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A Reply to Hector Avalos’ “Why Flannagan Fails History”

June 28th, 2011 by Matt

It seems my recent Philosophia Christi review of  John W. Loftus’ The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails has hit something of a nerve. Professor Hector Avalos, who wrote “Yahweh is a Moral Monster” in The Christian Delusion, has written a response entitled “Why Dr. Flannagan Fails History, Dr. Hector Avalos Responds”.

Avalos raises several points which I cannot address in a single post. Here I will simply address his claim that I that I relied “on a very selective and uncritical reading of the sources”, misrepresented the views of Raymond Westbrook and utilised “careless scholarship”.

1. My Sources
In my review I stated,

“On p215, Avalos dismisses Copan’s contention that the lex talionis does not call “for bodily mutilation, but rather just (monetary) compensation” as “mere assertion”. However, only a page later, Avalos criticizes Copan’s comments about the manumission of slaves citing the authority of “Raymond Westbrook, one of the foremost biblical legal specialists”. In fact, Westbrook has defended Copan’s position on the lex talionis [“The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003) 74].”[1]

Here I state the position that Avalos attributes to Paul Copan, the position that that the lex talionis does not call “for bodily mutilation, but rather just (monetary) compensation”, has been defended by Raymond Westbrook in a particular book that I referenced. Avalos contended I have “misrepresented Westbrook”; he provides four arguments for this conclusion. None of them is sound.

A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law by Raymond WestbrookFirst Avalos stated that I offered “no actual quote to support this allegation so that we can verify whether he is even reading Westbrook correctly.” This is false, I did provide a way of verifying my claim. While, due to word count restrictions, I did not give a direct quote, I did provide a reference; I referred the reader to page 74 of Westbrook’s “The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003). This is clear from the quotation above, which, oddly, Avalos cited in his criticism.

Moreover, even if I did not provide a citation (which I patently did) Avalos’ conclusion that I misrepresented Westbrook would not follow from this. What would follow would be that he would have no way of checking that I had not misrepresented Westbrook; however, the fact one cannot check that something  is not the does not mean it is, in fact, the case. From my living room in New Zealand tonight I cannot check the whether Loftus has  not robbed a bank, so can I conclude he is a bank robber? Of course not.

It is logical howlers like this in Avalos’s work that has lead me to be so critical of it. If Avalos cannot check whether my citation was accurate then he cannot know I misrepresented it, which raises the question: why then has he claimed that I did?

2. Wrong Book
Avalos’ second argument was to ignore my citation and refer to a different book by Westbrook. He states:

“Westbrook has made himself quite clear in Everyday Law in Biblical Israel: An Introduction[Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009], pp. 78-79). Therein he discusses how later Rabbinic literature, and specifically Mekhiltah Neziqin 8 to Exodus 21:24, claimed that “An eye for an eye’ [means] money.”

Westbrook comments: ‘This interpretation seems strained to a modern reader. The introduction to the formula in Leviticus 24:19 is unequivocal: “If anyone maims a fellow, as he had done so shall it be done to him.'” [Emphasis Avalos']

There are several problems here.

First, this does not refute my claim. I said Westbrook defended a certain position in his article “The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law. Pointing out that Raymond Westbrook argued for a different view in a different book, does not show that my claim was false or a misrepresentation.

Second, the quote Avalos provided from the different book by Westbrook does not contradict my claim. By prefacing the quotation with “Westbrook has made himself quite clear”, “Therein he discusses how … and specifically…” and “Westbrook comments”, Avalos creates the impression that Westbrook claimed that the rabbinic position is “strained” and is “unequivocally” contradicted by the biblical text.  However, the careful reader will note that the citation does not actually say this. In the citation, Westbrook states that the modern reader will find the non-literal rabbinic reading strained and he provided a reason why the modern reader might draw this conclusion. That, by itself, does not show that Westbrook considers it strained. It is Avalos’ preface that creates this impression. To know whether Westbrook agrees with the modern reader, one needs to examine the context of the quote. Here is the citation in context:

“Their interpretation seems strained to a modern reader. The introduction to the formula in Leviticus 24:19 is unequivocal: “If anyone maims a fellow, as he had done so shall it be done to him.” Scholars have therefore tended to see the rabbinic opinion as a disguised reform: the revision of a barbaric ancient law for a more enlightened age. It fit in with a developmental view of history going back to the eighteenth century, which saw humanity progressing in stages from unbridled revenge to controlled revenge to court-ordered compensation. This view was reinforced by the discovery of the Laws of Hammurabi, which revealed the existence of an explicit talionic provision hundreds of years earlier than the Torah (196-97):

If a man destroys a man’s eye, they shall destroy his eye.

If he breaks a man’s bone, they shall break his bone.

The discovery of other and even older cuneiform codes, however, which require payment, not talio, has confused the picture. The old developmental view cannot be maintained, although various attempts have been made to modify it (Diamond 1957).”[2] [Emphasis mine]

When one reads the citation Avalos provided in context it is not at all clear Westbrook was claiming this reading is “strained” or that it is “unequivocally” mistaken. Westbrook states that the modern reader and some scholars have considered this reading strained. However, he thinks these people’s position has been “confused”  by more recent discoveries that mean the position it is based on “cannot be maintained”. So, contrary to the impression Avalos creates with his citation, Westbrook was not clearly stating that  the rabbinic reading is strained; he appears to be citing a view for the purpose of criticising it. Avalos should be more careful before wrongly accusing others of “very selective and uncritical reading of the sources”.

