God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 7


This is the Chapter 7  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 7: Revelation: The Nightmare of

the Old Testament




Page Contents






Chapter Content


Use the links and drop down to the comments if you would like to see each comment applying to each paragraph here. 


P.97 Opening snide remarks   Link below


P.97,98 Objections to the Old Testament     Link below

  •  varied disclosure to ‘hugely discrepant' prophets 
  •  one revelation is not enough – needed various backups 
  •  other times just one revelation to some obscure person 
  •  revelations are “hopelessly inconsistent” 
  •  revelation often comes to nobodies 


P.98-101 Foibles of the Ten Commandments   Link below

  •  the commandments themselves 
  •  the tone in which they are delivered & specific niggles 
  •  what they do not say


P.101,102 Other laws and failure  Link below


P.102,103 Archaeology's absences    Link below


P.104-106 The Pentateuch's failings – Moses as an author      Link below


P.106,107 The death penalty & genocide   Link below


P.107 Concluding misunderstandings   Link below




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General Comment


This is pleasantly short chapter, a mere ten pages. It is important to note the opening words because it indicates an author who comes to the subject with a closed mind, prejudiced and making snide comments. As we commented, particularly in the light of the last chapter, about the importance of the presuppositions that we each start with, it is important to understand and realise that everything this writer says in this chapter comes from the stance he has previously taken. There is no openness to possibilities; this is just a blatant uneducated rant at the Old Testament which reveals lack of understanding and an apparent refusal to think out the things read in the Old Testament.


The author's approach is in stark contrast to a testimony found in The Inspiration of the Pentateuch, a weighty dissertation by M.W.J.Phelan:

“When I first began to read the Scriptures, it was in total isolation from any Jewish or Christian individual or organisation. I did not even know that the book I had purchased, entitled Good News For Modern Man was a New Testament. As I read its pages, I was drawn more and more deeply into the heart of its teaching until I reached a definite point where an event of recognition occurred. Without the aid of any other human, immediately and comprehensively, I was granted the realisation that what I was reading was absolutely and eternally True. The impact this recognition made upon me was life-changing, brought a feeling of joy combined with wonder and awe.”


Before moving into this chapter in detail, I would remind the reader that a) I am a reasonably intelligent person and b) I have been studying the Bible intelligently for over forty years. I believe in truth and do not countenance any variance from it. Therefore if I found the Bible full of untruths, contradictions or confusions, I would have given up on it long ago. If you can accept that, then you are ready to read the specific comments that follow.




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Specific Comments


Again we look at the specific points we have observed in the ‘Content' part above


P.97 Opening negative remarks. As I noted above, I believe it is important to note this starting place. Consider this, four lines in: “On certain very special occasions, it is asserted, the divine will was made known by direct contact with randomly selected human beings, who were supposedly vouchsafed unalterable laws that could then be passed on to those less favoured.”


Now before I continue here, may I recommend you read P.31 of our Apologetics pages, entitled “The Revelation of God.” (CLICK HERE).    Right, let's continue and note the various phrases in the above sentence.


very special occasions” – actually this is quite inaccurate. Certainly there were one or two very notable occasions when the divine encounter meant a sharing of the divine will, but by and large these encounters were on remarkably ordinary occasions, and that is what makes them notable. God often spoke to individuals in the very ordinariness of their lives, not at the peak of some great religious experience!


it is asserted” – this is the language of doubt. It is emotive and gives you no room to reason for yourself. His negative emotional frame is being imposed upon you the reader.


randomly selected individuals” – which suggests they are random only in the eyes of the author because he doesn't know why they were chosen and hasn't bothered to either read or think to find out why. There is nothing random about God's choices, as you will see if you read that page recommended above.


who were supposedly” – more of the language of doubt. As above.


those less favoured” – by which we assume he means those who hadn't been favoured with an encounter with God. How silly is that! So God can only speak as long as He speaks to large numbers at a time! He speaks to individuals on purpose - but I'm not going to do all your thinking for you; you can think that one out!


We thus start with emotionally biased writing that imposes on you, with sloppy and casual and inaccurate comments. This is not a good way to start a chapter, unless you are just hoping to feed others who have the same biased presuppositions as you have, and who won't be bothered to think about the truth.


