my thoughts about thinking about violence in the Bible: a counterpoint

my thoughts about thinking about violence in the Bible: a counterpoint February 11, 2015

TBTMSSeveral days ago over at OnFaith, John Dickson posted “4 Responses to the Problem of Violence in the Bible.”

I respect Dickson and his work a lot. I also think his thoughts in this piece are constructive and will be helpful to many readers.

Dickson’s post responds specifically to Richard Dawkins’s charge that the Canaanite extermination in the book of Joshua is “xenophobic violence.” Dickson agrees that these texts are indeed violent, but not about ethnic cleansing. He supports this response with 4 points:

  1. Just because there is violence in the Old Testament does not mean it is endorsed.
  2. Violent acts must be understood according to the interpretation of those acts by the biblical writers.
  3. The conquest of Canaan was only a momentary necessity in history.
  4. The story of the Canaanite conquest must be read “though the lens” of the New Testament.

I understand these approaches and how in combination especially they will help some readers move forward–and perhaps give Dawkins a thing or two to think about.

I want to push back a bit, though, because Dickson leaves some issues hanging that have occupied my thinking and that of others in recent years–issues that I feel need to be on the table if we are to articulate this difficult issue more convincingly.

On the first point, it is certainly true that not all violence in the Old testament is endorsed, but appealing to the Jephthah narrative in Judges (or any narrative in Judges) is off base for the very reason Dickson gives: these stories were written to indicate how low the Israelites had sunk (and how desperately they needed a king to rule over them).

But there are many other examples of violence–and particularly heinous violence–in the Bible, especially in Israel’s main narrative, from Genesis through Nehemiah, that are either commanded by God, carried out by God, allowed by God, or pass by without comment: a flood to wipe out life on earth (Genesis 6-8); Canaanite extermination (the main focus of Dickson’s post); taking captive those who do not surrender–men, women, children (Deuteronomy 20); sparing virgin woman and girls to be divided among the Israelite victors (Numbers 31); calling upon the Assyrians and Babylonians to plunder, pillage, kill, and taken captive the Israelites for their disobedience.

Appealing to the Jephthah story does not address the problems raised by these other texts.

Dicksons’s second point is the longest, and that is because it is the most involved. Here, too, his observation is valid and worth noting: biblical stories of violence are generally also interpreted for us by the biblical writers.

Specifically, Dickson’s point pertains to the conquest of Canaan, and he reminds us that the narrative must be read as a whole. If we do that, we will see that the charge of ethnic cleansing needs to be tempered by such factors as the sparing of the Canaanite harlot Rahab or the wickedness of the Canaanites (they deserved it).

But Dickson overstates when he claims that the Rahab story shows that the conquest of Canaan has has “nothing to do with ethnicity.” It certainly does have to do with ethnicity, as the foundational anti-Canaan narrative makes clear in Genesis 9: the sin of Noah’s son Ham leads to Noah’s cursing of the line of one and only one of Ham’s sons, Canaan. God has his sights on a people group.

Rahab is inded spared, but this is only one example. There are no others (despite Dickson’s musing about the possibility). Rahab’s “conversion” (as some think, though she is really only cowering in fear) is juxtaposed to the sin of Achan, the Israelite who disobeyed God’s command to keep none of the plunder from Jericho, all of which was to be handed over to God.

The Rahab episode does not minimize or ameliorate the command of God to purify the land of Canaan of it’s current occupants. It is not as if God is saying, “I didn’t really mean all that rhetoric about wiping out the Canaanites. I am pulling back on my command to wipe them out because I’m not all that worked up about ethnicity.”

The story of Rahab and Achan is together a hyperbolic warning to the Israelites not to be like Achan. If they are, they will be annihilated like the Canaanites, which is what happens to Achan and his family.

I would also suggest that we see in this narrative a shame element to motivate the Israelites of later generations to obedience: “even a Canaanite whore knows better.”

Dickson also seems to dismiss the propagandistic dimension of these narratives, and so simply accepts the narrative explanation as is. I understand the courtesy of respecting biblical (or any) writers to make their case, but the Israelites were also ancient writers who portrayed their enemies in black and white, not various hues.

