Sunday, August 20, 2017

Atheists for Huitzilopochtli: Hector Avalos Decries Missionaries

This month Hector Avalos, radical critic of Christianity at Iowa State University and my past sparring partner on this site (beginning from almost the first post) and on John Loftus' "Debunking Christianity," put in a bad word for Christian missions in the journal The Bible and Interpretation.  Well it was more than a word, it was about twenty pages long. 

Long-time readers here know that I have often taken issue with Avalos' articles, and with the tone and fervent animus that seems to inspire them.  I have found his biblical exegesis beyond tendentious, hovering in the neighborhood of dark, Christo-phobic fantasy.  ("Jesus commands hate!")  His representations of the Crusades also tend to be deeply problematic
Image result for matteo ricci
Matteo Ricci, one of the greatest missionaries, who
expanded how China saw the world.

Avalos has not responded kindly to my criticism, to no one's surprise.  But I find his attacks interesting for their detail and creativity.  They sound scholarly and, to the unwary, perhaps persuasive. 

I take Avalos as fair game for rebuttal, in other words -- more challenging than your average Internet atheist, anyway, if not more ultimately credible. 

In this case, Avalos has outdone himself.  While his creative and tendentious use of scholarly jargon allows his paper to pass the Alan Sokal Sniff Test, when analyzed carefully, it is really quite remarkable what the influential Hispanic atheist is really saying -- and who he is plugging as an alternative to God.

In this post, I analyze the first half or so of his paper, to the part where he starts wondering why the Aztec God of Human Sacrifice isn't any more popular.  (And overlooks the most obvious explanations for that unpopularity.)  We will follow the time-sanctioned vaudeville format of responding to one comment at a time. 

"Minoritized Biblical Scholarship as Christian Missiology and Imperialism"

Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies, Iowa State University

“I have developed a very different perspective on minoritized approaches to biblical studies.  I am biblical scholar who happens to be identified as Latino (or Mexican American) and as an atheist.”

"Since most members of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) have religious affiliations, I may truly represent the most marginalized minority in the SBL. I have argued elsewhere that my experience with disability and my secularist stance, rather than my ethnicity or minority status, better explain the nature of my scholarship (Avalos 2015)."

"I am an anthropologist and biblical scholar by training, but I also teach and do research in ethnic studies. I founded the US Latino Studies program at Iowa State University in 1994. In 2004, I edited a volume on the US Latino and Latina Religious Experience, while serving as editor of the Religion in the Americas series for Brill. In 2007, I published Strangers in Our Own Land: Religion and U.S. Latina/o Literature, and I still teach a course on Religion and US Latino/a Literature at Iowa State University.  
 "Those experiences have raised awareness of both the benefits and disadvantages of looking at the Bible through what is being called “minoritized” criticism.  Minoritized criticism centers on “‘minoritization’ or the process of unequal valorization of population groups, yielding dominant and minority formations and relations, within the context, and through the apparatus, of a nation or state as the result of migration, whether voluntary or coerced” (Bailey, Liew, and Segovia 2009, ix).

"First, let me address the benefits. One benefit is raising awareness that European scholarship has been biased in a number of areas. In fact, detecting Eurocentric biases in biblical studies may be the single most important achievement of any minoritized biblical scholarship. Second, a minoritized approach also signals a more inclusive attitude toward scholars of non-European ethnicities and identities. The fact that non-Europeans can be recognized as scholars in their own right is a welcome change.

"Despite these benefits, I view minoritized approaches as predominantly another form of Christian missiology and imperialism rather than as an instrument to expose and undermine that imperialism. "

Notice that Avalos situates his rhetoric solidly within the confines of modern American discourse of "majorities" and "minorities," even though the nominal topic is world missions.  In a broader perspective, Latinos are one of the world's largest people groups, the majority in a huge swath of the globe.  Atheists, similarly, are not rare in a global perspective, and have had a disproportionate power and impact in modern history. 

Why is Avalos doing that?  In a sense, it's a bit of a scholarly cliché, "I belong to an unrepresented group, my voice should be heard."  Fine, let's hear your voice, but let's not give that voice any special status simply because it represents a large majority in the US, and an influential (one might say privileged) majority in many other countries.   

Also notice the dichotomy assumed here: "minoritized" biblical scholarship (whatever that means) can be beneficial when it detects "Eurocentric biases," but no other contributions could be so important as that one.  Though Avalos is also willing to grant that the fact that non-Europeans can be recognized as scholars is also a positive development.  (And a very old one, I might add.)  So the essential contributions of minority mission scholars must be defensive in a hostile contest with the "majority" -- never mind the fact that in a global community (as that of missiologists) there is no "majority," and collegiality is more common than cut-throat competition, in my experience.

I say that having obtained my PhD under the guidance and / or criticism of four scholars, one of whom was Indian, a second Indian from Africa, a third Chinese, and only one European-American.  No one so much as imagined or suggested, in all my years of working on my dissertation, that my "minority" status as an American in Britain, or the minority status or non-European status of any of those scholars, was worth mentioning in the sort of politicized context in which Avalos brings this up.  (Though of course their expertise grew in part from the cultural context in which they were raised and educated.)

"Philosophical Problems with Minoritized Biblical Criticism  My main philosophical objection to minoritized biblical criticism is that most of it is incompatible with the idea of historical-critical biblical studies. 

"Academic biblical studies should be an empirico-rationalist and secular enterprise that uses only methodological naturalism."

This edict seems a little imperialistic.  “My way or the highway!”  Why should every scholar who studies the Bible bring Hector Avalos’ particular biases to that study, and none other?

Indeed, this bias may be behind Avalos’ recent tendency to put “” marks around the “Dr.” when he refers to me.  He seems to think Christians were somehow involved in my obtaining credentials (true, some were), and therefore those credentials are illegitimate.  Also, I come to conclusions that he does not share.  “Marshall does not agree with my doctrinal statement, so banish him from the community of scholars!” 

And that seems to be one of Avalos' favored goals, to discredit Christian scholars and banish them from the community of genuine scholarship. 

Scholars can, in fact, work from a variety of assumptions about how the world works.  (They can, because they do -- the latter proves the former.)  This is why I will never call Hector Avalos "'Dr' Avalos, but respect his status as a scholar.   

"This is not to deny that different ethnic groups may have a variety of approaches to the Bible. We certainly should study how different ethnic groups approach the Bible. But I differentiate the study of how ethnic groups use the Bible from any program to develop or consolidate a uniquely “minority” or “minoritized” stance on biblical scholarship. For me, the study of how different minorities might approach the Bible is a sociological study rather than some constructive ethno-theological program."

This sounds as if it means, "I can learn from their work how these quaint minority theologians think, but I can't learn anything from their ideas." 

