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Bible and Violence Project

The Bible and Violence: Online Conference

An painting of a violence scene from the Bible

It’s just over a year since we launched our Bible and Violence project. With a list of over 120 stellar chapters, The Bible and Violence will 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.

We’re so excited to share the good news with you. The Bible and Violence project will be holding an online conference from Monday 25th – Wednesday 27th March 2024. The aim of this short conference is to share some of the work already submitted by contributors – to give you a sneak preview of the varieties of violence in biblical books and their uses.

Our fabulous line up of speakers and topics is below.  Please note all times are GMT (UK), so please check for your local time equivalent.

The event is free, but please follow this link to sign up. Places are limited, so don’t miss out.

For any queries, please contact: thebibleandviolence@gmail.com

Monday 25th March
9:15-9:30Welcome
9:30-10:15Erin Hutton, Australian College of Theology, AustraliaStriking like the Morning Star: How can Song of Songs 6:4–10 prevent domestic abuse?
10:15-11:00Grace Smith, University of Divinity, AustraliaRape Culture and the Bible: the efficiency of rape and rape propaganda
11:00-11:15Break
11:15-12:00Robert Kuloba, Kyambogo University, UgandaThe Ideological Dilemma of Suicide in Uganda: African Bible Hermeneutical Perspectives
12:00-12:45Deborah Kahn-Harris, Leo Baeck College, UKViolence in the Book of Lamentations
12:45-13:00Close
Tuesday 26th March
14:00-14:15 Welcome
14:15-15:00Stephen Moore, The Theological School, Drew University, USAViolence Visible and Invisible in the Synoptic Gospels
15:00-15:45Juliana Claassens, Stellenbosch University, South AfricaExploring Literary Representations of Violence in Bible in/and Literature
15:45-16:00Break
16:00-16:45Barbara Thiede, UNC-Charlotte, USAViolence in the David Narrative: A Divine Order
16:45-17:30Alex Clare-Young, Westminster College, Cambridge Theological Federation, UKThe Bible and Transphobia: The Violence of Binarism
17:30-17:45Close
Wednesday 27th March
14:00-14:15Welcome
14:15-15:00Alexiana Fry, University of Copenhagen, DenmarkViolence, Trauma, and the Bible
15:00-15:45Susannah Cornwall, University of Exeter, UKThe Bible, Intersex Being and (Biomedical) Violence
15:45-16:00Break
16:00-16:45Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, ALT School of Theology, SwedenViolence and Lack of Violence in the Reception of David
16:45-17:30Luis Quiñones-Román, University of Edinburgh, UKDivine Violence in The General Letters
17:30-17:45Close
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The Bible and Violence Project: Meet Joseph N. Goh

Picture of Joseph N. Goh credited to Puah Sze Ning

Joseph N. Goh (he/they/any) hails from Sarawak, Malaysia, and joined the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia in January 2016.  Currently a Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies, Goh’s first single-authored monograph entitled Living Out Sexuality and Faith: Body Admissions of Malaysian Gay and Bisexual Men (Routledge 2018) was based on his doctoral project. It analyses and theorises the self-understandings of gay and bisexual men of various ethnicities, classes, ages and faiths on their gender and sexual identities and practices, and their performances of religiosity and spirituality. His second book, Becoming a Malaysian Trans Man: Gender, Society, Body and Faith (Palgrave Macmillan 2020), was the first dedicated academic volume on Malaysian transgender men, and won the ‘Ground-Breaking Subject Matter Accolade’ in the IBP 2021 Accolades in the Social Sciences category of the ICAS Book Prize 2021 competition. His third sole-authored volume, Doing Church at the Amplify Open and Affirming Conferences: Queer Ecclesiologies in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan 2021), was the first in-depth theological study of a series of Christian conferences in Asia by and for LGBTIQ-affirming churches, communities, organisations and individuals. Goh has also co-edited several anthologies with Robert E. Shore-Goss, Hugo Córdova Quero, Michael Sepidoza Campos, Sharon A. Bong and Thaatchaayini Kananatu. He is a member of the Emerging Queer Asian Pacific Islander Religion Scholars international group (EQARS), and sits on the advisory board of the Queer Asia Book Series (Hong Kong University Press), as well as the editorial boards of the Queer and Trans Intersections Series (University of Wales Press) and QTR: A Journal of Queer and Transgender Studies in Religion (Duke University Press).

