From Marvin Sweeney’s recent Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible:
“The task of a Jewish biblical theology cannot be the same as that of a Christian Old Testament theology or a Christian biblical theology. Fundamentally, Judaism is committed to a relationship with Gd as defined throug divine Torah whereas Christianity is committed to the notion that its relationship with G-d is defined through Jesus Christ. Because fo their differing characters, the Bible is formed and read differently within the respective contexts of Judaism and Christianity, and those differences must be taken into account when undertaking Jewish (or Christian) biblical theology” (20).
And concluding the first chapter:
“In sum, a Jewish biblical theology must engage the text fo the Bible firsthand, grappling with the interpretation of the Hebrew and Aramaic text; discerning the diachronic dimensions of its literary form, compositional history, generic and linguistic features, communicative features, socio-historical setting, and the potential intentions of its authors; and grappling with the synchronic dimensions again of its literary coherence, plot and character development, and its intertextual relationships. A Jewish biblical theology therefore points to the foundations for an ongoing dialog concerning the identity and character of G-d, the Jewish people, the world of creation, the nations at large, and their interrelations with each other. It is on the basis of this dialog begun in the Bible that Judaism is formed” (35-36).
While I don’t find the litany of modes and approaches Sweeney outlines that constitute Jewish biblical theology to be in any way distinctive of Jewish biblical theology (countless OT theologies do precisely these things), his insistence throughout this introductory chapter that Jewish biblical theology must engage post-biblical Jewish sources is an important and rich insight. (For a beautiful example of this in practice, see Benjamin Sommer, “Dialogical Biblical Theology: A Jewish Approach to Reading Scripture Theologically” in Biblical Theology: Introducing the Conversation, ed. Perdue, Morgan, Sommer [Nashville: Abingdon, 2009]). Not incidentally, the idea of the dialogic reality of the Hebrew Bible is a vitally important observation, one in which several Christian Old Testament theologians have rightly picked up on, perhaps most notably Walter Brueggemann.
In the Fall I will be teaching at Sioux Falls Seminary in Sioux Falls, SD. I am beyond excited for this opportunity to do something I am passionate about: communicate the beauty, complexity, and importance of the Old Testament for the life of faith. This is doubly important to me because my task will be equipping current/future pastors with this knowledge, in the hope that they too will communicate it to their communities of faith. So much of what I strive to do centers on this point: that the Old Testament matters.
I will be teaching three master’s level courses. There is a (perhaps not so) odd fascination I have with what books folk use for their classes, and so I’ve listed the books below that I plan to use for the respective classes. Still working through course requirements, paper and sermon specs, and whether I’ll even do tests or not. Really trying to think of creative activities to bring the materials from the respective courses into the church or the various students’ ministries, while still being something I can evaluate. Feel free to drop suggestions in the comments if you have them.
INTRO TO THE OLD TESTAMENT
*Birch, et. al., A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament
*Sharp, Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believer
*Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God
TIOT will be the main text; I’m planning to have the students read Sharp in its entirety for the first week of class to set the tone and provide some fodder for discussion. And with Seibert, having them read, slowly, over the course of the entire semester, culminating with a critical book review of the book.
BIBLICAL HEBREW EXEGESIS
*Scott, A Simplified Guide to BHS
*Wegner, Using Old Testament Hebrew in Preaching
*Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction
I have yet to select the texts we will be doing, but my goal is that each week we will address and read in the Hebrew a different literary genre: law, narrative, poetry, psalms, wisdom, oracle, etc. to get a sense of the language of each and the how of reading each. Students will (most likely) be asked to write a paper/sermon that uses Hebrew in a worthwhile and critical way, emphasizing something that the Hebrew has helped them see that they wouldn’t/didn’t realize previously.
The Brueggemann book is phenomenal at getting at the theological issues while still pressing readers to think in very different and unconventional ways about very familiar texts. The MacDonald book is hot off the presses at Eerdmans, and so I am delighted to be using it, especially given its focus on the intersection of Genesis and Theology. It isn’t ideal, ultimately, because far too many of the essays focus on creation or some variation thereof, but I think each week we’ll take an essay or two and spend some time on it. I’m also planning to assign brief targeted articles each week (i.e., Fretheim on creation, Trible on Hagar, etc.). If you have suggestions, drop them in the comments.
I’m also planning with the Genesis class to a) have students consult outside of class at least two additional critical commentaries and bring those insights to the larger weekly discussions, and b) choose a single book from a list I provide of more focused studies on Genesis, and then writing a brief critical review of the book and leading the class through that brief time, as a means of broadening our horizons in Genesis. If you have a particular suggestion for a book to go on that list, drop it in the comments; I already have a list of about 10 compiled off the top of my head.
And so that’s what I’ll be doing. Extremely excited, grateful, hopeful, and prayerful!
Book Review: Kenton Sparks, Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority & the Dark Side of Scripture
Kenton Sparks, interim provost and professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, sets out in this volume to expand upon–in a more general format–his contributions in his God’s Word in Human Words. Despite this more general readership sought, the book is rich, dynamic, and thoughtful, covering a number of seminal issues relating to the Bible and reading it properly, especially within more conservative/evangelical communities, in which Sparks offers a progressive voice.
The book is divided into 13 chapters, in addition to a “First Thoughts” and “Final Thoughts” section. Sparks’ overarching thesis is that the Bible itself is a part of our fallen creation and is therefore, just like humanity, in need of redemption. This is, at least in part, attributable to the fact that humans wrote the Bible, a point Sparks will nuance as the book goes on, resurrecting the old adoptionist Christological heresy (!!!) as a way to explain God’s “adoption” of human authors–with all their errors and foibles–to communicate the divine word.
In the “First Thoughts” section, Sparks affirms that “it really must be the case that, at some points, every branch and bough of the Christian tradition is getting something wrong,” (4) precisely because Christians don’t agree on any manner of things! For this reason, Sparks suggests tradition, while an important vector of interpretation, is not beyond scrutiny and, if need be, revision. As a compelling example, he cites the old Christian conception that the earth was at the center of the cosmos and the church’s less-than-mature response to Copernicus and Galileo; of course, he says, Christianity now clearly affirms that Scripture is ‘wrong’ on this point and the universe is heliocentric.
In chapter 1, “The Truth and Beauty of Sacred Scripture,” Sparks (briefly, and perhaps apologetically) opens by affirming, unsurprisingly, the truth and beauty of Scripture. It is “a vital resource that guides people to Christa dn that helps us become healthier people” (10). He goes on to cite five illustrative texts that testify to the truth and beauty of Scripture, though it is interesting that of the five examples, 4 are from the NT and only 1 from the OT (Exod 23:4-5, a fair though rather odd choice in comparison with the NT texts selected). In fact, one of my main issues with this book, as with many others in this vein (see for example my review of Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behavior in RBL, or my multi-post review of David Lamb’s God Behaving Badly beginning HERE), is that while they affirm the centrality, beauty, and importance of the OT, it continues to get short schrift; Marcion’s shadow is indeed cast very long.
Chapter 2, “Creation and the Problem of Evil,” uses creation as a lens to understand Sparks’ larger argument. He does this for two reasons: 1) “the created order is historically prior to Scripture”; 2) “Scripture itself highlights the priority of creation” (12). The central question raised is theodical: how can one affirm a good and loving God, and a good creation, when suffering and evil predominate in the world? For Sparks, human sin has also adversely affected the cosmos. Creation does indeed, Sparks affirms, contain “evils monstrous and unspeakable,” though this, he says, provides an apt analogy for understanding the character of Scripture; Sparks writes “The Bible actually stands within the fallen order that we seek to understand. . . . the problem of Scripture is one permutation of the larger problem of evil” (22, italics original).
In chapter 3, “The Contribution of Christology,” Sparks asks whether Jesus Christ had a fallen human nature, a question he answers in the affirmative, choosing to separate out sinful activity and sinful nature. He rejects a rigid “Christological analogy,” that is “according to this logic, because God has given us Jesus Christ as a sinless and errorless word in the flesh, we can say by analogy that he has also given us a sinless and errorless word in Scripture” (28), opting instead for an “adoptionist” approach that sees “Scripture [as] God’s word because God providentially adopted ancient human beings, like Paul, as his spokespersons”; those who wrote Scripture, thus, erred as do all humans. This posture allows Sparks to affirm the fallenness yet sacredness of Scripture.
Chapter 4, “The Problem of Sacred Scripture,” Sparks emphasizes that of all the difficulties and problems of Scripture, God is implicated in none of them; the ‘perpetrators’ are in fact sinful humanity, both in narrative action in the various stories and also in the very writing of the Scriptural text. In essence, the biblical authors got things–including God–wrong at some points. He wrestles with the diversity of Scripture (which, while perhaps a facile response, in this reviewers eyes is ultimately not a problem at all, precisely because this diversity–and I think Sparks would agree–is one of Scriptures great gifts, and is evidence of the fact that Scripture was written and compiled over a long period of time, written by different authors addressing different situations with different ideas about how the world and God works; for this reason, I think the label “contradictions” is a terrible misnomer), as well as with ethical issues such as herem in Joshua. Sparks understands these fallible ideas to be refracted through the lens of fallible authors and traditions produced and propagated by fallible people. Moreover, the diversity and ethical issues are attributable not only to human finiteness and fallenness but also to the vast cultural separation between our world and the ancient world of the biblical text and its authors. As to the issue of herem specifically, Sparks avers that within the Bible itself this behavior is challenged, and it is not portrayed as “spiritually laudable behavior” (44).
