Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Questions of Zapata: Problems with the Bible

I found this piece in a book I'm reading containing the writings of Voltaire. Voltaire is the one who puts this piece together though it is written by Dominico Zapata as will be explained in the piece itself.

Zapata writes, in 1629, seeking the counsel of other doctors of the church in Spain who are "wiser" than he, concerning various problems he sees in the Scriptures. I enjoyed this work due both to its thoroughness and cleverness. While I was aware of many of these issues Zapata raises he clearly knows the Scriptures more thoroughly than I do and presents many of the simplest, obvious errors in the bible that are just read over by most people, including myself. They are not noticed in part because of people's lack of knowledge concerning various subjects such as history, geography, biology, topography and math but also in part because so many just do not wish to see them. With each error the questions concerning the nature of the bible as God's revealed word increase. What does revealed mean? Does it mean inherent? Infallible? How do we know what is meant as an allegory and what is meant as fact? How do we deal with the constant need for reinterpretation of prophecies as they continue to be unfulfilled? How do we understand the clear evils that the bible endorses and even commands? What do we do with the fact that the bible is just wrong about so many things?

The other thing I enjoy about this piece is it is written by a man in 1629 demonstrating that these questions are not new in the last 100 years but that there have been people who were brave enough and educated enough to question and doubt the bible for most of its history. Scholarship has advanced and can be used to answer some of these questions as well as to create many, many more. This is a long piece but reads fairly quickly, enjoy.

(Translated By Dr. Tamponet, Of The Sorbonne)

The licentiate Zapata, being appointed Professor of Theology at the University of Salamanca, presented these questions to a committee of doctors in 1629. They were suppressed. The Spanish copy is in the Brunswick Library.

Wise Masters:

1°. How ought I to proceed with the object of showing that the Jews, whom we burn by the hundred, were for four thousand years God’s chosen people?

2°. How could God, whom one cannot without blasphemy regard as unjust, forsake the whole earth for the little Jewish tribe, and then abandon this little group for another, which, during two hundred years, was even smaller and more despised?

3°. Why did he perform a number of incomprehensible miracles in favour of this miserable nation before the period which is called historical? Why did he, some centuries ago, cease to perform them? And why do we, who are God’s people, never witness any?

4°. If God is the God of Abraham, why do you burn the children of Abraham? And, when you burn them, why do you recite their prayers? How is it that, since you worship the book of their law, you put them to death for observing that law?

5°. How shall I reconcile the chronology of the Chinese, Chaldæans, Phœnicians, and Egyptians with that of the Jews? And how shall I reconcile the forty different methods of calculation which I find in the commentators? If I say that God dictated the book, I may be told that God evidently is not an expert in chronology.

6°. By what argument can I prove that the books attributed to Moses were written by him in the desert? How could he say that he wrote beyond the Jordan when he never crossed the Jordan? I may be told that God is evidently not good at geography.

7°. The book entitled Joshua says that Joshua had Deuteronomy engraved on stones coated with mortar; this passage in Joshua, and others in ancient writers, clearly prove that in the days of Moses and Joshua the peoples of the East engraved their laws and observations on stone and brick. The Pentateuch tells us that the Jewish people were without food and clothing in the desert; it seems hardly probable that, if they had no tailors or shoemakers, they had men who were able to engrave a large book. In any case, how did they preserve this large work inscribed in mortar?

8°. What is the best way to refute the objections of the learned men who find in the Pentateuch the names of towns which were not yet in existence: precepts for kings whom the Jews detested, and who did not reign until seven hundred years after Moses; and passages in which the author betrays that he was much later than Moses, as: “The bed of Og, which is still seen in Ramath,” “The Canaanite was then in the land,” etc., etc., etc., etc.?

These learned men might, with the difficulties and contradictions which they impute to the Jewish chronicles, give some trouble to a licentiate.