Reading the texts as propagandistic is not to suggest that the Israelites produced a “sneaky justification for violence,” as Dickson puts it, but, ironically, to respect the literature as a product of a particular time and place, and therefore to understand it.

Further, this question of genre is not finished until a frank discussion of the many historical problems in the biblical account are put on the table. This would shift the discussion of “violence in the Old Testament” significantly.

Dickson’s third point is often raised: holy was was Israel’s calling, but only for only a time. But I still cannot see how this is supposed to help us process what we read.

This holy war was not made up of strategic, minimally necessary, strikes to get the horrible job done. The story of the defeat of the 5 kings in Joshua 10:16-27, for example, is gruesome, resulting in the 5 defeated kings being killed and hung on trees until evening. The same goes for dividing the Moabite virgin woman and girls among the Israelites (Numbers 31).

One also might wonder why holy war (which is a rather sanitizing way of putting it) was necessary at all to the God of creation. Was gaining a plot of land that important? Were the Canaanites really deserving of death more than anyone else in the ancient world?

A far simpler and less problematic explanation is that these are stories that the ancient Israelites told which reflects their genuine but ancient faith in God within the conceptual parameters of their historical context. These stories were recorded as we read them at a much later time in Israel’s monarchy, or later, to enhance Israel’s national narrative.

I understand this explanation does not sit well with everyone, but it does make sense when these stories are viewed against their ancient environment, and biblical scholars routinely make the point. Objection to this point of view is generally motivated by theological concerns.

Fourth, Dickson’s urging that we “must” read these stories “though the lens of the New Testament” is also true, but may say more than Dickson intends.

Dickson claims that Jesus’s admonition to love our enemies tells us that we cannot use the narratives of the conquest of Canaan as justification for violence. To be sure. But several questions remain such as:

Why the change of heart on God’s part? Why is killing to gain a land such a high priority in the Old Testament only to have the urgency inexplicably fade away? Why, after all that effort, is keeping the land such a low priority in the New Testament?  Why did God not remain true to his plan and instead tell Jesus, as the true Davidic heir, to raise an army as in days of old and take the throne?

I suppose these questions can be chalked it up to the mystery of God, so let’s move on. But for me, such a change of strategy on God’s part borders on caprice. I would much rather appeal to divine mystery for why God allows in the Bible stories that reflect the violent rhetoric of ancient tribal peoples.

I didn’t mean to prolong my responses here, and, again, Dickson’s piece is genuinely constructive and its limited purpose is to counter the unnuanced views of Richard Dawkins and others like him.

But I continue to think that a true accounting of why the Bible says what it says about the conquest of Canaan (and other violent acts) will not be addressed adequately in this manner, only delayed.

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  • I do enjoy seeing the conquest narratives condemned juxtaposed to silence on or even approval of the 1999 NATO bombing of a Serbian news station. In that case, the head of the news station was warned to evacuate, because NATO wanted to destroy the news station. He refused, and 16 journalists were killed. He was then prosecuted for failing to evacuate. I compare this to the predominance of “drive out” in the conquest narratives, combined with the huge head-start given by the circumcision delay upon crossing the Jordan.

    Is it wrong to note that the Israelites were given very specific borders, and to suppose that the Canaanites knew this? Yoram Hazony does a great job in The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture of showing how the Israelites’ conquering was quite restrained in comparison to the norm of the time. Not only this, but several nations attacked the Israelites during the Exodus, despite their not being given that land by YHWH. And so, the Israelites would have arrived at the doorstep of the Canaanites with an undefeated record (except Ai), having kicked it all off by defeating the most powerful nation known to exist, via magic that nation could not reproduce. And then the Israelites took a multi-day circumcision break.

    I’ve never seen the situation addressed in all its gory details, taking into account how terrible human nature is, with anything like Dawkins’ conclusion coming out as a result. People like Dawkins are like those who condemn the atomic bombs and firebombing of WWII: they don’t actually suggest lesser evils, or good choices. No, that’s the hard part. It is much nicer to pretend that you are moral, than admit that reality sometimes gives us only bad choices.

