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Bible and Violence Project

Introducing the Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – David Janzen and John Samuel Ponnusamy

Today we are happy to introduce two more of our 100+ contributors, both very international in terms of their teaching experience and outlook: David Janzen and John Samuel Ponnusamy.

David Janzen is Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Durham University in the United Kingdom. His academic focus on violence in biblical texts has resulted in numerous works that try to grapple with that phenomenon in some of its many manifestations. These include books that investigate the traces of trauma caused by acts of great violence in biblical texts, such as Trauma and the Failure of History (2019) and The Violent Gift (2012), and ones that use postcolonial theory to show how the violence imposed by ancient empires left its mark on the worldviews of biblical writers, such as The Necessary King (2013). He has also studied the effects of the violence of the exclusion of scholars marginalized by the contemporary field of biblical studies because of their gender, race, and/or sexuality, and argues in The Liberation of Method (2021) that the discipline has a moral duty to turn to minoritized readers and follow their lead in struggles against structural oppression and violence. David is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah.

I have been drawn to the study of different kinds of violence in Ezra-Nehemiah ever since I was a graduate student, and my first monograph, Witch-hunts, Purity, and Social Boundaries (2002) used socio-anthropological theory to grapple with the forced divorce and expulsion of foreign women from the postexilic community narrated in Ezra-Nehemiah. In this biblical writing, the group who rebuilds the temple and Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile decides that its male members who have married women from outside the community must divorce them and force them and their children to leave the group. These women are permitted no speech or defence, and are demonized by the main characters of the book, all of whom are male, as a kind of cancer who must be cut out of the community if it is to survive.

My further academic reflection on violence in Ezra-Nehemiah has been deeply influenced by the two years I spent living and teaching in Guatemala, a postcolonial and posttraumatic Latin American country deeply scarred by a decades-long civil war that was driven in important part by the imperial interests of the United States. This experience, thought, and research has led me to understand that the violence directed against the women in Ezra-Nehemiah is something that cannot be dissociated from other kinds reflected in the writing. The book’s worldview is shaped by the colonial ideology of the Persian Empire, as I argue in The End of History and the Last King (2021), something that lies behind the author’s portrayal of the community as a people who should be subjects to imperial rule, and that this is the will of God, which was precisely what the Empire claimed. And when the author portrays God as violent, willing to utterly destroy the postexilic community at the least provocation, their thinking reflects a worldview shaped also by the trauma of the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem that their ancestors experienced at the hands of the Babylonians.

If we hope to use the Bible as a liberative resource to confront violence and oppression, then we must be clear as to where we see such violence in the first place in biblical texts, and it can help to have some understanding as to the worldviews and contexts of the authors and characters willing to sanction it. As readers, we should aim to read in solidarity with the foreign women in Ezra-Nehemiah, but we should also search for the roots of that violence in the colonial situatedness and past trauma of the community that enacts it, one that feared a repetition of the utter destruction it experienced generations previously, who believed an imperial message that only Persian rule could help them avoid a repetition of it, and who conceived of a God who supported their imperial rulers and who would be quick to revisit past acts of destruction. Seeing these problems in the worldviews of characters in biblical books can help us look for the deeper roots of the violence of exclusion and marginalization in our own world.

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Rev. Dr. John Samuel Ponnusamy is an ordained minister of the Church of South India, as well as Professor of Hebrew Bible and Dean of Doctoral Studies at Gurukul Lutheran Theological College in Chennai, India, where he formerly served a term as Principal. John holds an M.Th. from United Theological College, Bangalore, and obtained his first PhD in Philosophy from Madurai Kamaraj University. He holds another PhD in Old Testament Studies from Lancaster University, UK. He is the author of the monograph Abraham and Isaac in interfaith Traditions (New Delhi: ISPCK, 2009) and has written multiple articles, several published in leading journals. Prior to taking up his present role, John served on the faculty of the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary in Madurai. He has also served as Dean in the Indian School of Ecumenical Theology of the Ecumenical Christian Center, Whitefield, Bangalore, and on the faculty in Northern College, Manchester, UK. During one sabbatical year he taught at the Pacific Theological College in Fiji. John is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Jeremiah. 

