The Bible Isn’t a Hebraic Aesop’s Fables

Posted: May 18, 2012 in bible

While one can mine nuggets of moral instruction from the depths of the text, the Bible’s apparent lessons are difficult, and not infrequently troubling. Abraham goes to Egypt, deceives Pharaoh about his relationship to Sarah, and leaves Egypt richer than ever. What’s the lesson—that lying pays? What moral do we draw from Moses’ killing of the Egyptian, or Joshua’s slaughter of everything that breathed at Jericho? The more we read the Bible, the clearer it becomes that the book isn’t a Hebraic Aesop’s fables. 

Treating Scripture as a directory of moral lessons or compendium of moral rules assumes a constricted view of moral practice and reasoning. We don’t pursue virtue simply by applying general principles to particular situations, and true morality is never simply obedience to commandments. Practical morality requires the ability to assess situations accurately, memory of our own past patterns of action and of others’ inspiring examples, and enough moral imagination to see how a potential tragedy might become the birthplace of unforeseen comedy.

– Peter Leithart, “What is the Bible For?

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