What DID God Say to Job?

Most readers of the book of Job find the divine speeches (Job 38-41) bewildering. (To avoid biblical references and footnotes, I merely direct the reader to Linda Jean Sheldon, “The Book of Job as Hebrew Theodicy: An Ancient Near Eastern Intertextual Conflict between Law and Cosmology.”) Often, when discussing Job with my students after they have had to read the entire book, I ask them, “Did you understand it?” Heads shake No around the room. I then assure them that many scholars of Job have also struggled to understand the book. Of all the difficulties, though, the divine speeches get the votes for being the most difficult to understand.

What is the purpose of God’s words to Job? Was He attempting to show off his power (most reader votes)? Did he intend to impress Job about His wisdom? Are these speeches a diatribe to put Job in his place? Or are they an admission by God that He has not succeeded in dealing with evil?

All of these suggestions, made by various scholars, seem to reflect surface readings of Job. Of all the characters in the book, except for Elihu, Job has been foremost in extolling God’s power. For Job, the issue at stake is not God’s power, but His justice. For God to impress Job with His power, then, seems, at best, to be needless. Each of the rest of the suggestions have problems of their own, when one reads the divine speeches closely.

I share the view with Rachel Magdalene that the divine speeches are God’s defense against the Satan’s and Job’s accusations against him. In my viewpoint, also, the divine speeches propose to answer the issues the three friends and Job have raised about the nature of God’s justice. It is well known, of course, that the three friends espouse the ancient Near Eastern (mostly Mesopotamian) belief in retributive justice. Retributive justice is sometimes referred to as “reward and punishment,” in which God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Several Babylonian works, such as the Poem of the Righteous Sufferer, underscore this belief. In the Hebrew Bible, one only needs to read Proverbs and then Job, to see how prevalently the doctrine persists there. We can, therefore, view the book of Job as a debate or dialog over whether God’s justice is retributive or of some other kind.

While the three friends argue from experiential and legal constructs and Job argues from observation and experience, God’s speeches turn to the ancient combat mythopoeic imagery, with a cosmological (creation) cast, to explain the nature of divine justice. In combat myth, there is a battle of one deity against a chaos entity (who may also have been a deity, but now is described as a monster) which the first deity conquers. Anciently, combat myths do not deal with moral issues, so for the book of Job to utilize language from these myths for the purpose of dealing with justice is surprising.

In my study of Job, I have concluded that the author of the divine speeches used one particular myth, the Babylonian Creation (Enuma Elish), both to counter it and rely on it to establish his unique view of divine justice. In the Babylonian Creation, Tiamat (salt water who is styled as a dragon-like monster) rises up against the gods who supported the deity Ea, who slew the ancestor of them all, Apsu. Incited to retaliate by her followers, she organizes her troops for combat, hands over the Tablets of Destiny to Qingu, her consort and instigator of her rebellion, and creates eleven warriors to go at her side. The gods on the other side grow anxious and afraid, sending three gods to deal with her, each of whom find her so formidable that they turn back. Finally, Ea counsels his son, Marduk (who will become the patron god of Babylon) to offer to take Tiamat on. Marduk responds with a contingent offer to go against Tiamat on the condition that he become king over all the gods. When the gods agree, and Marduk passes the test they provide, he takes his weapons of wind, net, special bow, arrow, and mace, and advances against this angry foe. By blowing the wind down her throat, he manages to shoot an arrow into her insides. When she collapses, Marduk takes his mace and repeatedly beats her head. Seizing the Tablets of Destiny from Qingu, he then binds her warriors. Out of Tiamat’s carcass, he creates the world.

The parallels between Job 38-41 and Enuma Elish are numerous (I list only some of them here): While Yahweh lays the earth’s foundations, Marduk slays Tiamat to use her carcass to create the earth; at the same point in both texts heavenly beings rejoice; at the same juncture in both texts, Yahweh sets bars and doors to contain Yam, the sea (who also parallels Tiamat), while Marduk draws bars and appoints a watchman to contain Tiamat’s waters. Yahweh examines earth’s expanse while Marduk examines the sky; both order the heavenly bodies; Yahweh splits a canal for flashfloods; Marduk opens the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

In some of the most significant parallels, Yahweh takes care of eleven animals (Job 38:39-39:30) providing for both predator and prey while Marduk captures and binds Tiamat’s eleven warriors. Behemoth (literally, “beast”) parallels Tiamat’s consort Qingu; Leviathan (a dragon-like chaos monster) parallels Tiamat (who identifies as the same).

