believe that there is such a being as the Devil but the point is that we can quite easily see that the Bible is not telling us that there are dragons either, at least not in the way we imagine dragons to be in our folklore.

Giants – Do the Biblical authors believe in mega humans, towering over the treetops?

1.      Numbers 13:33 - There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
2.      1 Samuel 17:4 - Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
3.      2 Samuel 21:15-22 -
15 There was war again between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary. 16 And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. 17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David's men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” 18 After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. 19 And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam. 20 And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. 21 And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David's brother, struck him down. 22 These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.

Here we have the main examples that skeptics draw on to say that the Bible says that there are giants – think Jolly Green Giant like in the picture in the meme.

The problem is that nothing of the sort is stated in the texts. In the Numbers passage we have scouts who are sent into the promise land to see how the Israelites can plan their military strategy. We know that these scouts are shown as lacking in confidence so for them to say that there were Nephilim in the land and that they were like grasshoppers is clearly an exaggeration, and one about the superior might of the armies of the land, not a reference to their height. 

In fact let's look at the verses that the Nephilim first appear: Genesis 6:1-4:

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

This is not a reference to giants or, as some suppose, fallen angels. The “sons of God” is not a reference to fallen angels – it is a reference to the faithful people of God in contrast to the sinful nations that surrounded them. This is not some warning against breeding with demons but against being unequally yoked (as the New Testament calls it) to unbelievers. The Nephilim were not even the children of these unions as some suppose and the text does not say that they were. It merely states that in those days the Nephilim where in the land. And that’s it. There is a lot of debate about who the Nephilim were and what the root of the word Nephilim was (it seems to derive from some root for “fall” and could describe them as morally fallen, or that they caused men to fall in battle – we just don’t know). They were mighty warriors (“men of renown”) but nothing in the text states that they were giants. So when we come to the Numbers passage it is simply inappropriate to import such a meaning into the text. They were just a tribe of mighty warriors.

Next we get to the most famous “giant” of them all – Goliath. The problem is that nothing about him is really all that giant. Was he tall? Absolutely. In fact, the Bible tells us how tall Goliath was - 6 cubits and a span. A cubit in the ANE was a unit of measure from the inside of the elbow to the wrist and a span is the length from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the pinky when the hand is spread apart – maybe another 5 inches back then. Some versions of a cubit went from the inside of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger but the cubits in the Bible seem to be what are called "short" cubits that were just the forearm. Part of the problem is that this is far from a standardized unit of measure such as an inch or a yard, and it varied radically by location ranging from 13" to 36" depending on who was doing the measuring. Considering the average person in Ancient Israel was about 5' tall, a cubit would be about 13 to 15 inches in length – just over a foot. Even if we are generous and put a cubit at 15 inches that would put Goliath just over 7 feet tall – and that is being generous. Yet by ancient standards, he would have been a giant over pretty much everyone else in Israel and Philistia. Now does the meme really want us to think that it is absurd to think that human could exceed 7 feet in the ancient world?

From here we can then look at the context of the 2 Samuel passage. All of these references are to Philistines, specifically from Gath – the same tribe as Goliath! So these later references to these men being decedents of the “giants” simply means that they were from the same stock as Goliath – the really tall one.

Hardly the Jolly Green Giant of the meme. David was not the ancient equivalent of Jack the Giant Slayer who slew a man the size of tall building.

Cockatrice – This one is a total catastrophe for the skeptic. It is a prime example where they are only willing to use the KJV and ignore the fact that we now know what the word means due to finding thousands of other documents that simply were not available to the translators of the KJV. A cockatrice is a mythical serpent that was hatched from a rooster’s egg, hence the crazy looking rooster dragon in the picture. So let’s look at some verses in the NASB and see if you can spot where the KJV might have translated a word as “cockatrice”.

1.      Isaiah 11:8 - The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
2.      Isaiah 14:29 - Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
    that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder
3.      Isaiah 59:5 - They hatch adders' eggs;
    they weave the spider's web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
    and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.
4.      Jeremiah 8:17 - For behold, I am sending among you serpents,
    adders that cannot be charmed,
    and they shall bite you,”
declares the Lord.

