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vessel is overtaken by a storm at sea; and the mariners, all of whom are
Gentiles, believing it to be a judgement on account of some one on board
who had committed a crime, agreed to cast lots to discover the offender;
and the lot fell upon Jonah. But before this they had cast all their
wares and merchandise over-board to lighten the vessel, while Jonah,
like a stupid fellow, was fast asleep in the hold.

After the lot had designated Jonah to be the offender, they questioned
him to know who and what he was? and he told them he was an Hebrew;
and the story implies that he confessed himself to be guilty. But these
Gentiles, instead of sacrificing him at once without pity or mercy, as a
company of Bible-prophets or priests would have done by a Gentile in the
same case, and as it is related Samuel had done by Agag, and Moses by
the women and children, they endeavoured to save him, though at the risk
of their own lives: for the account says, "Nevertheless [that is, though
Jonah was a Jew and a foreigner, and the cause of all their misfortunes,
and the loss of their cargo] the men rowed hard to bring the boat
to land, but they could not, for the sea wrought and was tempestuous
against them." Still however they were unwilling to put the fate of the
lot into execution; and they cried, says the account, unto the Lord,
saying, "We beseech thee, O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life,
and lay not upon us innocent blood; for thou, O Lord, hast done as it
pleased thee." Meaning thereby, that they did not presume to judge Jonah
guilty, since that he might be innocent; but that they considered the
lot that had fallen upon him as a decree of God, or as it pleased
God. The address of this prayer shows that the Gentiles worshipped one
Supreme Being, and that they were not idolaters as the Jews represented
them to be. But the storm still continuing, and the danger encreasing,
they put the fate of the lot into execution, and cast Jonah in the sea;
where, according to the story, a great fish swallowed him up whole and
alive!

We have now to consider Jonah securely housed from the storm in the
fish's belly. Here we are told that he prayed; but the prayer is
a made-up prayer, taken from various parts of the Psalms, without
connection or consistency, and adapted to the distress, but not at all
to the condition that Jonah was in. It is such a prayer as a Gentile,
who might know something of the Psalms, could copy out for him. This
circumstance alone, were there no other, is sufficient to indicate that
the whole is a made-up story. The prayer, however, is supposed to have
answered the purpose, and the story goes on, (taking-off at the same
time the cant language of a Bible-prophet,) saying, "The Lord spake unto
the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon dry land."

Jonah then received a second mission to Nineveh, with which he sets
out; and we have now to consider him as a preacher. The distress he is
represented to have suffered, the remembrance of his own disobedience as
the cause of it, and the miraculous escape he is supposed to have had,
were sufficient, one would conceive, to have impressed him with sympathy
and benevolence in the execution of his mission; but, instead of this,
he enters the city with denunciation and malediction in his mouth,
crying, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown."

We have now to consider this supposed missionary in the last act of his
mission; and here it is that the malevolent spirit of a Bible-prophet,
or of a predicting priest, appears in all that blackness of character
that men ascribe to the being they call the devil.

Having published his predictions, he withdrew, says the story, to the
east side of the city.--But for what? not to contemplate in retirement
the mercy of his Creator to himself or to others, but to wait, with
malignant impatience, the destruction of Nineveh. It came to pass,
however, as the story relates, that the Ninevites reformed, and that
God, according to the Bible phrase, repented him of the evil he had said
he would do unto them, and did it not. This, saith the first verse of
the last chapter, displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry.
His obdurate heart would rather that all Nineveh should be destroyed,
and every soul, young and old, perish in its ruins, than that his
prediction should not be fulfilled. To expose the character of a prophet
still more, a gourd is made to grow up in the night, that promises him
an agreeable shelter from the heat of the sun, in the place to which he
is retired; and the next morning it dies.

Here the rage of the prophet becomes excessive, and he is ready to
destroy himself. "It is better, said he, for me to die than to live."
This brings on a supposed expostulation between the Almighty and the
prophet; in which the former says, "Doest thou well to be angry for the
gourd? And Jonah said, I do well to be angry even unto death. Then
said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast
not laboured, neither madest it to grow, which came up in a night, and
perished in a night; and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city,
in which are more than threescore thousand persons, that cannot discern
between their right hand and their left?"

