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Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images Of God Paperback – 24 Sep 2009

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  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress; 1st edition (24 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0800663446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0800663445
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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My questions are well laid out in the beginning of the book and then SeIbert proceeds to answer them in a very systematic but easily readable way.
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interesting book
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars 11 reviews
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facing the issues honestly 31 Dec. 2010
By H.E. Pennypacker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I need to write a review to correct the misinformation of two of the reviewers (so far). This is a very good book that really should be read by Christians of all stripes. Few Christian scholars are as brave and forthright as Eric Seibert is in this book. Unfortunately, ES' approach can easily be caricatured and distorted by reactive readers who fail to listen carefully to the full line of his reasoning.

Seibert is a professor of Old Testament. He is conversant with current biblical scholarship and most importantly the Old Testament texts themselves. Seibert has prolifically wrestled with the numerous problematic, disturbing OT texts that express violent, bloodthirsty and immoral elements and does much to help us understand them with his expertise.

I frequently use this quote to point out the problem (from Raymund Schwager): "There are "600 hundred passages of explicit violence in the Hebrew Bible, 1,000 verses where God's own violent actions of punishment are described. 100 passages where Yahweh expressly commands others to kill people, and several stories where God irrationally kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason (e.g. Ex 4.24-26)."

Here are two sample passages to illustrate:

"So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded." (Joshua 10.40)

"This is what the LORD Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." (1 Samuel 15:2-3)

Some Christians attempt to deal with these passages by essentially glossing over them or constructing elaborate rationalizations to lessen their moral repugnance. Seibert is convinced that faithful Bible readers must honestly come to terms with the implications of these disturbing passages and not dodge dealing with them. After all, we live in a world where some still believe that God sanctions genocide and "holy jihads". The character of God is vitally at stake.

A few of the reviewers have interpreted Seibert as dismissing and throwing out whole passages of the Bible to deal with the problem. Certainly, ES would have us no longer mistake some of these disturbing passages as literally depicting the actions of God. But nowhere does he advocate carte blanche, clearing the deck.

Chapter 11 (Using Problematic Passages Responsibly) articulates Seibert's admonition NOT to throw out completely these difficult passages but to mine them for what they CAN validly contribute to us. So as example, we may not need to feel obligated to believe God actually is in the habit of asking us to sacrifice our children to test our level of faith (the story of Abraham and Isaac, Gen. 22) but we should allow ourselves to feel challenged by the story to give our all to God and hold nothing back, as Abraham did. And what Bible literalist doesn't live with that tension anyway?

There ARE chapters in the book where Seibert attempts to examine difficult narratives to see if there are purposes or motives we may be overlooking due to being unfamiliar with the cultural matrix of a very foreign people.

So, as example, we may see the ancient practice of political propaganda (often used in ancient near-eastern cultures) being used to sanction the rise of David over Saul in the historical books. (So these passages are less concerned with historicity and much more with their contextual purposes.)

Seibert sees the OT as not only revelation of God but a book of and for a particular people. This human dimension is often minimized in discussions of the purpose of the Bible by those who have a high view of the Bible as fully divinely inspired.

Seibert's exploration of discovering differing rationales for various narratives is to develop a nuanced reading of the text and not to read it only with modern, Western eyes that primarily search for veracity and historical fact. If we can relax away from that, we may have new vistas for understanding the biblical texts.

Consequently, reading the OT/Bible with a cultural perceptiveness may enable us not to be so wrapped up in taking everything SO literally at face value. Throughout the book, I sensed Seibert was not out to take his scissors and cut out unsavory Bible passages like Jefferson or Marcion but rather to uphold the character and integrity of God in light of honest investigation. He would have us, instead of throwing out the passages that disturb us, cultivate a sensitivity to see what is behind them and why they may have come about. And perhaps we will see that the "sinister" depictions of God may not express literal, factual events.

