Ironically, for many Christians, the IVP “Behaving Badly” trilogy focuses on what is essentially their “trinity”: God, Jesus, and Paul. As much as I love Paul, I would never put him on the same level as the God of the Old Testament (YHWH), or the God of the New (Jesus). But perhaps the fact that so many Christians elevate Paul to such high status explains why some of the Apostle’s writings are so problematic.
I am honored to have my book God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? discussed by Benjamin B. DeVan in this forum alongside the books of my esteemed (and not badly behaved) colleagues Mark Strauss, E. Randolph Richards, and Brandon J. O’Brien. In this response, I will primarily engage DeVan’s observations, concerns, and critiques of my contribution, the book that got this party started.
DeVan wisely warns potential readers about our attempts at humor, since humor, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder, a rather subjective endeavor. I find a dearth of humor in most of the academic biblical studies books I read, which is ironic since our subject matter—the Bible—includes many examples of sarcasm, exaggeration, puns, word play, and so on. The world of biblical studies definitely needs more humor, not less, so I am grateful to the editors at IVP who did not remove it with their red pens. I was amused, and perhaps a bit embarrassed, when Christianity Today included not one of my well-formed arguments for their excerpt, but the “wedgie for a wedgie” story.
On the subject of diversity, DeVan makes a valid point that the four authors represent a rather narrow demographic: male professors in the United States. I was discouraged to realize that only four of the thirty-seven authors listed in my bibliography were women; however, my research included atheists, pastors, and scholars from a variety of perspectives (Jewish and Christian, older and more recent), and the person who shaped the book “most profoundly” (see the acknowledgments and note 10 on page 190) is my wife Shannon. Two of my eight chapters directly address the problems of sexism and racism, and both of the two other books in the series also directly address these subjects. Since many of the Christian voices addressing these subjects are minorities or women, one could argue that this trilogy offers a corrective of sorts. Unfortunately, these marginalized voices can often be ignored by those of us in power because we think they cannot be objective on these topics. The church needs more majority culture males discussing issues of gender and race in light of Scripture.
DeVan observes that I discuss positive examples of Old Testament women only for a page and half. He lists Eve among twenty-five women from Genesis that he recommends as possibilities for further discussion, but he ignores the fact that I begin the chapter with a five-page, highly favorable discussion of the creation of “Eve” (49-53), whom I refer to as “the woman,” since that is the term the text uses (for example, in Gen. 2:22, 23; 3:1; only “Eve” after 3:20). Additionally, he presents no compelling reason to include minor characters he lists like Basemath, Mahalath, or Oholibamah. Ideally, I would have discussed more positive examples of women—and there are plenty, as he notes—but I was prevented from doing so by the necessity to examine Genesis 1-3 closely and to discuss problematic passages (both narratives and laws) in a twenty-three-page chapter. I conclude the chapter with a two-page discussion of Jesus’s interaction with the woman who anointed his feet at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9) to show that Jesus in the New Testament, like YHWH in the Old, highly affirmed women.
The bulk of DeVan’s critique of God Behaving Badly (eight paragraphs) focuses on my lack of engagement with the story of Lot and Sodom in Genesis 19. It is understandable that DeVan would be concerned about this important chapter of Genesis, since he has published an article on the subject. He may be pleased to know that I devote much of a chapter to the story of Sodom in my next book, Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style.1 Unfortunately, most of his discussion of Genesis 19 (five paragraphs) does not address my book, but goes into depth on the peripheral question of the righteousness of Lot and his daughters.
DeVan briefly points out that I omit the story of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6-9), which is the one passage that I most frequently wish I had included. One of the problems with the Old Testament is there are too many troubling texts to look at in one short book. I discuss the problem of the Canaanite conquest in three separate chapters, since I had received more questions about that text than the flood. But in recent years I have encountered many students who are deeply troubled by a narrative in which God essentially drowns all humans and animals not selected for deliverance. I hope to discuss Noah’s story in a future project.
As he speaks of more positive women and a greater development of my discussion of Genesis 19, I hear DeVan asking for more, which I interpret positively. Although, if space is limited, whenever someone asks me for more, I ask what should be omitted to make space for the suggested addition. I certainly appreciate his insights and receive his feedback as constructive. I hope and pray that future discussions on these topics will empower all of us in the Christian Church to love God, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul, even when it may appear that they are behaving badly.