Friday, June 29, 2012

"Are Women Human?" excerpt from Dorothy L. Sayers

I have been a great admirer of C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolken for a very long time.  I relish reading and hearing the reminiscences of the small club known as “The Inklings”.  But how many know that there was a remarkable woman who was also a member of this elite club (if they would thought of themselves as elite…perhaps unique would have been better word).

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, was also a writer of detective fiction, a scholar of the Middle Ages, translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a lay theologian and Christian apologist.

I am still of the age that remembers the limited numbers of women who attended college (ladies, you take it for granted now!) and for a woman to be a trail-blazer was a difficult, daunting path in life.

The following is an excerpt from her essay “Are Women Human?” originally published in 1947.

Dorthy Sayers writes:

There has never been any question by that the women of the poor should toil alongside their men.  No angry, and no compassionate, voice has been raised to say that women should not break their backs with harvest work, or soil their hands with blacking grates and peeling potatoes.  The objection is only to work that is pleasant, exciting or profitable—the work that any human being might think it worth while to do. The boast, “My wife doesn’t need to soil her hands with work,” first became general when the commercial middle classes acquired the plutocratic and aristocratic notion that the keeping of an idle woman was a badge of superior social status.  Man must work, and woman must exploit his labour.  What else are they there for? And if the woman submits, she can be cursed for her exploitation; and if she rebels, she can be cursed for completing with the male; whatever she does will be wrong, and that is a great satisfaction.

The man who attribute all the ills of Homo to the industrial age, yet accept it as the norm of the relations of the exes,.  But the brain, that great and sole true Androgyne, that can mate indifferently with male or female and beget offspring upon itself, the cold brain laughs at their perversions of history.  The period from which we are emerging was like no other: a period when empty head and idle hands were qualities for which a man prized his woman and despised her. When, by an odd, sadistic twist of morality, sexual intercourse was deemed to be a marital right to be religiously enforce upon a meek reluctance—as though the instable appetite of wives were not one of the oldest jokes in the world, older that mothers-in law, and far more venerable than kippers.  When to think about sex as considered indelicate in a woman, and to think about anything else unfeminine.  When to “manage” a husband by lying and the exploitation of sex was held to be honesty and virtue.  When the education that Thomas More gave his daughters was denounce as a devilish indulgence, and could only be wrong from the outraged holder of the purse-strings by tears and martyrdom and desperate revolt, in the teeth of the worlds’ mockery and the reprobation of a scandalized Church.

What is all this tenderness about women herded into factories?  Is it much more than an excuse for acquiesicing in the profitable herding of men? The wrong is inflicted upon Homo. There are temperaments suited to herding and temperaments that are not: but the dividing lines do not lie exactly along the sexual boundary.  The Russians, it seems, have begun to realize this; but are revolution and blood the sole educational means for getting this plain fact into our heads?  Is it only under stress of war that we are ready to admit that the person who does the job best is the person best fittest to it? Must we always treat women like Kipling’s common soldier?

It’s vamp and slut and gold-digger,
and “Polly you’re a liar!”
But it’s “Thank-you Mary Atkins”
When the guns begin to fire.

We will use women’s work in wartime (though we will pay less for it, and take it away from them when the war is over). But it is an unnatural business, undertaken for no admissible feminine reason –such as to ape the men, to sublimate a sexual repression, to provide a hobby for leisure, or to make the worker more bedworthy—but simply because, without it all Homo… will be in the soup.  But to find satisfaction in doing good work and knowing that it is wanted is human nature; therefore it cannot be feminine nature, for women are not human.  It is true that they die in bombardments, much like real human beings: but that we will forgive, since they clearly cannot enjoy it: and we can salve our consciences by rating their battered carcasses at less than a man’s compensation.[1]

Women are not human.  They lie when they say they have human needs; warm and decent clothing; comfort in the bus; interests directed immediately to God and His universe, not intermediately through any child of man. They are far above man to inspire him, far beneath him to corrupt him; they have feminine minds and feminine natures, but their mind is not one with their nature like the minds of men; they have no human mind and no human nature. “Blesses be God,” says the Jew, “that hath not made me a woman.”

