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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Ethics in the Bible?

Philip Davies' has published the essay 'Are There Ethics in the Hebrew Bible?' at Bible and Interpretation. Here's an extract:
There are various systems determining human behavior. The best known comprises, the “commandments” or “laws,” supposedly dictated by the invisible god and stipulating that humans should not kill, steal, commit adultery or worship any god but this one, etc. What are the reasons for such behavior? That it is good to obey divine commands—additional motivation being provided by threatened consequences of neglecting to do so. However, “only obeying orders” was summarily dismissed as a defense at the Nuremberg trials and although in some circumstances one can still plead “higher authority” as a defense against charges of misconduct, these pleas do not constitute an assertion of ethical behavior: they are just a get-out where one has clearly behaved unethically...
...the Bible is culturally totalitarian—unsurprisingly, because it emanates from a totalitarian world of monarchic societies. The development of monarchic religion in the Bible is hardly a supreme religious insight. Rather, it parallels the growth of ever-larger political units. Instead of local city-rulers fighting for supremacy (and their gods likewise), a supreme, if remote, “king of kings” controls everything (always through officials, of course), the semblance of world order that this emperor celebrates being reflected is the cosmic order governed by a supreme deity. (Plato’s monotheism, by contrast, has to be explained differently).
Western civilization, then, does not get ethics from the Bible (and I would say, not even from the New Testament, but I don’t have room to argue that. Go figure.)

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