Review of Chapter 5 of The End of Christianity

Chapter 5 of The End of Christianity is written by Dr. Jaco Gericke. The chapter begins by arguing that, in the Old Testament, Yahweh is depicted as one god among many gods. He contrasts the god of the philosophers, a god not belonging to a genus, with the Yahweh of the Bible, who does belong to a genus. This section is somewhat of a re-hash of Hector Avalos’ argument in the previous chapter. The article I cited by Michael S. Heiser is just as relevant here as it was there. But let us note that Yahweh is described in a way nearly identical (if not identical) to the god of the philosophers: “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14 NET). As Nahum Sarna notes, this either expresses the quality of absolute being or it means he causes to be (Exodus 18). If it means Yahweh is absolute being then this is nearly identical to the god of the philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas (who is mentioned by Gericke), who contend that God is pure actuality. If it means Yahweh causes things to be then this is similar to Yahweh being the First Cause of the god of the philosophers. There is no conflict between the God of special revelation and the God of natural revelation.

Moving on, Gericke tries to argue that the God of the Old Testament has a physical body. He then asserts that Christians downplay these passages because they realize the absurdity of a physical god. This is wrong on both levels. Gericke cites Exodus 33:20, 23 to suggest that God has a literal face and a literal backside. However, v. 19 notes that God will show Moses his “goodness” which is not a physical characteristic. The passage makes more sense if the language is seen as an analogy. Moreover, even if you want to hold that God took on human form in Exodus 33, God took on other forms throughout Exodus, such as a burning bush (ch. 3), a pillar of smoke, or a pillar of fire (13:21-22). In order to make sense of the Old Testament as a whole we cannot assume that Yahweh is a giant human being of some kind.

Another assertion by Gericke is that God is depicted as limited. One such alleged example is Genesis 3:8-11, where God asks Adam and Eve where they are and what they have done. This is unconvincing because the fact that God spoke to the man implies he knew where he was. The man appears to have understood the question as an invitation to come out of hiding. Also, note that in 4:9-10 God asks Cain about the whereabouts of his murdered brother Abel. Cain does not tell God where Abel is, but God nonetheless knows about the murder. Christians do not take anthropomorphisms too literally because it does not make sense of the Bible as a whole, it has nothing to do with the supposed absurdity of a physical or limited deity.

Then Gericke makes a most peculiar argument. He notes that it would be strange for God to speak the Hebrew language at creation (e.g., “Let there be light”). Hebrew is a language that developed in a specific human culture at a specific point in time. Why would God speak Hebrew at creation when there was no one to listen and when the Hebrew language had not been developed yet? The underlying assumption appears to be that the Bible is relaying the verbatim words of God in the very language He spoke. There is no reason to accept this assumption. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (there are a few parts in Aramaic) despite the fact that it describes events in places such as Egypt and Babylon where presumably Hebrew was not regularly spoken. The biblical authors do no appear interested in recounting the exact words (as opposed to the basic message) of every figure.

The sections on Yahweh’s mind and world appear to be similar to chapter 5 and 6 of The Christian Delusion. So as not to repeat myself, I will pass over this section.

The chapter ends with comments towards Christian philosophers. As noted at the start of this review, I don’t think the god of the philosophers is as incompatible with Yahweh as Gericke thinks. The author does not address any specific philosophical arguments for God’s existence but rather thinks it’s self-evident that a knowledge of ancient Israelite religion leads to the conclusion that Yahweh does not exist. Gericke’s argument is only successful to the extent that you take his strict literalism as the correct interpretation of the Bible. He will accuse others of “re-interpreting” the Bible but it is not evident that less literalism is truly a re-interpretation.

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