PsychoBible: Behavior, Religion and the Holy Book

PsychoBible: Behavior, Religion and the Holy Book

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by Armando R. Favazza, Armando Favazza

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With 2,000 religious denominations and nearly 500,000 churches and temples in the United States, the Bible is not only doctrinally confusing, but behaviorally confusing, too. Is it a sin to drink alcohol? Will prayer cure the sick? Is homosexuality an abomination? Why is celibacy so highly valued? Do belief and feminism mix? How should the Passion be interpreted?


With 2,000 religious denominations and nearly 500,000 churches and temples in the United States, the Bible is not only doctrinally confusing, but behaviorally confusing, too. Is it a sin to drink alcohol? Will prayer cure the sick? Is homosexuality an abomination? Why is celibacy so highly valued? Do belief and feminism mix? How should the Passion be interpreted? In this enlightening and entertaining work, Armando Favazza, a world-renowned psychiatrist specializing in culture and society, explores these and other questions and examines the impact of the Bible on behavior through time and space—from the Holy Book's gradual formation thousands of years ago to the present day. This is an indispensable work for all those interested in better understanding the foundations of society's—and perhaps even their own—beliefs and behaviors, and is a thought-provoking read for those not afraid to inform their faith.

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Behavior, Religion & the Holy Book

By Armando Favazza

Pitchstone Publishing

Copyright © 2004 Armando Favazza
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9728875-1-9



God isn't easy. Some say God created human beings, others that human beings created God. Some say God is alive, others dead. Emerson said that man is a god in ruins. Most say God is a he, a few say God is a she. Buddhists don't believe in God at all while Hindus most likely believe in one god with many manifestations. The Old Testament God reveals himself as a loving father in one chapter and as a baby-killer in the next.

God's behavior in the Bible, like Russia's during World War II, often is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Why, for example, did he create the universe? Why create vegetation on day three and the sun on day four instead of the other way around since plants wither and die without sunlight? Why create human beings? Surely he didn't need to do so. Why select a tribe of wandering Jews as his chosen people? In the Psalms we read that "God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement" (82:1). What happened to the other gods? Did they perish when human beings ceased worshiping them? If human beings can cause a god to die, can they also conceive and give birth to a new one? What did God mean when he said to Adam that "you shall surely die" on the day that he ate the fruit of the special tree in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the fruit and lived. Did God mean that Adam would die spiritually instead of physically? If so, then what other sections of the Bible should be understood symbolically instead of literally? Did a pair of all the creatures on the earth really assemble on Noah's Ark? Were dinosaurs included? If they weren't, then where did the dinosaurs come from?

The New Testament God sent his son, Jesus, to earth in a human form. Did Jesus have both a human and a divine will, or just one will? Did he have both a human and a divine nature, or just one nature? When did he behave as a god and when as a human? Jesus comes easy to the heart but rankles the intellect. Certainly as a psychiatrist I've seen enough Christ wannabes to populate Disneyland. New York subways incubate sleazy, catecombal Christs, while South Carolina specializes in get-out-of-the-temple, seashore shouting Christs. In Louisiana they hip-hop in sharkskin suits while in Oklahoma they have visions taller then oil rigs. Don't even mention California, where they walk on water with surfboards. To reiterate, God isn't easy.


What we now call the Holy Land was originally Canaan, an area 160 miles long and 50 miles wide bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Jordan Valley on the east. Canaan had many gods in biblical days. El was the creator and head of the council of gods. Baal, his son, had a devoted human following because he controlled the rain that brought crops to life. His wife was Asherah (Astarte), the goddess of fertility symbolized by the sacred tree of life which was graphically presented as growing out of her genitalia. Mountains, volcanos and special large, uncut rocks were considered sacred. Biblical comments, such as those found in Isaiah, reflect the earthy origins of God: "The Lord of Hosts dwells in Mount Zion" (8:18). "Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar, burning in his anger, heavy his burden. His lips brim with fury, his tongue is like a devouring fire. His breath is like an overflowing stream" (30:27–28) describes a volcano spewing lava. Similarly when Moses went to meet God, "The mountain of Sinai was entirely wrapped in smoke because Yahweh had descended on it in the form of fire. Like smoke from a furnace the smoke went up, and the whole mountain shook violently" (Ex. 19:18). Since Canaan was once ruled by Egyptians their gods were present, and the Mesopotamian gods were there too because the only feasible land route between Egypt and Mesopotamia was through Canaan. In the desert area south of Canaan, nomads worshipped Sin, the moon god whose sacred mountain was known as Mount Sinai. The Hebrews in the Holy Land not only encountered these gods but also, according to the prophet Joshua (24:2), served them in the old times of the great patriarchs such as Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor. Joshua said that they served "other" gods (Elohim) instead of the one, true Jewish God, Yahweh.