 In all of these cases the KJV translates the word, “צֶפַע” (tsepha) as cockatrice but it is the same word in Hebrew for the extremely poisonous Adder... a snake. This is an example where the translators of the KJV simply did not have access to the wealth of resources about the meaning of ancient words that we have available to us now. This is why modern translations are more accurate – we have access not only to 400 more years of textual criticism, but also 400 years of textual discovery where we can see more and more uses of the term to discover what the words actually meant at the time of composition. In this case, we know from all of the other uses of this term, that it was a reference to a very poisonous snake – the adder.

Kangaroo – obviously not. This one is meant to be the one which we know is not in the Bible.

Satyr – So what about the Satyr? Fail again. In Greek and Roman mythology, the satyr was a half-man/half-beast god, a companion of Bacchus. There is absolutely no relationship between this pagan concept and any passage in the Bible. The Hebrew is sa’ir which means a hairy one and usually referred to goats. The term is used over 50 times in the Old Testament and only two of those times do the translators of the KJV or any other Bible translate it as satyr or anything but a goat. Every other time they translate it as a goat. They are:
1.      Leviticus 17:7 – They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot. This shall be a permanent statute to them throughout their generations.”
2.      2 Chronicles 11:14-15 – “For the Levites left their pasture lands and their property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the Lord. 15 He set up priests of his own for the high places, for the satyrs and for the calves which he had made.”

The only time it is used to describe a supernatural being is when it signifies the pagan goat deities (because the Hebrew didn’t have a better word for goat deities than hairy goats) and it does not confirm their existence but actually denies them as pagan idols. Old Testament scholar J. Barton Payne notes, “Far from being mythological ‘satyrs,’ as claimed by ‘liberal’ criticism, the sirim appear to have been simply goat idols, used in conjunction with the golden calves.” Both of these passages are referring to idolatry and the second is condemning the installation of false priests by Jeroboam and his sons. These passages are describing what the pagan worshippers said that they were worshipping. Saying that the Bible affirms the real existence of these because it says that they are false deities in these verses is like saying that an atheist affirms the real existence of God because they claim it is a false deity.  

Talking Donkey -
Okay, so I’ll give the skeptic that there is a talking donkey in the Old Testament but even then it was not a talking donkey. That is, it did not exist as a talking donkey. The author did not think that there was in existence a species of donkeys that was able to speak. It was a one-time miracle where God chose to speak thru a donkey to a faithless prophet and the point was basically, “you’re being more stupid than this ass!” But it is not as through the Biblical authors thought that there were talking donkeys running around in the woods. This is a miracle claim and not a claim about the existence of talking donkeys. Now again you might think that miracles are impossible and thus still chalk this up to myth, but you cannot merely point to it and say, “see, the Bible says that there are talking donkeys”  without basically begging the question of anti-supernaturalism.

Unicorns - Fail again. This is again simply based on a poor translation of the Hebrew by the editors of the KJV. The Hebrew word is ראם (re’em) and is best translated as “Wild ox.” In fact what is so ironic about this is that the KJV translates it as unicorn even though in a few places (such as Deut 33:17) it’s described as having horns - yes plural horns; as in more than one horn. This objection about unicorns is based on a long discredited translation found in the KJV. So the Bible says that there are wild oxen, but not unicorns.

Now, this does not go to show that the Bible is inerrant or infallible. I’m just trying to show that these kinds of memes, which are meant to be “reasonable” and “rational” are themselves extremely uneducated and heavily biased. The very ironic thing about this (and other memes) is that the very same people who blindly and blissfully post them to support their own unbelief (and mock and ridicule the supposed beliefs of others), are the very same people who say that Christians are uneducated, irrational, and ignorant. And yet I have very little doubt that when I post this, I will receive emails from skeptics defending the meme and accusing me of just going through apologetical gyrations and leaps of logic to defend my faith at all costs. They will defend at all costs the anti-historical, anti-intellectualism that this kind of meme embodies and ignore all history, scholarship and reason.

Brights indeed.