Monday, December 06, 2010

The divine ironist

Infidels are especially fond of citing the incident of Balaam’s talking donkey to mock the Bible. I’ve discussed this before, but I’ll say a bit more on the subject:

i) This is inherently incredible only if miracles are inherently incredible. Just citing the incident does nothing to disprove it. You’d either have to make a solid case against miracles in general, or allow for the possibility of miracles in general, but show why this particular case is out of bounds.

ii) Among exorcists and paranormal investigators, there are reported incidents which are just as bizarre. So, once again, you can’t dismiss this out of hand unless you make a general case against miracles or paranormal events.

Keep in mind that infidels pride themselves on their intellectual superiority. Yet they aren’t actually demonstrating their intellectual superiority. They make fun of something, but where’s the argument?

iii) Finally, their objection to the Balaam incident is quite obtuse. They ridicule the account because they find it patently absurd. But that misses the point entirely. For the incident is meant to be ridiculous. God is ridiculing the pagan prophet. God is assuming the role of satirist or ironist.

To take a comparison, suppose somebody thought it was clever to lampoon Gulliver’s Travels. He’d cite preposterous scenes in Gulliver’s Travels, then exclaim, “How could Jonathan Swift be so stupid!”

But would his mockery reflect badly on the intelligence of Jonathan Swift, or the intelligence of the mocker?

Since Gulliver’s Travels was ridiculous by design, if you ridicule something that’s intentionally ridiculous, you just make yourself look stupid.

Incidentally, wacky things happen all the time in real life. The fact that something is absurd doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Life in a fallen world is brimming with absurdities.

As one commentator explains:

Yahweh provides the donkey with the means of verbal communication. He “opened the mouth” of the donkey; ironically, this is an expression used when God opens the mouths of prophets to speak (Ezk 3:27; 33:22). Who is the true prophet in this episode? It is the donkey that sees a vision or theophany and speaks the words of God given to her!

The contrast between the two figures is sharp:

[Quoting Milgrom] In truth, Balaam is depicted on a lower level than his ass: more unseeing in his ability to defect the angel, ore stupid in being defeated verbally by his ass, and more beastly in subduing it with his stick whereas it responds with tempered speech.

A further irony, or satiric comment, is Balaam’s statement, in the optative mood, that if he had a sword, then he would kill his donkey. There is a sword nearby; it is in the hand of the angel of Yahweh whom Balaam, the seer, cannot see! J. Currid, Numbers (EP 2009), 322-23.

The account is riddled with deliberate biting irony. The predicament of Balaam was meant to be ludicrous. Balaam is the butt of God’s humor. Comic effect is the very point.

When an unbeliever cites this passage as a paradigm-case of just how ridiculous the Bible is, the unbeliever makes himself ridiculous in the process. His ridicule amounts to self-ridicule because he is too dense to even recognize the satirical nature of the account. Indeed, his reaction is doubly ironic, for the infidel is just as blind, just as clueless as Balaam. He falls into the very same trap. Makes himself a fool by affecting wisdom. 


  1. By his standards we would have to jettison the resurrection since the evidence is overwhelming that dead people dont rise from the dead.

  2. Yes, miracles are naturalistically preposterous. That's why we call them "miracles" and not "natural phenomena."

  3. When atheists are mocked, they really hate it.

  4. Very intelligent and sophisticated defence of a ridiculous bronze age fable.

  5. Well said. It's a sign of how dense an atheist actually is when he can't even recognize the literary genius of passages such as Balaam's donkey (which the Torah is chalk-full of).