Month: July 2011

Is God a Moral Monster? (Paul Copan) 1. Differences

When my book proposal for God Behaving Badly went to publishers (Sept 2009) word came back that Baker already had a book on a similar topic coming out which got my attention.  When I attended the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta (Nov 2010) I picked up a copy of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (from Baker).

It’s hard to describe how bad it feels to realize someone else may have written the book you wanted to write (and mine wasn’t going to come out for 6 months!).  (Apparently, Christopher Wright felt the same way: “This is the book I wish I had written myself” from the back cover.)

I soon realized that, while Copan’s book and mine address similar issues, we have different approaches and interests.  I will post three blogs on Copan’s book, this one on the differences between his and mine, the next one on things I appreciate about his book, and the final one on issues, concerns and questions I have about it.

The biggest difference between Copan’s book and mine is that his is more academic.  It’s written for a different audience.  The endorsements on his are all academics (an impressive group), half of mine are ministers and pastors (also an impressive group).  For an academic book, his writing is quite readable, but his book has more notes, more references to secondary literature and it is longer (even with a smaller font).  I have written my book for as broad as audience as possible, which may mean academic types will think it is superficial, but many people who aren’t biblical scholars have told me GBB was a delight to read.

One implication of his more academic approach is that his arguments don’t typically lead him to suggest practical applications, which would be out of place in that genre.  However, in each chapter, I speak about how I’ve been affected personally by the topic and then give a relevant spiritual exhortations, which fits my genre.

While I mention the New Atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, etc.) briefly, he discusses them in more depth and addresses more of their arguments.  His discussions are based on both Scripture and philosophical arguments, which is not surprising since he’s a philosopher.  I focus exclusively on biblical texts, which is not surprising since I’m a Bible guy, without typically engaging in broader ethical or philosophical discussions.  For readers looking for more engagement with the New Atheists, Copan will help you.

The other major difference is that he addresses only the most problematic ethical OT issues–Is God angry, sexist, racist and violent?–basically the ones from my subtitle, but my book addresses a few others–Is God legalistic, rigid and distant?  His focus on less topics allows him to go into greater depth on those issues.  The additional three questions I address are less problematic ethically, but still problematic spiritually.

For anyone who is interested in the problematic portrayal of the OT God, particularly for people who want more depth than GBB provides, Copan’s book would be a great resource.

Inside Job (film review)

Last night we watched the film Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson (co-produced by Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles), telling the story of how financial deregulation contributed to the global recession of the late 2000’s.  In 2010 it won the Oscar for best documentary.

Best line from the poster, “The film that cost over $20,000,000,000,000 to make.”  (That’s trillions, in case you don’t count zeroes.)

Even if you don’t have a degree in economics (full disclosure, I do), you should be fascinated by this film.

All film-makers have their biases, but Ferguson makes both Republicans and Democrats look bad.  Reagan, Clinton and Bush (W) encouraged or allowed the deregulation, and Obama re-appointed the guys who contributed signficantly to the meltdown (e.g., Bernanke, Summers).

A few of the interviewees stutter and embarrass themselves (in particular, Fed Board governor Frederic Mishkin, Columbia Business School’s R. Glenn Hubbard), which is sad to watch (and kind of fun, too, in a sadistic sort of way).

George Soros, philanthropist, provided an insightful analogy of an oil tanker.  As tankers got bigger, boat designers realized they needed multiple compartments to prevent the oil from sloshing around and making the tanker capsize.  In the same way, financial markets needs barriers to divide up the various realms of finance.  If these barriers were still in place it could have prevented corporations like AIG from becoming to big to collapse.  The Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980’s was caused by deregulation and resulted in tax-payer losses of $124 billion.

It’s naive to think that regulators are unnecessary in the realm of finance (all people, even financial wizards are after all, evil).  Just as we need police on our streets, guards on our borders and playground monitors at recess, the world of finance needs regulators to hold people accountable.

The people primarily responsible for the crisis came out like bandits, with 9-figure+ payouts and bonuses.  The people most affected by the crisis are, as is always the case, the poor.

If you or anyone you care about was negatively affected by the global financial meltdown (that’s pretty much everyone), you should see this film.

“Is it peace, Zimri?” When will the trash talking end?

