How to Understand the Bible’s Dark Passages: An Interview with Dr. Matthew Ramage

Dark Passages

In his pivotal 2010 exhortation, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI devoted an entire section to the so-called “dark passages” of the Bible:

“In discussing the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, [we must consider] those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult…
 
[W]e should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective, which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”.
 
I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.” (VD, 42)

The Pope’s request could not be more timely. When we combine the perennial difficulty of these “dark passages” with the heightened attacks by contemporary atheists, who wield them as daggers against the Church, it’s clear we need a renewed focus on these troubling verses.

Thankfully, many Catholic scholars have stepped up to the plate. One of those experts, Dr. Matthew Ramage, assistant professor of theology at Benedictine College, has authored an important new book titled Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and St. Thomas Aquinas (The Catholic University of America Press, 2013).

Dark PassagesDr. Ramage examines three troublesome themes in Scripture: its apparent endorsement of polytheism, the Old Testament’s disconcerting violence, and what seems to be the rejection of an afterlife. If the Scriptures are truly inerrant and inspired by God, how can it contain these passages?

Following the lead of Pope Benedict XVI, Dr. Ramage applies fresh hermeneutical principles to this question. By wedding the historical-critical method, favored by modern scholars, to the patristic-medieval approach, which the Church Fathers and scholastic theologians preferred, Dr. Ramage analyzes each dark theme and reconciles it with Church doctrines concerning the nature of God, biblical inspiration, and inerrancy. The result is a tremendously helpful book.

Dr. Ramage recently agreed to chat with me about some of the book’s themes, including the interpretive Method C he uses and how Catholics should reply when atheists accuse God of being a “genocidal..capriciously malevolent bully.”

 


 
BRANDON: Early in Dark Passages of the Bible, you describe two methods of Scriptural interpretation, Method A and Method B, which the Church has used throughout her history. What are the features of each method?

Dr. MATTHEW RAMAGE: Here I could do no better than to cite the programmatic statement from Ratzinger himself which he gave during a roundtable following his famous “Biblical Interpretation in Conflict” lecture in 1988:

“You can call the patristic-medieval exegetical approach Method A. The historical-critical approach, the modern approach…is Method B. What I am calling for is not a return to Method A, but a development of a Method C, taking advantage of the strengths of both Method A and Method B, but cognizant of the shortcomings of both”

As Dr. Gregory Vall aptly stated in an article applying this “Method C” to Psalm 22, what we are dealing with here are not two methods per se but rather two general approaches.

Those of the “Method A” school (Church Fathers, medieval scholastics, and those of us who wish to emulate them) share certain first principles such as belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the importance of the Magisterium in forming the canon and guiding its interpretation, and the presence of spiritual senses intended by Scripture’s divine author. A key strength of this method is that it sees Scripture for what it truly is: a word not simply from the past but God’s word living and active with importance for our lives today. A critical weakness of relying solely on this method is the danger of whitewashing difficult biblical texts by jumping to their spiritual sense without seriously taking into account the challenges these texts present on the literal level.

Another danger lies what Benedict calls a “rigid and positivistic ecclesiasticism,” by which I take him to be referring to a phenomenon I have observed a lot in the past ten years of working on this topic. This tendency occurs among faithful Catholics who try to close the book on difficult questions claiming that Rome has already spoken and that the matter is finished, even though the exegesis and teaching of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI patently demonstrates that the highest exegete in the land seems to think there is need for development in the Church’s approach in light of what we have learned through modern exegesis. To my mind the main issue here is not that the Church needs to or ever will affirm particular findings or hypotheses of modern exegesis, but rather the need for faithful Catholics to overcome the fear that modern methods and findings tend to undermine the faith. In other words, faithful Catholics need to learn that there is room for legitimate diversity in exegetical approaches. This is not to say that there are no defined dogmas by which we need to abide. It means that Benedict XVI’s exegetical principles and conclusions might look somewhat different from those of Leo XIII, and that this is ok.

