The REAL Second Edition: Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”

Well, here is the “nicer” version of my review of Paul Copan’s book. Hopefully this should be enough to prevent the apologists from focusing their responses on my “tone” rather than my substantive criticisms.

I’ve removed a number of the instances of incisive rhetoric; I’ve expanded my arguments in a number of places. I’ve included an extended response to Paul Copan’s latest defense of his and Walsh’s “give her a brazilian wax” reading of the “cut off her hand” law in Deut 25:11-12. I’ve included a summary of my critique of Richard Hess’s “reading” of 2 Kings 3:27. I’ve added further evidence against Copan’s misreading of the rape law in Deut 22:28-29. I’ve also expanded my arguments in some other places, cut down, refined, sharpened, and clarified other arguments. I’ve made a few corrections, particularly to my critique of Copan and Hess’s attempt to use Rabbah and Zion to argue that Jericho and Ai were military garrisons or citadels, but I’ve also further clarified why their argument there is wrong. I’ve also added one or two new jokes.

My hope is that everybody finds this review useful. Download here: Is God a Moral Comrpomiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? — Second Edition: Revised, Reduced, and Expanded

UPDATED 7/16/11 — several typos corrected, with thanks to John Kesler

24 thoughts on “The REAL Second Edition: Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”

  1. How the hell do you find the time to do all of this?!? Wow. I’m halfway through the first version but will def have to check out this new and revised version.

  2. I think your “tone” was perfect in the original.

  3. I read the first version and I think that there wasn’t much wrong with the tone. Some of the stuff Copan suggests doesn’t deserve anything else.

    Did you consider the sutbtitle: “Making nonsense of the Old Testament god”? 😛

  4. I admired the ‘tone’ in the first edition too. Humour is a great deflator of pretension! But if this revision helps target your review with greater precision – yay!

  5. I personally enjoy the way you skillfully wield sarcasm, when it is warranted. Version 1 worked fine for me, but if the second edition helps those with delicate sensibilities to focus on your content, rather than style, then I am all for it.

  6. I wanted to add my voice of agreement in saying that I felt your first edition’s mild sarcasm was refreshing. But I also understand how others might want to focus on tone instead of the arguments you present, and how, unfortunately, this might be distracting for some. It is unfortunate that some seem to choose to embark on discussions about tone so as seemingly to create a smoke screen around the arguments at hand. I hope the second edition will reach at least as many people as have picked up Paul Copan’s book.

    I would also like to say, for me anyway, a review where interpretations of texts butt up against each other is very illustrative and is helpful, I feel, in guiding critical thinking about the issues at hand.

    The charitableness you exhibit with your time and scholarship is commendable.

  7. Thom, Can you please highlight all of the sections of your book to which Copan and company HAVE NOT responded yet? People should be able to see at a glance just how many substantive points they HAVE YET to respond to.

  8. Perhaps Copan should rewrite his book that will tone it down in respect to the New Atheists. I don’t mind his tone all that much myself (because I know what to expect and I have a thick skin), but if he wants to be a baby about it he shouldn’t be hypocritical. Who wants to bet that he will?

  9. Even in a cursory glance I can see that this was written in just a few weeks. You bring up valid arguments on many points but do yourself a diservice by explanations such as your (p198) understatement of a “few Midianite women theologically terrorizing a few men of Israel” is either a gross understatement or a purposeful mislead of the gravity of the wives and daughters of Midian and what they did under the counsel of Balaam the prophet-for-hire. You also postulate without support that they were ALL the young virgins (BTW in a culture that worshiped Baal, a god that honored sexual liberalness and prostitution…this was likely a very young group of girls) taken as concubines when it was just stated “given/taken”…I will be reading the rest of the book and if you like, I will post comments here but if you want to call your book a “critical review” of the book, and expect it to be taken seriously by those you seem to be trying to convince that the Israelite God was/is a moral monster, then you should spend more than a few weeks making sure your critiques are accurate and utilize scholarly research on both sides of the argument…Your text at this point would better be called an anti-Copan personal critique of the book but I am sure many will read it just to see the points you make, which you have quite a few very good ones.

  10. Even in a cursory glance I can see that this was written in just a few weeks.

    Untrue.

