A Rebuttal to Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” – Letter III



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Letter III

Having done with what you call the grammatical evidence that Moses was not the author of the books attributed to him, you come to your historical and chronological evidence; and you begin with Genesis.

Your first argument is taken from the single word – Dan – being found in Genesis, when it appears from the book of Judges, at the town of Laish was not called Dan, till above 330 years after the death of Moses. Therefore, the writer of Genesis, you conclude, must have lived after the town of Laish had the name given to it.

Lest this objection should not be obvious enough to a common capacity, you illustrated in the following manner: “Havre-de-Grace was called Havre-Marat in 1793; should then any dateless writing be found, in after times, with the name of H. M., it would be certain evidence that such a writing could not have been written until after the year 1793.”

This is a wrong conclusion.

Suppose some hot Republican should at this day publish a new edition of an old history of France, and instead of Havre-de-Grace should right Havre-Marat; and that two or 3000 years hence, a man, like yourself, should on that account, reject the whole history is spurious, would he be justified in doing?

Would it not be reasonable to tell him – that the name Havre-Marat had been inserted, not by the original author of the history, but by a subsequent editor of the period and to refer him, for a proof of the genuineness of the book to the testimony of the whole French nation?

This supposition, so obviously applies to your difficulty, that I cannot but recommend it to your impartial attention. But if this solution does not please you, I desire it may be proved, that the Dan, mentioned in Genesis was the same town as the Dan mentioned in Judges.

I desire, further, to have approved that the Dan mentioned in Genesis was the name of a town and not of a river. It is merely said – Abraham pursued them, the enemies of lot, to Dan. Now a river was full as likely as a town to stop a pursuit. Lot, we know, was settled in the plane of Jordan. In Jordan, we know was composed of the united streams of two Rivers called Jor and Dan.

Your next difficulty respects, that being said, in Genesis, “These are the kings that reigned in Edom before there reined any king over the children of Israel. This passage could only have been written, you say (and I think, you say rightly), after the first king began to reign over Israel, so far from being written by Moses, it could not have been written till the time of Saul at the least.”

I admit this inference, but I deny its application. A small addition to a book does not destroy either the genuineness or the authenticity of the whole book. I am not ignorant of the manner in which commentators have answered this objection of Spinoza, without making the concession, which I have made.

But I have no scruple in admitting, that the passage in question consisting of nine verses containing the genealogy of some kings of Edom, might have been inserted in the book of Genesis, after the book of Chronicles (which was called in Greek by a name importing that it contained things left out in other books) was written. The learned have shewn that interpolations have happened, other books, but these insertions by other hands have never been considered as invalidating the authority of his books.

“Take away from Genesis,” you say, “the believe that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of God tested, and there remains nothing of Genesis, but an anonymous book of stories, fables, traditionary or invented absurdities or of downright lies.”

What! Is it a story then that the world had a beginning, and that the author of it was God? If you deem this a story, I am not disputing with a deistical philosopher, but with an atheist madman.

It is a story that our first parents fell from a paradisaical state – that this earth was destroyed by a deluge – that Noah and his family were preserved in the ark – and that the world had been re-peopled by his descendents?

Look into a book so common that almost everybody has it, and so excellent, that no person ought to be without it – and Grotius on the truth of the Christian religion – and you will there meet with abundant testimony to the truth of all the principal facts recorded in Genesis.

The testimony is not that of Jews, Christians, and priests; it is the testimony of the philosophers, historians, and poets of antiquity. The oldest book in the world is Genesis, and it is remarkable that those books which come nearest to it in age are those which make, even the most distinct mentioned that are the most evident allusion to, the facts related in Genesis concerning the formation of the world from a chaotic mass, the primeval innocence and subsequent fall of man, the longevity of mankind in the first ages of the world, the depravity of the antediluvians, and the destruction of the world.

Read the 10th chapter of Genesis. It may appear to you to contain nothing but an uninteresting narration of the descendents of the Shem, Ham, and Japheth; a mere fable and invented absurdity, a downright lie. No sir, it is one of the most valuable and the most venerable records of antiquity.

It explains what all profane historians were ignorant of – the origin of the nation’s had it told us, as other books do, that one nation had sprung out of the earth they inhabited; and other from a cricket or a grasshopper; another from an oak; another from a mushroom; another from the Dragon’s tooth; and indeed, would it have merited the appellation you, was so much temerity distill upon it.

Instead of these absurdities, it gets such an account of the peopling of the earth after the deluge, as no other book in the world ever did give. And the truth of which all other books in the world, which contain anything on this subject confirm.

The last verse of the chapter says, “these are the families of the son of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth, after the flood.”

It would require a great learning to trace out, precisely, either the actual situation of all the countries in which these founders of Empire settled, or to ascertain the extent of their dominions. This, however, has been done by various authors to the satisfaction of all competent judges.

So much as least to my satisfaction, that had I no other proof of the authenticity of Genesis, I should consider this as sufficient. But, without the aid of learning, any man who can barely read his Bible and has but heard of such people as the Assyrians, the Elamites, the Lydians, an Medes, the Ionians, the Thracians, will readily acknowledge that they had Assur and Elam, and Lud, and Madai, and Javan, and Tyros, grandsons of Noah for their respective founders, and knowing this, he will not, I hope, part with his Bible as a system of fables.

I am no enemy to philosophy, but when philosophy would rob me of my Bible, I must say it as Cicero said of the 12 tables; – This little book alone exceeds the libraries of all the philosophers in the weight of its authority, and in the extent of its utility.

