Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”

This is my review of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011). This review should be read as a supplement to Copan’s book. You may purchase Copan’s book here. This review may be freely distributed, reposted on your personal blogs and websites, printed off, emailed to friends and enemies, or completely ignored. If you do post it online or quote from it, please link back here or cite the source.

Download the Review: Is God a Moral Compromiser? Right-click and ‘save as’ on the link to download the review.

I used the Kindle edition of Copan’s book to write my review, so the pagination may be slightly off throughout. If anybody who has a hard copy of Copan’s book wants to fix any pagination errors, I’d be in your debt.

Please keep comments substantive, and refrain from abusive language and personal attacks. That is to say, no attacking Copan, myself, or anybody else. The goal of conversation here is to be productive, constructive, and to engage the substantive issues pertaining to the content of Copan’s book and my critique of it. Nothing more than that falls within the purview of this comment thread. If your comment isn’t immediately approved, it’s because I’m in the shower or watching X-Files. So don’t take it personally. If it isn’t posted within a few days, it’s because your comment has violated my tender sensibilities. Of course, friendly banter is perfectly welcome. :)

I’ve put a little bit of effort into this review. I don’t expect commenters to match my effort equally, but I do expect any critical engagement to demonstrate substantial attention to the arguments I’ve taken the time to lay out in a thorough manner. If we must disagree with one another, let’s do so as civilized people.

Finally, I wrote this rather quickly and it hasn’t been properly edited; just a few quick proof-reads. So as I find errors I’ll fix them and re-upload, noting updates with a date stamp.

All right. Happy reading!

UPDATED: 11:17 EST 4/26/2011 (fixed error on p. 175, bottom line: from “a thousand years older” to “a thousand years later“)

UPDATED: 13:19 EST 4/26/2011 (added C. S. Lewis quote on pp. 299-300; fixed some minor typos)

UPDATED: 07:36 EST 4/27/2011 (fixed a few more minor typos)

UPDATED: 07:56 EST 4/27/2011 (added section on William L. Moran on p. 272)

UPDATED: 15:24 EST 4/29/2011 (corrected error on p. 53)

66 thoughts on “Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”

  1. God bless Netflix Watch Instantly — doing the same here.

    Word to the wise: be sure to have at least 100MB free on your hard drives before attempting to download the review. 😉

  2. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God

    Product Details

    Paperback: 252 pages
    Publisher: Baker Books (January 1, 2011)

    PDF response — wait for it… 306 pages. Love it.

  3. Thom, You’ve composed an amazingly detailed study of where Christian apologetic defenses (of Old Testament wrath and slaughter) go wrong. Wow. Folks will learn more about the Old Testament from reading this review, including more about why apologetics is neither a legitimate branch of biblical studies, nor a highly objective or scholarly one, than they ever knew. Copan not only misreads the Bible, but also misreads ancient Near Eastern law codes, attempting to make the Israelite codes seem superior to all the rest, but all ancient Near Eastern law codes had what we might recognize as inferior and superior points. The Israelite law code and practice of mass slaughter do not stand out as “superior” as Copan hoped to portray them. If Copan studied the matter more objectively instead of grinning and beaming at every passage in the Old Testament as if it constituted amber from God’s lips, maybe he would have been able to absorb a more thorough knowledge of ancient Near Eastern codes and practices. Copan’s idolatry of the Bible knows neither ethical bounds nor reason.

  4. Hi Mr. Stark,

    I’ve linked to your review on my blog. I read through it and it looks very good. It’s funny because just the other day I was discussing the slaughter of the Amalekites with a Christian on my blog and he cited an article by Copan who argued that it wasn’t that bad because only combatants were targeted. I looked up the verse myself and right there in black and white it was clear that wasn’t true at all. Everyone was to be killed, so how in the world Copan could say such a thing blows my mind (that’s assuming the Christian wasn’t taking him out of context. He did not cite his source).

