No-one has summed up the first half of the Bible better than Richard Dawkins in his superb book The God Delusion.
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
But surely it would be unfair to allow the world’s most notorious living atheist to define Judaism. Especially as Dawkins has been exposed as a horrible racist for attacking the youngest Abrahamic religion by the very same people who applauded his attacks on Judaism and Christianity.
Best to judge Judaism on its own terms. Amongst the many bizarre occurrences in the Old Testament is the story from Judges Chapter 19. In this strange tale, a man refuses to allow his male guest to be sexually assaulted by a group of “wicked men” so he gives up his daughter instead…
“The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing. But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.
Whatever this bizarre tale tells us, it certainly doesn’t reflect well on the place of women in Jewish society. And in case you think I’m cherry picking, the same thing happens in the story of Lot in Genesis 19.
So, the Old Testament represents a typically Bronze Age religion and shows how a semi-literate and barely-civilised tribe tried to justify its violence and hostility towards outsiders. Basically, the Old Testament says “our god is a fearsome and powerful deity who can defeat your god so you’d give us your women, your land and your money.” And when things aren’t going so well? The Jews need to be even more fundamentalist in their crazy devotion to their tribal deity. If there had been aeroplanes in the first century, you can imagine some crazy Jewish terrorist high on religion piloting one into the Roman forum.
It can’t be denied that there are some cracking stories in the Old Testament and at least in has some kind of chronology going on, unlike some other religious texts I have read. But the Greek, Norse and Aztec mythologies all contain equally compelling tales and I don’t see many people basing their morality on Zeus, Odin or Quetzalcoatl in 2017. I reject the primitive tribal mentality of the Old Testament based on revenge against outsiders and I further reject the primitive morality based on punishment by an omnipotent father-figure if I fail to follow one of the 613 (not 10) commandments in his celestial rulebook.