This entry is part 12 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
As evidence for the nastiness of the Old Testament and its God, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 240f) can find no better example than the account of an unnamed Levite and his concubine while travelling in Gibeah (Judges 19:11-28).
Quoting the Authorised Version (why?), Dawkins outlines the ghastly unfolding of events. The two of them spend the night in the house of an old man. While eating their supper, the men of the city come to the door and demand that the old man hands over his male guest so that they can have their way with him. The old man demurs, offering instead his daughter and the concubine. The concubine is gang-raped all night, and finally crawls back to the doorstep of the house. In the morning, the Levite find her lying there, but she is dead. Then he cut up her body, and sent the 12 pieces to the far corners of Israel.
So there you have it: how can those who think that the Bible is the inspired word of God be so blind to the fact that it records such monstrous behaviour?
But blindness is not the sole preserve of ‘fundamentalists’. Dawkins, in his zeal to find fault with the Bible, has shut his eyes to a simple and very obvious point:-
To record something does not necessarily mean that you approve it.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record the crucifixion of Jesus. But not even Dawkins would think that in recording it they thereby intend to signal their approval of it.
I have already posted on the story from Judges 19, but I think its worth repeating the helpful explanation from the New Bible Commentary:-
In vv11-28 we have another story of hospitality, but this time ‘perverted and grotesque, with unmistakable similarities to the description of life in Sodom in Gn. 19:1-13. This is particularly ironical because the travellers had deliberately avoided pagan towns in order to seek hospitality with their fellow-Israelites (v12-14). The rowdies in the streets of Gibeah were clearly morally bankrupt, but so too was the old man who opened his house to the travellers. It was this apparently model host whose perverted sense of duty led him to conceive the idea of casting two innocent women to the dogs (v23-24). Here is moral bankruptcy indeed. When God’s people do whatever is right in their own eyes they are no better than Sodomites.
The account in Judges 19 is, as Dale Ralph Davis remarks, precisely an illustration of everything that God calls sinful and depraved.
Dawkins surmises that because of the similarities between this story and that of Lot, ‘one can’t help wondering whether a fragment of manuscript became accidentally misplaced in some long-forgotten scriptorium.’
But Davis hits the nail on the head. Noting that the similarity between Genesis 19:1-11 and Judges 19:22-26 is ‘unmistakable’, he says that it is also ‘deliberate’:-
The writer wants you to view Judges 19 this way. “Yes, that’s right,” he says, “it sounds exactly like Genesis 19. It’s the Sodom Connection. Only here you have Sodom-in=the-land-of-Benjamin. Gibeah is “New Sodom”. This is the writer’s way of accusing the people of God. He shows that even in Israel some have plunged into the moral abyss of Sodom and eagerly wallow in its twisted depravity.
Other commentators view the passage similarly. Cundall (TOTC), for instance, points out the perverted morality of the old man, who seemed to regard the accepted conventions of hospitality as much more important than the care and protection of the weak and vulnerable. He adds,
It is not only the action of the men of Gibeah which reveals the abysmally low moral standards of the age; the indifference of the Levite, who prepared to depart in the morning without any apparent concern to ascertain the fate of his concubine, and his curt, unfeeling command when he saw her lying on the threshold (27,28), these show that, in spite of his religion, he was devoid of the finer emotions. The sense of outrage does not appear to have influenced him until he realised that she was dead, when he lifted her body on to one of his asses and continued his journey. The whole shocking incident made an indelible impression upon Israel, and was referred to by the prophet Hosea as one of the greatest example of corruption (Hos 9:9; 10:9).
The Apologetics Study Bible concurs, stating:-
This passage, with its gory outcome, reveals the degraded condition into which Israelite life had fallen during this period. The Levite’s speaking tenderly to his concubine might suggest that he truly cared for her, but his actions belied his words. First, he waited four months after her abrupt departure before he sought to bring her home (vv. 2–3). Second, he delivered her to the sexual ravages of a mob to protect himself and others (v. 25). Third, the morning after the rape when he found her lying at the doorstep of the house, he treated her without compassion, demanding she rise and leave with him. The narrator does not gloss over the horror of these events, but records them as they happened and does not try to reconcile the attitudes and actions of the people about whom he wrote. The inspiration of Scripture does not require that only comforting and edifying material be presented in historical narrative; inspiration requires that the true picture be laid out, even when events are disgusting.
Dawkins thinks that the passage represents a misogynist view, with the old man offering for his daughter and the concubine to the mob while showing a proper respect for the Levite, ‘who is, after all, male’. Again, Dawkins is right to characterise this as unacceptable behaviour, but wrong to assume that this represents the attitude of ‘the Bible’. Even in the context of such a far-off culture and age, the actions of the old man were clearly to be viewed with disgust. According to the IVP Bible Background Commentary,
It should be noted that women are legal extensions of their husbands in ancient Israel and thus would come under the same legal protections guaranteed to their husbands—as long as their husbands identified them as such. In this instance the Ephraimite apparently shifts his role from hospitable to inhospitable host by “callously” offering the Levite’s concubine to the crowd in order to save his honor and perhaps his own life. Technically the concubine could not be legally separated from the Levite and should have been protected by the customs of hospitality to the same degree.