Westbrook continues:

“The rabbinical view may not be entirely unhistorical. The Roman Twelve Tables, roughly contemporary with the biblical codes, provides (I 13 [VIII 2]):

If he destroys a limb, there shall be talio, unless he compounds with him.

If ransom were a possible alternative to talionic revenge, then the approach of the Priestly source in Leviticus 24:19 is understandable. It is the same opposition to payment of ransom that P manifests in the case of homicide (Num. 35:31).

The three references in the Torah to talio all consist of a list of injuries and maimed body parts, with slight variations in detail. Curiously, in none of the contexts in which they occur do they quite seem to fit. In Exodus, the list follows a case involving the miscarriage of a fetus; in Leviticus, that of a blasphemer, in a sequence that begins with the punishment of homicide and compensation for killing a sheep. In Deuteronomy, it supposedly represents the punishment of a false accuser. The overall impression is of an ancient maxim, applied wherever “measure for measure” is to be the standard of justice, whether or not the case involves any of the physical injuries listed[3][Emphasis mine]

Here, in the book that Avalos chose to cite from, Westbrook offers some evidence for the position that I attributed to him. His stated conclusion is that the “overall impression” created by the evidence  is that the lex tallion is a “legal maxim”, a kind of proverb that asserts “measure for measure”. This is precisely what I said he had claimed in the book I referenced; it seems clear that this is Westbrook’s view.

Interestingly, after offering an out of context quote, which he set up (or perhaps carelessly worded) to give the impression that Westbrook considered the rabbinic view “strained“, Avalos admits this is actually not the case. He adds, “Westbrook does argue that instances of replacing lex talionis with monetary fines in later rabbinic literature may have had some historical precedent” – but that is what I said Westbrook position was. Apparently Avalos believes that stating Westbrook does argue for the position I said he did means I misrepresented Westbrook!?!

Avalos’ admission also undermines his use of this quote. If Westbrook had made his claim clear by stating that “this interpretation seems strained” and that it is “unequivocally” denied by the text then Westbrook would not have immediately argued that this interpretation “may have had historical precedent”.

3. Avalos Misrepresents his own Quotation
Avalos’ third response was to state that:

“In any case Westbrook is not arguing that the biblical laws of lex talionis NEVER were taken literally, which is the claim from Copan that I was addressing (with the exception of life for a life).”

This is another false claim. In “Yahweh is a Moral Monster” Avalos summarised Copan as follows:

“None of the examples illustrating “an eye for an eye” calls for bodily mutilation, but rather just (monetary) compensation.”[4]

Note that this is not the claim that lex talionis was never taken literally; it is the contention that the laws of the lex talionis did not call for bodily mutilation. So all Avalos has done here is misrepresent his own quotation of Copan. Nothing in this argument shows that I was engaging in a “very selective and uncritical reading of the sources.”

4. What Westbrook actually said
Interestingly, in the work I actually cited, Westbrook did defend the claim that none of the examples illustrating the “an eye for an eye” principle called for bodily mutilation. On page 74, Westbrook described how talionic legal formulae such as “an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth” are not uncommon in such codes; he describes them as “ironic punishments”.[5]

Elsewhere he highlights the suggestion that such laws “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts” and he contends that the method used in legal texts was “to set out principles by the use of often extreme examples”.[6] He goes on to note, “[s]ome law codes impose physical punishments and others payments for the same offenses, while some codes have a mixture of the two. There is not necessarily a contradiction.”[7] He explains that, “in highlighting one or the other alternative, the codes are making a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence”.[8] He also states:

“The basic approach (in my view, and in this I differ fundamentally from the evolutionary school) was that these wrongs gave rise to a dual right in the victim or his family, namely to take revenge on the culprit, or to make composition with the culprit and accept payment in lieu of revenge”.[9] [Emphasis original]

Note the phrase “in my view”. In the citation I provided, Westbrook clearly is speaking for himself; he is not, as in Avalos’ quote, mentioning the position of someone else whom he proceeds to disagree with.

Westbrook goes on to state, “[t]his right was a legal right, determined and regulated by the court”, he explains that the courts could “fix the level of composition payment” making “revenge a contingent right, which was only revived if the culprit failed to pay”.[10] So my claim that the position Avalos attributed to Copan’s was, in fact, defended by Raymond Westbrook in the text I actually cited was correct; it was also proved correct by the text Avalos cited.

Avalos asked what evidence there is for the view that the lex talionis was a legal maxim and was not necessarily a reference to literal mutilation. Some evidence was actually mentioned on the page Avalos cited from only a few sentences after the quotation he provided. Joe Sprinkle gives a good summary of the evidence for this position in his article “The Interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25 and Abortion” Westminister Theological Review in 1993.[11] Sprinkle offers several different lines of internal textual and external evidence that has been offered for this view; he cites several studies defending it including another study by Westbrook. Unfortunately, the library I have access to does not have these other studies but Sprinkle’s article does provide a summary of them. So Avalos’ claim that Copan’s position is based on “mere assertion” is false. One can disagree with the evidence if they like but to claim it does not exist is false.

