Paul Copan’s Moral Relativism: A Response from a Biblical Scholar of the New Atheism

Subtitled, "Dr. Paul Copan: Apologist for Genocide"

by Dr. Hector Avalos

*Unless noted otherewise, all biblical translations are those of the RSV.

In an blog essay titled, Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?: The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics,” Dr. Paul Copan, a well-known Christian apologist, attempts to combat the New Atheists, and their dim view of biblical ethics. However, it soon becomes apparent that his critique repeats factual errors and biases found in earlier biblical apologists. Dr. Copan reveals himself as just another Christian apologist who supports biblical genocide and other injustices.

Dr. Copan is definitely not successful in demonstrating the superiority of biblical ethics over those of other cultures in the Ancient Near East (hereafter, ANE). In general, Dr. Copan’s flawed techniques can be summarized as follows:

I. Misrepresenting Near Eastern cultures

II. Arbitrary selection of what counts as “central” moral
principles in the Bible;

III. Unclear criteria for making moral comparisons.

IV. Use of faith-based special pleading.

There are supplementary devices, such as arguments from authority and the use of tautologies, but we will examine these as opportunity warrants.


Dr. Copan misrepresents ANE legal materials in at least three major ways:

A. The supposedly unique embedding of biblical laws in historical narratives;

B. The use of motive clauses in law;

C. Distorted portrayal of ANE slavery laws.

Historically, defenses of biblical legal systems have focused on their supposed unique features. The premise is that uniqueness is somehow superior. The problem with this argument is that all cultures have some unique features because otherwise we would not be able to distinguish one culture from another. Thus, choosing any particular feature X as the one deemed to be superior will always be an arbitrary choice.

For example, we could say that the Egyptians were the only culture to build massive pyramids in the ANE, and so that makes them culturally superior. But that judgment relies on the premise that pyramid building should be more valued than some other cultural feature we could choose in another culture (e.g., living peacefully in huts).

And herein lies the major methodological problem with Dr. Copan’s comparisons: He usually does not explain why a particular biblical feature should be deemed morally superior. He just assumes it is, and then proceeds to judge other cultures by this pre-selected standard.

Moreover, the biblical uniqueness argument has fallen apart because of the increasing number of ANE parallels found for what previously had been deemed to be unique to the Bible. So, let us look more closely at how Copan misrepresents Near Eastern legal materials.


According to Copan, the Bible is superior because it embeds its legal materials within a larger narrative that explains the history and principles behind the laws. He specifically states:
The absence of such narratives is glaringly apparent in cuneiform ANE Mesopotamian law codes such as Hammurabi... By contrast, cuneiform laws such as Hammurabi are never motivated by historical events: "unlike biblical laws, no cuneiform law is ever motivated by reference to an historic event, a promise of well-being, or . . . a divine will.
Dr. Copan does not show evidence of any a complete reading of the Code of Hammurabi (hereafter, CH). For the convenience of the reader, I refer to the translation found on-line.

If Dr. Copan had read the entire CH, he would see that his statement is patently false. The CH does have both a very lengthy Prologue and an Epilogue, which are narratives that situate the CH in a claimed historical context. Consider the first paragraph, which is just a fragment of a much longer narrative Prologue:
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.
Maybe Copan does not regard this as “history,” but it differs very little from the “history” given in Exodus which also refers to a god, Yahweh, who called a man (Moses) through whom the law was given to the people.

After all, there is much more evidence that Hammurabi was an actual historical figure, whereas we have nothing about Moses outside of the Bible, and that in biblical manuscripts that are no earlier than the 1-3 centuries BCE in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Moreover, the Prologue and Epilogue of the CH clearly enunciates principles for the laws. These principles can be summarized as follows:

1. to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land,
2. to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers;
3. so that the strong should not harm the weak;
4. so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land,
5. to further the well-being of mankind
6. “to protect widows and orphans” (Epilogue)

So, contrary to Dr. Copan’s assertions, we do find in the CH the goal of bettering humankind and a reference to the divine will (Shamash’s will).

Clearly, Dr. Copan is simply wrong about the CH. That alone speaks volumes about how well he knows these ANE materials, and how fair he is in making comparisons.


Yet another misrepresentation of Near Eastern materials occurs in Copan’s discussions of motive clauses, which explain the reasons for enacting or practicing a particular law. For example, the commandment to honor father and mother in Exodus 20:12 is accompanied by a motive clause (“that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you”--RSV).

In the 1950s, a scholar named Berend Gemser (“The Importance of the Motive Clause in Old Testament Law,” Vetus Testamentum Supplements 1 [1953]:50-66) argued that only biblical laws had motive clauses, and so biblical law was superior.

The supposed superiority of motive clauses is particularly ironic because another stream of apologetics, led by Albrecht Alt (1883-1956), the famous German biblical scholar, claimed that apodictic laws made the Bible unique and superior. Apodictic laws, such as “Thou shalt not kill,” can be formulated without conditions or motive clauses.

Even at the time of Gemser, scholars knew that many Near Eastern laws also had motive clauses, and so biblical apologetics eventually shifted to explaining how biblical motive clauses were superior.

Rifat Sonsino, author of Motive Clauses in Hebrew Law (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980), thought he found what made biblical motive clauses superior. Copan relies heavily, and much too uncritically, on the work of Sonsino. In fact, the quote I highlighted above from Copan’s essay derives almost directly from Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 174):
It is noteworthy that, unlike biblical laws, no cuneiform law is ever motivated by reference to an historic event, a promise of well-being or, for that matter, a divine will. In fact, in these laws the deity is completely silent, yielding its place to a human lawgiver whose main concern is economic rather than religious.
Copan also states:
Also unlike the Code of Hammurabi and other Mesopotamian law codes are the various "motive clauses" in the Sinaitic legislation that ground divine commands in Yahweh's historical activity.
Yet, as we have observed above, it is simply not true that the CH does not view itself as grounded in historical events or in a narrative. The general motives are made explicit in the Prologue, and so they do not need to be repeated in individual laws.