On the “Method B” side, meanwhile, we come into contact with thinkers who share a different set of presuppositions and tools. As Benedict tells us, the method is not intrinsically opposed to faith, but neither is faith an intrinsic component of it. For this reason, it can be used to deepen our faith, or it could be (and sometimes is) used in the attempt to undermine the faith. The emeritus pontiff believes that we cannot remain indifferent to or neglectful of modern exegesis, as it offers tools necessary to learn if we wish to understand and convincingly present the mystery of God’s word revealed in Scripture to people today. The modern, historical-critical approach brings a lot to the table. It benefits from scientific tools not available to the Church Fathers and scholastics, tools not limited to but including a broader knowledge of Ancient Near Eastern culture, recent discoveries in archaeology and the various natural sciences, and an increased competence in Semitic languages.
 
BRANDON: The hermeneutical key you pursue in your book, however, is Pope Benedict’s Method C. How does this differ from previous methods and how is it particularly fruitful for biblical scholarship?

Dr. MATTHEW RAMAGE: As the above quote from Benedict indicates, “Method C” is not a new method precisely bur rather a synthesis of Methods A and B, taking what is best from both and purifying them of their respective weaknesses. Benedict’s conviction is that the two are mutually enriching and equally necessary for doing justice to the Bible’s most challenging texts. His desire is thus to move beyond the false notion that the two approaches are mutually exclusive or even contradictory. Among traditionally-minded Catholics in America, this dichotomy manifests itself when we refer to professionally trained exegetes who disagree with us as so-called “critical biblical scholars”—with an emphasis on the quotation marks used condescendingly with the implication that said scholars are neither truly critical nor true biblical scholars.

In addition to the important scholarly tools Method B brings to the table, it has involves another more subtle element which often leads Catholics to fear or deride the method. This is its willingness to ask questions—and entertain corresponding answers—that faithful Christians of previous ages did not tend to raise. For example, in incorporating this aspect of Method B into our synthesis, we might ask: Could certain biblical texts actually reflect a belief in multiple gods? Did God command genocidal actions? Do some authors reject the possibility of an afterlife? If the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant word of God that Christians claim them to be, how can they contain these things? For many believers in the modern age, traditional Christian answers to these challenges are no longer convincing. Though spiritually edifying, they are unable to account for the sheer scope and depth of problems raised through the advent of historical-critical scholarship. This is where Method B comes in to our synthesis. When Method B is taken up into our approach, we don’t have to whitewash difficult passages of the Bible. We don’t have to rely upon forced interpretations which don’t convince us, let alone would-be believers for whom they are obstacles. Rather, what we are doing here is admitting that modern people and modern scholarship in general have something positive to say, and that it might actually help us defend the faith better rather than destroying it.

This, however, is where we have to remember the importance of Method A within the Method C synthesis. It is well known among faithful Christians that there are those belonging to the historical-critical school who seek to undermine central tenets of the faith, especially when it comes to the figure of Jesus. As Pope Benedict noted in his Jesus of Nazareth series which sought to combat precisely this mentality, modern exegesis can become a tool of the Antichrist! Benedict’s critiques of Method B throughout his corpus help us to see that the method’s fundamental strength turns out also to constitute its principal weakness: its willingness to ask radical questions of Scripture and ability to provide a scientific analysis of Scripture often leads to excess of regard for its own competence and lack of regard for Christ. It is easy for modern scholars to get too caught up and overconfident in our hypothetical reconstructions of biblical history and the genesis of biblical texts. It is also easy to forget that the purpose of Scripture is to put believers in communion with Christ.
 
BRANDON: You focus on three types of “dark passages” in your book, those dealing with the nature of God, the nature of good and evil, and the afterlife. What do you mean by “dark passages” and where do these challenging themes appear in Scripture?

Dr. MATTHEW RAMAGE: The term “dark passages” is often and rightly applied to those texts of the Bible in which God seems to be implicated in evil either by commanding violent actions or doing such actions himself. In this book, however, I broadened the term. While people (including Christians as well as atheists challenging our faith) often tend to focus on the problem of God seeming to be a “moral monster,” there are at least two other key areas in which the Bible appears especially “dark.” What could be darker, for example, than Job and Ecclesiastes categorically denying the possibility of life after death? And what could be more theologically problematic than the sacred author apparently thinking that Yahweh is one among many divinities in existence? We are clearly dealing here with issues at the heart of the Christian faith.