God, of course, may have His own opinion, but the Church is reluctant to endorse it.  I think I have never heard a sermon preached on the story of Martha an Mary that did not attempt, somehow , somewhere, to explain away its text.  Mary’s of course, was the better part—the Lord said so, and we must not precisely contradict Him.  But we will be careful not to despise Martha. No doubt, He approved of her too. We could not get on without her, and indeed (having paid lip-service to God’s opinion) we must admit that we greatly prefer her.  For Martha was doing a really feminine job, whereas Mary was just behaving like any other disciple, male or female; and that is a hard pill to swallow.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.  They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another.  A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about hem, never retreated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious.  There is not act, no sermon, no parable in that whole Gospel that borrows it pungency from female perversity; nobody could possible guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.

But we might easily deduce it from His contemporaries, and from His prophets before Him, and from His Church to this day. Woman are not human; nobody shall persuade that they are human; let them say what they like, we will not believe it, though One rose from the dead.

Dorothy L. Sayers Are Women Human? (1971, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans) pp 62-69

[1] This [during WW2] last scandal did in the end outrage public opinion and was abolished [that government compensation for the death of a woman was less than a man in Great Brittan].

Monday, June 25, 2012

Divine Command Morality, Old Testament Law, and Is God Really Good? Part 2

Divine Command Morality, Old Testament Law, and Is God Really Good?

Part 2

By Lisa Guinther.

Part III. Israel’s Laws compared to the surrounding societies.

When one reads through the various codes within the Law of Moses as given by God at Mt Sinai, without understanding the context of the history and surrounding societies, these rules sound barbaric and ignorant.  Many people point out the example of stoning to death a rebellious teenaged son who talks back to his parents as ignorant and cruel. (see Deut. 21:18-21)

Putting this example into proper historical context, this is an example, not of a rebellious teenager who won’t clean his room, but is an example of the eldest son who is grown, and is “a glutton and a drunkard,” the picture of total insubordination. This is a son who in the words of Copan, “…would inevitably squander his inheritance when his father died; he would likely bring ruin to his present and future family, He was like a compulsive gambler who bets away his home and life savings right out from under his family’s feet.”[1]

Notice that in this case, the parents do not take matters into their own hands, they get help from the civil authorities who deal with it. This is an example of the social responsibility of the entire community.

With that in mind, if we compare judicial punishments of the same type, for example in Deuteronomy is the punishment of being beaten with a rod. (Deut. 25:1-3) In this example a legal matter was taken to court and adjudicated.  The judge watches over the punishment of the guilty party, and the punishment is limited.  When you compare a similar court case in Egyptian law, the guilty party would have received a minimum of 100 “strokes”, and that law permitted up to 200 strokes. This was in many cases, a fatal beating, not merely a punishment.

Another example is the punishment for a thief. Israel’s law demanded compensation from the thief to his victims.  In comparison, the Code of Hammurabi insisted on death to the thief. There was no mercy, no compensation.  This was the case in the surrounding cultures as well.

When you look at the laws of Israel in light of the surrounding cultures, you see a difference; you see a move towards offering an increasing amount of  grace. These laws in Israel emphasized the important of people rather than property, which was a huge improvement over surrounding societies. In the Code of Hammurabi punishments for certain crimes “insisted that the tongue, breast, hand or ear be cut off.”[2] When you compare the laws of Israel to Hittite or Egyptian laws, the moral improvement is obvious. Copan writes,
[I]n Babylonian or Hittite law, for example, status or social rank determined the kind of sanctions for a particular crime.  By contrast, biblical law held kings and priests and those of social rank to the same standards as the common person.[3]

Although you read “an eye for an eye” in the Old Testament, was it really? On a surface reading of the rules of “lex talionis” or exacting punishments for damaging another person,  sound the same, yet when one reads more carefully this passage of the Bible, it actually shows a proportionality to the punishments.  Murder is clear, but the other crimes shown are allowing freedom to slaves who were injured, or monetary compensations from the guilty, rather than true “eye for eye” retribution. Copan writes,

The point of lex talionis is this: the punishment should fit the crime.  Furthermore, of the examples given, these were the maximum penalties. The punishments were to be proportional and couldn’t exceed that standard.  Punishment could be less severe if the judge deemed that the crime required a lesser penalty.[4]

I think you can see, what you are reading in the Torah, is case law: adjudicating the ‘worse-case-scenario’ for the judges to know how to mercifully judge cases.

