The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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Pure Fiction in the Bible

We will now look at four narrative books generally regarded as works of fiction: Ruth, Esther, Job and Jonah.

The Book of Ruth

First, the book of Ruth. Many factors point to the fact that this book is a work of fiction. We note that the book makes no pretence that it is writing close in time to the events it purports to describe. For instance, the author felt compelled to explain to his readers a customs prevalent during the period his character was set which was no longer current then:

Ruth 4:7
Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.

The book is unusually detailed in its description of the events of Ruth’s life. Now if it was not written close to the time of the event, how could such detail be preserved in the story? Even more so, Ruth was no more than a commoner (her being the great grandmother of David [Ruth 4:17] -even if this was true- could not have been known at that time) how could such detail be kept in ancestral memory without being written down?

Some of the details can be easily shown to be made up. Take for example this passage describing some details in Naomi’s (Ruth’s mother in law) life:

Ruth 1:4-5
And they [Noami’s sons] took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion [Naomi’s sons] died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.

This is a very detailed description. Note however, that “Mahlon” means “sickness” while “Chilion” means “wasting”. These are strange names to give to one’s children. It is even stranger that these sons of Naomi-who died relatively young-had such appropriate names! Appropriate names are a characteristic of fiction and myths - not history.

These considerations show that book of Ruth should be classified as a “historical novel”. [1]

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The Book of Esther

Like the book of Ruth, the Book of Esther is fiction. Esther narrates the exploits of a Jewish woman who became queen of Persia. There is absolutely no historical evidence that there ever was a Jewish Queen of Persia. [2] There are also other historical problems with the story as it stands. We will discuss the most obvious here. The book mentions very clearly that Esther was the cousin of one Mordecai, who was among those taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. The verses are clearly translated in the Good News Bible below:

Esther 2:5-7
There in Susa lived a Jew named Mordecai son of Jair;…When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took king Jehoiachin of Judah into exile from Jerusalem, along with a group of captives Mordecai was among them. He had a cousin Esther, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah; she was a beautiful girl and had a good figure. At the death of her parents, Mordecai had adopted her and brought her up as her own daughter.

Then in Esther 2:15-23 we are told that Esther became Queen in the seventh year of King Xerxes’ (or Ahaseurus) reign and that Mordecai became an administrator in the King’s court. Here is the problem: Jehoiachin’s (and Mordecai’s) exile was a historical event that took place in the year 597 BC. Xerxes became king in 486 BC when his father, Darius, died. The seventh year of Xerxes reign therefore is 479 BC. Now, let us charitably assume that Mordecai was a newborn when he was taken into exile. This would mean that at that time of Esther’s marriage to the king, Mordecai was already 118 years old! Esther could not have been much younger since she was only the cousin of Mordecai. Are we asked to believe that a centenarian woman had the capability to charm the mighty king of Persia? All this shows that the author must have been writing a long time after the purported events and got his historical dates terribly wrong.

There are many elements within the story that leads one to conclude that the origin of the story was not from history but from an ancient Persian folktale.

  • The very name Esther is a derivative of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. In fact, the Aramaic version of the goddess’ name was Esther. Even her original Hebrew name, Hadassah (Esther 2:7), is closely related to the Babylonian word for “bride”.
  • The name Mordecai itself is not Hebrew and seems like a derivative of Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonians. In Babylonian mythology, Marduk and Ishtar are cousins, just like Mordecai and Esther in the story.
  • Even the name of King Xerxes’ original wife Vashti, mentioned in the Book (Esther 1:11-2:1) was not a historical figure. The real wife of Xerxes during the earlier years of his reign, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, was Amestris, the daughter of a Persian general. The name Vashti came from, you got it, Babylonian mythology. Vashti was the name of an Elamite Goddess.
  • Even the name of the chief villain of the story, Haman, the prime minister in Xerxes’ court (Esther 3:1), is fictional. There is no historical reference to any ministers in Xerxes’ court with such a name. Furthermore, the name of the chief male Elamite god is Hamman.

The considerations above are revealing-apart for king Xerxes, the names of all the other major characters from the book of Esther can be shown to be derived from Babylonian mythology. [3] [a]

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The Book of Job

The book of Job too is a piece of fiction. It is enough to point to the conversations between God and Satan which supposedly took place in heaven (Job 1:6-12;2:1-6). Who was a witness to that?

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The Book of Jonah

Next we have the book of Jonah. The story line itself sounds absurd. Given below is a summary of the story by Alice Parmalee:

A man called to be a prophet runs away. A missionary preaches repentance to a city, hoping all the while that the people will not repent and that Yahweh will destroy them! A successful missionary, with a whole repentant city to his credit, simply sits down in the shade of his vine and sulks! Our credulity is strained on every page...It seems incredible that anyone ever thought the story was actual history. [4]

It is probable, in any case, that the author of Jonah wanted his story to believed as the truth, for he chose, as his main character a man whose name should be known to readers of the Jewish scriptures:

Jonah 1:1-2
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

The reference to Jonah is found in the book of Kings:

II Kings 14:25
He [Jeroboam II] restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet

According to II Kings, Jonah lived during the reign of Jeroboam II and was active during the early part of that reign, or sometime around 780 BC. Now Nineveh, a city by the northern part of the river Tigris indeed was a “great city” once, for it was the capital of the Assyrian empire. However, by the time of Jonah, Assyria was no longer the power it was, and Nineveh was little more than a small provincial town. Thus here we have an anachronism, a city that was no longer one in any sense of the word being called “great” by an author who got his history mixed up. Now the whole story of Jonah centers around this city- a city that simply did not exist during the supposed main character’s lifetime!

This is not all. According to chapter three of Jonah, the whole city of Nineveh repented when they heard the prophet’s warning. The people of Nineveh all put on sackcloth and fasted as a sign of repentance. Such a conversion, a truly miraculous victory for the Jewish God, is neither recorded in Kings nor in any extra-biblical or secular documents. This lack of corresponding documentation of such an unusual event in other sources (including Biblical ones) showed that the supposed event never happened. [5] Without even needing to consider the absurd case of Jonah surviving for three days in the belly of a “great fish”, it is obvious that the book of Jonah is fiction, not fact.

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Notes

a.Isaac Asimov in his Guide to the Bible provided an interesting way in which the story could have started. In the book of Esther, The Queen Vashti was replaced by Esther, while the Prime Minister Haman was replaced by Mordecai. This, in a sense, was what actually happened to the mythological figures. The Babylonian culture replaced the Elamite one in the city of Susa during the final decades of the Assyrian Empire. Thus the chief Babylonian God, Marduk (Mordecai) replaced the chief Elamite God, Hamman (Haman), while the chief Babylonian Goddess Ishtar (Esther) replaced the chief Elamite Goddess, Vashti (Queen Vashti).

References

1.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p261-264
Barthel, What the Bible Really Says: p155-158
2.Parmalee, A Guidebook to the Bible; p78
3.Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible: p466-470
Barthel, What the Bible Really Says: p238
Harwood, Mythology’s Last Gods: p229-230
4.Parmalee, A Guidebook to the Bible: p58-59
5.Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible: p642-647

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