    • Dawkins isn’t addressing the actions of ancient people. He is addressing the actions of God, as portrayed in the Old Testament. I doubt he even believes that Old Testament conquests ever occurred as they are portrayed biblically, and in this he would agree with most biblical historians.

      It is the portrayal of God that concerns him, and the degree to which modern religions will bend-over-backwards to justify the actions of a God (not a people) who:

      destroys the world in a flood
      commands the extermination of Canaanites
      spares only virgins to be distributed among the soldiers

  • smijer

    “Dickson claims that Jesus’s admonition to love our enemies tells us that we cannot use the narratives of the conquest of Canaan as justification for violence. To be sure.”

    Why not? If God did approve of the conquest, isn’t that evidence (from a Biblicist viewpoint) that violence of this sort is consistent with love for enemies?

    • J. Inglis

      “isn’t that evidence”

      Whether it is evidence depends on your view of the inspiration of scripture. Just because some ancient writers presented God as commanding and approving of the conquest doesn’t necessarily mean that he did, or at least not in the way it is typically understood through the evangelical hermeneutical lense.

  • jeffcook

    Excellent piece. Thank you!

  • Preston Garrison

    I have puzzled over the condemnation of the Canaanites like everyone else who is willing to think about it, although as a fundamentalist kid I don’t recall being bothered by it.

    I still find it thoroughly misguided to be disturbed by God dealing out death per se. We all die, and the perspective of the Biblical writers (and Jesus) is plainly that that is God’s doing. There is and has been a great Niagara of souls pouring into eternity every day for thousands of years.

    I can understand why Dawkins would be greatly offended – he can’t conceive of a God who has a right to judge, since he thinks he is god, in effect – there is no higher authority in reality than a well educated scientific liberal like himself. (Surely if there was some measly god who just made this inferior universe, he would be waiting for Richard’s determination of sentence on him. 🙂 )

    For more sensible people, the question is whether God ever brings about temporal judgements and, if so, does he ever use other people to bring them about? If, with St. Paul, we think God did give the sword to human states to keep the human wolf sort of at bay, of course He does this all the time, every time a criminal gets justly imprisoned or executed or a Hitler defeated.

    So, does He ever execute a temporal judgement that involves what we might call “genocide,” and, if so, is this ever by means of human agents, willing or not?

    If it does happen, I have wondered if human sacrifice done in your god’s name isn’t what provokes this. The Carthaginians were descendants of the Canaanites/Phoenicians and were the great enemies of the Roman Republic. As violent as the Romans were, they did have a reverence for family, and I wonder if Chesterton wasn’t right in identifying human sacrifice (in their case their children) as the reason why God and the Romans showed them no mercy. Same thing looks to be true for the Aztecs. The Conquistadors were a violent bunch themselves, but when they saw all those skulls around the pyramid and no doubt heard the tales of how they got there, I suspect it convinced them to show no mercy when they got the upper hand. Maybe God turned them loose like He is said to have done with the Assyrians when Israel played at the same thing.

    The British encountered the tiny sect of Thugee in India, which practiced ritual murder as its sacrament. Thugee doesn’t exist anymore (except as our word “thug.”) The Brits wiped them out, and no one has missed them.

    Aeschylus plainly means us to see Agamemnon’s death as the consequence of sacrificing his daughter, so it wasn’t just the Hebrew prophet or the later Christians who saw things that way. And of course, in a world where people strap bombs to children in the name of their god, it hasn’t ended yet. Whether God intends it or not, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the world rise up again and say, when you do this, there will be no earthly mercy.

    Maybe God is saying, “this is what I absolutely do not want from you. By offering it, you confuse Me with the evil one.” You do have to be that committed, as Abraham found out, but the offer of our own children (or our enemies) is worse than useless. It is an absolute perversion of what really was required, the sacrifice of His child.

