Christians and their ilk are fond of arguing for the superiority of their religion because it enshrines a legal code which they allege was handed down from the creator of all to Moses, the prophet of the Hebrews, while they wandered in the desert during their flight from Egypt. We Polytheists find nothing extraordinary in such a revelation – after all the Gods are frequently credited with such kindly benefactions and more. Isis gave noble laws to the Egyptians, teaching them to shun brutishness and cannibalism and instead to cultivate the fields and honor the Gods with exceptional piety. Likewise Oromazes instructed Zoroastres in the priestly code of the Magi, Zeus taught Minos justice in a Cretan cave and Apollon handed down the unchangeable constitution of the Lakedaimonians which made them the most powerful military force in all of Hellas up to the arrival of Makedonian Alexander. Dionysos was the most kindly disposed of all the Gods to humanity, for he did not limit his revelation to a single nation or city but traveled as far as India planting grape-vines and initiating the people he met along the way into his holy mysteries. No, what we find peculiar about this particular myth isn’t that their God should desire to improve the quality of his people’s lives by giving them laws – but rather that the laws which he handed down were of such a poor, illogical and unsalutary nature – not just in comparison to the excellent things which our Gods have taught us but even by simple human reasoning.
I suppose it is foolish to expect anything better considering who their divine law-giver was. After all it took him forty years to lead the Hebrews from Egypt into the land of Canaan – a distance easily traversed by a heavily burdened caravan in just a couple weeks. Can you imagine the astonishment of the people of that region upon seeing the dusty, bedraggled Hebrews pass by them yet again? “Yaqab, do you think that we should show them the way? I mean, my cousin has come and gone from that place already three times this season.” “No, my friend. Their strange God guides them and it is not wise to meddle in divine affairs. Just sit back and laugh, for they will surely pass this way again before they reach where they are going.” If the Hebrew God was so bad at finding his way through the desert, is it any wonder that his commandments are such as to leave a man ill-equipped to traverse the even more treacherous pathways of life?
Let us begin with the first of the oracles which he spoke to that incomparable sage of the Hebrew people on the heights of Mount Sinai. “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” he thunders, “for the lord thy God is a jealous God, punishing the children for the iniquity of their parents.”
On this basis the Hebrews and Christians would have us believe that their Yahweh is the only true God, the sole ruler and fashioner of heaven and earth and all that is in them. But clearly by his own words Yahweh testifies to the existence of others, for why would he need to warn his chosen people against having other Gods in his presence if he was alone and further, what would he have to be jealous of if no other existed? If this was the truth then it shouldn’t matter to him. That worship conducted in his name would find its way to him and all the rest would be empty words and actions directed towards a vacuum. It is we who would be harmed by our ignorance, not him – yet he admits to being troubled by jealousy, a greedy longing to receive all the worship alone. Not content with what properly belongs to him, he wants to starve and deprive all the other Gods. Are such feelings worthy of the majesty of the sole ruler and creator of all? We would hardly tolerate such an attitude in a mortal prince, rightly branding the rogue with the contemptuous name of overreaching tyrant.
None of our Gods behave in such an avaricious manner – each is content to govern his or her portion of the kosmos alongside the others, working diligently to maintain the beauty and harmony of the whole. Indeed the Gods are frequently active to ensure not only that their own divine honor is recognized but that their kin are treated likewise. How many times did Apollon speak from the tripod ordering that this sacrifice be instituted or that cult founded to avert the wrath of a neglected God or hero? And Dionysos excelled all others in his eagerness to promote religion, traveling about in the guise of a mendicant priest of the Great Mother Rheia to evangelize on her behalf. Yet the Hebrews and Christians would have us believe that their Yahweh – like some selfish, monstrously formed Typhoeus belching fire and wrath – wants to deprive his fellow Gods of their due and hold all mankind’s worship to himself, as if his very life depended on his popularity. This terrible and impious fable is proven a lie, however, by other words spoken by the wise men of the Hebrew nation – men far more Godlike and sagacious than that fraud and violent criminal Moses who fled to Jethro after committing manslaughter – I mean those verses where we find “God will stand in the assembly of Gods, he will judge in the midst of the Gods” or “Who among the sons of Gods is like Yahweh, a God feared in the council of the holy ones, mighty and terrible above all that are round about him?” or “God of Gods and lord of lords, a great God” and most commendable of all, “Thou shalt not revile the Gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.”
