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Terror all Around
(Biblical Perspectives on Violence and Terrorism)

Autor:Repschinski Boris
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Publiziert in:Jeevadhara 41(2001) 105-118.
Datum:2011-04-21

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When one has to write a study on a topic that is so difficult to approach as the present one, and when one starts thinking about this around the Christian feast of Christmas, one is struck first and foremost by a great contrast. On the one hand there are the liturgical readings of the prophet Isaiah speaking in most beautiful poetry of a time when swords will be wrought into plowshares instead of nations taking them up against nations (Isa 2:4–5), when wolf and lamb will graze together in peace, when the infant will play with the snake and when no one will hurt or destroy because everyone will know Yahweh (Isa 11:11–19), or when Isaiah announces God not only as the Mighty Counsellor, but also as the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). These readings speak of a future without violence. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why these readings are sometimes termed “eschatological,” removing a little of their immediate validity for the here and now, making them somewhat otherworldly. The other side of the contrast seems proven by the terrible attack on an Egyptian Coptic church on the Eve of their Christmas celebration. Humans, or so it seems, are fascinated by a vision of a world without violence perhaps because they cannot live it. Perhaps nowhere is this experience more tangible than in the history of modern India, arisen out of the non-violent actions of a Mahatma Ghandhi and yet so deeply mired in a violence that blurs the boundaries of ethnicity, religion, or wealth.

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Of course the roots of violence are manifold.[1] However, again and again religion is named as one of the key factors inspiring violence and terrorism. Most religious groups have sparked violence against other religious groups, often with overt religious reasoning.[2] Yet explicitly religious terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon. In 1968 none of the eleven known terrorist groups had a religious affiliation, while around 1995 of 50 groups perhaps a dozen were known to be religiously motivated.[3] In 2004 there were 77 known terrorist organizations, of which 40 had religious affiliations. Of those, 37 had Islamic ties.[4] Yet it should also be pointed out that with many of these groups it is shortsighted to reduce their motivations to religious convictions while ignoring political and social circumstances.[5] And yet some scholars have pointed out that religious practice itself is rooted in and responds to violent impulses, giving them expression but also redirecting them against surrogate victims or scapegoats.[6] While this view of religion and its connection to violence may be open to debate, it still is worthwhile noting that both Jewish and Christian scriptures offer a view of religion that is very far from an often argued contrast between an irenic system of faith and a violent society. Quite the opposite: Violence proves itself intrinsic to both Jewish and Christian arguments.

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1. Trajectories on Violence in Hebrew Scriptures and Second Temple Judaism

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One of the most common forms of violence seen in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as in the New Testament is the fact that individuals or communities see themselves as victims of it. The prayer of Psalm 31 is not just a prayer of trust in the loving care of God, it is also an expression of surprise and horror at the discovery that one is scorned and victimized by others, culminating in the realization that the enemies are after one’s life: “For I hear the whispering of many – terror all around! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life” (Ps 31:13).[7] Perhaps it is noteworthy that Psalm 31 is a rather late text, with the formulation “terror all around” quoting Jeremiah.[8] It mirrors of course not just the individual’s distress, but with this phrase the history of Israel as one of slavery, exodus, constant fear of its neighbors, of exile and a disappointing return could be summed up. Israel’s history is one of a people under threat. Being a victim of very different forms of violence[9] is one of the fundamental principles that shape Israel’s formulation of its God-experience as savior and redeemer. Psalm 31 ties these very neatly together. When all humans plot murder, God is the rock of refuge and a strong fortress (Ps 31,2).

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But the violence encountered in the Hebrew Scriptures is not only a threat against Israel. It is inherent in human activity right from the beginning when Cain murders Abel (Gen 4,1–15), and scriptures know of domestic violence, for example when the sons of Judah beat their brother Jacob within an inch of his life and then sell him into slavery (Gen 37), or when the Judge Jephthah kills his daughter because of a religious vow. Even sexually motivated violence is reported in the story of a man and his concubine (Judges 19), of David having Uriah murdered (2 Samuel 11) or that of Absalom, Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Therefore, right from the beginning of the human story as interpreted in the light of Israel’s history with God, violence is experienced not only from the side of the victim. Israel also realizes that she herself, or individuals within her, perpetrate violent acts. Violence becomes an integral part of Israel’s story, and it is a story rife with violent behavior also on the part of God’s chosen people.