5.  Invalid Inference
Avalos’ last argument was to say that when Westbrook defends a non-literal talion he “is citing as precedents some of the Near Eastern laws that Copan treats as inferior.” This argument is irrelevant. Even if Westbrook’s evidence is incompatible with some other claims Copan makes that does not mean my claim that Westbrook defended this view is false; neither does it mean my claim is a misrepresentation of Westbrook’s views nor  does it mean Copan’s view is based on mere assertion. In fact, if, as Avalos, states, Westbrook cites precedents to support the position I said he held, then he did in fact support that position, and he provided evidence for it. Far from establishing Avalos’ conclusion, this argument contradicts it.

Avalos seems to think that pointing out a different Christian writer said something on another subject that contradicts an argument Westbrook makes for a position I said he held shows that I was wrong to say he held it. Unfortunately this is not a valid inference of any sort.

Conclusion
It is worth recapping this. I claimed that in a particular article Raymond Westbrook defended a particular position. Avalos accused me of misrepresenting Westbrook in doing this. He defended this conclusion by:

(i) Claiming falsely that I provided no way of verifying my claim; apparently insinuating that because he could not verify it (which he could have) I misrepresented it.

(ii) Taking a quote from a different book to the one I mentioned.

(iii) Quoting from this book out of context so it sounds like Westbrook rejects the position I claimed he held.

(iv) Following his out of context quote with an admission that Westbrook does think there is evidence for the position I attributed to him.

(v) Misrepresenting his own quotation of Paul Copan.

(vi) Claiming that Westbrook did argue for the position but that this contradicts Copan’s comments on a different subject I was not addressing.

How (i)-(vi) provide any basis for Avalos’ claim that I misrepresented Westbrook is beyond me. I think these fallacious tactics speak for themselves.


[1] John W. Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Reviewed by Matthew Flannagan, Philosphia ChristiVol. 13, no. 1 – Summer 2011, 232.
[2] Everyday Law in Biblical Israel: An Introduction (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009), 78.
[3] Ibid 78-79.
[4] Hector Avalos “Yahweh is a Moral Monster” in John W. Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2010) 215.
[5] Raymond Westbrook, “The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law,” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, Vol. 1, ed. Raymond Westbrook (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003), 74.
[6] Ibid 71
[7] Ibid 78.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Joe M. Sprinkle, “The Interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25 Lex Talionis and Abortion,” Westminister Theological Journal 55.2 (1993) 237-243.

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49 responses so far ↓

  • Keep up the good work Mat!

  • Dr. Avalos is certainly to be respected for his credentials and contribution to biblical studies — but he more often than not simply shows an incredible amount of distaste for those who hold the opposing (and perhaps the majority) view.

    A very well written post, Dr. Flanagan.

  • Indeed Cory C. He also seems to have an unfortunate habit of saying one thing and then later (after being called out on that claim) claiming he did not mean that, he meant something else.

    Who threw the label “careless scholarship” around again?

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/06/why-dr-flannagan-fails-history.html#comment-235970549

    EDIT: To spare everyone the trip over to DC- this traffic redirecting habit of yours John is extremely prolific – Hector Avalos has responded to this post by Matt in a comment on DC (perhaps he cannot work our comment boxes?); I have reproduced his response in full below as this was what John was trying to draw our readers’ attention to with his link above. Avalos writes:

    Dr. Flannagan’s response to me has now has shifted to pure sophistry to avoid the brutal fact that he might not find what he alleged was present in “A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003) 74]. See:http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/0

    First, my charge was: “…Flannagan offers no actual quote to support this allegation so that we can verify whether he is even reading Westbrook correctly.” But he spends his time defending a different charge, and so states: “I did provide a way of verifying my claim.”

    But I did not say that he did not provide a CITATION or ANY WAY to verify his claim. I simply said that he did not provide an ACTUAL QUOTE—an actual string of words from Westbrook that we can judge. Since, I reproduced Flannagan’s own quote where he provides a page number for Westbrook’s book, then clearly I was not saying that he did not provide a citation. He should know the difference between a citation and a quote.

    Given that he has good legal counsel, I also assumed that he would follow the practice of never asking a question to which one doesn’t already know the answer. That is why I asked him these questions: Where does Westbrook say that the biblical laws of lex talionis in the Pentateuch were never taken literally? If so, what was his evidence?

    I had already read p. 74 of A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, where Flannagan insists that Westbrook defends a position shared with Copan. The fact is my edition of that book has no such defense of anything like what Copan is proposing. That is why I wanted an actual quote.

    Perhaps Dr. Flannagan is simply not citing the correct page, or maybe he has a different edition. If he had looked on p. 69, he might find something quite different regarding how literally punitive measures were taken in the ancient Near East, including in the Bible: “There is an instinctive inclination to deny that they were ever applied in practice, but in a world where criminal penalties could be exceedingly harsh by modern standards, there was nothing fantastic about the penalties themselves.”

    So, Dr. Flannagan, give us AN ACTUAL QUOTE that would say anything close to what you allege for “A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003) 74]

  • A Reply to Hector Avalos…

    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/06/a-reply-to-hector-avalos-why-flannagan-fails-at-history.html
    Labels: ethics, Hays, Hector Avalos, Metaethics, Village Atheist….

  • But I did not say that he did not provide a CITATION or ANY WAY to verify his claim. I simply said that he did not provide an ACTUAL QUOTE

    This is simply playing games. A “citation” and an “actual quote” are the same thing. Why the word games? A paraphrase and a citation are different.

    Stuff like this maddens me to no end. If you’re wrong, Dr. Avalos, why not simply admit it?

