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Bovine Faeces and the Sexual Proclivities of Rocks: We are all Selective Literalists

November 8th, 2010 by Madeleine

Jónathan Mark Deundian sent us the following correspondence,

You addressed the following paragraph to a blogger named RyogaM. This one and actually the one right above it was so common sensible but so completely profound. I read it to my wife and it was as if shutters fell from her eyes. Best thing since Molinism! lol

When I looked at the exchange Jónathan referred to I realised I had not seen it before. It was buried in a pile of comments on Matt’s post, Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II. Anyway it made me laugh so much and it was so good that I have decided it warrants its own post.

Context is important, of course, so here we go.

Over at Driving the Peterbilt: Bible Critique by Ryoga M, RyogaM wrote a sarcastic rendition of the battle of Gibeon, which is found in Joshua 10. Here are some highlights of that rendition:

[Asterisks not original]

AT GIBEON, AGAIN

Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem: Well, now, let’s see. I suggest we attack…holy [****]! What’s that?!

Hoham king of Hebron: That’s a big f[***]ing rock!

Piram king of Jarmuth: And it’s falling on our heads!

Japhia king of Lachish: Run away! Run away!

Debir king of Eglon: Well, this is going to suck.

AT THE HEBREW CAMP

Messenger: Message for Joshua!

Joshua: Yes?

Messenger: God has attacked with big f[***]ing rocks, sir. He’s slain them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goes up to Beth-horon, and smote them to Azekah, and to Makkedah. he’s killed a lot of them, sir. Squished like bugs.

Joshua: Well it’s about time he did something useful. I guess we should kill everyone left, huh?

Joel Watts commented that RyogaM was being excessively literalistic in his reading of the text and referred RyogaM to Matt’s Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites series. RyogaM was not impressed he made several points of critique on his blog, which he repeated on ours. The relevant parts are below:

The purpose of my blog is to explore what the Bible actually SAYS, not what one wishes it to say, not what one would expect it to say if one presupposes the existence of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-power god, not what one can rationalize away because the concept of slaughtering every inhabitant of a town, including every old man, woman and child, goes against every enlightenment value we have.

And the reason I do this is because even your average, non-fundy, modern Christian takes certain parts of the Bible literally. I assume, for example, Christians take literally the idea that Jesus Christ was the son of god, that he died and rose again. Which is as equally absurd, if not even more absurd, idea, than the idea that Joshua and his people engaged in total warfare against the country he and his people invaded at the command of god. I hope, by taking the Bible literally, and pointing out why to do so is absurd, Christians such as yourself feel free to reject the entire concept of reading any part of the Bible literally and free themselves from superstition.

Now, looking at your blog, I think you are one of those selective literalistic, Christian. You presuppose that no god who calls himself just could ever order the slaughter of innocent old men, women and children, and you are right. So, you have to assume that god didn’t really mean what he very clearly said. Then you choose other parts of the Bible which are clearly in contradiction and think it resolves the question to say it’s all hyperbole….You refuse to accept what it says on its face and instead engage in mind-reading of the authors.

Matt’s response to these particular comments caused me to erupt into fits of laughter (and apparently caused shutters to fall from Jónathan’s wife’s eyes),

RyogaM, you state that I am a “selective literalist” and that not even “non-fundy, modern Christians takes certain parts of the Bible literally.”I agree. I read some parts literally and other parts non-literally. That’s a sensible approach to any form of communication.

Another sceptic told me they thought that “the Bible was bull[****], because it was full of contradictions.” No sensible person would interpret this entire passage literally, to do so would mean it would be easily refuted. One could show that most bibles are composed of thousands of pages of ink and paper. One could note that ink and paper are different substances to bovine faeces and that the term “bull[****]” is, in English, a metaphor for falsehood. Similarly, no one would interpret this passage as entirely figurative; the reference to the Bible, for example, is not a metaphor nor is the reference to contradictions.

The sceptic is literally referring to the Bible and literally attributing contradictions to it and metaphorically describing it as bull[****] in the same sentence. A sensible interpreter who is honestly trying to interpret the sceptics’ comments will interpret “bull[****]” figuratively and the rest literally. This is for two reasons: (a) taken literally, the comment is clearly absurd and it is unlikely an intelligent person would mean it to be taken this way; (b) the word “bull[****],” in English, is a well-attested metaphor for falsehoods in contexts like this.

These same two reasons are precisely what we see present in Joshua: (a) taken literally, the statements are absurd (they contradict the rest of the text); (b) the language is well-attested in ANE writing of this sort as hyperbole for victory.

Most literature and communication involves both literal and figurative language and any sensible communicator will attempt to discern both. If you disagree with me then I think your own blog post is easily refuted.

Big Rocks

You, after all, talk in your own post about “big f[***]ing rocks.” Now this is clearly stupid, rocks cannot engage in sexual intercourse and only a complete moron with no knowledge of the sexual proclivities of rocks would say this. On the face of it, you clearly stated that rocks “f[***].” Of course I could contend (sensibly) that the word “f[***]ing” in this context should not be taken literally, that you used the word “f[***]ing” in a hyperbolic manner to emphasise the size of the rocks and the might of God. But then you are a selective literalist, you clearly do not want me to take everything on your blog as figurative. To do so would involve me “reading your mind,” it would involve me assuming you would not intend to say something obviously stupid. Seeing you think people should not do that then I have to conclude that you are a moron.

Please learn a bit more about sexual reproduction and its relationship to rocks before you write in future.

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