Before moving on to Behemoth, Yahweh asks Job more personal questions. He challenges him to take his place and deal with the proud (a term often used in the Hebrew Bible to denote the wicked). He counsels him how to go about it, decking himself in majesty and glory, pouring out his anger, and with a look at the proud, abasing them, hiding them in the dust and binding them in a secret place. Yahweh has just indicated in the previous chapters that he did not do that to the eleven animals who represented predator and prey, but instead provided them food, even if at the expense of the prey. It would seem, then, that his questions to Job pertain less about Job’s lack of power to do it than about how to deal with the wicked. These questions will help prepare Job for Yahweh’s descriptions of Behemoth and Leviathan, especially the latter.

Yahweh’s questions to Job about this monster regard the means by which he can be conquered. Most of the weaponry Marduk uses on Tiamat, with the exception of some of the weapons used on sea creatures, are featured in Job 41:1-30: the rope Marduk uses on his enemies that follow Tiamat, the inability to open its mouth (something Marduk does to Tiamat with his evil wind), the inability of wind to come between the shields on Leviathan’s back, the hardness of the monsters inside that sword, spear, or javelin cannot penetrate, the arrow that cannot cause this chaos monster to flee (cf. Marduk’s piercing Tiamat’s heart, killing her). Finally, Leviathan considers the mace that Marduk uses to crush Tiamat’s skull as chaff. Clearly, no Babylonian combat weapons can deal with this ancient formidable persona of evil.

Earlier Yahweh has asked Job if he, by force would get Leviathan to supplicate or speak softly to him? Could Job tame him for his girls to play with? In the Hebrew text, it is very possible to read that “even a god is overwhelmed” when seeing this evil monster. When it rises up, the gods are frightened. This reading parallels the many lines of Enuma Elish that recount the fear of the gods over Tiamat

What the divine speeches establish are four very important principles to apply to the questions of divine justice in the face of evil. 1) God has not destroyed the persona of evil; he still rules over the proud (41:34). 2) God sets boundaries around evil, limiting how far its proud waves may go (38:10, 11; cf. 1:12; 2:6). 3) God treats all of his creation, both good and evil, the same—with care and provision; consequently, the righteous prey suffer at the voracious lust of the wicked. This is Yahweh’s cosmological justice, stemming from his creation of all things. Because all, both good and evil, are his creatures, he treats them all with goodness, despite the cost to some of his creation.

If we stopped there, we would struggle with temptations to resent such a gracious God. It’s not fair, is it? But Yahweh’s treatment of the weapons combined with his personal questions of Job demonstrate (4) that weapons of violence and compulsion do not conquer the author of force. Indeed, the commands Yahweh gives Job about how to conquer the wicked are descriptions of arrogance. How can a god conquer the proud by being proud? If pride and violence are prime evil how can God violently, arrogantly smash evildoers into the dust without being evil? Would not God and evildoers all wage war on the same side? And isn’t it like evil to divide itself into multiple factions, playing deadly war games using competing, but similar weapons?

Near the end of Yahweh’s description of Leviathan, he admits to Job, that no one on earth is his (Leviathan’s) equal. Now we learn that Yahweh has been testing Job to see if he has the expertise to take on the Leviathan. Does he? By the way he has chastised his three friends, perhaps not. By the way he spoke to Yahweh (though Yahweh does not take offense because he knows that Job is not attacking him but the version of “god” of the three friends), perhaps Job isn’t equal to the task. Because only weapons at variance with violence and force, and only attitudes and motives opposite to pride can conquer Leviathan.

And so, Yahweh himself, of whom Job is a type, descended to this roiling ball of fury and took on the task of answering the questions of God’s goodness and justice raised in the book of Job. Walking our world, he lived only to make others whole with his goodness and compassion, advocating and living humility and service, seeking only to win, not to compel, the love, trust, and obedience of his followers. Three years was too long for the world to cope with such a God. They hounded him, tried repeatedly to stone him, mistreated him with verbal abuse, taunted his birth, his miracles, and scorned his love. And finally, at the cross, Leviathan opened his deadly maw to receive his beaten, ravished body and Yahweh went head-first down into the tomb of Leviathan, wrapped his arms around the dragon’s heart and cried, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Leviathan thrashed in the sea of evil, spitting up blood, and lay helpless and vanquished. Why? Because a God who wins with love and truth conquers evil. Evil cannot withstand the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of divine love any more than darkness remains in the presence of the sun. Love, by its very nature and actions, destroys evil and those who insist on evil even while it gives life to those who receive and respond to love’s embrace.