Goh, along with his collaborators, was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity and Inclusion Award (2018) and Pro-Vice Chancellor’s Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award (2022) for the development of the Understanding Gender Inclusivity in Malaysia training module at Monash University Malaysia, which serves to create greater awareness of the issues, needs and concerns of LGBTIQ people in the interest of equity, diversity and inclusion. With research interests in LGBTIQ studies, human rights, sexual health, theology, spirituality, religion, and qualitative research, Goh’s two present projects focus on the complex and controversial operations of SEED Malaysia, the first transgender-led community-based organisation in Malaysia, and the manifold spiritualities of Malaysian Christian transgender women.

Goh’s contribution to The Bible and Violence Project is a book chapter entitled ‘A Triptych of Biblical Violence Towards Gay and Transgender Christians: The Case of Malaysia’. Cognisant of the multifarious ways in which the Bible continues to be weaponised against people of diverse genders and sexualities in his home country, Goh argues that there are three parallel and mutually interactive dynamics in the production of Christian violence against LGBTQ Malaysians: (i) official Bible-based ecclesiastical pronouncements against gender and sexual diversities; (ii) scriptural de-legitimisations of gay and transgender people as personally experienced in churches and faith communities; and (iii) insidious practices of conversion therapy. He demonstrates how non-affirming Malaysian Christianity galvanises and preserves the vulnerability of LGBTQ Malaysians, branded as ‘sexually broken’, with far-reaching consequences beyond the immediate use of the Bible as ‘sacred’ arsenal.

Goh owns a personal website at https://www.josephgoh.org/

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The Bible and Violence Project – and Manipur: An Update

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

The Bible and Violence Project is humming along, and chapters have started to trickle in as the first deadline (in early October) approaches. It has been cheering to hear of our contributors forming support and writing groups, sharing ideas and sources.

We editors have always felt passionate about this project, and we recognized from the outset that this is work that matters and will have impact. Sometimes, this feeling and knowledge is brought home to us with poignancy and intensity.

Today we want to highlight the dreadful events that continue to unfold in Manipur, India. Since May this year the long-standing conflict in Manipur between the mostly Hindu Meitei and the mostly Christian Kuki scheduled tribes peoples has escalated markedly and erupted in multiple acts of brutality and in human rights violations that have claimed (mostly Kuki) lives and displaced tens of thousands of people, among other harms. (For more background, see here.) 

The situation in Manipur is one where religion and rape culture clash with tragic and fatal force. And yet, it receives little in the way of outrage or attention in either the international media or wider international community.

One of our Bible and Violence contributors is Chingboi Guite Phaipi; she is writing the chapter “The Bible and Violence with Perspectives of Tribal Communities of India.” Understandably, turning to this subject matter is overwhelmingly painful at present, when members of Chingboi’s community are uprooted, frightened, distressed, and grieving. 

Rape culture, as many articles on our blog make clear, covers a wide spectrum of harmful acts, from verbal microaggressions and online abuse, to physical and fatal violence. One distressing and strategically vicious expression of rape culture in Manipur is the stripping and parading of Kuki women, which has been filmed and disseminated to spread fear and intimidation. There are also very many reports of rapes of women, including gang rapes. (There is an article on sexual violence in Manipur, here.) 

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized for being slow to act and stands accused of fanning Hindu nationalist ideologies that benefit and please the electoral base of the party he leads, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These same ideologies, it is argued, exacerbate abuse, and take a toll on several religious minorities in India, including the Kuki. The Kuki are demanding justice and pushing for a separate administration, to defend and protect their lives and lands from incursion and violence (see here).

The Bible and Violence Project brings together many voices from all over the world, to reflect the dispersion of the Bible’s influence. It examines a myriad of ways in which the Bible depicts, justifies, suppresses, promotes, or resists multiple forms of violence. For some of our contributors this is primarily an exercise in research and scholarship; for others, it represents something visceral, even matters of life and death. Biblical interpretation is political, sometimes intensely so. 

We are excited to see how the project will come together. Along the way, we are often affected by the circumstances and experiences of our contributors. We have already learned a great deal and look forward to seeing the project grow and find a diverse and far-flung readership. Please look out for future posts and for the publication of multiple volumes, including, we hope, in online and – eventually – in open access formats.

We encourage everyone to follow and stay informed about events in Manipur. Alongside some articles such as the ones linked above, you can find out more from ITLF (Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum), or (especially if you are based in the USA or Canada), NAMTA (North American Manipur Tribal Association). The latter was formed this year and raises consciousness, support, and funds for the tribal people of Manipur.  