      When you compare this measure of jurist prudence to the Code of Hammurabi you will see that the “Code” only applied to an aristocrat not to a commoner.  And rather than monetary compensations, actual hands, eyes, noses, breasts, and ears were cut off.  There was no mercy.

Part IV. Misogynistic? The Treatment of Women in the Old Testament.

The claim that the God of the Old Testament is restrictive and repressive of women is a charged levied by many people today.  In fact this was one of my own personal complaints that drew me away from the Christian faith years ago.  But in a careful reading to the context based on the movement towards an ideal; taking God’s grace, love and mercy into consideration, what is it that we see in the Bible?

The original ideal presented in Genesis 1-2 point us to God’s ideal view of women as created in the image and likeness of God (male and female). Eve is taken from Adam’s rib [side] (Gen 2:22) a picture of equality and partnership, not one of a superior to an inferior. Marriage is to be a partnership of equals. But as pointed out by Copan, because of the fall and the damage that caused; the laws of ancient Israel “…take a realistic approach to fallen human structures in the ancient Near East.”[5] Copan writes,
God does two things (1) he works within a patriarchal society to point Israel to a better path; and (2) he provides many protections and controls against abuses directed at females in admittedly substandard conditions.  Do we see examples of oppressed women in the Old Testament? Yes, and we see lots of oppressed men as well!  In other words, we shouldn’t consider these negative examples endorsements of oppressions and abuse.[6]

It is also important to remember how many scripture verses warn not to mistreat the widow, orphans, divorced women and the non-Israelite strangers or aliens.  It is important to remember that legally the man and woman both could be considered culpable in adultery cases, which would deny the treatment of women as mere property in a marriage.  The Old Testament law did not require the death penalty for property offences, unlike the Code of Hammurabi, which did.

Historically, within the text of the Old Testament are the examples of powerful women leaders and women shown as examples for men and women to follow:  Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Tamar, Shiphrah and Puah (the Egyptian midwives) Miriam, Debora, Ruth, Naomi, Abigail, Hulda (prophetess to king Josiah) and Rahab!
Copan writes:
When humans sought to change social structures in light of a deeper moral insight and a determination to move toward the ideal, we witness an adaptation of ancient Near Eastern structures.  Even earlier in the Old Testament, various narratives subtly attack the primogeniture arrangement; the younger regularly supersedes the elder: Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph/Judah over Reuben.  This biblical sampling reveals a subversive and more democratic ethic; though not ideal, it’s a drastic improvement over other ancient Near Eastern laws.[7]

The next question could be asked, why no female priests?

Before the fall, there is an assumption of male and female priestly duties; which is seen as a foreshadowing of the tabernacle to God. In Exodus all Israel is called to be a “kingdom of priests” however, they refused to go up the mountain. That is where the beginning of a line of male only priests starting with Moses.
But take this one step further:  separation from the other cults surrounding them.

The main reason for no females in the tabernacle/temple is to prevent contamination from the cultic activities of the surrounding religions. (Remember what happened with the “first church of the Golden Calf.) Copan writes,
The religions of the ancient Near East commonly included fertility cult rituals, goddess worship, and priestesses (who served as the wife of the god).  Temple prostitutes abounded, and sexual immorality was carried out in the name of religion.  To have sex with priestesses meant union with the goddess you worshiped.  In fact, sex with a temple prostitute would prompt Baal and his consort Asherah to have sex in heaven, which in turn would result in fertility all the way around—more kids, more cattle, more crops.  Sex was deified in Canaan and other ancient Near Eastern cultures…If we become what we worship, then it’s not surprising that Canaanite religion and society became corrupted by “sacred sex.” Therefore, Canaanite female and male cult prostitutes were forbidden…Israel wasn’t to imitate the nations whose deities engaged in sexual immorality.[8]

In examining the priestly roles, you can break down the divisions this way, 1. Teaching, judicial, administrative, 2. Prophetic and, 3. Cultic (religious ceremonies/rituals) and of these three roles women were only barred from the 3rd as were most men!

