Friday, October 21, 2011

The Amalekites, the Creation Hymn, and the Hebrew Learning Curve

I'm redating my post on difficult passages in the Old Testament. I would just add that the what is being referred to as the chaos argument is one that I would be inclined to resist, but has to be taken seriously.

Wagner said: Victor, it seems that you believe in some form of inerrancy.But how do you reconcile inerrancy and a "evolving moral consciousness"? Could you please recommend some essential reads about this problem?

With respect to inerrancy, I start by saying I don't especially like the term, and am not sure quite what is supposed to count as an error. I've covered the Amalekite massacres before here, and my view is that they strike me as morally unacceptable per se from a moral standpoint, suggesting that either there is something I don't understand about the situation, or the actions are wrong, and Scripture reflects what we now know to be an inadequate moral awareness.

It could turn out that, given where the Hebrews were on the moral learning curve, and given their proneness to be influenced by the more agriculturally sophisticated Canaanites, the best thing for God to tell them was to kill everybody in those tribes, even though someone with a better developed moral sense could not be told to do such a thing. It was an essential part of God's plan to sustain a nation of people dedicated to monotheism, and perhaps, under the circumstances, that's what God had to do. It is hard for me to imagine that someone who absorbed the message of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us essentially that there are no national boundaries on neighborness and hence no national limits in the requirement to love our neighbors, could engage in that type of conduct. What is worrisome to us about this is partly the fact that, even if the Amalekites and Canaanites were immoral people, God orders children to be killed, who could not possibly be responsibe for the evils of the tribes. But even the notion of individual moral responsibility doesn't come out of the chute immediately for the ancient Hebrews. It gets clearly articulated in Ezekiel 18, but I am not sure where before that.

The link didn't work about my holding to some version of inerrancy, so I'm not sure what I said. I think there is a lot of vagueness attached to the term. Interpreted broadly enough, I'm sure it's true, but I know those who use it have a more precise meaning in mind, and some, in the name of inerrancy, impose hermeneutical constraints that proscribe interpretations that I would accept. I know that there are passages in the Bible that sound as if they teach the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished on earth, but then Job and Ecclesiastes come along and deal with the fact that, so far as we can see, that ain't happening.

The creation hymn in Genesis seems appropriate to an early stage on the scientific learning curve, and I see it's message as metaphysical (the monotheism of the hymn vs. the polytheism of the Enuma Elish), rather than scientific. I don't think its literal words need to be defended vis-a-vis modern science.

In saying all this I am sure I am profoundly disappointing both the inerrancy police (putting your moral intutitions ahead of the Bible, tsk tsk), and the skeptics among you.

Of course, it is surely open for the skeptic to say that God could, and should, have given the Hebrews a faster learning curve, both morally and scientifically. That's, I suppose a version of the argument from evil. Why didn't God dispel scientific and moral ignorance more quickly than he did. I don't subscribe to a theodicy sufficiently fine-grained to give an answer to that question.


Anonymous said...

If mankind had developed scientifically faster than he has, he probably would have used it for evil faster than he has.

Having reached the point where we have the knowledge to destroy ourselves, perhaps we will realize that our real problem is not our knowledge per se but our morality.

And why were a lot of things allowed in the Old Testament?

In my view, it was out of "the hardness of men's hearts."

R. Morrison

Wagner said...

Victor, thank you for your response.

My link was intended to refer to your "chaos argument":

I think the problem is that not only the hebrews seems to be morally evolving. God also seems to be morally evolving along the Bible.

For example, Numbers 15.35 tell us a story that God commanded execution by stoning for a man gathering sticks in the sabbath. But later Jesus says that "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath".

Is God really morally evolving along the Bible? Or can we conclude that the Bible has errors?

And if the Bible has errors, can we conclude that "theology will sooner or later give away the store", according to your "chaos argument"?

Mike Darus said...

I don't think you have to say that "God is evolving" when you say that the morality revealed in the Bible is progressively revealed. If you add a situational variable, it is closer to Morrison's thought about how much humans can handle in a given situation. We are being a little rough when we impose our current views of issues like human rights on ancient culture. The Bible honestly records the way it was, not the way it should have been.

