Thomas Paine

Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

Age of Reason, Part II, Section 7

Could we permit ourselves to suppose that the Almighty would distinguish any nation of people by the name of His chosen people, we must suppose that people to have been an example to all the rest of the world of the purest piety and humanity, and of Ahab, and were murd ruffians and cut-throats as the ancient Jews were; a people who, corrupted by and copying after such monsters and impostors as Moses and Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David, had distinguished themselves above all others on the face of the known earth for barbarity and wickedness. If we will not stubbornly shut our eyes and steel our hearts, it is impossible not to see, in spite of all that long-established superstition imposes upon the mind, that the flattering appellation of His chosen people is no other than a lie which the priests and leaders of the Jews had invented to cover the baseness of their own characters, and which Christian priests, sometimes as corrupt and often as cruel, have professed to believe.

The two books of Chronicles are a repetition of the same crimes, but the history is broken in several places by the author leaving out the reign of some of their kings; and in this, as well as in that of Kings, there is such a frequent transition from kings of Judah to kings of Israel, and from kings of Israel to kings of Judah, that the narrative is obscure in the reading. In the same book the history sometimes contradicts itself; for example, in the second book of Kings, chap, i., ver. 17, we are told, but in rather ambiguous terms, that after the death of Ahaziah, king of Israel, Jehoram, or Joram (who was of the house of Ahab), reigned in his stead, in the second year of Jehoram or Joram, son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah; and in chap. viii., ver. 16, of the same book, it is said, and in the fifth year of Joram, the son of Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, began to reign; that is, one chapter says Joram of Judah began to reign in the second year of Joram of Israel; and the other chapter says, that Joram of Israel began to reign in the fifth year of Joram of Judah.

Several of the most extraordinary matters related in one history, as having happened during the reign of such and such of their kings, are not to be found in the other, in relating the reign of the same king; for example, the two first rival kings, after the death of Solomon, were Rehoboam and Jeroboam; and in I. Kings, chap. xii and xiii, an account is given of Jeroboam making an offering of burnt incense, and that a man, who was there called a man of God, cried out against the altar, chap. xiii., ver. 2: "O altar, altar! thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee." Verse 4: "And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand which he put out against him dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him."

One would think that such an extraordinary case as this (which is spoken of as a judgment), happening to the chief of one of the parties, and that at the first moment of the separation of the Israelites into two nations, would, if it had been true, have been recorded in both histories. But though men in latter times have believed all that the prophets have said unto him, it does not appear that these prophets or historians believed each other; they knew each other too well.

A long account also is given in Kings about Elijah. It runs through several chapters, and concludes with telling, Il. Kings, chap. ii., ver. II, "And it came to pass, as they (Elijah and Elisha) still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Hum! this the author of Chronicles, miraculous as the story is, makes no mention of, though he mentions Elijah by name; neither does he say anything of the story related in the second chapter of the same book of Kings, of a parcel of children calling Elisha bald head, bald head; and that this man of God, verse 24, "Turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord; and there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tore forty-and-two children of them." He also passes over in silence the story told, II. Kings, chap. xiii., that when they were burying a man in the sepulchre where Elisha had been buried, it happened that the dead man, as they were letting him down, (ver. 21), touched the bones of Elisha, and he (the dead man) revived, and stood upon his feet." The story does not tell us whether they buried the man, notwithstanding he revived and stood upon his feet, or drew him up again. Upon all these stories the writer of Chronicles is as silent as any writer of the present day who did not choose to be accused of lying, or at least of romancing, would be about stories of the same kind.

But, however these two historians may differ from each other with respect to the tales related by either, they are silent alike with respect to those men styled prophets, whose writings fill up the latter part of the Bible. Isaiah, who lived in the time of Hezekiah, is mentioned in Kings, and again in Chronicles, when these historians are speaking of that reign; but, except in one or two instances at most, and those very slightly, none of the rest are so much as spoken of, or even their existence hinted at; although, according to the Bible chronology, they lived within the time those histories were written; some of their long before. If those prophets, as they are called, were men of such importance in their day as the compilers of the Bible and priests and commentators have since represented them to be, how can it be accounted for that not one of these histories should say anything about them?

The history in the books of Kings and of Chronicles is brought forward, as I have already said, to the year 588 before Christ; it will, therefore, be proper to examine which of these prophets lived before that period.

Here follows a table of all the prophets, with the times in which they lived before Christ, according to the chronology affixed to the first chapter of each of the books of the prophets; and also of the number of years they lived before the books of Kings and Chronicles were written.

TABLE OF THE PROPHETS.

Names. Years before Christ. Years before Kings and Chronicles. Observations.
Isaiah 760 172 mentioned.
Jeremiah 629 41 mentioned only in the last chap. of Chron.
Ezekiel 595 7 not mentioned.
Daniel 607 19 not mentioned.
Hosea 785 97 not mentioned.
Joel 800 212 not mentioned.
Amos 78 199 not mentioned.
Obadiah 78 199 not mentioned.
Jonah 862 274 see the note.[FOOTNOTE 11]
Micah 750 162 not mentioned.
Nahum 713 125 not mentioned.
Habakkuk 620 38 not mentioned.
Zephaniah 630 42 not mentioned.
Haggai — after the year 588      
Zachariah — after the year 588      
Malachi — after the year 588


This table is either not very honorable for the Bible historians, or not very honorable for the Bible prophets; and I leave to priests and commentators, who are very learned in little things, to settle the point of etiquette between the two, and to assign a reason why the authors of Kings and Chronicles have treated those prophets whom, in the former part of the Age of Reason, I have considered as poets, with as much degrading silence as any historian of the present day would treat Peter Pindar.

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