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ANSWERING INGERSOLL Americas most noted late 19th century atheist
by Kenny Paul Clarkson
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Below is an essay by noted 19th century atheist Robert Ingersoll.

See also Rethinking Free Thinking

Though hailed for his knowledge and scholarship, his essay on the Bible is riddled with editorializing, summations and outright errors. Imbedded in the text are footnotes that answer many of Ingersoll's misguided opinions.

Footnotes are indicated by blue, rather than the tradition superscript. My response is in red.

About the Holy Bible
by Robert G. Ingersoll


Somebody ought to tell the truth about the Bible. The preachers dare not, because they would be driven from their pulpits. Professors in colleges dare not, because they would lose their salaries. Politicians dare not. They would be defeated. Editors dare not. They would lose subscribers. Merchants dare not, because they might lose customers. Men of fashion dare not, fearing that they would lose caste. Even clerks dare not, because they might be discharged. And so I thought I would do it myself.a

There are many millions of people who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God -- b
millions who think that this book is staff and guide, counselor and consoler; that it fills the present with peace and the future with hope -- millions who believe that it is the fountain of law, Justice and mercy, and that to its wise and benign teachings the world is indebted for its liberty, wealth and civilization -- millions who imagine that this book is a revelation from the wisdom and love of God to the brain and heart of man -- millions who regard this book as a torch that conquers the darkness of death, and pours its radiance on another world -- a world without a tear.

a. First, Ingersoll states that preachers, professors, et al, embraced biblical inerrancy — not of faith — but of fear. Any objective thinker will recognize Ingersoll's opinion as little more than a silly summation. In reality, many genuinely believed the concept of biblical inerrancy.

b. Then he contradicts himself by stating that millions embraced inerrancy — not of fear — but of faith.

They forget its ignorance and savagery, its hatred of liberty, its religious persecution; they remember heaven, but they forget the dungeon of eternal pain. They forget that it imprisons the brain and corrupts the heart. They forget that it is the enemy of intellectual freedom. Liberty is my religion.c Liberty of hand and brain -- of thought and labor, liberty is a word hated by kings -- loathed by popes. It is a word that shatters thrones and altars -- that leaves the crowned without subjects, and the outstretched hand of superstition without alms. Liberty is the blossom and fruit of justice -- the perfume of mercy. Liberty is the seed and soil, the air and light, the dew and rain of progress, love and joy.

cIt is a peculiar thing that an atheist would declare his religion to be liberty. Consider that nations governed by atheist regimes has been wholly intolerant of liberty. These authoritarian atheists include Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Pol Pot. Add to the list Fidel Castro, Kim Jong of North Korea and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela


A few wandering families -- poor, wretched, without education, art or power; descendants of those who had been enslaved for four hundred years; ignorant as the inhabitants of Central Africa,1 had just escaped from their masters to the desert of Sinai. Their leader was Moses,2 a man who had been raised in the family of Pharaoh and had been taught the law and mythology of Egypt.3 For the purpose of controlling his followers he pretended that he was instructed and assisted by Jehovah, the God of these wanderers.4

1. Egypt, of course, is in northern Africa. Perhaps Ingersoll meant "North-central Africa."

2. Most critics of the Bible would disagree with Ingersoll's presumption that Moses was a historical person.

3. Ignored are the forty years Moses spent outside Egypt where his burning bush experience - a confrontation with Jehovah - occurred. Certainly Moses was familiar with the God of his ancestor, Abraham.

4. Moses is portrayed as a leader with malevolent motives. Ingersoll fails to acknowledge that Moses would have no personal gain by leading 3 million Jews through Sinai and would have likely inherited the very throne of Egypt had he chosen not to flee.

Everything that happened was attributed to the interference of this God.5 Moses declared that he met this God face to face; that on Sinai's top from the hands of this God he had received the tables of stone on which, by the finger of this God, the Ten Commandments had been written,6 and that, in addition to this, Jehovah had made known the sacrifices and ceremonies that were pleasing to him and the laws by which the people should be governed.

5. This is a sweeping generalization. In fact, much of biblical text relates actions of the Hebrews in deference of divine intervention.

6. The purpose of an extensive written law would be lost on those who, according to Ingersoll, were "without eduction."

In this way the Jewish religion and the Mosaic Code were established. 7

7. In this generality Ingersoll fails to recognize that the "religion" of the Jews was well established while they were in Egypt. Perhaps he could have more correctly said the "Jewish religion was refined by the Mosaic Code."

It is now claimed that this religion and these laws were and are revealed and established for all mankind.8

8. That claim may have been held by orthodox Jews, but certainly not Christians who believe the law was fulfilled by the advent of Jesus. Christians, for example, no longer practice laws pertaining to animal sacrifice.