After Elijah’s delivers his message of canine blood licking to Ahab and Jezebel, amazingly Ahab repents and puts on sackcloth (1 Kings 21:27).  YHWH is so impressed that he tells Elijah that he’s going to delay the judgment on Ahab’s house (1 Kings 21:28-29).  Ahab is still killed in battle after he ignores the negative prophecy of Micaiah, and the dogs do get to lick up his blood, just as was predicted in YHWH’s trash speech (1 Kings 22:37-38).

There’s an extended break in the trash talking action until Jezebel is confronted by the usurper, Jehu (see my monograph on his dynasty under “Other books”).  The connection between Jehu and Elijah goes back to when YHWH told Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor and to anoint Jehu as king over Israel (1 Kings 19:16).  Elijah didn’t do that, and neither did Elisha, but eventually Elisha delegated the task to his apprentice (2 Kings 9:1-9).  And when that young prophet anointed Jehu he also repeated the canine dog licking curse, probably because it was so much fun to say (2 Kings 9:10).

As he approaches Jezebel, Jehu is fresh from a slaughter.  He has been on a rampage, killing both the Israelite king, Joram and the Judean king, Ahaziah (grandson of Ahab and Jezebel because of the intermarriage between the royal houses of Judah and Israel–yes, it’s complicated).  So Jehu finally comes to Jezebel who’s up in her tower.  She puts on her make-up (who was she trying to impress?) and then asks Jehu, “Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?” (2 Kings 9:31)

I don’t really like Jezebel, but this is amazing trash-talk.

How is Jezebel talking trash here?  By calling Jehu, “Zimri.”  Zimri isn’t very well known, so don’t be embarassed if you don’t know who he is.  He only reigned for 7 days (1 Kings 16:15-20).  Zimri and Jehu had a lot in common: both were military leaders (1 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 9:5), and both took the throne by killing his predecessor.  Interestingly, Zimri was basically killed by Omri, father of Ahab, husband of Jezebel.  So, by calling Jehu, Zimri, she’s saying “You’ll only reign a week and you’ll be killed by one of my relatives.”

Impressive, although she was wrong; Jehu reigned 28 years, apparently died of old age and had the longest Israelite dynasty.  Jezebel died when she was throne from the tower by her eunuchs…and her blood spattered on the wall…and she was trampled by horses…and the dogs ate her corpse…and pooped it out onto the field (yes the Bible does say all that–2 Kings 9:33-37)

So, the OT trash talking blogs will probably end here, unless you have more requests…

Canine blood-lickers, avian flesh-pickers: the trash talking continues

Last time we saw Elijah trash talk Baal’s prophets, then slaughter them.  Jezebel then put out a hit on Elijah, who mysteriously flees and becomes suicidal (the other suicidal prophet is of course Jonah (4:3, 8)).  After YHWH told the depressed Elijah that he could replace him with Elisha (changing the plaque on the door would only involve a few letters), Elijah perks right up, finds Elisha and throws his mantle over him.

Some scholars think this mantle-toss counts as an anointing, but as anointings go, it seems pretty lame and Elijah’s words to his potential apprentice aren’t exactly encouraging–“Go back again; for what have I done for you?” (1 Kings 19:20).

Elijah disappears for a chapter (1 Kings 20), but after Jezebel orchestrates the death of their neighbor Naboth so her husband can take possession of his vineyard, he is called into action again by YHWH for some high quality trash talking (1 Kings 21:1-18).

YHWH tells Elijah to inform Ahab and Jezebel that dogs are going to lick up their blood (1 Kings 21:19-24).  During his interaction with Ahab, Elijah also tells him that if his family members die outside the city, the birds of the air will eat them.  That’s some nasty trash talking.  I’m still waiting for a good Christian book store to sell a poster of canine blood lickers and avian flesh pickers.

I’m sorry this is so graphic, but it is in the Bible and Paul tells us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim. 3:16).

So far, we’ve seen trash talking from David, Elijah and now YHWH.  So, why is trash talking in Scripture?  I’m still waiting for a good answer to this.  Maybe we don’t really think trash talking should be in there?  Or at least it’s not profitable for teaching?

We’ll have a few more installments from this OT trash talking series.