      It is important to see that only the Levites were allowed in the cultic role, and then only a few of the Levites were a part of the role of standing between God and the people.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus, we now, as Christians are to fulfill the original plan for all believers to be a kingdom of priests.

Part V The Language of Conquest: the Massacre of the Canaanites

We have been taught over the years of the conquest of the land of Canaan by Joshua; and we know the story of the “battle of Jericho” and the “walls came tumbling down.” But what actually is being described here?

First let’s look at the language of conquest familiar to the ancient Near East.

Warfare rhetoric was common in all the cultures, some examples are from carved walls and memorial stele, like these examples,
·         Tuthmosis “the numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally…”
·         Hittite king recorded “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)
·         Ramses II that he “slew the entire force” of the Hittites.
·         Moab’s king Mesha bragged of the Northern Kingdom, “Israel has utterly perished for always” a century before the actual devastation.
·         Sennacherib; “…I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.” Of course the Israelites were still there.

Now, with that in mind, when you read in Deuteronomy God’s direction through Moses to “utterly destroy” [haram] the Canaanites (7:2), and then Moses goes on to warn then “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them…” (See 7:3-5) So if they are totally obliterated and wiped out, why would God warn not to intermarry with them?

So in the language of utter destruction of the Canaanites, what the emphasis is not so much on people, but of places of religious worship.  The point here is the Israelites were to destroy the Canaanite religion. Ancient Near East war language contained hyperbole as warning to the people to not take on the faults of the people living in the land.

What of the destruction of Jericho?  Was Jericho a large city full of civilians? Was the army of Israel really killing innocent men, women and children?

Jericho and Ai were fortified military citadels not cities. There is no archeological evidence of civilian populations at either site. Jericho was a small settlement of probably one hundred or fewer soldiers. So in the language of destruction, the biblical record is not talking about wiping out of a “city” in our 21st century mind’s eye. Finally, with each circle of the city, the Israelites were giving the solders in Jericho an opportunity to evade the ban.  They could have opened the gates and been saved for possible exile. It would seem that as supported by archaeological finds, that there was not wide spread destruction of the Canaanites. Only three “cities” (meaning citadels/fortress) were actually destroyed: Jericho, Ai, and Hazor.

 But what Copan writes of what seems to have happened is this,
[B]y 1000 BC (during the Iron Age), Canaanites were no longer an identifiable entity in Israel….around this time also, Israelites were worshiping a national God, whose dominant personal name was Yahweh (“the Lord”). An additional significant change from the Late Bronze to Iron Age was the town shrines in Canaan had been abandoned by not relocated elsewhere—say, to the hill villages.  This suggests that a new people with a distinct theological bent had migrated here, had gradually occupied the territory, and had eventually become dominant.[9]

But to return to the Yahweh “war text” and the troubling nature of what is being asked.  What if women and children were killed? As Copan writes, “If our scenario doesn’t cover all the bases, it still goes a long way in providing perspective on what happened and didn’t happen in Canaan.”[10]

Are there texts that trouble us in the Bible? Of course, but if one is troubled by them, do the research to find answers that may not comfort, but at least explain.  Do not ignore them, but face them squarely.  This is true knowledge of God, not a tame spirituality that makes no demands of us or our time.  Copan writes,
If we take God seriously, he will most certainly mess up our lives, make us uncomfortable, and even disorient us.  After all, we can easily get accustomed to our own self-serving agendas and idols.  The atheist has it almost right: humans regularly do make gods in their image.  Yet the biblical God isn’t the kind we make up.  He refuses to be manipulated by human schemes.  He makes us all—including his true devotees—uncomfortable, which in the end is what we truly need to overcome our self-centeredness.  “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25) Even so, this God also shows himself to be a promise-making God who is worthy of our tenacious trust, despite the puzzles, discomforts, storms, and even horrors we may endure.[11]

So perhaps we should remember that God extended His grace (unmerited favor) to us by allowing his own Son to die to save us.  Jesus rose from the dead, was seen alive, and we have his words preserved in the Gospels by eyewitnesses to this fact. By holding to the truth of Jesus’ words we can then look back through the Old Testament and see the out-working of God’s grace over time.

