Difficult Questions in Tanach



I have a question on why so many people are punished with death in the Bible. Some examples are Elijah calling on bears to maul children who made fun of him. That seems pretty thin skinned of him to me.

Also, why was Tamar threatened with burning at the stake, especially with two children in her belly! I understand she committed adultery, but death by burning at the stake seems really extreme to me, and would be roundly condemned today. And what of her unborn children?!

Not only that, but look at the history of the Israelites destroying whole civilizations as they took the land. They even killed children and cattle. What was their sin?

Moreover, killing someone who violated the sabbath seems pretty harsh as well. Is there any Jewish person who doesn’t violate the Sabbath, if even in a small way? Should they be killed as well? All in all, death seems a very casual thing in the scripture.

And then there is the idea that a father can sell his daughter into slavery. Would anyone do so today? Thankfully not. It is illegal and morally repugnant to do so.

I simply don’t get this. I believe in a Higher Being, but the one in the Bible is hard for me to believe in.

I want to believe in the scripture, but these things are a road block for me. If anyone did any of these things today they would be roundly punished and condemned. Why would a just and loving God permit and condone these things?

Can you help me please? This is an honest search for truth and answers.

Thanks for your time,




  1. Your question is one that the greatest minds in Judaism have grappled with. Many of the issues need careful study of the original text, with the teachings of our Sages. The answers are complex and do not lend themselves to an email format in an productive manner. Subsequently, I would recommend that you try reading the following books: Rambam, Moreh Hanevuchim 1:2; David Fohrman, The Beast That Crouches as the Door; Blech, If God is So Good Why is the World So Bad?; Aiken, Why Me? Why Anyone?; Kaplan, If You Were God.

    Please allow me to point out that it was extremely rare that a Bet Din was able to implement capital punishment. In fact, it was so difficult, that the Mishna teaches in Tractate Makkot 7a: “A Sanhedrin that executes once in seven years is destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says, ‘Every seventy years.’ Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say, ‘If we were in a Sanhedrin, no man would ever be executed.’”

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team