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Seriously Dangerous Religion

What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters

Iain Provan

Publication Year: 2014

The Old Testament is often maligned as an outmoded and even dangerous text. Best-selling authors like Richard Dawkins, Karen Armstrong, and Derrick Jensen are prime examples of those who find the Old Testament to be problematic to modern sensibilities. Iain Provan counters that such easy and popular readings misunderstand the Old Testament. He opposes modern misconceptions of the Old Testament by addressing ten fundamental questions that the biblical text should—and according to Provan does—answer: questions such as “Who is God?” and “Why do evil and suffering mark the world?” By focusing on Genesis and drawing on other Old Testament and extra-biblical sources, Seriously Dangerous Religion constructs a more plausible reading. As it turns out, Provan argues, the Old Testament is far more dangerous than modern critics even suppose. Its dangers are the bold claims it makes upon its readers. 

Published by: Baylor University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book—and another closely related one, Convenient Myths: The Axial Age, Dark Green Religion, and the World That Never Was (Baylor University Press, 2013)—has been a long time in the making, and I have many people and institutions to thank for help and support along...

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1. Of Mice, and Men, and Hobbits: Stories, Art, and Life

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pp. 1-20

This is a book about seriously dangerous religion. But for reasons that will become clear in a moment, it begins with a comparison of two not so seriously dangerous novels. The first is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.3 In this novel, Douglas Adams imagines the world as a huge, complex computer. The...

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2. The Up Quark, the Down Quark, and Other Cool Stuff: What Is the World?

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pp. 21-46

We can all empathize with Gracie Allen. We are each thrown unceremoniously (so it seems) into a world that we had no reason to suspect existed and whose nature we have no initial way of comprehending. Gradually most of us begin to make some sense of it, in the most basic...

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3. Slow to Anger, Abounding in Love, and (Thankfully) Jealous: Who Is God?

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pp. 47-76

From the very earliest moments in which human civilization began to emerge (and possibly even earlier), human beings, as they sought to make sense of the world, found a central place for deity. The question was not so much whether deity existed—that was assumed. The question...

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4. Of Humus and Humanity: Who Are Man and Woman?

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pp. 77-104

“What is a human being?” (Psalm 8:4).3 In asking this question the psalmist joins a very ancient conversation. For as long as human beings have reflected on the nature of the cosmos and have pondered the question of God, they have also (very naturally) asked questions about...

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5. It Isn’t Natural: Why Do Evil and Suffering Mark the World?

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pp. 105-132

The story so far: the authors of the book of Genesis believed that order, goodness, and beauty exist in the world because it is the creation of a personal God—a God who has created a sacred space in which life, including human life, can flourish (chap. 2). God’s purpose (as a thoroughly...

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6. On Living in a Blighted World: What Am I to Do about Evil and Suffering?

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pp. 133-162

In chapter 5 we saw that the book of Genesis does not shy away from the reality of evil and the suffering it causes. The following question, then, presents itself: What am I to do about such evil and suffering? Like the questions addressed in our previous chapters, this too is a question...

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7. Even the Stork Knows That: How Am I to Relate to God?

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pp. 163-190

In the first part of this book I have outlined what I think the book of Genesis, in the context of the whole Old Testament, has to say about five central questions of human existence: What is the world? Who is God? Who are man and woman? Why do evil and suffering mark the...

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8. Love All, Trust a Few, Do Wrong to None: How Am I to Relate to My Neighbor?

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pp. 191-220

How am I to relate to my neighbor? The groundwork for an answer to this question has already been laid. In chapter 4, we learned that in biblical faith the world is created not for the gods but for creatures, including human beings. Each and every human life is deeply significant...

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9. On Keeping the Earth: How Am I to Relate to the Rest of Creation?

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pp. 221-250

In chapter 8 we have seen that the question of Cain—“Am I my brother’s keeper?”—is answered by biblical faith in the affirmative. Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am indeed to love my neighbor. But what about the rest of creation? Am I to love it too? Do I have duties and responsibilities...

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10. I Saw the New Jerusalem: Which Society Should I Be Helping to Build?

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pp. 251-278

In chapters 7–9 we have explored the moral vision of the Old Testament— the vision that human beings are called to pursue in light of what is true about God, the world, human beings, and evil and suffering. In the present chapter we turn to the question of politics. Which society...

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11. A Bird Perched in the Soul: What Am I to Hope For?

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pp. 279-308

In chapter 6 I argued that one of the “paths” that biblical faith exhorts us to follow when faced with evil and its consequent suffering is the path of hope. I am to hope for the victory of good over evil, and beyond that, that what is bad in the world can somehow be turned to good. I...

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12. Further Up and Further In: New Dimensions in the Old Story

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pp. 309-346

In the first chapter, I explained why, in answering my ten questions, I would restrict myself initially to the literature that forms the older part of the Old Story—the Old Testament. My intention, however, was always to return at a later point to what is, from a Christian point of view at...

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13. On the Judicious Closing of the Mind: The Question of Truth

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pp. 347-378

I hope that in chapters 2–12 I have done a decent job of explaining biblical faith. If so, it should at least be clear how the Old Story told in the two Testaments of the Bible answers the enduring human questions we have been exploring. If that is the case, then I have at least rescued...

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14. Risk Assessment: Is the Story Dangerous?

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pp. 379-406

I have argued in chapter 13 that the biblical story about how the world came to be, what the human place in it is, and how we should live here is plausible. Is it at the same time dangerous? As the biblical book of Proverbs observes, a prudent person will always want to avoid danger...

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Postscript: Biblical Faith for a New Age

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pp. 407-410

We live in turbulent, quickly changing times. Some people think that these are pivotal times. For religious historian Karen Armstrong, we are at a “turning point of history”; for ecologist David Suzuki, we are in a “crisis.” It is to help us find guidance in the midst of such circumstances...


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pp. 411-460


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pp. 461-480

Scripture Index

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pp. 481-494

Index of Authors

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pp. 495-499

Subject Index

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pp. 500-502

E-ISBN-13: 9781481300247
E-ISBN-10: 1481300245
Print-ISBN-13: 9781481300223
Print-ISBN-10: 1481300229

Page Count: 512
Publication Year: 2014

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Subject Headings

  • Bible. Genesis -- Theology.
  • Bible. Genesis -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Bible. Old Testament -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
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