Old Testament

What about #MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?

What about #MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?

It’s the most notorious sexual encounter of ancient times.

In a remarkably candid account in the Bible (2d Samuel chapters 11 and 12), the great King David impregnates Bathsheba when both were married to others.

In the 21st Century, and especially with the recent rise of the #ChurchToo wing of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, there’s vigorous debate in print and online about whether Bathsheba intended to lure the king’s attentions, or the two shared equal blame for adultery, or David alone was responsible.

Last week on Patheos.com, Jonathan Aigner satirized an old-fashioned attitude (often the work of male writers) by listing this among mock themes for youngsters’ summertime Vacation Bible School: “It Was All Her Fault: How Bathsheba Trapped David.” Such was the tone of some classic paintings or Susan Hayward’s portrayal opposite Gregory Peck in Hollywood’s popular “David and Bathsheba” (1951).

Or consider reference works favored today among conservative Protestants. The “NIV Study Bible” says “Bathsheba appears to have been an unprotesting partner” in sexual sin, and Charles Ryrie’s study Bible agrees that she “evidently was not an unwilling participant.” The “ESV Study Bible” even brands Bathsheba someone of “questionable character.”

On similar lines, noted Jewish commentator Robert Alter of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in 1999 that the Hebrew text may intimate “an element of active participation by Bathsheba in David’s sexual summons,” raising the possibility of “opportunism, not merely passive submission,” on her part.

But the “Women’s Study Bible” (2009) states that “adultery” signals mutual consent whereas this situation “was probably closer to rape.”

Other modern analysts insist it was “rape,” period. What’s going on here?

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No 'proof texts': Wheaton College scholar seeks to shelve Old Testament moral rules (updated)  

No 'proof texts': Wheaton College scholar seeks to shelve Old Testament moral rules (updated)  

The unending debate over the Bible and same-sex relationships is the most troublesome one for U.S. Protestantism since the Civil War.

It first broke into the news agenda big-time 47 years ago at a conference of the large United Methodist Church.  As religion specialists well know, an emergency Methodist conference that opens Saturday in St. Louis is to weigh whether the UMC will split over this.   

Simultaneously, a book on sale next week has potentially explosive relevance: “The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context.” Of course, “Torah” in the title refers to the Old Testament’s first five books and also the material therein normally called biblical law.   

The book – nota bene -- does not emanate from liberal “mainline” Protestantism. The publisher, InterVarsity Press, is evangelical, and the authors are veteran Wheaton College (Illinois) Old Testament professor John H. Walton along with son J. Harvey, a University of St. Andrews doctoral student. 

“We cannot reconstruct a moral system from the Torah or any part of it,” they contend. “That is not what it [the Torah] is designed to do.” Rather, “order in society was the goal, and it was achieved through wisdom,” not biblical  “legislation” or “rules.”  The Old Testament God was simply not “imposing morality or social ideals on Israel through the stipulations of the Torah.” 

Writers should, of course, read the complete book to fairly grasp the argument, but chapter titles well summarize the key points.

“We cannot gain moral knowledge or build a system of ethics based on reading the Torah in context and deriving principles from it.”

“The ancient Israelites would not have understood the Torah as providing divine moral instruction.”

“Torah cannot provide proof texts for solving issues today.”

The Waltons specify that this holds for the venerated Ten Commandments, and for Leviticus 18, where God’s “statutes” abominate homosexual acts as well as adultery, incest and bestiality. Regarding same-sex activity and gender identity, the authors warn against extracting “biblical principles” to “substantiate a particular position today as if that position is thereby built on moral absolutes.”

That should provoke hot responses from traditionalists, Jews included. The book follows the shelving of Old Testament dictates proposed last year by another prominent evangelical, megachurch preacher Andy Stanley.

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How do conservatives respond to archaeologists’ skepticism about Bible history?

How do conservatives respond to archaeologists’ skepticism about Bible history?

THE QUESTION:

Many archaeologists have raised skeptical questions about the Bible’s historical accounts, especially in the Old Testament. How do conservatives respond?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A September headline in London’s tabloid Daily Express proclaimed a “Bible Bombshell,” with “stunning new evidence that could prove” Joshua’s invasion of the Holy Land following the Exodus from Egypt. However, in the article the archaeologists involved, David Ben-Shlomo of Israel’s Ariel University and Ralph Hawkins of Averett University in Virginia, gave only carefully framed suggestions.

Their site has a stone enclosure for herded animals, and pottery indicating people lived outside the stone compound, presumably nomads living in long-vanished tents. The settlement dates from the early Iron Age, but testing of electrons in soil samples is needed to pinpoint whether it fits the Exodus chronology. And that wouldn’t prove these nomads were Israelites. (See below on Jericho.)

People thrill when a discovery is proclaimed as proof of the Bible, but it takes years if not decades to establish such claims. There can also be sensationalism when skeptics known as “minimalists,” Israelis among them, announce findings said to undermine the Bible. As a journalist, The Guy recommends caution toward assertions from all sides.