Clearly, then, Yahweh is not as small-minded, greedy and insecure as some have made him out to be and he deserves an honored place among the others in the council-chamber of the Gods. Had the Hebrews adhered to their ancestral traditions and called upon the divine in its full plurality then perhaps they would not have suffered as egregiously as they have over the centuries. This is why we must so vehemently condemn the first Sinaitic “revelation” because it is clear that heaven punishes those who insolently, ignorantly and impiously seek to deprive the Gods of their due honor. Even if they are not directly chastised, by turning their backs on the Gods men deprive themselves of communion with the divine and all of the manifold blessings that flow from them.
But enough of such impiety; let us proceed to the second commandment that Moses passed on to his people, namely, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” What foolishness! If it is true, as the Hebrews and Christians assert, that their God is nothing more than invisible air, a bodiless spirit passing over the face of the earth, then how could he be harmed in any way by our making representative images of him or anything else? At worst such an action misses the mark, failing to convey the full grandeur of his being – but I doubt that there has ever been an idolater who genuinely believed that the entirety of his God resided in the image he had crafted with his own hands, and could be found nowhere else. Most have made their images as a token or reminder, something that suggests but does not contain the immensity of what it represents. A good way to explain this is with an analogy. Hanging above my desk is a picture of my paramour. I do not for a second believe that she is actually there, trapped inside the paper and ink. No, the image is merely an aid to memory, helping me to recall the beauty of her eyes and hair and fair cheeks when she is not here with me. Further I remember what we were doing when the image was crafted, the things we said to each other, what I was thinking and feeling and a host of other associations that might pass from my mind over the course of time were that image not there to remind me.
And the same is true of representations of the Gods. Not only do the idols assist in our recollection of them but they also convey important facts about the deities through the medium of concrete symbolism. So, for instance, the wings on Hermes’ feet teach us that thought and language are swiftly moving things that rise with ease to divine heights. Apollon’s bow that we must aim for the truth and strive for clarity of vision. The horns on Isis’ head suggest the strength, fertility and maternal care of the cow – qualities which the Goddess possesses as well. And Anubis’ canine features show that he is loyal and diligent and always at the side of the just man. These symbols represent a profound and useful wisdom which helps us deepen our connection to and understanding of the divine nature. Furthermore, since these symbols are ancient and unchanging, enshrined by venerable tradition itself, they encourage us to form truthful conceptions of the divine in conformity with that tradition, instead of relying solely on the errant thoughts within our mind. By recognizing that the Gods have an existence external to us and are not just whatever we think them to be or how we wish them to act we save ourselves from all manner of ignorant and impious errors which others seem especially prone to. How often has the worshiper of an invisible God mistaken his own petty desires and stupid hatreds as divine will because he had no recourse to anything outside of his own mind?
Next let us consider the oracle of Moses, “you shall not swear falsely.” Had he ended it there I would find not fault with him for dishonesty, deceit and other treacherous words that do harm to ourselves and our fellow men alike are indeed things to calumniate. But no, his words in full are, “you shall not swear falsely by the name of the lord your God, for the lord will not acquit those who misuse his name.”
From this we may infer that Moses finds no fault with liars and deceivers so long as they don’t drag the name of his God into it and furthermore that Yahweh will pardon those who give false oaths, provided that his name is found nowhere upon their lips while they’re doing it. What shifty, situational ethics this God of Moses possesses, to turn a blind eye on injustice unless it directly involves him! To Zeus Horkios all falsely sworn oaths are offensive, whether Herakles, the Sun, himself or no God at all is invoked. As Homer so beautifully put it, he holds the scale of justice in his hands and balances our good deeds against our evil ones. The act itself changes the weight – it needn’t be compounded by impiety to gain his attention.
And Zeus sees all and accomplishes all, as Kleanthes testifies, unlike Moses’ God who was so worn out after creation that he needed to take a full day of rest to recuperate. This slothful inactivity is enjoined by Moses upon the whole Hebrew people when he commands them to observe the Sabbath and do no work on that day of any sort. It is further forbidden for the slave of a Hebrew to labor or a stranger in Hebrew lands. One-seventh of their lives is given over to this idleness with a consequent loss of productivity. When it’s time to toil in the fields or bring in the harvest, the crops don’t care that the Sabbath has come round again – indeed such negligence can be disastrous, leading to poor yields, destruction of produce by pests and scavengers and far worse as well. Our Gods understood that man needs his rest and cannot always be laboring and that is why they appointed numerous festive celebrations throughout the year. But you will note that the majority of our festivals take place in the times when the hard work of planting and harvesting are finished and are a reward for our own labor. The Hebrews demand their relaxation every week, ignoring the seasonal cycles that govern life on this planet.