"Historical findings about the Bible should not depend on ethnicity or religious presuppositions anymore than historical conclusions in any other field should depend on ethnicity or theological presuppositions. Martin Luther either wrote On the Jews and Their Lies in 1543 or he did not. Our ethnicity does not change the result. We can either corroborate in textual and archaeological sources the presence of Alexander the Great in Mesopotamia or we cannot, regardless of ethnicity or religious presuppositions." 

This strikes me as assuming a narrow and short-sighted conception of the study of man.

Would not living in a state that experiences community violence help a scholar better understand Martin Luther, or Romeo and Juliet?  Isn’t that why Avalos mentioned his own background?  

History is about people, and therefore is a combination of the objective and the subjective.  We do not study people like rocks or ants: we are people, and can therefore gain insight by looking at history from the inside as well as the outside.  And because the Bible reflects a culture or cultures which are unlike our own, but like each of them in different ways, it follows that a broad, cross-cultural approach to understanding the Bible will be more fruitful than a supposedly neutral, de-culturalized approach. 

I learned much about the Bible by living among the Chinese.  I came to better understand the purpose and meaning of the genealogies, for instance.  I also came to recognize the importance of the fifth commandment and the Hebrew word “kabed,” “honor your parents,” from coming to see a closely-related concept () from within the Chinese culture.  I know I understand the Bible better for having looked at it in part with Chinese eyes.  And I know many other people have had the same experience.  (Don Richardson gives a famous and particular revealing example in his book Peace Child, about a cannibalistic culture that came to understand one biblical analogy with particular acuity.)

History, being about humans, consists not just of acquiring facts, but of recognizing value and meaning.  As a teacher, let me suggest that the failure to recognize this explains why so many young people are bored by history.  

"Therefore, in some ways minoritized approaches to the Bible are as useful as minoritized chemistry or ethnic Assyriology. These ethnic approaches inevitably lead to solipsism because I can claim that there are individualized approaches just as there are ethnic group approaches to anything. If I am justified in using a “group” perspective, then I also should be justified in using an “individual” perspective on anything, and so why privilege the group rather than the individual perspective? (cf. Bailey, Liew, and Segovia 2009, 32)."

But we are not just methane molecules.  We are people.  Subjective understanding need not lead to solipsism, because it is in balance, not conflict, with more objective understandings.  They are like the two wings of a bird.  

"Indeed, ethnic identity is itself a construct, and identities are multiple and always evolving. Many times, minorities define themselves against a white or European culture that is itself diverse (Middleton, Roediger and Shaffer 2016). We certainly can study how ethnic minorities interpret biblical texts without having to participate in some larger program to reify those interpretations as “better” or “more suitable” for any minorities."

That an identity “evolves” doesn’t entail that it is unreal or useless.  “The apple fell from the tree and struck Newton’s nose” is hardly a meaningless sentence if apples evolve, or if there are a vast variety of apples.  A bowling ball does not taste so sweet as an apple in a pie, however many colors bowling balls may come in.  

“Biblical studies should be an academic field much like all other academic fields in the humanities—much like classical studies, or Assyriology, or the study of English literature. My principal task is to discover, as best I can, what the intentions of authors were and the context in which they wrote their works. Secondarily, it is to explain how those ancient texts still exert influence in the modern world.” 

So students of the Bible should not try to learn anything that is true or valuable from the authors they read?  I don’t see that listed as a legitimate goal of biblical criticism.  (I certainly hope my students learn valuable things when they study English literature!) 

Context and intent are scholarship denuded of significance, like a tree blasted of its branches by a hurricane.  What a tedious scholarship Avalos seems to be espousing. 

I try to identify Eurocentric biases in order to erase those biases. Replacing European biases with ethnic perspectives is equally objectionable. If I have a Latino ethnic bias, then I want to identify it in order to subvert it much like any sort of personal bias should be subverted in history. Personal ethnic identity certainly can influence the subjects we choose, but it ought not influence results that should be based on evidence alone. This is not to deny that an ethnic identity may be useful for other purposes; just not for the purpose of doing historical or literary biblical scholarship.”  

“Standpoint” and “perspective” are not mere “bias.”  Scholarship should be the totality of a man (or woman) interrogating a text with all of what they are or know.  None of us can or should pretend at a post-human objectivity.   We should make use of our perspective, while listening to the perspectives of others – that, I maintain, is a richer approach to history and to literature than the one Avalos seems to be espousing here.  But let us see . . . 

“Although not all minoritized criticism involves theological approaches, much of it certainly does. Given my commitment to empirico-rationalism as the only approach to historical or literary biblical studies, I hold that theological approaches are academically unsound because I cannot evaluate theological claims.”  

This reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity, in my opinion.  Christian faith IS empirical.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”  “Reach here your hands.”  “Come and see!”  We demonstrate that from a variety of perspectives in our book, True Reason.  
One can, of course, evaluate theological claims.  That is one reason Christianity has spread throughout the world: it was evaluated from a variety of perspectives (as I show in How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test) and found to pass a wide variety of theological, philosophical, and psychological tests.  It defeated its rivals intellectually and existentially. 

But this is obvious.   “God is a giant piece of pasta” is incoherent and ridiculous, precisely why modern atheists use that claim to mock theism.  “Reductio ad Absurdam” deliberately seeks that which is self-evidently more absurd, thus conceding rational standards in such things.  Even in scoffing, skeptics pay homage to the coherence and sense of what they scoff at.  They would not have to invent silly analogies, if they didn't know the original was not so easy to laugh at.  If you draw a mustache on a picture in the museum, you are not congratulated for contributing to great art. 

“Theological claims are inherently undemocratic if they are based on nothing more than a theologian’s word and on religious presuppositions that I do not share. In contrast, the use of empirico-rationalist methodologies rest on assumptions that can be shared by all. The main assumption is that one of more of our natural senses and/or logic can give us reliable information about the world.”

This seems a little hypocritical.  Avalos has argued that only “secular” standards are legitimate.  Why is it “democratic” to assume that the majority (who believe in God) must be marginalized, and the minority (who don’t) be taken as the standard?

And if we are seeking some beliefs that everyone shares in common, and that alone is our democratic standard, then we seek in vain.  The notion that “The world exists” is not accepted by everyone.  (Of course, one may ask why a scholar who doubts the world would do scholarship, to which one may respond, “Why not?  What else is there to do?”)  So any scholarship that assumes the reality of the world is “undemocratic?”   

