Abraham & Yahweh
I can’t wait to read the letters you will publish on “Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding” by Philip Davies (August BR). And I sure would like to read all the ones you don’t publish.
Franklin Square, New York
You’re getting a representative sample.—Ed.
Demolishing an Anthropomorphic God
I predict a firestorm generated by Philip Davies’s “Abraham & Yahweh,” depicting them both as the scoundrels that I have come to regard them. It should (but will not) demolish the notion of an anthropomorphic God.
West Columbia, South Carolina
It Made Me Think
I’m sure that you are going to get many outraged letters about the article by Philip Davies, “Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding.” Let me say, however, that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It made me think, which is perhaps a good thing. It had its amusing moments, perhaps another good thing. Surely we don’t have to be deadly serious every moment. And yet his argument is undoubtedly a serious one. I took the trouble to look up some of his scriptural references, especially when they related to the more original aspects of his viewpoint; in all these cases the interpretations seemed reasonable.
The worst piece of garbage I have ever read. When my subscription expires, it will not be renewed.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This was written for shock value. This does nothing to further anyone’s understanding of Abraham’s relationship with God.
My advice to Mr. Davies: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” (Hebrews 10:31). And that, Mr. Davies, is the “great moral truth” you will someday realize.
I remind you, Mr. Editor, that you are accountable for printing such trash as potential enlightenment of truth.
New Name for Our Rag
After reading “Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” I have concluded the name of your magazine should be Bible Ridicule. This article is ridiculous!
St. Louis, Missouri
When one interprets the character and nature of the Almighty by attributing to Him the capriciousness of man, the conclusion is blasphemy and confusion. That my subscription monies may have helped provide a platform for this is a source of sorrow to me. Any further support is impossible. Please cancel my subscription.
Valhalla, New York
…and Pleases Too
What a delight!
Pastor, St. Philip Lutheran Church
Why a Word of Caution?
I appreciate but don’t quite understand your need for words of caution prior to the article “Abraham & Yahweh.”
Davies’s thesis is quite plausible and complements Walter Brueggemann’s discussion1 of the saving of Sodom, that is, God approaches Abraham and God’s mind is changed by the very persistent Patriarch.
Davies’s article is thought-provoking and carries the kind of humor that enters into so many of your scholarly writings. I plan shortly to extend my already extended subscription to Bible Review. Thanks for the insight that we may read the Bible with an open mind and that we don’t need to burden ourselves or our interpretation of Scripture with a downcast spirit.
Minister, First Baptist Church
Bronxville, New York
Loved Linnemann; Embarrassed by Davies
Now you did it! Even with your disclaimer, you’ve probably lost every conservative reader you had. I had the feeling you maybe planned to get rid of them.
Not me. I’ve read every issue, cover to cover, from the first issue. But this issue had, for me, the high and the low. Eta Linneman’s debunking of the Q mythology…I loved it! With all my reading, “they’ve” never given me cause to accept that anti-Gospel and anti-Jewish rhetoric.
The low? Davies’s article (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” BR 11:04). Not worth the pages you used. He must be a wanna-be stand-up comedian. At least Bill Cosby’s Noah/God monologue didn’t attempt to interpret the mind of YHWH. This is certainly not anything I would consider scholarly work, and I am embarrassed for BR that you would consider it worthy of your readers.
This ridiculous, juvenile fabrication was designed solely to draw attention to the author. Your decision to publish his absurdities and then suggest this is of value to any Bible student is ludicrous. Are you trying to compete with late night television?
Mr. Shanks, remember who your readers are. You have used too much ink catering to your writers and seem to have forgotten us. You owe your readers an apology.
Morristown, New Jersey
Davies Will Get His Chance
I just received my introductory issue of BR (August 1995). I quickly perused the cover depicting a fine 15th-century stained glass masterpiece of God and Abraham (I cherish biblical art). Hastily, I advanced to page 24 (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding”), and there is a masterful gesture drawing by Rembrandt of Abraham kneeling down before God. I can’t wait to check out this article by none other than an Oxford Bible scholar. Now, I ponder the editorial preface—it looks like a disclaimer, humph. So, I dig in to my first BR article and immediately get this sick feeling. Kind of like the feeling one would get if they just saw fine art hanging in a sewer.
This is biblical scholarship? We “should know why we reject the author’s textual analysis,” you say in your introduction. I’m glad I am a mere layman who studies the Bible. If this is the product of an Oxford education—you can keep it. It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to discern atheistic mockery of scripture. It’s patently obvious that Mr. Davies hates God and the Bible and, deep down, probably doesn’t think much of himself. Someday, Mr. Davies will get his chance to call God’s bluff—face to face—and I’d like to hear his mocking tone when almighty God judges him for this scoffing diatribe of his Word.
