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“The Questions of Zapata”
An essay from:
A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays - Voltaire.
(Essay translated by Dr. Tamponet, Sorbonne)

The books of the Bible were culled from a much larger body of literature, much of which was regarded by scholars of the day as either patently false or as unsuitable for various reasons. Nearly all of such literature reflected earlier myths or pagan dogma clothed in new terms to better fit the times. Only a few of the populace could read; fewer still were scholars. The latter often disagreed, sometimes violently. Power and influence often meant more than logic in selecting which pieces of literature ascended to holy scripture.

It is not surprising therefore that inconsistencies crept into the Bible. In his quest for proof in the Holy Writ, Voltaire quotes and relies upon the questions of Zapata, Professor of theology at the University of Salamanca, Spain. A Spanish copy of his questions today resides in the Brunswick Library.

Since our quest for roads to peace includes the long-known association between monotheism and violence, we post the essence of scholar Zapata’s problems with the Bible. This is fitting because one fork in that long road is the very human desire for immortality and purpose and what these desires do to our thought processes.

Zapata presented his questions to a committee of doctors in 1629. His questions were suppressed by the powers that were. We paraphrase and selectively extract for brevity.

  • How can one prove the Jews are God’s chosen people?
  • How can God abandon his chosen group for another even more despised?
  • Why did God perform incomprehensible miracles and then cease to perform them?
  • Why did the God of Abraham allow the burning of the children of Abraham while reciting their prayers? How can one worship the book of law, then put children to death for observing that law?
  • How can we reconcile the chronologies of the Chinese, Chaldeans, Phoenicians, and the Egyptians with that of the Jews? How can we reconcile the forty different methods of calculation by the commentators? Is God not expert in chronology?
  • How can one prove Moses wrote his books in the desert? How could he do that without crossing the Jordan--something he never did. Is God not good at geography? Deuteronomy was written by Moses, and was said to have been engraved on stones by a people who lacked food and clothing; obviously no farmers or shoemakers were among them. How were such ill-equipped people still able to engrave a large book in mortar?
  • Why does the Pentateuch mention towns not yet in existence and precepts for kings who did not reign until 700 years after Moses?
  • Is Genesis literal or allegorical? How did God create light before there was a sun? How could there be a day before the sun was made? How was the firmament created when there is no such thing. Was not the firmament an illusion of the ancient Greeks, who came later than the Jews?
  • How can four rivers issue from the garden of Eden, the four being the widely-dispersed Tigris, Euphrates, Phison, and Gihon [Nile]?
  • Why is it wrong to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge? This seems strange since God endowed man with reason. Did God wish to be served only by fools? How can the serpent eat earth, when earth alone provides no nourishment?
  • Was not the episode where angels fall in love with women who begot giants not borrowed from pagan legends?
  • How do we we explain how animals from all over the world survived the great flood enclosed in one ark? How did Noah’s little family manage to provide the necessary food [and remove the refuse]?
  • Since God allowed the construction of the pyramids, how high was the tower of Babel? Did it reach the moon?
  • How could Abraham at the age of 135 represent his pretty wife Sarah as his sister to the kings of Egypt and Gerar, expecting them to fall in love with her and make presents to him? What a naughty thing to do, to sell one’s wife!
  • If God told Abraham that all his posterity should be circumcised, why was that not done under Moses?
  • Did the three angels, to whom Sarah offered a calf to eat, have bodies or borrowed bodies?
  • Can we believe Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt? Is this not a coarse imitation of the ancient fable of Eurydice?
  • How can we justify the blessings that fell on Jacob, who deceived his father Isaac and robbed his father-in-law?
  • Exodus says the Jews remained in Egypt for 400 years. Counting carefully, only 205 years can be accounted for; why the disparity?
  • Moses took an idolater to wife. Why did God not reproach him? How could Pharaoh’s magicians change into blood all the waters since they had already been changed into blood by Moses? Led by God, why did not Moses simply take Egypt, in which God had already slain the first born? Why did they take the long and difficult way home instead of going straight to Canaan?
  • How do we reconcile differences among Exodus, Acts, Jeremiah, and Amos in their descriptions of the same historic events?
  • A golden calf, made in a day, was reduced to ashes by Moses. Were these two “miracles,” or examples of “human art?”
  • Was it a further miracle that a single warrior from the twelve tribes slay 23,000 of Moses’ men and that 23,000 let themselves be massacred?
  • Since Moses took a Madianite woman as wife, why were 24,000 of his men put to death because one of them had lain with a Madianite woman?
  • How can the law prohibiting eating of the hare be justified because it ruminates and has not a cloven hoof when the opposite is true?
  • Why was a miracle needed to cross the Jordan? It is only 45 feet across at its widest and is fordable at many points?
  • How was it that the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of a trumpet, when no other town fell the same way?
  • How can we explain the divine decrees by which Jesus descended via the harlot Rahab who betrayed her country, the incest of Thamar with her father-in-law Judah, and from the adultery of David and Bathsheba? How incomprehensible are the ways of God!
  • How do we approve Joshua’s hanging 31 kinglets and usurping their villages?
  • Why [and how] did Joshua command the sun and the moon to stand still while he defeated a small troop that had already been exterminated?
  • What can we say of Jephthah who sacrificed his own daughter and put 42,000 Jews to death?
  • Why is it that neither Moses nor Joshua spoke of the soul or punishment after death, when the dogmas were common in other cultures?