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Other forms of violence occur on a social level between opposing groups like a king against the people, or the privileged against the weak, or the wealthy against the poor (Gen 34; Judg 12; 20–21; 2 Sam 2–3; 18; 1 Kings 5:27–31; 12:12–15; 2 Kings 9–10; 21:16; Jer 5:1–9; 22:13–19; Amos 2:6–8; 5:10–12; Mic 3:1–3; Ps 12; 58; Job 30:1–8). Occasionally the weak party will react violently, as when Moses strikes the Egyptian (Exod 1:11–15). The accounts of Ehud or Esther strike a similar vein.

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Violence occasioned by religious motivations finds expression in the Hebrew Scriptures as well (Deuteronomy 7; 13; 1 Kings 18:40; 2 Kings 10:17–20; Esra 10); similarly, violence against nature, and in particular against animals, finds only occasional expression (Gen 9:1–7; Josh 11:6.9; Judg 15:4–5; Lev 1; 3–5; Num 22:22–31; 1 Sam 15:3; 2 Sam 8:4).

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As a whole people Israel experiences violence both as a victim and as a perpetrator. The majority of such cases are incidents when Israel suffers from war waged against it rather than herself waging war against other peoples. The time of taking possession of the land is a case of the latter, but throughout the time of taking possession of the land, of the time of judges and kings Israel finds herself threatened by outside enemies as well as threatening them. A particular problem in the latter context are the sacred promises or oaths to annihilate others completely. The technical term for this oath is חרם ( erem). In these passages God is presented as the ultimate Lord of the war who hands over Israel’s enemies for total destruction. An example is when Samuel instructs Saul to war against the Amalekites: “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction ( חרם) all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Sam 15,3).[10] The destruction of the enemy has ritual character and is akin to a sacrifice.[11] If this is so, then the ban to destruction imagines “a God who appreciates human sacrifice.”[12] Deuteronomy does nothing to eradicate the practice of the ban, but it justifies it by giving reasons: “But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, ... that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God” (Deut 20,15–18). Not to put too fine a point to it, Deuteronomy here seems to recommend ethnic cleansing for reasons of cultic purity.

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It is ironic that the ban to destruction finds its theological justification within the grander narrative of the exodus which has served as an important paradigm of liberation in Christian theology.[13] But particularly the biblical story of the conquest shows something that is inherent in most ethical evaluations of war and violence. While the enemy is viewed as unjust and morally heinous, one’s own war is just, morally right, and perhaps even pleasing to God. In the case of the Torah and the Deuteronomistic history, the formation of a national identity is added to this package, distinguishing Israel sharply from the surrounding nations.

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A last way of experiencing violence found in the Hebrew Scriptures involves violent behavior on God’s part against humans. A good example is the following: “They abandoned the LORD, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them to bring misfortune, as the LORD had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress” (Judges 2,13–15).[14] Behind such incidents is the question whether the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is a violent God, a problem that led Marcion in the second century CE to try and cleanse Christian Scriptures from the Hebrew Scriptures and remove all parts of the New Testament that alluded to such a violent, or as Marcion would have it, anthropomorphic God.[15] Looking at these texts one should keep in mind that the theological topic of the wrath of God is tied to God’s justice and love for his people. Thus the Psalmist has God say: “If they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness” (Ps 89:31–33).

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This selective account of the forms of violence in the Hebrew Scriptures laid to some extent the groundwork for the way Second Temple Judaism dealt with the questions of violence, its motivations and legitimations. If Israel had made the experience of legitimate violence in its history, or the legitimate violent reaction to oppression, or even experienced a God who was willing to react violently, then these strata of Jewish theology could be taken up. Consequently, in this period religion played an increasing part in motivating and legitimating violence.[16] Even if one assumes that sources like Josephus or the Maccabean body of literature have a definitive apologetic purpose, it still becomes obvious that major events like the Maccabean revolt or the first Jewish uprising were legitimized by the appeal to religious traditions and their defense. Similar reasons loom behind the protests against Pilate’s attempts to affix a Roman Imperial eagle to the Temple wall (cf. Lk 13:1). Violent resistance to oppression had become a viable option, and it was fueled by a theology of the chosen people. The Jewish feasts of Purim and Hanukkah remembered such successful resistance, and they arose during the period of Second Temple Judaism.

