Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Does God Command Rape in 2 Samuel 11-12?

Does the God of the Bible condone and/or command rape? I asserted below that I have been told as much, though no particular evidence has been produced to that end. In the comment section, I was told that in the story of 2 Samuel 11-12 God commands rape. Let’s see if that is true.

That section of Scripture tells the story of one of David’s most grievous sins – he takes another man’s wife as his own and arranges for the husband’s death. In response to this radical injustice, God sends the prophet Nathan into him to tell him what will be the consequences of his actions. As far as I can tell, the only passage that would be used to say that God commands rape here is 2 Samuel 12:11:

Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.

As I asserted below, context has a lot to do with what this passage actually says. David took another man’s wife from him, and there are textual hints that she might have been a more than willing party to their behavior. David did not rape Bathsheba – their sex was consensual. In response, David is told that several of his wives will be taken away from him and given to his neighbors and they will be brazen about their sexuality. David took Uriah’s wife, his wives will be taken. No rape indicated, hinted at or explicitly mentioned in either scenario.

We might get hung up on the idea that God will give David’s wives to his neighbors. Here it is helpful to have a sense of how the OT communicates things like punishment for sin. There is reciprocity here to be sure, but the phrase, “I will take your wives” is shorthand for the natural flow of events which will result from David’s behavior. The OT understands God as punishing sin, so it has no problem assigning the reciprocity to God’s judgment. It need not be a heavy-handed judgment, as if God is forcibly removing women from David’s home and handing them over to violent rapists. In fact, that reading is directly contrary to the plain sense of the text.

In addition, the verb for, “shall lie with,” shakab, is a very common Hebrew verb in the OT for consensual sex (it is such a straight-forward verb that if often means literal sleep with no sexual overtones). It is, in fact, the same verb used in 2 Samuel 11:4 to describe the meeting of David and Bathsheba. In neither instance is rape explicitly mentioned or implicitly hinted at.

The plain, straightforward, and natural reading of the 2 Samuel 12:11 text is that David’s wives will be unfaithful to him just as he was unfaithful to them. It takes a strained and quote-mining reading of the text to conclude that it supports the idea that God commands or condones rape.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Technology and the Church

Christians have often been called “People of the Book,” and there is no doubt that recent technologies are changing the landscape of the printed book, so are there inevitable consequences for believers who are tied to the authenticity of and interpretive work done in a book? Lisa Miller thinks technology may pose a serious threat to the very existence of the church itself. She titles this piece, “How Technology Could Bring Down the Church.”

She has a point. It appears that the more available the Bible has become both in print and in virtual form, fewer and fewer Christians read it any more.

According to a 2010 survey, more than a third of born-again Christians “rarely or never” read the Bible. Among “unaffiliated” people - that is, Americans who don’t belong to a religious congregation - more than two thirds say they don’t read the Bible.

Is it really a stretch to believe that our general trend to define genuine engagement down from face-to-face conversation all the way to tweets, will leave the Bible exempt? It shouldn’t surprise us that more Christians read large chunks of the Bible less. While it is becoming more popular to “share” favorite or inspiring verses online, that limits us to our software-induced character limit. Since when had a serious thought been limited by 140 characters?

Skeptics are not exempt from this malady. Often the quotations (or misquotations) used to attack the faith are short, misunderstood, and out of context.

Christians need to recapture the virtue of reading and taking the Bible seriously. Though I don’t believe the church as a whole will crumble under the weight of virtual communities, its value to the individual can be seriously threatened by the thoughtless and unreflective believer.

Skeptics on the Horns of Their Dilemma?

The biblical skeptic or the atheist will often cite some powerful sounding and emotionally tugging ideas in order to argue that the God of the Old Testament, and thus the God of the Christians, is a genocidal maniac. Often it is said that he condones genocide, and the Canaanites are a popular example of God’s wickedness. I was even told recently that he condones rape, though I can think of no specific evidence to support that claim.

