The Violence and the Bible Collection skillfully and intelligently analyzes several important issues concerning violence and the Bible. Comprising the two volumes are over twenty scholarly essays by renowned Bible experts on a variety of pertinent topics. Both volumes offer the reader new insight into the violence present in, stemming from, and relating to the Bible.
Violence in the New Testament examines a generally untouched topic. Though the editors’ focus is on violence in the NT, the volume situates itself within religious experience, religious ritual, and religious expression. Moreover, though the focus is on violence in the New Testament, the volumes seeks to redress what the editors see as a serious gap in this scholarship of Biblical violence by insisting that the foundational documents of Christianity must be scrutinized for their violent content and effects. Sanctified Violence broadens the scope by including analysis on violence in both Testaments. Here, the effects of violence in the Bible are seen in light of white supremacy, the internet, the Columbine massacre, the Rwandan genocide, and more. Special attention is given to the cultural reception of the Bible in popular media.
While much work has been done on the role of Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus in post-Holocaust biblical scholarship, the question of violence in subsequent community formation remains largely unexamined. New Testament passages suggesting that early Christ-believers were violently persecuted – the “stone throwing” passages from John, the “persecuted from town to town” passages in Matthew, the stoning of Stephen in Acts, Paul’s hardship catalogue in II Corinthians, etc. – are frequently read positivistically as windows onto first century persecution. At the other extreme, they are sometimes dismissed as completely a-historical. In either case, scholars up until now have provided little in the way of methodological reflection on how they have reached such conclusions. A further problematic issue in previous readings of passages suggesting such violence is that the perpetrators of violence are frequently cast as “Jews” while the violated are cast as “Christians,” in spite of the growing consensus that it is impossible to tease out these two distinct and separate religious identities, Jew and Christian, from first century texts.
This volume takes up crucial methodological questions about how to read passages suggesting violence among Jews in texts that eventually became part of the New Testament canon. It situates this intra-religious violence within the violence of the Roman Imperial order. It provides new readings of these texts that move beyond the “Jew as violator”/“Christian as violated” binary.
Shelly Matthews is Associate Professor of Religion at Furman University, the co-editor of Walk in the Ways of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and the author of First Converts: Rich Pagan Women and the Rhetoric of Mission in Early Judaism and Christianity.
E. Leigh Gibson is an independent scholar based in Princeton New Jersey who has taught at Oberlin College and Rutgers University. She is also the author of The Jewish Manumission Inscriptions of the Bosporan Kingdom, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, edited by Peter Schäfer and Martin Hengel. She and Shelly Matthews initiated the SBL Consultation on Violence and Representations of Violence among Jews and Christians.
Sanctified Aggression: Legacies of Biblical and Post-Biblical Vocabularies of Violence
Sanctified Aggression allies itself neither with the easy assumption that religions are by definition violent (and that only the secular/humanist/humane can offer a place of refuge from the ravages of religious authority) nor with the equally facile opposing view that religion expresses the “best” of human aspirations and that this best is always capable of diffusing or sublating the worst. Rather, it works from the premise that biblical, Jewish and Christian vocabularies continue to resonate, inspire and misfire.
Some of the essays here explore how these vocabularies and symbols have influenced, or resonate with, events such as the massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland (1941), the Rwandan Massacre (1994), the tragedy at Columbine High School (1999) and the emergence of the “Phineas Priesthood” of white supremacists in North America. Other contributors examine how themes of martyrology, sacrifice and the messianic continue to circulate and mutate in literature, music, drama and film. The collective conclusion is that it is not possible to control biblical and religious violence by simply identifying canonical trouble-spots, then fencing them off with barbed wire or holding peace summits around them. Nor is it always possible to draw clear lines between problem and non-problem texts, witnesses and perpetrators, victims and aggressors or “reality” and “art.”
Jonneke Bekkenkamp is Assistant Professor at the Department of Art, Religion and Cultural Studies, University of Amsterdam.
Yvonne Sherwood is senior lecturer in Old Testament/Tanakh and Jewish Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.