One has to go to footnote 23 of Dr. Copan’s essay to see that Sonsino has a more nuanced position. While the main text of Dr. Copan’s essay gives the misleading impression that the CH contained no motive clauses, Sonsino actually argues that the relative number of motive clauses is higher in the Bible. Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 159) further argues that difference lies in the “form, function, and content” of motive clauses.

More importantly, Copan does not explain why we should accept laws with motive clauses as superior in any way. Can we say that the commandment to honor your father and mother is superior to the one forbidding killing (v. 13: “You shall not kill”) because the former has a motive clause, while the latter does not? If motive clauses make a law superior, then why are they not supplied for all biblical laws?

Of course, Copan assumes that the motives should be deemed good in biblical law, where someone else could see some of them as appealing to self-interest. The motive for honoring father and mother in Exodus 20:12 is so that the Israelites can have a long life in the land. But is that sort of self-interest really a good motive to honor our father and mother?

If we regard the welfare of others, rather than self-interest, as the standard of a superior law, then I can find a much better motive clause in Law 137 of the CH:
If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children.
Here, a law is given for the good of the children, not for the self-interest of the man commanded to follow this law.

Copan shows his religionist biases when he assumes that having religious motivations is somehow superior to having economic motivations. But that also depends on how one sees economics. If the economic laws are supposed to protect the weak from the strong, as the CH asserts, then what is wrong with that?

This fact must be considered in light of the types of laws that have motive clauses. Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 99) himself admits:
Most of the motivated laws deal with cultic/sacral sphere. Out of 375 motivated legal prescriptions, 271 can be assigned to this category. This represents ca. 72% of the motivated laws, but ca. 27% of the cultic/sacral instructions in the Pentateuchal legal corpora. The cultic sacral laws, in turn, constitute 78% of all the legal prescriptions in the Bible.
In other words, many of the motivated laws have to do with why someone should sacrifice in a particular way, or not eat impure foods. Here is a typical cultic law with motive clauses (Leviticus 17):
[2] "Say to Aaron and his sons, and to all the people of Israel, This is the thing which the LORD has commanded.
[3] If any man of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp,
[4] and does not bring it to the door of the tent of meeting, to offer it as a gift to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people.
[5] This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they slay in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting, and slay them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD.
So, how or why would the motive clause in verse 5 be superior to that of Law 137 in the CH , which is motivated by the welfare of a divorced woman’s children? Indeed, Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 99) calculates that there are only 51 “humanitarian admonitions,” or 14% of all the motivated laws in the Hebrew Bible.

As we examine the specific list of so-called motive clauses by Sonsino, it also becomes dolorously apparent that many of these motives offer us nothing particularly more ethical than what could be offered by the laws of other religions.

Moreover, the impressively high counts of motive clauses in the Bible, relative to those of other ANE cultures, evaporate once you look at how those motive clauses are being counted. Consider the fact that Sonsino (Motive Clauses, pp. 241-248) counts the statement, “I am Yahweh (your God),” as an entire motive clause in the following biblical passages:

Leviticus 18:1
Leviticus 22:8
Leviticus 26:1
Leviticus 26:2

Yet, is saying “I am Yahweh” really a better ethical motive than
saying “I am Allah” or “I am Shamash”? One can see that the motive counts can rise dramatically in the Bible by defining these sorts of formulaic statements as motive clauses.


When comparing the Bible to Near Eastern cultures, Dr. Copan
assures us that:
On the other hand, Israel's laws reveal a dramatic, humanizing improvement over the practices of the other ANE peoples.
Within the Bible, he says we also find improvement:
What is more, the three main texts regarding slave legislation (Exod. 21; Lev. 25; Deut. 15) reveal a morally-improved legislation as the text progresses.
So, what was so improved in the Bible compared to Near
Eastern laws? It is difficult to see, given that Dr. Copan admits that:
Pentateuch's legal code in places does differentiate between Israelite and non-Israelite slaves (for example, Exod. 12:43, where non-Israelites are not to partake in the Passover); it grants remitting loans to Israelites but not to foreigners (Deut. 15:3); it allows for exacting interest from a foreigner but not from a fellow Israelite (Deut. 23:20); Moabites and Ammonites are excluded from the sanctuary (Deut. 23:3).
Nonetheless, Dr. Copan offers us this reassurance:
To stop here, as the new atheists do, is to overlook the Pentateuch's narrative indicating God's concern for bringing blessing to all humanity (Gen. 12:1-3). Even more fundamentally, human beings have been created in God's image as co-rulers with God over creation (Gen. 1:26-7; Ps. 8).
If we used the intention to bring blessing to all humanity, then it is clear that the CH would also satisfy this requirement. Recall, that the Prologue to the CH includes this motive: “to further the well-being of mankind.”

If we look at what the “blessing” of humanity means in the Bible, then it is also not as benign as it appears. Copan quotes Genesis 12:1-3 for support. But Genesis 12 foreshadows the fact that the native population of Canaan mentioned in verse 6 eventually will be slaughtered to make way for the Israelites. Genesis 12:3 indicates that those who do not agree with the Abrahamic plan will be cursed.

And it will eventually become clear that the ultimate goal is for Yahweh to be in full control of all humanity, and humanity will be his slaves, and slaves to his people (see Isaiah 14:1-2 discussed further below). In short, Dr. Copan is already working with a very biased view of “blessing.”