Here are the websites for both: https://www.itlfmediacell.com/ and https://namta.us/

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The Bible and Violence Project: Meet Alex Clare-Young

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

I’m Alex Clare-Young and I am a creator, a writer, a member of the Iona Community, an ordained minister in the United Reformed Church and a transmasculine non-binary person. That last bit means that I was labeled as female at birth and have transitioned towards male, and that I now identify outside of the binary genders of male and female. I use the pronouns they/them or just my name. I am currently in ministry in Cambridge City Centre, where I particularly work with those who have experienced exclusion and isolation, including those who have suffered church-related trauma. I am also an associate tutor at Westminster College, Cambridge. As well as this chapter on transphobia, violence and the Bible, I am also currently working on a chapter about trans pregnancy for a volume on pregnancy and theology and on a book, Trans Forming, which arises out of my PhD thesis on trans identities and theology and will be published by SCM Press in early 2024. 

Alex Clare-Young

For me, there is an inextricable link between biblical interpretation and transphobic violence. I do not only mean transphobic violence perpetrated by Christians. I mean all transphobic violence. That claim rests on the words “You are either a man, or a woman”. Those words, or words like them, are heard regularly by trans people just before a verbal, psychological, physical, spiritual or sexual attack. They can also be found littering our media – print, audio, screen, and social – daily. I was asked yesterday how it feels to be trans when, at the moment, people are debating our existence very publicly all of the time. The reality is that it feels like violence. Those words – man on the one hand, and woman on the other, are not scientifically or historically founded. Rather, they are found in interpretations of scripture. They are not found in scripture itself but in interpretations thereof. That is why I believe strongly in this chapter. It is essential that people of good will continue to challenge the narrow interpretation of scripture that grounds daily violence against trans and non-binary people. 

As a trans person, I would rather stay as far away from the topic as possible. It would be safer. As a human being, and particularly as a human being who claims to be a part of the Body of Christ, I cannot ignore this violence or the voices of those who are suffering. That is why I write.


If you are involved in the Bible and Violence Project and want to be featured on this blog, please contact Johanna (j.stiebert@leeds.ac.uk)

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Update on the Bible & Violence Project

The Bible and Violence Project is up and running!

We now have over 120 contributors signed up. Many of them are busy forming and working together in writing groups; others are receiving or providing mentoring. If you are a contributor and find yourself in need of support or motivation, please be in touch if we can help.

The publication emerging from this project aims to be the most comprehensive and inclusive on the topic of the Bible and violence to date. Alongside chapters on every text of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Greek Bible, there will also be chapters on the Bible and…:

Its role and impact in diverse geographical settings

Incel cultures and the manosphere

The ethics of citing violent scholars

HIV/AIDS

Liberative readings in violent settings

Environmental violence

Colonialism

Trafficking

Intimate partner violence

Genocide

Gender-based violence

Rape and rape culture

Violence aimed at children, at animals, and at the deceased

Violence in the family

Divine violence

Supersessionism

Antisemitism, as well as Islamophobia

Martyrdom

War

Crime fiction

Abortion activism

Transphobia

Zionism

Fat shaming…

… and that is not all. Alongside yet more exciting topics, there will also be some chapters on select rabbinical texts and Dead Sea Scrolls, gnostic and deuterocanonical texts.

We have already received contributions ahead of the first deadline of 2 October 2023 by Katherine SouthwoodSébastien DoaneAlison JackBarbara Thiede and Alexiana Fry, with more in the pipeline.

Two of the editors – Chris and Johanna – recently visited Manchester to present at the United Reformed Church research conference on both The Shiloh Project and Bible and Violence Project. While there, we enjoyed hearing Megan Warner’s paper on her topic for the project. 

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The Bible and Violence Project: Meet Sébastien Doane 

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

Sébastien Doane is a tenured professor at Université Laval in Québec, Canada. His thesis (Analyse de la réponse du lecteur aux origines de Jésus en Mt 1-2, Peeters 2019) was on the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel applying a reader-response methodology. His research focuses on the relation between biblical texts and real readers with regards to gender, affect, and trauma. To find out more, see his recent articles: « Affective Resistance to Sirach’s Androcentric Presentation of a Daughter’s Body » (Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies)« Echoes of Rachel’s Weeping: Intertextuality and Trauma in Jer. 31:15 » (Biblical Interpretation), « Masculinities of the Husbands in the Genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:2–16)» (Biblical Interpretation), and « An Ass in a Lion’s Skin: The Subversion of Judah’s Hegemonic Masculinity in Gen 38 » (Postscripts). He is a member of the SBL Hermeneutics of Trauma unit.

