Posted by: markbasil | July 25, 2016

Violence in the Bible Narrative

As for the centrality of violence in the Christian Narrative, here is just a smattering from the top of my head:
– Our Judeo-Christian Creation Story was written in contrast to other Creation Myths (Please read Girard on this).  You will see other ancient myths all have the world created out of violence- gods of violence (just like us) create the world through violence (this logic is at the heart of our false understanding of self-willed creation: i.e. Cain’s civilization).  But in the Biblical account the world is created out of Love and for love and communion.  There is no *need* for violence… So why then do we have so much of it, the text will ask?
– as soon as disordered desire enters the world (Eve and Adam), so does murder (Cain).
– God does not allow the murder (Cain) to be killed as an act of justice!  (bye bye capital punishment)
– The murderer then goes and is the founder of the cities.  Civilization *as we know it* is founded on murder (it will be contrasted with the city in the eschaton, which has even different foundational physics, being square not circular.  This is part of a deep revelation of God’s secret hand:  he never ‘fights fire with fire’– though Cain will do evil, he should not be killed to prevent this evil (worldly civilization)– instead God is doing something with the End in view:  He is creating the Kingdom of God which does not resist the evil doer but works even through what is evil to do a greater Good)
I.e. without God’s provision in the garden (or agrarian derivative where our punishment- sweat and thorns from work in the field- is received contritely by Seth’s lineage (Sons of God), Cain’s lineage looks to circumvent God’s punishment through the worldly organization of the Murderer’s cities apart from God (here the Sons of God will find “daughters of Men”- and eventually birth the Nephalim, mighty in warfare.  This path of the city apart from God, founded by the Murderer who rejects thorns and thistles as just and therapeutic punishment, will be perfected in Babel.  See Ps. 55:9).
– It is this tribal violence (just an expanded form of Cain killing Abel) that was the wickedness in every inclination of the human heart everywhere, that led God to sorrow for creating ADAM, and the need to destroy the world in the Flood (and start again with an agrarian).  Read the Noah Story again, Gen. 6-9, with an eye for violence as the Narrative.
– The Hebrew People were not to have a king like other nations, but God capitulates to their demand (giving them up to their desire).  What will come of this lineage?  Look at kingship from its beginning to end and you will see much that plagues Orthodoxy to this day (confusion of nationalism and faith).  But you will also see again this deep theme that God does not resist our evil doing (wanting a king, here), but transfigures the evil to a greater Good we could never have imagined.  This is why we dont need to “defend the Church” (against the Ottomans or Mongols, against ISIS, against the barbarians, against the Other.  God knows what He is doing, and He is certainly not trying to build or protect or maintain a “Christian empire” of this world.)
– King David, a man after God’s own heart, is not permitted to build the temple to the Lord precisely because of the blood on his hands.  Read 1Chron. 22:8-10.  A taste:  <b>You cannot build a temple for worship to me, because you have killed many people.</b>
(Of course the OT witness is a work in progress; David righteously kills Goliath to show God’s mighty hand in the humble servant- the righteous in the OT killed- and also had multiple wives and prostitutes lest we draw too much from it.)
– Who is permitted to build the temple?  David’s son Solomon= Shalom-man.  (though we Christians know the true Son of David, the true builder of the house of God, is the Christ.  He is our Shalom-Man).
– When the Hebrew people were oppressed and enslaved in Egypt, they were not empowered by God to revolt.  Instead it was the mighty right hand of the Lord who delivered them- for our God is a Warrior (“vengeance is mine” saith the Lord– it is not for us humans to take up arms).  We see that God will act on behalf of the weak and the poor, but He will do it in His time and in His way.  The Exodus should be paradigmatic for our response to oppressive regimes.  We do not need to ally with worldly kings or unite in military power to defend ourselves….  I have so far not even come to the New Testament!  The unveiling of all things in Christ’s Pascha, which of course is a story of bloodshed and violence, but it reveals something else entirely.  I will barely scratch the surface as we’re all getting a bit tired (or is it just me :)? )

– Think of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant on a warhorse, then the Christ coming in all humility and weakness on a donkey.  We see the fulfillment in Christ and it is meaningful.
– Nonviolence is part of the prophecy about the Kingdom- which is actually true of the Church (though obfuscated by history).  Is. 2:4, <b>they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.</b>  See St. Justin Martyr on this, who saw this fulfilled in the Orthodoxy of his time (before we allied with empire).
– Jesus comes as the Christ, but cannot be recognized precisely because the “cultural tradition” of the Jews (much like our Orthodox cultural traditions sadly) were encrusted with socially accepted violence:  They expected the Messiah to be a great Military General… And He was!  But He explicitly says, ”
“My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (Jn 18:36).
He is the Prince of Peace.  His is an “army that sheds no blood” (to quote Clement of Alexandria, from our Tradition).
– Indeed look at how military imagery is *co opted* in the scriptures, precisely to reveal that we who belong to Christ no longer make war for we now know who the enemy truly is (sin in me, and demonic powers at work in the world).  When we are baptized (into death, therefore we need not fear death), we arise the “newly illumined warrior of Christ”.  He is our Peaceful General.  Our weapons are the gospel and prayer.  St. Paul has a whole discourse on this, and also explicitly tells us we fight with demonic powers not with flesh and blood.  (Eph. 6:12).
St James tells us exactly where wars come from:  from the passions at war in us; we want (e.g. want justice, want freedom), and we do not get.  So we fight rather than submitting to God who is our Warrior; the Mother of God who will Protect us.
The contradiction is so telling!  The quiet, peaceful, prayerful *woman* is the one will protect us?  This is God’s power perfected in our weakness, but only if we voluntarily remain weak and do not turn to violence to assert our will.
– Jesus’s lament for Jerusalem is a lament for the blindness to the Narrative of Peace, a blindness that perpetuates socially accepted violence to accomplish the will of us good guys, chosen ones, etc., failing to see how fundamental this lie is to our apostasy.  (Luke 19:41-44.
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it,  saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will… level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”  (for a closer look see, <a href=>”A Farewell to Mars”</a>
– Jesus as our King reveals a Kingdom not of the world, founded on dying at the hands of our powerful enemies (who are they by the way?  Religious and political leadership (the worldly kind that lord’s over); the established powers of this present age).
He himself has no place to lay his head; he calls us to be nationless in this world- to make no commitments to princes and sons of men who will ask of our patriotism violent defense of the established order.
– I already mentioned Christ disarming Peter’s defensive violence, speaking not a trite but a deeply revelatory word that all who take up the sword will die by the sword (what kind of death?  It is not literally correct).  Tertullian comments that <b>”the Lord in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier”</b>.
… And on and on we could go.  Violence is most certainly a central motif of the whole of human history, the biblical narrative, and Christ’s revelation.
For a place to learn more, and indeed find many more moderate voices than mine who still recognize peace and peacemaking as central to the Christian Narrative, please see the <a href=>Orthodox Peace Fellowship</a>.
For example how many Orthodox dont even know of our long and venerable tradition (among the saints) of <a href=>conscientious objection to war</a>?
Please take the time to read Rene Girard or his interpreters to get an anthropological foothold in this (dip your toe through Orthodox essays on violence and desire by Donald Sheehan.  Also try these articles:  <a href=>A Culture of Co-Suffering Love in an Age of Violence</a>; <a href=>Are the gospels Mythical</a>? <a href=>The Babylonian Captivity of the Gospel</a>.  For an accessible overview see <a href=>The Girard Reader</a>, or interpretive works by Gil Bailie).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s