At that time these wanderers had no commerce with other nations, they had no written language, they could neither read nor write.9 They had no means by which they could make this revelation known to other nations, and so it remained buried in the jargon of a few ignorant, impoverished and unknown tribes10 for more than two thousand year's.11

9. It is now know that written shapes, representing sounds - that is, phonic writing - was in existence about 600 years prior to the exodus.

10. The editorializing here is obvious. No doubt Ingersoll knew that the Jewish nation emerged as a monarchy in about 1,000 BCE and that the reign of Jewish Kings, both of the united kingdom and the divided kingdoms, could hardly be described as "a few ignorant, impoverished and unknown tribes."

11. The exodus is dated at about 1400 BCE. "More than two thousand year's" (sic) later would have left the Hebrew tradition in oral status until after 500 CE. Ingersoll later incorrectly states that the canon of the Old Testament was established by the Jews in the second century CE.

Many centuries after Moses, the leader, was dead many centuries after all his followers had passed away -- the Pentateuch was written, the work of many writers, and to give it force and authority it was claimed that Moses was the author.

We now know that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses.12

12. Moses may well have been the author. About 20 years prior to Ingersoll making this bold pronouncement, higher criticism had theorized that the Pentateuch was compiled from four sources identified collectively by the acronym J,E,D,P. The critics theory was exclusively based on the composition of the text. No external evidence of any kind has pointed to the four sources. Ingersoll will later contradict himself by using the lack of external evidence to argue against the validity of portions of the New Testament. Old Testament passages ascribing Moses as the author of the Pentateuch include Joshua 1:7-8; 8:32, 34; 22:5; 1 Ki 2:3; 2 Ki 14:6; 21:8; Ezra 6:18; Dan 9:11-13; Mal 4:4.

Towns are mentioned that were not in existence when Moses lived.13

13. About 100 years after Ingersoll's assertion, Biblical Archaeology Review published an article that identified from external (non-biblical) sources virtually all of the geographical sites identified along the route of the exodus.

Money, not coined until centuries after his death, is mentioned.14

14. Ingersoll is likely referring to shekels. Precious metals were valued by weight and as such provided the ancients with a value constant. A section of real estate could be worth 400 shekels of silver (Gen. 23:15) while 200 liters of barely would be valued at fifty shekels of silver. Considering that a shekel was a measure of weight, not a coin, an earring weighing 1/2 shekel of gold would be accepted as "currency." (See Genesis 24:22.) Ingersoll was simply wrong.

So, many of the laws were not applicable to wanderers on the desert -- laws about agriculture, about the sacrifice of oxen, sheep and doves, about the weaving of cloth, about ornaments of gold and silver, about the cultivation of land, about harvest, about the threshing of grain, about houses and temples, about cities of refuge, and about many other subjects of no possible application to a few starving wanderers over the sands and rocks.15

15. The Hebrews were enroute from Egypt to the Promised Land where farming, including agriculture and husbandry, would be their primary source of sustenance.

It is now not only admitted by intelligent and honest theologians16 that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch, but they all admit that no one knows who the authors were, or who wrote any one of these books, or a chapter or a line. We know that the books were not written in the same generation;17 that they were not all written by one person; that they are filled with mistakes and contradictions. It is also admitted that Joshua did not write the book that bears his name, because it refers to events that did not happen until long after his death.

16. The adjectives "intelligent and honest" are terms synonymous in Ingersoll's mind with "liberal" and "non-literalists."

17. This contradicts are earlier presumption in which Ingersoll says the Pentateuch remained in unwritten form for "for more than two thousand year's [sic]." After which, apparently, it was codified in written form.

No one knows, or pretends to know, the author of Judges;18 all we know is that it was written centuries after all the judges had ceased to exist.19 No one knows the author of Ruth,20 nor of First and Second Samuel; all we know is that Samuel did not write the books that bear his name.21 In the 25th chapter of First Samuel is an account of the raising of Samuel by the Witch of Endor.

18. The authorship of the Book of Judges is not relative to the issue in question and has no bearing on the accuracy, authenticity or inerrancy of the scripture.

19. "Centuries after all the judges had ceased to exist" is, of course, an incredible presumption. The era of the judges ended just prior to 1,000 BCE requiring the authorship to be after that date. Traditionally, the author is presumed to be Samuel who was likely born during the last years of the judges and was a contemporary of Saul, the first of the kings. If Samuel authored the Book of the Judges, it may have been written within the normal lifespan of the last of the judges. Liberals presume the book was compiled the late 7th century BCE, about 400 years after the close of the era of judges. The proposition that the book was compiled necessitates the existence of prior manuscripts. Assuming such manuscripts even existed, they may have been written as eyewitness accounts during the era of the judges or shortly thereafter.

