Recently I’ve become interested in the morality of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. This interest has been awakened while listening to some debates and talks by Sam Harris (Home-Boy Sam) particularly but not exclusively having to do with Morality without God. He deals with this question often and at length in his most recent book “The Moral Landscape”. Specifically of interest to me is his clear and unapologetic advocacy that morality does not require God or any religion. People can, as one other author entitled his book be “Good without God”.
It seems that in the past those who found they could not adopt the irrational beliefs of religion or come other dogmatic system were rather apologetic or sheepish when it came to dealing with morality. The yielded the field and acquiesced that, yes, indeed, religion seemed to have cornered the market on morality and ethics. They admitted outright or seemed to, that religious people were indeed by definition more likely to be moral, that religion was, without question, an aid in adopting and maintaining admirable ethics and morality. Some even acknowledged that many if not most of our moral systems served mankind well and owed much to religion. The morality and ethics of the Bible were lauded as among the highest and most admirable of all the ethical systems available even even by those who did not believed it was created by God but rather by man. Even those who questioned and criticized the God of the Bible on other counts, particularly the Old Testament vision of God, seemed not to make the connection to the ethics and morality of the Bible but only to how questionable it is to embrace such a “vengeful” God as Yahweh for example.
The new approach by Harris and others does not yield even an inch of ground. They boldly assert that the morality and ethics of the Bible and particularly of the Old Testament are actually at best unimpressive, and rather mundane or at worst deplorable. They have, in my mind rightly, refused to isolate the more palatable aspects of Old Testament ethics from the rest of the narrative of the Old Testament and New Testament. They have taken the whole of the narrative and brought a justifiable critique. The reality it seems is that most Christians are indeed rather selective in what they choose to embrace, or at least attend to, in the Bible even while fiercely advocating it’s Inspired, Inerrant and Infallible nature. Most believers are not really aware, I think, of many of the problematic passages in the Old and New Testament or have not seriously faced their implications. There are sweeping generalizations made in conservative circles about the nature of the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament in terms of the latter representing a “New Covenant” superseding the Old, none of which really address these difficulties but nonetheless allow many people in-the-pews to simply ignore what they would otherwise, I think, not be able to stomach.
As a result I’ve decided to begin what will most likely be a VERY long series of posts on the morality of the Old Testament. I intend to once again read through the entire Old Testament and comment on passages which I believe relate generally to what one might view as the morality and ethics of the Old Testament and by inference the morality of Christianity. I’ve chosen to use the Jewish Publication Societies translation of the Old Testament published by Oxford Press called the Jewish Study Bible. I figure if anyone has reverence for the Old Testament it would be those who produced this translation, not to mention it’s scholarly reputation.
Although it has been many, many years and my Hebrew is long forgotten, my emphasis when in Seminary was the Old Testament even when working on my M. Div. degree. Later when I decided to continue to pursue my studies I choose to do so in Old Testament Biblical Studies when working on an M.Th. degree. I never completed the thesis for that degree but did complete all the other requirements for classes, languages and oral examination. So, I have something of an affinity for the Old Testament and more than a passing familiarity with it. The Seminary I attended required the study of Koine Greek and Classical Hebrew. The latter was a love of mine while there. I even took Ugaritic at the University of Pennsylvania and Biblical Aramaic at Seminary to enhance my understanding of the text. I am no expert, but I’m also not simply shooting from the hip.
My other concern in writing these posts is to be fair. While I do not hold to the conservative view of the Bible or it’s authorship, I DO think many times critics approach it as if they were shooting fish in a barrel. They do not give serious considerations to the text and context but rather take the passages in isolation often in order to make their content seem as absurd as possible. They do not often give consideration to the reasonable attempts to deal with the difficulties in the text. In essence they erect Straw Men the better to knock them down and trample them under foot. Even having said this I’ll be clear at the outset, it is my conviction and overall perspective that even taking the texts seriously in the context of the whole Old Testament will still not change the unpalatable nature of the morality of this book. In fact I think it will only enhance the deplorable nature of it’s moral content. However, I’m willing to be persuaded and will make every effort to deal fairly with the text.
So, I will begin with Genesis and read all the way through commenting as I see fit. So, stay tuned!