Author: David Lamb

The Good Shepherd: An Endorsement

The 23rd Psalm must be the best-known, most-loved psalm, or perhaps even poem, in the world.

Kenneth E. Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, has written a book tracing how readers have read and interpreted the psalm: The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament (IVP). See top image.

Here is my endorsement, which appears on the back cover:

“Kenneth Bailey refreshes the souls of readers with deep textual insights and helpful contextual background to safely shepherd readers through the thousand year story of Psalm 23, making several stops along the way in the Prophets, before settling into the Gospels where he deftly introduces us to a fresh understanding of the Good Shepherd. Anyone who loves the 23rd Psalm will love this book.”

I felt honored that my endorsement appeared alongside those of Gary Burge, Tremper Longman III, and Christopher Wright (the latter two have gracious agreed to endorse my next book), but curiously, the British publisher for the book (SPCK) decided to omit one of the four IVP endorsements from their back cover (hint: the one dropped wasn’t from Longman, Burge or Wright). See bottom image.

IVP generously sent me two copies of this book (one as an IVP author, one as an endorser).

In addition to endorsing the book, The Good Shepherd, I always endorse the person known as the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11).

I hope this book restores your soul.

Book Review of Did God Really Command Genocide? Part 2

In recent years there has been a spate of books addressing the problem of the “Canaanite genocide” by Wright, Copan, and Seibert. Even Lamb entered the fray.  In 2013, a collection of essays edited by Thomas, Evans, and Copan addressed the issue of Holy War in the Bible.  In my contribution, I argue that biblical warfare shouldn’t be associated with holiness since, according to the text, divine anger and compassion are its primary motivations.

The most recent addition to the discussion of biblical warfare comes from Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan (C&F): Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.  In Part 1 of my review (click here) I examine the first section of the book, and Part 2, I will look at the next section of the book which begins to work through the relevant textual issues, which is the section of the book I’m personally most interested in.

Chapter 4 asks, “Does the Bible Command Us to Kill Innocent Human Beings?”  The answer to this question might seem to be an obvious “No.” But the argument is sometimes made that the Canaanite slaughter could be seen as establishing a biblical precedent for later slaughters (let’s mention the Crusades, since that’s the obvious one always referred to).  C&F argue persuasively that the command to “utterly destroy” was unusual and shouldn’t be understood as establishing a precedent.

Chapter 5 asks, “Does the Bible portray the Canaanites as innocent?”  The answer here again is “No” and C&F make three points. First, Israel owned the land because God gave it to them.  I generally agree with this point, but a skeptic or an atheist won’t be convinced by it, because the Canaanites were in possession of the land. Second, the crimes of the Canaanites, which included human sacrifice, were serious crimes, worthy of punishment. Third, the Israelites needed to remain free from the influence of the Canaanites.  They conclude the chapter with three examples of Canaanites who were spared: Caleb (not sure about this one), the Shechemites, and Rahab, who is the best example since she’s clearly Canaanite (not like Caleb), and yet she and her family are spared.

Chapter 6 makes the point that instead of annihilating the Canaanites the most common textual image for the conquest is that of “driving them out,” a point I also make in God Behaving Badly (p. 100).  This point is helpful for several reasons.  It takes the text seriously and it acknowledges that the process of removing the Canaanites from the land may have taken awhile and wasn’t exclusively done by extermination.

Chapter 7 argues that readers of the “utterly destroy” texts of Joshua should not read these texts literally, but as examples of hyperbole.  A hyperbolic interpretation makes a lot of sense, particularly as one compares these more problematic texts with other texts in Joshua and Judges.  I make this point in my Relevant article (“Reconciling the God of Love with the God of Genocide”), but C&F use Wolterstorff and Kitchen, which are probably a better choices.  For the most in-depth academic discussion of the topic of hyperbole in ancient conquest narratives, check out the monograph of Lawson Younger here.