 With Jesus as the starting point, we can read the balance of the ancient Scripture referred to as the Holy Bible in a different light.   If we take the time and study through these questions, we will find possible answers to the puzzles that seem to exist within God’s written revelation to us.

My advice to anyone reading the Bible is when you run into a puzzle, an inconsistency, even a horrible command; why not remember that God is love first, then dig in and study and “[b]e diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman...accurately handling the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15) In the end you will find the answers you are looking for.[12]

[1] Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster. (2011) Grand Rapids, Baker. P 91
[2] Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster? (2011) Grand Rapids, Baker. P 93
[3] Ibid p 93
[4] Ibid p 94
[5] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?  (2011) Grand Rapids, Baker. p 102
[6] Ibid p 102
[7] Paul Copan . Is God a Moral Monster (2011) Grand Rapids, Baker. P107 Here Paul is quoting research done by Robin Parry’s Old testament Story and Christian Ethics: The Rape of Dinah as a case Study p 68 and also Gordon McConville’s “Old Testament Laws and Canonical Intentionality,” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig Bartholomew et al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) p 263
[8] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (2011) Grand Rapids, Baker. P 108
[9] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (2011) Grand Rapids, Baker. p 183
[10] Ibid p 188
[11] Ibid p 193
[12]  This is a combination of a talk I presented at First Presbyterian Boulder in 2010, and new material I researched for my philosophy class at CU Boulder spring 2012.  But as always Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Divine Command Morality, Old Testament Law, and Is God Really Good? Part 1

This is a two part post because this paper runs a little long.  This is not the paper I wrote for my class at CU Boulder, but it does incorporate some of that paper in the start.

This is posted as a reference for those who may have questions about complaints against Christianity, or are looking for some explanations for some issues with the Old Testament.

From the start, I want to thank Paul Copan for his encouragement...he gave me tips on articles to read and other books to use as resources.  His help over the last three years has been invaluable to me.

This is a combination of a talk given at First Presbyterian Boulder, in 2011on Paul Copan's book "Is God a Moral Monster" and added material from my Philosophy 3000 Ancient from CU Boulder.  I hope you enjoy it.

Divine Command Morality, Old Testament Law, and Is God Really Good? 
(Part 1)

 By Lisa Guinther.

Many people reading the Bible for the first time are confronted with odd traditions from a culture alien to ours, thousands of years old, and baulk at the stories.  In considering Christianity, we are told of the love of Christ, and that “God is love,” which sounds wonderful and comforting, especially for someone coming from a broken family, or abusive background.

But when someone encounters the Old Testament for the first time, what is read can sound shocking.  Is the God of the Old Testament really the same as Jesus? If the Ten Commandments tell us, “Thou shall not kill,” and God is love, why would He ask Abraham to kill his own son!  Did the “Children of Israel” wipe out the Canaanites? Is it true that God has something against women and what’s with all these kooky food laws?

In this paper I will attempt to address some of the common misconceptions in reading ancient Near East laws and language, and how we can make some sense of this in our 21st century world.
Part I: Divine Command Morality: the Euthyphro Dilemma VS. Abraham and the binding of Isaac.

      A perennial problem that stumps most Christians is understanding Divine Command Morality, or how do we know God’s commands are good? In the Socratic dialogs is the discussion recorded by Plato of Socrates asking Euthyphro the definition of piety, or what is loved by the gods.  The Euthyphro dialog is the crux of the dilemma to understand Divine Command Morality today.  This dialog was originally constructed by Plato to show the arbitrary and contradictory nature of the Greek pantheon.  The point of this exercise, as far as Plato was concerned, was to point out the need for morality to be grounded in a higher, perfect universal, which was theorized by him to be the “Form of the Good.”

But what has happened in Atheist philosophic circles is the condemnation of the Judeo/Christian God by applying the “Euthyphro Dilemma” as a defeater, showing God to be contradictory, and if the “Law of Non-Contradiction” is correct, this is one way to point out how God can’t possibly exist. A simplified version of the Euthyphro Dilemma runs this way:  A. Good is good because God wills it? Or B. God wills something because it is good? Ronald Nash writes,
  If morality is grounded on nothing more than an arbitrary command of God, it is possible that God would have commanded us to perform actions that we recognize as immoral.  Option (A) makes ethics capricious and arbitrary.  But the other option (B) is equally unsatisfactory.  If the only alternative to viewing ethics as capricious and arbitrary is believing that what God wills must be subordinate to a standard of goodness that is above or superior to God, then an important feature of Jewish and Christian belief must be abandoned…that God is supreme and sovereign and that nothing is higher than God.[1]

So under these questions, we can see the problem.  How can we say we serve a good God? And when we are questioned about God’s goodness, how can we defend his nature as good, or do we even need to?