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This rise in violent action during Second Temple Judaism took its cue from the Hebrew Scriptures. This is made explicit in 1 Macc 2:26, when Mattathias kills a Jew about to sacrifice as well as the presiding royal officer on a pagan altar before tearing it down. The verse notes that Mattathias burned with zeal “just as Phinehas did against Zimri.” This is an allusion to a story in Numbers 25 where Phinehas kills an Israelite and his foreign Moabite wife.[17] What is important about this parallel is the explicit appeal made to Numbers 25 and the consequent formulation of a linear development from the Hebrew Scriptures to the Maccabean revolt.

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But this time did not just see a new surge of violence, it also saw new forms of violence emerging. With the forced Hellenization of Judea initiated by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes after 167 BCE, martyrdom suddenly arose. It involved the choice to die rather than give up one’s religion. The sources in 2 and 4 Maccabees trace this phenomenon theologically to the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac, yet there is no precedent in Hebrew Scriptures. How widespread it was is hard to say, yet the sources indicate that it was not at all rare.[18]

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Another phenomenon with much more public fanfare was the emergence of public violence and rioting. Josephus reports that particularly Jewish festivals like Passover, Shavuot or Sukkot were likely occasions for rioting since they invited large crowds, especially in Jerusalem’s temple area, while at the same time heightening sacred resonances and a growing eschatological expectation.[19] Perhaps despite, or perhaps because of the possibility of such excitement, Second Temple Judaism developed a growing popularity of such a festival culture combined with pilgrimages to Jerusalem, witnessed to in the infancy narratives of Luke’s gospel. That they became also valves to express a growing dissatisfaction with Roman oppression in the first century seems only normal. Into this context belongs the emergence of the so called Sicarii during the 50s CE. They seem to have embraced a program of social and economical equality based on Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25, at the same time they were driven by a concept of purity of the land and thus by the desire to cleanse the land of foreigners. For this purpose they did not shy from attacks on foreigners in public places, mostly stabbing them with a short knife called “sica” in a hit-and run-attack, thus provoking chaos and rioting.[20]

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What emerges from this short overview can be summarized in two points. Firstly, it has to be noted that violence and warfare, and even attacks that might be termed terrorist in modern eyes, have not only a long history in Hebrew Scriptures and Second Temple Judaism, but they are also intricately linked to Israel’s experience of God even to the point where the utter destruction of the enemy receives sacrificial connotations and is, therefore, part of ritual worship. At the same time, the violence and war experienced by Israel as victim is consequently also interpreted in religious terms. The dire warnings on the eve of entering the promised land bear this out: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess” (Deut 30,17–19). This points to the fact that violence is interpreted in Jewish tradition not on its own, but always as a symptom or an indicator of Israel’s relationship to God. It is possible to argue that this is the underlying perspective with which the Hebrew Scriptures in general view any kind of reality Israel encounters, or that the base reality of Israel is its relationship with God. Nevertheless, it seems worth noting that Israel experiences not only its own successful warfare as a sign of God’s presence, but that it also relates being a victim of violence somehow to its own failure in this relationship.[21] In Second Temple Judaism this leads to the popularity of apocalyptic writings; and finally Jewish writings grappling with the destruction of Jerusalem such as 2 Baruch and 4 Esra come up with precisely such reasoning: God allowed the temple to be destroyed because of the people’s unfaithfulness to law or purity.

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A second point to make is almost trite but must be mentioned nevertheless: What is justified violence and what is unjustly inflicted violence depends on the perspective. From Israel’s perspective violence done to the foreigner is God showing his loving care for his people. When Moses and the people sing God’s praises “because he has triumphed gloriously” by drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea (Exodus 15,1), this joy was probably not shared by the Egyptians.[22] Something similarly ironic happens when Zealots or Sicarii deplore the violent oppression of the Romans and yet take up arms to fight it, even up to the point of the mass suicide at Masada.[23]

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2. Trajectories on Violence in the New Testament

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The New Testament knows of violence just like the Hebrew Scriptures. And indeed, the early communities seem to have known violence arising out of the very commitment to Jesus they made. Jesus himself seems to have been regarded with suspicion even by his own family who were not above using force in order to restrain him (Mk 3:20–21). Jesus himself is shown to point out to his followers that there will be violence in the family on account of him. The very early source Q[24] reports that Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth but the sword,[25] and Mk 13:12 illustrates this with predictions about a brother giving up his brother to death, and a father his child, or children killing their parents. Following Jesus is an undertaking that involves violence, and “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force (Mt 11,12).” If any evidence of this is needed, a look at the book of Revelation – that great book of longing for peace – shows a community under siege, experiencing Jeremiah’s “terror all around.” In many of the NT writings one gets the impression that they were written for a people suffering from persecution. Again it is Matthew who brings this experience into poetic form: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5,11–12).