    I’m also puzzled by your comment about the New Atheists and their criticisms of the bible. I’ve always found that the majority of the New Atheists’ critiques are accurate, but maybe you’re right that many of these apologists aren’t doing Christians (or atheists) any favors by writing such error filled critiques? Maybe I find the New Atheists’ arguments about the bible convincing because I’ve yet to see anyone expertly point out their errors? So, I thought with other Christians doing such a bad job maybe you could write something pointing out the errors by Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens about the bible? Or maybe there is already a good source you could point me to?

    What are your thoughts?

    Take care.

  5. Thanks for your comment, AA.

    Unfortunately, your friend was not misquoting Copan. I deal extensively with his attempts to erase civilians from the battles.

    I haven’t read everything by the New Atheists and their critiques of the Bible, but a few of the excerpts I’ve read, and some of the arguments I’ve heard them make in debates, have shown that they’re sometimes right, but they often misunderstand a passage because of unfamiliarity with the language, context, etc. Right now I’m thinking in particular of a proof-text Victor Stenger used to show that the Bible said God sent forth evil, but Stenger did not understand that the word “evil” meant “misfortune.” Stenger assumed it was being used in the demonic sense, which is an anachronism. I don’t hold this against them of course. They’re not trained in biblical studies. But if you keep reading, I think at one point I make clear that Christians will actually know less about what the Bible says from reading Copan than they would from reading Dawkins or Hitchens. I was quipping, of course, but there’s some truth to it!

  6. I just purchased the Copan’s book for my kindle. I’ll read it through before I read your review. I am grateful that you took the time to do so. It is really hard to sort through misinformation. From what I have come in contact with so far it seems to me that ANE history is really warped in the apologetic community. For someone (like me) who has no idea about the history, when Copan (or someone else) makes a claim that in the ANE the typical culture did X or it wasn’t unusual for X to happen, I have no idea if that is true or not (and to investigate whether it was true or not takes so much time). Of course if one comes to a different conclusion of the ANE history than the opposite side, the conversation (from both sides) just goes downhill from there (and people get painted as “radical this” and “radical that”). Revisionist history is annoying (and to the amateur, like myself, annoying). Of course from my perspective as a former young earth creationist makes me more wary of Copan’s perspective (I’ve been burned by the likes of Ken Ham and am more skeptical than ever). At the same time one can’t dismiss what he says out of hand (and I don’t think any sane person does that). Copan to me gives inklings of people like David Barton from wall builders who rewrites history of the US. I look forward to investigating this topic in more depth.

  7. Just looking at his picture and knowing what you look like allows me to fully understand both sides – Whew! saved a lot of reading. (this is my new way of engaging texts which I learned from the recent “Love Wins” extravaganza).

  8. Thom, it’s unclear what you’re trying to say on p13 in the 2nd paragraph: “Yeah, either that or the jealous wife has an inferiority complex, or a lack of trust in her husband that becomes debilitating for him.” Partly it’s the formulation (I can only understand some statements if I read them aloud with a southern drawl), partly the unusual metaphor having God as the wife but also it’s the point of your polemic. I can’t see why it should be that a wife’s anger at a flirt should imply an inferiority complex.

  9. Because a wife who is secure in herself and in her spouse’s love would have no need to be angered. But I was merely being humorous with that statement, not issuing it as an actual objection.

  10. Thom,

    I read the review.

    This tome is too good not to be brought out as a book! Besides it is apparently even longer than the book it reviews!

    I think it would be of great value to many for you to publish this.


  11. Dan,

    Wow! You read it already? Much gratitude.

    I considered publishing it, but one problem is finding a publisher who would want to publish a book review as a book.

    The other reason I chose to do it this way is that, since it’s available for free, conservatives might actually read it.

    Your thoughts?

  12. PDF updated with addition of section on William L. Moran’s translation of the Piwuri passage in the Amarna Letters (see p. 272).

  13. So far so good. I’ve really enjoyed the review thus far – page 100 (I’m a slow reader). One quick comment pertaining to the section about females in the priesthood. I have not read Copan’s book but may I suggest he might be referencing someone/something like what John Walton puts forward in his book The Lost World of Genesis One where the creation event is symbolic of the temple. Just a suggestion as to his thinking.

  14. Yes, he is, though he doesn’t cite anybody specifically; he refers to “scholars.” But the verses he cites don’t allow for the specific reading he’s offering.