Certainly this may be threatening to Bible literalists and inerrantists. But I see nothing inherently wrong with a viewpoint that respects BOTH the divine and human influences in the Bible. It sure matches up to the evidence for me! (Those who have experienced a productive therapeutic situation know that the "revelatory" process includes both sides of the dynamic. One, the therapist's wisdom and interpretation, but also very importantly, the analysand's own self-discovery of the meaning of his/her own emotional responses in the embrace of an accepting other. The Bible can act as a mirror into seeing our own conflicted tendencies.)

I am also way on board with Seibert's insight that Jesus' ethic of "loving one's enemies" is authoritative and decisive on this general issue. I think Seibert's most brilliant chapter (10 - a Christocentric hermeneutic)) addresses this. This chapter should surely dispel any notion this guy is a "heathen" liberal bible scholar masquerading in sheep clothing.

In conclusion, whether I think Seibert has completely succeeded is another matter. I am not completely on board with all his proposals but I do feel he has forwarded the discussion valiantly. Perhaps, we must accept that only provisional solutions can be given for these pressing theological dilemmas as people along the way. Living with uncertainty and doubt need not be antithetical to a robust faith. Some day we will know as we are fully known.

In the end, I agree the depiction of God as violent and bloodthirsty needs to be honestly addressed and done away with. And certainly, as Seibert articulately advocates, Christ is our new canon who has revealed the heart of God in definitive and decisive ways. Often, I find the value of a book more in its ability to stimulate and provoke reflection rather than to provide final answers. On that score, I judge this book a great success.

A small update: I have just finished Thom Stark's "The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It)" and recommend reading this together with Seibert's book. They dovetail well together and reinforce each other's perspective. Both are great examples of Christian scholars not ducking the hard questions but attempting to forward the contribution of the Bible for today. Also, evangelicals may want to try Kenton Spark's "Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture" that owns up to the dark side of the Bible while attempting to retrieve the sense of it's full authority for contemporary Christians.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Evangelical Perspective 1 Nov. 2012
By Michael Gabizon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Eric A. Seibert is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Messiah College and author of Subversive Scribes and the Solomonic Narrative. Being qualified in Old Testament literature, Seibert's most recent book, Disturbing Divine Behavior, addresses the troubling images attributed to God in the Hebrew Scriptures. As Seibert beings questioning God's behavior, he picks up the abandoned mantle as he wrestles with these texts. Contrary to contemporary Evangelicalism, Seibert resolves to confront and explain these troubling passages in order to liberate Christians "from the need to defend all of `God's actions' in the Old Testament," (p 179).Implementing a new methodology to properly understand these texts, Seibert promotes a Christological approach to the Old Testament. Using the statements of Jesus to qualify who the actual God of the Old Testament is, he believes this is the key to a proper hermeneutic.

Summary Thesis
In the first section of his book, Seibert highlights problematic passages from Genesis, Numbers, 2 Samuel along with many others which depict God as a mass murderer, a genocidal general and a dangerous abuser. The concern of the believer should be on high alert since the ramifications of these passages not only affect core Christian doctrine, but are "problematic for individuals from all walks of life," (p. 51) Seibert explains the diverse methodologies implemented by the Church to resolve this problematic issue, yet he rejects them all, claiming that they fall terribly short of what the scriptures truly communicate (see p 53-88)
In section two of his book, Seibert begins by introducing his own methodology in attempting to explain the God who is revealed in the Old Testament. He begins by undermining the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. Claiming that they are in conflict with history and archeology, he calls Christians to abandon the notion of true historicity in the Old Testament. Seibert claims that Old Testament narrative was used to promote a political agenda or to give an explanation for events in nature. The primary thrust of the narrative was to communicate a message, but not to render facts of history. Therefore, "some of the things Old Testament narratives claim happened never did," (p. 112). Seibert then begins to encourage an "alternate approach to dealing with disturbing divine behavior," (p. 128).
To support his understanding of the Old Testament, Seibert explains Israel's worldview and their assumptions regarding God's control over the natural world, fortunes and misfortunes, and punishments, (see p 145-161). It is for this reason that God is depicted as a judging, unethical, war-lord. The Scriptures are merely national Israel's attempt to "explain what God was doing and why," (p. 162) However, just as mankind has now abandoned the Israelite worldview of cosmology and polygamy, it is time we "advance beyond this prescientific worldview" and abandon the notion that the Old Testament truly depicts the God of this world (p. 163)
With the divine authority of the Old Testament nullified, Seibert still claims that there is a positive and accurate revelation of God in the Old Testament (see p 213-15) To properly differentiate between the actual God and the textual God of the Israelites, Christians must engage in a "dual hermeneutic." This is done by comparing God, as revealed by Jesus, to the one described in the Old Testament. Only those traits in the Old Testament which consistently mirror Jesus' New Testament revelation are to be adopted as valid and a true reflection of God's nature. "God's moral character is most clearly and completely revealed through the person of Jesus," (p. 185).
While Seibert quickly admits that Jesus, too, spoke of judgements and eternal damnation, he excuses this by claiming that the New Testament has "distortions between the textual Jesus and the actual Jesus," (p 187). Still, Jesus' revelation is more authoritative and accurate. Seibert claims that Jesus rejected "the notion that all tragedies are the direct result of divine judgement," and that He taught a non-violent approach to life (p 201). This proves that "applying a christocentric hermeneutic to our reading of the Old Testament requires us to say that, regardless of the text's claims, God never commanded the Israelites to commit genocide by slaughtering Canaanites or annihilating Amalekites," (p. 204) Seibert concludes his book by encouraging his audience to communicate this approach to the scriptures in their churches and academic circles in order to liberate Christians from the need to justify the God of the Old Testament.