But scholarship is not about democracy, it is about facts and reasoning.  The correct standard is not “Do all agree on our starting points?” but “Are the arguments sound and the premises clearly stated?”  There is no rule that a scholar may not begin with arguable assumptions, only that he should state them clearly.  Even the value of democracy itself is, after all, an oft-questioned assumption.  So should no political scientist begin with the premise that consent of the governed is a desirable state?  Avalos’ rule would bring scholarship to a screeching halt. 

“To me, the most significant divide is not between some larger Eurocentric and a “minoritized” approach. The most significant difference is between secular approaches and those that are religionist or bibliolatrous. “Religionism” refers to a position that regards religion as useful or necessary for human existence, and something that should be preserved and protected.”
Here is more wooly thinking. 

What is “religionist?”  Peter Berger notes that definitions of religion tend to fall into two categories, having to do with the content or function of belief.  By the latter, many “secularist” ideologies would qualify, including I think Avalos’ own.  He may wish to privilege his own worldview, as do we all.  But I see no reason to permit that.  So the first divide collapses into presumption. 
Nor should all religions be conflated.  Few would argue that a revival of the Aztec religion is just what the world needs today, complete with torrents of blood flooding down pyramids in Central Park.  My view (which rises to utter confidence) is that Christianity has indeed been useful to millions, and to society as a whole.  And I would gladly put in a good word for, say, Confucianism.  But each idea – religious or secular – should be judged on its own merits and record. 

“Regardless of whether one has a Latino perspective, an Asian perspective, or an African perspective, I still see most biblical scholars engaged in minoritized criticism as trying to advance the idea that religion is good and necessary for human existence.”

Maybe because any fool who knows anything about the history of Chinese civilization, say, knows perfectly well that Confucius’ thinking DID do a lot of good for East Asia?  As did Christianity, for the world?  

“I cannot recall any work of minoritized biblical scholarship that concludes that we must move past any sort of religious thinking. One may argue that assisting people to move past religious thinking is not the task of biblical scholars. Yet, many of the same scholars have no problem describing their task as advancing Christian principles or liberation theology perspectives.” 

The problem being?  That some people hold to positions you don’t like, and are allowed to defend them? 

“By bibliolatry, I refer to the position that views the Bible as a privileged document that is worthy of more study or attention than many other ancient works that we can name. Promoting the Bible as important for our civilization is another self-interested project because it also functions to preserve the employment of biblical scholars.  

Here we see the words “Bible” and “idolatry” combined.  The result is a highly tendentious term.  
Obviously some works are more worthy of study than others, both for intrinsic merit, and for impact upon the world. 

Why do more scholars write about Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Homer’s Iliad than Lucian’s A True Tale?  I think for both reasons.  Hamlet is a great work; True Tale is not.  Hamlet is watched and enjoyed around the world; True Tale has not been. 

Let’s begin with the second.  Christianity is the largest and most influential faith in the world.  Islam also borrowed from Christianity and the Old Testament.  Isn’t this obvious? 

How about the intrinsic merit of the Bible?  Obviously Avalos and I disagree about that.  But I am hardly unread in world literature – I have read the Chinese Classics in the original language (for the most part), have combed through almost all the Greek novels, read Russian and Indian literature, and just assigned my students part of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Rig Veda.  (One of the skeptics in our office, who is teaching literature, asked me for a summary of the former yesterday, before he talked about it in World History.)  

The greatest moral teacher I have found outside the Bible may be the Stoic Epictetus.  I am also fond of Confucius, and respect the Dharmapada, which possibly contains some of Buddha’s teachings. 

But I think anyone who fails to put the Sermon on the Mount, and much of Jesus’ other teachings, at the forefront of moral teaching, has blinders on his eyes.  And I can quote great non-Christian reforms who say much the same thing. 

So yes, intrinsic merit, as well.  And I take that as an empirical, not a “bibliolatrous,” conclusion.

“I have written elsewhere on how the supposed relevance of the Bible in our civilization is an illusion created in part by biblical scholars, the professorial class, and ministers who wish to preserve their status in our society (Avalos 2007; 2010).” 

You have written all sorts of silly things, Hector, some of which I have refuted on this site. 

“Minoritized Criticism as Colonialism and Missiology  In a well-known postcolonialist tome, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literatures (1989), Bill Ashcroft and his coauthors observe that the British empire is now largely defunct, but “cultural hegemony has been maintained through canonical assumptions about literary activity, and through attitudes toward postcolonial literature which identify them as off-shoots of English literature” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 1989, 7).” 

English literature has influenced Indian literature – no question.  Missionaries even helped revive an interest in classical Indian literature, as Vishal Mangalwadi explains.

This is part of the normal effect of the diffusion of ideas and culture. 

“Similarly, although Christian empires may no longer be as politically powerful as they once were, they still exert their cultural hegemony by extolling the ethical and aesthetic superiority of their biblical texts over those of other cultures. Many biblical scholars can be viewed as agents of that effort to maintain Christian cultural hegemony even among underrepresented minorities today.” 

I cannot think of any “Christian empires” presently in existence – if there ever were.  (See Charles Williams, Decent of the Dove, and Rodney Stark on how Christianity declined after Constantine’s conversion.) 

But hopefully Avalos will arrive at concrete examples, soon. 

“The attempt to understand other cultures and minorities within American culture is a standard part of Christian missiology. The integration of missiology with the effort to understand “the other” is evidenced at Fuller Theological Seminary, which offers degrees in missiology. The description of the Master of Theology in Intercultural Studies states that it “equips pastors, mission and denominational leaders to meet the challenge of ministering in an increasingly complex, multiethnic, multinational world” (Fuller Theological Seminary, online).”

The odd thing about this paragraph is that the thesis sentence is not supported later.  There is nothing in the Fuller statement about “understanding other cultures and minorities within American culture.”  Fuller happens to be situated in Pasadena, California, very close to a large enclave of Chinese immigrants in Monterey Park, Alhambra and surrounding communities.  I believe many of its missions teachers are either minorities or foreigners themselves -- one of my best Taiwanese friends studied there. 

And where does the word “minorities” come from here?  Missions is about becoming minorities ourselves.  Is Avalos just hoping readers won’t notice that he’s changed the subject? 

“In a broader context, minoritized biblical criticism can be viewed as part of the tradition of some of the early anthropologists whose aim was to understand other cultures in order to facilitate their conquest and colonization (Tilley and Gordon 2007). Instead of outright conquest, modern Christian missiology analyzes minority cultures to identify experiences that can facilitate extending Christianity and the authority of biblical texts to those cultures.”

Again “minority cultures” seems to be conflated with “foreign cultures.” 

The only support for Avalos’ thesis in this paragraph is a reference to a book about anthropology and imperialism in Africa.  (Which in ten years, has received no reviews on Amazon.)  How exactly biblical criticism by non-whites can be “part of” some strand of African anthropology by white imperialists and their presumptive enablers, given that non-European biblical criticism began thousands of years before the European conquest of Africa, is left to our (hopefully fertile) imaginations.  