Throughout the history of Judeo/Christian belief the Ten Commandments have been the starting place for right treatment of humanity around us.  God said what we should, and should-not do, so we obey. If God is the exemplar, how then do we understand this concept of Divine Commands? With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Bible.

If a book is to be taken as reliable, you would think that the examples within the text would cohere.  If the God of the Bible commands in Exodus 20: 13 “You shall not murder,” any other commands God makes would be consistent with the Ten Commandments.  Yet within the Bible are troubling passages; and what many philosophers use as an example that stretches the idea of God’s will and His commands being good is the passages concerning Abraham and his son, Isaac. 

Philosopher Wes Morriston in a recent paper writes, “In Genesis 22, God doesn’t really want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  He just wants to ‘test’ him… and Abraham passes God’s test by showing that he is willing to obey and by showing how much he is willing to give up for the sake of his relationship to God…”[2] Yet earlier in this paper, Morriston still wishes to universalize a unique command in the early relationship of God building his chosen people, as many other philosophers have done.  Morriston writes, “That God is His nature is of course one of the implications of the classical doctrine of divine simplicity…I do not myself think it makes much sense to identify God with His essential properties…”[3] Yet in order to make a case for Divine Command Morality, it is of utmost important to do just that.

 If for a moment, we say goodness is a quality that can be contained in the word “righteousness” and if we can agree with Hanink and Mar when they write that God “personifies Perfect Righteousness” or as they explain, “…it is God’s nature to act according to what is right…To say that God personifies righteousness is to say that He is Righteousness. Hence, His acts are righteous simply by being in accord with His will.”[4]

Now if we can at least try to see how God can be the personification of goodness, and there is no contradiction for God to command in Exodus “you will not murder;” why would that same God over 400 years prior to that command, test Abraham by “commanding” him to murder his son. Is this a case of a contradiction, and why would Abraham do what God commanded him to do?

In the long relationship Abraham had with God, God himself made a promise to Abraham that he would have more descendants than the stars in the sky (see Genesis 15:5).  And in order to prove to Abraham that He (God) was telling the truth, God Himself, “cut a covenant” with Abraham.  Although Abram (Abraham) carried out the action of the animal sacrifice (kill the animal and cut it in half) which in the Ancient Near East meant in so many words, “May I be like this cut-up animal if I don’t fulfill my promise…”[5]God was writing in blood the promise He made to provide Abraham with an heir and an un-countable number of descendants.

So in this context, when God asked Abraham, “Please take your son”[6] or as the NASB translates “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” (Gen. 22:2) Abraham so believed the covenant made with God for his heir and descendants that he fully expected God to raise Isaac from the dead. Copan writes,
So what if the facts about the world included a good God who specifically reveals himself and may issue extraordinary commands in a specific, unique contexts and with morally sufficient reasons…The critic’s task, then, is to show why Abraham, given what he knew, shouldn’t obey God’s command. After all, Abraham knew the outcome: taking Isaac’s life would only mean that God would resuscitate him so that God’s covenant promise would be fulfilled. Yes, without God’s command, which assumes covenant promises, Abraham would have been murdering his son, but that’s not what we have here. [7]

So in this test by God to Abraham, is a unique, one time only command by Abraham to not only follow God’s plan to leave his past behind, but totally trust God for even his future.

I admit that if we take the passage in Genesis 22 out of its entire setting, which many do, and without grounding in the historical context of the scripture, these nuances are lost and all that is left is an un-examined, “God says so” version of Divine Command Morality.  Hanink and Mar acknowledge that “…some versions of DCM, lacking adequate articulation of either God’s nature or man’s created nature, are unsatisfactory in their own right.”[8] Likewise, many persons with “challenges” to their mental states have committed heinous crimes stating they had been “commanded by God” to do what they did. But without proper examination, Divine Command Morality seems to present many possible problems for the Christian Theists.