From the abuse of the Bible, you proceed to that of Moses, and again bring forward the subject of his wars in the land of Canaan. There are many men who look upon all war (would to God that all men saw it in the same light!) with extreme abhorrence, as afflicting mankind with calamities not necessary, shocking to humanity and repugnant to reason.

That is it repugnant to reason that God should, by an express act of his providence, destroy a wicked nation? I am fond of considering the goodness of God as the leading principle of his conduct toward mankind, of considering his justice as subservient to his mercy.

He punishes individuals and nations with a rod of his wrath; but I am persuaded that all his punishments originate in his abhorrence of sin; are calculated to lessen its influence; and are proofs of his goodness.

In as much as it may not be possible for Omnipotence it self to communicate supreme happiness to the human race, whilst they continue servants of sin. The destruction of the Canaanites exhibits to all nations, and all ages, a signal proof of God’s displeasure against sin.

It has been to others and is to ourselves, a benevolent warning. Moses would have been the wretch you represent him, had he acted by his own authority alone. But you may as reasonably attribute cruelty and murder to the judge of the land in condemning criminals to death, as butchery and massacre to Moses and executing the command of God.

The Midianites, to the Council of Balaam, and by the vicious instrumentality of their women had seduced a part of the Israelites to idolatry; to the impure worship to their infamous God Baalpeor.

For this offense, 24,000 Israelites had perished in a plague from heaven, and Moses received a command from God “to smite the Midianites who had beguiled the people.” An army was equipped and sent against Midian.

When the army returned victorious, Moses, and a prince of the congregation went to meet it: “and Moses was wroth with the officers.” He observed the women captives and he ask with astonishment, “Have you saved all the women alive?

Behold, these caused, the children of Israel, through the Council of Balaam, to commit trespasses against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation.” He then gave an order that the boys and the women should be put to death, but that the young maidens should be kept alive for themselves.

I see nothing in this proceeding, but good policy, combined with mercy. The young men might have become dangerous avengers of, what they would esteem in their countries wrong; the mothers might have allured the Israelites to the love of licentious pleasures and the practice of idolatry, brought another plague upon the congregation.

But the young maidens, not being polluted by the flagitious habits of their mothers, nor likely to create disturbance by rebellion, were kept alive.

You give a different turn to the matter. You say, “That 32,000 women and children were consigned to debauchery by the order of Moses.”

Prove this, and I will allow that Moses was the horrid monster you make him. Prove this, and I will allow that the Bible is what you call it “a book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy.” Prove this, or excuse my warmth, if I say to you as Paul said to Elymus, the sorcerer, who sought to turn away Sergius Paulus from the faith.

“Oh, full of subtlety, and all mischief, that child of the devil, enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not ceased to pervert the right ways of the Lord? I did not, when I began these letters think that I should have been moved to the severity of rebuke, by anything you could have written. But when so gross a misrepresentation is made of God’s proceedings, coolness would be a crime.

The women – children were not reserved for the purposes of debauchery that of slavery; a custom abhorrent from our manners, but everywhere practiced in former times and still practiced in countries where the benignity of the Christian religion has not softened the ferocity of human nature.

You here admit a part of the account given in the Bible respecting the expedition against Midian and to be a true account. It is not unreasonable to desire that you will admit the whole, or shew sufficient reason why you admit one part, and reject the other.

I will mention the part to which you have paid no attention. The Israelite army consisted but of 12,000 men, a mere handful when opposed to the people of Midian, yet, when the officers made a muster of their troops after their return from the war, they found that they had not lost a single man!

This circumstance struck them as so decisive an evidence of God’s interposition, that out of the spoils they had taken they offered “an oblation to the Lord, and atonement for their souls.” Do but believe what the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds believed at the time when these things happened, and we shall never more hear of your objection to the Bible from its account of the wars of Moses.

You produce two or three other objections, respecting the genuineness of the first five books of the Bible. I cannot stop to notice them. Every commentator answers them in a manner suited to the apprehension of even a mere English reader.

You calculate, to the thousandth part of an inch, the length of the iron bed of Og the king of Basan; but you do not prove that the bed was too big for the body or that a Patagonian would have been lost in it.

You make no allowance for the size and a royal bed; nor ever suspected that King Og might have been possessed with the same kind of vanity, which occupied the mind as King Alexander, when he ordered his soldiers to enlarge the size of their beds that they might give to the Indians in succeeding ages a great idea of the prodigious stature of the Macedonian.

In many parts of your work, you speak much in commendation of science. I join with you in every commendation, you can give it; but you speak of it in such a manner as gives room to believe, that you are a great proficient in it.

If this be the case, I would recommend a problem to your attention, the solution of which you will readily allow to be far above the powers of a man conversant only, as you represent priests and bishops to be, in hic, haec, hoc. The problem is this, to determine the height to which a human body preserving its similarity of figure may be augmented before it will perish by its own weight.

 When you have solved this problem, we shall know whether the bed of the king of Basan was too big for any giant; whether the existence of a man 12 or 15 feet high is in the nature of things impossible.

My philosophy teaches me to doubt of many things, but it dost not teach me to reject every testimony, which is opposite to my experience. Had I been born in Shetland, I could on proper testimony, have believed in the existence of the Lincolnshire ox or of the largest dray horse in London; though the oxen and horses of Shetland had not been bigger than mastiffs.

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