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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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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 assh.toolkit@gmail.com

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

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

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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Introducing the Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Barbara Thiede, Holly Morse and Adriaan van Klinken

Happy New Year! Year 2023 will be a busy year for The Bible & Violence Project. Today we introduce three more contributors. Each of them demonstrates why this project is relevant and important, and why research-based activism matters. We are happy to introduce Barbara ThiedeHolly Morse, and Adriaan van Klinken. (Reading about these three contributors in turn, we think they should meet!).

Barbara Thiede is an ordained Rabbi and Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies at the UNCC (University of North Carolina Charlotte) Department of Religious Studies in the USA. Her work focuses primarily on the structures of hegemonic masculinity and the performance of masculinities in biblical texts. She is the author of Male Friendship, Homosociality, and Women in the Hebrew Bible: Malignant Fraternities (Routledge, 2022) and Rape Culture in the House of David: A Company of Men (Routledge Focus, 2022). She is currently working on her third book (under contract with Bloomsbury T&T Clark), which focuses on the biblical deity’s performance of masculinity in the Books of Samuel. She will be writing the chapter on Violence in the David Story and co-authoring, together with Johanna Stiebert, a chapter on the Ethics of Citing Violent Scholars.

I argue in my second monograph, Rape Culture in the House of David: A Company of Men, that David’s capacity for sexualized violence is not only tremendous but very much valorized in and by the text; and it is exactly this capacity, which (in terms of the ideological orientation of the text) makes him an ideal king. But David does not act alone (rapists don’t). Hegemonic masculinity and the structures that support and promote it make rape culture possible and make it thrive. Male-male relationships of all kinds in the David story undergird and support sexual violence. Servants, messengers, courtiers, soldiers, generals, advisors – these men collude and participate in, condone, and witness sexual violence throughout the narrative. Rape is not so much a topic as a tool – and it is used against men as well as women. If we cannot call out the violence the Hebrew Bible authorizes, we give our tacit consent to the rape culture it presents and by extension, to the rape cultures it legitimates and which we ourselves inhabit.

For the same reason, I cannot ignore an ugly reality in academia: that there are scholars who commit violence through sexual harassment, bullying, and rape; scholars who have participated in technology-based gendered violence, and who have preyed on children. These are scholars whose presence in our midst confronts us with fundamental questions about the nature of our guild. Hegemonic masculine systems have protected such scholars from censure and criminal conviction for decades. Together with Johanna Stiebert, we want to ask: do our ethics permit us to cite the work of violent predators?

We cannot afford apathy, indifference, or denial; we cannot afford to collude or condone. It is our task to resist violent texts and violent authors – especially when these are given authority and power to harm and abuse. Doing so might provide some healing and hope. And: it is an ethical imperative.

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Holly Morse is Senior Lecturer in Bible, Gender and Culture at the University of Manchester in the UK and specialises in the Hebrew Bible and gender-based violence, as well as in biblical reception – especially visual and popular cultures. She also has broader interdisciplinary research interests in knowledge, magical and spiritual activism, heresy, and gender. Holly is author of Encountering Eve’s Afterlives: A New Reception Critical Approach to Genesis 2-4 (Oxford University Press, 2020). In this book, she seeks to destabilise the persistently pessimistic framing of Eve by engaging with marginal, and even heretical, interpretations which focus on more positive aspects of the first woman’s character. Holly has also written on biblical literature, gender, feminist activism, trauma, abuse, and the visual arts and popular culture. Holly is co-founder of the Bible, Gender and Church Research Centre, with Dr Kirsi Cobb (Cliff College). Together they are now working on an AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded research network around the topic Abusing God: Reading the Bible in the #MeToo Age.To date they have hosted one colloquium focused on coercive control, with another on hypermasculinity due to take place in April 2023. Holly is writing on Gender-Based Violence in Visual Art on the Bible.  