With this foundation in place, Sparks begins to chart his way forward in chapter 5, “The Brokenness of Scripture,” by trying to balance Scripture as God’s word with an appreciation for its ethical diversity. Sparks adduces the Holocaust as “the quintessential symbol of our fallen world and of fallen, sinful humanity” (45), but also draws a fair though troubling comparison between the Holocaust and the herem texts in Deuteronomy and Joshua. The analogy is somewhat apt, thought part of the issue revolves around well-known scholarly arguments that such a conquest likely did not occur as described in the Bible. By noting this I do not wish to affirm that historical inaccuracy is a way to address or redress ethical issues (just the opposite, in fact!), but there is one glaring difference that Sparks ignores, it seems: in the herem texts it is clearly God who is the voice behind the extermination command (whether it is human authors who put these words in God’s mouth or not), whereas in the Holocaust, most Jewish theologies–and many Christian ones–would affirm that there was no divine voice either commanding the genocide (Rubenstein’s central question) or intervening on behalf of the victims. This is where Sparks’ analogy breaks down for me: how do we address not the theodical issue but the theological issue of divine silence during the Holocaust in comparison with divine mandate for genocide in theherem texts? For Sparks, again, this evil cannot be traced back to God, though all we can confess is that “we do not have a complete answer” (49). Personally, this response sounds overly apologetic; we cannot and do not know the answer, but surely it must not be God. This does not mean I wish to indict God so readily on this matter, but Sparks dismisses the divine origin of the command all too easily, ascribing it simply to human authors; why that itself is not an adequate enough defense for him given his thesis remains unclear. I would echo many of my same critiques I raise in my RBL review of Seibert (link above).
Chapter 6, “Some Theological Queries,” tackles a number of questions related to the nature of the Bible and proper interpretation. Sparks addresses a number of issues: inspiration, revelation, the continued authority of Scripture for the Christian faith if it has error and lies within the fallen order, if Scripture is as Sparks describes then why believe it is God’s word at all, could not such a view of Scripture lead to doubt or rejection of the faith, what is to stop readers from picking and choosing the theology they like and don’t like. Sparks concludes this chapter poignantly: “in the end, the success of biblical interpretation depends a great deal on whether we want to listen to God or merely tell him what he ought to say. For it is only by listening to God–to what he says in all of Scripture, and through all avenues by which he might speak, such as the voices of the Spirit and of creation–that we can finally arrive at the best understanding of how the Spirit is directing us to love God and our neighbor” (65).
In chapter 7, “The Redemption of Scripture: Biblical Examples,” Sparks adduces biblical evidence that Scripture itself is in need of redemption. The first example he cites is the famed Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus cites a precept from the Torah and proceeds to offer a “contrast” in his own teaching, introduced by the phrase “but I say to you.” I must confess that I do not find this to be what Jesus is doing in the majority of cases; rather than offering a contrast and reversing its teaching (Sparks’ words), Jesus seems largely to be ratcheting up the Torah’s requirements. For example, Jesus affirms that the Torah says one shall not kill, but Jesus says those who get angry are liable to judgment; Jesus doesn’t draw a contrast between his assessment and the Torah . . . he takes Torah seriously and makes it even more strict. Sparks also argues, based upon an earlier CBQ article he had published, that the Gospel of Matthew as a whole is meant as “a deliberate and sustained attempt to redeem the Old Testament law and make it serve the purposes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (69), evident in the juxtaposition between the command “go and kill all the nations” with “go, make disciples of all the nations.” Sparks anticipates a fair critique, namely that the OT is the one typically associated with needing redemption, though he maintains that the OT is vital still for several reasons, among them that it is the basis for Christianity’s message of redemption, that OT authors also sought to redeem broken parts of Scripture (2 Sam 24:1 cf. 1 Chron 21:1; not the most compelling example in my view), and that even the NT is not without its problems given slavery, misogyny, and ethnic slurs, the latter two of which I would argue Jesus is implicated (see perhaps most disturbingly Matt 15:21-26). It remains, though, the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus that redeems both Testaments.
Chapter 8, “Christian Epistemology: Broken Readers of Sacred Scripture,” surveys several epistemological foundations for reading the biblical text. Sparks discusses Ttcit and reflective realism, modern realism (which develops into the Enlightenment), postmodernism (anti- and practical realism). Practical realism is the approach Sparks advocates, which he summarizes as follows: “God has it perfectly right, while human beings are partially right and partially wrong, but in a way that admits some human perspectives are better or more adequate than others” (87).
Chapter 9, “Sacred Scripture as Ancient Discourse,” looks at the task of theological interpretation (which has become an especially and increasingly important avenue in recent scholarly works; see, for example, Briggs and Lohr’s Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch and Green’s Practicing Theological Interpretation). For Sparks, theological interpretation is creedal, ecumenical, biblical, and theological. It is also important, Sparks avers, to read contextually and with an eye toward genre. It is here that Sparks appears far more optimistic about getting at authorial intent than I am, though I am sympathetic to the importance of reading with a mind toward context. This, however, doesn’t have to be so intimately connected to authorial intention, as though that were an attainable interpretive goal (on this, see my Jacob and the Divine Trickster, the introduction, for a discussion on the necessity of understanding deception in its ancient context and not with the negative baggage our contemporary culture associates with it). But here we should also be mindful of Sparks’ affirmation that biblical authors too can make mistakes and be wrong about things. The Bible, Sparks says, is hard, so much so that even ancient authors struggled with it. Sparks compellingly writes that “the idea that Scriptures meaning is everywhere perspecuous (clear and obvious) to the average reader does not seem to be a biblical idea” (102). It is a living document that we all encounter through the work of specialists, be it because we are reading a scholarly commentary or, Sparks says, an English translation, which likely has behind it a team of scholars who have worked through the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek so as to make the text accessible to the non-specialist.
Chapter 10, “Listening to the Diversity and Unity of Scripture,” Sparks wonders how unity and diversity succeed in communicating theological profundity. The answer is manifold. Approaching Scripture honestly entails acknowledging that there is diversity and contrast; it also leads to certain dangers (Sparks’ example: “kill the Canaanites transitions all too easily into “kill anyone whose religious ideology threatens you,” a terrifying reality that has unfortunately become a reality in the modern day battle for Israel). And so Sparks says that where God is portrayed as saying or doing something he wouldn’t do, such texts tell us more about the authors than about God. My question, however, and what Sparks leaves frustratingly undeveloped and unanswered, is how one is to adjudicate this matter. How does one know if God would be in the business, for example, of pronouncing judgment on Canaanites, or unfairly punishing someone, a la Job? By what hermeneutic can someone arrive at such conclusions? For Sparks, it seems self-evident that God would never be associated with anything evil or immoral. That, clearly, is the human side (though I wonder how Sparks would understand the imago Dei concept in light of this?). The only indication he offers is similar to what Seibert suggests elsewhere, that Jesus is the barometer. Sparks writes “our theology should grant priority to Jesus Christ, to knowing him, his teachings, and the redemptive significance of his resurrection, ascension, and eventual return” (107). While I am sympathetic to the Christian focus on Jesus (!!!!), Terry Fretheim has a word for this in his book The Suffering of God: he calls it Jesusology, that is, that God is kept at a distance and is feared while Jesus is the one we hold tenderly in our hearts and is, in essence, the one who comes to rescue us from a dangerous and wrathful God. Emphasizing Jesus is fine, of course, but at what point does this lead to a latent, or even functional, Marcionism? Elsewhere in this same chapter, Sparks hazards another, less precise, response to how one adjudicates the matter of whether God did/did not do X: Sparks simply acknowledges that there is “no guarantee” we’ll get the answer right . . . put simply, he doesn’t answer the question. But Sparks is right, at least, in arguing that “healthy theology” entails familiarity with all of Scripture, even its unpalatable moments, as contributing to the theological whole. Whether this is a reality Sparks attains (or something he rather gives lip service to) remains unclear to me.
Building on the previous chapter, chapter 11, “Theology beyond the Bible: Spirit, Cosmos, Tradition, and Experience” claims that there are times we must–and have, for example, with slavery, or the ordination of women–move beyond Scripture. What other voices warrant a hearing? The first, says Sparks, is the Spirit, which is both at work in believers/unbelievers and through activities of the faithful. Second, the cosmos, a sort of natural theology. Third, tradition, which is not itself infallible says Sparks, has regained a central foothold among Protestants, as well as maintaining its importance with Catholic and Orthodox circles. Tradition too is not beyond challenge, though I remain unclear why Sparks thinks reading tradition (creeds, catechism, etc.) is a task unlike how he has suggested we read the Bible. Fourth, experience. Sparks writes: “when our full-orbed ‘gut-feel’ comes to blows with our cognitive theological affirmations, this experiential evidence is a hint that our theological views may stand in need of refinement and modification” (131). And it is here that I would adduce the Holocaust as the quintessential example of not one person or group but the entire human race’s experience standing in stark dissonance with tradition. Sparks, however, unfortunately and problematically, doesn’t raise the Holocaust as an example here. The voice with which the Holocaust speaks here is deafening.