    Jesus identified blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as the unforgivable sin. The context was the Pharisees attributing His obviously good works (healing) to the devil. When you’ve gone so far into evil that you can look at the plain good works of the Spirit (“the works of my Father”) and call it the work of the devil, that’s the sign that you’ve passed the point of no return. And Jesus pretty clearly forecast their doom. (“If they do this in the green tree, what will they do in the dry?”) They started by calling God the devil, and ended by eating each other as the Romans closed in.

    What the ritual human sacrificer does is the flip side. He has listened to the devil and called him God. He conceives the demonic idea of killing someone innocent and helpless, even his own child, in order to get what he wants from God. The devil has offered himself as “what God is really like” and the fool has bought it. You don’t get to that point of wickedness in one step. You have to keep choosing worse and worse things until you conceive of and do the worst thing of all. I wouldn’t be too surprised if that’s just another form of the last straw.

    • Yes, ritual human sacrifice is demonic. Which is why Abraham refused to sacrifice his own son Isaac, when God commanded it.

      Oh, wait ….

      I suppose you are right that an all-powerful creator could murder his creations any way he likes. One might be even be inclined to worship such a god, if only to avoid punishment. I’m just not sure how such a creator could ever be conceived as a “loving God”.

      • J. Inglis

        I’m not convinced that an all powerful creator could murder his creations in any way he likes. Perhaps a lessor deity like Thor or Odin or Zeus could, but not an all powerful one who was also all good.

        An all powerful God could only act congruent with its nature. God / Yahweh, for example, cannot lie even though he is all powerful. Yahweh hates death and sees it as an enemy to be defeated, so clearly it is not in his nature to kill his creations any way he likes. It may even be his nature not to kill them at all (which is what I am convinced of). Once created, he is stuck with them unless they completely and existentially leave him (in which case they would cease to exist, because they cannot exist on their own. They have no inherent or independent existence apart from some connection to the giver of life).

        • I like the “Yahweh” that you are describing. Sounds like a nice sort of deity; one who doesn’t kill his creations.

          Doesn’t really square with the Yahweh depicted in the Old Testament, though, does it? You know, the one that destroys every man, woman, and child in a global flood; commands tribal decimations; commands stoning for adultery, witchcraft, and defiant children; hails fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah; kills all the firstborn in Egypt; burns up the sons of Aaron; and the list goes on …

          Don’t get me wrong; I don’t for a second believe that such a deity exists. But if you don’t get your notions about Yahweh from the Old Testament, where do you get them?

          • Preston Garrison

            The Biblical God is certainly conceived of as executing judgement and having a right to do so. Indeed ,that is much of the point of the flood story, which I don’t think ever really happened, except possibly on a very local scale.

            “Murder” means taking the law onto your own hands to the extent of killing someone without any legal authority to do so. (I don’t know Hebrew, but I gather that “you shall not murder” is what the commandment really says, which fits with the fact the Israelites felt justified in killing as soldiers in war, but not as individuals in peacetime.)

            You can take the position, in effect, that you are god and if God kills people he is doing so in violation of your law, if you want, but I know who I’m going to bet on in that test of competing authorities.

          • No, I certainly don’t claim to be a God.

            So your argument is that God (being God, after all) makes the law, so any killing that he does is not (legally speaking) murder? Even though many of his biblical decimations involve children and infants, he killed them righteously? Well, if might makes right, I suppose you could argue that the Nazi’s didn’t murder Jews.

            Of course, I don’t believe the biblical tales are historical as the holocaust was. But neither do I think the God they depict is worth justifying.

          • Preston Garrison

            Again, you assume this life is all there is and that death is the worst thing that can happen. I don’t think we know how God handles children or others who die before reaching any level of accountability at all or for only a short period of time. One thing I am certain of is that the crazy Calvinists are wrong. There is the fact that it is a terrible thing to be born to psychopathic/sociopathic parents (and what else would you call people who are practicing human sacrifice?) It usually isn’t long before the kid becomes an accomplice criminal (if he/she survives) and then an independent criminal. It seems conceivable to me that the child who dies gets some kind of do-over, which might well be preferable. I have no idea how it would work. There’s likely to be more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in any of our philosophies or theologies.

