The Moabite Stone And Skepticism

Ed Brayton on how the Moabite stone changed his life,

One of the big things that shocked me into reevaluating my belief in Christianity was learning about the Moabite stone (also called the Mesha Steele [sic]), a text from the Moabites that told their side of the story of the wars between them and the Israelites (the same wars discussed in the Bible in the third chapter of 2 Kings. At the same time that the Israelites were explaining their success or failure in war as the result of their Yahweh’s pleasure or anger with them, the Moabites were doing the same thing with their god, Chemosh. Suddenly I recognized that these claims were identical, so why believe the Israelite version and not the Moabite version? It was an important question in moving me toward skepticism.

This is from a Dispatches from the Culture Wars post in which Ed directs us to Brain Jay Stanley’s essay, “The Communion Of Strangers,” in Sun Magazine and to the value of studying comparative religion.
By the way, for the sake of rigor, I might rewrite Ed’s “the same wars discussed in the Bible . . .” to read “with striking parallels to the wars discussed in the Bible . . . “ But that is just a quibble and many would quibble with me about it.

5 thoughts on “The Moabite Stone And Skepticism”

  1. What a shock indeed, to discover that the writers of Scripture were human with normal human weaknesses. Seems that before his conversion he had never actually read the stories in the Bible, which regularly portray the heroes “warts and all”.

  2. Tim,
    Thanks for the comment. I have two things to say. One is directly to you comment and the other is not. The shocking thing to me is that in the face of these “normal human weaknesses” many people continue to privilege their own religious tradition over other religious traditions. I also found Ed’s remarks interesting and somewhat humorous, in the light of some (but not all) people in the Christian tradition and, I think to a lesser extent, in the Jewish tradition looking to artifacts like the Moabite stone as confirmation of their theological beliefs concerning the Bible.

  3. I entirely agree with your second point, though from a different place. I am not so sure of your first, I don’t see how anyone can avoid this, even if their “religious position” is not to have one. I’d have thought we all inevitably privilege our own positions, even if we respect those of others and treat our own with a measure of suspicion… if we didn’t would we still hold them?

  4. Tim,
    First, I would distinguish between a religious tradition and a religious position. My own religious tradition is the Methodist Christian tradition. There was certainly a time when I privileged the Methodist Christian tradition above all other Christian traditions and Christianity above all the larger groupings of religious traditions. That is certainly no longer true. I was shall we say pro-religion in those days. Pro-religion was my position (to use your word); Methodism was and is my tradition. I no longer define myself in terms of Methodism, Christianity or every as a person of faith, but all those are part of my tradition. I also have a position with regard to most of the elements of that tradition. I thing them misguided. I think the very idea of that faith has a positive value misguided. Do I privilege that position? Sure, but not because it is part of my religious tradition but because I think it correct for reasons quite outside of my religious tradition. Among those reasons is the problem of many gods which in the end Ed’s post reflects but that is far from my only reason.
    Another way to look at this: In one way I may privilege the Bible and particularly the Hebrew Bible. Not because I think it uniquely instructive but because I know more about it than I do about most other ancient works and because it is central to my religious tradition and to a lesser extent to my culture. My position on the Bible is that it is deserving of study because it is important to my religious tradition and my culture but not because it is uniquely informative with regard to theology, ethics or much of anything else.

  5. You are right, I did not notice the word “tradition”, and I agree that we ought not to privilege our tradition qua tradition. (I just doubt any of us, who still retain allegiance to a tradition, manage to avoid it. And perhaps those who accept a new tradition privilege that instead 😉

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