Some Mistakes of Moses

Robert Green Ingersoll

…We are told that the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field, that he had a conversation with Eve, in which he gave his opinion about the effect of eating certain fruit; that he assured her it was good to eat, that it was pleasant to the eye, that it would make her wise; that she was induced to take some; that she persuaded her husband to try it; that God found it out, that he then cursed the snake; condemning it to crawl and eat the dust; that he multiplied the sorrows of Eve, cursed the ground for Adam’s sake, started thistles and thorns, condemned man to eat the herb of the field in the sweat of his face, pronounced the curse of death, “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” made coats of skins for Adam and Eve, and drove them out of Eden… .

Our fathers thought it their duty to believe, thought it a sin to entertain the slightest doubt, and really supposed that their credulity was exceedingly gratifying to God. To them, the story was entirely real. They could see the garden, hear the babble of waters, smell the perfume of flowers. They believed there was a tree where knowledge grew like plums or pears; and they could plainly see the serpent coiled amid its rustling leaves, coaxing Eve to violate the laws of God… .

Theologians have filled thousands of volumes with abuse of this serpent, but it seems that he told the exact truth. We are told that this serpent was, in fact, Satan, the greatest enemy of mankind, and that he entered the serpent, appearing to our first parents in its body. If this is so, why should the serpent have been cursed? Why should God curse the serpent for what had really been done by the devil? …Is it really necessary to believe this account in order to be happy here, or hereafter? Does it tend to the elevation of the human race to speak of “God” as a butcher, tanner and tailor?

And here, let me say once for all, that when I speak of God, I mean the being described by Moses: the Jehovah of the Jews. There may be for aught I know, somewhere in the unknown shoreless vast, some being whose dreams are constellations and within whose thought the infinite exists. About this being, if such a one exists, I have nothing to say. He has written no books, inspired no barbarians, required no worship, and has prepared no hell in which to burn the honest seeker after truth.

When I speak of God, I mean that god who prevented man from putting forth his hand and taking also of the fruit of the tree of life that he might live forever; of that god who multiplied the agonies of woman, increased the weary toil of man, and in his anger drowned a world; of that god whose altars reeked with human blood, who butchered babes, violated maidens, enslaved men and filled the earth with cruelty and crime; of that god who made heaven for the few, hell for the many, and who will gloat forever and ever upon the writhings of the lost and damned… .

Of course God knew when he made man, that he would afterwards regret it. He knew that the people would grow worse and worse until destruction would be the only remedy. He knew that he would have to kill all except Noah and his family, and it is hard to see why he did not make Noah and his family in the first place, and leave Adam and Eve in the original dust. He knew that they would be tempted; that he would have to drive them out of the garden to keep them from eating of the tree of life; that the whole thing would be a failure; that Satan would defeat his plan; that he could not reform the people; that his own sons would corrupt them; and that at last he would have to drown them all except Noah and his family. Why was the garden of Eden planted? Why was the experiment made? Why were Adam and Eve exposed to the seductive arts of the serpent? Why did God wait until the cool of the day before looking after his children? Why was he not on hand in the morning? Why did he fill the world with his own children, knowing that he would have to destroy them? And why does this same God tell me how to raise my children when he had to drown his? …

According to Moses, God made up his mind not only to destroy the people, but the beasts and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air. What had the beasts, and the creeping things, and the birds done to excite the anger of God? Why did he repent having made them? Will some Christian give us an explanation of this matter? No good man will inflict unnecessary pain upon a beast; how then can we worship a god who cares nothing for the agonies of the dumb creatures that he made?

Why did he make animals that he knew he would destroy? Does God delight in causing pain? He had the power to make the beasts, and fowls, and creeping things in his own good time and way, and it is to be presumed that he made them according to his wish. Why should he destroy them? They had committed no sin. They had eaten no forbidden fruit, made no aprons, nor tried to reach the tree of life. Yet this god, in blind unreasoning wrath destroyed “all flesh wherein was the breath of life, and every living thing beneath the sky, and every substance wherein was life that he had made.”

Jehovah having made up his mind to drown the world, told Noah to make an Ark of gopher wood three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. A cubit is twenty-two inches; so that the ark was five hundred and fifty feet long, ninety-one feet and eight inches wide and fifty-five feet high. This ark was divided into three stories, and had on top, one window twenty-two inches square. Ventilation must have been one of Jehovah’s hobbies. Think of a ship larger than the Great Eastern with only one window, and that but twenty-two inches square! …

Excerpted from “Some Mistakes of Moses,” The Works of Robert Ingersoll, Volume 2 (New York: The Dresden Publishing Co., 1901, 128–44).

Robert Green Ingersoll

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a most singular figure—a political speechmaker without whose support the Republican Party could not put a candidate in the White House—who also crisscrossed the country lecturing to the largest theater crowds of the day about why there is no hell.

“Theologians have filled thousands of volumes with abuse of this serpent, but it seems that he told the exact truth.”

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