The other day I noticed a blog post where Randal Rauser partially transcribes one of William Lane Craig’s podcasts. Here’s Craig:
“I think it’s just dishonest when people like Richard Dawkins portray Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, as this moral monster. These highly singular commands need to be read against the background of the whole of the Old Testament which includes the great moral law that is given by God which is head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes …. It’s against the backdrop of the prophets which explain God’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed and the orphans and widows. Against God’s commands to Jonah even to go to the city of Nineveh, a non-Jewish city… It is a story which is highly singular and highly unusual….”
The first thought I had when I read this is, “wow, if only I could get Craig’s fans to accept that the standard for dishonesty Craig is using here, it would make my job as a critic of Craig so much easier!”
(After that, I immediately thought that no that would not be a good thing, because the standard Craig is using here is obviously absurd.)
But on the substance, I’ve read this moral law that Craig calls “great” (three times) and it looks like a pretty awful moral law to me, to the point of being itself evidence that the OT god is a moral monster. The only sense I can make of the claim that it was “head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes” is that the other codes were even worse, but someone can be a monster even if there are worse monsters.
As it happens, though, I just finished reading Thom Stark’s reply to Paul Copan, which convincingly argues that while the OT law code was in some ways better than others of the time, in some ways it was also worse. For example, Deuteronomy 21:18-20 allows parents to have a rebellious son executed without trial. In contrast, the Code of Hamurabi, which dates back a millennium before Deuteronomy, requires a judge to examine the case, lets the son off with a warning on the first offense, and says the penalty for a repeated offender is being disowned, not executed (Stark pp. 38-41).
As for God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed (1) according to Stark, this was commonplace in the ancient near east, not something unique to Judaism (2) having read the Bible three times, I’ve found that the amount of emphasis placed on caring for the poor and oppressed has been greatly exaggerated, by liberal and conservative Christians alike. It gets far less attention than what I’d say is clearly the main message of the OT: do what God says, whatever God says, says or else.
P.S. It seems to me that Stark, without even trying to, also solidly refuted Israel Finkelstein’s view that the Bible, in spite of all its propagandizing, was still super-special somehow.