“Indeed, much of the minoritized biblical scholarship I read is predominantly a missiological and pastoral endeavor, meant to retain or recruit minorities by persuading them that the Bible offers them some comfort or analogy to their experience that can be beneficial. Therefore, ethnic minorities should still retain the Bible as some sort of authority to inform their experience. In his book on the Bible and migrants, Jean-Pierre Ruiz explicitly tells us:  
“I am convinced that the work of biblical studies and of theological scholarship is an ecclesial vocation, one that takes place at the heart of the church for the sake of its mission to witness to the goodness and the justice of God in the world (Ruiz 2011, x).”   

Imagine that!  A Christian scholar thinks the Bible can help people!

“In so doing, Ruiz and most other advocates of minoritized biblical scholarship are still carrying out another version of the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  

Amen!  And God  Speed!

“By textual imperialism, I refer to the effort to promote the Bible as a privileged cultural text or as the standard by which minorities should guide their lives. These scholars are still trying to convince minorities that the Bible has a message that is relevant for them.”  

Why do we have to use words like “minorities” here?  Christians think the Bible has not one, but many messages, which are relevant for “people” in general.  Whether they belong to big or little tribes does not change that. 

And what does this have to do with “imperialism?”  Convincing people through arguments and rhetoric is not imperialism, nor is it analogous to imperialism.  Imperialism means conquering other countries by military means and then subjugating them for your own profit. 

Missionaries often died en masse in Central Africa and India.  Some got rich, but many became desperately poor.  While European merchants were pushing to sell opium to the Chinese, the missionary community protested almost to a man (and woman).  Confusing missionaries with imperialists is understandable in some contexts, but in the whole, it shows a polemic, not a scholarly or fair, stance.  

“Some of these scholars are explicit about their Christian agenda. One example is the self-identified Latino scholar, Ruben Muñoz-Larrondo, who states that “[t]he theoretical framework envisioned for Latino/a hermeneutics involves five criteria” (Muñoz-Larrondo 2014, 205). His first one is “tuning our Christian identity beyond nationalist overtones,” by which he means that Latinos should stress that they are Christian more than they are Mexican American, or Cuban, or some other Latino identity (Muñoz-Larrondo 2014, 205).”

And I certainly felt I shared more in common with Chinese Christians I met as a missionary, than I did with, say, the American men I ran into looking for girls in Snake Alley, as I describe in True Son of Heaven.  

 We find a Christian orientation in some African American approaches to the Bible, as is the case with Isabel Carter Heyward, who says: 

"Christology has become important to me for two primary reasons: (1) First, I am hooked on Jesus. I could no more pretend that the Jesus-figure, indeed the Jesus Christ of the kerygma, is unimportant to me than I could deny the significance of my parents and my past in the shaping of my future. As a “cradle Christian”—a person who came to know the storybook Jesus long before I sat down and thought about God—I have no sane or creative choice but to take very seriously this Jesus Christ who is written indelibly in my own history.... (Heyward 1982, 196)."

"In my recent book, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (2015), I argue that the unwillingness to find any flaws in the ethics of Jesus still betrays the fact that most scholars of New Testament ethics, whether European, Latino, Asian, or African American, still view Jesus as divine, and not as a human being whose ethics must be flawed somewhere." 

We have seen on this site how Dr. Avalos deconstructs Jesus' moral teaching, and how repugnant even an atheist can find the results.  

"Religionism and bibliolatry are at the core of all Eurocentric approaches to the Bible historically. If that is the case, then most practitioners of minoritized criticism are not departing from Eurocentrism, but rather developing an alternative form of Eurocentrism (see also Avalos 2003). Minoritized criticism is more about aesthetics—it seeks to promote the appearance of diversity when it retains the core components of Christian textual imperialism."  

Now here is a bizarre twist.  A black American who says he is "hooked on Jesus" (a man who never set foot in Europe) is guilty of "Eurocentrism" for doing so.  Yes, run the tape backwards then forwards again.  That really is what Dr. Avalos is doing.   This empirical-rationalist method certainly yields impressively counter-intuitive findings.  

You see, "religionism" and "bibliolatry" (words which are long and therefore must have some profound scholarly meaning, though Avalos has not clearly defined that meaning) are defining traits of "Eurocentric" approaches to the Bible (again, for reasons which have at best vaguely been alluded to -- certainly no critical, systematic evidence for any such sweeping generalization has been offered).  So anyone who loves Jesus in the Bible, even if he is black, must be sucking up to the Man in the plantation house.  That seems to be the gist of the "argument."  (I use the word loosely.) 

"Textual imperialism" seems to mean writing about the Bible instead of, say, the Epic of Gilgamesh.  The connection to real imperialism is, as Avalos put it, more about aesthetics than reason.  

"When it comes to formal thematic features encountered in works of minoritized biblical scholarship, one finds at least these four: 1) Experiential analogies; 2) Ethno-theology; 3) representativism; and 4) The appeal to interpretive flexibility as a superior virtue of biblical texts. My aim is to show that these themes are simply religionist and bibliolatrous variants of, rather than radical or transformative departures from, Eurocentric or non-minoritized biblical criticism." 

I bet you could find all four in Origen.  (Writing in Alexandria, Egypt, in Africa, before Europe became nominally Christian.) 

Here Avalos finally gets down to concrete examples.  (I won't say "evidence," because his "empirical" argument from henceforth is entirely anecdotal -- which given the framework of sophistry and knee-jerk, unreflective criticism of the demonized Other so far, is quite an improvement, actually.)  

Let's let Avalos develop his point through these examples without interruption now, for longer stretches.  

"Experiential Analogy as Missiology  Scholars using minoritized approaches often seek some analogy in the Bible for the experience of minorities today. Particularly popular are analogies with the immigrant experience. Sometimes, these experiential analogies are clearly announced in the title of minoritized biblical scholarship, as in the case of Gregory Lee Cuellar’s Voices of Marginality: Exile and Return in Second Isaiah 40-55 and the Mexican Immigrant Experience (2008).

"Cuellar seeks analogies between the themes of exile and return in Isaiah 40-55 and the Mexican American immigrant experience, especially as expressed in short narrative songs called corridos. For Cuellar, these “corridos arise out of crisis and function to redress a social breach. They not only provide invaluable documentation of the Mexican migratory experience, but also serve as expressions of oppositional culture due to its message of resistance, empowerment and social critique” (Cuellar 2008, 68). 

