“people are just dying all over the place”—reading the Old Testament historical books

Posted by PeteEnns on January 6, 2016 in Old Testament violence of God 44 Comments

jael-sisera-1024x682This semester I’ll be teaching a course on the Old Testament “historical books”—Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. (I cover Chronicles as part of my Biblical Hermeneutics class under “midrash.”)

As I always do for my biblical canon courses, I read through that portion of the Bible during break. And as I’m revisiting these stories, I’ve found myself thinking, “Please, Lord, let these be greatly exaggerated if not largely manufactured stories.”

With hardly a break, I am struck (pun intended) by how casual and heartless the ancient Israelites were about violence and vengeance. The ancient Israelites, by and large, were plain old nasty, mean, and not the kind of people you’d want to cross—or even playfully tease.

. . . Or better: the Israelites we meet in the Old Testament were that way.

Frankly, I have no idea what “ancient Israelites” were actually like—those tending the sheep, growing their grain, telling stories to their children, hiding from invaders. We don’t really know anything about them. We just know of a precious few, and we only know them through what anonymous writers said about them probably many centuries later.

How fair were these writers? Were they even trying? What ax were they grinding? What was their deal?

At any rate, regardless of how they got there, the people we meet in these stories have issues, and you can’t help but wonder what the point of all this is in a holy book. If I were writing the Bible, I’d throw in some more positive stuff—like not glorying in impaling or beheading your enemies or people who want to take your stuff.

Or at least have God step in now and then and say, “Hey, will you people cut. it. out?! Enough of this already! If you only knew the shelf life these stories will get and how people are going to use them. . . . ”

But God seems OK with it. At least that’s what the writers have written.

Yes, reading the stories from conquest to exile can be an eye-opening experience, not for the faint of heart, and probably not without someone to talk it through with. Sometimes I wish the Bible came with a toll-free customer service number. (And no, that’s not what prayer is. Sheesh.)

Even leaving aside the whole conquest of Canaan (aka extermination of Canaanites and any other living thing), people are dropping like flies. It seems like major death is the end result of nearly every story you read. People are just gonna die. Brace yourself. And often those killings are portrayed as good, just, honorable, and normal—like, “What’s your problem? This is just what happens, you know?”

I started going through these books and listing the violence and general vindictive nastiness, but then stopped. I have a busyENNS_BibleTellsMe schedule. Plus it’s getting discouraging.

All of this reminds me of a couple of things I tend to harp on, and I think for good reason.

  1. Knowing something of when and why these stories were written might help us understand something of what the writers are trying to say. Discerning all this isn’t straightforward by any means, but I think it’s worth the effort.
  2. And after you’re done with all that, we readers of the Bible still have to decide what WE  are going to do with all of it, how we are going to process it for our life of faith here and now. And that’s not easy either.

In The Bible Tells Me So, I basically come down on these two things as follows:

  1. I think at that these stories were written in a tribalistic context, and thus reflect that context—this is how stories of gods and nations were told.  Further, the writers exaggerated and/or freely shaped the past for theological and/or propagandistic purposes.
  2. I do not think these stories should be read theologically uncritically, meaning simply accepted as prescribing what God is like. The Bible isn’t a rule book or owner’s manual, and we don’t get off the hook so easily. What God is like transcends the stories written about him.

I’ve said a mouthful here, I know. Agree or disagree, but my thinking comes from reading the Bible respectfully and carefully, not from an antagonistic or dismissive point of view.

The Bible—as it always has—raises plenty of questions on its own. And when we engage those questions, we are joining a long and honored conversation.

[The photo above depicts a scene in Judges 4, where Jael drives a tent peg through Sisera’s temple and out the other side into the ground while he was sleeping. The story concludes, as if the reader were puzzled at this point, “—and he died.” The following verses make it clear that this was God’s means of subduing the Canaanites.]

[Please be patient as your comment is in moderation. Comments are normally posted within 6 hours but may take as long as 24—longer if you’re annoying. If you’re a troll, I might just sneak up on you while you’re sleeping and drive a tent peg through your brain.]