When we examine more specific supposed improvements, Dr. Copan does not tell the whole story. For example, he says:
Hammurabi called for the death penalty to those helping runaway slaves [§16]). Israel, however, was to offer safe harbor to foreign runaway slaves (Deut. 23:15-16).
That may be true of the CH, but Dr. Copan does not cite Law 24 of the Hittite Laws (Harry A. Hoffner, The Laws of the Hittites: A Critical Edition [Leiden: Brill, 1997] p. 33), which says:
If a male or female slave runs away, he/she at whose hearth his/her owner finds him/her shall pay one month’s wages; 12 shekels of silver for a man, 6 shekels of silver for a woman.
So, why aren’t the Hittite laws characterized as a humanizing improvement? In the Hittite law, a slave runs away, and the person harboring the slave only pays a fine.

In fact, Hittite law systematically replaced death penalties with fines for many offenses. Thus, Law 166 demanded the death penalty for appropriating another man’s farmland (sowing seed upon previously sown land). But Law 167 (Hoffner, The Laws of the Hittites, pp. 133-34) says:
But now they shall substitute one sheep for the man.
In other words, the very symbol of the Christian substitutionary atonement had a preceding parallel in Hittite law.

So, the imposition of Lex talionis (eye-for-an-eye principle) in Pentateuchal laws, which are usually dated after the Hittite laws, even by Copan, should be seen as a regression. Yet, Dr. Copan also says that these biblical laws: "...are not taken literally. None of the examples illustrating "an eye for an eye" calls for bodily mutilation, but rather just (monetary) compensation." This is nothing more than mere assertion. No biblical text is offered to support this allegation. In fact, Jesus seems to take this law very literally in Matthew 5:38-39:
[38] You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
[39] But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;
Or are we to suppose that Jesus was merely doing away with monetary penalties?

Clearly, Dr. Copan must engage in special pleading to convince us that the Bible represents an advancement in Lex talionis. If one says that Lex talionis is an advancement, then this already had a precedent in the CH (Law 196). If one says replacing Lex talionis with fines or sacrifices was an advancement, then the Hittites did this already. Pre-Hammurabi codes also can be found without the Lex talionis principle.

Dr. Copan sees as a moral advancement the releasing of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year. He remarks:
Indeed, Hebrew slaves were to be granted release in the seventh year (Lev. 29:35-43)-a notable improvement over other ANE law codes.
Yet, this seems to contradict his own statement in footnote 52: “The Code of Hammurabi also makes provision for manumission.” So why is the release of slaves (“manumission”) in Leviticus an improvement over CH, which also had manumission?

In fact, Leviticus 29 can be seen as worse than the CH when it comes to manumission. For example, the CH does not restrict manumission to “Babylonians,” whereas Leviticus restricts manumission to Hebrews. Hammurabi’s Code seems more open and without regard to ethnicity here.

Long before Leviticus 29, Mesopotamian kings promulgated so-called misharum (“equity”) acts, which could include the release of whole classes of people. As Raymond Westbrook (Property and the Family in Biblical Law [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991]), one of the foremost legal specialists today, notes (p. 45):
The proclamation of a misharum was an institution of the utmost significance in Old Babylonian society. It was originally thought that each king proclaimed a misharum as a once-only measure upon his accession to the throne, but J. Finkelstein has shown that misharum enactments might occur several times at intervals throughout a kings reign. For RimSin of Larsa there is a record of three such enactments falling on about the 26th, 35th, and 41st years...Samsuiluna in his first and eighth year.
These releases by RimSin and Samsuiluna (ca. 18th c. BCE) were in intervals of 9, 6, and 7 years, respectively, and so quite comparable to the seven years of Leviticus.

Therefore, there is really no advance on this issue in the Bible. In fact, we can just as well argue that some biblical improvements came about by imitating ANE institutions rather by biblical innovation. We can find imitations of the misharum idea in Isaiah 61:1-2:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
Jesus himself is simply continuing the misharum idea when he quotes this passage in Luke 4:18-21.

Questionable exegesis is at the heart of some of Dr. Copan’s examples of biblical improvements. He remarks: “The overriding goal in Deuteronomy 15 is that there be no slavery in the land at all (vv. 4, 11).” Yet, that is not really what Deuteronomy 15:4 and 11 say:
[4] But there will be no poor among you (for the LORD will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess), [11] For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.
Nothing is said about slavery ending. In fact, v. 11 says: “For the poor will never cease out of the land.” Although Hebrew slaves are to be released seven years after being taken into service, there is nothing to prevent a new crop of Hebrew slaves from being taken into service all the time.

Note also how Dr. Copan places a positive spin on Exodus 21:20-21:
Another marked improvement is in the release of injured slaves themselves (Exod. 21:20-1). This is in contrast to their masters merely being compensated, which is typical in the ANE codes.
Yet, this is what Exodus 21:20-21 says:
[20] When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.
[21] But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished; for the slave is his money.
In other words, you can beat a slave nearly to death and the master will not be punished at all. The reason given is that a slave is “his money.” The slave is property, not a human being.

The idea that a master has absolute control over his money, regardless of any injustice to workers, is endorsed by Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-16. When workers complain that the master has paid those who worked all day the same as those who worked only a fraction of that day, the master says: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” As far as labor laws are concerned, this is not an improvement, but rather a continuation of the idea of Exodus 21:21 (“for the slave is his money.”)

It is true that Exodus 21:26-27 allows a slave to go free if a slave’s tooth or eye is damaged, but is that really better than other reasons for freeing slaves that we can find in the ANE? Consider Laws 170-171 of the CH:
If his wife bear sons to a man, or his maid-servant have borne sons, and the father while still living says to the children whom his maid-servant has borne: "My sons," and he counts them with the sons of his wife; if then the father die, then the sons of the wife and of the maid-servant shall divide the paternal property in common. The son of the wife is to partition and choose.

