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The Bible and Violence: Online Conference

An painting of a violence scene from the Bible

It’s just over a year since we launched our Bible and Violence project. With a list of over 120 stellar chapters, The Bible and Violence will be an inclusive reference work that explores the complex dynamics between the Bible, its interpretation, reception, and outworkings, with particular emphasis on violence in its multifarious forms.

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

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

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

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

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

In this post we feature the forthcoming book The Bible and Gender-Based Violence in Botswana (Routledge, 2024) by Mmapula Diana Kebaneilwe. The book is in the Routledge Focus series, ‘Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible’, which is edited by Emily Colgan, Johanna Stiebert and Barbara Thiede. The book is out in March and ready for pre-order from 22 February 2024. (Yes, this post is early… – but we just couldn’t wait!) Read about the book here first!

  1. How did the book come about?

The current rampancy of gender-based violence (GBV) against women and girls in Christianised Botswana prompted the writing of this book. As a Motswana woman who lives and has lived in this country since birth, I have witnessed uncountable inhumane acts of violence that disproportionately affect women and girls. I have experienced GBV myself, as have many women and girls that I know personally (family and friends), as well as those I only read or hear about on different media platforms, including the national television station, newspapers, etc. They, we have suffered GBV, and many have lost their lives at the hands of men and boys, those who are most often the perpetrators of GBV. Therefore, my identity, experiences, and research created in me the hunger to put together in print Batswana women’s stories of GBV alongside stories of GBV against biblical women. My quest has been to explore how the Bible and the Botswana faith communities it inspires intersect with traditional political landscapes to reinforce GBV. 

  • What does activism mean to you, and how does this book relate to religion and GBV?

Activism means everything to me. I am of the view that keeping quiet about acts of violence and injustice of whatever nature, including GBV, equates to colluding with perpetrators, and hence, I choose to expose, name, and seek ways to correct such. Researching and writing on GBV, as in this book, is a way of campaigning for social change regarding women’s and girls’ rights. Their rights are being stifled by gender inequality, which has resulted in our pandemic of GBV. 

The book relates to religion and GBV in that stories of GBV against women in Botswana are read alongside similar stories from the Bible, the sacred literature of Christianity, the dominant religion in Botswana. My research has revealed unbelievable resonance between GBV against textual biblical female characters and Botswana’s real flesh and blood female persons. The exercise of inter-reading or co-reading is an important one, given the authority and respect accorded the Bible in the Botswana context where many people intimately associate themselves with its faith and teachings.

  • What are the main themes of the book?

The main themes of the book are as follows:

  • Demonstrating and acknowledging that GBV is endemic in the Bible and in Botswana
  • Insisting that there should be no recycling of biblical injustices: read it, name it, and fix it
  • Reading the Bible and its stories of GBV in a quest for transformational revelation and for gender justice in Botswana and beyond.
  • Who would benefit from the book?

The book will benefit everyone willing to seek positive change in regard to gender equality, and is intended for a wide readership, including researchers, postgraduates, church leaders and other representatives of religious institutions, and upper-level undergraduates.

  • Give us a quotation from your book and tell us why you chose it?

“Like a mirror, the Bible is an accessible resource—but only if we first, use it and second, use it purposefully and constructively with integrity” (Kebaneilwe 2024, 84).

I choose the above quotation because I believe that the Bible is confrontational in nature by reflecting parts of life that we do not want to see or do not want to admit to: jealousy, passion, anger, violence, etc. Like a mirror, its transformational effect can only be accessible if we first admit what we see when we look into its pages.  Ultimately, concealing, spiritualising, or twisting the rottenness in biblical texts will only serve to perpetuate the same in our world, which explains why even in Christianised contexts like Botswana, we still find heinous acts of injustice and violence, including, in this case GBV. 

Congratulations to Mmapula from everyone at The Shiloh Project!

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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: j.stiebert@leeds.ac.uk.

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

HIV/AIDS

Liberative readings in violent settings

Environmental violence

Colonialism

Trafficking

Intimate partner violence

Genocide

Gender-based violence

Rape and rape culture

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

Violence in the family

Divine violence

Supersessionism

Antisemitism, as well as Islamophobia

Martyrdom

War

Crime fiction

Abortion activism

Transphobia

Zionism

Fat shaming…

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

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

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

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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.

INTRODUCTION 

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.  

ELKANAH AND HANNAH 

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.  

HOWEVER, THERE IS MORE TO IT THAN THAT… 

  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.   

CONTROLLING AND COERCIVE BEHAVIOURS 

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  

RE-READING ELKANAH’S BEHAVIOURS WITH CONTROL AND COERCIVE BEHAVIOUR 

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) sabotage.vi 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 

Manipulation 

  • 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.  

Sabotage 

  • 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 

Intimidation 

  • 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.  

Manipulation 

  • 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. 

RE-READING HANNAH’S RESPONSE WITH COERCIVE CONTROL BEHAVIOUR   

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. 

CONCLUSION 

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. 

EPILOGUE 

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 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

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are more publications by Alastair (PDF format).

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

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

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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