The pertinent archaeological maxim is “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” That is, a biblical event is not contradicted if archaeologists have not (or not yet) found corroboration from physical remains, non-biblical manuscripts, or inscriptions. There’s vast unexplored terrain in Israel, where only 50 of an estimated 6,000 sites have undergone thorough examination, with limited work at another 300. Surviving evidence from ancient times is necessarily spotty and interpretations can be subjective. Scholars usually end up with circumstantial plausibility, not absolute proof or disproof.

Conservatives energetically answer the minimalists. Their magnum opus is “On the Reliability of the Old Testament” (Eerdmans) by Egyptologist K.A. Kitchen of the University of Liverpool. William Hallo of Yale University said that “after decades of ‘minimalism,’ it is refreshing to have this first systematic refutation” from “a leading authority” on the relevant history.

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A really old debate is back: Does the Old Testament belong in Christian Bibles?

A really old debate is back: Does the Old Testament belong in Christian Bibles?

NORMAN’S QUESTION:

Do the Old and New Testaments belong together?

(Commenting from a stance critical toward Christians, Norman adds that ignorance of history underlies their “comfortable view that the Bible is one and that there is no problem between the Old and New Testaments.”)

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This classic and complex theme is erupting anew thanks to a U.S. Protestant megachurch pastor cited below. Also, churches have long faced strife over the authority and interpretation of the Old Testament due to the now-disputed teaching (that was carried over into the New Testament) against homosexual relations.

In this “Religion Q & A” item (your new postings via the Website always welcome!!), Norman accurately calls attention to some history. The status of the Old Testament became a pressing issue the church needed to decide in the 2nd Century A.D. Marcion of Pontus, among others, drew a radical distinction between what he saw as the problematic Yahweh of the Old Testament versus the loving God and Father of Jesus Christ in writings that were to form the New Testament.

The church declared Marcion a heretic and consolidated for all time that the Old Testament is part of its Bible alongside the New Testament books, authoritative Scripture for Christians as well as Jews.

Norman further observes that influential 20th Century liberal Protestant thinkers in Germany such as Adolf von Harnack and Rudolf Bultmann echoed Marcion by downplaying the spiritual worth of the Old Testament. He says they “unknowingly contributed to the rise” of the so-called German Christians with their “non- and anti-Jewish” version of the faith. This movement pretty much gained control over Protestantism and accommodated the blatantly anti-Semitic Nazi rulers. Theologians like “neo-orthodox” titan Karl Barth courageously defied this unbiblical heresy in the great Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934).

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An issue lurking in some news stories: In Old Testament, was God guilty of 'genocide'?

An issue lurking in some news stories: In Old Testament, was God guilty of 'genocide'?

The Religion Guy poses this complex historical question himself instead of the customary answer to an item posted via “Send Your Questions In” -- new submissions very much welcomed.

There’s been important debate on this issue recently, and a new book proposes sweeping reinterpretation of the Old Testament depiction of Israel’s “Conquest” of the Holy Land under Joshua. More on that below.

Richard Dawkins, a fervent foe of religion, indicts the biblical God for inciting “genocide” in the Bible’s conquest passages and verses like Deuteronomy 20:16-18 that direct believers to wipe out neighboring populations. Many U.S. Jews and Christians frankly admit this material is troubling.

Let’s begin with three standard Jewish commentaries on those Deuteronomy verses.

“Pentateuch & Haftorahs,” a classic Orthodox compilation by J.H. Hertz, Britain’s longtime chief rabbi, observes that Joshua informed Canaanites before the invasion so they could flee bloodshed, offered peace to all, and only waged combat if they insisted on it. (That was relatively humane for violent times 3,000 years ago.)

The quest for a homeland, the commentary observes, is part of all human history including most European nations. Israel added to that the “ethical justification” of countering Canaan’s “depravity,” for instance human sacrifice. Moreover, “the whole moral and spiritual future of mankind was involved.”

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Flying Spaghetti Monster flock gets a fair shake in new Deutsche Welle report

Flying Spaghetti Monster flock gets a fair shake in new Deutsche Welle report

Does a reporter have to be a believer to cover religion?

A simple question, but a vexing one, as there are two currents of thought at work in Western culture today.

The classical view, characterized as the Anglo-American school of journalism, would say no. For journalists working from this perspective, the highest virtue is critical disinterest. The reporter’s personal views play no part in the story. He or she writes from a distance, laying out the facts, providing context and history, with the goal of enabling the reader to make up their own mind.

There are limits. One may assume Hitler and the Nazis were evil. But few questions are as straightforward as that. For example, how do you report on religions on the margins? Do you have to believe in the religion you are covering? What if you are assigned a story on Pastafarians?

The European school of journalism sees reporting primarily as a species of ideological activism. The message the story teaches -- not the content of the story -- is where value lies. The issue for a devotee of advocacy journalism is not whether a story is worth reporting, but what cause will this serve if it is reported?

The precise components of that activism will vary depending on the nature of the politics involved. Radical feminists have their issues and controversies, which tend to differ from issues and controversies that preoccupy devotees of racial, cultural, political, sexual and the other tribal commitments of the postmodern West.