Sébastien Doane

I became a feminist in my mid thirties and was invited to speak at a National Women Studies Association Annual Meeting. I met great people and realised that as a man, I have a role to play to strive for gender equality. And as a biblical scholar, I must work towards meaningful work, such as this Bible and Violence project. It was only a year ago, in my mid forties, that I truly became aware that I am a descendant of French and English colonisers. My ancestors have lived in North America for the last 300 years. The first American Doane was a deacon in the first New England colony.  He came to America Bible in hand and the good book was used to legitimise a violent enterprise. In my chapter, I will focus on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ genealogy. This biblical text does not seem to be violent. However, its interpretations have engendered violence against women and members of first nations. It is important for religious and academic biblical commentators to become aware of the ethical implications of our work. 


If you are involved in the Bible and Violence Project and want to be featured on this blog, please contact Johanna (j.stiebert@leeds.ac.uk)

If you have questions about the project, or suggestions for our next workshop, please be in touch.

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Introducing Contributors to The Bible & Violence: Rosie Clare Shorter and Kirsi Cobb

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

Rosie Clare Shorter is a feminist researcher interested in sociology of religion and genders and sexualities studies. She completed her PhD at Western Sydney University in Australia. Her doctoral thesis explores Sydney Anglicanism as a lived religion, focusing on the social consequences of complementarianism. She is currently a sessional academic and you might catch her teaching or doing research assistant work at The University of Melbourne, Deakin University, or Western Sydney University (the latter online only, the commute is too far!). She is the executive officer for the Australian Association for the Study of Religion. Rosie is writing on the violent consequence of complementarian language.

To read more about Rosie and her work, see:
https://rosieclareshorter.com/  and https://supporttosurvive.com/

Shorter, R. 2021. ‘Rethinking Complementarianism: Sydney Anglicans, Orthodoxy and Gendered Inequality’, Religion and Gender 11/2 (doi: 10.1163/18785417-bja10005).

Shorter, R., E. Sessions & E. Hamence. 2021. ‘Taking Women At Their Word: How to Respond Well’, Eternity New (see here). 


Rosie Clare Shorter


My chapter will look at how the language of complementarianism, which is derived from the Bible, maintains gendered hierarchies and inequalities that scaffold gendered violence in evangelical Anglican communities. My focus is on the Anglican church in Sydney, Australia.  We know that Anglicans experience gendered violence at rates which are at least equal to, if not higher than, their non-Anglican counterparts (Powell and Pepper, 2021). Aspects of church teaching, particularly complementarian ideas to do with headship and submission, as well as misuse of Scripture, contribute to this. It is important to look closely at the language of complementarianism. Changing our language is key to changing cultures of gendered inequality and violence. My chapter will emphasise this.

Kirsi Cobb is a lecturer in biblical studies at Cliff College in Derbyshire, UK. She wrote her PhD dissertation on the biblical figure of Miriam and the multiple ways her story can be read when using different methods of hermeneutics. Her current research focuses on women in the Hebrew Bible with a special interest in biblical interpretation, including feminist, deconstructive and trauma studies. Her recent projects include two papers (one open access with De Gruyter and one with JSOT) which focus on the story of Lot’s daughters in Genesis 19 in the light of trauma theory. Her forthcoming publications include a book chapter on Woman Wisdom and Dame Folly in Proverbs (for The Oxford Handbook of the Hebrew Bible, Gender, and Sexuality) and a study on gender and sexual violence in Hosea (for The Oxford Handbook of the Book of Hosea). Kirsi is co-founder of the Bible, Gender and Church Research Centre, with Dr Holly Morse (University of Manchester). Together they work on an AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded research network around the topic Abusing God: Reading the Bible in the #MeToo AgeTo date they have hosted one colloquium focused on coercive control, with another on hypermasculinity due to take place in April 2023. Kirsi is writing the chapter on Spiritual Abuse.  