I have found a suitable use for my first and last issue of BR and especially Mr. Davies’s article: It makes a wonderful cat-box liner.
Boonville, New York
Do We Try to Offend?
You are right [in your introduction]. The article by Philip Davies did offend me (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” BR 11:04). I don’t know if he was trying to offend or just be flippant, but the inanity of the article was insulting and outrageous. So were you for publishing it.
Discontinue my subscription at once and refund the money left on my subscription.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Davies Is Right
I loved it. I read every word with alacrity. Controversial as it may seem, I believe Mr. Davies is right.
A Totally Rational Abraham
Although Mr. Davies’s skepticism may grate (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” BR 11:04), he deserves applause for his insight: One of the major ethical questions concerning the story of Abraham relates to the sacrifice of Isaac. Questions of human sacrifice and of obedience to immoral orders immediately come to mind; and they are not always handled adequately by the conventional “pious” interpretations. Mr. Davies’s interpretation, on the other hand, posits a very ethical Abraham and, by extension, a very ethical God. In this scenario, neither Abraham nor his God comes even close to contemplating human sacrifice. Mr. Davies’s Abraham is no religious zealot slavishly serving his God. He comes out a totally rational man who knows exactly what he is doing and, more than that, who he is dealing with.
Brooklyn, New York
Davies’s piece (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” BR 11:04) should please the literalists in your audience, since Davies gives the most literal interpretation of this story I have ever read. A great piece of detective work!
The Deacon and the Agnostic
Delightful. Except for an occasional lapse into bad taste—“Let’s cut the crap,” “BS’ers”—the author’s gentle, needling humor is a welcome approach after the ponderous, worshipful elucidations of the rigid fundamentalists and their claim to absolute authority in matters of interpretation.
My subscriptions to BR and Biblical Archaeology Review were initiated by a friend whom I loved and respected for 010half a lifetime. We used to read the articles and discuss them with great interest—he as a deacon and Sunday school teacher, I as a professor of literature and an avowed agnostic. We would look forward to each issue as a provocative incentive to further investigation and exchange of views, thereby enriching our understanding of this great work of inspirational writing.
Unfortunately my friend is no longer with us, but I continue to read each issue as if he were still here. I am sure that Professor Davies’s updated, Hollywood-ized version of this sometimes obscure and contradictory story would have provided my friend with many chuckles and thought-provoking remarks.
Thanks for the memories.
New York, New York
You have published articles espousing provocative ideas before, but never to my knowledge have you given an author a “pulpit” from which to mock God and devout believers. Were considerations of tolerance, intellectual integrity and basic decency simply suspended? I expected much more from a magazine of BR’s caliber and reputation.
Not Acceptance, But Challenge
For many years, I’ve subscribed to both Biblical Archaeology Review and BR and have enjoyed and looked forward to every issue of each magazine.
However it took a recent back injury (requiring several days in bed) and the August issue of BR to change my “passive” anticipation of each issue to a letter telling you how very special your work is. BRAVO!!
In particular, it is Philip Davies’s article on Abraham that compels my letter. Although I do not agree entirely, I am enthralled by the intellectual challenge it presents to me. And that, I suspect, is what you most intend; not acceptance but challenge.
For those who might never be subscribers or for those long-term readers who don’t have your index, would it not have been a good idea to mention at the beginning of the article other recent articles in BR pertaining to the same subject? Remember the two splendid articles in the October 1993 issue (The Binding of Isaac and God Tests Abraham) on Abraham by Robin Jensen and Lippman Bodoff? As wonderful as each of these three articles were individually, they were that much better—and raised that many more questions—when read and compared as a group.
Oak Park, Illinois
Davies Admits Error (Small One)
You claim that Davies’s interpretation (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” BR 11:04) “is based on a careful, insightful reading of the text.”
Davies writes that “Abraham gives his ally Melchizedek…a tenth of the goods, even though Melchizedek says he should keep them. Abraham does not need the spoils of his allies; he takes only what his own men acquired. Here is a seriously rich man who does not need the small change offered him by Melchizedek.”
Now, I’m not sure which Bible Davies was working with, but in mine there is no mention of Melchizedek saying that Abraham should keep the goods, nor is Abraham offered any “small change” by Melchizedek. It is the king of Sodom who offers Abraham the material spoils of the war.
Furthermore, there is no indication that the spoils of the war were “small change,” either in themselves or in comparison with Abraham’s financial state at the time.
