Having said that, I must also say that as I read Adam's posts, I found his possible solutions less than satisfying when it comes to John Wesley's counsel to take the "whole tenor of Scripture" into account. I have asked my friend and colleague, Dr. Dan Hawk to offer a response to Pastor Adam's reflections. Dan is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Ashland Theological Seminary. He has his Ph.D. from Emory University. Dan is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church (East Ohio Conference) and has researched and written extensively on the Book of Joshua. His books include a commentary on Joshua in the Berit Olam series, Joshua in 3-D: A Commentary on Biblical Conquest and Manifest Destiny, and Every Promise Fulfilled: Contesting Plots in Joshua.
Dan's posts are written in two parts-- part 1 is published here and part 2 will be published on Thursday. On Friday I will repost something I wrote on this subject that was inspired by a comment Dan made to me in conversation a while back.
Just before Dan's post begins, I link to Adam's three part series on his blog. I encourage you to read him first and then read Dan's response.
We offer these words as part of the continued discussion that Adam has brought to the forefront in his writings. We thank him for that.
"God's Violence in the Old Testament: The Problem," by Adam Hamilton
"God's Violence in the Old Testament, Part 2: Possible Solutions," by Adam Hamilton
"God's Violence in the Old Testament, Part 3: Possible Solutions," by Adam Hamilton
The Violent God: A Response to Adam Hamilton's "God's Violence in the Old Testament"
by Dr. L. Daniel Hawk, Ph.D
We have a problem with the violence of God, and we can't get away from it. A paroxysm of religiously-justified violence wracks and wrecks societies around our world. Modern Christians are slowly coming to grips with a legacy of Christian collusion with myriad programs of mass killing, conquest, and colonialism. What are followers of the Prince of Peace to do with biblical texts that generate the kind of violence that mirrors the brutality we see daily on our television screens?
I appreciate Adam Hamilton for addressing the issue in a series of recent blog posts (God's Violence in the Old Testament) and am grateful to Allan for the invitation to respond. Hamilton's posts manifest the impulses and thinking that define the way many if not most thoughtful Christians are responding to the issue today. In light of the situation I referenced above, it is not surprising that we Christians are energetically seeking ways to distance ourselves from the violent God of the Bible. My hunch is, however, that our attempts to get God off the hook have more to do with our own anxieties and cultural dispositions than with grappling forthrightly with the vexing and difficult God we find in the pages of Scripture.
To get to the point. Hamilton states his program succinctly in the introduction to his second post. He writes, “How do we resolve the moral and theological dilemmas that confront us in these Old Testament texts? As I see it, there are two broad paths forward.”
I see two problems, the first having to do with the approach and the second with the task itself.
First the approach. Hamilton addresses the issue by creating a false dichotomy ("two broad paths"), between those he characterizes as following a "verbal, plenary inspiration" position on the one pole versus those on the other who "recognize the Bible's humanity – that it was written by human beings whose understanding and experience of God was shaped by their culture, their theological assumptions, and the time in which they lived." Suffice it to say that there are other, innumerable positions in between, not to mention different paths altogether. Dichotomizing may be a way of simplifying a complex discussion for the common reader, but it also allows Hamilton to construct something of a straw figure that aids in supporting his own location on the "humanity" side of the continuum.
And that's where the problem lies. Hamilton's solution, as well as the general stream that informs it, is but a contemporary version of an approach that was first proposed by Marcion, who addressed the problem of divine violence by positing two gods. Marcion declared that the God of the Old Testament could not be and therefore was not the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The modern approach reprises this move by opposing the humanly-contrived god of violent texts to the God manifested in Jesus Christ. The violent God, we are told, is a human fabrication formed from culturally-embedded tropes and figures – "what they believed about God rather than what God inspired them to say" in Hamilton's words. This "humanistic" god is completely inconsistent with the gospels' testimony of Jesus Christ and so can be discarded. There are two gods: an invented god and an inspiring God. Same approach. Different packaging.
Here's the main flaw in this line of reasoning. Who decides which texts are humanly-contrived and which are inspired? And on what basis? This is a slippery business to say the least, and especially so when historically-oriented interpreters attempt to ground their decisions by discerning the intent of ancient authors and redactors. While we have learned a great deal about the historical and cultural environments of the ancient world, we cannot even today confidently locate the composition of most texts in a particular historical and social context. Furthermore, our ideas of what was in an ancient author’s head will inevitably be infused with the projections of our own ideas and perspectives.
In giving and transmitting a Bible in two testaments, the Church has rejected the various iterations of the "two-god" hypothesis and confronts faithful readers with a fundamental claim: The God revealed in Jesus Christ is the God revealed in and through Israel's scriptures. The very fact of the canon forces Christians to grapple with how the Christ who taught his disciples to turn the other cheek is the God-in-the-flesh who ordered the killing of Canaanites. The acclamation of Yahweh as Divine Warrior, furthermore, stands at the center of Israel's testimony. The violence of God cannot be surgically removed without doing violence to the entirety of Israel's witness.
I conclude this post – the first of two – by referencing the core of that witness. Discussions about the violence of God, as does Hamilton's, inevitably gravitate toward the so-called Canaanite genocide related in Joshua. I note, however, that the conquest and occupation of the land is tied inextricably to the exodus from Egypt. In Egypt as well, Yahweh slaughtered innocents through a divinely-appointed agent, in that case when the Destroyer killed all the firstborn of Egypt. Yahweh's slaughter of innocents through divinely-appointed agents, in other words, lies at the heart of the two instances of God's mighty acts that form the foundation of Israel's testimony. If we discard one as false, we must declare the other so as well. And if we do, we knock the floor out of the biblical witness.
In my second post, I'll respond to Hamilton's objective; that is, the attempt to resolve the moral and theological dilemma that God’s violence provokes.