In the prologue to The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Asher Silberman say:
The world in which the Bible was created was not a mythic realm of great cities and saintly heroes, but a tiny, down-to-earth kingdom where people struggled for their future against the all-too-human fears of war, poverty, injustice, disease, famine, and drought. The historical saga … was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of the human imagination. It was first conceived...during the span of two or three generations, about twenty-six hundred years ago. Its birthplace was the kingdom of Judah, a sparsely settled region of shepherds and farmers… [T]he built-up area of Jerusalem in the seventh century BCE covered an area of no more than one hundred and fifty acres, about half the size of the present Old City of Jerusalem...Few other cities in any historical eras have been so tensely self-conscious of their history, identity, destiny and direct relationship with [their] God.If Athens, or Thebes in Egypt, or even Babylon had written down the history of their people with all the mythology woven into everything in the history, including the law, and if that writing had been disseminated to their subjects as ‘fact’ during the era before the current one, is it possible that the religions of the world today would be centred around Zeus, Ra or Ashur? It was that the Jews wrote their history the way they had it told to them, and that they believed the mythology, that paved the way for the new reliigons of Christianity and Islam to be born.
As they wrote that history, they also recorded the laws they borrowed (as they had the mythology) of the people around them. They noticed that the laws brought order into what could only be described as the chaos of a society not previously governed by laws. They then ascribed the order, not to the laws themselves, but to the approval of the deity they worshipped. They made him the source of the laws, and the order, the evidence of his approval of their compliance. Whenever there was disobedience to the law, rather than see the disobedience as the cause of chaos, they used the chaos as evidence of his displeasure.
Those laws are still the basis of all legal systems today. Society still frowns on lying in Court, stealing and murder, but skeptics question whether the laws are against the basic morality that is ingrained into our humanity. Or are they taught to us? I leave the answer to that question to philosophers and psychologists.
Which brings me to the laws themselves.
In Judaism, there are 613 Mitzvot , or laws that all Jews have to obey. Christians have adopted only ten of them, the ones that comply to the basic rules of loving God, and your neighbours and not doing anything that you don’t want done to you.
As I said earlier, and I shall repeat this again when I comment on the Epistles in the New Testament, this law is unchanging. Therefore if one believes in God and wants to avoid “wonderful plagues,” one should abide by all these laws, including the ones listed below.
Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
Deuteronomy 27:26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them…
Deuteronomy 28:58-39 If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD;
Then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance.
Deuteronomy 12:2 Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.This includes the death penalty for any of the following offences:
Adultery (Lev 20:10-12
Premarital sex. (Deut 22:20-21)
Sex with a woman engaged to another man (Deut 22:23-24)
Sex with the daughter of a priest (she is burned) (Lev 21:9)
Raping an engaged woman (She is punishable too). (Deut 22:25)
Bestiality (both man and beast die). (Lev 20:15)
Having sex with your father’s wife (Lev 20:20).
Marrying a woman who is not a virgin (woman dies)
Having sex with your daughter in law. (Lev 20:30)
Incest. (Lev 20:17)
Male homosexuality (Lev 20:13).
Marrying a woman and her daughter. (Lev 20:14)
Worshiping idols (Ex 22:20, Lev 20:1-5, Deut 17:2-7)
Blasphemy (Lev 24:14-16,23)
Breaking the Sabbath (Ex 31:14, Numb 15:32-36)
Practicing magic (Ex 22:18)
Being a medium or spiritualist. (stoning) (Lev 20:27)
Trying to convert people to another religion. (stoning) (Deut 13:1-11, 18:20)
Apostasy (Deut 13:12-15)
Giving one of your descents to Molech (human sacrifice) (Lev 20:2)
Non-priests going near the tabernacle when it is being moved. (Numb 1:51)
Being a false prophet. (Deut 132:5, Deut 18:20, Zech 13:2-3)
Striking your parents (Ex 21:15)
Cursing your parents (Ex 21:17, Lev 20:9)
Being a stubborn and rebellious son. (Deut 21:18-21)
Murder. (except for murdering a slave) (Gen 9:6, Ex 21:12, Numb 35:16-21).
Kidnapping and selling a man. (Ex 21:16)
Perjury (in certain cases) (Deut 19:15 - 21).
Ignoring the verdict of a judge (or a priest) (Deut 17:8-13)
Not penning up a known dangerous bull. (Ex 21:29)
Possible grounds for execution:
A male who is not circumcised. (Genesis 17:14)
Eating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Exodus 12:15)
Manufacturing anointing oil. (Exodus 30:33)
Engaging in ritual animal sacrifices other than at the temple. (Leviticus 17:1-9)
Sexual activity with a woman who is menstruating: (Leviticus 20:18)
Consuming blood. (Leviticus 17:10)
Eating peace offerings while ritually unclean: (Leviticus 7:20)
Waiting too long before consuming sacrifices: (Leviticus 19:5-8)
Going to the temple in an unclean state: (Numbers 19:13)
However, we are are only too familiar with what obedience to these laws, especially the ones mentioned above, has caused in countries where Sharia Law is practiced, so perhaps it is a good thing that the writers of the New Testament chose to abadon these.
What did I learn from my reading of the Old Testament?
I most certainly did not experience an epiphany that would take me back to the religion of my ancestors.
I became even more convinced that the history was written by people who had suffered some sort of catastrophe. Reading Finkelstein and Silberman’s book confirmed what I had always believed about the people who wrote it. I'd always thought that they were an insular people who had very little experience of the lives of their neighbours, other than the stories that had been handed down from the general mythology of the area.
I came to the conclusion that it was not written before the exile. Being removed from what they thought to have been a great city, i.e. pre-exile Jerusalem to the magnificence of ancient Babylon, would have been enough reason to record their history, in case it was lost, and especially as they watched their children becoming assimilated into Babylonian culture.
The saddest part of the religion that emerged from Jerusalem is the guilt. I am grieved that Jews see the progroms that lead to the Holocaust as their own fault, and that they see their neighbours as modern day “Philistines” to be smote, before they will be allowed to achieve a new Zion, by a God who, with Bronze Age callousness, will stand by and watch innocent people being slaughtered.
I am also saddened that so many people who follow the religion of Islam, accept this Bronze Age attitude, and law, as applicable in an age where the rest of us believe that all people are born equal.