Holy Books and Violent Texts

“Come in and kill them. Let no one escape.”

Such is a verse found in a book sacred to billions of religious people in the world. It’s not the only text of violence in this holy book. Indeed, there’s lots of violence in it. It would be easy to read this book – isolated verses and the longer sagas – and conclude that those who consider it to be holy are radical extremists, and that their God considers violence to be just.

Here are a few more verses:

406460_f520“Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”

“He said, ‘Come with me, and see my zeal for God.’ When he came to the place, he killed all who were left, until he had wiped them out, according to the word of God that he spoke to the prophet.”

“The king said to the guards and to the officers, ‘Come in and kill them; let no one escape.'”

“Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys … They burned down the city, and everything in it.”

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Did I give it away by that last one? These quotes, some slightly edited, come from the Bible that Christians around the world consider to be sacred.

Reading a people’s holy book outside of that people’s tradition of interpretation, piety, and prayer is dangerous.

I’d hate for a non-Jew or non-Christian to pick up and read the Bible on their own apart from the community of faith. Look at these verses! Read in isolation there are horrendous. Holy Books are products of living and active religions, and are interpreted within a living and active tradition and community of faith.

The Bible has all kinds of passages that are, on the surface, terrible. However, our interpretive tradition has, over the centuries and millennia, struggled to frame and make some sense out such verses. In isolation, these verses do not exemplify my faith nor the faith of billions of Christians (and Jews, for that matter).

Here are those verses from above, unedited, with citations:

Ps 137:9 “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”

2 Kings 10:16 “He said, ‘Come with me, and see my zeal for the LORD.’ So he had him ride in his chariot. When he came to Samaria, he killed all who were left to Ahab in Samaria, until he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah.”

2 Kings 10:25 “Jehu said to the guards and to the officers, ‘Come in and kill them; let no one escape.'”

Joshua 6:21, 24 “Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys … They burned down the city, and everything in it.”

Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

And I could go on.

Holy texts cannot be understood apart from holy communities.

Just as I would not want a non-Christian to read these verses as if they defined my faith, let’s not read the Koran, or any other holy book, and claim we know what it means. Sacred texts belong in faithful communities, and apart from those communities they cannot be properly understood. Christians who seek to understand Islam cannot simply pick up and read a Koran in isolation, but instead must learn from the community of faith who consider that text to be sacred.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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3 Responses to Holy Books and Violent Texts

  1. John Kahler says:

    Wonder how many folks actually have read the entire canon for their faith tradition? Was talking with my dad – 92 and going strong – on Thanksgiving. He’s an inspiration, as was his mother, of a person of simple faith. He was raised in the Reformed tradition, transitioned easily to UCC and, when his congregation closed, joined a Congregational church where his UCC pastor had once served. A couple of years ago he and my mom moved to live with my sister and BIL in York, and I helped them search for a new church home. They found a Reformed congregation which is at one end of a property from an ELCA congregation. The Reformed pastor – Princeton seminary trained – was using the pre-UCC Reformed as the congregation’s faith base, and dad found it familiar (tried to get him to try the ELCA congregation, but he thought he had found a familiar home). They became active in the new church, dad volunteering to audit the books and do treasurer work. But they weren’t really “official” members.

    Long story short, one of the deacons realized that dad was not a member, and he couldn’t do any “official” work until he was. The pastor then decided that dad would need to take classes in order to qualify, and, at 92, he’s had enough classes in his life. They continue to attend the church, though not fully participating as they are able.

    What came out in this conversation, though, is that mom and dad, after they married, decided that it would be worthwhile for them to begin bible study from page one (mom was raised and remains Catholic, and is typical the bible for her pretty much is new testament and some old testament readings), and they soon realized the text is full of war, killing, hate and more. Dad, at least, finds arguments that other traditions are violent to be from those who either know little about their own traditions, or know but take advantage that most in a tradition know only parts. And, as you say, we need to be in conversation with others – not only in other traditions, but also in our own.

    Advent blessings to you, Jessicah and the kids!

  2. LoieJ says:

    I saw a piece on the ‘net about some people in Holland who took a Bible but put a Koran cover on it. They read these verses to people, who, of course, said Oh those *** Muslims. Yes, your quotes are those often skipped over by Christians. But also some groups, son people, are skipping over verses about welcoming aliens and radical love.

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