Exactly when the God named Yahweh first revealed himself is problematic in the Bible. Genesis states that Enosh, Adam's grandson, was "the first to invoke the name of Yahweh" (4:26). Since Enosh means "man," the implication is that mankind's knowledge of Yahweh occurred at that time. Adam and Enosh lived in mythic times, so no real date can be provided. In human time the Bible presents a different account about the revelation of Yahweh. In about 1500 B.C. Moses encountered an angel of God — probably God himself — in the shape of a flaming bush on Mount Sinai. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the enslaved sons of Israel out of Egypt. Moses was worried that the sons of Israel would ask about the name of the God who had commanded him to lead them to freedom. "God said to Moses," I Am who I Am ... You are to say to the sons of Israel that Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come'" (Ex. 3:14–15). Moses had problems fulfilling this task and complained to God, who then said, "I am Yahweh. To Abraham and Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai; I did not make myself known to them by my name Yahweh" (Ex. 6:3). Regardless of which account is closer to the truth, it was through his revelation to Moses that Yahweh became established in Jewish consciousness as the supreme God. Why all the fuss about a name? A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but gods aren't flowers. In biblical days a god by any other name was, in fact, another god. Yahweh's name contained his very essence; the second commandment prohibited taking his name in vain, while the Lord's Prayer in the New Testament declared that God's name specifically is hallowed (set apart as holy), and in John 17:6 Jesus said to God his Father that "I have glorified you on earth ... I have made your name known." Yahweh wouldn't reveal his name to Jacob even after wrestling with him all night, although he changed Jacob's name to Israel "... 'because you have been strong against God, you shall prevail against me.' Jacob then made this request: 'I beg you, tell me your name,' but he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' And he blessed him there." (Gen. 32:28–29).

Yahweh's disclosure of his name to Moses was a defining moment in the history of the world. The Psalms tell us that Yahweh will put his anger on the kingdoms that do not call on his name (79:6), but "for his name's sake" the Israelites will be led on the path of righteousness (23:3) and their iniquities will be pardoned (25:11). Because they know the name of Yahweh they can put their trust in him and they will be protected. Without knowledge of God's name, there would have been no triumphant Judaism, no Christ, and probably no Christianity.

Scholars believe that Yahweh's name originally was shorter, e.g., Yo, Yahu, Yah. The name Joel, for example, is a combination of Yo (Jo) and El, and thus means "Yo is God." Yah is still used today, especially while singing Handel's Messiah; hallelu-yah means "praise Yah." Since biblical Hebrew was written without vowels, Yahweh appeared as YHWH; no one is totally certain about the correct pronunciation of these four sacred letters. Not willing to take the chance that they might profane the powerful name of God, the Hebrews didn't speak it but rather substituted the work Adonai ("Lord"). In the sixteenth century A.D. a Roman Catholic theologian developed a Latin term for YHWH which was eventually translated into English as Jehovah.

It truly is impossible to appreciate the complexity of the Old Testament without an understanding of God's names. Isaiah, for example, called Yahweh "the everlasting rock" (26:4), while Moses sadly sang about fat, bloated Jeshen who "dishonored the rock, his salvation" and about the Israelites who sacrificed to demons: "You forgot the rock who begot you, unmindful now of the God who fathered you" (Deut. 32:15–18). The road to Yahweh was paved with the stones that the ancient Semites worshipped. Traces of Yahweh's rocky past are found throughout the Bible. When Jacob dreamed of the ladder that reached to heaven and of Yahweh's appearance, for example, his pillow was a stone. When Jacob awoke he said, "Truly Yahweh is in this place and I never knew it." He then "took the stone he had used for his pillow, and set it up as a monument, pouring oil over the top of it. He named the place Bethel" (Gen. 28:16–19). Yahweh told Moses, "In every place where I record my name I will come to you and bless you. And if you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you shall have profaned it" (Ex. 20:24–25). "My God is a rock where I take shelter" (Ps. 94:22) is a metaphor made more powerful by the historical truth that the ancient Semites might have said, "My rock is a God where I take shelter."