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But even if the small band of believers in Jesus suffered from persecution, this did not stop internal violence at all. The first issue is one of social inequalities leading to factionalism within communities. Paul already highlights the issue when he speaks about abuses at the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11) where some can afford to get drunk while others are so poor that they cannot still their hunger.[26] In the Epistle of James the issues are of wider significance still: Jas 2:1–7 details not only that there are great social distinctions within the community between the rich and the poor, but James also takes the side of the poor with great authority by appealing to God’s preference of the poor: “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (Jas 2,5). James sets himself into a long tradition of prophets like Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah decrying social injustice as a form of violence abhorrent to God. At the same time he accuses the rich of severe oppression and exercising violence against the poor.

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If one of the trajectories in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Second Temple Judaism concerned God as an agent of a form of sacred violence, one might expect such themes to appear again in the New Testament. And indeed, one might turn again to the book of Revelation to see such themes emerging again when after the great persecution the tide suddenly turns and the forces of evil and persecution are suddenly beaten in warfare by mythical figures who turn out to be agents of God.[27] Motifs of vengeance for the persecution and destruction of the faithful appear (Rev 19:2). The first mythical figure to appear is the Word of God whose weapon is justice (Rev 19:11–13), the second figure is an angel (Rev 20:1) who can bind Satan only for a thousand years, while the final victory of Satan is achieved by fire falling from heaven (Rev 20:9), throwing Satan and his minions into a fiery sea and preparing the arrival from heaven of the new Jerusalem, a world liberated and just. Perhaps it is worthwhile to remember the message of Revelation: It speaks to a people suffering from outside persecution and from a certain tiredness in the faith. The outside persecution is given much room in Revelation, while the final battle comprises merely 2 chapters out of 22. The readers are told in much detail of the evil powers of the persecutors, but they are also given the hope that God’s might will prevail. But God’s might is finally not shown in his victory over Satan but in the heavenly Jerusalem, a city that does not need the accoutrements of power and war anymore, a city whose walls are open with gates and completely transparent because they are made of jewels. It is a city of richness, of justice, and of equality. It is a vision of the reality of God’s kingdom in which violence and power are no longer present.[28]

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Thus it is perhaps justified to say that the vision of the divine presence carries fewer violent connotations than the God of the Hebrew Scriptures or Second Temple Judaism. This may well have one of its reasons in the very different stories described in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament. The New Testament does not have to deal with stories of conquest and war, of exile and return. Thus a war faring God does not make much sense in the New Testament. However, there might just be another reason for this observation. If Jesus as the Son of God and teacher[29] of God’s presence in his kingdom, as the Word made flesh, suffered violence and death, and if the community realized that this death was part of how God offered salvation to humankind, then violence itself does not have a place in theology, even if it is such a pervasive theme both in the tradition such a community comes from as well as in the reality around them. How difficult this balancing act is can be illustrated with Luke’s account of Jesus reaching a Samaritan village which refuses hospitality, where James and John are ready to call fire from heaven while Jesus rebukes them for this idea (Lk 9:53).

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Another example might illustrate this as well. It is by now a common assumption among the researchers of the historical Jesus that the concept of the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ message.[30] However, it has also been pointed out that the image of the kingdom is one beset with violent overtones.[31] The term kingdom or empire, βασιλεία in Greek, is also the term used for the Roman empire which ruled with military force, and θεός, God, was an official title for the Roman emperor already at the time of Jesus.[32] Consequently, when Jesus uses the “kingdom of God” as the central metaphor of his message, he chooses an at least ambiguous image. And in Matthew, at least, as in Revelation, the imposition of this kingdom is imagined in rather violent terms (Mt 13:41–42; 24:27–31). It might even be argued that even though the kingdom of God is one caring in particular for the merciful and weak (Mt 4:23–25) it uses violence to do so.[33] Thus the problem is whether Jesus does indeed offer an alternative to the paradigm of violence, or whether his message preserves it.

