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

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New Publication: Marriage, Bible, Violence: Intersections and Impacts

Marriage, Bible, Violence - book cover

In this post, we feature the bookMarriage, Bible, Violence: Intersections and Impacts (Routledge, 2023), by Saima Afzal and Johanna Stiebert, which is out this week! We caught up with them both for an interview.

How did the book come about?

The two of us have been friends for some years. We first met at the University of Leeds when Saima was completing her MA in Religion and Public Life, and we have collaborated on a variety of campaigns focused around preventing gender-based violence.

The book, while succinct, took longer to write than we had anticipated – not least, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the harder it was for us to find time for writing, the clearer the importance of this book became. We could see the harm and damage caused by instrumentalising sacred texts to afflict real people, with women and girls disproportionately represented among victims and survivors. This was exacerbated by the pandemic. Resisting such violence on multiple fronts, including with research-based arguments, drove us on.

Tell us about your collaboration – how you met, what work you do. 

Like we said, we met at the University of Leeds where Johanna works, and Saima completed an MA. Saima has a wealth of practitioner experience from working in local government, child protection, and as National Crime Agency-registered expert witness and Independent Member of the Lancashire (UK) Police Authority, with a national Equality, Diversity, and Human Rights portfolio. Johanna is a biblical scholar with particular interest in topics of gender and gender-based violence. She co-founded and co-directs The Shiloh Project.

Together we co-direct (together with researchers Mmapula Kebaneilwe and Emma Tomalin) a Community Interest Company (CIC) founded by Saima, called SAS Rights. This CIC is the primary vehicle for much of our activist work. The book is our co-production and an attempt to combine our perspectives as researchers and as activists to explore the multiple ways the topics of ‘marriage’ and ‘violence’ are enmeshed. We use the Bible as our focus for demonstrating some of these intersections and the impact they have on real lives.

Johanna and Saima

What does ‘activism’ mean to you, and how does this relate to religion and gender-based violence?

Activism is central to much of what we do. Religion is central to our research and central to the lives of many in the communities we work in. Each of us identifies as both scholar and activist, even if in our working lives, these carry different emphases. We share a conviction that activism benefits from a basis in research and research benefits from having impact on positive social change.

The book is based on research and analysis of biblical texts, yes. But in the course of this, we are mindful of and remind readers why these matter: that is, because recourse to the authority and ‘plain meaning’ of the Bible has had and continues to have impact on real people’s lives. Sometimes, this impact is violent and traumatic, notably when the Bible is weaponised to justify intimate partner violence. As such, the book explores aspects of family violence and domestic abuse and the role of religion within this. These discussions are increasingly in the public domain, which is a welcome development.

What are the main themes of the book?

‘Marriage’ and ‘the Bible’ are both prominent themes in day-to-day contexts, including in popular culture. One ideology very prominent in claims about ‘biblical marriage’ is complementarianism. One purpose of this book is to explore the disjuncture between, on the one hand, complementarian accounts of biblical marriage and, on the other, intersections of marriage and violence in texts from Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

We challenge authoritative complementarian claims to the Bible’s allegedly clear and unequivocal directions on marriage, and we refute these claims with analysis of the muddled and often violent depictions of marriage in the Bible itself. We focus on the influential pronouncements on ‘biblical marriage’ by the US Family Research Council and Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and analyse such key texts as Genesis 1–3, Malachi 2, and Ephesians 5.

Who would benefit from the book?

This book will, we hope, appeal to students of biblical studies and theology, as well as anyone interested in research-based activism and in how sacred texts are directed towards modern day-to-day life. 

Saima and Johanna [2]

Give us a quote from the book you are most pleased with and why!

Can we have two? (We are two authors, after all!)

“[In Genesis 2–3] one woman (Eve) is created to be the companion of one man (Adam), and prior to this humanity is told to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). Extraordinarily, this story is used to justify all of monogamy; heteronormativity; heterosexual, monogamous, sexually exclusive marriage to the exclusion of all other kinds of marriage; female submission to male headship; and procreation. It is also used to condemn homosexuality, non-binary gender, transgender, polygamy, feminism, abortion, divorce, and, though less often, single life, elective childlessness, and women’s ordination. Wow. For a short mythological story, featuring an anthropomorphic deity, a talking serpent, and magical fruit, in a biblical book that makes no claims to divine authorship or inspiration, a story which never makes any explicit reference to marriage, let alone feminism, or homosexuality, this is quite something…”

This quote shows up some of the brazenness of claims regularly made about the clarity of the Bible’s claims on ‘marriage’ – yet there is not even a word that captures ‘marriage’ in the whole of the Hebrew Bible!

