Monday, August 11, 2014

Slavery in the New Testament (Ephesians 6; 1 Timothy 6; Luke 12)



The following quotes are taken from evilbible.com: 

"You would think that Jesus and the New Testament would have a different view of slavery, but slavery is still approved of in the New Testament, as the following passages show."

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ."  (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

"Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed.  If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful.  You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts.  Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them."  (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)

"In the following parable, Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn't know they were doing anything wrong."

"The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it.  But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly.  Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given."  (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)
           
            The passage in the gospel of Luke quoted above is a parable.  Jesus was comparing our relationship with God to that of a master and servant.  He was exhorting his followers to keep watch in his absence, because he was about to be crucified, resurrected and then ascend to heaven until his second coming.  In his absence, those who follow him must take care to act appropriately.    "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:42-46, NIV).  Jesus had a stern warning for those who deliberately disobey him, and he used a parable that his audience would have been familiar with - the relationship between a master and slave.  Wise and prudent behavior was rewarded, while lazy and abusive behavior was punished.
            Slavery was still common practice during the Roman Empire, when Jesus lived on earth.  Slaves were either prisoners of war or, as during the time period when the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was written, were those who were poor and in debt, who had voluntarily sold themselves and their children into slavery in order to survive.  Slavery was a reality at the time the Bible was written.  However, there are no statements in the Bible that praise slavery or encourage people to own slaves.  Rather, most of the verses in the Bible that mention slavery are statements regarding how slaves were supposed to be treated.  Just as the verses above exhort Christian slaves to be faithful and honest while working, masters were directed to be good to their slaves.  "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him" (Ephesians 6:9, NIV). 

See also:

"Why was slavery allowed in the New Testament?"

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Personal Injuries (Exodus 21:20-21)



The following quote is taken from evilbible.com:

"What does the Bible say about beating slaves?  It says you can beat both male and female slaves with a rod so hard that as long as they don't die right away you are cleared of any wrong doing."

"When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property."  (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

A great deal of Exodus chapter 21 concerns the treatment of slaves.  You can read the entire chapter here:


            Like most other passages in this section, these verses must be taken in a cultural and historical context.  In the Ancient Near East and many other ancient cultures for thousands of years, slavery was standard practice.  So too was corporal punishment.  Even up until a few generations ago, corporal punishment was a major method of discipline, especially for parents disciplining their children.  The Bible clearly states that in some instances, physical punishment is the only proper mode of discipline, particularly with a child who has repeatedly and deliberately disobeyed (2 Samuel 7:14, Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14).  However, this does not give the parent or master free reign to abuse their child or slave.  There are clear restrictions in place.  "Parents, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4, NIV).
            Exodus 21:20-21 concerns a situation in which a slave dies as a direct result of a beating received.  The NAB translation of verse 21 given above makes it seem as if the slave died a day or two after being beaten.  However, the actual translation makes it clear that in the instance of the second half of the passage in question, the slave survived the beating and recovered after a day or two:

"...but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property." (Exodus 21:21, NIV translation)

"But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished, since the slave is his property." (Exodus 21:21, NLT translation)

            Killing a slave was considered as serious a crime as killing a free person, and it was forbidden.  Slaves are made in the image of God, just as free people are: "Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind" (Genesis 9:6, NIV).  If a slave died as a direct result of a beating, whether instantly or days later, the slave owner had to be punished for murder.
            This brings us to the main question: Why was the slave owner not punished for beating the slave, and why was the slave referred to as property?  Again, we must remember that the slave owner was not punished for beating the slave because physical punishment was a standard mode of discipline in the Ancient Near East, and universally practiced.  However, if the slave owner caused the slave permanent injury, by law the slave had to be set free as compensation (Exodus 21:26-27).
            In terms of the slave being referred to as "property", the Hebrew root word used here is keceph, which literally translates as "money".  In the verse just previous to this one, if a free person injured another free person, the guilty party had to pay the injured person for any loss of time.  In this instance, since the loss of time involved in the slave's injury and recovery was costing the slave's owner money due to loss of productivity, there was no exchange of money involved.  In this passage, then, the slave is not actually considered "property" by God.  The slave's services are what made the slave owner money, and a loss of a slave's services for a time meant a loss of money for the slave owner.
            Slavery was - and is - not an ideal condition, nor is it commended by God.  This is why most of the passages in the Bible referring to slavery are laws regarding their treatment.  Slaves were human beings created in the image of God just as free people were, and their mistreatment was forbidden. 