Jean Sheldon is Professor of Old Testament at Pacific Union College, specializing in Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7795
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Our interpretation of a text is necessarily informed by the text’s context. If we have no understanding of the context of a text, we cannot know what the text means. For example, consider this text, “Ernie will walk to town, today.” What does this text mean? You could offer one guess after another for thousands of years, but if I did not disclose the context to you, you would never know that the text means that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Part of what comprises the context of the Book of Job is the Enuma Elish, as evidenced by intertextual commonalities that Jean Sheldon identifies in her essay. It bespeaks ignorance and rich irony to characterize her illumination of the context of the Book of Job as a letting go of the truth of Scripture.

Pagophilus, maybe this analogy will help. Suppose you eavesdrop on someone talking on the telephone but you are unable to hear what the person on the other end of the line is saying. Would not your interpretation of the conversation be better if you were able to hear what both persons are saying? In essence, Scripture is God’s participation in a conversation with fallen humanity. Certain thoughts, ideas, and writings of fallen humanity are part of that conversation, and as such, comprise in part the context that is indispensable to our interpretation of Scripture.


Professor Sheldon’s essay has ,perhaps inadvertently, opened a line of thought that leads to several important matters , among them, details of the creation of the earth. That is, what I call the Mesopotamian Genesis. The Genesis creation text in Chapter one is obfuscatory and attributes the “creation of the earth” to Yahweh(God in the English text), who was the eloha to whom the Hebrews/Jews paid enormous respect and reverence as a patron and protector of their tribal fortunes , their religion and indeed their very hope of survival after death eventually with physical form. Presumably the energy or bioplasmic body as Russian physicists call it cannot experience the pleasures of the physical, having no physical sense organs.
The mention of Tiamat in the text of the enuma elish (and Job?) gives rise to the following: We now know how stars are formed , come into being, and surround themselves with cast-off molten matter in their early phases . These balls of molten matter form the planets. The olden texts relate that Tiamat was a large example of this. However due to instability in a nearby system a cast-off planet was ejected and was eventually captured by the gravity of our sun.This was called NIBIRU by the ancient narratives as they were taught earth history in their ziggurats .
The divine speeches in Job could be regarded as questions checking on the recollection of humans as they were taught, and NOT to “boasting” by God at his superior knowledge over JOB, which makes no sense. By the way Nkibiru is still in our system as was discovered a few months ago by two US astronomers. It has an orbit so far out that it takes 3,600 earth years to complete one orbit around the sun. As Nibiru in ancients started its orbital passages it created havpc in our system. It drew off large chunks from earth planets and even drew PLUTO completely out of its place as a moon or satellite around Neptune. On one of the orbits these chunks collided with Tiamat in what was narrated as a "celestial battle’ . Tiamat was split , one part forming planet earth and debris from the other smashed part formed the “asteroid belt”. As far as the speculation about retributive justice in Job is concerned , This in my opinion would be unnecessary. The elohim have means of recording every act of their creation, Homo sapiens . The act of retribution (or judgment) is therefore EXACT. What will be done is the living and resurrected dead will have their memory banks exchanged with their greatest tormentor . For example a torturer or slaver will have their memory banks exchanged with the tortured or the slave and so be made to experience the EXACT physical and mental states of the tortured or the enslaved, then the aggressor will be destroyed and atoms scattered into general matter , never to exist again henceforth. Those of us still alive and made aware of such matters can make amends with those we have wronged, sincerely ask for forgiveness and implore the elohim to have mercy on our souls when we die.This is part of the understandings I gather from the book of Job AS ALLIED to the old Sumerian texts.

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The average church member sees the Bible as one cohesive book - after all, it’s all God’s word and God doesn’t change; so, words in one book or passage mean the same in another book or passages. We should, therefore, explain texts by referring to other parts of the Bible to clarify and interpret a difficult passage. We are made to believe that what God says in Job should fit in with what God said in Genesis, and even Romans or Matthew. This, of course, leads to hopscotching all over the Bible, combining text together that don’t belong together. When, then, someone comes along and ties, what probably is the oldest book in the Bible, with other regional stories that obviously form the basis of the Bible story, we hear - heresy!