Violence has been a central theme in much of my research. I have worked on the Akedah (the attempted sacrifice of Isaac), on Holocaust theology, and on eco-theology in a time of violent environmental destruction. For this chapter, however, I will turn to Jeremiah, one of the Major Prophets. Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible and contains a lot of violent content. It recounts violent historico-political events, abuses perpetrated against the prophet Jeremiah, and graphic metaphors. There is no shortage of things to choose from for this chapter and I look forward to getting started.

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Introducing the Contributors to “The Bible And Violence” – Laura Carlson Hasler and Alexiana Fry

We continue with our profiles of some of the 100+ contributors of the Bible and Violence project (under contract with Bloomsbury). (For our earlier introduction to the Bible and Violence Project, see here.) Today we are thrilled to introduce Laura Carlson Hasler and Alexiana Fry. 

Laura Carlson Hasler is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies at Indiana University Bloomington where she holds the Alvin H. Rosenfeld Chair in Hebrew Bible. She is the author of Archival Historiography in Jewish Antiquity (Oxford, 2020, see here), which argues that the literary form of certain Second Temple texts, such as Ezra and Nehemiah, mimics archival spaces and represents a means of cultural postexilic recovery. She is the author of several recent articles: “The Cited Documents of Ezra-Nehemiah: Does their Authenticity Matter?” (Biblical Interpretation 27/3, 2019, see here) calls into question the usefulness of categories like “fabrication” and “authenticity” in biblical scholarship; “Persia is Everywhere Where Nothing Happens: Imperial Ubiquity and Its Limits in Ezra-Nehemiah” (Bible & Critical Theory 16/1, 2020; open access) argues for a new way of reading representations of empire in the ancient world; “Poor Circulation: Embodied Economics in Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah 1–8” (Journal of Biblical Literature 141/3, 2022, see here) contends that in the texts of postexilic prophets Judean collectivity is made legible through concepts of exchange and sensation. Laura is writing one of the chapters on Violence and the Minor Prophets

I am writing about violence in the Minor Prophets, focusing on Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Though these texts may not be the first that come to mind when considering violence in the Bible, they are riddled with representations, explanations, and expectations of bodily pain. In this chapter, I will use the Second Temple prophetic texts to explore the ambiguities that haunt the term “violence” – especially fantasies of divinely-orchestrated coercive harm. Does harm presuppose violence? How can we measure coercion? And do textualized or future violences count as “real” violence, anyway? Deriving an emic understanding of violence from these texts discloses the term’s rich instability and demands that readers grapple with their own assumptions about agency, power, textual representation, and the body.

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Alexiana Fry is research fellow at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). She recently finished her PhD in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, focusing her research on the intersections of migration, trauma, and feminism. She is currently finishing her first monograph on Speech Act Theory and trauma, provisionally entitled Through the Middle of the Thick (Lexington Press). Alexiana is writing the chapter on Violence, Trauma, and the Bible. She wants to add that she is indebted to her two pugs for their snuggles, which help her to write.

We are living in a time where biblical studies and wider society both seem finally to be catching up with recognizing the profound impact and implications of trauma on our lives and our interpretations of experiences and texts. While trauma in and of itself is horrific, it is also quite mundane in that it can and does affect anyone, regardless of location, time, or identity. Shoshana Felman speaks of moving from an “era of testimony” to an “era of trauma,” which I perceive as bringing about a blurry mess of sorts, where we are desperate to be understood and make sense of a society that is very much in flux and transition. 

Writing this chapter, then, is going to be difficult. It will aim to provide an introduction and invitation of sorts into what could be in the future of the field of trauma-informed biblical studies, looking forward while acknowledging and examining traces of trauma in ancient texts that continue to be interpreted in the present. We’re only just beginning to better understand trauma, and the possibilities of doing so are utterly fascinating to me (and, I hope, you). 

I aim to provide a definition of trauma and examine trauma within the socio-historical world of biblical texts, in terms of the words being read, and with respect to embodied readers in the present. Contexts of the past, trauma language, and the embodied present: all are potential sites of violence, and impact our interpretation of trauma. And this is just the beginning! 

