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Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? Wrestling with Troubling War Texts

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Christians cannot ignore the intersection of religion and violence, whether contemporary or ancient. In our own Scriptures, war texts that appear to approve of genocidal killings and war rape—forcibly taking female captives for wives—raise hard questions about biblical ethics and the character of God. Have we missed something in our traditional readings?

In Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? William Webb and Gordon Oeste address the ethics of reading biblical war texts today. Theirs is a biblical-theological reading with an eye to hermeneutical, ethical, canonical, and ancient cultural contexts. Identifying a spectrum of views on war texts ranging from “no ethical problems” to “utterly repulsive,” the authors pursue a middle path using a hermeneutic of incremental, redemptive-movement ethics.

Instead of trying to force traditional Christian answers to fit contemporary questions, they argue, we must properly connect the traditional answers with the biblical storyline questions that were on the minds of Scripture's original readers. And there are indeed better answers to the ethical problems in the war texts. Woven throughout the Old Testament, a collection of antiwar and subversive war texts suggest that Yahweh’s involvement in Israel’s warfare required some degree of accommodation to people living in a fallen world. Yet, God’s redemptive influence even within the ugliness of ancient warfare shouts loudly about a future hope—a final battle fought with complete and untainted justice by Christ.

Resource Experts
  • Explores the hermeneutical, ethical, canonical, and ancient cultural contexts of biblical war texts
  • Examines God’s redemptive influence within the ugliness of ancient warfare
  • Connects the traditional ethical answers with the biblical storyline

Part I: Hard Questions: Genocide and War Rape

  • Slaughtering Children? Grabbing Virgins?

Part II: Traditional Answers: Good Answers for Big-Picture, Storyline Questions

  • Where Traditional Answers Do Not Work
  • Where Traditional Answers Do Work

Part III: Better Answers: Better for Questions About Genocide and War Rape

  • Reading the Bible Redemptively
  • War Rape, Part I: The Ugly Side
  • War Rape, Part II: The Redemptive Side
  • War Rape Meets Genocide
  • Total-Kill Hyperbole, Part I: ANE Warfare
  • Total-Kill Hyperbole, Part II: Joshua and Judges
  • Arguments against Hyperbole
  • 1 Samuel 15: Hyperbole Thesis Undone?
  • Drive Out: An Equivalent Alternative
  • Ancient War Atrocities
  • Yahweh as Reluctant War God: The Subversive War Texts
  • Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension: The Battle is Already Won
  • Jesus as Apocalyptic Warrior: One Word Will Fell Them
  • Conclusion: The Unfinished Justice Story

Top Highlights

“atheism’s assessment misreads the biblical text and terribly distorts the God of Scripture; the” (Page 25)

“As with a previous book on hermeneutics, it strengthened my conviction that much of Scripture is written using an incremental ethic, or, better, an incrementally redemptive ethic.” (Page 3)

“Sometimes God enters our world in hip waders (mediated actions), sloshing through the sewer water in order to bring about instances of incremental redemption. But these redemptive acts—small and large—in the ugly world of war are a beautiful thing, for they shout loudly about hope for complete redemption one day.” (Page 14)

“While Christians may struggle with the holy war texts, any ethical difficulty is really a matter of our own inability to understand God’s justice.” (Page 34)

“Accommodation looks at the sad reality of a huge gap between what Israel does in war and what God truly wants” (Page 16)

The events of 9/11 brought Christians a new level of concern, even anxiety, about the pervasive divine violence found in the Bible. How can a God of love be involved with and, even worse, bring harm against his human creatures? Webb and Oeste have thought long and hard with great biblical insight about this question. Everyone who struggles with the ethics of divine warfare needs to read Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? in order to gain a biblical perspective on this difficult subject.

—Tremper Longman III, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, author of Confronting Old Testament Controversies

William Webb and Gordon Oeste have written a courageous book dealing with some of the most challenging ethical questions about war, rape, and violence in the Old Testament. They approach it with ethical sensitivity and a high regard for biblical authority, explaining ancient war practices, and advocating what I regard as a convincing thesis about an incremental redemptive ethic. A landmark publication on a perplexing subject!

—Michael F. Bird, lecturer in theology at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

After reading through this book—the fruit of fourteen years of research—I find myself echoing the authors themselves in their concluding chapter: ‘Our hearts are not nearly as heavy nor our minds as perplexed as when we first started this project.’ This is the most biblically comprehensive, ethically nuanced, and persuasively argued case that I have yet encountered on one of the most troubling parts of the Bible. Writing out of profound theological reflection and deep personal suffering, the authors neither dismiss the problem (‘God just commanded it; there is no problem’) nor weaponize it (‘We must reject a “God” who could command such things’). Instead they offer, in great detail but with constant clarity and summation of each stage of their argument, a thoroughly fresh way of addressing the issue in the light of both the Ancient Near Eastern context of Old Testament Israel and the whole canonical narrative, including the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the eschatological hope of perfect rectifying justice in the new creation. A magnificent gift for all of us who, as lovers of God and his Word, still struggle with texts that match the book’s title.

—Christopher J. H. Wright, Langham Partnership, author of Knowing God Through the Old Testament and Old Testament Ethics for the People of God

  • Title: Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? Wrestling with Troubling War Texts
  • Authors: William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste
  • Publisher: IVP
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Pages: 452
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Topic: Biblical Studies

William J. Webb is an adjunct professor of New Testament and biblical studies at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario. He is the author of Slaves, Women and Homosexuals and Corporal Punishment in the Bible.

Gordon K. Oeste is adjunct professor of Old Testament at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and teaching pastor at Cedar Creek Community Church, Cambridge, Ontario. He is the author of Legitimacy, Illegitimacy, and the Right to Rule.


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    Digital list price: $44.99
    Save $14.00 (31%)