"However, the very use of biblical texts to create analogies with Mexican American immigrants is already a very Christian missiological enterprise in this case. Indeed, there are more apt analogies in indigenous Mesoamerican literature that are completely disregarded in favor of Second Isaiah, whose context is far more culturally removed from the experiences of Mexican immigrants, especially those who are undocumented." 

Wait!  Here I need to interrupt.

The assumption seems to be that evil European Christians "completely disregarded" non-Christian literature when they sought edifying examples in their own works, and that the supercilious Mexican Christians can in this respect only be aping their European oppressors.  

If Avalos really thinks that, why should we think he knows anything about western (and European Christian) literature?  

Let us leave aside Dante and Shakespeare for the moment, and focus on pious European writers (though Dante was a Christian.)  Has Avalos never read Dream of the Rood?  Or Beowulf?  Has he never held Chaucer in his hands?  Or even Bunyan or Bronte?  Every one of these great writers or works are chock full of references to non-Christian writings.  Heck, even Anne Bradstreet, the pious Puritan poet who launched American poetry, was called the "Tenth Muse" -- one of endless tributes in European Christian literature to Greek and Roman myth, plays, philosophy, science, and of course epic.  

This is a point Roberto De Nobili, Jesuit missionary to India in the early 17th Century, made with great force and numerous examples in his work Adaptation.

So if Mexican Christians completely ignore pagan literature (we'll leave that question up in the air for the sake of the argument), it would be nonsense to accuse them of aping European Christianity on that score. 

Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with relating great books that one loves to one's life.  Here Avalos offers up an argument that has to be seen to be credited. 

Atheists for Huitzilopotchli

"Consider the bilingual (Spanish-Nahuatl) narrative known as Crónica Mexicáyotl, which dates to about 1609 and is attributed to Fernando Alvarado Tezózomoc, a Nahuatl indigenous writer who collected Nahuatl traditions. Crónica Mexicáyotl contains the story of how the Mexica people, from whom Mexican Americans derive part of their name, were exiled from many places before finally founding their core homeland of Tenochtitlan (in the middle of what is now Mexico City). The narrative begins as follows: 

"'Here it is told, it is recounted, how the ancients who were called, who were named, Teochichimeca, Azteca, Mexitin, Chicomoztoca came, arrived, when they came to seek, when they came to take again possession of their land here (LeónPortilla and Shorris 2001, 192).'

"This introduction identifies the narrative as being about exile and return (“they came to take again possession of their land here”).i The narrative tells us that these people “brought along the image of their god, the idol that they worshipped”(León-Portilla and Shorris 2001,193). This god, Huizilopotchli, speaks to his people just as Yahweh does."

"The narrative goes on to explain how the Mexica people tried to settle in different places, but were expelled. Fear of expulsion from their new home country is not the focus of Second Isaiah, but is the focus of many corridos and also Crónica Mexicáyotl. 

"Near the end of Crónica Mexicáyotl these nomadic people are told by a prophet-priest to look for a sign: An eagle perched on a cactus eating a serpent (or the heart of a defeated god). The Mexica people do find just such an eagle on a cactus, and the narrative announces a hopeful note: “O happy, blessed are we! We have beheld the city that shall be ours! Let us go, now, let us rest” (LeónPortilla and Shorris 2001, 205)

"If one looks at the corridos that Cuellar has selected, none of them ever appeal to Second Isaiah to form their analogies. On the other hand, we find closer verbal parallels between Crónica Mexicáyotl and some of the corridos selected by Cuellar. A line in one of Cuellar’s selected corridos says that “we returned happily to the Mexican motherland” (Cuellar 2008, 132). That is analogous to the lines in Crónica Mexicáyotl about returning precisely to the Mexican heartland in  “O happy, blessed are we! We have beheld the city that shall be ours!” (León-Portilla and Shorris 2001, 205). 

"Sometimes Cuellar has chosen corridos that serve his analogies, while overlooking the diversity of other views in corridos. For example, Cuellar says that the “corridos... also serve as expressions of oppositional culture” (Cuellar 2008, 68). But Los Tigres del Norte, a popular Mexican American musical group, wrote a 1997 corrido called “Mis dos patrias” (“My two fatherlands”), which affirms that Mexican immigrants can be equally devoted to both the United States and to Mexico. This corrido rejects an approach that views identity as part of an “oppositional culture,” and encourages acceptance of both identities. 

"Unlike Second Isaiah, which sees identity as a stark dichotomy (Jewish versus Babylonian), “Mis dos patrias” affirms a hybrid identity that Cuellar never seems to view as legitimate. In other words, Cuellar seems to be accepting the legitimacy of the stark ethno-religious dichotomy exemplified by Second Isaiah, even when some Mexican Americans themselves reject it in the very musical genre Cuellar chooses for his illustrations. 

"On a rhetorical level, Crónica Mexicáyotl sometimes has better analogies, as well. One line of “Mis dos patrias” reads “But what does it matter if I am a new citizen; I continue to be as Mexican as the pulque [an alcoholic drink made from the maguey plant] and the cactus” (“pero que importa si soy nuevo ciudadano; sigo siendo mexicano como el pulque y el nopal”). The cactus as a symbol of Mexican identity can be traced at least as far back as Crónica Mexicáyotl.  
"There are also some significant differences between the Mexican American immigrant experience and that of the Jews of Second Isaiah. Undocumented Mexican immigrants fear being forcibly removed from the United States, but forcible removal from Babylon is not much of an issue in Second Isaiah. Babylonians were not hunting down “illegal” Jews in order to return them to their Jewish homeland.  
"It is the opposite in Second Isaiah, which addresses Jews who sometimes had grown too comfortable or felt too welcome in Babylonia. Not all of these Jewish exiles wished to go back to Judea. That is why Cronica Mexicáyotl forms a more apt analogy to the plight of the undocumented Mexican immigrant in the United States. That indigenous narrative is permeated by the episodes where the nomadic Mexica people were expelled from whatever new homeland initially accepted them." 

Avalos might, at this point, have added a few details about Huitzilopochtli, which might explain why he lost his status to Yahweh in Mexico: 

* Huitzilopochtli was a minor figure until the Aztec conquest of central Mexico.  He has, in other words, been out of that job longer than he retained it. 

* He was turned into the sun god, and also a god of human sacrifice.  The idea was that if you didn't feed him with people on a regular basis -- at least every 20th-day holiday, if not every day -- he would run out of steam and lose his battle with the "forces of evil." 

* He was also the God of War.  He was therefore responsible for national losses as well as victories. 

* Victories were taken at the expense of other Mexican peoples.  Probably a minority of modern Mexicans are descended in the main from the conquerors, as opposed to the conquered / threatened / distant peoples who escaped the Aztec imperial reach entirely. 

