Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

An Agnostic Who “Gets” the Hebrew Bible

In a really interesting if slightly bizarre exchange between Robert Wright (The Evolution of God) and economist Tyler Cowen, Cowen, not a conventional religious believer and not Jewish, goes on about the Hebrew Bible and how it stands out from other religious texts, especially Buddhist texts. Compared to “the Torah as a written product,” they don’t have 

the power, the ability to give it multiple readings, and to read it again and again and again and be lead to develop more sophisticated questions about the stories that are taking place and to find subtleties and interconnections across the different parts of the Hebrew Bible I really find quite astonishing. I think it’s still one of the greatest books that was ever written. ‘Written is maybe not exactly the right word. Some people would say edited-slash-written. Some people would say, handed down by God.


He says he finds it “very hard to explain using our normal categories.” 
“Now that’s a very unusual view for a nonbeliever to hold,” Cowen concludes, adding that his parents were “Irish atheists.” Well, yes, “very unusual” is how I’d describe it too. Also very perceptive.
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Hebrew Student

posted June 19, 2009 at 11:35 am

Nice post. Even an agnostic can see how the Hebrew Bible is no ordinary text that man has ever written! That’s because it is the inspired Word of God.

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posted June 19, 2009 at 11:54 am

“That’s because it is the inspired Word of God.”
Dear Hebrew student–if you could explain just exactly what you mean by “inspired,” “inspired word,” and “God,” then I might be willing to consider something like this. I suspect that you would reject a humanist-like statement that would go: Mozart’s music is God-inspired. But what exactly makes it different? Do you mean that the words of the text were spoken by God and then reproduced verbatim? Do you mean that a specific human had some particular experience with God or the divine and then responded to that experience by writing about it–in his own human words and language? Because when people make statements like “inspired word of God,” it makes my head spin and ultimately doesn’t really mean that much.

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posted June 19, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Hebrew Student, perhaps you should read Israël Finkelstein and Niel Asher Silberman’s book The Bible unearthed.

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posted June 20, 2009 at 1:07 am

I agree with Tyler’s assessment, and I am also a nonbeliever. But I do quarrel with his comparison with Buddhist texts. I place Buddhism within the Hindu tradition, and I find the Hindu Vedas and texts such as the Ramayana every bit as complex as the Hebrew Bible. In the year since discovering the Ramayana, I have read three different translations and a number of books of criticism. I would describe it just as Tyler describes the Hebrew Bible: filled with interconnections and subtleties that are revealed only with multiple readings. I think Tyler is self-aware and is exactly right to confess that he is biased by his Western perspective.

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The Masked Defender

posted June 20, 2009 at 10:42 pm

What frustrates me is that Moses and Joshua were as avid genocidal maniacs as Hitler and Himmler were. Their acts of genocide are listed in 10-20 places in Exodus and Deutorotomy. And yet we “gentiles” are reminded daily of the Nazi’s villiany. Can you explain this?

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Christopher M

posted June 21, 2009 at 2:42 am

I’m another nonbeliever in a deity. I agree with Cowen about the richness of the Hebrew Bible, and I don’t think it’s such an unusual position. Maybe it only seems that way to you because the more vocal atheists have tended to be those who hold religion and its artifacts in more categorical disdain?

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posted June 21, 2009 at 10:41 am

The people that Moses and Joshua were commanded to exterminate were guilty of major atrocities. The Canaanites practised human sacrifice, burning babies to Moloch and all that. And the Amalekites were just plain bloodthirsty warmongers. The Nazi’s didn’t exterminate Jews because of things they did, but rather because of their genes. And the book of Joshua relates how the Isaelites had mercy on some of the Canaanits, and allowed pockets of Canaanites to live. And the Gibeonites were spared because they cut a deal with Joshua, howbeit a fraudulent one.

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Mike K.

posted July 3, 2014 at 10:26 am

The Hebrew Bible is absolutely replete with xenophobia, ethnocentrism, racism, and hate. No Be-ing capable of Creation could be deemed to have “inspired” it. It was written by a priest class concerned with power, and concerned with maintaining control of the key trade roots which has always made the area of Israel/Palestine fought over.

Naturally, many, indeed probably most religious Jews or non-Supercessionist Xians are probably very nice people. But that is because they IGNORE large portions of the Hebrew Bible.

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Mike K.

posted July 3, 2014 at 10:27 am

The Hebrew Bible is absolutely replete with xenophobia, racism, and hate. No Be-ing capable of Creation could be deemed to have “inspired” it. It was written by a priest class concerned with power, and concerned with maintaining control of the key trade roots which has always made the area of Israel/Palestine fought over.

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