Biblical Morality: Moral Perspectives in Old Testament Narratives

By Heskett, Randall | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Biblical Morality: Moral Perspectives in Old Testament Narratives


Heskett, Randall, Anglican Theological Review


Biblical Morality: Moral Perspectives in Old Testament Narratives. By Mary E. Mills. Heythrop Studies in Contemporary Philosophy, Religion, and Theology. Aldershot, Hants, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2001. x + 270pp. $89.95/£50.00 (cloth); $29.95/£16.99 (paper).

Drawing heavily on John Barton, Mary E. Mills writes on "bihlical morality" in a book that is well organized and thorough. I applaud her for discussing a topic about which scholars have written unfinished books because of the difficulties involved. Instead of giving her own interpretation, Mills argues that the biblical stories elicit plural meanings. She does not posit a "better," one-dimensional ethic.

In part 1, Mills focuses on morality in narratives about Abraham (pp. 25-48), David (pp. 49-72), and Esther (pp. 73-96), who are depicted as heroes. Using a hermeneutic of suspicion, Mills focuses on Abraham, who lies about the identity of Sarah and is not trusting; David, who is self-seeking in relations with Saul; and Esther, who uses her sexuality and office to save her people from annihilation and is depicted more favorably than Abraham and David (pp. 91-92). In part 2, Mills treats morality and plot in the narratives about Ruth (pp. 97-116), Joseph (pp. 117-136), and Jonah (pp. 137-164). She discusses the morality of Ruth, Joseph, and Jonah as people on foreign soil ("insider" versus "outsider"). In part 3, Mills writes about morality, time, and place (pp. 165-239). Here, she describes the exploits of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Daniel, and Job, claiming that these narratives were composed "as a vehicle for the presentation of community values." Daniel seems to provide the most positive model (p. 239).

This book offers many gems, but it has hermeneutical problems. Mills construes "the mimetic function" by treating biblical stories as "fiction" but overlooks Auerbach's use of "mimesis" as description of how the narrative mirrors, mimics, or represents reality (p. 11). Attending to themes, Mills disregards Crenshaw's form-critical criteria for wisdom. Mills labels Esther "a wisdom story," even though themes are insufficient to identify genre (p. 75). Neglecting Jonah 2, she labels Jonah a "historical record," though such a modern designation does not illumine ancient texts (p. …

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