Folks, whether you like it or not, if you’re not one of them – meaning a Christian fundamentalist – you’re one of us – that is, a Pagan (like me). Those are the only two choices open to you since Moses created the true/false distinction in religion some three thousand years ago.
We are seeing the message repeated in our own time, this process of dissociation and rejection of the “Other” and a negation of everything outside of fundamentalist Christianity. We non-fundamentalists in America find ourselves in the same position as Gentiles in post-Exilic (6th century B.C.E.) and Hasmonean (2nd century B.C.E.) Israel. If we do not wish to share their fate, we need to know what is happening and why.
It all started in the Book of Exodus. Many people have taken the Egyptians and other ancient polytheists (including the Greeks and the Romans) to be anti-Semites. The Hebrew Bible preaches this. What few people seem to realize is that the Book of Exodus is, at its heart, an anti-pagan polemic, Paganism being, remember, everything outside of Judaism.
Gentiles = Pagans = liberals, progressives, moderate Christians, feminists, gays and lesbians, atheists and everyone else outside of Christian fundamentalism.
Don’t get cocky about outnumbering them either; the polytheists in ancient Israel outnumbered the Yahweh supporters too, and look what happened. The Pagans in the Roman Empire outnumbered the Christians in the fourth century, and look what happened. It’s not numbers that speak: it’s the ruthless willingness to do whatever needs to be done that decides the issue.
Fundamentalist Christians accept the biblical stories of Israel’s origins at face-value, and these tie Israel to the history of ancient Egypt. These stories were accepted not only by the Jews themselves, but by their critics.
In actuality, given the truth of Jewish origins, the story does not begin with anti-Semitism on the part of Pharaoh. The first blows struck between Pagan and Jew were struck by monotheistic Jews against their polytheistic countrymen, but the violence did not end there; the Jahwists, as scholars refer to them, began a campaign of extermination of all those holding to traditional polytheistic Jewish belief, not to mention Judah’s polytheistic Gentile neighbors. This makes the story of the Exodus (and those which follow) not an anti-Semitic story but an anti-Pagan story, holding the polytheistic Pharaoh to be the heavy while the poor downtrodden monotheists are the victims – a reversal of historical fact.
Jerry Daniel notes that “whether acquainted with the OT or not, most gentile authors who speculate regarding Jewish origins connect them with Egypt.” And of course, this is what the Jews thought themselves. The difference is that the Gentile authors tended to see their expulsion in a negative light (as, in all fairness would have Pharaoh if the Biblical accounts were true) whereas the Jews saw it in a positive light, as a deliverance from slavery.
The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, for example, suggested that the reason they were expelled from Egypt was hatred of the gods (invisum deis), that they were led to a country which they seized, its inhabitants expelled. This in itself betrays some knowledge of the Old Testament accounts. And it’s accurate as far as it goes: the Jews did reject the gods and they did then expel the inhabitants of Canaan, at least according to the Biblical account.
Plutarch and Tacitus both suggest the possibility that the Jews represented the “superfluous population of Egypt” (exundantem per Aegyptum multitudinem). There were also stories, dating back to the Egyptian Manetho in the third century BCE that it was leprosy that brought about the expulsion of the Jews by the Pharaohs.
Later, in refuting Christianity, the Pagan scholar Celsus repeats the stories about the Jews being driven out of Egypt. In saying they “never performed anything of note, and never were held in any reputation or account” he is only giving an accurate account of a people of slave status, a status admitted by the Old Testament account itself. This is not anti-Semitism but could be applied to any body of slaves. And to be fair, with Pharaoh chasing the Jews in the biblical account, saying that the Jews were driven out is a reasonable interpretation of events.
Other comments by Tacitus are also taken to be anti-Semitic:
Histories 5.4.1: “All that we hold sacred they held profane, and they allowed practices which we abominate.”
But again, this is a simple statement of fact and the words are as true today as when Tacitus wrote them. As noted above, the reverse is equally true, and as noted by Jonathan Klawans, “Gentiles are inherently profane.”
The Old Testament spills over with vitriol aimed as “idolatry” and polytheistic practices – with a fervor seen today among fundamentalists in this country. As Regina Schwartz remarks, “In the myth of monotheism, pluralism is betrayal, punishable with every kind of exile: loss of home, loss of land, even alienation from the earth itself. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” This is exactly our fate according to fundamentalists. It is to save us from this fate that Rick Perry is holding his prayer-fast.
Histories 5.5.1: “Whatever their origin, these rites are sanctioned by their antiquity. Their other customs are perverted and abominable, and owe their prevalence to their depravity…whereas they feel nothing but hatred and enmity for the rest of the world.”
To be fair, this is exactly what the Bible says about Paganism. Why is it permissible to denigrate every religion outside Judaism but not Judaism itself? One need simply refer to the Jewish Bible to see how the Jews felt about other peoples and Pagans unfamiliar with these sacred writings were still quite aware of how the Jews felt about them, as noted by Hecataeus of Abdera in the third century B.C.E., who said they were “unsociable and hostile to foreigners.” And they were. Read even Jesus’ words in the New Testament in reference to Gentiles – “pearls before swine”, “do not give to dogs what is holy.”
