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An Introduction to the Old Testament: Lecture 5

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William Crawley | 17:59 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010

doc.pngProfessor Christine Hayes's previous lectures on the Old Testament have provoked more than a little controversy in some sections of the Will & Testament community. I suspect there will be considerable reaction to the next lecture.

I say that because we now turn to the so-called "modern critical study of the Bible". That is an approach to the Old and New Testament that draws on historical, literary and archaeological methods to examine questions of provenance, context, authorship and consistency. In Professor Hayes's summary, she considers "source theories and Wellhausen's Documentary Hypothesis (see diagram), as well as form criticism and tradition criticism. The main characteristics of each biblical source (J, E, P, and D) according to classic source theory are explained. This lecture also raises the question of the historical accuracy of the Bible and the relation of archaeology to the biblical record."

Watch, read or listen to Lecture 5.
Find out more about this course.
Consult the course syllabus.
Why is the course on the Will & Testament blog?


  • Comment number 1.

    Prof Hayes makes the following very important admission here, that the main idea she is promoting is all guesswork and without solid evidence;-

    "...It needs to be remembered that the documentary hypothesis is only a hypothesis. An important and a useful one, and I certainly have used it myself. But none of the sources posited by critical scholars has been found independently: we have no copy of J, we have no copy of E, we have no copy of P by itself or D by itself. So these reconstructions are based on guesses. Some of them are excellent, excellent guesses, very well supported by evidence, but some of them are not. Some of the criteria invoked for separating the sources are truly arbitrary, and extraordinarily subjective...."

    Quite cheeky of William to ask previously how it might change the faith of Jews and Christians if such guesswork was correct!


    Might it be at least as approriate to ask wow might it change the views of athiests and agnostics if she is wrong and the traditional belief about scripture is correct?

    As I said previously, she presents no evidence which precludes the possibility of the traditional view.

    Nobody has challenged this.



    PS William, you havent been doing much response to the questions and challeges you are laying down. And to think *you* previously asked a number of bloggers if they were scared at the idea of taking part in this course....


  • Comment number 2.

    Has God turned his back on his followers?
    Surely it would take god a nano sec to write a message in the sky, oceans, on the moon etc... But he has not. You have pretty much hit the nail on the head here, OT, no evidence.

    To answer your question, yes. Have god leave me a message on my sky pad re ‘everything happened as is recorded’ and I will believe. BTW if it is all true then god does not come out of the whole thing looking too good.

    FYI I pretty much have accepted Jesus did not exist.

    Kind regards


  • Comment number 3.

    Still have to listen to the lecture.

    But David, I'm intrigued, what is it with (some) atheists and messages in the sky?

    You see, the thing is, I'm trusting a person not some kind of moon beam. Actually, come to think of it, last week I saw a video of a preacher who was speaking about space and the stars and galaxies and the like. Fired up on his screen lots of NASA pictures, pretty fascinating. His text was something about the heavens declaring the glory of God, that bit was OK... then... at the end he showed us a final photo and tried to explain that the stars were in the shape of a cross... at that point he lost me... at that point I almost lost my faith!! He said something about a cross at the centre of the universe or something, flippity-jip.

    BTW, the supposed cross shape looked more like a dancing leprechaun to me, and all I could think of was Helio's pixie.

  • Comment number 4.

    Pastorphilip, I hope you are paying close attention to these lectures (I haven't looked at any of them yet myself) because when they are over, I'm going to ask you again the same questions I asked when we spoke about Genesis. Hopefully these lectures will give you the insight you need to explain the answers so that I can understand them. I felt disappointed that I could not absorb the benefit of your knowledge and teachings the last time. So this will be your opportunity to save one more lost soul who in all likelihood is currently on the road straight to hell :-)

  • Comment number 5.

    OT, everything is a hypothesis, including your "revelation" guess. And what you need to do is then support your hypothesis with *evidence*, and as Prof Hayes shows, there is a stack of evidence that the Torah was not composed "of a piece", but is derived from several disparate (in time, place and author) documents, woven together with varying degrees of success, like Dolly Parton's coat of many colours my momma made for me.

    Any philosopher will tell you (or they should if they know their biscuits) that pointing out that something is a hypothesis is not a refutation - or even a point against - a hypothesis. Indeed, pretty much everything is a hypothesis; some are better supported than others, and some are flat outright refuted and deserve attention only as historical curiosities, rather than serious contenders (I would put Aquinas's Five Proofs in this category, for instance).

    PeterM, of course you worship a moonbeam. That is what all those miracles and fleeces and rainbows and zombies are all about, remember? Unless of course you are taking the view (as you should) that the bible is all about stories, and many of the reported events didn't *actually* happen...

  • Comment number 6.

    I've had a quick look through the lecture this morning. We've moved from the examination of an idea to the examination of a document and that should be interesting because for many in the reformed tradition the document is the idea.

    The first thing that struck me was the increased openness about what we know of the compilation (loaded word) process. My recollection of conversations with divinity students when I was at university is that JEDP was regarded as 'gospel' in a pretty fundamentalist sort of way. We now have a much more delightful fuzziness and, in the context of the myth of history, that can only be a good thing.