If my review continued I’d get in trouble for too many spoilers.  So, for the motivated reader who’s interested in making sense of the problem of the so-called “Canaanite Genocide” I’d highly recommend this book.

The Gospel of Ruth Comes to BTS

Carolyn Custis James, author of The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules will be teaching a course based on her book at Biblical Theological Seminary from April 13-June 22, 2015.

The only time I’ve had the privilege to listen to Carolyn’s teaching it was fantastic.

Just to be clear, this isn’t just a course for women. It will be taught by a woman, focused on a book named after a woman, but God inspired all Scripture to bless both men and women. The book of Ruth isn’t just a book for women, which you will learn more about in the course. Tragically in the church men don’t have enough opportunities to learn from women, and when opportunities are available many men don’t take advantage of them. Scripture is full of examples of godly men learning from godly women. I like to say, “Wise men listen to wise women.”

If you’re a Biblical student, this course would be a great elective (we need more Bible electives!).

If you’re not a student this would be a great one to start with since there are no prerequisites.

If you don’t plan to get a degree, but love to discuss the Bible, I’m sure you’d love this course.

If you register by Feb. 20, you’ll get a free copy of the book.

Carolyn is the author of several other books, including:

Lost Women of the Bible
When Life and Beliefs Collide
Half the Church

Carolyn travels all over the world to speak. This spring she’ll be in Hatfield, PA.  I hope you can join her.

Review of Did God Really Command Genocide? Part 1

When I spoke to Paul Copan at a biblical studies conference in November 2013, he told me about a book he was co-writing on the Canaanite Genocide. I told him I’d look forward to reading it.  In November 2014, Did God Really Command Genocide: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God came out, authored by Copan and Matthew Flannagan (C&F). This new book is a much deeper discussion of a subject was addressed more briefly in Copan’s earlier work, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, a book I highly recommend (for more details, see my three blog posts on the topic here).

The overall tone is less casual, a bit more academic (about 100 pages longer), than Copan’s Moral Monster. While I really appreciated the readability of Moral Monster (I’ve been accused of being too informal, even snarky), I’m sure some academic types will prefer this book’s slightly more serious tone. I would have thought that for a more academic book, C&F would have gone with footnotes (which I prefer) over endnotes. A feature of the book that I really appreciated was the summaries included at the end of each chapter which, in a pithy format, reiterate the main points (particularly helpful for writing a book review blog).

While I should have been prepared for it if I had read the introductory chapter more carefully, I was somewhat disappointed that C&F didn’t begin by looking at the relevant biblical texts (a few in the Pentateuch, but mostly ones from Joshua). The first two chapters lay out their philosophical framework which sets up their discussion for the rest of the book, which probably makes sense since Copan teaches philosophy, but as a Bible guy, I just want to talk about the text. But I quickly got over my initial disappointment as I moved into the third chapter, a discussion of the relationship between the Old and New Testament. (As I like to say, “How does one reconcile the loving God of the Old Testament with the harsh God of the New Testament?”)

To examine the OT/NT relationship, C&F discuss two scholars who some think are pseudo-Marcionites, Peter Enns and Eric Seibert (it’s “e” before “i” even after “S”), both of whom are friends of mine, although on the issue of the Canaanite “genocide” my own views are much closer to C&F, than E&S (see my article in Relevant on the topic here).

Before offering a critique of them, Did God Really goes into depth discussing the perspective on violence of Enns and Seibert, fairly portraying their views, modeling gracious, irenic dialogue about a topic that often can become ironically hostile. C&F agree that it is good that scholars like E&S (they also list C. Wright, G. Wenham, D. Lamb, and J. Goldingay) are “thinking deeply” about the troubling portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible.  But they also argue that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament “don’t actually read the Old Testament the way Seibert and Enns think they should” (p. 47).  I agree.

My review will continue in Part 2, but at this point in time I can highly recommend C&F’s new book to anyone troubled by one of the most disturbing problems in Scripture.