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3. The Kingdom of God and Violence

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Perhaps the tension between violent imagery and peaceful vision cannot and should not be resolved.[34] However, I think that Jesus does not just use a common imagery like the kingdom with its imperial overtones, he also transforms it significantly. A literal analysis of βασιλεία and its occurrences and uses in biblical and non-biblical sources does not adequately describe what Jesus does with this image. First of all, the kingdom that Jesus describes is a kingdom of God. However, if one looks at the image Jesus has of God, one comes to conclusions that differ significantly from Roman imperial imagery.

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The first thing to note is that the god of Jesus is most adequately described as father. Jesus himself speaks of God as father[35] and teaches his disciples to do so as well (Mt 6:9; Lk 11:2). In fact, Father is the most common appellation for God in the gospels. And God as Father is depicted as caring and loving, who takes care of the lilies in the field, who welcomes home the prodigal son, and who will grant every wish of those who are gathered together in Jesus’ name. The gospel of John takes up the imagery of God as Father more than any other evangelist and develops it with the imagery of the mutual indwelling, where the believer shares intimate communion with God through Jesus: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17,21). Consequently if there is any violence connoted with the imagery of the kingdom, it is offset with the one whose kingdom it is: God the Father.

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But one can go a step further. It is very revealing how Jesus and the gospels actually fill the metaphor of the kingdom with content. When Jesus wants to describe what the kingdom is like he uses parables, mostly drawn from rural everyday occurrences.[36] They tell about a lost sheep, about a widow and an unjust judge, about wheat growing alongside tares, about a sower going out to sow his seed, or about a mustard seed growing into heaven. The list could be continued, yet the point is clear: There is hardly anything less imperial than talking about a kingdom like a lump of leaven mixed into a a trough of dough, or a poor woman finding a lost coin in her dark hovel. The metaphor of the kingdom of God, as glorious and extraordinary as it may sound at first hearing, is in fact a symbol used by Jesus to subvert the very concept of a kingdom of might and power. The god of the Hebrew Scriptures who takes Israel for his kingdom and fights her battles is now a father who sees one son running off with his money and has to listen to another son berating him for it. And the kingdom itself is no bigger than a mustard seed.

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And another observation seems necessary as well. Was the idea of a kingdom in Hebrew Scriptures and Second Temple Judaism deeply connected to the identity of Israel as a nation, the kingdom of God as preached by Jesus is a kingdom that is not complete until the whole world is part of it. Jesus’ message of the kingdom is universal (cf. Mt 22:9; 28:16–20; Lk 14:21–23). But if everyone is invited into this kingdom it will not be established by violence.

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The New Testament does not escape violent imagery, and it does not escape its roots in Hebrew Scriptures, mediated through the traditions of Second Temple Judaism. Particularly under the experience of persecution violence is articulated not only as being suffered, but also as a hoped for vengeance. However, the central message of Jesus of a kingdom of God speaks a different language. It takes up an image that might have had threatening connotations in a Roman imperial context, but it transforms it into a language about God and his presence among humans that is subversive to any form of violence. And this message is not only borne out by Jesus’ readiness to stake his life on it, but also by his vindication.

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4. Conclusion

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The biblical message concerning violence and terrorism is ambiguous. Both Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament know of violence, and they also know of traditions which imagine God acting violently on behalf of his people. In the present world where violence and terrorism take on new dimensions it is particularly hurtful to realize that religious movements do not only not always help to calm the spiral of violence but are actively participating in promoting it. For Christians it is humbling to look at our sacred scriptures and realize that even they are not exempt from these patterns. And yet, the whole idea of non-violent struggles to better our world, the idea of pacifism and the witness of man Christians around the world engaging in missions of mercy and love also recall the central message of Christianity that Jesus himself preached: A vision of a kingdom of God that is present wherever people listen to Jesus’ vision of God the Father who loves the lilies in the field, and who loves every human being so much more. Christians will not escape the allure of violence, both as victims and as perpetrators. Scripture witnesses to this. But the central message of Jesus subverts this.

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Notes

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[1]. See L. Richardson, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat (Random House: New York, 2006).

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[2]. Though official and unofficial reasons may diverge. One example is the pogrom against the Jews in Nuremberg in 1349, where the official reason was that Jews had killed the Messiah, while in fact the Jewish ghetto occupied space needed for the expansion of the city. The Church of our Lady was erected in the spot where the synagogue had stood.

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[3]. B. Hoffmann, Inside Terrorism (Columbia UP: New York, 1998).

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[4]. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 (U.S. Department of State: Washington, 2004).

