Attending the Workshop, “Joshua: A Journey of Faith” at the Pesbyterian Women’s Gathering
Going to a Presbyterian Women’s Gathering is somewhat like going to an information bazaar. The plenary sessions are there for information, inspiration, and, thankfully, this year, for the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the various forums and workshops are places to gather a true harvest of ideas. I always hope they will be full of nourishment for the mind as well as the soul.
This year I attended both a forum and a workshop. The forum, “God (and PW) is doing Wonders for Women and Children in Thailand,” was heavy with sadness and bright with what God is doing through the forum leader, Sirirat Pusurinkham, in Thailand.
On the other hand, the workshop, “Joshua: A Journey of Faith,” lead by Dr. Mary Mikhael, the head of the Near East School of Theology  in Lebanon and the author of the new Horizons Bible study  , was full of problems. While attending her workshop, I found myself opening a door to a deeper problem than those contained in the written study.
The workshop was two hours long. There was time toward the end of each hour for questions and comments, with a break in the middle. I had two concerns about the Bible study before I went to the workshop. One was the author’s view of the inspiration of Scripture, the other was what I felt was a slanted political view about the Middle East and its many problems. The Bible study does not present a balanced view of Israel.
I was sorry to find that my first concern was confirmed in the workshop. My second concern was so deeply confirmed I found myself hurriedly leaving the workshop in the midst of a horrendous and untruthful story Mikhael told about some Israeli soldiers.
The first problem, the inspiration of Scripture, centers on the stories in Joshua which tell of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. The material is difficult because in the text God tells Joshua and the tribes of Israel to slaughter all of the people in the cities they conquer. God not only gives the land to the tribes of Israel, he also uses them to punish the people of Canaan. This punishment comes after God waits four hundred years for the people of Canaan to repent.
These events are foretold in Genesis when God promises Abraham that his heirs will be like the stars of the sky. God also tells Abraham that his descendents will be slaves in Egypt but that after four hundred years they will return to Canaan. The word states, “Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen 15:16b)
In Leviticus God pulls back the curtain, so to speak, and allows the Israelites to see why he is “casting out” the nations living in the land of Canaan. He has just listed all of the sexual sins and the sin of child sacrifice that the Jewish people are forbidden to practice. These include incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and the sacrifice of children to the god Molech. The Lord then tells the Israelites:
“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 18:24-25)
Mikhael’s way of dealing with the passage is to look at it from her own foundational beliefs about God and the Bible. She believes that in the Bible we discover the word of God for our own lives. She rightly understands it to be the Christian’s source for knowing about the Incarnation. She believes it is impossible for anyone to be a Christian without knowledge of the Bible. One great statement she made in the workshop was that the Bible questions us as much as we question it.
Mikhael went on to say that the Bible contains God’s word for us and is a living message. But notice the idea that it contains God’s word, rather than it is God’s word. This is how she sees the book of Joshua. Mikhael is a pacifist who bases her pacifism on her belief that God is loving and compassionate. (And he is!) But Mikhael only refers to God’s love and not to his wrath.
However, to view God’s love in a biblical manner is to see that the scriptural understanding of God’s love also includes God’s wrath and justice; in fact, all other attributes are subsumed within his love. God’s anger is a product of his perfect love. Without both his love and his wrath there would be no justice in God. He might be “angry every day with the wicked” but nothing would ever come of it, neither judgment nor redemption.
So putting those two ideas together, that the Bible contains the word of God and that God’s attribute is love, empty of anger or wrath, Mikhael believes that the middle texts of Joshua are not and cannot be God’s words. She stated that God’s character or nature is in contradiction to the middle texts of Joshua. Instead, Mikhael sees only the first five chapters and chapters 23 and 24 as God’s word.
During the first question time in the presentation Mikhael was asked how those leading the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study would be able to explain how the middle section of the text was not God’s word. Her answer was not very clear, but she did say that it is in the nature of God to give life to all people. Everyone is invited to believe. This of course turns the story toward the redemptive work of God in Jesus Christ, but it does not explain why it is so important to deny the inspiration of a portion of Scripture.
As Mikhael continued with her presentation she began to pull in bits about the political conflicts in the Middle East. She mentioned the 2006 Israel/Lebanon war  , explaining that Israel had invaded Lebanon because of two Israel soldiers who had been kidnapped by Hezbollah. After putting that event in such a minor key Mikhael explained how horrific the Israeli assault on Lebanon was. But as she has often done in the Horizons Bible Study she did not give all of the details.