“Often laws are characterised as ‘secular’, with religious law overriding secular law. Adherence to religious law over secular law is even seen as a proof of faithfulness to God. One woman I am working with acknowledged her husband’s abuse and abandonment. But he had made her swear on her sacred book that she would not report him to the police. She will not budge from this oath, and I know that if I suggested it I would lose her trust.”

This quote is a reflection by Saima on some of the hands-on work she does. It is a reminder of why we wrote this book. 

Saima and Johanna

The book is in the Routledge Focus series Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible, edited by Emily Colgan, Johanna Stiebert, and Barbara Thiede. Books in the series are concise (between 25,000 and 50,000 words – all inclusive) and explore some aspect of rape culture (e.g., sexualised microaggressions, sexual violence) alongside some aspect of religion and/or the Bible. We are very interested in proposals exploring religions other than those associated with the Bible. If you would like to find out more, discuss this, or propose a volume, please contact Johanna:

If you are interested in the topic of marriage, Bible, and violence, you might also like Helen Paynter’s book, The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So. It is reviewed on our blog, here.

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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


Liberative readings in violent settings

Environmental violence



Intimate partner violence


Gender-based violence

Rape and rape culture

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

Violence in the family

Divine violence


Antisemitism, as well as Islamophobia



Crime fiction

Abortion activism



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 (

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

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Comfort or Cajole: Reading Elkanah’s Response to Hannah with the Awareness of Coercive Control 

by Yannis Ng (University of Leeds, UK)  

Yannis Ng is PhD candidate at the University of Leeds. Formerly, she studied Bible and theology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her PhD research focuses on Hebrew Bible wisdom literature (primarily, Ecclesiastes and Job) and trauma-informed and bystander approaches. 

A version of this paper was presented at the annual conference of the Society for the Study of Theology on Wednesday, 19 April 2023. 

Yannis Ng, presenting in Leeds in January 2023.


The story of Elkanah and his wives Peninnah and Hannah is in 1 Samuel 1. Here Peninnah, a mother, provokes Hannah, who has no child and yearns for one, year by year when the household go to an annual sacrifice. Upon such provocation, Hannah weeps and will not eat. Elkanah then asks Hannah four questions in response to her pain. He asks: ‘Why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?’ 

This paper focuses on how Elkanah and Hannah are described, and on how these descriptions are disputable. After that, I introduce controlling and coercive behaviour. Then I re-read the story and illustrate how Elkanah’s questions relate to tactics of coercive control. Finally, I talk about how Hannah’s response demonstrates self-empowerment in the face of coercive control.  


The relationship between Elkanah and Hannah is regularly described by commentators as sweet and supportive. Elkanah gives a (double) portion to Hannah because he loves her ‘even though’ she is ‘barren’ (1:5). (The word ‘barren’ occurs in many English translations. It is a harsh word referring to the pain that is involuntary childlessness.) Elkanah, so it is widely accepted, loves Hannah. Then, Elkanah’s response to Hannah is appreciated as one of comfort and acceptance. He is described as a caring and compassionate husband. Hannah’s silence is sometimes criticised for being ungrateful towards Elkanah’s comfort. This couple presents an intimate partnership.  


  1. Doesn’t Elkanah know why Hannah weeps and refuses to eat? 

The text tells us that Peninnah provokes Hannah severely year by year (vv.6–7). If Elkanah knows the reason, he seems to accept, even to justify Peninnah’s bullying behaviour and overlooks or mitigates the harm done to Hannah. 

  • He finds her heart is ‘sad’, or rather, ‘bad’ 

Though this question velameh yera levavekh is commonly translated as asking why Hannah has a sad, or aggrieved mood, the Hebrew text states her heart is yera (bad). This is contrasted with Elkanah himself who is tov (good) to Hannah in the consecutive question.  

In verses 17–18, Eli answers Hannah that the God of Israel will grant her petition. Then, the English translation has, ‘her countenance was sad no longer’. This seems to support that Hannah’s heart was sad; however, the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain here. There are no words descriptive of sadness; the Hebrew reads, literally, ‘her face was not anymore’—with no mood adjective.  