P.97,98 Objections to the Old Testament: The emotive language continues: “There are some very obvious objections”. Well actually what follows are not obvious; in fact the objections are often frivolous and shallow and made with little thought. Let's take them one by one:


i) Varied disclosure to ‘hugely discrepant prophets': This starts out “several such disclosures have been claimed to occur.” Wipe away all the non-Biblical ones if you will, because I am only speaking about Biblical prophets, and the author is not clear - in fact he is very vague,  but as this is a chapter on the Old Testament, I assume he is speaking about prophets and laws in the Old Testament only here. Several? Try hundreds! If it is purely ‘laws' then it is in fact only one ‘prophet', Moses, yet it is more than just two or three even with him. But he did say ‘prophets' and so if we include the numbers of times that God spoke to Israel in the Old Testament, it is literally hundreds.


ii) one revelation is not enough – needed various backups: Well, actually one of the things that I have noted today, is that when God speaks to people, He does repeat Himself because we are incredibly good at forgetting what He said or even of hearing it wrongly. The fact that He repeats Himself simply adds credibility to it.


iii) other times just one revelation to some obscure person: Well I have to say I don't know who he is referring to here. The only ‘obscure' people might be some of the so-called minor prophets and nothing they said added to the Law, only confirmed it. I think this is just inaccuracy here.


iv) revelations are “hopelessly inconsistent”: Well he wisely doesn't try to give us any examples of the wild accusation. The amazing thing that I have found of over forty years reading it again and again, is that it is incredibly consistent! Unfounded and inaccurate belief!


v) revelation often comes to nobodies: Actually his words were “unlettered and quasi-historical figures”. Unlettered? Does this mean uneducated? Well there are a couple of very obvious (and these ARE obvious if you've read your Bible) answers here. The first is, does it matter that they were uneducated? I'm not sure who he has in mind, but most of the receivers of divine communication, also experienced divine encounter and power to verify their words. Education wasn't an issue. The second point is that if you take Moses, for example, as one of the prime providers of the divine communication, he was almost certainly a most remarkably educated individual, having been raised in the courts of the Pharaoh of his day.


No, these “obvious objections” come as the objections of a person with very sketchy knowledge of the Old Testament, but then he is an atheist, and atheists aren't known for their knowledge of the Bible and yet keep on blundering in when fools fear to tread.


There is a little aside between this and the next section, about the three monotheistic faiths. I think the idea is, defeat one and you defeat all three because they all have the same ancestry. That's why the early books seem important to him but it's a shame he hasn't the courage to read all the books of the Old Testament, because he would then realise that this ancestry is supported right the way throughout.


P.98-101 Foibles of the Ten Commandments: Somewhat rashly, our author embarks on a critique of a set of laws that large parts of the world throughout history have hailed as possibly the best synopsis of basic law for a society that have ever been produced. Let's consider what he says.


a) the commandments themselves (P.98,99):

He rightly insists that the first three are all variations of the same one. Yes they are, but they are significant variations:


1. No other gods beside the “I AM” (revealed to Moses – Ex 3), the eternal, ever-present one

•  Why? Because there is only one Supreme Being. Is this obvious? No, the Greeks and Romans obviously didn't think so!

2. Don't make representations of God in any form associated with the earth

•  Why? Because an idol diminishes who He is and makes you think you can ‘manage' Him.

3. Don't misuse or distort His name

•  Why? Because any alteration of His name changes who you think He is.


His second objection is to the “throat clearing … very serious admonitions” in respect of Ex 20:5 – “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” A number of separate but related issues are here, and he will pick this up again further down the page.


First God was originally speaking to the nation He had just delivered from slavery in Egypt and was offering them (and they had not yet accepted it – so they were quite clear about the One with whom they were having dealings) a relationship that was based on His intent to create a people who would stand out in the world as a people blessed with peace, harmony and prosperity (which was observable in the following centuries when they played their part – see shortly).


Second, their part was to stick close to Him and that meant not going the way of the surrounding pagan nations who were worshipping idols and offering their children as sacrifices to their ‘gods'. They couldn't have it both ways – blessing AND idol worship and idol sacrifice – that's what the reference to Him being jealous means.


Third, the injunction that follows about punishment, please note, is a limiting one, ONLY to the third and fourth generations, and it is punishment of those who hated Him and therefore rebelled against Him but still held on to the name of those who were His people. If they did that they would no longer represent Him faithfully to the rest of the world.


Fourth, what this “throat clearing” reference does not do is paint the whole picture, for we've quoted verse 5 but verse 6 continues: “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” In other words, any punishment is overshadowed by the promise of ongoing available love. Put another way, if you keep my guidance you won't be wasting your time, for my love will be poured out on generation after generation without end.


If you want the even fuller picture, it is worth noting here that, after Israel's failure and Moses breaking the first set of stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on, when He gives him a second replacement set, He describes Himself to Moses in a very reassuring manner which simply expands on what we have just seen: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6).