    I look forward to some detailed textual examination to come. Meaning is so dependent on what one brings with one to a text. If, for example, I were not such a great fan of Uncle Hugo, I could easily think from post # 5 above either that Helio's Momma was even more eccentric than my own or that he and I were about on a par!

  • Comment number 7.

    OT, I've commented already on your reaction to the "guesswork" claim. The documentary hypothesis is just that -- a hypothesis. Prof Hayes simply acknowledges that there are some excellent reasons for believing this theory stands up, but she also acknowledges that other theories exist which can be defended. None of this undermines her position; it is simply academic transparency.

  • Comment number 8.

    So, the basic idea here is that this is retrospective writing, a theological justification of (then) contemporary circumstances, a kind of theological hindsight, or whatever.

    This is based on (among other things) differing names for God, varying styles, genre, different audiences, purposes, retelling, new emphasis...



    You ought to know better, it's not a moonbeam, it's a sunbeam. You know that, I know that, so... join with me, "A sunbeam, a sunbeam, I'll be a sunbeam for Him."

    Maybe some time we'll discuss this more fully, but this thread is not the place.



  • Comment number 9.

    Peter - The sky is a petty broad canvas and readily available night and day. Don't read anything into it. : )

    What a great lecture (5) I think I need to watch it a second time to get close to grasping the content. I agree with William in that I consider myself lucky to have access to Hayes and her knowledge.


  • Comment number 10.


    "The sky is a petty broad canvas and readily available night and day. Don't read anything into it"

    OK, but, what does that actually mean in practise? You say, "yes. Have god leave me a message on my sky pad re ‘everything happened as is recorded’ and I will believe." what does that mean?

    I'm just curious, what would satisfy you?

  • Comment number 11.

    P Morrow #3
    Liked your post about what is up in the sky.
    If we look beyond our own wee world, an insignificant thing, with a thin coating of organic matter, an astounding Universe exists. This Universe of perhaps 200 Billion Galaxies, the larger of which, may contain a Trillion Stars, is 100 Billion light years in diameter. And this is big, as light takes just one second, to travel to the moon.
    This amazing Universe dwarfs any God. There is no place for the God of the Bible, or any Gods, in this mind bending gargantuan Universe.
    The stories in the Bible do not begin to answer the reality of what exists in our Cosmos.

  • Comment number 12.

    Peter...... Anything. A 30 sec ad on all channels. Anything.

    I enjoyed the level of knowledge Prof Hayes espoused in Lecture 5 and look forward to learning more about the text each week. Call me sad but I plan to view lecture 5 again as it contained so much.

    I guess, on a broader point, Jesus is said to have claimed he would return again soon. Two thousand years and counting, Peter. What's that all about?

    Kind regards

  • Comment number 13.


    Thanks for your comments.

    I have to say, I'm still bemused by the preacher's attempt to convince me that God is real by pointing me to a starry cross in the sky. My comment, when asked what I thought, was that I'm more impressed that Jesus washed feet in need of washing.

    You go on to say though, that a Universe as big as ours, and I agree, the facts are mind boggling, dwarfs any God, and that the stories in the bible do not begin to answer the reality of what exists in our cosmos.

    Well, no, the bible doesn't seem to be setting out to tell us about distant galaxies, that doesn't appear to be the point of the stories, so that omission doesn't disappoint me. However, the definition of 'God', (generally speaking) whoever, or whatever that 'God' is, is the idea of the ultimate. Now perhaps you think that the Universe is the 'ultimate', but that would mean that you view the Universe as some kind of 'god', some kind of 'greater than us.'

    As a Christian, however, I understand 'God' to be the 'greater than', not just greater than me, but greater than the Universe too. Which makes what Christianity says about God, in terms of transcendence and immanence, quite staggering.

    Yes, I am in awe of the universe, in awe of the facts you quoted and similar ones I heard last week, it is quite amazing... and then along came some Hebrews (they of the big idea) and some Christians with a story about a 'Maker of Heaven and earth', who "with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens" and... washed feet which needed washed.

    Gargantuan doesn't even begin to describe that! Even if you think it is only a story.

    And that, to me, Helio, is as miraculous as 'zombies'.

    And the link to this lecture series is the 'big idea'; the 'big idea' that the Hebrew God is different; I quote from lecture one "...over the course of time, some ancient Israelites, not all at once and not unanimously, broke with this view and articulated a different view, that there was one divine power, one god. But much more important than number was the fact that this god was outside of and above nature. This god was not identified with nature. He transcended nature, and he wasn't known through nature or natural phenomena. He was known through history, events and a particular relationship with humankind."

  • Comment number 14.


    Thanks for your reply.

    Here's an odd thing, if there was a simultaneous ad on all channels, I'd be thinking, 'Fix!' It's partly the humanity, the tension, the uncertainty in the bible, in the people of the stories which does it for me.

    To be honest that kind of TV event would leave me feeling the same way as the 'cross in deep space', or the same way I feel when fellow Christians say to me that they've had some experience or other and I'll know when I had it too! Or when they tell me that they prayed as they were driving in the pouring rain that a car park space would appear close to the shop that wanted to go to cos they didn't have an umbrella and didn't want to get wet and... Jimminy Joe, behold, a parking space.