McCarter, in his commentary, interprets Elkanah’s question differently as, ‘why are you so wretched?’,i because, in Deuteronomy 15:10, yera levavekh refers to a grudging heart (NRSV, ESV). In this case, Elkanah’s question does not show regard for Hannah’s sadness. Moreover, the Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament suggests a translation for yera in this verse of ‘discontented’.ii The question would be, ‘why is your heart discontented?’. 

  • The final question is a trick question, or maybe a rhetorical question.  

After three why-questions, Elkanah asks ‘Am I not better to you than ten sons?’ He offers Hannah two options: either, to opt for him; or, for ten sons. But she does not have ten sons; she does not have even one. Having ten sons is probably an unachievable target. Between Elkanah and ten sons, her only choice is Elkanah.  

  • He is not prepared to listen to her answers. 

Elkanah asks multiple questions without leaving time for her to answer. This is unlikely to be an expression of caring or comfort, but rather, exposes his annoyance at Hannah’s weeping, and her ‘bad’ mood.  

Therefore, Elkanah’s response maybe does not reflect any comfort or acceptance of Hannah’s infertility. Instead, he blames Hannah’s heart and is not taking care of her or showing compassion. The partnership between this couple may be complicated and not one of reciprocal love and care.   


Before re-reading the story, let me introduce the concept of controlling and coercive behaviour. This is a well-documented and common type of domestic abuse. 

According to the Statutory guidance framework: controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship from Home Office,  

Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape, and regulating their everyday behaviour.  

Coercive behaviour is: a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.iii 

Since this guidance is aimed at police and criminal justice agencies involved in the investigation of offences, the descriptions are legalistic.  

A description from the perspective of psychiatry tells us more practically about a feature of coercive control:  

[…] it is a self-perpetuating form of abuse because so much of the controlling behaviour is about preparing and maintaining the internal environment of the relationship so that the controlee has no power to question it and/or feels he or she has no credibility in order to reach out to outsiders for help.iv 

This description tells us of the controlling and coercive behaviours situated in and maintaining an intimate partnership. Here the perpetrator and the victim are confined, and the victim has no agency to seek help.  

An expert in coercive control studies, Evan Stark, highlights that the aim of coercive control is, ‘to usurp and master a partner’s subjectivity’.v  


Let us now re-read Elkanah’s questions with the perspective of controlling or coercive behaviours. I am not going to prove that Elkanah is a coercive perpetrator, but I would like to sensitise readers to consider the possibility and to note the tactics that coercive perpetrators use to control and confuse their partners. According to the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour: Statutory Guidance Framework recently published by the Home Office, perpetrator tactics can be categorised into four categories: 1) Threats and intimidation, 2) manipulation, 3) exploitation, and 4) The categorisations may vary across different disciplines. I adopt this categorisation from the Statutory Guidance Framework because it aims to provide information for identifying offences and reducing risk to victims.vii I position myself and readers among the general public, who may or may not have experienced coercive control (consciously or otherwise). 

Questions 1 and 2: Threats and Intimidation 

  • Before Elkanah asks, ‘Why do you weep? Why do you not eat?’, Elkanah has already given his wives a portion (or portions) in verses 4 to 5. He may expect Hannah to eat and drink at the feast, expressing joy and gratitude. When she does not, the question ‘why do you not eat?’ could connote threat: Hannah is falling short of Elkanah’s expectation.  
  • Threats to remove care, or not to undertake caring responsibilities that the victim relies on, is a tactic of intimidation. This may escalate to exploitation because Elkanah could use his power to refrain from supplying food altogether.   
  • Asking ‘why do you weep?’ may also reflect Hannah’s helplessness. These questions further humiliate her: weeping and not eating are useless for resisting controlling or coercive behaviours.  

Question 3: Manipulation and Sabotage 


  • Elkanah asks, ‘why is your heart discontented?’ This question blames Hannah, the victim, and suggests she is ungrateful.  
  • This kind of blaming can be a manipulative tactic: making false allegations against victims, pretending their controlling tactics are for the victim’s own safety. The depiction of Hannah as an ungrateful wife renders Elkanah as a kind and generous husband.  