9°. Is the book of Genesis to be taken literally or allegorically? Did God really take a rib from Adam and make woman therewith? and, if so, why is it previously stated that he made man male and female? How did God create light before the sun? How did he separate light from darkness, since darkness is merely the absence of light? How could there be a day before the sun was made? How was the firmament made amid the waters, since there is no such thing as a firmament?—it is an illusion of the ancient Greeks. There are those who suggest that Genesis was not written until the Jews had some knowledge of the erroneous philosophy of other peoples, and it would pain me to hear it said that God knows no more about physics than he does about chronology and geography.

10°. What shall I say of the garden of Eden, from which issued a river which divided into four rivers—the Tigris, Euphrates, Phison (which is believed to be the Phasis), and Gihon, which flows in Ethiopia, and must therefore be the Nile, the source of which is a thousand miles from the source of the Euphrates? I shall be told once more that God is a very poor geographer.

11°. I should, with all my heart, like to eat the fruit which hung from the tree of knowledge; and it seems to me that the prohibition to eat it is strange. Since God endowed man with reason, he ought to encourage him to advance in knowledge. Did he wish to be served only by fools? I should also like to have speech with the serpent, since it was so intelligent; but I should like to know what language it spoke. The Emperor Julian, a great philosopher, asked this of the great St. Cyril, who could not meet the question, and said to the learned emperor: “You are the serpent.” St. Cyril was not polite; but you will observe that he did not per petrate this theological impertinence until Julian was dead.

Genesis says that the serpent eats earth; you know that Genesis is wrong, and that earth alone contains no nourishment. In regard to God walking familiarly every day in the garden, and talking to Adam and Eve and the serpent, I may say that it would have been very pleasant to have been there. But as I think you are much more fitted for the kind of society which Joseph and Mary had in the stable at Bethlehem, I will not advise you to visit the garden of Eden, especially as the gate is now guarded by a cherub armed to the teeth. It is true that, according to the rabbis, cherub means “ox.”1 A curious kind of porter! Please let me know at least what a cherub is.

[1 ]The kerubim (or “cherubim”) of the Old Testament are the winged bulls of the ancient Babylonians, of which there are two fine specimens in the British Museum.—J. M.

12°. How shall I explain the story of the angels who fell in love with the daughters of men, and begot giants? May I not be told that this episode is borrowed from pagan legends? But as the Jews invented everything in the desert, and were very ingenious, it is clear that all the other nations took their science from the Jews. Homer, Plato, Cicero, and Vergil learned all they knew from the Jews. Is not that proved?

13°. How shall I get out of the deluge, the cataracts of heaven (which has no cataracts), and the animals coming from Japan, Africa, America, and the south, and being enclosed in a large ark with food and drink for one year, without counting the time when the earth was still too damp to produce food for them? How did Noah’s little family manage to give all these animals their proper food? It consisted only of eight persons.

14°. How can I make the story of the tower of Babel plausible? This tower must have been higher than the pyramids of Egypt, since God allowed the building of the pyramids. Did it reach as high as Venus, or at least to the moon?

15°. By what device shall I justify the two lies of Abraham, the father of believers, who, at the age of one hundred and thirty-five (counting carefully), represented the pretty Sarah as his sister in Egypt and at Gerar, in order that the kings of those countries might fall in love with her and make presents to him? What a naughty thing to do, to sell one’s wife!

16°. Give me some explanation why, although God told Abraham that all his posterity should be circumcised, this was not done under Moses.

17°. Can I know by my natural powers whether the three angels, to whom Sarah offered a whole calf to eat, had bodies, or borrowed bodies?

18°. Will my hearers believe me when I tell them that Lot’s wife was changed into a salt statue? What shall I say to those who tell me that it is probably a coarse imitation of the ancient fable of Eurydice, and that a salt statue would not last in the rain?

19°. What shall I say in justification of the blessings which fell on Jacob, the just man, who deceived his father Isaac and robbed his father-in-law Laban? How shall I explain God appearing to him at the top of a ladder? And how could Jacob fight an angel all night?, etc., etc.

