Flannagan Versus Westbrook: Understanding the Problem

Why Dr. Flannagan is still Wrong

The recent issue raised by Dr. Flannagan’s use of Raymond Westbrook’s work illustrates how the lack of proper reading and training in biblical studies can affect the claims made by some of the seemingly better educated Christian apologists. Let me briefly summarize the problem, and then explain why Dr. Flannagan misread Westbrook, and why I charged him with careless scholarship.

See: FlannaganReview

The initial core issue is this claim by Paul Copan: “Our interlocutor might ask: What about Scripture's emphasis on lex talionis-an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Is this not a brutal retribution? First, an investigation of the Pentateuch's lex talionis texts (Exod. 21:23-5; Lev. 24:17-22; Deut. 19:16-21) reveals that, except for capital punishment ("life for life"), these are not taken literally. None of the examples illustrating "an eye for an eye" calls for bodily mutilation, but rather just (monetary) compensation.”

Copan's comments about the passage can be foundhere.

First, note the absolute nature of the claim made by Copan concerning texts that require lex talionis (eye-for-an-eye types of laws). He uses words such as “NONE” and “except for capital punishment, THESE ARE NOT TAKEN LITERALLY” [My capitalized emphasis].

Second, Copan includes these specific texts as ones “not taken literally”:
A. Exodus 21:23-5,
B. Leviticus 24:17-22
C. Deuteronomy 19:16-31

Alternatively, Copan’s view can be rephrased as claiming that these texts are NEVER taken literally, but refer specifically to monetary punishments.

Dr. Flannagan comes along and claims that: “In fact, Westbrook has defended Copan’s position on the lex talionis [“The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003) 74].”

To claim that Westbrook defends Copan's position, Dr. Flannagan would have to find a quote where Westbrook indicates that NONE of the texts above are taken literally. Or Flannagan would have to find a quote from Westbrook where the latter states that these texts are NEVER taken literally.

So, it is not enough for Flannagan to find quotes where Westbrook says that these texts are SOMETIMES taken literally because SOMETIMES is contradictory to NEVER.

Note that, on his MandM website, the most he can supply are quotes from Westbrook that say that SOMETIMES these are monetary punishments, but that is not the same as NEVER literal, and not the same as ALWAYS monetary.

For me to falsify Dr. Flannagan’s claims, I just have to find ONE instance where Westbrook says that these texts are taken literally because NEVER = ZERO instances of a literal interpretation, and so finding even ONE instance of a literal interpretation is already to be more than ZERO.

I have presented a few instances now where Westbrook does say that Leviticus 24:17-22 was taken literally. I presented a quote from Westbrook’s Studies in Biblical and Cuneiform Law that ended with this conclusion for Leviticus 24:17-22: “We have explained this passage as an interpretation of the Exodus formula to show that 'pay a life,' meaning a fixed sum refers only to animal life; where human beings are concerned, paying a life or a limb, etc., MEANS LITERAL RETALIATION.”

This is now more than sufficient to falsify Dr. Flannagan’s claim that Westbrook supports Copan’s position. This is sufficient for me to claim that Flannagan has misrepresented Westbrook’s position.

But Dr. Flannagan also refers to Raymond Westbrook’s article, “Lex Talionis and Exodus 21, 22-25,” Revue biblique 93 (1986):52-69.

However, that article essentially repeats Westbrook’s conclusion found in Studies in Biblical and Cuneiform Law for Leviticus 24:17-22. So, we can now list at least three different places where Westbrook says the same thing about Leviticus 24:17-22:

A. “Lex Talionis and Exodus 21, 22-25," (Revue biblique, 1986), p. 68: “The law unambiguously demands literal retaliation, using the same terminology as in Ex. 21,23ff.”

B. Studies in Biblical and Cuneiform Law (1988), p. 81: “We have explained this passage as an interpretation of the Exodus formula to show that 'pay a life,' meaning a fixed sum refers only to animal life; where human beings are concerned, paying a life or a limb, etc., MEANS LITERAL RETALIATION.” [My capitalized emphasis]

C. Everyday Law in Biblical Israel (2009), p. 79: “The introduction to the formula in Leviticus 24:19 is unequivocal: ‘If anyone maims a fellow, as he had done so shall it be done to him.’”

What Flannagan does not seem to understand is that Westbrook DOES NOT believe the same thing about Exodus 21:22-25. That is because Westbrook thinks that this text deals with an instance where the person who committed the injury is not known. Westbrook further explains in his Revue biblique article that the same DOES NOT apply to Leviticus 24:17-22, one of the texts that Copan said was not taken literally.

Indeed, Westbrook has been consistent since at least since 1986 in saying Leviticus 24:17-22 “MEANS LITERAL RETALIATION” [My capitalized emphasis].

How much clearer does Dr. Flannagan want Westbrook to be?

Dr. Flannagan also gives us a good reason for why he does not know what Westbrook believes because Flannagan confessed the following concerning that article in Revue biblique: “Now I have not been able to trace the original so I have left it an open possibility that everyone I read is mistaken and Avalos is correct. But I severely doubt it.”

Dr. Flannagan is essentially admitting that he made a sweeping claim that Westbrook agreed with Copan, but Flannagan:

1. Had not really read Westbrook’s article in Revue biblique;
2. Cannot tell you for sure what is on p. 74 of A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, in which he says Westbrook supports Copan.
3. Often relies on SECONDARY sources (e.g., Joe Sprinkle) to inform himself of what Westbrook thinks instead of reading Westbrook directly.

I believe that I have presented more than enough evidence to show that Dr. Flannagan:

A. Misrepresents Westbrook’s view because Westbrook does not agree with Copan, who claims that NONE of the biblical texts in question were taken literally.

B. Manifests careless scholarship because he did not base his conclusions on a direct reading of all the relevant works by Westbrook.

C. Manifests careless reading because he continues to insist, for example, that the view expressed concerning Leviticus 24:17-22 in Everyday Law in Biblical Israel does not belong to Westbrook despite the fact that Westbrook has said the same thing since at least 1986.

You can judge for yourselves if this constitutes careless or well-informed scholarship.