See also:

"Exodus 21: Does God approve of slavery?"

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hebrew Servants, Part 2 (Exodus 21:1-11)


The following quote is taken from evilbible.com:

"If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years.  Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom.  If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year.  But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him.  If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master.  But the slave may plainly declare, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children.  I would rather not go free.'  If he does this, his master must present him before God.  Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl.  After that, the slave will belong to his master forever."  (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)

Notice how they can get a male Hebrew slave to become a permanent slave by keeping his wife and children hostage until he says he wants to become a permanent slave.  What kind of family values are these?"

A great deal of Exodus chapter 21 concerns the treatment of slaves.  You can read the entire chapter here:


            In the Ancient Near East, the class system was very different from most cultures today.  Many people, when becoming poor, destitute, or overly in debt, would have to sell themselves and their children into slavery in order to survive [1][2][3].  With this in mind, part of the Law concerned the fair treatment of slaves.  For example, a Hebrew who sold himself into slavery to another Hebrew could not be enslaved for more than 6 years (Exodus 21:2).
            In this passage we see the specific situation of a married Hebrew man who became a slave.  The Law protected a married couple who went into slavery together - they could not be broken apart.  If the man was married when he became a slave, he and his wife would be purchased by the same master, serve in the same household and be freed together at the end of six years (verse 3).
            However, the situation of a man who chose to marry a woman of his master's household, whether another slave or perhaps even a relative of the slave owner (the text does not specify, but it would seem more likely that the woman was a fellow slave), was different.  A Hebrew male slave was fully aware of his situation - he was going to be a slave for no more than 6 years.  Therefore, any ties he made to the members of his master's household, whether by marriage or otherwise, would end after that time period.  A slave who married another slave of the household during his period of service would be fully aware of the fact that his new wife and any children they bore together would not be able to leave together at the end of his service.  With this in mind, it would not seem to be an advisable situation to marry during that time period.
            We must keep in mind that this must have been a rather unusual and unlikely situation - the woman in question, if she was a Hebrew slave, would also be set free at the end of six years (Deuteronomy 15:12).  If she and her children had to stay with their master when the man was freed after six years, it was either because she was not Hebrew (foreign women could be enslaved for life, though it wasn't a requirement - see Leviticus 25:45-46), she was a permanent member of the master's household, such as a daughter, sister, niece, etc., or she had already made the decision to permanently stay with her master and be his slave for life.  Male and female Hebrew slaves could voluntarily decide to become permanent slaves if they found that they were in a better situation with their masters than they had been on their own: "But if your servant says to you, 'I do not want to leave you,' because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your female servant" (Deuteronomy 15:16-17, NIV).
            In conclusion, the situation mentioned in Exodus 21:2-6 was an avoidable one.  If a Hebrew man chose to marry a permanent slave of the household while he was in service, they both knew what they were getting into.  In that instance, it would seem that in choosing marriage in the master's household, the man was almost certainly choosing to bind himself to his master's household for life, as well as to his wife.

References
[1] Life and Society in the West: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Constance Brittain Bouchard, 1988.  Pg. 33.
[2] A History of the Ancient World (Fourth Edition), Chester G. Starr, 1991.  Pg. 43.
[3] Life In The Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell, 1997.  Pg. 35-36.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Did Jesus Exist?