    I'm thinking lecture two this time, and Kaufmann: "God isn't by nature bound to any particular realm. He's not identifiable as a force of nature or identified with a force of nature. Nature certainly becomes the stage of God's expression of his will. He expresses his will and purpose through forces of nature in the Bible. But nature isn't God himself. He's not identified [with it]."

    "Magic in the Hebrew Bible is represented as useless. It's pointless. There's no metadivine realm to tap into. Power doesn't inhere in any stuff in the natural world... Power isn't understood as a material thing or something that inheres in material substances. God can't be manipulated or coerced by charms or words or rituals. They have no power and cannot be used in that way, and so magic is sin. Magic is sin or rebellion against God because it's predicated on a whole mistaken notion of God having limited power."

    Don't get me wrong, there are times I think, "Flip, is this whole religion thing really real, am I really real, can I trust anything or anyone?' And with a view like that, a 30sec TV ad isn't going to help, but I am convinced that Christianity has at least some answers... and those answers focus on a person called Jesus. That's where it begins and ends for me. I'm not going to 'know for certain' cos something happens to me, I 'know' or can at least trust because something happened to Jesus.

    On Jesus my faith stands or falls.

    All the best, Peter.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thank you for that, Peter though for a while you started to sound like Descartes i.e. "Is that table really there?" With respect, the sign, be it 30 sec ad or sky writing, is not for someone as perceptive as you, but for the godless millions like me who look at all the Holy books and scratch their heads and say, "No....I still don't get it!"

    I was reading Dawkins today and I agree with his view that those of us who do not believe can still enjoy the great works auch as the Bible Quran etc..... Hayes is certainly breathing life into this text and I am certainly enjoying it.

    Regards..... oh I nearly forgot.... Why has Jesus failed to come back?
    Two thousand years not "soon" enough? : )


  • Comment number 16.

    Thanks for the reply Peter.
    I can see what you are saying when you define God as the ultimate behind the awesome Universe, although there is no way we can know what is outwith.
    However it raises a few questions. Would such a transcending ultimate be doing the God things, the miracles, the watching, listening to and answering prayers etc. When you multiply billions by trillions you get astronomic figures. In this mass of matter who knows how many other intelligent life forms exist, or have existed. Is it being their God also. With such mind boggling numbers, it is even possible to imagine the coincidence of another creature, calling itself Peter Morrow, existing on the other side of the Universe.
    And if a God has 'created' this Universe the way it is, the question Why? and Why so much? Why?

  • Comment number 17.


    Please forgive the intrusion.

    The head of the Gateshead Kollel during the nineteen-forties, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, alav hashalom said that to ask if God is in the universe misses the point, the point being that the universe is in God.

  • Comment number 18.

    That sounds a wee bit like saying, God is just the Laws of Nature, an indifferent God.

  • Comment number 19.

    "Would such a transcending ultimate be doing the God things, the miracles, the watching, listening to and answering prayers etc."

    That objection assumes that (a) human agents are not of objective moral value and forgets (b) that we are trying to grasp the motivations of a being whose love is infinite.
    If we seriously consider the extent of God's love, his interest in the individual person is not so incogruous.
    Atheists seem to accept (a) and (b) when atheists advance the problem of evil in it's most powerful form - that some *individuals* undergo horrendous suffering that does not provide a greater good for *that individual*.


  • Comment number 20.

    I also think the "messages in the sky" gets all the evidence we *want* mixed up with all the evidence *we need*.
    Anyhoo, back to the text. Doesn't the documentary hypothesis undermine the literary unity of the Pentateuch? R Whybry argued in this way (from a decidedly non-evangelical point of view). So we need to consider evidence of literary unity before we take a hatchet to the text.


  • Comment number 21.

    Graham - # 20.

    I wonder if you noted the references to the work of Pamela Tamarkin Reis which Prof Hayes says she has included subversively for us to examine in our own time. Now that word is positively a mind-magnet for me so I've had a quick preliminary scan.

    Hayes says "she gives some wonderful, coherent readings of stories that argue this scene here or this contradiction here isn't a sign of a different source; it serves this literary purpose, that literary purpose. ... They're brilliantly written and they give you insight into the various ways in which we can read the text".

    I still think it likely there is some truth in the source theories and the genius is that of the redactor but there is some comfort here for the traditionalist and wonderful insights for liberal and conservative alike. I shall never look at the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac in the same light again!

    I'll report back when I've read the whole collection - I haven't finished Pagels yet but already a few questions about snakes are formulating...

    (How are the odds looking?)

  • Comment number 22.


    Small technical nag:

    "This Universe of perhaps 200 Billion Galaxies, the larger of which, may contain a Trillion Stars, is 100 Billion light years in diameter."

    Wouldn't a place 100 billion light years in diameter be a bit problematic, given the idea of not exceeding the speed of light and the universe being l3-14 billion years old?

  • Comment number 23.


    I once thought, I could believe if only I could have "proof".