Whether or not one agrees with Seibert's approach to the Old Testament text, Christians cannot dismiss his effort on addressing this very challenging issue. Since most Evangelicals hold to a verbal plenary view of inspiration, we can no longer ignore the tension between God of the Old Testament and the God of Jesus. One major strength of Seibert's book is his bold address on these difficult issues as he picks up this mantle and contributes to a much-needed theology on God in the Old Testament.
Another strength of Seibert's work is his use of contextualization when reading the scriptures. Since one of Seibert's essential points is to undermine Israel's theological worldview, he speaks about the need to contextualize their statements in light of common ANE beliefs. While I do not believe this proves his conclusion, which imposes a "dual hermeneutic" and nullifies Old Testament theology, contextualization is an important practice which sheds light on the historical background of the scriptures. Without contextualization, a lot of beauty in the Hebrew scriptures would be lost and reinterpreted in a 21st century context.
A third strength of Seibert is his willingness to impose a dual hermeneutic approach in lieu of abandoning the entire Old Testament. Though I do not agree with his approach to the scriptures or his new methodology, it is encouraging that he at least retains a certain commitment to the authority of the Old Testament. Claiming not to be as pessimistic as those who are "convinced that the Old Testament portrayals of God are virtually useless for Christian theology," Seibert still finds value in an inaccurate Old Testament (p. 180).