Where do these passages appear in Scripture? They occur all throughout the Old Testament, and this is where my book’s focus lies. With Benedict XVI and the Church Fathers, I contend that the fullness of divine revelation lies in the person and message of Jesus Christ. So thankfully, although the New Testament is not without its difficulties, a good portion of the “dark” material lies in the Old Testament (which, incidentally, also comprises most of the Bible). The first chapter of the book is devoted entirely to laying out various types of problems that Benedict’s interpretive method can help us to address. Dozens upon dozens of texts are taken from the Pentateuch, prophets, and wisdom literature, but other books are treated as well. The nature of good and evil, for example, is addressed in comparing and contrasting the books of Samuel with their parallels in Chronicles. Even so, this 300-page book only scratches the surface. It seeks to lay out the principles needed to address these passages, and then delves into exegesis of many passages in its later chapters. But I am hoping that this book is the one of many in which authors will follow suit in the effort to apply Pope Benedict’s brilliant principles to texts which demand our attention for the sake of evangelization but also for our own spiritual lives.
 
BRANDON: The notorious atheist Richard Dawkins described the God of the Old Testament as “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” How should Catholics begin to respond to such claims?

Dr. MATTHEW RAMAGE: First, I think we have to admit that the Bible really does say what it seems to be saying. It says God did some violent things. And these things seem to conflict with the nature of God such as we understand it through reason. In other words, I am acknowledging that Dawkins and people like him—though by no means competent philosophers or theologians—may be onto something. They may actually be raising problems which Christians need to take seriously rather than smugly writing them off as musings of those who should keep quiet and go back to their own area of expertise.

Second, I think we need to be up front about our presuppositions or first principles. We are going into our interpretations already convicted that the Bible is God’s word. This is going to (and indeed should) color the way we read every biblical passage. In interpreting a given text, our job is not to prove to our atheist interlocutors that God exists, that Jesus is God, or that the Bible is God’s word. These are all discussions that should be had, but you and your partner in dialogue have to be very clear about your respective principles. Don’t expect to convince Richard Dawkins that you have vindicated the presence of dark passages in the Bible even though you have brilliantly and meticulously applied the principles of my book to the passage in question:) In defending a particular dark passage, the Christian’s job is to do just that: defend the passage against objections—not definitively prove its truth—as Aquinas says. As I see it, our job is to provide answers to objections from unbelievers so that they might see what a reasonable way to deal with dark biblical passages might look like if faith in Christ and his revealed word is granted.

That said, there are a couple keys which I tease out in the book and which I try to concisely apply to any passage someone challenges me about. The first lies in seeing every passage in the Old Testament as part of a history of revelation by which God slowly led his people toward the fullness of revelation in Jesus. As Pope Benedict says in many different ways and in many different places, problematic passages in the Old Testament are “valid insofar as they are part of the history leading up to Christ.” Perhaps scandalizing some traditionally-minded Catholics, he says, “It follows straightaway that neither the criterion of inspiration nor that of infallibility can be applied mechanically. It is quite impossible to pick out one single sentence [of the Bible] and say, right, you find this sentence in God’s great book, so it must simply be true in itself.”

Benedict does not deny the doctrines of biblical inspiration and inerrancy, but he has a much more nuanced understanding of them than the typical Catholic has. This leads me to Benedict’s second key principle. In assessing particular dark passages, we have to be on the lookout for the particular text’s main purpose, what it is trying to teach or affirm. As Vatican II’s Dei Verbum says, whatever Scripture’s human authors assert is asserted by the Holy Spirit. But, as Ratzinger says in many places, we have to distinguish the “message” or “kernel” a passage from its “form” or “worldview.” This is where Method B’s tools are very handy. The same tools which can be used to criticize the Bible and find problems in it can also help us ascertain what precisely a particularly difficult passage really means in light of its historical context, literary genre, and place within the canon of Scripture.
 
