Welcome to this week’s Christian Carnival. There are a number of interesting and engaging posts from around the blogosphere related to Christian matters — and here are a few of them.
First off, Joshua (aka Disciple) reminds us about the importance of Prayer over at Closer2THEE.
Moving to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, if you have ever wondered why Jonah Became Angry, you will want to check out Romi’s devotional over at In the Way Everlasting, where he challenges us to see people around us as God does.
Ridge Burns reflects on the need for understanding from Psalm 119:33-34 (“Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees, that I may keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will follow your law and obey it with all my heart”), in his blog over at InFaith.
Turning to the New Testament, John Marcott, inspired by last week’s post by Richard Beck where he rewrote the Sermon on the Mount, produced his own paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount Remix to challenge and inspire as we are Walking Towards The Light.
Dean, in a brief extrapolation on some “Noble Characters” from Acts 17, provides us with some insight and grace of how we should treat people who present different theological ideas to us over at his Working on the Mission blogspot.
Annette offers a devotional study of 2 Corinthians 3:17-21 in her post Day by Day, reminding us that God transforms us from within, over at her blog Fish and Cans.
Over at Thinking in Christ, Russ reflects on the text of the New Testament in his post Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt on the New Testament. He argues that the claim that the scribes who copied the Scriptures made changes to support their theology is not supported by the manuscript evidence and amounts to nothing more than an ad hominim attack against the scribes themselves.
In the area of Christian living, Beth Arnold writes about knowing just the right people to accomplish what God has planned for her to do in her post It’s Who You Know over at InFaith’s Mission Blog.
Welcome to the November 2nd edition of the Christian Carnival ii, where Christian blog writers — of various denominational backgrounds — share their best posts from the previous week. This week’s offerings are good, albeit a bit sparse. I was somewhat disappointed that there were no posts on the topic of Halloween, Satan, or his minions. But never fear: if you are interested in some spooky reading, check out this month’s Biblical Studies Carnival: The Undead Edition (scroll to the bottom for Halloween-themed posts).
But I digress… on to this week’s Christian Carnival…
David Wells, over at his blog Revelation 3:10 – Blog, reminds us in a post unpacking 1Corinthians 7:19 (“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything” NRSV), that what is most important is obedience in his post “Only Living It Counts” (of course, we need God’s grace to be obedient!). David also posted a reflection on the stoning of Stephen from chapter seven of the book of Acts, entitled “Guilty Without Action.”
Are Christians still obligated to get busy and “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”? (Genesis 1:28a) — or is that actually one command that we humans have fulfilled to the tune of some seven billion? Jeremy Pierce addresses this question — as it applies to the “secondary moral obligation” to adopt, in his post “Adoption, Having Children, and Secondary Moral Obligations” over at Parableman.
The one post submitted this week that deals with the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament comes from Isabel Anders over at BlogHer. She presented a meditation on the personification of “wisdom” as a woman in the Hebrew Bible in her post, “Part One: Wisdom Has a Woman’s Name.”
Henry Neufeld calls for some healthy and humble introspection when we read and reread the Scriptures in his blog post, “Point It at Yourself First” at the Participatory Bible Study Blog. That’s good advice… didn’t someone somewhere say something about taking a log out of your own eye?
Next week’s Christian Carnival ii will be hosted over at Ichthus77. To submit a blog post to the Carnival, click the widget above or go here.
Those in Edmonton this Friday May 13th will want to take in the 2011 deGroot Memorial Lecture with Dr. William Cavanaugh. He will be speaking on The Myth of Religious Violence. The lunch and lecture runs 12:00-2:30 pm and is at the King’s University College.
Some may be familiar with Paul Copan‘s recent book Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker, 2011; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). It is an attempt to address the criticisms leveled against the God of the Hebrew Bible by the New Atheists, among others. It’s an OK book, although I am ultimately unsatisfied with his attempts.