What thrills me most is the prospect of exploring trauma and violence in the round, and, once they are better understood, to imagine a softer, kinder, healing world. My hope is this will facilitate something of a radical departure from where we currently are, including in the academy, and in biblical studies. I’m excited to see where these explorations take me. 

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Introducing The Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Luis A. Quiñones-Román and Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Today we are introducing two more contributors to the Bible and Violence Project: Luis A. Quiñones-Román and Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer.

Luis A. Quiñones-Román is Ph.D. candidate in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh (Scotland). Luis was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He obtained two Bachelor’s degrees, one in Biblical Studies from Mizpa Pentecostal University (Puerto Rico) and one in History of the Americas from the University of Puerto Rico. Luis has also completed two Master’s degrees: one in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary (USA) and the second in Bible and the Ancient Near East from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel). As a researcher, he is primarily interested in cuneiform laws, biblical laws, sexual violence, source criticism, Pentateuch studies, and Pentecostal studies. Luis is one of two contributors writing on Violence in the General Letters.

My chapter on the General Letters of the New Testament focuses on divine violence and will identify and analyse Hebrew Bible elements used in the Letters to sanction violence. It should be acknowledged that violence within these texts is literary violence, which is sometimes distinct from describing just physical violence. Given my focus, I will consider the passages that make specific references to divine violence. In Hebrews 10:26–31, for instance, the author uses “the law of Moses” to sanction divine violence: “whoever violates the law of Moses dies without mercy” (Heb 10:28). The author creates a concept of a “no mercy rule” for those who sin. The author then tries to reason with the audience: “How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God?” Again, the author evokes the Hebrew Bible, quoting Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” By doing so, the author keeps amplifying fear, violence and their association with the Hebrew Bible. Hence, it says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). This sounds very ominous and suggests psychological violence.

The General Letters use other elements as “weapons of fear” as well, promoting the notion that one should be frightened of God’s wrath. One example is reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah episode (2 Peter 2:4-10; Jude 1:7). So, when applying our “preliminary definition” in these texts, we see that divine violence is used by the author with the intentional aim “to control/oppress others.” Therefore, there is a pattern in authors’ sanctioning of divine violence, which occurs in three or four moves: 1) the author evokes an episode of the Hebrew Bible; 2) the author reasons with the audience; 3) the author re-evokes a passage of the Hebrew Bible; and then 4) creates a “rule/policy/doctrine.”

Discussion of this topic is vital, because the world we live in is a very hostile and violent place, particularly for minority groups. Human violence has been linked to divine violence throughout many ages. Humans use violence as a weapon to control and oppress others, and this is especially potent when it has the sanction of the deity. Divine violence may act as a deterrent for violent transgression, but it is also used as a model to justify more violence—as we see in some passages in the General Letters. I look forward to developing this more in the chapter I am writing. 

(For more about Luis and his work, see here.)

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Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer is Professor of Old Testament Exegesis at Örebro School of Theology (Sweden). She specialises in Hebrew Bible and has mostly worked in the area of biblical prophecy. She has published a series of monographs: Priestly Rites and Prophetic Rage: Post-Exilic Prophetic Critique of the Priesthood (2006), For the Comfort of Zion: The Geographical and Theological Location of Isaiah 40–55 (2011), Zechariah and His Visions: An Exegetical Study of Zechariah’s Vision Report (2015), and Zechariah’s Vision Report and Its Earliest Interpreters: A Redaction-Critical Study of Zechariah 1–8 (2016). In parallel, Tiemeyer has written a shorter textbook on Ezra-Nehemiah (2017), and edited the Oxford Handbook of Isaiah (2020). As if that wasn’t enough, she has also published collections of articles, with focus on the relationship between prophecy and the cult of ancient Israel (2016), and on the Book of the Twelve (2020). Most recently, she published a commentary, Jonah through the Centuries (2021), which led her into the wonderous world of reception history. This interest has resulted in her forthcoming book devoted to the character of Jonathan in 1–2 Samuel. It is aptly called In Search of Jonathan (2023) and explores the literary afterlives of Jonathan in contemporary fiction, and what light these various portrayals can shed upon the biblical narrative. Lena-Sofia is writing a chapter on Violence and its suppression in the David story. 