          • Well, you are right that death happens to all of us. I don’t believe that every death is the “worst thing that can happen”, but it’s a bit silly to suggest that the killings portrayed in the Old Testament by drowning, fire and brimstone, and sword, were not meant to be “bad”. I have heard this rationalization that the Canaanites deserved what they got because they sacrificed humans. While some human sacrifice is mentioned in the Old Testament, it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that all those destroyed by God were human sacrificers.

            Again, I am only concerned with the portrayal of God in the Old Testament and how it is rationalized. I don’t really believe that a God actually committed all of these killings, though the bronze age was certainly a violent period. The violence depicted in the Old Testament is just what one would expect of a ancient tribal society celebrating a war-like God, who decimates the enemy and sometimes saves all the virgins for the use of the army.

          • Andrew Dowling

            To claim its an issue of lawfulness and not morality is fairly troubling . . . .

      • Preston Garrison

        The Biblical perspective seems to be that death per se (the end of this life) is the not the worst that can happen. Again, we all die, and nothing in the Bible suggests that the timing of our death and what happens after that isn’t under God’s control. The worst thing is to get to that point (death) and not have gotten straight with God. (Granted this is more a New Testament perspective – the Hebrew Scriptures most often seem to be concerned with reward in this life and rather mysterious about the afterlife, although I think some hints are there that the “land” God promised His people was not ultimately to be seen as a particular piece of dirt east of the Mediterranean Sea.) It is possible to get straight with God by repentance and faith – He has provided a way out in the end for those who will seek it and take it. Of course the mystery of why one person finds that salvation and another doesn’t has filled a multitude of books and still I don’t think anyone on this planet understands it fully.

        • The God depicted in the Old Testament doesn’t seem terribly concerned with helping humans “get straight with” him before they die. Not when he wipes out entire populations (or first-borns of the population), including infants and children.

          Yes, we all die. No need to speed up the process.

    • J. Inglis

      “We all die, and the perspective of the Biblical writers (and Jesus) is plainly that that is God’s doing.”

      Actually, no; rather, it plainly isn’t God’s doing. Death is always a curse and an enemy and part of the kingdom of Satan. Jesus / God is life and the antithesis of death. Death is called an enemy by God; indeed, it is the final enemy that is metaphorically thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed. Death is not something that God desires, intends or does. Jesus explicitly conquers and is victorious over the enemy, death, and is raised to the new eternal life that we will all receive.

      • Inglis, why would you make a statement about the Biblical perspective that is so blatantly false? You might be able to point to verses in which death is called an enemy, or “the wages of sin”; but you cannot deny that the Bible explicitly portrays God killing humans on so many occasions it is difficult to keep count.

        You also conveniently left out the fact that death is not the only entity thrown into the lake of fire:

        Revelation 20:14-15New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

        14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

      • Preston Garrison

        I suppose we’re talking about the Biblical God, but your last sentence sounds like you are a universalist, which is pretty hard to get out of the Bible. Death is spoken of as an enemy of mankind, but it’s never suggested that it is under any ultimate control other than God’s. The angel drives Adam and Ever out of the garden so they can’t eat of the tree of life. Sounds like God’s doing. As usual He has a longer term plan which we can opt into or out of.

  • Brian K

    Why is nuance necessarily a virtue? I happen to think that ordering the killing of every man, woman and child in a city is grossly immoral. I don’t see why adding nuance to that view is necessary.

    • J. Inglis

      I think “nuanced” is meant to be a politically correct way of saying that most evangelicals are out to lunch with their overly literalistic hermeneutic and rigid and narrow understanding of inspiration. A “nuanced” understanding is thus a departure in some way from that literalism and narrowness, and which thus enables them to see that the commanded killings are actually immoral and need to be distanced in some way from God. Personally, I think that more than a nuance is necessary.

  • James

    So, where do we go from here? I think we have to take a step back and catch a glimpse of the larger OT story (yes, it can seem diverse), noting major themes and relating them continually to the NT narrative in its entirety. This mainly objective study is meaningful only as we perceive our personal stories part of the more expansive narrative of God’s global revelation including what we know as Holy Writ. An incredibly large task but doable in small bites.