I suppose it wouldn’t be too bad to have this weekly break, except that the Hebrews are so devoted to their indolence that they won’t lift a finger even in their own defense. It was by exploiting this excessive sloth and superstition that that wise king of the Egyptians Ptolemy the Savior was able to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem, carrying off countless captives. Even when they saw his soldiers break through the walls and storm their streets they couldn’t bestir themselves to rise to their own defense, trusting in the God of Moses to save them. He laughed at their foolishness and permitted them to be carried back into the land of Egypt as slaves, so much did he value their Sabbath-observance.
What else did this wise man of the Hebrews proclaim? “Honor your father and mother as the lord your God commanded.” You can find this teaching among all nations, for everyone everywhere recognizes that it is through our parents that we have life, and that we owe them a debt of gratitude for their tireless effort and the innumerable sacrifices that they have made on our behalf. Further it is they who instruct us in the ways of our people and from them that we learn what it means to be a good citizen and a noble man. Yet Moses would take this universal precept and ascribe its origin to his God, thinking apparently that the Hebrews are so lacking in decency and intelligence that they could not determine the proper way to treat one another and particularly their elders unless his God is made out to be standing over their shoulder wagging his finger at them scoldingly. Not only is this incredibly insulting to the Hebrew people but it sets a terrible precedent.
For most people this is merely a customary teaching, meaning that they are free to reject it if their parents have acted in a shameful manner. I mean a father who forces himself sexually on his daughter or a mother who beats her son nigh unto death for no fault of his own or wretched parents who sell their children into slavery or attempt to coerce them into activities that are justly held in contempt by society and the immortal Gods themselves. Such villains are hardly deserving to be called by the noble name of “father” and “mother” – all that they have contributed to the child is life and an example of how not to behave and they deserve no respect beyond that.
But Moses makes this a divine commandment with the full weight of his God’s authority behind it. There is no room for argument, no situation that might exclude the individual from this obligation. No matter how horrible the parents are or how shamefully they mistreat their child, they must be honored or else risk incurring the wrath of Moses’ God. Indeed since he is credited with ordering all things according to his divine will that means that every abuse the child suffers happens with his blessing, making him complicit in the crime.
Next Moses the law-giver forbids the taking of life, which sounds like a fine and pious piece of legislation which no one certainly could find objectionable – until you pause for a moment and consider the full implications of this injunction. After all Moses did not specify under what situations or which category of beings we are to abstain from killing, but instead would seem to seek to pardon the whole of creation from death. Unfortunately such a rule can only bring about suffering and death for those who strive to adhere to it.
After all if a man is forbidden from taking life, where can he hope to find food for himself and his family? We must kill all of the animals we eat or have someone else perform the unpleasant task for us. Nor can we hope to avoid the taking of life merely by abstaining from the shedding of blood as those who belong to the school of Pythagoras do. For as any of the natural philosophers will tell you, plants are classified as living beings even if they lack many of the important properties that differentiate animals from them, such as cognition and mobility. Without being able to take any life where are we supposed to derive sustenance from? Water and air (though who knows if we might be doing damage to some creature so tiny that it is impossible for the naked eye to perceive it through such peculiar activity) or better yet from the invisible spirit Moses and his ilk assert is floating over all of our heads? I pity the poor bastard stupid enough to think he’ll survive that way – soon enough he’ll become food for the worms, since that is the way of nature, each creature devouring some other so that it may thrive. There is simply no escaping the debt we owe to death for our life – not only must we consume countless lives during the course of our days, but eventually we, too, will become food for some other creature.
Nor is nourishment the only reason that nature compels us to take life. Many a man has been driven to slay savage beasts not only in defense of his own life, but also to protect those whom he loves, his property and the animals under his care. Would Moses have a man stand idly by while a wolf mauled his sheep or did worse to his own dear son? Perhaps if the wolf appeared on a Sabbath, I suppose. And what of those who pick herbs for their medicinal properties or make clothing from the pelts and skins of beasts or are compelled to put down a mule which has fractured its leg in an accident and is in unbearable agony? Certainly death is not only a necessity but a mercy at times, as I can illustrate with a thousand and more examples if I must. But hopefully I won’t need to. Let us assume, though Moses does not actually come out and say it, that he permits the killing of what is commonly deemed the lower forms of life and would only forbid us from murdering a fellow human being.