BRANDON: You describe the Church as a “community of interpretation” and the saints as “true interpreters of Scripture.” How do both help Catholics better understand the Bible?

Dr. MATTHEW RAMAGE: For Benedict, the Church is “the primary setting for scriptural interpretation.” The Bible was written by men of faith, redacted by men of faith, compiled by men of faith, and canonized by men of faith. The Bible’s native home is not in an exegetical laboratory but in the community of believers, especially the praying community in the liturgy. A fact not enough Catholics know is that a book’s use in the Church’s early liturgies was one of the criteria used to determine whether it should form part of the Bible, i.e. whether it was inspired by God. Lex orandi, lex credendi. The Church’s law of prayer is her law of belief.

To say that the primary setting for interpretation lies within the Church means simply this: The same Church by which we know that the Scriptures are God’s word is the same Church which still today enables us to know how this magnificent book is rightly to be read. In Verbum Domini Benedict offers an eloquent analogy which speaks beautifully to this point: Just as Mary gave birth to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, so the Church gave birth to the word of God, the Bible. And just as Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), so the Church over the centuries has ever pondered the words of Scripture and brought forth treasures old and new. This contemplative pondering continues today in the work and legacy of Benedict XVI. To close with just one final insight based on a text in which he riffs off the above verse, I would like to praise Benedict for being a model of how to critically yet faithfully “keep together” the truths conveyed in Scripture. I also wish to thank him for showing us the way to emulate Mary by “pondering” or conversing with our God who comes to meet us in Sacred Scripture.
 


 
For more, check out Dr. Matthew Ramage’s new book titled Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and St. Thomas Aquinas (The Catholic University of America Press, 2013).

Dark Passages of the Bible

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  • http://focus.org/ Kevin Cotter

    Great interview by both of you. A worth topic done well. Thanks!

  • Vincent Torley

    Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for being brave enough to tackle such a difficult subject. I think Pope Benedict was spot-on in his request for Catholic scholars to help the faithful understand their meaning. I have to say I was a bit disappointed that Dr. Mathew Ramage didn’t come out and say what he thought the passages meant. I notice that the subtitle of his book is: engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and St. Thomas Aquinas. I think the choice of Aquinas is unfortunate.

    it needs to be borne in mind that for Aquinas, murder, adultery and theft are defined as violation of a person’s legitimate claims to their life, their spouse or their property. However, human beings have no legitimate claim against God, according to Aquinas. In his “Summa Theologica” I-II q. 94 art. 5, (reply to objection 2), Aquinas spells out the implications of his view that everything (including goods and spouses) ultimately belongs to God. Here’s what he says:

    “Reply to Objection 2. All men alike, both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature: which death of nature is inflicted by the power of God on account of original sin, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: “The Lord killeth and maketh alive.” Consequently, by the command of God, death can be inflicted on any man, guilty or innocent, without any injustice whatever. In like manner adultery is intercourse with another’s wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication. The same applies to theft, which is the taking of another’s property. For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner, whereas it is in this that theft consists.”

    Can you just imagine what the New Atheists would do with a quote like that?

    I wrote a piece in which I discussed the “genocides” ordered by God in the Old Testament. Towards the end of my article, I sketch a tentative solution of my own. Whether it’s right or not, I don’t know, but here’s the address anyway:

    http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/dawkins.html

    Thanks again for your article, Brandon.