But it doesn’t matter what I think! TonyThom Stark has donned his Iron Man suit and produced a 303-page review of Copan’s book! 303 pages! Talk about the SmackDown Slam of the Week! Copan’s book is only 252 pages to begin with! To say the review is scathing would be a bit of an overstatement, but I do like the advice Stark gives to the reader at the end of the review:
So what do we do now? How do we move on? Where do we go from here? I suggest two courses of action. First, email Paul Copan and ask for an apology for his apologetics. Moreover, challenge him to take his responsibilities, both to the biblical text and to the church, more seriously from now on. Tell him you’re not interested in easy answers; you want to know how to struggle.
Second, keep struggling, but don’t do it on your own. Find a community that will allow you to be honest with your doubts, a community that won’t force you to comply with phony definitions of faith that allow for no dissent and no despair. Find a community that will not only allow you to struggle openly, but one that will struggle with you, without the need to force easy answers onto questions that won’t allow for them. Find a community that knows how to argue, both with one another, and with the text. The Bible is an argument with itself. Find a community that knows that joining in that argument is exactly what it means to be a people of the book. Find a community that doesn’t let experts speak over the top of the ignorant. Find a community that holds those who doubt in high regard, and one that treats those with all the answers with the kind of care appropriate to the mentally ill.
If you’ve already found such a community, find someone who hasn’t. And if you haven’t found one yet, keep looking. They’re out there. I’ve found mine. You’ll find yours. Christian or not, we all need such communities; it’s what it means to be human. There may not be any answers forthcoming, but woe to the one who has questions and no one to throw them at.
“Email Paul Copan and ask for an apology for his apologetics” – I love it! Now, to be fair, Stark’s review is written in a conversational tone, so that in part explains the length. And he isn’t mean spirited; in contrast he is truly concerned for the problems that Copan’s approach raises for the academic and Christian community.
Stark’s review, entitled, “Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?“, is available from his website here. If you have read Copan, or are planning to read Copan, I encourage you to download it and read it alongside Copan.
[I should probably mention that my recommendation to read Copan and Stark together in no way implies that I agree with either of them!]
(HT to my buddy Randal Rauser for drawing my attention to Stark’s review)
I submitted my last grades for the semester and can now move on to some research and writing projects. I just updated the website for the 2011 CSBS Ancient Historiography Seminar. The focus on this year’s Seminar is “History, Historiography, and the Hebrew Bible” and we have a number of interesting papers, including some from John Van Seters, Ehud Ben Zvi, Keith Bodner, among others. Feel free to take a look…
The 2011 Ancient Historiography Seminar will meet on Sunday 30 May 2010 as part of the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies at the University of New Brunswick & St. Thomas University, Fredericton, NB, May 29-Tuesday May 31, 2011. The Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne is a professional, academic working group of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies / Société canadienne des Études bibliques (CSBS/SCÉB).
One of the most marvelous passages of Scripture in the Tanak is found at the end of the book of Job where Yahweh (surprisingly) responds to Job from the whirlwind (Job 38:1-42:6). I’ve tended to understand Yahweh’s reply to Job as a series of unanswerable questions that put Job and his so-called friends in their place, so to speak. If Job doesn’t understand the workings of the world in which he finds himself, then how does he expect to understand the workings of God’s moral universe? The questions are to humble Job and underscore human finititude. The questions should elicit epistemic humility in Job (and the reader). In my mind, they highlight that the theme of the book of Job is less about “suffering” or “theodicy” than it is about “Who is truly wise?” That is, who understands the question of suffering?
The other day my theology colleague brought to my attention a short section on “Job and Inexplicability” in an essay by philosopher Slavoj Žižek. The essay is from the recently published volume edited by John Milbank, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology (Brazos, 2010; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). In this section, Žižek understands God’s response to Job also highlights that God doesn’t even understand his own creation. He notes:
The rationalist points out that the fine thing about the world is that it can all be explained. But this is the point that God’s reply explicitly opposes — if I may put it so — to the point of violence. God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as people are concerned, it is that it cannot be explained. He insists on the inexplicableness of everything.
