An offering in an early Monty Python book was God’s school report. The divinity teacher was not happy with his pupil. He wrote: “Poor. Keeps disputing Biblical facts on the ground that he was ‘misquoted’.”

When I first read this, some 50 years ago, I wasn’t terribly impressed with God either. I found his random zapping of hapless humans somewhat unreasonable.

An example is in Leviticus chapter 10 when Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, commit what seems like a relatively minor crime of entering the Tent of Meeting, but are reduced to ash by an outburst of God’s temper.

But look at where and when this part of the Torah was written down and things become clearer.

Solomon had just died and the kingdoms of Judah and Israel had separated. Jeroboam was the first ruler of the Jerusalem-less kingdom of Israel, and said to be at “constant war with the house of Judah”. Jeroboam even set up a shrine at Beth El to prevent his subjects going to the Temple in Jerusalem, part of Judah, and brought in some renegade Aaronide priests to minister there.

Jeroboam’s sons were Nadab and Abijah. Those names are remarkably similar to the two sons of Aaron who got zapped in the wilderness.

Coincidence? Of course not. You see, God didn’t write that Aaron’s sons were zapped. Those words came from a scribe in Judah trying to discredit the hated Jeroboam.

Indeed, I’m pretty sure these two didn’t exist as Aaron’s sons at all… just Jeroboam’s. A Biblical audience hearing that two people with those names went into the presence of God would know just who they were and what the outcome would be.

The Torah is full of vengeful authors having their enemies bumped off by divine wrath. Poor God. He does indeed have every right to claim He was misquoted.

  •  Pete Tobias is rabbi at the Liberal Synagogue Elstree