  • bill b

    Pope Benedict’s section 42 of Verbum Domini won’t help you because it ignores totally the fact that the worst massacre in the entire Bible is in 70 AD/ is predicted by Christ who says it will happen because Jerusalem has not known the time of her visitation and has filled up the sins of her ancestors (Mt.23:32) / and Christ says their pre borns (Lk.19:44) will be killed within their women. Josephus gives 1.1 million as the death toll and Tacitus gives 600,000. No Catholic sermon will detail the death toll but will turn probably to the no stone upon stone detail. When Joshua destroyed Ai, the death toll was 12,000 by comparison. John Paul in late life was increasingly a pacifist not even wanting the coalition to free Kuwait from Saddam Hussein and Benedict even repeated John Paul ‘s expression about war never solving anything. It solved Hitler and protected China from being enslaved by Japan.
    This underlying pacifism permeates their revulsion toward aspects of the Old Testament. Neither objected to Raymond Brown being on the Pontifical Biblical Commission the last time on their watch. Brown didn’t believe Mary ever said the Magnificat but that Luke put it in her mouth for effect after perhaps getting it from Palestinian Anawim ( Birth of the Messiah…c.page 344?)
    The key to the herem or massacres is in actually reading the Bible which in Wisdom 12 tells you that for centuries, God appealed to the Canaanites and tried to convert them often through lighter punishments ( Wisdom 12:10) for over 400 years as implied in Genesis 15:16 when God tells Abraham that the sins of the Amorites will not be complete for centuries.
    The herem or massacres were a last resort by God not a first approach and Benedict misses that completely and he conveniently leaves out Christ declaring the worst massacre in one city in 70 AD because again, the sin of a people is now ” filled up” after many centuries of God’s patience. The preborns in Jerusalem had to die similar to the innocent dying of David’s baby who God took into death…killed… for David’s sin since God said in the Pentateuch that he punished down to the 3rd and 4th generation not spiritually but physically….hence the preborns of Jerusalem were killed as per Christ’s words in Lk.19:44 which children I believe are in Heaven ( see John Paul’s address to mothers who aborted in EV ) but the covenant was kept.

  • Sam

    Excerpt from an Article on Catholic Culture.
    https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/most/getchap.cfm?WorkNum=216&ChapNum=8

    Raymond Brown thinks that he has found a clear example of error in Job 14:13-22 and in some passages of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus.

    In Job 14:9-12 just before the lines in question. Job had said that although a tree may seem to die and then shoot up again, man when he falls does not return. Job is merely denying a return to life as we know it. He does seem to know of some sort of resurrection (probably not a glorious one such as we know from the New Testament), as will be seen presently in Job 19:25-27. He means that no one leaves the tomb and rejoins family and community.

    In verse 13. Job says: “Oh that thou wouldest hide me in Sheol, that thou wouldest conceal me until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again’?” Again. Job is denying a return to the present life. But after that. in high-flown poetry. Job is wishing fancifully, that God would let him hide alive in Sheol, the abode of the dead, until God’s anger would pass. Then Job might emerge again.

    Job knows this is only a fancy, yet poets do indulge in fancy. So Marvin Pope in his Anchor Bible commentary on Job, says, “If only God would grant him asylum in the nether world, safe from the wrath that now besets him, and then appoint a time for a new and sympathetic hearing, he would be willing to wait, or even to endure the present evil” (p. 102). Such fancies occur not only in Job’s poetry; other places in Scripture provide similar thoughts. Marvin Pope adds: “Isaiah xxvi 20 calls ironically on the people of Judah to hide in their chambers till Yahweh’s wrath be past, and Amos ix 2 ff. pictures the wicked as trying vainly to hide in Sheol, heaven, Mount Carmel, the bottom of the sea.”

    The text of Job continues the fancy he began in the previous lines: “All the days of my service I would wait, till my release should come. Thou wouldest call and I would answer thee; thou wouldest long for the work of thy hands.” Then Job adds more on the state he enjoys dreaming of: “For then thou wouldest number my steps, thou wouldest not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and thou wouldest cover over my iniquity.”

    Then Job pushes aside his fancy, knowing it is only a fancy: “But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so thou destroyest the hope of man. Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he passes; thou changes” his countenance and sendest him away.” Job is saying here that nothing can hold out against God. All go down into the grave and return no more to this life.

    While the father is in Sheol, “his sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low and he perceives it not.” Job is saying that when a man goes to Sheol he no longer knows what goes on upon the earth. Why? If a soul reaches the beatific vision, he will know all that pertains to him on earth. Without that vision, is there any means of knowing? Even today, we do not see any means, unless of course God chooses to reveal things to a soul in purgatory.