  • Gary

    You mentioned a “dismissive point of view,” and that kinda caught me. I felt I identified with that.

    But then I thought a bit more.

    I felt, upon second reflection, that it is less the Bible I’m dismissive of and more how those around me relate to the Bible that I’m dismissive of. You know, the kind of thing that even makes this blog post here even necessary.

    Yes, the Bible “raises plenty of questions on its own.” But…

    When we “engage those questions,” I don’t think we’re joining any sort of “long and honored conversation.”

    I think we, more so, are joining a long and despised and sidelined conversation.

    Personally though, I’m beginning to think that’s where the better spiritualities can be found.

    Perhaps, in some way, these stories are shibboleth to finding the right people–the ones who are so extremely rare in the realms of religion.

    But then again, I stay away from study Bibles… 😉

  • Corey

    Reading the OT really makes you wonder if the way to knowing what God is “like” isn’t direct by any means.

    It’s quite fascinating to see how so many morally reprehensible actions of the OT tribes/writers were brought out as they tried to articulate their experience with God. This way of understanding is quite telling; it shows how the bad sides of us come out far too often, even when we encounter the Divine.

    Keep up the great stuff, Pete.

  • Matthew Zachary Gindin

    Hi Pete

    I love your work and respect your struggling with the text in an honest way. I wanted to throw in a few Jewish reflections.

    1) The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) assumes discernment and a certain moral sensibility inculcated by Torah and the culture it created (see Joshua Berman’s “Created Equal” or Yoram Hazony’s “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture” if you haven’t already- and if you haven’t by the way, shame on you).

    Many stories are told straightforwardly with the assumption that the audience will judge the behaviour negatively. The Tanakh is an incredibly critical document. Having said that, it is obvious that you are right about the differing sensibilities of Israel-they lived in a brutal hood and obviously some of the writers of the Tanakh accepted that status quo. I would argue that God worked within that context (didn’t you say the same thing- he worked incarnationally?) in order to lift Israel out of it. Taken as a whole (and I believe there is a very high degree of literary unity in the Tanakh- it is basically a commentary on itself- something more obvious in Hebrew and understood by the Rabbis) the Tanakh promotes a vision of peace and an ethic facing outward to the world, not inward to a merely tribal denouement.

    2) The books you spoke about mostly discuss the behaviour of royalty. The Israelites in the Bible are not depicted as nasty, mean, etc. except in two ways: 1) the rulers, who the Bible is very critical of, and probably rightly so; 2) in the words of the Prophets, who hold everyone in the community of Israel to a very high standard. Held by the same standard we North Americans would come off not only as badly as them but much worse- think species extinction, third world sweatshops, climate change, plastic oceans, weaponized drones, etc etc etc……..

    The whole point of Judges is to criticize Israel. Joshua is a disturbing book, and I think it reflects brutal propoganda on the part of the Deuteronomists, though maybe needed for hood cred at that time. The other books I think are quite critical of the monarchy (which Hashem was never really on board with). They do present God as killing large numbers of people in wrath- and I do think this is a function of projecting the behaviour of human Kings onto God- though again this narrative may have been effective for Israel’s level of understanding at the time.

    Coming to the end of this impulsive comment I just realized the original psychic urge to write was probably provoked by your calling Israel nasty and mean. I still jump when a Christian theologian does that, even when it’s justified by context!

    In any case, some thoughts. Keep up the good work

    • Pete E.

      Well, calling “Israel” nasty was a hook, that’s all. I qualify that (or at least thought I did). I see your point, esp. about the point of Judges, but the violence isn’t criticized, I think. But all in all, I think what you are saying, Matthew, overlaps a lot with my intention for writing the post, and thanks for your comment!

      And shame on me: I will get Berman and Hazony :-)

      • Matthew Zachary Gindin

        I think some of the violence is criticised (eg the courtesan, samson’s excesses) even if not explicitly- I think there are more examples, I’d have to look. In any case- yes, like I said, the words about nastiness were justified in context- like I said, I’m a little sensitive :) Please do read Berman and Hazony, especially Berman! All the best, Matthew

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Dr. Enns, I would also like to see your take on Berman and Hazony.