Survivors and victims of gender-based violence frequently attest to feeling that they have been left voiceless and silenced, as a consequence of the actions of their attackers, but also of the social systems which fail to provide them with support and with justice (see Jan Jordan Silencing Rape, Silencing Women, 2012). This theme of voicelessness is present, too, in the troubling texts of terror in the Hebrew Bible – the narratives of Dinah and the Levite’s pilegesh, or the law of the nameless, captive, non-Israelite “brides” of Deuteronomy 21; these texts and many more feature characters who are denied a voice in the wake of brutal attacks on their bodies and on their personhood. A growing field of powerful scholarship within biblical studies acknowledges and explores the significance of witnessing the silent trauma of these accounts across the centuries. It is into this conversation that I hope my paper for the Bible and Violence project will speak, but this time focusing on a different aspect of witness and gender-based violence – visibility. 

Despite the fact that 1 in 3 women globally are subject to physical and/or sexual violence, the harrowing frequency of these offences is met with a woeful rate of conviction rendering the majority of gender-based violence against women and girls invisible, hidden crimes. This lack of visibility of the abuse of women is further compounded by the fact that around 90% of rapes are committed by acquaintances of the victims, and often within the broader context of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. In many ways, the Hebrew Bible too elides violence against women. With no specific language for rape, with laws that seem to accommodate abuse of female persons, and with accounts of what likely describe violent, sexual attacks on women mired in euphemism and narratorial disinterest, trying to render biblical survivors and victims of gender-based violence visible to the reader is often a challenge. In my paper for this project, I want to think about how visual art can help or hinder us in acts of witness to the experiences of biblical women at the hands of their abusers, and in turn offer opportunity to think further about tools for moral and ethical readings of ancient authoritative texts in our contemporary world.


Adriaan van Klinken is Professor of Religion and African Studies at the University of Leeds, where he also serves as Director of the Leeds University Centre for African Studies and the Centre for Religion and Public Life. He also is Extraordinary Professor in the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice, University of the Western Cape, South Africa. Adriaan’s research focuses on religion, gender, and sexuality in contemporary Africa. His books include Kenyan, Christian, Queer: Religion, LGBT Activism and Arts of Resistance in Africa (2019); with Ezra Chitando, Reimagining Christianity and Sexual Diversity in Africa (2021); and with Johanna Stiebert, Sebyala Brian and Fredrick Hudson, Sacred Queer Stories: Ugandan LGBTQ+ Refugee Lives and the Bible (2021). 

Sebyala Brian (left), Adriaan van Klinken (centre) and Fredrick Hudson

In recent years, I’ve had the privilege to work, together with my colleague Johanna Stiebert, with a community of LGBTQ+ refugees based in Kenya. Most of the refugees originate from Uganda and left that country in the aftermath of its infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which created a strong social, political and religious culture of queer-phobia. They sought safety in Kenya, only to discover that this country, too, is largely hostile towards sexual and gender minorities. 

From my first encounter with this community, back in 2015, what struck me was their faith, and the strength and comfort this gave them in the struggle of their everyday lives. As I was invited to prayer and worship meetings at the shelter run by a community-based organisation, called The Nature Network, I observed first-hand how these LGBTQ+ refugees created a space where they affirmed each other, shared their faith, read and talked about the Bible, and joyfully expressed their belief in God. 

Together with two of the leaders of the Nature Network, Sebyala Brian and Fredrick Hudson, Johanna and I developed the Sacred Queer Stories project. Here, we aimed to explore the intersections of bible stories and the life stories of Ugandan LGBTQ+ refugees. More specifically, we examined the potential of reclaiming the Bible and using it to signify the queer lives of LGBTQ+ refugees in East Africa. This is important because, in the words of one of our participants, “The Bible is often used against us, but in this project we reclaim it as a book that affirms and empowers us.” The results of the project were published in our jointly authored book, Sacred Queer Stories: Ugandan LGBTQ+ Refugee Lives and the Bible.

