Tag Archives: claude mariottini

Divine Violence and the Character of God: by Claude Mariottini. A Review

I had not planned on reading a book on violence in the Bible this year. Then came the crisis in the Ukraine.

Those who know Russian history and Vladimir Putin will tell you that Putin’s reasoning behind the “special military operation” in Ukraine is an effort to revive that ancient vision of a Holy Orthodox Russia, Ukrainians and Russians together as one people, with Moscow at its ecclessial and political center.  Many devout Eastern Orthodox Christians are divided on this perspective, some being on one side and some on the other. But apparently Vladimir Putin accepts this narrative wholeheartedly, and he is willing to commit military boots on the ground to fulfill this vision.

Within a few weeks after the start of the war in the Ukraine, which began in February, 2022, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill gave a sermon that a number of analysts have interpreted as sanctioning Putin’s efforts to take over Ukraine. Kirill cited what he understood to be “a test of loyalty to [a] new world order… the world of excess consumption, the world of false ‘freedom’.” In particularly, Kirill singled out the Gay Pride parade, which has become a large annual event in the Ukraine, as that litmus test of loyalty. The annual June event was relocated from Kyiv to Poland this year, due to the war. In Patriarch Kirill’s words, “If humanity starts believing that sin is not a violation of God’s law, if humanity agrees that sin is one of the options for human behavior, then human civilization will end there.”

Reconciling conflicted branches of Christianity, as between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches, is something that every Christian should pray and strive for. Furthermore, many Christians like myself, including many Eastern Orthodox ones, will agree with the Russian Patriarch that same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s purposes, as set forward in the Bible. Division with the Christian church and the secularizing trend of the West is continuing to marginalize historically Christian views of morality, and Ukraine has been no exception. Christians will differ as to how we as believers should respond to the changing moral compass in the world of Western democracies, and how to respond politically. But does any of this serve as a justification for the violence we have been witnessing in the Ukraine for these many months?

Obviously, there are many other reasons why the Ukraine and Russia are at war with one another, that have nothing directly to do with the overtly theological justifications that I am addressing here. There are concerns about NATO expansion, corruption on both sides, etc. that complicate matters. I do not pretend to be a political analyst. But I am most concerned with how the Bible is used, or more properly speaking, misused as a pretense for justifying this war.

In an attempt to justify the war against the Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin quoted from Jesus in John 15:13 for support: “…this is where the words from the Scriptures come to my mind: ‘There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends.’ ”  To make an appeal to Jesus, as an excuse for an ever expanding list of documented potential war crimes, particularly when many victims of Putin’s war are God-fearing Ukrainian Christians, is a perversion of the worst kind. Furthermore, the threat of a nuclear disaster looms large when Ukrainian power plants have been under the control of Russian forces, where Ukranian workers are under incredible stress and safety concerns are paramount.

When the “culture war” is transformed into a war with tanks and missiles, I can not think of a more dreadful misuse of the Bible than this. Instead of drawing nonbelievers to the Gospel, this type of thinking only repels people from Christianity. Thankfully, there are many, many Christians who are not convinced by President Putin’s application of Jesus’ teachings, and instead insist that the justification for war against Ukraine is a denial of the very Gospel itself.

Most American Protestant Evangelicals probably completely missed the schism in Eastern Orthodoxy back in 2018, when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split from Russian Orthodoxy after being together for more than 300 years. But I never would have imagined that this theological crisis within Christianity would have precipitated Putin’s decision to wage war in Ukraine just four years later. It just goes to remind me that ideas really matter, especially theological ones.

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Canaanite DNA and Biblically-Illiterate Journalism

An ancient Canaanite skeleton gives us clues to the DNA history behind a people group in the Middle East. (Credit: Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal)

A recent study indicates that much of the DNA record of modern day Lebanese can be traced back to the Canaanite people described in the Bible. Sadly however, a number of mainstream journalists got the story wrong.

Archaeological studies over the years have raised a number of interesting questions about how the Biblical record is tied to history. But when the genome of 4,000-year-old Canaanite skeletons were sequenced, the discovery supports a significant aspect of the Bible’s historical claims.

However, you would never grasp that idea from a New York Times article reporting the discovery. Deuteronomy 20:16-17 does show that the Israelites were to completely wipe out the Canaanite peoples, when they take hold of the Promised Land.

“You shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded” (v.17)

Yet the Times article goes on to miss the target, “But a genetic analysis published on Thursday has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon.” The implication is that the Bible got it wrong.

Other media outlets did pretty much the same thing, with scathing headlines, such as “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph), and “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)

However, if these journalists had kept on reading the Bible, they might have realized a problem. While Israel achieved notable victories at Jericho and Ai, the destruction of the Canaanites was far from complete.  Judges 1:27-28 specifically tells us that the Canaanites were not all wiped out by Joshua’s conquest of the land:

“…the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land…” (v.27)

Many of the Israelites tried to splice belief in the God of the Bible with beliefs in the Canaanite gods. More than a few Israelites intermarried with the Canaanites, adopting a syncretic form of religion. All of this behavior brought God’s judgment on the Israelite people, when God condemned their idolatrous actions. To miss this part of the story is to fail to understand the narrative within the Bible itself.

So, far from disproving the Bible, the survival of the Canaanites down to the present day actually confirms what the Bible claims. If we would but only read the text.

Thankfully, some of the news organizations have realized their error and made the appropriate corrections. The Telegraph made a note in their article, acknowledging the correction, and changed the headline more appropriately, as did Mother Nature Network. Science magazine did the same with their news story.

The irony behind the whole thing is that skeptics will often reject the Bible, on moral grounds, because of the supposed claim that the Israelites committed mass genocide against a large Canaanite population. But then they ding the Bible again, on historical grounds, when they discover that the supposed, full-blown, genocidal annihilation of the Canaanites never took place. Does anyone see something wrong with this picture?

There is a twist to all of this, too. True, Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land, no matter how you envision the scale, and there is evidence to show that the traditional view is greatly oversized , did result in a lot of violent death. But were the Canaanites, properly speaking, the target of God’s wrath? Dr. Michael S. Heiser, an expert in Semitic languages, writes that the Anakim giants were actually the target for elimination, and not the Canaanites. His book, The Unseen Realm, is on my “to-be-read” list, but he gives an overview of his contrarian argument here. I am not sure what to make of Heiser’s argument yet, but he knows his Bible. The point is: there is more to the Bible than what most people realize.

Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high, despite the ease of access to reading and studying the Bible, in a digital age. So, it does not help when mainstream journalism propagates errors, largely out of Bible-reading ignorance. As the proliferation of news sources abounds in the digital age, perhaps part of the problem is due to cuts among copy editor staff, at major newspapers, as Old Testament professor, Claude Mariottini, reports in another “fake news” story about archaeology in the land of the Bible (… a “BOO” for Fox News).

The best way people can correct such mistakes is pretty simple, and it does not take a Bible scholar to figure this out:

READ AND STUDY THE BIBLE.

HT:  Breaking Israel News.


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