A skeptical investigation of ethics portrayed in the Old Testament.
Looking to the Old Testament for ethical guidance is, as debut author Burchell argues, a dicey proposition. As related to famines, plagues, war, genocide, incest and hosts of seemingly innocent victims, the God of the Old Testament (referred to in this text as Yahweh) frequently displayed vengeful, unpredictable behavior. As the author says, “We find the word righteous over four hundred times in the books of the Old Testament, but rarely do we find the righteous triumphant.” What exactly did Noah do to curry favor with the Lord and avoid the great flood? Why was it acceptable for Joshua to kill off a long list of innocent victims on his campaign through Canaan? With the Old Testament often lacking in detail (or far too engaged in it), opportunities for interpretation are frequent. Attempting to focus solely on the ethics that can be gleaned from the Old Testament, the book succeeds in condensing a daunting biblical investigation into a digestible read. Readers new to such criticism will find an easy starting point here, since Burchell walks through the Old Testament in chronological order. Though somewhat flippant at times, his conclusions—such as how there’s something “distinctly unmerciful” about the mercy of the Old Testament—aren’t unfounded. And though the book lacks a framework of ethics beyond generally understood concepts of good and bad (i.e., murder is bad) that might allow for a deeper level of criticism, Burchell nevertheless makes an easily understood argument for just how puzzling Scripture can be, particularly with regards to right and wrong.
Highly readable though not as thorough as other, more in-depth texts.