In our contribution to the Bible and Violence project, we will build on our collaborative work with the community of LGBTQ+ refugees, to explore the strategies of creative and contextual bible reading that we developed in order to read the Bible against queer-phobic violence. We will show how the Bible, on the one hand serves to reinforce existing power structures and social inequalities, but on the other hand can also be used for purposes of community empowerment and social transformation. Indeed, we put our Sacred Queer Stories project in the well-established queer tradition of ‘taking back the Word’, not allowing the Bible to be owned by homophobic preachers and politicians, but to reclaim it in a quest for liberation and freedom. As a case in point, we will discuss the work we did around the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, which in our project was re-narrated and dramatized in the contemporary context under the title “Daniel in the Homophobic Lions’ Den”. 

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Introducing the Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Kudzai Biri and Alison Jack

In an earlier post we introduced the Bible and Violence Project (see here.) Today we are happy to introduce two more contributors: Kudzai Biri and Alison Jack

Kudzai Biri (PhD) is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion, Philosophy and Ethics of the University of Zimbabwe. Her research interests are in religion and gender, religion and politics, and religion and migration. Biri is a gender activist who has worked with marginalized women, those living with HIV and Aids, and with under-privileged children and orphans. She has published widely and her recent book, ‘The Wounded Beast?’ Single Women, Tradition, and the Bible in Zimbabwe (open access, available here) is a call for indigenous practitioners and the Church to promote justice, uphold the dignity of single women/mothers in their diverse categories and shun violence against them. Her current research focusses on World Christianity, in particular, Pentecostal/Charismatic African Diasporic communities. Biri is writing the chapter on Violence and Leviticus. She can be contacted on: kudzibiri@gmail.com

My chapter on violence in Leviticus seeks to bring to the fore the need for contextual reading and analysis. This is key in promoting peace and gender justice, against the background of literal reading and interpretation practices of scriptures, which have proved disastrous, especially on the continent of Africa, a continent ravaged by man-made cycles of poverty and deprivation, wars and migration, gender-based and sexual violence, and many other forms of violence and inequality. It is a call for re-introspection. In a continent perceived as massively Christian, a re-reading and re-interpretation of violence in Leviticus can open ways for political and religious dialogue, cultivating hope and hence promote life-affirming theologies, perspectives and attitudes for abundant life.  

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Alison Jack is Professor of Bible and Literature at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh. A New Testament scholar by training, with a background in English Literature, she has a particular interest in the reception history and influence of the Bible in Victorian and Modern literature. Recent publications include a monograph on the Prodigal Son in English and American Literature (OUP, 2019), and articles and chapters in edited works on Gospel stories in the poetry of Seamus Heaney, the ‘weird’ in the work of James Robertson and Robert Louis Stevenson, and the role of poetry in communicating spiritual understanding. With Caroline Blyth, she co-edited The Bible in Crime Fiction and Drama (T&T Clark, 2019). Her own contribution to the volume focuses on ‘Tartan Noir’ and the place of scripture in the work of Peter May. Alison is writing the chapter on Violence, the Bible, and Crime Fiction

In my contribution to the volume I’ll be considering the interaction between violence and the Bible in recent crime fiction, from PD James’s Death in Holy Orders to C. J. Sansom’s Revelation, and beyondThe prevalence of apocalyptic themes in these novels will be explored through the lens of Robert Harris’s recent novel, The Second Sleep, which invites us to consider ways in which defining biblical narratives, such as from the Book of Revelation, are exploited by those in power to justify acts of violence. Crime fiction, of course, almost always has at least one violent act at its heart and encourages the reader to engage with the ‘detective’ to work out who committed this act and, crucially, why. The satisfaction of solving the crime at times obscures or overcomes the shock of the violent act, often perpetrated on a female character. I’ll be exploring whether and to what ends the overlay of biblical narratives such as Revelation in this fiction justifies power imbalances between perpetrator and victim in the examples of crime fiction selected. Are these familiar and not so familiar texts simply further clues to be ‘unlocked’ or are they employed to signal something more disturbing? Read my chapter and find out! 