Again, to startle humans, God becomes, for an instant, a blasphemer. One might almost say that God becomes, for an instant, an atheist. He unrolls before Job a long panorama of created things… The Maker of all things is astonished at the things he has himself made. Again, here the point is not that God knows the deeper meaning, but it is as if God himself is overwhelmed at the excess of his creation (pp. 177-78).
While Žižek’s notion is provocative, I’m not sure that it is borne out by the text itself. I agree with the first paragraph above; the world we find ourselves in is ultimately inexplicable from our vantage point. I am not so sure I agree with the second paragraph, that God himself also doesn’t “know the deeper meaning.” The force of the rhetorical questions is that while Job (and all humans) may not know, Yahweh does. While I believe this is implied throughout the entire passage, it is explicit in a number of places:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Speak if you have understanding” (Job 38:4)
“Have you penetrated the vaults of snow, Seen the vaults of hail, Which I have put aside for a time of adversity, For a day of war and battle?” (Job 38:22-23)
“Who sets the wild ass free? Who loosens the bonds of the onager, Whose home I have made the wilderness, The salt land his dwelling-place? He scoffs at the tumult of the city, Does not hear the shouts of the driver. He roams the hills for his pasture; He searches for any green thing” (Job 39:5-8).
That God knows and understands is even more clear in his second response to Job, IMHO. So while Žižek’s comments are intriguing, they are only partially correct. What do you think?
A couple of my buddies over at York University who study the appendix to the Bible (I think it’s called the New Testament ) also study some obscure stuff relating to the appendix (called the “Christian Apocrypha”). At any rate, they (I guess I can name them: Tony Burke and Phil Harland) are hosting a conference on the Secret Gospel of Mark at the end of April, 2011 at York University.
The conference, Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate, is the first of the York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series. More details may be found here.
If you are wondering what the “Secret Gospel of Mark” is, here is an excerpt from the conference website:
In 1958, American Biblical scholar Morton Smith made an astounding discovery in the Mar Saba monastery in Jerusalem. Copied into the back of a 17th century book was a lost letter by Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215 CE) containing excerpts from a longer version of the Gospel of Mark. This Secret Gospel of Mark, as it became known, is now one of the most debated texts of the Christian Apocrypha. More than fifty years after its discovery, there is still no consensus on the issues of its authenticity. Was the letter truly written by Clement of Alexandria? Or by a medieval or even modern forger? Was the forger Morton Smith himself? The debate has heated up in recent years with the publication of Stephen Carlson’s The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2005) and several criticisms of Carlson’s work by other scholars. Unfortunately, there has been no effective venue for these scholars to share their views on the text and arrive closer to a resolution of the issue of its authenticity. It is hoped that some progress can be made by bringing these scholars together to present their latest work on the gospel to each other, to an audience of interested scholars, to a curious public, and ultimately to an even wider audience with the publication of the papers and summaries of the discussion that arises from their gathering.
(Stephen Carlson, author of The Gospel Hoax, blogs over at hypotyposeis, often on Secret Mark)
Chris Heard over at Higgaion posted an interesting discussion of Kurt Noll’s article, “The Ethics of Being a Theologian,” over at the Chronicle of Higher Education web site. While I agree with Chris that Kurt’s article is full of unsubstantiated “truth claims,” I still recognize the distinction between religious studies and theology. While my sympathies with Noll could be because he is a fellow Canadian and my perception is that Canadians draw the distinction between religious studies and theology more sharply than those in the USA, the fact is that I try to live in both worlds and tend to eschew the combative and dualistic nature of the “Religious Studies vs. Theology” debate.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the distinction between religious Studies and theology is a matter of some debate. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the discipline of Religious Studies has typically been understood to be the value-neutral and objective study of religions, while Theology is the confessional or particularistic study of one religion (See Donald Wiebe, “The Politics of Religious Studies,” CSSR Bulletin 27 [November 1998]: 95-98, where he argues forcefully for this distinction. Wiebe has long been a Canadian proponent for the continuing role of the academic study of religion within the context of a public university, by which he means the value-free study of religion free from any religious or confessional goals).
