Is God a Moral Monster? : Making Sense of the Old Testament God, Paperback Book

Is God a Moral Monster? : Making Sense of the Old Testament God Paperback

3 out of 5 (4 ratings)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Nature & existence of God
  • ISBN: 9780801072758

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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

A must read for atheists and Christians alike. Provides a more nuanced and detailed evaluation of the biblical texts than most so-called "new atheists". I've only given it 4 stars, though, because in places it assumes a Christian world view that sometimes accepts something as good because God said/did it. Fo example, in one place where "holy war" is discussed (I think it was) the author says holy war is ok but only as long as God reveals it to be so. No thinking person will accept this unless they already believe in God. I'm not completely happy with the author's treatment of the Abraham/Isaac story either. But the book, overall, provides some excellent analysis and detailed discussions. Style-wise, it's not an easy book to read. 

Review by

Paul Copan responds to the New Atheist stance that the God of the Old Testament is a “moral monster.” I agreed with only about half of Copan’s conclusions, but his book was well-written, informative, and fun to read.Copan begins by attempting to make sense of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. I loved the short discussion comparing the two times that God called Abraham: The first time to come to the promised land, the second time to sacrifice his son. Because of similar language, Copan argues that Abraham “couldn’t have missed the connection being made … God is clearly reminding him of his promise of blessing in Genesis 12 even while he’s being commanded to do what seems to be utterly opposed to that promise.” Outside of this, though, the Abraham/Isaac story is one of those sections of Copan’s book that just didn’t work for me. It doesn’t seem to matter how it’s explained to me, as soon as someone tries to pull this story down from the level of mythology and make me imagine it to be a true story that really happened, I start to feel queasy. I’d have a few choice words for God if he told me to kill my son. If Copan doesn’t mind, I’ll continue to classify this Bible passage as “storied theology,” where it’s much more palatable.Copan spends several chapters talking about Israel’s slavery laws, and this section is superb. Was this law ideal? Certainly not. But there are three points I’d like to bring out here:[1] We are discussing the Law of God, not what actually transpired among imperfect people. Yep, they kept slaves against the rules. The law was not faithfully followed.[2] Copan points out again and again that Israel’s laws were a great improvement over the surrounding nations. God held Israel to a higher standard.[3] Although this point gets little press time in the book, as the law evolved, it became more and more humane. Compare, for example, the Book of the Covenant, quoted by the Elohist in Exodus 21, with the Priesthood writings in Leviticus 19, and finally with the Deuteronomist’s instructions in Deut 22.Yes, the Old Testament law seems archaic and brutal by today’s standards. Yet it’s clear Israel was learning and was trying to become Godly. Perhaps slowly approaching the standard God had in mind. Buy the book and, if you read nothing else, study chapters 11-14.Next, Copan tackles what I feel are the most troublesome issues; genocide and ethnic cleansing. Particularly, the conquest of Canaan. Copan points out (rightly) that the Bible’s claims of utter annihilation are highly exaggerated, and that archaeological evidence hints that no such mass conquest took place. For the most part, Israel peacefully settled into Canaan without warfare and without driving out its inhabitants. But whether or not the conquest really happened, the fact remains that the Word of God graphically describes these holy wars in quite unholy terms, and claims that God commanded this inhumanity. Read, for example, Numbers 31:17-18, where God gives instruction regarding Midianite captives: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Copan tries to soften the command, explaining that the non-virgin women were seducing Israel’s men and the boys would grow up to become warriors, but nothing can soften that one.Copan presents a word game at this point. Moses commanded the armies to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites and not to “leave alive anything that breathes.” Joshua didn’t do this; we have lots of evidence of Canaanite people remaining afterward. Yet if you read Joshua 11:12, it says Joshua did as he was told; he utterly destroyed them as Moses commanded. Ergo, since Joshua didn’t kill ‘em all, but the Word of God says he did what he was told, then we can apparently consider Moses’ original command as hyperbole…the rhetoric of war. God didn’t really sanction genocide.Well, whatever. Copan’s next attempt to justify this evil by reminding us that God is the author of life and has a rightful claim on it falls flat for me. If any kids were killed, they would go straight to heaven anyway, he says. The danger of that kind of thinking hardly needs discussion!Though well-researched and thought-provoking, I finished the book with the feeling that Copan tried his best to tackle an impossible topic. I think it’s a four-star attempt and a fun book; I can’t judge the loser of a debate merely because he was given an indefensible position, right?

Review by

I've been reading, "Is God a Moral Monster", as part of my reading on a theology essay, as to how God could allow the Conquest of Canaan.The book starts off and seems to hit all the right notes. Copan sets out to tackle a lot of the objections that the 'New Atheists' (i.e. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and other similar) make against the moral character of God, and particularly how it appears in the Old Testament. Copan wants to deal with a lot of these issues head on.Unfortunately his treatment of the Canaanite issue is unsatisfactory. He goes to great lengths to qualify the Biblical text as we have it in Joshua to make it less offensive, by appealing to Ancient Near Eastern Context. In doing so he argues that when all the inhabitants of Jericho were killed in Joshua 6-7 - no women and children were involved, it was just a fortress, and there were probably no more than 600 fighting age men there.Of course we need to make sure that we're reading the Biblical text properly, both within the context that God has given us, and it's context with its original hearers. But this answer doesn't get "God off the hook" so to speak. The problem the modern reader will have is that God still commanded the destruction of Jericho and the deaths of 600. All Copan manages to achieve is a moving of the goalposts.A much better book on the Canaanite question is Christopher J. H. Wright's The God I Don't Understand. That deals with the problem in a much more sober minded fashion.

Review by

Overall a good book. Perhaps a little too academic for what I was looking for. The book was primarily written to refute the "New Atheists" and their various misperceptions of God. Didn't agree with everything the author states, but at the same time was enlightened about many things I didn't know about our God found in the Old Testament.