“A careful, insightful reading.” Come again?
It’s easy to see why Davies has trouble explaining Abraham’s vow not to take even the tiniest bit of the spoils of war from the king of Sodom. After all, why would someone who was “pimping off his wife,” as Davies puts it, be so principled as to refuse some extra cash? Still, I’m not quite sure that rewriting the Bible is the best solution.
Of course, the king of Sodom isn’t the first king Davies has ignored.a Maybe in light of this male-bonding reading of Genesis, we can revocalize the inscription at Tel Dan to read “Bet duuuuuude, man!”
“Some animals mark their territory by dropping feces or urine,” Davies writes. Davies himself seems to do it by excreting small mounds of published material that, well, stink.
Forest Hills, New York
Philip Davies responds:
Thanks for pointing out the difference 011between the king of Sodom and the king of Salem! But even so, Mr. Wiener, you make too much of it, for it makes no difference to my reading either at this point or overall. As you yourself say, it is “a small point.” And given that it is a small point, plus the fact that you offer no critique of any other matter in my article, I find your gratuitous abuse at the end (if you think BR prints excreta, you should cancel your subscription!) as much curious as grossly offensive.
The Eta Linnemann article,
Reverend, Episcopal Missionary Church
Charlestown, New Hampshire
Awaiting Our Reward
Despite the fact that you give credibility to a heretic, Philip Davies, by including his nonsensical article (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” BR 11:04) in your August edition of BR, the existence of your magazine is justified by Eta Linnemann’s article in the same edition.
Surely there will be a terrible fate for heretics, and there must be a special reward for the defenders of the truth.
Bravo for Linnemann
Bravo for Eta Linnemann! Her
Why Paul Doesn’t Quote Jesus
My goodness, what a brave editorial board prepared the August issue! It was quite a fearless invitation for attacks from across the theological spectrum, in addition to being entertaining reading.
As a neo-orthodox Christian, I found myself in the familiar position of being assaulted from both the liberal and the conservative sides. I’m sure that you will get a full barrage of letters regarding “Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” so I’ll focus on a couple of points in
While I agree with Eta Linnemann that liberal scholars have used (abused) the idea of Q to invent the idea of a Q church that had no concept of “Christ’s passion, atoning death and resurrection,” I see no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There either was a Q source or there was not. Most of the evidence in the structures of the Gospels indicates that there was. Yes, Q is a hypothesis, but it is a hypothesis that both fits the known facts and answers several questions about the composition of Matthew and Luke. The fact that other scholars are abusing the theory does not invalidate the theory itself.
It is also altogether likely that there was 012a need and desire for a collection of Jesus’ sayings. We can easily see from Paul’s letters that the basic theology of Christ’s atonement and resurrection was well known among the churches, but there is little mention of his words. It is easy to imagine that someone wanted to fill that gap. In a modern context, I might know the basic facts of Thomas Jefferson’s life and deeds, but a compilation of his speeches and writings would greatly enhance my understanding of the man.
Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable magazine.
Director of Adult Ministries
First United Methodist Church
Not Knowing When to Stop
Perhaps amid the avalanche of letters condemning “Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding,” you will have time to read one about another article,
State the facts; omit the sermons.
Greenwood, South Carolina
Numbers Don’t Help
Eta Linnemann uses quantitative analysis to dispose of the Q hypothesis and the idea that the hypothetical Q represented the views of “Jesus people” rather than “Son of God” Christians.
She is indubitably correct about the nonexistence of Q, but this gives no support for her stand that “the Gospels report the words and deeds of Jesus…partly through direct eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) and partly through those who were informed by eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke).”
Literary dependence is revealed not by the ratios of words, percentage 013comparisons and the rest of Linnemann’s spreadsheet. It is revealed in the meanings carried by the sentences and the passages of the texts and how they compare with each other. Mathematics does not deal with meanings, and her implied claim that it does is spurious.
Linnemann assumes that the purpose of the gospel writers was to put down the words and acts of Jesus as accurately as possible. But this assumption is false, which is evident from even a simple comparison of the Gospels.
The gospel writers were not slaves of the “holy spirit” but human beings with their own concerns about showing what they thought should be believed about Jesus the Anointed. They had no idea about the “inviolableness of scripture” because they did not consider the stories they had before them in written form to be “scripture” in the sense we take it.
Los Angeles, California
Drop the Labels
I’m not sure it was appropriate to describe Ms. Linnemann as a “conservative” scholar. I don’t recall that you typically label contributors as conservative, moderate or liberal.
In any case, thanks for an excellent magazine. I always drop everything to read it the moment it arrives.
