Joseph Choe

Jordan Peterson Hasn't Read the Bible

I admit that the title of this entry is more than a bit hyperbolic, but that is completely intentional. I think it’s rather funny and interesting when someone who purports to be religious makes simple mistakes about their own religion. Much like an historian or doctor might think it’s interesting when popular media makes mistakes about their own profession.

A small disclaimer: I am not a Biblical scholar and have not read the Bible all that closely. The only tools I am armed with are a decade of Sunday school lessons and my father being a pastor. Personally, I’m not very religious, though I don’t begrudge people who are. Still, I view religion through the lens of literature and mythology, not as something I actually believe to be true. Though I realize people do believe in these things, so I try to remain appropriately respectful.

Nor am I making a comment on the man’s politics. He’s a rather controversial figure, and I don’t want to wade into a political discussion, as I feel I would be soundly bludgeoned by whatever side no matter what I say. I’m only pointing out something I find interesting that some people may not know.

This is at most a nitpick.

Jordan Peterson published a book called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos in 2018. Within that book was a forward written by Norman Doidge. Within that forward, on the first page even, was the following:

People don’t clamour for rules, even in the Bible… as when Moses comes down the mountain, after a long absence, bearing the tablets inscribed with ten commandments, and finds the Children of Israel in revelry. They’d been Pharoah’s slaves and subject to his tyrannical regulations for four hundred years, and after that Moses subjected them to the harsh desert wilderness for another forty years, to purify them of their slavishness. Now, free at last, they are unbridled, and have lost all control as they dance wildly around an idol, a golden calf, displaying all manner of corporeal corruption.

There are a few things wrong with this passage. One is the interpretation that the Israelites were bound by too many rules, and that was the problem with Pharoah’s oppression. I mean, I suppose that’s an interpretation one could have. Another is that Pharoah was going against God’s plan by enslaving his chosen people, so the question wasn’t the number of rules but really whose rules were being followed.

But that’s not really the part I think about, if I think about this passage at all. It’s a discussion other people can have I suppose, and the only reason I think I’m bringing it up at all is the Sunday school in me. The bit I have a problem with is Moses punishing the Israelites with forty years in the wilderness before their worshipping the golden calf.

Even a cursory examination of the Bible will reveal that to be wrong.

Some time after Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he sent twelve spies into Canaan, also known as the Promised Land. These twelve spies came back after forty days and gave reports of a land flowing with milk and honey, but also of well defended cities and giants. They were very much afraid to go along with God’s plan to take the Promised Land for themselves.

Only two out of the twelve spies actually wanted to conquer the Canaanites. The other ten told the rest of the Israelites about their fearsome enemies and managed to persuade the whole population against the idea. So God punished the ten spies by killing them on the spot and an entire nation of people by sentencing them all to death via wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Not a single one of the current generation would see the Promised Land, except for the two spies. The next generation of Israelites would eventually go and conquer Canaan.

You’ll soon realize that a recurring theme in the Bible is God wanting to do a thing, his chosen people not wanting to do that thing, and then him punishing them for their disobedience.

The golden calf was a separate story that happened before Moses sent the twelve spies into Canaan. The reason the Israelites started worshipping a golden calf was because Moses had left them alone for forty days in order to pray at Mount Sinai, where he then received the Ten Commandments. The Israelites, feeling a bit anxious about his absence, forced Moses’ brother Aaron to fashion a god for them so they could feel a little less anxious about their whole situation. In a way, you could argue that this story is about the absence of rules, not a preponderance.

This is also the part where God was on the brink of destroying his chosen people and was only convinced out of doing so because Moses begged him not to. Which is another recurring theme in the Bible, God threatening his own people with death and destruction, only to be persuaded otherwise by pleading prophets. We are ever on the cusp of annihilation it seems.

In any case, these two stories were married together, one could say contorted and twisted, rather clumsily I would say, in order to make a broader point. And I realize that Jordan Peterson is not the author of these words. Yet Jordan Peterson’s name is on the book. Ostensibly, he read the forward and approved its inclusion. At least I hope he would do so as a bare minimum for something with his name on it.

Yet this notion put forth in Jordan Peterson’s forward has bothered me ever since I read it. It’s so completely wrong, and it didn’t need to be, especially by someone who is clearly careful and intentioned with his words.

And now it can bother you.