  • How can we justify the act of the Levite who abandoned his wife to the excited Gibeonites?
  • How is it if the Lord was with Judah in driving out the inhabitants of the mountains, but forsook him in driving out the inhabitants of the valleys? Why this inconsistency if the Lord can suspend the laws of nature? Is God really so arbitrary?
  • It is difficult to believe that there could be many chariots armed with scythes in a mountainous district when the Scriptures so often show that the height of significance is to be mounted on an ass.
  • Which assassination was most divine? The king Eglon by Ehud, that of St. Ehud, that of St. David, or that of Solomon Adonias?
  • By what trick did Samson catch 300 foxes, tie them together by their tails, and fasten lighted torches to their hind quarters to set fire to the harvests of the Philistines? Foxes are only found in wooded country. Then Samson killed 1,000 Philistines with the jaw of an ass, after which a spring issued from one of the teeth. What is the explanation?
  • How can we interpret the passage where the beautiful Judith descended from Simeon, son of Reuben, whereas Simeon was the brother of Reuben, asccording to the same sacred text, which cannot lie?
  • When Saul became king, the Jews were in bondage, without weaponry. How did Saul then give battle to the Philistines and defeat them, with 330,000 soldiers when the region could sustain only a tenth of that many?
  • How do we justify Samuel? He cut Agog into pieces after taking him for ransom!
  • Why did David, a man of God’s heart, associate with 400 men of evil ways, and then proceed by intrigue, fire and blood to become king? How do we justify his taking of concubines, stealing Bathsheba from her husband only to dishonor and slay her?
  • How does one reconcile the riches that were David’s and Solomon’s wealth with the abject poverty of the Jews?
  • Is it not scandalous for the Bible to profile the frightful history of the kings of Judah and Israel? These kings assassinate each other a little too frequently. Is this not simply bad politics? [Where is the moral teaching?]
  • If the promises of the prophets were so magnificent, then why were the small bands of Jews so often in bondage or worse?
  • The visions of the Jewish prophets are obtuse. What does it mean for Ezekiel to be commanded to eat a parchment book, to have himself bound, and to lie on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 days?
  • How can we explain the great prophecy of Isaiah in regard to Jesus Christ? “God shall give you a sign... a girl conceives a son to be named Immanuel... butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. ” Later in the same book, the Lord said to Isaiah: “Call him Maher-shalal-hash-baz” [Hasten-to-seize-the-spoil, or Run-quickly-to-the-booty]. Zapata must have recognized the human dichotomy of love and avarice in both the scribes and the learned of the day.
  • Jonah spends three days in the belly of a whale. Swallowed at Nineveh, he was spit out on the coast of Joppa, 400 miles away. [This is aside from how Jonah survived without air to breath in a stomach drenched in acid.] How can such a miracle be explained short of allegory?
  • How much is a piece of silver worth to the Jews? Read Hosea, the first verses. God explicitly commands Hosea to take a harlot as wife, which he does. Three years later God orders Hosea to lie with a married woman who had already deceived her husband, which he does. All it cost him was 15 pieces of silver and a measure of barley. Now, how much is a piece of silver worth to the Jews?
  • The New Testament has conflicting accounts of the pedigree of Jesus. Was it 56, 42, or 41 generations as various accounts would have it. Accounts also differ as to the father of Joseph.
  • Luke says Augustus ordered a census of all earthlings while Mary was pregnant. Why is there no Roman archive to support this event? [Roman affairs of state were well-recorded and generally agree with other histories.]
  • Matthew said the family went into Egypt; other evangelists claim they stayed in Judea. How could they be in two places at once? The same thing happened to St Francis Xavier and other saints. Remarkable!
  • Why is there no confirmation of Matthew’s account of the star of Bethlehem in other histories? Halley’s comet passed by in 12 BCE. The Chinese recorded a comet in 5 BCE. But astronomers of the time made no note of one when Jesus was born. The massacre of 14,000 innocents also failed mention in the Roman archives.
  • The Devil carried off God, perched him on a hill and promised all the kingdoms to God, provided god worship the devil. This is scandalous.
  • Why would God change water into wine for people already drunk?
  • Why would God look for figs to eat in March when they do not ripen until near the end of July?
  • The concept of original sin appears neither in the Old nor the New Testament. How should we explain that Augustine, bishop of Hippo, originated the doctrine?
  • According to Luke, Jesus said explicitly that he would come in a cloud with great power and great glory before the generation to which he speaks shall pass away. Jesus did not. How can we explain that?
  • Luke wrote that Jesus ascended from Bethany; Matthew wrote that it was from Galilee. Did Jesus have one foot in Betheny and the other in Galilee?
  • Peter is said to have resided in Rome for 25 years. The sayer, was a man who could neither read nor write! Can we believe that when there is no other evidence?
  • Why was the Apostle’s Creed not written until 400 years after the Apostles?
  • Early Christians forged many documents so we are told, attributing them to the Sibyls. These and other frauds are now recognized by scholars. We are reduced to calling them pious. Is it not sad that your truth should be based on lies?
  • Why do we have seven sacraments that Jesus did not institute? Whereas Jesus never said he was threefold with two natures and had two natures and two wills, with one person, we make threefold, with one person and two natures, and why, having two wills, he had not the will to instruct us in the dogmas of the Christian Religion?
  • Is the Pope infallible when he consorts with his mistress, and when he brings to supper a bottle of poisoned wine for Cardinal Cornetto?
  • Would it not be better to avoid these labyrinths and simply preach virtue? When two councils are in conflict, how can one know which is right? Should we not render a service to men in speaking to them only of morality?
  • What do we do with all those who dare to doubt?