Chapter 12, “Priorities for Theological Interpretation,” suggests that interpreters must attend to mystery, personal wholeness, praxis, and mission. 1) Mystery attests to the limits of our knowledge and should be “embraced and enjoyed” rather than “solved”; mystery is also, though, not an “escape hatch,” a point which I deeply appreciate as this approach is all too often used as an apologetic for God; 2) personal wholeness seeks our mental and spiritual health for the relationships for which we are built; 3) praxis understands interpretation to only be correct when it impels one to act on what God has said; “I have not interpreted Scripture adequately until I have acted on what God has said” (139); 4) missional hermeneutic sees, in a very NT Wright-ian way, an essential component of the Christian task as involving working to remedy our broken world here and now.
The final chapter, “Validity and Biblical Interpretation,” asks how we define in a postmodern context which interpretations are valid and which are not. Toward this end, Sparks draws a distinction between warrant (an interpretation that is reasonable though may be wrong) and validity (a right interpretation). Puzzlingly, Sparks says the only way to ascertain the validity of an interpretation is to know God’s perspective. Compounding this difficulty all the more is the “surplus of meaning” that texts are seen as having. Sparks says both text and community offer controls on what can and cannot be a valid interpretation. Where interpretations are deemed invalid, Sparks prescribes “gentleness and respect” as opposed to chiding and damnation.
A brief “Final Thoughts” section (2 pages) rounds out the book. Sparks basically rehashes his main points: that God “sanctifies and uses broken human beings to extend his grace to broken human beings” (156), that error and diversity and tension in the Bible does not make it useless, that anything negative in Scripture and/or our world stems from humanity and never from God, and that problematic images of Scripture derive from “our fallen condition,” though it is in and through Jesus that all–ourselves and Scripture–are healed.
Sparks has written a careful, nuanced, and thoughtful work with which I resonate a great deal. His insistence that the Bible is not without its complexities and difficulties, coupled with the reality that it must be read for what it is and not what we wish it was, are central and necessary insights that many need to hear and be reminded of often. But I cannot, as some of the comments above suggest, get on board with Sparks’ confidence that everything negative stems from human beings and our fallen condition. I do not wish to dispute the brokenness of creation or of humanity, though Sparks’ discussion assumes and takes for granted the Fall, seemingly, as an actual historical event. Even if he didn’t, the assumption that the text of Gen 2-3 can support an interpretation of the Fall is something scholars have wrestled with a great deal and is anything but self-evident. It is much more a Pauline lens focused on the Genesis text, perhaps, than it is a reading of Genesis in its own context. I also do not share Sparks’ optimism about the ease with which God can be exonnerated by simply attributing those texts to humans. Again, this doesn’t suggest that God in fact did all the things that the Bible suggests–good or bad–but I remain unconvinced that tracing these images to a human origin removes or even tempers the ethical difficulty. Even granting Sparks his point, the fact remains that someone or some group saw fit to portray God in some quite unsettling ways; what lies behind these portrayals? What is the impetus in portraying God this way? And relatedly, granting Sparks’ “adoption” understanding–whereby God adopts and uses fallen humans, where they are instruments to communicate the divine word–if humans get God so drastically and problematically wrong on some points (i.e., genocide of women, infants, and children in Josh 11 or 1 Sam 15, for example), would God not perhaps see fit to intervene and remedy such portrayals? Or, moreover, seeing something as inexplicable as the Holocaust from a “God’s-eye view,” would God not feel compelled or moved to intercede? My point is, simply, what are the limits to which humans can get God wrong?
Sparks’ book is an important and worthwhile voice that should be read carefully and critically by Christians of all stripes. Some will find him progressive, others will suggest he doesn’t go far enough. But no one should be able to fault him for at least not raising the questions that need to be asked.
Many of you may know I am currently working on my second book, tentatively titled An Untamable God: Reading the Old Testament’s Troubling Texts Theologically (under contract with Eerdmans). I have thus far compiled an initial, brief bibliography, but I was curious what other books/articles/collections of essays, etc. need attention. There is always something missed, and this is my hope to minimalize that liability as much as possible.
What is missing, and equally important: why?
A very brief word about the book itself. It is in the vein of recent contributions by Seibert, Stark, Copan, Lamb, and others that looks at the seemingly problematic character of God in the OT and attempts to address the issue (see HERE). I remain unsatisfied with these treatments, namely because I think they commit one of three primary errors: 1) engage in apologetics to defend or exonerate God; 2) ignore the texts entirely as though they do not exist or by some exegetical method or gymnastics; 3) appeal to Jesus as the barometer of who God really is, thus beginning to tread a Marcionite line. The common denominator in all three of these approaches is that the disturbing portraits of God are basically explained away rather than explained. My approach, however, wants to retain the “untamable” (hence the title of the book) nature of these texts yet still allow them to speak a word about God, a word of theology.
And so . . . what else should I be reading?!
Since Facebook has proven to be a delightful means of making connections within academia and being made aware of current trends and conservations in scholarship, I have begun, again, reading and using Twitter. It is partly entertainment related (yes, so I can see how my favorite WWE wrestlers are doing, or read the daily hilarious tweets of one of my favorite comics, Jim Gaffigan), but I’ve also found a fair number of biblical scholars on there. Not a lot, however. What’s more, I only (sigh) have about 50 followers–and a disturbing number of them are weight loss folk that I’ve NEVER met or heard of in my life–all of which makes conversations and connections less profitable and robust.
And so, dear and loyal readers, I ask of you two things:
1) What biblical scholars do you know that are on Twitter, and what are their handles?
2) Feel free to follow me: @johneanderson (do note the inclusion of the middle initial), and drop me a note if you do follow me. I don’t always catch the new ones.
I’m back from the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco, which I attended Friday, Nov 18 – Tuesday, Nov 22. It was an excellent meeting this year, though the one complaint I have is that things were quite spread out between sessions and the book exhibit. It was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel, where sessions were held, to the book exhibit. Not a big deal, but it does make it difficult to jump from session to session for those who want to hear only certain speakers.
A few highlights of the meeting from my perspective:
1) Genesis consultation launch: This meeting saw the first sessions of the new Genesis consultation I started and co-chair with Chris Heard. The first session at 1pm on Saturday was themed ‘Genesis and Theology,’ with myself, Terry Fretheim, Joel Kaminsky, and Tammi Schneider presenting papers; Walter Brueggemann served as respondent. We were amazed and delighted when 15 minutes before the session was even to begin the room was already full, with folk standing in the back.
This is something I had feared when first seeing the room; there were exactly 50 chairs, and all were taken. Jim Eisenbraun said he counted up folk and came up with between 120 and 140 in attendance. We later learned many came, saw the crowd, and left, but remarkably many also came and despite not being able to hear, stayed, no doubt in the hopes of touching the hem of the garment of either Brueggemann or Fretheim! The papers were all exceptional, and Brueggemann’s response was classic Brueggemann. What we all especially appreciated was his conclusion, carving out a new niche for Genesis studies going forward that doesn’t rehearse the traditional historical-critical questions but embraces, what he described, as four main features . . . all four papers, Brueggemann said, shared the following marks: ideological/theological, contemporary, bearing marks of contestation, and interest(ing).
He juxtaposed this with earlier studies in Genesis, which would either parrot the biblical text or deal with issues of the numinous history of the text, enterprises which he called, if you read them, “boring.” This was truly a gift. We were also privy to a fun but brief exchange between Brueggemann and Fretheim; Brueggemann was pushing Fretheim on Fretheim’s idea that in the Jabbok wrestling match God had self-limited; Brueggemann rightly asked why not just say God is limited in some capacity. Would that there were more time for such a discussion!The second Genesis session was themed ‘Genesis 1: The State of the Question and Avenues Moving Forward.’ Again, a much too small room, and we had about 100 folk, standing room only again. Chris Heard opened with a paper surveying where Gen 1 research is now, and posing questions to our panelists for where things need to go. I presided over the session. Each of our panelists–John Walton, Bill Brown, Ellen van Wolde, and Mark Smith–have recently published seminal works on Gen 1, within the last two years. After Chris’ paper, each panelist received 15-20 minutes to address Chris, one another’s work, and the larger discipline of Gen 1 studies. There was some very worthwhile and interesting discussion about Walton’s view of ‘functional ontology’ and whether it is an either/or situation or a both/and in regards to material ontology. Walton argues that God is not creating matter but ascribing functions. Also some interesting conversation about method in biblical studies.The Gen 1 panel: John Walton, Mark Smith, Chris Heard, Bill Brown, and Ellen van Wolde.
What I found most interesting–perhaps because of the panelists we selected–is that the conversation focused almost entirely on historical/critical approaches and the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment, which is no doubt appropriate and fitting, but I was surprised the conversation didn’t ever turn much explicitly to discussion of theological purpose, thrust, or image of God. This is not a critique, merely an observation. I had Walton, Smith, and Brown sign copies of their books for me, and also Terry Fretheim sign my copy of his God and World in the Old Testament.
Both sessions I have heard from various folks were quite well received, and the new Genesis consultation is off to a vibrant start and is one that, I think (and hope) will have a robust and bright future. Did any of you attend, and if so, what were your thoughts?