    You bring up valid arguments on many points but do yourself a diservice [sic] by explanations such as your (p198) understatement of a “few Midianite women theologically terrorizing a few men of Israel” is either a gross understatement or a purposeful mislead of the gravity of the wives and daughters of Midian and what they did under the counsel of Balaam the prophet-for-hire.

    Incorrect. The relevant text is Numbers 25. There it has some Moabite (not Midianite) women enticing Israelite men, and one Midianite woman doing so. Her name was Cozbi, and she was killed. She is the solitary Midianite women identified in this incident. But for her actions, Yahweh gives Moses the instruction to “harass the Midianites and defeat them.”

    Now, anyone familiar with the scholarly literature on the Balaam cycle will be aware that there are multiple and conflicting sources at work here. The source in Numbers 31 has Balaam as an enemy of Yahweh who counsels the women of Midian to deceive the Israelites. But Numbers 22-24 tells a very different story, one in which Balaam is a prophet of Yahweh and refuses to aid the Moabites and Midianites. I’m sorry that your unfamiliarity with the material has led you to think that I was presenting an inaccurate picture. In fact, I was not.

    You also postulate without support that they were ALL the young virgins (BTW in a culture that worshiped Baal, a god that honored sexual liberalness and prostitution…this was likely a very young group of girls) taken as concubines when it was just stated “given/taken”…

    First, the age of the virgins is irrelevant. Girls were married off very young also, and young girls would have been reared as wives and concubines. Does the text explicitly state this? No. Is it an unreasonable assumption? Absolutely not. Other texts in Torah make it perfectly clear that the female spoils of war were taken as wives and concubines. Regardless, my argument here had nothing to do with how the virgins were used subsequent to their capture (that was simply an aside). The argument has to do with how many others Israel clearly killed that day.

    I will be reading the rest of the book and if you like.

    That’s entirely up to you. It makes no difference to me.

    I will post comments here but if you want to call your book a “critical review” of the book, and expect it to be taken seriously by those you seem to be trying to convince that the Israelite God was/is a moral monster, then you should spend more than a few weeks making sure your critiques are accurate and utilize scholarly research on both sides of the argument.

    Once again, please don’t mistake your lack of familiarity with the scholarly literature on these subjects for evidence that my critical review does not reflect the scholarly discussions.

    Your text at this point would better be called an anti-Copan personal critique of the book but I am sure many will read it just to see the points you make, which you have quite a few very good ones.

    I’m glad you think I have made “quite a few very good” critiques of Copan, but I’m not sure what an “anti-Copan personal critique of the book” is. Whatever it is that that means, I am not anti-Copan. I am anti-Copan’s-arguments, except in the few cases where his arguments are correct, of course.

    Thanks for your comments. All the best.

  11. As for your claim that my critical review somehow isn’t rigorous enough, how many other critical reviews are there out there that engage Copan’s work in this kind of detail, with as many scholarly sources cited as I have? The fact is, the vast majority of critical scholars can’t be bothered to engage pulp apologetics books like Copan’s. I know more than a few who have told me personally that engaging Copan’s book isn’t worth their time. Yet I have written a 344-page critical review, not because Copan deserves it, but because his readers deserve it. If there were a record in the Guinness Book for most time and work invested in responding to Is God a Moral Monster?, I would be the undisputed record holder.

  12. I directed Robert here and now I brace myself (enjoyably I might add) for a large ensuing discussion as Thom and Robert are two of the most prolific Internet writers I know. It should be fun. Especially since Thom (and Robert) is far and away more informed than I about these things. Robert are you really already on page 198, or have you been skimming? I just gave gave you the link this morning!

  13. Well, Robert did say “a cursory glance.” So perhaps he is skimming. That would account for the fact that he’s attacking an aside I made which had no bearing on the argument.

    I’ll be glad to engage as I can, but I frankly don’t have time for a “large ensuing discussion.”

  14. Thanks for this critical review of Paul Copan’s book, Mr.Stark. Alot of my christian friends think Copan’s book is the “ultimate defeater” for any argument against old testament ethics. Whenever they bring up his book, I just link them to your review. :)

  15. So … It’s been almost 8 months now.  When will Paul Copan respond with something of substance (you know, not about tone and offense, but about the actual issues)?

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