This would indeed be a laudatory law if one could somehow miraculously compel the whole of humanity to abide by it. No one, after all, desires to see his own or the lives of those he loves cut short. Murder brings not only great sorrow but confusion, chaos and conflict into a community where it occurs. But as it is many men have no consideration for their fellows and how their actions impact them – and some are actually eager to cause their enemies as much harm as they possibly can. It is an immutable law of nature that everything can be divided into two opposing camps: the strong, who are capable of imposing their will on others, whether by force or persuasion, and the weak who have no choice but to submit themselves to their superiors. Even if one thinks it noble and proper to forswear violence, doing so places one in the category of the inferior people since it leaves them defenseless against the strong. Indeed only by meeting violence with violence and being willing to utterly destroy one’s enemy can one ensure their own safety, to say nothing of the safety of those whom they love and have been charged with caring for. How contemptible would we find the man who just stood by doing nothing though he was perfectly able while a brigand raped his wife and dashed his child’s brains out on the ground?
Nor is this the only instance in which it is acceptable to use violence even up to the point of taking the life of another. Any time when the lives of others can be saved, for the defense of one’s homeland or way of life, to punish those guilty of wicked and impious crimes or to put an end to philosophers who walk the streets asking vexing questions of people too busy with proper employment to concern themselves with idle and unprofitable speculation – in all of these instances and numerous others as well I feel that carrying out a sentence of death is not only permissible but a sacred obligation.
That Moses and his God share my opinion is amply demonstrated by the sacred books of the Hebrews. For as soon as Moses came down from the mountain, the admonition not to kill fresh upon his lips, he was horrified by what he witnessed his countrymen doing and fell upon them with anger in his heart, slaying scores and calling upon his God to send fire from heaven and open up the earth to swallow the evil-doers. Nor was this the end of his murderous rampage, for every time that he led his Hebrew rabble into territory that had been occupied by the native populations for countless generations he declared war upon them, slaying their able-bodied men, raping the women and turning the rest into slaves. This he did with the full support of his God who indeed is presented as fighting side by side with the Hebrews against their enemies and urging them on to ever-greater bloodshed.
So if this is a law which even the law-giver himself feels no reason to abide by, I don’t see why anyone else in the world should adopt it either – unless they want to make themselves the victim of stronger and better men.
Not content with depriving men of nature’s right to defend themselves, Moses would likewise have it so that a man can have sex only with his lawfully-wedded wife. I confess that I find this law of his most amusing since Moses denies the existence of the Goddesses who lend their sanctity to the marriage-bed – namely Hera, Aphrodite, the fair Graces and all the others who are hymned when the bride is led from her father’s home to that of her dearly beloved husband. Without these to bless and watch over the institution marriage is nothing more than a human convention and one that is contrary to our own fundamental nature. Of all the thousands of species of animals that inhabit this world of ours only a handful of them mate for life, since the purpose of coitus – beyond the considerable pleasure it brings us, of course – is the begetting of offspring and the more the better to ensure the perpetuation of the species. Males in particular have an insatiable drive to spread their seed as far and wide as possible – and so it is that in many cultures around the world the strongest, noblest and most highly esteemed men take many wives and concubines to their bed so that they may produce as many fine sons and daughters as possible. In other cultures the reverse may be found, with the women claiming multiple husbands so that they have the greatest variety from which to choose who will impregnate them. In fact throughout the world the number of cultures which have limited marriage to one man and one woman are comparatively few – despite the assertion of Moses that this pattern is divinely ordained. And this, I might add, despite the fact that earlier in the first book attributed to him Moses’ God is supposed to have given mankind the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Yet here he is condemning a man for attempting to do just that!
I suppose it’s only wrong to follow the commandment of Yahweh with the wife of another man according to Moses, because like a lot of barbarian peoples, especially those who dwell in the harsh desert wastes, women are looked down upon as inferior because they tend to be smaller and weaker and have a harder time enduring that sort of desolate, savage environment. Consequently the men scorn women, treating them as little more than property. Since Moses would have been annoyed had his neighbor licked some of his olives or forced his way into his tent or ridden his camel without his permission he undoubtedly included this admonition since he regarded women as comparable to such possessions and did not wish to see them used in like manner.
For my part I agree with Pythagoras who considered women the equal of men in every meaningful way, capable of receiving a proper education, demonstrating their strength, bravery and fortitude in defense of their home, entrusted with making important decisions for themselves and counted worthy of serving the Gods and instructing others in the mystical doctrine of his sect. Therefore if a woman wishes to join herself to a man other than her husband that’s between the three of them and no concern of mine – nor of Moses and his meddlesome God.