  • The depiction of Hannah’s discontented heart also harms her image in the public sphere. It demeans and devalues Hannah and puts guilt and shame on her.  
  • This kind of depiction can be sabotaging. A tactic that perpetrators deploy to interfere in victims’ personal or professional opportunities or to frustrate a police investigation. This includes claiming victims are mentally ill, so their statements are not trustworthy.  
  • Elkanah, in contrast, is depicted as a good husband. Hannah’s weeping and not eating are due to her discontentment with his love. Therefore, he himself can remain innocent in the conflict between his wives.  

Question 4: Intimidation and Manipulation 


  • When Elkanah asks whether he is better than ten sons, Hannah cannot reply that having ten sons is better to her than Elkanah. Otherwise, she may make him angry or lose his protection because Elkanah has the power to abandon her.  
  • He also has control over whether she can possibly conceive ten, or any sons. Both options offered are actually under Elkanah’s control. He knows her vulnerabilities, that she has no other support and protection. He also understands her deepest desire of having a son. The dependence on physical needs and protection puts a vulnerable person at greater risk of intimidation, because a perpetrator has control over all their needs.  


  • Hannah could have more choices, besides either Elkanah’s love, or ten sons. He decides for her that staying with him is the only way she can go. Meanwhile, he permits Peninnah’s provocation. Indeed, his ‘love’ for Hannah makes the relationship between Peninnah and Hannah worse.  
  • The options offered devalue all Hannah’s other relationships, isolate her from any support network, and hinder potential solutions. Elkanah has decided for her that being his wife is the only option. This question renders her a person who does not know what is good for herself.  
  • So, this yes-no question not only limits her options, it can also be a tactic of manipulation. This manipulation tactic obscures the facts and creates doubt. This question together with the previous questions creates confusion and instils doubt about her feelings. These doubts can make a victim forget why she responds as she does in the first place, direct her to query her responses and render her vulnerable to trusting a perpetrator’s ‘comforting’ decision. 


Reading the text with the perspective of controlling and coercive behaviours can illustrate how power can be used by a perpetrator on their victim, but we can also see how a victim can empower herself in the face of abuse. After her husband asks her those controlling and coercive questions, Hannah neither responds directly nor endures helplessly. Hannah looks for an opportunity to get away from the immediate pressures.  

  1.  She seeks alternatives and breaks old patterns  

Not giving a reply to Elkanah’s questions, she goes to pray to her God (vv.9–11). Hannah recognises her identity, not only as the wife of Elkanah, but also as a servant of the LORD. She makes her vow to the LORD as an alternative to Elkanah’s ‘choices’ of either having Elkanah or ten sons. Her action is a form of resistance. 

After she has borne Samuel, Hannah does not go up together with Elkanah and all his household to the yearly sacrifice (vv.20–22). Though she still belongs to him, she does not stick with the pattern. The pattern is most likely set up by her husband, but she again demonstrates agency and resistance and opts out. 

  • She speaks up.  

Having built up her own identity, Hannah now speaks up for herself. She resists Elkanah’s request of going up to the yearly sacrifice (v.21) and voices that her determination is to wait until she has weaned her son, and then to offer him as a Nazirite and let him remain at the sanctuary forever (v.22).  

William de Brailes, ‘Hannah Prays in the Temple’ and ‘Hannah gives birth to Samuel’ (Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts. Ms W.106 for.17r (Creative Commons).

Her vow is from her own volition using ‘I’ (vv.26–28) and reflects her self-identity and autonomy to do what is best for herself. As she has decided to offer Samuel to the LORD, she vows, ‘I have lent him to the LORD’ rather than ‘we have lent’.  

  • She protects herself and her son 

Having a son may release Hannah from Peninnah’s provocation. She asks for a son, not a child, or a daughter. In that time, a woman needed male protection.  

However, it is odd to ask for a child from God, then offering the child to God. Having a relationship with a controlling and coercive abuser, the custody of the child might entail further harms and threats to her, as well as to the child. Offering her son to the LORD may be a way to protect the son from becoming a tool for manipulation. This also limits Elkanah’s power to deploy his controlling and coercive tactics through Samuel, the son. 


