Easter and Passover – From an Atheist Perspective

The God of the Jews is, indeed, a malevolent monster – 

If one takes the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt at its face value.

And yet, at the same time,  impotent, if one accepts the Christian story of Easter.

Since both of these stories are being remembered on this weekend, it is a good opportunity to look at them together.

The Israelites Leaving Egypt

The Israelites Leaving Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Firstly, what is it that the Jews are actually commemorating at Passover? They are celebrating the release of the Jews, or Israelites, from their conditions of slavery under the Egyptians. Of course, the emphasis is on the freedom itself, rather than how the freedom was obtained.

As the fable is told, the Jews called upon their God to make Pharaoh (the Egyptian leader) “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” And God responded by causing a series of calamities and disasters to fall upon the Egyptian people, in ever increasing degrees of severity.

The Plagues of Egypt (Hebrewמכות מצרים, Makot Mitzrayim), also called the Ten Plagues (Hebrewעשר: המכות, Eser Ha-Makot) or the Biblical Plagues, were ten calamities that, according to the biblical Book of Exodus, Israel’s God, Yahweh, inflicted upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth plague, triggering the Exodus of the Jewish people.(1)

It seems that the Egyptians were a resilient people, and managed to survive plagues 1 to 9 – but it was the tenth one that was the clincher.

The plagues as they appear in the Bible are:

  1. Water, which turned to blood and killed all fish and other aquatic life (Exodus 7:14–25 )
  2. Frogs (Exodus 8:1–8:15 )
  3. Lice (Exodus 8:16–19 )
  4. Flies or wild animals (Exodus 8:20–30 )
  5. Disease on livestock (Exodus 9:1–7 )
  6. Unhealable boils (Exodus 9:8–12 )
  7. Hail and thunder (Exodus 9:13–35 )
  8. Locusts (Exodus 10:1–20 )
  9. Darkness (Exodus 10:21–29 )
  10. Death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals.(Exodus 11 , Exodus 12 )

The Jews are supposed to have prevented this last disaster from affecting them by, on God’s instruction, killing an unblemished lamb, and smearing its blood on the doorposts  of their homes, before cooking and eating the unfortunate animal. (The “unblemished” aspect was deemed very important, so imperfect lambs were spared for God knows what). Then, as the “Angel of Death” passed over the homes (hence “Passover”) it would ignore the Jews and just visit God’s wrath on the Egyptian babies.

So, after God’s final offer, Pharaoh thought “enough of this shit” and couldn’t wait for the Jews to to leave and go and live anywhere but Egypt. And the Jews had to put up with this *NIMBY attitude for the better part of the next 3000 years!

Israel's Escape from Egypt, illustration from ...

Made a great movie!
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, there is much more to the story of this exodus of the Jews, with exciting special effects, such as the famous “parting of the Red Sea” after Pharaoh changed his mind and chased after his departing slaves. And, then there were various other phenomena that Hollywood has portrayed so graphically.  Actually, I think that God  had this possibility in mind all the time. He foresaw that this story could make  great cinema, and a lot of money for those Jewish movie moguls who understood its potential.

But the inconvenient truth is that, what the Jews are celebrating tonight is really a confirmation of  Richard Dawking’s description of the Jewish God:

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.

(Yes, I know I’ve quoted this before, but it bears repeating)

So, what are Christians commemorating at this time?

Of course, another fable, different from Passover, but no less bizarre, in its own way.

The Galitzin Triptych: Christ on the Cross

"Don't worry - I'll be back! " (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am referring to the supposed resurrection of a dead body back to full health. Not content with inventing a biological impossibility regarding the birth of Jesus, they now invented a further biological impossibility regarding his death – or the lack of it:

In the New Testament, after the Romans crucified Jesus, he was buried in a new tomb, but God raised him from the dead and he appeared to many people over a span of forty days before his ascension to Heaven, to sit at the Right Hand of God. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, the third day after Good Friday, the day of his crucifixion. Easter’s date corresponds roughly with Passover, the Jewish observance associated with the Exodus, that is fixed for the night of the Full moon near the time of the equinox.(2)

From this it would appear that the God of the New Testament did not have the same powers as his predecessor. It’s true that he has been able to make the gullible believe in his power to restore life, but he seems to have restricted that power to family members only. And has yet to explain why he permitted “his only son” to be crucified in such a cruel and terrible way.

All this “Jesus died to redeem mankind from its sins” and similar facile explanations doesn’t really explain God’s impotence in the first place.

So, as Jews sit at the “seder” table tonight, trying to digest the matzos and mountains of food, whilst thanking God for their deliverance, Christians will be preparing for their slog along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, with some Jesus lookalike dragging a large, heavy wooden cross, and wishing he’d never volunteered for the gig.

And we Atheists can observe all of this with a mixture of cynical disbelief, and, perhaps, a tinge of sadness, at the frailty of mankind in its quest to eagerly grasp at any straw in its search for  – what exactly?

Andyboy – Telling it as it is!


(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagues_of_Egypt

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection_of_Jesus

*NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard


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