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

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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Introducing the Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Susannah Cornwall and Victor Moulder

Today, let’s meet two more of our many fabulous contributors. We are delighted to introduce Susannah Cornwall and Victor Moulder. (For our earlier post about the Bible and Violence Project, see here.)

Susannah Cornwall is Professor of Constructive Theologies at the University of Exeter, and Director of EXCEPT, the Exeter Centre for Ethics and Practical Theology. Her latest monograph is Constructive Theology and Gender Variance: Transformative Creatures (Cambridge University Press, 2022), which focuses on gender transition and gender diversity in relation to Christian doctrines of creation, Christology, theological anthropology, and eschatology. Her current research focuses on structural sin and institutions. Susannah is writing the chapter on Bible, Intersex Being and Biomedical Violence.

In some of my earlier work, including my first book, Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Condition and Christian Theology (Routledge, 2010) and my 2011–2013 research project ‘Intersex, Identity, Disability: Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church’ at the University of Manchester, I problematized the early corrective surgery paradigm for people born with intersex characteristics. In the last decade there has come to be increased legal protection for intersex people in various countries in Europe and beyond.

It’s also less common now than it used to be for conservative Christian theologians to hold that early corrective surgery is an appropriate social response to the birth of people with intersex characteristics, not least because of the crucial work done in these communities by evangelical scholars and activists such as Megan DeFranza and Lianne Simon in the Intersex and Faith Education Project. 

My chapter for this volume, however, focuses on the Bible, intersex being, and biomedical violence. I will show that the continuing invocation by many conservative theologians of the Genesis ‘creation mandates’ that uphold the idea that intersex is a particularly and peculiarly fallen state, which should prompt compassion and will be erased in the world to come, is damaging and undermines the good of intersex people’s bodies and experiences today. 

I’ll also show that such accounts continue to inform the biomedical logics within which non-consensual ‘corrective’ surgery on people with intersex characteristics remain thinkable in some medical contexts. Furthermore, I’ll suggest that the conservative move away from calling for such surgeries stems in part from increased conservative theological desire to cast suspicion on trans identity and so-called ‘gender ideology,’ and is therefore not unproblematic. 

You can find out more about Susannah and her research here

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Victor Moulder is an emerging scholar based in Wales. Victor graduated recently from Cardiff University with a BA (2021) and MA (2022) in Religion and Theology. His research has focused on eschatology, apocalyptic literature, and violence, and his 2021 dissertation explored violent and non-violent intertextualities between apocalyptic texts. Alongside such topics he also has passion for queer theology, gender-based hermeneutics, and angelology. Victor’s aim as a fledgling academic is to explore the harmful narratives and imagery of Scripture without resorting to apologia or excision. Victor is contributing the chapter on Violence in Daniel.

It is my aim with this chapter to explore the multifaceted nature and role of violence in the Book of Daniel. This will include contextualising the book as both (post)exilic and apocalyptic literature, born of war, mourning, displacement, and imperialism. But I will also spotlight the bodily violence faced by some characters in the narrative portions, and the symbolic violence of Daniel’s frightening dreams. I will explore the violent potential of accepting this book as a text where violence is divinely ordained or justified, and explore God’s role as violator, redeemer, liberator, and comforter, harming but also suffering, and ending systems of oppression. 

In a world where peril, the notion of end-times, and imperial domination – all prevalent in Daniel – still hold sway, navigating this text and its violence remains a challenge.

You can find out more about Victor and his work on Twitter: @VictorMoulder.