In the end, however, you can see that God is good, goodness is a part of his very nature, and as the exemplar of goodness, holiness, and righteousness; His commands are good, and God’s will is never arbitrary.  This is a Being worthy of our worship.

Part II. The Ancient Near East and the Torah laws.

As we begin a study of the Old Testament it is important to get a feel for the difference between the nation of Israel and the cultures around them. The laws put into place for Israel by God were a radical departure for this people delivered from the cultic practices of Egypt.

As we read the Law (Torah) in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the many laws regarding relationships, clothing, offerings, and what to eat or not to eat; we see a movement towards God’s ideal, albeit with a long way to go. We need to remember that the times of Moses were indeed crude and uncultured, yet these laws were a guide along the way to something better. Copan writes “Given certain fixed assumptions in the ancient Near East, God didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for.  He moved incrementally.[9]

Paul Copan writes,
When we journey back over the millennia into the ancient Near East, we enter a world that is foreign to us in many ways.  Life in the ancient Near East wouldn’t just be alien to us—with all of its strange ways and assumptions.  We would also see a culture whose social structures were badly damaged by the fall.  Within this context, God raised up a covenant nation and gave the people laws to live by; he helped to create a culture for them.  In doing so, he adapted his ideals to a people whose attitudes and actions were influenced by deeply flawed structures.[10]

 It is interesting to note the social structure of the Israelite’s at the time of the Sinai covenant.  Israel was held together by kinship bonds or large extended families.  But by contrast, the Canaanites had a feudal system “…with a powerful elite at the top and peasants at the bottom.”[11] So up until the time of Solomon, the society of Israel was mainly decentralized and non-hierarchical. To compare, the Canaanite land was possessed by the ruler and farmed by peasants, so the Israelite system was a dramatic improvement over the prevailing societal systems.[12]

Additionally, when trying to understand the Torah Law, is comparing the archeological data from Egyptian, Mesopotamia, and Canaan ritual worship; only Yahweh (God) did not require sacred sex. Richard Davidson writes “The OT unambiguously, vehemently, and uncompromisingly opposes the sacralization and divinization of sex that appear in fertility cult theology and practice.[13] All other groups surrounding Israel required ritual sex to worship their gods.  So this makes the idol worship not just simply bowing and burning a little incense.

Further, to help explain the strange law in Torah regarding not mixing seeds, and types of cloth in one garment, and cross-breeding cattle, all these laws are a reaction to Canaanite magical practices to promote fertility and increase harvests.

Finally, here is a brief look at kosher laws in the Old Testament with a possible explanation as to the why’s behind the laws. People have theorized over the years that the kosher laws were created because of health or hygiene issues. If that were true then why aren’t poisonous plants unclean? And then why did Jesus declare all these foods clean in the New Testament if health was really the issue?

Others have theorized that the restricted animals had to do with other religious practices, or this is a case of guilt by association.  But if the restricted animals were associated with other religions, then why wasn’t a bull unclean? Most all the surrounding cultures thought pigs were “detestable” and avoided eating them or sacrificing them in their religious rites.

But a better possible explanation is to look at the created order and the “spheres” each animal was created into.  For example,

·         Water: to be clean must have scales and fins
·         Land: to be clean must have four footed that hop, walk or jump; an animal operating according to its sphere where borderline cases like camels, and rabbits, and pigs are excluded.
·         Air: birds have two wings for flying.  Birds that inhabit two spheres (pelicans and gulls) insects that have too many legs (land and air) are excluded.

