The Historical Writings

“It sets the standard for a new generation of introductions to the Bible.”

This endorsement comes from Mark Boda (McMaster Divinity College) about The Historical Writings: Introducing Israel’s Historical Literature, which has just been released by Fortress Press, co-written by Mark Leuchter and myself.

My fourth book, not as academic as my dissertation, but more academic than God Behaving Badly, or Prostitutes and Polygamists.

Here is how it begins,

“The historical books of the Bible contain some of the best known stories of Scripture. Rahab the prostitute from Jericho helped the Israelite spies, providing vital insider information on the state of the nation (Joshua 2, 6).  Gideon the judge from Manasseh defeated the massive army of Midian with only three hundred men armed with trumpets, jars, and torches (Judges 7).  David the shepherd from Bethlehem nailed the Philistine giant Goliath in the noggin with his slingshot and chopped off his head with the giant’s own sword (1 Samuel 16).  Elijah the prophet from Gilead talked trash with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel before his drenched altar was scorched by a flame sent by YHWH (1 Kings 18).  Nehemiah the cupbearer from Susa was granted leave by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). Manasseh the king from Judah, whose idolatry was legendary, prayed and repented from his Babylonian prison and was restored to his throne in Jerusalem.”

Then we give an overview of the less familiar and more disturbing stories, the conquest/genocide of Canaan (Joshua 6-12), the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19), the cursing and hair-pulling of his country-men by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13).  How is one to understand these stories?  There there are many ways, but we’d recommend reading, The Historical Writings.

Mark and I wrote the introduction together.  I wrote the chapters on Joshua, Judges and 1, 2 Kings. Mark wrote the chapters on 1, 2 Samuel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1, 2 Chronicles.  It was a new experience to co-write a book, but Mark’s a good friend and we complement each other well.

Since it is a textbook, we were able to include a lot of extra stuff (which also makes it a bit more expensive that my last two books, $49 currently on Amazon).

There are 81 maps and images.   Art by Tissot, Poussin, Rembrandt, and many others. Images of the Merneptah stele, the Amarna letters, the Cyrus Cylinder, and many others.

There are 85 sidebars, including “The Sacrifice of Jephthah’s Daughter” and “‘Satan’ as a Cosmic Figure.”

There are 30 tables.  My two favorites are “External References to Rulers of Israel and Judah” (19 extra-biblical sources including the Kurkh Monolith, the Mesha Stele, the Black Obelisk–on the cover of Righteous Jehu) and “Seals Mentioning Names of Biblical Characters” (29 names including Jezebel, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Jehoahaz).

The cover image is of the Tel Dan Stele which contains what most scholars consider to be the oldest reference to King David.  The letters highlighted in white on the lower right (see image here for more details) read “house of David.”  Reading from the right of the white letters, the fourth and sixth characters look like the Greek delta (triangle-shaped), that’s how the Hebrew/Aramaic letter dalet–the first and last letters of David’s name–were written at that point in time.

So, technically, there are two Davids mentioned on the cover, an author, and a king.

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.

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.

Eight Things I’m Thankful for: Highlights of SBL

SBL 2013I just returned from the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Baltimore, where I saw old friends and made new ones.

Here are 8 things I’m thankful for about this SBL meeting.

1) Driving down and back in Pete Enns’ van (Pete gives his SBL report here) with a few other friends: Ray Van Leeuwen, Benj Giffone, and Peter Radford.  We talked about Tamar the pious prostitute (Gen. 38) and the lack of a good English equivalent for the Hebrew word hevel (often translated as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes) as well as a few non-biblical subjects which are probably better not mentioned here.  Thanks for driving, Pete.

2) Preaching at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church right in downtown Baltimore (home to Galen and Eboni Zook, IV friends), only a few block from the conference, on the topic of…wait for it…God Behaving Badly (not a shock there).  A small-ish, group, but they laughed at my jokes.  I’d definitely go back. I missed a few academic papers (which are usually extraordinarily boring), but it was good for my soul to worship with them.  Thanks!  (I was sorry, however, to miss the Zondervan authors lunch, next year.)

3) Chatting with contacts at various publishers to discuss projects: Andy Le Peau (IVP-, thanks also for the free Walton & Sandy book!), John Barry and Pete Heiniger (Logos, Lexham), Katya Covrett (Zondervan) and Neil Elliott (Fortress).  Thanks for your time, insight and the generous provision of a meal.  I kept making lame attempts to pay (“No, wait, let me contribute…”), but my half-hearted attempts were quickly swept aside. I’m such a free-loader.

4) Walking into Mark Leuchter’s session unfortunately late (due to a long breakfast with John and Pete from Logos) and being greeted by Mark in the middle of the reading of his academic paper with, “Oh, hi, Dave.”  I’ll never forget his unique greeting, nor his hilarious, pro-Toronto rambling, concluding rant (“No, we aren’t all crack-heads like our mayor…).  The session was focused on his new book from Oxford University Press on Samuel (click here), so we cut Mark a little slack.  Thanks for the refreshing entertainment.

5) Rooming with Paul Joyce (who will deliver his inaugural lecture at Kings College London on Dec. 3, 2013).  We’ve roomed together for 7-8 SBL’s now.  Paul, as my college adviser at St. Peter College, Oxford, helped me through the darkest times of my stay there.  I don’t sleep as much, due to our late night chats, but it’s always worth it.  A delight.

6) Crashing a private, intimate dinner between John Goldingay and his wife Kathleen at the posh Royal Sonesta.  John wanted me to leave, but I insisted on joining them.  We ended up sharing moments when we got emotional while speaking.  For me, it was just that morning while speaking at Wilkens Ave Church.  I eventually left, overhearing them say, “Finally.”

7) Meeting my “competition”, Paul Copan (see also, #8), author of Is God a Moral Monster? (see my review here).  I sent Paul a Facebook friend request about a month ago.  We shared how we recommend each others book to people.  We finally met at IBR and I look forward to further collaboration with Paul.  What a great guy.

8) Disagreeing about the Canaanites in Baker Books with Eric Seibert, author of Disturbing Divine Behavior (see my review here) and The Violence of Scripture.  Eric and I are friends, but we have different approaches to the text of the Old Testament.  I bumped into him in the Baker Book section of the Exhibition Hall.  He told me about his paper he’d just presented.  I made a counter point.  I think he doesn’t take the OT seriously (Marcionite?).  He made a counter point. He thinks that my  views could lead to more Crusades (justifying genocide?).

We went back and forth a few times, a crowd gathered (“Lamb and Seibert are going at it in Baker Books.  Fight!  Fight!  Fight!”).  OK, it wasn’t a big crowd, 2 guys, and there was no chanting, and we were speaking rather graciously.  I blame him for the subdued nature of our interaction, he’s a pacifist.  But it would have been beyond ironic to see two scholars fighting over the topic of genocide.

We both agreed that Copan, Seibert and Lamb (and perhaps others) should get together some time to discuss the Canaanite Genocide sometime.

Perhaps next year in San Diego?