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16 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what it says on the tin, 29 Aug 2011
This review is from: Is God a Moral Monster? (Paperback)
I am an atheist and I also teach RE. I thought this book would be a light read examining some of the more contentious parts of the OT. This book couldn't be further away from that ideal; perhaps a more suitable title would be 'a defence of the cultural practices of the ancient Israelite nation'.
This book isn't balanced; it sets out to make a point, often on shaky foundations. I actually found myself putting down the book in anger fairly often, amazed at the sweeping generalisations or the absolute refusal to recognise what the issue is. My favourite examples of thess include: the assertion that God isn't proud because there's nothing he can't do, the defence of Abraham's decision to comply with God's command to sacrifice Isaac (with virtually no mention of the morality of God commanding this in the first place!) and the fact that the issue of homosexuality is pretty much ignored. Read it for yourself and you'll find many examples of Copan making unjustified leaps in logic and assumption that his worldview are shared by the reader and therefore don't need to be justified (for example, Copan refers to sexual practices in other comparable near east religions as aberrations because he believes the ideal standard should be monogamy).
Yet despite this, there's something about this book that's incredibly readable. It is certainly well researched and does an excellent job of putting Israelite society into context. I wouldn't recommend this book to anybody that isn't used to picking out personal views but I have genuinely found it useful, just not in the way I expected.
Still, I can't help but think that Copan's arguments are often rather weak because he doesn't stick to the issue of God's morality.
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Initial post: 19 Sep 2011 22:08:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 25 Sep 2011 18:29:32 BDT
A. says:
Wikipedia 'Binding of Isaac', The early rabbinic midrash Genesis Rabbah imagines God as saying "I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac (using the Hebrew root letters for "slaughter", not "sacrifice")". Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach (Spain, 11th century) wrote that God demanded only a symbolic sacrifice. Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early 14th century) wrote that Abraham's "imagination" led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes "How could God command such a revolting thing?"

Modern-critical scholars operating under the framework of the documentary hypothesis commonly ascribe the Binding's narrative to the biblical source E, on the grounds that it generally uses God (אלוהי–1;) for the deity, and also parallels characteristic E compositions. On that view, the second angelic appearance to Abraham (v. 14-18), praising his obedience and blessing his offspring, is in fact a later interpolation to E's original account (v.1-13, 19). This is supported by the style and composition of these verses, as well as by the use of YHWH (יהוה) for the deity. More recent studies question this analysis. It is argued that Abraham's obedience to God's command in fact necessitates praise and blessing, which he only receives in the second angelic speech. That speech, therefore, could not have been simply interpolated into E's original account. This has suggested to many that the author responsible for the interpolation of the second angelic appearance has left his mark also on the original account (v. 1-13-19). More recently it has been suggested that these traces are in fact the first angelic appearance (v. 11-12), in which the Angel of YHWH stops Abraham before he kills Isaac. The style and composition of these verses resemble that of the second angelic speech, and YHWH is used for the deity rather than God. On that reading, in the original E version of the Binding Abraham disobeys God's command, sacrificing the ram "instead of his son" (v.13) on his own responsibility and without being stopped by an angel: "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son; but Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked and beheld, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went, and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son" (v. 10,13). By interpolating the first appearance of the angel, a later redactor shifted responsibility for halting the test from Abraham to the angel (v. 11-12); due to that shift of responsibility, the second angelic appearance, in which Abraham is rewarded for his obedience (v. 14-18), became necessary. This analysis of the story sheds light on the connection between the Binding and the story of Sodom (Genesis 18), in which Abraham protests against God's unethical plan to destroy the city, without distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked: "Far be it from you to do such a thing.. Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?" Abraham's ethical rebellion against God in Sodom culminates in his disobedience to God, refusing to sacrifice Isaac.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou has speculated that it is possible that the story "contains traces of a tradition in which Abraham does sacrifice Isaac. Richard Elliott Friedman has argued that in the original E story Abraham may have carried out the sacrifice of Isaac, but that later repugnance at the idea of a human sacrifice led the redactor of JE to add the lines in which a ram is substituted for Isaac.
How could this be though, since Gen 22v15-17 talks about Abrahams descendants? Was it just a story told to deter that society from the ANE practice of human sacrifice? An example of development in human reasoning ? Someone had grown sick of the idea.
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