Seibert's book has many weaknesses, particularly in the section regarding his methodology. The first flaw is his inconsistent Christocentric approach. Though he states that Jesus' revelation of God gives us concrete guidelines to the Old Testament and prevents us "from simply making choices based on our own preferences," he simultaneously acknowledges that one form of Jesus in the New Testament is inaccurate (p. 185). Agreeing that "some portrayals of Jesus in the Gospel do not reflect what Jesus actually said or did," one must question how to qualify the real Jesus in order to properly understand the real God of the Old Testament (p. 187). Using Seibert's subjective methodology, it would be just as justifiable to claim that God is a God of hatred and anger by highlighting the statements which reflect this, and dismiss all other statements regarding love and forgiveness. Seibert's first weakness is his lack of guidelines to properly implement his methodology onto the scriptures.
Seibert's second flaw is his argumentation from silence. Claiming that Jesus is revealing a new God in the New Testament, Seibert substantiates his claim by saying that "Jesus never speaks of God as one who commands genocide. Nor does he describe God as one who abuses, deceives, or acts unjustly. These unsavory characteristics which are evident in certain Old Testament portrayals of God do not factor into Jesus' description of God," (p. 190). However, just because Jesus did not reiterate all aspects of God from the Old Testament does not mean that He rejects the reality of them. Instead, Jesus frequently appealed to the authority of the Old Testament, identifying Himself with the God of Israel (Jn 8:58). Also, when speaking with people, He assumed they already had a certain amount of knowledge of the scriptures (Matt 5:17; Luke 23:13-32). Jesus is building on the Old Testament understanding of God rather than creating a new one.
A third flaw in Seibert's book is his approach to Jesus' eschatological statements. Since Seibert is attempting to depict Jesus as a pacifist, he attempts to dismiss problem passages which record Jesus speaking about a pending judgement (Matt. 10:11-15; 11:20-24) and eternal damnation (Matt. 8:11-12; 13:41-42; 18:9). In order to juxtapose these verses with his understanding of Jesus, Seibert claims that God still remains non-violent since these judgements are "outside the space-time continuum [and] only for a limited period of time...Therefore, it is still possible to maintain that the God Jesus reveals acts nonviolently in historical time," (p 253-54). First, it is very difficult to understand how Seibert developed this notion of "space-time continuum" which would exempt God from any actions. This explanation seems random, evasive, and unsatisfactory. Second, this approach defies the second presupposition of his book which "assumes the consistency of God's character," (p. 186). If God defies His own actions outside of the space-time continuum, God is still inconsistent and destroys Seibert's presupposition.
A fourth flaw found in Seibert's defense is in his appendix where he speaks about the book of Revelation and the war predicted in there. Promoting a non-violent God, he states that "numerous interpreters have argued that what is being described [in Revelation] is not a literal battle but rather a symbolic victory over evil. This interpretive approach makes good sense given the genre of Revelation," (p. 256). While this approach is common, it is surprising that he resorts to this understanding since, earlier in his book, he critiques the hermeneutic of allegorization, saying that "most modern readers find Origen's allegorical readings quote fanciful. This is not surprising since the Achilles heel of the allegorical method is the lack of controls governing how correlations are made between details in the texts and the meanings assigned to them," (p. 64). Seibert employed a hermeneutic he himself earlier dismissed as too subjective. Seibert's lack of consistency when implementing this new methodology is disconcerting.

Eric A. Seibert's Disturbing Divine Behavior provides a much-needed dialogue about the disturbing behavior of God in the Old Testament compared to the loving God presented in the New Testament. Abandoning previous attempts at explaining this dilemma, Seibert introduces a dual hermeneutic of the Old Testament God. Undermining the authority of Israel's theological worldview and scripture, Seibert encourages a Christological approach to the Old Testament which would teach those scriptures pertain to the actual God. Seibert's approach is new and innovative, yet unconvincing. Within his methodology, there remain too many conjectures and presuppositions for this to be a proper approach. In order to substantiate his point, Seibert makes arguments from silence as well as jeopardizes his own hermeneutical principles through allegorizing the book of Revelation.
While I appreciate Seibert's attempt in tackling this issue, there are too many loop holes in the solution he is proposing. Instead, may Christians take up the challenge to view God in the Old Testament in a serious light, and begin wrestling with the implications of His actions. Affirming the view of verbal plenary inspiration, God has communicated His Word for a reason, and we must study to understand Him more (2 Tim. 2:15).
24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Past Repeats Itself 30 Jan. 2012
By LinkingWizard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is clear that the author falls into the category of the individual who takes one aspect of theology and exalts it at the expense of all of revelation, resulting in non-trivial aberrations (all the great heresies do this, as G. K. Chesterton observed). The fixation that he has is upon non-violence, itself not a problematic position and one that has found supporters within the church for centuries. However, he pushes this position to the point where it leads him to decide that there is a necessary difference between the God that one finds in the text of the Bible (particularly the - from his analysis - often misleading text of the Old Testament) and the way God really is.

This position is problematic, as most Christians within the tradition of the church have found it to be. Although he discusses Marcion as someone from whom he distances himself, the distinction is only one of perspective, not of result: Marcion was hostile to Jews, while Siebert is simply "ready and willing to reject those aspects of the textual God that do not correspond to the actual God" (p.181). This is reminiscent of the red-letter Bible that emerged from the quest for the historical Jesus, where the red print separated out Jesus' words because they were more reliable than the writers of the gospel. Siebert's position is not distant, for it is Jesus who defines his theology, not the Bible, employing what he calls a "Christocentric hermeneutic" by which he trims the fat off the Bible that he wishes to discard.