  • David Kemball-Cook

    Well said, particularly on the first point. Why don’t evangelicals EVER address the clear fact that so many of these savage acts (and the laws commanding stoning for adultery, picking up sticks on the Sabbath etc.) are recorded as commanded by God. (Excluding yourself of course, if you still consider yourself to be an evangelical). The evasions on this point are sometimes rather sickening.

    NB I thought you could have pressed this point more on the Unbelievable discussion.

    If Christians don’t address the violence recorded in the Bible as being commanded by God properly, how can they tell Muslims that equivalent acts today are barbaric and unacceptable?

    • J. Inglis

      “recorded”

      A very good word choice. What we have are recordings by humans, albeit inspired in some way, and with no actual guarantee that inspiration prevented misunderstanding (“inspiration” is never explained). Things were recorded back then as being commanded by God, but we don’t have much in the way of God’s own perspective on it all until Jesus.

      In Jesus, on the other hand, we get new and different perspective from what was recorded back then. In Jesus we have God saying (and demonstrating), “hey, those O.T. guys got me wrong. They made me out to be a barbaric homicidal sadistic power-hungry dictatorial maniac but I’m actually a non-violent love bomber and an overly optimistic do-gooder who recklessly seeks out all the haters and brings them back home for a hot meal and a warm bed and who gets thanked by being whacked and robbed.”

      Fundamentalists, evangelicals, and other conservative Christians get caught up in making sickening evasions because of their peculiar (in the sense of particular, not in the sense of abnormal), limited and unbending understanding of what “inspiration” must mean in regard to the written scriptures.

    • ERSchindler

      Yes, this is a helpful way forward. The evangelical community so often demonizes Muslim extremists, while reading our own text with the exact same literalism. So ironic!

  • Lars

    Lots of good stuff here. Is anyone else bothered by the straight line from a drunken sailor cursing his completely innocent grandson (over his son’s accidental peek at his privates) to the slaughter of thousands? I’m sorry, but that’s just lousy parenting by both Noah and God.

    I too wonder about God’s change of heart, namely why he began insisting that humans do his his dirty work after being so unequivocal as to who’s in charge with The Flood, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Red Sea. The same humans that screwed up from the get-go, and at every opportunity since, can now be entrusted to carry out God’s perfect wrath??

    I have to admit that sparing Rahab is an interesting loophole. I guess it’s not genocide if there’s a survivor, it’s just pruning.

  • FredClark

    Regarding the ancient context and the biblical writers’ perspective on their enemies, I think of another ancient text — the Iliad. There’s nothing like Hector in the book of Joshua. …

  • ajl

    As far as the Judges analogy is concerned, do you think it might be that Judges is so over the top violent that it is almost comical – Abimelech getting crushed by a falling millstone is right out of Wile-E-Coyote, and killing thousands with a jawbone is just an impossibility usually only seen in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

    It is also poetical with the beginning showing a girl on a donkey given land at her marriage, only to end with a girl on a donkey cut into 12 pieces being spread throughout the 12 tribes. Also, tons of motifs about fathers and daughters, impalements by common objects like tent pegs, swords, etc.

    Like a Punch and Judy puppet show, the less refined might be rolling over with laughter in response to the over the top grotesque violence, while the more refined might be uncomfortably looking at themselves saying “don’t anybody freak out, but I think this story might be talking about us”.

    Read this way, Judges is truly an indictment of the nation of Israel told in an entertaining and crass way, rather than horrific tales of God bringing out the violent death of others.

    • Paul D.

      Judges is of a significantly different character than the rest of the former prophets. It feels very much like a collection of mostly unrelated folk tales, some of which are very strange indeed. (Try reading the story of Samson through without saying “WTF” a few times.)

    • Not so much Punch and Judy – more like Quentin Tarantino.

      • ajl

        actually, the inside joke of Punch and Judy was the one puppet whacking the other one while at the same time, making political commentary.

        • Just reread your first comment; I overlooked that you had already mentioned Tarantino, sorry.