A discussion like this begs for the kind reaction as we got from Pago - (BTW, where did that post go?- I hate when that happens.) This might be called “bating”. Spectrum editors know what the reaction is going to be - right? But, I digress.

There is a bigger issue here. How can a professor, “specializing in Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East”, dialogue with the average church member who’s only understanding of the Bible comes from the seventh grade level of the “question/answer” format of the SS quarterly - without making the one sound like an “ivory tower egghead”, and the other, so insignificant that what he says can be completely wiped away? How can dialogue ever happen?

So, Pago, this is a study the average person is not going to understandably, understand or agree with; and, to the Prof - WOW!


You raise an extremely important and valid point, Sirje. For many decades, the SS department and the publishing houses have refused to put into print any material that is not acceptable and intelligible to all members, regardless of their educational level and backgrounds (the SDA commentary was one exception whose success surprised even the editors). It was assumed that specific SS classes, in particular, would find ways to delve deeply into the lesson of the quarterly or, start a class that ignored the quarterly. The problem is that groups studied at whatever level they already had mastered. Even now, some SDA scholars would resist the notion that Job and Genesis “borrowed” or “reflected” Mesopotamian myths. Scripture must be sui generis or it loses its authority as the direct revelation of God. Since change in any direction that SEEMS to threaten that authority is regarded as unacceptable on its face, progress is never achieved. If “perfect love casts out fear” why are leaders (both clergy and lay) so afraid of trusting our love of the Bible to overcome our fear that it is being compromised by research and thoughtfulness at the admirable level Jean has exhibited once again in this piece.


As I argued in my little book about creation in Scripture, the Wisdom Literature describes creation in the language of the mythological currents of the Near East. As Professor Sheldon points out, there is a great deal of similarity between the Ennuma elish and the description of creation in the divine speech in the Book of Job. The way in which Sheldon finds correespondence in the details, however, is less than convincing. Still, she does make a point that needs to be made. The question is not a question of power. It is a question of knowledge. The speech declares what God did, the question is: does Job know how God did it? The answer is a rotund NO. That is all. To argue that the speech gives a description of God’s justice which is to be achieved by Christ is, I would think, totally unsupported by the text.


Your conclusion that God treats “evil with goodness,” in my opinion this does not match the testimony of God himself. I like your concept. I wish it were supportable in Scripture. However, the Biblical reality points to a God that capable doing great bodily harm with mass human and animal carnage. Just to cite a few examples where God used the same violent tactics that evil uses—total destruction.

Punishment of Tyre and Sidon – Ezekiel 26-28—“This is what the LORD the King says to Tyre. The people who live along the coast will hear about your defeat. They will hear the screams of people in Tyre. People there will suffer and die. The people who live along the coast will tremble because of their fear.”

Punishment of Ammon – Ezekiel 25:—“I will cut you off from being a nation and destroy you completely. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

Punishment of Edom – Ezekiel 25—“Therefore, says the Sovereign LORD, I will raise my fist of judgment against Edom. I will wipe out its people and animals with the sword. I will make a wasteland of everything…They will carry out my vengeance with anger, and Edom will know that this vengeance is from me. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!”

Punishment of Philistia – Ezekiel 25:15-17—“I will wipe out the Kerethites and utterly destroy the people who live by the sea. I will execute terrible vengeance [fierce anger] against them to punish them for what they have done. And when I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the LORD.”

Punishment to Egypt – Ezekiel 29 – Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will bring an army against you, O Egypt, and destroy both people and animals. “I am your enemy, O Pharaoh, king of Egypt… I will put hooks in your jaws and drag you out on the land with fish sticking to your scales. I will leave you and all your fish stranded in the wilderness to die. You will lie unburied on the open ground, for I have given you as food to the wild animals and birds. All the people of Egypt will know that I am the Lord”

Message to Pharaoh – Ezekiel 32 – “I will leave you stranded on the land to die. All the birds of the heavens will land on you, and the wild animals of the whole earth will gorge themselves on you. I will scatter your flesh on the hills and fill the valleys with your bones. I will drench the earth with your gushing blood all the way to the mountains, filling the ravines to the brim. When I blot you out… the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”

Graeme Sharrock: "Ezekiel’s ideas of justice and theodicy are roundly refuted in Job as inadequate to explain human suffering and divine justice."
I don’t understand. I thought all Scriptures was equally inspired. Since when do we set Job above Ezekiel? I chose Ezekiel because it was easy, however I can find the same expressions of God employing violent measures against his enemies in most of the major and minor prophets. Just look at the Passover. The Third Angel uses flames, while preserving human life, to punish the wicked. Does it not?

