Monday, May 11, 2009

Violence in the Hebrew Bible

Some of the Bible's stories are not suitable for children.

Oddly enough, they're often the stories our children love.

Think of David and Goliath, for instance -- the story of a child who hits an adult with a rock, stuns him, then cuts off his head.

(Okay, kids -- you can go back to your seats now!)

Then there's the Exodus (with its slaughter of the first-born in Egypt). The fall of Jericho (with its attendant genocide). And Samson (whose lack of explosives did not stop him from becoming the world's first suicide bomber).

To be sure, sometimes we can slur over the violence and pretend it did not happen. When we tell the story of Esther, for example, how many of us mention the fate of Haman's sons?

Then too, some stories let God off the hook. When Daniel's enemies were eaten by lions, for instance, that was the fault of Darius -- not God.

Finally, some violence can be excused as the acts of people whom God used despite their flaws -- think of Jephthah or Gideon.

But in stories such as the Exodus, the fall of Jericho, or David and Goliath:
  • the violence is an essential part of the story.
  • It is enabled by God.
  • And the perpetrators of this violence are held up as examples.
In short, these stories are not suitable for children.

So what do they tell us about our Father?

Tomorrow: the limits of violence.

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