The distinction between Religious Studies and Theology played an important part in the establishment of Religious Studies departments in a number of universities in Europe and North America – though significantly not all educational institutions thought that the distinction was necessary. While this distinction is certainly characteristic of Canadian public universities, there are a number of institutions in Europe and North America that have combined departments of Religion and Theology (and that is what we attempted to do at the now defunct Taylor University College).
This traditional demarcation has also been challenged on some fronts in light of the postmodern recognition that there is no real objective, value-neutral study of religion (or any other subject for that matter). While I wholeheartedly agree with this recognition, that does not mean there is no distinction between religious studies and theology — it just means that any claims to be “objective”or “neutral” should be dismissed. We all engage our disciplines from our horizon with all of our own prejudices and presuppositions. What it means, however, is that the differences between the disciplines are only the rules agreed upon by those working within them. And each discipline works out different rules of engagement. (For an interesting discussion of postmodern theories of religious studies, see the interaction between Garrett Green, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth’s Theory of Religion,” Journal of Religion 75 : 473-86; Russell T. McCutcheon, “My Theory of the Brontosaurus”: Postmodernism and ‘Theory’ of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 26 : 3-23, and William E. Arnal, “What if I Don’t Want to Play Tennis?: A Rejoinder to Russell McCutcheon on Postmodernism and Theory of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 27 : 61-68; see also McCutcheon’s response, “Returning the Volley to William E. Arnal” on pp. 67-68 of the same issue). In practice, Religious Studies in the Canadian public university context tends to be the study of religion which does not privilege one religious discourse above another (notice I didn’t say “scientific” study of religion, since I find those that throw around the term “scientific” do so with prejudice against anything not deemed “scientific”). Theology, on the other hand, is typically defined as the study of one religion from a confessional standpoint. Thus the insider/outsider demarcation remains.
It is also possible to make a distinction between the academic disciplines of theology and biblical studies. On one level theology is a discipline distinct from biblical studies. Christian Theology, as one recent work defined it, is “an ongoing, second-order, contextual discipline that engages in critical and constructive reflection on the faith, life, and practices of the Christian community” (Stan Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism. Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2001) p. 16). As such, “Christian Theology” seems to me to be a normative insider job rather than purely descriptive discipline. Biblical studies, on the other hand, is an inclusive, multifaceted discipline that centers on the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Christian New Testament and that includes scholars from a variety of different religious and methodological perspectives. That being said, there are a large number of biblical scholars — indeed an entire a sub-discipline of biblical studies — who are also confessional and theological in their approach. That is, they are not only interested in describing the message of the Apostle Paul, they also want to engage the question of how Paul’s message may be relevant to the community of faith today.
In the light of the above distinctions, much of what I do would fall under the rubric of theology. I teach at a confessional institution from a confessional perspective, and one of my educational goals is to encourage students to critically reflect on their own religious tradition and integrate this faith with all aspects of their lives. That being said, I chaff at Kurt’s characterization that I “do not advance knowledge” but only “practice and defend religion.” My classes, while taught from a confessional perspective, are not the sort of indoctrination or apologetics that Kurt seems to think they must be. My teaching incorporates a broad methodological perspective that seeks to take account of a variety of critical and ideological approaches representative of the broader religious studies/biblical studies guild. Perhaps the difference is that I don’t stop there. I seek to interact with and explore how this broader perspective relates to the theological interpretation of scripture for the community of faith. So I am not sure that the relationship between “religious studies” and “theology” is an “either/or” relationship. I prefer to view it as a “both/and” relationship where the theological task is seen as “going beyond” the methods and questions of religious studies to include the personal faith integrative task as well. For what it’s worth, lately I find that I am far more interested in the latter issues than the former.