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[5]. See Richardson, Terrorists, 96–105.

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[6]. The most influential recent proponent of this thesis is René Girard; see for example his Violence and the Sacred (Johns Hopkins UP: Baltimore, 1977). He is influential in the founding of the “Colloquium of Violence & Religion” and his mimetic theory is the driving force behind the “Dramatic Theology” founded by Raymund Schwager. See e.g. J. Niewiadomski and W. Palaver, Vom Fluch und Segen der Sündenböcke (Beiträge zur mimetischen Theorie; Druck- und Verlagshaus Thaur: Thaur, 1995).

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[7]. The citation is taken from the NRSV; this also accounts for the verse number diverging from the Hebrew text.

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[8]. The phrase מָגוֹר מִסָּבִיב occurs otherwise only in Jer 6:25; 20:3.10; 46:5; 49:29. For the intertextual relationships see G. Fischer: Jeremia (HThKAT, 2 vols.; Herder: Freiburg, 2005) at the relevant sections.

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[9]. It should be noted here that the Hebrew language has no single word for violence but uses various nouns and verbs to express different forms of violence; see e.g. TWOT (electronic edition for Accordance software, 2006).

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[10]. Other places are: Judg 4–16; 1 Sam 4; 13–14; 17; 31; 2 Sam 1; 8; 10; 1 Kings 20; 22; 2 Kings 3–4; 6–7; 18–19; 24–25; Isa 5:26–30; 28; Jeremiah 6:1–15; 38–39; Ezek 24; Amos 1; Nahum 2–3; Obad; Ps 74; 80; 89; 137; Lam 1–2; 3–4; Dan 2; 7. See for example P. D. Stern, The Biblical erem: A Window on Israel’s Religious Experience (BJS 211; Scholars Press: Atlanta, 1991); S. Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (Oxford UP: New York, 1993), 28–89.

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[11]. The practice of such a “ban to destruction” is not widely known in the Ancient Near East; however, a Moabite inscription exists witnessing to it (ANET, 320–321).

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[12]. Niditch, War, 50. One should also note that nowadays there is a scholarly consensus that human sacrifice was practiced in Israel far more frequently and later than assumed in previous scholarship. Abraham is praised for his willingness to offer up Isaac, Exodus 22:28–29 appears to demand the sacrifice of the firstborn without a possible substitution as in the parallel Exodus 34:19–20. Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and Manasseh (2 Kings 21:16) are accused of child sacrifice, but no explanation as to this accusation arising from foreign influence is offered.

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[13]. See M. Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (Basic Books: New York, 1986).

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[14]. Again more passages can be cited: Gen 6–8; 19; 22; Exod 34:7; Deut 28; 2 Sam 12; Isa 1:5–9; 10:6; 47:6; 51:9; Hos 11:1–9; Amos 3:6; 9:1–4; Nah 1; Ps 3:8; 74:13; 76:6; 90:1–12; 94; 104:7; Job 26:12. The wrath of God in the Pauline literature is much less violently defined, yet probably takes its theological meaning from these passages in the Hebrew Scriptures; see J. D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Saint Paul the Apostle (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1998), 79–162.

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[15]. On Marcion see: G. May and K. Greschat (eds.), Marcion und seine kirchengeschichtliche Wirkung. Vorträge der Internationalen Fachkonferenz zu Marcion, gehalten vom 15. – 18. August 2001 in Mainz (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 150; de Gruyter: Berlin – New York, 2002). Similar arguments are also made by Immanuel Kant in his contribution to the “Fakultätenstreit” of 1798.

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[16]. See S. Weitzman; “Violence”, in: J. J. Collins and D. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2010) 1326–1327.

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[17]. See J. J. Collins, “The Zeal of Phinehas,” JBL 122 (2003), 3–21. It is important to point out that the parallels drawn between Phinehas and Mattathias in 1 Maccabees go far beyond the explicit reference in 2:26. Both kill first a compatriot, then a foreigner, both go on to wage war against Gentiles. Both figures go on to become models for the Zealots who waged war against the Romans in the first century CE.

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[18]. There is some discussion as to whether Jewish martyrdom had connections to similar phenomena in Greek and Roman culture; see J. W. van Henten; Martyrdom and Noble Death: Selected Texts from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Antiquity (Routledge: London, 2002). If Jewish martyrdom is indeed influenced by Graeco-Roman tradition it is highly ironic that Jews would take up such a tradition in defense of their religious conservatism.