20°. How must I treat the sojourn of the Jews in Egypt and their escape? Exodus says that they remained four hundred years in Egypt; but, counting carefully, we find only two hundred and five years. Why did Pharaoh’s daughter bathe in the Nile, in which no one ever bathes on account of the crocodiles?, etc., etc.

21°. Moses having wedded the daughter of an idolater, how could God choose him as his prophet without reproaching him? How could Pharaoh’s magicians work the same miracles as Moses, except that of covering the land with lice and vermin? How could they change into blood all the waters, since these had already been changed into blood by Moses? How was it that Moses, led by God himself, and at the head of six hundred and thirty thousand fighting men, fled with his people, instead of taking Egypt, in which God had slain all the first-born? Egypt never had an army of a hundred thousand men, from the first mention of it in historical times. How was it that Moses, flying with his troops from the land of Goshen, crossed half of Egypt, instead of going straight to Canaan, and advanced as far as Memphis, between Baal-Sephon and the Red Sea? Finally, how could Pharaoh pursue him with all his cavalry when, in the fifth plague of Egypt, God had just destroyed all the horses and beasts in the country, and, moreover, Egypt, which is much broken by canals, always had very little cavalry?

22°. How shall I reconcile what is said in Exodus with the speech of St. Stephen in Acts and the passages of Jeremiah and Amos? Exodus says that they sacrificed to Jehovah for forty years in the desert; Jeremiah, Amos, and St. Stephen say that neither sacrifice nor victim was offered during all that time. Exodus says that they made the tabernacle, which contained the ark of the covenant; St. Stephen, in Acts, says that they took the tabernacle from Moloch and Remphan.

23°. I am not sufficiently versed in chemistry to deal happily with the golden calf which, Exodus says, was made in a day, and which Moses reduced to ashes. Are they two miracles, or two possibilities of human art?

24°. Was it a further miracle for the leader of a nation, in a desert, to have twenty-three thousand men of that nation slain by a single one of the twelve tribes, and for twenty-three thousand men to let themselves be massacred without making any defence?

25°. Must I again regard it as a miracle, or as an act of ordinary justice, that twenty-four thousand Hebrews were put to death because one of them had lain with a Midianite woman, while Moses himself had married a Midianite? And were not these Hebrews, who are described to us as so ferocious, really very good fellows to let themselves be slain for girls?

26°. What explanation shall I give of the law which forbids the eating of the hare “because it ruminates, and has not a cloven foot,” whereas hares have cloven feet and do not ruminate? We have already seen that this remarkable book suggests that God is a poor geographer, a poor chronologist, and a poor physicist; he seems to have been no less weak in natural history. How can I explain other equally wise laws, such as that of the waters of jealousy and the sentence of death on a man who lies with his wife during the menstrual period? etc., etc., etc. Can I justify these barbaric and ridiculous laws, which are said to have been given by God himself?

27°. What answer shall I make to those who are surprised that a miracle was needed to effect the crossing of the Jordan, since it is only forty-five feet across at its widest, could easily be crossed with a small raft, and was fordable at many points, as we learn from the slaying of forty-two thousand Ephraimites by their brothers at a ford of the same river?

28°. What reply shall I make to those who ask how the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of a trumpet, and why other towns did not fall in the same way?

29°. How shall I excuse the conduct of the harlot Rahab in betraying her country, Jericho? How was this treachery necessary, since they had only to blow their trumpet to take a town? And how shall I fathom the depth of the divine decrees which enacted that our divine Saviour Jesus Christ should descend from this harlot Rahab, from the incest of Thamar with her father-in-law Judah, and from the adultery of David and Bathsheba? How incomprehensible are the ways of God!

30°. How can I approve of Joshua hanging thirty-one kinglets and usurping their little States—that is to say, their villages?