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Introducing the Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Megan Warner and Laura Quick

We continue with our profiles of some of the 100+ contributors of the Bible and Violence project (under contract with Bloomsbury). (For our earlier introduction to the Bible and Violence Project, see here.) Today we are thrilled to introduce Megan Warner and Laura Quick. Both are writing on Hebrew Bible texts that may not, on first view, appear particularly violent…

Megan Warner is Tutor in Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew at Northern College/Luther King Centre for Theology and Ministry (Manchester, UK). She specializes in Pentateuchal Studies, with special foci on Genesis and trauma-informed approaches. She is the author of three monographs: Re-Imagining Abraham: A Re-Assessment of the Influence of Deuteronomism on Genesis (Brill, 2018), Reading Genesis Through the Lens of Resilience (Sheffield Phoenix, forthcoming 2023), and Genesis: A Past for a People in Need of a Future (T&T Clark, forthcoming 2023). Additionally, Megan is lead editor of Tragedies and Christian Congregations: The Practical Theology of Trauma (Routledge, 2020), and co-editor, with Richard A. Burridge and Jonathan Sacks, of Confronting Religious Violence: A Counternarrative (Baylor, 2019). Megan is writing the chapter on Violence in Genesis 12–50. 

On the surface, Genesis 12–50 isn’t a particularly violent text when compared with many other narrative accounts in the Old Testament. Often this portion of the Pentateuch, or Torah, is described as peaceful, even eirenic. Genesis is different from the other books of the Pentateuch in that it depicts Israelite characters living alongside people of other nations, doing their best to get along with their neighbours (if not always entirely successfully). There is far less antagonism in Genesis towards “foreigners” and their gods than in other parts of the Pentateuch, and little evidence of a divine directive to Israelites to clear the land of other peoples in order that they, as YHWH’s chosen people, might have exclusive possession of it. There are certainly violent texts in Genesis 12–50, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule: the abduction of Lot (Genesis 14), the divine destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and the sexual assault, or rape, of Dinah (and the murder and looting of the Shechemites) (Genesis 34) are some examples.

In my chapter I will be looking under the surface to find patterns in the treatment of violence in Genesis 12–50. I will argue that the authors of Genesis were acutely aware of the dangers of violence, particularly of violence between peoples of different ethnic identities living together in close contact, and that they wrote stories that addressed these dangers. The chapter will identify a pattern of tensions and potential violence arising in the wake of sexual contact between people of different ethnicities, and I will argue that Genesis 12–50 explores those tensions and the potential for eruptions of violence through stories that present different possible approaches and outcomes, and that invite the reader to choose between them.

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Laura Quick is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, Worcester College. She specialises in Hebrew Bible and the study of gender, sex, and the body in antiquity. Laura has published monographs on Deuteronomy and the Aramaic Curse Tradition (2017) and on Dress, Adornment and the Body in the Hebrew Bible (2021). She has published articles and chapters in edited volumes on issues such as cursing and ritual, dress and adornment, and gender and sexuality; she also enjoys teaching on these subjects. Laura is writing the chapter on Violence and the Song of Songs.

My first monograph, Deuteronomy and the Aramaic Curse Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2017) was focussed on a very obviously violent topic: cursing and ritual violence in the book of Deuteronomy and in ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. Since then, I have continued to be interested in ritual and constructions of the body in the ancient world, and my current research looks at how beauty was understood by ancient authors and audiences of biblical literature. In order to explore this, the Song of Songs is particularly important; the Song provides an extensive description of the bodies of two lovers, male and female, both of whom are explicitly evaluated as being beautiful. This does not seem like an obviously violent topic – and indeed, the Song has often been evaluated positively, in comparison to the wider Hebrew Bible, for its treatment and presentation of women.

Nevertheless, while both the male and female lovers are deemed to be beautiful, the significations of male and female beauty are construed rather differently throughout the Song. The male-focused body description poem describes the male lover in terms akin to a statue made from precious metals and gemstones, an aesthetic evaluation that privileges male bodies over female and undercuts the erotic potential of the poem. On the other hand, the description of the woman’s body aligns her with the topography of landscapes and the city, often in highly erotic terms, and features explicit instances of violence against and male control of the female body. In ancient Near Eastern literature, connections between women, cities, and violence coalesce in the city-lament genre. Contextualising the Song of Songs within this ancient context complicates uncritical assessments of the Song as a non-violent text, revealing the inherent violence against female bodies that underlies ancient Near Eastern and biblical poetry. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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