His logic is that 1) Jesus reveals God, 2) there are revelations about God in the Bible that we can not find in Jesus, 3) therefore we must reject the latter. His introductory quote for ch.10, which epitomizes his discussion, is that "if a biblical concept corresponds to what we know of God in Christ, it is acceptable, if not, it is invalid" (p.183). This will result in a Bible that will have significant correspondences with Marcion.

Logically the position is untenable, for the logic holds only if the first statement is an exclusive statement, i.e., "1) Jesus AND ONLY JESUS reveals God, 2) there are revelations about God in the Bible that we can not find in Jesus, 3) therefore we must reject them." How one determines that Jesus is the EXCLUSIVE revelation of God is something he does not address, but it is clear that it stems partially from his pacifist stance and desire to do away with the violence that is not only in the OT but also in the NT (e.g., he is not appreciative of the judgements of Revelation).

A parallel phenomenon to try to understand what Siebert is doing would be to commend the David who refused to kill King Saul as a worthy example of the non-violent man, while the David who fought and beheaded Goliath would be a story that one would have to exclude as an unworthy example. Since Jesus points to the Old Testament as completely reliable, it is unfortunate to see Siebert following in the footsteps of so many who pick and choose what parts of the Bible they wish to choose. Finding a canon within the canon is what some interpreters do, for example, when they claim that Paul was wrong in Romans 1 and 1 Timothy 2 about homosexuals and women, and we can safely ignore those texts in the light of our more enlightened perspective. For Siebert, the more enlightened perspective is non-violence, discarding the view that God's revelation is partially revealed in Jesus, supplemented by God's inscripturated word that equally speaks with the same authority. His hermeneutic is one employed by any one who wishes to set one's own agenda, indeed, a hermeneutic all Christians use to excuse our failure to obey. Unfortunately he has made his excuses public and put them in print.

Regrettably he succumbs to the danger C.S. Lewis so often warned against, the enshrining of the present as the summa of knowledge. It is mildly disturbing to see him repeatedly state that modern interpreters, in contrast to former generations, are now closer to the truth, and of course he is closer to and more sympathetic with the moderns (e.g., p.103 "Dever believes .... many scholars today believe ... if this is correct...."; p.147 "Noll believes ... Carasik believes .... If Carasik and Noll are right...."). These moderns happen to be people who a generation from now will likely be discovered to be short-sighted themselves. Many of the theories to which he subscribes, among them the pages to which I just referred, in explicit contrast to the Bible's clear teaching, are theories that are transparently problematic.

Indeed, he is conversant in contemporary theories but notably inadequate in the primary sources. For example, I was disappointed with his claim that people in the Old Testament saw the world as flat, providing in support only a single inadequate deduction from an odd verse (Isa 11:12 on p.163). Rather, the canard of the flat earth is a modern invention, and Medieval Christians followed the precedent of the Greeks and Romans who knew the earth was a GLOBE: historian Jeffrey Burton Russell's definitive work "Inventing the Flat Earth" puts it all together for those who wish to cease maligning the ancients (one need only remember Dante's descent in AD 1300 into the Inferno within a planet earth that is a sphere). It is unfortunate that Eric Seibert did not consult the most ancient maps of the world in cuneiform texts that are ROUND even as they speak of the "four corners/banks" that is simply an idiom used by the Tigris and Euphrates river dwellers in Mesopotamia. Could some ancient Israelites have seen the world as round? Yes. Could some ancient Israelites have seen the world as flat? Yes. To be as dogmatic as Siebert is in affirming only the latter does not help his credibility.