Some scholars believe that the Ark of the Covenant, in which Yahweh was present, contained sacred stones, perhaps phallic representations, that connoted the old worship of fertility gods. "Stones" is a slang word for testicles, and Yahweh certainly was very concerned about the fertility of the Israelites. In the famous covenant he promised Abraham that he would become the father of a multitude of nations with as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. Yahweh even allowed him, at the age of one hundred, to have a child with his ninety-year-old wife, Sarah.

Intimations of ancient rock gods abound in the Old Testament, although the Jewish priestly editors probably expunged many direct references. By the time of the New Testament's writing hints of the old rock gods diminished. On one occasion Paul wrote about parallels between the trials of the Israelites in the wilderness and the trials that awaited his brethren; the Israelites drank water that flowed from the rock that Moses struck with his rod, and since they found water in several places it was supposed that the same rock must have followed them in their wanderings: "For they drank from the supernatural Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4). In Acts 4:11 Peter told the elders of Israel that Christ "is the stone which was rejected by your builders, which has become the chief cornerstone." 1 Peter 2:4–6 refers both to Christ and Christians as "living stones." In Matt. 16:18 Christ gave his disciple Simon a new name: "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." In Aramaic Christ's words would have been, "You are Kêpha, and on this kêpha I will build my church." In Greek the words are Petros ("Rocky") and petra ("rock").


The image of God as a rock is but one of many images and attributes passed down from the Bible that have resulted in the distinctive Western construct of a God who is a judge, a ruler, a king, a shepherd feeding his flock, the first and the last, redeemer, Lord of all the earth, the everlasting God (El Olam), the God of the covenant (El Berith), the Lord of Hosts. Because Babylonians and Canaanites worshipped a Father God, the early Israelites shied away from this image. In fact, Jeremiah the weeping prophet chastised his people for their abandonment of the true God and said that they had become like the worshippers of false gods "who say to a tree, 'You are my father', and to a stone, 'You gave birth to me'" (2:27). It wasn't until around 700 B.C. that the Bible regularly stated that "You, Yahweh, yourself are our Father" (Is. 64:16). The Greeks had their Father Zeus and the Romans their Jupiter (the Latin form of Zeus Pater), but the Jews weren't worried about them.

"Father" was the predominant word used by Jesus when referring to God. Jesus is the only person to use "my Father"; he spoke to his disciples about "your Father." Clearly there was a difference between the relationship of Christ and of everyone else to God the Father, but the sense of it all was that Christ's brethren could learn about and then participate in his special relationship. According to Luke 10:22, only Christ and those persons whom he chooses to tell about it know who the Father is. Participation in Christ's relationship with God the Father is implied in Christ's words to Mary Magdalen on the day of his resurrection: "Go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17). Similarly, Christ said, "You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven" (Matt. 23:8). To whom did Christ refer with the words "your" and "you" in these quotes? Since God created the whole human race from a single stock (Acts 17:26), namely Adam "son of God" (Luke 3:38), everyone has the opportunity to share in Christ's filial relationship with the Father; however, Christ said "no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6) so that only those persons who are adopted by Christ may take advantage of this opportunity. The adoption process consists of receiving the Holy Spirit: "Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God ... It is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:14–16). There is a biblical continuity to this basic concept. In the Old Testament Yahweh promised that he would preserve David's children and make his royal throne secure forever: "I will be a father to him and he a son to me" (2 Sam. 7:14). In the New Testament God promised to live among men in the heavenly Jerusalem and to provide water from the well of life to the thirsty: "It is the rightful countenance of the victorious person; and I will be his God and he a son to me" (Rev. 21:7).

Sigmund Freud was fascinated by the concept of God the Father and in 1923 offered a literal and historical interpretation: "God is a father-substitute, or, more correctly, an exalted father as seen and met within childhood — as the individual sees him in his own childhood and as mankind saw him in prehistoric times as the father of the primal horde. Later on in life the individual sees his father as something different and lesser, but the childish image is preserved and merges with the inherited memory-traces of the primal father to form the idea of God."