  • After Avalos tried to publicly humiluate Rubel Shelly by asking him to identify pictures of Biblical manuscripts (p66 and p75)…I stopped taking him seriously.

  • One can also read p 69, and see Westbrook’s claims in context including the footnotes he provides, and Westbrook’s comments are not as straightforward as Avalos suggests.

    His comments for example acknowledge there is debate about this being taken literally, Avalos said the claim they were not was “mere assertion” he also in the footnote qualifies his claim by providing some ANE laws which could not be taken literally and his statement that they were not.

  • Hector Avalos wrote: “But I did not say that he did not provide a CITATION or ANY WAY to verify his claim. I simply said that he did not provide an ACTUAL QUOTE”

    Even a lawyer would not try splitting this hair!

    Why does Avalos want a quote? Because he wants to check the claim against the source so that he can dispute Matt’s claims.

    He said so himself:

    “[Matt offered] no actual quote to support this allegation so that we can verify whether he is even reading Westbrook correctly.” [Emphasis added]

    The context of the request for the quote clearly shows the spirit, intent and purpose of the request.

    Further, Avalos is an academic, he studied at Harvard for goodness sakes! He knows full well, just like everyone else who has ever written anything for academia, that a citation is sufficient referencing for source verification.

    Avalos also knows full well that book reviews in peer reviewed journals have short word limits. And that few people trying to write a thorough review of a collected work – one which contains multiple articles by multiple authors – are going to waste that word limit with quotes when it is fully acceptable to simply provide a citation.

    By claiming that Matt’s failure to supply a quote meant that Matt’s claims about Westbrook cannot be verified he is playing to those reading him who are ignorant about professional scholarship. His expectation that those of us who do will fall this beggars belief.

    I take back my innuendo above that Avalos was the one engaging in careless scholarship; this response is simply dishonest – and he ignored Matt’s highlighting of his attempts to establish his position using an argument from silence.

  • When To Appeal To Authority…

    M & M’s can be dangerous. It depends on which ones you choose. … To me, a lay atheist, when I go to M & M (and yes I do go to Christian blogs. … I’am overwhelmed by….err, how frackin’ smart they are compared to me. Honestly, if there were supe…

  • hrmm, Avalos draws a distinction between “offering a quote” and “providing a citation” and yet accuses Matt of “sophistry”. For some reason I can’t get the words “pot”, “kettle” and “black” out of my head!

  • I almost feel sorry for Avalos the way his logic (if you could call it that) has been trounced.

  • Asking for a quote does not seem an unreasonable request. Can you copy out the section of the book you were referring to Matt for those of us who do not have a copy? Cheers.

  • Of course it is not an unreasonable request to ask for a quote Max but what happened here was a statement was made that Matt had failed to provide any way to verify his claims – the implication being that Matt may have misrepresented the text and there was no way to tell or at least did something dodgy by not providing a quote.

    Now that was dishonest because with a citation having been provided, there is a way to tell and it is perfectly acceptable in academia to simply provide a citation as anyone who has ever read a style guide knows so to suggest otherwise was off. There certainly was no justification to then use this dishonesty to mount an argument from silence.

    As for the quotes, Matt has put them into the blog post above so scroll up. BTW I typed them up for him after finding them in under a minute in Google Books with simply the citation and an internet connection as my tools.

  • Max, the main quotes are in the text abobe, the book is in Otago’s law library so you should be able to access it, you can also see the section chapter of my PhD thesis where I discuss Exodus 21:22-25 and review the literature, that will be in Otago Theology department.

    You can also look at this article here

    http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/02-exodus/Text/Articles/Sprinkle-Ex21Abortion-WTJ.pdf

    Which provides a review of the literature as well.

  • Interestingly almost every article I read on the lex talonis passage in Exodus referenced an article

    Lex Talionis and Exodus 21:22-25,” RB 93 [1986] 52-69 by Raymond Westbrook, and attributed to him the view that the lex talionis passage in that particular passage refered to a situation where no perperator of the crime was unknown and so commanded the community of Isreal to provide compensation out of the public purse for the injury. The would seem to be a reading which ruled out a literal talion. Now I have not been able to trace the original so I have left it an open possibility that everyone I read is mistaken and Avalos is correct. But I severely doubt it.

  • Sure.. but to save me a trip can you just put the bit from pg 74 on here?

  • Max the relevant sections are in the article above. Matt quotes them.

  • Max, I don’t have the book to hand either, I would probably have to travel further to get it, so I’ll post up the relevant section from my PhD thesis. As I said I did a large chapter on Exodus 21:22-25 in my thesis and so when Avalos suggested Copan’s position was mere assertion I was quite surprised. The discussion is on p 71-78

    Westbrook describes how talionic legal formulae such as “an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth” are not uncommon in such codes; he describes these as “ironic punishments”. In Old Babylonian law the hand that assaults is severed, a man who kisses another’s wife has his lips cut off, a person who steals bees is to be stung by bees. A person who had thrown his victim into an oven was to be thrown into an oven. A man who raped another’s wife would be sentenced to having his own wife or daughter raped. A negligent builder whose house collapsed and killed another’s son would be sentenced to having his own son killed. In fact, the Code of Hammurabi states that if a man knocks out the eye of one of the upper classes, his eye must be knocked out.