(I am also looking for someone with an audio recording of the Gen 1 session; I noticed several in the audience recording the session. If you have this, please let me know, as I’d love to obtain the file).
2. Catching up: The more I attend SBL, the less I find myself in sessions and the more I find myself catching up with folk and making new connections. I had a number of appointments scheduled going into the meeting. Saturday morning I had breakfast with my dissertation advisor, Bill Bellinger. Always a joy to see him and catch up, and even more of a joy to see him later in the conference and learn that he and Brueggemann had been together on Baylor’s campus recently, and at the conference itself, and both times they spoke of me, with Brueggemann speaking highly of me and my work; given how influential he has been for me, this is truly affirming. Saturday evening I joined Bellinger with all his former dissertation advisees, as is customary every year, for a wonderful meal and time of conversation. An interesting development potentially arose from this meeting, and that’s all I’ll say right now, but I am hopeful for something significant in the (near) future re: it.
I had lunch with my friend Eric Seibert, author of Disturbing Divine Behavior (if you haven’t yet, see my RBL review HERE), and as always some stimulating conversation re: the character God in the Bible. The more I talk with Eric and the more I use his book in class, the more appreciative I become for what he’s done, though I still stand by all my critiques in the RBL review; he’s asking the right questions, just answering them incorrectly in my view. I was also happy to see he had purchased my book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster, and had me sign it. Very cool!
I had an enjoyable meeting with Michael Thomson, acquisitions editor at Eerdmans, about my forthcoming book with them, An Untamable God. Michael has a great sense of humor, and I am deeply appreciative for his interest in the book. We hammered out some questions about tone and audience, which was my primary query. Now that those are clarified a bit more, I plan to start writing in earnest soon.
Chris Heard and I had supper Sunday night; two Genesis geeks together. What did we talk about, you ask? Mainly bad jokes and how forgiving scholars actually are (right Chris?!). Maybe I’ll share your viewpoint more fully when I’m tenured!
Monday night I was blessed to have supper with Terry Fretheim, who along with Brueggemann, are my biggest influences in how I approach the Bible and understand the character God. It was a truly enjoyable, natural conversation spanning many topics.
I was especially happy to hear of Terry’s positive assessment of my Jacob and the Divine Trickster (which he also cited affirmingly during his presentation in the Genesis session on Saturday).
Had the good fortune to talk to Walter Brueggemann a few times in the book exhibit; one time he especially praised the Genesis session, calling it “fun” and suggesting that in offering a response to such strong papers, he had to come up with something critical to say for each!
3) Books: I live in the book exhibit at these things. It’s where I run into the most people, make new connections, and of course, buy books. This year I bought two books and God two freebies from publishers. The freebies were Russel Pregeant’s Reading the Bible for all the Wrong Reasons (Fortress, 2011) and Thomas Long’s What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Eerdmans, 2011). I bought Philip Jenkins’ Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (Harper, 2011) and Matt Schlimm’s From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis (Eisenbrauns, 2011). Started Jenkins in the airport during my 2 hr layover in Denver on the way back to South Dakota.
The highlight of the book exhibit, however, was seeing my book for sale with Eisenbrauns.
They had an awesome banner with my book on it too. What was even more of a highlight was hearing from them that after the Saturday Genesis session in which I presented there was a run on them; by the end of the conference, they only had two copies left!
It was also pretty cool to sign copies for a few folk, including Bill Brown, who is a big name and has been quite influential also in my own scholarly pursuits, especially in the Psalms but also in Genesis.
Another highlight was catching up with old Baylor friends, including two with whom I stayed. It’s great we can get together at least once a year! And I was also encouraged in the number of folk who asked me–and I was surprised at how many actually did–if I had lost some weight. Imagine their surprise when I replied “yep, 85 lbs.”
4. Sessions: Aside from the two Genesis sessions, I only attended one other session in full: the Book of Psalms session commemmorating the 25th anniversary of the publishing of Gerald Wilson’s seminal The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. Some great papers on the shape and shaping of the Psalter, as well as some very moving reflections on Wilson the man and scholar, as well as where Psalms scholarship has yet to go. Great session. Earlier I had popped into the Exile/Forced Migrations session to hear papers by Erhard Gerstenberger and Chris Seitz.
All in all a great meeting, and I’m really looking forward to SBL in Chicago next year!
And how was your meeting?
Then might I suggest you join us for the inaugural sessions of the new program unit I chair (along with Chris Heard) dedicated to the book of Genesis. We have two stellar sessions this year.
Genesis 11/19/2011 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM Room:Fillmore – Renaissance Parc 55
Theme: Genesis and Theology
Christopher Heard, Pepperdine University, Presiding
John Anderson, Augustana College Divine Deception in Genesis: What and Whose Theology? (30 min)
Terence Fretheim, Luther Seminary Jacob’s Wrestling and Issues of Divine Power (Gen 32:22-32) (30 min)
Joel Kaminsky, Smith College Genesis 1-11: Reflections on the Theological Dimensions of the Opening of Genesis (30 min)
Tammi Schneider, Claremont Graduate University Where Do We Go From Here: Women in the Book of Genesis (30 min)
Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, Respondent (30 min)
Genesis 11/21/2011 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM Room:Sierra I – Marriott Marquis
Theme: Wrestling with Gen 1: The State of the Question and Avenues Moving Forward
John Anderson, Augustana College, Presiding
Christopher Heard, Pepperdine University Genesis 1: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going (30 min)
William Brown, Columbia Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
Mark Smith, New York University, Panelist (15 min)
John Walton, Wheaton College (Illinois), Panelist (15 min)
Ellen van Wolde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Panelist (15 min)
Discussion (60 min)
Please, do join us!
I’m delighted to announce that what will be my third book is now under contract with Wipf & Stock. This will be a bit different; I am co-writing it with my teacher, mentor, and friend at Augustana College, Murray Haar. It is on the Holocaust and wrestles with the religious and theological questions that event raises for Judaism and Christianity. The book will be a conversation/debate, with each of us weighing in and responding to central questions and one another. Current, tentative title: Circling the Fire: A Jew and Christian Debate the Holocaust. Tentative manuscript delivery date: 2015. This allows me to focus my current energies on the Eerdmans book I’m writing, An Untamable God: Reading the Old Testament’s Troubling Texts Theologically.
It’s apparently a slow news day in Mitchell, SD (we are the 8th largest city in the state, boasting a population of about 15,000!), because the Mitchell Daily Republic, our local newspaper, has today printed a large, half-page story on me and my new book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle. The story/interview is wide-ranging, talking about my unexpected interest and entrance into the field of religion, my time teaching at Augustana College, and a bit about my second book, which is currently under contract with Eerdmans. The story is available online (though the online version is lacking the dazzling graphics, which include litrally a HUGE picture of the cover of my book, which dwarfs the photo of me also included), and you can read it HERE. Or . . . below . . .
Professor, a Mitchell native, wins praise for biblical scholarship
John Anderson is one of the few biblical scholars in the state, a professor of religion at Augustana College in Sioux Falls and the author of the new scholarly book, “Jacob and the Divine Trickster.”
By: Jennifer Jungwirth, The Daily Republic
Religion wasn’t always a passion for John Anderson.
“I went to Sunday school and church because my parents woke me up and told me I had to go,” said Anderson, 30, a Mitchell native and son of Ed and Eileen Anderson. “There were plenty of times I pretended to sleep in or went begrudgingly.”
But after taking an introduction to religion course at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Anderson set down a path that now has him immersed in studies of the Old Testament.
He is one of the few biblical scholars in the state, a professor of religion at Augustana College in Sioux Falls and the author of the new scholarly book, “Jacob and the Divine Trickster.”
The book, which is an updated version of Anderson’s doctoral dissertation, examines the character of Jacob from the book of Genesis. The book looks at Jacob’s deceptive traits and explores why, in the end, Jacob is guided and protected by God.
The book was published in August by Eisenbrauns Publishing in Indiana.
“It was very affirming, validating and motivating,” Anderson said of seeing the first copy of his book.
The book received a positive review from Walter Brueggemann, a well-known Old Testament scholar and theologian. He praised the book as a “bold, fresh reading of the narrative. … Anderson works with a careful, self-conscious method that lends force and credibility to his suggestive argument.”
Anderson was thrilled to receive the review.
“He’s a very big name in Old Testament studies. His work has paved the way for me to be able to offer the type of contribution I am giving. He has been so foundational for the work I’m trying to do. And encouraging, too, of what I’ve done,” Anderson said.
A 2000 Mitchell High School graduate, Anderson originally set out to major in psychology at Augustana.
“Augie requires you to take a religion class. So I took the intro class and ended up having a teacher that was incredibly interesting and motivating. He really made this topic come alive to me,” Anderson said.
The professor, Dr. Murray Haar, is still a faculty member at Augustana and is now a close friend of Anderson’s.
After the intro to religion class, Anderson continued to take other classes to build on the questions and interests he’d formed in the first course.
By the end of his freshman year, he changed his major to religion.
“It was very unexpected and nothing I had anticipated,” he said.
Anderson continued his education at Duke Divinity School, earning his master’s in theological studies. For his doctorate at Baylor University, he narrowed his focus to Old Testament studies.