    But-and this is of capital importance-conditions in the afterlife were radically different in the day of Job from what they are today. Why? Jesus had not yet died. Heaven, the vision of God, was not open, even to the just who had paid in full the debt of their sins. Theologians commonly speak of this state as the Limbo of the Fathers.4

    Job was quite right. In Sheol there is no knowledge of what goes on on earth. Since there is no such knowledge, “he feels no pain for anything but his own body, makes no lament, save for his own life.” But those words do imply consciousness in Sheol.

    Really, it would be strange if Job would have no knowledge of an afterlife. The Book of Job probably was composed between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C. Before that, in the eighth century, Isaiah 14:9-11 pictures the souls in Hades as taunting the fallen rulers of Babylon as they arrive. Isaiah 26:19 says: “Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For thy dew is a dew of light, and on the land of the shades thou wilt let it fall.”

    The Jerome Biblical Commentary, of which Brown was an editor, has this to say of the above: “There is an explicit hope in the resurrection of individuals” (I, p.277). Of course, but not to the conditions of present life. Job denies a return to present conditions and he does not seem to know of a glorious resurrection. Isaiah does not hint at glory.

    Jesus Himself refuted the Sadducees by pointing out that Sheol does not mean annihilation. He reminded them that God had said to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Jesus added: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living…” (Mark 12:26-27).

    In fact, though the sense of the passage is debated, many think that Job (19:25-27) does look ahead to a resurrection, even if not the glorious kind we know: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God.” These lines cannot be taken to mean a rescue for Job in this life, for in 7:6-7 Job had given up on that: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.”

    It should be recalled that the Hebrews spent centuries in Egypt, where there was a well-developed idea of the afterlife. Afterward they lived in Canaan among a people who also had such ideas. How could they fail to have an idea of an afterlife?

    Raymond Brown also thinks there is a denial of an afterlife in Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus. In 14:16-17 we read: “Give, and take and beguile yourself, because in Hades one cannot look for luxury.” We already know the answer. The afterlife before the death of Christ was the dull Limbo of the Fathers, where they waited to enter the vision of God.

    Unfortunately, not all versions use the same numberings for the verses of our next passage. What Brown calls Sirach 17:22-23 is 17:27-28 in the Revised Standard Version: “Who will sing praises to the Most High in Hades, as do those who are alive and give thanks? From the dead, as from one who does not exist, thanksgiving has ceased.” M. Dahood, in Anchor Bible commentary on Psalms 6:6 (6:5 in Revised Standard Version), has a similar thought: “The psalmist suffers not because of the inability to remember Yahweh in Sheol, but from being unable to share in the praise of Yahweh which characterizes Israel’s worship.”

    Israelites loved the grand liturgical praises of God, but there is no such thing in the dull Limbo of the Fathers. Isaiah 38:18 has a similar thought: “For Sheol cannot thank thee, death cannot praise thee.” The Hebrew for extol there is hallel, the same word that is used in I Chronicles 16:4 and 2 Chronicles 5:13, 31:2, for the liturgical praise of God.

    Raymond Brown also appeals to Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 38:21: “Do not forget, there is no coming back; you do the dead no good, and injure yourself.” There is no “coming back,” again, means that there is no return to the present form of life. So this verse, too, is no real problem and does not at all prove an error in Scripture.

  • Dave Snyder

    I just finished writing a book on this whole subject (“Abraham of Ur” – a Critical analysis of the life and times of the Patiarch). But, I am just a laymen and not an academic like Dr. Ramage. My Thesis is that Abraham brought most of the stories we find in Genesis from ancient Mesopotamian lore — including the book of Job. Deity in his time were the invention of man and therefore “in man’s image”. Only with God’s revelation to Moses on Sinai did the Hebews change their theology to one where God created “man in His image”. There is a very big difference. God in man’s image was a result of anthropomorphism where the gods of Abramam’s time took on human traits. It is those human traits that led to the “Dark Passages” Dr. Ramage refers. This anthropotheism did not leave the Hebrews until after the Babylonian exile during the Axial age when the Jews through the Hellenistic influence denied that God was in man’s image. The redactors of the Hebrew Scriptures (in 700-600 BC) had not yet come to this conclusion and for that reason included some of these stories that come right out of Mesopotaanian lore. As for Polytheism, most Biblical scholars agree that the Ugaritic letters show that the Israelis in the Kingdom period practiced a hybrid-polthesim called “monalatry” where they recognized one superior god (El) while one could accept the existance of other lesser gods. See the Early History of God by Mark S. Smith and John Day’s “Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan.