    Westbrook notes the suggestion that such laws “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts”. He contends that method used in legal texts was “to set out principles by the use of often extreme examples”. He goes on to note “[s]ome law codes impose physical punishments and others payments for the same offenses, while some codes have a mixture of the two. There is not necessarily a contradiction.” He explains that “in highlighting one or the other alternative, the codes are making a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence”. Westbrook argues that serious wrongs “gave rise to a dual right in the victim or his family, namely to take revenge on the culprit, or to make composition with the culprit and accept payment in lieu of revenge”. He goes on to note, “[t]his right was a legal right, determined and regulated by the court”. The courts could “fix the level of composition payment” making “revenge a contingent right, which was only revived if the culprit failed to pay”.

    When talionic legal formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they merely express that the punishment be proportional to the crime. This could involve punishment in kind (which would be proportional to the crime) but in most cases it would probably involve monetary compensation.

  • Ironic punishments area also common in the Greco-Roman world… a neat example is in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (that as an Augustinian you probably know as Asinus Aureus) where a man strays from his lover (who is a witch) and she turns him into a beaver…. because as everyone knows when a beaver is being hunted and the dogs get close it will gnaw off its own testicles and leave them behind as bait for the dogs and thus escape. As it was the testicles which caused the man to stray this was a fitting punishment…. not really directly relevant I know but thought you might find it fun.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/06/why-dr-flannagan-fails-history.html#comment-236671632

    Dr. Flannagan’s latest excuses do not change the fact that he cannot provide any evidence that “Westbrook has defended Copan’s position on the lex talionis [“The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003) 74.” I have checked his citation, and find nothing of the sort there.

    That is why it is perfectly reasonable to find another place where Westbrook talks about the issue of lex talionis and monetary compensation. He does so quite explicitly in Everyday Law in Biblical Israel: An Introduction[Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009], pp. 78-79.

    On those pages, Westbrook is returning to a theme for which he is well known. The theme is whether ancient Near Eastern legal systems exhibit an evolutionary view of law or a static one. Westbrook’s so-called “static” views are discussed at length in a book I reviewed in Hebrew Studies 37 (1996) 153-156: Bernard M. Levinson, ed., Theory and Method in Biblical and Cuneiform Law: Revision, Interpolation, and Development (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994).

    Flannagan seems not at all aware of Westbrook’s view when he discusses why, in Westbrook’s Everyday Law in Biblical Israel, the monetary penalties in rabbinic literature cannot be seen as a part of some unilineal ADVANCE–i.e., lex talionis > monetary compensation.

    Westbrook believes such an older evolutionary view has been refuted by the appearance of the alternations of lex talionis and monetary compensation in older codes (e..g, Hittite code) and so the rabbinic monetary compensations are not really an advance. In other words, Westbrook is actually agreeing with me and against Copan’s view that the Bible represented an advance on lex talionis. More importantly, Westbrook NEVER says on those pages that lex talionis WAS NEVER taken literally in the Bible.

    Dr. Flannagan further confuses the picture by claiming that this sentence in Everyday Law in Biblical Israel DOES NOT represent Westbrook’s view: “The introduction to the formula in Leviticus 24:19 is unequivocal: ‘If anyone maims a fellow, as he had done so shall it be done to him.’”

    How Flannagan came to this conclusion is beyond me because Westbrook has said something similar in his other works. But, if Flannagan is still unsure, perhaps he might want to read Westbrook’s comments on this very same biblical passage in Raymond Westbrook’s Studies in Biblical and Cuneiform Law (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1988), 80-81:

    “In contrast, Lev. 24, 17-21, in presenting a similar list of injuries (and death) unambiguously demands retaliation without the possibility of ransom:

    ‘If a man kills any human being, he shall be put to death. One who kills a beast shall make
    restitution for it: life for life. If anyone maims his fellow, as he has done so shall it be done to him; fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him. He who kills a beast shall make restitution for it; but he who kills a human being shall be put to death.’

    We have explained this passage as an interpretation of the Exodus formula to show that ‘pay a life,’ meaning a fixed sum refers only to animal life; where human beings are concerned, paying a life or a limb, etc., MEANS LITERAL RETALIATION.” [My capitalized emphasis]

  • I have now posted a more detailed response here including quotes from Dr. Westbrook’s article in Revue biblique.

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/06/flannagan-versus-westbrook.html#more

  • Flannagan Versus Westbrook: Understanding the Problem…

    The recent issue raised by Dr. Flannagan’s use of Raymond Westbrook’s work illustrates how the lack of proper reading and training in biblical studies can affect the claims made by some of the seemingly better educated Christian apologists. Let me brie…

  • Hector that post pretty badly misrepresents what I said.

    You’ll note that on MandM I did not say Westbrook claimed the lex talionis was never applied literally and I said in several places that Westbrook acknowledged did not hold that position.

    I in fact drew a distinction between the claim that that lex talionis was never taken literally; and the contention that the laws of the lex talionis did not call for bodily mutilation. So your refuting the contention that Westbrook held the former claim in here and attributing that to me is a distortion, people who read my article can see this.

    A similar distortion occurs in your quote from me above.

    Lex Talionis and Exodus 21:22-25,” RB 93
    [1986] 52-69 by Raymond Westbrook, and attributed to him the view that the lex talionis passage in that particular passage refered to a situation where no perpetrator of the crime was unknown and so commanded the community of Isreal to provide compensation out of the public purse for the injury. The would seem to be a reading which ruled out a literal talion.