Dr Kirsi Cobb, Cliff College (UK)

Several years ago, I was visiting friends on holiday with my then-boyfriend. We were supposed to stay for a few weeks but after about five days my boyfriend wanted to leave. I wanted to stay but he informed me that complying with his wish would be good practice for marriage where he would be my head and I would need to submit to his wishes. As an obedient Christian (and to the great upset of my friends) I left with him. A couple of decades later I was marking a student essay. She was evaluating her recent experience in a church, where the pastor had used the Bible to brow-beat his congregants into submission. Not touching the ‘Lord’s anointed’ was held up as an ideal that shut down any questioning over decisions made. Both this student and I had experienced something for which at the time we had no name: spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is a relatively new and a contested term, and some see research into the topic as threatening religious freedom. As Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys  (2019: 18-20) have noted, however, these qualms should not prevent us from acknowledging people’s experiences of spiritual abuse or listening to survivors’ voices. In their monograph, they use the term ‘spiritual abuse’ to describe a range of experiences. Darby Strickland (2020: 346) has defined spiritual abuse as ‘[a]buse that occurs when an oppressor establishes control and domination by using Scripture, doctrine, or their “leadership role” as weapons. Spiritual abuse may mask itself as religious practice and may be used to shame or punish. For example, 

  • using Bible verses to shame or control 
  • demanding unconditional obedience 
  • using biblical texts or beliefs to minimize or rationalize abusive behaviors.’ 

In the experiences mentioned, some of these behaviours can be clearly seen. In my case, my boyfriend took a passage about male headship and wifely submission in Ephesians 5:22-23 and with some creative interpreting turned it into a manifesto about girlfriends, boyfriends, and unquestioned female obedience to male dominance. In the experience of the student, the pastor used his position of power and a misreading of Scripture (Psalm 105:15; 1 Samuel 24:6, see Helen Paynter 2020:90-92) to enforce his authority. Scripture, doctrine, and leadership roles can all be forces for the good in the world, but they can also be used to harm fellow believers. This demands our attention and requires a response. In my chapter I will explore the different forms of spiritual abuse and what the Church can do to become a safe space for survivors.  

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Introducing the Contributors To “The Bible and Violence” – Ericka S. Dunbar, Chingboi Guite Phaipi, and Tim Judson

We are delighted to introduce three more contributors to the Bible and Violence Project. Today, meet Ericka S. Dunbar, Chingboi Guite Phaipi and Tim Judson (– and find the Baylor connection between two of them!). 

But first… the editorial team of The Bible & Violence has finally met in person! Johnathan Jodamus and Mmapula Kebaneilwe joined Shiloh co-directors Chris Greenough and Johanna Stiebert for a public engagement event and conference in Leeds (30 and 31 January 2023). It was fantastic to hatch plans and meet in person (even if it was a trifle chilly outside). But now… back to the contributors…

Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Baylor University (USA). Her research focuses on biblical texts in relation to topics of gender, ethnicity, violence, intersectional oppression, sexual(ized) abuse, colonialism, trauma, and diaspora. Her first book, Trafficking Hadassah: Collective Trauma, Cultural Memory, and Identity in the Book of Esther and the African Diaspora (Routledge, 2021) is based on her doctoral dissertation and is a dialogical cultural study of sexual trafficking in the book of Esther and during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In this project, Dr. Dunbar analyses how ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and colonialism intersect and interact in instances of human trafficking both in ancient and contemporary contexts. Dr. Dunbar will be writing the chapter on The Bible, Trafficking, and Enslavement

Enslavement, trafficking, and exploitation of the vulnerable are deeply rooted in large expanses of human history. From ancient to contemporary times, sacred texts and historical narratives and artifacts reflect practices of enslavement and trafficking of marginalized individuals and communities. I will illustrate that depictions of trafficking and enslavement in the Bible are often normalized and rarely contested by biblical writers and biblical interpreters alike. Moreover, many biblical stories frame trafficking and enslavement as reliant upon and as perpetuating kyriarchal and patriarchal ideologies, values, and practices.   

Drawing on biblical texts, I intend to (a) use contemporary definitions of (human and sexual) trafficking and enslavement to analyse practices depicted in biblical texts; (b) challenge ancient and contemporary rape cultures and other structural inequities that lead to widespread violence and oppression; (c) reflect upon physical, psychological, and spiritual implications of trafficking and enslavement; and (d) urge readers and interpreters to continue resisting and transforming exploitative, violent and oppressive systems. 

