Eric Seibert on Biblical atrocities

Lothringische Version: Eric Seibert iwer Biblische atrozitäte.

Unjust violence and misogyny in the  old testament

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser interviewed Biblical Scholar Eric Seibert on the topic of violence in the Bible.

Eric Seibert

He did an excellent job showing why the usual strategies of Conservative Evangelicals such as Paul Copan and William Lane Craig completely fail to show that the god they worship is not a moral monster (or does not suffer under a split-brain disorder).

I don’t, however, share his pacifist convictions. I believe in Just War Theory and in the righteous retribution of wicked deeds.
So it is not the presence of violence within the Bible which shocks me but atrocities committed against innocents, such as Canaanite babies or toddlers, or a law stipulating that a raped woman having not dared scream should be stoned as a adulteress.

I think there is just no way one can defend such kinds of laws as stemming from God.

Now this raises lots of question concerning the inspiration of Scripture. If we know there are clearly parts of it which contradict God’s will, how can we trust the others?

I think that a paradigm shift is clearly necessary.

Evangelicals should stop seeing the Bible as being necessarily more inspired than other Christian and Jewish books, as I explained in a prior post a long time ago.

Such a change does not, however, inevitably implies embracing theological liberalism and anti-supernaturalism.

To take a concrete example, I read the books of the apostle Paul in the same way  I read books from C.S. Lewis: I believe that both were examplary Christians, great defenders of the faith and extraordinary men, and the presence of logical, empirical and theological errors in their writings does not prevent me at all to appreciate all the right things they figured out.

But if we don’t believe that the books within the Biblical Canon are more inspired than books outside it, how can we make the difference between right and wrong beliefs about God?

While I cannot speak for all progressive Christians, I believe that we should base our theology on the fact that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God. Even tough human beings are faillible creatures they are quite able to recognize perfection and to find out what is morally right and wrong as Saint Paul explains in the first chapters of the letter to the Romans.

Even if the books of C.S. Lewis are not inerrant, most Christians agree he was an extraordinary man of God, had many genuine spiritual experiences and reached profound insights in God’s nature.

But God did not directly speak through him, he used his own culturally-conditioned concepts to write about the Almighty, which involves he also got God wrong at times.

I view the Apostle Paul and other Biblical writers in exactly the same way: like modern Christian writers, they had genuine experiences with and thoughts about God they wrote down.

Of course such an approach does not eliminate all difficulties.

For why did people pretending to be believers commit atrocities they justified theologically? Conservative Protestants (and former ones) focus on the problem of atrocities in the Old Testament, but this is only one part of a more general difficulty: the problem of divine hideness.

Christian conquistadors viewing the slaughter of native Indians as the divine Will or isolated tribes routinely sacrificing their children to their deities are troubling as well.
For in all these situations, God allowed countless humans to have noxious and murderous false beliefs about Him.

While I cannot address such a huge problem with a few lines, I believe that God is able to redeem the suffering of all the victims of religious violence who just have to choose Him for an everlasting bliss.

Whilst this does not solve the problem, I find that this largely mitigates it.

10 thoughts on “Eric Seibert on Biblical atrocities

  1. I do not believe God was ever the angry, violent, vindictive God often described in the Old Testament. The writers wrote about God as they understood him, and their understanding of God was significantly in error.

    Jesus tells us something of what God is like–the Father who loves us all dearly and seeks a relationship with each of us.

  2. I think there is just no way one can defend such kinds of laws as stemming from God.

    What would it look like for God to try to stem barbarity? Might it look… barbarous?

  3. I believe the Talmud has the Rabbis commenting that a woman found in the city who has been ceased by force who does not cry out might not do so out of fear or shame and thus should not be put to death.

    Further more Stoning does not involve pelting someone with stones till they die. In the Mishna to properly stone someone you had to tie their hand and feet and push them off a two story height or higher on too a pile of stones so their neck would break. If they survived the fall then two persons standing by with a large rock had to clobber them with a large stone to finish them.

    In short it was a quick death. The Rabbis also taught you could drug a person sentenced to death to reduce pain.

    We know from the NT when they tried to stone Jesus in Nazareth the NT says they tried to throw him off a cliff. Also at the stoning of James the less they threw him off the roof of the Temple.

    The point is the problem Evangelicals have with the Bible is because of Sola Scriptura and Perspicuity. They just read the text and they don’t know how it was interpreted by Tradition.

    Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Rabbic Jews don’t have a problem here with charges of barbarity.

  4. Of course there is more I didn’t get into like burning. The punishment of burning for crimes like Incest or adultery by a Priest’s daughter consisted of pouring hot wick down someone’s throat to suffocate them. I believe the Rabbis changed that to hot tin maybe because it was quicker. Again you can drug the condemned. In the Mishna there is one case mentioned of a Priest’s daughter found guilty of adultery who was wrapped in reeds and set on fire.
    But all the Rabbis condemned it as the work of a wicked Sadducee Court that refused to apply the Oral Law. In the Talmud a Court that hands down the wrong punishment for a capitol offense is called murderous.

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