        • Pete E.

          Half way through the former. Like it very much, even if he may overstate here and there. All in all, extremely enlightening book. Both commonsensical and daring at the same time.

  • Charlieford

    Yeah, I had to preach out of II Samuel this summer, and … er … had to familiarize myself with all of David, so read I & II and Chronicles too and I was like “whoa … this is Tarantino territory!”

    Here’s how I put it:

    “Like the Psalms, II Samuel is focused on the central Biblical character of David, but the experience is anything but comforting. If the Psalms are a sunrise on a beautiful mountain, II Samuel is Tamar covered with dust, rending her garments and wailing in the street. If the Psalms are a lamb lying in green pastures by still waters, II Samuel is the head of the rebel Sheba sailing over a wall, bouncing down a dusty lane. If the Psalms are Bob Ross and his happy little trees, II Samuel is Picasso’s “Guernica.” If the Psalms are “Finding Nemo,” II Samuel is “Breaking Bad.””

    • Pete E.

      That’s a keeper :-)

  • ajl

    I see the book of Judges a lot like Quentin Tarantino black comedy. Over-the-top violence, and a poignant rebuke of the nation.

    The book starts with a girl riding in on a donkey with everything being hunky Dory in Israel. The book ends with a girl, cut into 12 pieces, writing out on a donkey, and Israel is a mess. That, my friends, is poetic license :-)

    Those two bookends tip me off that I need to read this book as a satirical rebuke of the nation.

    The violence is so over-the-top that it is almost funny. And in fact, it is filled with all kinds of potty jokes: The king being in the bathroom, the sword having to be wiped off of feces, etc.

    From a chiastic structure, asking the question “if God is for us why has all this happen to us” is pretty much the fulcrum point for the whole book.

    Finally, while I have to check on this, I think each of the stories focuses on one of the tribes, basically rebuking them and demonstrated why they are a mess.

    In hearing the stories, the unrefined will howl at laughter at the over-the-top violence, while the more educated would turn to their neighbor and say “I think this guy is talking about us”.

    So, I see it as satire, and the violence as a vehicle to hammer home the point – pun intended.

  • charlesburchfield


  • Scott K

    I just listened to a podcast interviewing Max Lucado on his book Glory Days. He uses the book of Joshua and the story of the Israelite’s coming into the promise land and out of slavery and wandering. The Israelite’s had to kill everyone in Jericho to start taking the promise land. He uses this as a picture of Christian’s over coming obstacles and entering into the “promise land” God has for our lives. He justifies the genocide by saying the Canaanites were the most wicked people at that time, and that they sacrificed children and virgins. I have such a hard time with Christian messages that use Old Testament stories like this to describe Christian truths. I don’t think God wants to kill women and children just because a society is generally corrupt. So, to me, the story falls short in being a picture of the Christian life because I can’t get past the God ordained genocide. I agree with what you wrote in your book, that God (most likely) did not actually call the Israelite’s to commit genocide, that it is a mythological story portraying aspects of Israel’s history. What am I supposed to do with messages like Max’s? Am I being too offended by the story in Joshua to miss the message God wants to speak to us? Or, am I correct in thinking that I can’t get application for my Christian life from this story? I think this is the part of the essence of what you are getting at for number 2 of things your like to “harp on”. Since reading your book the Bible Tells Me So, which I agree with, I am facing these kinds of issues constantly as I read my Bible and listen to sermons.

    • Pete E.

      I appreciate your comment, Scott. I hear you. I think that as you continue listening and reading things like what you describe here, you’ll figure out what to do. Not everyone handles these texts as Lucado does, and there are a ton of Christians in the world as exasperated as you are but have found peace either staying where they are or moving to other Christian communities.

      • Scott K

        That is good advice. I think patience in this process of deciding what I think about the Bible and how to apply it is essential. I spent over a decade studying hermeneutics from a conservative evangelical perspective. I’ve recently morphed to a progressive christian world view. I am thankful for all the time I spent studying the bible, but these 2 differing views of the Bible are constantly putting nagging questions in my head that I am very eager to “figure out”. My reading list is really big at this point. The Bible Tells Me So has been my biggest help, and I plan on diving into some more of your books.