Institute for Religious Research
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Like Linnemann, I also doubt the existence of a single Q gospel. However, I must take exception to her statement that there is no “hint that any of the Gospels were produced by the use of written sources.” She also states that “among the early Church fathers there is not even a rumor of some lost gospel.” For the early Church fathers these gospels were not yet lost, and we do have references to them.
The best evidence for these early gospels, lost to us, is in Luke 1:1–3; Luke at least hints that he used these sources in writing his Gospel. Luke states that many have undertaken to put together accounts of the very material he covers. Many! That is more than just Mark, Q and a birth narrative or two.
And why should there be just one Q? Why not several gospels that borrow from each other the way Matthew and Luke borrowed from them? This borrowing could produce the Q pattern that modern scholars discern while explaining the divergences noted by Linnemann.
Eta Linnemann’s response appears after the following letter.—Ed.
Confusing a Claim with the Truth
Eta Linnemann is right to question the existence of a Q gospel. The situation reminds me of the quantum physicist who postulates the existence of an undiscovered particle because it is the only way to explain a particular phenomenon. Sometimes the particle gets discovered later, and sometimes the 045whole theory gets changed so that the particle’s existence becomes unnecessary. Either way, the evidence must be dealt with.
We have before us two different views: Ms. Linnemann’s and that of the people of Q. Which is right? In seeking the truth, an objective historical analyst does not abandon the path of supportive evidence and beg the question by calling his or her view the “Word of God.” That gives the other side the right to do the same, which leaves us with two opposite words of God. Even if the gospels are the word of God, we must give evidence to show that they are what we say and not present the claim itself as proof.
Eta Linnemann speaks of disinterested truth-seekers as “despising God’s Word in the Gospels.” Is examining something despising it? Surely not! And if Ms. Linnemann calls those writings “God’s Word,” does that mean we should not examine them critically? Does Ms. Linnemann fear the result of such an examination?
Ms. Linnemann speaks of Q and the Gospel of Thomas as “co-conspirators.” The conspiracy, I presume, is to find the Gospels wrong. Therefore, a search for truth can only be non-conspiratorial if it finds the Gospels right. It is inconceivable, of course, that the gospel writers were the conspirators and that they conspired to deceive us.
Finally, Ms. Linnemann says, “Among the early Church fathers, there is not even a rumor of some lost gospel.” I submit for consideration the Gospel of Peter (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6:12), the gospel that Paul so feared when he wrote to the Galatians (Galatians 1:6), and the one he called “the gospel to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:7). I further submit Homilies (17.14–19); Recognitions (Ebionite Acts of the Apostles) (Pan. 30.6.9); Ascension of James, Epiphanius (Heresies 30.16); the pseudo-Clementines (Kerygmata Petrou); and the Didache (Early Christian Writings, Maxwell Staniforth, trans. [Harmondsworth, GB: Penguin, 1968], pp. 231–232).
Rather than looking at this as a debate in which each side takes its predetermined position, ours should be a mutual search for truth pursued cooperatively, not competitively, and without any obligation to prove any long-held, cherished belief true or not true. Impartiality, not advocacy, should be our attitude.
Eta Linnemann responds:
What the two previous respondents have in common is that they completely ignore my new research results on whether there is compelling evidence for the literary dependence of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke on a common source, Q.
Jim Miller must defend the two-source theory. On the basis of Luke 1:1–3 he 046speculates that not only Q, but also several other gospels, existed prior to Luke. Here I refer to the investigation of Luke 1:1–4 in my book Is There a Synoptic Problem? (p. 190). Luke does not speak of written gospels. But even if he did, that would still not furnish a sufficient basis for positing many pre-Lukan gospels. It would not even furnish adequate ground for the assumption that Q existed.
Russ Weinstein ignores my research in order to charge that I abandon the path of supportive evidence and beg the question by calling my view the word of God.
First of all, I did not call my view the word of God. Rather, I applied that term to the canonical Gospels included in the Holy Scriptures.
Second, I did not beg the question but undertook research and provided evidence.
How untenable Weinstein must regard his own position if he feels forced to resort to such below-the-belt punches!
Weinstein comes up with nothing better than dishonest assertions to avoid coming to grips with my argumentation. He attempts a timid, indirect response in stating that one should not, at all costs, prove to one’s opponent that he is wrong. For it must be admitted, as Weinstein writes, that the writings that we depend on could well have deceived us. Nevertheless, he asserts that truth should be our aim. It seems to me, however, that in seeking the truth it must ultimately become evident what is true and what is not.