It does not appear that Moses spend much time reading the book of Job. He taught blessings if you obey and curses if you don’t, which sounds like Job’s friends. Even the 2nd commandment says, .“I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” NLT With this in mind Job’s friends could have said he was suffering due to the sins of his fathers.


I failed to cite evidence for my last paragraph on Yahweh’s ultimate grappling with the Leviathan due to the limits of space I’m allowed. I show in my dissertation that, intertextually, Job is at least one version of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In an inept attempt to convey that concisely, I used the term “type.” The other line of evidence I did cite in the article and left the reader to make the connection to the final paragraph: Job 41:33a says of Leviathan, “On earth it has no equal.” That implies that only a heavenly being, likely Yahweh, in the larger context of the Old Testament, can take on Leviathan successfully. Regarding divine justice, if one views Yahweh’s directive to Job in 40:1-14–that discuss getting victory over evil and evildoers (a key concept in justice)–as central to what the divine speeches are about, then divine justice is indeed central to what else Yahweh says in the divine speeches.


Dr Sheldon:
Thanks for the link to your study on Job as ANE theodicy!
A couple of questions:

  1. In your study did you find any evidence of the presence of the Genesis Creation stories (Gen 1 and Gen 2) in Job? Doesn’t this clearly argue for a different authorship and editorial process for Job and Genesis?
  2. MItchell Dahood and others have argued for a Phoenician/Ugaritic background, based on the many NW Semitic loan words located in the Hebrew of Job. If Enuma Elish is Babylonian, as you say, how can we best imagine the author of Job reconciling these differing sources?
    Thank you.

You are quoting at length from Ezekiel, who presents a priestly theology based on ideas of the Jerusalem (and future) temple and covenant conceptions of curse and blessing, etc. Ezekiel’s ideas of justice and theodicy are roundly refuted in Job as inadequate to explain human suffering and divine justice.

IOW, Job’s drama and Ezekiel’s vision are both Yahwistic but competing views of God’s dealings with the human race. Job is set outside of Israel, and represents Yahweh as a universal deity who manifests in natural phenomena rather than national histories. Ezekiel’s deity shows his power only in relation to the temple cultus and the covenant and the politics of Israel.


What is the BEST/Number 1, contemporary, relevant, take away…from the book of JOB, for the un-churched, person on the street with a short attention span?

Last week someone left a 1997 Presbyterian Sunday School lesson “quarterly” lying around my apartment complex.
It was on JOB.
The Title was — Faith Remains When Understanding Fails.
Perhaps THIS is the substance of the Whole Play by the Author[s].
When it was first written there were no Chapter divisions.
Perhaps JOB tells us is that it is OK to VERBALIZE our distress and lack of knowledge.
How many times are WE like Job’s friends, attempt to console with meaningless consolation
What we need to know is this – God is IN our suffering.

What is interesting to note is this-- The way Job and his friends viewed their religious relationship
with God back then [rewards and punishment] is STILL the way most view one’s religious relationship
with God TODAY [rewards and punishment].
Since the days of Job humans have not improved their understanding of God. Even SDAs.

EDIT-- When a kid in church school age I was told that Moses wrote the book of Job.
Jean’s explanation that Job went through several writings is interesting.
“The Book of J” author seems to indicate that OTHER OT books went through “re-copying” in Babylonian times. Perhaps more than once. And those are what we read today.