    You’ll see here I do not say Westbrook claims it was never carried out literally. I claim he interprets Exodus 21:22-23 in a way that rules out a literal talion. pointing out he said something about one verse does not mean he said it about all.

    This seems to be a case of you citing something and then saying it says something else hoping your readers will take your word for it.

    Moreover in the comment just before this I stated

    Westbrook notes the suggestion that such laws “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts”. He contends that method used in legal texts was “to set out principles by the use of often extreme examples”. He goes on to note “[s]ome law codes impose physical punishments and others payments for the same offenses, while some codes have a mixture of the two. There is not necessarily a contradiction.” He explains that “in highlighting one or the other alternative, the codes are making a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence”. Westbrook argues that serious wrongs “gave rise to a dual right in the victim or his family, namely to take revenge on the culprit, or to make composition with the culprit and accept payment in lieu of revenge”. He goes on to note, “[t]his right was a legal right, determined and regulated by the court”. The courts could “fix the level of composition payment” making “revenge a contingent right, which was only revived if the culprit failed to pay”.

    When talionic legal formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they merely express that the punishment be proportional to the crime. This could involve punishment in kind (which would be proportional to the crime) but in most cases it would probably involve monetary compensation.

    This quite clearly denies that I said Westbrook claimed it was never taken literally.

    Now of course I am aware the readers of debunking Christianity may not have read my comments so will tend to believe that when you attribute to me a view I did not state and refute it I have been refuted. You and I know however that’s less than honest.

    Perhaps, you could also talk to your readers about the quote from Paul Copan where you pretty clearly distort him in your post.

  • Dear Matt,
    At this point, I think scholarly integrity should oblige you to simply admit that your are wrong. The editors of your journal should be contacted to issue a correction before someone else has to call their attention to your claim. As of this date, you still have not provided the quote requested.

    Giving endless excuses only to have them refuted will simply erase any credibility you have. You have clearly suggested that Westbrook DID NOT hold to a literal interpretation of Lev. 24:17-22 because this is how you responded when I quoted his comment about this passage:

    “Westbrook states that the modern reader and some scholars have considered this reading strained. However, he thinks these people’s position has been “confused” by more recent discoveries that mean the position it is based on “cannot be maintained.”

    You are not reading the antecedent of “these people’s position,” correctly. That remark about “the modern reader” and “some scholars” refers to those that have an simplistic evolutionary view of “lex talionis > monetary payments.”

    Note Westbrook’s phraseology: “Scholars have therefore tended to see the rabbinic opinion as a disguised reform.”

    The scholars who see the Rabbinic monetary payments as a “reform” are the ones that are incorrect in Westbrook’s opinion, and NOT the ones that hold that Lev. 24:17-22 was meant literally. That should be clear if you had read enough of Westbrook’s works, which clearly you have not done.

    Why not just admit you are wrong instead of making it worse for yourself?

  • Corrected sentence: At this point, I think scholarly integrity should oblige you to simply admit that you are wrong.

  • If you wish to become more informed on Near Eastern legal materials, you might also read these items I have written:

    “Legal and Social Institutions of Canaan and Ancient Israel,” Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, J. Sasson, ed. (4 volumes; New York: Scribner’s, 1995) Vol 1: 615-631.

    “Exodus 22:9 and Akkadian Legal Formulae,” Journal of Biblical Literature 109 (1, 1990) 116-17.

    Review of Bernard M. Levinson, ed. Theory and Method in Biblical and Cuneiform Law: Revision, Interpolation, and Development (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994) in Hebrew Studies 37 (1996) 153-156.

  • Hector Avalos wrote: “As of this date, you still have not provided the quote requested.”

    The quote is above Hector, in the text of the post you are commenting on (as I pointed out to Max a few comments up).

  • Hector, sorry but I disagree with you. You state
    Giving endless excuses only to have them refuted will simply erase any credibility you have. You have clearly suggested that Westbrook DID NOT hold to a literal interpretation of Lev. 24:17-22 because this is how you responded when I quoted his comment about this passage:
    “Westbrook states that the modern reader and some scholars have considered this reading strained. However, he thinks these people’s position has been “confused” by more recent discoveries that mean the position it is based on “cannot be maintained.”

    In that quote I do not say that Westbrook did not hold to a literal reading of Leviticus 24:17-22. I claim that Westbrook notes that some modern readers consider the rabbinic reading strained ( that what the phrase “this reading” refers to in context) and he thinks these people (the modern readers) position has been confused by more recent discoveries.
    That this is what is mean’t by “this reading” is clear from the original context. In the paragraph I wrote before this one I stated
    In the citation, Westbrook states that the modern reader will find the non-literal rabbinic reading strained and he provided a reason why the modern reader might draw this conclusion. That, by itself, does not show that Westbrook considers it strained.
    Here it’s clear that the reading I referred to was the rabbinic one. Not any particular reading of Leviticus.
    You in fact appear to agree with what I actually say on this issue . You state
    Note Westbrook’s phraseology: “Scholars have therefore tended to see the rabbinic opinion as a disguised reform.”
    The scholars who see the Rabbinic monetary payments as a “reform” are the ones that are incorrect in Westbrook’s opinion

    That’s exactly what I said in the quote. I said he considers those who consider the rabbinic reading strained incorrect.
    But what’s a little odd here is that, in your original critique of me on Debunking Christianity you denied that this was Westbrook’s position. You said
    “Westbrook has made himself quite clear in Everyday Law in Biblical Israel: An Introduction[Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009], pp. 78-79). Therein he discusses how later Rabbinic literature, and specifically Mekhiltah Neziqin 8 to Exodus 21:24, claimed that “An eye for an eye’ [means] money.”
    Westbrook comments: ‘This interpretation seems strained to a modern reader. The introduction to the formula in Leviticus 24:19 is unequivocal: “If anyone maims a fellow, as he had done so shall it be done to him.’” [Emphasis Avalos']

    Here you refer to the rabbinic reading and contend Westbrook considers this interpretation strained. It was precisely doing this that I objected to.