“The Old Testament is so complex and diverse,” Anderson said. “It is, in a way, very true to life. Some parts are very disturbing and others are very beautiful and empowering.”
Upon his graduation, Anderson knew he wanted to return to South Dakota to teach.
“South Dakota is home. It’s always been home, for my wife, her family, my family and for me. I wanted to come back because it is home, but I also wanted to come back because it is here that this crazy journey into religion started for me.”
As a professor, Anderson strives to give his students the same opportunities he had to voice concerns and raise questions about religion in an “honest and safe environment.”
“I want students to emerge from my class as thoughtful readers of the biblical text and be able to articulate what they believe, and why they believe it. That’s really the heart of what I’m trying to do.”
Anderson is on contract to write a second book, which is due in 2013. The working title is “An Untameable God: Reading the Old Testament’s Troubling Texts Theologically.”
“It’s going to broaden the focus,” he said. “Traditionally in the Old Testament, people have this deception that it is strictly a God of wrath and anger and judgment, and the New Testament is a God of good, grace, mercy and love. That’s wrong. I’m going to try and look more broadly at how do we make sense of the places in the Old Testament where God seems to act problematically.”
I am delighted to announce that my second book is now under contract with the fine folk at Eerdmans. The project, currently titled An Untamable God: Reading the Old Testament’s Troubling Texts Theologically, will offer my voice to a very hot topic in OT scholarship right now–with contributions over the last two years from Eric Seibert (see my RBL review of his Disturbing Divine Behavior), David Lamb (read my thorough review of his book God Behaving Badly HERE, with links to earlier parts), Paul Copan, Thom Stark, and others–and will seek to redress what I perceive to be an imbalance in how troubling texts are approached and handled. I will write the manuscript over the next year, delivering it to Eerdmans in the first half of 2013.
In the meantime, in preparation for my second book . . . why don’t you buy my first, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle.
With the semester at Augie about to start up again this Wednesday, I’ve found myself taking stock of the books I have read this summer. Here I share that list with you . . . have you read any, and if so, what did you think? (N.B. – I am only here including books I read cover to cover).
That’s what I can recall . . . so what did you read this summer?
Jim West has posted up a video recommendation for my new book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster. It’s actually quite funny, but I am appreciative to Jim for highlighting the book as he has. I’ve embedded the video here, but do check out the link to Jim’s post, where I respond!
Today I received my box of author copies of my book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle from the good folks at Eisenbrauns. Beings that this is my first book (though definitely not my last!), I must confess to it being quite the surreal experience finally seeing the finished project and holding it in my hands.
My sincerest thanks for all those who have already purchased a copy. I am hopeful also that even if you are uable to purchase a copy, you would request a copy for your school’s library holdings. And please, to those who read it, don’t be strangers. I’d love to know your thoughts, and to engage in worthwhile and thoughtful conversation on relevant matters.
I’ve got my copy . . . DO YOU HAVE YOURS?
This is a question I have been thinking through quite a bit recently. And with books such as my friend Eric Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behavior, Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?, Eryl Davies’ The Immoral Bible, David Lamb’s God Behaving Badly, Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God flooding the market and receiving a wide readership, the question appears to be as timely as ever.
This morning I read an essay by John Barton entitled “The Dark Side of God in the Old Tesament” in another recent book, Ethical and Unethical in the Old Testament: God and Humans in Dialogue. Barton had the following to say on the issue:
” . . . there is a strong awareness in the Old Testament . . . that God may be neither moral nor immoral but amoral. To the question posed y the present volume–’ethical or unethical?’–the answer may sometimes be ‘neither; simply inscrutable.’” (132).
And later on the same page he writes:
“God is not susceptible to human judgment on his actions, and they cannot be classified as moral or immoral: they are simply God’s actions” (132).
In the same volume, Katharine Dell reflects upon the book of Job (“Does God Behave Unethically in the Book of Job?”) in similar fashion. She cites Miles’ biography of God, where he writes the following concerning God’s response to Job in chapters 38-40:
“The Lord presents himself, with withering sarcasm and towering bravado, as an amoral, irresistible force” (178, pg. 315 in Miles)
Dell seems to call this line of thinking into question, concluding that God does indeed act unethically in Job, but from the perspective of humans. She presents a related question near the end of her contribution:
“Perhaps the ultimate question is whether one can accept that God can behave unethically towards human beings and at the same time be exonerated” (185).
The issue does not appear to be easy to solve. Most would assume, I suspect, that God is moral because that is who God is. Such a view, however, I find difficult to reconcile with the biblical text (or at least the idea that God is moral all the time). Such a view, it seems to me, is far more indebted to the ideas of systematic theology than to a careful reading of the biblical text. But when God acts immorally, there are a litany of attendant questions that follow: immoral by whose standards? who are we as humans to judge God in such a way? what does it mean for the life of faith–indeed, life in general–if God has such proclivities? Or, is God amoral, above the fray, beyond such questions? The issues are complex and multifaceted, and press beyond the confines of this blog post, but here is my initial sense of a few salient points. Any attempt to answer this question . . .
- must avoid being overly apologetic for God
- must not take as its starting point the idea that God must, should, or can be exonnerated in various problematic instances
- must take as much of the biblical text into account, not emphasizing more ‘positive’ aspects to the detriment of more problematic ones
- must understand the highly contextual nature of the question, both for us contemporarily, but also for ancient Israel and what they may be seeking to communicate in and through them
- must reckon with the intimate and deeply personal way the biblical text describes the God/human relationship (I am here thinking specifically of the work of Terry Fretheim in his The Suffering of God and God and World in the Old Testament.
- must NOT appeal to Jesus as the answer to the problem of disturbing divine behavior, or use him as the barometer for adjudicating what is and is not authentic of God. Jesus is just as much of a complex, dynamic, and unsettling character, when read properly, as is God.
What do you think? What issues are pertinent? What questions need to be raised? And how would you answer the question?
This post is the final installment in my review of David Lamb’s new book God Behaving Badly. These final two chapters, I must confess, are superb, and after being quite unsatisfied with the book up until this point, Lamb’s careful and balanced treatment of these final two questions is most appreciated and welcome.
In chapter 7, Rigid or Flexible, Lamb addresses the issue of divine (im)mutability. He points to a number of biblical texts that affirm the viability of each position; God is indeed atteted in the Hebrew Bible as both unchanging yet changing. This is a welcome departure from the earlier chapters in the book, wherein Lamb sought to pick a side, making the issue a matter of either/or rather than both/and (one of my main critiques of what he is doing; forcing the either/or alternative mutes dissonant theological voices in favor of those which are most complementary and amenable to what seems to be a preconceived notion of who God ought to be). But Lamb does nuance his point, arguing that God does not change in regard to divine fidelity to a word of promise and blessing–a point with which I would agree–but that God does change as a result of, for example, “prayer and tears” (141). Or, putting it another way, Lamb maintains that YHWH “changes in the context of showing compassion toward his people” (142). This is a noble observation, though I would contend it does not exhaust all instances in which God changes in the Old Testament. Terry Fretheim’s work is here quite instructive.
It is also in this chapter that Lamb makes what is my favorite statement in the entire book, precisely because he is exactly right. He writes: “When our systematic theology comes into conflict with the Bible, the former needs to be modified, not the latter” (145). Even in my own book (see “my book” tab at the top of the page to order) this was a salient issue: there seems to be a distinction between who God is as constructed by classically defined systematic theologies (which themselves are problematic for their attempts to systematize that which is unsystematic itself, the Bible) and various divergent biblical witnesses to God. Lamb is spot on in his statement; unfortunately, however, I am convinced he falls prey to his own indictment in each of the previous chapters.
In chapter 8, Distant or Near, Lamb again refreshingly takes a mediating approach, not favoring one possibility over the other. He notes that the Hebrew Bible is laden with the faithful asking where God is, yet these petitions (laments) provide a theological vocabulary with which the faithful may speak honestly and from the depth of their experience (see my sermon on “Daring Prayer” HERE). It places the struggle and questions in the context of the life of faith, and allows one to bring these questions and concerns to God. Lamb rightly reminds that Jesus too spoke this way; the most patent example would be his final words on the cross in both Matthew and Mark, both of which are questions, and both of which quote from a lament psalm, Psalm 22:1.
Yet despite seeming distant at times, the Hebrew Bible also provides numerous examples of YHWH’s nearness. God speaks with his people, walks with them, and dwells among them; these are ways the HB communicates divine closeness. Jesus, suggests Lamb, embodied an entirely different sense of closeness in his drawing near, associating, and dining with those whom the majority would aim to be as distant as possible: tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes.
In both chapters 7 and 8 I see the thought of Terry Fretheim in evidence, though Lamb does not mention Fretheim explicitly. The idea of divine mutability and closeness, coupled with the notion of the human/created order’s role in having an affect on God’s flexibility and/or nearness are important concepts that more Christians need exposure to, and I applaud Lamb for raising these issues in a thoughtful and manageable way for the intended audience of his book. I am hopeful readers of his book will benefit most from Lamb’s more balanced perspectives in these final two substantive chapters, recognizing that YHWH as portrayed in the HB is far more complex than many interpreters, lay and scholarly, give YHWH credit for being (and more complex than I think Lamb has given him credit for being elsewhere in the book).
