Archives For Biblical Writers

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In the previous post, I noted that the war texts show how God implemented justice on a particular Canaanite people group that was outstandingly evil.  (William F. Albright, famed archeologist, described the Amalekite religion as “perhaps the most depraved religion known to man.”)

We may not like that war was involved, but we must enter into the world as it was to to fully understand the big picture. This was a world in which every people group gauged their god’s authority and power by the quality of their own lives. If they were rich and strong, they believed their gods liked what they were doing. If they failed to flourish or were conquered, apparently their god was unhappy or another god was stronger (think of the Ark of the Covenant vs. Dagon in 1 Samuel 5, or the clash between Moses and Pharoah).   You may find this to be simply a lot of superstition, but in the context at that time,  the God of the Israelites was challenging the God of the Amalekites  in a manner that was understood by both cultures.

However, a key question still remain:  Even if the judgement was justified and the actions were understood, is their punishment defensible?  I am going to argue in the following posts that a clear reading of the Old Testament mitigates agains a God of cruelty and genocide by highlighting four key factors that contextualize and clarify what was actually happening:

  • God waited and warned the people groups involved;
  • He commanded the Israelites to accept and assimilate any immigrants from these nations, clearly showing God was not interested in genocide;
  • He sought not to destroy individual people, but to destroy the religious and cultural centers that promoted their particular evil;
  • He exercised lex talionis (a principle which says that punishment cannot exceed the crime).
    Continue Reading…

If you have engaged in serious discussions with skeptics about God and the Old Testament, you know it won’t be long before someone will play the Amalekite card – and let’s be honest, it’s a game-changing card (read the  war texts in my previous post).  There’s a temptation to  fold at this point and hope that the next hand deals something better (“Hey, I know! Let’s talk about love!”). However, there is far more to the story (I should note here I am indebted to the writing of Christian apologists such as Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan and organizations such as the Christian Think Tank).

As a teacher, I often have parents call me because their child came home with a tale of woe featuring my ineptitude as a teacher and my complete failure as a human being.  How else to explain that “D”?  I offer a perspective they did not hear from little Johnny.  More often than not (I’m not perfect) we resolve the situation pretty quickly.  It turns out there was more to the story than they initially heard.

We have a tendency to judge the actions of others before we fully appreciate the complexity or depth of the situation. That even applies when the ‘other’ is God and the ‘full story’ is actual world history.  As this series unfolds, I will attempt to reveal the context and complexity more clearly.  Let’s start with some observations about the Amalekite culture. Continue Reading…

Defending Paul

Anthony Weber —  January 8, 2012 — 1 Comment

When defending the Bible against critics, one must be prepared to answer questions on several fronts.  Were the documents written reliably?  Were they transmitted correctly?  Why were some books left out?  What happened to all the Gnostic books? And what is papyrus anyway?

Even if we answer these questions well, we are still left with another hurdle: the character of the writers.  Take Paul. Please.  Paul has managed to become a lightning rod for accusations of anti-semitism, homophobia, bigotry, anger, meanness, crudeness…. It’s the kind of list that would make South Park proud. Even if we show that the documents are inspired, reliable, and faithfully transmitted, what do we do with the topics?  And how do we explain writers like Paul?

I recently read Paul Among The People:  The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined In His Own Time.   I know what you are thinking:  Thrilling title!  This book and a Wild Blue Premium Blueberry Lager, and my Friday night is planned!  Actually, that’s pretty much what happened for me.  I started reading last Friday night, Wild Blue in hand, and I couldn’t put it down (the book, that is).

The author, Sarah Ruden, is an intriguing person.  Equally at home among Quakers, Mennonites, and intelligentsia at Harvard, she has managed to find fans everywhere from Christianity Today to the Daily Beast. She is a pacifist who clearly articulates the Apostle Paul’s use of military analogies.  She is a social and religious liberal who willingly and generously engages social and religious conservatives.

Ms. Ruden is also a pleasure to read.  She has an extensive history in Greek and Roman literature, and she masterfully interweaves Paul’s writings with those of the most influential writers of his day. It’s a very different kind of analysis of the Bible, one that pulls more from the common culture that created the language than from the isolated words themselves.  Meaning is gleaned more often from historical records of parties and plays than from verb tenses (though she is at home there as well).

She goes out of her way to keep her focus very neatly defined within the targeted  texts, and by doing so carefully avoids much broader and even more volatile questions.  Perhaps this is good for the purposes of this book.

So why is Ms. Ruden defending Paul?

In the opening chapters, she establishes the basic thesis:  Paul “understood the lure of monotheism and of a consistently just and merciful God unlike any of the deities in the Greco-Roman pantheon; and he knew the beauty of a deeply ordered community, such as polytheistic ideology had never managed to produce…”

It appears the Paul-as-curmudgeon crowd overstated their case.  Paul actually offers a message of hope and liberation, not oppression and bigotry.   Continue Reading…