  15. More to the point, he cites Gen 2:12 for the temple imagery (which is correct) but the two verses he cites to say that Adam and Eve are depicted as priests doesn’t have any temple imagery, and in one of them, Eve doesn’t even exist yet.

  16. Thom, I posted part of this on Frank S.’ FB. If the following is not correct, I will X it. “I’m no scholar but if memory serves me correctly, the scholars that support inerrancy limit it to the original manuscripts of which little are none survive!!!”

    Ref: Posted a link on my FB to this article and the one on “Why I am a conservative.” Been a FB friend and before by email with Frank S. and find his writing refreshing. One of my favorite disciples is Nathanael. Jesus says of him, Behold … an Israelite, in whom there is no guile. We need more truth tellers!!!

  17. Hey, Ron. Thanks for your comment. I saw your post on Frank’s wall. You’re absolutely right. Inerrantists have to insist that the text was only inerrant in the original manuscripts, because all of the manuscripts we have are riddled with errors, literally millions of them. And you’re right that we do not have any original manuscripts. Inerrancy is purely a faith commitment; there’s no way to substantiate it, and in fact, it’s easily refuted, as I showed in my book, The Human Faces of God.

    I like Nathaniel too, and for the same reason!

  18. Isn’t it telling that the only ones praising your review are either apostates or fringe atheist bloggers?

    Be wary of those who applaud your efforts, Thom. It suggests more about you than you may be willing to concede.

  19. Sorry for posting your comment late, Cory. I was watching X-Files. Speaking of which, you remind me of a certain Cancer Man. I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t speak the truth; it might fall into the wrong hands!

    Of course, you’re flatly wrong. Several of the comments and trackbacks on this thread are from committed Christians, all more conservative than me. Moreover, in my preface I quote from a conservative pastor who read my review before I published it, and thanked me for it. Not to mention all the other Christians who have sent me emails, or commented on my Facebook, or spoken to me in person, thanking me. But I suppose that makes them all apostates too in your world. Sad world.

    Everyone else, I posted Cory’s comment as an example of the kind of discussion that falls outside of the purview of this thread.

  20. I think there is a bit of a mistake on page 53 in the list of capital crimes. At the 5th bullet point you have “Rebelling against a Parent (Deut 17:12)”, but this text is about rebelling against a *priest* as far as I can see. Did you have in mind a son rebelling against his father and mother in Deut 21:18-21?

  21. All I can say Thom is God bless you for putting something like this out there for free. I haven’t had time to read it all yet, but if the promise of the first few pages holds true then it will be worth the effort. Thanks.

  22. Fr Levi,

    Thanks for your comment. I think this information needs to be out there for free, because people are paying dearly, in more ways than one, for misinformation.

    If you have time, please stop by again once you’ve read the review and let me know your thoughts!

  23. Your decision to make your critique freely available in part so that conservatives might be exposed to the argument is a fine gesture, Thom. The exigency of doing so is obvious, and made even more apparent in light of W.L.Craig’s recent post, which defends OT genocide/infanticide, to wit: Caananite adults/soldiers deserved it, the innocents and children are better off in Heaven, and the real victims were the poor PTSD-addled Israelite armies who had to commit the atrocities. Score another one in the “Monster” column.

  24. Did Craig recently republish that article? I quote and critique those same claims from Craig in my book.

  25. Tyler McNabb, a Reformed seminary student, has posted a first in a series in which he’ll review Copan’s book alongside my response. His first post criticizes my critique of Copan’s reading of Deut 22:28-29. The text says:

    If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

    Copan argues that this is speaking of the seduction of a woman, not a forcible seizure. But the word for “seduces” is pathah. The Hebrew word used for “seizes” here is tapas. I said (on p. 116) that whenever this word is used for seizing a human, it is always used in a manner that implies the human is seized against his/her/their will. I cited two passages from the selfsame book (Deut 20:19 and 21:19) where it refers to the capture of a town by military force and the capture of a rebellious son to take him off to be executed.