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Chingboi Guite Phaipi comes from a tribal Christian community in Northeast India that converted en masse a century ago, the result of Western missionaries’ efforts. Chingboi has taught Old Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary and also serves as a Ministers Team member at the First Baptist Church of Chicago. She has published two monographs, Rebuilding a Post-exilic Community: The Golah Community and the “Other” in the Book of Ezra (Pickwick/Wipf and Stock, 2019) and The Bible and Patriarchy in Traditional Patriarchal Society: Re-reading the Bible’s Creation Stories (T&T Clark, January 2023), as well as articles, including “The First Encounter of the Golah and Their ‘Adversaries’ (Ezra 4:1–5): Who Are the Adversaries, and on What Is the Adversity Based?” (Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 20, 2020)“Sending Away Foreign Wives in Ezra 9–10: With a Brief Reflection from a Minority Tribal Perspective” (Asia Journal of Theology 35.1, 2021), and “The Bible and Women’s Subordination: A Tribal Woman Re-reads Genesis 2–3” (International Journal of Asian Christianity 5.1, 2022). For this project, Chingboi will be writing a chapter on The Bible and Violence with Perspectives of Tribal Communities of India.

The Bible is a deeply ingrained part of the identities of the Northeast Indian hill tribes and our traditional tribal cultures share some similarities with biblical Israel’s cultures, as I observe in my latest monograph, The Bible and Patriarchy in Traditional Patriarchal Society

I argue in my earlier monograph, Rebuilding a Post-exilic Community (2019), that it was the strong self-perception of the exile returnees that impelled them to come up with the stringent measure of sending away “foreign” wives (Ezra 9–10) whom they came to perceive as the “other”. This was unjust. But sometimes, in our culture, too, even standards that are unjust are uncritically and irresponsibly upheld as biblical and Christian. 

Reflecting more deeply on our tribal Christian societies, it has become clearer to me that the Bible has been used violently, and that is partly connected with our confident self-perception of being “right” Christians and biblical. In my chapter for this volume, I will explore further the violent employment of the Bible in tribal Christian societies.

In tribal Christian societies (such as Northeast Indian tribes), violence may never be associated with the Bible. Indeed, no physical violence may be carried out in the name of the Bible or Christianity. But when observed carefully, non-physical violent use of the Bible abounds in tribal Christian societies—through both its religious doctrines/rules and its societal and cultural customary laws, mores, and unscripted gestures—that rob some community members of their dignity and fullness of life. In fact, such usages of the Bible are perhaps as or more tragic and deadly than physical violence. 


Tim Judson is Lecturer in Ministerial Formation at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford (UK), where he specialises in systematic theology. He is also an ordained minister in The Baptist Union of Great Britain and serves as pastor of a church in Devon. Tim is contributing a chapter on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christological appropriation of the vengeance psalms as they pertain to Christ’s call to love our enemies. The German theologian and pastor offers rich material for thinking seriously about the call to discipleship in a world where the church can be easily co-opted to serve violent agendas. 

Tim’s doctoral thesis explored the place and meaning of lament using Bonhoeffer as his main interlocutor. His monograph Awake in Gethsemane: Bonhoeffer and the Witness of Christian Lament (Baylor University Press, to be published in 2023) examines the theological, ethical and liturgical premise, as well as the obstacles, for faithful lament in the Christian community today. Something that Tim has been keen to do is to explore in more depth how Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount sits alongside Bonhoeffer’s stress on praying the whole Psalter. 

In my chapter I will present a summary of Bonhoeffer’s historical and theological context, which is necessary for understanding the problems he is attempting to redress in his own work. I will then offer an overview of Bonhoeffer’s famous book, Discipleship (or The Cost of Discipleship), which includes an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. An analysis of how Bonhoeffer navigates the “love your enemies” passages will frame an optic for then exploring the vengeance psalms, also known as the imprecatory psalms. Bonhoeffer offers a compelling, and disturbingly real hermeneutic for interpreting and appropriating these psalms as a form of faithful participation in the prayers and redemptive suffering of Christ. Finally, the chapter will suggest some challenges and opportunities for using Bonhoeffer’s method as it relates to situations of violence, abuse, and trauma. 

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Introducing three more contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Joyce Boham, Helen Paynter and Mothy Varkey

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

Joyce Boham is Deputy Director of the Institute of Women in Religion and Culture at the Talitha Qumi Centre of Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon (Ghana) and the Anglophone West African Coordinator of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. She has worked many years assisting Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye, founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians and, until her retirement, first Director of the Institute of Women in Religion and Culture. Joyce is interested in women’s empowerment through public education and counselling. Her target groups consist of Christian and Muslim women, traditional women leaders (such as Queen Mothers), and seminarians. She is passionate about gender sensitization and gender justice. Joyce has organized several public education programmes focusing on such issues as women’s health, women and cultural practices, women and economic empowerment, and at how religion influences Ghanaian women’s lives in these areas. Joyce is writing the chapter on Liberative Bible Reading at the Talitha Qumi Centre (Legon, Ghana) to Combat Violence.