Victor Reppert said...

Surely it is human perception of God that evolves, and I don't think you need Process Theology to explain that. A "sensible inerrancy" surely allows for records of how God was perceived at various levels of moral understanding. Since God is perfectly good, one of the ways our perception of God might evolve is through an evolution in our moral understanding.

Wagner said...

Victor, if some texts are products of human misunderstandings, I think the problem of chaos argument still persists.

If some biblical texts derives from human misunderstanding, then how can we know which they are?

Victor Reppert said...

Everyone uses the Bible a little bit differently, but I would have thought something coming from Jesus probably is more ethically applicable than something out of I Samuel, Christ being rather central to the whole thing.

Of course, inerrantists disagree about all sorts of things. They have differences about all sorts of things. That is largely because they differ about what is hermeneutically central.

C. S. Lewis seems to me to be an example of someone who wouldn't be classified as an inerrantist, but who nevertheless was bounded by the authority of Scripture, whose response to it would not be what the chaos argument would suggest that it is. But, if the chaos argument remains a serious concern, then you also have to look at Catholicism as an option, since in Catholicism chaos is removed not by Scripture but by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Wagner said...

Thank you for your response, Victor.

Have you ever read "God's Word in Human Words", from Kenton Sparks?

I don't have read it yet. But it seems to have a response to this problem. There is an article written by Sparks here:

Gregory said...

I think the point of it was this:

The Amalekites and Canaanites were a wicked people. They were enemies of God and enemies of His people. Knowing that the Amalekites and Canaanites would not oblige God and turn over the land to His people--even as Pharoah and the Egyptians, later, would not--therefore God ordered that they vacate the premises....permanently!!!

What else could God do? Should He say to the Amalekites and Canaanites "Ok...excuse me, good sirs. I apologize for that. I see that you really want to covet My land. My mistake. I'm sorry to have bothered you. Have a nice day!"

Or..perhaps God could have altered these peoples "wills" to be in co-operation with His "Sovereign" will, hence avoiding all bloodshed. Oooo....strike three for the Calvinist. And the Libertarians are now up to bat.

Furthermore, how was God supposed to protect His "own" from the wrath and vengeance of a proud, lustful and bloodthirsty people who refuse to obey God and leave?

Someone will say: "yes, I can understand that. But what about the babies and innocent women and children? Surely God didn't to kill them. How cruel!"

But let's hear the words of one of our own poets about the matter:

"Old man take a look at my life. I'm a lot like you."

Therefore, God could not allow a people, embittered by the self-chosen fate of their fathers---having the same attitude and temperament as their fathers did---to grow up and take revenge on their kin and to continue to plague the land as their fathers had done!!!

And it's not as though God didn't give them any chance to "change their evil ways, baby." He gave them plenty of time and plenty of warning. But they still wouldn't listen.

Someone will say: "yes...but couldn't God have relocated His people somewhere else, hence avoiding all confrontation and bloodshed?"

No. Not if He wanted His people to know that He, and not the Amalekites and Caanites, is the Lord God. Not if God was going to keep His promise to His people; namely, that they will inherit that land. For that is what our forefathers believed God had promised them. This would send the message to those whom He had made the promise, that He (God) is a liar....and certainly no "Lord". And that God should bend the knee to any as to make man an "idol". That man's will, alone, be done?

May that never be!!!

Perhaps such arrogance would also find outrage at the fact that our World Leaders won't be serving us breakfast in bed. Won't be feeding and caring for our pets while we are on vacation. Won't be cleaning our houses. Won't be mowing our yards. And won't be tucking us in at night.

Curse you World Leaders for not bending to my will. still would be nice if you picked up some more allergy medicine. I'd be really appreciative, a hypothetical, contrary to fact, sort of appreciation XD

Gregory said...

But the God of the New Testament is so much kinder and gentler. The New Testament God isn't mean and nasty like the Old Testament God.

Not the same God, huh?

I think God is still God and, if necessary, still handles evictions for unruly tenants.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing. See! You house is left to you desolate; for I say to you that, you shall see Me no more till you say 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

"Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them:

"Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you that not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down'."