* When the Spanish conquered the neighborhood (despite their tiny numbers), that was a personal loss for Huitzilopochtli, and discredited him as a war god.  Even those who continued to think in polytheistic terms could only perceived that Yahweh made a much better war god than the old war god did. 

* But Huitzilopochtli was, in addition, a pretty ordinary deity (aside from his diet) within a typical polytheistic system.  The soap operatic stories told about his family rather resemble the troubles between Cronos and Zeus and all their broods.  God as Christians preached him, or Yahweh if Avalos insists, did not belong to the same category of beings.   God was the Creator of all, unique, not even within this or any other created or imminent realm. 

* In addition, even if the Aztec chronicles contain a story about how their ancestors came to settle Mexico City before the Spanish took over, Avalos has not shown that the chronicles he refers to have much literary or moral or historical merit otherwise.  

Crónica Mexicáyotl  is ranked about 13 million on Amazon in Spanish, 6 million in German.  I don't see an English edition.  That puts it millions behind even the most obscure of my books -- and my books are pretty darn obscure. 

The fact that even the weakest-selling books by a writer so obscure as myself, still outsell any version I can find of this masterpiece on Amazon, suggests that Avalos may have an uphill struggle convincing even the fiercest anti-Christians of the work's superior merit.  But I wish him the best of luck with that; a rather amusing concern for a hard-core atheist to pursue. 

* Avalos may be right, though, in supposing some modern movements could find inspiration in the works and character of the god Huitzilopochtli.  One thinks of Planned Parenthood, for example.   

Conclusion I

They say that young men risk being made fools for love.  It appears to me that Dr. Avalos risks the same thing to express an over-riding animus towards Christianity. 

We are asked to be surprised that people draw upon the world's Number One Bestseller for inspiration more than they draw on a book that doesn't even make the Amazon Top 5 Million.  We are supposed to be shocked and horrified that the failed part-time god of war of a local imperial power that required the annual sacrifice of thousands of Mexicans, in the interest also of the protein diet of the Aztec aristocracy, no longer inspires Mexican-American Bible scholars (or, apparently, anyone else) so much as the God of Creation. 

Avalos' complain amounts to almost nothing, which is why it requires so much tendentious framing.  Christians take the Christian Scriptures as of universal value.  (As do biologists who are fond of Origin of Species, say, or anyone else who thinks he perceives an important truth.)  People cite books they read, rather than books they don't read, to interpret their experience.  It takes a lot of work to make such truisms sound pernicious, but Avalos gives it the "old college try." 

Meanwhile, he fundamentally misunderstands and misstates how Christians have perceived the relationship between their faith and other traditions. 

From Paul in Athens to Justin Martyr, to Dream of the Rood, to Matteo Ricci and modern missionaries, Christians have often found a great deal of truth and value in the writings of pagans who came before them.   This is why Medieval and Early Modern European writings by Christians, even the most pious, are often so full of references to classical Greek and Latin literature and mythologies.   This is the theme of the first and some of my more recent books.  In my doctoral dissertation, I describe this important thread of thought in the history of Chinese Christianity.  In this field, I am an expert, and Hector Avalos, quite obviously an amateur. 

I showed, in How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test for Faith, that pagans have often in fact converted to Christianity not because it simply "abolished" competing traditions, but because they perceived it as liberating, true, and the fulfillment of deeply-believed ideals, even prophecies, within their own cultures. 

Avalos belongs to a narrower tradition.  The main point of all "religions" (as he defines the term), what most people at most times have believed, is just wrong.  People like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne say they have nothing to learn from "religion" at all.  Faced with the fact that the New Testament speaks of "love" hundreds of times, Avalos moves heaven and earth (and not a small bit of hell) to make "Jesus command hate."  (And also implies that the early Christian church murdered a heretic.)

This is what real bigotry looks like, folks.  I feel bad for anyone who is imprisoned by such sentiments. 

Are some Christians equally narrow-minded?  No doubt.  Have some narrow-minded Christians been granted power and abused that power to torture unbelievers or those who believe something a little different from themselves?  That is a shameful part of the historical record: Torquemada, witch-burnings, the Goan Inquisition.  Have a greater number of Secular Humanists done even worse things to far, far more people?  North Korea.  The Killing Fields.  The Gulag.  The Cultural Revolution.  Witch-burnings in Renaissance (not Medieval) Europe killed but a tithe of a tithe of any one of those horrible movements downstream from the springs of the Enlightenment, not to mention cultural destruction. 

But it is possible to be a Christian, and find a great deal of truth, even inspiration, in Homer, Euripides, and Plato.  (As the early Christians did, and as I do.)  

I am teaching World Literature right now, and my struggle last week was not to overcome my own repugnance for the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Rig Veda, or some sort of Euro-Christian imperial fatwa against non-canonical literature, but to overcome the narrow sentiments programmed into my Secular Humanist students, with their minds crammed full of Enlightenment biases, to appreciate those works, especially the Rig Veda.  (Which also say much about sacrifice.)

Hector Avalos is welcome to reawaken appreciation for the God of Human Sacrifice among modern Mexican Americans if he can, so long as his flock's celebrations stay within legal bounds.   And those who prefer to worship the One God, Creator of all things and giver of life who sacrifice Himself for us, not the other way around, are also welcome to feel more inspired by the stories of our sacred scriptures, focusing on Christ as he is, not as Avalos besmirches him.

But if Avalos wishes to chastise anyone for narrow-mindedness, let him begin with his fellow skeptics, and with himself, for failing to find inspiration where it can most readily be found. 


steve said...

Where have you discussed how your study of Chinese culture gave you a greater appreciation of biblical genealogies?

David B Marshall said...

I don't know if I've talked about that in print. But I find that Chinese sometimes do seem to appreciate those passages in the NT better than westerners usually do -- I remember some emphasis on them in the Chinese seminary I attended.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Dear David,
This is an interesting response, but it fails to see how similar Yahweh is to some Aztec gods in some respects (not to mention other factual errors and misunderstanding of the term "Latino").

If I understand your theology, Christianity is a religion whose foundational act is the sacrifice of God's own son, but somehow the Aztecs are misguided for having human sacrifice? Perhaps you also may wish to revisit 1 Samuel 15:3 (NIV):

"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.'"

So, my question to you is one I have posed before:

Is killing children ALWAYS wrong to you?

David B Marshall said...

Hector: I appreciate the tone of your response, considering some harsh words I have for your argument here.

There is a world of difference between volunteering to die to save others, and being sacrificed unwillingly. The notion of sacrifice in the former sense is one of the greatest ideals across cultures, even here in communist China, which is why there is a monument to "martyrs" in front of Tiananmen. Psychologists also recognize the centrality of this ideal, and it is the theme of many modern movies as well. I don't think an ideology that fails to find a central place for this ideal, can give us much of the truth. And it seems to have "worked" for millions of people.