  • http://witherdens.com/ Mike Witherden

    Hi Pete,

    The essence of the entire Bible is showing God’s Heart towards Mankind. The Death and destruction came in once satan decided he wanted to be at least equal to God.

    The total Bible is a Love Story… Initially Showing the relationship between God and Mankind through Adam… and then after the Fall… the relationship between God and Israel… later the relationship between Jesus Christ and us His Bride, His Church and culminating in the restoration of the original relationship between God and Mankind.

    It starts out with God being ALL (everything) in ALL (everyone) and ends up once again with God being ALL (everything) in ALL (everyone).

    Don’t think for one second that God enjoys death in any shape or form… Death entered in When Adam Sinned by following Eve’s example… Eve was deceived… but Adam willfully Sinned. From that moment God did what He had to do to minimize the impact of what satan had done.

    See it from His point of view. It is like a Husband, who is also a surgeon, cutting out cancer from his own wife’s body… do you think he takes pleasure in each stroke of the scalpel, in each sizzle of the cauterizing blade? NO, in NO way. But he cuts away parts of her body to preserve the spark of life until the permanent solution brought by Jesus came..

    So why didn’t God wave His magic wand and fix it from the beginning? Several reasons, one being He gave us free will… Who wants a wife who is your wife just because you force her to be your wife… No true man would want that, neither does God.

    But why then does he bring death if we sin? well that is not accurate… to be accurate He is saying to us “HEY, I made you, I know exactly what you need and don’t need… if you have sin in your life it will kill you maybe not instantaneously but its like you are a dead man walking.”

    Its like a manufacture of a motor vehicle saying “DON’T whatever you do put sugar in your petrol tank, your car will surely be destroyed… it may take a while but once that sugar is in and you driver the car like that, it is a dead car driving.”

    But you know the story, satan, wanting to get back at God, goes through his bride, mankind, and even then he didn’t mess with Adam directly, he went via HIS wife as well, with his ‘sweet talking’ lies… Even now, with us, he brings the same lies, (he is a one trick pony) so he comes again against the woman that’s us. Christ’s Bride.

    I’ll stop now, but here is the take away: God takes NO JOY in death and destruction, He NEVER said to Noah… “Yippee I’m ganna kill all those SOBs, happy day!” NO it was with heavy heart that he explained that that cancer must go… likewise with Sodom and Gomorrah etc etc.

    If we get inside His Head; His Heart; His Spirit… and see things from HIS perspective we will see that EVERYTHING He does is in and through LOVE. He is FOR us and NOT against us! WE, mankind, WILLINGLY sinned…. HE, God, WILLINGLY, sacrificed His only begotten Son to take on the inevitable outcome of our sin, that is Eternal Death… and in exchange gives us Eternal Life! AMEN

    • Pete E.

      I hear you Mike, but the biblical witness is more complex and problematic. For instance, God AS HE IS PORTRAYED in the Bible, is greatly pleased with mass slaughter. It brings him glory and fame.

      • Greg

        Yes. And in the OT he is even portrayed as commanding it – even genocide and the cruel deaths of infants.

      • Gary

        From time to time, God tends to play the role of the tyrant’s sock-puppet-of-ultimate-justification.

    • Gary

      My head was spinning with the vast amounts of harmonization packed in each sentence till I got the emphatic pantheism. At that point, I was kinda lost.

  • Marshall

    The thing about the Ancient Israelites (it seems to me) is that they were chosen. If you were looking for lumber for a cabin in the wilderness, you wouldn’t expect to find dimension lumber, and the trees you selected for sawyering might or might not be good as trees. The AI’s as presented seem not untypical of rural pastoralists … see the cattle people of the desert Northwest, who acquired their land by genocide and are working themselves up to “defending” it by rather shocking displays of force. The OT stories have been recast and exaggerated (obvs), but it’s believable that they catch a true flavor.

    But so what, if you imagine that God is going somewhere with this. If you imagine that God is working in the actual real world. If you understand that we the people are more like the anti-Canaanites than we are like the people Jesus wanted us to be. And that’s OK because the Kingdom is breaking in, despite us as much as anything. Over our dead bodies, as it were.