Rounding out the book is an epilogue that summarizes briefly each chapter, followed by Lamb offering some reflective conclusions. One of these left me both satisfied and unsatisfied. Lamb writes: “Instead of ingoring passages that seem to portray [YHWH] negatively, we need to study them, discuss them and teach them to gain understanding . . . we will find that [YHWH] and Jesus can be reconciled and that the God of both testaments is loving” (178). I am in total agreement with the first part of this quotation; where I begin to stumble, however, is on the word “reconciled.” Affirming that God (the God of the OT, that is) can be “reconciled” to/with Jesus smacks of what Marcion himself attempted to do, emphasizing the loving, compassionate image of the divine manifest in Jesus, to the detriment of problematic aspects of God’s behavior elsewhere in the canon. Yes, the God of both testaments is loving; I grant Lamb that point. But what is missing here is that the observe is also true; the God of both testaments can be angry, wrathful, vengeful . . . or, more all-encompassing, the God of both testaments can be terribly disconcerting. I worry that Lamb’s statements here confirm what I have raised issues with in the other segments of this review: that the underlying motivation has been an attempt to moralize an unsettling and problematic at times depiction of God with an equally whitewashed, tame picture of Jesus. Yes, both are loving. And yes, both can be terribly unsettling as well.
Lamb concludes with three observations: 1) God is fascinating (complex, unable to be described simply); 2) God is relational; 3) God is good (all the time). I’m with Lamb on 1 and 2; the biblical text, however, I am not convinced allows one to speak as definitively as Lamb would like on #3.
Your thoughts on Lamb’s book, and my comments of it?
One year ago today I officially graduated with my Ph.D. from Baylor University. One year ago today I also weighed 78 lbs more than what I do now (I’ve lost 30% of my body weight). And so I was quite a bit curious, on the anniversary of the first time I wore my robe, how it would fit. As many of you likely know, these things cost a pretty penny, and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to pay for alterations of any sort. Today I tried the robe on again, and was delighted with what I saw. Here’s the ‘before and after’ picture . . . you know it’s rough when you can mak a Ph.D. robe–puffy and flowing as they are–look fat. Well I did. But no more!
In chapter 6, Lamb tackles the perennial thorny issue that often unfortunately serves as unnecessary fodder for a stark division between the two Testaments, pointing to the superiority of the New to the detriment of the Old. Lamb maintains that despite the prevalence of legal material in the Old Testament, God is indeed not legalistic. The first bit of evidence adduced is that the first commandment in the Bible is not “Don’t eat the apple from that tree” (116) but is in fact found in Gen 1:28: “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” The second divine command, says Lamb, is to eat . . . a lot. The two initial divine commandments–sex and eating–are examples of God’s “generosity, goodness, and graciousness” and “are the foundation for all his laws” (117). The fault, then, in the opening chapters of Gen falls with the serpent, who Lamb suggests is not equated with Satan but functions in much the same way, tempting the first humans that God’s intentions for them are not indeed good and true.
I was delighted to see Lamb take notice of the glaring–though oft unrecognized–problem in Gen 2-3, namely that the serpent seems to be the one telling the truth, while God appears to be the one lying; the humans do not in fact DIE as God had said, but they do upon eating the fruit become like God, as the serpent had said. Walter Moberly and James Barr had a tremendously spirited discussion on this topic in the pages of the Journal of Theological Studies (which I discuss in my forthcoming book, see the MY BOOK tab at the top of this page). Lamb ultimately concldes as follows: “God’s graciousness and not his deceptiveness was the reason he didn’t kill the humans instatntly after they ate the fruit” (120). The fact that Lamb paid attention to this issue (my readers will know well the soft spot I have for any discussion of divine deception, especially in Genesis) is to be applauded, and his response to the tension is on target largely; I do agree that the primeval history especially is typified by a pattern of sin followed by grace. I still wonder, however, whether Lamb’s statement quoted just previously in fact absolves the issue in all its complexity. Yes, God may have responded graciously to the couple . . . but this response need not necessarily be in line, and does not necessaril reveal everything, of what the original divine intention was in telling the first couple they would not just die but MOST CERTAINLY DIE (infinitive absolute). The emphasis on death as the fitting punishment, followed by its unfulfillment, continues to stand as a tension. Moreover, the difficulty of the serpent seemingly speaking the truth while God does not is unique and worth discussion. Characterization and character studies in the biblical text often will play one character off another; what does it mean, then, for God’s characterization in Gen 2-3 (and following?) that God is portrayed as either lying or wrong (or unnecessarily gracious) while the serpent is entirely right in what he says? There is much more to probe on this critical textual issue.
Lamb next turns a traditional question on its head, asking “why do good things happen to bad people” (rather than the converse, why do bad things happen to good people?). Posing the question in this way is especially enlightening, I think, and stresses again what Lamb wishes to emphasize throughout the book: that the God of the Old Testament is gracious, kind, generous, loving, and good. I can get on board with that. What I want to make certain of, though, is that the other side–the dark side–is allowed also to remain for God. God is both kind, generous, and loving, and also dangerous, terrifying, and seemingly unfair at times. Both get to the heart of the matter; picking and choosing, or emphasizing one to the detriment of the other, is not to recognize the fullness of the biblical text’s witness to God. For Lamb, the Bible affirms that in fact we are ALL bad people . . . the only example he says of a good person who experienced bad things was Jesus . . . (120). But even this was an act of goodness done by God; Lamb calls God “the quintessential do-gooder” (121)–which I again would emphasize is only one part of the picture–but I agree with Lamb that behind the image of YHWH as lawgiver are the intentions of a generous and gracious God who wants humanity and creation to live the best life possible.
Why then all the laws, and why are some so wildly harsh and unmoving? Lamb suggests this was a mechanism to help ancient Israel transition from a slave people in Egypt to a genuine community of faith ruled by judges and then kings. This evolutionary idea of ancient Israelite society certainly has some merit, but Lamb’s argument here falters on a few aspects, most notably the typical critiques that accompany an evolutionary view of the biblical text (most recently on this point, see the excellent chapter by Eryl Davies in his The Immoral Bible) but also the assumption latent in Lamb’s comments that the Old Testament text presents a reliable chronology for these events from Israel’s nascence to the development of the monarchy. The linear history of the biblical text is far more complex and fragmented than Lamb is letting on (no doubt, of course, because of his audience, but the point still stands).
Lamb rounds out the chapter with a comparison between Jesus, who is aiming to show that God is not a legalist, and the Pharisees, who adhere to the letter of the law (but who Lamb astutely points out are not beyond plotting murder on the Sabbath). While the comparison is apt at the textual level, I do wish Lamb had offered even just a brief comment so readers did not come away with the idea affirmed from the biblical text, that the Pharisees are the quintessential ‘bad guys.’ New Testament scholarship has shown this to be the case quite convincingly.
And so, if asked, is God “legalistic or gracious,” I respond, simply . . . YES. But this is a bit more tempered yes than my usual response in previous entries on Lamb’s book. I agree entirely that the Torah is an act of divine benevolence, evidenced at least in part by the fact that within Judaism (and I am painting with a very broad brush here), the law is not a burden but a gift, a sign of God’s grace. But are some of the laws seemingly ‘unnecessary,’ or even worse disturbingly dangerous in their advocacy of death as a severe punishment, for instance, of talking back to one’s parents? Yes. But that becomes less an issue of legalism for me and is more a problem of how one ultimately adjudicates the divine character in toto.
I just came along this wonderful comment, albeit too late to include in my forthcoming book. No worries, though; I plan to include it in an article on which I am working. But Sweeney raises the issue in a wonderful way when talking about method and the character of God:
“Freed from the presuppositions of historical analysis that the trickster or deceptive nature of
G-d’s character in Genesis is simply the product of a primitive and theologically unsophisticated stage in Israelite religious development, scholars are now coming to recognize that divine duplicity and deception cannot be dismissed as the product of primitive culture, but must be taken into account in biblical interpretation” (Marvin Sweeney, Reading the Hebrew Bible after the Shoah: Engaging Holocaust Theology, 25).
Spot on! Absolutely spot on! Unfortunately, this conversation on divine deception (in Genesis especially, see HERE) is still very much in its infancy, but I am glad to hopefully be giving that conversation a jumpstart!
Here is the real (front) cover for my forthcoming book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle (buy HERE). The back cover will be identical to the joke pink cover posted immediately below (see HERE), but I understand it will also include endorsements from Walter Brueggemann and Bill Bellinger (see HERE for those).
So what do you think? If you’re going to pick up a copy, drop a note in the comments!
EDIT: Here is the full cover (front and back), which I just received.
My fine friends at Eisenbrauns, who are publishing my forthcoming book very soon (see HERE to order a copy) have just now sent me a copy of the cover, and I must say, this thing is going to fly off the shelves. Here it is (click to enlarge):
Wow. Absolutely brilliant! Maybe I should rename the book? How about ‘Edom Means Pink, not Red!’?
So, is your book tough enough to wear pink? Cuz mine is!
Who’s buying a copy now?!
[DISCLAIMER: This is NOT the real cover of my book; at least not the real color scheme. It is a great joke from some of my friends at Eisenbrauns, namely James Spinti].