I am continuing to work on the book of Samuel in various ways. I am contracted to write a commentary on 1–2 Samuel and to co-edit the Oxford Handbook of King David. At the same time, I am developing further my interest in the literary afterlives of biblical characters in The Routledge Handbook of the Hebrew Bible in Contemporary Novels, Short Stories, and Poetry. It is this interest that my chapter for the Bible and Violence project builds on. I will explore how the violence in the David narrative has been treated in its later reception. Mostly, it has been toned down to ensure that David remains the hero of the story and to uphold the image of the ideal Davidic king. Most noticeably, rather than David raping Bathsheba, the sordid affair is often transformed into a mutual love story and/or Bathsheba is blamed for seducing David. In other cases, whole sections of the David narrative are removed, again to uphold a less violent and less savage hero. David’s sojourn among the Philistines is seldom mentioned, and the violence with which he seeks revenge upon his enemies is rarely elaborated on. At the same time, other retellings problematise David’s violence and make it the linchpin around which the plot revolves. In several literary retellings, David’s willingness to obtain 100 Philistine foreskins, which presumably meant killing the men beforehand, is understood as the turning-point in David’s life when he begins his descent into violence. 

(For a complete list of Lena’s many publications, see here.)

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Introducing The Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Katherine Southwood and Dominic Irudayaraj

Over the next weeks and months, as our Bible and Violence project (under contract with Bloomsbury) gathers momentum and grows, we will be profiling some of the 100+ contributors. Today we are thrilled to introduce Katherine Southwood and Dominic Irudayaraj. (For our earlier introduction to the Bible and Violence Project, see here.)

Katherine Southwood is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, St John’s College. She specialises in Hebrew Bible and is passionate about interdisciplinary engagement with material from antiquity. Katherine has published several monographs: Job’s Body and the Dramatised Comedy of Moralising (2021); Marriage by Capture in the Book of Judges (2017); and Ethnicity and the Mixed Marriage Crisis in Ezra 9-10 (2012). She has also published many articles and chapters in edited volumes, and she enjoys the privilege of teaching students. Katherine is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Judges, as well as a chapter on self-critical correction when writing on the Bible and violence.

My second monograph, Marriage by Capture in the Book of Judges, was published in 2017. It focused primarily on the mass abduction and rape of women as depicted in Judges 21. Save for a note in the preface, my tone throughout the book was distant, even clinical. This was a coping mechanism, a way of maintaining an emotional and critical remove from the distressing content of the chapter I was writing on. I realise on reflection that it is harmful to remain critically detached when engaging with distressing biblical primary evidence. We scholars have an ethical duty not to turn off our emotions. In my chapter for this volume I will admit that in the past my tone in writing was deeply problematic. Academic work is never finished, in my view, so now I feel I need to return to Judges 21 and try to show what a difference it makes to engage the text with a mixture of intellect and emotion. 

I will argue that it is urgent not to ignore texts in the Bible wherein rape occurs, because silence about these texts is problematic.  Distancing myself, or turning away from, or ignoring rape in Judges 21 has consequence for how the text is read and for how it lives on, because it shrouds sexual violence under a veil of stigma, shame, and taboo. This is especially powerful given that Judges 21 is in what is, for many, Scripture. 

For as long as sexual violence exists in our societies, sanitising and euphemising biblical texts depicting sexual violence only adds to the problem. These texts can and should make us uncomfortable and outraged. We need safe spaces for discussion of such texts. I will argue that critical empathy can help us to understand the dehumanising “logic” that underpins the entire “marriage” system in Judges. And this, in turn, can detoxify and help us to unravel and undermine this system. I suggest that by acknowledging the pain such systems cause, and by grieving, we can resist the values and structures that make the violence we find in Judges 21 possible. 

(For more about Katherine and her publications, see here.)

