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Fighting Words

Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts

John Renard

Publication Year: 2012

One of the critical issues in interreligious relations today is the connection, both actual and perceived, between sacred sources and the justification of violent acts as divinely mandated. Fighting Words makes solid text-based scholarship accessible to the general public, beginning with the premise that a balanced approach to religious pluralism in our world must build on a measured, well-informed response to the increasingly publicized and sensationalized association of terrorism and large-scale violence with religion.

In his introduction, Renard provides background on the major scriptures of seven religious traditions—Jewish, Christian (including both the Old and New Testaments), Islamic, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Sikh. Eight chapters then explore the interpretation of select facets of these scriptures, focusing on those texts so often claimed, both historically and more recently, as inspiration and justification for every kind of violence, from individual assassination to mass murder. With its nuanced consideration of a complex topic, this book is not merely about the religious sanctioning of violence but also about diverse ways of reading sacred textual sources.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v-v

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p. vii-vii

My goal here has been to assemble a collection of essays designed to provide representative samples of an enormous subject: how various sacred texts deal with the subject of violence and how exegetical specialists in a variety of religious traditions have interpreted those texts. Given the libraries full of sacred texts and commentary thereon, such a vast topic as this one can only sample cursorily in a single ...

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1. Exegesis and Violence: Texts, Contexts, and Hermeneutical Concerns

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pp. 1-28

Thomas Hobbes famously observed in his Leviathan that human life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” He and other influential philosophers have identified violence as virtually a “state of nature” that humankind has struggled endlessly to ameliorate, and with precious little success. Religious authors in every age and culture have likewise filled libraries with their analyses of the roots and remedies of this ...

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2. A Brief History of War in the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Interpretive Tradition

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pp. 29-54

The Hebrew Bible is a collection of diverse kinds of literature, reflecting many wideranging aspects of human culture and society, and spanning up to a thousand years of human experience.1 Within this anthology one can find numerous stories depicting violence, battles, and all-out wars between individuals, families, tribes, and national communities. Some legal material also treats rules of behavior in war. These

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3. Annihilate Amalek: Christian Perspectives on 1 Samuel 15

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pp. 55-74

In the Academy Award winning movie Patton, starring George C. Scott, an important scene finds General Patton frustrated by bad weather. He summons the Third Army division chaplain and requests a “weather prayer.” Patton: “I want a prayer, a weather prayer.” Chaplain: “A weather prayer, sir?” Patton: “Yes, let’s see if you can’t get God working with us.” Chaplain: “Gonna take a thick rug for that ...

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4. Violence in the New Testament and the History of Interpretation

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pp. 75-100

Even though Jesus proclaimed a gospel of peace (Matthew 10:12–13; Luke 10:5; John 14:27; 20:19, 21, 26), Christians have repeatedly engaged in violent conflicts both with their neighbors in other religious traditions and with other Christians. Christian warriors have worn the sign of the cross in battle and have often seen themselves as fighting on behalf of God’s cause; they have cited biblical passages to ...

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5. Finhas of Medina: Islam, “The Jews,” and the Construction of Religious Militancy

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pp. 101-134

Group names are inevitable. We cannot live without them. But we do not find it easy to live peacefully with them. A group name occupies an ambiguous zone between generalization and specification. Take the expression, which I invent for the purposes of illustration, “the Alberians carried out a crime against humanity.” The group name designates a group and does not make any exceptions to the group designation. If ...

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6. The Baha’i Tradition: The Return of Joseph and the Peaceable Imagination

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pp. 135-157

In the Baha’i tradition, nonviolence is not a principle derived primarily through exegesis but one given through revelation, to use the Baha’i technical term for its primary scripture. There can be no dispute or discussion on this point by either a follower of the Baha’i faith or those who study and understand this relatively recent religion. What may be a source of discussion is the question of how in the context ...

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7. Justifiable Force and Holy War in Zoroastrianism

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pp. 158-176

There are numerous past and present scholarly debates over interpretations of theological, ritual, and philological issues in the Zoroastrian Avesta, or scriptures, and its Zand, or priestly commentaries. However, unlike for example the raging discussions over the Muslim pillar of faith known as jihād, scholars of the ancient Iranian religion named Zoroastrianism, after its founder Zarathushtra, have rarely ...

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8. The Failure of Allegory: Notes on Textual Violence and the Bhagavad Gita

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pp. 177-199

In late November 1992, I visited the Gandhi Memorial in bustling Delhi. Eight days later I traveled to the remote city of Nanded, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, for ethnographic research. At the Gandhi memorial, the Gita was regularly cited by tour guides and was even part of a makeshift display on the techniques of nonviolence that Gandhi used. The verses displayed were from the second half ...

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9. Words as Weapons: Theory and Practice of a Righteous War (Dharam Yudh) in Sikh Texts

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pp. 200-225

The last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed a popular representation of Sikhs in the Indian media as bloodthirsty avengers rather than as bloodied victims. The principal reason for this stereotype was the rise of Sikh nationalism in the early 1980s. Akali Dal (army of the immortal), the main political party of the Sikhs in the Punjab, was demanding increased autonomy for all the states of ...

Glossary of Names and Technical Terms

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pp. 227-233


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pp. 235-236


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pp. 237-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780520954083
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520258310

Page Count: 262
Publication Year: 2012