31°. How shall I speak of the battle of Joshua with the Amorites at Beth-horon on the way to Gibeon? The Lord sends a rain of stones, from Beth-horon to Azekah: it is fifteen miles from Beth-horon to Azekah; therefore the Amorites were exterminated by rocks which fell from heaven over a space of fifteen miles. The Scripture says that it was midday. Why, then, did Joshua command the sun and the moon to stand still in the middle of the sky in order to give him time to complete the defeat of a small troop which was already exterminated? Why did he tell the moon to stand still at midday? How could the sun and moon remain in the same place for a day? Which commentator shall I consult for an explanation of this extraordinary truth?

32°. What shall I say of Jephthah immolating his daughter, and having forty-two thousand Jews of the tribe of Ephraim, who could not say Shibboleth, put to death?

33°. Ought I to admit or deny that the Jewish law nowhere speaks of punishment or reward after death? How is it that neither Moses nor Joshua ever spoke of the immortality of the soul, a dogma well known to the ancient Egyptians, Chaldæans, Persians, and Greeks, but hardly known to the Jews until after the time of Alexander, and always rejected by the Sadducees because it is not in the Pentateuch?

34°. What gloss must I put on the story of the Levite who, coming on his ass to the Benjamite town Gibeah, excited the passion of all the Gibeonites? He abandoned his wife to them, and she died the next day.

35°. I need your advice to enable me to understand the nineteenth verse of the first chapter of Judges: “And the Lord was with Judah: and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain: but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” I cannot, of my own feeble lights, understand how the God of heaven and earth, who had so often superseded the order of nature and suspended the eternal laws in favour of the Jewish people, was unable to vanquish the inhabitants of a valley because they had iron chariots. Can it be true that, as some learned men say, the Jews at that time regarded their God as a local and protecting deity, sometimes more powerful, at other times less powerful, than the gods of the enemy? And is this not proved by the reply of Jephthah: “Ye possess by right what your god Camos has given you: suffer then that we take what our god Adonai has promised us”?

36°. I may add that it is difficult to believe that there were so many chariots armed with scythes in a mountainous district, in which, as the Scriptures often show, the height of magnificence was to be mounted on an ass.1

[1 ]Had Voltaire known what the modern archaeologist has discovered, he would have added that the age of iron did not even dawn until some centuries after this supposed episode; and iron was not used in the East until about six centuries afterwards.—J. M.

37°. The story of Ehud gives me even greater trouble. I see that the Jews were always in bondage, in spite of the help of their God, who had sworn to give them all the country between the Nile, the sea, and the Euphrates. For eighteen years they were subject to a petty king named Eglon, when God raised up for them Ehud, son of Gera, who used his left hand as well as the right. Ehud, son of Gera, made a two-edged sword, and hid it under his cloak —as Jacques Clément and Ravaillac did afterwards. He asks a private audience of the king, saying that he has a secret of the utmost importance to communicate to him from God. Eglon respectfully rises, and Ehud drives his sword into his belly with his left hand. God entirely approved this deed; but, judged by the moral code of all nations, it seems rather questionable. Please tell me which was the most divine assassination, that of St. Ehud, or that of St. David (who had Uriah, the husband of his mistress, slain), or that of the blessed Solomon, who, having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, assassinated his brother Adonias because he asked for one of them? etc., etc., etc., etc.

38°. I pray you tell me by what trick Samson caught three hundred foxes, tied them together by their tails, and fastened lighted torches to their hind quarters, in order to set fire to the harvests of the Philistines. Foxes are found only in wooded country. There was no forest in this district, and it seems rather difficult to catch three hundred foxes alive and tie them together by their tails. It is then said that he killed a thousand Philistines with the jaw of an ass, and that a spring issued from one of the teeth of this jaw. When it comes to the jaws of asses, you certainly owe me explanations.

