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The Violence of Scripture

Overcoming the Old Testament's Troubling Legacy

by Eric A. Seibert

Publication Year: 2012

No one can read far in the Old Testament without encountering numerous acts of violence that are sanctioned in the text and attributed to both God and humans.  Over the years, these texts have been used to justify all sorts of violence: from colonizing people and justifying warfare, to sanctioning violence against women and children.  For those who read the Bible as Scripture, these depictions of "virtuous" violence pose tremendous moral and theological challenges.  What can be done to stop people from using the Old Testament in such destructive ways, and how might these violent texts be read more faithfully?

Eric Seibert faces these challenges head-on by confronting the problem of "virtuous" violence and urging people to engage in an ethically responsible reading of these troublesome texts.  He offers a variety of reading strategies designed to critique textually sanctioned violence, while still finding ways to use even the most difficult texts constructively, thus providing a desperately needed approach to the violence of Scripture that can help us live more peaceably in a world plagued by religious violence.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to express my gratitude to some of the people who have, directly or indirectly, contributed to this book (with apologies to anyone whose name I inadvertently omit). A number of people—many with very busy schedules and lots of other obligations—set time aside to read and comment on a draft of this manuscript, or portions of it. ...

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1. Introduction: The Bible Should Never Be Used to Harm Others

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pp. 1-14

On May 26, 1637, New England settlers attacked and burned a Pequot village, massacring approximately “700 elderly men and defenseless women and children.”2 It was an utterly unjustifiable act of cold-blooded killing and unmitigated brutality. How could Puritans justify such carnage? By appealing to Scripture! ...

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2. The Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy

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pp. 15-26

The Old Testament has often been read violently, in ways that have done enormous harm to people. Time and again, it has been used to sanction violence, promote injustice, and justify moral atrocities. People have appealed to the Old Testament to marginalize, oppress, and dominate others. ...

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3. The Pervasive Presence of “Virtuous” Violence in the Old Testament

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pp. 27-44

Violence appears early and often in the Old Testament. Stories of killing and kidnapping, rape and murder, war and genocide line its pages. Virtually every book of the Old Testament contains some mention of violence, and violence features very prominently in several of them. It is an integral part of many of the most well-known and beloved Bible stories: ...

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4. The Danger of Reading the Bible

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pp. 45-60

Take it slowly. This book is dangerous.”3 This warning appears inside the front cover of Fox in Socks, a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss. Those who read this book are admonished to proceed with caution, not because the book contains “mature” subject matter or politically subversive ideas (it does not), ...

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5. Developing Good Reading Habits: Becoming Ethically Responsible Readers

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pp. 61-72

On a number of occasions, I have had the privilege of teaching an undergraduate course called Issues of War, Peace, and Social Justice in Biblical Texts. Throughout the semester, students keep a journal to demonstrate various ways they are engaging the course material. ...

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6. Reading the Old Testament Nonviolently

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pp. 73-94

At this point, we are ready to discuss how one goes about reading the Old Testament nonviolently. How does one read violent texts in ways that are liberating and life-giving, and that reduce the risk of being used to justify further acts of violence and oppression? ...

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7. Confronting Canaanite Genocide and Its Toxic Afterlife

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pp. 95-112

By any standard of measure, the narrative describing the conquest of Canaan in Joshua 6–11 is one of the most morally troubling texts in the entire Old Testament. Historically, it has also been one of the most toxic. This text has had an extremely harmful afterlife and has been used to provide religious rationale for some of the most heinous acts of violence in human history. ...

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8. Keeping the Old Testament from Being Used to Justify War

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pp. 113-128

Over three decades ago, Peter Craigie wrote a popular little book titled The Problem of War in the Old Testament.3 It was his attempt to help Christians grapple with certain challenges raised by the overwhelming presence of martial material in the Old Testament. Early in the book, Craigie identifies “three principal areas of difficulty” ...

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9. Preventing Violence against Women

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pp. 129-146

In her essay titled “Every Two Minutes,” Susan Thistlethwaite briefly recounts an interchange she had with a battered wife. She writes: “A Maryland woman who was severely abused over many years told me that when she complained after some attacks that she had sustained injuries, her husband would retort that ‘your bones are my bones— ...

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10. The Necessity and Urgency of Reading the Old Testament Nonviolently: Some Conclusions

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pp. 147-158

Throughout this book, I have argued that the key to overcoming the Old Testament’s troubling legacy involves reading nonviolently. In this chapter, I would like to make a final plea for reading the Old Testament this way by emphasizing the necessity and urgency of the task at hand. ...

Appendix: A Brief Word about Biblical Authority

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pp. 159-162


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pp. 163-192


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pp. 193-210

Index of Biblical References

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pp. 211-216

Index of Modern Authors

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pp. 217-223

E-ISBN-13: 9781451424324
E-ISBN-10: 1451424329
Print-ISBN-13: 9780800698256
Print-ISBN-10: 0800698258

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012