Essay:God Hates Egyptians

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I was raised in religion but, like so many others, I eventually found my way first to doubt, and then to a deep conviction in the falsehood of all religion.

One of the pivotal moments for me came as a teen in Bible study, when I read Genesis Chapter 12 for the first time. Gen 12 is where we meet Abraham and his wife Sarah for the first time.[1] In this story a lot of dubious things happen:

  • Abraham takes Sarah into Egypt, despite believing that the Egyptians will find Sarah so physically attractive they will take her and make her a wife of the Pharaoh
  • Abraham tells Sarah to lie and say she is her sister. This won't stop the Egyptians from taking Sarah, but will stop them from killing Abraham in the process (apparently).
  • As predicted, the Pharaoh takes Sarah for his wife
  • Pharaoh "richly rewards" Abraham for the use of his "sister", giving him gold, livestock, servants, etc.
  • God sends plagues upon "the house of Pharaoh" (either literally his house, or all of Egypt, take your pick).
  • Pharaoh comes to Abraham and says "Dude, why didn't you tell me she was your wife?"
  • Pharaoh tells Abraham to get out of Egypt, and instructs his soldiers to grant them safe passage.

So for me, all those years ago, this was the story that cracked my faith.

So what is this story about? You can visit any of the various apologetics sites to get the official interpretation - pretty much all of them focus on this idea that was a trial for Abraham, it was an important phase of his spiritual growth and he had to learn to trust God, etc.[2] [3]

For argument's sake, let's just accept the conventional interpretation. An issue still remains - why did God need to fuck over the Egyptians just so Abraham could learn a lesson?

I've spoken to numerous pastors and priests about this, and each time I've just gotten the answer, "Oh, the Egyptians were wicked". Really? In Genesis 12 only seven verses span the time between the first ever mention of the Egyptians and plagues being thrown down on them, and the only thing they did was believe the lie Abraham told them. If there was even a hint of wickedness, I can't see it. Even Abraham's assertion that he would be killed if they knew Sarah was his wife turned out to be wrong - Pharaoh was pretty damn decent about it, frankly.

There's a passive but murderous assumption going on here which pervades the Bible and ultimately pervades all of the Abrahamic religions - certain groups of people are fundamentally bad, and thus it's OK to fuck them over. This assumption is so insidious that no-one ever seems to question it, like I did. There are other examples throughout the Bible, and at least God doesn't order the complete death and destruction of the Egyptians like he did for the poor Canaanites.

The heart of so much trouble in the world is this belief that "we are special" and everyone needs to get out of our way. And it is these sections of the Bible which legitimizes that dangerous, and ultimately violent mentality.


  1. If you read the King James Version, until Chapter 17 they will be called Abram and Sarai. But I'll call them Abraham and Sarah here.