Here are some thoughts on why the skeptic falls short here, or at the very least, has a tremendous amount of the argumentative burden to bear.

First of all, these claims are often in the form of “quote-mining,” or picking and choosing texts, pulling them out of context and misrepresenting them. This claim of mine does not say that there are no such verses or passages that sound like the skeptic wants them to sound, but I argue that they are misrepresentations of the overall picture. If the skeptic wants to talk about ancient near-eastern literature and culture, let them do the intellectually honest work of trying to understand it before they misunderstand it. In the end, the skeptic’s claim will be much stronger if they do the literary work to understand the works they are trying to eviscerate.

Secondly, I wonder if the skeptic is trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to these claims. More often than not, the same skeptic who makes the moral monster claim is the same skeptic who disbelieves in God because of some form of the problem of evil. So, in one instance it is said that God simply does not do enough to alleviate the evils we see and experience in this world and in the other instance, God is rotten for dealing harshly with ancient, evil, cultures.

Imagine a culture in which many of the first-born children are sacrificed alive on the brass arms of a demon-god over a pit of fire. Imagine the same culture in which, because their primary deity repeatedly rapes his sister while she is in the form of a cow, religious rape and incest are not just condoned but institutionalized. If you can imagine a culture that contains such injustices and horrors, you have imagined the Canaanite society. And one need not go to the biblical record to see that. The archeological evidence stands on its own.

So, what should a God do with such rampant evil? If the skeptic is consistent, he in a pickle. Either God escapes the problem of evil by dealing with real evil, or he escapes the moral monster accusation by justly judging an evil culture. I am no expert on formalizing arguments, but hopefully the following encapsulation helps to communicate the horns of this particular dilemma.

First, the skeptic usually holds to two claims about the existence of God simultaneously: 1) God does not exist due to some form of the problem of evil (eg. God does not intervene to our satisfaction when we see evil), and 2) the God presented in the OT is a moral monster for judging some cultures.

Second, to take one of the most common examples of the skeptic, the Canaanites, they were objectively evil and we know as much from extra biblical evidence.

Third, as a result of their own beliefs and historical evidence, the skeptic is impaled on the horns of their own dilemma. Either God did judge evil and therefore the problem of evil is shaken, or God justly judged an evil culture and therefore the moral monster accusation loses its force.

Are there ways out of this problem? There are, but I don’t think any of them are attractive.

To begin with, the skeptic could deny the Canaanites were the unjust, misogynistic, slave-holding culture I am claiming them to be, but that would require a lot of unique historical work. All the evidence points to them being a pretty rotten culture and a bad place to be if you were not among the powerful.

The next possible move might be to accept the historical data but adopt some form of cultural relativism – what we view as unjust or morally evil, was simply normal and acceptable to them. But cultural relativism is the philosophical version of moldy Swiss cheese, and this position would logically commit the skeptic to accepting pre-Civil War slavery and power-rape as “OK for them.” Not a tenable, or desirable, position. In addition, how many skeptics are willing to be that consistent?

The next set of moves seem to all fall into the same category – denying one or more aspect of the two claims attributed to the skeptic. For example, they might still hold to a version of the problem of evil, but deny the legitimacy of any and all biblical evidence about the events it records: rule them out of play simply for being recorded in the Bible. Or more specifically, the skeptic might be willing to admit into evidence all the “nasty” bits of the biblical record, but deny the reliability of the context and theology of the Bible. But that denial requires more than just skeptical assertion, it requires real literary work on the documents themselves.

Or they may still hold to the moral monster view and claim that the Canaanites (or other similar cultures) were not given a chance to change. God simply commanded that they be wiped out. The best record we have of these events in question, the Bible, does not support that claim. God often tells his people that after centuries of waiting patiently for the Canaanites to turn to him, it is time for judgment to come. The record, so selectively cited by the skeptic, claims God to be unusually patient.