Here is both the winding up of the satire, and the moral of the fable.
As a satire, it strikes against the character of all the Bible-prophets,
and against all the indiscriminate judgements upon men, women and
children, with which this lying book, the bible, is crowded; such as
Noah's flood, the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the
extirpation of the Canaanites, even to suckling infants, and women with
child; because the same reflection 'that there are more than threescore
thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their
left,' meaning young children, applies to all their cases. It satirizes
also the supposed partiality of the Creator for one nation more than for
another.

As a moral, it preaches against the malevolent spirit of prediction; for
as certainly as a man predicts ill, he becomes inclined to wish it. The
pride of having his judgment right hardens his heart, till at last
he beholds with satisfaction, or sees with disappointment, the
accomplishment or the failure of his predictions.--This book ends
with the same kind of strong and well-directed point against prophets,
prophecies and indiscriminate judgements, as the chapter that Benjamin
Franklin made for the Bible, about Abraham and the stranger, ends
against the intolerant spirit of religious persecutions--Thus much for
the book Jonah. [The story of Abraham and the Fire-worshipper, ascribed
to Franklin, is from Saadi. (See my "Sacred Anthology," p. 61.) Paine
has often been called a "mere scoffer," but he seems to have been among
the first to treat with dignity the book of Jonah, so especially liable
to the ridicule of superficial readers, and discern in it the highest
conception of Deity known to the Old Testament.--Editor.]

Of the poetical parts of the Bible, that are called prophecies, I have
spoken in the former part of 'The Age of Reason,' and already in this,
where I have said that the word for prophet is the Bible-word for Poet,
and that the flights and metaphors of those poets, many of which have
become obscure by the lapse of time and the change of circumstances,
have been ridiculously erected into things called prophecies, and
applied to purposes the writers never thought of. When a priest quotes
any of those passages, he unriddles it agreeably to his own views, and
imposes that explanation upon his congregation as the meaning of the
writer. The whore of Babylon has been the common whore of all the
priests, and each has accused the other of keeping the strumpet; so well
do they agree in their explanations.

There now remain only a few books, which they call books of the lesser
prophets; and as I have already shown that the greater are impostors,
it would be cowardice to disturb the repose of the little ones. Let
them sleep, then, in the arms of their nurses, the priests, and both be
forgotten together.

I have now gone through the Bible, as a man would go through a wood with
an axe on his shoulder, and fell trees. Here they lie; and the priests,
if they can, may replant them. They may, perhaps, stick them in the
ground, but they will never make them grow.--I pass on to the books of
the New Testament.



CHAPTER II - THE NEW TESTAMENT

THE New Testament, they tell us, is founded upon the prophecies of the
Old; if so, it must follow the fate of its foundation.

As it is nothing extraordinary that a woman should be with child before
she was married, and that the son she might bring forth should be
executed, even unjustly, I see no reason for not believing that such a
woman as Mary, and such a man as Joseph, and Jesus, existed; their mere
existence is a matter of indifference, about which there is no ground
either to believe or to disbelieve, and which comes under the common
head of, It may be so, and what then? The probability however is that
there were such persons, or at least such as resembled them in part
of the circumstances, because almost all romantic stories have been
suggested by some actual circumstance; as the adventures of Robinson
Crusoe, not a word of which is true, were suggested by the case of
Alexander Selkirk.

It is not then the existence or the non-existence, of the persons that
I trouble myself about; it is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in
the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon,
against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is
blasphemously obscene. It gives an account of a young woman engaged
to be married, and while under this engagement, she is, to speak plain
language, debauched by a ghost, under the impious pretence, (Luke i.
35,) that "the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the
Highest shall overshadow thee." Notwithstanding which, Joseph afterwards
marries her, cohabits with her as his wife, and in his turn rivals the
ghost. This is putting the story into intelligible language, and when
told in this manner, there is not a priest but must be ashamed to own
it.



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