If, however, the father while still living did not say to the sons of the maid-servant: "My sons," and then the father dies, then the sons of the maid-servant shall not share with the sons of the wife, but the freedom of the maid and her sons shall be granted. The sons of the wife shall have no right to enslave the sons of the maid; the wife shall take her dowry (from her father), and the gift that her husband gave her and deeded to her (separate from dowry, or the purchase-money paid her father), and live in the home of her husband: so long as she lives she shall use it, it shall not be sold for money. Whatever she leaves shall belong to her children.
Here, freedom is granted to slave-women and their children who were not formally adopted by a master. No beating is necessary to release these slaves. These children of slaves are not treated as property, but as an actual part of the master’s family.

Note also how children of slave-women could be co-inheritors with the children of the formal wife in the CH. This contrasts to the cruel attitude expressed by Sarah concerning Ishmael, Abraham’s biological son by Hagar, a slave-woman in Genesis 21:10:
Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.
God tells Abraham to follow this injunction (Genesis 21:12) regardless of Abraham’s sympathy for Ishmael. So, where Abraham might represent a humanizing tendency, God actually demands the more inhumane option.

Paul repeats and endorsed Sarah’s cruel actions in Galatians 4:30, which should be counted as a regression relative to the rights of the children of slave-women in the CH.

Dr. Copan also claims that “Later in Amos (2:6; 8:6), slavery is again repudiated.” But Amos 2:6 and 8:6, actually state:
Amos 2:6
Thus says the LORD:
"For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of shoes --

Amos 8:6
that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and sell the refuse of the wheat?"
Nothing is said here about repudiating slavery. There were other sources of slaves besides being sold into bondage. For instance, one could still capture slaves in war. Nor is it clear that non-Hebrew slaves were excluded from being sold in this manner.

Isaiah 14:1-2, which is usually dated later than Amos, envisions a future with even more people enslaved:
But the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land; and aliens will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves; they will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.
Indeed, if we proceed to the New Testament, slavery may have gotten even worse, not better, compared to Amos.In 1 Peter 2:18-20, we read:
[18] Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing.
[19] For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly.
[20] For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval.
The word “overbearing” in the RSV is much too kind because the passage indicates that beatings might be part of being “overbearing.” Thus, the word “cruel” or “brutal” would not be too far off the mark.

In any case, slaves are supposed to be in utter subjection to masters even if the masters beat them. It is deemed good to suffer pain and injustice. Moreover, the laws limiting service for Hebrew slaves were no longer applicable since Christ is viewed as “abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15).

So, if Copan sees a “humanizing” trajectory in the Old Testament, it seems to have gone backward in the New Testament, which usually assumes slavery is acceptable, and where it is again deemed good to be treated in a dehumanizing way.

If harboring slaves was supposed to be an advance, in the NT we see Paul returning the slave named Onesimus, who has run away from Philemon, his master. In fact, Paul accepts that it is entirely Philemon’s prerogative to retain Onesimus in slavery: “but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will” (Philemon 14).

There is no reprimand of Philemon for having a slave. Slavery is not included in the list of sins, including drunkenness, that prevent entry into the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9ff). So why is drunkenness judged to be more sinful than slave-owning? Are those really more advanced and humanizing values?

If we want to see any sort of advance in regard to slavery, we should look to members of a philosophical school called the Cynics, some of whom repudiated slavery outright. The Essenes, a Jewish sect, also repudiated slavery, while Christianity had not advanced this far.

In fact, Christian countries, in general, did not abandon fully slavery until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Cynics and Essenes were already there over 2000 years ago.

It was only after the secularization of the West, and after the erosion of biblical authority, that we moved away from slavery and toward greater civil rights for women. If we followed Ephesians 6:5 or 1 Peter 2:18, we might still have slavery.


Dr. Copan unfortunately falls into the common trap that always besets biblical theologians. Historically, biblical theology has been preoccupied with finding “the central message” or the major principles of the Bible. This endeavor evaporates when we realize that the biblical materials have contradictory and complex principles that usually cannot be unified.

Such tensions and contradictions are acknowledged by Copan himself when he recommends the approach of Christopher Wright in explaining contradictory slavery laws:
He [Wright] goes so far as to say that while Exodus 21 emphasizes the humanness of slaves, even the ancient Israelite would recognize that Deuteronomy 15 was in tension with earlier legislation. So, to obey Deuteronomy "necessarily meant no longer complying with Exodus."
Yet, how are we to know that Deuteronomy should reverse anything in Exodus? This is a faith claim. Even if we disregard the chronological problems, contradictory texts usually mean that the interpreter ends up privileging one text over another and declaring that one “central.” Yet, an advocate of the Exodus slave legislation might declare Deuteronomy to be a corruption or deviation.

Because it is hard to erase all of the injustices found in Biblical law, another favorite technique is the “trajectory” argument. Thus, apologists can argue that, while things may look bad, they are heading in the right direction. Of course, this already prejudges what the right direction is, and also plays pick-and-choose with what counts as a trajectory (e.g., why not say the trajectory is enslaving the entire world to Yahweh?).

Nonetheless, Dr. Copan believes that there is a “moral heart” to the Old Testament in the following statement:
While acknowledging the drastically different mindset between ANE and modern societies, we can overcome a good deal of the force of the new atheists' objections and discern the moral heart of the OT, which is a marked contrast to the new atheists' portrayal.
But Dr. Copan never establishes criteria for what constitutes “the moral heart” of the Bible. Is it a statistical criterion? That is to say, is it the number of times a specific concept or term is repeated? Or is it qualitative? That is to say, is it something believed to be the most important concept, regardless of how many times others are repeated?