    Now Tyler claims to have found two passages which clearly contradict my understanding of tapas. He cites two passages which, he thinks, clearly indicate that the word just means “grabs” without implying the seizure is against the will of the one seized. First he cites Isaiah 3:6. Here’s the portion he quotes:

    For a man will take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying: “You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule.”

    According to Tyler, this is a clear indication that tapas doesn’t imply a seizure against the will of the brother. Au contraire! Let’s look at the passage in its context. Be sure to read the whole passage carefully:

    The people will be oppressed,
    everyone by another
    and everyone by a neighbor;
    the youth will be insolent to the elder,
    and the base to the honorable.
    Someone will even seize a relative,
    a member of the clan, saying,
    ‘You have a cloak;
    you shall be our leader,
    and this heap of ruins
    shall be under your rule.’
    But the other will cry out on that day, saying,
    ‘I will not be a healer;
    in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
    you shall not make me
    leader of the people.’ (Isa 3:5-7)

    As is painfully obvious, tapas is used here to refer to the seizure of a brother against his will. The context is one of strife within families, and as an example of this strife, it is said that a brother will seize his brother and try to set him up as a leader. But the very next verse states clearly that this is against the brother’s will. He refuses. “You shall not make me leader of the people.”

    The second verse Tyler cites is Gen 39:11-12, where Potiphar’s wife seizes (tapas) Joseph to try to get him to have sex with her:

    But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.”

    Once again, let’s look at this verse in its context:

    And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. (Gen 39:10-12)

    Funny that Tyler only quoted the first part of verse 12, and not the second part, which clearly shows that Joseph was being seized against his will, as indicated by the fact that he ran away.

    Tyler accused me of being either lazy or deceptive. Sorry, Tyler. Three fingers are pointing squarely back at yourself.

    To these examples I’ll add the following:

    and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught [tapas] in the act. (Num 5:13)

    Then it will be when you have seized [tapas] the city, that you shall set the city on fire. You shall do it according to the word of Yahweh. See, I have commanded you. (Josh 8:8)

    But they captured [tapas] the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua. (Josh 8:23)

    He captured [tapas] Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. (1 Sam 15:8)

    Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain ; and David was hurrying to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were surrounding David and his men to seize [tapas] them. (1 Sam 23:26)

    Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize [tapas] him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. (1 Kgs 13:4)

    Then Elijah said to them, “Seize [tapas] the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” So they seized [tapas] them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kgs 18:40)

    When they come out of the city, we will capture [tapas] them alive and get into the city. (2 Kgs 7:12)

    He killed of Edom in the Valley of Salt 10,000 and took [tapas] Sela by war, and named it Joktheel to this day. (2 Kgs 14:7)

    So the king of Assyria listened to him; and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and captured [tapas] it, and carried the people of it away into exile to Kir, and put Rezin to death. (2 Kgs 16:9)

    Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized [tapas] them. (2 Kgs 18:13)

    Then they captured [tapas] the king and brought him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and he passed sentence on him. (2 Kgs 25:6)

    Then Joash king of Israel captured [tapas] Amaziah king of Judah. (2 Chron 25:23; 2 Kgs 14:13)

    In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted ; Let them be caught [tapas] in the plots which they have devised. (Psalm 10:2)

    God has forsaken him; Pursue and seize [tapas] him, for there is no one to deliver. (Psalm 71:11)

    Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized [tapas] them. (Isa 36:1)

    I will spread my net over him, and he shall be caught [tapas] in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it; and he shall die there. (Ezek 12:13; also 17:20)

    The nations sounded an alarm against him;
    he was caught in their pit;
    and they brought him with hooks
    to the land of Egypt. (Ezek 19:4; also 19:8)

    But to them it will seem like a false divination; they have sworn solemn oaths; but he brings their guilt to remembrance, bringing about their capture. Therefore, thus says Yahweh God: Because you have brought your guilt to remembrance, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear—because you have come to remembrance, you shall be taken in hand. (Ezek 21:23-24)

    Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am Yahweh
    because you were a staff of reed to the house of Israel;
    when they seized [tapas] you with the hand, you broke,
    and tore all their hands;
    and when they leaned on you, you broke,
    and made all their legs unsteady. (Ezek 29:6-7)