Every true historian grants historical documents their genuineness and reliability—unless weighty considerations speak against this. Anyone who declares that the extant canonical Gospels are late mythical fabrications, on the basis of a purely hypothetical source for whose existence no proof has been produced or can be produced, is not purely objective. Proof against the Gospels was never established, and thus the examiner asserting mythical fabrications was not purely objective. For that reason, too, no genuine search for the truth arising from pure motives on the part of such an examiner can be posited.
The expression “co-conspirators” with respect to Thomas and Q was a liberty of my translator and did not occur in the original; I don’t care for such personifications of objects. I gave no cause for the mean-spirited statement that I would only see the truth as non-conspiratorial if it found the Gospels to be accurate. I simply said that not the slightest proof has been brought against the Gospels that requires us to doubt their reliability. I do not deny, however, my confidence that no one will be in a position to sustain a compelling proof against God’s inspired word.
It was, in fact, an incomplete statement on my part when I said that there is no serious hint of a reference to some lost gospel in the early church fathers: I had only canonical Gospels in view. In the patristic period there is no equivalent for Q in either the Muratorian Canon or Codex Claromontanus. Nor does a gospel of Peter show up there; it is merely mentioned as apocryphal writing with gnostic-syncretistic characteristics that arose in the middle of the second century. Paul did not “fear” another gospel, but he stated that the person who proclaimed one was cursed. There is no reference here to a Petrine gospel. Nor is Galatians 2:7 indication that Paul feared a Petrine gospel; he simply acknowledges that he and Peter have different callings. Nothing is said of gospel documents, as the verb in Galatians 2:8 clearly shows.
Mr. Weinstein rightly demands a posture of seeking the truth without a pre-assumed set position of testing whether a long-cherished conviction is correct with no other obligation than to let the truth come out. Unfortunately, I search in vain for this posture in Mr. Weinstein’s remarks.
Better an Honest Atheist Than a Bogus Pastor
What really struck me about the August 1995 issue was how much more I could respect the atheist, Philip Davies, than the so-called pastor, Marcus Borg.
Davies’s theory behind the Abraham/Yahweh article (“Abraham & Yahweh—A Case of Male Bonding”)—that the author of the key book of the Jewish religion coded a message between the lines that the whole God idea was a joke—can charitably be described as unscholarly or, less kindly, as ridiculous. Whatever the intent of the author of Genesis was, I don’t think Davies got it. But I give Davies credit for an interpretation consistent with his beliefs, bankrupt as they may be.
Borg, on the other hand, professes to be a Christian while saying that the Scriptures lied about Jesus, that Jesus’ death was not an atonement for our sins. Borg says that “we discredit the Christian understanding of God if we insist this is literally true.” But that is the Christian understanding of God. Borg is free to believe that later followers of Jesus made up stories about his deity. But he has no right calling himself a Christian and less right to be a Christian teacher. If Christ was not the Son of God who died for our sins, the Scriptures are a lie, and his death has no more meaning than that of Mohammed, George Washington, Marilyn Monroe or my great-great-grandfather.
Borg must believe that there is a God who allows—no, encourages—us to believe untruths. If that is so, I would rather agree with Davies’s statement: “Don’t trust this God. He doesn’t trust you and won’t tell the truth.”
Milltown, New Jersey
The Word Is an Announcement
I loved the article “Lost in Translation,” by Daniel Schowalter (August 1995).
I want to suggest that the single word “announcement” is a sufficiently accurate translation for euangelion. “Gospel” carries too much baggage, and “the good news” is artificial. What you send out when your baby is born is an “announcement,” and you won’t get any closer than that to euangelion.
I am writing in regard to a review (Bible Books, BR 11:04) by Ronald Hendel of God’s Phallus and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism, by Howard Eilberg-Schwartz (August 1995).
Hendel states that Moses wore a veil when he communicated with the Lord at Mt. Sinai. Quite the opposite, according to the King James Bible (Exodus 34:33–35): Moses’ face shone so brightly when he came down from the mountain that until he had finished talking to the Israelites he wore a veil over his face; but when Moses went before the Lord to speak with him he took the veil off until he came out.
Ronald Hendel responds:
The error lies entirely with this reviewer. When summarizing Dr. Eilberg-Schwartz’s arguments in his book, I said that Moses wore a veil when communing with God. As Ms. Davis rightly notes, I should have said that Moses took off his veil only when communing with God. Yet the suggestiveness of this circumstance still remains. Moses covers himself before others and unveils himself only before God. Is this a scene that resonates with sexual or gender symbolism? This is the intriguing issue raised by Eilberg-Schwartz’s book.
Abraham & Yahweh