Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Soapy Red Herrings: SJ takes on soap

By now I was starting to suspect that S.J. Thomason would keep dodging my points and mask my objections in a morass of unrelated talking pointsLet's see how she handled my second objection. This was the absence of instructions on soap.  The keyword here was instructions as knowledge of soap was present in the ancient world. 

The Soap Test

My original- There are no instructions on using soap. ... With no technological barrier to making soap, there is no valid reason to withhold instructions on its use. Given the vast number of people whose lives would have been improved by providing instructions, it’s not a trivial issue.
When we used to visit (my very departed) grandparents, they always insisted we wash our hands with soap before every meal. For people who grew up without antibiotics, they had no illusions about disease spread.  Similarly, my work-organisation has a lot of people working together.  There are posters in every bathroom, explaining how to wash your hands properly with soap, how long to wash for, and why.  Even in modern societies we invest time and resources into providing instructions on using soap.

For a pre-Industrial society, there is not much else you could do to improve welfare than insist on the use of soap.  It's a known product, it's easy to manufacture, and it greatly limits the infection and the spread of disease.  And the OT reveals that their ancient deity was concerned preventing the spread of diseases.  Heck, even the instructions on treating mildew go on and on.  

Fishing for Red Herrings

S.J. Thomason responds:
While I agree that soap is important, I offer what organizations producing soap suggest is its history. According to the Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company, “Although no one really knows when soap was discovered, there are various legends surrounding its beginning. According to Roman legend, soap was named after Mount Sapo, an ancient site of animal sacrifices. After an animal sacrifice, rain would wash animal fat and ash that collected under the ceremonial altars, down to the banks of the Tiber River. Women washing clothes in the river noticed that if they washed their clothes in certain parts of the river after a heavy rain their clothes were much cleaner. Thus the emergence of the first soap – or at least the first use of soap. A soap-like material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon is evidence that soap-making was known as early as 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the cylinders say that fats were boiled with ashes, a soap-making method.”
According to Soap History, “An excavation of ancient Babylon revealed evidence that Babylonians were making soap around 2800 B.C. Babylonians were the first one to master the art of soap making. They made soap from fats boiled with ashes. Soap was used in cleaning wool and cotton used in textile manufacture and was used medicinally for at least 5000 years. The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 B.C.) reveals that the ancient Egyptians mixed animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to produce a soap-like substance. According the Pliny the Elder, the Phoenicians used goat’s tallow and wood ashes to create soap in 600 B.C. Early Romans made soaps in the first century A.D. from urine and soap was widely known in the Roman Empire.”
I like that the description above excludes the one ancient culture we're discussing. That is, Ancient Israel.  Nor is it relevant to finding either instructions on its use, or rationalising why those instruction are absent.
Biblical scholars have further referred to several passages to suggest that soap is indeed present in the Bible in the recognized form of its day.
Malachi 3:2: “But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”
Jeremiah 2:22: “Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder…”
Except these aren't instructions on its use.  Jeremiah is actually disparaging! 

In summary, the people in Biblical times were using soap, though the soap varied in content from what we use today, just as medicines and vaccines available today were not available in Biblical times. Today’s soaps have come about just as God intended them to come about; no sooner and no later.

Yes, we know they knew about soap. Other cultures invented it!  It's easy to make. There's a reason I've highlighted soap and not say, penicillin or insulin. It was a product that actually existed in that era! 

There are no instructions on using it to hinder the spread of disease or prevent infection.  That was my objection.


Me: there are no instructions on using soap for health reasons
SJ: But a ha... they knew soap existed! I have defeated your objection by ignoring it completely!
Me: Do you know how rebuttals actually work?


  1. One problem with "soap" in Malachi and Jeremiah is that it doesn't refer to skin cleansers. בֹּרִית does mean "lye, alkali, soap", but it is used only of fullering or whitening clothing, unless in a poetic context like that of Jeremiah. Even there, it is associated with the verb כָּבַס, "to wash", which comes from the root kbs, "to tread". It's clear from this association that the soap mentioned in the Bible isn't the kind of soap anyone would use to clean their skin.