    So the question is why God chose. Why he needed to choose at all, why that particular tribe out of the thousands roaming about in those days. Above my pay grade, except you can sorta kinda see how it’s sorta kinda working. My problem is with people who think we’re done here.

  • https://www.popchrist.com Ian Panth

    One of the features of Biblical Narrative is that it shows the world as it is. The world is a violent place. If the Bible was all Garden of Eden and utopian narratives, then people would turn around and criticize and reject it for being irrelevant and unrealistic.

    In part, to me at least, it is Israelite honesty about their past that makes this narrative so powerful. The authors were wondering how Israel became just like any other tyrannical nation. “We screwed up. Now what?”

    Still, you are right we do not know much about the “average” Israelite from these narrative. Yet, the narrative seems to suggest that many of them were as polytheistic and/or henotheistic as their neighbors.

    Pete, What I think you and others like you (including some of the most ardent critics) have contributed to our reading of these narratives is a slower more careful reading which problematizes some of the too simple and idealized readings of that many of us were taught.

    If you haven’t read A Biblical History of Israel by Provan, Long, and Longman, then I highly recommend it. I am a bit biased as Iain and Phil were my professors. 😉 However, they and Waltke before them taught me that read my OT critically and carefully was the way to honor this text which I take as authoritative.

    Just my immediate thoughts upon reading this post,

  • AJGSyc

    My three year old daughter attends a non-religious preschool where, it is safe to say, most or all of the other kids have not had Old Testament bible stories read to them. One day police officers visited the preschool and my daughter, I later learned, made some of the other kids cry in response to her questions to the officers about brothers selling their children into slavery, roadside muggings, and giants and Roman soldiers coming to hurt people. I had to explain to her teachers that we haven’t been watching violent TV – we’ve been reading Bible stories!

  • Jim Moore


    You are getting here to the thing I most wish I could talk with you about. So many people seem comforted by the idea that these stories lack historicity. Or at least that they merely reflect the writer’s understanding (probably agenda laden) of what God told them to do. Let’s accept for a moment that that’s true. Even if you place the stories within a tribalistic culture focused on it’s own cultural survival and security I’m still not sure it allows us to dismiss them.

    Yes, we can say maybe God didn’t really say that. But the stories are still FOR us. They aren’t merely artifacts we stumbled upon like finding Ozymandias’ columns in the desert. These stories are meant to tell us something. People who seemed to know something about the true nature and character of God wanted us to have these stories. Why? What do we do with Jepthah’s choices or Balaam’s donkey. While the stories themselves are strange and offend my so-called modern sensibilities. It’s even stranger if they actually aren’t true but were preserved for us anyway.

    One of my favorite bands, The Collection, has a lyric in their song “The Garden,” “And my heart wept as the church slept, they were dreaming of parades and politicians, and a savior who allowed to rewrite his words, until it matched the war inside their hearts.”

    If this is true, that God is so gentle that he doesn’t begrudge us our image of him, then where is the solid fixed point? Where is the externality I require to trust even my own thinking? I supposed it is Jesus Christ alone. But when he said that the entire OT bore witness to him how do the stories I mention above do that?

    I think it is very little comfort to recast these stories as either self-serving fabrications or flat out erroneous depictions of God unless you have a way of explaining why God wanted us to have these – these particular – stories to prepare the way for his incarnation.

    Anyway, sorry if this is a little rambley, it’s something I wrestle with a lot.


    • charlesburchfield

      IMHO you have expressed a lot of assumptions I don’t have. all I have is an existance, external activities, connections w peeps, places, things, memories, an internal conversation w myself when awake, dreams when asleep- a felt sense of time going on & on for more than 64 years. I’ve made some sense to all of this via an encounter w the holy spirit. I was first given a glimpse of the scope of existance when I lost all meaning, hope & bc powerless & stopped believing myself capable of carving out a place where I could be in control & play the hero as I defined what being a hero was all about. as near as I can figure out stuff now it’s all abt turning my life & will over to god is how the ‘way opens’ as the quakers say. having constant contact w a living god has given me so much peace! *(|:~}

      • Jim Moore

        I have no doubt that I have made assumptions Mr. Burchfield. Assumptions are such a big part of the cognitive process. And maturing is sloughing off those assumptions which don’t hold up to reality. Having said that it would help me if you could point out an assumption I’m making that you think is unsupportable. I place a high value on learning from other people’s experiences. So I’ll think carefully about it.