    I sought that hard that I actually got it.

    I do believe a sincere plea to God in this matter will not go unheard, so long as we do not try to insist on how the answer should be given.

    That would sort of put us in authority over God and make us....well you get the idea.



  • Comment number 24.

    fyi the first few verses of Luke make it clear that book is compiled using various sources.

    This is no problem to the concept of scripture.

    The problem could come from Hayes' viewpoint, if the truth was tampered with in the creation of the OT. That is something quite different.


  • Comment number 25.

    David, Rochcarlie

    Can I reply to both of you in the same post and weave my comments together?

    I don’t, of course, have all (or much any) answers, sometimes we Christians are too quick to proselytise on the basis of personal certainty. However, simply saying, Toyah like, “It’s a mystery...” isn’t really satisfactory either.

    So here’s an attempt. First up, the question, am I, or the table, or these words real, isn’t that daft, really it’s a version of ‘how can I know anything?’ It’s not unimportant and I’m not completely satisfied with just assuming me.

    But I agree, David, that everyone, believers or otherwise, can learn from religious cultures and if this lecture series is breathing life into the biblical text that’s good. I’m a little confused though why a sign, any sign, would be anymore reliable or convincing than any other historical event. Surely the sign would need to be a permanent fixture if it were to catch and convince all.

    Rochcarlie you ask about a transcendent being doing ‘God things, the miracles, the watching, listening to and answering prayers’. Well it depends what we think this being is, or what miracles are, or what I am. We have to start though with your comment, “there is no way we can know what is outwith.” I agree, we cannot know, unless that which is ‘outwith’ comes to us, and this is part of the Christian story, told, retold, interpreted and understood over many, many years. It’s captured in the concept of revelation; again, the Kaufman view, “He was known through history, events and a particular relationship with humankind.” Sometimes Christianity strikes me as terribly ordinary.

    And you ask, why such a big universe? Well, maybe it tells me that it’s not necessarily about me! Maybe this being likes making stars and stuff. Maybe he likes bluebells and black holes, maybe it’s that beings way of telling us something about itself, which is kinda what the Judeo Christian view suggests. Why can’t God be understood as an artist and poet?

    And David, why so long? 2000 years, in the history of the universe, not that long really!

    And the connection of all of this to the bible (and this course) is that Christians are saying that God is known in history, through a community and ultimately in Jesus, and that the biblical record is the record of this ‘knowing’.

  • Comment number 26.


    Have to say that I noted the references to the work of Pamela Tamarkin Reis which Prof Hayes says she has included subversively.

    It is a most delightful irony that the traditionalist view (to which I adhere) is described as subversive.

    That I might subvert contemporary theological thinking with something called truth is a role I shall relish. ;-)

  • Comment number 27.

    PK, you're the physicist, but my understanding of the 100bn light-years malarkey was that yes, we're 13.7bn years from the beginning, so the most distant things we see are 13.7bn ly away, but that is where they were *then*. The universe is expanding at lightspeed, but the space in between is expanding too - the "cosmological constant" blowing it all apart, all the time. So the universe itself can be larger than 13.7bnLY radius.

    Maybe I'm talking nonsense, but then recall that I *very* rarely do that ;-)

  • Comment number 28.

  • Comment number 29.


    The odds are looking very good at the moment. But it's that crucial last hurdle that you need to look out for (-;

    I don't think that sources, or stages of development, undermine unity at all. To undermine unity you need evidence of different communities with conflicting ideas standing behind the text. So far, the evidence isn't pointing that way.

  • Comment number 30.

    David - do you remember our earlier conversation about dealing with difficult topics for children? I don't know if you are an Observer reader but, if not, you might like to Google Observer Magazine and look for What do you tell your kids when they ask about your past?

    I enjoyed it - and thought it was spot on!

  • Comment number 31.

    Peter Morrow-

    I think it's the claim made of God that, in the (intentional?) ambiguousness of his existence, will allow human beings to suffer eternal torment if they do not manage to circumvent their powers of reasoning sufficiently to believe in him. In other words, he's been hiding from humanity deliberately, making us rely on guesswork to estimate whether he exists or not, offering no solid proof of any sort, and then allowing them to suffer agony forever if they don't guess the right answer! It's at the heart of evangelical theology, and it's incompatible with the view of an omnibenevolent God (in my opinion). So, David Kerr's message in the sky may be an unattractive idea, but in a universe where God's existence is not obvious to everyone, it is likely to be the difference between life and eternal torment if evangelicals are to be believed.

  • Comment number 32.

    I will do some homework on cosmic dimensions. But my point was how God/Gods seem an awkward and unnecessary intrusion in the Universe as we know and understand it.
    Why go for the impossible/improbable God explanation, when it is certainly a product of the things we know commonly occur, hearsay, rumour, storytelling and myth making.

  • Comment number 33.


    That theological view of God may well be at the heart of some evangelical theology but it is not at the heart of mine. Not that my view makes an eternal (or even temporal) difference of course!