For Freud, God springs into existence as a wish in the minds of children. Every child experiences a "terrifying impression of helplessness" that arouses a need for protection through love; this is provided by the father. As the child matures and comes to realize that the world is inexorably cruel and that lifelong helplessness is inherent in the human condition, the need for an even more powerful father arises. God is the fulfillment of a wish for a consoling protector, a daddy who makes helplessness tolerable. Freud also believed that in prehistoric times humans lived as a horde ruled by a tyrannical father. The horde sons rebelled and killed their primal father because he denied them access to women. Since the children both hated and loved their father, the memory of this crime and the guilt it instilled led them first to venerate an animal (a symbolic father substitute) that they designated as the tribal ancestor. Killing the animal, an expression of hatred towards the father, became a sacrament and eating it together became a communion meal, an expression of love for and identification with the father. Over time the venerated animals were replaced by humans who were sacrificed and eaten; they, in turn, were replaced by the more civilized notion of a god such as Christ who is ceremoniously crucified and who is communally eaten in religious services. The memory traces of the original, powerful primal father supposedly reside in us all and contribute to the child's formulation of God. Thus saith Sigmund whose own ambivalent feelings toward his dead father resulted in survivor-guilt dreams.

Carl Jung (1875–1961), the famous Swiss psychiatrist, had a different twist. He believed that every person's mind contains unconscious memories of ancient, prehistoric experiences that constitute the human heritage. These memories include those of the real Father-God. Thus, a child's biological father is a substitute for God. In the words of one scholar, for Jung, "God is less a Big Father than the physical father is a little god."

So, which is it? Is daddy a substitute for God, or is God a substitute for daddy? The answer depends upon your choice of reality as church or couch, altar or bedroom, heaven or earth.


The God of the Old Testament is not a theological abstraction but rather an historical "figure" who becomes known to us through his interventions in the lives of his chosen people. He assumes a masculine gender and primarily does manly things, but, unlike a god like Zeus, he is asexual. At times he is prone to horrible rages, to changing his mind, to regretting his actions, and to being unfair (from a human perspective). He rests, he curses, he gambles, he gets peeved and refuses to talk — in short, he is very like a man except for his lack of direct sexual activity (although he is quite interested in the procreation of others).

The New Testament verse "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8) indicates unchangeability, but there is nothing comparable in the Old Testament, where God changes many times. In recent books two scholars, Jack Miles and Richard Friedman, have traced God's changes in the Old Testament. God started out full of youthful enthusiasm and bold deeds. As he matured, however, his actions gave way to words and eventually to silence. God the warrior became the Ancient of Days. An appreciation of this process, however, depends upon use of the Hebrew rather than the Christian Bible, because the order of the two differs. The Hebrew Bible concludes with the Writings. The Christian Bible concludes with the Books of the Prophets, a better lead-in to the New Testament because Jesus fulfilled what the prophets proclaimed.

A nameless narrator begins the Bible by recounting the creation of the universe by God. We aren't told who God is or where he was born or who his parents are or what he looks like. He is defined by his actions. Although he appears to be tremendously powerful — he creates simply by willing creation — he puzzlingly rests after six days of labor. Miles asks, "Has it cost him more than we noticed at the time? Is he weaker than he lets on?"


Excerpted from PsychoBible by Armando Favazza. Copyright © 2004 Armando Favazza. Excerpted by permission of Pitchstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Armando Favazza is professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri–Columbia Medical School and internationally renowned for his work on culture and psychiatry. His previous book, Bodies Under Siege, is considered a classic in the field.

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PsychoBible: Behavior, Religion and the Holy Book 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Favazza's book was simply amazing! The amount of research he did for this book is astounding. He covers every question and concern I have ever had regarding the contradictions and inconsistencies of the Bible. He starts with the history of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Then he addresses the Bible's rules about sexuality, alcohol, women and men, and God's role throughout the text of the Bible. If you have ever questioned the Bible and have wanted to know more, this is the book for you. It's easy to follow and understand, and Dr. Favazza injects just the right amount of humor to keep the reader comfortable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This man wears me out. All his jibber jabber. He said this, they said that. There are better books out there.