    And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people seized [tapas] him, saying, ‘You shall die!’ (Jer 26:8)

    And you yourself shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be captured [tapas] and handed over to him. (Jer 34:3)

    But Irijah would not listen to him, and arrested [tapas] Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. (Jer 37:14)

    All your wives and your children shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized [tapas] by the king of Babylon; and this city shall be burned with fire. (Jer 38:23)

    Then they captured [tapas] the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he passed sentence on him. (Jer 52:9)

    You set a snare for yourself and you were caught, O Babylon, but you did not know it; you were discovered and seized [tapas], because you challenged Yahweh (Jer 50:24).

    Kerioth has been captured And the strongholds have been seized [tapas], So the hearts of the mighty men of Moab in that day Will be like the heart of a woman in labor. (Jer 48:41)

    How Sheshach is taken, the pride of the whole earth seized [tapas]! How Babylon has become an object of horror among the nations!

    Those last three from Jeremiah show that the Hebrew word for “captured/taken/caught” (lakad) and the Hebrew word for “seized/taken/captured/caught” (tapas) are synonymous, sharing a semantic range. Again, tapas and pathah (“seduced”) are not synonymous.

    Here’s another important use of tapas:

    Or I shall be full, and deny you,
    and say, ‘Who is Yahweh?’
    or I shall be poor, and steal,
    and profane [tapas] the name of my God. (Prov 30:9)

    There it means “profane,” which is an extension of the same semantic domain, indicating a violation.

    And that about does it. That’s all the examples where tapas is applied to the grabbing of a person or population, and every time, as I said (correctly), and I’ll reiterate, every single time, it refers to the seizure of a person or population against their will.

    Tyler concludes with what he thinks is a knockdown argument against my reading of Deut 22:28-29 as a rape law. He writes:

    If Exodus [22:16; a law about a man who seduces a woman] and Deuteronomy [22:28-29] were not to be read in light of each other, then why would being seduced lead to the ability to marry or not to marry the male party, but the one being raped by a man in the dark ally [sic] is forced to be married to him. There is a clear inconsistency, an inconsistency that may have grounding in say the code of Hammurabi, but not within the Law of Moses.

    First, I must laugh at this halfhearted attempt to incriminate the Code of Hammurabi. Based on what? Which law in the Hammurabi Code gives ground to this? This is a standard apologetic maneuver—assume (without citing evidence) that the other ancient Near Eastern laws were worse, and claim—contrary to the evidence—that Israel’s laws were better.

    But I’ll answer his question. Why is the father permitted to refuse to give his daughter as a wife to the seducer, but not permitted to refuse to give his daughter as a wife to a rapist? For precisely the reason I stated in my original review: because rape victims were the more stigmatized, making it impossible for them to find a husband. One can’t first assume that the Laws of Moses must be moral, and then dispense with an immoral law by saying that it can’t be immoral because the Laws of Moses must be moral. Tyler will easily allow for the Babylonian laws to be less than moral, but not the laws of Moses. That’s called a double standard.

    A nice attempt, but no dice. The fact remains that “seduces” (pathah) and “seizes” (tapas) are not the same word; they do not share a semantic domain. All the wishing in the world won’t change this.

  26. Also, the LXX translates tapas in Deut 22:28 as biazomai, which means “to experience a violent attack” or “to employ violence in doing harm to someone or some thing” (Louw & Nida). In TDNT “the reference of the term is always to force as a distinction from voluntary acts.” Cf. Matt 11:12 (“the kingdom of heaven is being violently forced [biazetai] and the violent take it by force.”)

    So, the translators of the LXX clearly saw Deut 22:28-29 as a rape law.

  27. OK, so Tyler deleted his blog. Not just his blog post. His blog. I certainly didn’t mean for that to happen!

  28. Thom’s rebuttals are so sound they demolish opposing arguments *and* the blogs they’re hosted on! :)

  29. I had a friend who asked me to respond to this and I tried to do so as a favor as quick as I could (bc of time, final papers etc.). Yes, I acted presumptuous and did a quick search and pasted the first results I saw. Though I believe Gen 39 has a very strong point, in reference to Isa 3, I shouldnt have been lazy and acted so quickly. Regardless you have still yet to deal with the points of Copan’s argument such as condemnation is in the plural. I do plan to revise my argument (a very similar argument with the exception of Isa 3 lol) Looking forward to future dialog on this topic.

