The next stage in Israelite history is the era of the judges, tribal chiefs, kings and queens. These dudes were as violent as Joseph Kony can never be.
The most famous of them, Samson, establishes his reputation by killing thirty men during his wedding feast because he needs their clothing to pay off a bet.
Then, to avenge the killing of his wife and her father, he slaughters a thousand Philistines and sets fire to their crops; after escaping capture, he kills another thousand with the jawbone of an ass.
When he is finally captured and his eyes are burned out, God gives him the strength for a 9/11-like suicide attack in which he implodes a large building, crushing the three thousand men and women who are worshipping inside it.
Israel’s first king, Saul, establishes a small empire, which gives him the opportunity to settle an old score. Centuries earlier, during the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the Amalekites had harassed them, and God commanded the Israelites to “wipe out the name of Amalek.”
So when Judge Samuel anoints Saul as king, he reminds Saul of the divine decree: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
Saul carries out the order, but Samuel is furious to learn that he has spared their king, Agag. So Samuel “hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord.”
Saul is eventually overthrown by his son-in-law David, who absorbs the southern tribes of Judah, conquers Jerusalem, and makes it the capital of a kingdom that will last four centuries.
David would come to be celebrated in story, song, and sculpture and his six-pointed star would symbolize his people for three thousand years. Christians too would revere him as the forerunner of Jesus.
But in Hebrew scripture David is not just the “sweet singer of Israel,” the chiseled poet who plays a harp and composes the Psalms.
After he makes his name by killing Goliath, David recruits a gang of guerrillas, extorts wealth from his fellow citizens at sword point, and fights as a mercenary for the Philistines.
These achievements make Saul jealous: the women in his court are singing, “Saul has killed by the thousands, but David by the tens of thousands.” So Saul plots to have him assassinated. David narrowly escapes before staging a successful coup.
When David becomes king, he keeps up his hard-earned reputation for killing by the tens of thousands.
After his general Joab “wasted the country of the children of Ammon,” David “brought out the people that were in it, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes.”
Finally he manages to do something that God considers immoral: he orders a census. To punish David for this lapse, God kills seventy thousand of his citizens.
Sex and violence: King David
Within the royal family, sex and violence go hand in hand. While taking a walk on the palace roof one day, David peeping-toms a naked woman, Bathsheba, and likes what he sees, so he sends her husband to be killed in battle and adds her to his seraglio.
Later one of David’s children rapes another one and is killed in revenge by a third. The avenger, Absalom, rounds up an army and tries to usurp David’s throne by having sex with ten of his concubines.
(As usual, we are not told how the concubines felt about all this.) While fleeing David’s army, Absalom’s hair gets caught in a tree, and David’s general thrusts three spears into his heart.
This does not put the family squabbles to an end. Bathsheba tricks a senile David into anointing their son Solomon as his successor.
When the legitimate heir, David’s older son Adonijah, protests, Solomon has him killed.
King Solomon is credited with fewer homicides than his predecessors and is remembered instead for building the Temple in Jerusalem and for writing the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (though with a harem of seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines, he clearly didn’t spend all his time writing). Most of all he is remembered for his eponymous virtue, “the wisdom of Solomon.” Two prostitutes sharing a room give birth a few days apart.
One of the babies dies, and each woman claims that the surviving boy is hers. The wise king adjudicates the dispute by pulling out a sword and threatening to butcher the baby and hand each woman a piece of the bloody corpse.
One woman withdraws her claim, and Solomon awards the baby to her. “When all Israel heard of the verdict that the king had rendered, they stood in awe of the king, because they saw that he had divine wisdom in carrying out justice.”
The distancing effect of a good story can make us forget the brutality of the world in which it was set.
Just imagine a judge in family court today adjudicating a maternity dispute by pulling out a chain saw and threatening to butcher the baby before the disputants’ eyes.
Solomon was confident that the more humane woman (we are never told that she was the mother) would reveal herself, and that the other woman was so spiteful that she would allow a baby to be slaughtered in front of her—and he was right!
And he must have been prepared, in the event he was wrong, to carry out the butchery or else forfeit all credibility. The women, for their part, must have believed that their wise king was capable of carrying out this grisly murder.
The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. People enslave, rape, and murder members of their immediate families.
Warlords slaughter civilians indiscriminately, including the children. Women are bought, sold, and plundered like sex toys.
And Yahweh tortures and massacres people by the hundreds of thousands for trivial disobedience or for no reason at all. These atrocities are neither isolated nor obscure.
They implicate all the major characters of the Old Testament, the ones that Sunday-school children draw with crayons.
And they fall into a continuous plotline that stretches for millennia, from Adam and Eve through Noah, the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and beyond.
According to the biblical scholar Raymund Schwager, the Hebrew Bible “contains over six hundred passages that explicitly talk about nations, kings, or individuals attacking, destroying, and killing others. . . .
Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appears as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people.”
Matthew White, a self-described atrocitologist who keeps a database with the estimated death tolls of history’s major wars, massacres, and genocides, counts about 1.2 million deaths from mass killing that are specifically enumerated in the Bible.
(He excludes the half million casualties in the war between Judah and Israel described in 2 Chronicles 13 because he considers the body count historically implausible.) The victims of the Noachian flood would add another 20 million or so to the total.
In my next blog, I will tell you the good news about the bible and explicitly explain to you why you shouldn’t have sleepless nights worrying and just throw the book among the other books you have.
No wonder we have corrupt officers who touch the bible and swear to uphold the constitution and the next day (you know the how it end). Of course they know the truth. The bible was not wholly inspired by God as it is known.