ch. 2 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

In the 2nd chapter, Enns gets right to the most sensitive spot in the Bible, the topic atheists love to talk about, Old Testament genocide, as ordered or enacted by God. After surveying plenty examples of God killing people he observes, "[killing is] the go-to punishment for disobedience. To put a fine point on it, this God is flat-out terrifying..." p. 31 In particular, the Canaanites are singled out since Noah's condemnation of his own grandson, Canaan, son of Ham.

Enns notes the contrast of the OT approach to the Canaanites and the single New Testament approach, in Matthew's gospel. Jesus is bugged by a non-Jewish woman to heal her daughter, and it is Matthew who calls her a Canaanite. "The only time a Canaanite make it into the New Testament, and she becomes a model of faithful persistence: her faith in Jesus led to her daughter's healing." p. 44

There are plenty of examples of wickedness both among the Israelites as well as non-Israelites, but only the Canaanites are singled out for extermination. If wickedness is not the reason for their divine sentence, what is? Their location. The invading Israelites need a clean slate to start their new country, so the Canaanites need to go. This made sense to invading English, Spaniards, Belgians, Americans, etc. who found Biblical justification in the OT to thrust out their native populations, through war, slaughter, starvation, and mass migration.

How does this square with Jesus' call to love our enemies and to pray for them and to bless them?

Enns' proposal is mind blowing for a fundamentalist, "God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites." p. 54 When I read this sentence I was shocked that the book was not struck by lightning. Since it was not, I kept reading and listened to his reasoning.

Archaeology is important to understanding Israel's context. A stone monument from 9th century BC Moab, contemporary with Israel, speaks of their god, Kemosh, was angry at Moab and let Israel take some of their territory. But then Kemosh relented in his anger and ordered the Moabites to take back their territory and put all the Israelites, men, women, and children, to death as an act of worship. It sounds just like the Old Testament with the names changed.

The other challenge from archaeologists is the lack of evidence that the Israelite invasion actually happened. Even Jericho's walls didn't fall in any near time frame to when the Bible says they arrived.

If the Old Testament story does not align with Jesus nor with archaeology, why did God let the writers misrepresent Him? I appreciate his observation and completely agree with him, "I'm a lot less bothered by a Bible that tells ancient stories than I am by the thought of God exterminating a population and giving their land to others." p. 61 He offers a sensible explanation, "The Bible looks the way it does because 'God lets his children tell the story...'" p. 63 It is the same privilege we have. We tell stories about our experiences with God that might change with distance and maturity. Some things are definitely right and some are projections of our complex psychology.
Christians - as well as Jews- over the centuries have had to come to terms with this tribal portrait of God and have moved on; the ancient tribal description of God is not the last word... for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word. p. 65
What else are we to expect from ancient writers but primitive concepts, like war booty brides, nocturnal emission laws, talking animals, weird earth science, etc.? But we share our humanity, fears, hopes, ambition and failure. Who has not gotten God wrong? Who is the only person who gets God right, every time? Jesus, he changed everything.


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