The Old Testament has been a struggling point for Christians for a long time because of its violent imagery throughout. The Old Testament portrays violence committed both by humans and God. Probably the most troubling examples of violence are the ones by humans that are either divinely sanctioned or divinely approved. The slaughter of the Canaanites is the one I struggle with the most.
In his book THE VIOLENCE OF SCRIPTURE, Eric Seibert argues that the Old Testament has a troubling legacy of inspiring violence and unethical treatment of human beings. He suggests that the Old Testament must be read in a way that is nonviolent. This requires, in his view, reading the Bible critically and rejecting any views that violate our moral sensibilities. Basically, he believes that the OT is in contrast to Jesus and all that he taught. If the OT gives us an image of God that doesn't match up with Jesus, then we reject it. He argues that for several violent events in the OT, such as the Canaanite slaughter, that there are certain textual clues that point to the even having not actually happened and the author actually standing in critique of it. Seibert gives several strategies for reading the OT nonviolently.
While I appreciate the author's desire to face this issue head-on and present God in a nonviolent light, I think his approach is deeply flawed. Paul believed that all Scripture was inspired by God. That means even the violent texts we find so disturbing. If we can read Scripture and assume that all the areas that don't line up with our moral sensibilities should be rejected, then there is no solid standard by which we can trust anything that the Bible communicates. We know what God is like from what is contained in the Bible. THE VIOLENCE OF SCRIPTURE seems to be applying an external standard for what God is like and rejecting anything in the Bible that doesn't fit that standard. Unfortunately, the external standard doesn't exist. We know what God is like from the Bible.
The violence of Scripture bothers me, but I don't think this book solves the problem. But I will say that it opens readers eyes to areas of the Bible that are often downplayed or sugar-coated. Though I disagreed with the book, I found it making me want to read the OT more, and that is a good thing.
Review copy provided by Fortress Press
Photo Credit: Fortress Press