Friday, March 8, 2013

The Necessity of Understanding the Old Testament ANE Context in the Debate over Old Testament Theology and Ethics

I find that those professors/students/laymen that don't have a solid understanding of ancient Near Eastern culture tend to interpret the Old Testament rather poorly. This includes Old Testament professors who have their emphases in areas that don't emphasize an immersion in ANE literature.

That's why you have OT profs who say they don't understand how a child can pay for the sins of his parents, or what is loving about a deity who destroys His people's enemies, or why slavery would ever have been viewed as a possible good that merely needs to be regulated to ensure that it is kept on a right course.

These are all conflicts that we have with the Old Testament, precisely because the Old Testament is written in an ANE context and reflects ANE ideas.

What most conclude is that it reflects ideas that are wrong in ANE culture, but again, this just emphasizes the ethnocentricism of the modern individual and his lack of understanding ANE people.

My point here is that THEY viewed all of the above as possible courses of action for good and loving people/deities to take. The Bible agrees that these things are, or can be, good and loving, and therefore, right courses of action. The question for the real scholar, then, is not to beg the question and assume his own moral stance is superior and the Old Testament's inferior, but why the ANE people and the Bible relates these things as morally acceptable, and even ideal, courses of action for good and love to take.

I've argued before that these things save lives. The problem is that when you have one group that is a threat to the lives of another group, love and good has to pick which lives are going to be saved and which are going to be destroyed in order to save those lives. When chaos ensues, slavery may be a ticket to food, housing, and clothing, even though it might have been more ideal to own your own farm in a non-chaotic environment. To disallow the option of slavery in that situation, one where the man and his family will die from starvation or exposure, is hateful and evil. Oh, the irony of it all.

My point is that these objections are largely an ignorance, either theoretically or experientially, of the chaotic world of the ANE in which love and good needed to operate. This is what I mean by doing theology from the Lazyboy. You can presuppose your own world, not identify with the gravity of the ANE individual in distress, and then argue that war, slavery, communal sin, etc. is all wrong in and of itself, but this isn't scholarship and it certainly isn't an attempt to understand anything that is said.

Instead, people who approach the Bible from their own cultural standpoint are simply ignorant, sometimes willingly, of the world into which the Bible speaks, and that ignorance leads to skepticism, since any culture that loves and performs good within a different framework of our own is seen as wrong and ugly. Their love seems like hate. Their good seems like evil. That likely says more about our superficial culture than any other culture, but there you go.

In any case, I laugh at the idea that the Old Testament isn't compatible with what the New Testament says about love and good. What nonsense. The Old and New Testament isn't compatible with modern views of love and good. Our task as Christians is to ask why that is.

1 comment:

  1. BTW, I should say that I have seen profs who do have an emphasis in ANE studies still not get it. They still make all sorts of comments that are simply ignorant of the cognitive environment. I guess it just shows that not everyone who studies a subject has a knack for it--sort of like saying that not every doctor who studied medicine is necessarily a good doctor.