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.

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2 comments

  1. I thought of you today, Dave. I was meeting with a member of my congregation who is aged and living in a nursing home. He asked what was new in the church. Among other things I mentioned that you were coming to talk about the OT stories and how we deal with the picture of God they give us. His response was one I’ve never heard before, though you probably have. He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll tell you what. Having a kid sure mellowed God out!’

    I laughed.

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