    Only this weekend I had to endure a preacher (is that the second preacher I’ve referred to in recent days?) suggest that some people might be inches, no, centimetres, from the Kingdom of God, yet miss out. This missing out would be on the basis that they had failed to take a ‘leap of faith’, that they had failed to allow their faith to supersede their logic and understanding, that they had come so near, and yet were so far. Frankly, in my view, that isn’t faith, it’s Russian Roulette. This view of ‘salvation’ is all about people making decisions and on the basis of such decisions are deemed ‘in’ or ‘out’. It's *believeism* (the thing our friend Helio hates). If that’s what your talking about, yes that’s unacceptable.

    However, if those who are children of God are to be counted as ‘stars in the sky’, or ‘sand on the seashore’ then that’s quite a lot. If salvation is based on God and his mercy as demonstrated in Jesus, then, that gives me some basis for understanding what that God is like, a basis for trust. If God’s disposition towards us is one of not wanting anyone to suffer death then that too is a basis for trust. If God tells us about himself in history, community and Jesus then it doesn’t have to be guess work.

    You will have noted that I said earlier my faith stands or falls on Jesus and what he said or did, not on me getting all the answers right.

    Now, I grant that this is faith, not ‘proof’ (but then, what is proved?) But it need not be guess work. Put it this way, my view of faith is pretty open, according to Jesus, whoever is not against him is for him, that’s pretty broad, that might include some of our resident atheists.

    In terms of me, I find the story of God understood in Jesus a reasonable story, I find the life of Jesus a reasonable story, I find his actions and words to be reasonable actions (in other words I find the biblical record reasonable); to be honest I find it as reasonable, if not more reasonable, than a vapour trail in the sky which says, “bout ya, God”.

    I’ll agree on this point though, God may not be obvious to everyone, but that includes those who take his name. He may not be in worship songs, and sermons, he may not be in piety and prayers (that much is clear in the bible) our difficulty is that he is in cups of cold water. Eyes to see and all that!

    Don’t know if that answers your point but that’s what your point made me think.

    Tenuous link to the thread, is the biblical record reliable? I think it is. Put it another way, it’s ambiguous enough to catch quite a few.

  • Comment number 34.


    What interests me about your post #32 is the way you move between the terms "impossible/improbable" and "certainly".

    Why not doubt the concept improbable? Or doubt the certain?

    I apply doubt across the board.

  • Comment number 35.

    Thank you, Parrhasios I enjoyed the article.
    I love honesty and believe it is the way to go in conversations with children. Where difficult issues are concerned I always try to give a range of views in the hope of reaching balance.

    I am an atheist but I encourage my daughter to explore faith and have taken her to church as her mother was a christian..... Honest answers in all questions.

    Thanks again

  • Comment number 36.


    "I am an atheist but I encourage my daughter to explore faith and have taken her to church as her mother was a christian..... "

    That is a perfectly fair, reasonable, open and honest position and written with a warmth detectable in all your posts.

    All the best, Peter.

  • Comment number 37.

    Summat else:

    Post 8 - I said, "This is based on (among other things) differing names for God, varying styles, genre, different audiences, purposes, retelling, new emphasis...


    Post 24 - OT said, "the first few verses of Luke make it clear that book is compiled using various sources.

    This is no problem to the concept of scripture."

    Post 29 - Graham said, "I don't think that sources, or stages of development, undermine unity at all. To undermine unity you need evidence of different communities with conflicting ideas standing behind the text. So far, the evidence isn't pointing that way."

    Three Christians, three different backgrounds, three who don't always agree saying basically the same thing on this occasion. Beyond, as OT says, "if the truth was tampered with" is it fair to ask how or why some think the bible is unreliable?

    No one's really told us.

  • Comment number 38.

    Back to the future.
    I was disturbed by a series of images in the Sunday Times Magazine yesterday. One image shows a young Jewish man throwing a glass of red wine over a Palestinian woman and the second (series) captures an ‘adulterer’ being buried in the ground, up to his chest, then stoned to death ( Sharia law). Why?

    The Pentateuch remains a very dangerous collection of verses. If Hayes et al can enlighten the world about this text perhaps we can persuade followers to rethink their devotion to it and the world will be a better place.

    No offence intended.



  • Comment number 39.

    David, unreconstructed old leftist that I am, I didn't see the Sunday Times article. I don't buy any of Murdock's papers and my aversion to him means that I won't generate traffic for his sites by visiting them, a principle which denies me even the pleasure of reading Ruth Gledhill).

    I can't therefore comment on the article but on your general point I am finding the course most instructive and enjoyable -especially perhaps the 'reading around' the lectures - so far it has been fascinating.

    I have never subscribed to the notion of the inspiration of Scripture: I have always thought it was man's words about his quest for God rather than God's revelation of Himself to man. I tend to look at the Torah and think that it is the way it is because man is the way he is, not that man does as he does because of what is in or how he views the Pentateuch. Man needs no excuse for behaving like a human - not a term I mean as a compliment.

  • Comment number 40.

    Peter - your comment # 26.

    Prior to this course I had read very little Theology. (I am making up for it now!) Almost my sole venture into the subject was a perusal of the writings of Marcus Borg. He would argue, I think convincingly, that Jesus was a subversive, undermining and refuting the traditional wisdom of His time by truth.

