When a Dick Invents a God, He's a Damn Fine Dick of a God
Yesterday, I came across the phrase, “God is a dick” in the comments section over at Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes. This reminded me of The Evangelical Atheist’s excellent series of the same name, so I quickly recommended it. Then I thought about it and realized that I probably hadn’t read every single installment, so I started to re-read them all from the beginning. I got as far as Part 2, where this little nugget of deceit, intolerance and mass murder came up in EA's shovel.
EA provides an excellent synopsis, so I’m including it here.
“Ahab, seventh king of Israel, married the ever-popular Jezebel and built a temple to the god Baal. Elijah, prophet of Yahweh, led the struggle to remove the cult of Baal from Israel. A duel of the deities ensued. Elijah told Ahab to gather all the people of Israel and 450 prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. Ahab complied. When everyone was gathered, Elijah laid out the ground rules. Two bullocks would be prepared for sacrifice and placed upon piles of wood. Then the prophets of Baal and Elijah would try to get their respective gods to ignite the wood and claim the sacrifice. The followers of Baal were allowed to choose their bullock and go first. They plead with Baal from morning until noon to take the sacrifice.”
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awakened. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. [1KI 18:27-28 KJV]
And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and lad him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. [1KI 18:33-40 KJV]
I take a slightly different approach than does The Evangelical atheist. I start with the premise that Jehovamagod is not only a dick, he is a made-up dick. This makes the Rabbi/Preist/Clerics the obvious beneficiaries and suspects in the crime. It boggles my mind how honest some of these accounts are. The crime is spelled out in enough detail that one can see through it if one tries. I’m not sure why they did this. Were they so arrogant as to think that no one would figure it out? Or, was this some kind of test, and those that solved the puzzle were either, a) invited into the temple hierarchy, or b) killed as heretics because the power of the priest class depended upon a population of dull-witted sheeple. Then too, these temple chronicles were probably never meant for general consumption.
I dealt with Moische/Moses and the “miraculous” genocide of the Egyptians here. Employing the same kind of analysis, can you see what the Priests of Baal did wrong? It’s a trick question. The answer is, “practically everything”. They agreed to a challenge where the other side set the rules. They underestimated the chicanery of their competition. They allowed all kinds of fussing and fidgeting and human interaction with the pyre and offering to Jehovamagod. Even if they had a plot up their sleeve to “help” their god light the fire, the best they could have hoped for was a tie. It was a sucker bet.
They were also suckered into going first. (“Let’s have a contest to see who can hit the lightest! You go first!) What do the hours of 6 AM to Noon have in common? Broad daylight. When did this “miraculous” ignition take place?
“And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice….”
Sunset. More correctly, after sunset, because Elijah put on a show first. Nothing like twilight to obscure what one doesn’t want seen. As for the rest of the production, doesn’t it seem like a stage magician’s setup? That’s because it IS a stage magician’s setup! These assholes were using magic tricks to animate their false gods. They do it all the time. Take the hollow-collapsing-staff-with-snake-inside that Aaron/Moses and the Egyptian priests had, for example. What’s up your sleeve, Moses? You can turn a stick into a snake. Big deal. Blackstone can make pigeons disappear! In this machine age, we tend to forget that hand-crafted items are not impossible, just expensive.
So how was the rest of this magic trick pulled off? I don’t know for sure, and all the witnesses are conveniently dead, as they say in mystery fiction. I can say how I might pull it off. What if the barrels of water weren’t water? What if the very first barrel of water wasn’t water? (“Barrel” is a mistranslation by the way. These folks used big earthen jars. Usually, of a size that one reasonably strong person could handle.) So what could this “water” be? Alcohol? Maybe, but not likely and it smells when it evaporates. Oil? That’s more like it. Lamps of the time used oil and rendered fat. What if the first barrel or so poured on the wood was something like that? Wouldn’t the remaining water bead up and run off without penetrating the wood? As for the light, a couple of sneaky alternatives come to mind. Hollow log containing burning charcoal? Not much smoke, enough combustion to insure a fire, soon as the log burns through. Throw some good tinder underneath, where the surrounding logs block the flow of water to be sure. Deliberately miss pouring stuff on the center of the pile (where maybe your cow hide will divert it?) just to be safe. The passage states: “Then the fire of the Lord fell….” Flaming arrow or spear perhaps? Risky, but possible with practice. Better for timing too. For that matter, how about the old standby burning rope soaked in oil fuse? Remember, Elijah is working the crowd, Exhorting the heavens, waving his arms around, and who knows what else. Classic misdirection, the staple of manufactured miracles since the beginning of religion. While all eyes are on Elijah, what else was transpiring in the shadowy dusk? Or maybe Elijah was just vamping until the fire started. Dusk hides wisps of smoke from smoldering tinder too.
As Sherlock Homes was fond of saying, “Once you rule out the impossible, the improbable, no matter how unlikely, must be true.” Water doesn’t burn. Repeat that to yourself if you need to, but no amount of magical thinking will make that untrue. Unless you separate the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atoms with hydrolysis, it won’t burn. If the ancient Israelites, or their make-believe sky-god did that somehow, there would be a big blue flash, a boom, and a lot of singed eyebrows. It didn’t happen that way, according to scripture. Build a big enough fire, and the remaining water will steam off. This would be consistent with adding an oil-based accelerant to the wood. The passage claims that the rocks and dust were consumed too (Elijah elaborately reconstructs the altar with 12 stones as part of the set-up). Exaggeration? Or, were these “stones” part of the show? Big chunks of sulfur? Clay or mud-covered somethings? No way of knowing, but there are three explanations that require no magic. The whole elaborate set-up routine could have been a stall. The main event would then take place at dusk without appearing to go on for hours without garnering divine response. The only thing required for this “miracle” is the kind of sophisticated dishonesty often found in con artists.
The priests on the losing side are not invited into the fold. Instead, they are slaughtered like animals. Make no mistake, this is a politically motivated crime. The prophets of Baal were Jezebel’s men. Their incursion into the kingdom was the equivalent of a rival Mafia family starting a turf war. This was the bronze-age equivalent of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The priests of the rival temple were shown no quarter, and were killed quickly. I’m guessing here, but I’d say they had to die before they could figure out how they were tricked, regroup, and come up with a “Mud Show” of their own. It never hurts to strike while you have an angry mob on your side either, for that matter. Those interested in world domination should take notes. These guys were pros.