The end product of this school of advocacy journalism differs according to the political aims of the author. But all work from the premise cited by Joseph Stalin in 1932:

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MZ for the win: Before taking shots at the Bible, journalists need to do their homework

MZ for the win: Before taking shots at the Bible, journalists need to do their homework

Every newspaper that I worked for had several shelves of reference books or an entire library of them, often backed with other pre-Internet reference materials.

In each case, there was large and somewhat intimidating Bible, often placed near a library-sized edition of a Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The whole idea (especially in a city like Charlotte, N.C.) was that journalists needed to be able to look up "Bible stuff" when religious people dared to mention religion in public.

That was how it was supposed to work. In reality, people used to swing by my desk and ask about "Bible stuff" and other religious questions. This was, at The Rocky Mountain News, the reason that people gave me a nickname that stuck -- "Monsignor Mattingly."

I would say that nine time out of 10, my newsroom colleagues found out that the Bible didn't actually say what people thought it said, or just as common, what newsroom people thought that it said. I also had to tell them that it was rarely enough to quote one Bible verse, often out of context, and then call it a day. I used to say over and over: The Bible is an adult book and it needs to be treated that way.

This brings me to another example of M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway of The Federalist having a bit of a GetReligion flashback when confronted with one or more examples of mainstream journalists tripping over a fact or two when covering a religious issue. It really sets her off when people mess up when talking about the Bible or Christian doctrines that have been around for 2,000 years or so.

Thus, here is a piece of "Classic MZ," offered as this weekend's think piece. The lesson this time around is a familiar one: If journalists are going to take shots at the Bible, or promote the work of people doing so, it really helps to do some homework (or call up scholars who can provide another point of view on the issue being discussed).

Take it away, Mollie. The headline: "Media Falsely Claim DNA Evidence Refutes Scripture." We pick things up a few lines into the piece:

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Why do Jewish and Christian Bibles put the books in a different order?

Why do Jewish and Christian Bibles put the books in a different order?

GORDON’S QUESTION:

Why is there a different order of the books of the Hebrew Bible in Jewish and Christian editions?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

As we’ll see, there’s revived debate about this. For starters, one key fact is that the contrasting lists did not result from conflict between Judaism and Christianity but rather the varied sequences used by Jews.

Overview: The Jewish Bible and Protestant Old Testament have the same contents, but list the books in different order. Catholicism’s ordering is similar to Protestants’ but its “canon” (recognized Scriptures) includes “deuterocanonical” books not found in the Jewish and Protestant Bibles, while the Orthodox add further deuterocanonical materials.

Jews organized the biblical books into categories in this order: (1) Law, or Torah, the first five books with specially revered status. (2) Prophets or Nevi’im, a confusing label since this sections begins with books of history, followed by prophets ending with Malachi. (3) Writings or Kethuyim, a variegated collection dominated by the Psalms, including books accepted as Jewish Scripture later than the Law and Prophets. The initials T, N, and K produce the acronym Tanakh that Jews use for the Bible.

With ordering, the chief issue is where to fit Chronicles (or 1 and 2 Chronicles) and whether it properly concludes the Hebrew Bible. Chronicles, which repeats much of the history covered in the colorful Samuel (or 1 and 2 Samuel) and Kings (or 1 and 2 Kings) was compiled round 400 B.C.E., many centuries after the events.

Unlike Samuel and Kings, the Harper Study Bible observes, Chronicles omits most “references to the defects and the sins of David and Solomon,” emphasizes “the Temple and the Davidic line,” virtually ignores the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and warns and encourages future generations.

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Was the Bible’s Abraham a real person or only a fictional character?

Was the Bible’s Abraham a real person or only a fictional character?

MARK’S QUESTION:

Liberal biblical scholars say Abraham never lived and was a literary invention of “priestly” writers in exile in Babylon. Since we have no archaeological data on him, how do we know he really lived?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The patriarch Abraham is all-important as the revered founding forefather and exemplar of faith in the one God, this not only for Jews and Christians but Muslims, whose Quran parallels some of the biblical account on him in Genesis 11–25. Islam believes Abraham was a prophet in the line that concluded with Muhammad. He is also Muhammad’s ancestor, just as the New Testament lists Abraham in the genealogy of Jesus.

For Orthodox Judaism, traditional Christianity, and the entirety of Islam, it’s unthinkable that Abraham would have been a fictional character. The stakes are high for the Bible, which presents the Abraham material in extensive narrative history, not obvious mythology. Even scholars who see Genesis 1-10 as mythological may think actual history begins with the patriarchs while, as Mark states, liberal religious and secular scholars question his existence.

In pondering such questions, the archaeologist’s well-worn maxim is that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Yes, no texts about Abraham apart from the Bible survived. The “Aburahana” in Egyptian texts from 1900 BC(E) is thought to be someone else. But that doesn’t prove he never lived. Remains from such a long-ago epoch are necessarily scattershot, even for grand potentates with court scribes much less Abraham, a relatively obscure figure during his lifetime and a semi-nomad who moved among locations.

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