Three Objective Difficulties concerning the OT 1. The morality of great biblical figures: Abraham, Jacob, Samson, David, Solomon 2. The violence of God E.g. Joshua 6-11 3. Insufficient theology E.g. Job
Some Proposed Solutions References: E.W. Davies, “The Morally Dubious Passages of the Hebrew Bible,” CBR 3 (2005): 197-228. R.P. Carroll, Wolf in the Sheepfold: The Bible as a Problem for Christianity (London: SPCK, 1991).
1. The Evolutionary Approach 19 th and first half of 20 th century Harry Emerson Fosdick, A Guide to Understanding the Bible (1938). Cultures also evolved gradually from a lower to a higher level of civilization From simple to more complex From rough to more refined
“progressive revelation” ‘whole lesson of humanity was too much to be learned by all at once’ (Frederick Temple, 1861) The less “moral’ the earlier the biblical text (Julius Wellhausen, 1883).
Theological problem in Job is completed in the NT From polytheism to monotheism From polygamy to monogamy From wars to peace-making efforts From ecstatic prophets to writing prophets From ritual decalogue (Exod 34) to ethical decalogue (Exod 20).
From Revenge to Forgiveness (example of PR) (Development of an Ethical Teaching in the Bible) Law of Lamech Gen 4:15Sevenfold vengeance No Forgivenes s Law of Moses Leviticus 24:20 Retributive Justice Proportionate 1:1 Law of Peter Mt 18:21Seven Times forgiveness Limited Forgivenes s Law of Jesus Mt 18:22 Seventy times seven times forgiveness Endless Forgiveness; No Revenge
Advantage: Preserves the best of the ethical teaching of OT. Without dismissing wholesale the OT ala Marcion
Reservations: The OT becomes irrelevant and outmoded. Not always true that a more ethical attitude is found in later texts: See the war in Jeremiah 50:27 (6 th cent. BC) See the Book of Esther (5 th cent. BC)
2. the Cultural-Relativist's Approach Historical, social and cultural contexts D. Nineham, The Use and Abuse of the Bible (1976). OT moral teachings are historically conditioned. Particular time, particular people Not intended for universal application
Examples: Subordination of women Lev 20:13 (homosexuality) Num 5:11-31 (adultery poison test)
Advantage: Context is indispensable vs. fundamentalism Bibliolatry anachronisms
Reservations: Criteria of texts that are culturally relative? there are also cultural constants Honor and Shame Prohibition of incest, rape, murder, stealing, adultery. War (or Herem) is not cultural, nor normal. (see J. Barr, 1993).
3. Canon-within-a-Canon Approach “use what you can” There are texts more important than others More central to Christian faith (G.E. Wright, 1969) Isaiah 2:4 rather than Joshua 6-11 Psalm 23 rather than Psalm 109 Exodus rather than Leviticus Ethical rather than ritual prescriptions
Advantages: NT writers quoting the OT with preference: Isaiah and Psalms. Torah as central (in Jewish Tradition) Gospels as paramount (in Christian Tradition)
Reservations: Highly selective Biblical ethical values could be only expressions of own personal preferences. Violates the integrity of the bible as whole.
4. The Holistic Approach Entire canonical books should be considered (Childs, 1970). Meaning of a text should depend on the whole message of biblical revelation or “the inner biblical thought”. Violence/anger of God in the light of texts of God as loving, faithful, tender, slow to anger.
Patriarchal God – feminine attributes of God (like a mother) Curses in the light of the blessings Hatred vs. enemies – love of neighbor in Lev 19:18 Immoralities of biblical figures be seen in the light of Psalms 105 and 106.
Advantages: Integrity of the bible is respected. Concrete example: elimination of institutionalized slavery In view of the biblical vision of human dignity
Reservations: What is the whole message of biblical revelation? The inner biblical thought? The problem of canon (Jewish/Protestant/Catholic)
5. The Paradigmatic Approach Morality of the OT: embedded in certain foundational principles (Janzen 1994) OT laws and narratives should only a paradigm, a model. Particular customs or statutes should not be applied outright, but only their essential principles
Examples: Levirate marriage as protection of widows. Law of extermination of Canaanites, to preserve the religion of Israel. Child sacrifice as test of loyalty, clarity of intentions (see the case of Job also).
Advantages: Scandalous obsolete and passages become intelligible and applicable to contemporary issues. The OT general ethical teachings (like love, forgiveness, loyalty) can have a universal meaning.
Reservations: How should we determine those basic moral principles without being too subjective? The end does not justify the means. (war can never be good)
6. The Reader-Response Approach Readers have a to duty to converse and interact with the text (Iser 1974). Readers should be involved in the text, wrestle with the text. Challenge its assumptions, questions insights and if necessary reject its claims and ideologies.
Example: texts that discriminate women NAB Sirach 25:23 In woman was sin's beginning, and because of her we all die.
The reader is invited to inhabit the world of the text, participate in its angst. e.g. Job’s plight.
Advantages Biblical scholars’ tendency to be descriptive and historical but not ethical in their works. Evaluating its moral assumptions to help the reader to discern. Hermeneutic of suspicion Texts are ideological and at times a propaganda (Joshua 6-11; 1-2 Kings).
Reservations: The problem of the normative value of biblical statements. How authoritative is the OT?
A Point to Consider: The Quadriga “ Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria; moralis quid agas, quid speras anagogia Attributed to Augustine of Denmark (13 th century AD)