Thank you for your questions, Graeme Sharrock,

  1. In Job’s lament (Job 3), he curses the day of his birth in two sets of sevens, a clear allusion, it seems to me, to the seven days (evenings and mornings) in Genesis 1. I don’t know of other clear allusions to Genesis, but there may be some. The fact that no clear allusions to Job exist in Genesis 1:1-2:3 suggests that the final version of Job is later than Genesis. Within Job itself there are clearly different styles so that the Prologue (chs. 1 and 2) and the Epilogue (ch. 42) are very different from the dialogue speeches, and the divine speeches, but Elihu is altogether different in style.
  2. Yes, Dahood is correct. But some scholars suggest that there may have been a NW Semitic background behind Enuma Elish too. When I translated the book of Job from Hebrew, I came to see that there are at least two layers in the divine speeches–an older more Egyptian-like layer that also utilized words that were more closely related to NW Semitic (some of which later fell out of use) and another layer that was later. Based on what I saw in the language of the text, I believe that the book of Job went through at least two, maybe more, stages, and in my dissertation, I proposed two authors for the book, one pre-exilic, the other exilic or post-exilic. Rachel Magdalene, whom I cited, found evidence in Job that places it in the Neo-Babylonian period in structure and legal form. Keep in mind that the NW Semitic that Dahood is referring to is predominately Ugaritic and Ugaritic texts date from the early latter half of the second millennium (1400-1350). Also, the ancient Near East is now known to have far more international communication, with brotherhood treaties, during the second millennium, so that during the same period as the kingdom of Ugarit, Egyptian scribes were copying Babylonian texts on clay tablets. During this same general period (the Late Bronze period), a portion of Gilgamesh was uncovered in Megiddo. While no such finds have been found in Israel, that doesn’t mean that the stories themselves didn’t travel by oral transmission. Another point to be made is that biblically, few if any allusions to Job appear, and canonically, Job seems to have come into community use during the exilic period, when the Jews lived in Babylonia. While I realize I’m offering mostly circumstantial evidence, it still allows for the possibility of influence from Babylonia.

In many of these academic declamations much thought is given to who influenced who. Cultures, timelines and the estimation of who wrote what story when.
The fact is each man has these questions. If a child was on a deserted island and had any knowledge of God…they too would come around to asking these same questions as it is man life experience that makes the question pertinent.
As each future academic imagining a life as a professor must present his dissertation to achieve said goal, and that it must be original work, and finding all the reasonable and straightforward lines already taken, wilder and wilder theories and suppositions are put forward.
Michael Drosnin, author of the Bible Code claims that the Hebrew Bible contains a very complex code that reveals events that took place thousands of years after the Bible was written could have as easily been a Professor of old testament history instead of a journalist the main difference seeming being the lack of need of a dissertation to become employed.

Quite often the Bible takes on magical characteristics - surviving floods and fires etc. The Bible Code doesn’t really cut it as a candidate for a dissertation. :grin:

Frank states: “I don’t understand. I thought all Scriptures was equally inspired. Since when do we set Job above Ezekiel?”

I am not making a comment about inspiration but about the argument in Job. I doubt if all parts of scripture are “equally inspired” and not even sure what that means. Equal in what? moral viewpoint? Certainly not. Clarity of argument? Absurd. If anything, I would prefer to say that the various writings of Scripture are “unequally inspired”.

However, consider for a moment that Ezekiel’s viewpoint is roughly that of some of Job’s friends (you must have been doing something wrong, otherwise all this would not have happened to you) and even Job’s wife. As I stated, this is the primary idea set out and then refuted in the Book of Job. It is also pervasive in the prophets, where it is used to explain why Jerusalem was captured and the nation of Israel was destroyed. It may not be true at all, but it is the explanation given by much of the Old Testament, and is continued today by religious fundamentalists who say that tsunamis or earthquakes or military defeats occur because of particular sins in our modern world–an idea that is patently false.

As for the divine violence found in many places in the Bible, yes it is there without doubt, and should not be sugarcoated. It is one of the severe moral problems of the Bible and cannot be simply explained away. But it is important to try to understand, in each particular context, just how and why the Bible writers said such outrageous things.

Maybe it is best understood, at least in some places, as literary invention. For example, many scholars do not believe that God himself ordered the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (Book of Joshua). This idea was edited into the chronicles by post-exilic writers to justify the return of the Babylonian captives to the Promised Land and present their right to re-inhabit the land. As to “why” this was done I can leave for you to explore.

As I see it, the Bible does not come from God in any literal or direct sense but “reveals” a God–in fact many gods named God–and religious ideas, stories and practices believed in by the ancient Hebrews and Christians. Perhaps a different view will solve these problems more easily, but that’s my take.