  • Comment number 41.

    I guess you don’t get many atheist suicide bombers.


  • Comment number 42.


    "I tend to look at the Torah and think that it is the way it is because man is the way he is, not that man does as he does because of what is in or how he views the Pentateuch."

    Without debating the idea of 'revelation', would that not be entirely orthodox?

    On the point of Jesus and truth, he is, of course, recorded (I'll put it that way!) as suggesting he was truth, which is something I have always thought rather undermines all of our personal and preferred truths. Is there no end to His controversy!?

  • Comment number 43.

    David - # 41 -they do exist. The Tamil Tigers are largely secular with a political motivation and they have made extensive use of suicide bombers.

    However, many, including myself, would argue that it is not religion which is the primary motivator even of most recent Islamist suicide attacks. I would tend to view suicidal ideation in a religio-political context as a psychopathological indicator with its roots likely to be found in a complex mix of socio-economic circumstances and/or personal experiences. The primary role of religion in this context has been that of permission giver and that is, of-course, deeply regrettable. In this context I welcome Dr Qadri's recent fatwa against all acts of terrorism - it was heroic and admirably comprehensive.

  • Comment number 44.

    Peter - # 42 - I have no objection to orthodoxy - so long as it's only occasional.

    On Jesus as truth, I can actually accept Truth as a person - it's the truth as an idea gives me difficulty.

  • Comment number 45.

    The tigers are mainly Hindu and ironically they are being wiped out by the peace loving Buddhists. You do have a point regarding the religio-political nature of most conflicts but one aspect of religion is it divides and then promises rewards for certain actions. I agree with you re Qadri's fatwa.

    I am becoming concerned about people like C. Peter Wagner and his New Apostolic Reformation? one of his crowd is claiming all non believers have a demon inside them.

    It's a dangerous world out there and we have to be wary of those who use religion to get people to do evil things.



  • Comment number 46.


    Permit me a leap of my own off-of your comment about Jesus.

    Evangelicals have (or at least think they have) clear understanding of the implications of what it means for the truth to be a person, might I first of all ask what these implications might be for you?

    Second, in terms of a leap, I recall that in the first lecture we were introduced to the ancient Hebrews as the people of a 'big idea', have you any thoughts on how we might trace the journey of this 'idea', if idea it was, from the thoughts/ideas of a community to the person of Jesus?

    May I push this further, how might you avoid the trap of Jesus as Truth, or his understanding of himself as Truth, being in itself an idea or being his idea?

    I understand (no doubt Helio might say I explain away) this in terms of the God who is making himself know i.e. he being the 'author', the definer, the Word, but how do you understand this?

    In what sense is Jesus the Truth, for you?

  • Comment number 47.

    Just watched a show on the Westboro Baptist Church. Interesting.

    The Bible as truth.


  • Comment number 48.


    The Tamil Tigers are secular, marxist types. Nothing like the Hindutva movement, for example.


  • Comment number 49.

    David Kerr speaks of the "religio-political nature of most conflicts". How can this be substantiated from history? Is this true from an objective assessment?

    Was Hitler and Stalin’s invasion of Poland due to religion? Was WWI due to religion? Was the Vietnam War due to religion? Did the Romans attack the Carthaginians because of religion? Did Napoleon fight his wars because he was opposed to the religion of his enemies?

    The fact is that war can have a religious motivation, sometimes a nationalistic one, sometimes an economic one, sometimes because there is an egoist at the helm. In modern history, frequently it has been atheists who have caused a number of the aforementioned wars, usually related to a socialist revolutionary spirit.

    Let is be noted, despite the obvious, though complex religious aspects to the troubles in Ireland, that a number of the revolutions/ rebellions/ freedom struggles in Irish history are actually linked with this socialist revolutionary spirit.

    The 1798 Rebellion was linked with the French Revolution, the 1920’s Revolution was linked with the Communist struggles elsewhere and the recent “Troubles” was linked with the revolutionary spirit of the ‘60’s, e.g. French students came over and taught the Republicans how to stage riots and make petrol bombs. One need only enter “Republican West Belfast” to still see that extremist socialist spirit sprawled on walls viewed by tourists every day.

    I think it is more accurate to say that "false beliefs" (inc. atheism) are responsible for some conflicts.

  • Comment number 50.

    See Vol. 2 of Josh McDowell's famous work "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" for an Evangelical discussion of the Documentary Hypothesis and other higher criticism.

    What Atheists like DK need to realise is that God is sovereign. He decides how he reveals Himself. If we could order Him around, then we would be God. Atheism is another manifestation of the arrogant sinful spirit that believes the Devil's lie to Eve: "You shall be as gods."

  • Comment number 51.

    Another point would be that Satanism counts as a religion on most academic definitions. I think we could all agree that it would be harmful if most people joined Satanist churches.

    So the issue isn't as simple as - is Religion harmful? Which religion? Which church or sect?


  • Comment number 52.

    Hi Jean
    Forget history and take a look around our world. Religion causes division and helps dictate which side a person is on. Many ongoing conflicts may not be faith based but faith provided the division.