Statistically, as we have already noted, cultic laws are an overwhelming majority of the laws. So, shall we say that the moral heart is really about good cultic practices? Why should we accept that being good to one’s neighbor is “the moral heart” when we also can find many instances of people destroying their Canaanite neighbors?

Empirically and historically, what is identified as “the moral heart” differs sometimes by religious group or by scholar. Orthodox Jews obviously will not have a Christocentric approach to the Bible, and so a moral center must include maintaining food laws which are intimately related to God’s holiness, which does not change (see Leviticus 11:44). Jews chose death rather than violate food laws (1 Maccabees 1:62-63; Daniel 1:8). The food laws are just as much a part of the moral system for orthodox Jews as Jesus’ injunctions are for Christians.


The religiocentric and ethnocentric biases of Dr. Copan play a fundamental role in how he evaluates other religions. Dr. Copan preselects the standards of his religion, and then just simply judges other religions by that standard.

Dr. Copan is actually relying on a moral relativism that could be used to establish the superiority of any standard. For example, if we, as Americans, value freedom of religion, then it is clear that biblical law is inferior to that of other Near Eastern systems.

One could easily argue that the denial of religious freedom is at the “moral heart” of the Old Testament. It is the very first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3: "You shall have no other gods before me.”

The intolerance of other religions is found in every single one of the biblical books. This includes: a) commands to destroy the temples and property of other religions (e.g., Deut. 7, 2 Kings 23); b) Destruction of the “clergy” of other religions (1 Kings 18:40); c) Consistent commands not to worship other gods (e.g., Exodus 20:3). Dr. Copan acknowledges this intolerance as well:
Yes, God prohibits the worship of other gods and the fashioning of graven images, but the ultimate desire is that Yahweh's people love him wholeheartedly.
In contrast, most Near Eastern religions valued religious diversity, and allowed the worship of almost any god people chose. This freedom to worship would actually be more consistent with American ideals than with anything in the Bible. By the standard which attempts to maximize freedom of religion, the Bible is a setback for humanity, not an advance.

Moreover, Dr. Copan completely misunderstands the idea of “loving God.” As has been pointed out by W. L. Moran (“The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 [1963]: 77-87), the “love of God” is simply another part of the slave-master rhetoric in the ANE.

The slave was compelled to “love” the master or he would be punished (cf. Deut. 28:15ff). Serving other slave masters could be a capital offense, and we see that Yahweh is simply envisioned as the ultimate slave master. “Love” (or even Christian agape) in the Bible is not necessarily the benign and mutual-respect idea that we value in the twenty-first century.


Dr. Copan’s essay is thoroughly permeated with special pleading based on the faith claims of his religion. He uses faith claims that:

1) Could be used easily by competing religions;
2) Are no more verifiable than the claims of competing religions.


Let us begin with Dr. Copan’s christocentric theology. He excuses a lot of the violence and inequality in the Old Testament because:
The Law-a temporary rather than permanent fixture-would give way to a new covenant under Christ.
But, a Muslim could just as well argue that anything Christ did was superseded by Muhammad’s revelation. Both the Muslim and Christians faith claims are equally unverifiable.

Moreover, Dr. Copan’s statement about the temporary nature of the law contradicts Deuteronomy 4:2:
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
If one does not add or subtract from these commandments, then they remain immutable.

Dr. Copan may say that this is not what Deut. 4:2 means, but that would only be because of yet other faith-based claims (e.g., the nature of a “New Covenant” in Jeremiah 31:31ff. is being interpreted correctly by the author of Hebrews 8:8-13, etc.).

Notice also how Dr. Copan simply assumes that Jesus’ reasons for certain Mosaic laws are correct (e.g., Moses’ law of divorce was given because of the obstinacy of the Hebrews). This also is a faith-based claim because it assumes that Jesus is correct about God’s motives for that law.

Throughout, Dr. Copan simply assumes that the rules given by his god are true, while those of other gods are not. But, why couldn’t we say that Shamash is the true god, and then judge biblical law with how it accords with Shamash’s law?


Dr. Copan’s arbitrary privileging of his faith claims devolves into a morass of moral relativism when he tries to justify the genocide of the Canaanites.

First, the genocide of the Canaanites flies in the face of Dr. Copan’s touting of the concept of humans being created in the image of god as a superior aspect of biblical ethics. He remarks:
Even more fundamentally, human beings have been created in God's image as co-rulers with God over creation (Gen. 1:26-7; Ps. 8)-unlike the ANE mindset, in which the earthly king was the image-bearer of the gods. The imago Dei establishes the fundamental equality of human beings, despite the ethnocentrism and practice of slavery within Israel.
Yet, biblical narratives clearly show that the imago Dei matters very little in ensuring human equality. There were many other events and reasons (e.g., birth order, gender) that could generate inequality.

Sometimes it could simply be that Yahweh likes one person more than another, as in the case of Esau and Jacob. We don’t see God saying that they are both equal because they were both created in his image (see Romans 9:13-16). After all, they are supposed to be twins.

Nor is it true that the Bible does not view the king as being in a unique image-bearing relation to Yahweh. In fact, there are passages which call only the human king the son of Yahweh:
[6] "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill."
[7] I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my son, today I have begotten you.
In John 8:44, Jesus says that Jews are not sons of God, but rather of the devil.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
In my book, The End of Biblical Studies, I have explained how the effort to deny that anti-Judaism in the NT often relies on special pleading and arbitrary exegesis.