His discussion of Jesus' eschatology on p.258-259 should cause one to cringe: he is sympathetic with the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar that Jesus did not speak the words recorded of him in Luke about the destruction of Jerusalem. So let us make sure we understand Siebert's hermeneutic: Jesus is the one who guides us to our knowledge of God, but not everything Jesus is said to have said in the canonical gospels can be trusted. Ipso facto, the ultimate arbiter of what we know about God is ... voila: us! Even in the gospels, Siebert picks and chooses what we determine to be genuine or not genuine, a canon (Jesus' genuine words) within the canon (words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament) within the canon (the Bible). This hermeneutic recapitulates all the worst of the errors that have been perpetrated in the quest for the historical Jesus, resulting in (as Albert Schweitzer pointed out so famously) a Jesus that we make in our own image.

He is lucid and there is no misunderstanding his argument. He takes great pains to make sure that his readers understand him. I had hoped for better when I picked up the book, but I cannot recommend it. He is someone with whom the Christian church is unable to dialogue since he does not submit to the authority of the Bible, establishing instead a modern - and passing - construct of what we know about God based upon the latest fad of intellectual analysis, leading to the believer being "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness" (Eph 4:14).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended 19 Jan. 2014
By Anthony Lawson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Seibert’s work is divided into three parts, consisting of twelve chapters, and two appendixes. The first two sections outline the problems related to various biblical texts and narratives from the Hebrew Bible regarding “disturbing divine behavior.” Such behavior includes God’s genocide of people, directly killing individuals, commanding others to kill, causing natural disasters, etc. These sections are done fairly well. He then works through some of the approaches that have been proposed throughout church history to explain these portrayals and finds them lacking. In part three he proceeds to give his own explanations by first making a distinction between the “textual” God and the “actual” God, and then proposing a distinctive “Christocentric” hermeneutic.

Seibert argues for a hermeneutic built on the statements of Jesus that he believes advocates for a nonviolent God. With this foundation he reexamines many of the texts and narratives often arguing that the text is simply wrong, that it represents how Israel saw God in terms of their own culture of the Ancient Near East. For Seibert, God is nonviolent and no text or narrative should violate that principle and if it does then it should be rejected. He does argue that even with these rejected verses we should approach the passage with humility and should attempt to find something that is theologically valuable.

There are a couple of problems with Seibert’s specific “Christocentric” approach. One issue regards the question of the historical Jesus and what we can know about what he said and did. Seibert briefly discusses the issue and doesn’t see it as a major hurdle, but the situation surrounding historical Jesus studies is much more complex and nuanced. Without going into a discussion of the various “quests,” I’ll mention just the most recent. This quest often uses what is known as the “criteria of authenticity” to determine what Jesus said and did, the Jesus Seminar is well known for this. This view is coming on hard times and scholars like Anthony Le Donne, Chris Keith, and Rafael Rodriquez are attempting to revitalize the quest by appealing to social memory theory. Even here the best we can do is a general outline of what Jesus may have said and did (and some scholars like Zeba Crook argue that social memory theory actually makes the quest impossible and argues for a no-quest).

Another problem with Seibert’s “Christocentric hermeneutic” is that it privileges the New Testament and leaves the Hebrew Bible unable to stand on its own to explain these various portrayals. I’m sure Jewish scholars would not agree with his explanations nor would this gender him any accolades in current Jewish-Christian dialogues.

What makes Seibert’s “Christocentric” hermeneutic distinctive? He argues that Jesus teaches that God is fundamentally nonviolent and couldn’t have been guilty of any of the violent and immoral acts that the Hebrew Scriptures ascribe to him. He argues for this starting in chapter 10 and then expands on it in Appendix A, “Reexamining the Nonviolent God.” Although some Christians will find this argument persuasive, especially those from a more pacifist/peace tradition, most will not. What I found most unconvincing was his attempt to reconcile the violent portrayals of the apocalyptic passages in the New Testament with his view of a nonviolent God. The author has also written a second volume specifically dedicated to defending this position, it is titled, “The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy.”

