Is God A Monster? image

Is God A Monster?

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It is becoming increasingly commonplace, even fashionable, for atheists and sceptics to argue against Christian belief on the basis that the Old Testament God is unpleasant. Read around the subject for a few minutes, and you’ll find words like ‘vindictive’, ‘judgmental’, ‘evil’ and ‘oppressive’ chucked around as if someone had rummaged through their thesaurus picking out every available word under the category of ‘stuff no self-respecting twenty-first century westerner likes to be called’. That in itself makes it interesting, and helpful, that the apologist and ethicist Paul Copan has written a new book addressing the subject: Is God A Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Here’s his description of what he’s doing in the book.

I wanted to alert you to this book, which sheds light on troubling problems (and misconceptions) regarding the “Old Testament God”:  “genocide,” slavery,” patriarchy and discrimination against women, the sacrifice of Isaac, harsh laws, kosher and purity laws, polygamy, concubinage, etc.
 
Critics are increasingly vocal about Old Testament ethical problems, yet much misunderstanding of ancient Near Eastern culture and distortion of the biblical texts accompany their arguments. According to some leading OT scholars who have endorsed the book (Christopher Wright, Gordon Wenham, Tremper Longman), this volume should prove to be a helpful resource to these vexing questions.
 
Here are some of the highlights of the book:

THE HUMANIZING NATURE OF ISRAEL’S LAWS IN CONTRAST TO THE REST OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST

I argue that virtually point-for-point, Israel’s legislation is significantly morally elevated—even if not ideal or universal.  God meets Israel in the midst of deeply embedded fallen social structures and elevates them, even if not to the ideal level (cp. Matthew 19:8, where Moses permits certain laws because of the hardness of human hearts). The Mosaic Law’s morally elevated status is apparent in the far less-severe nature Israel’s punishments; the Mosaic Law’s lack of mutilation texts (I argue that Deuteronomy 25:11-12 is definitely NOT a mutilation text); the protection of runaway slaves from their masters (anti-return laws); servants automatically freed if bodily harm comes to them from their employers (anti-harm laws); and so on.

CANAANITE WARFARE DIRECTED AT NON-COMBATANTS

Noncombatants were not targeted in the Canaanite (or Amalekite) campaigns but rather non-civilian military, political, and religious centers (“cities”) like Jericho, Ai, and Hazor; these were not civilian centers.  War texts using comprehensive language regarding “women” and “children” are stock ancient Near Eastern phrasing, even if women and children are not involved.

HYPERBOLE AND ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN BRAVADO

The biblical text, like other ancient Near Eastern war texts, uses exaggeration or hyperbole (.e.g., “let nothing remain”, “everything that breathed”).  However, the biblical text itself (especially Judges, which is literarily linked to Joshua) reveals that a lot of breathing Canaanites remained and lived among the Israelites.  “Wiping out” all the Canaanites was not what Moses intended in Deuteronomy 20 (the term “driving out” or “dispossessing” is much more prominent in these texts—which is NOT the same as “wiping out”).  So Joshua (who didn’t literally destroy everything that breathed) “carried out what Moses commanded.”

CONCUBINAGE AS HAVING A “SECONDARY WIFE”

A “concubine” often refers to a “secondary” wife rather than a female used for a male’s sexual pleasure (e.g., after the first/“primary” wife has died—like Abraham’s wife Keturah after Sarah died).

POLYGAMY PROHIBITED

Leviticus 18:18 indicates that polygamy is prohibited by the Mosaic Law; it is not morally permissible even if less than ideal—which is unfortunately commonly assumed by Christians.

OLD TESTAMENT SLAVERY AS INDENTURED SERVITUDE

While critics commonly equate Old Testament “slavery” with the antebellum South’s common harsh treatment of slaves, the term “slave(ry)” is misleading and should be understood as “contractual employment” or “indentured servitude”—much like a sports player who is “owned” by a team or a person contracted to serve a set time in the military.  Normally, according to the Law of Moses, servitude within Israel was poverty-induced, and it was to be voluntary and temporary (no more than seven years).  I deal with a number of difficult servitude passages.

NEW TESTAMENT SLAVERY AND ONESIMUS

I dip into the New Testament on the topic of slavery, as this is a different issue than Old Testament indentured servitude. In addition to arguing for the radically humanizing treatment of slaves in the New Testament, I argue that Onesimus was in all likelihood not a slave; that interpretation of Philemon comes significantly later in church history. For example, there are no “flight” verbs in Philemon, which would be strange if Onesimus had run away.  Various scholars argue that Philemon and Onesimus were not only (alienated) Christian brothers, but possibly biological brothers as well.

Sounds fascinating. For the full details, click here.

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