Given the fact that Canaanite women and children are to be killed despite being made in the image of God, Dr. Copan’s main defense is a faith claim. He remarks:
First, Israel would not have been justified to attack the Canaanites without Yahweh's explicit command. Yahweh issued his command in light of a morally-sufficient reason-the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture... if God exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life? The new atheists seem to think that if God existed, he should have a status no higher than any human being.
Of course, this assumes that Yahweh exists and has the authority to kill women and children. Dr. Copan is accepting the faith claim of the biblical author.

By this logic, if Allah exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life? Indeed, a jihadist Muslim could say that Allah has the authority to wipe out all Americans because they are incorrigible and wicked. Of course, these jihadists might also feel entitled to use their own definition of “wicked” and “incorrigible” no less so than Dr. Copan.

As it is, Dr. Copan characterizes the Israelites as incorrigible (“Another dimension of this harshness seems to be a response to the rebellious, covenant-breaking propensity of the Israelites.”). But this does not explain why Canaanite incorrigibility should be punished with genocide, while Israelite incorrigibility should be rewarded with mercy and patience.

Consistent with my proposal that the moral heart of the Bible is religious intolerance, Dr. Copan tells us:
We see from this passage too that wiping out Canaanite religion was far more significant than wiping out the Canaanites themselves
So, if jidahist Muslims kill millions of Americans in order to wipe out our supposedly corrupt religion, then I suppose that would be morally acceptable by Dr. Copan’s logic. It all depends on whether you accept the faith claim that Allah is the true God.

We must also recall that all the supposed crimes and wickedness of the Canaanite is being narrated by their enemies, the biblical authors. Over and over, we see Dr. Copan applying words such as “morally decadent,” “wicked,” to Canaanites because he is accepting the judgments of biblical authors. In any case, Dr. Copan’s procedure would be analogous to using only the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden to judge American culture.

I have addressed the supposed archaeological evidence for Canaanite wickedness in my essay, Creationists for Genocide.“

In any event, for Dr. Copan, “idolatry” allows Israelites the right to kill women and children as long as the higher goal of wiping out idolatry is met. Of course, his view of idolatry is what counts. It really amounts to this: “Genocide is OK when my religion does it, but genocide is not OK if your religion does it.”

But, we could just easily reverse this and say that, from the viewpoint of a some mono-Baal worshipper, the worship of Yahweh is idolatry. That should give mono-Baalists the right to kill Yahweh worshippers if the higher goal is wiping out Yahweh worship.

Moreover, we know that, even according to biblical materials, idolatry was not wiped out. Indeed, after all of the genocide carried out by Joshua and his successors, we still find idolatry being lamented in Jeremiah and other later prophets. Yahweh ends up killing women and children in vain. Yahweh apparently lacks the foresight to see that genocide will not work.


To excuse the plain horror of infanticide, Dr. Copan offers this as comfort:
Death would be a mercy, as they would be ushered into the presence of God and spared the corrupting influences of a morally decadent culture.
This rationale actually follows a long apologetic tradition, such as this one evinced by the famed fundamentalist apologist, Reuben A. Torrey (Difficulties in the Bible [Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.], p. 60.):
The extermination of the Canaanite children was not only an act of mercy and love to the world at large; it was an act of love and mercy to the children themselves.
Dr. Copan does not seem to realize the theological implications of his own words. First, if it is true that killing infants ushers them immediately into the presence of God, and spares them corrupting influences, then this is a fantastic argument for abortion.

Why allow any child to be born if we can send him or her straight to heaven? After all, isn’t the salvation of souls more important than any human experience? This is especially the case if we take literally the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
If soul-saving is the goal, then abortion provides a 100% salvation rate. Yahweh could also decriminalize killing infants today, since the goal of soul-saving should be no less worthy today than it was in the time of the Canaanites.

One can see that Dr. Copan seems not to value life as much as he claims. Apparently, the value of practicing the right religion supersedes the value of life. Dr. Copan wants to kill women and children to save them from corrupt and wicked practices, but he does not see the killing of women and children as itself a “corrupt” or “wicked” practice.

Nor does Copan explain why infants have to be killed for the sins of their parents. In fact, this contradicts God’s own injunctions in Deuteronomy 24:16:
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
Moreover, Dr. Copan assumes that his omnipotent god could find no other alternative than to slaughter children to accomplish the purpose of preventing their corruption.

Yet, Yahweh was believed to cause sterility in women (see Genesis 20:17-18). So, Yahweh could have sterilized Canaanite women supernaturally, and the problem would be solved in a generation or two. No need to kill children with this procedure.

A similar moral relativism and theological special pleading is at the heart of Dr. Copan’s defense of biblical polygamy. He tells us:
Let us consider polygamy as an example: Why did God not ban polygamy outright in favor of monogamy? Why allow a double standard for men who can take multiple wives while a woman can only have one husband? For one thing, despite the practical problems of polygamy, Wenham suggests it was permitted perhaps because monogamy would have been difficult to enforce.
But, if God allows polygamy because monogamy is difficult to enforce, then why not do the same with idolatry, murder, and bestiality? The Bible itself tells us that idolatry never did completely die out, and so why does that not qualify idolatry as a practice “difficult to enforce”?

And, by the same token, why should we judge other ANE cultures for allowing practices that their gods also might find “difficult to enforce”? If difficulty of enforcement be the criterion, then why are ANE cultures judged as inferior?

And who decided that polygamy was a deviation from an ideal original monogamy? The idea that monogamy was original is a faith-based claim---i.e., based on accepting the word of the author of Genesis 2-3. After all, incest was also original, as you could not have reproduced from the first pair without incest at some level. So should we regard non-incestuous pairings as a deviation from the original ideal?