20. Ingersoll was apparently unaware that the Book of Ruth was originally a part of the Book of Judges.

21. Ingersoll seems be under the false assumption that the person after whom a book is named is always the author. The authorship of I and II Samuel has no bearing on the validity of its contents or the issues in question. However, tradition credits three authors: Samuel, Gad and Nathan.

No one knows the author of First and Second Kings or First and Second Chronicles; 22 all we know is that these books are of no value.23

22. Again, the authorship in simply not relative to issues in question.

23. Ingersoll's editorializing is obvious. Archaeologists are but one example of those who find great value in the historicial aspect of the writings. Anthropologists would also find value in studying the culture and customers described in the writings. The spiritual value is apparent to believers.

We know that the Psalms were not written by David.24 In the Psalms the Captivity25 is spoken of, and that did not happen until about five hundred years after David slept with his fathers. 26

24. Ingersoll seems to be under the false assumption that David is credited with writing all the Psalms.

25. Psalm 126 is likely that to which Ingersoll is referring. The psalm may have referred to the exile in Babylon (concluding in about 586 BCE) or the siege of Sennacherib (commencing about 701 BCE).

26. A 379 year span existed between David's death in about 965 BCE and the proclamation of Cyrus ending the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE. If Psalm 126 refers to the siege of Sennacherib, the time interval would be 264 years. Either way, Ingersoll's estimate of 500 years is in error.

We know27 that Solomon did not write the Proverbs28 or the Song;29 that Isaiah was not the author of the book that bears his name; that no one knows the author of Job, Ecclesiastes, or Esther, or of any book in the Old Testament, with the exception of Ezra.

27. Ingersoll’s bold pronouncement, “We know,” is not universally accepted.

28. No evidence has been provided to prove (or disprove) the authorship of the Book of Solomon. Christian tradition holds that Solomon wrote all but portions of chapters 30 and 31. Others believe Solomon’s writing only include chapters 10 through 19. Jewish tradition holds that Solomon only wrote chapters 1 and 25. Liberal scholars don’t believe Solomon existed and, therefore, wrote none of the chapters. The text identifies Solomon as the author in chapters 1, 10 and 25.

29. Most evangelicals assume The Song of Solomon was written by Solomon while others believe it may have been written for Solomon. Critics do not believe Solomon existed and, therefore, must attribute this book to others.

We know that God is not mentioned or in any way referred to in the book of Esther.30 We know, too, that the book is cruel, absurd and impossible.31

30. The exclusion of God’s name does not exclude the apparent work of God.

31. Ingersoll’s commentary is that of opinion and, even then, he fails to qualify his critique with an explanation. Ingersoll considered the planned destruction of millions of Jews to be “impossible” about fifty years prior to the holocaust. But that doesn’t excuse Ingersoll’s contention. As a student of history, he would have certainly known of the continuous persecution of Jews throughout the common era.

God is not mentioned in the Song of Solomon,32 the best book in the Old Testament.33

32. God is not mentioned in many passages of the Bible but his presence is nearly always implied.

33. Ingersoll declares the Song of Solomon to be the best book in the Old Testament but fails to add a disclaimer that would attribute his conclusion to personal opinion, but rather, states it as a matter of fact without the benefit of qualification or explanation. The reader is, apparently, expected to accept Ingersoll’s opinion at face value and without question.

And we know that Ecclesiastes was written by an unbeliever. 34

34. Most likely Ingersoll is depending upon the conclusions of higher criticism and accepts those conclusions as incontestable facts. The unbelieving author is neither named nor identified.

We know, too, that the Jews themselves had not decided as to what books were inspired -- were authentic -- until the second century after Christ. 35

35. Roman Catholics and Orthodox scholars date the canon of the Old Testament by orthodox Jews as being established in 90 CE at the council of Jamnia. Many Jewish scholars believe the canon of the Old Testament was fixed many years prior to 90 CE.

We know that the idea of inspiration was of slow growth, 36 and that the inspiration was determined by those who had certain ends to accomplish. 37

36. Peter acknowledged certain writings of Paul to be scripture. This was not “slow growth.” In 367 CE Athanasias, Bishop of Alexandria, included the 27 New Testament books in his Easter letter. The books were listed in the order we have them today.

37. The 39 books canonized at the council of Jamnia were accepted because they were written in Hebrew, not because those attending the council had certain ends to accomplish.

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