Rereading the first book of Samuel chapter 1 verse 8, Elkanah’s four questions escalate in terms of exertion of control. My rereading demonstrates how a veneer of care can hide cajoling and controlling behaviour within an intimate relationship where there is power imbalance. This rereading is not judging Elkanah as perpetrator but seeks to sensitise readers to the means and tactics of coercive control. The reading of Hannah’ response may illustrate how controlees can empower themselves to reduce risk of harm to them and their loved ones. 


At the presentation at the SST conference, members of the audience asked me how the narration of the LORD’s closing Hannah’s womb relates to my reading. They also asked how other people relate to the relationship between Elkanah and Hannah. These questions reflect the complicated power dynamics in the story and how other people can be involved in and affected by coercive control in different ways. Due to time constraints, my paper focused only on Elkanah as potentially coercive – not on God, or Peninnah, or Eli, as well. There is definitely potential for further research.

Another question proposed that Peninnah also suffers from Elkanah’s coercive control and that she directs her own pain towards Hannah. I am reminded of a contextual Bible reading of this passage, which I conducted with domestic workers in Hong Kong. One of them identified with Peninnah. She had children with her husband, but her husband also had an extra-marital relationship with another woman and provided financial support to this woman. This, in turn, made the wife feel deprived of resources and resentful towards the other woman. This perspective would again direct us to feeling differently – both towards the ‘good’ husband Elkanah, and towards his less favoured wife Peninnah. 

The power dynamics among the biblical figures in 1 Samuel 1 are significant and worthy of more study. The perspective of coercive control can, I argue, shed some light on this story, as well as open up questions for present-day predicaments and situations. 

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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:  and

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. 


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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Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm: A Toolkit for Churches 

The Shiloh Project is pleased to announce the launch of a new toolkit called Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm. The toolkit has been developed as an educational resource for church leaders, inviting them to reflect on ways that churches can become spaces where sexual harm survivors feel safe and supported. This resource can be downloaded by following the link to the “Accompanying Survivors Toolkit” page on this website.

Below, Emily Colgan (one of the creators and editors of the toolkit) explains more about the toolkit’s development and its goals.

Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm: A Toolkit for Churches 

Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm is a trauma-informed resource that offers education and support of Christian clergy and lay leaders as they respond to sexual harm in their communities.  The resource is the collaborate effort of seven academics, all of whom work broadly at the intersection of sexual harm and Christian faith traditions in Aotearoa New Zealand. Through our work in this area, we have long been aware of the distressingly high rates of sexual harm in our communities, and we believe it is important for churches to recognise that the trends we see in society more generally are reflected in church communities as well. Moreover, churches need to acknowledge that sexual harm is perpetrated within these communities—at times by those in positions of authority—and the primary response of church leaders has far too often been one of self-preservation and concealment. For the most part, churches in Aotearoa have not yet found a voice to adequately address the issue of sexual harm, which is endemic in faith communities and in society at large. We (as a country, generally) have a problem with sexual harm and, for the most part, churches keep silent on this issue. 

This situation has come into sharper focus since February 2018, when the New Zealand government announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state care. In November of the same year, the inquiry expanded its scope to include abuse of those in the care of religious institutions. The harrowing testimonies of victims and survivors who experienced horrific sexual harm while in the care of religious institutions reveal that, for many people, churches have not been places of welcome and safety; they have not been places of good news. Churches have failed in their duty of care for the most vulnerable in their midst. The Commission’s work is still ongoing. But it has highlighted the urgent need for churches to be proactive in their support of victims and survivors, as well as in their efforts to ensure that church communities are no longer spaces where sexual harm can flourish. This resource is our – the contributor’s – response to this need. 

Over a number of years, we have canvassed stakeholders from within the Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions, seeking feedback about the educative needs of these churches for confronting the issue of sexual harm. We have also piloted this resource material with various church groups, seeking comment on the relevance and usefulness of its content for those in ministry. It reflects scholarship by experts in their respective fields, consultation with church leaders and those in frontline ministry positions, and insights and input from victims and survivors of sexual harm. It is by no means exhaustive, nor does it claim to be the full and final word on an appropriate Christian response to the issue of sexual harm. Instead, it enables workshop-based sessions which aim to educate clergy and lay leaders about

  • Understanding the nature of sexual harm and its prevalence in New Zealand society. 
  • Being alert to and responding in a pastorally sensitive manner to people within their community who have experienced/are experiencing sexual harm.  
  • Identifying and articulating some of the scriptural and theological foundations that work to justify/legitimise/enable sexual harm while silencing the voices of victims/survivors. 
  • Identifying and articulating some of the scriptural and theological foundations that work to challenge and resist sexual harm. 
  • Exploring how their church might work to create a safe space for victims/survivors of sexual harm. 

