Have you heard the one about the stone tablets?

Question from Margaret:
What is the story where the atheists get slaughtered with the Christians and something about Moses coming down and breaking the tablets. Could you recap the whole thing in atheist language for me? and maybe tell me the verses?

Answer by SmartLX:
Well, the tablet part at least is easy to pin down. It’s part of the story of the Exodus, and the tablets are broken in Exodus 32:19. Moses leads his people to Mount Sinai and goes up by himself to receive the Ten Commandments from God on stone tablets. He takes so long that by the time he gets back some of the others are worshiping a golden calf they’ve made. Moses is so mad he breaks the tablets, and orders the calf reduced to powder that is mixed with water for the idolaters to drink as punishment. God hammers the point home afterwards by hitting them with a plague. Eventually Moses re-inscribes the Commandments on some new tablets.

The other part is harder to identify, because there may be no self-identifying atheists in the Bible at all. All the non-Christian characters worship someone else. Atheism was at least known to the authors, or they wouldn’t have written things like, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.” People could refer to others as atheists for not believing in their god or gods, and indeed the early Romans saw Christians that way because they didn’t believe in Jupiter and his pantheon. But I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue. If you know any more details on that story please put them in a comment, and maybe we can find what you’re referring to together.

All Those People Can’t Be Wrong

Question from J:

I have a question I can’t seem to be able to answer:

The old testament says (I’m paraphrasing) 300000 people were present when the book/tablets was given to them. It goes on about other events that happened to that group of people.

My question is: how would you convince an entire population of something (that didn’t happen to said population)?

e.g If I was one of those 300000, and these events didn’t happen to me, why would I believe that they did; just because Moses said so?

P.S I hope I managed to get my question across and that you can understand what I’m trying to ask.

Answer by SmartLX:
It was closer to three million people with Moses in total, according to Exodus, but who’s counting? The real problem is that you’re making (or allowing an apologist to make) the enormous assumption that there really were hundreds of thousands of people in the desert with Moses.

The story as a whole hasn’t got a leg to stand on; there is no evidence that the Sinai peninsula ever hosted anything like that many nomads, manna or no manna. They could probably have spanned the peninsula lengthwise if they’d all walked ten abreast in a straight line.

Moses himself hardly serves as an anchor for the historicity of the story. I argue with people about Jesus a lot, but at least there’s a certain amount of material to argue about; Moses doesn’t even have that level of support. The idea that Exodus was written by Moses himself or any of his contemporaries has long been abandoned by most scholars, which means it’s anything but a first-hand account, and that leaves a lot of room for exaggeration. That exaggeration can include not only the events themselves but the number of people who witnessed them.

There’s a line in 1 Corinthians that says 500 “brethren” saw the risen Jesus at once, and a similar point can be made regarding both that and this: an account of witnesses is not the same as accounts by those witnesses. Making the number larger, even arbitrarily, is an easy way to make the story sound authoritative, which means everyone who relayed the story to its eventual chronicler was sorely tempted to do just that. We’re lucky because in the case of the Exodus, the number was made so large it outgrew the land that supposedly contained it.

P.S. Considering my title out of context, any number of people can be wrong. There are two billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims and both groups can’t be right, so at least 1,500,000,000 people are agreed on something which is dead wrong.