        • charlesburchfield

          oy vey! where to begin? To be honest I have no ‘fixed point’ other than a solid intention to stay sober today! *(l:D

    • Sheila Warner

      Jim, I’m with you on this. I’d like to think primitive people did just such things and wanted their god to be portrayed in that manner. I’d like to think we have evolved past all of that. But then I look at what happens in places like the Islamic State, and I am aghast that people still do these things in the name of a god.

  • Jurgan

    The overall message I take from the history books is the danger of unchecked power in the hands of the leader. The endless cycle of tyranny, assassination, and civil war is what happens when a hereditary monarch has nothing to hold him back. And given that most of this was compiled during the exile, the message is “these kings have led us astray, so let’s not make the same mistakes again.” I’m not going as far as saying that an American three branches system of government is divinely inspired, but there’s a very strong message of limiting the power of earthly rulers.

    • Gary

      This morning I saw a single-panel cartoon. It was comprised of people of different cultures, in characterized garb, with grumpy faces. Westborough Baptist was represented. ISIS was represented. And there were a handful more. The Westborough Baptist guy had a “God Hates Fags” prop as did the ISIS guy have a knife at a the throat of a blind-folded man in his iconic orange suit.

      Above each was the symmetrical declaration, “We’re doing God’s will!”

      I recall years ago in Sunday School’s simplicity being taught a common overarching interpretation of the Old Testament, a cyclical struggle of listening to God and doing his will, and not.

      While I don’t think democratic checks-and-balances are a meaningfully intrinsic theme of the Old Testament, I do think within the text there is an endless cycle and that even the apex of the cycle fully bears ugliness of humanity thinking that they’re doing God’s will.

      Alas, “how casual and heartless the ancient Israelites were about violence and vengeance. The ancient Israelites, by and large, were plain old nasty, mean, and not the kind of people you’d want to cross—or even playfully tease.” Perhaps “the ancient Israelites” can be used as a literary archetype, for all true believers, those thinking that they’re doing God’s will.

      The Bible tells a story of a deep human evil.

      One could perhaps say, this is why a Law needs a fulfillment.

      But if that were the case, we’d have a very different Christianity than the one we have today, because what I think possibly could be doing God’s will doesn’t seem to be very close to the hearts and hands of what most of the braggarts saying they are doing God’s will offer.

      “God seems OK with it.” Um. Yeah. But that’s the God of tyrants, and most certainly not my God.

  • Ross

    Hmmm…..Hmmmmm………The word fervant springs to mind……..”hill-top youth”……..uncritical support of religious Zionism both “Christian” and “Jewish”……uncritical support of BDS and the destruction of Israel…….”Islamic/Christian/Jewish Apocolypticism”……….Mindless anti-semitism……..These combative biblical narratives seem to be very pertinent in relation to some very worrying trends causing great misery today. I see them fuelling very combative narratives filling our TV and computer screens minute by minute.

    How do we square the circle where the Older Scriptures seem to be in direct contrast to the Newer Scriptures. What is really meant when Jesus says “You have heard it said…But I say to you”. In Mathew Jesus says he has not come to change the law and then immediately appears to repudiate all that the Torah says. What the heck is that all about?

    Why on Earth did God give the Eastern Mediterranean as the promised land when Hampshire is so much more fertile and a lot less argumentative?How the bloody hell can an inerrantist munch on a prawn salad, let his wife go to church without covering her head and forget to stone his neighbour for working on the sabbath. How on Earth can we tell when to kill a Caananite and when to turn the other cheek or die from persecution?

    I really think it’s about time God stepped into this World and gave us some clear ideas about what the heck is going on and what to do about it, otherwise it’s about time we had a share-holders revolt!