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Dominic S. Irudayaraj is Jesuit priest and Professore Lettore at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He reads the Bible as a faith-inspired and faith-inspiring book yet concedes that biblical violence as a concept can be dissonant both in classroom settings and ministerial contexts. The theme of violence in the Bible invites him to read in ways that balance criticism with respect for the text. Dominic is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Isaiah. 

I am a biblical exegete, with research and teaching interests in Hebrew Bible prophetic books, especially Isaiah and Micah. I am drawn to emerging interpretive approaches and read the ancient prophetic texts in terms of their relevance and import for contexts ancient and current. 

My monograph Violence, Otherness, and Identity in Isaiah 63:1–6: The Trampling One Coming from Edom (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017) avails both social identity approaches and iconographic exegesis to wrestle with the violence in this very difficult text. I am also co-editor of a forthcoming volume, Isaiah and Its Unity: Challenges and Promises (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, manuscript submitted). I approach the theme of violence through a triad of interpretive lenses: socio-cultural, literary-rhetorical, and theological. On this, see my article, “Violence in the Bible: Towards a Non-violent Reading.” The Bible and Interpretation (April 2019, here). This article is available also in Hungarian! (“Erőszak A Bibliában – Úton Egy Erőszakmentes Olvasat Felé.” Trans. by Miklós Szabó, in Bibliakultúra 2020, here.)

I have taught graduate level courses with a particular focus on biblical violence at Hekima University College (Nairobi, Kenya) and Pontifical Biblical Institute (Rome, Italy). Currently, I am part of a four-member committee to develop a team-taught course called “Discourses and Counter-Discourses of Violence: Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Beyond.” 

In my chapter for the Bible & Violence volume, I aim to attend to some or all of the following: (1) a conceptual clarification of violence in Isaiah; (2) a description of violence and its varieties in Isaiah; (3) a reading of violence in select Isaiah texts (for example, chapters 1, 24, 34, or 63); (4) an account of some ab/uses of these texts in interpretive history; and (5) the value of reading these difficult texts non-violently. 

(For more publications by Dominic, see here.)

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Announcing ‘The Bible and Violence’

An painting of a violence scene from the Bible

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence”.

(Genesis 6:11)

The Shiloh Project is delighted to announce our latest endeavour. Bloomsbury T&T Clark have commissioned a definitive and comprehensive reference work for biblical scholars, scholars of religion, religious leaders and community members, practitioners, students, and lay readers interested in the Bible and violence.

With a list of over 100 stellar chapters proposed and confirmed, The Bible and Violence aims to be an inclusive reference work that explores the complex dynamics between the Bible, its interpretation, reception, and outworkings, with particular emphasis on violence in its multifarious forms.

These specially commissioned essays from leading and emerging researchers in the discipline will provide critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates around violence and the Bible, as well as a foundation for future research. It is structured in two parts:

Part I focuses primarily on texts: namely, the books of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles – but includes also some focus on additional texts that are inextricably linked with the Bible and the study and interpretation of the Bible, such as the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books, select Dead Sea Scrolls and Gnostic texts. This section focuses on discrete texts and on select themes that span across texts.

Part II focuses on how biblical texts have been used in violent ways or for violent ends; here the biblical texts are primarily read and analysed through contemporary lenses.

The editorial team, like the pool of contributors, has been formed with the size and scope of the project and with its aims of diversity and inclusion in mind.

Our project, moreover, is aimed at more than a publication. As part of the project, we will be running research and training events, and setting up peer support and mentoring. Our aim is collaboratively to create a great resource and a vibrant and connected research community.

In Spring 2023, will be our first research colloquium for contributors.

The editorial team consists of: Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds) and Johnathan Jodamus (University of the Western Cape), Chris Greenough (Edge Hill University) and Mmapula Kebaneilwe (University of Botswana).

Johanna Stiebert
Johnathan Jodamus
Chris Greenough
Mmapula Kebaneilwe

The team is supported by three editorial advisors, who have already proved invaluable to the work to date: Prof. Tat-siong Benny Liew, Prof. Mitzi Smith and Dr Rachel Starr.

Our confirmed contributors include leading figures and exciting new voices in biblical studies from across the globe. Over the next months and years, as the project develops, look out for profiles of contributors.

Watch this space for updates!

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