The toolkit will be of value to anyone in a church leadership position, including those training for Christian ministry and  those who have extensive ministry/leadership experience. It is intentionally ecumenical in nature and does not require knowledge of any one denominational tradition. While the format of the resource requires reflection and discussion in an “intellectual” sense, the aim of this work is to enable tangible, practical action in our communities that will support victims and survivors, and to make our churches spaces that are welcoming and safe. 

While some of the content relates specifically to the context of Aotearoa New Zealand, most of the material can be adapted and used further afield. There is space offered throughout the sessions for participants to discuss how issues pertaining to sexual harm relate to their own communities. Participants also have opportunities to consider how their own cultures, contexts, traditions, and languages will help shape their role of accompanying victims and survivors. 

The toolkit is free for anyone to download and use. It can be accessed here on the Shiloh Project website. If you have any queries about the use of the toolkit, please contact us at

We hope this resource is a useful and meaningful tool for all those who accompany victims and survivors on their journey.

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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. 


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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Introducing Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Robert Monson and Katherine Gwyther

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

Today we are happy to introduce two more contributors to the project, Robert Monson and Katherine Gwyther.

Robert Monson Junior is a musician, writer, podcast host, co-director of enfleshed, and graduate of United Theological Seminary, with special research interests at the intersection of Black liberation theology, womanist theology, and what it means to become soft in a cruel world. These interests matter particularly to Robert on account of growing up as a Black atheist in the United States of America. Burning questions surrounding race, religion, shared humanity, and masculinity drive Robert in the academy. Robert is writing the chapter on Violence in the Books of Samuel. 

As I research and write, I draw on a wealth of theological traditions and researchers, but most readily on womanist scholars and Black theologians. As a Black scholar I am keenly aware of how violence shows up in the world today and, indeed, how the nuances of violence can be flattened within texts of the Bible. It matters to me to be able to bring forth work that is accessible both to academics and to regular people who bring questions to these troubling texts.  

For more on Robert and his poignant work, check out his regular column at The Witness BCC (Black Christian Collective), his substack newsletter ‘Musings From a Broken Heart’ (see here), and the podcasts ‘Three Black Men’ and ‘Black Coffee and Theology.’

Katherine Gwyther is PhD candidate in Hebrew Bible at the University of Leeds (UK) where she is funded by a School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science postgraduate research scholarship. Her doctoral research examines Exodus 20–23 using interdisciplinary engagement with the field of Utopian Studies. Outside of her PhD research, she is interested in the book of Esther and has published on the themes of hybridity, resistance to imperial hegemony, and gender in this book. Her publications on Esther are, “Feasting and Fasting: Hybridity in the Book of Esther” (2021) and “The Disidentification of Mordecai: A Drag Interpretation of Esther 8:15” (2022, see here). Katherine is writing the chapter on Violence in Esther.

Violence appears in a myriad of ways within the book of Esther, from sex-trafficking and anti-Semitism to threat of genocide. This violence is not only perpetrated against Jews but by them too. Still, when summarising the book, it is hard not to echo the dominant narrative: one queen is evicted for not submitting to her royal husband’s (sleazy!) command, a Jewish girl who has concealed her identity and Jewish name enters the imperial Persian court, becomes queen, and defeats the wicked plot to annihilate the Jews of Persia. Alongside her cousin Mordecai, Queen Esther becomes the saviour of her people and smites their enemies.

I aim to highlight the difficult nature of violence in the book. On the one hand, Esther and the Jews are a marginalised group who fight back against imperial dominance; on the other, they wreak violence against their oppressors. The narrative whereby Esther is the heroine, and the Jews are victorious is ultimately complicated by their very tools of resistance. In this chapter, I demonstrate that thinking through Esther and violence is a messy task and I will proceed using a postcolonial framework. However, rather than proposing solutions, I want to sit with the difficulty of the text. If we do not, and ignore the complicated content of the biblical text, we risk endorsing the violence within it, or legitimising it on account of its place in Scripture.

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