As for the verse you quoted, yes, I think killing little children is wrong. I'm not an inerracist; I can never even remember how to spell the word.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Dear David,
Do you believe that Jesus is God or are you not a Trinitarian? Because if Jesus is God, then he would be the same God who ordered children to be killed in 1 Samuel 15:1-3.

And did those children volunteer to be killed? Did they die willingly?

1. What are your rules for determining what part of the Bible is true and what part is not if you do not believe in inerrancy?

2. Why don't you believe that God ordered children to be killed without their consent in 1 Samuel 15:1-3?

3. Does it occur to you that Aztec apologists can also accuse you of misunderstanding their sacrifices?

4. What makes you think that the Aztecs don't have a Greater Good in mind for their sacrifices?

5. Why would you ever regard as sacred a book that tells you killing infants in sometimes acceptable?

David B Marshall said...

You seem to be overlooking the implications of my earlier comment. If the Bible is inspired in a different sense than you assume (my view owes to Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse, and to C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms), then God probably did not order anyone to murder any children. And indeed, I take it that is your view as well.

Later, the prophets emphasize that no one should be killed for his parents' sins. This represents progressive revelation, which is perfected and completed in Christ.

I think that answers your questions (3) and (4) as well, and hints at an answer to (5).

Have you read Wolterstorff? I think his approach fits the facts pretty well, and would answer your challenge reasonably well, though I admit there are gaps and difficulties in my view of the sacred Scriptures, part of a much larger difficulty involving the Problem of Pain in general. All worldviews face difficulties: reason is not so unreasonable as to demand that any one explanation of so complex a universe be absolutely complete.

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, Do you read Old Testament Abstracts, a tri-annual publication of theological writings worldwide? I was reading it a few years ago and ran across pieces such as these:

Daniel Vainstub, “Human Sacrifices in Canaan and Israel,” Beer-sheva 19 (2010), 117-204 (in Hebrew).

“The existence of infant sacrifices in biblical times both in the Canaanite culture and in Israel has been a matter of intense controversy in the scholarship of the last eight decades. Paradoxically, the more relevant data emerges, the wider the scholarly discensus grows. Some hold that the practice never existed among the Canaanites or the Israelites, while others aver that it was a deeply rooted practice both in the Canaanite homeland and the Punic cities of the West. Vainstubʼs comprehensive, interdisciplinary study of the issue includes an up-to-date survey of the divergent opinions concerning it and offers new insights based on an array of evidence, epigraphic, linguistic, artistic, and literary. The study highlights the significant degree of parallelism among the various sources, and comes to the conclusion that infant sacrifices to Baal by parents were indeed a strongly rooted custom in Bronze and Iron Age Canaan. The practices was taken over by the Israelites, and persisted until its abolition by Josiah. Later on, the practice was limited to the Phoenician coastal area until it was completely eradicated by the Persians there during the 5th century. B.C. Such sacrifices continued in the Phoenician colonies in the West for another 400 years.”
Herve Tremblay, O.P., “Yahve contre Baal?” ScEs 61 (2009)

“Tremblay pulls together conclusions from different fields of research. If Baal is the god of Canaan, Yhwh was not originally from there and was ‘imported’ from the South. The people of Israel did not come from outside the country but emerged out of inner division within Canaanite society. In a process of ethnic and religious distinction that lasted several centuries, Yhwh was adopted as the national God by the Israelites.”

Martin Leurenberger, “Jhwhs Herkunft aus dem Suden…” ZAW 122 (2010)

“The ‘Berlin thesis’ of Kockert and Pfeiffer has challenged the regnant hypothesis of the southern origin of Yhwh. Leurenbergerʼs article defends the southern origin hypothesis via a more comprehensive evaluation of the relevant archaeological data and biblical texts. The results of his investigation of these two bodies of data correlate with each other, and thereby substantiate the emergence of the solitary weather-god Yhwh in the Late Bronze Age Araba.”

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, Here's a piece on Polytheism and Human Sacrifice in Early Israelite Religion that summarizes the work of a seminary graduate whose book was praised by J. J. Collins of Yale, Greg Boyd, Tony Campolo, Dale Allison, James McGrath, and Kenton Sparks:

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, Here is loads of data concerning Christian Missionaries, Vacationaries, VolunTOURism:

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, Apparently "heaven" is going to be a vacation paradise for obedient child slaughterers. Imagine the pool-side chat in heaven, "We killed everyone in the city as God commanded, or thought we had... Then I spotted a heap of blankets rustling nearby and yanked them aside, and there saw a trembling young girl and her pregnant mom. You should have seen the look on their faces as I raised my sword and... Hey waiter, can I get another Bloody Mary? Boy, I just love this place! You can take that semi-arid 'promised land' we slayed our neighbors to obtain, and shove it."

"In the cities He gives you leave alive nothing that breathes... utterly destroy them... show them no mercy... or Yahweh will destroy you utterly... we... utterly destroyed the men... women, and the little ones of every city." Deut.

"Thus saith the LORD... Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling." 1 Samuel 15:3

"A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord's work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed. You are My war-club... with you I shatter old man and youth. young man and virgin." Jeremiah 48:10; 51:20,22

"The spirit of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and... Samaria shall become desolate... they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up." Hosea

"According to the Bible, God gave orders to kill children and to rip open the bodies of pregnant women. The pestilences were sent by God. The frightful famine, during which the dying child with pallid lips sucked the withered bosom of his dead mother, was sent by God. God drowned an entire world with the exception of eight persons. Imagine how such acts would have stained the reputation of the devil!"
--Robert G. Ingersoll

On the other hand, defending the slaying of women, children, infants and animals is easy compared to defending eternal punishment. Because if you can defend eternal punishment, you can defend anything. Note that even if that hell involves letting people weep and rend themselves for eternity, what kind of eternal compassionate Being with infinite resources at its disposal would allow such a thing to continue forever? We try to help people who are suicidal and self-punishing today using only finite means and knowledge. But according to Christian descriptions of God He has infinite means at His disposal to help others, including the knowledge of every possible thought in our heads, and how every possible influence might influence our finite minds in positive ways and directions, including the ability of God to heal genetic and mental diseases and traumatic memories from one's past. This God is also the master of time, and via such mastery could presumably lead even Satan toward the one and only light that exists, the light of truth, compared to which every other source of temptation consists of insubstantial shadows. How could such infinite light fail to find a chink in the armor of mere creations, or fail to break through eventually? An old Jewish saying goes, "God and time are the best teachers." But apologists like yourself would sooner defend the view that eternity consists of a never ending downward spiral for some as God lets go of their souls, giving up on them, no longer seeking to save what was lost as Jesus taught, and no longer seeking to teach or love, but only to damn, and only sustaining the existence of such souls in the flimsiest of fashion, till only their guilt and fear remain with no further chance of repentance, which makes child slaughter seem tame in comparison.