    Jesus said he would be back sonn. Was he wrong?

    It is without doubt that Hitler used the anti jewish feeling in germany to motivate the christian german army. Hitler said he was a christian doing god's work. like him....many did..... hate him.... he is just another product of the faith system.

    I will accept all atheist based wars. Will you not accept yours?



  • Comment number 53.


    Simple answer. The history of humankind is littered with examples of religious wars. In particular, Christianity has been at the heart of many of them. Christians have fought one another, and others, and they still do in many of our peacetime congregations using words as weapons.

    Christians have sought to establish Christian nations, Christian government, Christian laws and have done so at the point of pike and pistol.

    Churches have dedicated armies and called on the name of Jesus by way of justification for their actions.

    Christians have trampled the poor, welcomed and hailed the rich, stored up great warehouses of silver and gold and called it the blessing of God.

    There is no escaping this, it needs to be acknowledged; people have done great injustices in the name Jesus and as PeterK said on another thread building the odd hospital doesn’t make it all right again.

    Is there in light of all of this a Christian response, I think there is, but I shall not seek to outline that now, for sometimes what is needed is an honest recognition of the evil which has been done and the simple fact is this, there are many many examples of the Church which bears the name of Jesus doing what is wrong.

  • Comment number 54.

    Hi DK

    Some interesting questions you have posed.

    Do you mind if I offer a few thoughts?

    Ref the 30 sec advert on all channels...

    If it is really the God of the bible we are investigating objectively, it is probably worth noting a few observations that book makes about belief and miracles.

    In the OT the Israelites were shipwrecked in their faith in God because even after the earth shattering miracles of the Exodus, and the constant physical pillar of fire/cloud, they still doubted and were kept from the promised land for 40 years.

    In the NT Christ repeatedly rebuked people for asking him to prove himself with a miracle. Perhaps he wanted people to see his true character and believe in him and his true mission, not just be impressed by a circus sideshow.

    I am not decrying miracles - I have seen a few.

    But I think the character of Christ in the NT and the lives of those who claim to have experienced him is more convincing.

    He walked on water and forgave sins that werent committed against him.

    He claimed to be the bread of life, the only way to God and the light of the world. He accepted worship and claimed to have been around long before he was born.

    There has never been heard of a greater or purer character and yet he was the most humble of people; never soiled by the world and yet plunging right in to love and care for all types of people in all types of messes.

    So what about that advert? Would a 30 second advert with a "God logo" really convince you?

    Does it help that Christ is described in John as "the word" of God and that the Greek term used actually is "Logos"?

    Is it reasonable to seek Christ as God's 30 year advert on earth? Is it reasonable to see the bible as an advertising communication? is it reasonable to see those who claim he is still alive as authorised ambassadors for him (no matter how much some of can let him down)?
    Is it reasonable to see him promoting himself personally to individuals of all races and creeds by the reality of the Holy Spirit?

    If you look on the United Nations website you will see there a tribute to Christ, in that even though he was only an obscure palestinian joiner, mankind acknowledges that he split history down the middle.

    The date on the UN website counts the years since his crucifixation.

    May I ask you seriously, if you had this advert would you become a disciple?

    Incidentally, admirable respect for your wife to bring your daughter to church against your own personal beliefs.

    Lastly on the issue of religious wars, I dont see any major reason for me to defend any war you speak of. The apostle James says that wars come from the selfish aspect of human personality;-


    This is entirely consistent with a biblical worldview which man as made in the image of God and with a divine conscience, and yet in need of spiritual rescue to save him from his own tendency to err.

    Christ predicted that wars would increase as human history approaches its completion, in what would appear to be a symptom of increased lawlessness and evil.

    The Christian faith ultimately does not stand or fall on the bible, denominations, philosophy, theology, science, history or righteous judgements about wards.

    Ultimately it completely stands or falls on what Christ said about himself and who Christians believe he still is.

    Yes you ask repeatedly about the fact that he said he is coming back soon. It is a more than fair question.

    I am faced with rational challenges like this all the time when I read the bible. I dont find them easy and I dont have asnwers for many of them.

    Having said that I would not be dogmatic about it, but if you accept that the universe is 4.6bn years old then is 2000 years really such a long time?

    Ref the Israelis throwing wine over a woman, I dont know the story, but I wouldnt hold Christ as affirming or commanding such actions.

    In fact, throughout the OT he was very countercultural in dignifying women, especially those were not even Israeli - and that was explosive in his time.

    As for the punishement for the adulterer... the NT nowhere asks the church to impose criminal legislation. However it does make it clear that betraying a spouse for sexual pleasure is abhorrent to God and will exclude people from the kingdon of God if undealt with.

    As for the OT, if you dont believe in God, then by what standard can you judge the abstract concept of a death penalty as morally wrong for any self determining state?

    I have seen too often the absolute emotional and physical devastation to husbands, wives, sons and daughters and grandparents by people putting their illict sexual pleasure before their marriage promises and parental responsibilities. The outcome breaks the heart of God for everyone, including the offender.

    Do you think adulterty is socially acceptable? Would you advise that we should make it an admirable part of a civilised society?