  • one comment

    It is like rationing out a glass of water one thimble at a time rather than picking up the glass and drinking it down. Our thirst will never be quenched with the thimble.

    This helps me: Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,…

    and also: Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

    and also: Luke24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

  • Doug Lawrence

    The simple fact of the matter is that man joined with Satan to make war against God and his Kingdom. War is Hell and bad things happen! Jesus Christ came. He destroyed Satan’s power and gracefully declared peace between God and man. Grace and Peace is so much better! This understanding requires no great mental gymnastics or theological somersaults. It’s just common sense – and pretty much the type of thing the Catholic Church had plenty of, prior to the rise of the modernists, who seem to think that God needs someone to apologize for him.

  • http://www.callherhappy.com/ Jenna @ Call Her Happy

    In assessing particular dark passages, we have to be on the lookout for the particular text’s main purpose, what it is trying to teach or affirm. As Vatican II’s Dei Verbum says, whatever Scripture’s human authors assert is asserted by the Holy Spirit. But, as Ratzinger says in many places, we have to distinguish the “message” or “kernel” a passage from its “form” or “worldview.”

    This was the most interesting thought for me. If I am understanding him correctly, is Dr. Ramage saying that particular dark passages may not have happened as it is written in the Bible? Instead, human authors may have written these actions, but the only God-revelead truth might be the idea behind them?

    Forgive me if that doesn’t make sense. I am new to this whole idea. I find it completely fascinating though. I am really hoping this book will help me come to an understanding of many passages that have troubled me through the years :)

    • bonaventure

      .

      • http://www.callherhappy.com/ Jenna @ Call Her Happy

        I do understand that concept. What I have a hard time with is this: Why did God command these things to begin with? Wasn’t there another way? He is God after all. He could have come up with something else, no?

        And, please keep in mind, I am a faithful Catholic who loves all parts of our faith. I just want to understand this more for myself and apologetics purposes :)

        • bill b

          God cannot come up with our conversion of heart unless we cooperate with Him. He gave Judas the grace to weep and throw back the money but God couldn’t do everything….Judas had to come up with trust in God being a forgiving Being. Judas didn’t come up with that necessary piece. It’s the old “Heart” song…”Even It Up”.
          When you’ve tried all else for 400 years as to the Canaanites or 1000 years and exile in the case of Jerusalem, there is only one thing left for God to do…signal all other people that this is not a tv show. This life is for high stakes.

    • bill b

      Jenna,
      Pope Benedict’s section 42 of Verbum Domini won’t help you because it ignores totally the fact that the worst massacre in the entire Bible is in 70 AD/ is predicted by Christ who says it will happen because Jerusalem has not known the time of her visitation and has filled up the sins of her ancestors/ and Christ says their pre borns will be killed within their women. Josephus gives 1.1 million as the death toll and Tacitus gives 600,000. When Joshua destroyed Ai, the death toll was 12,000 by comparison. John Paul in late life was increasingly a pacifist not even wanting the coalition to free Kuwait from Saddam Hussein and Benedict even repeated John Paul ‘s expression about war never solving anything. It solved Hitler and protected China from being enslaved by Japan.
      The herem were a last resort not a first resort by God both in respect to Canaanites ( see Wisdom 12:10) and in respect to His own people in 70 AD ….last resort after centuries in both cases. That is the key. The key is not Benedict seeing the herem as projected onto God by the guilty Jews…his insinuation ala Freud I suppose.