  30. Tyler,

    Thanks for commenting. Allow me to save you the trouble. Tapas means a forceful seizure, and since Potiphar’s wife is seizing Joseph after repeated attempts to get him into bed with her (all rejected), it’s clear that’s how she’s seizing him here. The fact that he escapes her grasp shows quite clearly that this is a seizure against his will. That’s what the word meant, as I’ve shown quite exhaustively above. Please save yourself the trouble of kicking against the goads.

    As for “Copan’s argument such as condemnation in the plural,” here’s my response to this strained and ridiculous argument:

    They were not “condemned” in the plural. They were discovered in the plural, as any two people discovered in a sexual act (consensual or otherwise) would be. And the text itself makes it clear that only he is being punished and that only he is at fault. Shall I quote it? OK.

    “The man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives” (Deut 22:29).

    And as I said in the review, the word tapas quite plainly denotes a violation of the will; therefore, Copan’s attempt to make the woman culpable here is already disallowed by the language used by the text. I’m sorry; you have no case to make.

  31. Thank’s for a fantastic refutation and a brilliant book. They have given me a whole new view of Marcion. Perhaps he should be canonized? Even if his solution might not have been the best, he sure saw the problem!

  32. Weedar,

    Marcion indeed saw the problem, and at the time he was one of the only ones who wasn’t using allegory to salvage the Hebrew Bible. I discuss this in my book, The Human Faces of God, though I take almost the opposite approach to Marcion. Rather than cutting the problematic texts out of the canon, I advocate keeping them in to function as negative revelation. We need these texts in our purview in order to remind us of the myriad of ways we continue to make God into our own image in order to justify our self-serving ideologies. God can still speak through them, even if God didn’t speak them.

  33. Oh, sorry, Weedar. I just realized by “book” you meant Human Faces. So I guess you already knew that! :)

  34. Tyler deleted his Facebook account too. He said things of that nature were taking up too much of his time and he had to get back to studying. I was the one who originally asked him about the Deuteronomy passage. I asked him on a Facebook thread in which he “Thanks God for Uganda standing up against homosexuality”(paraphrased… I think it was Uganda) and then posted a video (which I can’t find right now) about the blatant discrimination and anti-gay laws there. He was then defending the notion that the death penalty should be implemented here in the US for gays (well, gay “acts”) and that we have gotten away from God because we don’t. I then was asking what other O.T. things should be included…. The rape thing was one of them… It amazes me that there are people who in academia (not the run of the mill YEC reactionary) in the US who are even close to advocating that type of stuff. It’s shocking.

  35. Thanks for putting this into context, Keith. I hope Tyler comes to his senses and reactivates his Facebook account. In these trying, ambiguous times, a man without a Facebook account is like a man adrift at sea without an anchor.

  36. Thom you wrote in you review that the hapiru have no relation to Israel as an ethic group but when I went to seminary my teacher argued that it was term that meant a robber and that early Israelites applied it to themselves. He basically thought that the Genesis narratives are condoning their deceptive behaviors. Victor Matthews makes a similar argument in one of his books but leaves out the part about the hapiru(never says were he stands on it). What do you think?

  37. Pedro,

    The notion that apiru and ibri are connected roots was popular some time back but has been for the most part abandoned by philologists. There just isn’t any good philological support for the connection. And apiru had a broader semantic domain than just “robber.” Regardless, apiru and ibri aren’t the same root. See the literature I cited in the review, and the literature cited in that literature.

    Most importantly, ibri is never used in the Bible in a broader sense than for Abraham and his descendents.

  38. Well, it was a common idea for a time, and not everyone is aware that it has been discredited by philologists. It remains a popular idea, so I wouldn’t always attribute it to an apologetic agenda.