Either way, no matter where you stand on the debate, Peter Donovan makes an excellent point when he notes that
the scientific study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from the thinking of others interested in the same subject-matter, merely because they may hold very different views about theory and method (Peter Donovan, “Neutrality in Religious Studies,” in The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion. A Reader [ed., Russell T. McCutcheon; New York: Cassell, 1999], p. 245).
I would add that the theological study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from those who take a religious studies approach as well! What is perhaps most important for any approach to the study of religion is that the approach is academic and methodologically sound and rigorous. And I happen to think, contra Kurt Noll, that this is possible for both scholars of religious studies and theologians!
[Chronicles is another one of my research areas. This post was originally uploaded 10/2009]
King Saul is a tragic figure in the biblical narrative. According to the Deuteronomistic History (his reign is recorded in 1Samuel 9-31), it seems as soon as Saul is chosen by Yahweh as the first king of Israel (and yes, Saul is chosen by Yahweh, not the people; see 1Sam 9:16-17; 10:1-8, 23; 11:6-14; etc.), the monarchy is taken away because of his lack of obedience (see 1Sam 13 and 15). King Saul isn’t even afforded a proper regnal formula in 1Sam 13:1! (While some consider this a mere textual issue to be corrected through text criticism, I wonder if it is purposeful considering the abortive nature of Saul’s reign).
When we turn to the book of Chronicles, Saul’s fate is even worse! All that is left of Saul’s reign is a couple geneological notes (1Chron 8:33; 9:39) and a short chapter detailing his death on Mount Gilboa (1Chron 10:1-14). Furthermore, while Saul enjoyed some victories and blessing by Yahweh in 1Samuel, in Chronicles his entire reign is written off and his death is understood as the direct intervention of Yahweh (1Chron 10:13-14).
Transition to David: The Death of Saul and His House (1 Chron 10:1-14)
The genealogy of Jerusalem’s inhabitants in chapter nine of 1Chronicles ends with the list of Saul’s descendants. Chapter ten only provides a very brief summary of the demise of Saul and his dynasty, though it seems to presuppose knowledge of other events in the life of Saul. Most significantly, the Chronicler provides his own theological assessment of Saul’s reign in the two verses at the end of the chapter.
Since this chapter is only fourteen verses long, let’s display the text as a whole (with the parallel text from 1Samuel; I have marked significant differences in the Hebrew texts in italics):
1 Chronicles 10:1-14
1 Samuel 31:1-13
(1) Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa.
(1) Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa
(2) The Philistines pursued closely (דבק) after Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.
(2) The Philistines overtook (דבק) Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.
(3) The battle pressed hard upon Saul; and the archers found him, and he was wounded by the archers.
(3) The battle pressed hard on Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers.
(4) Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling, for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.
(4) Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.
(5) When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon the sword and died.
(5) When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him.
(6) So Saul died; he and his three sons, and all his house, together they died.
(6) So Saul died; he and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, also all his men on that day together.
(7) When all the men of Israel who were in the valley saw that they had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned the towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.
(7) When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.
(8) The next day when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his sons fallen on Mount Gilboa.
(8) The next day when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa.
(9) They stripped him and took his head and his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to their idols and to the people.
(9) They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people.
(10) They put his armor in the temple of their gods, and fastened his headin the temple of Dagon.
(10) They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
(11) But when all Jabesh-gilead heard all what the Philistines had done to Saul,
(11) But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul,
(12) all the valiant warriors got up and took up the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
(12) all the valiant men got up and traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They came to Jabesh and burned them there. (13) Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
(13) So Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to Yahweh in that he did not keep the word of Yahweh; moreover, he had consulted a medium, seeking guidance,
(14) and did not seek guidance from Yahweh. Therefore Yahweh put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.