I’m sure a lot of Christians would have a lot of objections to Seibert’s views, most centered on the topic of the Bible’s inspiration. Seibert briefly mentions these issues in the main body of the text but leaves an extended discussion for Appendix B. Here he argues against strict views of inspiration, especially inerrancy and argues for what he calls a “general revelation” view.
Despite the fact that I found Seibert’s solutions ultimately unconvincing I still recommend the volume for those interested in the topic of the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of a violent God.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best book, but a view that needs to be on the able 21 July 2013
By John Daniel Holloway - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Seibert does a good job explaining the importance of thinking rightly about God (or, at least, not thinking horribly about God), citing examples of people using violent depictions of God to justify their own violent purposes. He also provides a strong case that the ways of looking at disturbing divine behavior in the OT proposed in the past are inadequate and we are in need of a new perspective.

That being said, his suggestion does not provide us with anything better. He basically makes the case that the narratives of divine violence in the OT are not actual historical accounts, and that Israel was operating under a flawed theological worldview. Furthermore, Jesus shows us who God is, and that, in many ways, the way Israel thought of God is simply wrong and should be rejected.

I sympathize with this view to an extent. I understand the OT to be consisted of the people of Israel trying to find out who God is, formulating different theologies as they go along. To the Jewish people, Yahweh is, in many ways, a mystery; and Jesus, for Christians, solves that mystery. So while I sympathize with this aspect of his argument, Seibert's perspective has problems.

For one, he spends too much time on the historical problem. The majority of his argument is spent defending a negative view of the "historical" narratives in the OT. This fails to address Walter Brueggemann's focus, which is undeterred by historical criticism and deals mainly with Israel's testimony about Yahweh. Saying it didn't happen does not even begin to solve the problem.

I suspect he spent so much time with the historical question because of his audience, which clearly consists of undergrads and lay people; the way he writes, and the fact that most of the book consists of introductions to concepts, attests to this. He could imagine how difficult it would be for any normal, Bible-believing Christian to face Seibert's view of OT history. If this is a true assessment of his purpose, it is hard to imagine his attempt to be successful. In many places, Seibert is far too blunt to appear sympathetic to Evangelical Christians. Throughout the book, he says things that most church-goers would be shocked to hear. Peter Enns, in Inspiration and Incarnation, does a good job at meeting Evangelicals at their level, and gently leading them to his understanding. The same cannot be said of Seibert.

This leads me to the next problem with Seibert's perspective: his view is too minimalist to be adopted by even a good portion of Christians today. Does he really expect a lot of Christians to go along with a view that outright rejects most of OT portrayals of God? They would be forced to discard views espoused in the majority of their canon. Seibert's perspective rides too close to Marcionism for it to be widely accepted in churches.

Another problem with Seibert's view is that it can't provide anything for Jewish people. I can't imagine a Jew being okay with any of the points Seibert makes, and I find it odd that an OT scholar like Seibert displays such a lack of regard for Jewish sentiments, as he demeans the ancient Jewish testimony about Yahweh, and is definitely guilty of supersessionism.

My final problem with Seibert's book is technical, rather than ideological. I can't tell if Seibert was, for lack of a better word, dumbing down his language, or if he just isn't a very good writer. I don't think I've read a book in which someone repeats phrases as many times as Seibert does. Furthermore, he often included unnecessary asides to remind the reader of something that was not in need of reminding. For example, in a small section on the incarnation, he repeated again and again that Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. At one point, I sarcastically asked my wife, to whom I was reading the book, "Hey, do you think he believes that Jesus is God incarnate? I can't tell." I often felt like this. (Also, he must have had a horrible editor; the book has errors on practically every other page.)

Despite its flaws, Seibert's book has many strengths: his recognition of the importance of facing violent passages instead of ignoring them, as well as the importance of addressing this problem appropriately, in a way that inspires good moral behavior and a consistent theology. Also, the fact that he faces the barbaric nature of many passages in the OT, rather than pretending that they're not as bad as they are. He also assesses well the inadequacy of several other perspectives on this issue, and is refreshingly open to the findings of OT historical criticism (although, he might be going too far). Finally, I respect the amount of weight he puts on the need for a Christocentric hermeneutic.

Disturbing Divine Behavior does not provide a bad assessment of divine violence, but it does provide another inadequate explanation. While this isn't the most well-constructed argument, nor is it the most well-written book, it certainly offers a lot of good insight on this issue, and provides an angle that, at least, needs to be on the table.
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