39°. I also ask you for information about that good man Tobias, who slept with his eyes open, and was blinded by the droppings of a swallow; about the angel who came down expressly from what is called the empyrean to seek, with Tobias junior, the money which the Jew Gabel owed to Tobias senior; about the wife of Tobias junior, who had had seven husbands whose necks had been wrung by the devil; and about the way to restore sight to the blind with the gall of a fish. These stories are curious, and nothing is more worthy of attention—after Spanish novels; the only things to which they may be compared are the stories of Judith and Esther. But how am I to interpret the sacred text which says that the beautiful Judith descended from Simeon, son of Reuben, whereas Simeon was the brother of Reuben, according to the same sacred text, which cannot lie?

I am very fond of Esther, and think the alleged King Assuerus acted very sensibly in marrying a Jewess and living with her for six months without knowing who she was. As all the rest of the story is of much the same character, I must ask you kindly to come to my assistance, my wise masters.

40°. I need your help in regard to the history of the kings, at least as much as in regard to the history of the judges, of Tobias and his dog, of Esther, of Judith, of Ruth, etc., etc. When Saul was appointed king, the Jews were in bondage to the Philistines. Their conquerors did not allow them to have swords or lances; they were even compelled to go to the Philistines to have their ploughshares and axes sharpened. Nevertheless, Saul gives battle to the Philistines and defeats them; and in this battle he is at the head of three hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, in a little country that cannot sustain thirty thousand souls. The Jews had not at that time more than a third of Palestine, at the most, and so sterile a country does not sustain twenty thousand inhabitants to-day. The surplus population was compelled to go and earn its living by prostitution at Damascus, Tyre, and Babylon.

41°. I know not how I can justify the conduct of Samuel in cutting into pieces Agag, whom Saul had taken prisoner and put to ransom. I wonder whether our king Philip, if he captured a Moorish king, and made an agreement with him, would be approved if he cut the captured king in pieces.

42°. We owe great respect to David, who was a man after God’s heart; but I fear I am not learned enough to justify, by ordinary laws, the conduct of David in associating with four hundred men of evil ways, and burdened with debt, as the Scripture says; in going to sack the house of the king’s servant Nabal, and marrying his widow a week later; in offering his services to Achish, the king’s enemy, and spreading fire and blood over the land of the allies of Achish, without sparing either age or sex; in taking new concubines as soon as he is on the throne; and, not content with these concubines, in stealing Bathsheba from her husband, whom he not only dishonours, but slays. I find it difficult to imagine how God could afterwards descend, in Judæa, from this adulterous and homicidal woman, who is counted among the ancestresses of the Eternal. I have already warned you that this article causes much trouble to pious souls.

43°. The wealth of David and Solomon, which amounted to more than five hundred thousand million gold ducats, seems to be not easily reconciled with the poverty of the country and with the condition to which the Jews were reduced under Saul, when they had not the means of sharpening their ploughshares and axes. Our cavalry officers will shrug their shoulders when I tell them that Solomon had four hundred thousand horses in a little country where there never were, and are not to-day, anything but asses, as I have already had the honour to represent to you.

44°. If I were to run over the history of the frightful cruelties of nearly all the kings of Judah and Israel, I fear I should scandalise, rather than edify, the weak. These kings assassinate each other a little too frequently. It is bad politics, if I am not mistaken.

45°. I see this small people almost always in bondage to the Phœnicians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, or Romans; and I may have some trouble in reconciling so much misery with the magnificent promises of their prophets.

46°. I know that all the eastern nations had prophets, but I do not quite understand those of the Jews. What is the meaning of the vision of Ezekiel, son of Buzi, near the river Chebar; of the four animals which had four faces and four wings each, with the feet of calves; of the wheel that had four faces; and of the firmament above the heads of the animals? How can we explain the order given by God to Ezekiel to eat a parchment book, to have himself bound, and to lie on his left side for three hundred and ninety days, and on his right side for forty days?