Notes on the Text(s)
As can be seen from the table above, the material of this chapter is derived from 1 Samuel 31, though a number of scholars have argued that it is based on a shorter text than MT Samuel (see especially, Craig Y.S. Ho, “Conjectures and Refutations: Is 1 Samuel xxxi 1-13 Really the Source of 1 Chronicles x 1-12?” VT 45 , 85-106). While it is clear that the Chronicler’s text of Samuel and Kings is not identical with the MT, without textual evidence it is very difficult to determine where the Chronicler’s Vorlage may have been different. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own merit, and clear indications of the theological tendenz of the Chronicler may help us in this process.
The Chronicler’s account of Saul’s reign is divided into three main sections:
The death of Saul and His House (vv. 1-10). This is largely based on 1Sam 31.
The good works of the people of Jabesh Gilead (vv. 11-12). Again, largely based on 1Sam 31.
Theological commentary on Saul’s reign and death (vv. 13-14). This is unique to the Chronicler; although it assumes knowledge of Saul’s inquiry of a medium in 1Sam 28.
1. The Death of Saul and his House (vv. 1-10) 1 There is no historical context provided for the battle with the Philistines (their only previous mention is found in 1Chr 1:12). The change from a participle (“were fighting” (1Sam 31:1) to a suffix verb form (“fought”) serves to disconnect the narrative from its larger context in 1Samuel. Indeed, in the context of the Chronicler, the “Philistines” may be best understood as representing the “heathen” in general.
2 Saul’s sons are previously mentioned in 1Chr 8:33 and 9:39, where his fourth son, Esh-Baal, is also noted. The abortive two-year reign of Esh-Baal, and his subsequent death, is not mentioned by the Chronicler (see 2 Sam 2:8-4:12).
4 It is interesting to note that Saul’s suicide probably did not have any negative moral connotations in the ancient Near East (see Knoppers), but would have been seen as honourable.
6 The Chroniclers appears to have modified the description of the death of Saul to include “all his house.” How to understand this reference is unclear. Ho argues that the shorter text in 1Chron 10:6 (and the reference to “all his house”) may in fact be a better reading, since 1Sam 14:49-51 presents Saul as only having three sons, and thus his “house” did die that fateful day on Mount Gilboa (Ho 86-87). While Ho may have a point, I tend to side with those scholars who understand the changes in the Chronicler’s text as a theological judgement about the end of Saul’s dynasty, despite the tension it creates with the Saulide genealogies in 1Chron 8:33-40 and 9:39-44. Either way, it is crystal clear that Saul’s royal dynasty ended on Mount Gilboa for the Chronicler, and there is no further mention of Saul’s descendants in Chronicles (e.g., no mention of David’s dealing with Mephibosheth in 2Sam 9:1-13 or the death of Saul’s descendants in 2Sam 21:1-14). The verse itself reflects a chiastic structure: Died (a) – Saul (b) – three sons and his whole house (b) – died (a)
9-10 The Chronicler’s lack of interest in Saul’s corpse is interesting (see Ho for a textual solution for the differences between the texts). Saul’s head and armour are sent throughout Philistine territory and end up displayed in their temples. Perhaps there is a parallel with David’s beheading of Goliath (1Sam 17:51) and his depositing of his head in Jerusalem (1Sam 17:54), which could either display the complete defeat of Israel (Williamson), or could be taken as a further polemic against Saul in that he himself is treated in the same manner as David treated the Philistine Goliath. (Ackroyd also suggests that the differences between the accounts should not be pressed as they may only indicate differing traditions surrounding the death of Saul.)