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[19]. See S. Weitzman, “From Feasts Into Mourning: The Violence of Early Jewish Festivals,” JR 79 (1999), 545–565.

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[20]. See D. Rhoads, “Zealots,” ABD (electronic edition for Accordance software).

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[21]. This is not to deny that there are traditions within Hebrew Scriptures which question such a close causal connection between experience of violence and the relationship to God, as perhaps the book of Job does. Nevertheless, the argument made here is a main trajectory in the Hebrew Scriptures.

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[22]. A more modern example might be Moshe Dayan who was viewed by the British as a terrorist and who went on to become one of the national heroes of the newly founded state of Israel.

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[23]. This argument is valid in terms of the literary history of the revolt, even though there is the possibility that the suicide at Masada never took place as argued by S. Cohen, "Masada: Literary Tradition, Archaeological Remains, and the Credibility of Josephus," JJS 33 (1982), 385–405. Interestingly, Cohen started a heated discussion in Israel where the Masada suicide is one of the most important legends of nationalist resistance, while at the same time Palestinian suicide attacks are deplored as terrorism.

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[24]. I am following here the most modern reconstruction by in the International Q Project: P. Hoffmann and C. Heil (eds.), Die Spruchquelle Q. Studienausgabe Griechisch und Deutsch (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt, 2002).

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[25]. Mt 10:34 uses μάχαιρα, sword, while Lk 12:51 uses διαμερισμός, division. The International Q Project argues for Matthew being closer to Q’s original formulation.

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[26]. Paul, however, does not exhort to a sharing of resources but suggests that the Lord’s supper be a celebration distinct from meals to satisfy one’s hunger or thirst (1 Corinthians 11:34), a somewhat dishonest solution to my mind.

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[27]. This takes place in the final visions of the book in Rev 19:11–22:9 and is artfully presented in that the forces of evil are destroyed in reverse order of their appearance.

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[28]. For a short and still great commentary see E. Schüssler-Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Proclamation Commentaries; Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1991).

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[29]. Still a recommendable read is S. Byrskog, Jesus the only teacher. Didactic authority and transmission in ancient Israel, ancient Judaism and the Matthean community (Cb 24; Almqvist & Wiksell International: Stockholm, 1994).

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[30]. See the long discussion in J. P. Meier, Jesus: A Marginal Jew: Volume II (Doubleday: New York, 1994), 237–507. Similar conclusions are reached also by J. D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making: Volume 1: Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2003).

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[31]. See W. Carter, Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations (Trinity Press International: Philadelphia, 2001), esp. 9–56; R. A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire. The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Fortress Press: Minneapolis 2003); C. Bryan, Render to Caesar. Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2005); P. F. Esler, “Rome in Apocalyptic and Rabbinic Literature,” in: J. Riches and D. C. Sim, The Gospel of Matthew in its Roman Imperial Context (T & T Clark: London, 2005), 9–33.

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[32]. Only recently one has come to understand how much imperial worship was a phenomenon already well in use under Augustus; for a discussion of some of the evidence see M. Bernett, Der Kaiserkult in Judäa unter den Herodiern und Römern. Untersuchungen zur politischen und religiösen Geschichte Judäas von 30 v. bis 66 n. Chr. (WUNT II: 203; Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen, 2007); J. K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult (WUNT II:237; Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen 2008), 23–84.

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[33]. Carter, Matthew and Empire, 176: “Yet in presenting the final triumph of God’s reign, the Gospel resorts to the age-old imperial methods of domination and violence. … The sentiments are noble but the violent language betrays the dominant paradigm.”

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[34]. This is claimed by Carter, Matthew and Empire, 176–177. Carter opts for an approach that leaves such imagery behind, instead arguing for a vision of God’s actions for a just world in terms of mercy and love that is not exclusive to Christianity: “Nonimperial terms such as ‘reconciliation’ and ‘transformation’ in the establishment of ‘God’s just world’ seem more consistent with the Gospel’s vision of God’s work in the present.”

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[35]. Mark 14:36 uses the Aramaic Abba on the lips of Jesus, and Gal 4:6 and Rom 8:15 show that the Aramaic word was in use among early and Greek speaking Christians as well. This is enough evidence for the assumption that here an original word of Jesus is used.

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[36]. See G. O’Collins, Jesus: A Portrait (Maryknoll: New York, 2008), esp. 81–110.

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