47°. It will be my duty to explain the great prophecy of Isaiah in regard to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is, as you know, in the seventh chapter. Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, kinglet of Israel, were besieging Jerusalem. Ahaz, kinglet of Jerusalem, consults the prophet Isaiah as to the issue of the siege. Isaiah replies: “God shall give you a sign: a girl (or woman) shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child shall be able to refuse the evil and choose the good the land shall be delivered of both the kings, . . . and the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.”

Then, in the eighth chapter, the prophet, to ensure the fulfilment of the prophecy, lies with the prophetess. She bore a son, and the Lord said to Isaiah: “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz [Hasten-to-seize-the-spoil, or Run-quickly-to-the-booty]. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and my mother, the power of Damascus shall be overthrown.” I cannot plainly interpret this prophecy without your assistance.

48°. How must I understand the story of Jonah, who was sent to Nineveh to preach penance? Nineveh was not Israelitic, and it seems that Jonah was to instruct it in the Jewish law before bringing it to repent. Instead of obeying the Lord, Jonah flies to Tarshish. A storm arises, and the sailors throw Jonah into the sea to appease the tempest. God sends a great fish to swallow Jonah, and he remains three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. God orders the fish to give up Jonah, and it obeys. Jonah disembarks on the coast of Joppa. God commands him to go and tell Nineveh that in forty days it will be overturned, unless it does penance. It is more than four hundred miles from Joppa to Nineveh. Do not all the stories demand a superior knowledge which I lack? I greatly wish to confound the learned men who assert that this legend is taken from the legend of the ancient Hercules.

49°. Show me how to interpret the first verses of the prophet Hosea. God explicitly enjoins him to take a harlot and have children by her. The prophet obeys punctually. He pays his respects to Dona Gomer, daughter of Dom Diblaim, keeps her three years, and has three children—which is a model. Then God desires another model. He orders him to lie with another gay lady, a married woman, who has already deceived her husband. The good Hosea, always obedient, has no trouble in finding a handsome lady of this character, and it costs him only fifteen pieces of silver and a measure of barley. I beg you to tell me how much the piece of silver was worth among the Jews.

50°. I have still greater need of your wise guidance in regard to the New Testament. I hardly know what to say when I have to reconcile the two genealogies of Jesus. I shall be reminded that Matthew makes Jacob the father of Joseph, while Luke makes him the son of Heli, and that this is impossible unless we change He into Ja and li into cob. I shall be asked why the one counts fifty-six generations and the other only forty-two, and why the generations are quite different; and then why only forty-one are given instead of the promised forty-two; and lastly why the genealogical tree of Joseph was given at all, seeing that he was not the father of Jesus. I fear to make a fool of myself, as so many of my predecessors have done. I trust that you will extricate me from this labyrinth.

51°. If I declare that, as Luke says, Augustus had ordered a census to be taken of the whole earth when Mary was pregnant, and that Cyrenius or Quirinus, the governor of Syria, published the decree, and that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be enumerated; and if people laugh at me, and antiquarians teach me that there never was a census of the Roman Empire, that Quintilius Varus, not Cyrenius, was at that time governor of Syria, and that Cyrenius only governed Syria ten years after the birth of Jesus, I shall be very much embarrassed, and no doubt you will extricate me from this little difficulty. For how could a book be inspired if there were one single untruth in it?

52°. When I teach that, as Matthew says, the family went into Egypt, I shall be told that that is not true, but that, as the other evangelists say, the family remained in Judæa; and if I then grant that they remained in Judæa, I shall be told that they were in Egypt. Is it not simpler to say that one can be in two places at once, as happened to St. Francis Xavier and several other saints?

53°. Astronomers may laugh at the star which led the three kings to a stable. But you are great astrologers, and will be able to explain the phenomenon. Tell me, especially, how much gold the kings presented. For you are wont to extort a good deal of it from kings and peoples. And in regard to the fourth king, Herod, why did he fear that Jesus, born in a stable, might become king of the Jews? Herod was king only by permission of the Romans; it was the business of Augustus. The massacre of the innocents is rather curious. I am disappointed that no Roman writer mentions it. An ancient and most truthful (as they all are) martyrology gives the number of these martyred infants as fourteen thousand. If you would like me to add a few thousand more, you have only to say so.