The Hezbollah sent rockets into Israel to divert attention away from an attack on two military vehicles. The Jerusalem Post  puts it this way:
In a meticulously-planned attack by the Hizbullah, terrorists infiltrated into Israel early Wednesday morning and fired anti-tank rockets at an IDF patrol along the western border near Zarit, killing three soldiers and abducting another two. Later a tank, sent in to search for the abducted troops, drove over a large explosive device.
Four soldiers were killed. Under heavy fire, IDF troops entered Lebanon to retrieve the bodies of the four soldiers who died in the tank attack. An eighth soldier, part of the search-and-rescue team, was killed in ensuing clashes with the Hizbullah.
If such stories must be told in a Bible Study workshop they should not be so shamefully slanted. One woman fled the workshop at that point going to the Voices of Orthodox Women’s booth to find solace. I did not know that at the time since I was sitting in the second row. But I was soon to follow.
When the second time for questions and comments came I stood to make a comment. I said that I was glad that Dr. Mikhael had stated her position on war. I was glad to know that she was a pacifist because I was bothered when reading her Bible study on Joshua because she had written that when Israel became a state in 1948 “war broke out.” That is all she had written. But I reminded her that war broke out because five Arab nations attacked the new state of Israel.
Mikhael responded by explaining that she was against all wars, on either side, but she went on to state that in the end the “root” of the violence was Israel’s fault since they had ejected 750,000 Arabs from the new state. This in itself is simplistic and full of untruth but not the problem that sent me from the room. Mikhael enlarged on her subject to say a young woman who was Jewish, who stayed with her overnight in Lebanon on her way to Gaza, had e-mailed this horrific story about Israeli soldiers shooting Palestinian children.
Supposedly Jewish soldiers entered a Gaza home and insisted that the mother give five of her children to Israel. When she refused the soldiers shot five of the children. And as Dr. Mikhael explained you can find it all over the internet. (But you can’t, just in a few places mostly with a retraction  .)
I have spent a great deal of my life dealing with and writing  about racism and anti-Semitism  . I am aware that all through the history of the Jewish people libelous stories have been told about them. From The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to stories of Jewish ritual murder of Christian children to false charges against Alfred Dreyfus, the French army officer falsely accused of treason in 1894, the Jewish people have had to live with the withering stories spread by both the malicious and the uninformed.
Mikhael’s story was just another blood libel against the Jewish people. I quickly gathered my bags and purse and headed toward the door. As I left I heard others clapping for the author. I felt totally devastated at the moment, but discovered the other woman who had also fled the workshop earlier as I returned to VOW’s booth. Our conversation helped.
Later I did an internet search and found the story and its retraction. I talked to one of the Horizons editors, Ashley Meyer, who explained that she would not be able to contact Mikhael but I could talk to her if she walked past our booth. I copied out the retraction and took it to the editor. It was e-mailed to Mikhael that day. And I went early to the last workshop catching Mikhael unawares. I wish we could have had a formal discussion rather than a surprise encounter.
As I handed the retraction to Mikhael she stated that it had been e-mailed the day before. Despite the retraction she stated that she still did not know if it was true or not because so many other atrocities had happened. Mikhael said she would not retract her statement in her next workshop because she didn’t want to deal with it again and besides she would never have told the story if I hadn’t made my comment.
Dr. Mikhael also stated that she was not anti-Semitic because she is herself a Semite. Interestingly, the Editors the day before had also explained that to me.
When I explained that the word anti-Semitic refers to someone who hates Jews she quickly insisted that she does not hate the Jewish people. And of course she does not, I know she does not. But when she, as a scholar and a Christian, tells an unsubstantiated story such as this story to a group of people who accept her authority, she abets those who do hate the Jewish people
We are all mistaken if we think that anti-Semitism cannot grow in the midst of a Christian Bible study, a denomination, or even devout followers of Jesus Christ. We are still sinners in need of grace. This is how it begins, lies about individual Jewish people, the truth slightly shaded, or the story not fully told, a conspiracy story, and then The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the tales of Jewish ritual child murder, and finally a holocaust. We need all of God’s word and all of the Grace of Jesus Christ.