    Oh yes, by the way it’s Friday and I’ve been at the Spanish red again.

    • Gary

      Not all literalists forget to stone their neighbors.

    • charlesburchfield

      one thang fur sure buddy it’s not about you getting pissed! “(j;D

  • berryfriesen

    Most of these texts carry forward the Davidic fantasy of dominance, of being king of the hill because my god is stronger than your god. Of course, that remains the fantasy of many Christians living in the West today, so it’s worthwhile to be studying how it all turned out for Israel.

    • Gary

      At church when I go, I’ve heard them sing, “Our God is Greater.” I’ve not been able to help but think everybody’s God is *greater*.

      What’s unique about Christianity, at least with more traditional Trinitarianism and Christology, is that our God is kenotically weaker.

      Do we or do we not worship the same God?

      Depending upon how one plays with these jelloey words, the pursuit of the fantasy of dominance is indication of the kind of God desired.

  • Sam

    Until I see very strong evidence to the contrary, I will continue to think that these accounts are most likely greatly exaggerated accounts or even stories told in the tradition of the warrior beating his chest while bragging of his great victories in battle. Apparently the Israel to which Jesus came believed that these stories accurately told their history and accurately portrayed their God. Jesus came to set the record straight, and his own people killed him for showing them the truth. They didn’t recognize him. They knew only the God they had created. He came to His own and His own received him not. Has this changed?

    • Gary

      No, it hasn’t really changed and in my opinion this is very significant.

      I suspect it’s quite possible, if not likely, that Jesus less “came to set the record straight” in some sort of objective metaphysical sense but more that he, like and yet unlike those before him, used his imagination to envision a better God and clearer hope of a Kingdom.

      That Paul then did what he did is fascinating–the audacity of not only imagining a living person as Divine but much more so *that* kind of person. And the martyrs too and the successors of early Church. That they would envision that kind of human, the one of Jesus, as the same Essence as God the Father is so beyond bold.

      But then what happened? You ask rhetorically Sam whether or not this has changed?

      It hasn’t really. We’re now 2,000 years in and cannot we see the arc of human (or really cosmic if you take the claims seriously) reversed or even bent by this Person having been here on the planet?

      Personally, I just don’t see it.

      Most people when they believe in “the resurrection,” they believe in a resuscitation, that Jesus rose again. But honestly, I don’t personally know many who believe in *the* Resurrection, the one of all things being made new and a new heaven and a new earth, a Lamb on the throne and an eternal banquet feast, where the groanings of an unimaginably large 14-billion-year-old creation being satisfied in its longings.

      Do Muslims and Christians believe in the same God? I don’t know much about the Muslim God, but I am quite confident that I definitely don’t believe in the same God as most Christians.

      Do I believe in the God Jesus believed in? Maybe, some, but that’s hard to say so many centuries removed. I will say though that I can imagine a better God and for those with God-belief I wonder how they can be challenged at the core in what the do believe in. Nobody really wants to here about a better imagined concept of God from a skeptic. Most know that they at least do get a comfort out of the beliefs that from the outside seem to give them a mix of comfort and fear.

      But the problem is this–Jesus didn’t really set the record straight. It’s as crooked as ever.

      Maybe I could somewhat believe in the Muslim God. As the world sure doesn’t bear the marks of the Son of God’s arrival. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” This sure looks like *yet another* prophet.

      The likes of Wheaton I see more in the tradition of the beliefs of these “historical books,” less in the tradition of Jesus. If it is posturing for a grander anticipated First Amendment rights battle, I just don’t see that as the Way that Jesus would imagine the Kingdom would come about.

      I hope this contemplation is neither “antagonistic or dismissive.” At least not dismissive of the way of Jesus.

      But… I think I’m getting more and more antagonistic and dismissive to the truth claims of most forms of broader Christianity and the way lived by nearly all Christians I personally know as they wrestle with the God that they believe in and the “Canaanites” both in their lives and within.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Pete, They are dying in the New Testament as well, like the couple struck dead in Acts, one after the other–after Peter declares that they lied about giving all their money to the church. Or like the “many sick and some fallen asleep” in 1st Corinthians as the result of “God’s judgment” according to Paul. Or like the bowls of wrath God is going to pour on the earth in Revelation, along with sending the four horsemen. Talk about “people dying all over the place!”

