In light of yesterday’s post, Paul Copan came out of the woodwork and commented here, attempting to show that I misunderstood him and bring some “clarification.” Here’s exactly what he wrote:
I never say that Mesha was sacrificing to Yahweh. He would have been sacrificing to Kemosh/Chemosh. I’m actually responding to philosopher Wes Morriston’s argument that (allegedly) God’s fury was against Israel as a response to Mesha’s sacrifice of his son (my book is something of a summary in response to Morriston’s critique in Philosophia Christi, the issue in which I offer a response directed to his arguments and intimations). Apparently relying on other scholars, Morriston’s point seems to be that this event diminishes the horror of infant sacrifice (to Yahweh) in Israel and suggests, with passages like Gen. 22 at al., the possible acceptability of such practices early on in Israel’s history.
I must say, Thom, that for a guy who’s not yet completed his M.A., you are able to get around in these areas of OT critical issues pretty readily! Well enough said. I guess that, given this explanation, you’re not going to eat your shoe on Youtube in the nude!
Now, I’m not sure if his remark about my credentials is a compliment or a veiled insult, but I don’t really care either way. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was being nice. [Update: Paul confirmed via email: he was being nice.]
Anyway, here is what I wrote in response to Copan’s above “clarification.”
I’m sorry but your comment is misleading. You may be clarifying what you intended to write, but what you actually wrote in your book is a different story (unless my Kindle edition is deficient). You wrote:
Some think this is God’s wrath and that God is showing his approval of Mesha’s sacrifice of his son by responding in wrath against Israel. (96)
Obviously your position is not that Mesha sacrificed to Yahweh, but the way you worded that makes it seem like that is the position you are arguing against. You say that some think that “God is showing his approval of Mesha’s sacrifice.” If you don’t mean that God accepted Mesha’s sacrifice, then what you have written is very, very unclear! I’ll give that to you: you were unclear. But the fact that you go on in your book to argue against this position by arguing that other texts indicate that Yahweh doesn’t accept human sacrifices makes it even more clear that what you were arguing against was unclear even to you.
What I won’t give to you, however, is that this is what Wes Morriston argues in his essay. I’ve read Morriston’s essay. Your comment here makes several mistakes:
First, you say, “apparently relying on other scholars.” That’s a nice assumption, but unfortunately the article you cite in your book from Morriston does not cite any other scholars who argue this about Mesha.
Second, you say, “Wes Morriston’s argument [was] that (allegedly) God’s fury was against Israel as a response to Mesha’s sacrifice of his son.” Well, there are two things to say about this claim. The first is that this is not what you say in your book. As I just pointed out, what you say in your book is that God “approved” of Mesha’s sacrifice. But this is not Morriston’s suggestion at all!
And here’s the second thing. And this is very unpleasant, because you’ve displayed that you don’t understand what Wes Morriston has said in his essay at all. Allow me to quote the relevant passage from Morriston’s essay:
In a much later period of Israelite history, we encounter another off case of child sacrifice. The King of Moab actually succeeds in defeating the Israelites by sacrificing his own son and heir—presumably to Chemosh.
When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom; but they could not. Then he took his firstborn son who was to succeed him, and offered him as a burnt-offering on the wall. And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land. (2 Kings 3:26-7)
Here the very practice inveighed against by the great Hebrew prophets appears to work. It seems that in an extreme situation, the sacrifice of one’s son and heir may turn the trick when nothing else will. It is, after all, the best thing you can offer your god. (Recall that it is partly for his willingness to sacrifice Isaac to Yahweh that Abraham is praised in Genesis 22:16!)
Of course, we [emphasis Morriston’s] may speculate that the Israelite army was merely frightened by the spectacle of a human sacrifice—that they ran away because they were afraid that Yahweh (or Chemosh?) would give the battle to the Moabites. But that merely underscores the point that I am trying to make. If the Canaanites had been “driven out” partly because they practiced human sacrifice, and their land had been given to a people set apart for the service of a God who abhorred and forbade human sacrifice, it is odd that at this late date the Israelites themselves still did not know that such sacrifices could not possibly be efficacious. (p. 16)
And there you have it. That’s his whole discussion. Not a single scholar cited. And you’ve clearly seriously misunderstood his argument. First, Morriston is not arguing that the text says that Yahweh’s wrath turned against Israel. Much less is he arguing that Yahweh’s wrath turned against Israel because Yahweh “approved” of Mesha’s sacrifice, as you articulated it in your book! Morriston clearly states that Mesha is offering his sacrifice to Kemosh (“It is, after all, the best thing you can offer your god.”)
What you seem to have missed is that the subsequent paragraph is not exegesis of the text but demythologization. He says that “we may speculate” (emphasizing we, over against the narrator in Kings) that something else than Kemosh’s aid in battle is behind the historical event. He speculates that perhaps Israel was afraid that Yahweh’s wrath (or Kemosh’s wrath) would now turn against them. But nowhere does he state that this fear of Yahweh’s wrath would have been due to Yahweh’s approval of Mesha’s sacrifice! But this is not his interpretation of the text: it is his demythologization of the text in an attempt to get to the history behind it. So when you say above that Morriston’s “argument” was that Yahweh’s wrath was turned against Israel, you’re displaying you misunderstand him entirely. This is unfortunate.
Finally, you say that “Morriston’s point seems to be that this event diminishes the horror of infant sacrifice (to Yahweh) in Israel.”
No, that’s not his point. His point is that this text displays that child sacrifice was still believed to be efficacious during this period. He makes the point fairly clearly. I’m not sure how you missed it.
He does make one bad argument though. Belief in the efficacy of human sacrifice in general does not mean that Yahweh in particular accepted human sacrifices. This particular text testifies to the former, not necessarily to the latter.
Thus, it’s clear that I won’t be eating my shoe while doing a jig in the nude, especially in light of the “clarification” you’ve just brought to the table. What you’ve clarified is that you misrepresented Morriston’s argument (although, to your credit, you didn’t directly attribute it to him in your book). And what remains clear is that your treatment of the text was deficient, since you ignored the interpretation of 2 Kings 3:27 offered by the majority of critical Bible scholars (and at least one philosopher: Morriston), namely, that this text indicates that at this time, Israelites believed (1) in the existence and power of Kemosh, and (2) in the efficacy of human sacrifice in general. Even if the composer of this limited narrative in Kings did not believe that Yahweh would accept human sacrifice, it is clear that he believed that Kemosh did accept human sacrifice. That’s the only point scholars like Niditch and Levenson make with this text.
I hope your second edition corrects these errors (among others), and makes a stronger argument.
I’d like to thank Paul Copan for taking the time to demonstrate that in fact I was right to assume that he had encountered no scholars who argued that Yahweh approved of Mesha’s sacrifice. Of course, some scholars have taken that position, but it seems clear now, thanks to Copan’s comments, that he wasn’t referring to anyone who actually did take that position. My point in the first edition was really that I didn’t think Copan himself could produce a single scholar who argued that position. That’s why I said “If Copan can produce a single scholar.” Sure, one can find a scholar who will say almost anything, but my point was that I was pretty sure Copan was misunderstanding somebody. And so he was.
I hope the silliness can now be put to rest and we can await Copan’s point-by-point response to my critical review.