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.