For many years Ghanaian culture, through language, behaviour, and actions, has glorified the notion that women’s ‘silence is golden’. Hence, the idealized Ghanaian woman bears all things, good and bad, quietly, humbly, without fuss or complaint. This has been reinforced by religion in ways that over the years and up to the present has proven detrimental to women’s lives. 

At the Talitha Qumi Centre we try to give voice to women’s experience of suffering and to draw attention to the life-giving potential of religion and scripture, such as by using the example of Mark 5:21-43. This passage contains the stories of a woman healed from a constant discharge of blood and of a girl restored to life when Jesus says to her ‘Talitha, qumi’, ‘little girl, arise’ (the words that give our Centre its name). The goal has been to draw attention to and acknowledge both violence and suffering but also hope of healing. In the past, our liberative theological efforts have focused on how to include and help Ghanaian women through public education to understand that if culture or religion bring pain and violence, or hide pain and violence, they are not just.  Through our work at the Centre, we have also identified the urgent need to include seminarians in our training programmes so they are better equipped to lead congregations in confronting and preventing violence. The purpose of our training is to draw seminarians’ attention to the need for and importance of gender sensitivity and gender justice: in their work both in the liturgical space and in the wider community, in their pastoral duties and in their teaching and preaching. This has become particularly necessary, given the recent rise and prominence of domestic and intimate partner violence cases and the passive role of the church in the light of these cases. 

In my chapter, I will share the Talitha Qumi Centre’s liberative theological methods when working with various women’s groups, as well as some insights from discussions in gender sensitization and gender justice with our seminarians who are mostly male. The chapter will also bring out some of the challenges the Centre faces in its efforts and recommendations for the way forward.

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Helen Paynter is a Baptist minister in Bristol, England. She teaches biblical studies (mainly Old Testament and biblical theology) at the Bristol Baptist College. She is also the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence (see here). Helen is the author of several books on violence and Scripture: God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? Wrestling honestly with the Old Testament (BRF, 2019); Telling Terror in Judges 19: Rape and Reparation for the Levite’s Wife (Routledge, 2020); and The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: Why you don’t have to submit to domestic abuse and coercive control (BRF, 2020).Additionally, Helen has edited several volumes on topics of violence and Scripture and authored numerous shorter publications. Helen is writing two chapters: one on Violence in Numbers and one on Violence in Kings.

Violence in the Old Testament presents a number of problems. To believers, it generates questions around the goodness of God or the reliability of Scripture. But, more broadly, it has been used in many times across centuries and continents to justify violent and abusive actions. Contemporary interpretations, whether by those with a faith commitment to the text, or those without one, mandate wisdom and discretion in the ways that biblical texts might be appropriated for violent ends.

However, ‘violence’ in the Hebrew Bible is not a homogenous phenomenon. We read of violent actions portrayed, commanded, exhorted, condemned, judged, and vindicated. I am writing two chapters for the Bible and Violence Project: Violence in the book of Numbers, and Violence in the books of Kings. The chapter on Kings will draw on my doctoral work, where I explored their dark (and often violent) humour, arguing that these books constitute a seriocomedy which subverts many of the certainties of theocracy. My chapter on Numbers will connect with work I am currently undertaking, writing a Bible Commentary for Wipf and Stock. This commentary series, entitled The Bible in God’s World is intended to connect with themes of social justice. Numbers contains texts which will be challenging in this regard, including the test for a potentially unfaithful wife (Numbers 5), and the treatment of female war captives (Numbers 31). I will seek to explore how the violence in these and other texts is being used by the narrator to further theological and ideological ends.

For a full list of Helen’s publications, see here.

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Rev. Dr. Mothy Varkey is Professor of New Testament Studies at the Mar Thoma Theological Seminary in Kerala, India. He specialises in Biblical Hermeneutics, Disability Studies, the Synoptic Gospels, and Pauline Theology. Mothy has published several monographs in English, Malayalam, and Tamil: The Gospel According to Matthew: A Soteriological Commentary (2022); Church and Diakonia in the Age of COVID-19 (2021); Inheritance and Resistance: Reclaiming Bible, Body, and Power (2021); Salvation in Continuity: Reconsidering Matthew’s Soteriology (2017); The Concept of Power in the Sermon on the Mount: A Postcolonial Reading (2010). He has also published articles in international journals and contributed essays in edited volumes. Mothy enjoys the privilege of teaching and of supervising graduate and doctoral students, as well as postgraduates. Mothy is writing the chapter on Violence in Words Attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. 