Dr. Copan’s essay literally contains dozens upon dozens of factual errors and half-truths that would take a book to correct. In a future post, I plan to address his contention that Deuteronomy 25:11-12 does not describe an actual mutilation of a woman.

But, here are brief response to ten statements from Dr. Copan that have not been discussed above. Dr. Copan’s statements are in italicized quotations, and my responses are in regular type immediately below his.

1. “These narratives also inform us that Israel's kings, no matter how powerful, are not above God's law: Nathan confronts David about his murder and adultery (2 Sam. 12).”

Actually, the narrative about David shows how much David is above the law. David committed at least two sins which demanded the death penalty. He committed adultery,
and he committed murder (see 2 Samuel 12:9).

A normal human being would be executed for adultery or murder (see Leviticus 20:10 and 24:17). God himself promised not to acquit a murderer in Exodus 23:7:
Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.
But, instead of David being put to death, it is David’s son that God kills (2 Samuel 12:14) in violation of his own law in Deuteronomy 24:16. Yahweh is the biggest moral relativist of all, especially since he seems to break his own moral promises.

2. “Furthermore, in Babylonian or Hittite law, status or social rank determined the kind of sanctions for a particular crime whereas biblical law holds kings and priests and those of social rank to the same standards as the common person, The informed inhabitant of the ANE would have thought, ‘Quick, get me to Israel!’”

Dr. Copan ignores the numerous instances in which Israelite kings were treated differently from the common person. As we have said before, a common person might be executed for committing adultery and murder, but David was not. Slaves did not have the same rights as their masters.

The idea that informed inhabitants of the ANE were clamoring to get to Israel is contradicted by the story of Nabal, who alludes to David, when he exclaims “There are many servants nowadays who are breaking away from their masters” (I Samuel 25:10). In fact, David flees to Philistine territory, where the Philistine king, Achish, gives him a whole town (1 Samuel 27:5-6).

3. “Even later on when the Jews returned from Babylon, Nehemiah was properly appalled by Jews opening themselves up to idolatry by marrying foreign wives (for example, Neh. 13, esp. v. 25).”

Dr. Copan contradicts himself here because he also told us the following:
Because of Yahweh's covenant with Israel, laws intending to preserve both the family unit and Yahweh's unique covenant/marriage relationship to Israel were paramount.
Yet, the stories in Nehemiah and Ezra demonstrate that preserving the family unit WAS NOT PARAMOUNT. Ezra, in fact, orders the break-up of families. Thus, Ezra 10:10-11 says:
[10] And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel.
[11] Now then make confession to the LORD the God of your fathers, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.
Again, for Dr. Copan, religious intolerance is more important than family values. Ethnic values superseded family values. Rarely does one see families ordered to break up because people had different religions in the ANE. Ezra and Nehemiah should count as a step backward for families.

4. “laws made by kings (not gods) versus laws from God mediated through Moses.”

This is patently false. Laws can also be attributed to a god in the ANE, as in this Hittite text quoted by Hoffner (The Laws of the Hittites, p. 1):
You (Sungod) establish the lands’ customs and law.
Conversely, we can also find instances in the Bible were
laws are made by human leaders:
[22] Then all the wicked and base fellows among the men who had gone with David said, "Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil which we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart."
[23] But David said, "You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us; he has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us.
[24] Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike."
[25] And from that day forward he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day.
5. “laws to glorify kings versus laws to glorify God and to instruct (torah = ‘instruction’) people and shape a national character.”

The CH should destroy this notion because the glory of the gods is paramount.
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi...
Conversely, one can find the glory of the king co-mingled with praises for Yahweh, as in Psalm 89:
[1] I will sing of thy steadfast love, O LORD, for ever;
with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations.
[2] For thy steadfast love was established for ever,
thy faithfulness is firm as the heavens.
[3] Thou hast said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant:
[4] `I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations.'...
[27] And I will make him the first-born,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
As we have mentioned, the Prologue of the CH says laws are also meant to teach and build character of the people of the kingdom.

6. “laws reflecting king's unlimited authority versus laws limiting the king's authority (for example, Deut. 17:14-20).”

There are many instances where ANE law also limited royal authority. In certain periods of Hittite history, the pankush, a sort of broader council of nobles, acted to judge kings when they overstepped their boundaries.

7. “offenses against slaves as on the same level as property crimes (for example, oxen) versus offenses against slaves as persons of value;”

We have cited instances where slaves were given even better treatment in the ANE (e.g., in case of providing for sons of slaves) while we can find instances of slaves being asked to submit to dehumanizing treatment in the NT (e.g., 1 Peter 2:18).

8. “religious sins not typically capital offenses versus a number of religious sins as capital offenses-idolatry (Deut. 13:6-9), false prophecy (Deut. 18:20), sorcery (Lev. 20:27), blasphemy (Lev. 24:10-23), Sabbath violations (Num. 15:32-6).”

Dr. Copan presumes that maintaining proper religious practices are worth more than human life. Why not count as abhorrent the thought that people could be killed for practicing a different religion?

9. Not only do we find morally-inferior cuneiform legislation, but its attendant harsh, ruthless punishments. Commenting on the brutal and harsh Code of Hammurabi, historian Paul Johnson observes: "These dreadful laws are notable for the ferocity of their physical punishments, in contrast to the restraint of the Mosaic Code and the enactments of Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Dr. Copan ignores the replacement of many executions with fines or offerings in Hittite law. Moreover, he does not characterize as “ruthless” or as “brutal” the endorsement of drowning (Genesis 6), stoning (Leviticus 20:27), burning (Genesis 19), and swording to death (1 Kings 18:40) of those punished for various offenses in the Bible. Children are killed for the crime of being born a Canaanite.

