Saturday, May 7, 2011

God's body count in perspective

I recently finished reading Drunk with Blood: God's killings in the Bible, and I was curious how God would stack up with some of the more recent mass murderers. In particular, I chose some of the names that come up frequently including Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. I also included two that are more contemporary and recently in the news: Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Satan's number was too small to make the cut.

Estimating the number of people killed by these individuals is difficult and it is impossible to get a precise number that is agreed on by all historians. Instead of trying I just looked around quickly and included a low and high estimate. This approach is similar to the book that includes a count where the Bible provides actual numbers and another count that estimates the number killed when actual numbers are not provided. One difference however, the estimate from the book of God's killings is probably on the low side where the high estimate I'm using is probably higher than most would fairly assign to these individuals. For more nuanced estimates try Who was the Bloodiest Tyrant of the 20th Century? and 1900-2000: A century of genocides. So lets get on with it, here are the numbers:


Lets start with God, Steve Wells helpfully has a post with an overview of all God's killings in the Bible. The count where the Bible provides the number is 2,476,636. The estimated count for other killings where the Bible is vague is 24,634,205. Read the blog or the book if you want more information. It should be pointed out, this only includes killings mentioned in the Bible. Some may think God deserves credit for later killings as well, but they are not included in this tally.

Adolf Hitler

For the low count I used the estimated number of people killed in the Holocaust. There are various numbers that get mentioned, but 14 million seems like a reasonable estimate. The high estimate blames Hitler for all of the deaths associated with World War II, and the extreme seems to be around 78 million.

Joseph Stalin

According to wikipedia, Stalin's death count falls somewhere between 3 million and 60 million. Other sources place the actual number between 20 and 25 million. I used the estimates from wikipedia.

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong killed somewhere between 10 million and 70 million people. The discrepancy is in part whether you include deaths due to famine from policies such as the Great Leap Forward. Basically are we counting democide or genocide.

Pol Pot

The high end estimate for Pol Pot was only around 2.5 million. Given his competition, I didn't bother with a low estimate.

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden was included because he was recently killed and has been in the news a lot lately. If you look at killings he planned or ordered the number is probably around 3,500 (from 1900-2000: A century of genocides). Looking at the wikipedia article it estimated the deaths from the global war on terror at 80,000 to 1.2 million. For my purposes, Osama represents the deaths from the war on terror with an estimate of 1.2 million.

Saddam Hussein

The estimate for Saddam Hussein seems to be around 600,000.

Global Deaths per Year

In addition to various tyrants, I wanted to have some kind of baseline for the comparison. I chose to use the estimated number of people that died in 2010. This number is calculated using the crude death rate of 8.37 deaths per 1000 people over a 1 year period. If the estimated population size is 6.92 billion, then the estimate for the number of people to die per year is 57.9 million.


So with those estimates, here is a quick graphic to try and put the number of deaths attributed to God into context with the others:

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