54°. You will tell me how the devil carried off God and perched him on a hill in Galilee, from which one could see all the kingdoms of the earth. The devil promising these kingdoms to God, provided God worships the devil, may scandalise many good people, whom I recommend to your notice.

55°. I beg you, when you go to a wedding feast, to tell me how God, who also went to a wedding feast, succeeded in changing water into wine for the sake of people who were already drunk.

56°. When you eat figs at breakfast towards the end of July, I beg you to tell me why God, being hungry, looked for figs at the beginning of the month of March, when it was not the season of figs.

57°. Having received your instructions on all the prodigies of this nature, I shall have to say that God was condemned to be executed for original sin. And if I am told that there was never any question of original sin, either in the Old or the New Testament; that it is merely stated that Adam was condemned to die on the day on which he should eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and he did not die; and that Augustine, bishop of Hippo, formerly a Manichean, was the first to set up the doctrine of original sin, I submit to you that, as my hearers are not the simple folk of Hippo, I run some risk of exciting derision by speaking much without saying anything. When certain cavillers came to show me that God could not possibly be executed because an apple was eaten four thousand years before his death, and could not possibly have redeemed the human race, yet, apart from a chosen few, left the whole of it in the devil’s claws, I had only verbiage to give in reply, and went away to hide my shame.

58°. Throw some light for me on the prophecy which Our Lord makes in Luke (ch. xxi.). Jesus says explicitly that he will come in a cloud with great power and great glory before the generation to which he speaks shall pass away. He did not do this; he did not come in the clouds. If he came in some fog or other, we know nothing about it; tell me what you think. The Apostle Paul also says to his Thessalonian disciples that they will go with him in the clouds to Jesus. Why did they not go? Does it cost more to go to the clouds than to the third heaven? I beg your forgiveness, but I prefer the clouds of Aristophanes to those of Paul.

59°. Shall I say with Luke that Jesus went up to heaven from the little village of Bethany? Shall I state with Matthew that it was from Galilee, where the disciples saw him for the last time? Or shall I take the word of a learned doctor who says that Jesus had one foot in Bethany and another in Galilee? The latter opinion seems to me the more probable, but I will await your decision.

60°. I shall then be asked whether Peter was ever at Rome. I shall reply, of course, that he was pope there for twenty-five years; and the chief reason I shall give is that we have an epistle from the good man (who could neither read nor write), and that it is dated from Babylon. There is no answer to that argument, but I should like something stronger.

61°. Please tell me why the “Apostles’ Creed” was not written until the time of Jerome and Rufinus, four hundred years after the apostles. Tell me why the earliest fathers of the Church never quote any but the gospels which we call apocryphal. Is it not a clear proof that the four canonical gospels had not yet been written?

62°. Are you not sorry, as I am, that the early Christians forged so much bad poetry, and attributed it to the Sibyls? And that they forged letters of Paul and Seneca, of Jesus, of Mary, and of Pilate? And that they thus set up their sect on a hundred forgeries which would be punished to-day by any court in the world? These frauds are now recognised by all scholars. We are reduced to calling them “pious.” But is it not sad that your truth should be based on lies?

63°. Tell me why, since Jesus did not institute seven sacraments, we have seven sacraments 1 ; why, whereas Jesus never said that he was threefold and had two natures and two wills and one person, we make him threefold, with one person and two natures; and why, having two wills, he had not the will to instruct us in the dogmas of the Christian religion.

[1 ]The number recognised in the Church of Rome.—J. M.

64°. Is the pope infallible when he consorts with his mistress, and when he brings to supper a bottle of poisoned wine for Cardinal Cornetto?2 When two councils anathematise each other, as has often happened, which of them is infallible?