    • Pete E.

      Ed, my dear,m I didn’t say people weren’t dying in the NT. I explain in my post why I focused there on the OT.

      • Dre’as Sanchez


        Have you seen cross examined.org and frank tureks training leaders in ” I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist? ”

        They’re training leader’s… How can we make something like this?

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    A lot of killings? Ah yes, let’s see … According to the Bible, the God of Israel tried to kill Moses (but failed?!); struck dead two sons of Aaron; commanded “brother to kill brother” leading to the death of 3,000 Israelites (right after He gave them the commandment, “Do not kill”); opened up the earth and buried alive “wives, sons and little children;” sent a fire that consumed 148 Levite princes; cursed his people to wander in the desert for forty years and eat 40,000 meals of quail and “manna” (talk about a monotonously torturous diet — and when they complained about it, God killed 3,000 Israelites with a plague); had a man put to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath; denied Moses and Aaron entrance into the “promised land” because Moses struck a rock twice with his staff instead of talking to the rock; delivered to his people a “promised land” that was parched, bordered by desert and a corridor for passing conquering armies; sent fiery serpents among Israel, killing many; wanted to kill every Israelite and start over with Moses and his family (but Moses talked God out of that plan); drove the first king of Israel to suicide; killed someone who tried to steady a teetering ark of the covenant; murdered king David’s innocent child; sent plagues and famines upon his people that killed men, women and children (one such plague killed 70,000 Israelites); ordered the execution of 42 children of the king of Judah; “smote all Israel” killing half a million men of Israel in a civil war between Israel and Judah; “delivered into the hand of the king of Israel” 120,000 Judeans massacred in one day along with 200,000 Jewish women and children; gave Satan the power to kill Job’s children and servants (in order to win a bet); let the Babylonians conquer the holy city of Jerusalem, and then the Greeks, followed by the Romans; and finally left the Jews homeless and persecuted by Christians and Muslims for nearly 2000 years. Furthermore, the large number of laws in the Hebrew Bible concerning those with diseases, demonstrates that the Israelites were far from being blessed with unparalleled good health. And archeological evidence indicates that in ancient Israel the infant mortality rate was as high as fifty percent.

    So, knowing everything that happened to that nation “blessed by God,” I’ve got to ask those who want America to become a nation “blessed by God,” WHAT THE #%$?! ARE THEY THINKING?

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    “I would like to ask if there is a Christian in the world who would not be overjoyed to find that every passage in the Bible that supported slavery, polygamy, and wars of extermination, was an interpolation… He says: `Honor thy father and mother,’ and yet this God, in the person of Christ, offered honors, and glory, and happiness an hundred fold to any who would desert their father, and mother for him. Thou shalt not kill, yet God killed the first-born of Egypt, and he commanded Joshua to kill all his enemies, not sparing old or young, man, woman or child, even an unborn child… According to the Bible, God gave orders to kill children and to rip open the bodies of pregnant women. The pestilences were sent by God. The frightful famine, during which the dying child with pallid lips sucked the withered bosom of his dead mother, was sent by God. God drowned an entire world with the exception of eight persons. Imagine how such acts would have stained the reputation of the devil!… Why did God fill the world with his own children, knowing that he would have to destroy them? And why does this same God tell me how to raise my children when he had to drown his?”–Ingersoll

    • Pete E.

      It just struck me, Ed. If you are still persuaded by these sorts of arguments, you haven’t gotten over your biblicism yet.

  • Bill Garrison

    My hermeneutics prof, the late great Dr. Earl Radmacher, taught me to constantly ask why a particular story or pericope was included in the canon of Scripture.

    • Paul D.

      Sometimes, the whole point of a pericope is to explain the origins a certain geographical feature — usually one we can’t identify today. Those who think the Bible is full of secret promises written specifically for them may not appreciate such a mundane reality.