    So I am a little puzzled you know contend now that Westbrook’s position is that the rabbinic reading is not strained, and anyone who had read him, like you have would know this? Did you know this before you wrote the above quote on Debunking Christianity?

    If so why did you write a post which suggested the opposite?

    I know of course that you have written a post claiming I made comments about Westbrook’s reading of Leviticus, the problem is I did not do this, and did not in the quotations you provide in this post.

  • [...] this with my comment to Max explaining my [...]

  • So let me understand you. You believe that Westbrook holds to a literal reading of lex talionis in Leviticus 24:17-22.

    On the other hand, you understand that Copan does not hold a literal reading of that passage.

    So, now, explain to us how Westbrook supports Copan’s view?

    And let me ask you this:

    Does Westbrook agree with Copan on whether Leviticus 24:17-22 should be taken literally?

    Yes or No?

  • My understanding is that in The history of Ancient Near Eastern Law Westbrook thinks the following:

    “[s]ome law codes impose physical punishments and others payments for the same offenses, while some codes have a mixture of the two. There is not necessarily a contradiction… in highlighting one or the other alternative, the codes are making a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence.”

    “The basic approach (in my view, and in this I differ fundamentally from the evolutionary school) was that these wrongs gave rise to a dual right in the victim or his family, namely to take revenge on the culprit, or to make composition with the culprit and accept payment in lieu of revenge.”

    He states “[t]his right was a legal right, determined and regulated by the court”, he explains that the courts could “fix the level of composition payment” making “revenge a contingent right, which was only revived if the culprit failed to pay”.

    I think this position entails that if a law, such as Leviticus, imposes physical punishments and others laws, like Exodus, impose payment for the same offence of assault, then the law does not, in fact, require or call for mutilation for assault. Of course, sometimes people might choose to apply the law that way, but the law does not actually require this. These laws function more to make “a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence”, and to spell out the requirement that the punishment be proportional to the crime.

    In “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster” Copan states that “None of the examples illustrating ‘an eye for an eye’ calls for bodily mutilation, but rather just (monetary) compensation.” So all he states in that work is that none of the laws called for it and this seems to be an implication of what Westbrook says in The History of Ancient Near Eastern Law.

    But I think you have moved a bit from where we began. Your intial statement was that Copan’s position was mere assertion and all of the lex talionis passages in the Peneteauch clearly say otherwise; that is, they all call for literal retaliation in kind, as does the Sermon on the Mount. I think this is mistaken.

  • Re: So all he [Copan] states in that work is that none of the laws called for it and this seems to be an implication of what Westbrook says in The History of Ancient Near Eastern Law.

    But that is not what Westbrook states. Westbrook has repeatedly said that the law in Leviticus 24:17-22 DOES CALL for physical retaliation, not monetary.

    So again, does Westbrook support Copan’s claim that Leviticus 24:-17-22 was meant non-literally?

    Yes or no?

    Please provide a Yes or No, and then elaborate if you believe it necessary.

  • Hector by name and hector by nature.

  • Underhanded Biblical Interpretation: Deuteronomy 25:11-12 in Context…

    How Dr. Copan and Dr. Flannagan Explain Away Biblical Violence. There has been a shift in conservative biblical apologetics recently that attempts to de-literalize the Bible’s objectionable passages. In the past, conservative biblical apologetics was n…

  • M and M seem to boast about becoming Christians as adults.

    When did taking intellectual integrity and flushing it down the toilet become something to be proud of?

    Perhaps they should write a post on how it’s possible to actually wall off part of your mind from rational thought , and then insert into that empty space a belief in an ancient concoction of Stone Age lunacy so astonishingly absurd and asinine that it makes belief in Scientology actually seem sane!

  • Truthoverfaith, given your an adult and just fired off a string of obvious fallacies of no rational merit. You tell me?

  • TOF,
    I don’t mean to seem rude, but even your short string of comments and name make it seem that you have put little thought and effort into life’s most important questions. You could be putting on a show and really be a well-reasoned individual, but the comments don’t make it seem that way.

    For instance, you talk about “Cro Magnon lunacy” and “Stone Age” superstitions. Do you know when those time periods are? The Stone Age ended about 10,000 years ago. What “lunacy” from that period (or the previous 2.5 million years prior) have you found listed on this site? “Cro Magnon” homo sapiens lived about 35,000 years ago. What “lunacy” from this period has Matt or anyone else at this site put forward?

    You minimize the fact that Madeleine praises Jesus despite her injury, and mock her faith. You act as though you are superior by evangelizing your “far better way” of living. In reality, I think your aggressive comments speak more to your personal needs for attention and belittling others than anything else.