[2 ]The author was thinking, apparently, of Pope Alexander VI. [Note by Voltaire.]

65°. Would it not really be better to avoid these labyrinths, and simply preach virtue? When God comes to judge us, I doubt very much if he will ask us whether grace is versatile or concomitant whether marriage is the visible sign of an invisible thing, whether we believe that there are ten choirs of angels or nine, whether the pope is above the council or the council above the pope. Will it be a crime in his eyes to have prayed to him in Spanish when one does not know Latin? Shall we be visited with his cruel wrath for having eaten a pennyworth of bad meat on a certain day? And shall we be eternally rewarded if, like you, my learned masters, we ate a hundred piastres’ worth of turbot, sole, and sturgeon? You do not believe it in the depth of your hearts; you believe that God will judge you by your works, not by the opinions of Thomas and Bonaventure.

Shall I not render a service to men in speaking to them only of morality? This morality is so pure, so holy, so universal, so clear, so ancient, that it seems to come from God himself, like the light which we regard as the first of his works. Has he not given men self-love to secure their preservation; benevolence, beneficence, and virtue to control their self-love; the natural need to form a society; pleasure to enjoy, pain to warn us to enjoy in moderation, passions to spur us to great deeds, and wisdom to curb our passions? Will you allow me to announce these truths to the noble people of Spain?

66°. If you bid me conceal these truths, and strictly enjoin me to announce the miracles of St. James of Galicia, or of Our Lady of Atocha, or of Maria d’Agreda (who in her ecstasies behaved in a most improper manner), tell me what I must do with those who dare to doubt? Must I, for their edification, have the ordinary and extraordinary question put to them?1

[1 ]The tortures of the Inquisition.—J. M.

I await the honour of your reply,

Dominico Zapata, y verdadero, y honrado, y caricativo.

Zapata, receiving no answer, took to preaching God in all simplicity. He announced to men the common father, the rewarder, punisher, and pardoner. He extricated the truth from the lies, and separated religion from fanaticism; he taught and practised virtue. He was gentle, kindly, and modest; and he was burned at Valladolid in the year of grace 1631. Pray God for the soul of Brother Zapata.

Zach: Sadly as is so often true those that ask the hard questions concerning authority are silenced by those whose power depends upon that authority remaining unexamined and unquestioned. You'd think an all-powerful all-loving God could handle some simple questions but historically this God rarely is able to, instead he finds numerous ways to punish and destroy those who would ask them.


  1. Z, thanks so much for sharing that. It seems that so often throughout the ages, a clear voice calls out - the truth is not in all these trappings of the church, but it is here - and eventually the voice disappears into oblivion. Wonderful.

  2. It makes me realize how many wonderful voices have existed over time that, sadly, we will never hear. But that is why I chose to keep reading so I can find and learn from as many different voices as I can so that perhaps I too may say something of value before my voice is also gone and forgotten.

  3. So sad when God becomes associated with abusive power and Satan with the constructive search for truth. It should be the other way around, shouldn't it? Glad to read of your journey. Keep at it.

  4. Noel thanks for taking the time to look at my blog and for your thought.

    I can’t agree with you but that is part of the fun. I think the character of Satan has a lot to teach us about searching for truth no matter the cost, whereas the traditional character of the Abrahamic God discourages or outright forbids that search.

    I think there are many good reasons that God often is and should be associated with the abuse of power. History provides many of those reasons as does the very narrative of the bible. No one ever does evil in the name of Satan (that just what each side says about the other) rather they do evil in the name of God. People were killing, destroying, raping and pillaging in the name of God long before the character of Satan was even created. I would go further and say that God abuses his own power so what’s sad to me is not that God is associated too much with the abuse of power but rather that he is associated with it too little in fact most people let God off the hook for his abuses simply because he is God.

    Thanks again for taking a look. Your ideas are always welcome.