---Matt. 23:37-24:2

Jesus had cited Psalm 118:26. But it was an irony, because Jesus was alluding to the preceding verses:

"The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."

---Psalm 118:22,23

Christ is the True Temple. And since the "builders" had rejected Him, therefore God had promised that He was going to eject them....permanently!!! And approximately 37 years after Christ's death and resurrection, they were put on permanent eviction.

And what of Acts 5:1-11? What of 1 Cor. 11:23-34? What of Jude 5-15? Or Hebrews 10:26-31? Or Revelation 20:7-15? How about 2 Pet. 2:12-17; 3:3-7? Romans 13:1-5?

The God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God that's depicted in the New Testament. And if Revelation 6-9 is any indication--of which concerns the judgments of the "Seals" and "Trumpets"--God is, even now, still evicting people...even as He had in the past. What's more, the punishment for rejecting God's Son, upon Whom all Glory is due, carries a far greater punishment for us than for those whom preceded the Incarnation:

"It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, at the day of Judgment, than it will be for this generation."


"Let not many of you become teachers. For, you know that teachers are subject to a stricter judgment."

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, I would suggest reading books before sounding off as ignorantly as you have concerning Pervo's work, and also the origin of monotheism. It's like you have no idea of the research that's been done in those fields, and the legion of legitimate historical questions raised.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Victor Reppert writes:

What is worrisome to us about this is partly the fact that, even if the Amalekites and Canaanites were immoral people, God orders children to be killed, who could not possibly be responsibe for the evils of the tribes.

Glenn Miller (from the Christian ThinkTank) argues that, at least in the case of the Amalekites, these were mercy killings:

Some of the points he argues for in the article (from his summary at the end):

-There were only a couple of options as to what should be the fate of the Amalekite dependents.

-There were no options to absorb the people into Israel, and there were no options for welfare, or relief programs in the ANE.

-The only two choices were leave them to die slowly/agonizingly or kill them quickly/violently.

-People themselves normally chose to die quickly (i.e., in cases of individual suicide or group suicide) rather than go into foreign slavery or lingering torturous death (at the hands of others or at the mercy of the harsh environment and times).

-God chose for them to die quickly, rather than the prolonged suffering scenarios of dehydration, starvation, exposure.

-The ancients considered suicide/euthanasia for anticipated (but only for certain-to-occur) extreme and terminal sufferings to be morally acceptable.

Gregory said...

At Matthew Shultz:

I made similar points on some of Victor's older threads on capital punishment. I, of course, am not a devotee of the "death penalty".

I argued that capital punishment within the community of Israel was the lesser of two evils. If perpetrators were allowed to retain their citizenry within that community, then Israel would continue to remain victimized. So, in that case the innocent are punished while the guilty are given carte blanche to continue in evil.

And since they are all nomadic and tribal, there would be no "jails" to remedy the situation. And even if they were to build a prison, however that would be done, it would mean certain death for inmates anyway. There's a reason why people populate near water sources. Let me go further: if you put a jail in the middle of the desert, then both the innocent and the guilty will perish. Resources are extremely scarce in any desert; but especially in Sinai. Therefore, building and maintaining a prison in that kind of environment is suicide. Desert conditions necessitate constant migration.

But if they force the "guilty" out of the camp, then they will simply return. What else could they do? Where else could they go? To perish alone in the desert? That, too, would be "capital punishment".

Therefore, I concluded that the only humane thing to do is to put to death, as quickly and fearfully as possible, those found violating the community standards of conduct. It's not ideal, but it's the best that their situation could afford.

But let's not forget a very important point: God's "default settings" are always on mercy. Both Old and New Testaments are very clear on that:

"But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live."

--Deut. 30:17-19

"The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty (i.e. the "unrepentant"), visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and fourth generation."

--Exodus 34:6,7

"For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."

--Exodus 20:5,6

"The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression....'Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.' Then the Lord said 'I have pardoned according to your word.'"

--Numbers 14:18-20

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how genocide is the 'lesser of two evils' between it and polytheism. Good to know.

Anonymous said...

There's a response to Dawkins up. Pretty much on the level I think.

Paul said...

I just found out that it is Craig who refuses to debate Dawkins