BR 15:01, Feb 1999
In Search of Biblical Morality
Ethics and the Old Testament
(Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998) 100 pp., $12.00 (paperback)
I once saw a bumper sticker that warned, Read the Old Testament. It will scare the hell out of you! While the religious intentions that probably lie behind that admonition are not congenial to my own way of thinking, the statement at least underscores that the Hebrew Bible includes many unsettling parts likely to disturb our modern moral sensibilities.
John Barton, professor at Oxford University, moves beyond the usual hand-wringing over objectionable parts in the Biblethe bloodshed, the oppression and exploitation, the harsh punishments, the treatment of women and slaves, and more. Although he acknowledges all these troubling elementsstating at the outset that establishing the relevance of Old Testament ethics to life today is an uphill taskhis own concerns lie elsewhere: in trying to ascertain whether, in light of the Bibles obvious diversity and inconsistencies on numerous moral points, there is any coherence to the moral positions taken in the Hebrew Bible. To accomplish this goal, he focuses attention not so much on the laws, as is commonly done, as on the stories that fill so many pages of the Bible.