          And here I thought I was being original …

          • ajl

            Ha ha. No problem. But, does that seem to explain some of what we see in the book of Judges? To me it seems to help me get past the messiness of the book and actually see the message behind it.

    • ERSchindler

      Thanks for sharing this insightful commentary on the Judges narrative. Never thought about it this way! Can you share any books / commentaries that go into more detail?

      • ajl

        I like Edith Davidson’s “Intricacy, Design, and Cunning in the Book of Judges”

        And Marc Brettler’s book on Judges.

        Also, don’t discount books on Indian folklore, they have a lot of insight into this style. In the West we think they are stupid for believing the Earth rested on the back of a turtle – but, like us, they knew that wasn’t true – it was a mechanism to tell the story. And, their stories were powerful if you didn’t get hung up in the whole “does the earth rest on a turtle” thing.

  • Hi Peter, thanks for this – so clearly and logically articulated. Your book The Bible Tells Me So – was a game changer for me – questions I’ve had since 20 years ago at Bible College – were finally resolved in a satisfactory way when I read it (and I loved the style – at LAST a scholar who writes for the rest of us!) Suddenly it all makes perfect sense and there is no need to scramble for flimsy defences. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now to help others walk it through…

  • gingoro

    “The story of the defeat of the 5 kings in Joshua 10:16-27, for example,
    is gruesome, resulting in the 5 defeated kings being killed and hung on
    trees until evening.” True in western cultures but I grew up in east Africa and it was the custom to publicly hang criminals as a warning to others. So it became “No big deal”. Canada where I now live does not have capital punishment and one wonders if the US would have fewer executions if such were carried out publicly as that would shock many people, at least the first few instances, although some like the tea party might revel in the happening. DaveW

  • J. Inglis

    It seems to me that part of the answer must lie in the necessity for, and actuality of, the revealing of God via Jesus. He who sees Jesus sees the Father. Jesus, who reveals God because he is God, is quite unlike the portrayal of God in the Old Testament (rather obvious to the Jews who rejected him, and to Gnostics, and to Marcion, and to Jefferson, etc.–i.e., rather obvious in general).

    The Old Testament writers not only saw darkly, they got a lot of stuff wrong. Among other things, they attributed evil acts to God that he did not do (e.g., the difference between narratives in Kings. v. Chronicles where the same act is attributed to Satan in the one book and to God in the other). And how many times does God have to tell people that he’s not really interested in bloody animal sacrifices? Israel pre-Jesus never really cottoned onto that fact, no matter how many prophets clued in.

    God, in a sense, finally got fed up with the misunderstandings and bad press and came down to earth to set the record straight about who he really is and what he is really about. Fortunately, he came himself rather than a flood.

    Another, more politically correct way of stating it would be to say that God came in the fulness of time, i.e., when the time was ripe for some correction to our understanding of God and for an inbreaking of his future new and completely holy heavens and earth kingdom into the current mostly sinful and damaged universe.

    Thus, now that we see what God is really like–Jesus–we can go back to the O.T. and see the clues and threads and shadows that are like Jesus. The faithfulness, the pursuit of sinners, the desire and ability to change hearts, the self-sacrificial love, etc. The other stuff (kill everyone, rape women (err, marry them against their consent and impregnate them)) is like mud or metal dross that clings to a beautiful object and obscures its beauty and true form and nature.

    The ancient writers used the “tools” available to them at the time–i.e., their knowledge of religious practices, their own practicies, their common beliefs about the spiritual world, etc.–to describe and work out the visions and insights that God gave them about who he truly is and how he rolls. Their “tools” were heavy on the sexist, racist, ethnocentrist, violent and bloody stuff, and they didn’t quite get how that stuff wasn’t effective for revealing God as he truly is–i.e., Jesus.

  • Lark62

    Outside of a few pretty sound bites, the guidance in and message of the bible is abhorrent.

    I know christians like to believe the bible gives them a corner on morality, but the facts don’t support it. Most christians are decent and moral for the same reason most non christians are decent and moral – humans evolved to thrive in communities.

    No person who truly followed biblical mores today would be considered moral.