Following upon this Moses delivered the oracle that we are forbidden to steal from others. I could easily formulate an argument against such a proposition. After all Diogenes and those of his school maintained that a man could truly possess nothing that was not a part of himself. A man may use a cup or a cloak but they are not his property the way that his hand or his thoughts are. Indeed when death frees us from the body we must leave behind all material possessions. These things, at best, should be considered a temporary loan for our use while we’re here, passing into other hands in our absence. And at worst they are to be regarded as a distraction and a burden. Men make themselves into slaves in order to accumulate treasures they can at best enjoy for sixty to eighty years, forsaking time, pleasure and the pursuit of spiritual edification in the process. These treasures bring men all sorts of trouble for not only must he struggle to accumulate them but he must then fight and often die in their defense and when he surrounds himself with much he cannot move about as easily as he might otherwise. Therefore Diogenes and his followers imitated the life of dogs, acquiring only what nature had dictated a necessity – food, clothing, shelter and sometimes even less than that – shunning all else as superfluous.
As I said, I could very easily make this argument but I will abstain from doing so because I’m fond of my books, music, shrines and other meager possessions and wouldn’t want them taken from me. But I will say this: morality of the sort that Moses proposes is fine until you’ve got a child who weeps because of her empty belly. When you look into her sad, pained eyes you’ll do anything to make it better for her, even if that means stealing bread from your neighbor. You will, at any rate, if there’s anything decent inside you – regardless of what Moses and his moralizing God might think.
At this point, mindful of my earlier criticism, Moses seeks to clarify his position by stating “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” without any mention of his God. I do not need to repeat my arguments here, though it is curious that Moses should include two such similar pronouncements in a system of law laconically brief and allegedly handed down to him by the almighty and all-knowing God. Many things he has passed over in complete silence, divine counsel that might have benefited man had it been made known to him. Of course it’s possible that this one isn’t concerned with lying in general but is limited only to giving false testimony in court about one’s neighbor. Are we to surmise from this that Moses considers it perfectly acceptable to lie as long as one does so out of earshot of a judge and jury? After all he told his fellows that he received these orders from Yahweh when they so clearly are the product of his own sun-blasted mind.
And lastly we come to the strangest of all of Moses’ commandments, where he inveighs against covetousness. It is not permissible to covet the wife of your neighbor nor his house, his field, his male or female slaves or his ox or donkey either. That is awfully specific there Moses, one might object were he standing within speaking range; are these the only things we are not allowed to covet? No, he goes on to add, you are not to covet anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
Once you get past the shock that Moses emphatically lists a man’s wife among his possessions – though thankfully a little ahead of the family donkey – and the hypocrisy of Moses condemning covetousness when he led his Hebrews on a genocidal rampage through the desert so that they could lay claim to the fertile lands of their neighbors whom they murdered and enslaved – yes, after all that I think it entirely permissible to let out a huge belly laugh at this solemn pronouncement which the credulous insist comes from the mind of an almighty God who fashioned heaven and earth! What a small and inconsequential thing to concern himself with, men admiring the possessions and accomplishments of another and desiring them for himself. I ask you, dear reader, what could possibly be wrong with that? He condemns covetousness, mind you, not any kind of criminal activity inspired by it. Just the act of coveting what belongs to another. Rather than something to be scorned I say that this is the source of the greatest good for it is this which spurs us on to improve our lot in life.
When I am dissatisfied with the way things are going for me I look out upon the world and search for a man who seems happy, wealthy, wise and successful. I ask myself how is it that this man came by these things while I am lacking in them. And usually this leads me to the conclusion that I have been negligent in some way or going about things in the wrong manner. Instead of passively accepting my deplorable situation I set about correcting my errors, even if this means learning a completely new set of skills, enduring hardship and privation so that I can save up my money and eventually purchase what I desire or anything else that’s necessary to improve my general situation.
Now I’ll agree that some men desire things that are vain and meaningless, others things that are actively harmful to them and still others have a sickness of the soul that never allows them to be satisfied with what they possess. All of these should be avoided or tempered by thoughtful reflection, moderation and disciplined self-control. But as such there is nothing inherently wrong with covetousness – indeed I know plenty who would benefit from a judicious dose of the stuff, considering how miserable their lives currently are. Better yet if they aspired to emulate a wise and virtuous man such as Sokrates, and not just that gold-hungry, Satyr-trapping Phrygian king. And Moses, it seems, could benefit immensely from time spent listening at the feet of Sokrates, if these are the best laws that he could produce on his own.