Rule by vengeance: God and the Daily Mail

October 8, 2013
Sarah Benton

16th century Persian depiction of the miraj, Mohammed’s ascent to paradise. Mohammed may be depicted, but not his face. There are no images of God in Islamic art.

How the Mail got it wrong, again – on the jealous God of Deuteronomy

In its attack on Ralph Miliband, the paper falls back on the nonsense that Old Testament is bad and New Testament good

By Giles Fraser, `CIF, Guardian
October 07, 2013

Among the accusations that the now infamous Daily Mail editorial made against the late Ralph Miliband, was that he had nothing but hatred for Britain’s “values, traditions and institutions”. It specifically mentions “the church”. It also specifically mentions religion being “ruthlessly controlled” in the former Soviet Union. Then comes this phrase: “We do not maintain, like the jealous God of Deuteronomy, that the iniquity of the fathers should be visited on the sons.”

The Jewish Chronicle, among others, has pointed out that this editorial, in the context of an attack against a Jew, has a “whiff of antisemitism about it”. The Mail, of course, has vigorously denied this charge. But what has been less discussed is how such an apparently disparaging reference to the God of Deuteronomy fits with the Mail’s overall defence of religion. For indeed, the “jealous” tag is straight out of the Richard Dawkins play book. Here, for instance, is the great man in full flow: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Graven image of Lord Harmsworth, Viscount Rothermere, by Wyndham Lewis, lithograph 1932.

Back in February, the Mail Online conducted a poll with the question: “Does or does not the Old Testament God instruct genocide?”. Only a handful of people responded, with 75% agreeing that the Old Testament God does indeed instruct genocide. Nothing much can be adduced from so small a sample of Mail readers, but there is surely a serious problem in asking that question in the way they did. Does it really need stating that to single out the Hebrew God for instructing genocide, even as a question, is deeply problematic (to put it mildly), when Jews will inevitably connect a reference to genocide with the Holocaust? The New Testament has some pretty violent stuff in it too. And in the broad sweep of history, it is Christians who have the real genocidal form. So why not simply ask about the God of the Bible being violent?

Why – because, lurking behind so many of these references to the Old Testament is a familiar and widespread assumption that the Old Testament God is all about vengeance and smiting people, and the New Testament God is all about love and forgiving people. Thus, as another Mail writer put it in a piece on Vicky Pryce: “While the Old Testament counsels ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, the New Testament suggests turning the other cheek.”

Drawing of the floor of Hammam Lif Synagogue, Tunisia. There no images of God in Jewish sacred art.

In the year 144, the church declared Marcion of Sinope, a rich shipping magnate and part-time theologian, a heretic for declaring the God of the Hebrew scriptures to be inferior to the God of the New Testament. But despite this condemnation, popular Marcionism has continued ever since. You hear Christians lapse into it all the time with the lazy argument, “Oh, that’s just the Old Testament”, when confronted by the claim that the Bible is violent. Dawkins just reinforces this unthinking stereotype.

Christians see the whole Bible as the story of God. The God of Deuteronomy was the God whom Jesus called father. All this Old Testament = bad/New Testament = good stuff is just plain nonsense, for both Jews and Christians alike.

Portrayal of the warrior Jesus; the Christian doctrine of the trinity allows the depiction of God in the form of Jesus the Jew. 6th century mosaic, Ravenna.

For obvious reasons, the Nazis liked Marcion’s theology and wove it into a movement they called Positive Christianity, which was basically an attempt to use the Bible with all the Jewish bits removed. It is hard to know what they would do with Jesus’s words about the laws of the Old Testament: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” Jesus, of course, was Jewish.

‘Traditionally they’ve been painted as a noble mission. Now, two new books tell the gruesome reality of the Very Unholy Crusades’ Daily Mail’s headline for review of books on the Christian crusades detailing their barbaric behaviour. The painting below is of the heroic genre.

Dr Giles Fraser is priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Newington in south London and the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral. He writes the column Loose Canon for the Guardian



Deuteronomy is a book that emphatically lays down the laws on monotheism; there is only one god who must be worshipped and obeyed. The few words plucked by the Daily Mail out of context entirely miss the point.

Here are four verses in Deuteronomy from which the quote has been taken:

Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,

And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

Plus, the verse from which the Daily Mail did not pluck a quote.

Deuteronomy 24:16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

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