Even their God, YHWH, is said to hate other peoples. See numbers Numbers 25:1-5, regarding which David Lochhead observes, “God is portrayed, in an anthropomorphic way, as violently egocentric. The punishment exacted for offending God is crude and barbaric. This is a god who demands violence and commends violence when it is performed in his cause. This is a god who is intensely competitive toward the other gods and who treats vindictively anyone who has commerce with them.”
We would do well here to recall the Hasmonean Jewish treatment of Pagan minorities within their borders in the late second century B.C.E. – ethnic cleansing, expulsion (1 Macc 13.47), forced circumcision (Esther 8.17), forced conversion, etc., events which must have been well-remembered in Tacitus’ day (these conquests were also noted by Strabo, Geography 16.2.37).
John J. Collins speaks of these anti-Pagan “programmatic ideological statements” found in the Bible:
We can no longer accept them as simply presenting what happened. Whether we see these texts as reflecting expansionistic policies of King Josiah or as mere fantasies of powerless Judeans after the exile, they project a model of the ways in which Israel should relate to its neighbors. In this perspective, ownership of the land of Israel is conferred by divine grant, not by ancestral occupancy or by negotiation, and violence against rival claimants of that land is not only legitimate but mandatory, especially if these people worship gods other than YHWH, the God of Israel.
As Collins and others have shown, these biblical texts have served to “legitimize violent action.” It was also ancient texts which legitimized the expulsion of Gentiles from Judea and their forced circumcision. As Oliver Wendel Holmes observed of his experiences in the Civil War, “certitude leads to violence.”
Today, we see the same enmity for mankind on the part of American Christian fundamentalists. They use the same language, quote from the same biblical verses to drive their point home, and predict the same dire punishments for our “infidelity” to their god. The past is repeating itself as it so often does, and if today’s fundamentalists have their way, it will see the same result and America will become the new Israel in truth. We are, my friends, literally all in this together – as Pagans – whether you like it or not because we are all of us outside them, and if we don’t have plans, they do.
In related news: How Fundamentalist Religion is Destroying the World, by Frank Schaeffer
 Jerry L. Daniel, “Anti-Semitism in the Hellenistic-Roman Period” JBL 98 (1979), 50.
 Cited by Josephus, Ag Ap 1.26 and repeated by Diodorus Siculus 34.1
 Origen, Contra Celsam, 4.31.
 Jonathan Klawans, “Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism,” AJS Review 20 (1995), 292 and n 34. He admits that the Pentateuch’s legal codes “never explicitly refer to Gentiles as profane” but notes that “since ‘profane’ is the ontological opposite of ‘sacred,’ the status of non-Israelites as profane is implied when Israel is called sacred.” See Lev. 10.10 and 19.1-2.
 Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 46-47.
 Hecataeus of Abdera, cited by Diodorus 40.3.
 David Lochhead “Monotheistic Violence” Buddhist-Christian Studies 21 (2001), 3.
 Besides forcing the abandonment of so many cities and destroying outright so many others, the Hasmonaeans annexed many Greek cities, including Gaza, Raphia, Azotus, Stratos Tower, Dor, Joppa, Iamnia, and cities of the Decapolis, including Gerasa, Gadara, Scythopolis, Dion and Pella. And not only Greeks (who turn up in Athens, Delos, Cos, Campania and elsewhere as refugees) fled the tide of an intolerant Judaism, but Idumaeans as well, as their colonies appear in Egypt during Hyrcanos’ reign. See Maurice Sartre, The Middle East Under Rome, 16. Some of these cities were later burnt down by the Jews in 66, Josephus says, in retaliation for the killing of the Jews of Caesarea by its Gentile population (War 2.457-460).
 Josephus alludes to the forced circumcision of Gentiles during the war of 66 while he was in charge of Galilee’s defenses (Life, 113) and it is possible that Bar Kokhba in the revolt of 132 may also have practiced forced circumcision. See Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision,” 43 and n 25. Weitzman suggests the possibility that Roman laws against circumcision might be a sequela of forced circumcisions by Bar Kochba.
 John J. Collins, “The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence,” JBL 122 (2003), 11.
 Steven Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision and the Shifting Role of Gentiles in Hasmonean Ideology,” HTR 92 (1999), 43-44 and n 24. Both Genesis 34 and 2 Sam 18.25-7 are examples of anti-Gentile violence the Maccabees, and later, the Hasmoneans, may have hearkened back to, and 2 Bar 66.5 celebrates Josiah as a king who “left no one uncircumcised.”
 John J. Collins, “The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence,” JBL 122 (2003), 12. As Collins demonstrates, it affected the Puritans in New England and it still has an effect today. See Moshe Greenburg, “On the Political Use of the Bible in Modern Israel: An Engaged Critique,” in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom (ed. David P. Wright, David Noel Freedman, and Avi Hurvitz (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 461-471. In this country, such language inspires right wing Christian “reconstructionists” who look forward to a day when all are converted (forcibly) to their brand of Christianity or are dead.