I will try to explain how words and teachings attributed to Jesus were used to normalise and legalise various forms of violence. It will also explore alternative ways of reimagining such words of terror.  

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Introducing the Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Emily Allsopp and Alastair Hunter

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

Today we introduce two more contributors to the project – both based in Scotland: Emily Allsopp and Alastair Hunter

Emily Allsopp is PhD Candidate in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include feminist literary criticism, female bodies, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, gendered and sexual violence, and the prophetic texts. Emily’s current research considers the rhetorical use of female bodies and pregnancy imagery in the Book of Isaiah; her previous research has focussed on female bodies and sexual imagery across the prophetic books. Emily is writing one of two chapters on Violence and Ezekiel, with focus on physical and gendered violence

As an undergraduate, the trajectory of my academic life was changed when I read Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror. In preparation for a Hebrew language class, I had read and translated Judges 19, and found myself – as many of us are – deeply moved and even more deeply disturbed by the account of the ‘concubine’ being raped, abused, killed, and dismembered. When considering violent and distressing biblical texts, I find the space occupied by feminist biblical scholars profoundly satisfying and profoundly painful.

Ever since, I have been researching women in the Hebrew Bible, in particular the role of female bodies in The Prophets. It’s a joy to study these books, in all their literary variety, depth, and richness, and it is also at times incredibly difficult; female pain and suffering is all over. 

Ezekiel is particularly notorious within feminist study of The Prophets, and for very good reason. Ezekiel 16 and 23 are infamous for being the most sustained, violent, furious, and gruesome depictions of violence directed at women in the entire biblical canon, and they do not stand in isolation in the text of Ezekiel. The whole book is marked by its propensity towards physical violence and bodily expressions of pain and suffering, large parts of which are specifically about women (whether literally or metaphorically). 

Reading Ezekiel can be extraordinarily difficult, especially for those of us who consider it not only an ancient text, but scripture. Physical and gendered violence are real threats to modern readers, as they were to ancient ones, and it is not easy to engage with the text of Ezekiel as a woman, a feminist, and a Christian. I suspect it is not easy for anyone for that matter. I’m also acutely aware that Ezekiel’s accounts of (often divine) violence towards women have almost certainly been used to justify or inspire real-world acts of violence. And yet, Ezekiel’s presence in the biblical canon is unavoidable, and as such demands our consideration, whether that’s given easily or not. 

My chapter will look at physical violence in the book of Ezekiel, with a particular focus on gendered violence. Reading the text of Ezekiel carefully, thoughtfully, and compassionately is an immense challenge and responsibility. I hope that through research of the physical and gendered violence that characterise large parts of the book, I can contribute to wider discussions on the role of violence in biblical texts and its consequences. 

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Alastair Hunter taught for thirty years at the University of Glasgow. His publications include studies of Psalms and Wisdom, and most recently a reading of Jonah: The Judgement of Jonah: Yahweh, Jerusalem and Nineveh (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2022). A core part of his research is a focus on the way that biblical texts are read by contemporaries, reflecting the need to balance the inherent character of ancient documents with the concerns of modern readers for justice, the rejection of all forms of discrimination, and openness.

Essential to these concerns is a willingness to confront uncomfortable aspects of the Hebrew scriptures, which are often sexist, racist, intolerant, and complicit in various forms of violence. While these cannot be defended, it is important to see them not as ultimate defining qualities but rather, as aspects of a flawed humanity which we ourselves are part of. Looking at them honestly sheds light on ourselves as much as on our distant ancestors, and how we respond to them can form part of a renewal in the quest for a better human society. One example from his publications on such themes is ‘(De)nominating Amalek: Racist stereotyping in the Bible and the justification of discrimination’ in Sanctified Aggression: Legacies of Biblical and Post-Biblical Vocabularies of Violence, edited by Jonneke Bekkenkamp & Yvonne Sherwood (T&T Clark, 2003), pp.92-108. Alastair is writing one of the chapters on Violence in the Minor Prophets, focusing on Joel and Jonah

While neither Joel nor Jonah is at first glance an obvious offender of violence, the attitudes attributed to the deity, and the relationship between Israel and its competitors (enemies?) are at least implicitly violent in both books. Studying them together within the wider compass of the Minor Prophets makes sense when we note that both, possibly, emerged from a shared milieu, and are likely to be interdependent.

Here are more publications by Alastair (PDF format).

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