It gets worse in the NT, as now we are to be burned eternally for not following the Christian religion (Matthew 25:41ff). I never see eternal torture by fire mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi.

10. “Babylon and Assyria (as well as Sumer) practiced the River Ordeal: when criminal evidence was inconclusive, the accused would be thrown into the river; if he drowned, he was guilty (the river god's judgment), but if he survived, he was innocent and the accuser was guilty of false accusation.”

Dr. Copan forgets that, in contrast to Mesopotamia, not all Israelites lived near large and dependable rivers where such ordeals might work best. Geography can influence the types of resources and material available for punishment.

Indeed, Israel did have another type of ordeal that was no less horrifying, and this one directed at women accused of adultery. The description of the ordeal is as follows in Numbers 5:16-22:
[16]"And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD;
[17] and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.
[18] And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and unbind the hair of the woman's head, and place in her hands the cereal offering of remembrance, which is the cereal offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.
[19] Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, `If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness, while you were under your husband's authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse.
[20] But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband's authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you,
[21] then' (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) `the LORD make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell;
[22] may this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your body swell and your thigh fall away.' And the woman shall say, `Amen, Amen.'
Even the conservative commentator Philip Budd (Numbers [Word Biblical Commentary 5; Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1984] p. 65) describes it as a “trial by ordeal.” Despite Budd’s best efforts to say that the water was not very harmful, the text itself says that this water was meant to produce horrific results. Budd adds that “Modern practice of the ordeal would obviously be indefensible...” (p. 67).


Dr. Copan fundamentally misunderstands the New Atheism insofar as he believes that it cannot provide a sound moral ground for its judgments. For a Christian apologist to think he or she has triumphed by pointing out the moral relativism of the New Atheism is to miss the entire point.

As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in this world:

A. Those who admit they are moral relativists;
B. Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.

Dr. Copan fails because he cannot admit that he is a moral relativist, and he thinks that God will solve the problem of moral relativism.

But having a God in a moral system only creates a tautology. All we end up saying is: “X is bad because X is bad.” Thus, if we say that we believe in God, and he says idolatry is evil, then that is a tautology: “God says idolatry is bad and so idolatry is bad because God says it is bad.” Or we end up using this tautology: “Whatever God says is good because whatever God says is good.”

As Kai Nielsen (Ethics Without God [1992]) deftly argues, human beings are always the ultimate judges of morality even if we believe in God. After all, the very judgment that God is good is a human judgment. The judgment that what God commands is good is also a human judgment.

Christians are not doing anything different except to mystify and complicate morality. Christians are simply projecting what they call “good” unto a supernatural being. They offer us no evidence that their notion of good comes from outside of themselves.

And that is where the danger lies. Basing a moral system on unverifiable supernatural beings only creates more violence and endangers our species. I have already discussed this at length in my book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence.

Dr. Copan cites Dinesh D’Souza who repeats the oft-cited anecdote that atheists have killed more people than religionists. Again, this is based on the false idea that Nazis were atheistic Darwinists, and that Stalinist genocide was due to atheism rather than to forced collectivism (something I also discuss in detail in Fighting Words).

Speaking only for myself here, I can say that atheism offers a much better way to construct moral rules. We can construct them on the basis of verifiable common interests, known causes, and known consequences. There is an iron-clad difference between secular and faith-based morality, and we can illustrate it very simply with these propositions:

A. I have to kill person X because Allah said so;
B. I have to kill person X because he is pointing a gun at me.

In case A, we commit violence on the basis of unverifiable premises. In case B, we might commit violence on the basis of verifiable premises (I can verify a gun exists, and that it is pointed at me). If I am going to kill or be killed, I want it to be a for a reason that I can verify to be true.

If the word “moral” describes the set of practices that accord with our values, and if our highest value is life, then it is always immoral to trade real human lives for something that does not exist or cannot be verified to exist.

What does not exist has no value relative to what does exist. What cannot be proven to exist should never be placed above what does exist. If we value life, then you should never trade something that exists, especially life, for something that does not exist or cannot be proven to exist. That is why it would always be immoral to ever take a human life on the basis of faith claims. It is that simple.


Dr. Copan’s critique of the New Atheism fails philosophically and in matters of simple factuality. First, his comparisons between ANE law and biblical law are devoid of a thorough reading of ANE legal materials. Thus, he makes untrue statements about ANE laws, and misreads even biblical materials.

Talk of superiority or advancement in the Bible is illusory once Dr. Copan’s ethnocentrism and religiocentrism are exposed. Depending on the issue and standard chosen, we can find that some ANE cultures were much more compatible with our values (e.g., freedom to worship) or had already developed practices Dr. Copan deems advanced (e.g., Hittite law replacing Lex talionis with fines).

We can find dramatic regressions in biblical law (slavery is worse in the NT relative to Amos). We can learn that so called advancements, such as blessing of humankind, are simply disguised ways to express Yahwistic imperialism and theocracy.

If motive clauses are the standard, we can find self-interested ones in the Bible (Honor parents so that you live longer). If the welfare of children is the standard, then we can find the welfare of the children of slave-women was much more advanced than what we find in the case of Ishmael.

Finally, Dr. Copan misses the real threat of the New Atheism, if there is such a thing. The greatest threat will not be a Hitchens, a Dawkins, or a Harris. Rather, it will be highly trained biblical scholars who are former Christian apologists. It is they who know best where the rotting corpses of biblical ethics are buried.

What is tragic is that in the 21st century a Dr. Copan can still defend genocide and infanticide in any form. What is still unbelievable is that a Dr. Copan can say that killing women and children is sometimes good. It is that sort of frightening biblical moral ethos that makes the New Atheism more attractive all the time.