There seems to be a relation to distinctness in relation to the separateness of the Israelites themselves. As Copan writes, “Every meal was to remind them of their redemption.  Their diet, which was limited to certain meats, imitated the action of God, who limited himself to Israel from among the nations…[14]

Mary Douglas brings out another possible representation of animals as symbolic of victimization and vulnerability.  What are some animals lacking? Could this be a symbolic picture of victims of injustice?  Douglas writes:
The forbidden animal species exemplify the predators, on the one hand, that is those who eat blood, and on the other, the sufferers from injustice.  Consider the list, especially the swarming insects, the chameleon with its lumpy face, the high humped tortoise and beetle, and the ants laboring under their huge loads.  Think of the blindness of worms and bats, the vulnerability of fish without scales.  Think of their human parallels, the laborers, the beggars, the orphans, and the defenseless widows. Not themselves but the behavior that reduces them to this state is an abomination.  No wonder the Lord made the crawling things and found them good (Gen. 1:31) It is not in the grand style of Leviticus to take time off from cosmic themes to teach that these pathetic creature are to be shunned because their bodies are disgusting, vile, bad, any more than it is consistent with its theme of justice to teach that the poor are to be shunned.  Shunning is not the issue. Predation is wrong, eating is a form of predation, and the poor are not to be a prey.[15]

This seems to be a reasonable understanding of the grand teaching God is imparting to his people.  The grace he gives to his people is to be in return, given to others around them.  To have enough trust in the one true Living God’s care for you, to be able to care for those around you, is I believe, closer to the mark regarding the food laws and is consistent with Jesus’ declaration of all foods clean  (Mark 7:19)

Part 2 next time:

Part III. Israel’s Laws compared to the surrounding societies.
Part IV. Misogynistic? The Treatment of Women in the Old Testament.
Part V The Language of Conquest: the Massacre of the Canaanites

[1] R. Nash. Life’s Ultimate Questions. (1999, Grand Rapids, Zondervan) 86-87.
[2] W. Morriston. “What if God commanded something terrible?” Religious Studies, Vol. 45 (2009) 264.
[3] W. Morriston. “What if God commanded something terrible?” Religious Studies, Vol. 45 (2009) 253
[4] Hanink & Mar “What Euthyphro couldn’t have said” Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 4, No 3 (1987) 245.
[5] P. Copan Is God a Moral Monster? (2011, Grand Rapids, Baker) 49.
[6] P. Copan. Is God a Moral Monster? (2011, Grand Rapids, Baker) 47
[7] Ibid. 50
[8] Hanink & Mar “What Euthyphro Couldn’t Have Said” Faith and Philosophy Vol. 4, No. 3 (1987) 254
[9] Ibid. p 61
[10] Paul Copan Is God a Moral Monster? (2011) Grand Rapids, Baker Books. p 59
[11] Ibid p70
[12] For more information see Daniel Block’s Israel: Ancient Kingdom or late Invention? (2008) Nashville, B & H Publishing. There is an extended examination of other ancient Near East laws in comparison to Israel.
[13] R. Davidson Flame of Yahweh 130
[14] Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster. (2011) Grand Raids, Baker Books. p 81
[15]Mary Douglas, “The Forbidden Animals in Leviticus,” Journal for the study of the Old Testament 59 (1993) 3-23 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012



When I was growing up, I was a horse nut.  I was one of those little girls who ate, slept, and breathed horses.  But I was a voracious reader as well.  I noticed that many of the books that I picked up to read, both hard bound and paper back ( and with a horse on the cover), seemed to have a familiar theme of rescue.

The heroine or hero of the story (and very often it was a girl) would find a abandoned, mistreated or injured horse that she would lovingly nurse back to health and low-and-behold that horse would turn out to be some wonderful thoroughbred racehorse that would end up winning some great race: remember National Velvet or books illustrated and written by C.W. Anderson?
But as I read these stories, I did not see myself as the rescuer, but the rescuee.

I always hoped that like that horse, I would be rescued…and those books gave me hope.

In the midst of the darkest days, somehow I never gave in to despair…I never quit, I always believed there was something better. I always looked ahead.  I never lost my hope.

Somehow God gave to me his grace and mercy which kept me from giving up.  Between my reading of the Bible and the comfort of the fictional stories, God’s love for me kept me going.

Jesus never left me. 

He was that gentle, loving and caring person who patiently brought this beat-down, badly used, broken human being back to life. He healed the wounds and erased the scars.  He knit together my broken soul and then added his color and life inside me.  I am not the person that I once was…I’m better: I am the person He always envisioned I would be.

It is such a revelation to be whole!
It is such a revelation to like the person I see in the mirror!
What an amazing restoration and gifting God has given to me.

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!
My God and Savior ransomed me…unending Love: Amazing Grace”

Such freedom,
Such grace.
Why don’t you join me?