With chapter 5, Lamb addresses the perennial vexing question for those who struggle with the Old Testament: how does one deal with divine violence. Lamb opens with an insightful caution against the easy assumption that simply because the Bible reports something it is therefore commending that activity. He advocates a thorough examination of the context of the story to ascertain whether the behavior is lauded or condemned in the biblical text. Unfortunately, as my own forthcoming book argues (see HERE), I am not convinced such narrative evaluations are always so clear cut and decisive in the biblical text. But this requires a case by case basis. And so I turn to Lamb’s examples . . .
Genesis 22, the near sacrifice of Isaac, opens the discussion. Lamb suggests the “main point of the story is that [YHWH] does not require child sacrifice” (94). It is extremely unfortunate that Lamb does not undertake precisely what he had advocated only a page earlier: a deep excavation of the text’s context. A contextual reading (however one defines it, but perhaps in line with the methods in the Genesis: Texts @ Contexts volume–see my RBL review of the book HERE–I contend it is extremely difficult to avoid other attendant issues that are quite troubling in such an investigation) will not and cannot eliminate the danger and difficulty of this text. For example, relying upon the biblical text itself and its immediate surrounding context (and these are points the rabbis picked up on as well), one should note that while it is quite transparent to readers of the story that this is a “test,” Abraham and Isaac are entirely in the dark. The emotional experience thus becomes less the focus in comparison with Abraham’s exemplary display of faith at this horrific request. Similarly, after the event Abraham and Isaac never again are seen together in the narrative, nor do they ever . . . . ever . . . . speak a word to one another. Compounding the problematic element in this text, Isaac seems later in life to be an almost entirely passive figure, a quite ineffectual patriarch, who is the object of deception by his son and wife, and who sits on his deathbed for upwards of 20 years. He is portrayed in the text as object, not subject (save for Gen 26). And so, to my eye, despite whether one accepts that the “main point” of Gen 22 is that God does not require human sacrifice, this recognition does not mitigate in any way the terror and horror this text should evoke, at least at some level, for readers. Such readings, which relegate the problematic to a secondary status, only succeed in raising the decibel of this unheard aspect of the text to a deafening tone.
Lamb next treats the Elisha and the bears story in 2 Kgs 2:23-25 (a favorite of students), arguing that the common reading the boys are youths is without textual merit; they are, instead, a pack of rogue teens who intend to do serious bodily harm–perhaps even to the point of death–to the prophet. He also argues there is no indication that the bear attack was “fatal” but only “violent” (98), as though a bear mauling anyone–irrespective of age–as a result of a divine command becomes condonable behavior so long as the person does not die. Such a defense would hardly hold up in a modern day court of law! The “main point” of this story, argues Lamb, “is not that [YHWH] picks on children but rather that [YHWH] protected the life of Elisha” (98). I remain unclear how Lamb so confidently arrives at the “main point” of these stories . . . the main point from whose perspective? the author’s? Lamb’s? The arithmetic by which he gets there is not entirely clear. And again I would say that even if this is the “main point” of the text (and I disagree that it is the main point), it does not eliminate other potential points or perspectives that warrant honest theological engagement and struggle. Lamb has ignored them by the common practice of assuming that these problems magically disappear when the text is read properly; they are subsumed and consumed by the “main point” of the text. I cannot accept this. Why the severity? What are the limits? Or, as my students sometimes put it, if God is all powerful (another thorny issue–see Fretheim, for example) then why could God not remedy the situation in a more peaceful way? I do resonate some with Lamb’s conclusion to this section of the chapter: “a pattern emerges that [YHWH] is willing to punish individuals and even nations severely to protect the weak and preserve life” (99), but this recognition, again, does not eliminate the difficulties or the need to deal with them.
Next Lamb turns to the Canaanite genocide, arguing five mitigating points: 1) God was punishing the Canaanites for their wicked behavior in regards to ancient Israel; 2) Israel was not trying to expand borders violently but simply gain a homeland [interestingly, Lamb does not address other texts where ancient Israel is engaged in border expansion through violent means]; 3) YHWH demonstrated patience [slow to anger] in dealing with the Canaanites, giving them opportunity to repent; 4) the Canaanite conquest was not unique within the ancient Near East; 5) the killing in this instance was “probably” [Lamb's word--not the most solid of footing] “limited and localized” given that Judges, for instance, talks of Canaanites remaining in the land.
Another text involving mass death, the Assyrian slaughter by an angel of YHWH in 2 Kgs 19:35, receives treatment next. The body count totals 185,000. Lamb makes sense of this event in three ways: 1) death is a necessary reality of war; 2) Assyria was an extremely violent and rapacious nation; 3) Assyrians had mocked YHWH, insisting he was unable to deliver Israel from Sennacherib. Again, attempts to “explain” the difficulty away does not eliminate the necessity of still needing to “explain” the difficulty. It is not erased. And so what do we do? Lamb’s personal assessment offers a good springboard for discussion. He writes, “personally, I’m glad that the God of the Old Testament took extreme measures to care for the poor and the powerless and to prevent bloodshed and war” (106). My concern is with the latter, italicized part of this statement. Lamb has just discussed many places where bloodshed and war have been carried out in the name of . . . and by . . . God! Is Lamb, then, also glad for the bloodshed and war YHWH has caused in order to protect the poor and powerless? The insinuation in Lamb’s comment hints at what I think Lamb believes he has accomplished in the prior discussions: arguing that YHWH in fact does take an active stance against bloodshed and war. But, as Lamb has shown, in certain circumstances God is indeed the instigator of bloodshed and war. And so the problem remains, unsettled, and unaddressed. These texts reject facile attempts to smooth them out.
As Lamb does in each chapter, he concludes in two ways. First, by turning to Jesus. Lamb attempts to reconcile Jesus’ peaceful message in the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus statement that he came not to bring peace but a sword (Mt 10:34; Lk 12:51) by saying “Jesus was rarely in sword-wielding mode and was often in peacemaking mode” (110), as though the frequency with which one acts problematically was the true barometer for assessing one’s capacity for violence and evil. And so by Lamb’s arithmetic, if I kill someone, but only once, and then devote all the rest of my efforts to helping detectives solve all unsolved murder cases, then I am certainly much more in “peaceful mode” than I am in “killing mode.” This type of logic is senseless in my view. Historical Jesus debates aside, the textual Jesus says both. Attempts to quantify items such as these are especially weak and appalling. Moreover, I wonder how Lamb would reconcile his “peaceful” Jesus of the gospels with the Jesus of Revelation? Or even Jesus portrayed elsewhere in the gospels. I reject the idea that is commonly held, I feel, that Jesus was this sort of 60s hippie with a guitar almost smiling and singing kum-bah-yah (as I’ve talked about elsewhere). I’m fairly certain he raised his voice. And the Temple tantrum? And calling the Canaanite/Syro-Phoenician woman a dog? Jesus was not a tame guy, and his message was not a tame message. Second, Lamb closes the chapter with the worthwhile suggestion that we “promote peace by healing, feeding, loving and praying for enemies” (112). A worthwhile activity indeed. But what remains in the background, and thus unresolved in my view, are those texts in which God–and Jesus!–do not act in like manner.
And so, if asked, is God “Violent or Peaceful,” I respond simply . . . YES.
Chapter 4 of Lamb’s book asks whether God is racist or hospitable. Lamb advances two reasons why God seems racist: 1) 19th century Christians used the OT to legitimate slavery; 2) YHWH commanded the utter annihilation of the Canaanites, which sounds like genocide. For Lamb this view is, rightly so, terribly problematic; all, he affirms, regardless of ethnic or national affiliations, are created in the image of God. To combat the idea that God is racist, Lamb points to the frequency with which the Bible includes genealogies; their presence bespeaks their importance to God. These genealogies, stemming all the way back to Genesis, argue according to Lamb that we are all one human family.
Lamb investigates a number of texts, with varying degrees of success. He first looks at the curse of Ham in Gen 9:18-27, arguing it does not justify slavery for three reasons: 1) the curse was localized to one generation of Noah’s sons and does not have any staying power beyond them; 2) Noah, not YHWH, utters the curse, thus removing God from any potential problematic aspect [this is a favorite maneuver of those attempting to apologize for God; the same is done in the Jacob cycle with Jacob's deceptions--on that, see my forthcoming book. Yet even Lamb must confess, in the very next sentence, that YHWH "did apparently grant power to the curse"; such attempts to separate YHWH from these problematic images are ultimately often, on textual grounds, doomed to failure]; 3) the curse is directed only to Canaan and not Ham or all his sons. The so-called curse, then, legitimates slavery in a tightly circumscribed way, specifically only within the context of ancient Israel and Canaan. One cannot and should not make a modern application. As we have seen in other chapters, Lamb suggests slavery too was treated progressively within ancient Israel. The Israelites themselves, in the redemption from Egypt, collectively embody this very ideal that “God hates slavery” (75).