Do you see the emphasis here, right in the early part of Israel 's history with God? God is COMPASSIONATE, GRACIOUS, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS, MAINTAINING LOVE… FORGIVING WICKEDNESS. These characteristics are uniformly seen throughout the Bible. Yes that verse does continue with the same warning to future generations but the emphasis is as we have made it. Did God take pleasure in punishment? No, listen: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?(Ezek 18:23)


Our author then is upset by the fourth commandment to rest up on the seventh day of every week. This was, in fact, a safety injunction to stop abuse by employers and well as countering the tendency of those who work for themselves to work themselves into the ground. Yes, it was linked to a remembrance of the Lord, because that relationship was the key thing that helped Israel remain different and remain in a good place. A reminder by way of a holiday seems a pretty good way of doing that, to me!


His ongoing comment about honouring parents in order to live long in the land is short-sighted. As we are increasingly finding, family life is the foundation of a stable society (have you seen the ongoing articles in the secular press confirming this?) Once family life collapses (as it is rapidly doing in the arrogant and godless West) society collapses. It's simple and it's obvious to anyone except those whose agenda makes it inconvenient.


He concludes with the four “thou shalt not” commands, but waits until later to comment on them, so we will too.


b) the tone in which they are delivered and specific niggles (P.99,100):

He has already grumbled about this but he picks it up again now. He puts in the same category that a local king might have used. We've covered this already so let's move on.


His next objection is purely silly and thoughtless. Why come up with such obvious commands as you shall not murder, he asks? Surely, he says, every sensible nation in history would take that as read. Yes, of course we do, but why is it, therefore, that we all have it written into our laws. I'm sure the United States has it written into a law somewhere; the UK certainly has – in a whole number of statutes! Why write them down? So no one can say, I didn't know.


He also rambles on foolishly about Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. What's the point of that, he implies? The answer is that it may appear obvious to this literate world traveller but it wasn't obvious to everyone else. The whole point of that parable was that Jesus was saying be nice to your neighbour (as the Law said) and some picky atheists asked him, so who do you mean who is my neighbour? History at that point said that Jews and Samaritans intensely disliked each other. Jesus says, cut it out, don't have racial boundaries, be nice to everyone! No, it's not so obvious!


Over the page he speaks of the “pitiless teachings of the god of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all”. Where has he been? We've already seen the revelation about compassion, love, faithfulness, forgiveness etc. but hasn't he actually read the laws that follow? If he had, he would have caught exactly the word he uses, the ‘sense of solidarity'. This was a bonded together people, caring for one another, protecting one another and ensuring any wrongs were righted and people compensated. These are silly descriptions.


His final niggle is about the tenth command about not coveting and within this he objects to a woman being included in the list of things not to be coveted. This was simply a cultural thing. Within subsequent Jewish history and certainly Christian history, women were given a far higher place than normally in the world. It's just covering the view of the culture of the day. Permissible ignorance?


His main objection is against prescribing what a person shall not think. The problem here is not understanding what coveting means. It doesn't mean just a casual thought. Use of it elsewhere in Scripture indicates that it means ‘a purposeful desiring which soon is followed by the act of taking'. Similarly ‘envy' that he refers to, doesn't mean just a casual once off wish, but an ongoing desire that is allowed to build and build. I do not covet my neighbours possessions or even their wives (!) because I am content with what I have and love my wife very much. You don't have to covet and you don't have to envy. The prohibitions are quite reasonable and ARE possible to follow.


c) what they do not say (P. 100) : I'm going to assume that we are talking about the Law generally here, and not just the Ten Commandments, because they are the basic minimums for a society and do not cover detailed issues which are covered in the many other laws given through Moses.


It is fairly obvious that the author has never carefully studied the Law of Moses otherwise he would have come across the very things he says are missing.


P.101,102 Other laws and failure. The above takes us naturally into some of the specific laws he objects to.


He starts with the law of slavery, and of course, hardly touches the subject and misses the heart of the law. I'm tempted to do a full exposition of the laws about slavery but this page is already quite long. Suffice it to say, the laws of Moses in respect of slavery, like the rest of the laws for society, were to protect against abuses. Slaves weren't for life, they were more like the hired help that was often part of the family. What Moses' law did was regularise what was a world practice but make it humane and caring, but you really need to read through the Law intelligently to see that! If you want more on Slavery, please go to Appendix 3 by CLICKING HERE.


Comments about the “insanely detailed regulations governing oxen,” fail to understand the importance of such animals that were of immense value in assuring the wellbeing of a household in a largely agricultural economy.


Similarly negative comments about an eye of an eye, etc. simply show lack of understanding that this was a protective law that limited vengeance in a primitive society so there would not be a round of increasing violence and death.