  39. Thom,

    I really enjoyed reading your critique of Copan’s book. In your acknowledgments you thank one of my undergraduate professors (Dr. Downing). I also see now that J.P. Holding has started a critique of your critique on his website. Since Holding was an influence on me some years ago, I hope this will result in an interesting exchange!

  40. Hey, Chris.

    Thanks for the comment. I like your blog!

    Yes, Dr. Downing was very helpful. He’s a sober-minded and generous man.

    I’ve read Holding’s responses so far. I’ve attempted to have fruitful engagements with him in the past and it hasn’t worked, so I won’t be engaging him. If you do have any questions about particular criticisms, feel free voice them here and I’ll be more than happy to respond, but I’m not going to use my time trying to persuade Holding; that’s a bottomless pit.

  41. Hi Thom,

    Was wondering if it is safe to assume (in your opinion) that because Jewish literature has eternal punishment within it, the idea of eternal punishment must be factual? From my own research, and what I just read in your review (I’ve gotten to pg. 223), this stuff doesn’t show up until Hebrews have intermingled with Babylon and Persia during their periods of captivity. This has been a factor in my rejection of any kind of hell as traditionally taught in evangelicalism. However, keep coming up against people who I think should know better (not gonna name names) who insist the opposite.

    I haven’t read your book, “The Human Faces of God” yet, but certainly intend to after reading this review. I don’t know if you take a public stand there, but if it isn’t too forward of me to ask (and you can certainly refrain from answering), do you take a position (on an afterlife)?


  42. Paige,

    My sincere apologies for the late reply. I’ve just finished moving a thousand miles and we’ve been unpacking, etc.

    I do not believe in an afterlife hell like the kind envisioned in apocalyptic Judaism. It was a cathartic response to heavy oppression and persecution, so it’s understandable as a human wish projection, but it hardly meets the basic requirements of justice, and cannot in my opinion be of divine origin, unless the divine happens to be sadistic and vindictive.

    On my beliefs about an afterlife in general, my answer can change from one moment to the next, depending on my mood. But overall, I remain hopeful and try to live my life as if I’ll have to account for it.

  43. Thanks Thom, just finished the review this weekend. I’ve sent the link out for it to others because I think this is so important to read and consider. After reading the review, I must get your book! I’m hoping it will put some pieces together for me as I’ve begun to look at the issue of textual criticism. Also looking at an evolutionary view of humanity through the efforts of Micheal Dowd and others. Hoping to make sense of it all, but my gut tells me it’s going to take a while…

  44. Paige,

    It’s difficult learning to live within the ambiguity, difficult but rewarding, I think. All the best!

  45. Just curious as to what criteria you use to determine what is “good” and “bad.”

  46. Gardner,

    I believe he means, like, “Cowboy Atheists,” and “Indian Atheists.” The Indian ones of course would be the good guys.

  47. Thom,
    I’ve just finished reading your critique & I was absolutely fascinated.  I confess to not having read Copan’s book, but I have heard him talk about it on the Straight Thinking Podcast.  What a great resource your critique is.  I will say in Coppan’s favour that I picked up the link from a post on his own “Parchment & Pen” site, so kudos to him for allowing it to remain there, I suppose.

    What intrigues me, as an atheist (yes, I am one of those people Cory C warned you against) is how you remain a Christian in spite of your – er – robust attitude to the Bible.  Well, I’ve just got a copy of your “Human Faces” downloaded onto my kindle, so maybe I’ll be able to answer by own question once I’ve read that.



  48. Without these texts’ …The Qur’an, The Tanukh, The Bible, etc. Mankind would be much more in tune with nature, there would be no need for any holy wars and our brain would most certainly be much …’smarter’. This is not to say the history of human behavior would have been without conflict or strife, but I tend to believe that today, this world would be a much kinder/nicer place to be. I know this is such a broad statement, but I’m sure if you took the time you could paint a clearer picture and understand my intended meaning. Altruism is inherent in most species, including us primates, no need for theistical teaching(s) to make us aware of that. Religions’ encumbrance on mankind is slowly dying and will soon be dead, it’s too bad I won’t be here (or anywhere) to ‘witness’ it, neither will you believers. 

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