Loftus continues with talking about divination and how while there were practices Israel did not take part in that were considered divination, there was one that they did and that was casting of lots. Loftus immediately sees this as ludicrous asking if anyone could picture any judge today casting lots to divide land and make decisions.
I don’t know. I hear they use coin tosses at football games to decide who goes first.
The purpose of lots was to find God’s will when there was no other way to do so and to avoid partiality. That’s why it was done when dividing up the Promised Land. That way no tribe could say that favoritism was used against them by another tribe. (One speculates Loftus would say they should just blame God.)
Next, we move on to modern and educated people not accepting dreams. Ironically, the dreams that I see taking place many times are quite clear. The apostles do not have a strange dream and then start speculating on what it means. When Paul has a dream of a man from Macedonia, he gets up and goes to Macedonia?
Is it superstitious? Only if you assume a priori that God can’t communicate through dreams.
We move on the prophets who we are told got their prophecies from dreams and visions. Partially, I’d agree, but can we say that for every case? Could they not come from other means even if we don’t know them? Of course, let’s keep in mind the prophet was willing to die for his claim. He wasn’t going to speak unless he was sure he was right. Loftus though has chosen Jonah as his example. For the sake of argument, he’ll treat it as historical. Let’s see what happens.
The first account is of the storm. It’s automatically assumed that the sailors wanted to find out what god they offended to which Loftus asks “Is that what we do today?” Lovely standard isn’t it? Let’s consider a few things.
These were men of the sea. They knew when a storm was strong. In fact, in Acts 27, we have an account of a wind named for the strong storms that it produced. It could be they responded in such a way because either a storm was not predicted to come or it was an unusually strong storm. (Of course, it could just be more fun to assume they were ignorant.)
Also, if we are to treat the account as historical, then ultimately, the men were right. There was an unusual storm of some type because of an unusual occurrence. God’s prophet had disobeyed. If such is the real case, then we can hardly call it superstitious unless we assume God can’t affect the weather in response to people.
The sailors in the story ask Jonah to pray to his God. Loftus remarks that this is true polytheism. Um. Yeah. It’s polytheism. Is there a point to that? Polytheism was something the Bible condemned and in accounts like this, it is set in stark contrast to the monotheism of Israel.
Of course, Loftus is full of glee at the humor of casting lots. Again though, this was an impartial way of finding truth. One wonders if Loftus would have preferred they fight it out on deck to determine who it was or just have them all jump into the sea and see who it was.
The sailors are quite frightened to hear about Jonah’s God. Why? Because of the great power of such a God. If a God could not be localized and had the power to create a storm of that proportion, he’s a force to be reckoned with. One wonders if Loftus had any proper fear of God as a believer.
In response to him also, does God still zap people today? Well, there’s nothing that says he can’t, but it’s incredibly rare whenever he does so. Looking later at the account though, the sailors weren’t gullible at all. They took Jonah’s account (Why would he lie at this point?), the casting of lots, and the strong storm and made a reasonable decision.
Jonah asks to be thrown over. Loftus only has the usual remarks about that. Jonah was supposedly suicidal anyway and believed the storm was his fault. Then he asks “Have you ever blamed yourself because of a storm? Does God or nature act that way?”
Well apparently, God certainly can. He did it for Jonah. (Unless you rule that out a priori.) Also, it looks like the storm was his fault. The waters did calm when he was thrown over. The reason I don’t do so today is that, well, I’m not a prophet like Jonah and I don’t have a divine hand giving me explicit and unique commands like that.
Loftus is quite angry about the sailors thinking they should be tried for attempted murder. He doesn’t note this was a last-ditch effort and the whole ship probably would have gone down otherwise. Did the sailors have a list of people on board that when arriving at Tarshish, the absence of one would have been noted? Loftus will have to provide evidence of that.
We can expect he has much to say about the great fish but here a problem arises. Were we not told we were going to treat the account as historical? Apparently, Loftus lost that train of thought. One wonders also what kind of evidence Loftus would like that Jonah got swallowed? (Should Jonah have had his digital camera with him to take photos of the inside?)
Why did Nineveh repent? Loftus assumes no evidence was needed? Is this the case though? Word could have traveled from the sailors at sea. Let’s also remember that Jonah had been inside a big fish. That could have marked him as a prophet and one the Ninevites needed to pay attention to. It’s always easier though when specifics aren’t mentioned to just assume there weren’t any.
Of course, Loftus is sure he reads it wrong when the judgment doesn’t come. “Did he or didn’t he say that judgment would come?” Interesting that Loftus says this here, but what does he say later in his book? On page 224 we read:
“Prophecy can also be understood as a warning, and is thus conditional and is based on human responses.” (Jonah 3:2,5,10; Isaiah 38:1-6; and Jeremiah 18:7-10)
He can’t have it both ways. I agree that this is conditional so it doesn’t fail the test at all.
Now was there no evidence in the story? That’s assumed. Unfortunately, Loftus has not given any “evidence” that there is no evidence. Instead, we simply have an argument from silence.
Loftus pictures the prophets also in a power struggle wanting people to get the message from God their way. This is simply a testament of pop Christianity that seems to think that back then, the Israelites were all expecting messages from God. The average Israelite was working the fields and not wondering what God was thinking about him directly. This is hard for our individual mindset that thinks that God has a plan for each of our lives that we must discover.
Now we move on to Elijah and Carmel. Loftus wonders why the Israelites would believe in a pagan fertility god and one that provided rain for them. Apparently, the memo was missed that the biblical writers wanted to say the same thing. Why do they believe in these lesser gods?
For the record also, even if we know about such things, we know about simply the methods God uses to bring about rain normally. That does not rule out an efficient cause that put the whole system in place.
Of course, Elijah mocks the false prophets in this. Loftus doesn’t comment on that part. If he thinks the prophets of Baal are foolish and superstitious and so were those who followed him, then guess what! The Bible agrees! In fact, this story is all about evidence. How does Elijah show he’s a prophet of God and who the true God is? Evidence.
Loftus says if he had been there when the fire fell, he would have fallen down and worshiped. So did the people. Why did they return to their old ways? It’s simple. Someone explained it away. (It could be some Israelites back then thought later on that the account was a mythical story full of superstition.)
The account is assumed to be so colored with legend that we can’t know what happened. Strangely enough, we can a priori assume that it’s all a legend. Is there anything so difficult as saying that the Bible does record what happened? Not at all, unless you come and just assume it’s nonsense. It’s too bad “evidence” for that a priori assumption is lacking.
Tomorrow, we shall start looking at “superstition” in the NT period.