As it happened, Zapata received no answers. His document was suppressed. He henceforth preached God in all simplicity. According to Voltaire, Zapata “announced to men the common father, the rewarder, punisher, and pardoner. He extricated the truth from the lies and separated religion from fanaticism."

In recognizing fanaticism, Zapata recognized what we now associate with the sociopathic (psychopathic or narcissistic) fringe elements of humanity. These folks will seize whatever organization or movement they can to further their own cause. That might be OK except for one thing. They lack, totally lack, conscience. They feel no remorse; they use people only so long as they are useful to them. Their main pleasure is to Win. Since something like 1-4% of all of us are so afflicted, we might just have one next door or even in our nuclear family.

Zapata taught and practiced virtue. He was gentle, kindly, and modest; and he was burned at Valladolid in the year of grace 1631.

So it is that the Bible is a history of intrigue, murder, war, and genocide. As a Good Book, its writings work better as allegory. It cannot possibly be a literal history of events. Allegories are fine if we select with care which ones to use to underpin morality or comfort those who cannot discover for themselves that life has a purpose. God is beyond knowing; that does not mean there isn't one. But God cannot be an anthropomorphic image of man. That view of God appears again and again in the Bible. Its writers projected upon God all the virtues and vices of humankind. Many of Zapata's problems are still under discussion. See The Unvarnished Truth for examples.

We leave further research and conclusions with our visitors.


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