Lamb’s treatment of the Canaanite genocide (Josh 10-11, for example) is far less satisfactory. Relying on an age old idea–that Joshua uses hyperbolic language–Lamb claims “a nonliteral reading of the texts that speak of ‘all’ people being destroyed is required” (77). While I am in agreement with this basic sentiment, based upon the witness of the book of Joshua that the entire land was not conquered, coupled with archaeological evidence that raises severe questions about the historical veracity of the conquest narratives, it does little to address the actual problem. The command in the mouth of God is still present, whether it was carried out fully or not (I do not, however, mean to imply the divine command itself is historically reliable either; the mere fact that it exists and is preserved in the biblical text serves as enouh warrant to have to wrestle with it beyond simply explaining the text away). There are still other commands in the Old Testament placed on the lips of God that call for utter destruction of men, women, children, etc., 1 Sam 15 among perhaps the most problematic. The ‘answer’ Lamb adduces in dealing with the conquest narratives–even if one accepts them–are not universally applicable to these other instances in the OT. And moreover, I marvel again at the positive spin that is able to be placed on death here. Despite the scope of death portrayed in the narrative, be it exhaustive or only a few, is not even a single death in this context problematic? Why is it acceptable to reduce the problem to matters of simple arithmetic. I feel almost like Abraham dealing with God re: Sodom and Gomorrah: how many “dead”–even if those corpses are only narratively constructed, we cannot ignore how these texts have been used in their afterlives, most recently against Palestinians in the battle raging in the modern state of Israel–will be acceptable for one’s conscience not to be bothered? Lamb goes on to argue that all Israel was doing was attempting to gain a homeland, or more accurately, regain the homeland of its ancestors; for Lamb, “they had a legitimate right to be reestablished in the land of their ancestors” (78). Perhaps. But then, and now, does such a “legitimate right” in the end legitimate death on any scale, be it mass genocide or the death of a single innocent person? Lamb’s attempt to address this issue remains entirely unsatisfactory.
Turning to the topic of divine hospitality, Lamb adduces the example of Rahab the protitute, as well as the stories of Ruth, Daniel, Jonah, and Naaman the Syrian general (2 Kgs 5:1-4, 9-15). YHWH judges not based upon race/ethniciy but as recompense for wickedness. Throughout Torah one can also find specfic laws instructing one in the proper treatment of the sojourner.
Jesus shares in this love of the foreigner, evident in four foreign women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) being included in his genealogy at the outset of the NT in Matthew’s genealogy. Moreover, Lamb reads the parable of the Good Samaritan as primarily a parable concerned with racism. The title itself, says Lamb, is racist (implying that what is novel about the Samaritan is the fact that he is good; the good Samaritan also makes it sound as though there is only one Samaritan who was good, thus demonizing all others).
Rounding out the chapter, as always, is Lamb’s contemporary application of the lessons culled from this chapter. He suggests three: 1) the majority culture need to bring up the issue of race as well and show they are concerned with it; 2) we must confront racism when we see it and work to remedy it; 3) make friends with those belonging to other ethnic backgrounds.
It is interesting to note that in the majority of treatments of the topic of Old Testament ethics or problematic portrayals of God, the Canaanite genocide is always the most problematic–yet also the most important!–issue to address and overcome. Put simply, I don’t think one can, or should, seek to overcome the issue for many of the reasons I list above. Put simply, one cannot overcome it. But that is, as Lamb rightly shows, only one half of the portrait.
And so, if asked, is God “Racist or Hospitable,” I respond simply . . . YES.
For my discussion of the first chapter, “Angry or Loving?”, see HERE.
In chapter two, Lamb tackles the question of whether God is sexist or affirming. He focuses primarily upon the first three chapters of Genesis. I commend Lamb’s emphasis on the unfair (and unwarranted) jump to Gen 3 when dealing with this question; Gen 1-2, he suggests, offers a much more compelling, and original (read: earlier) sense of God’s understanding of women. Put most simply, they are made in God’s image. Relatedly, the fact that women are created second need not pose a problem, says Lamb; the “second draft,” he asserts, is always an improvement over the first! But this is not to say women then are better than men. The biblical language of a “helper” (or, as one of my past professors who also married my wife and I put it so well in his message during our wedding, someone who “has your back”) is key.
The rush to accuse women in Gen 3 is also misfounded, Lamb rightly says. The man acts equally problematically here for several reasons. Primarily, the Hebrew reveals that the man is present when the woman eats the fruit, and the man–who also eats–offers no resistance. The curse that follows the first couple’s disobedience–that the man will ‘rule over’ the woman, etc.–is not taken by Lamb to suggest oppression of any sort. First, this curse, he insists, is applicable only to this first couple. Second, in a bit that was not too terribly convincing to me, Lamb argues the man’s curse is more severe than the woman’s based upon content (the man receives ‘death’ while the woman only pain in childbirth) and the number of Hebrew words used (13 words in Hebrew for the woman vs. 46 for the man). Third, the woman also receives a promise: that her seed will stamp out the serpent (the protoevangelium, as it is often called), while the man hears nothing positive. These second and third reasons are somewhat problematic for me; I think they swing the pendulum to the other side too far in the attempt to redress an imbalance, and more importantly, I think they press against the more compelling reading Lamb has offered earlier in the chapter: that man and woman together constitute the fullness of God’s image. It isn’t, and shoudn’t be, a contest. Lamb is right to suggest that the ‘reality’ of Gen 3 is not how God wants it, and the task of humanity is to struggle to get back to the ideal of Gen 1 and 2, where both the woman and the man are “God-like helpers for each other” (59).
Lamb offers an interesting discussion of the Pentateuchal law that a single woman who is raped is mandated to marry her rapist (Deut 22:28-29). According to Lamb, while such a practice is abominable and appalling to us, within the context of ancient Israel it is meant to address and remedy any sexism in that world. It offered the “necessary security” for the victim by affording the woman–who would be “stigmatized by the loss of her virginity” and not be allowed to marry–the security of one to care for her in this patriarchal culture. In fact, Lamb argues that laws regarding women and their status in ancient Israel and in the Old Testament are actually comparatively quite progressive. While I understand his point, I am not enamored with such comparative arguments. Copan makes them far too often in his very disappointing book Is God a Moral Monster? This “lesser of two evils” approach does little more than attempt (and fail, in my view) to mitigate and explain away a problem that contemporary faith communities need to address much more fully.
The Old Testament, however, does emphasize strong, strong women. Lamb mentions Deborah (who he calls YHWH’s selected female “president”), as well as Ruth and Esther. Many more can be added to this list: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, the Hebrew midwives in Exodus, among countless others. The Old Testament is replete with courageous, impressive, and strong women.
Lamb concludes this chapter, as he does each chapter in the book, by turning to the NT and showing how Jesus also acts in this way (having finished the book already, I am well aware that Lamb is trying to “reconcile”–his word–YHWH and Jesus, though I wonder in which direction the reconciling is actually aimed at some places). He cites Mark 14:3-9, the woman who anoints Jesus in the house. While somewhat ancillary to Lamb’s overall purposes in this small section of the chapter, I have always wondered about Jesus’ tone and timber of voice when hesays “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her?” In undergrad the final project for my class on the life and teachings of Jesus involved groups staging, memorizing, and performing a particular gospel in its entirety. Every decision–from clothing to facial expression to tone of voice became important matters of interpretation. We opted to portray Jesus–I was playing Jesus at the time!–as literally screaming these words, perhaps matching his anger with the infamous Temple tantrum that gets him killed in each gospel save for John. And so I have always wondered why one presumes Jesus is here wearing tye-dye and singing kum-ba-yah. I’m convinced Jesus rose his voice and got plenty angry at several points. I’m also fairly certain this is one of them). All that to say, the example Lamb offers has more interpretive issues to address than what this small portion of the book does.
In light of this discussion, Lamb advocates three measures for the contemporary life of faith (and these are quite often of tremendous value; Lamb has not only discussed the relevant issues but also gives practical and real life advice for implementing them within contemporary concrete communities of faith): 1) affirm women are made in the image of God and thus listen to and learn from them; 2) follow YHWH and Jesus’ examples and affirm women whenever possible; 3) talk and write about sexism. This final point is especially important, I think, within the academic community, where the issue is still a real problem in some sectors.
Lamb has done a commendable job of stressing how YHWH is not sexist. But this is only a part of the picture, and his overarching argument for the book that when God “behaves badly” it is highly purposive, seems troubling here (as I think it is elsewhere, mind you).
And so, if asked, is God “Sexist or Affirming,” I respond simply . . . YES.
My forthcoming book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle (ORDER HERE!) now boasts two blurbs from two well-respected scholars. You can see these blurbs on the book website, linked previously, but I have reproduced them here . . .
From Walter Brueggemann:
“John Anderson has taken up old texts and has given us a bold, fresh reading of the narrative. While his work evidences sound and informed critical judgment, he has moved beyond such critical categories to see that the defining and most interesting character in the narrative is YHWH, the God of Jacob and the provocateur of the dramatic action. This God, of course, does not conform to any
conventional faith but is much more thick, suggestive, and surprising than any usual rendering. Anderson works with a careful, self-conscious method that lends force and credibility to his suggestive argument.”—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary
and from Bill Bellinger:
“Interpreters of the Jacob cycle have long noted the themes of deception and the trickster; what John Anderson has done is pressed these issues toward theology and the portayal of the divine. With an intentional literary method, Anderson reads the text in both careful and creative ways. The volume makes several fresh contributions on these ancient texts in a lively and engaging style. Anderson’s candid and provocative reading of the Jacob narrative has implications that Old Testament theologians will not want to miss!”—W. H. Bellinger, Jr., Baylor
Not bad, huh? So, does this (hopefully!) whet anyone’s appetite for the book?