    If I may pose a hypothetical for anyone here, imagine our spouse reveals they have been sexually involved with our best friend for years and promptly leaves to settle down with them. Our spouse leaves and takes no significant interest in or responsibility for the children every after, leaving them devastated, insecure and scarred.

    Should a just society excuse/bless such behaviour or should there be any sort of dis-incentive for it?



  • Comment number 55.

    BTW Peter Morrow

    Some great insights there and the grace you bring to the discussions is a great example to us all.


  • Comment number 56.

    btw DK

    I do understand the principle of just war, which many church leaders have accepted in times past.

    I dont have the time to go into it, and dont know if it interests you... but again, if you want to challenge this, you would surely need to provide some sort of moral absolute with which to do so - no?

    Have a good wknd...

    Kind regards

  • Comment number 57.

    Finally for today DK...

    ref the "dangers" of the OT.

    I can certainly see where you are coming from with your concerns.

    A brief point though, is it objective to ONLY highlight the perceived negative impact of the OT/bible?

    I think it is a very reasonable take on the history of western civilisation (in particular in the UK) to link the development of many blessings also to Judeao-Christian faith and/or churches;-

    The inspiration for the scientific revolution and countless works of priceless art and music, the biblical work ethic, the formation of universities and lower education, the red cross, the foundation of the British legal system under King Alfred, hospitals, banks, ethics/human rights, the welfare state, animal cruelty prevention legislation, the original British legislation for the protection of children from labour and sexual exploitation, the campaign to abolish slavery (a very broad topic I know)...

    So surely the benefits of the OT must also be taken into consideration in a fair assessment of its impact?



  • Comment number 58.

    post 57 refers to the UK and European history also....

  • Comment number 59.

    Peter - # 46.

    Pamela Reis sees the two creation narratives of Genesis as essentially giving what we might call a stereoscopic view of the origin of things: first we are shown the perspective from God's point of view and then we see it from man's. This approach, from the very beginning of the Bible, delineates the basic characteristics of both God and man, and sets the scene for their future interaction. 

    Reis says God is exalted, omnipotent, positive, beneficent, and impartial while man is prosaic, negative, egotistical, materialistic, misogynist, and self-pitying.

    I see a contrast in these chapters, an efficient tension perhaps, between what God is and what man wants or needs Him to be. 

    The great idea of the Hebrews at one level posits a very abstract God but this conceptualisation wars with mankind's desire to concretise, to give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. That name, a personal name, appears in chapter two. It shows that man can only really grasp the Divine in human terms - walking, talking and, most importantly, getting His hands dirty in the creation process.

    There is then no journey from the HB's big idea to the CT's person who is Truth. The understanding is present right from the beginning of Scripture: first, that what God is and what we can apprehend of Him are two vastly different things, and second, that personalisation is the means by which we can best relate to Ultimate Reality.

    Sarna makes an important point relevant to this when he says: "The Hebrew concept of God is implicit in the narrative, not formulated abstractly and explicitly. The whole of biblical literature is really the attestation of the experiences of individuals and of a nation with the Divine." As a Christian, I see Christ as the culmination and completion of this journey of exploration. 

    For me the central implication of Truth being a person is that all we can know of what God is like, all we need to know, we can know by looking at that person's life.

    Back in post # 32 on the thread dealing with Lecture 2 of this series you said "What surprises me, of course, is your concern about my choice of words, I mean, can't you have them mean what you want them to mean?!". You were jesting, of-course, but you raised a point to which it is relevant to refer here: is there in fact any truth, can we make something mean anything we want it to mean? It may surprise some people who have read my postings to realise that I would actually argue very strongly that, yes, there is truth and it is worth the effort to seek to discover it.

    I believe very strongly in the value of the subjective response but to be valid that response, that understanding, must be possible; however bizarre or unlikely it may be it it must be a reading which can be justified from the text, the circumstances, or the events to which it relates.

    When I say then that I can accept truth as a person I mean that the constraints of possible meaning in relation to man's understanding of God are set by a life. Truth is not abstract understanding, it does not reside in the realm of the ideal; for me truth is authenticity, it resonates within and chimes without. I see truth in the life of Jesus which validates what may well be meaningless existence, simultaneously demonstrating and affirming human potential.

    This has been an overall response to your points, I haven't dealt with them one by one - please ask again anything you feel I need to clarify.

  • Comment number 60.


    Thank you for your considered reply.

    I really need to think about it some more; it is, you will know, a different way of thinking for me, or at least it seems to be different.

    However, might I ask, are you saying that the God you know subjectively is rooted in your understanding of, or response to, the life of Jesus and does that mean that you think of Jesus as the (only) representation of the ‘Father’ (God)? Or could the representation of God (the truth) be someone else? Apologies for that slip into evangelicalese but you’ll understand why.

  • Comment number 61.

    Peter - yes, my understanding of God is entirely rooted in my response to the life of Christ. I do not, however, think that Jesus is the only possible representation of the Father, I think indeed every human is to some extent a representation of God. What I think is peculiar about Jesus is the effectual completeness of the likeness we can perceive in Him.


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