Over the next weeks and months, as our Bible and Violence project (under contract with Bloomsbury) gathers momentum and grows, we will be profiling some of the 100+ contributors. Today we are thrilled to introduce Katherine Southwood and Dominic Irudayaraj. (For our earlier introduction to the Bible and Violence Project, see here.)
Katherine Southwood is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, St John’s College. She specialises in Hebrew Bible and is passionate about interdisciplinary engagement with material from antiquity. Katherine has published several monographs: Job’s Body and the Dramatised Comedy of Moralising (2021); Marriage by Capture in the Book of Judges (2017); and Ethnicity and the Mixed Marriage Crisis in Ezra 9-10 (2012). She has also published many articles and chapters in edited volumes, and she enjoys the privilege of teaching students. Katherine is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Judges, as well as a chapter on self-critical correction when writing on the Bible and violence.
My second monograph, Marriage by Capture in the Book of Judges, was published in 2017. It focused primarily on the mass abduction and rape of women as depicted in Judges 21. Save for a note in the preface, my tone throughout the book was distant, even clinical. This was a coping mechanism, a way of maintaining an emotional and critical remove from the distressing content of the chapter I was writing on. I realise on reflection that it is harmful to remain critically detached when engaging with distressing biblical primary evidence. We scholars have an ethical duty not to turn off our emotions. In my chapter for this volume I will admit that in the past my tone in writing was deeply problematic. Academic work is never finished, in my view, so now I feel I need to return to Judges 21 and try to show what a difference it makes to engage the text with a mixture of intellect and emotion.
I will argue that it is urgent not to ignore texts in the Bible wherein rape occurs, because silence about these texts is problematic. Distancing myself, or turning away from, or ignoring rape in Judges 21 has consequence for how the text is read and for how it lives on, because it shrouds sexual violence under a veil of stigma, shame, and taboo. This is especially powerful given that Judges 21 is in what is, for many, Scripture.
For as long as sexual violence exists in our societies, sanitising and euphemising biblical texts depicting sexual violence only adds to the problem. These texts can and should make us uncomfortable and outraged. We need safe spaces for discussion of such texts. I will argue that critical empathy can help us to understand the dehumanising “logic” that underpins the entire “marriage” system in Judges. And this, in turn, can detoxify and help us to unravel and undermine this system. I suggest that by acknowledging the pain such systems cause, and by grieving, we can resist the values and structures that make the violence we find in Judges 21 possible.
(For more about Katherine and her publications, see here.)
Dominic S. Irudayaraj is Jesuit priest and Professore Lettore at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He reads the Bible as a faith-inspired and faith-inspiring book yet concedes that biblical violence as a concept can be dissonant both in classroom settings and ministerial contexts. The theme of violence in the Bible invites him to read in ways that balance criticism with respect for the text. Dominic is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Isaiah.
I am a biblical exegete, with research and teaching interests in Hebrew Bible prophetic books, especially Isaiah and Micah. I am drawn to emerging interpretive approaches and read the ancient prophetic texts in terms of their relevance and import for contexts ancient and current.
My monograph Violence, Otherness, and Identity in Isaiah 63:1–6: The Trampling One Coming from Edom (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017) avails both social identity approaches and iconographic exegesis to wrestle with the violence in this very difficult text. I am also co-editor of a forthcoming volume, Isaiah and Its Unity: Challenges and Promises (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, manuscript submitted). I approach the theme of violence through a triad of interpretive lenses: socio-cultural, literary-rhetorical, and theological. On this, see my article, “Violence in the Bible: Towards a Non-violent Reading.” The Bible and Interpretation (April 2019, here). This article is available also in Hungarian! (“Erőszak A Bibliában – Úton Egy Erőszakmentes Olvasat Felé.” Trans. by Miklós Szabó, in Bibliakultúra 2020, here.)
I have taught graduate level courses with a particular focus on biblical violence at Hekima University College (Nairobi, Kenya) and Pontifical Biblical Institute (Rome, Italy). Currently, I am part of a four-member committee to develop a team-taught course called “Discourses and Counter-Discourses of Violence: Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Beyond.”
In my chapter for the Bible & Violence volume, I aim to attend to some or all of the following: (1) a conceptual clarification of violence in Isaiah; (2) a description of violence and its varieties in Isaiah; (3) a reading of violence in select Isaiah texts (for example, chapters 1, 24, 34, or 63); (4) an account of some ab/uses of these texts in interpretive history; and (5) the value of reading these difficult texts non-violently.
(For more publications by Dominic, see here.)