    Have you honestly considered that there might be a God? It seems so obvious to many of us. Many of us who have put years and years into thinking through the toughest questions. Do you have good reasons for rejecting Him? Have you honestly considered the claims of Jesus? Do you have something more than the faith statement that “dead people stay dead?” I’d much rather discuss this over a cup of coffee than via a comment board, but maybe you should find a local pastor (or priest) and see how well your arguments stand against theirs? See if the basis of your faith can cut it in real-life, face to face conversations with people who have most likely studied the topics more in-depth than you. Real conversations seem to minimize the mocking tone and insults, ya know?

  • G. Kyle Essary

    Let me spell some things out for you.

    The Stone Age and Cro Magnon references are not meant to indicate literal time periods. It was simply a reference to accurately describe the astonishing absurdity of Christian belief.

    And as far as mocking faith, Madeleine and Matt’s comments frequently reek of mocking and arrogance. And besides, I like what Thomas Jefferson said on this matter.—“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity.”

    The above quote from Jefferson can accurately be used against the entirety of Christian doctrine.

    And yes, I’ve seriously considered the question of God’s existence. Thanks for asking.

    And as far as the story of Jesus- -Some invisible deity watching this planet spin for 4 1/2 billion years and then deciding to personally trot around the ancient Middle East for the purpose allowing his own creation to hang him to a tree and savagely beat himself to death in the midst of a superstitious, mostly uneducated, pre scientific bunch of peasants for the purpose of some kind of vile, sickening blood sacrifice to “atone” for the wrongs of his own creation?

    Please try to forgive me for not giving my heart and mind to this type of stupefying Neanderthal lunacy.
    And lunacy truly is an accurate description of Christian dogma and doctrine.

    And G. K. , have you ever actually considered that you probably would look at the other numerous cultures in antiquity who practiced the superstitious nonsense of animal and human sacrifice , and probably condemn them as ignorant savages who didn’t know any better than to engage in such primitive and immoral behavior. Yet when it comes to your own religion, founded on the same superstitious garbage, suddenly it’s magical and true!! Your ancient, barbaric, revolting human sacrifice really was the one that counted!!
    Have you ever considered that, G.K.?

    And Matt, speaking of “obvious fallacies with no rational merit”,
    that’s almost as good a description as Christianity as “Stone Age Bullshit”.
    Almost.

  • TOF,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I live in one of the most religious and ethnically diverse regions of the world. I’ve spent my years in education studying the Ancient Near East, and so I’m very much aware of the religious cultures of the ancient world.

    When presented with competing religious claims (or any other claims for that matter), I try to ask myself why they believe those things to be true. Is there any reason for their belief, or any truth that has been distorted in it? As a Christian, I believe all truth to be grounded in the Truth, and thus have no fear of asking the “why” questions in regards to my own beliefs and the beliefs of others. So when faced with a perspective contrary to your own, you can either ridicule them or search for any redeemable truth that may be in their perspective. I’ll take the latter any day of the week, and would hope others give me the same decency.

  • Avalos’ last argument was to say that when Westbrook defends a non-literal talion he “is citing as precedents some of the Near Eastern laws that Copan treats as inferior.” This argument is irrelevant. Even if Westbrook’s evidence is incompatible with some other claims Copan makes that does not mean my claim that Westbrook defended this view is false; neither does it mean my claim is a misrepresentation of Westbrook’s views nor does it mean Copan’s view is based on mere assertion. In fact, if, as Avalos, states, Westbrook cites precedents to support the position I said he held, then he did in fact support that position, and he provided evidence for it. Far from establishing Avalos’ conclusion, this argument contradicts it.

  • G. Kyle,

    If religious belief was completely harmless, and inspired only good in the world, then perhaps there would be less need for ridiculing its beliefs.

    I wish I had been exposed to biblical criticism of any type, even ridicule, when I was younger. Because, although my religious upbringing was not harsh by any means, there are many years of my life that were devoted to being indoctrinated into absolute worthless nonsense. Including being in an environment where where I was instructed that women had no positions of authority in the church or home, gays were disparaged, other’s religious beliefs were derided as inferior and the scientific fact of evolution was mocked. And of course the nonsense of the rapture and hell.

    So whatever it takes to make another point of view available, I’m going to do it.

  • My six year old Autistic Son has learned how to copy/paste.

    The evidence for this is the post above in my name copying this article.

    Little Yachov did that one.

  • TOF,
    It’s great that you want to make another view available. That’s something everyone on here agrees should be done. But, the mocking only tilts at straw men. In our pluralistic (and increasingly religious) world, we need a method of discussing each other’s beliefs, but doing so in a manner of seeking to understand each other.

    I’m sure that your parents had reasons for bringing you up in that way, and I’m sorry that the methods they used have caused you to respond so negatively. But that doesn’t mean that you have understood the Christian argument, or that your rejection of their worldview now makes you superior to them. It’s somewhat ironic that you criticize the way they brought you up because it promoted looking down on women and gays, yet you espouse a method of interaction with others that does the very thing you claim to have rejected.

  • Only Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan Can Set the Record Straight…

    the case is so bad that apologists must be lying for ulterior motives, that they are liars for Jesus. Here is a case in point for two apologists, Paul Copan, President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and Matthew Flannagan. I’m not accusing t…

  • [...] Matthew Flannagan responded to Avalos’s charge (“A Reply to Hector Avalos’s ‘Why Flannagan Fails History’”) that Flannagan had egregiously misrepresented Westbrook on the above passage.  Flannagan [...]

  • I think Avalos’ knows that he is wrong but find it hard to admit.