Mark Twain on some sexual sins in the Bible

James Jacques Joseph Tissot - The Women of Midian Led Captive by the Hebrews
James Jacques Joseph Tissot – The Women of Midian Led Captive by the Hebrews (c.1896–1902) – from The Jewish Museum

Twain’s Letters From The Earth, written probably between 1904 and 1909, takes the form of a series of reports written for the archangels Gabriel and Michael by Satan, who has been exiled to Earth. This work, mocking the Bible and the cruelty of its teachings, was published only in 1962.

In a previous article, I gave a a long excerpt from Letter VIII on the sexual superiority of women and girls, showing the foolishness of modern views on sexuality.

Letter X focuses on the horrors of the Bible. The Old Testament is replete with mass killings and collective punishments. The New Testament seems gentler, but in fact it is even more cruel, as Jesus has invented Hell, an eternal fire.

Twain discusses in particular the war against the Midianites (Numbers 31). The Hebrews killed all Midianite men; then Moses ordered them to kill also all boys and all women who had “known” a man, sparing the lives only of virgin girls. These thirty two thousand virgins would then be given to Hebrew men as sexual slaves. He speculates on the possible motive for such a stringent collective punishment:

It is more than likely that a Midianite had been duplicating the conduct of one Onan, who was commanded to “go into his brother’s wife” — which he did; but instead of finishing, “he spilled it on the ground.” The Lord slew Onan for that, for the lord could never abide indelicacy.

He then examines a second possibility:

If that was not the indelicacy that outraged the feelings of the Deity, then I know what it was: some Midianite had been pissing against the wall. I am sure of it, for that was an impropriety which the Source of all Etiquette never could stand. A person could piss against a tree, he could piss on his mother, he could piss on his own breeches, and get off, but he must not piss against the wall — that would be going quite too far.

In the case of Jeroboam, such an act led to a collective punishment, including of all the innocents:

That includes the women, the young maids, and the little girls. All innocent, for they couldn’t piss against a wall. Nobody of that sex can. None but members of the other sex can achieve that feat.

A curious prejudice. And it still exists. Protestant parents still keep the Bible handy in the house, so that the children can study it, and one of the first things the little boys and girls learn is to be righteous and holy and not piss against the wall. They study those passages more than they study any others, except those which incite to masturbation. Those they hunt out and study in private. No Protestant child exists who does not masturbate. That art is the earliest accomplishment his religion confers upon him. Also the earliest her religion confers upon her.

The Bible has this advantage over all other books that teach refinement and good manners: that it goes to the child. It goes to the mind at its most impressible and receptive age — the others have to wait.

In a letter to Mrs. Franklin G. Whitmore dated February 7, 1907, Twain wrote ironically:

But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.

Indeed, how strange that one prevents children from accessing “immoral” books, in particular those with sex, while one allows them to see violence, and even recommends the Bible, a book full of murder and rape.

Source: Mark Twain, Letters From The Earth (1909).

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