Inspiring Self-Criticism

I know lots of progressives have their issues with the Old Testament, the genocidal passages in books like Joshua in particular. I do worry about this strain of progressive doubt. There's a shimmer of antisemitism around these progressive objections, our standing in moral judgment of the sacred text of the Jews.

For my part, I find the Old Testament to be one of the most miraculous moral documents in the history of the world.

This assessment of mine has to do with the prophets, though not in the way you might think. Just about everyone admires the moral vision of the minor prophets in their calls for social justice. And I do admire that, but what I admire most is how the prophets made it into the Bible in the first place.

Step back for a moment and ask yourself what the prophets were doing. The prophets were indicting Israel, often in searing language. Few of us would be willing to listen to or tolerate that degree of criticism. But what did Israel do? The craziest possible thing. Israel enshrined that indictment, called it the Word of God. Put it in the Bible.

I find that absolutely astounding. Truly, words fail me here. How do you take the worst things that could be said about you and make that the inspired Word of God? If I wrote a book about all of your sins and failings, would you able accept that writing as the sacred, inspired Word of God? I highly doubt it.

The capacity for moral self-criticism on display in the Old Testament is mind boggling. And it's an example for all of us. You want to wag a moral finger at the Old Testament? Fine. But show me a willingness to shake your finger at yourself on par with what you see in the prophets. I highly doubt you'd be able to pull that off.

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