           With Easter approaching, I wanted to revisit a topic that I continue to see resurfacing, mostly on Facebook and Internet message boards.  A popular modern theory is that, quite simply, Jesus never existed, and that there is little to no evidence outside of the Bible that points to a man named Jesus of Nazareth.  Is this claim actually true?
            First, let's look at the extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus.  The following documents testify to the existence of a man named Jesus of Nazareth (sometimes the Romans called him "Christus" or "Chrestus"), and all of them were written within 100 years of the time period he was said to have lived in (circa 6 BCE - 30 CE):
            Tacitus, a first century Roman historian (who lived circa 56-117 CE), mentioned  a man called "Christus" being executed during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (reigned 14-37 CE), and Emperor Nero's persecution of Christians in 64 CE: "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Jud├Ža, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired." [1]
            Suetonius, another first century Roman historian (who lived circa 69-122 CE), also mentioned Christians being punished by Emperor Nero [2].  He also mentioned a man named "Chrestus", in his account of the life of Emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54 CE): "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus,  he expelled them from Rome". [3]
            Josephus, a Jewish  historian (who lived circa 37-100 CE), mentioned Jesus, James and John the Baptist in Antiquities.  His main passage about Jesus has been disputed, due to doubt over whether or not some of the phrases in the passage were added at a later date.  The following is the paragraph, with what is commonly believed to be additions by a later Christian translator in brackets: “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man [if indeed one ought to refer to him as a man]. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. [He was the Messiah-Christ.] And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. [For on the third day he appeared to them again alive, just as the divine prophets had spoken about these and countless other marvelous things about him.] And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.” [4]  Later, Josephus describes the death of Jesus' brother, James: “But this younger Ananus, who, as we told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent.  He assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Messiah-Christ, whose name was James, and some others. When he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them over to be stoned.” [5]
            Pliny the Younger (who lived circa 61-112 CE), was a magistrate of Rome during the late first and early second century.  He wrote a series of letters to Emperor Trajan.  One of them concerned what should be done with the Christians he arrested: "They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery." [6] 
            Mara bar Serapion was an Assyrian Stoic philosopher, who wrote one letter to his son which has survived.  Most scholars date this letter to being composed shortly after 73 CE (Mara was taken captive circa 72 CE by the Romans).  He wrote the following passage in his letter: "What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the 'new law' he laid down." [7]  Some scholars see the reference to the "wise king" as an early non-Christian reference to Jesus.
            A common response when these extra-Biblical references are presented is as follows: "These documents were written between 40-90 years after the death of Jesus, so they can't be considered valid references".  Actually, the fact that anything was written about Jesus within a century of his death is unusual, considering that in the ancient world, biographies and histories were often not written about a person or event for at least a couple of centuries.  For example, Alexander the Great lived circa 356-323 BCE, but his earliest biography was not written until the first century BCE, leaving a gap of 300 years [8].  The biography and sayings of Buddha were not written until the first century CE, over 400 years after his death [9].  To have multiple sources mentioning the same relatively obscure person within the time frame of a century after his death was not common.
            In terms of the Biblical evidence for Jesus' existence, we have the four Gospels, written by eyewitnesses and their companions, which all tell the story of Jesus, his life and teachings, and his death and resurrection.  The letters of early church fathers (such as Papias, Polycarp and a document known as the Didache), written between 95-150 CE, quoted extensively from all four of the Gospels and said that they contained the words of Jesus.  We also have an early fragment of John's Gospel (known as Papyrus P52), dated roughly to the first half of the second century CE.  The four Gospels were in circulation and being quoted by 100 CE, which means that they were written within 70 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus (which occurred circa 30 CE).  In addition, we have the letters of Paul, Peter and James, who all were martyred prior to 67 CE.  All of these letters testified to the existence of Jesus and his death and resurrection, and all were written within 40 years of the events.
            In conclusion, the claim that Jesus never existed is not sound.  There are simply too many sources that were written within a century after his lifetime to attest to his existence. 

References
[1] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (written circa 116 CE), translated by Church and Brodribb
[2] Suetonius, Life of Nero 16.2 (writen circa 121 CE)
[3] Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25.4 (written circa 121 CE)
[4] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.63-64 (written circa 93-94 CE)
[5] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.200 (written circa 93-94 CE)
[6] Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96 (written circa 111 CE)
[7] Mara ben Serapion, The Epistle
[8] "Diodorus Siculus", http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/Introduction*.html
[9] http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/SALANC.html

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Debt and Slave Regulations (Leviticus 25)


The following quotes are taken from evilbible.com:

"Slavery In The Bible - Except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do.  Yet slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves.

"Many Jews and Christians will try to ignore the moral problems of slavery by saying that these slaves were actually servants or indentured servants.  Many translations of the Bible use the word "servant", "bondservant", or "manservant" instead of "slave" to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is.  While many slaves may have worked as household servants, that doesn't mean that they were not slaves who were bought, sold, and treated worse than livestock.

"The following passage shows that slaves are clearly property to be bought and sold like livestock."

