Founding Father Thomas Paine and the Bible

I haven’t subscribed to Free Inquiry magazine for years, but I picked up the latest issue last week and was fascinated by a piece about Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, whom the modern religious right likes to claim were all Christians and were intent on making the US a Christian nation (despite what the founding documents actually said).

The article is about Paine’s last work, The Age of Reason, in which he challenged the authority of the Bible by making some elementary observations of its inconsistencies. (I’ve said before that such observations should be obvious to anyone who bothers to look and is not blinkered by uncritical faith, and this is an example of such an observation that long precedes the past century’s Biblical scholarship and current understanding of the Bible’s multiple authors.)

The article, not available online to non-subscribers, begins with the observation that Genesis 14 describes a pursuit “unto Dan”, in a book traditionally written by Moses; but the place called Dan was, according to Judges 18, called Laish by the Gentiles until the name changed to Dan at a time we can deduce occurred some 331 after the death of Moses. So. Paine minces no words:

Take away from Genesis the belief that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of God has stood, and there remains nothing of Genesis but an anonymous book of stories, fables, and traditionary or invented absurdities, or of downright lies. The story of Eve and the serpent, and of Noah and his ark, drops to a level with the Arabian tales, without the merit of being entertaining; and the account of men living to eight and nine hundred years becomes as fabulous as the immortality of the giants of the Mythology.

He also points out the horrific nature of the character of Moses, by citing Numbers 31:13-18.

Paine was controversial for all his books, but especially this one, which even many of his admirers downplayed or ignored.

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