2. The Good Works of the People of Jabesh Gilead (vv. 11-12) 11-12 The kinds acts of the people of Jabesh-Gilead are repeated with minor alteration in Chronicles. The backstory to this verse is found in 1Sam 11, where Saul delivers the people of Jabesh-Gilead from Nahash the Ammonite (In addition, Saul’s descendants include those from Jabesh-Gilead, according to Judges 21).
3. Theological Commentary on Saul’s Reign and Death (vv. 13-14)
The Chronicler provides his own assessment of Saul’s reign and death in which he levels four charges against Saul: he was “unfaithful” (ma’al), he failed to keep “the word of Yahweh,” he sought a medium, and failed to seek Yahweh. Stylistically, the verses are organized in a nice chiasm:
A. Saul died (MT) because of his ma’al
B. He was ma’al and did not keep the word of Yahweh
B.’ He sought (drsh) a Medium (1 Sam 28) but did not seek (drsh) Yahweh
A.’ Saul was killed (MT) by Yahweh
He died because of his unfaithfulness (ma’al), which is one of the Chronicler’s favourite terms (see 2:7, etc.). Not keeping “the word of Yahweh” is likely a specific allusion to 1 Sam 13 and 16. The Chronicler makes it clear that Saul died because of his unfaithfulness and that Yahweh turned His kingdom over to David.
The Purpose of the Chronicler’s Accout of Saul
As a whole, this chapter in Chronicles functions as a transition from the global focus of the genealogical section of Chronicles to the narrative account of the history the monarchy of Israel. The transition is made by a brief account of Saul’s reign; an account that focuses solely on his death and the end of his dynasty. This account in Chronicles is remarkable for its brevity; there is no mention of the events of Saul’s reign or the stories of his remaining heirs – only his death is important for the Chronicler, since it provides the bridge to the reign of the house of David. In this way, the account of the death of Israel’s first king, serves to place David in Israel’s history. “David is not a beginning ex nihilo but rather represents the continuation of a preexisting monarchy” (Trotter 300).
Furthermore, as Zalewski demonstrates, the account exonerates David from any complicity in Saul’s death and clearly establishes Yahweh as the one who removes Saul from the throne and gives it to David (1 Chron 10:14). Moreover, it is not only Saul’s reign that is cut short by Yahweh; Saul and “his entire house” (1Chron 10:6) died that fateful day on Mount Gilboa (see discussion below). David did not usurp Saul’s throne or end his dynasty; God himself orchestrated David’s rise to power. Significantly, this is the only place in the Chronicler’s history that Yahweh directly intervenes and deposes on monarch and replaces him with another (De Vries 119).
Rather than serving merely as a transition or foil to the reign of David, a number of scholars also see the reign of Saul as paradigmatic of the exilic situation (Ackroyd 3-9; Williamson 92-93; relying on Mosis). Mosis, for instance, sees “Saul as the embodiment of many of the key flaws that brought disaster on Israel, and indeed he embodies the disaster himself” (Trotter 302). This understanding is reinforced by the typically Chronistic ways Saul’s death is described: he died for his unfaithfulness (מעל; ma’al) and did not seek (דרש; darash) Yahweh. This understanding of Saul’s reign as typifying judgment and exile is then complemented, in Mosis’s scheme, by David’s reign as a preparation for Solomon’s idealized reign standing for Israel’s eschatological future. While Saul’s reign may or may not be a prototype of the exile (I am not convinced by Mosis), he does serve as a warning to the unfaithful who do not seek Yahweh.
Simon John De Vries, 1 and 2 Chronicles (FOTL 11; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989); Raymond B. Dillard, 2 Chronicles (WBC 15; Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987); Gary Knoppers, I Chronicles 10-29 (AB; Doubleday, 2004); Craig Y. S. Ho, “Conjectures and Refutations: Is 1 Samuel Xxxi 1-13 Really the Source of 1 Chronicles X 1-12?” VT 45 (1995): 82-106; Sara Japhet, I & II Chronicles: A Commentary (OTL; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993); Ralph W. Klein, 1 Chronicles (Hermeneia; Fortress, 2006); Martin J. Selman, 2 Chronicles: A Commentary (TOTC; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994); James M. Trotter, “Reading, Readers and Reading Readers Reading the Account of Saul’s Death in 1 Chronicles 10,” in Chronicler as Author (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 294-310; H. G. M. Williamson, 1 and 2 Chronicles (NCBC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982); Saul Zalewski, “The Purpose of the Story of the Death of Saul in 1 Chronicles 10,” VT 39 (1989): 449-67.