"However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way."  (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

These verses are part of a larger passage concerning the Year of Jubilee and the treatment of slaves, both Israelite and foreigner.  You can read the entire chapter here:


            The first quote claims that the Bible approves of slavery.  This is not the case.  Though God allowed certain conditions to exist for a time period, such as polygamy and slavery, he did not approve of them.  There are no statements in the Bible that praise slavery or even command people to own slaves.  The references to slavery in the Bible are laws concerning how slaves were supposed to be treated. 
            The slavery of the Ancient Near East was different than the slavery in the world over the past few hundred years.  In Western culture over the past few centuries, particularly in the United States, slavery was primarily race-based, and people were kidnapped from their homes and forced into slavery against their will.  They received no monetary compensation for their services, and were often severely physically, verbally and emotionally abused by their owners.  The Bible most definitely condemns this type of slavery.  In the Law, anyone who kidnapped a person in order to sell them into slavery was sentenced to death (Exodus 21:16).  Slavery based on race alone was also discouraged; the Hebrews were made slaves in Egypt simply because of their race, and God was concerned about the way they were being oppressed (Exodus 2:23-25).
            The second quote is also incorrect - In the Ancient Near East, the class system was very different from most cultures today.  Many people, when becoming poor, destitute, or overly in debt, would have to sell themselves and their children into slavery in order to survive [1][2][3].  With this in mind, part of the Law concerned the fair treatment of slaves.  For example, a Hebrew who sold himself into slavery to another Hebrew could not be enslaved for more than 6 years (Exodus 21:2).
            This brings us to the first question presented: Why were the Israelites permitted to own foreign slaves for longer than 6 years, sometimes even for life?  We must consider a few things here.  The foreign slaves living in the land of the Israelites were most likely in the same situation as an Israelite who had become destitute and had to sell themselves as slaves: they had no other choice if they wanted to survive.  In some instances, people sold themselves to the Israelites in exchange for protection from attacks by other nations, as in the case of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9-10).
            Also, though the Law allowed the Israelites to own a foreign slave for life, it wasn't a requirement.  The verse states, "You can (or, you may) bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can (or may) make them slaves for life" (Leviticus 25:46, NIV) - the verse says "you can", not "you must".  It was certainly acceptable to give a foreign slave their freedom after a specified period of time.
            Slaves, whether foreign or Israelite, were not treated like livestock.  The Law prohibited the gross mistreatment or murder of slaves.  Many of these laws in the Bible were actually a step up from other laws concerning slavery in the Ancient Near East during that time period.  For example, in the Code of Hammurabi, if a person permanently injured a slave, they would have to pay one half of the value [4].  In the Law, if a person permanently injured a slave, the slave was to be set free as compensation (Exodus 21:26-27). 
            Other laws in the Bible concerning the fair treatment of slaves are as follows:

Slaves could not be forced to work on the Sabbath; they had a day of rest just as free people did (Exodus 20:10, 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14).

Slaves could celebrate at the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles with their masters (Deuteronomy 16:9-15).

Anyone who beat a slave to death would be punished (Exodus 21:20).

A slave must be immediately set free if their master hit and permanently injured them (Exodus 21:26-27).

The Israelites had to protect foreign slaves who had escaped from their masters; they could not turn them in.  The former slaves could then live as free people among them (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).

            Slavery was - and is - not an ideal condition, nor is it commended by God.  This is why most of the passages in the Bible referring to slavery are laws regarding their treatment.  Slaves were human beings created in the image of God just as free people were, and their mistreatment was forbidden. 

References
[1] Life and Society in the West: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Constance Brittain Bouchard, 1988.  Pg. 33.
[2] A History of the Ancient World (Fourth Edition), Chester G. Starr, 1991.  Pg. 43.
[3] Life In The Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell, 1997.  Pg. 35-36.
[4] Code of Hammurabi (written circa 1772 BCE), translated into English by L.W. King (1915) #199, see also #16-20

See also:

"Why was slavery allowed in the Old Testament?"

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-40)

The following quote is taken from evilbible.com:

"Murder - "At the customary time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command.  O LORD, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself."  Immediately the fire of the LORD flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust.  It even licked up all the water in the ditch!  And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried out, "The LORD is God!  The LORD is God!"  Then Elijah commanded, "Seize all the prophets of Baal.  Don't let a single one escape!"  So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there."  (1 Kings 18:36-40 NLT)

This is part of the larger story of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, and of Elijah, one of God's prophets.  You can read the full story of Elijah's contest against the prophets of Baal here:


(For the entire story, please see 1 Kings 16 - 2 Kings 2).