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, Let's reiterate some biblical passages you wish to defend as depictions of God:

"You shall fear (no other gods) only Yahweh... for He is a jealous God. Otherwise His anger will be kindled against you and He will wipe you off the face of the earth... In the cities He gives you leave alive nothing that breathes... utterly destroy them... show them no mercy... or Yahweh will destroy you utterly... The Lord delivered them before us... we.... utterly destroyed the men... women, and the little ones of every city... If your brother, son, daughter, wife, or your friend who is your own soul, entice you away secretly, saying, 'Let us go serve other gods'... you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death... so that the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger... These curses shall come on you... because you would not obey the Lord... you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters... The Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you... I [the Lord] will make mine arrows drunk with blood." (Deuteronomy 2:34; 5:9; 6:13,15; 7:2,4; 13:6-9, 17; 20:16,17; 28:45,47,53,63 32:42)

"Let me alone that my wrath may wax hot against them." (Exodus 31:10; see also Numbers 16:46)

"The Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them." (Psalm 21:9)

"The children of Israel stoned Achan and his daughters... burned them with fire... raised over them a heap of stones. And the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger... The Lord hardened their hearts to meet Israel in battle in order that He might destroy them utterly, that they might receive no mercy." (Joshua 7:24-26; 11:20)

"He made Israel to sin to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger with their vanities." (1 Kings 16:26; see also: Ex. 32:10; Num. 11:1,16:46, 32:13-14; Judges 3:8, 2:20; 1 Kings 14:9,15:30, 16:2, 16:7, 16:13; 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Samuel 24:1; 2 Chron. 34:25; Psalm 18:7 & Jer. 44:6; Nahum 1:2)

"Fathers will eat their sons, and sons will eat their fathers; for I [the Lord] will execute judgment on you... I will draw my sword from its scabbard and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked... my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north... My fury will mount up in my anger, and in my zeal and blazing wrath I declare. (Ezekiel 5:10; 21:3-4; 38:18-19)

Perhaps you approve of the following quotation from Kenneth Kitchen: "The Hebrew force defeated the opposition; captured their towns, killed rulers and less mobile inhabitants..." "Less mobile inhabitants" is Kitchen's euphemism for the handicapped, sick, widows, elderly, pregnant women and young children. Of course if the Canaanites were as "wicked" as biblical authors lead us to believe, then one would expect a high number of "less mobile inhabitants" were left behind to be mopped up by the swords of advancing Israelites. How moral is it to imagine what a wondrously divine slaughter it was back then, but how disgusting it is today when ISIS indulges in similar slaughters, claiming more land in the name of Allah?

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, One suspects that tales of Yahweh were "colored in" by ancient Israelites who were eager to interpret invading armies, or deadly acts of nature (such as famine or disease), as acts that were instituted by Yahweh. Faced with horrors the ancients interpreted them by imagining that their tribal or national god was communicating His "displeasure, anger and/or jealousy." Even when the ancient Israelites were the aggressors, committing atrocities on surrounding peoples they claimed they were merely obtaining more land because Yahweh was "giving them" such land, and imagined Yahweh was "pleased" with such behavior and had "blessed" them with victory. They gave Yahweh the "praise" when their conquests were successful, but whenever things took a turn for the worse they tried all the harder to standardize and centralize worship to try and quell what they imagined was Yahweh's "displeasure." Such "coloring in" was commonplace. After Babylon was plundered by Assyria the next king of Babylon interpreted the invasion as a punishment sent by Babylon's own high god to teach his people a lesson:

"[The citizens of Babylon] had oppressed the weak, and handed the weak into the power of the strong. Inside the city there was tyranny, receiving of bribes, people plundering each other's things, sons cursing fathers in the street, slaves cursing masters, they put an end to offerings [to the gods], they laid hands on the property of the temple of the gods, and sold silver, gold and precious stones... Marduk [the high god of Babylon] grew angry and devised evil to overwhelm the land and destroy the peoples"--c.f., W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford U Press 1960), p. 5.

At other times ancient Near Easterners were dumbfounded when their high henotheistic god seemed to have let them down during times of suffering. Their gods remained silent, leaving people with nothing but lamentations. Think of Job, or the Psalmists' cries for Yahweh to not keep his face hidden, or lamentations. And compare this...

A Hittite Plague Prayer Offered by the King

Hattian Storm-god, my lord, and ye, Hattian gods, my lords! A plague ye have let into the land. The Hatti land has been cruelly afflicted by the plague. For twenty years now men have been dying. As for me, the agony of my heart and the anguish of my soul I can no longer endure. When I celebrated festivals, I worshiped all the gods. I never preferred one temple to another. The matter of the plague I have laid before all the gods in prayer, making vows to them (and saying) "Hearken to me, ye gods, my lords! Drive ye forth the plague from the Hatti land! The reason for which people are dying--either let it be established by an omen, or let me see it in a dream, or let a prophet declare it!" But the gods did not hearken to me and the plague got no better in the Hatti land. The Hatti land was cruelly afflicted. Hattian Storm-god, my lord, (and) ye gods, my lords! It is only too true that man is sinful. My father sinned and transgressed against the word of the Hattian Storm-god, my lord. But I have not sinned in any respect. It is only too true, however, that the father's sin falls upon the son. Because I have confessed my father's sin, let the soul of the Hattian Storm-god, my lord, and (those) of the gods, my lords, be again pacified! Take pity on me and drive the plague out of the Hatti land! Suffer not to die the few who are still left to offer sacrificial loaves and libations!

David B Marshall said...

Ed: I have, in the past, found articles by Valerie Tarico singularly ill-informed -- you can find an example or two on this site.

The Bible itself tells us that Jews sometimes copied the local custom of burning babies to death. (Our own society has different methods with similar results.) Why do you bring that up? Do you think you are answering something in my article? If so, refer to it explicitly, please.

Your page on missions is full of ill-informed and one-sided propaganda. The article defending Hindu fanatics for murdering Christians is particularly loathsome. Missionaries are human, and have certainly made mistakes many times, and done harm at times too. But the world would be a much poorer and more oppressive place without the influence of Christian missions. Just read an article or two by sociologist Robert Woodberry, to get started.

Some of your other comments are just rants, with little attempt to relate them to anything I say here. You're abusing your privileges by monologuing out of context, also by putting words in my mouth. Your bizarre method of dialogue is worrisome. I am concerned for your state of mind, frankly.