[One day I will like to explore this issue more. Last year I taught a course on the Bible and violence and I know I raised more questions for the students than provided solutions! Originally posted 07/2008]
One of the biggest moral and theological challenges modern readers face when reading the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is the brutal violence found within its pages. And if the graphic descriptions of violence perpetrated by humans upon other humans was not enough (see Judges 19-21 for one startling example), you have the thornier issue of violence attributed to and commanded by God. Perhaps the biggest and most troublesome example in this regard is the Canaanite genocide – Yahweh commanding Israel to “utterly destroy” all of the inhabitants – men, women, and children – of the promised land.
Prior to the conquest, Yahweh set out his expectations to Moses and the children of Israel as follows:
In the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places. You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess (Num 33:50-53).
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you — the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you — and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy (Deut 7:1-2).
But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God (Deut 20:16-18).
Then, when the Israelites encountered the Canaanite king of Arad on the way to the promised land, they prayed to Yahweh and he “listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their towns; so the place was called Hormah” (Num 21:1-3). The Israelites later killed off a few other towns on their journey, Moses later reporting, “we utterly destroyed them… in each city utterly destroying men, women, and children (Deut 3:6).
Perhaps the most (in)famous example is the destruction of Jericho, where
they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys (Josh 6:21).
How do we respond to such texts?
Now, I recognize there are significant historical issues with these texts. Most (many?) critical scholars maintain that there was not really much of a conquest of Canaan, if at all. John Van Seters, for example, comments “the invasion of the land of Canaan by Israel under Joshua was an invention of [the Deuteronomistic Historian]. The conquest narrative is a good example of ancient historiography but it cannot pass for historical by any modern criteria of historical evaluation.” Even the biblical text, when read carefully, admits that the conquest was not quite as successful as the early chapters of Joshua suggest (see Josh 13:1‑7; 18:3; cf. Exod 23:29-30; Judg 1). That being said, even if there is little histiorical value in these texts (note I am not necessarily saying this), the biblical text still presents Yahweh as commanding the Canaanite genocide, and this picture fits into the larger ideological portrayal of Yahweh as warrior found throughout the Hebrew Bible.
So the question remains, How do we respond to such texts? How do we respond to such texts in a post-holocaust world? How do we respond in a world where terms such as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” are heard all too often in the news?
The so-called “new atheists” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, among others) have responded to these and other biblical texts by rejecting Yahweh as a petty, jealous, violent deity. Dawkins comments:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully (Dawkins, The God Delusion [New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006], 51; thanks to Randal Rauser for this citation).
He further contends:
What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh-and even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) on the rest of us (The God Delusion, 248; cited in Copan).
While rejecting Yahweh may be a solution for some, I would argue that it really isn’t an option for Christians who want to adhere to the biblical canon. But what do we do with these texts? Paul Copan, professor of theology and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, has recently published an article in Philosophia Christi that addresses this thorny problem. In his article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics” (available from the Evangelical Philosophical Society website here), Copan attempts to counter the claims of the new atheists, among others. Copan rehearses most of the typical responses Christians have given in the past, though I am not sure how satisfied I am by his answers.
Time permitting, I am planning on following up this post with at least one more where I will engage Copan’s article and provide some ways to understand this portrayal of Yahweh. That being said, I can’t say I am fully satisfied with my own answers (perhaps this is one of those issues where we should never be satisfied with any answers!).