            Elijah was one of God's greatest prophets.  He lived during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel (reigned circa 885-874 BCE).  King Ahab was one of Israel's worst kings.  He married Jezebel, a Sidonian princess, and together they instituted worship of Baal, a false god, in Israel.  "Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him" (1 Kings 16:30, NIV).  In addition to deliberately committing idolatry themselves and leading the Israelites to do the same, Queen Jezebel murdered many of the LORD's prophets (1 Kings 18:3-4). 
            In the verses preceding this one, Elijah presented himself to King Ahab at God's command, and they gathered the Israelites on Mount Carmel, together with the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, another false god that Ahab worshipped.  The intention was to determine, once and for all, which god was real and which one was false; to determine which god should be worshipped by the Israelites.
            Why was this such a serious issue?  The charge of idolatry is a very grievous sin, which God does not take lightly (see Exodus 20:3-6, 23; 23:13, 23-24; 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; Deuteronomy 4:15-28; 5:7; 6:14-15; 8:19; 12:31; 17:2-7; 27:15; 29:17-18).  God warned the Israelites on several occasions that if they committed idolatry, it was a crime that warranted the death penalty.  The Israelites' covenant with God demanded that they worship and serve him only.  They were not supposed to worship other gods or fashion idols for themselves.  God had warned them that if they did these things, it would lead to their destruction: "If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed" (Deuteronomy 8:19, NIV). 
            Why is idolatry considered such a serious crime?  The severity of the judgment, capital punishment, is due to the severity of the sin.  God is the only God, the Lord and creator of all the universe.  When anyone bows down and worships or pays tribute to a false god or idol, they are taking credit away from God and giving it to something undeserving of that credit.  "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8, NIV).  The crime of idolatry was so serious that it was often referred to as adultery against God (Ezekiel 6:9).
            In the contest that Elijah proposed, he would set up a sacrifice of a bull on one altar, and Baal's prophets would set up a sacrifice of a bull on another altar.  Then, each would call to their god, and the god who answered by fire was the true God.  The Israelites agreed to this contest.  The prophets of Baal went first - they spent the entire day crying out to Baal, dancing and mutilating themselves, but nothing happened.  Then Elijah had the altar with his sacrifice drenched with water three times.  He then prayed for God to answer him, and God answered with fire - it burned not only the drenched sacrifice on the altar, but also the wood, stones, soil and even the water in the trench.  After that, the people fell prostrate and declared the LORD to be the true God (1 Kings 18:16-39).
            The question that has been presented here is as follows: Why did Elijah have the prophets of Baal killed after this event?  The first and primary reason was because of their idolatry, and for leading the Israelites into a great sin against God.  The second reason was due to another sin. It is interesting that the author of evilbible.com does not mention this, since the website is focused on the condemnation of human sacrifice: human/child sacrifice was massively performed by those who worshipped Baal.
            Worship of Baal and Molech frequently involved the sacrifice of infants, particularly firstborn sons [1] [2] [3].  Sometimes the babies and children would be immediately burned to death in a fire, other times they would first be placed on an altar that had been heated by coals, and then rolled off of it into a burning fire as a sacrifice.  This practice was strongly condemned by God: "They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing" (Jeremiah 32:35, NIV; see also Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 19:5).  (A common question in response is, "If God was against human/child sacrifice, then why did he command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?"  See my earlier article for a discussion of this topic.)  Baal worship, besides human sacrifice and cultic prostitution, also involved self-mutilation (1 Kings 18:28).
            With all of this in mind, we can conclude that Elijah executed the prophets for violating God's commandments against idolatry and child sacrifice.  He was, in essence, doing to them what they had done to countless victims on their altars.   
   
[1] Exploring the World of the Bible Lands, Roberta L. Harris, 1995.  Pg. 53, 73, 89.
[2] A History of the Ancient World (Fourth Edition), Chester G. Starr, 1991.  Pg. 156.
[3] Archaeology of the Bible: Book By Book, Gaalyah Cornfield, 1976.  Pg. 52, 170.