We'd better carry on with each carping criticism born out of lack of understanding, for that is what the next one about witches is all about. Remember, this is an embryonic nation that relies on its future by maintaining a relationship with God. Silly, unknowing people snigger about witches (and let's not confuse fairy tale beliefs with reality) but occult powers are real and deceptive and so for Israel in particular the injunction is to stop anyone even starting to become a witch. The death penalty (and I know it's coming up later) was a warning not to do something that was considered a serious risk to the future existence and well-being of the nation. We think we know better, to our loss.


He briefly refers to the laws of sacrifice but doesn't realise that this was God's way of dealing with guilt in this embryonic people. I cover this in the previous appraisal in more detail. Please go there. Similarly I have covered in detail the Sinai executions in the appraisal of The God Delusion so please see the comments in Chapter 7 of that book's appraisal. CLICK HERE


Before we end this section we need to refute the silly statement born out of lack of knowledge: “The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride price, and for indiscriminate massacre”. It does not do any of those things. Read it, understand it, see it in context, read our notes on other parts of this site, and realise the folly of this statement.CLICK HERE


P.102,103 Archaeology's absences: The argument of denial by absence is often used, but is not a good one. To say that there are no archaeological signs of Moses simply means, we haven't identified anything we've found so far with Moses, or simply we haven't found anything so far. The history of Biblical criticism is littered with examples where people said the same thing: see it couldn't have been because we haven't dug up anything, yet later the evidence is unearthed.


In respect of Moses and the Exodus there are signs of the account being valid, at least in geographical terms. Professor W.F.Albright, a distinguished expert, said,

According to our present knowledge of the topography of the eastern delta the account of the start of the Exodus, which is given in Ex 12:37 & 13:20 is topographically absolutely correct.”


Although atheist critics would not accept this, scholars of the Bible point out that Moses is attested to as an historical figure by Jesus the Son of God, as well as by a variety of other Biblical writers. Archaeology may not have revealed him yet, so watch this space. Just one warning: names were changed or given at the drop of a hat in Biblical times and therefore don't necessarily expect the name Moses to appear if it is in Egyptians records.


P.104-106 The Pentateuch's failings – Moses as an author: There is a rather silly argument here that argues where most of us would not be arguing. The argument is that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch because in Genesis he wasn't mentioned (no, it covers history before him!), he's dead at the end of Deuteronomy (completed by another scribe, yes later!) and he is often named as a person, in the third person. If this man was genuinely the meekest man on the earth (as he's described), he doesn't want to draw attention to himself and actually true humility isn't ashamed to attribute that description to himself because he knows it's all the work of God.


Again we find the same somewhat negative writing as he points out that Moses was healthy right up to the end, and then just died. Yes? What's the problem? That very often happens with elderly people, and in this case, the Lord said He would take him home. For detailed reading of this subject we suggest the book we mentioned at the beginning: The Inspiration of the Pentateuch by M.W.J.Phelan, and there are no doubt a number of other similar books as this is a well researched area where the author obviously has not been.


P.106,107 The death penalty & genocide. For answers to this section may we refer you to the appraisal of The God Delusion we have referred to a number of times already, particularly chapter 7. CLICK HERE.


P.107 Concluding Misunderstandings: In the closing lines, the author clearly has a problem with the miraculous. Please refer again to P.31 on our Apologetics pages to “The Revelation of God”. (CLICK HERE) If God exists, and the Bible is the main testimony to that truth, then if He is the Supreme Being it should be no surprise that He can intervene in His world. The fact that throughout the Old Testament He focuses on the one nation, Israel , is not to avoid the truth that through them He also revealed Himself to many others, as the Bible actually does testify. Silly closing comments!

For those who would like to take time studying the claims of the Old Testament about God's love and examining His actions in the light of those claims, may we recommend you go to "God's Love in the Old Testament" which is also found on this site, by CLICKING HERE



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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  commented on
    •  the negative bias of the author which blinds him
    •  his lack of understanding and obvious limited knowledge of the Bible which he criticises
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


Within those specific points we have noted:


  •  His biased state of mind from his opening negative remarks,
  •  His shallow objections to the Old Testament,
  •  In respect of the Ten Commandments,
    •  His tendency to pick out negatives to emphasise his misunderstanding
    •  His lack of knowledge, both in content and the way they were delivered
  •  In respect of Archaeology's his tendency to jump upon absences without realising that absences prove nothing but that we haven't come across the evidence yet,
  •  In respect of the Pentateuch's failings, his misunderstandings of Moses as an author,
  •  In respect of the death penalty & genocide we have recommended reading from the notes of our appraisal of The God Delusion which cover these things in detail,
  •  In respect of his concluding misunderstandings, we have recommended reading P.31 of our Apologetics pages.


The sad thing about this chapter is that it is clouded from the outset with bias and prejudice which, together with the variety of misunderstandings about the Old Testament, makes this chapter a testimony to the author's clouded presuppositions, and really nothing more.



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